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Not the Sea to Drink

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The viewpoint behind the wines of Domaine du Possible is immediately apparent upon holding a bottle in your hands. Wine is enjoyment, an expression of culture, a taking pleasure in the vagaries of life. It's apparent in the name of the estate, the names of the wines, and no more clearly than in the wines themselves. Loïc Roure was planning to leave his job with Amnesty International to open a restaurant and wine bar when, in 2003, he decided instead to open his very own organic winery in the Pyrenees of southwestern France. This places him in the camp of the bona fide vigneron-philosopher, further enhanced by an internship in Cornas with the legendary Thierry Allemand. He started with only 2.5 hectares (about 6 acres) and has slowly built to a whopping 10 hectares—still tiny by any commercial standard.

I've been a fan of these wines for several years now, but have really been swept away by the current vintages, which seem to have hit their stride. We have two wines in the shop at the moment, C'est pas la mer à boire and Charivari. The former translates to something like "It's not the sea to drink," meaning basically don't sweat it, it's not such a big deal. The latter, Charivari, is a reference to an old folk tradition wherein villagers would bang pots and pans outside the marriage room on a couple's wedding night. Both names evoke a sense of playfulness truly appropriate for the wines.

Roure makes authentic wines that speak to place and time and that enliven the palate. They have a freshness and a subtle underlying funk that captures a startling energy and presents a paradox of sensations. And they complement each other well. Where the Charivari (carignan) is snappy and crisp and redolent of Christmas spices, the C'est pas la mer à boire (grenache, carignan, syrah) has a touch of dried red fruits and only a hint of peppery spice. Either way, these are wines perfectly made for the long, fun-loving days of June.


 

Domaine du Possible
Charivari ($22) carignan
C'est pas la mer à boire ($22) grenache, carignan, syrah

Between my finger and my thumb

woodlandwinemerchant

There are days when we glow with the fire of being, when life is coalescent in the kindling of the white hot now. And there are days when the fire burns low and we lie like embers in the hearth of a silver dawn. And there are still other days, days when the heat of a swampy evening keeps us from thinking of the fire at all, when we just want to be swept away. Those are the days in which our imaginations come to life, the days we find a friend in dreaming. Today, I'd rather be in Cali, kicking back at one of the Scribe Viticultural Society's epic al fresco dinners. If you detect the cloying scent of nostalgia in this smoke, blame the handsome rogues at Scribe. I've met co-vintner Adam Mariani twice, and both times he has disarmed me with his signature mix of enthusiasm and composure. And a quick revisiting of these wines—as well as the brothers Andrew and Adam who make them, their easy manner and principled approach, the sheer joy they seem to take in their craft—has me swooning all over again.

I'll spare you a rehashing of all the delightful history of the land Scribe now occupies, or their unusual approach to farming (with the wild), and instead encourage you to check out their site. Or, even better, come dip your taste buds in a few pours of Scribe wines and meet Adam, the younger of the vintners Mariani. They're making some of the most engaging wines in Napa without wasting an ounce of charm. Adam will be here Saturday. Not to be missed.


 

FREE TASTING Saturday, May 31 3pm - 5pm The Wines of Scribe Winery

2013 Estate Sylvaner ($tbd)

2012 Estate Riesling ($tbd)

2012 Skin-fermented Chardonnay ($tbd)

2010 Cabernet Sauvignon ($tbd)

Heaps of Hope

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"All Forlorn Hope wines are produced from winegrapes. That's it." So reads the website of this California negociant, one of a growing trend of small producers in the region who believe passionately that wine is made in the vineyard, not in the cellar. MR_samples_Green_Hungarian_vines

Forlorn Hope labels each of their offerings "rare creatures". Indeed, with a roster including Semillon, Ribolla Giala, Verdelho, and single-row Petit Sirah, it's hard to fit the wines together into any ordinary box. I've written much on this blog about the vanguard of California winemakers—Broc Cellars, Dirty & Rowdy and Cowan Cellars, most recently—who strive for pure rather than merely consistent wines. Authenticity is paramount in this trend. And while authenticity in California takes a different shape than it does in the Europe, it's worth noting that, nonetheless, the similarities are striking.

Folks like Italian vintner Elisabetta Foradori, in Trentino, have eschewed so-called "international varieties" and instead focused on cultivating grapes that are particular to their land and its indigenous culture (in her case, the varietal teroldego). In California, there is no elemental-historical tie to any one grape. As with so much of American culture, American wine is an amalgamation of its myriad immigrants. And yet, on both sides of the pond, within this broad movement toward authenticity, there is a common understanding of wine's metaphysical relationship to the people who make and drink it. Wine is primal. And yet if not convivial, if not ultimately healthful, wine loses that primacy.

