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Bold, Dark, Muscly New $35 Red Burgundy

Winemaker:   Where much red Burgundy tends towards subtleness and finesse, the Varoilles style is noticeably more intense. The winemakers harvest relatively late, and use a long cold soak to extract loads of flavor and texture from their grapes. The resulting wines are concentrated, dark, and delicious.

Appellation:   Varoilles is best known (and deservedly so) for their terrific village-level and premier cru Gevrey-Chambertins. They only began making a Bourgogne-level wine two years ago, but it’s an exciting addition to their lineup. And in 2018, a year of near-record ripeness, the wine is unusually good.

Wine:   The nose is very dark and spiced, with briary blackberry fruit, notes of woods, cinnamon, smoke, and a hint of ginger. The mouth is bold and smooth with a solid texture laid under intense masculine fruit. It’s not as long or as deep as a Gevrey, but there’s far more material than most Bourgogne-level wines.

Suggestions:   No need to cellar this — the 2018 red Burgundies are chewy and juicy, and with a carafe and a hearty cut of meat this is a ruggedly beautiful Pinot. If it lacks a bit of refinement and finesse, it makes up for it in character and charm. Give this some air, and enjoy now – 2023.

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Varoilles Bourgogne 2018
bottle price: $35

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Chianti Classico Returns: Inky New $25 Sangiovese

We’re thrilled to have Poggerino back in stock. We visit only once a year, and last year’s supply evaporated by the fall. So after some shipping delays (sans Suez) and a long trip across the ocean, the wines are at last in stock.

As a refresher, Poggerino is a top-notch producer from Chianti in Italy. Nearly all of our winemakers are French, but we carve out a small corner of the portfolio for our old Italian friends — they also happen to be terrific winemakers. Rajat Parr calls their pure Sangiovese wines “some of the purest expressions of [Sangiovese] in Italy.”

We’ve brought in their terrific Riserva from 2017, and their exciting new $19 rosé. But their flagship wine, and our favorite everyday Chianti Classico is our suggestion today.

Poggerino’s 2018 Chianti Classico bursts with intensity and energy. It’s at once expansive and well defined — it shows strawberry jam, anise, and a pleasant dustiness on the nose. The ripe fruit carries seamlessly across the palate, which is pleasantly mouth filling — but neither hot nor flabby — and the tannins are fine-grained and attractive. Look for notes of cherries and dried roses.

This is beautifully made wine without pretense, and at $5/glass it is a remarkable value. It’s hard to rival the Garenne Sancerre or the Gautheron old-vine Chablis for our best value at the $25 mark — but Poggerino makes an awfully good case.

Nobody’s doing much travel to Italy these days. But enjoy this on your front stoop or back patio under the warm afternoon sun with some crusty artisan pizza, and you might imagine yourself back in Tuscany.

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Poggerino Chianti Classico 2018
bottle price: $25

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Back in Stock: the Perfect $25 Sancerre

Sauvignon blanc is among the world’s most widely planted grapes, but its origin is the Loire Valley. In the Loire, Sauvignon takes on a floral, mineral style, juicy grapefruit notes with a lively minerality, often notes of flint, and pleasant herbal finish.

Wine writer Lettie Teauge once described Sancerre as a wine that delivers “pleasure not profundity.” Located at the eastern end of the Loire, Sancerre produces consistently delicious wines — approachable, affordable, and uncomplicated.

Since we introduced it a few years ago, Garenne’s Sancerre has become among our best selling wines. We’ve been sold out since before Christmas, and are excited to report it’s back in stock as of today.

Garenne’s 2019 Sancerre is easy and delightful. It’s bone dry with pure sauvignon grapefruit in the nose. In the mouth it’s lively but with no astringency or grassiness — a warm vintage gave added weight but no lack of freshness. Look for minerals and lime in the mouth,

As the weather warms this wine is as welcome as an open window. Pair it with a classic moules frites — a simple broth of shallots, wine, parsley, garlic and tarragon. The fries will soak up the broth, and you’ll soak up the spirit of springtime.

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Garenne Sancerre 2019
bottle price: $25

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Exquisite 7-Year-Old Côte Rôtie

The impossibly steep hillsides of the Côte Rôtie seem like the last place in the world to grow vines. With slopes reaching 60 degrees in places, all field work — planting, pruning, treating, harvesting — must be done entirely by hand. Every time we visit we wonder aloud what on earth would drive people to plant vines here.

