Sur Lie, Baby: The Shop Blog

  • The Wasp and the Wild Wine

    I have long been interested in native yeasts as an aspect of terroir. It is common knowledge that  varieties of yeast impart unique flavors and aromas to fermented beverages; the type of yeast doing the “work” of fermentation can be just as important to the finished beverage as the grape varietal. Winemakers can, and often do, choose to inoculate with cultivated yeasts, which are more predictable and typically “stronger” than ambient, native yeast strains which exist in the vineyard and in the cellar. In this case, the cultivated yeasts overpower and kill the native varieties in a coup of sorts. However, some choose a different approach, often referred to as natural, non-interventionist, or even, traditional.

    Yeast is a fungus that reproduces both sexually and asexually. It is prolific, and grows extremely quickly. These little fungi are everywhere in our environment, tucked into every imaginable nook and cranny, indoors and out, even floating in the air.

    Non-inoculated wines are fermented using only the strains of yeast that exist as part of the vineyard's native fauna. They have a distinctly different profile than their “cleaner” counterparts, and many argue that they are the truest expressions of terroir.

    This story of airborne yeast is one that I've been told over and over again in conversations about native yeast fermentation (also called “wild” fermentation, or even vin sauvage). As that story goes, yeast floating in the air and blowing in the breeze simply attaches to the skins of the fruit. Recently, however, I learned that the reality is not quite that simple.

    The airborne yeast story is only half true. Strains of yeast such as Kloeckera, Candida, and others are, in fact, airborne. However, you wouldn't want any of these yeasts to do the important job of fermenting your juice. They would die when alcohol levels reach 3-5%, leaving the job far from done! The only “wild” yeast capable of taking the task to its fully-formed conclusion is Saccheromyces cerevisiae, which is much too heavy to catch a ride on a summer breeze. In order to move around, Saccheromyces cerevisiae requires a more substantial vector: bugs.

    Everyone knows that bees and other flying insects are necessary for pollination, but few are aware that we also have them to thank for spreading around the all-important Saccheromyces cerevisiae. Even more importantly, one species of wasp may be responsible for the continued overall existence of Saccheromyces cerevisiae. Until recently, scientists didn't even know where this yeast goes in the winter, or how it survives year-round. In 2012 scientists discovered that Vespa crabro, known as the European hornet, carries Saccheromyces cerevisiae in its gut, and even passes it along to its young when it reproduces. These stinging pests, cursed and swatted by humans everywhere, are spreading the magic every time they dig into their choice food source, sweet fruit.

    These scientific discoveries are important reminders of the interconnectedness, beauty, and fragility of the natural world. Our tendency is to try to keep what we want (food and wine), while eradicating what we don't. However, the revelation that the vile wasp has all the while been doing us such a huge favor is something to consider, maybe over a glass or two of “wild” wine.

  • The Judgment: Results!

    It took longer than expected for us to publish the results of our epic blind tasting on May 24th. First of all, we had to recover. Whooeeee! What an event! Tickets sold out, the shop was packed, all in attendance were excited and fully engaged. Regulars, friends and staff mingled with many first-time visitors from all over the city. It seemed to me that nearly everyone in the room approached me at some point, just to tell me what an amazing event it was, while it was still happening. It was talked about for days after, and we're still talking about it now.

     To recap: we blind-tasted twelve wines from California and France. We all took our best guesses as to where the wines were from. We chose our favorites and cast ballots in three categories: Chardonnay, Pinot, and Cab/Bordeaux. Meanwhile, a team of wine professionals from some of New Orleans' best restaurants were hard at work, sniffing and tasting right along with us. They made notes, and cast their own votes, as well.

     In the end, it must be said that France swept. Still, in this most European of American cities, Cali put up a heck of a fight. You've waited a week, so, without further ado- here are the results!

     All of the wines are available for purchase in the shop, or pre-arranged home delivery. Faubourg prices are shown below.



     #1 - Bachelet-Monnot Bourgogne Blanc 2013, $31.99/btl: This wine, a personal favorite of mine, didn't take home any medals. However, there is something to be said about the disadvantage of being the very first wine in a long tasting. I placed it there intentionally, because I felt it was strong enough. Most of the judges mentioned Chablis-like qualities. This wine was praised by judges for well-integrated oak, intriguing complexity, and chalky minerality.

     #2 – Liquid Farm, Sta. Rita Hills, White Hill Chardonnay 2014, $44.99/btl: This wine earned first place honors from our customers. Meanwhile, our judges described it as balanced with good minerality, with  fruit tones of apple and grilled pineapple, and a little cinnamon spice. Most judges recognized it as a California wine, but acknowledged its Burgundian style.

     #3 – Duplessis, Chablis 1er Cru, Montée de Tonnerre 2013, $46.50/btl: This wine earned first place from our judges and second place in our customer vote. As a Chablis fanatic, this made me very happy. Judges really loved on this wine, using general terms like, “delicious,” and adding lots of stars and whirligigs- but many had a hard time describing it. (At times, great wines can leave you speechless.) Some  descriptors from those judges who were able to muster up adjectives were, “Citrus/blooming flower/ saffron/lemon zest/chalk/lemon curd/good complexity & minerality.” (...Swoon.)

     #4 – Grgich Hills Estate Chardonnay 2012, $47.99/btl: We chose this wine not just because of its quality and typicity, but also for its context. Many may not realize that Miljenko “Mike” Grgich, winemaker of  the '73 Chateau Montelena Chardonnay that bested Burgundy in that infamous Paris tasting of 1976, is still a master of his craft at Grgich Hills, at age 93. Amazingly, forty years after the infamous Paris event, at our humble New Orleans wine shop, our judges still fell hard for Mike's wine. It ranked second place in our official judgment. Many guessed it was from Burgundy, calling it, “Full-bodied and beautifully balanced,” with “red apple, toast, lemony citrus, bright acidity and good complexity.” The lone judge who guessed it to be Californian called it, “more modern.”


    Pinot Noir

     #5 – Daniel Rion, Cotes de Nuits-Villages, “Le Vaugrain,” 2008, $26.99/btl: No medals for this beauty, described by one of our judges as having “tart red fruits of cranberry, unripe raspberry, dried potting soil and tea leaves.” The cranberry quality was noted by three of our judges, while oddly, a few of them noted its similarities to Oregon pinots.

