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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

Biodynamic Bordeaux

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As transparency becomes more important to a wider audience of wine drinkers, a growing number of small producers are turning to more principled methodologies. Conventions of the last half of the Twentieth Century were too often geared toward a higher vine yield, a more consistent finished product and a greater stability for worldwide shipping. That means artificial chemical fertilizers, mechanized plowing and harvesting, heavy manipulations in the cellar (adding sugar, acid, industrial yeast, tannin extract, etc.) and an increased use of sulfites. The effect isn't just unromantic, it's also commodified the experience of wine and severed the link between land and table. Sound familiar? After all, wine is a food stuff, an agricultural product, and has been through many of the same cycles as our produce over the last 75 years.

The last decade, however, has seen the rise of authentically natural farming and production methods. In some ways it's a return to the old, in other ways it's a radical approach that challenges authority in places where convention reigns supreme.

Biodynamics might be the most extreme category of conscientious viticulture, but it also seems to be the most sharply rising in popularity. Nowhere as much as France. Well, France excluding Bordeaux, that is.

With a reputation as the wine world's sweater-clad grandpa, the one you have to yell at for him to hear you from two feet away, who occasionally still mutters something so wise and brilliant you promise yourself to stop being such an idiot and call the old fart more often, Bordeaux has been a little slower than its neighbors in embracing the trend. That doesn't mean it won't, and it doesn't mean Bordeaux at its finest is anything less than transcendent, it just means in a land managed by traditionalists and financed by multinational corporations, fundamental changes in method will not come quickly.

Enter a few headstrong youngsters in the under-rated interior of the Right Bank.

Chateau Peybonhomme Les Tours "Crus Bourgeois" - Cotes de Blaye ($16) Things changed for Jean-Luc and Catherine Hubert one night in December 1999, when lightning struck (literally) and a strong wind blew down several of the sickly trees surrounding their vineyards. They decided then and there, at the sight of the devastation, to convert to a farming practice that encourages biodiversity and strength. Today it's one of the most important properties in the Cotes de Blaye. The chalky subsoils lend the wine a texture of fine-grained tannins, and despite being dominated by merlot, the cabernet franc asserts itself fully. A truly expressive wine with a tender, savory appeal.

Chateau La Grolet - Cotes de Bourg ($16) The second property from the Hubert family, who has lately become a bellwether in the Right Bank. The Grolet is predominated by merlot, and in this expression is youthful, powerful and more ripe than the Peybonhomme. Dark fruits fill the glass, a ruby red color shimmers all the way to the rim, and the spicy richness of the wine begs for hardy red meats.

Chateau Le Puys "Duc des Nauves" ($18) This property sits on the same rock structure as its very important neighbors, Pomerol and St. Emilion. And with 500 years of continuous farming by the Amoreau family, you'd think they'd feel the limitations of tradition. Instead, the current generation of Amoreau vignerons has, like the Huberts, become Demeter certified and is reaching new heights as a result. This wine, also predominated by merlot, is a youthful powerhouse. Richly layered red fruits dominate the nose, but the unfined unfiltered fullness of the wine is only apparent with the intensity of the midpalate. Demeter certified (like the Hubert properties) and righteously self-assured in its Right Bank provenance.

Taste for yourself this Saturday, January 11, 3-5pm.

Standing on Tradition

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Weingut Ökonomierat RebholzPfalz, Germany

I struggle with something in writing these posts: often I want to express how a particular wine or winemaker might go out of his or her way to make wine of integrity, starting in the vineyard and finishing in your glass, but I lack the shorthand to make it quick and clear. The plain truth is that too many wines today are manufactured, manipulated and otherwise put together in a way that is supposed to appeal to a certain market, maximize yields and minimize variation. In other words, made to please the bottom line and nothing else.

Wine of integrity, to me, means uncompromising methods of farming, fermenting and cellaring a wine. The best of the best don't bend their wine to meet expectations, they create a pure expression of climate, soil and culture and let the wines speak for themselves. It takes confidence, understanding and a lot of luck to make wines in this way.

