2009 Domaine La Madura Saint-Chinian “Grand Vin” Rouge
Wine changes. Regions change. The climate has changed.
No where is this more evident than in the world of Rhône varietals. Châteauneuf-du-Pape is the icon, and nearby appellations like Gigondas, Cairanne, and Rasteau all positioned themselves as like-minded siblings.
It is about time that someone called out what is happening in the Southern Rhône Valley. Many of the wines have become too large scaled, too alcoholic and syrupy for their own good. On top of that, the prices have skyrocketed, making what was an everyday drinker into a special occasion wine. Of course this is not true of every single producer, but it is more common than not.
That’s the bad news.
The good news is that Rhône varietals, those that can be consumed on an everyday basis, and those that do have a sense of refinement while maintaining their full-bodied character, still exist.
Except they come from the Languedoc. You know that same place that provides juice for those bottom-shelf Super Casino (grocery store) type wines in France. The place that is largely ignored by wine consumers despite its varied terroirs and exciting wines from the top producers. The place where you can find “salt of the earth” people, those that are truly inquisitive about wine and have a passion that can be seen in every drop of what they produce.
I’ve found one of those producers in that of Domaine La Madura, a small, well-respected producer in the Western Languedoc appellation of Saint-Chinian. If you are a long-time Perman Wine shopper than you will recognize the name. Just last month I used their Saint-Chinian “Classic” in my “Six for $120-Something” newsletter. This time, I wanted to introduce to you one of their top wines called “Grand Vin.”
Here is a wine that justifiably could cost twice as much and still be well worth it. Luckily it is at a price point that most of us can afford, some on a nightly basis and others on a monthly basis.
“Grand Vin” Rouge is a blend of 43% Syrah, 38% Mourvèdre, 12% Grenache and 7% Carignan. Saint-Chinian has a wide range of soils, and La Madura takes advantage of this by having several plots at different altitudes, that are then vinified separately and blended.
The 2009 “Grand Vin” Rouge is everything I look for in a Rhône varietal wine. It is full-bodied with hints at both red and dark berry fruits, chocolate, mineral and pepper spice. It is delicious now, but I encourage you to stock up on some and age it for a few years. You will then truly have a sense of the Saint-Chinian terroir.
It is a great value! Rhône-heads, don’t miss it!
$29.00 BTL. / $174.00 SIX-PACK CASE
2011 Broc Cellars Carignan “Carbonic,’ Alexander Valley
Broc Cellars is a California ‘negociant’ and part of the new vanguard of California winemaking: Site specific wines made with minimal intervention. Winemaker Chris Brockway describes his winemaking style as ‘low wattage’ and the Carignan we are offering today is a perfect example.
The site: A 120 year old vineyard of Carignan planted on its own rootstock. The root systems of these vines have spent the better part of a century driving down into the rocky soils in search of nutrients and water- the site has never been irrigated. The result is fruit capable of making dense, complex wines.
The winemaking: The fruit is harvested and whole clusters are manually pitched into a stainless steel tank. When full, any remaining oxygen is replaced with CO2, which ignites an intracellular fermentation (very similar to techniques used in Beaujolais with Gamay, and also with old vine Carignan in the Languedoc region of France). This type of fermentation, called carbonic maceration, softens the tannins and gives the acidity a little lift, resulting in a juicy, bright, but still complicated wine. The end product, which is lightly filtered and treated with minimum sulfur, clocks in at a respectable 12.8% alcohol. The wine is then aged in concrete and large, used casks.
Broc Cellars Carignan is the kind of wine that gives us hope when we think of California, and provides something delicious and balanced in a sea of oaky, high-octane Cabernets.
$25.00 BTL. / $300.00 CASE
2009 Castellargo “Rubeus” Grave del Friuli
Look at the shelves of any wine store (including mine), and take a long look at the Italian section. Where are the wines from? Piedmont, Tuscany, maybe a couple from Sicily, Campania or sparkling wine from Franciacorta or Valdobbiadene. What happened to the other regions, most importantly the wines of Friuli?
This is a question that could take three pages to answer, but I’ll spare you. Instead, I’m going to let you know that there will be a big focus this year to introduce or reacquaint you with the wines of Northeast Italy, especially Friuli.
This delicious wine comes from Friuli Grave, an area with quite a bit of acreage, located next to the Tagliamento river between Pordenone and Udine. Being an old river valley there is quite a bit of alluvial soil, hence the name Grave. If there is one thing alluvial soil likes it is Bordeaux varietals, and so it is quite common to see Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc planted here. There is a local varietal, Refosco dal Peduncolo Rosso, that also shines.
