Grape varietals often get their names from a visible aspect of their fruit. The name Sauvignon blanc comes from sauvage (“wild”) because its leaves resemble those of wild grape vines. Pinot Gris refers to the blue-gray (gris) color of its grapes. But our favorite varietal (etymologically speaking) has to be Sangiovese — a wine so inky and black that it is named for the “blood of Jove.”
There is no more underappreciated wine than Riesling. Many US consumers, burned by syrupy Rieslings with no life and too much sugar, have sworn off the grape. But for lovers of dry wine, there’s enough bone-dry Riesling out there to make Riesling avoidance foolhardy. Tall skinny bottle + “Riesling” ≠ sweet.
The towns of Volnay and Pommard are the two finest red wine towns in Burgundy’s Côte de Beaune. Hugh Johnson describes Volnay as “fragrant and ethereal,” Pommard as “dark” and “potent.” Together they’re a perfect example of the power of Burgundian terroir: they share a border and the towns themselves are less than a mile apart, but their identifying characteristics are nearly opposite.
Burgundies are not getting any cheaper. With limited supply and ever-increasing demand, good values are harder and harder to find. But one Burgundian town that continues to deliver far more than people expect is St-Aubin. And we’re not the only ones to notice.
Grenache is one of the most important grape varietals in France. It plays a leading role in the finest wines of the Southern Rhône and Languedoc, and usually joins syrah, mourvèdre or carignan in a blend. Known for its pure cherry fruit and potential for complexity, it’s sometimes called the Pinot Noir of the South.
“Natural” wines can be hard to get right. While we applaud winemakers who employ such rigorous respect for their land, the results are far from consistent. When they’re off, they can be unpredictable and flawed. But when they’re good, they can be extraordinary -- the best are pure expressions of terroir with unmatched complexity and energy.
Much has been written about the 2015 vintage in Burgundy, one of the best in a generation. But the vintage also brought impressive wines from elsewhere in France. In particular, the syrah-based wines of the Northern Rhône had a banner year in 2015. Master of Wine Jancis Robinson in a recent article proclaimed them “the best in 55 years.”
The wine regions of France are enormous and diverse. The wide range of styles, grapes, and and traditions produces a staggering variety of wines. That offers enough diversity to keep us busy for years, and in some regions we feel as though we have barely scratched the surface.
When we shape our portfolio, we look for wines that “punch above their weight.” These are wines that exceed expectations based on the price tag and the name on the label — bottles that, if tasted blind, you’d put in a higher class. One of our favorites in this category has long been a premier cru white Santenay from Roger Belland.
There’s been no shortage of hype surrounding the 2015 Red Burgundies. Even our favorite reviewers, who we follow in part because of their restraint, have been effusive. “One of the half-dozen top vintages for red Burgundy of the past generation,” writes Steven Tanzer of Vinous; “a genuinely great vintage,” opines Allen Meadows (Burghound). And indeed, our initial tastings from barrel and early bottles have confirmed this enthusiasm.
One of the most intoxicating aromas in cooking comes from the Maillard reaction. It’s the flavor most often associated with browned meat, though it’s also found in bread crusts, chocolate, coffee beans, and dark beer. First identified by Louis Camille Maillard, the reaction is similar to caramelization, but produces earthier, more complex flavors.
Most of the red Burgundy we import comes from the Côte d’Or. Stretching thirty miles from Dijon to Santenay, the Côte d’Or is home to nearly all of Burgundy’s famous vineyards. But continue south past Santenay and there’s a whole other world of Burgundy to discover -- one with quieter names, simpler wines, and far more reasonable prices.
The Northern Rhône is a long, narrow winegrowing region on the banks of the Rhône river. Perched along astonishingly steep hillsides just south of Lyon, the region grows only two grapes -- viognier for whites, and syrah for reds. Both grapes reach their nothernmost ripening limit here, and the wines they produce represent the highest form of each varietal.