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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

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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.

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

Dirty & Rowdy Semillon

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I'm too jaded about California wine. So much of it for so long became more homogenous and less spontaneous over time, with late-ripened grapes producing high-alcohol wines that are stamped out with industrial yeasts to fit some fast-food model ideal. But that's me drawing a caricature. Maybe it's time to check again. The reality is that the California wine world is home to a diverse set of projects, tastes and craftspersons.

A recent post on SeriousEats identified a trend referred to as the New Wave of California wine. I'm loathe to perpetuate a label like that, but at a time when small perturbations are creating significant change, it may help to group certain projects together and differentiate them as a group from the behemoth of the standard model. What is this group up to? They're farming (or sourcing) organic and biodynamic vines, turning away from irrigation, and using so-called natural methods in the cellar—adding nothing, taking nothing away (see my interview with Alice Feiring)—as opposed to the mechanized and inoculated destroyer approach of the Big Brands. We can include Broc Cellars in this newer, smaller set, as well as Scholium Project. Others like LIOCO and Copain, who make absolutely beautiful wines, float around the nebulous fringes of the cohort. All mainstays in this shop.

Enter Dirty & Rowdy, our latest acquisition from the CA vanguard. Hardy Wallace and Matt Richardson got together in 2010 after each creating his own popular blog. Wallace wrote about libations in Dirty South Wine, while Richardson talked eats in his blog Rowdy Food—thus the name of their collaboration, Dirty & Rowdy. The pairing has been nothing short of sensational.

In no time, the project has become a highlight on several of the best wine lists in the country, and written about everywhere from the SF Examiner to the New York Times. To share a little tidbit, or even boast a little, we cracked a bottle of their mourvedre in its first vintage. Our venerable Will Motley had (mysteriously) picked up a bottle from a friend and we all delighted with it over a mountain of southern fried chicken by Buttermilk Road. This was Christmas 2012 and we're still talking about it. The whole crew was blown away. Besides the Barolo Chinato we took down with dessert, the Dirty & Rowdy was the talk of the evening. It's the kind of wine that makes me believe again.

But not until this month have we been able to get hold of these wines for sale and distribution.

To start, we present their white. This is some crazy shit. 100% Napa semillon undergoing spontaneous fermentation in concrete on the skins, aged in wood, bottled under 12% alcohol. It's got this amazing texture, rich in fruit without losing any vitality, a vibrant acidity carrying notes of pineapple, peppers and almonds. Like nothing you've had before. This isn't just a find, it's a keeper.

Dirty & Rowdy Skin-and-Concrete-Egg Fermented Semillon — $26

Ampeleia: Un Litro

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Elisabetta Foradori says she didn't have much choice when it came to becoming a winemaker. She grew up in a small village in Trentino, at the feet of the Dolomites, that chain of sublimely naked crags that rise dramatically from heart of the Italian Alps. At the tender age of 20, Elisabetta, an only child, inherited the land and trade from her father, who died young. As a girl she collected flowers. She says the botanical obsessions of her childhood laid the groundwork for a life in the vineyard, taught her to let nature have its way. With this foundation she made a name for herself, focusing on the grape teroldego, native to her region and her father's vineyard, transcending the parochial, elevating Trentino wines into a realm of global admiration.

That was then. As much as she looks back into the history and culture of her land, she looks forward into the future of what is possible. She innovates, experiments, takes risks. And she makes startling, deeply complex wine.

Ampeleia, her collaboration with friends and financiers Thomas Widmann and Giovanni Podini, is both a turn away from and a strict adherence to her roots. Å turn because Ampeleia is in the Maremma, along the Tuscan coast, far from her native mountains. An adherence because, as in Trentino, she sets out with one goal, to fully express the history of the soils in which she works. The Ampeleia vineyards are planted with Mediterranean grapes more common today in Liguria, Southern France and Spain: grenache, mourvedre, carignan, alicante bouschet—varieties whose own histories are as complicated as the histories of the people who grow them. Varieties that, in such capable hands, carry in them a striking sense of place.

Ampeleia "Un Litro" transforms that history into a simple, well-crafted liter of wine. It's a wine that greets you with bare feet and a loose smile. Slightly built but finely toned, the body of this wine is deceptively taut, its grippy texture belying its soft fruitiness, its light color, and of course the playfulness of the packaging. It's fun, but not without it's serious side. All in all, this is wine that moves in the world unselfconsciously, a friend who, like Elisabetta herself, can't help but charm everyone she meets.

Ampeleia "Un Litro" — $18

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)

Thanksgiving Picks, Part 2

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Arianna Occhipinti. Sicily, Italy.