Matthew Rorick, the winemaker behind Forlorn Hope, seems to have a seriously good time in the process. For me, this gets at the heart of what is happening across the globe. To enjoy wine is to embrace its personality. Matthew Rorick gets that. And his elaborations tell a story all their own.

(BTW, wondering what's with the name? Take a quick peak at the Wikipedia page regarding the phrase 'forlorn hope'. Charge!)


Forlorn Hope

"Gascony Cadets" 2006 ($33) Petit Verdot King Vineyard, Suisun Valley, CA

"Les Deux Matieux" 2006 ($33) Petite Sirah Tendink Vineyard, Suisun Valley, CA

"Suspiro del Moro" 2010 ($22) Alvarelhào Silvaspoons Vineyard, Alta Mesa, CA

"Kumo to Ame" 2013 ($22) rosé of Tinta Amarella, Tinta Cão, Tinta Roriz, Touriga Nacional Dewitt Vineyard, Amador County, CA

"Sihaya" 2010 ($27) Ribolla Gialla Vare Vineyard, Napa Valley, CA

"Nacré" 2010 ($27) Semillon Yount Mill Vineyard, Yountville, CA

"Que Saudade" 2012 ($27) Verdelho CA

The Fantasy of Piedmont

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Cinquant anni Produttori del Barbaresco Picture it. The dramatic rise and fall of sun-soaked hillsides blanketed by an endless corduroy of broadleaved vines. An old man taking shade on the back of a vineyard truck at the end of a long day, a mountain of harvested grapes stacked in wicker baskets at his back. Some of the world's most seductive wines being made literally all around. This is Barbaresco, the jewel in the crown of the Piedmont, Italy's bodacious highland wine country.

Barbaresco is the name of the place—a medium-sized, crescent shaped village in the northern foothills of the Piedmont—as well as the wine made in that place. It's also one of those names that often answers the question: What got you into wine in the first place? It's high on style and deeply in love with tradition. And the cooperative Produttori del Barbaresco is your easiest way to access the riches this land holds.

Nebbiolo, the only grape that goes into the making of Barbaresco wines, has been grown here since the 13th Century. For most of its history, these grapes were sold off to Barolo, another Nebbiolo-centric neighbor. But at the turn of the 20th Century, people began to noticed Barbaresco's distinctive and complex character. The small farmers of the region pooled their efforts, and the village began it's steady climb toward fame.

In the 1920s a fascist hiccup threatened to extinguish Barbaresco as a brand, but then in the 1950s the village came back through the formation of Produttori del Barbaresco, a small cooperative of farmers who today carry the mantle of the original federation.

Each vintage, they produce eleven wines. One of those, their flagship wine, is the clearest triumph of this collaboration. Produttori del Barbaresco DOCG ($35) combines the efforts of many, sacrifices the stewardship of none, and provides an affordable entry point into a realm of wine that can sometimes feel cruelly out of reach.

The cooperative also makes single-vineyard wines from each of the nine recognized classical sites within the village. These wines are labeled 'Reserva' and are accompanied by the corresponding vineyard's name. They're fetching, to be sure, but at nearly twice the price of the entry-level bottling they also fetch a hefty tax on your wallet. Not to say they aren't worth every penny (resoundingly, they are!), just that the large numbers can often scare off folks who have every reason to go Barbaresco on the reg.

If you know you love these wines, then this post is just a friendly reminder of the plentiful riches of the Produttori. But really this is for all the rest, those of you who may not be acquainted, but who can be, who should be, and who now have every reason to embrace a truly world-class wine.


Wines currently in-stock

Produttori del Barbaresco DOCG 2009 ($35) Produttori del Barbaresco DOCG Reserva "Muncagota" 2008 ($65)

Toad Prince

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The dynamism of the wine world never ceases to amaze me. We often talk about "old vines" and "traditional methods" of farming and making wine, and maybe too easily forget that even in the harkening back to simpler agriculture it is the modern exchange of ideas that allows so much to change for the better in so little time. In today's global wine economy, American importers have a huge role to play in the shaping of trends and methods. How they play that role largely is a question of conscience. Many of the very large companies squeeze their producers into making wines that fit a projected market. Others push their producers to be as original as possible, and let the market come to them.