Weingut Rebholz has been doing it for three consecutive generations. Even when the market trends veered in a nearly opposite direction (which was probably most of the time), the Rebholz family has stuck to their time-honored and traditional approach. Basically, get your hands dirty, don't fuss around too much in the cellar, and let the wine evolve. Everything here is done by hand. Nothing is added, nothing is taken away. (Seriously, you'd be shocked at what goes into that bottle of Mark West).

Currently, the estate is run by Hansjörg Rebholz, his wife Brigit and his mother Christine. They're craftspeople, farmers and leaders of what today we might call the 'natural wine' movement. That's probably too flaccid a term, too abstract a way to capture something ultimately simple. But the point is this: they make absolutely stunning wines that stand proudly on tradition.

The spätburgunder (pinot noir) smells really earthy and a touch smokey with little bits of red fruit hiding underneath. But the palate bursts with plump cherry and raspberry flavors, supported by lean but firm tannins, a hint of herbs and a kiss of spice. Resoundingly Old World in style, wearing its shell-limestone heart on its sleeves. ($30)

The pinot blanc is dry and crisp with flourishes of melon. One of the most mineral-driven pinot blancs out there, softened only by its lightly oily texture. Bristling with character. ($20)

Clos Cibonne

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The French AOC system isn't known for its flexibility. But in the case of Clos Cibonne, the Cotes de Provence AOC was compelled to make an exception. This from US importer De Maison Selections:

The heart of the [Clos Cibonne] estate is their Tibouren. André Roux was a great fan of this native varietal and believed it to be the ideal grape for the region. As part of his revitalization he replaced all of the estate’s Mourvèdre with Tibouren. Clos Cibonne soon became synonymous with Tibouren and received special permission from the A.O.C. to list the grape on its labels.

This happened in the mid-1930s. The estate soon became famous for its rosé, and as such synonymous with Tibouren. Then in the 1980s the property fell into a state of disrepair, only to recover in the late-90s under the leadership of André Roux's granddaughter Brigitte. Today the wine has returned to its full splendor. The rosé is more famous, partly for its history, but the red is masterful in its own right and deserves every bit as much attention. We only got in a single case of this wine, which is fine and rare. So if you're in the mood for an approachable, beautifully wrought, lighter-style red with complex aromas and flavors ranging from crushed berries to spicy garrigue, don't miss this gem.

A Note About the Farming

They call it la lutte raisonée, which translates roughly from the French to "the reasoned struggle." What does that mean? Well it's a rough translation, one of those phrases whose essence can never quite be captured in a second tongue, but the idea is that it's a middle ground between the heavy use of industrial chemicals that sprang up in viticulture in the 1950s and the more conscientious (but much more vulnerable) practices that include organic and biodynamic farming. It's somewhere in between, not subject to the strictures of the certifying organizations but also able to make autonomous decisions as to when or how to treat for mold, pests and weeds. Cover crops are common, as are grazing animals, and at least theoretically the use of sprays and chemicals is sparing at most. Here is what the importer Kermit Lynch has to say:

Some farmers work through certifying agencies such as Terra Vitis, following a specific set of specifications and requirements. Others farm independently, following organic methodologies, and reserving treatments only when conditions are optimal (for example, when there is no wind). Zoologists have introduced more environmentally-friendly concepts such as integrated pest management, or hormone confusion, which prevents the reproduction of certain pests that may threaten the vines.

The struggles to become certified as Organic or Biodynamic are multi-faceted. Financial concerns are primary, as many of the small vignerons who care to practice this sort of farming also don't have spare funds for frivolous label enhancers. Also, as blogger Le Dom du Vin puts it:

One of the reasons why it is so difficult for a producer to certified Organic or Biodynamic: if your entire vineyard is fully Organic or Biodynamic but your immediate neighbor's vineyards isn't, you'll probably never be able to be certified. Moreover, if your neighbor uses pesticides and herbicides, you can't forget about it, because the wind may blow some chemicals in your vineyard and depending on the terrain, chemicals absorbed by the ground may drain or affected your soil too.

In the end, is the wine good or not? In the case of Clos Cibonne, they do what's best for their vines and they make some of the most expressive and individualistic wines in the world. The Tibouren rouge is in stock now.

