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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

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)

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.

 

Four Roses: Two Recipes

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Over the last several months we've been bouncing back and forth between a score of delicious barrel-sample bottles of Four Roses Bourbon. We narrowed it down to two, each a distinct recipe. Now you get to come taste both and pick a favorite (or not). It's like Choose Your Own Adventure, but with booze. In the past we've visited the distillery to select and purchase a private barrel, but this time, I have to say, it was pretty nice to have the factory come to us.

Fanatics will know about the ten proprietary recipes Four Roses uses (newcomers read here). Basically, they have two grain bills and five separate isolated yeast strains, which in combination give them a multitude of styles.

Quickly, they have one recipe that uses 35% rye (labeled "B") and another that uses only 20% rye (labeled "E"). The rest is more or less corn with a dash of malted barley. Their yeast strains are each labeled by a letter as well, and generally denote the sorts of flavors that one can expect them to produce.

OBSV

This is the recipe that is standard in their flagship "Single Barrel" offering. It's bottled at 100 proof (50% ABV) and is renowned for its balance of hardiness, sweetness and spice. Ever consistent, the OBSV is an old favorite. This time they sent us a total of ten samples (each from a different barrel) and eventually, after much discussion and delay, we picked a favorite.

As I've mentioned before, it's always amazing how different these barrels can be. I liken it to siblings in a family: certain prominent features persist, like wide-set eyes or a prominent nose, but each has a totally distinct personality. In my estimation this is pretty classic Four Roses Bourbondusty aromatics, rich fruit core, elegant spiciness and a lingering finish. But what set it apart is how all the elements come together in this barrel in nearly perfect proportion.

OESK

This is a recipe they reserve mostly for their older whiskeys. The barrel we chose came to us after twelve years, eleven months on the rack. That's some old ass whiskey! Because of its age and placement in the warehouse, and whatever other alchemy goes on in that place, this barrel lost over 70% of its original contents to evaporation. So in the end, it came out at 123 proof (61.5% ABV) and we only got 84 bottles from it. But I'm here to tell you: what it lacks in quantity it far and away makes up for in taste. Very complex.

Nose in the glass, I'm immediately overwhelmed by rich aromas of tobacco barn and creamed corn. The thing about this whiskey to note is that it's very high proof and yet eminently drinkable. The palate has an inviting sweetness that gives way quickly to a big spicy tobacco component. The flavors keep developing all the way through, ending with a slightly smokey and very dry, almost Scotch-like finish. Holy cow!

Come taste with us. Find what you like. It's free, casual & delicious. Saturday, November 16 3-5pm

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.

* * *

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)

Old-Made-New from Haus Alpenz

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Haus Alpenz spends a lot of time sourcing traditional spirits and aromatized wines from the oddest, most out-of-the-way climes. Vermouths from the rugged Chartreuse Mountains, Arrack from the islands of Indonesia, orchard-fruit liqueurs from the Danube Valley of Austria . . . to name a few. Their latest offerings prove still more is out there, just waiting to be unearthed and brought again into the vocabulary of American libations. Some of what we picked up has been newly created, while some of it has merely been revived from the lost decades.

Kronan Swedish Punsch

Swedish Punsch has been around for centuries, and actually grew in popularity in the first few decades of the 20th Century in America. That is, until Prohibition slowed it to a halt. The Diner's Journal wrote a nice piece about it when the brand first launched.

The liqueur — which also contains rum, sugar and spices — dates from Sweden’s exploring days. “The tradition goes back to the Swedish East India Company,” [owner of Haus Alpenz Eric] Seed said. “To mollify the sailors on board the ships, they let them dive into the Batavia arrack that they brought back from the East Indies. They would mix that with sugar and maybe a touch of the spice, and that grog they called their punch.”

It's just now become available to us in Tennessee, and we jumped at the chance. Kronan drinks like something between a well-aged rum and a spicy-soft whiskey. Perfect as a fall dram or a winter warmer.

Dolin Génépy des Alpes

You know the Chambéry, France-based Maison Dolin primarily for their set of three Vermouths: Dry, Rouge and Blanc. These have become staples in every cocktail bar across the nation, loved for their added nuance in cocktails and their low price. Their latest export is a return to an even deeper tradition, a génépy recipe developed by Maison Dolin founder Joseph Chavasse in 1821. Made with wormwood flower heads and other herbs that grow plentifully in the Savoy region of France, Dolin Génépy is in effect quite similar to Chartreuse (falling somewhere between the green & the yellow versions, in terms of sweetness and bitterness) and for a fraction of the price. As usual, Dolin has affordably delivered a product of exacting quality.

Cappelletti Vino Aperitivo

Cappelletti is a wine-based aperitif, one of the oldest of its kind still in production. It came into a certain fame in WWII when Austrian troops traveling through Trentino began adding Cappelletti to the local sparkling wine. They called it a "Spritz." New to the states, this Americano Rosso strikes a great balance between light, fruity, bitter and sweet. This offering had its American debut this summer. Serious Eats had this to say:

The Americano Rosso is a treat for restaurants who have beer and wine licenses and can't make cocktails with hard booze. It's bitter enough to stand in for Campari and other bitter liqueurs, so it should provide a little extra flexibility for low-alcohol mixed drinks.