     #6 – Au Bon Climat, Santa Barbara Pinot Noir 2015, $26.99/btl: No accolades for my favorite classic California guy, Jim Clendenin. Most judges pegged this wine as New World, one even nailing it spot-on as Santa Barbara fruit. Judges described “fruit-driven tannins,” “cherry/honey/white flowers,” “ripe strawberry/vanilla/cherry/sweet fruit.” One judge described it as new world on the nose, old world on the palate. Everyone agreed it was enjoyably tasty.

     #7 – Sandhi, Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir 2013, $39.99: New Cali superstar Raj Parr earns second place from our judges and second place from our customers for this gorgeous Pinot, described by our judges as having “great, bright, ripe fruit,” and “candied cherry cola” qualities. A nostalgic judge mentioned memories of cinnamon bears. Another described it as “electric,” with “quartz, cherry and bitter chocolate.” Most nailed is as a Cali wine, but one suspected it may be a Cote de Beaune.

     #8 – Domaine Pavelot, Savigny-Les-Beaune 2013, $39.99: The big winner of the evening, this wine earned first place from our judges and first place from our customers in the Pinot category. I must agree that it was showing perfectly that day, and I probably would have voted for it myself. One described “blood & stone,” while others swooned over the fruit, describing “cherries and strawberries.” More critical judges described it as young and closed, “not yet showing,” with accurate guesses as to its youth.



    #9 – Matthiasson, Oak Knoll Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, $59.99: New California pioneer Steve Matthiasson takes the honor of second place in the ranking of our esteemed judges in the Cabernet vs. Bordeaux category.  His Cab stood out as 'new world' to all our judges, but “not over the top,” as one judge put it. Eucalyptus, big red fruit, sunshine fruit, firm tannins, blackberry/plum, and mint were some descriptors.

     #10 – Chateau Haut-Beauséjour, Saint-Estephe 2012, $39.99: This wine didn't win in any categories, but one judge chose it as a favorite, describing it as “bold, expressive, ruggedly sexy with earthy, beautiful fruit, firm tannins, wet tobacco.” Another judge described “cooked berries, chocolate cherries, baking spices and red licorice.”

     #11 – Ségla Margaux 2008, $63.50: We admit that it may not have been fair to toss in a second growth Margaux... but we did it anyway, just to see what would happen. Guess what? It won. First place from the judges, first place from the customers. Judges noted dark fruit, mocha/chocolate, and some pleasantly earthy mushroom.

     #12 – Heitz Cellars Napa Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, $54.99: California classic Heitz takes second place in our customer vote for the Cabernet/Bordeaux category. Our judges' handwriting became a bit sloppy at this point, understandably, but we were able to decipher a few notes: “Just and balanced,” “Reminds me of Sonoma,” “French-Good,” and my favorite, “Delicious. Not oaky, and with lots of fruit, but acid and freshness! Yeah, boi! Thinking new Cali Cab blend picked when it should be. Straight up tasty!” … And, how.

     Huge thanks to our panel of judges: Joe Billesbach of Brennan's, Joe Briand of Herbsaint, Jenni Lynch of Mondo, John Mitchell of Marcello's, Laurie Casebonne of Mariza, and James Denio of Boucherie.  Thanks to our many enthusiastic customers who signed up for the ride! Thanks also to our friends at Uncorked, Vino Wholesale, Purveyors of Fine Wines, Artisan Fine Wines, and Wines Unlimited for supplying the extra hands, supplies and expertise that made the whole shabang possible.

     Love you, lovely people! Hope to see you in the shop soon.

    – Cat

  • Blind Tasting Event: Celebrating The Judgment of Paris

    Buy tickets while they last here!

  • Sneak Peek Into the December Explorer Club Box


    Explorer Club Case – December 17, 2015

    Zingara Prosecco, Treviso, Italy, NV, $16.99

    Long ago, tribes of people known as gypsies wandered the earth searching out new towns to explore, new people to meet and new skills to acquire. In Italy, they were known as “Zingara.” The Zingara wines are selections by Uva Imports, a group focused on the discovery of the best wines from every region, small village and obscure vineyard throughout Italy. These wines represent great values from small, lesser-known producers.

    Technical notes: Unavailable.

    Tasting Notes: A fresh, zippy and dry Prosecco with notes of cool, crisp citrus fruit, white peach and lime zest. A perfect holiday party aperitif, sure to please a crowd.

    Los Cupages de Mestres Rosé Reserva Especial Cava, Spain, NV, $23.99

    Mestres first documents as vine growers and négociant are dated from 1312. The first documents as vine growers and owners dated from 1607 showing the vineyard: “Heretat Mas Coquet”. In the 1600’s they build the actual winery in San Sadurni d’Anoia, Penedes, Spain, which was finish in 1861. They produced their first sparkling wine in 1925, and opened their first bottle to celebrate Christmas in 1928.

    Mestres family was the first producer to register the word CAVA, in 1959, aiming to inform the consumer that this was a sparkling wine aged in a cellar, using the words “wines made in cave” (vins de cava).

    They have always used the traditional grapes of their terroir: Xarel.lo, Parellada and Macabeu, all of them hand harvest on their own 74 acres of vineyards, situated at 690 feet above sea level, some of the oldest vineyards in the area.

    To protect their patrimony, no insecticides or herbicides are used at the vineyard and pruning is carried out to reduce their vigor, therefore producing grapes of greater ripeness and intensity.

    Today, they still use traditional methods taught by their ancestors including, long aging in caves, the youngest of their wines, aged 24 months in the cave, so all of the wines in their cellar are Reserva or Gran Reserva. 

    Wines are left to be full and rich and age completely - the wines undergo a natural stabilization process during their long aging, so that the crystals which form can then be “dégorge” along with the yeasts. That is why 100% of their production is aged using cork, and for all bottles riddling and dégorge is done by hand one-by-one, to ensure the highest quality.

    Nothing has changed at Mestres since they produced their first Cava bottle, and you can taste the respect for their terroir and authenticity in their wines. 

    Technical notes: 50% Trepat, 30% Monastrell and 20% Pinot Noir with extended aging on the lees, a minimum of 30 months. All aging and second fermentation under real cork. All riddling and disgorging is also done by hand. Residual sugar less than 9 g/l. ABV: 12%.

