As a lover of the Languedoc, Rhone and Provence regions of France, I often overlook how much I also enjoy Alsace, the Loire and Burgundy. And, when it comes to Burgundy, I mean the not so traditional parts of it, Beaujolais, Macon Village and Saint Veran where wine lovers can find amazingly interesting wines that won't break the bank.
The 2014 Maison B. Perraud St. Veran is one of those wines. Imagine a Chardonnay that sees no oak at all, full of fresh fruit from start to finish. The layers of apples, pears and peaches, all minus the usual butterscotch and oak tastes that seem to dominate so many of the usual Chardonnay wines on the market. The Perraud has the depth one expects from a Chablis, with the lack of oak of a Petite Chablis, with an added layer of expressiveness, liveliness and lightness. Perfect with oysters, salad or cheese, the St. Veran is a gem that you can enjoy even all by itself.
As reported six days ago as rumor now seems to be playing out. InterRhone, the most important wine organization in the RhoneValley will sign and shortly a partnership agreement with Paso Robles based Hospice du Rhone according to sources close to the deal.
Friday was one of those days where you just had to be there. It started out normal. The work day ended and I headed over to Culver City's really cool wine shop/tasting room/wine bar, "Bar and Garden" for their Five for Five on Friday. For a fiver you get to taste five wines. For ten, you get ten, and if you're really nice, a few more. Basically, the owners bring in local wine reps who pour their latest samples. The attendees comment, the owners then compare their notes with what the crowd liked and bring in new wines or have wines on the shelf move out. This approach of buying only a few cases of any wine works as it keeps the stock fresh, and the selections new.
There I met the owner of Nomadic Distribution, an importer of wines from France, Spain, Italy and Morocco. Didier Pariente is an enthusiastic Frenchman, born in the Loire Valley, but with an eye to the south. We tasted a bunch of his wines when somehow the discussion of bio-dynamique wine production started and he revealed he imports wines of Clot de L'Origine that are made by Marc Barriot. I joked that in most cases there is usually "Six Degrees of Separation" in the world, but in my case, it's more like one, showing Didier a group of photos from a dinner back in 2012 that Marc organized for me with six other winemakers at Auberge du Cellier in Montner, France, a few miles from his winery. And with that Didier ran out to his car to bring in Marc stunning dessert Grenache, made from old vines in Maury, France. His portfolio is full of gems including a stunning unoaked Chardonnay from the Macon region of St. Veran. Talk about mind blowing, this Chardonnay is fruity and lively enough to make you forget Gruener or Riesling or any of those other "fad" wines that seem to take the world by storm only to be replaced by the standards.....but I digress.
After about 90 minutes or so at Bar and Garden I paid my tab, recruited Didier and shop owner Marisa into doing something on International Grenache Day (Friday September 16th 2016) and then headed to an Uber for a visit to Bar Covell in Hollywood. 30 minutes or so later I wandered into a packed crowd, and 150 wines on offer.
The way Bar Covell works is you tell them what you're in the mood for and you get to sample a few, then you pick your glass. I went for Alsace, and a cool, crisp Boeckel 2010 Sylvaner vs. the two Oregon Rieslings that were good, but not quite dry enough. Then there was a nicely aged Provence red that fit the bill to accompany the Croque Monsiure. From there I headed over to Barbrix just down the hill off of Hyperion, for a glass of Riesling and a red Austrian that was way too warm...I felt the need for real wine...really good wine and a really fun crowd. So it was off to Wally's Beverly Hills I went, and that was when more fun began....
At Wally's I caught up with Chef David Feau, who has become a food friend here in town. What David has done at Wally's is on par with Le 110 de Taillevent in Paris. We chatted about the local scene, the food and wine media, about what new places I should be frequenting and some plans he has. I was also recruiting to stage something Grenache Day at Wally's and more importantly, hunting for Corsican cheese, which he found for me in the cheese department that has wickedly low prices for the quality they sell. As I was walking back to the bar, with my glass of 2012 J.L. Chave Mon Coeur an Australian couple and I started talking, only for me to realize that I knew the gentleman from my trip to Sydney in 2012. The gentleman was none other than Chef, restaurateur, cookbook author, television chef and the culinary consultant to Virgin Australia Luke Mangan. I had met Mangan, and gotten his cookbook complete with autograph at the grand opening of Mojo. We caught up, talked about his suggestion to me and introduction to Antoine Moscovitz, whom Luke called the "best chef in Australia" as I sat with Anotine and his wife Sam at the Mojo opening, and then asked "where should he eat in L.A." Rather than offer limited guidance, I walked he and Sam back to the kitchen and asked David to provide his insight...I mean, who better to tell the Wolfgang Puck of Australia where to dine than a peer...
