Words to live by
Eat.Sleep.Drink.Vino. Seems a rather appropriate way to describe my life lately as I start building The Boarding House wine list. I paid a visit to my friends Veronica Hastings and Todd Hess of H2Vino for an epic tasting of wines from their portfolio. We were also joined by Jaime Burda, my H2Vino sales associate who has a great passion for the wines she represents. She also has an impeccable palate.
H2Vino specializes in boutique producers from regions all over world including France, Spain, Italy, Australia and South America. Many of their wines are biodynamic, sustainable, organic or organically farmed. Their criteria for representing a brand is quite simple - the wines have to taste good and they have to enjoy doing business with the winery owners or importers. I can certainly get on board with that philosophy.
Here is the lineup of what we tasted and my accompanying notes.
Jean Berrerd et fils Domaine de la Madone Beaujolais-Village Rouge "Le Perreon" 2009 -- Property owned by two brothers, one of whom works on the single vineyard project for Dubeouf. Le Perreon has granitic vein running through it which is what makes it so special. This wine is custom built for charcuterie with notes of raspberry and strawberries, bright acidity, sasparilla spice, clove spiciness, firm tannins, tart. Tannins and acid are the perfect components for balancing the effects of fat and salt. Served with a slight chill, this would make a nice match for a picnic of cured meats, cheese, olives, pate and some good crunchy bread.
Les Tannes en Occitanie Pinot Noir Pays d'Oc, France 2011 - This is an H2Vino project. They wanted a Pinot Noir that was affordable and tasty to offer their customers as a by the glass pour. After searching around and coming up empty, they decided to work with one of their winery contacts to have one made specifically for them. The fruit comes from Provence and the resulting wine is elegant with tart cherries and spice. It's a simple, straightforward style that would be good with roast chicken. Many Pinot Noirs at this price point can be green but this is very pretty.
Berthelemot Hauts-Cotes-de-Beaune Rouge 2009 -- in 2006 Brigitte Berthelemot purchased this property from Jean Garaudet, the vineyard manager for Comtes Lafon. Several vineyards came along with the purchase but Brigitte purchased additional vineyards throughout Burgundy which is not an inexpensive or easy thing to do. Garaduet's nephew makes the wine. Firm tannins, red fruit, spice notes, real elegance with firm finish. Notes of violets, cardamom, Asian spices, galangal.
Churton Pinot Noir Marborough, New Zealand 2008 -- Churton is the name of the British town Sam Weaver grew up in. Sam worked in wine retail and then moved to NZ twenty years ago to become a winemaker. He consulted for many wineries and worked harvest in the northern hemisphere to gain experience working two harvests a year. His vineyards are biodynamically farmed. Notes of clove spice, raspberry liqueur, dry, fleshy finish. Interesting combo of intense fruitiness upfront but serious earthy finish. Concentrated fruit component would be a good match with duck and a sweet cherry sauce. Game in nose with licorice. Veronica likes to pair this with Asian style duck.
River's Edge Pinot Noir Umpqua Valley 2009 -- River's Edge began with the purchase of two vineyards, Black Oak Vineyard and Elkton Vineyard, by Mike and Vonnie Landt in 1996. The previous owners were Ken and Mary Thomason, who planted the vineyards in 1972. Wow -- very interesting nose with a coffee, skunky, almost cannabis like element. Doesn't taste like it smells with a juicy, savory, expansive palate. Definitely on the elegant side. I was told the nose is usually not this skunky and the bottle could just be going through a phase which happens.
Fort Ross Fort Ross-Seaview, Sonoma Coast Fort Ross Vineyard 2009 -- Fort Ross Seaview is one of the newest AVA's in California. At 27,500 acres, was carved out of the 480,000-acre Sonoma Coast AVA, which has been criticized as too big since its approval in 1987. Fort Ross-Seaview is unofficially part of the “true Sonoma Coast,” which lies above the beaches of the Pacific Ocean. This is a monolithic Pinot Noir: dark black cherry color, kirsch liqueur, rhubarb, concentrated fruits, concentrated core, very flashy, clove, spices, new oak, well integrated. For people who like their Pinot Noirs big, large and juicy.
