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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)

Pre-sale: Epic Vintage!

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The critics are raving. In recent years, Port producers have begun fortifying their wines not with bland neutral spirits as they had in bygone decades, but with quality brandies that impart a newfound complexity of flavor. In addition, the conditions in 2011 were objectively perfect for the production of this fortified wine: the sun shone, the rains came, the harvest was dry and warm. Everything timed out just right. The upshot? Oporto's greatest vintage on record. And critics are going wild about the results. Here's the thing: everyone's keen on the epic nature of the vintage, and so if you want any at all you're going to have to act now. Port, the fortified red wine of Douro, Portugal, is a classic gift for weddings, anniversaries, births and special occasions of all stripes. Why? Because the bottles are all but indestructible, and the longevity offered in a quality Port is the stuff of legend. I once tasted a Port from 1927 that nearly sprang from the bottle, alive and ready to play. It's an amazing thing, old port. I can only imagine what such a perfect set of conditions would look like fifteen, fourty, seventy-five years from now...

So anyone looking for a gift to embody the year, this is your chance. We're taking orders for a pre-sale, which means you commit now and your bottle(s) arrive in the fall. Years from now, folks will be talking about these 2011 vintage ports. It's a matter of you being on the ball or not. If you want in, email or call the shop by Thursday 3pm and we'll place your order directly.

Options below. Email us [info@woodlandwinemerchant.com] or call us [615-228-3311] with questions, or to place your order.

What It Means

I don't often turn to Robert Parker for wisdom, but in this case I think it's appropriate to quote from someone who's at least tasted the stuff...

Taylor Fladgate

"The palate is sweet and sensual on the entry, plush and opulent, with copious black cherries, boysenberry and cassis fruit, curiously more reminiscent of Fonseca! It just glides across the palate with a mouth-coating, glycerine-tinged finish that has a wonderful lightness of touch, demonstrating how Vintage Port is so much more accessible in its youth nowadays. But don’t let that fool you into dismissing the seriousness or magnitude of this outstanding Taylor’s."

Fonseca

"The palate is silky smooth with not a rough edge in sight, though not a typically voluptuous Fonseca because of the keen thread of acidity and the structure that lends this mighty Port wonderful backbone. A slight viscosity on the finish lacquers the tongue and indicates a core of sweet fruit is ticking away underneath that will surely explode several years after bottling. A tincture of salted licorice on the aftertaste is very attractive. This will turn out to become an outstanding Fonseca, the growing season taming its exuberance with spectacular results. So much potential, but just 6,000 cases were produced."

Dows

"It has a beautiful, quite extravagant bouquet with copious black and red fruit, Indian spice, and hints of menthol and orange rind that unfold wonderfully in the glass. The palate is a sumptuous affair, one that is beautifully balanced with velvety smooth, plump tannins, copious black fruit with a harmonious, white pepper-tinged finish that is a decadent delight. This is one of the finest of the declarations of 2011 Vintage Ports, a sublime expression of the vintage you would be foolish not to buy. This is Dow at its best. 5,000 cases have been declared."

Taylor Fladgate 2011 [375ml] — $58 Taylor Fladgate 2011 [750ml] — $115 Taylor Fladgate 2011 [1.5ml] — $230
Fonseca 2011 [375ml] — $58 Fonseca 2011 [750ml] — $115 Fonseca 2011 [1.5L] — $230
Dows 2011 [375ml] — $47 Dows 2011 [750ml] — $90

Refreshing Wines from Asti

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Way up in the northwestern aspect of Italy lies the wine region of Asti. Known primarily for its reds—Dolcetto, Barbera, Grignolino—in recent years Asti has become increasingly known for its sweet bubbly Moscato. But as you may know, when it comes to wine I like to vere a little into the unknown and see what I can find. It's a search for the unexpected, a journey to the ends of the earth (at least in tasting terms) in the service of discovery. What am I going on about? Sometimes you want to get that classically structured Bordeaux and linger over a long meal. And sometimes you just want something that's going to blow the lid off a steamy afternoon. That's where these come in.

Cantine Elvio Tintero is the project of winemaker Marco Tintero, heir to a 110-year-old winery in the commune of Mango, "in the heart of Moscato country." Marco and his father Elvio make wines that fit that off-the-beaten-path sort of vibe, the sort of wines that are meant to be drunk fresh and without delay. It's the stuff of small town trattorias and al fresco dining, wines that can slice the heat right off your sweat-beaded skin.

We're tasting three summery wines from Asti this Saturday. A white and a rosato from the Tintero winery and (for good measure) a red from nearby called Il Goccetto.