I adore these wines. Their arrival each year is a sort of event, something to look forward to nearly as much as the holidays themselves. Arianna, if you aren't familiar, rose to fame as a prodigy winemaker in her mid-twenties, following in the tradition of her famous Uncle Giusto (of COS wines) and other natural winemakers like Elisabetta Foradori. Occhipinti grows only grapes that are part of the deep Sicilian tradition, Frappato taking the lead in this case. And from vine to bottle, she puts nothing into her wines, takes nothing away.

One vintage after the next seems to deepen in complexity. For this Thanksgiving, nothing could be finer. This is the first year we've gotten both the white and red offerings from her second label, SP68.

Occhipinti SP68 Rosso ($25) A blend of two of Sicily's most prized varietals, Nero D'Avola & Frappato. Nero brings the darkness while Frappato leans things out. A very aromatic wine, floral to the point it's almost perfume-y, with a lively acidity to make an incredibly fresh food wine. A really great pairing for dishes that combine meaty richness with high-toned acidic accompaniments like tomato, citrus, or vinegar. And all around a fantastic wine.

Occhipinti SP68 Bianci ($25) A blend of two of Sicily's least known varietals, Albanello & Zibibbo. As with the red, this wine is about balancing forces. Zibibbo lends a floral and aromatic complexity while the Albanello provides a bracing structure. Peach and pear mingle with herbal notes like dried coriander. Very fresh, very much alive, sure to take your bird soaring to the next level.

Thanksgiving Picks, Part 1

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Cantine Argiolas. Sardinia, Italy.

Argiolas sits in the hills above the port city of Cagliari, Sardinia, in the south of that Mediterranean island. Currently the cantine is run by the third generation of the Argiolas family. Still today, the Argiolases focus on making traditional wines from traditional Sardinian grape varietals. They've been a mainstay in this shop for years.

This fall we've decided more folks should join in the fun. And what better way to find them? They're delightful food wines, wines that show up quietly and mingle with a variety of guests. Engaging, unpretentious wines that each bring something special to the table.

'Costamolino" Vermentino di Sardegna ($14) Vermentino is one of my favorite versatile food wines. In general, it's sort of a go-to, please-everyone sort of choice when I'm pairing for a group. The good ones, like this lively offering from Argiolas, strike a balance between plump fruit and racy acidity. Tropical and citrus flavors combine here with a touch of herbal aromatics to form a delightful option for the melange of fall feast flavors.

"Perdera" Monica di Sardegna ($14) Monica isn't a grape you likely know or care much about. Well maybe you should. It's indigenous to Sardinia, another one of these fond little treasures we find in far flung corners of Europe. The varietal wine "Perdera" from Argiolas is intensely fresh, a lightheartedness belied only by the more brooding dark cherry, licorice and tobacco notes lurking beneath. It's a little spicey, a little fruity, a little rustic. Great choice for a variety of palates.

"Costera" Cannonau di Sardegna ($18) The grape has many names—Garnacha, Grenache, etc.—but is known only as Cannonau on the island of Sardinia. It's commonly accepted that this varietal originated in Spain, but lately there's some speculation that it actually comes from our little hero  island. Here it's expressed with a perfectly bright red-fruitiness and a fine silky texture. It's less rustic than the Monica and more sumptuous too. A touch of spice offsets the hint of sweetness, all finally bound together with a lingering, minty finish.

 

WWM Interviews: Diane Flynt of Foggy Ridge Ciders

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American cider might be seeing the beginning of a full-blown renaissance. If so, it would seem to indicate a maturation of the American palate and an ever-broadening return to tradition. The same trends can be found in other drinks: a more natural approach to wine, a more crafted and regional approach to beer, a revival of classic cocktails and their seemingly obscure ingredients. For too long we've associated cider with cloying sweetness or with nonalcoholic juice served warm at the county fair. Nothing wrong with either, except that they have very little in common with traditional cider, which is as diverse in its offerings as it is rich with history. Recently, I corresponded with cidermaker Diane Flynt, owner of Foggy Ridge Ciders in Dugspur, Virginia. In her lilting voice, Flynt speaks with a precision regarding her craft that in no way masks the pure joy she finds as an orchardist and cidermaker. We talked harvests, the intricacies of apple varieties, the differences between certain cider regions and the joys of farming in the Blue Ridge Mountains.

(Note: Foggy Ridge was recently chosen as the top American dry cider in a great article written by Eric Asimov in the New York Times. Out interview took place on October 30, a week before that article was published.)

-Scott Lyon

Woodland Wine Merchant: First off, congratulations on the good press in last week's Times. For an orchardist, this must be a wonderful time of year. What was your 2013 harvest like?