    Tasting Notes: Red fruits, floral notes and spices. Bright raspberry color. Perfect for popping on Christmas Eve! The palate is structured, fruity and complex with good balanced sugars and acidity.

    Domaine d’Arton, “Les Hauts d’Arton” Cotes de

    Gascogne IGP 2014, $7.99

    On the hilly heights surrounding Lectoure, a historical city built by the Romans that slopes down to the Pyrenees, the estate of Arton extends across 40 hectares (100 acres). The vineyards are rooted deeply in the cool, well-drained chalky-clay subsoil known in the area as “Peyrusquet.” The domaine offers a great range of native vintages such as Colombard, Sauvignon, Gros Manseng, and Petit Manseng for the white wines, and Merlot, Syrah, and Cabernet Sauvignon for the reds. (The Ugni Blanc variety is kept for the exclusive production of the unique Chateau d’Arton Haut Armagnac AOC brandies.) The wines from the cellars of the Domaine d’Arton benefit from advanced technologies and techniques, which, added to the team’s traditional knowledge and skills, grant all Arton wines the special qualities of subtlety, personality, and elegance.

    Technical notes: Les Hauts d’Arton is a traditional table wine made from Colombard 70%, Sauvignon Blanc 20%, and Gros Mansang 10% grown in Lectoure, France (1 hour from Toulouse, 1.5 hours from Bordeaux).

    Tasting Notes: Fine and delicate nose, with aromas of box tree and citrus. Fresh and flavorful, with well-balanced acidity. Pair with grilled fish, seafood, poultry, white meat, pasta.


    Albert Bichot Macon-Villages 2013, Bourgogne, France, $12.99

    Albert Bichot owns four estates in Burgundy and produces excellent estate wines, but also operates as a négociant, producing many high-quality wines from purchased fruit. Under the direction of Alain Serveau, chief winemaker, teams of vineyard managers oversee viticulture while cellar masters supervise vinification and ageing. The result is a broad portfolio of well-made wines representing excellent values from all over Burgundy.

    This wine comes from a vineyard located in the Mâconnais region, in southern Burgundy. The soil is composed of clay and sandstone on limestone bedrock which accounts for the minerality often found in the wines of this appellation.

    Technical notes: 100% Chardonnay vinified in temperature-controlled stainless steel vats. The vinification in vats preserves freshness and the fruity and floral characteristics of the chardonnay. Achieved with selected or indigenous yeasts but not aromatic; alcoholic fermentation lasts from 5 to 6 weeks. Ageing is essentially carried-out in steel vats to preserve freshness and the fruity and floral characteristics. In addition, a touch of French oak is added in order to give the wine a discreet and well-blended woodiness.

    Tasting Notes: This Mâcon Villages has a lovely pale straw yellow robe. The nose exhales beautiful acacia and honeysuckle floral notes on a slightly mineral background. The mouth is lively, fruity and floral with a refreshing finale. With a meal, this white Mâcon village will beautifully match shellfish, seafood and white meats. Savour it with scallops with hazelnut, creamed chicken or with stuffed peppers. As for cheese, we suggest dry cheese such as gruyere or goudas.


    Anne Amie Vineyards Pinot Gris 2014, Willamette Valley, Oregon, $18.99

    Located in the rolling hills of the Yamhill-Carlton District and on the steep hillsides of the Chehalem Mountains, Anne Amie produces Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris wines of outstanding quality, as well as a little Muller Thurgau and an old vine estate Riesling. They strive to create wines inspired by Burgundy and Alsace, but uniquely Oregonian in style. Their philosophy is minimalist and natural. The farming practices are Live Certified Sustainable, and they are working toward carbon neutral certification with the state of Oregon. Small fermentations on indigenous yeasts are the norm. A younger winery, they have 120 acres planted, but most of it isn’t in production yet. Therefore they are still buying much of their fruit.

    Technical notes: 100% Pinot Gris from Twelve Oaks Estate, Anne Amie Estate, Van Duzer and Le Beau (all in Willamette. Whole cluster pressed in temperature controlled stainless steel fermenters. Cold fermented for maximum varietal character. 15% of the grapes were fermented in neutral oak at 55 degrees and aged on the lees for four months, for texture and richness. The combined wine was briefly aged in 25% new French oak. ABV: 13.4%.

    Tasting Notes: Feminine yet substantial, structured yet elegant, delightfully complex with silky folds of apples, pear, peach, jasmine, straw and white tea.


    Rezzadore “Tai Rosso,” Monte Oseliera, Veneto IGT, Italy, $18.50

    Until 2007 its name was Tocai Rosso (Red Tocai). By law it had to be renamed Tai to differentiate it from the Hungarian Tocai wine which, as a pure coincidence, bore the same original name. Today it is therefore known as Tai Rosso (Red Tai), while the Tai produced in Barbarano, Vicenza, and surrounding municipalities, is called Barbarano.

    The origin of the vine, in the absence of sure documents, is still shrouded in mystery. However, rumor has it that Tai is it the oldest vine of the Veneto area. In past centuries the bishops of Vicenza, lords of Barbarano, when going to Avignon-France as guests, would have received the vine as a gift thus bringing to Vicenza grapes from Provence and the Vaucluse. Interestingly, the vine has the same genetic nature of Cannonau and Grenache. Tai Rosso is undoubtedly the most important and well-known grape variety of the Colli Berici.

    Set in a 20-hectare estate, deep among the green slopes of the Berici Hills, close to Pisana Rock, overlooking the Po valley, stands an 18th century villa named after the Rezzadore family, who have been making wine here for many generations.

    Technical notes: 100% Tai Rosso (Grenache?). ABV: 12%.

    Tasting Notes: Do not mistake this wine for a rosé. The light color is belied by a firm tannic structure and rich complexity. Pungent herbs, bitter root flavors and autumnal wood smoke dominate, but the palate is pleasantly balanced with wild red berries. The wine is traditionally served for the entire meal, but the ideal pairing is with refined charcuterie, prosciutto crudo, intense pasta and rice dishes, baccalà mantecato, polenta e baccalà alla vicentina, quail, pheasant and duck, as well as medium aged cheeses.


    De Paolo Pinot Noir 2014, Veneto IGT, Italy, $13.50

    Cantine Sacchetto was founded by the late Sisto Sacchetto in the early 20s. The change into a modernly run and structured Azienda did not start until the 1980s under the vigilance of Filiberto Sacchetto. Today, Filiberto and his son Paolo still handle the selection of the wines and follow the winemaking process.