Enter Azienda Agricola Montesecondo, the small Tuscan winery owned by Silvio Messana, where innovation comes in spades. Silvio owns 8 hectares of vines that were once his parents'. He took over the vines after moving his family back to Italy from Manhattan. At first, Silvio did things the way he saw others doing them, letting the grapes get very ripe, aging them in wood for a very long time, and generally overdoing it. In 2005 he had a watershed year. It was a difficult vintage in which he was forced to harvest early. What he discovered was a knack for experimentation and a penchant for wines with more acidity and greater freshness.

bufoGrigioR

His relationship with Kevin McKenna of Louis/Dressner (importers of highly principled wines) flourished from then on. Silvio had already converted to biodynamic farming—a decision made at the behest of his wife who was concerned for the safety of her children—and now he had a taste for un-manipulated juice. McKenna encouraged Silvio to find his own personal expression of the land, and garnered enough US sales of Montesecondo to give Silvio the confidence to continue. The wines have gotten better every year, and amazingly, he continues pushing forward with innovations.

Being a fan of Elisbatta Foradori (another Louis/Dressner producer), Silvio has begun experimenting with the same amphora containers that she uses, creating anomalous Beaujolais-like wines that dazzle in their lightness. And where he saw his grapes not thriving, he has replanted new vines in a style not otherwise seen in Chianti. It is his relationship with his importer that has allowed these risks, and allowed Silvio to come into his own as a winemaker. And man, has he ever. In the shop yesterday we tasted Montesecondo beside some heavy-hitters, and it stood out as one of the best in show.

Now if we can only get to the bottom of this whole crowned toad thing. . . I'm going with the changeling nature of his once-forsaken vines.

Montesecondo Rosso Toscano ($20) Younger vines of Sangiovese, Canaiolo and Colorino. Fresh, rustic tannins, gorgeous red fruit, lush finish.

Montesecondo DOCG Chianti Classico ($25) Older vines of Sangiovese, Canaiolo and Colorino. Deep fruit profile with firm backbone of acidity and lingering savoriness.

ENBF: Recap

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Low clouds threatened all morning to cast the day in a gray warm gloom. First thing: we had been shorted a table, and for a breathless quarter-hour we waited to find out whether we'd be crammed seven at a time into six square feet of sodden grass. Busying his hands on the hem of his brown jean jacket, Will turned to the sky and let out a nervous laugh. "It's a little cold, isn't it?" At our knees sat an assload of beer (and a firkin of cider), nearly all of which was clocked for spring weather—the kinds of seasonal quaffers that quench best on a heat-drawn thirst.

When a third table appeared we made quick work of rearranging the jockey boxes and lining up the kegs for tapping. We taped labels, set up swag, scrawled out a schedule, and before long our man Tyler came loping through the day's first show of sun. A most welcome and radiant countenance, and with it came the first glint of the festive mood that marked the rest of the day. As if to punctuate the shift, Will hoisted the six liter and cracked a boyish smile.

We finished off the fine details of setup and about 11:45am we poured our first glass, a dram of Schneider & Brooklyner Hopfen-Weisse. The day felt suddenly light, and as the tap mechanics from Ajax-Turner cranked the last regulator into place, the flood gates opened bringing a surge of expectant faces and off we all went together in a deluge of some of the world's finest beer.

East Nashville Beer Festival

* * *

It's important to note that while only about half of what we poured on Saturday is "high-gravity" by Tennessee standards, all that's about to change. You may have heard about the new legislation. One of the fun changes for us: As of July 1, we'll be able to sell all gravities of beer (I'm looking at you All Day IPA!). So whatever your favorite beer from the festival, we can make that available in the shop come summer!

Some of these beers (denoted by an *) are already available to us, and those are highlighted in previous blog posts. But for completion's sake, below is a full list of beers we poured at the 2014 East Nashville Beer Festival.

2014BeerFestRecap_ImageBanner2

DRAFT *Petrus Aged Pale (Belgium) *Petrus Aged Red (Belgium) *Wild Beer Co. Bliss (UK) Wild Beer Co. Iduna (UK) Cuvée de Jacobins (Belgium) *Ichtegems Grand Cru Flemish Red (Belgium) 1809 Berlinerweisse (Germany) Banhof Pineus Gose (Germany) *Schneider & Brooklyner Hopfen-Weisse (Germany) *Uerige Doppelsticke Altbier (Germany) Birra del Borgo ReAle Extra (Italy) *Birra del Borgo & Dogfish Head My Antonia (Italy) *St. Feuillien & Green Flash Belgian Coast IPA (Belgium) *De Glazen Toren Saison d'Erpe Mere (Belgium) *Vapeur Saison de Pipaix (Belgium)

FIRKIN *Etienne Dupont Cidre Bouche (France)

BOTTLE *St. Feuillien Tripel (Belgium) *De Glazen Toren Saison d'Erpe Mere Lentebier (Belgium) Hanseens Oude Geuze Lambic (Belgium) Hanseens Experimental Cassis Lambic (Belgium)

* * *

And certainly not least. . . A HUGE thanks to all of our volunteers for doing such a bang up job and making the day more than we could have hoped for. Clay, Alanna, Nathan, Blye, Thomas, Shelby, Jared and Jessica: you all really brought it! We could not have had such a wild success (nor so much delicious fun) without you. Thanks!