Diane Flynt: 2013 included a cool fall, cool wet summer and just about perfect fall harvest. Apples (and grapes too) like a diurnal swing, or a significant difference between daytime high temperatures and nighttime low temperatures. Foggy Ridge Cider's orchards are at 3000' feet elevation in the Southern Appalachians, so we experience warm days and cool nights. I look for good acid levels in our fruit, and 2013 fruit has good acidity as well as complex flavors from our near perfect fall.

WWM: What's the difference between a "dessert" apple and a "cider" apple? And how are their orchards different?

DF: Dessert apples are simply apples traditionally grown for eating rather than for cider—which also, in our world of Big Farming, dessert fruit often also means apples that can be grown, harvested and shipped efficiently. Cider apples have similar characteristics to wine grapes, that is, a balance of tannin, acid and fruit that contributes all three flavor components to a fermented beverage.

Tannin is a key component of cider fruit, and this makes many cider apples inedible, or at best unappealing to eat out of hand. While many great cider apples are also tasty, the high tannin varieties such as Tremlett's Bitter, Dabinett and even Hewe's Crab, the famous Southern cider apple, are far too bitter and acidic to enjoy eating. So the difference between dessert apple and cider apple is flavor, tannin level but also how the apple is grown and harvested, and how it travels.

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My trees will out live me, and will produce fruit long after I'm gone. I don't want to damage our excellent rocky soil, or pollute our water supply or do anything other than enrich and strengthen the environment in which I farm.

WWM: How did you choose the varieties of apples that are planted in your orchard? How many varieties do you have?

DF: At Foggy Ridge Cider we grow over 30 apples, all chosen for cidermaking. Some, like Cox's Orange Pippin, Albemarle Pippin and Roxbury Russett, are delicious eating apples. But many are somewhat challenging, like Ashmead's Kernel, our "acid bomb", or downright inedible, like Tremlett's Bitter. Though we grow several English cider apples, we focus on American heirloom apples suitable for cidermaking. I love Hewe's Crab, the key ingredient in Foggy Ridge First Fruit Cider. Harrison is another great Colonial American cider apple (from Harrison, NJ) as is Black Limbertwig, an apple long grown in the Southern Appalachians.

WWM: At the moment, cider is seeing something of a bourgeoning or a resurgence in popularity. Why now?

DF: Cider is having its moment! The top Macro or Factory Cider brands grew over 60% in 2012; artisan cidermakers are experiencing fast growth as well, fueled by several factors. On the national stage, Macro cider is growing in large part because beer sales are flat or dropping. The Macro Beer categories have purchased cider producers (Crispin, Angry Orchard) or have started their own (Stella Artois Cidre), and are pursuing cider drinkers in earnest with well funded marketing campaigns as a way to recapture market share. Macro Cider has cleverly positioned their cider brands as "artisan" and has capitalized on the gluten free moniker.

This is all interesting from a business standpoint but let me say while I think artisan cider has had double digit growth for over five years—Farm Cider is just plain delicious. Just like wine from a smaller winery, with carefully grown and fermented grapes, artisan cider is complex; it speaks of terroir; it is interesting and is an ideal food beverage. Consumers interested in the provenance of their food and beverage like the idea of estate cider. People interested in eating locally or regionally prefer a beverage that is crafted from ingredients that aren't shipped in containers from Europe, the Midwest or even China.

WWM: What differentiates your ciders from, say, those Macro brands that you mention?

DF: First, our focus on the fruit, on quality ingredients is what most differentiates Foggy Ridge Cider. Second, we ferment our cider like a fine winemaker ferments wine. All our cider is fermented in temperature controlled stainless steel; we ferment cold to get a long, slow ferment designed to maintain the fruity esters and complex flavors of our fruit. We tank age our cider for months and we carefully blend many ferments into our four sparkling ciders and our apple port. We don't add flavorings and use neutral yeasts designed to perform at low temperatures and highlight the flavors and aromas of the fruit, rather than introduce flavors (no Belgian ale yeast, for example!)

Some Macro Ciders say "our cider is made with spring water" or "we get from apple to bottle in one month". We don't chaptalize, which is a common practice for less expensive and more commercial brands; we don't ferment from concentrate (quite common also) and we don't flavor our cider with ginger, cherry, pumpkin, sugar or anything else.

Image courtesy foggyridgecider.com

Why drink a highly commercial cider from England, likely chaptalized, colored with caramel and full of sugar, when you can enjoy a cider made from cider apples. Full stop.

WWM: You seem to favor the English tradition of cidermaking, as opposed to the traditions of Normandy or the Basque Country. What draws you in to those particular ciders?