Clos Cibonne Cotes de Provence Tibouren rouge — $25

Lapierre is it

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Marcel Lapierre, who passed away at harvest's end in October 2010, ushered in a revolutionary return to traditional winemaking in Beaujolais that started in his home village of Villie-Morgon, eventually spreading through France and around the world. When Marcel took over the family estate in 1973, grape growing and winemaking had settled into a post-war dependence on chemical fertilizers, pesticides, and commercial yeasts. Lapierre, under the tutelage of a viticultural sage named Jules Chauvet, lead a small group of like minded vignerons in a return to the old practices of viticulture and vinification: start with old vines, never use synthetic herbicides and pesticides, harvest late, use natural fermentations, and minimize the use of sulfur dioxide. "I'm just making the wine of my father and grandfather," he said, "but I'm trying to make it a little better." Marcel was joined by his son Mathieu, and together they took their natural wine philosophy further by adopting organic and biodynamic vineyard practices.
2012 is the third vintage where the combination of expectation and traditon are solely on the shoulders of Mathieu. Like his father, he is "trying to make it a little better." But nature can be cruel, dishing out in 2012 what several old timers called one of the toughest vintages of modern times - poor spring flowering, followed by hail, followed by summer rains. It is an extremely small vintage and marks the second shortfall in three years.
We have just received our allocation of the 2012 Lapierre Morgon, as well as the 2012 Lapierre Raisins Gaulois. Raisins Gaulois is from vines mostly in the cru of Morgon with a bit of A.O.C. Beaujolais fruit as well. It is bright and refreshing and perfectly epitomizes the estate's core principles.
From 3 until 5 pm on Saturday, we will taste the 2012 Lapierre Morgon and Raisins Gaulois and toast to "trying to make it a little better." Please join us.
2012 M. Lapierre Morgon - $28
2012 M. Lapierre Raisins Gaulois - $15

Domaine Faury

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The Faury family has vineyards in some of the northern Rhones most prestigious appellations. Cote Rote. Condrieu. Saint Joseph. But it is a simple syrah from their vineyards atop a granite plateau in Saint Joseph that we greet with the greatest excitement each year. Not only does it provide a window into the style of the vintage, it is the illustration in liquid form of the Faury's confident walk between rusticity and elegance. Lionel Faury, with father Philippe never far from his side, does it the right way. As the Faury's importer Kermit Lynch puts it, "There’s a real attention to detail here, and nothing is done in haste.  Every method used encourages the grape towards greatness with the ultimate respect for its fragility." Those already familiar with the Domaine Faury Syrah will be excited to learn the 2012 vintage has just landed. For the uninitiated, this vintage is bright and approachable with just the right play between rock, fruit, and flower. Domaine Faury IGP Collines Rhodaniennes Syrah 2012 $23

Dom. de la Pépière Muscadet Clisson

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There's been a lot of recent hype about Marc Olivier's Muscadet Clisson. For good reason. His 2010 vintage is truly as good as it gets for Muscadet, combining the crisp and focused pleasantries of Melon de Bourgogne with the the hard-edged, mouth-ripping minerality of Clisson's low-lying granite soils. Clisson is a city just southwest of Nantes, around which the Muscadet appellations are centered. It's soils drain quickly, leaving too little water for thirsty grape vines, making the vines dig deeper and deeper into the subsoils and developing crazy complexities for the fruit in the process. If you've had the wines of Domaine de la Pépière in the past, you know to expect quality and refreshment. But even us seasoned veterans of these wines have been blown away by the potential of the 2010 Clisson. It's aged 2 years on lees, supplying ample richness to balance the puckering acidity. Salty, citrusy, lean, vivacious—you'll want to take this one to bed, or at least wake up next to it in the morning.

Wine Terroirs has a great lengthy article on Marc Olivier and the Pépière project in general. The NY retailer Crush recently wrote a love letter to the wine. Get it, hold it, build a shrine. 2010 Muscadet Clisson is a shining example of what real wine can be—thirst quenching, radiant & transportive.