ENBF: Wild Beer Co.

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Introducing one of the boldest lines of beer I've seen in a while. Wild Beer Co. is a British company remixing continental tradition with innovation and looking for a new third way through. On Saturday we'll unveil two of Wild Beer Co.'s strange saisons, 'Bliss' and 'Iduna.'

Bliss (not yet available in bottles) is a darker, hardier interpretation that is loaded with apricots in the boil. Adding the fruit at this stage (rather than later, during fermentation) means a big fruit presence without the sweetness. To make things even stranger, Brettanomyces is added to give the beer a very dry, very funky and very complex palate. This is a beer that will develop over time, evolve into something wildly different. Not sure how old the keg we're getting will be, but no doubt it's going to be like nothing else at the festival.

Iduna (11.2 oz bottles — $10) is maybe a smidgen more traditional, but just a smidgen. It too is a saison with fruit, in this case Somerset apples. Wild yeasts are allowed to develop and a boatload of New Zealand hops are added. The final touch? Champagne yeasts to condition the beer in bottle (or keg). Dry, spritzy, delicate and really a surprise on your tongue. This one will wake you up!

Both of these beers just landed in the shop yesterday, and we'll have them both on tap tomorrow at the East Nashville Beer Festival. You won't want to miss them. Quenchers with a singular sense of style.

Wild Beer Co. Bliss 6.0% ABV

Wild Beer Co. Iduna Cru 9.0% ABV

And to close things out, one of the strangest (wildest) Flintstones episodes ever.

ENBF: Belgian Coast

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There's a pretty serious love affair going on between the San Diego brewery Green Flash and the Belgian house of Brasserie St. Feuillien. St. Feuillien was an Irish monk martyred in the charcoal forest near Le Roeulx in 655 AD. Nearly 1400 years later we drink a beer named for this traveling holy man. The brewery is in this same town, and the Friart family are the heirs of the abbey brewing tradition that is so rich in this part of the world. They founded the brewery in 1873 and have been making world class beer ever since.

When Chuck Silva visited the brewery several years ago, he knew special things were happening. Belgian Coast IPA (12oz bottles — $5) is now the third collaboration between the breweries. Another trans-Atlantic marriage of styles—old meets new and we get the best of both!

Who knew a beer could unleash this much thunder. . .

It turns out Belgian Coast is not nearly as tame as it sounds. This is a totally stormy, totally seductive brew: very fragrant, a touch fruity, intensely bitter, rich through the finish. No doubt this keg will kick fast on Saturday.

Also, be sure to keep up with what we're tapping as we tap it on the day of the festival. Follow us on twitter @woodlandwine or with the hashtag #woodlandtaps. We'll be doing it live all day.

St. Feuillien & Green Flash Belgian Coast IPA 7.5% ABV

ENBF: My Antonia

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A look backward into the past, trying to reconcile its pastoral beginnings with its current big shot trans-Atlantic prestige. . . Like the namesake Cather novel, My Antonia is a beer that scaffolds its complexity atop a simple and rustic foundation. Here's Dogfish Head brewer Sam Calagione and his grandmother discussing their boozy Italian-American roots.

Calagione hooked up with Italian brewery Birra del Borgo to produce this masterclass in innovating style. They call it an Imperial Pilsner, basically a big hefty East Coast craft version of the crisp lager style born in western Czech Republic. It's continually hopped, and as such deeply aromatic in the glass. All the refreshment of a pilsner, all the muscular flavor you've come to expect from Dogfish Head.

But Dogfish Head doesn't distribute in TN, you say. True. How do we have it? Birra del Borgo is distributed by one of our favorite importers, B. United. Thus we go end-around for one sweet little sip of glory. Come get you some!

Dogfish Head - Birra del Borgo collaboration My Antonia Imperial Pilsner (750ml bottles - $18) 7.5% ABV

ENBF: Vapeur Saison de Pipaix

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My colleague Kelley-Frances just told me, "I like to sweat a lot." Who knows what she was talking about (...) but I'm going with her desire for a thirst-quenching beer. Today we're talking Saison de Pipaix from La Brasserie à Vapeur.

Saison as a style was created way back as a potable way to hydrate migrating farmhands in the French/Belgian countryside. It also doubled as payment (I've heard figures as staggering as 5 gallons per day!). The Pipaix was first created in 1785, and is the only beer Vapeur has kept in its arsenal over the subsequent centuries.