But the night was not over, for I turned and found Internationally renowned DJ, Peter Rank Schroder, who is also CEO of Telzio, whom I advise, walking in with a musician friend from Denmark. The three of us proceeded to work our way through a stunning bottle of an Italian red and made the night a party at Wally's.
The night ended around 215 AM, with an Uber to the flat...What a night....and all to get ready for Hospice du Rhone.
It's been a few years since Paso Robles had a Hospice du Rhone, the wine event that helped really define the region as a Rhone grape mecca in the USA. But "Hopsice" is more than just an event. It really is the result of pioneering efforts by the Haas family, and their long relationship with the Perrin's of Beaucastel fame, bringing the region the Tablas Creek Nursery and then subsequently with the opening an eponymously named winery, Paso landed on the wine map. That was quickly followed by work from many local producers, growers, merchants and restaurant operators who saw the "Rhone in Robles."
But Paso really earned its stripes on the world's stage as one of the "must regions to visit" for wine lovers of all levels when HdR started. This was all made possible by founder Vicki Carroll's relentless missionary work to the wine regions of the world, where year after year she sold, seduced and secured participation from winemakers from France, Spain, Australia and across the U.S.to take part in HdR, infusing it with all the makings of a tremendous event, to bring the world the same vision that Robert Haas had when he first rooted Rhone grapes into the Tablas Creek vineyard.
Fast forward 20 some years and now rumor even has it that even Inter-Rhone, the organization for promotion and marketing of all things Rhone, has found a way to become a part of the HdR event going forward. So you can see, how one vision, that of Carroll and her husband Howard, plus John Alban and a handful of others, can change things over time. HdR and its founders have enabled a region that was once better known for Zinfandel and Cabernet to become "the converted to Rhone" as wineries, vineyards and an entire community has been built up around the event. That's called changing the game.
Take my long-time friend Cris Cherry, who I've known since before his move to Paso in the late 90's. In 1998 he sold his Vista, CA early Californian style eatery, La Paloma, and moved with his wife and children to Paso Robles. Like Carroll, in many ways Cris has been a champion of Paso long before it was "cool." It was Cris who first introduced me to Paso and its future in late 1999, and pretty much told me to get to HdR in 2003, just as I had introduced him to Rhone, Languedoc and Roussillon wines when I would BYOB on cool winter nights in Vista at La Paloma in the 90's.
Cris' vision, with Villa Creek Restaurant was to create first a local wine world friendly restaurant, something by 2000 was already happening nicely. A few years later Cris started making wines of his own, at Villa Creek Wine with his Avenger being very much a Rhone clone in every way. It was following the 2003 HdR when I called his 2001 release his "rookie" debut, writing about it first in the Del Mar Times. In that column, I opined that Cherry, Core Wine's David Corey and Ethan Wines, Ethan Lindquist, were my "Rookies of the Year" from HdR, as each had just released their own very first wines. It will be great to see all them again at what am calling the "The Homecoming."
Then there is Qupe's Bob Lindquist. Without question Bob has been, along with Bonny Doon's Randall Grahm, the longest running advocate of the Rhone wine movement in the USA (see if you catch the Bob reference in Grahm's "Sub-terroir Rhonesick Blues" video.) Bob like Randall epitomize the phrase "Rhone Ranger" and for many years were the driving forces behind the promotion of Syrah, Grenache, Mourvedre, Marsanne, Roussanne and Viognier.