    The recently modernized facility is capable of producing large quantities of wine, respecting the tradition and implementing the most advanced technology to achieve a high quality product. All varieties are cold fermented in stainless steel to preserve the freshness of the fruit. As an added guarantee of freshness, the wines are kept in refrigerated tanks until the time an order arrives. The wines are then bottled and left in bottles for a few weeks and finally shipped to their final destination. This extra step stretches the freshness of the vintage and is very important for wines of this type, which are meant to be consumed young and loaded with fruity character.

    De Paolo Pinot is an inexpensive Pinot Noir of good quality- which is not an easy thing to come by. It’s the perfect wine for keeping on hand in case company arrives unexpectedly, or if you need something to drink with your leftovers. Easy, quaffable, drinks well with just about everything. Everybody needs a wine like this in the rotation.

    Technical notes: 100% Pinot Noir from the Veneto, Northern Italy.

    Tasting Notes: Fresh and juicy with coffee and a hint of pipe tobacco.


    Commanderie de Peyrassol “La Croix Peyrassol” 2014, Maures IGP, South of France, $18.99

    The name of the estate is the first indication of its long, illustrious past. Located in the heart of Provence, near routes traveled by Crusaders in the early Middle Ages, the Commanderie de Peyrassol was founded by the Knights of Templar who were dedicated to protecting the Crusaders en route to, and in, the Holy Land. The first recorded harvest took place in 1256 and winemaking has continued uninterrupted throughout the centuries. When the Templars were brought down in 1311 by the King of France, who was nervous of their power and jealous of their wealth, the Knights of Malta became the fortunate owners of the Commanderie. They remained in control, flawlessly maintaining the vineyards until the French Revolution, when it was taken over by the State.

    The Rigord family purchased the estate in 1870; but, it was not until 1977 when Francoise Rigord, wife of Yves, decided to bottle and market the wines of the estate.  Madame Rigord abandoned her successful career in public relations to study oenology and take on the responsibility of making all of Commanderie de Peyrassol's wines.  The first vintage bottled for sale to the public was1981. 

    Francoise continued to produce ground-breaking wines for the next two decades, elevating the reputation of the Cotes de Provence in all three colors: white, red and rosé.  Her book, “La Dame de Peyrassol”, relating her experiences as one of the rare women in the forefront of the wine trade has received enthusiastic praise.  
    In 2001, the Rigord family sold the property to Philippe Austruy who has aggressively invested in this exceptional property, modernizing the cellars and expanding the holdings.  His nephew, Alban Cacaret, is responsible for the daily operations of the domaine.

    The “Commanderie”, now known as Chateau Peyrassol, is located in the hills of the "arriére pays", or backcountry, of the Var, north of St. Tropez and Hyères between the villages of Le Luc and Flassans-sur-Issole. The estate controls 850 hectares and is surrounded by 165 hectares of Mediterranean forest.  Eighty (80) hectares are planted to vineyards which are cultivated on dry, rocky clay and limestone based soil. When Francoise Rigord took over, Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon were added to the Grenache and Cinsault already grown at the estate. The Rolle (a/k/a Vermentino) and Ugni Blanc are the principal white grape varieties, supplemented by Semillon and Clairette.  Peyrassol is rigorously maintained pursuant to organic principles in full respect of the surrounding environment and the delicate balance of the local Mediterranean ecosystem.   No synthetic fertilizers or pesticides or fungicides are used in the vineyards. Organic foliar sprays are used to help prevent chlorosis (nutrient deficiencies) and sheep manure is the only fertilizer used after the planting. The age of the vines, the rocky terrain, and the hot, dry climate establish conditions that severely restrict yields. As a consequence, harvest levels average between 25 and 40 hectoliters per hectare depending on the vineyard and grape variety.

    Technical notes: This cuvée is crafted specifically for presentation in the United States and is the result of a close collaboration between Rosenthal Wine Merchants (importer) and the team at Peyrassol. The blend varies depending on the particular conditions of the vintage but normally is composed of Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and Syrah in varying proportions. Approximately 12,000 bottles per year are bottled for the US market.

    Tasting Notes: Highlights of fresh wild berry fruits of the region, married to a firm minerality that provides structure and discipline.


    Yannick Pelletier “l’Oiselet” 2011, St. Chinian, Languedoc, France, $19.99

    Yannick Pelletier's estate currently consists of 10 ha in the Saint Chinian AOC that he has been working with since January 2004. He currently grows four varietals: Syrah (15%), Mourvedre (5%), Grenache (50%), Cinsault (16%) and Carignan (14%), and has recently acquired 0.5 ha of 50 year old Terret Blanc vines which he plans on vinifying by 2011. The parcels are relatively distant from each other which lets him take advantage of many different types of terroirs: 65% schist, 23% clay and limestone and 12% round stones. The youngest vines are 15, the oldest 70. The vines are in their third year of conversion to organic agriculture.

    For the most part Yannick does goblet pruning in the vines, which applies to the Grenache, Carignan and CInsault. The Syrah is trained in Cordon de Royat, and normally he leaves six to eight spurs with one bud each.

    The soil is worked with one or two plowingss and a possible hoeing by hand. He fertilizes the soil with an organic compost; about 500 to 1500 kilos per hectare. Yannick and his team do as much of the work as they can manually, for what he describes as two reasons: the work is more thorough than if done mechanically, and also avoids the passage of tractors which pack down the soil.

    Pelletier's property is relatively small; about half the size of the average estate in his area. In his own words: "This would allow me to mechanize all the work and not employ anybody. If I did this, however, the wine wouldn't be made as well and wouldn't taste the same. You need one person for pruning, two people for debudding, six for the harvest and four to sort the grapes, not to mention the occasional help of friends and family."

    To protect the foliage, he uses contact treatments, copper and sulphur, that don't penetrate the plant and therefore are not present in the grape. Debudding, or green pruning, is the most important work done in the spring. It entails eliminating non fruit-bearing shoots (called gourmands, or suckers) or those which grew in the wrong spot, especially in the center of the vine. This allows air to circulate through the plant, control yields and concentrate the sap for the best shoots.

    Pelletier's guiding principle in the winemaking process is to preserve the integrity of the grapes and wine: manual sorting of the grapes, use of gravity (yes!), indigenous yeasts… If the grapes are clean, pure, healthy and of good quality, he sees no reason to alter them with chemicals or oenology.