Pipaix (750ml bottles — $11) has been a favorite here since we first started carrying it last year. It's one of those beers that has a crisp lunchtime appeal, with a little touch of animal wildness in the aromas and flavors, a little spice to clean things up. It's more tart than other, simpler Saisons (almost like a full-bodied geuze), and its complexity is deceptively subtle. Never had this one on draft before... It'll be one to come back for on a second round.

Brasserie à Vapeur "Saison de Pipaix" 6.5% ABV

ENBF: Petrus Oak Aged

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Up to your ears in sour! Petrus Aged Pale is aged for 24-36 months in large oak barrels. During that time, millions of micro-organisms interact with the beer and create lactic acids. The result is an incredibly dry and complex beer, something akin to Brut Champagne. sour_face_answer_7_xlarge

The first sip will pucker you up quick. But sips 2 and 3 open the gates to beer heaven (hence Petrus, the Latin name for St. Peter). The Aged Pale is the 'mother beer' for the Petrus brand, meaning they blend this beer into all of their other beers to add signature style and complexity. At some point, beer guru Michael Jackson convinced Petrus to bottle the Aged Pale on its own... Thank Peter he did! Enjoy this one on tap Saturday.

Petrus Aged Pale (11.2 oz bottles — $6) 7.3% ABV

ENBF: Bosteels Tripel

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Ostensibly the only Belgian tripel brewed with three grains (oats, barley & wheat). Bosteels' Tripel Karmeliet is a modern classic, one that inspires us to keep brewing, and of course, to keep drinking. Hopefully we all stop a little short of what happens to this guy. But who knows, with this one on draft at the East Nashville Beer Festival, it might get loud!

What he said.

The recipe is from 1679, and Bosteels has been around for more than 200 years. With that kind of provenance, I guess I should expect nothing less. And yet still, every next first sip comes over me as powerfully as the last. I swoon for this one.

Brouwerij Bosteels Tripel Karmeliet (750ml bottles - $13) 8.0% ABV

ENBF: Uerige Dopplesticke

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We'll have this one on tap at ENBF. UerigeDoppelsticke

To love Doppelsticke is easy, but to understand it takes time. Let's go back to the mid-1800s, in Germany. With the rise of refrigeration, Bavarian-style lager beer has suddenly swept across the land and threatens to wipe ales nearly out of existence. In the west, traditionalists hang on by a thread. Cologne begins making Kölsch (a top-fermented ale conditioned at cold temperatures to mimic the crispness of lager) and Düsseldorf begins making Altbier. Or, rather, continues making the same beer it has always made, but begins calling it Altbier, or "old beer," to distinguish it from the new trendy bottom-fermented beers called lagers.

Sticke is a special style of Altbier derived from the happy accidents of brewers. The word sticke derives from the local dialect word stickum ("secret"), meaning the secret recipes these brewers found by messing up their regular beer and having to add more malt and hops to find a balance. Eventually it became a thing, and today sticke is brewed twice a year by only a few breweries in the city of Düsseldorf. And only one of them brews a Doppelsticke ("double sticke"), Germany's answer to the barleywine ale.

Zum Uerige is a brewpub, a corner bar in the heart of old town of Düsseldorf. And they just happen to make some of the best ales in Germany. Dopplesticke is their invention, a one of a kind, big, rich, aromatic dark beer with a hop bitterness unlike anything in its class. You really have to see and taste this one to believe it. Yowzers. We've had it for a while in bottles (11.2 oz - $11), but on draft? Hells yeah. Can't wait!

ENBF: 10 Days & Counting

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The East Nashville Beer Festival is but 10 short days away. If you didn't already know, Woodland Wine Merchant will be there in style this year. We'll have 10 taps flowing, rotating through more than 20 of Europe's finest brews. Plus, a mammoth surprise you won't want to miss. To whet your appetite, I'm going to post a beer a day for the next 10 days. So check back and get a little taste of what we're up to. You will not be disappointed.

First, a bit of ephemera from the past to get us going:

No, Heineken will not be present at the ENBF, but I do hope my beer glass rings so pure as theirs. Cheers, ya'll!

Saison_dErpe-Mere_Lentbier

I'll start with a beer that's only available in bottles (we'll have some on hand to taste). It's a special seasonal brew from KleinBrouwerij De Glazen Toren, "Saison D'Erpe-Mere Lentebier." If you know their year-round D'Erpe-Mere then your mouth is already watering. This version sees a more vigorous fermentation with more sugars and yeasts to create a whopping 9.0% beer. It's hopped in the boil using the same spicy Hellertaur hops as it's little sister, but then "late-hopped" with hop flowers near the end of conditioning to give it that special Lent season flavor. And of course, it's bottle conditioned. Just hit our shelves this week (750ml - $15).