DF: In America, artisan cidermakers are creating our own traditions. First the fruit—many European varieties don't grow well in this country, or are just not widely grown.  Normandy cider is delicious, but it also has that "European funk" that does not always translate well to American palates. Basque Cider, much of which is sold as vinegar (really, look it up), has a place and can be quite exciting paired with Basque food, but this cider style tips too far toward the acetic acid end of the spectrum for my palate. While there are more and more artisan ciders available in England, the English ciders we get here are all quite commercial.

The American cider tradition is quite rich with excellent cider fruit and a variety of cidermaking styles. We are all feeling our way, but I'm most excited by ciders from Farnum Hill in New Hampshire, Slyboro and Eve's Cider in NY and Eden Ice Cider in Vermont. Why drink a highly commercial cider from England, likely chaptalized, colored with caramel and full of sugar, when you can enjoy a cider made from cider apples. Full stop.

WWM: Talk to me about your philosophy of farming. What's your approach to the land? How did you find what is now Foggy Ridge?

DF: As you can tell from my comments about Farm and Factory Cider, my views on farming drive my approach to beverage making. "Respect the land" is my guiding principle. My trees will out live me, and will produce fruit long after I'm gone. I don't want to damage our excellent rocky soil, or pollute our water supply or do anything other than enrich and strengthen the environment in which I farm. A tree, like a grape vine, is a tube that transports water and nutrients into fruit. As a farmer, I need to take care of that "tube", that tree that creates flavor.

My husband and I spent our early careers in NC. We looked for farm land for over three years before finding this tiny corner of Virginia. Foggy Ridge Cider is on the Blue Ridge Plateau, the southernmost Zone 5 planting region due to elevation. Our mountain orchards are steep; the soil is rocky and we have a big diurnal swing all year. Ideal for fruit growing!

WWM: Where did you learn to manage an orchard, or to make cider for that matter? Who are your heroes in the apple or cider world?

DF: I studied cidermaking in England, and winemaking here in the US. While our orchard was growing, I worked with cidermakers in CA and in New England, which was one of the most valuable things I did to build my knowledge. Cidermaking is a young art in the US, but the principles are the same as winemaking (NOT brewing!), so there is much knowledge to draw on. Pomologists at VA Tech and at Cornell advised me on our orchard lay out and I found the original 30 varieties in our test orchard with Tom Burford's help, a VA orchardist and expert on heirloom apples.

I most admire apple growers who constantly experiment with cider apples and take risks in their orchards. Steve Wood at Farnum Hill is the best cider apple grower in the US, in my view. I also admire John Saunders at Silver Creek Orchard in Nelson County, VA. John has planted over 3000 trees with grafting wood from Foggy Ridge Cider orchards. In the cider world, I learn from Eleanor Leger, owner of Eden Ice Cider in Vermont, every time I talk to her.

WWM: What's your favorite food & cider pairing? 

DF: People should keep in mind that cider is not one thing—there are bone dry ciders, fruity cider, tart acidic cider and tannic cider. Oh, and sweet cider too! For a dry cider, like Foggy Ridge Serious Cider, I like those classic Brut Champagne pairings like a rich creamy cheese or something salty and fatty, like pomme frites or rich crab cakes. A tart fruity cider, like our First Fruit Cider, is ideal with rich meat dishes like pork belly or braises. Cider with some residual sugar pairs well with spicy dishes, like BBQ or Asian foods.

My cheese friends tell me that cider is a much better partner for cheese than wine. I like our apple port, the dessert cider we call Foggy Ridge Pippin Gold, with blue cheese, walnuts and dried fruit. And aside from the seasonal connection, cider is perfect with Thanksgiving food. A tannic red wine fights with the many sweet and spicy notes on a holiday table, but a crisp clean cider just marries all the flavors.

WWM: Do you have a favorite apple variety? What makes it special for you?

DF: Tom Burford always says his favorite apple is "the last one I ate." I like acidity so Ashmead's Kernel is my all time favorite eating apple. I'm eating late season apples now, and will through the winter, so Winesap, Arkansas Black and Limbertwig are all on my table.

