What's New?

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We’ve had a great time this last couple months exploring some of the wines we carry from two of the great wine regions of the world - Spain and France. It’s fun for us to search for wines that fit particular slots in a theme, but sometimes we miss a few newbies that come our way and don’t fit into the theme. When that happens, we need to have a catch up of “What’s new?”
I was a little wary of this next group when Sarah Stewart, our sales rep, brought them to us to try. It seemed like one of those California shticks that plays on glamor or political correctness (or sometimes un-correctness) to try to leverage otherwise unexceptional wines into the public consciousness. I hate that kind of stuff - the chic PR photos of beautiful Californians raising a glass (and considerable money) for some charity or recognizing the “contributions” of one of their own.
This new line of wines is called “Women of the Vine,” taking their name from an apparently popular book of the same title, written by Deborah Brenner, who, as her website proclaims: “For 16 years...traveled the world as a marketer of computer technology used by television and film studios and was involved in four successful high end technology startups. She found success as an executive but she longed for a change and to unleash her entrepreneurial spirit.” Sounds like the typical California self-aggrandizement. In order to write her book featuring some of the famous and not-so-famous female wine makers of California, she interviewed them and discovered that they were women of passion, energy and commitment who sometimes had difficulty finding recognition in a male-dominated field. So Brenner started the “Women of the Vine” wine label to bring their work to the public’s attention. OK...but let’s taste the wine.
As an introduction, Sarah brought us three wines made by Alison Crowe. We liked them! So now we introduce you to two of them.
Women of the Vine Central Coast Chardonnay Regular $17.00/ Feature $13.60
If you’ve been paying attention over the years, you know that I am no fan of California Chardonnay. Even the good ones. I just don’t like the way they use oak and fermentation tricks on a grape that, when well-grown and well-handled, makes better wines without them. I’m thinking of the great whites of Burgundy. So you won’t be surprised that my notes on this one read, “very good for a California Chard” and “clean with good fruit.” Nicely done. Winemaker Alison Crowe describes how: “We pick our Chardonnay earlier in the region (Central Coast). This helps our grapes develop the acidity and excellent citrus and honey flavors that typifies great Chardonnay. The wine has only received a little bit of malolactic fermentation and no oak.” Very Burgundian! She then goes on to give her winemaker’s tasting notes: “Aromas of lemongrass, pineapple and honeysuckle are followed by a round mouthful of passion fruit and honeydew melon. A long and rewarding finish – it is Santa Barbara and Monterey fruit at its very best!” I’ll say!
This is a very nicely done wine that will be refreshing for these last few warm afternoons of late summer and will pair very well with seafood or Asian spicy flavors.
From the Chard, we went on to taste the Women of the Vine Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon Regular $17.00/ Feature $13.60
This one had interest because my favorite California Cab in the store is the Tobin James “Notorious” Cabernet from Paso Robles. The Paso Robles Cabs seem brighter and grapier than the dark, oaky and sometimes too heavy (and almost always too expensive) Cabs of Napa. Once again, I think winemaker Alison Crowe describes the wine best: “88% of our Paso Robles Cabernet Sauvignon comes from Firehouse and Branch Vineyards in the heart of the Paso Robles appellation. We use these Paso Robles vineyards, because while they all produce excellent fruit, they also have excellent soil structure and uniformity, allowing all the grapes to ripen all at the same time. This is a marriage of a deep Paso Cab, with a rich Monterey Cabernet, rounded out with a little Malbec to create a wonderfully complex and complete wine. Black cherry and hints of blueberry and black pepper.” Very tasty!
Alison Crowe is quite the accomplished California girl. She graduated from UC Davis with a double major in winemaking and Spanish (and, according to her website, she’s now back at that university, in the MBA program). She applied the winemaking major to working in a series of well-known California wineries, including five years with Randall Grahm, the wacky and iconoclastic founder of Bonny Doon. She says that’s where she learned her winemaking philosophy: “Whether I make Syrah, Riesling, or twenty varietals most people have never heard of, I really listen to the fruit and try to make balanced, intuitive wines that tell their own story of where they were grown. It’s amazing what good grapes will tell you when they’re not muffled by layers of oak.” I will definitely drink to that!
She now works as an independent consulting winemaker throughout California, and she applies what may be the most important “feminine” characteristic of her approach...relationships. “Because of the long-term grower relationships I have, I make all my wines literally from the ground up. Whether a client loves sustainably grown Santa Barbara Chardonnay or Old Vine Russian River Zinfandel, I link them directly to the vineyard. It’s a very unique relationship, one that connects us all, from the farmers I work with to the person who finally enjoys that bottle of wine.” That could be you. Come in and get to know Alison...and her wines.