Castellargo is owned an operated by Argo Castellarin, a gentleman that has seen both sides of the business, having come from a life of mass marketed and industrialized wines, he is focused on quality and a sense of place with his new journey.
His red called “Rubeus” is a blend of 40% Refosco dal Peducolo Rosso, with 30% each Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. It is a fantastic example of a red from Friuli Grave, and also an exceptional value. It offers complex aromas of cherries, cracked pepper and mineral. A full-bodied, spice-driven style, but with the requisite freshness to keep you coming back for another sip. A nice match for short ribs.
$19.00 BTL. / $228.00 CASE
2011 Prà Soave Classico
The beautiful town of Verona, where the tragic love story of Romeo & Juliette allegedly unfolded, is flanked by two mountains, the eastern of which is the home to the wine zone of Soave. Soave was a very popular white wine in the 1970s, ubiquitous and pedestrian as Pinot Grigio is now. In the late 80s and 90s however, things began to change. Producers like Prà, Inama, Anselmi and Pieropan, dismayed by the dismal reputation of Soave, understood that the noble grape of Soave, Garganega, was capable of much greater wines than the co-ops of the time were producing.
The first order of business was to clean up the vineyards, which for years had been treated with chemical pesticides and phytosanitary products. The second order of business was to invest time in pruning and canopy management, to restrict the yields of the naturally vigorous Garganega. The blending in of accessory grapes like Trebbiano and Chardonnay were also minimized or eliminated all together, so that the true nature of Garganega could shine.
So now, after 20 years, the qualities of Soave have improved drastically. Is it not time for the world to catch on? A great Soave, like Prà’s here, can be had for a song. There is a wonderful natural acidity to Soave, along with a fruit profile of lemon curd and pears. It is a natural match for seafood (especially shellfish & cephalopods) as well as vegetarian dishes based upon polenta and rice.
$15.00 BTL. / $180.00
2011 Dexter Lake Red, California
Matthew Rorick of Forlorn Hope is the man responsible for this delicious and affordable red blend, made from fruit sourced from various sites across the North Coast of California. Matthew spent an inordinate amount of time driving these backroads, from Mendocino down to the Suisun Valley, where he stumbled upon an amazing array of vineyards. Through his charming personality and often just a handshake, he was able to forge relationships with small farmers and their often small, and specialized vineyards. The 2011 blend is composed of Petit Verdot, Petite Sirah, Tempranillo, Syrah & Zinfandel.
Like Chris Brockway from Broc Cellars, Matthew Rorick is one of the new breed of California winemakers to watch. All the wines are made in tiny quantities, as he is basically still a one-man band. The ironic, hipster mustache (I prefer the term ‘bigote’) on the label is an example of Matthew’s incorrigible sense of humor, but I think sometimes that silliness belies the quality and winemaking skill that goes into the construction of this wine. Again, made with minimal intervention and much manual labor.
Lastly, there is no Dexter Lake. It exists merely in the tangled mind and heart of this fascinating new winemaker. Sometimes I believe it is a place where aliens landed, because it is certainly an otherworldly concept to get a domestic red wine this good for this cheap.
$15.00 BTL. / $180.00 CASE
2009 Viña Pedrosa “El Pedrosal” Ribera del Duero
The beloved Spanish grape varietal Tempranillo comes in all sizes and shapes. Last month on the sampler we explored an example of this varietal from the villages of Labastida in Rioja Alavesa and San Vincente in Rioja Alta.
This month we travel to the Ribera del Duero region, and specifically to a producer in the commune of Pedrosa de Duero. There are huge differences between Rioja and Ribera del Duero, and within the gigantic acreage of the Ribera del Duero region there are also big differences amongst the region
Pedrosa de Duero is known for its old-vines, long history, and chalky-clay soils.
For three generations the Pérez Pascuas family has grown grapes in this area. They were a pioneer in the Ribera del Duero region, starting their winery in 1980. They own 135 hectares of vineyards, and use only their estate grapes for their wines. They produce about a half million bottles per year under two labels, the family name of Pérez Pascuas and under the Viña Pedrosa label. These are wines that you would see not only at top restaurants in Spain, but also locally consumed. The three Pérez brothers are simply making wine reflective of their place and not making a style for a particular market or trend.
“El Pedrosal” is a seriously good value. It is 100% Tinto Fino (the local name for Tempranillo) aged for a twelve months in a combination of American and French oak. Really pretty aromatics of cherries and baking spices. Medium-bodied, lush, but with a long and bright finish. A classic pairing with lamb.
$17.00 BTL. / $204.00 CASE