The Wines

Tintero Grangia - $12

A frizzante (lightly fizzy) blend of Favorita, Arneis, Moscato and Chardonnay, this dry and crisp light white wine refreshes the palate and quenches the gullet with ease. Perfect as an aperitif wine or as an accompaniment to fresh shellfish or summer salads.

Tintero Grangia Rosato - $12

The rosato is a nice rosy counterpart to the white. It's juicy, fresh like the white and full of tingly flavor. Most of the wine is from the Barbera grape, a red grape that is fermented immediately after harvest. Small amounts of unfermented Moscato and Favorita juice are added at the end to induce a secondary fermentation—that's the bubbly part. It's bottled unfiltered to maximize the character of the wine. But don't let it fool you, this is one of the most purely refreshing wines I've had this year.

Gentian Apéritifs

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A small coterie of old-made-new, apéritif wines and spirits—part of the surging trend in aromatized beverages like amari or vermouth—has recently re-captured the American imagination. Generally, apéritifs are drunk before a meal or just on a sunny afternoon, meant to stimulate your palate and your appetite through the percolation of a fresh, vibrant base alcohol over a blend of regional herbs. It's an old-world tradition turned meme by a recent resurgence in popularity amongst stateside bartenders and bloggers at large. The broader tradition of aromatizing wines and spirits includes both aperitifs and digestifs, but whereas the Italians tend to focus on latter (after-dinner drinks that aid digestian) the French tend to make lighter, brighter versions that are categorized in the former.

A taxonomy of the variations might look something like a network map, showing the relationship of each recipe to another by variables like base alcohol, primary aromatic ingredient, appropriate context, etc. But for now, let's just focus on a pair of gentian-laden apéritifs from France, two of the newest examples to hit Nashville.

Salers ($25)

Salers (pronounced sah-LEHRS) starts off as a neutral alcohol which is then steeped with the roots of Gentiane lutea, or Great Yellow Gentian. The gentian soak imparts a bitter quality that is balanced by the sweetness of the spirit base. It's yellowsih-white in color, about like the flower of the Gentian plant itself, and has a wild  that is as captivating as it is strange.

Bonal ($20)

Something about ordering Bonal (pronounced bo-NAHL)  just makes people stop and pay attention. It's got this deep ruddy color that catches the light like a well-cut gem. It's a mistelle base, meaning grape juice fortified with spirits, that is then aromatized with gentian and chinchona bark (quinine). Amazingly sumptuous, tart and slightly bitter with quenching, juicy quality that begs revisiting again and again. Pour it over ice with a wide slice of orange peel and summer takes on a suddenly bottomless sort of tone.

*If all that's not enough to tantalize you, wait to you see the bottles—super cool old-school labels replete with hand drawn botanical renderings.

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

Out of Time Out

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

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

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

Fattoria Moretto Lambrusco Grasparossa di Castelvetro

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

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

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

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

The Wines

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

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!

 

Best Wine You've Never Heard of #002

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Domaine de la Tournelle | Fleur de Savagnin Jura, France.

This is hill country. Not the hill country of blues fame and not Texas hill country, although those are lovely places in their own right. This is hill country à la Française. Here the towering spine of the Alps comes tumbling down into a collar of Jurassic-era limestone and marl ridges. Here the cheese is made in the same rustic methods that were established by the medieval serfs who first created Comté, Morbier and Bleu de Gex. Here the hilltops are capped by cliffside chateaux and sprawling forest, and the southerly slopes are zippered with vines yielding ancient grape varietals that make some of the world's most austere, most authentic wines.

Of the wine appellations within Côtes de Jura, Arbois is the most important. And here we find Domaine de la Tournelle. Husband/wife vignerons duo Evelyne and Pascal Clairet started working their six hectares in 1991, and have since gained recognition as one of the most celebrated producers in the region. And the Fleur de Savagnin is one of their best.

Tournelle

Savagnin (not Sauvignon) is a white grape known for its thick skins as well as its concentration of sugars and its high retention of acidity. The sugars in this case don't translate to sweetness in the wine, au contraire, this wine is anything but sweet. They do give the wine a certain heft, a fullness of body, to which the acidity plays counterpoint. In the case of Tournelle, the acidity wins the day. Theirs is made in a brisk and refreshing style that pairs perfectly with warm evenings, saffron-inflected mussels and of course, Morbier cheese.