Having personally known Bob since 1990, and as someone who was a Rhoney at heart since my first sip of his 1985 Los Olivos Cuvee, it was Lindquist who set me on a many thousand bottle wine journey. That's now culminated in my own wines made with Doug Margerum of Margerum Wine Company and Wine Cask fame, to whom Bob and Jim Clendenen first introduced me to back in 1991 when I moved to California. That's why seeing Bob and Ethan at HdR is one more reason to be at the event. Some may call it Kismit but I say it's the "Wine That Binds" and yet one more reason why this year's gathering is "the Homecoming."
But there's more. Along the way I've become good friends with two of the most eloquent, intelligent and wine savvy women in the world. I'm referring to Morgan Clendenen and Nicole Sierra-Rolet.
Rolet, who guides the superb world class Rhone winery, Chene Bleu, named me the U.S. Ambassador for the Grenache Association a few years back. Her winery blends are artfully made, skillfully crafted and intelligently marketed around the world. And, perhaps, is now producing one of the best non-Tavel/Provence/Bandol Rose's anywhere on the planet. Rolet, a former management consultant, is also one of the most articulate and forward thinking wine executives around. Like what Carroll has done with HdR, Rolet's Extreme Wine and the original Grenache Symposium, has helped set the stage for so much which followed for Chene Bleu and many others.
Morgan, whom I have known since her married era to Au Bon Climat's Grand Imperial Wizard of wine, Jim Clendenen, has been if nothing more, a balancing barometer about the wine industry throughout the time I've known her. Beyond what she does at Cold Heaven, Morgan's keen sense of what makes wine that people will like, a down-home friendliness, and her absolute arcane insider wit on the wine world is unflappable. As a winemaker, she has always impressed me from that first sip, with her Viognier perhaps being the best one made in California and one that can easily hold its own with the Rhone's best.
I'm sure there will be other "friends" I'll see at this year's Hospice du Rhone, but as is any major wine event, my feeling of it being "The Homecoming" is there, and this year's will surely be one for all. That's why, in many ways, HdR is a like a gathering of promises made and promises to be kept for many. It's a gathering of friends, and a reunion of sorts, for those who are forever intertwined together by the love of wine. It's a place to taste, touch and tell stories about wine. It's where friends frolic with their most favorite label and at the same time, find their next new friend. It's where others chat and cheer about their favorite wine, but most of all it's the opportunity to sense and savor the sensation of an amazing assortment of wine in the glass, all in one place.
See you all in Paso Robles, CA April 14-16th.
Wine Bar Do Castelo
R. Bartolomeu de Gusmão 11/13,
I am the first to admit that every since my first wine bar experience at Willi’s Wine Bar in Paris, my fascination with wine bars has been forever altered for the better. Years back in New York City there was this awesome wine bar down on Spring Street that offered wines by the glass and a placemat to take notes on, complete with crayons. Long gone now, it was a favorite of mine and some dear friends who loved to tip a glass or two.
Visiting Wine Bar Do Castelo brings back the memories of that NYC wine bar and of course gives me the kind of experience one has at Willi’s, Juveniles and Fish in Paris, or Vinoteca in London, where the people who work their are so deeply passionate about wine, that the time flies by even if you’re there for hours.
The selection is awesome and the service by Rui Costa and his co-horts second to none. What makes the experience so wonderful is the approach they have to wine discovery. First the offer you tastes of wines, usually two or three of a kind, and then you decide which wine you want to have by the glass.
The most recent trip was memorable because of the new wines I discovered there, or some old friends I got to try that I had only had in previous visits to Portugal.
2014 Soalheiro Primeiras Vinhas Alvarinho
I’m a big fan of this producer from the Moncao e Melgaco region. This wine is extremely aromatic and sensual, with a lovely lemon zest bouquet and a racy finish. Its crisp and dry, with a long lingering finish.
2012 II Terroir Vinho Branco Velho Mundo XII by Laura Regueiro and Quinta do Regueiro
Another Alvarinho wine with that mango, citrus and lemonade flavor profile. The crisp acidity and the slightly richer palate feel makes this my new favorite Alvarinho. Perfect on a summer day, it also has the kind of richness to stand up to hard cheeses.
On a prior visit I went through three other “white” wines or Brancos as they are referred to in Portugal.