Aubichon Cellars Pinot Noir Willamette Valley 2010 -- Jim Sanders and Tom Mortimer founded Aubichon Cellars in 2007 so this is a fairly new winery. They source their fruit from the Dundee Hills and Chehalem AVA. Red garnet with magenta rim. Very distinct pink peppercorn nose hits you first followed by coriander, red fruits and cardamom. Juicy bright style with notes of green pepper spice and vanilla. Predominant sour cherry fruit notes.
Nebout St Pourcain Blanc "Tressallier des Gravieres" 2010 -- St. Pourcain is located right in the middle of France in the oak producing Allier departement. Less than 1300 acres of vineyards produce a range of wines that are typically light in body, dry and high in acidity. Tressalier is a traditional variety but white wines can also be made from Chardonnay or Sauvignon. Gamay is often used to make a rose or light-bodied red. The nose on this is downright interesting and reminds me of that slight gaminess that you get from mussels and not in a bad way. It is very high in acid with flavors of green apples and lemons with a minerally and salty finish. An excellent match for mussels prepared with a garlic and white wine lemon sauce. Could also be nice with oysters.
Acustic Blanc Monstsant, Spain 2010 -- Montsant is the region just surrounding Priorat on the north-eastern edge of Spain. Winemaker/proprietor Albert Jane makes wines that are not typical of what the region produces. The Acoustic Blanc blends indigenous white grapes from the region: Garnacha Blanc, Macabeo, Garnacha Gris and Pansal. This is the perfect summer wine with notes of honeysuckle, peaches, melons and just downright juicy. Would be excellent with jamon and melons. Like a bowl of fresh fruit, it's just summer in a glass and one of my favorite wines that I tasted for this session.
Vincent Dureuil Janthial Rully Blanc 2009 -- Jean-Francois Coche says, "If I see his name on a wine list, I don't give it a second thought and simply order his wine." The wines of Vincent Dureuil-Janthial have set new benchmarks for the Rully appellation in the Cotes Chalonnaise. This is the 'Estate' village white, coming only from domaine grown fruit. It derives from several different, organically managed plots with an average vine age of 40+ years. Medium gold in color, fresh mint in the nose with hints of roasted nuts, oatmeal, banana skin, great concentration on the palate with lemon preserves and crushed mineral notes. This Rully is really good!
Clos du Mont Olivet Cotes du Rhone "Font de Blanches" 2009 -- Making wine is a family affair at Clos du Mont Olivet and the three Sabon brothers Jean-Claude, Pierre and Bernard have run the domaine for the last 30 years with their children (David, Mylene, Celine & Thierry) now slowly taking over. The wines are composed predominantly of Grenache (usually around 80%), with Syrah, Mourvedre and Cinsault completing the blend. The vines of this estate average over 60 years old. Ripe raisinated fruit jumps at you right away, with tons of black pepper spice, raspberry, strawberry, leather, animal funk and violets. Fragrant white pepper, intense rusty iron on palate with grippy, dry tannins on the finish. 60%Grenache, 30%Syrah. Concentrated structure better suited to steak vs. burgers. I'm particularly excited to try their Chateauneuf-du-Pape, especially the Cuvet du Papet.
Domaine La Bouissiere Gigondas Rouge 2009 -- Thierry and Gilles Faravel have serious mountaineer credentials in Gigondas. This is mountain terroir, with cooler weather and demanding soils, a mix of limestone and clay. The family's Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre vines are mostly older (between 30 and 50 years) and are very low yielding. The Gigondas Rouge combines older-vine (40+ years) Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre and is aged in a combination of new and older barrels and tank. The style tends to be very concentrated with tremendous aging potential. Nose shows violets, licorice, dark plums and fresh turned earth. Palate structure is massive and extracted with firm tannins on the finish. Definitely a big style that would benefit from decanting.
