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Filtering by Category: Producers' Spotlight

Dom. de la Pépière Muscadet Clisson

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

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

Pepiere Clisson Muscadet

The Wines

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

Approaching Zero Intervention | Movia Lunar

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

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

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

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

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

The Wines

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

Vive Vouvray!

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Wines

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

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

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

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.

Château d'Oupia

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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

From the Tank

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Summer is upon us. All those opportunities for outdoor fun are piling up. Folks are making plans for the Fourth. All that. So it's not a moment too soon that our favorite wine in a box just arrived. Perfect for the boat, the canoe, the picnic, the bbq... just generally perfect, really.

From the Tank rosé

A few years back, Francois Ecot (co-owner of Jenny & Francois) got together with natural winemaker Denis Deschamps of Les Vignerons D’ Estézargues (a small, co-cooperative cellar near Avignon) to create a special wine for exclusive distribution by Jenny & Francois. This was a new product line called From the Tank—three handcrafted and quality-driven wines in eco-friendly packaging at very low prices. Since its inception, the production of the white and the rosé has been moved to another producer in the Jenny & Francois family, Domaine de la Patience. This year's rosé is a blend of grenache and syrah from the Languedoc-Roussillon  and it's fresh as ever.

After selling out our allotment last year in a matter of two weeks, this year we doubled our order. Still, it's one of our most popular wines of the year and so it tends to fly out of the shop. We'll be tasting it Saturday if you want to try before you buy.

We're also going to add a sparkling rosé from Bugey-Cerdon into the mix, Renardat Fache.

The Wines

From the Tank rosé (3L) | grenache, syrah | Languedoc-Roussillon, France — $26 Renardat Fache | gamay, poulsard | Bugey-Cerdon, France — $20

Mas Champart

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Free Tasting | Saturday, May 18 | 3-5pm

To drink good wine is to be transported. It's about moving beyond the dull and familiar spaces of our lives, physically and otherwise. It's about lifting off. Like with travel, sometimes we explore new horizons and sometimes we simply reminisce about the places we love. And, like with travel, we take the good with the bad, always searching and always hoping that each next corner, each next glass will reveal something memorable.

Between those rare occasions of truly new or truly exquisite wines, there is an everyday sort of beauty that suffices. And for me, no wine quite captures that quality like the wines of southern France.

The word mas in French is something akin to the English terms farmhouse or ranch. But there's a little more to it. It's a dialectical term, a sort of colloquialism that refers not only to a structure or a piece of land, but a bucolic way of life in the South of France. Mas Champart, the eponymous wines of Isabelle and Matthieu Champart, are made with such a spirit.

As the story goes, Isabelle was a geographer living in Paris when she met Matthieu, the son of a long line of farmers in the Champagne region of the north. They married and moved South and took over her family's farm in the Languedoc-Roussillon town of Saint-Chinian in 1976. Knowing next to nothing about making wine, they sold off their grapes for twelve vintages straight. But when they began making and bottling their own wine in 1988, "they won almost instant acclaim, and have become the standard against which other producers in the appellation have been measured ever since," according to the Kermit Lynch website.

They're a dynamic duo (he among the vines, she in the cellar) of the likes that inspire wistful decisions. The kind of story and the kind of wine that makes me want to put down my laptop posthaste and whisk away to their humble doorstep, begging for just a few days under their shining sun. But for now, as the May rains pour down around Nashville, I'll have to settle for a glass of simple Champartian beauty and hope for a tomorrow that is even nearly as good.

The Wines

Mas Champart Saint-Chinian rosé — $17 Mas Champart Pays d'Oc red — $18

PS: Only about 40-50 cases of the red was brought into the U.S. in total. We got eight of them. Similarly, the rosé is not something you'll find everywhere. But for us, it's a perennial favorite.

The Curious Wines of Franz Leth

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Special Tasting Tonight! 5-7pm

w/ Austrian winemaker Franz Leth, Jr.

When Franz Leth, Jr. took over his family's Wagram, Austria winery last decade, he began carrying a mantle passed down from his grandfather to his father to him. Three generations might not seem like a long lineage in a place known for properties going back hundreds of years. But in short time, the Leth family has gained a reputation for making some of the most traditional, most carefully crafted wines in the region.

