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Purveyor of uncommon wine, spirits & beer.

Filtering by Tag: Louis/Dressner

Toad Prince

scott

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.

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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.

Ampeleia: Un Litro

scott

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

Château d'Oupia

scott

I was 19 the last time I visited Southern France. A kid really, and not an especially world-weary one. I did hop some trains and I struck up conversations with fellow travelers and I read Herman Hesse and tried my best to live in the moment. But in my haste and ignorance I missed out completely on the living history of viticulture that is so rich in that part of the world. I didn't care or know anything about wine. And looking back, it seems prodigal. Today the wines and the culture of Southwest France have become a sort of fascination, and I long to go again knowing now what I did not know then. When I do (hopefully sooner rather than later), I'll be stopping by Château d'Oupia. For me, no other property in the region better embodies all that is great about the wines of the Southwest. It's located in the hillside AOC of Minervois, at the heart of one of the most rapidly improving wine regions in the world.

It's family run, small. The castle is four hundred years old. The man who inherited the land and founded the Oupia estate, André Iché, died in 2007. His daughter Marie-Pierre now runs the winery and Laurent Batlle makes the wines in "Andre's way" as he has since 2008. It's this dedication to the vision that makes these wines so special.

Their combination of quality and price has always left me scratching my head wondering, "How do they do it?" But after a while, and after a few glasses of their Minervois, I find myself relenting to the appeal of the wine and simply accepting the experience as truth. Then I find my mind wandering again to those ancient hillsides and planning my next voyage, this time, hopefully, all the wiser.

Free Tasting Saturday, June 15 | 3-5pm The Wines

Château d'Oupia Les Hérétiques (Carignan) — $10 Château d'Oupia Minervois (Carignan, Syrah, Grenache) — $14 Château d'Oupia Minervois rosé (Syrah, Grenache, Cinsault) — $14

Montesecondo: 21st Century Renaissance Man

scott

Montesecondo IGT Toscano Rosso 2011 — $18

The story of Silvio & Catalina Messana is a tall tale of the sort to make you ponder: at what point did my life suddenly begin to stand all but still? Theirs is a tale with a buxom arc.

Silvio was a wine salesman in Manhattan. The couple's three boys were coming into school age and with rising rents and extortion-level school costs, they decided to pack in and move to Tuscany to help nurse Silvio's ailing mother. His father had bought 49 acres in the Chianti Classico region back in 1969 and she had been selling off the fruit to cooperatives since his death. In 1999 she passed away; with both parents now gone, the time had come for Silvio and Catalina to commit full time to the family business.

Silvio took on the vines himself. And in the years since his first vintage, 2000, he's built himself (by hand) a sizeable production facility. He does it all. And he's had strong opinions all the way about spraying and mutilating the traditional practices of the area, but was at first timid about cutting orthogonally against the governing DOCG body. The grand irony of course is that Silvio has since begun making tank-aged (instead of oak barrels) Sangiovese and Canaiolo, the grapes significant to Tuscan heritage, and in the traditional style. It's complicated. But what I mean is that for a decade now he's been making wines that speak directly to the historical Chianti name. Traditional wines. Meanwhile, the Chianti consortium has been slowly turning their collective back on tradition and manipulating their wines to taste more like the streamlined products that are so endlessly hyped in the press. It's a case of monoculture on the rise. Exhibit A is the introduction of Merlot and Cabernet Sauvignon and the use of small, new oak barrels.

So as a biodynamic vignaiolo Silvio bumps up against some pretty hefty risks, not only in terms of the hard work it takes to farm without a chemo-industrial crutch, but with the differing opinions about what Chianti and Tuscan wines should be. Especially since his ideas don't match with the current trends. Needless to say, I'm with Silvio.

This Tuscan Rosso is 95% Sangiovese with 5% Canaiolo. It's rustic on the nose and juicily quaffable going down. With an edge of freshness, this is natural wine that needs no footnote—just pure delight. Enjoy young with salty cured meats and firm cheeses, or to wash down a spicy pizza.