    Yannick's wines are made, aged and bottled without sulfites. They are not fined or filtered and should be stocked in a room or cellar that does not exceed 18 C (64.4 F).

    Yannick Pelletier in his vines.

    Technical notes: L'Oiselet is a blend of Cinsault (1/3), Grenache (1/3) and Carignan (1/3) grown on St. Chinian Schist. The Cinsault is destemmend and macerated for 15 days, while the other two varieties macerate from three weeks to a month. It is aged for 18 months in cement vats. Though ready to drink now, the wine can easily age 5-6 years.

    Tasting Notes: Deep, brambly red fruits and garrigue. Gamey and rustic with intense herbal aromatics such as sage, lavender and wood smoke. A bittersweet, pungent and nutty finish.


    Envinate “T. Amarela” 2013 Parcela Valdemedel, Extremadura, Spain, $29.99

    Envínate (Wine Yourself) is the brainchild of 4 friends, winemakers Roberto Santana, Alfonso Torrente, Laura Ramos, and José Martínez.  This gang of 4 formed back in 2005 while studying enology at the University of Miguel Hernandez in Alicante.  Upon graduation, they formed a winemaking consultancy, which evolved into Envínate, a project that focuses on exploring distinctive parcels mainly in the Atlantic-inflected  regions of Ribeira Sacra and the Canary Islands.  Their collective aim is to make profoundly pure and authentic wines that express the terruño of each parcel in a clear and concise manner.  To this end, no chemicals are used in any of the Envínate vineyards, all parcels are picked by hand, the grapes are foot-trodden, and the wines are fermented exclusively with wild yeasts, with a varying proportion of whole grape clusters included. For aging, the wines are raised in old barrels and sulfur is only added at bottling, if needed. The results are some of the most exciting and honest wines being produced in Spain today.

    Technical notes: “T. Amarela” = Tinto Amarela is the Spanish name for the Portuguese grape Trincadeira. Parcela Valdemedel is the name of the vineyard site, whic faces north, and sits at 500 meters elevation in the village of Alange in the province of Badajoz, Extremadura.  The soil here is composed of limestone and the climate is harshly continental with the high elevation playing a major role in the end wine.  The grapes are foot-trodden in small plastic tubs, and fermentation begins with wild yeasts, with a short maceration of 8 days. Malolactic fermentation happens spontaneously in used 500 liter French oak barrels, where the wine will stay without racking for 11 months.  100 – 6 packs produced

    Tasting Notes: Parcela Valdemedel is a beautiful vino tinto with notes of black and red fruits, aromatic herbs, and wet-stone minerality, with a freshness and vivacity rarely seen in red wines grown this far south.  A revelation in Extremadura!


    Misfit Wine Co. “Cycle Buff Beauty” 2013 Limited Edition Shiraz-Malbec, South Australia, $18.99

    Misfits Wine Co. is a collaboration between three wine industry professionals in Australia and the U.S. who have decidedly gone rogue, dismissing all traditions and conventions (which, I hear, is pretty easy to do in South Australia). With a focus on “doing whatever it takes to make the best product possible” (read: making wines that taste really good), this trio of bohemian renegades have no time to be criticized for, say, blending a Rhone varietal with a Bordeaux varietal… as in this case.

    That said- you’ve gotta know the rules to break them right (aka, “you’ve gotta fight for your right to party”), and these guys are true professionals who know how to stage a proper rebellion.

    From the winery: “It wasn’t that long ago that Syrah (Hermitage) was sneaking itself into Bordeaux as the Bordelais had a love affinity for Syrah. Swap a few barrels and accidently do some blending! Fast forward to modern day Australia though and you have scantily clad ladies running away from a crazed biker gang. Malbec and Shiraz is just the beginning of the madness. The story on the back label does much better justice.”

    Technical notes: Shiraz 90% (two sites in McLaren Vale & one in Clare Valley) - Malbec 10% (single vineyard in Clare Valley). 10 months in French barrique (20% new). 2000 cases produced.

    Tasting Notes: Dark red. Aromas of blueberry, boysenberry and woodsmoke, with a subtle floral note in the background. Offers intense cherry, blue fruit liqueur and spicecake flavors that become sweeter as the wine opens in the glass, picking up a peppery nuance along the way. Shows very good depth and a hint of jamminess on the long, supple finish, which is framed by smooth, fully absorbed tannins. A real fruit bomb in an attractive way, but it also has the structure to support its flamboyant berry character.


    Mas Igneus “Barranc Dels Closos” 2012, Priorat, Spain, $25.99

    Mas Igneus is one of the most recent wineries in the Priorat area and the first to produce organic wines. 1997 was the first vintage released by Mas Igneus, with a production of around 13,000 bottles. Mas Igneus is already establishing itself among the most well respected names in the region. The vineyards are located near a gorge, or barranc in the Catalan language, in the Priorat DO of northeastern Spain. They are certified organic by the organization CCPAE.

    Technical notes: 40% Carignan, 60% Garnacha fermented in stainless steel then aged in previously-used French Allier barrels for 3 months. ABV: 13.5%.

    Tasting Notes: Aromas of licorice and sweet red berries fill the nose. Lush in style and full-bodied. Pairs well with cream-based pasta dishes.


  • Explorer Club: October Box

    Here's a taste of what our Explorer Club Members are enjoying this month. This is a copy of the letter going out with the boxes, and the descriptions of the wines included:

    I’ve just left one of those lovely autumnal parties- the kind with kids bobbing for apples, decorative bales of hay, risotto, pumpkin bread and pear brandy. My hostess, Natalie, who works here at the shop, has a keen sense of the way seasonal changes affect our overall energy, our moods, and our palates. As the kids took whacks at the pumpkin piñata, she, sipping on Clendenen Family gewürztraminer, mused aloud that Fall in New Orleans is a little like Spring in other places.

    I think she’s right. In October, we emerge from a long slog of sluggishness, being cooped up indoors (in air conditioning). We get out, stretch, begin to walk and ride bikes. No longer oppressed by the Summer heat, some flowers begin to bloom. We stop, we smell them. We appreciate being outdoors. We appreciate life a little more. We’re energized, renewed. And of course, because we are who we are, we eat, and we drink.

