• 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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