Oratoire St Martin Cairanne Rouge "Hautes Coustias" 2006 -- Sitting northwest of Gigondas and neighboring Rasteau, l’Oratoire Saint-Martin in Cairanne has long been considered the best of the region. These 70-year-old vines thrive on the steepest, coolest and chalkiest part of the appellation, delivering low yields. A blend of 60% Mourvèdre, 20% Syrah and 20% Grenache, aged for two years in older demi-muid. Dark cherry in color with leather and animal in the nose. Soft, dusty, powdery, lavender tannins. Big and dry on the palate with flavors of roasted beets and meat. Six years and it still has a long way to go. I had the Cairanne Blanc at Todd and Veronica's house a while back and and it had made quite an impression on me as I still think about how well it paired with the spring pea risotto served that evening.
Gros-Tollot Minervois Rouge "Les Carretals" 2009 -- Minervois is located in the Languedoc-Roussillon region. Red and rose wines are made from Carignane, Lladoner Pelut, Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre. White Minervois is also produced in small quantities. This estate is owned by Anne Gros of Vosne-Romanee and her husband Jean-Paul Tollot. Their 14 hectares of vineyards in Cazelles, north of Carcassonne, sit at the foot of the “Montagne Noir,” at some 660 feet above sea level -- curiously enough, the same altitude as Vosne-Romanée. The higher elevation helps achieve cooler evenings allowing the grapes to ripen slowly and evenly. Les Carretals is 100% Carignane wine from a 2-acre, chalky plot planted with century-old vines. Faint funkiness in the nose with dried herbs, ripe raisiny fruit profile with figs and extracted blueberry on the palate. Firm structure and dry tannins on the finish. I'm on a bit of a Carignane kick right now and if Anne Gros is down there making wine, it seems I'm not the only one.
Preys Touraine Blanc "Fie Gris", Loire Valley 2010 -- Touraine historically was the center of gunpowder production, and the surrounding hills are full of flint, a mineral-rich rock that endows grapes with a bracing freshness and flinty fire. If you've ever played with those toy cap guns as a child, you'll know the smell. Fie is an old Loire white grape variety and is thought to be an ancestor of Sauvignon Blanc. The variety has largely been abandoned because of its low yields but winemaker Jacky Preys continues to carry on the tradition and produces but a handful of fruit each vintage. This is the stuff that gets sommeliers excited simply because of the rarity and historical connection of the grape. Petrichor aromas (smell of rain hitting wet pavement) with additional notes of hay, tart green apples, crushed rocks and honeysuckle. Crisp on the palate with lemon-lime acidity.
Sparkman Ruckus Syrah, Red Mountain, Washington State 2010 -- Chris Sparkman spent a couple of decades as a sommelier in restaurants such as Commander’s Palace in New Orleans, Michael’s in LA, Todd English’s Olives in DC and Mackay Restaurants in Seattle. After the birth of their first daughter, Chris and his wife Kelly decided to focus on family and moved to Washington State to start Sparkman Cellars. The Ruckus is made from 89% Syrah and 11% Cab Sauv fruit sourced from Klipsun and Ciel du Cheval vineyards in the the Red Mountain appellation. This is a massive wine, jet black inky color with smoke, black fruits, vanilla, smoked meat and black pepper on the nose. The palate is concentrated with tons of blue plum fruit and a firm finish. American Cote-Rotie for sure. Only 223 cases made. H2Vino is technically sold out of this wine until next year but hopefully I can score some Ruby Leigh and Stella Mae (named after the Sparkmans' adorable daughters) for The Boarding House in the fall.
Pascal Cotat Sancerre Blanc "La Grande Cote" Loire Valley 2010 -- No one can doubt that winemaking runs in the blood of the Cotat family. On the slopes of the Monts Damnés in Chavignol, the family has tended both Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir since the end of the second World War. Today there are two Cotat domaines—one in Chavignol, headed by François, and one in Sancerre, run by Pascal. The Cotat family pioneered single-vineyard bottlings in Sancerre, and each terroir—whether “Les Monts Damnés” or “Grande Côte”—has its own unique personality. Soils share the same chalky heart as do those in Chablis. In general Pascal wines show a more luxurious, plush mouthfeel in combination with this balanced acidity. (François wines, in comparison, often show more flinty, Chablis-like notes.) Fresh and clean in the nose with hints of lime zest, minerals and honeysuckle. The palate shows a very distinct yellow curry flavor (think curry gravy on chips). Todd agreed with me and said he often uses that descriptor even though it tends to elicit strange looks from people. I'm with you Todd on this one!