    For my son’s birthday party this weekend I roasted a huge turkey. I know Thanksgiving is a ways off, but I was feeding a crowd, and it’s Fall, right? And the way my house smelled that day… it was heavenly. Five hours of roasting and basting. Of course, I went full-on, making gravy from a butter roux, and stock boiled for hours and hours, and finally- the pan drippings from the turkey itself, set to sizzle on the stovetop and de-glazed with sherry, then added to the roux. Divine.

    Whether it’s oysters or roasts, at this time of year we eat differently, and we drink differently. I’m not yet stocking you up on Thanksgiving wines- that will come next month. But I am giving you some perfect pairings for Fall- for Fall weather, Fall gatherings, Fall porch sitting, Fall foods. You’ll find more complex whites with slightly richer character, more weight on the palate. A sparkler with aromas and flavors of dried flowers and herbs. Reds with deeper tones and more robust structure. I love these wines. This is their time.

    In closing, I want to thank you. Thank you for loving wine, for making it a part of your everyday life, for appreciating what it brings to the table, literally and figuratively. Thank you for trusting me to bring you the best of the best. Thank you for subscribing to this service, which among other things, forces me to sit down and read and write about wine- something I love to do, and have rarely found the time for since opening my shop, until I created the Explorer Club. What an amazing service this is, for both of us.

    With love and gratitude, Onward and Upward,

    Catherine Markel


    Explorer Club Case – October 15, 2015

    Moncontour Methode Traditionnelle Crémant de Loire Brut Rosé, Crémant de Loire, France, NV, $16.99

    Château Moncontour overlooks the Loire River, and extends over the hillsides in the heart of the Vouvray appellation. The site boasts stunning views over the whole Loire Valley area.

    Since 1994, the Feray family has been preserving and enhancing the Château with enthusiasm and commitment, making it one of the most remarkable historic sites in the Loire Valley. The wine estate is one of the oldest in the Touraine region and now also features among the most prestigious in the Loire Valley. The estate spans 130 hectares, over hillsides and valleys.

    Crémant de Loire is an AC effervescent wine made in Anjou, in the Touraine area. These fizzy wines may be white or rosé and are made using the method which involves a second fermentation in bottle: the Traditional Method. The bunches are hand harvested in openwork cases to preserve the quality of the juice. The bottles are stored for 18 to 24 months on their sides in order to obtain magnificent aromatic subtlety as well as fine and elegant bubbles.

    Technical notes: 90% Cabernet franc and 10% Chenin. Harvested from sandy or gravelly terraces in the Vienne valley, located in Seuilly (Chinon area) and Reugny (Vouvray area). Stored in bottle on their sides for 12 months. ABV: 12.5%.

    Tasting Notes: Dry with fuzzy bubbles, aromas and flavors of grilled peach, white strawberry centers, sandy earth, sachet of dried herbs and violets. Dangerously addictive. Great with fresh and frozen fruit.

    Maurice Schoech Côtes d’Ammerschwihr 2014, Alsace, France, $21.00

    The Schoech family have been winegrowers in Ammerschwihr at the heart of the Alsace vineyard for several generations, passing on their passion for the vine and wine from father to son. Indeed, since 1650 their ancestors have worked as sommeliers, vine nurserymen and wine brokers.
    A number of objects displayed in the cellar belonged to these ancestors and testify to the family’s attachment to the land. The grandfather, Léon Schoech was one of the founder members of the famous Saint-Etienne Brotherhood which today still awards the “Sigillés de qualité” quality label.

    Surrounded by vines, the estate has lain at the edge of the village since 1971.
    The estate was named after Maurice Schoech, a decisive life force in its development.
    The vines are worked using sustainable farming techniques, in harmony with nature just as they were worked 100 years ago. This technique involves observing the vines closely and using measured and sustainable practices.

    Cotes d’Ammerschwihr is picked mid-harvest on the hill-side parcels lying at the entrance to the valley which leads to Les Trois Epis. Made from a blend of Pinot Blanc with a hint of Muscat, it is a light wine which is the perfect accompaniment to a raclette, a mouclade or an anchoïade.

    Technical notes: Primarily Pinot Blanc with a touch of Muscat. ABV: 12%.

    Tasting Notes: This bright, fruity wine is mostly dry with a kiss of sweet and lively, fresh acidity, making it the perfect accompaniment to rich, spicy German or Italian sausages, Cajun and Creole cuisine, boiled crawfish, blackened fish, or anything heavily seasoned with fat, salt and pepper. It is light, fine and dry enough to enjoy on its own, but it absolutely sings with food- and it’s not picky. With racy flavors and aromas of lemon, lime leaf, basil, citrus blossom, and subtle, crystalline minerality, it pairs happily with almost anything.

    Schloss Hallburg Dry Estate Pinot Gris 2013, Franken, Germany, $21.99

    The Hallburger Schlossberg, a 5.7ha monopole, is the principal vineyard, a grand cru site constituted with gypsum marl, limestone, gravelly loess/loam and layers of clay. It is farmed biodynamically under the direction of Georg Hünnerkop, named Estate Manager of the Year in Germany by Gault –Millau in 2009. His style of winemaking features vigorous, refreshing whites without oak or “make-up.” These are pure tasting wines from a great, ancient site in the bone-dry Franconian tradition. The 33-hectare property has been farmed since the 11th century, and was purchased by von Schönborn in 1806.

    Technical notes: 100% Pinot Gris, biodynamic, unoaked. Weathered volcanic and copper soils, average age of vines 25 years. Practicing Organic, will be certified later in 2015. ABV: 12%.

    Tasting Notes: Delightfully dry and crisp with primarily floral and mineral characteristics. White flowers, crisp acidity, austere apple, pear and melon fruits. Intense freshness makes this wine a perfect aperitif, or a friend to light leafy or fruity salads, lemony or light pasta dishes, fruits and vegetables.