Half of the 21-hectares estate is planted to that Austrian gem of a grape, grüner veltliner. Wagram, the wine region in which the Leth family winery sits, is well known for its grüner. It's one of those situations where time and convergence lead to an ideal combination of soil, climate, culture and vine. Otherwise known as terroir.

Wagram is a large, south-facing slope just above the relatively straight portion of the Danube that lies west of Vienna. The soils are mostly the silty-sandy calcareous stuff they call löss, which was deposited by the cold hard winds of the last ice age. It's a porous soil, hardened only by small amounts of calcium carbonate and clay. But that looseness gives it its character. The vines can reach deep where ample amounts of water are trapped above the bedrock, meaning the vintners don't need to irrigate. Also, you get these crazy sheer cliffs at the edges of the vineyards that would be a blast to play around in. If you've ever seen those long small sand shelves form near the water on Atlantic beaches, it's sort of like that, only harder and more permanent and totally fertile.

Anyway, grüner veltliner thrives in these conditions. So much so that Franz claims his wines age to perfection over a period of 30+ years. And he's on a mission to prove it. He'll be in the store tonight (5-7pm) pouring from his very own bottles. Here's the lineup:

Grüner Veltliner 2011 Roter Veltliner 2011 Riesling 2010 Pinot Noir Reserve 2010 Plus a special surprise brought by Herr Leth himself!

 

Èric Chevalier

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Èric Chevalier is an unlikely hero. When he took over his father's estate in 1995, he did so reluctantly. Slowly, over the past two decades, Èric has begun to embrace his fate and allowed his passion to grow. Today he makes some of the most exciting wines in all the Nantais. And with his first vintage of Grolleau rosé 2013 looks to be his year. Chevalier

Chevlier's wines have impressed us here in the shop, year over year, by their deceptively simple focus and their nervy character (read: brightly acidic with an intensity of fresh fruit and refreshment).

Before, it's been all about the whites. We always get a few cases of his delicious, if oddball, Chardonnay. Ditto his Muscadet, a perennial staple. But this is the first time he's made the little gem of a rosé wine from a "widely planted though little recognized" grape called Grolleau. Wine Grapes tells us that it ain't easy to create "the relatively pale, light-bodied, supple, expressive, red-fruited" wines like this exemplar. Consider M. Chevalier a natural then, because his first crack is a masterpiece of freshness that leaves me wanting more, and more, and more...

 

The Wines of Èric Chevalier

Muscadet Côtes de Grand Lieu sur lie — $15 Grolleau Rosé 2012 — $16

Free tasting, Saturday April 27 | 3-5pm

 

 

Best Wine You've Never Heard of #001: Heidi Schröck weissburgunder

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Last week I had a conversation with Napa grape farmer Mike Hendry, a guy who considers himself a viticulturist first and a winemaker second. In Napa, that's pretty rare. But in the parts of the world where wine is viewed, at least generally speaking, as a cultural product more so than a cash crop, that farming mentality lives strong. So it is with Heidi Schröck, feminist, lecturer and viticulturist extraordinaire. Frau Schröck makes wines of distinguished character from traditional Austrian grapes like grauburgunder, weissburgunder, and welschriesling. Her weissburgunder (or pinot blanc, as it's also known) is full of bright foral notes and citrus oil. It's a versatile wine that exhibits a finely textured savory quality balanced by its density and supple mouthfeel.

She only farms about 10 hectares of land, which is really small, even by Austrian standards. But somehow she has captured the imagination of the international wine scene, including sommeliers in some of the top restaurants in the U.S. It has to do with the gorgeous fruit, authentic approach and food-friendly acidity of her white wines.

It also has to do with the spirit she brings to the project of making wine. When Heidi first took over her family's vineland in 1983, she was one of a very small group of women making wines in a largely male-dominated industry. What was her response? Gather all the women she knew who were doing what she was, and build a consortium of women vintners who shared a common philosophy in the cellar: make great wines, and don't fuss too much.

If you're looking to get your mind blown with some deeply cultural white wine, this is it.