2014 Dona Paterna Alvarinho Moncao e Melgaco
2013 Reguerio Quinta do Reguerio Alvarinho Moncao e Melgaco
2012 Casa do Capitao-Mor Alvarinho Moncao e Melgaco
Of the three, the Reguerio Alvarinho was my favorite, in a race that pretty much came down to it and the Casa do Capitao. In my view the bouquet of the Capitao was more developed and complex but the total package of the Reguerio made it the winner. A rich citrus aroma, with passion fruit and tropical flavors mixed together, the wine was both a refreshing and mouth filling wine with a very lingering finish.
What makes a wine bar experience memorable are the people and the wines. Wine bar people have to have personality, and Rui sure does. He brings his passion and love for wine to each and every glass he serves up.
A very memorable red wine was the 2013 Nierpoort Bastardo Vinho Tinto of which only 971 bottles were made, harking back memories of the early days of the Ridge ATP program where those on the ATP (advanced tasting program) got to see what may come next, or not, from Paul Draper and his crew there. Here’s a wine that you would think was Pinot Noir in color, but certainly not in palate weight or taste. It’s a delight to drink, and cherish. Made in a style similar to the Jura wines of France where the “bastardo” grape is known as Trousseau, this is a fast maturing grape that is often blended into other Douro wines. But as a standalone it excels, much like a good Cinsault can in the South of France.
A second red wine that was game changing in my book was the 2009 Margarida Vinho Tinto from the Alentejano region. Made from 96 percent Syrah and four percent Viognier, the wine has that Northern Rhone, Cote-Rotie, like aroma but due to the hotter climate of the South of Portugal, and an even longer sun cycle, it’s got a much richer and chewier style. Lots of blueberries, bacon fat and stewed cherries.
Wine Bar do Castelo is an experience. And, for lovers of wine, it’s a great place for the discovery of the wines of all Portugal.
I've been collecting wines since the 80s and have been enthralled by the wines made from Rhone grapes coming from regions all over France. That's why when I find older wines in the cellar that I forgot I had I just have to open them to see where they have ended up.
Last night was one of those nights and the old wine of the night was a 1994 Domaine Sorin Cotes de Provence. Yes, 1994. As in 21 years old, for a wine that cost back then about $8.00 a bottle. In this case the Sorin wine, which is a blend of Grenache, Syrah, Carignan and Mourvédre was initially a bit heavy on the Mourvedre and the aromatics showed that.
As it opened and developed in the glass, the red Provence wine became absolutely amazing. Two hours later you would have thought the wine was less than five years old. It was layered with all kinds of brambly fruit, berries, cherries and spice. Candidly, the wine was an outperformer at every turn. Who says Provence wines can't age.
The other two wines were the 2009 Halos de Jupiter Gigondas and Rasteau. The Gigondas is a blend of Mourvedre and Grenache, while the Rasteau is 100 percent Grenache. These are very different wines with the Rasteau being the crowd favorite. That all said, the Gigondas is an old school style Gigondas so in my mind while the Rasteau may be showing all kinds of fruit and spice today, the stone ladened and minerally layered Gigondas will need a few more years to open.
Both of the Helios wines are exceptional from a vintage that was overshadowed the successive 2010 and 2011 harvests. But, given how much joy was in the two Halos de Jupiter wines, I can only hope that the remaining bottles I have from Philippe Cambie's Helios winery live as long as Luc Sorin's 1994.
A friend recently said I need to follow my passion for wine when I was in France. Another said it a few nights ago as we were discussing two very different wines from the Ribera del Duero, one from JC Vizzcara and a second from Pruno. That got me thinking about who is worth reading when it comes to wine that you should know about.
The first of course is importer Kermit Lynch and his two books, "Adventures Along the Wine Route" and "Inspiring Thirst." The next is Terry Theise, who like Lynch imports wines, but focuses on Champagne, Germany and Austria and the third is long time Rhone Ranger and wine provocateur Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon.
Every month Lynch and his team at Kermit Lynch pen a newsletter that is written in the same style as his first book. As a matter of fact the book really is an assembly of his newsletters' best efforts. Theise, who like Lynch I first met in 1989 in Philadelphia at a tasting of his German imports could have a career in writing if he wasn't importing. Like Lynch he tells stories, he doesn't just sell wine. But in doing so, he tells the story about the wines, the wineries and the winemakers so well, you can almost taste, see and small what he's waxing on about. Reading his recent 2013 Austrian catalog was more like reading a primer on wine, but told in such a soft selling style that you walk away wanting to drink some Gruner Veltliner or a racy, dry Austrian Riesling.