    Prestige des Thibeaud Bordeaux Blanc 2013, France, $7.99

    It’s a process, and sometimes a difficult one- choosing a bottle of wine that’s appropriate for the the moment, the food, the company (or lack thereof)… It’s good to have a few bottles of wine lying around that you don’t have to think too hard about. This is a great example. Keep a few bottles around, and when the mood or the moment strikes, just grab it! It’s a fresh and lively crowd-pleaser; and, clocking in at just $7.99/bottle, you don’t have to think twice about opening it, anytime. The classic, understated packaging is elegant, and no one needs to know the price. I’ve placed it in weddings, served it at my own parties, even blind-tasted it with wine geeks, and I haven’t yet met a person who does not enjoy this wine. It’s a classic Bordeaux Blanc Sauv-Sem blend, with a touch of Muscadelle. I tend to like the whites of this region with a little Muscadelle blended in; I find that it lends a mysterious ozone-like “fresh rain” quality to the flavor. But don’t analyze it too much, or take it too seriously; just enjoy it. This is a wine that reminds us to do just that.

    Technical notes: 90% Sauvignon Blanc, 8% Semillon, 2% Muscadelle. Clay table-land. ABV: 12%.

    Tasting Notes: Fresh spring rain, quince, lime zest and sage.

    Au Bon Climat Pinot Gris/Pinot Blanc, Santa Maria Valley, California, 2014, $21.50

    When I chose this wine for the club boxes this month, I thought, “Nah. I’m sure I’ve used this one before.” Then I checked, and I could NOT believe I haven’t. A favorite of mine and the entire staff, affectionately referred to as “ABCPGPB,” we’ve been putting this wine into the hands and homes of happy customers over and over again, since we opened three years ago. It is reliably, delightfully, flat-out delicious. Perfect balance, perfect weight, perfectly complex aromas and flavors, every time, vintage after vintage, bottle after bottle.

    Maybe I don’t even have to tell you about Jim Clendenen and Au Bon Climat. If you’re a regular in our shop, and a wine lover in general, then chances are, you know the story: Jim has been making balanced, honest, (not over-extracted, not over-oaked, not exaggerated or aggressive in any way) California wines since WAY before it was “cool,” or even considered “progressive” to do so (since the 1980s!). I hesitate to say his wines are Burgundian, or even European in style- though one could certainly argue that they are- because my firm belief is that he makes wines that are true to their place (California), true to their varietals, true to nature and true to their heritage in the wine world.

    In “The New California Wine,” by Jon Bonné, basically THE reference book of progressive American wine making for our time, Clendenen is featured minimally, but referenced heavily as a “pioneer,” a “mentor” and an “inspiration.” A couple quotes from the book:

    “Clendenen’s wines were assailed during the Big Flavor years as not Californian enough.”

    “As buttery Chardonnays gained in popularity, he stuck by the grape’s subtler charms, even when his stubbornness made him unpopular among his neighbors in Santa Barbara, a part of California that had become a major engine for cheap, overwrought Chardonnay.”

    New California is now a movement, a philosophy, a loosely-defined style; Jim Clendenen is its founding father. Au Bon Climat is revered the world-over for the high-quality, austere, complex wines they have been producing for decades, in spite of consumer demand, loud critics, and appalling trends.

    Jim’s Santa Maria Valley Pinot Gris/Pinot Blanc is a “throwback” to old Burgundy, when whites were not always made from Chardonnay. Close your eyes, imagine you are drinking a high-quality Borgogne, and smile, knowing you are tasting the true potential of American terroir.

    Technical notes: 60% Pinot Gris, 40% Pinot Blanc. Aged in neutral oak barrel with some time on lees. ABV 13.5%.

    Tasting Notes: Rich and textural with lemon/lime, honeysuckle, pear blossom, flinty minerality.

    Mathiasson Chardonnay, Linda Vista Vineyard, Napa Valley, California, 2014, $28.99

    I see you. I see you reading the words “Napa,” and “Chardonnay,” and making assumptions about oak and butter. Stop. Remember that I just referenced “The New California Wine,” and the Pioneering Jim Clendenen-- and know that Steve Matthiason is the very first wine maker profiled in said book.

    Steve is one of Napa’s finest vineyard consultants, but in his spare time he manages to produce some of California’s best wine from his few acres in Oak Knoll, or one of his leased properties. He bottles just a handful of wines under the Matthiason label- many of them Italian or Bordeaux varietals.

    His Chardonnay has richness. It fills your mouth with velvety texture, and there are some delightful vanilla notes. But that’s where its similarity with your mom’s old ‘oak bomb’ swill ends… and where your new perspective on California chardonnay begins.

    Technical notes: “The cool winds and clay soils bring acidity and freshness, while the Napa sun gives flesh and ripeness. This wine is 100 percent Chardonnay from the Linda Vista Vineyard. We whole cluster pressed the grapes, settled in tank for 24 hours, then fermented and aged the wine in neutral barrels. To preserve the minerality we kept half the barrels unstirred, and for a touch of creaminess we stirred the other half of the barrels just once.” ABV: 12.8%.

    Tasting Notes: Green and yellow apples, fresh cream, melon, honey, hints of limestone. Great with fresh, lightly seasoned seafood or fowl. (Avoid spicy pairings.)

    Clos Henri “Petit Clos” Pinot Noir, Marlborough, New Zealand, 2013, $15.99

    In Sancerre, Loire Valley, France, Henri Bourgois is a revered winery that has been passed down through ten generations. The Marlborough, New Zealand property represents an exploration of new terroir. While true to its New Zealand roots, “Clos Henri” represents a firmly French style of wine making on New World soil.

    The Clos Henri Pinot Noir comes from young vines; the wine is youthful, fruity and fresh, yet elegant with earthy notes and supple tannins.

    Technical notes: Organically farmed in French tradition. Hand-picked in the cool, early morning. Fermented in stainless steel and fermented in large oak vats for 11 months. Soil: Greywacke river stone, Broadbridge & Wither clays.

    Tasting Notes: Red fruit and earth with food-friendly tannins. Lavender, dried flowers, tangy red berries, light wood. Pair with pork or grilled fowl.

    Prisma Pinot Noir 2013, Casablanca Valley, Chile, $13.99

    The Casablanca valley produces vibrant and fresh profiled wines due to the coastal, cool nature of the vineyards. The estate consists of multiple vineyards including some of the original plantings in Casablanca by Pablo Morande in 1982. The cool misty nights, hot sunny days, and light hand of the winemaker act as a prism to convert the grape into a complex and beautiful wine. An excellent value.

    Technical notes: This hand-harvested, 100% Pinot Noir is blend of three clones produced from a single vineyard located in the Casablanca Valley on granite soils in a cool, coastal climate.