Pieropan Soave 2008 Regular 16.25/ Feature $13.00
[Ed. Note:  When we got our delivery, it was the 2007 vintage of this wine.  We tasted it and deemed it not as good as the 2008.  We will send it back and should have the 2008 next week.  In the meantime, we're sampling the newest shipment of Eidosela Albariño (Rias Baixas, Spain)]
Mary Mehlich, the wine diva of our Washington store, tasted this one with Sarah, our sales rep, on a day when I wasn’t there to apply my oh-so-sophisticated palate. But I know they both have very good taste in wine, and Mary’s simple note on the tasting sheet was “delish.” So I’m looking forward to tasting it along with the rest of you.
Soave (suave-ay) can be “delish” and it can be thin, dull and sour. Knowing this, wine importer Neil Empson (we introduced his family’s Matane Primitivo earlier this year) decided to go to the Veneto region in northern Italy, where Soave is produced, and find the highest quality producer who farms south facing hillside vineyards, restricts grape production and makes wine the "old school" Italian way.
He found this in the Pieropan family winery, a tradition that goes back several generations to 1890, when the winery was founded by Leonildo Pieropan. The operation is now run by the founder’s grandson, also called Leonildo, his wife Teresita, and their two sons Andrea and Dario.
The wine is made from 85% Garganega and 15% Trebbiano di Soave that are entirely estate-grown and hand-picked. The use of the latter grape is part of Pieropan's effort to safeguard ancient native Italian varieties that have lately been neglected by most growers.
In the year end issue of Wine Spectator, columnist Matt Kramer named Pieropan Soave 2008 one of his top 5 wines of the year. He calls it "a benchmark bottling...because it upholds a standard that so many other producers in the zone fail to fulfill." He goes on to describe it as "a superb dry white wine, ballerina-light in weight and delivery yet with a tensile flavor strength and mineral dimension that takes you by surprise." In other words, "old school" Soave is really good Soave.
There’s one way the Pieropans are not “old school” - the use of a Stelvin screw-cap closure on their 2008 vintage. Foregoing the traditional cork meant giving up the coveted “Classico” designation on their bottle. Young Andrea explains the issue: “In actual fact, all Pieropan vineyards are in the historic Classico region, so this vintage is as Classico as all our previous years. However, for merely bureaucratic reasons, having decided to use a Stelvin screw cap closure, we cannot state this on the label – that’s because the Classico regulations do not provide for screw cap closures.” Well, why would a “traditonal” winery give up the designation? Again, Andrea: “We believe this Stelvin closure allows us to maintain utmost product freshness and avoid oxidization. It therefore also allows us to make minimal use of sulfites, since the product is so well preserved by the closure itself. This means higher quality and greater consumer health.” The best of the old and the best of the new at a price you can afford. I think this one will definitely be a candidate for our holiday table.
Bodegas Borsao Monte Oton Garnacha (Campo de Borja, Spain) Everyday low price $9.95
Almost as well known as my aversion to California Chardonnay is my celebration of Spanish Garnacha. I love the simple, flavorful, easy-drinking and affordable wines that we get from Bodegas Borsao in the Campo de Borja (including the scrumptious Tres Picos Garnacha that consistently wins high praise throughout the wine world). They are rich, smooth and, well, “grapey.” Just the thing when you want a glass of wine on its own rather than as an accompaniment to a meal.
Campo de Borja (“the land of the Borgias”) is in the modern province of Zaragoza, which was part of the historic region of Aragón, the home of Henry VIII of England's first wife, Catherine, and her mother, Spain's famous Queen Isabella. Campo de Borja once belonged to the Borja family, one of Spain's most famous noble clans. You’re probably more familiar with the family’s Italianized version – Borgia.  Borgia Popes and their infamous relatives had great influence throughout Renaissance Europe.
This is where the Garnacha grape originated (the neighbors up north Frenchified the name to “Grenache” and often include it in their great Rhone blends), and the motto of the Campo de Borja DO is “Kingdom of Garnacha.”
The Monte Oton is from the rich soils of the extinct volcano, Moncayo, which makes up one of the boundaries of the Campo de Borja region. The sun-drenched and windswept slopes of Moncayo are perfect for ripening Garnacha.
For an under-$10 wine, the Monte Oton has gotten great press:
Robert Parker, Wine Advocate, 88 Points - “a medium-bodied wine with excellent depth, ripeness and a lengthy finish. It’s a might serious effort for its tiny price.”
Wine Enthusiast, 87 Points - “Seems plush and focused for such an inexpensive wine, yet it’s also a little bit juicy and wild.”
Steven Tanzer’s International Wine Cellar, 88 Points - “A lithe, strikingly fresh wine that would be good with a light chill. This is another unreal bargain.”
When Mary and I tasted it in the heat of summer, we said, “This would great for fall!” It’s time.