But as great as Lynch and team are at telling and selling, and as loquacious and lovingly telling are the stories and tasting notes of Theise, perhaps the master of the storytelling goes to Randall Grahm. His blog, entitled "Been Doon So Long" is also the name of a his book, or as the subtitle calls it, "A Randall Grahm Vinthology." Perhaps the title is a throwback to the 2003 April Fools Day parody of the scandalous tabloid "The National Enquirer". Grahm's wit is only surpassed by his winemaking skills, which even today, have him on par with the best who make Rhone wines, or even Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Grahm's witty writings are so full of insider humor that you often have to read and reread some passages to realize he's poking fun at a friend or making serious something that for many would be taken lightly.
This tasty trio of wine insiders are a joy to read, and even more a joy to know...but what's best of all is to sit back and read their musings while you have a glass of their wines in your glass.
Having spent the last few days here in the Rhone Valley, tasting wines at Decouvertes du Rhone an the many "Offs" events, I have a few observations to help those not here on their buying strategy.
The 2014 Rose wines are stunning. Chene Bleu's just bottled Rose is a killer, so are the usual suspects from Domaine La Mordoree, Chateau Triquevedel and Prieure de Montezargues Tavel Roses as they are all back on track and very reminiscent of the 2011s and 2009s. So while the 13s were good, despite a horrible growing season with lots of rain, the good news is the yields in 2014 are up, and that means with a strong dollar much better prices. Personally, I'm already looking to grab some of the 2014 Mourchon Rose, which like Chene Bleu isn't from Tavel but from east of the Rhone.
As for a red wine buying strategy, first off the 2009, 2010 and 2011 vintages were all great years up and down the Rhone Valley, and many wines remain available, where they are being offered as deals if you know where to look. What's more, many producers still have inventory in their cellars, so expect with a stronger dollar to find more wines arriving that are from the producers' own inventory as importers free up cheaper dollars to buy up wines that are now more drinkable and received impressive scores. Those wines are mostly ready now to drink, while many will age and more importantly, will provide drinking pleasure over the 2012s and 2013s that are much lighter, especially from the Southern Rhone AOC wines and the more generic Cotes du Rhones.
2013 in the Northern Rhone was solid, though some Syrah producers had issues based on when they picked resulting in smaller yields. That said, 2013 in the Northern Rhone has produced many solid Cote Rotie, Cornas, St. Joseph, Hermitage and Crozes Hermitage reds and stunning whites. 2014 is looking to be even better, especially with the whites so far that I tasted from producers of the level of Yves Cuilleron, Vins de Vienne and others.
If given a choice between 2012 and 2013 from the southern Rhone, I would opt for the 12s but with a stronger dollar the 13s will appear to offer a better value but aging ability and structure will be less there too. As for what to buy from the north, it's really a toss up based on what you can find and what you will pay. Producers are across the board happier with 2014 and expect to return to form overall when those wines go to the bottling line.
Chateauneuf du Pape may be the anomaly of the south for 2013. Before the reds, the 2014 whites are exquisite giving lots of positive thoughts for what's to come with the reds. As for those, 2012 was a solid year, and in many cases a winemakers year where smaller production led to really well made wines. The 2013s are good, much like 2008 making it a wonderful early drinking, restaurant vintage.
What's Hot? The Cotes de Ventoux, Sablet, Rastau and Lirac. Also wines from the Costières de Nîmes will be providing great values from the 2013 vintage. I was personally dismayed with the 2013 Gigondas' I tasted as they just didn't measure up to their predecessors. Then again, many were just put in the bottle and still need time in the barrel, but the weak year that 2013 was for Grenache in general makes me think that we'll see more Cote du Rhone and less Gigondas on people's tables.
Given the weakness of 2013 reds, and the impressive nature of 2014 whites, I'll be putting more of my wine buying budget into the whites while enjoying what's been accumulating in my cellar, along with a very strong mix of 2014 Rose.