Rich but dry with lots of fruity and spicy esters. It wears its hefty 9% ABV like an unbuttoned coat. The freshness just keeps billowing up inside. Perfect for early spring.

Could it be a WhistlePig?

scott

Funny story. A young handsome bow-tie-sporting fellow walks into a bar. Bartender says: Hey, didn't I see you on The Apprentice? Handsome guy says, Yeah, but did you hear the one about me losing a congressional bid and then sitting around for a year not sure what to do with my life and then in a stroke of inspiration, after hiking around in the rockies and being verbally assaulted by a cooky Frenchman, deciding I would buy a 250-acre farm in Vermont where I would grow my own rye and make rye whiskey at the highest level of sophistication possible? No, says the bartender. But can I have a dram? OK, so not a great punch line. But it is sort of fascinating, don't you think? It's one of these classic American tales of remaking oneself again and again, always in the pursuit of perfection. After trying his hand in a number of arenas, Raj Bhakta found the one thing that he apparently can do really, really well, which is run a whiskey business.

In 2010 he launched WhistlePig, so named after said earlier encounter with the Frenchman, who approached him on a hike from out of the blue and asked, in his heavily inflected Frenglish, Could it be whistle pig? He then made kissy noises and puckered his fingers in Raj's face. It so astounded Raj that he never let go of the moment, and just a few years later turned this strange encounter into liquid gold. How he went from that anecdote to a rye whiskey made unlike any other—well, that remains a mystery.

But he hired former Maker's Mark master distiller Dave Pickerell, and off they went. As of now, the whiskey is sourced from undisclosed Canadian distilleries, and is counted as one of the great found objects in the whiskey world. It's ten years old, made from 100% rye grain (very rare, due to the material properties of rye, which is more difficult to break down than corn or wheat), barreled first in new American Oak and finished in used Bourbon casks for softness, and finally bottled by hand at the WhistlePig farm in Vermont. They're distilling their own whiskey there too, made from estate-grown rye, but perfection takes time. Meanwhile, they've settled on curating one of the finest bottlings to hit the market this decade.

And now, after years of rooting around in New England, the WhistlePig is finally whistling Dixie! I for one think it's hitting every note.

WhistlePig "100/100" Straight Rye Whiskey — $75

Première Rosé

woodlandwinemerchant

It's here again: the beginning of rosé season. Seems like lately that runs about half the year, but you won't find me complaining. Especially when more rosé means more wines like Domaine de Fontsainte Gris de Gris. One of their mottos (they seem to have several) is that modern doesn't have to mean techno-driven. I wonder if that turn-of-phrase has a little more music to it in the French—probably. But the point is, they're right. The domaine goes back centuries. The little pocket of land it occupies is in the heart of the local "golden crescent" of Corbières, so-named for the intensity of sun in the area. Medieval monks set up hermitages here for contemplation. Roman soldiers tarried here on R&R. Mountains to the west, Mediterranean to the east, granite bluffs to the north. The winds shift back and forth between two seas. The soil is well-drained. It's ideal wine country.

The Laboucarié family has owned the place since the mid-seventies. They were the first in the Corbières region (part of Languedoc-Rousillon) to practice whole-cluster fermentation (carbonic maceration) which brings a brightness to the traditionally deep, intense reds made of Carignan, Grenache noir, Syrah, Mouvedre, etc. While innovation has played a big role in the reputation of this estate, their instruments are all strung for the most traditional chansons. Another of their mottos: you must see the land through your ancestors' eyes.

But today we're talking rosé. Because no one does it better in the Southwest than Domaine de Fontsainte with their Gris de Gris. This is flinty, rose-hipped, under-ripe strawberry chain reaction goodness in your mouth. This is refreshment in no small dose. The flinging open of your shutters. The call of the song-birds. The sparkling gem of an al fresco lunch.

And the best part? This year she comes in double. We bought up a round of magnums (1.5L bottles) of the Fontsainte rosé because, well, in this case more is just better. A lot better. Anyone wanting to throw down on some spring is absolutely in need of one of these. They look like softball bats! Pink, delicious softball bats. Get yours.