Pepiere Clisson Muscadet

The Wines

Domaine de la Pépière "Clisson" Muscadet Sevre-et-Maine Clisson 750ml — $25 1.5L — $50

Approaching Zero Intervention | Movia Lunar

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Winemaker Aleš Kristačnič had a vision so singular he had to re-engineer hundreds of standard wine barrels before he could even get started. The idea was to create a wine so essentially alive not even the skins would be taken away, not even for bottling. What drove him to such lengths? A simple quest for the purest wine possible. The result is called Lunar, and it's spectacular.

Lunar is a wine of intrigue, a wine of mystery, and quite possibly the least intervened in wine in the world. As Aleš says, "this is wine that is very close to how the hunter found it thousands of years ago." In our era of the highly stable international style, Lunar is radical, ambitious and delicious.

In creating Lunar, Aleš draws on the full breadth of modern oenology but eschews the principles that have made wine the global commodity it is today. The grapes are harvested and de-stemmed by hand, loaded whole into his customized barrels, and left for eight months to ferment and mature on their own. No pressing, no pumping, no filtering, no adding of yeasts or acids or sugars, no killing of anything that might add to the complexity of the wine.

The winery is named Movia. It straddles the Italian-Slovenian border in the area known (in Slovenian) as Brda, where the white grape rebula is king. Lunar is made in two editions, 8 Moon (rebula) and 9 Moon (chardonnay).

We recently picked up Lunar 8 Moon, the rebula wine. It's not cheap, but then it's not like anything you've had before, either. If you're interested trying Lunar, pick up a bottle and watch the video on how to open and pour this wine to preserve its full character but not get mud in your glass.

The Wines

Movia Lunar 8 Moon — $44 Movia Rebula — $34

Vive Vouvray!

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In late June, hail the size of hen's eggs swept across the regions of Chinon and Vouvray in the central Loire Valley of France. The storm came quickly in the night, catching farmers off-guard. By dawn the devastation was clear. Dozens of estates suffered critical losses. It's a harsh reminder of an often overlooked but essential point: wine is an agricultural product, and drinking wine (to modify a Wendell Berry quote) is an agricultural act. No one was hit worse than vigneron François Pinon, who lost 100% of his crop. His vines were stripped of their grapes and even, in some places, their canopy and cane growth. It's insult to injury for Pinon, who got hit extremely hard last year as well.

Josefa Concannon, representative with U.S. importer Louis/Dressner Selections, told me this in an email: "In 2012 [François] lost most of his crop to hail and frost and was only able to make a small amount of his sparkling wine." And next year looks hardly better. The damage to the vines from this year's storm was so severe it will inhibit yields through 2014, even if Pinon is blessed with improved weather.

With any business model, agricultural or otherwise, three straight years of little-to-no revenue would be an existential threat. With vignerons—farmers who own the land, tend the vines and make the wine themselves—whose product is based  on achieving high quality through decades of meticulous care and years of bottle aging, overcoming such hardship seems nearly impossible. Especially considering the small production and relatively low cost of the wine. To be fair, I'm holding out hope. And the folks at Louis/Dressner are hoping to take action.

Concannon went on to say, "We have not yet heard much about how things stand but we are trying to get some of his library wines such as the molleaux, and offer them... as a fundraiser."

In recent history, François Pinon's wines have been widely praised as exemplars of Vouvray; they've certainly been a favorite at this shop for many years. Just this week we received shipment of two of his wines from a previous vintage. We're hoping it's not the last we see of this modern classic.

Taste François's wines Saturday from 3 to 5. Support a struggling farmer. Drink Vouvray!

The Wines

François Pinon Vouvray Brut Non Dosé—$20 Super dry with a hint of waxy richness from extended lees contact. Sparse fruit profile: quince, pear, wet stone.

François Pinon Vouvray "Les Trois Argiles" 2010—$20 A delicate sweetness in the approach gives way to spicy, citrusy flavors with power and length.

*Note: If you'd be interested in buying older vintages of Pinon as part of the Louis/Dressner fundraiser, please let us know and I'll pass it along. While it's only an idea at this point, an early show of support can't hurt.