If it's true you've never heard of it, that's likely because there simply isn't much of it made. The Savagnin grape is little worked with outside of the Jura (in Germany it's known as Traminer, also rare), and the production levels inside this region is as low as any major wine region on Earth. It's old school, all picked by hand and selected for quality at the vine. All non-interventionalist in the cellar. All natural in the bottle. All good going down.

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

A little light on Bordeaux

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Back in February, Times wine writer Eric Asimov published an article about the slow turning of perceptions w.r.t. Bordeaux. In a sense, he writes, Bordeaux has become a sort of underdog in the world of hip sommeliers and young wine drinkers. It's an odd way to position wines whose exemplars currently fetch upwards of $1500 per bottle, but I sort of know what he means.

When I first starting drinking wine, Bordeaux seemed stuffy and out of reach. The cheap bottles seemed boring, while the expensive bottles were reserved for serious collectors only. And studying the region's tertiary and quinary appellations in search of purity seemed like, I don't know, a waste of time? At least I felt like my time was better spent elsewhere.  I had a lot to learn! When done right, basic Bordeaux transcends its name and delivers a truly peculiar greatness. Power and finesse combined with an everyday drinkability. What holds it back, for the average consumer, is really a combination of economics (at the high end) and lack of effort on the part of buyers (on the low end). Here's what Asimov had to say:

Bordeaux at least seems to have transcended its period of disregard. Sommeliers and many younger wine drinkers now acknowledge the region’s history and importance, while expressing appreciation of the wines. What had been a sort of faddish dismissal of Bordeaux has evolved into at least grudging affection and a useful discussion of the region’s problems.

Part of that "grudging affection" comes from a shift in focus, if not away from the big players, at least a little more inclusion of the small farmers of the region. One of the things I've come to learn in the years since that first snub is that it comes down to who's in charge. There's a lot variation these days in methods, from the farming to the cellar to the bottling and marketing. It's worth the extra work to find the smaller producers doing things with a special care for the land and the culture that make their wines what they are.

In this spirit, we've decided to show off a few top notch (but affordably priced!) entry-level Bordeaux. They're all hand-harvested, minimally treated and greatly expressive. After all, with a little research and a lot of tasting, there is plenty out there to love. It's just a matter of finding it.

Free Tasting Saturday, April 20 | 3-5pm

Chateau Tire Pé Bordeaux 2009 — $16

From importer Jenny & Francois: David and Hélène Barrault took over this small vineyard in ’97. Blessed with rich clay and limestone soils this vineyard possesses fantastic southern exposures and overlooks the Gironde River. The chateau takes its name from a colorful local tale about what small animals “leave behind” before climbing the Tire Pé hill. The Barrault’s farm there ten to fifteen year-old vines organically and great care is taken to gently extract the supple fruit and terroir, that Bordeaux is so well known for, into each cuvee they produce.

Chateau Belregard Figeac Tellus Vinea Bordeaux 2009 — $18

From importer Neil Rosenthal: The Pueyo Family has owned Belregard Figeac since 1853. The estate has remained in the family and this continuous ownership is accompanied by the priceless and intimate knowledge of the best parcels of each vineyard gained through seasons of observation. This is the kind of understanding that no amount of time at university can replace. It shows through in the wine, a true example of the character of their particular corner of Saint Emilion.

Chateau la Peyre Haut-Medoc 2010 — $26

From importer Neil Rosenthal: The Rabiller family has a long tradition of growing grapes in Saint Estephe. However, in the past, the entire harvest was sold to the local cooperative. Dany and René Rabiller, the current proprietors, recognized the potential of their vineyards. They decided to build their own winery on the family estate and, since 1994, they have vinified and bottled their own wine. The careful attention given to the vineyards follows through to the winemaking process. Grapes are only harvested by hand. Before going into the fermentation tanks, the bunches are carefully sorted by hand to remove any underripe or damaged grapes. The Rabillers follow traditional winemaking techniques, preferring a long "cuvaison" or maceration period in the fermentation tank. This allows gentle extraction of color, tannins and flavor components and results in a naturally concentrated and well-balanced wine.

WWM Interviews: Alice Feiring

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Alice Feiring has become, over the last five years, one of the most important voices in American wine writing. After publishing her first book The Battle for Wine and Love in 2008, Alice found herself at the center of the most controversial topic to hit the wine world in a generation—what is commonly called 'natural wine.' She has gained passionate followers and critics alike for her outspoken support of wines with minimal intervention, wines she defines as having "nothing added, nothing taken away." She publishes regularly in The New York Times, Newsweek, The Wall Street Journal, The San Francisco Chronicle, New York Magazine, and more. She is the recipient of a James Beard Award and was named 2011 Louis Roederer International Wine Feature Writer of the Year. She is the author of two books, The Battle for Wine and Love (2008, Harcourt) and Naked Wine (2011, Perseus Books).