Domaine de Fontsainte Corbières "Gris de Gris" 750ml ($17) 1.5L ($39)

Neyers: All lined up

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When Bruce Neyers joined the Army in the late 1960s, wine was no more on his mind than it was for the great majority of Americans at that time. But when he left the service in 1970, he had developed a taste for the trade while working as a cellar rat in his down time, and thought staying a couple years in Napa Valley (then merely a shade of what it is today) sounded better than returning to plastics engineering back east. Yeah. Good call, Bruce. And just in the nick of time. From there he traveled to Germany and then back to the West Coast, where he began working for California wine legend Joseph Phelps. In the intervening years, he learned the skills needed to grow, make and sell wine in a variety of settings. He left Phelps in 1992 and joined with an old friend and mentor, import magnate Kermit Lynch. It was with Kermit that he began to understand unflinching commitment to quality and immersion, the sensibilities of small vignerons in Europe, and wed his two passions: making California wine and selling French wine.

His story then, like all good stories, is one of convergence—hard work, some ethical maneuvering and a lot of dumb luck. "I married well," he says. No doubt, and so it appears his good taste extends beyond the rim of the glass.

From these confluences has sprung a line up of what I can only term straightforward excellence. The grapes are organically grown and the wine is (almost all) unfined and unfiltered. And the juice sings. These wines, taken generally, have a consistency of style that neither smacks you around with its own sense of itself, nor sits back stiffly and makes you do all the talking. Rather, they have an unaffected charm and ease of manner, like a good house guest who knows how make you laugh and keeps you up late two nights in a row but then cleans up after himself and leaves just in time to make you miss him. Oh, that Sage Canyon. . . I hope he comes back soon.

Like the man himself, these are joyous wines that hold no small touch of grace.

Neyers Vineyards - wines in stock
"Carneros" Chardonnay — $33 "304" Chardonnay (stainless steel-aged) — $25 "Vista Luna" Zinfandel — $25 "Sage Canyon" Red — $25 "Neyers Ranch" Merlot — $42 "Cuvee d'Honneur" Syrah — $50 "Neyers Ranch" Cabernet Sauvignon — $65

Hervé Souhat: Does Not Intervene

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It's little wonder why Hervé Souhaut of Domaine Romaneaux-Destezet has risen to stardom within the geeky world of natural wine. He's smart, unpretentious, and very good at what he does. Formerly trained as a biologist, Hervé takes great pains to know the science of vineyard management. Not the "better living through science" type of science, mind you, that ends again and again in a cul-de-sac of monoculture. But the basic, elemental geology and ecology of the vines. Where they come from, how they got here and what they need to keep on transcending.

In doing so, he allows for what I've heard termed a 'greater transparency.' It's this idea of the wine as a lens into its beginnings, but let me back up. I haven't met Souhaut and I think his English is about as good as my French, so if we did meet it would be a lot of smiling and nodding and probably me making an ass of myself using the three expletives I know en français. So I haven't asked, but my impression from those who know him is that he keeps his theorizing to a minimum and lets his wines speak for themselves. Rightly.

Hevré Souhaut courtesy Jenny & Francois Selections

I do know he makes wines that make me feel. It's a sensual experience. And while I like to peel back the layers of the wine and find out about his soil composition and even read that he owns a wine press used by one of his stylistic predecessors and heroes Jules Chauvet—after all, this is the kind of thing that makes the man himself charming and not only his wines—it matters not to my actual encounter with what's in the glass. That's between me and the glass. And to make me feel, the wine has to win my heart every time.

Through the meticulous management of his vineyards in Ardeche (the little sliver between the regions of Northern & Southern Rhone), Souhaut brings a purer version of the elements into his cellar. The land, its history and prehistory, the dynamic ecosystem it is today, the sun and rain and wind: all that we call terroir in this business, and more. Transparency as I understand it—and that's what I'm claiming Souhaut's wines achieve—means allowing the raw combination of those elements to ring out with clear voices in the end. And it has to happen in the vineyard, because once the grapes hits the press M. Souhaut does not intervene.

It takes an exceptional amount of control. He takes his hands away, lets the juice just be. Call it alchemy (I'll call it spontaneous fermentation) but the juice, as if filled with a divine breath, comes bubbling to life. And through it we get a clear sense of the particularity of that place at that time, the special combination of the elements of those grapes. Transparent, with no smudges or fingerprints clouding our view. What makes a Romaneaux-Destezet different than an average wine? He really doesn't muck about the way other winemakers do. Even less so than many who practice organic farming, or use native yeasts. These are pure vineyard, and it's amazing to taste what pure vineyard really is.

We only get these wines every so often. So if you like stuff, and think stuff should be done right, I suggest you come face to face with a wine that will challenge your very notions of itself.