Single Oak Project

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About a month ago, the Buffalo Trace Distillery issued its ninth release of what they call the Single Oak Project. The short version is that it's bourbon aged in barrels each of which is made from a single tree. The long version is available on the Project's website. Basically, experts from the distillery teamed with their oak tree farmers and their coopers (the folks who mill the wood and make the staves and barrels) and go romping through a Missouri Ozark forest in search of a few exemplary trees. Then they cooper the barrels, tracking all the crucial info along the way. Each selected tree is cut in half, and each half made into barrels using only the wood from that portion of that tree. Variations are recorded, like porousness of the wood grain, the length of seasoning time for the staves, the char level of the inside of the barrel, and so on. What results is wild variation in flavor—you'd be surprised what a difference these variables can make. Each bottle is labeled with the barrel number so you can record and upload your own thoughts and share with others. It's a social world out there.

Get a bottle, share with friends. Yours might be the world's greatest Bourbon.

Out of Time Out

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Ah... the 1970s. So much right, so much wrong. Nowhere more than in the northern Italian province of Emilia-Romagna. The bad? After nearly 2000 years of uninterrupted tradition, the production of dry, savory, lightly sparkling reds (i.e. Lambrusco & Malvasia) went the way of the dodo. In its place came the invasive species we generically call sweet wine. The good? After 35 years in time out, the current vanguard of producers are finally crawling out from behind that long, dark shadow and taking the region in a bold new direction: toward tradition. Here are two we're really excited about at the moment. La Collina Lunaris Secco (Malvasia di Candia Aromatica)

The quick version is that 12 likeminded youngsters got together in the mid-70s (no doubt in direct rejection of certain other trends) and decided to start a sort of commune in rural Italy. Yeah, shocker. On this commune, they would grow food and raise livestock and make cheese in the tradition of the land. But the vision included something special, a modern and forward-thinking twist—this commune would be a sort of rehabilitation community for recovering drug addicts. Amazingly, against all odds, it worked. Today they support addicts on their way to a drug-free life, and meanwhile farm and raise a wide variety of crops and animals, respectively.

Of course, this kind of thoughtful and caring philosophy also forms the foundation of their approach to growing and making wine. They've been farming their grapes biodynamically since 1985, and now carry the mantle of the centuries-old tradition of crisp, savory, frizzante red wine. This is the ultimate wine for a light charcuterie plate, the perfect compliment to prosciutto or salami and mild, hard cheeses. The bubbles are light and delightful, while the primary berry-fruit aromas and flavors are super fresh all the way through. And while it's as fun as any commodity wine on the market, this is handcrafted stuff from real people who are just living each day to make a difference. Can't beat that.

Fattoria Moretto Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro

This story is just as quaint, but from a totally different perspective. This is from the Kermit Lynch site:

Domenico Altariva grew up watching his parents work the land; so when he married and bought a house with his new wife, Albertina, it was natural that he also bought a little land that he would tend in his spare time. A salesman by trade, he was also an avid oenophile, so he chose to plant vineyards from which he made wine for personal consumption.

Yeah well meanwhile he's been making the most slamming-good funky dry Lambrusco this side of the Alps. Super light bubble on this one, and it pours this beautiful garnet color. Fruit aromas like that just overripe basket of wild berries you picked from the back of the park last week, the ones you forgot to wash, with that just-sweaty loamy earthy kind of funk underlying a heady ripe jam. It's what we sometimes call "dusty," or "mineral-ly" if we're feeling short on real adjectives. Crisp as a starched collar. As firm too.

Take down a bottle of this juice with your favorite stuffed pasta, especially something with a little spice. Or even better, compliment those black truffles and let your mouth sing hallelujah!

The Wines

La Collina Lunaris Secco (Malvasia di Candia Aromatica)  — $19 Fattoria Moretto Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro (Lambrusco Grasparossa) — $20

Rhum Agricole

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First off, I'm going to go ahead and get it out there: Depaz Blue Cane Rhum Agricole is on sale right now for $25. It's usually a little closer to $35. But what is rhum agricole? And why is it spelled all funny? Well, it's made under French law and so carries the French name, which translates (obviously?) as agricultural rum. But rhum agricole upholds certain standards, primarily that it's made directly from sugar cane, and not molasses or any other pre-processed byproduct.