In October 2012 Alice launched her current project, The Feiring Line, a newsletter of exclusive wine stories and recommendations, which has once again grabbed the attention of critics and wine lovers nationwide. It is a great resource to anyone wanting to learn, read about or revel in the leading edge of wine.

Sign up for her newsletter here. Or read her articles and blog posts by visiting her website, alicefeiring.com.

I met Alice at the Jenny & Francois 2013 Winemakers Dinner in the basement of The Smith, in New York's East Village. We talked wine, writing, farming and mutual friends. The following interview is based on that meeting and a subsequent email conversation.

-Scott Lyon

Hi, Alice. So kind of you to agree to this interview, especially since I know you've been on the road a lot lately. What is the response like, traveling around, to your take on wine? Have you had any delightful surprises? 

Perhaps the biggest thrill was when the Champagne producer Francis Boulard asked for my autograph. I was so touched, and a little embarrassed because I should be asking him for his signature. It's been a deep honor to get the respect of vignerons of his caliber.

Wow! Francis Boulard asked for your autograph? What did you sign for him?

He apologized that he didn’t have Le Vin Nu with him, so he gave me his Renaissance des Appellations tasting book. (This was at the tasting in Angers, 2012).

Speaking of Boulard—ego boosts aside, in your worldview, what makes a great Champagne? Who are your favorite producers?

The same thing as everything else: great original material, an ideal location and soil, the lowest sulfur you can get away with and a talented winemaker. It seems as if I do like a natural first fermentation as well. Producers? Boulard, Bouchard, Prévost, Colin, Bereche, Larmandier, Lassaigne, Vouette et Sorbée, Bedel, Leclapart, Laval, Tarlant—it goes on and on, sorry for other favorites that I forgot to mention.

Since you wrote your first book the conversation surrounding real/authentic/natural wine has taken some unexpected turns and come under great scrutiny. Plenty of notable figures have weighed in. Do you ever fear ideology might get in the way? Or has this been a healthy debate?

The bickering is silly. People are so threatened by the wines and the fact that many people are loving them. The people who yell the loudest, like Michel Chapoutier or Michel Bettane, seem to have the most to lose in customers and credibility, so it makes sense they’ve been vocal. But it is indeed healthy. When it all shakes down, the public will be more aware of how much not-natural can be done to a wine. Now that people are clamoring for them, there will be more to choose from. The new generation will be making very different wines than their fathers. So while the debate can get dirty, the outcome will be terrific.

You seem to refer to a sort of end point where natural wine is more normative, or at least less embattled maybe. Do you see it that way? How close are we to that point?

Well, I don’t know about normative! For example, I’m in Proseccoland and yesterday had lunch at a restaurant that had a mostly ‘normal’ wine list, but when the word natural wine came up, he knew exactly what we were talking about. There wasn’t a whole lot but to see Kante on the list was amazing (and cheap too). Conventional wineries will stop fighting and eventually create a ‘natural’ line extension for their ‘brands.’ That has already begun to happen. I can’t forecast, but how long before we see 2 Buck Chuck sans souffre? Give it under five years.

Process and philosophy are at the heart of what you write about. How important is language?

Very! Often I get into trouble on Twitter because of language. So hard to avoid a dogmatic sounding message when you have to eliminate the frill and the nuance, but the nuance in talking about wine is so important. There are few absolutes.

You've said you came to the newsletter somewhat reluctantly, not being a fan of the "tasting notes format." And yet The Feiring Line has been well received. How do you approach recommendation that is different than other wine newsletters? Is story still a part of your process?

I realized many people just want to know what I like to drink, and so I gave in. But again, the narrative is essential. The newsletter has about 3-4 articles and 20 recommendations. I've selected a number of icons, you can see them for yourself here:

http://www.alicefeiring.com/newsletter/key-to-wine-recommendation-symbols.html

I give my tasting note, then plug in an assortment of symbols that suit the wine. In the collection of symbols, a story emerges. For example, if a wine has a hardcore, classic and cool stuff, you might be scratching your head for a while to see what I mean, but the clues will be in the words.

In that system, are you recreating experiences you've had personally, whether through talking to winemakers or reading? I mean, is that head-scratching or aha! moment something you feel is essential to loving wine?