The Wine

Heidi Schröck weissburgunder - $25 Burgenland, Austria

Domaine de la Chanteleuserie

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To many, it's an obscure outpost of obsolescence. For the willing, however, Bourgueil offers some of the most precise, price-friendly and powerful reds in all of the Loire. Domaine de la Chanteleuserie is one of the best examples available. This from acclaimed importer Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant:

Bourgueil is among the most age-worthy of the Loire Valley’s reds, and the wines from Domaine de la Chanteleuserie are no exception: their 1976 still drinks well today! Despite their structure, these wines have a suppleness and generosity of fruit that set them apart from most wines produced in the area...

The name Chanteleuserie means something like "place where the larks sing." It's a poem of a name, upbeat but mysterious, evocative of all that is important to the vigneron: the land and the vines and the joy of wine. The domaine makes 100% varietal wines from Cabernet Franc. Yields are kept low and the southern exposure of the hillside vines (most of which are more than 40, some which are up to 80 years old) provides perfect conditions to express the Bourgueil terroir.

Along the road to understanding wine, Bourgueil may seem like a detour at first. But from experience I can promise, once there you'll stay for days.

For technical information, visit the Domaine de la Chanteleuserie section of the Kermit Lynch website.

The Wines

Domaine de la Chanteleuserie "Cuvée Beauvais" — $18 Domaine de la Chanteleuserie "Cuvée Alouettes" — $16 (OUT OF STOCK)

Alex Gysler

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Alex Gysler abruptly assumed control of his family's Rheinhessen estate after the untimely death of his father, Gernot. Gernot liked and was known for softer, gentler wines, but his intrepid heir sought to differentiate himself from the start, as the heirs of strong fathers often do. Young Alex was determined to make wines of a nervy, edgy character. The heir envisioned a more pure expression of his land, his father's land, and being a man of his time, he turned to biodynamic agriculture for understanding.

Objectively, the first few years were little more than a curiosity. His most devoted supporters described the wines as "exotic," the way you might comment on a friend's experimental music as "interesting" or the way you smile when a cute stranger makes a particularly flaccid joke. "Ha. That's funny," you might say, knowing something special lay below the surface but not yet knowing how to mine such a precious thing.

Fast forward to the present where we're laughing in earnest about that awkward beginning, about the painful shyness of those first few encounters. Here we are reveling in the pure drinkability of Alex's wines.

This from Gysler's US importer (and kooky wine legend) Terry Theise:

Less recherché than ‘10, less exotic than ‘08, a simple drink-the-living-fuck-out-of-it quality... It goes to the party but is a little diffident, it hardly knows anyone, but when it sees you it bursts into an incandescent grin.

You may not have a lot of experience with the grapes Silvaner (Savagnin x Österreichisch) or Scheurebe (Silvaner x Riesling), but you honestly don't need it to enjoy these sensational, hand-crafted wines. They're simply made and yet almost ghastly in their elusiveness. Just a bit of residual sugars add to the complexity and couch the hard edges of the wines acids, creating one of the most refreshing wines you'll taste all year.

The Wines

Gysler Scheurebe 2011 (1L) — $18 Gysler Silvaner 2011 (1L) — $18

Xavier Vignon

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I can think of several reasons to love a wine. Lately, I've been focused on the stories inside the bottles, the farming, the philosophy, the history. But it doesn't end there. Sometimes a wine has so much character that everything else just sort of fades behind the radiance of the experience. So it is with the wines of Xavier Vignon, a master oenologist who has put his mark on Châteauneuf-du-Pape by consulting with many of the best producers in this storied appellation. The Xavier brand is his own private label, under which he has released offerings of rosé, Côtes du Rhone rouge and blanc, as well as several crus appellations including a Gigondas and his crowning achievement, the Châteauneuf-du-Pape "Anonyme."

At the shop, we've taken a pretty strong position on these wines, bringing in two vintages of the "Anonyme" (2007, 2009), the Gigondas, and his basic red and rosé. And while value might not be the first thing any of us associate with Gigondas or Châteauneuf-du-Pape, tasting the "Anonyme" and knowing the sort of expertise and care that goes into its making, value is exactly what springs to mind. It comes in well under the cost of the big names for whom Vignon consults, and yet is every bit as complex and mind-meltingly delicious.