And then we visit the Bonnefonds. Côte Rôtie syrah is unlike any other — at once dense and balanced, inky and crisp, mouthfilling and fresh. Christophe and his brother Patrick produce small batches of beautiful, concentrated syrah. Their domaine is a bit hard to find, but their wines are pure and exquisite.

Today’s offer is for one of their two top cuvées — the Côte Rôtie “Côte Rozier” 2014. Syrah simply doesn’t get any better than this. From a plot bordering the famous La Landonne, the Bonnefond brothers produce only 125 cases of their Côte Rozier per year. Think of a flabby, high-alcohol, warm weather shiraz — this is its opposite.

Côte Rôtie famously ages well, and we think this wine has many happy years ahead of it. But its soaring aromatics and gentle secondary fruit make it really beautiful today. Vinous’s Josh Raynolds awarded the 2014 Roziers 92-94 points, calling it “extremely long,” “seamless in texture” and “powerful yet lithe.” Jancis Robinson’s reviewer called it “perfectly formed.”

We found a dark perfumed nose of violets, cloves, and black raspberries. The mouth is inky and long with sturdy tannins but an unmistakable elegance — the texture is dense and very fine. On the palate there’s cherry jam, black pepper, and a hint of smoke. Picture the subtle elegance of a fine red Burgundy, with the dark fruit and spice profile of something further south.

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Bonnefond Côte Rôtie “Rozier” 2014
bottle price: $59

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Sleek and Supple: 2018 Red Burgundy for Now

The critical reception of the 2018 red Burgundies can be described as qualified enthusiasm. The best examples are said to be ripe, rich, mouthfilling, bold, and delicious — Vinous’s Neal Martin found “a sense of nascent joie-de-vivre” across the vintage. But wines picked too late can be overripe — “very ripe wines of highly variable quality,” concluded Burghound.

We’ve had similar impressions to the vintage, though, at least among our producers, we’ve found far more successes than flops. Most winemakers have been able to match structure to the abundant fruit, and none more successfully than Roger Belland. His reds are typically lush and precocious, and 2018 is no exception. But each is carefully balanced by minerals, tannin, and acidity.

We might not age them 20 years, but at least for the next 20 months we think they’ll be simply delightful.

Even amid a trend of warmer and earlier vintages, 2018 stands out: record breaking temperatures, an early budbreak, copious sun and high sugar levels. Many winemakers drew comparisons to 2003, but credited a very wet winter with 2018’s superior balance — same heat, less drought.

Belland’s 2018 Santenay 1er cru Gravières carries more weight than usual, but it’s bolstered by beautiful minerality and firm, polished structure. We were delighted with the mouthfeel of the wine — at once rich and ripe but long and tense. Burghound agreed, awarding 90 points, finding “poached plum, cassis, violet and plenty of earth,” and calling it “rich, supple” and “sleek.”

The 2018s may trend bolder than usual, but Belland’s Gravières is proof that in the hands of a careful winemaker committed to balance, they’re no less Burgundian.

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Belland Santenay 1er “Gravières” 2018
bottle price: $42

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Fresh, Springtime Northern Rhône White

For many years at the start of our tastings, winemaker Denis Basset would give us a small taste of his only white cuvée. “Just to set the palate,” he’d explain, before continuing on to his rich, syrah-based reds. The white was always lovely — floral and fresh, beautifully expressive, and a perfect way to start a tasting.

And every year, when we asked how much we could buy, he’d smile and shake his head — already all spoken for. At last, a few years ago, we finally received our first allocation — at first just enough for Futures, and then a bit for inventory as well.

Today we’ve got a few cases left of the 2019, and are excited to recommend it today.

Denis Basset runs the Domaine Saint-Clair, which he started several years ago after spending the first decade of his working life in the family’s flower business. He has rapidly gained confidence and acclaim; both Decanter and the Guide Hachette have listed him in a dynamic new generation of Crozes-Hermitage winemakers.

Basset’s white is a Rousanne-Marsanne blend (70/30), in the style of a classic northern Rhône blanc. The nose is soft and enveloping, with tropical notes of mango, pineapple, and green tea. The mouth is rich and round, but with excellent concentration and length — it’s at once lush and sturdy, showing nectarine and honey notes.

This is a lovely springtime wine — open your windows, and serve a glass with a salty triple cream cheese and crusty piece of bread.

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Saint-Clair Crozes-Hermitage blanc 2019
bottle price: $28

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Extraordinary Red Burgundy Value: Hautes-Côtes de Nuits under $40

Michel Gros tends vines in some of Burgundy’s most famous towns: Vosne-Romanée, Chambolle-Musigny, Nuits-St-Georges, etc. The wines from these iconic appellations are magnificent, and priced fairly but accordingly.