Peique Bierzo Rosado Spain 2011 - Bierzo is a small region located in the north west of Spain in the small province of Leon. Light, pale and fragrant red wines are proudced from Mencia, a grape thought to be identical to Portugal's Jaen. Mencia can also be found in neighboring Valdeorras and Ribeira Sacras regions. 100% Mencia, dark pink almost cranberry in color with notes of pomegranates, watermelons and strawberries. Rose tends to be a "just drink-it, don't overthink-it" kind of wine but this is so juicy, you'll find yourself guzzling it and then wondering who emptied the bottle.
Sauvete Touraine Rouge "Antea" Loire Valley 2008 -- The Sauvete vineyards in Monthou-sur-Cher are found on a south-facing, stony plateau overlooking the river Cher, and are full of older vines. This is 100% Malbec which is a first for me from this region. Unfortunately, the fruit on this wine was shut-down but the palate showed a great deal of structure. The nose reminded me of removing the plastic from wash-rind cheese, specifically Grayson from Meadow Creek Dairy. Veronica and Jaime indicated that the wine usually shows a lot more fruit and will pull another bottle for me. I'll be sure to update my notes when I've had the opportunity to try another bottle.
Celler Pardas Negre Franc Penedes 2006 -- Celler Pardas is run by Ramon Parera and Jordi Arnan, a husband and wife team (enologist and agronomist, respectively) who bought the dormant winery in 1996 when they discovered a distinct parcel in Alt Penedes. The vineyards are worked organically; Ramon and Jordi control all aspects of the boutique winery. The Negre Franc red is a blend of 60% Cabernet Franc, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon plus 5% each of Sumoll and Merlot. This is an extremely interesting wine as it showed numerous personalities ranging from ripe and figgy to reminiscent of older Cabernet Sauvignon based wines from California or Bordeaux. Additional notes of iron, leather, raisins and dried herbs weaving in and out. This is the type of wine you want to get to know through the course of an evening along with a saddle of venison.
TATT Columbia Valley Red Blend NV -- a mostly Syrah blend from Columbia Valley. TATT stands for Tried and True Table Wine and it lives up to its name: pleasant, agreeable, juicy, well made and an all around good wine. Rather interesting label.
Alexandria Nicole "Quarry Butte" Horse Heaven Hills 2009 -- Alexandria Nicole Cellars produces small lots of hand-crafted wine from their Destiny Ridge Estate Vineyard. The 263-acre estate vineyard is located high above the bluffs on the Columbia River, near the town of Paterson, Washington in the Horse Heaven Hills AVA which borders the Yakima Valley AVA on the north and the Columbia River on the south. The Quarry Butte is made from a blend of 54% Cabernet Sauvignon, 19% Merlot and 17% Syrah. Black fruits on the palate with leather, tobacco, minerals and vanilla on the finish with tangy acidity.
Tres Sabores Porque No Napa Valley 2009 -- Tres Sabores which means “three flavors” in Spanish after the flavors that come from the trio of terroir, the vine and the artisan winemaker. The wine is a blend of more than half Zinfandel, and then Cabernet Sauvignon, Petite Sirah and just a bit of Petit Verdot. Juicy, fresh, easy to drink style. Zin components definitely show through.
Trust Cellars Riesling Walla Walla 2010 -- Steve and Lori Brooks, in their former lives as a journalists for CNN in Atlanta, got to know a thing or two about wine because they traveled and they drank it--all over the world. Steve realized, nearly twenty years into his life as a journalist that he wasn't happy and decided being happy was worth the risk of leaving life as they knew it in Atlanta behind to give the winemaking business a try. Lori still works for CNN. Fresh, clean style with a touch of spritz on the palate. Off-dry with notes of honey and melons. Not terribly complex but quaffable. I look forward to giving their reds a try.
Tarrica Gewurztraminer, Central Coast 2010 -Tarrica Wine Cellars is a small, family owned winery started in 2000 in Paso Robles. An off-dry Gewurztraminer with the requisite notes of lychees and rose petals.