I am trying to recreate an experience, yes. In the assortment of icons a sort of pastiche about the wine is formed. Is it easy to drink or does it take the 'geek' to know it? Is it a wine for everyone or does it presume a certain inclination to a kind of wine? Or at least a forewarning? Is it simply a wine I'm nuts about? A wine that is cool enough to warrant attention and thought? A classic example?

Your mission includes "hunting the Phillip Roths... of the wine world," but after his recent retirement announcement you wrote on your blog about a sort of intellectual break-up with the master novelist. Have you had any similar disillusionments in the wine world? 

I didn't see that as an intellectual breakup. I experienced more a feeling of being abandoned. His retirement had such a strange effect on me. I almost considered throwing in the towel as well. I went though a terrible time for a few months, swearing I’d not write another book and just devote myself to my new job and the newsletter. Then little by little, some stories took me over and there it is, I'm back thinking about the next books. It's a wonderful feeling. But disillusionments in the wine world? Yes. The attack on natural wine has been shameful. Last June a wine shop in Rome was fined and will be taken to court for offering ‘natural wine.’ Tom Wark’s Fermentation wine blog wrote a much publicized piece called Natural Wine: The Ugly Underbelly, accusing ‘them’ of unfair marketing practices (what marketing practices?). They are called brown, fizzy, unstable, with apple cider vinegar tastes. Is this kind of wine the enemy? I mean, come on, what could be indefensible about a wine that has, at it’s heart, nothing added or taken away?

I am also puzzled by natural wine being seen as stylish (since when is something that tastes good stylish?) but even worse—and this was expected—is industrial winemakers and firms using the word natural in advertisements, and companies like big prosecco makers trying to get my interest because they use a technology to avoid sulfur.

Outside of the natural wine world, I am constantly amazed by the self-importance of Bordeaux and amused by the Wine Advocate suing Antonio Galloni for his wine reviews and use of the 100-point system.

About that question of sulfur. I think there's a lot of misinformation about sulfites out there, and I'm constantly baffled as to where it all comes from. Like, "I get headaches from wine and someone told me it's because of the sulfites. Do you have any wine that doesn't have sulfites?" As a retailer, we get that question a lot. What's your take? Are sulfites an important part of the natural wine conversation? 

This is complicated. Sulfur is an element that binds with oxygen to become sulfite or Sulfur Dioxide (So2). This happens naturally as a byproduct of fermentation. This is very different than added sulfites, which most often are petrochemical derivates. It is also different than the addition of elemental (volcanic, for example) sulfur. And not all additions are created equal. Legal limits for white wine are around 220 parts per million. A natural wine might have some added to 20ppm. Also, there is a lot more to have a reaction to in conventional wine than sulfur. Tannin addition. Added acidity. Enzymes… for example.

Beaujolais took a big hit in 2012. As did much of France. How will the effects differ, in your estimation, between large industrial operations and the small-scale vignerons you know and love?

200 growers went out of biz in 2012 in Beaujolais. Those who really suffered are people growing grapes for negociants like Dubouef, working on volume, who don’t have bottle sales to rely on. Those are the folks who collapse. Those working organically, naturally and generally, well, they're surviving. Those are the people who are putting their names on the bottle. So someone like Dutraive whose domaine is in Fleurie, who suffered but was clearly not too concerned—he told me with a shrug, “It’s agriculture. I’m doing ok.” The key to these vintages (and there will be very little wine) is to stay away even more from large companies. The only hope for good wines was in rigorous selection, and you have to have very high standards to pull this off when most grapes would go straight into the garbage. In other words, stick to the small guys in the 2012 vintage and you’ll be okay. Let’s hope for better luck in 2013 and 2014.

If you could curl up with one book and one bottle of wine from your past, together, right now, what would they be? 

My "Desperately Seeking Scanavino" chapter in The Battle [for Wine and Love] and the 1968 Scanavino Barolo. Also, getting my hands on an early Martin Ray pinot (never had one) and reading Vineyards in the Sky wouldn’t be bad either.

Since you're now in the business of recommending: can you suggest a few places for our readers to visit, should they want to experience wine the way you have? 

I think it’s best, no matter where you're going, to call up or write the vignerons you really admire and tell them you love their wines and want to see their vines. There’s nothing like sincere flattery to get a door to open. Of course, if you can get an introduction through an importer or a wine store, that will go the extra mile as well. The best hospitality will be in places not overrun by tourists, such as in the Langeudoc, for example St. Chinian. And if the winemaker, like for example, Jean-Marie Rimbert, has a chambre d’hôte, what could be better?