Gros also owns quite a bit of land (half his acreage) in the Hautes-Côtes de Nuits, a region just west of the famous Côte. The terroirs are more varied and the grapes ripen a bit slower, but in recent warmer vintages the wines from these less famous hillsides have been seriously outperforming their humble heritage.

His finest wine from the Hautes-Côtes is the Fontaine-St-Martin, and in 2018 it’s a knockout.

The Fontaine-Saint-Martin vineyard is named for a nearby Cistercian abbey that dates to 1127. The hillside of vines was in production for centuries, and Michel has made wine there for over 40 years. The Fontaine St-Martin plot is indeed special — soil samples revealed the parcel contains the same mix of marl, clay, and limestone found on the Hill of Corton

We love this wine every year, but the 2018 is the best it’s been. It’s more impressive than anything we’ve had from the Hautes-Côtes de Nuits, and easily competes with village-level reds from the Côte d’Or. The tannins are dense and sophisticated, with dark blue fruit, and floral notes of violets and roses. Neal Martin of Vinous found “an attractive, quite opulent bouquet” and called it “balanced and precise.”

Burgundy isn’t getting any cheaper, but at least in the Hautes-Côtes, the wines have simply never been better. Someday you’ll tell your grandkids you were able to buy Hautes-Côtes for under $40.

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Gros Hautes-Côtes de Nuits
“Fontaine-St-Martin” 2018
bottle price: $39

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Magnificent, Layered Gigondas to Rival Châteauneuf

Compared with most regions in France, the Southern Rhône is an easy place to make wine. There’s plenty of sun and warmth, the grape varietals are generally hardy, and the northwesterly Mistral wind keeps the grapes dry and maladies at bay. It’s still hard work, for sure, but lots of winemakers we know in Burgundy look longingly at the conditions to their south.

Even by southern standards, the 2015 vintage was just about perfect. Early (but not too early) flowering, warm days, cool nights, enough rain, and clear skies at harvest time. On the subject of the 2015 Rhônes, Vinous’s Josh Raynolds found “wines that are full-flavored without being ponderous and with a compelling interplay of richness and energy.”

He goes on to highlight one town — “2015…produced one of the most consistently excellent sets of Gigondas that I’ve ever had the chance to taste.”

Today we’re suggesting the 2015 Domaine les Goubert Gigondas “Florence,” a Grenache-Syrah blend from one of our favorite sources in the Rhône. This is Goubert’s only barrel-aged wine, and while their whole lineup provides terrific value, nothing dazzles quite like the Florence.

This wine perfectly embodies the term “layers.” It changes the moment the bottle is opened — we suggest a half hour in a carafe to help it along. When it’s open and firing on all cylinders, it’s a symphony of taste: lavender, boysenberry, black pepper, chocolate, raspberry jam, earth, and toast.

It many be easier to make wine in the Southern Rhône, but very little of it tastes quite this good.

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Goubert Gigondas “Florence” 2015
bottle price: $52

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Fresh, Earthy, Summery Everyday Jura Red. $19

The Jura region has an untamed feel to it. Lying only an hour east of Burgundy, its a wilder, craggier landscape, producing unusual wines to match. Its most famous product, the sherry-like oxidized Vin Jaune, is fascinating and not to everyone’s taste. (We love it, though, and keep a few bottles in stock if you do too.)

The red wines of the Jura are somewhat less esoteric than its whites, but still embody a funkier, more rugged style than the Côte d’Or. If red Burgundy is a polished, Harvard-educated lawyer from Beacon Hill, red Jura is her younger brother who went to art school and lives in a loft in the South End.

Today’s cuvée is Ligier’s Arbois Trousseau 2017, a lightweight, pleasantly funky red full of freshness and character.

Trousseau is an unusual and increasingly rare grape — it’s grown almost exclusively in the Jura, and even there covers only 172 hectares (a bit larger than the town of Vosne-Romanée). Trousseau may be light in color, but it’s got plenty of character, and can stand up to a wide array of flavors — think prosciutto, duck, salmon, pâté, mushrooms, of the local specialty, Comté.

The nose is bright and fruit forward with strawberries and a hint of earthiness. The mouth has lightweight tannins, nice density, and a pleasant dry juiciness — look for notes of mushrooms, thyme, dried meats, and wild strawberries.