The Scarlet Ibis Trinidad Rum

Originally created specifically for the folks at the East Village bar Death & Company, The Scarlet Ibis is a "bespoke blend of three to five-year aged Trinidad rums." The different rums are chosen specifically for their virgin cane source, which come from all over the various terrains of the island nation—lush mountains, rainforests and drier rolling plains. Each geography imparts a unique quality to the cane, and so the finished product is superbly balanced and rich enough to evoke the tropics, sip after neat sip.

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

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

Best Wine You've Never Heard of #003

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Cantine Valpane "Euli" Grignolino del Monferrato Casalese

Monferrato, Italy. Top of the boot, so to speak, where the land surges up toward the towering Alps to the west. This is the Piedmont, or Piemonte, a region best known for its two big 'B' names—Barolo & Barbaresco—but which has a rich wine tradition that extends well beyond the borders of those famed microclimates. Along the northern border of the Piemonte runs the Po River, where we find the charming town of Casale Monferrato. The climate here is warmer than Alba or Asti to the south, the land lower, making it ideal for late ripening grapes like the odd, delicate red varietal Grignolino.

The bowl-shaped property at Cantine Valpane has been planted with vineyards for hundreds of years. But at the turn of the 20th Century a young man named Pietro Giuseppe Arditi wheedled his way into a sharecropping agreement that, two years later, landed the estate squarely in his hands. Valpane has been in the Arditi family ever since.

Today, Pietro Giuseppe's grandson, also named Pietro, holds the reins. Pietro the younger is a major proponent of Barbera del Monferrato, which he says is more expressive of the true character of Barbera than the wines of his Southern neighbors. But one of the wines that sets Cantine Valpane apart is Pietro's Grignolino, called "Euli" (the name is a play on the German word for the owls living in the barn on their property, and on the name of the indigenous tribe that inhabited the Grignolino vine land in ancient times).

It's a perfect summertime red—lowish in alcohol, brightly refreshing and yet a touch musty, making it a welcome companion to grilled foods. It's really not like many reds I've had otherwise. Euli is delicate and floral, like a Fleurie (cru Beaujolais), and brimming with intense fruit, like a basket of tart wild berries that has maybe sat in the sun for a day too long. Strange? A little, but that's what makes this wine so seductive.

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.

Tavel Trinquevedel

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Tavel is the only wine region in all of France whose sole product is rosé. This unique disposition means that, unlike most rosé producers in other regions, rosé is the final destination for grapes in this appellation and not a stop along the way. That means the vines themselves are farmed with the exact balance of rosé in mind. So if good wine is made in the vineyard, then the region of Tavel has every advantage for making superior wine. For centuries Tavel was known as the wine of kings—this was the favorite wine of the Sun King, Louis XIV. And today it is one of only a small number of appellations with grand cru status.

In the last couple decades, however, the wines have become somewhat pricey. And tradition has kept much of the region at a standstill while other, less rigid appellations have been able to experiment and forge new bonds with an ever-broadening fan base. So in the U.S. it's something of a hidden gem.

Chateau de Trinquevedel is a fourth-generation estate located on some of Tavel's most prized land. The soil here is made up primarily of the big round stones (called galets rouléts) for which Chateauneuf-du-Pape is so famous. And for me, Trinquevedel is priced exactly right. About half of this wine comes from Grenache; the other half is a blend of several other Southern Rhône varietals. This is a sturdy and intense rosé, bulging with primary red fruit in the glass.

The Wine

Chateau de Trinquevedel Tavel — $20 Firm tannins lend muscle to the bright flavors of ripe red berries and spicy garrigue.

Domaine Rimbert

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From nearly hundred-year-old Carignan vines, Jean-Marie Rimbert makes some of the lightest and most engaging red wine for under $20 from the Languedoc region of France. His reds, especially his Les Travers de Marceau, look nearly Beaujolais-like in the glass. And like the best of Beaujolais, his wines are firmly structured and just a notch funky, making a perfect choice for a summery, but not too simple, red. Jean-Marie grew up in Provence and bought his first tiny parcel of land in the village of Berlou nearly 25 years ago. Berlou is the highest village in the Languedoc-Rousillon appellation of Saint-Chinian. It also happens to be widely planted with hillside Carignan that is, in some places, over 100 years old. Greater vine age typically imparts a greater intensity of fruit, leading to more fragrant and more complex wines. In the case of Domaine Rimbert, Jean-Marie seems to play against the obvious. The intensity shows up in the form of structure, minerality, a sort of textural richness. Not, however, in the form of dark fruit or heavy tannins.

And just when you think you've got a handle on what he's doing up there, then comes the rosé. It's basically just the opposite. Deep apple-skin red in color, sweaty on the nose, firm tannins nearly like a red... A great answer to that summertime question: Hm, red or rosé?

The Wines

Domaine Rimbert "Les Travers de Marceau" Saint-Chinian — $15 (Mourvedre, Syrah, Carignan, Cinsault)

Domaine Rimbert "Petit Cochon Bronzé" — $13 (Cinsault, Syrah)