Hard to imagine a better set of wines for Easter. Wild herbs and dark fruits mingle for a spicy, luscious, old-meets-new fantasia of aroma and flavor.

The Wines

Xavier Châteauneuf-du-Pape "Cuvée Anonyme" 2007 — $70 Xavier Châteauneuf-du-Pape "Cuvée Anonyme" 2009 — $75

Xavier Gigondas — $43

Xavier Côtes du Rhône rouge — $20 Xavier Côtes du Rhône rosé — $13

Looking on the Broadside

woodlandwinemerchant

No one seems to have harnessed the power of Paso Robles quite like the winemakers behind Broadside wines. Don't get me wrong, there's plenty of powerful wine coming out of that part of California. But Broadside has a restrained quality that is missing in so many of the others. Never jammy, always poised. Attribute that finesse partly to the location of the Margarita Vineyard, which sits a little further south and is a little cooler than its neighbors. But also recognize that a light touch in the cellar (little to no oak treatment, all native yeasts) and a preference by the winemakers for lower ripeness of fruit makes for wine that is both bold and focused in its approach, lingering and earthy in its finish.

The Winemakers

Young gun Chris Brockway of Broc Cellars teamed up with fellow iconoclast Brian Terrizzi of Giornata to form this lineup of wallet-friendly California superstars. Terrizzi is known for working with Italian varietals that otherwise get little attention in California, like Vermentino and Aglianico, and for doing them justice. Brockway was named a "winemaker to watch" last year by the San Francisco Chronicle, and is known for producing deliciously drinkable wines that are on the low side of the alcohol content range.

The Wines

"Margarita Vineyard" Cabernet Sauvignon — $22 "Margarita Vineyard" Merlot — $20 "Printers Alley" Proprietary Red — $20 "Wild Ferment" Chardonnay — $17

Domaine Maestracci: Corse Calvi Comeback Kid

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Corsica is the latest emergent player on the wine stage. Domaine Maestracci is vying for the leading role.

As recently as the 1980s, it may not have been advisable to take a chance on an unknown bottle of Corsican wine. Fortunately, things have changed. Infusions of cash and advancements in climate control technology over the last three decades have allowed this little island to sail full tilt into the world of internationally recognized wine. Today it's a diverse playground for the glitterati, an island gem with an inland culture. Domaine Maestracci's Corse Calvi wines, especially, have captured my attention, conjuring in every sip the twisting landscape and perpetual sea breeze of their homeland. These are wines that delight in their own quirkiness, and surprise you around every turn.

I'm sure your Corsican geography is tip-top, but just in case here's a map. The best wines of the island, including those of Domaine Maestracci, come from the area surrounding Calvi.

The leading grape in these reds is called Niellucciu, which is basically the island's special version of Sangiovese. The white is all Vermentinu, known variously throughout Europe as Vermentino, Pigato or Favorita.

Here's what we have on offer:

Dom. Maestracci Corse Calvi "Clos Reginu" — $15 (Niellucciu, Grenache, Sciacarellu, Syrah, Mouvedre, Carignan)

Dom. Maestracci Corse Calvi "E Prove" Rouge — $23 (Niellucciu, Grenache, Sciacarellu, Syrah)

Dom. Maestracci Corse Calvi "E Prove" Blanc — $23 (Vermentinu)

Famille Peillot

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Imagine slopes so steep you're afraid to disturb the topsoil for fear of having the ground literally erode beneath your feet. Now imagine that same slope, what would otherwise be crumbling scree, planted with rows of pole-trained grape vines each six feet high. This is the property of Franck Peillot, a rugged, fifth-generation vigneron from Bugey-Montagnieu. Very few people in the world make a still wine that is 100% Altesse. I mean very few, like a handful. And those who do are all clustered in the Savoie (pronounced SAH-vwa), a little part of France near Switzerland, high in the shadow of the Alps. The grape, like the people of this region, has a distinct character not amenable to lower, warmer climates. Exposure to small amounts of humidity or any prolonged warmth and the fruit will rot on the vine.