La Pépière

scott

4 Things You Might Not Know About Muscadet

As proprietor and vigneron at La Pépière, Marc Olivier takes his time. He takes pride in the long history of Muscadet, the wines that have made him famous throughout the world. He harvests all his grapes by hand, uses only natural yeasts for fermentation, and waits until the wine becomes ready on its own before bottling. It's a rarity these days in a appellation where most producers have turned increasingly to mechanized and industrialized production.

To honor Mssr. Olivier, I thought I'd lay out a few broadstrokes about the people, places and wines of his homeland.

1.  It's a Wine, Not a Grape Although the word Muscadet sounds a little like Muscat or Moscato, it bears little resemblance to the two latter terms, which are wine grape varietals that tend to be made into sweet wines. Muscadet is the name of a wine from a growing region centered around the city of Nantes along the Atlantic coast of France. The wines there are made with a grape called Melon de Bourgogne and are typically very dry with a crisp minerality.

2.  Fish Out of Water The Muscadet appellation is part of the greater Loire Valley, a region better known for its Sauvignon Blanc (white) and Cabernet Franc (red). Muscadet is different for historical rather than geographical reasons: the old province of Brittany, where Muscadet is made, developed an early wine culture independently from its inland neighbors in Anjou, where Loire wine is at its most prominent.

3.  Pearly Whites Maybe it's a product of my upbringing on the Atlantic Coast, but cold weather months find me craving cold water oysters, and absolutely nothing washes down fresh oysters quite like a glass of Muscadet. It's one of those quintessential pairings, one that really shows off the potential of a flavor combination which, if done right, is much more than the sum of its parts.

4.  Boom Town Muscadet is a modern, commercial success story for French wine. From the 1970s to the current era, the appellation has more than doubled its production. That has led to some dubious practices though, which makes old-school vignerons like Marc Olivier all the more valuable for those of us who love these delicate wines.

These are two exemplars of the style from Domaine de la Pépière. We just got the new vintages and they're as beautiful as ever.

Domaine de la Pépière — $14

Pépière's base-level Muscadet offering is a shining light in the world of affordable, everyday wines. It's good all the time: on it's own, with a light meal, in summer and winter. Made from vines that are more than 40 years old and are original to the property—Olivier is the only farmer/producer in the region without clones from other estates.

La Pépière "Clos des Briords" — $16

This was the first cuvée Olivier made beyond the base-level Domaine wine. It is made from a single plot of vines, the oldest on his estate at 80+ years, where the topsoil is much deeper and contains a more clay than elsewhere. The terroir of this wine makes it one of the boldest, most robust Muscadets made today. Pure delight.

Tami: Natural wines from Sicily

scott

It's no secret I'm a huge fan of Ariana Occhipinti. She's a real dynamo in the wine world, a spokesperson for the natural wine movement, and her principles happen to fall right in line with my own. So when she started the TAMI project with a couple friends from neighboring districts, I was instantly on board. This is simple, everyday Sicilian wine priced as such, made naturally with organic fruit and minimal sulfite treatment. That means a modicum of manipulation in the vineyard, in the cellar, and in the bottle. All that to say this is great juice delivered to you with the least amount of processing possible. Just simple, solid wine, versatile at the table and absolutely delicious in the glass.

TAMI' Contrada, Sicily, Italy

Nero D'Avola 2011 Nero D'Avola is usually made in a dark and rustic style, but this offering is a little lighter and brighter than most. Big smooth tannins from the skins lend just enough weight to make this a perfect pair for grilled tuna steaks or stewy eggplant dishes. Limited availability: less than two cases in stock.

Frappato 2011 Some combination of the maturing vines and the ripeness of the fruit led this vintage to wear a little more flesh than former iterations. It's sturdier than years past, but still with its patent acidity. Excellent with salty cured meats and firm cheeses.