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Woodland Wine Merchant carries a small assortment of Foggy Ridge Ciders, which, frankly, we think are pretty dang delicious. Don't let your fall feasts be without.
Foggy Ridge Serious Cider (750ml) — $18 Foggy Ridge First Fruit (750ml) — $ 18 Foggy Ridge Handmade (500ml) — $ 14

Library Vintage: Château de Bellevue

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It's not often we find affordable wines that are a decade old, and it's even less often we find them from Bordeaux. But it's absolutely rare that we get older vintage Bordeaux that's been cellared in limestone caves beneath the very vineyards where the wines were made—and for less than 30 bucks, to boot. In fact, this whole situation is a bit of an anomaly. And for you, that means an opportunity to score big. André Chatenoud bought Château de Bellevue in 1971 and has been harvesting his vines by hand ever since. He farms organically, and he makes and bottles and cellars his wines right at the estate. This may not seem like much of a point, except that we're talking about Bordeaux, a land run primarily by multinational corporations and their middle managers. André does it the old way, a man of the land.

A friend of mine recently visited the estate. Upon arrival, André took him down into the caves, which are actually an old limestone quarry that's been built-out for cellaring purposes. Striations in the walls are still visible, marks left from the picks of the quarrymen who dug here hundreds of years ago. And the caves are literally beneath the chateau's vineyards—in some places one can see cracks along the ceiling and tendrils of life crawling in from above. They're vine roots that have pushed down through the layers of soil in search of moisture and broken through.

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Later in the evening, André prepared huge local duck breasts over an open flame and served them rare alongside several library vintages of his own wine ('98, '03, '05). He even made his own foie gras, which he served with, of course, a Sauternes that a friend of his had made.

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My point here is that this is an honest, handmade wine, unassuming but magnificent in character. This is a wine that's had time to come of age, which is rare in a market-driven world where a great majority of wines are opened much to young. Right now, the '03 Bellevue is really singing. If the terms "older Bordeaux" and "great value" give you cognitive dissonance, this one's for you.

Château de Bellevue Lussac St-Émilion 2003 — $28 (95% merlot, 5% cabernet franc)

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

Patrick Piuze

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As a young man, Canadian-born Patrick Piuze roamed the world working the land on four continents. He loved wine, had met the famous winemaker Marc Chapoutier, and went roving from Australia to Israel in search of authentic knowledge. He landed years later in Burgundy, France, where with uncanny speed he found competence and gained the trust of Olivier Leflaive and later Jean-Marc Brocard of Verget. He worked vineyards with famous names, made wines adorned by famous labels. His reputation grew. In 2008, Patrick struck out on his own and set up shop in Chablis, where he sources grapes from an assortment of the best vineyards in the region. From the beginning, his wines have been celebrated for their purity and their power. It doesn't hurt that his neighbors include the Dauvissats and François Raveneau. Patrick says he's learned much from these masters and that they have been supportive of his endeavor from the start. "I get together with those guys and we drink beer. Mostly Belgian beer." In fact, Patrick trades his wines for cases of ale, which he shares liberally. Seems he's learned a thing or two about making friends as well as wine.

Today he produces two brands: Val de Mer, an approachable set made from younger vines, and his eponymous Patrick Piuze wines which include single vineyard Grands Crus, Premieres Crus and village-level wines from Chablis. His approach to winemaking is simple: buy the highest quality grapes he can find under long-term contracts, work directly with the growers all year to tease out the best possible expression of terroir, add nothing to them and take nothing away.

"I don't want to put on any makeup," Patrick says. "I want to show the density of the wine, but I don't want to hide the minerality. The first thing new wood will do is hide the minerality. That is our personality. Why would we hide it?" To accentuate that density he picks his grapes in the morning when the skins are tighter (in the afternoon the grapes slacken under the sun). He also harvests everything by hand, even at the village level. To preserve the terroir he uses mostly stainless steel with occasional neutral oak for aging.

Lately, Patrick has ventured more and more into sparkling wines. With Val de Mer he has produced two Cremants de Bourgogne, a white and a rosé. He points out that sparkling wine, unlike still wine, is largely made in the bottle. "Once it's in bottle, you cannot intervene, unlike a barrel. If something goes wrong there is nothing you can do." To get it right, as with everything else he's done to this point, he went straight to the source, ingratiating himself with some of Champagne's most notable grower-producers after being turned away from several others. The man is persistent. So are his wines. And he continues to evolve.

Between his 2011 and 2012 vintages he changed from tall and narrow tanks to wide and shallow, allowing more lees contact without having to stir. And last year he changed from a pneumatic to a mechanical press in order to increase the extraction of his wines. These experimentations with shape and form allow him to strive for purer wines without resorting to heavy-handed manipulations.

It's a quest for authenticity, purity and power. And M. Piuze is stationed squarely at the intersection of all three.

The Wines

Patrick Piuze Petit Chablis - $25 Val de Mer Bourgogne - $20 Val de Mer Bourgogne rosé - $20 Val de Mer Cremant de Bourgogne non dosé - $20 Val de Mer Cremant de Bourgogne rosé - $20