    Tasting Notes: Bright red fruit notes of strawberry and cherry, with an underlying hint of oak, that leads to a lifted mid-palate and smooth, velvety finish.

    Domaine Laroque Cité de Carcassonne 2014, Southern France, $9.99

    This wine represents an excellent value, is surprisingly complex for its price point, pairs easily with many foods and is happily drunk all on its own. Classic Cab-Franc dusty, dried flowers pair with classic Southern France fruitiness.

    Technical notes: 100% Cabernet Franc from the Languedoc-Roussillon.

    Tasting Notes: The wine has a bright garnet color and a highly aromatic nose of strawberries, raspberries, roses, and a hint of vanilla. Fresh and lively in the mouth with supple tannins and a nice finish.

    Dashe Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley, California, 2013, $24.99

    At Dashe Cellars, Michael and Anne are committed to creating wines that reflect the unique soil, climate and regional characteristics of world-class vineyards. Focusing on older vines, steep hillside locations, rocky soils and stressful growing conditions, they work closely with their growers to ensure careful vineyard management and low yields. With specific blocks set aside under long-term contract, Michael and Anne make the harvesting decisions for every vineyard.

    With a state-of-the-art winery located just off historic Jack London Square in downtown Oakland, Dashe Cellars is recognized as one of the pioneers of the Bay Area urban winemaking movement. In keeping with a belief in utilizing hands-on, artisan methods, current production for Dashe Cellars is approximately 10,000 cases.

    The Dry Creek  Valley is one of the best places in California for the production of complex, balanced zinfandels. The 2013 Dashe Cellars Dry Creek Zinfandel is an excellent example of a classic Dry Creek Valley zin: intense, mouthfilling yet very balanced. As always, we sourced the fruit from five small family-owned vineyards in the center and north of the Dry Creek Valley. Since Dry Creek Valley receives coastal fog in the evening and early morning, the grapes from this area show a bright acidity which blends perfectly with the forward fruit from the vineyards, resulting in a long-lived and balanced wine.

    Technical notes: Dashe used special custom-made gridded tanks to ferment, allowing them to submerge the cap of grape skins beneath the surface of the fermenting wine, extracting color, body, and complexity from the grapes without extracting drying tannins found in the seeds. The result are intense and complex wines that also feel very velvety and round on the tongue. All natural yeast fermentations, aged 10 months in older French oak, about 8% Petite Syrah added for structure and aging potential.

    Tasting Notes: Aromatic black raspberry, cassis, and chocolate overtones, with an underlying floral component of lavender and violets. Black cherry, black raspberry, cassis, and hints of chocolate and licorice.

    Alvaro Palacios Camins del Priorat, Spain, 2014, $22.50

    If anyone embodies the promise and spirit of “The New Spain,” it's Alvaro Palacios. His L’Ermita is widely considered—along with Peter Sisseck’s Dominio de Pingus—to be the most important Spanish wine of the modern era.

    One of nine children born to the owners of Rioja's respected Palacios Remondo, Alvaro studied enology in Bordeaux, while working under Jean-Pierre Moueix at Ch. Pétrus. He credits his tenure at Pétrus for much of his winemaking philosophy and for showing him “the importance of great wines.”

    Alvaro could have returned to the security of his family's domaine. But  in the 1980s, he was drawn to the largely abandoned, ancient vineyards of Priorat. Located 60 miles from Barcelona, Priorat had been one of Spain's important pre-Phylloxera wine regions. And with its unique terroir of steep hills and terraces, Alvaro believed he could make wines that rivaled the best of Europe.

    Camins del Priorat is considered an “entry level” Palacios wine- it comes from young vines and is produced in relatively large quantity. That said, it is an amazing value from an esteemed winemaker.

    Technical notes: 40% Garnacha, 30% Samso, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Syrah. All the vineyards are in and around the village of Gratallops. Soil: Schist. The grapes are destemmed and sofly crushed. Fermentation is in stainless steel, cement and large wooden vats. Remontages and punching down. 8 months in barrels and wooden vats. Fermented in stainless steel, oak and cement vats with indigenous yeasts and aged in barriques and oak vats for six months.

    Tasting Notes: Ripe, juicy, somewhat balsamic. Fine tannins and classic Priorat character with ripe, pungent red fruit, plenty of spice, and sparks of flint.

    Remo Farina Valpolicella Ripasso 2013, Italy, $21.99

    The family of winemakers at Remo Farina claim that their reason for making wine is love, and that they make their wines with love. I believe that love is apparent in this bottling of 2013 Ripasso. It’s a bit like a Valentine’s note in a bottle: Lush, nervy, flirty and passionate at the same time.

    But, what is Ripasso? What is Valpolicella, for that matter?

    "Valpolicella" is the place (in Verona, Northern Italy); "Ripasso" is the style. It literally means, "Repassed." Valpolicella wines are made in three styles: Classico (lighter and fresher), Superiore (aged in oak) and Ripasso.

    Amarone comes from the same place, with the same grapes, but has it's own DOCG classification. Amarone is made from partially dried grapes, making it a very rich, strong wine with high alcohol, some sweetness and dark, heady fruit. Valpolicella Ripasso begins as Vapolicella Superiore, but the leftover must from the Amarone production (the skins, pulp & juice from those dried grapes) are re-used, added to this special batch of Superiore for an extended fermentation. This provides a lot of extra "food" for the yeasts, extending the fermentation process for higher complexity, adds some of that Amarone richness to the wine, and results in a richer, stronger wine with darker fruit, more weight, slightly higher alcohol (this one is not too high, though- only 13.5). It maintains its acidity, but benefits from extra layers of fruit and aromatics, greatly expanding the spectrum of complexity.

    Technical notes: 50% Corvina, 15%Corvinone, 20% Rondinella, 5% Molinara, 10% Oseleta. The first fermentation takes place in autumn, after the harvest. At the beginning of spring it is then re-fermented (“ripassato”) on the Amarone grape marc still soaked in wine. This process gives the wine greater structure, personality, aromas and colour. 100% in Slavonian oak barrels, following ageing in the bottle.

    Tasting Notes: Deep, red, sultry underlying tones with loads of fresh, juicy fruit on top. Layered and layered with leather, ginger, plum jam, licorice, and cherry. Vigorous and voluptuous. Pair with ripe cheeses, blue cheeses or meat dishes, especially rich, gamey ones such as osso bucco of veal or lamb.


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