Not so in the hands of Franck Peillot, who has made this grape his calling card. His white, known as Roussette du Bugey, is technically allowed to contain, well... anything really. But Franck is proud of this little grape, believes it's a part of his heritage and a signature for the region. Which is why the word Altesse is blazoned so prominently on the bottle. And why he goes to great lengths to produce a varietal wine where nearly no one else will.

But neither is Altesse the only strange beauty coming out of the cellars of M. Peillot. Where his Altesse is abstract and aloof, his Mondeuse (pronounced mon-DOES) is solid material. They're complimentary pairs. Two angles of a straight line. Together they make up the character of Savoie wine, especially in this corner of Bugey-Montagnieu, the village in which Peillot works. Both are rustic, both indigenous to the area, but differentiated too. The Mondeuse is a near-relative of Syrah, sturdy and textural, only lighter and later ripening than Syrah and better adapted to the altitude.

See, this is the core beauty of the wine world as I see it: beneath all the points ratings and million-dollar ad campaigns, the men and women who farm their land with pride and self-possession, who aren't afraid to take risks because they believe in the mechanics of the tradition. Farm some grapes that are naturally adapted to the land you're farming, make sure the weather doesn't get in the way too much, dump the ripened grapes in a tank, keep it clean and let the juice rest for a while. Voilà!

It's not exactly magic, but with Franck Peillot, it's pretty damn close.

Montesecondo: 21st Century Renaissance Man

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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.

Herri Mina: Rare Wines from High Places

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Herri Mina

Every so often we come across wines that really, really blow us away. Not because they're the best we've ever had, not because they're particularly cheap, but because of their provenance—where they come from, who made them, the sense of terroir and history and culture crying out from every sip. So it is with Herri Mina, quite possibly the most esoteric wine we'll buy this year.

Herri Mina is the project of Jean-Claude Berrouet, longtime winemaker at the eminent Bordeaux house Chateau Petrus, one of the world's most highly sought wines. Mr. Berrouet has been the wizard behind the Petrus curtain since 1964. So, he knows a thing or two about making, well you know, the best.

A Little History

The Pays Basque (French Basque Country), along the northern slopes of the Pyrenees, are better known for their amazingly funky ciders than they are for their wines. Like so many regions of Southern France, the area was pretty well wiped out by the phylloxera epidemic in the early 20th Century. But unlike more prominent regions, most of the Pays Basque vineyards were ripped asunder and replanted with food crops. Except for three villages, that is, including the tiny mountain gem known as Irouléguy.

Until the late 1970s, nearly all the wine produced by this smallest of appellations (only 240 acres under vine) were consumed locally or sold off to trade in bulk. None of it was bottled estate.

A Dream Realized

While Mr. Berrouet's reputation and career has been built entirely on Grand Cru Bordeaux, he dreamed for decades of returning to his family's roots in the Pays Basque to buy vineyards and make the wine of his heritage. But the Pays Basque is a very insular place. The locals deal only with the locals, and the commerce is strictly reserved for those who live and work and worship in these mountain villages. So despite Mr. Berrouet's notoriety as one of the world's best vignerons, he was forced to wait until chance intervened. In 1992, a friend looking to sell off parcels of his land approached Mr. Berrouet who jumped at the chance to fulfill his dream. But even then the going was uneasy; buyer and seller had to come together to convince the locals to approve the sale.

Since then he's focused almost exclusively on white wine, cultivating indigenous varietals like Gros Manseng and Petit Courbu. For the red that he does make (only 5 barrels a year!), it's exclusively Cabernet Franc, which is thought to have originated in the Pays Basque. The land is extremely steep, with terraced vineyards that must be picked by hand. Tradition has the pickers going over the vines several times so that grapes are picked only at exact ripeness. And the wines, though barely a dot on the map of the wine world, in the hands of this mastermind, have a truly world-class appeal.

Very Limited Availability — 2 cases of white, 1 case of red

Herri Mina | Irouléguy, France Blanc (Gros Manseng, Petit Courbu, Petit Manseng) - $30 Rouge (Cabernet Franc) - $30

La Pépière

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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

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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.