So what does that mean in terms of experience? Well, the rules of production for this style of rum lend it a distinctive dryness, a fullness of body and an earthy-tangy quality something akin to gamey, dry-aged meat. So, not your soft and syrupy white rums or your black and buttery "dark" rums. Something in between, and yet something totally different.

According to David Wondrich in his book Punch, it's all about the flavor termed "hogo."

'Hogo' was a term of art in the rum trade since at least the beginning of the eighteenth century, when John Oldmixon used it in his history of the Americas. Derived from the term for the 'high taste' of rotting meat, it could certainly be used pejoratively. But just as one cultivated the haut goût in pheasants and other game birds by hanging them for days before cooking them, so the hogo in rum came to be appreciated and even, to a degree, encouraged."

Today this style has largely been supplanted by the sweet rums dumped in great quantities into frozen drink machines that churn with unearthly fluorescence. But a few producers of the old style remain. The aged rums of Martinique, like Depaz Blue Cane Rhum Agricole and Rhum Clément V.S.O.P., definitely fit the bill. As do other rums of former French territory, like Rhum Barbancourt 8 y.o. from Haiti. And though the Demerara rums of El Dorado (especially the 3, 5 and 8 y.o. bottlings) are made from molasses, they too capture something particular to the history and soul of rum as it was first conceived.

The Rums

Depaz Blue Cane Rhum Agricole (Martinique) - $25 ON SALE Rhum Clément V.S.O.P (Martinique) - $22 Rhum Barbancourt 8 y.o. (Haiti) - $27 El Dorado Demerara Rum 8 y.o. (Guyana) - $24

Back to the Land: Half-in, Half-out

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3 Rieslings That Will Change Your Mind About Sweetness

Funny thing about Riesling, for decades wine geeks struggled to delineate the ethereal glories of the German dry style from the cloying sweetness of more popular stateside versions. And now the pendulum has swung. These days, any mention of one of the great off-dry Rieslings—white wines braced by an acidity so piquant that you barely register the soft residual sugars—a person is likely to wrinkle her nose or shake his head, no dice. But I'm here to say: they're missing out.

Whereas trocken (dry) Rieslings tend to be dominated by flavors like wet stone, tart citrus and green apple, halbtrocken (half-dry) wines are fleshier, with notes of stone fruit like peach, pear and apricot. That's a generalization, but one that can help put things in perspective. Don't let the slight sweetness fool you, the examples below are every bit as food-friendly as their drier brothers and sisters. And to be honest, the line between one category and the other can often feel a little arbitrary. The labeling as such has to do with mathematical percentages, whereas the "feel" of a wine has less to do with category than with the balance that it strikes.

Taste for yourself. And try as you can to leave those preconceptions at the door.

J. Leitz "Leitz Out" 2011 ($15)

Region: Rheingau, Germany

Joseph Leitz is no stranger to clever marketing. His signature "Eins, Zwei, Dry" is not only a nice little play on words, it's also a perfect entry point to a classic dry Rhein wine. So no surprise when he came out with a softer, semi-dry companion "Leitz Out." Another killer combo. Peachy with a kiss of lemon; it's just a touch sweet and balanced by a firm minerality.

Koehler-Ruprecht "Steinacker" Halbtrocken 2010 ($18)

Region: Pfalz, Germany

This offering really lives up to its namesake; Steinacker (stoney field) is the name of the vineyard from which this wine is made. The persistent mineral character is bracketed by an upfront pink grapefruit and a lingering, lush peachy ginger finish. The light footprint of residual sugar just softens the intense edges and helps integrate all the fruit aromas with the racy, mouthwatering acidity.

Clemens Busch "Vom Roten Schiefer" 2011 ($25)

Region: Mosel, Germany

Vom Roten Schiefer tells us that this offering comes "from red slate," as opposed to the gray slate that permeates the rest of the estate. The red slate soils lend a little more ripeness to the juice and therefore a more approachable wine at earlier stages of development. Tangerine and peach dominate the nose, while a smokiness and barely perceptible peppery spice underlie the fervent juiciness on the palate. This is a bit of an outlier due to the special makeup of the vineyard, and by outlier I mean special treat.