Domaine Romaneaux-Destezet

Gamay "La Souteronne " — $25 delicate like you'd think of a gamay, but inky and floral with a touch of wild animal

Syrah — $29 bacon fat and black cherry with a modest curviness for the tooth

Ch. le Puy

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A lot gets made of the contemporary reform of grape farming, the move away from so-called conventional viticulture and toward organics and biodynamics. Of course, before the onslaught of chemo-industrial management technologies, folks just had to listen to the wisdom of their ancestors and give it their best. So what does it mean for a farm to have been biodynamic for more than 400 years? (The term biodynamic comes from the 1920s, inspired by the work of Rudolf Steiner, who championed a scientific approach to the investigation of the spiritual). For an answer, I turn to the claimants, Chateau le Puy. It's "a modern way of saying of saying we tend our vines the same way our grandfathers did: no chemical fertilizers, no herbicides and no artificial insecticides." Pretty much what I thought. The lunar cycle plays heavily into the timing of their decisions, for instance, when they bottle their wines, which are not filtered. And while the idea of them having been "biodynamic" for 400 years leads us into problems with the space-time continuum, no need to go there. Point taken.

The farm has been in the family since 1610, and because of the foresight of the estate, they never went for the leveling practices of the 20th Century that have since proven to be harmful, to the wine and the world. It's a great story, one of small-scale resistance, but also fortitude. I can't imagine what it must have been like in Bordeaux in 1960, saying, Nah, I'm not gonna spray that shit on my vines. You go ahead, make your millions, to me that seems dumb. Or something like that. I don't really know how it went down, but I'm sure glad to learn that it did.

What's the wine like? Classic. Structured. Expressive. Youthful. With no added sulphites in vinification, a painstaking by-hand de-stemming process, utter care in transportation of the grapes and moon-regulated stirring of the barrels, these wines give, and give, and give.

It's a great time of year to be exploring Bordeaux, even if that might seem passé. Because these days we're gaining access to a glut of wines from that region that have never before graced American soils. Nothing says cool like something old made new. And nothing says Cheer-up! on a gray February day like a bottle of sumptuous Right Bank claret.

Chateau Le Puy "Emilien" (red) — $45

85% merlot, 14% cabernet sauvignon, 1% carménère leads with currants, follows with forest floor earthiness, finishes long and leggy

Chateu Le Puy "Marie-Cécile" (white) — $45

100% semillon leads with supple orchard fruit, fills the palate with handles and curves, finishes with a kiss of minerality

Domaine Gramenon: Impressions

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Michèle Aubèry-Laurent embodies an abstract quality that I love about wine. I have not met her, and yet in tasting what she makes I feel a connection to the land she cultivates, the life she leads, the culture she inhabits. Over vast space and time I am transported by her wines, from where I sit and commune with friends to a place between my world and hers, a third dimension that, at its most artful, is also spiritual. But it's just booze, right? Why all the metaphysics? The thing is, Domaine Gramenon captures a realness of experience that is hard to put into words, and so I can only relate it to certain other encounters, a Cezanne painting or an Antonioni film. A bottle of L'Elementaire between friends creates an impressionistic affectation, a pathway through the senses into something altogether new. No, I'm not glasses deep in a bottle just now, as I write this, but I remember the last time I was and I look forward to the next time with a fondness and anticipation. Mostly, I hope to share one of these bottles with someone who has never had one, because like playing Leonard Cohen to someone for the first time, I know the look that will fall across her face and the sense of strangeness we will share, that we are traveling together in the world without moving.

Enough of all that. At some point it is just a bottle of wine, nothing more. But even then Gramenon is something special. Michèle and her husband Philippe bought the Gramenon property in 1978 and produced their first vintage in '79. They have farmed the same way since the beginning, what she says they used to call "normal work" but is now referred to as "natural methods." Philippe died tragically in 1999, at which point Michèle took over tending the vines and raising their three children. Her son Maxime has helped since 2006, and now makes two cuvees of his own. Their vines are all organic, some biodynamic, and their cellar strategy is one of minimal intervention. No fining, no filtration, no additives. Some new oak imparts a strength to the otherwise delicate character of the wine, and in this case subtracts absolutely nothing from the wine's integrity.

If you can't tell, I'm a little enamored. Forgive the nostalgia, it's just a little case of longing, wishing every bottle of wine were as good as these.

Domaine Gramenon
Côtes-du-Rhône "Poignée Raisins" (grenache) — $28

youngish vines, concrete-tank aging, fresh and vibrant nose opens into juicy palate, subtle meatiness for a firm finish

Côtes-du-Rhône "L'Elementaire" (grenache) — $33

45-y.o. vines, more grip and grain than her other cuvees, rich red color, sun-ripened sweet fruit balanced by firm tannins

Côtes-du-Rhône "Sierra du Sud" (syrah) — $38

young and old vines, darkly colored, meaty but fresh, peppery notes, strongly aromatic, rich palate