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Ligier Trousseau 2017
bottle price: $19

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Dark, Fresh, Spiced Syrah: Organic Crozes-Hermitage

Like most grapes, Syrah changes character based on where it’s grown. In warmer climates like South Africa and Australia (where it’s known as Shiraz), it’s big, rich, jammy and full of ripe plummy fruit. In France’s Northern Rhône, the wine takes on a much subtler expression.

Though it’s not as cool as it used to be, the Northern Rhône Valley is still the coolest climate to produce Syrah. Here the grape embodies a beautiful paradox: dark flavors and intense blue-black color, but soaring aromatics and a lively texture. It’s this marriage of high and low that makes the Northern Rhône such a special place for Syrah.

Located near the Northern Rhône’s southern limit, Crozes-Hermitage is rarely as complex or ageworthy as Côte Rôtie or Hermitage – but from the right source it can offer tremendous value. Denis Basset is a talented and passionate young winemaker in Crozes-Hermitage, and his wines get better each year as he refines his technique in the cellar. His wines show exceptional refinement and complexity, a result of his organic viticulture and precise winemaking.

Our favorite cuvée from him is the “Fleur Enchantée,” a beautiful Syrah made from 50+ year old vines. The nose shows inky black fruits, alongside toast, cloves, violets, and earth. The mouth is smooth and dense, with a muscled structure and notes of plum, iodine, and blackberries.

If you’ve got lamb on the menu for this Easter or Passover, this is a perfect pairing. Give it a half-hour in a decanter before serving.

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St-Clair Crozes-Hermitage “Fleur Enchantée” 2018
bottle price: $28

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Intense, Floral, Affordable Châteauneuf-du-Pape. $34

The 2017 vintage was an unusual one in the Southern Rhône. Most reds here rely on Grenache for a majority (or at least plurality) of their blend, but in 2017 Grenache vines across the region had a bad Spring flowering, and yields were down dramatically.

This set the stage for other grapes to shine, and at Christophe Mestre’s domaine in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, the understudy Syrah performed beautifully. Mestre’s cuvée usually features 75% Grenache, with Syrah somewhere around 10%. The 2017 features equal parts Grenache and Syrah (30% each) with Mourvèdre (25%) and Cinsault (15%) making up the rest.

The 2017 Mestre may be atypical, but it’s also flat out delicious.

Christophe Mestre continues to turn out delicious Châteauneuf du Pape at unusually good prices. He avoids heavy oaking and luxury cuvées, preferring an old school, uncomplicated style of wine. He makes a single red cuvée, and keeps his pricing astonishingly reasonable. Beaucastel this isn’t, but we think it vastly overperforms its $34 price tag.

His 2017 Châteauneuf-du-Pape won a gold medal at the Concours d’Orange, and it’s easy to see why. The wine offers a gorgeous floral nose, with Syrah’s violets front and center. The Syrah contributes structure as well, which means that this wine should stay textured a bit longer than his other Grenache-heavy cuvées. There’s really good complexity and a touch of tar and earth to go with the deep, dark fruit.

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Mestre Châteauneuf-du-Pape 2017
bottle price: $34

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Small-Batch Grower Champagne, $10/glass

Champagne is a complicated place. Since its early days the region has been inseparably linked to a sense of glamour and marketing. It can be easy to lose track of quality and distinctiveness amid Champagne’s glossy promotional haze.

But Pascal Bardoux, our tiny grower Champagne producer, cuts through the fluff. His Champagnes are quietly exceptional — his tasting room is his small untidy office, where we taste slowly and thoughtfully from an old beat-up leather sofa.

And his wines, humble and delicious, are comparative bargains. Much mass-market Champagne that gets to the US fetches between $75 and $100 a bottle; Bardoux’s small-batch Brut Traditionnel doesn’t even crack $50 — twice the wine at half the price.

Bardoux’s Brut Traditionnel is his non-vintage cuvée, and an excellent entrypoint to the collection. A blend of 60% Pinot Meunier, 30% Chardonnay and 10% Pinot Noir, this wine has the complexity and depth to match the finest bottles from Burgundy or Bordeaux. The nose shows plum, chalk, lime zest, and buttered biscuits; the mouth is dry, elegant, and smooth, with notes of apple and toast.

We can’t recommend this wine highly enough. Don’t limit yourself to Champagne only on special occasions — it’s refined, complex wine in its own right. (And a $5 stopper goes a long way.) Some of our favorite pairings include: sushi, triple-cream cheese (like Delice de Bourgogne or Brillat-Savarin), or gougères.

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Bardoux Champagne Brut Traditionnel NV
bottle price: $49

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The Only Côtes-du-Rhône You Need. $19

Côtes du Rhônes aren’t hard to find these days. They’re cheap, plentiful, and abundant — you’ll find them everywhere from a fine restaurant to your local Costco. Most are mass produced, with low tannin and lots of fruit — they may lack flaws, but they’re short on character too.

Eric Chauvin’s wines share a region and blend with these Côtes du Rhônes, but not much else. Chauvin’s tiny Domaine le Souverain has no website, no road sign, and barely a phone number — his cellar is a converted garage. But small-batch his wines have more complexity and depth than nearly anything else we taste at their level, and manage to remain a bargain.

Chauvin’s wines pulsate with life and energy, a result of his low-intervention style and careful organic viticulture. They drink more like a Gigondas of Vacqueyras than their Côtes du Rhône pricing suggests. His Séguret is a perennial best seller from our portfolio, with a balance of freshness and richness that suits it for any season.

Chauvin’s 2019 Séguret is just beautiful. The nose is dark and inky with notes of tobacco, crushed berries, lavender, and a cool earthiness. The mouth is rich and ripe but beautifully balanced, with vibrant tannic texture, clean dark fruit, and a faint smokiness in the nose.

Class up your takeout pizza or your next plate of pasta — or just unwind with a glass on a weeknight after work. It’s a buck or two more than your drugstore Côtes-du-Rhône, but it’s worlds away in quality.

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Souverain Séguret 2019
bottle price: $19

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Juicy, “Succulent” Underrated 2018 Red Burgundy

Maranges is the Côte d’Or’s forgotten appellation. In the past it was known for its unrefined, tannic wines — Burgundians used to call it “le medecin” (the doctor) because some winemakers secretly blended it into thinner Côte d’Or reds to bulk up weak vintages.

But today its reputation needs revision. Advances in winemaking and warmer summers mean that Maranges now produces wines of real character and complexity. They rarely reach the depth or elegance of reds from Volnay or Pommard, but they offer early enjoyment and pleasant textures. And Roger Belland’s Maranges 1er cru “Clos Roussot” 2018 is the best Maranges we’ve ever had.

Belland’s 2018 Maranges is, of course, pure Pinot Noir, but it borrows a bit of the nearby Beaujolais’s jubilant spirit — think red Burgundy with the soul of a Cru Beaujolais. The 2018 vintage delivered unprecedented heat and sun in Burgundy, and the resulting wines are full of both ripeness and muscle.

This wine arrived last fall, and since then has maintained its cheerful, delicious character, while adding notes of toast, spice and earth. The nose is cool and dark, with plum and cinnamon in the nose; the mouth is dark, intense, and full, with punchy tannins and lots of stuffing.

Don’t let the “where’s-that-again?” appellation fool you — this is real, characterful red Burgundy at an attractive price.

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Belland Maranges 1er “Clos Roussot”
bottle price: $38

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New Everyday Grassl Glass Stemware

Like many of you, the brief warm spell this week has summer on our mind. Yes, we know, it’s a few months off still, and April snow isn’t unheard of here in New England. But after more than a year cooped up indoors, we’re ready for some sunshine and (fingers crossed) some in-person socializing.

With that in mind, we’re excited to release a new model of stemware from Grassl Glass — the perfect upgrade for what we predict will be a summer of enthusiastic entertaining. Many readers have picked up the exquisitely crafted Grassl glasses from their top-of-the-line Vigneron series. Here’s just a few of the comments we’ve received:

“Those glasses. Wow. We’ve been Zalto users for a couple of years… the Cru Grassl glasses are just perfect though”

“Just stellar. Lovely.”

“We’re not too happy with our Riedels anymore.”

“Now it’s hard to use anything else.”

Today we’re excited to introduce the Versatile model from Grassl’s Elemental series — they’re smaller and slightly less fragile than the Vigneron series, and come at about half the price. They’ve become our household all-purpose glass, and they elevate every wine we put in them. (They’re also the new house glass behind the bar at Boston’s premier wine restaurant, Troquet on South.)

We use the Vigneron series (Cru, Liberté, and 1855) for special wines and special occasions, and the Versatile for that weeknight glass of Bourgogne rouge or Sancerre. At less than 4oz, each Versatile glass is a finely tuned piece of art, helping even the humblest wines show better.

We’ve got a year of entertaining to make up for — with immunity (we hope) on the way, we can’t wait to get back to planning picnics, dinner parties, and long, lazy brunches. The Grassl Versatiles are the perfect upgrade to your at-home wine game.

Grassl Glass: Versatile: $159/six-pack

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