While browsing around our shop, you might notice some bottles of wine do not utilize a capsule, while others have a simple black capsule or a decorative, colorful capsule. A few bottles might even boast a wax seal. Does it make a difference?

Why do producers use capsules?

Capsules are the metallic or plastic wrapping you’ll find around the neck of the bottle–the enclosure that you remove with a knife or foil cutter before popping the cork. The presumed purpose of this capsule is to protect the cork during storage from such things as insects, rodents, and mold. Capsules also help identify wines while stored horizontally.

If you’ve ever searched for a bottle of Champagne or Burgundy in our shop, you’ll notice most producers have very specific capsules that stand out from one another. In addition, they can also protect the label from wine drippings when the bottle is poured. Capsules were most commonly made from lead before the 1980s; today they are usually made from aluminum, plastic, or tin.

What does a wax seal indicate?

Some producers use a wax seal instead of metallic or plastic. While a wax seal is mostly for aesthetics, it can also aid in preserving the freshness of a wine. While a metallic capsule will protect a cork from damage, it does not affect the ability for oxygen to transfer between inside and outside the bottle. A wax capsule is mostly air tight, eliminating oxygen transfer (similar to a screw cap).

Due to the lack of oxygen transfer, it can be hypothesised that wax seals will reduce the ageability of a wine, although I was not able to find any definitive experiments on this. Below, however, is an image showing the aging progression of a wine using 14 different types of cork/caps. Note how the far left bottle, with a screw cap, has barely changed over the course of 10 years.

Various Wine Aging with Corks

Variance in aging of wines with different corks. (source: Australian Wine Research Institute)

Why would a producer decide to exclude a capsule?

Well, there isn’t a single answer, but it usually comes down to cost efficiency, elimination of waste, and aging capability. If a producer is making a wine that is intended to be enjoyed young, there is no need to account for storage, and chances of the cork becoming damaged are low. So if you find a bottle of wine without a capsule, this is usually an indication the wine should be opened in the near term. Eliminating the cost of producing all of those capsules can potentially allow the producer to reduce the price of the wine–and it is a more environmentally friendly approach as well.

Various Capsules

Various Capsules

Does the lack of a capsule affect the quality of a wine?

Nope! As mentioned above, the use of a capsule nowadays is mostly for aesthetics and has a minimal effect on the wine. When you find a bottle of wine without a capsule, it will often come from a smaller producer, or possibly a more eco-conscious producer trying to reduce its footprint. Whatever the rationale, you can be assured the quality of the wine is not dependent on the use of a capsule.

You can read Part I of this essay here.

 

When B. sat down at the piano and made
A transparence in which we heard music, made music
In which we heard transparent sounds, did he play
All sorts of notes? Or did he play only one
In an ecstasy of its associates […]
–Wallace Stevens

Intimacy

I think we need intimacy every day. For me that happens when I hold my wife’s hand, even for a moment when we cross the street, or when my daughter curls up with me and asks me to read to her. I feel close to the world when I read a good poem or when I have a great glass of wine–when metaphor or image lets me in on my own life.

How We Know Where We Are

I remember the day we did nothing
but walk down Willow Glen Road
through fields of Queen Anne’s lace
and lavender thistle toward a pond
quietly leaking its algae scents
to the air. Two wagon wheels rolled
with rust are repaired by their place
in some history, details so smooth
that missing spokes speak like vertebrae.

A stone carriage house holds these
memories like fixed stars, ghosts
of a yellowed cosmology, the first
chapter in a book where the sky
supports the handmade walls, where
rainwater collects easily, puddling
the soft earth. This could be the day
your father said he was leaving ––be back
soon, he said, and you knew it didn’t
matter because you would always remember
how the smoke poured from his mouth
as he spoke, and ferried his words
across the great body of water between
you. It could have been any evening
somewhere in Pennsylvania when your son
asked if he could visit the stars, reach
out and grab hold, needing the moonlight,
it seemed, more than you ever had.

Somewhere near the center of every memory
is a single flower, forgotten in the scrapbook
your grandmother asks you to open
each time she stays. It could have been
any day when nothing special happened,
when children sat in the sun-baked streets
popping tar bubbles, celebrating the solstice,
the friendships that spiraled by the poolside,
the summer air thick with mosquitoes
and no-see-ums circling every gesture.

These have all slipped under the folds
of another calendar when some days
got circled in red ink to remember flowers
picked along backroads, constellations
thrown into place by stories we will
tell our children, and your eyes, impossible
to imagine without the context of these galaxies.

Partial

The glottal stop is not a word but is part of speech. The invisible is in us.

Life’s not a paragraph.

Quotidian Religion

The simple things are at the center. They are signposts, and remind us with every sip that flavor interacts with feeling. When the curl of ferrous sulphate in the rosato rises, or the pinch of spice in the Chinon takes us back to our backyards. The deep well of a Meursault takes us back to our gardens, to the roses, the losses, our fingers sticky with pine. Each bottle of wine, like each friendship, connects us to our lives. The simple things hold.

The Picture

There is this picture my uncle Hank took in April 1975 at Newark Airport. There’s a 707 in the air. It’s about 250 feet off the ground and rising. My mom and brother are on the plane with me. My dad had died two months earlier. We are on our way to Florida to see Walt Disney World. The picture proves he existed. As liftoff is proof of gravity.

The old, grainy, black-and-white picture is beautiful, but you can’t see me on the aisle of row 22, my hands gripping the arm of the seat. At times we’re all invisible. It’s not that my uncle captured us in the picture so much as he captured us in time. Maybe we all have more control than we think. He held his brother a last time and for all time, though this is harder for us to see.

There are so many disappearances. I disappeared first into the plane, then into the cloud, and then into the crowd at the recently opened Orlando International Airport, and finally back to our house on Taylor Road with a different family.

*

When my mother died, I flew back to New Jersey to clean out the house where I grew up. I was surprised to find the picture––surprised I’d kept it. One evening, with the smell of cleaning solutions in every room, I was sitting at the dining room table alone. I sat looking from the picture to the woods in our backyard, and back to the picture. The woods, in their waving, I now saw, had hidden so much.

How We Protect Each Other

I close my eyes
to crimson explosions
to remember watching you
plant iris bulbs
in the wormed soil,
your wife at the sink
rubbing gently the crystal
of your wristwatch
like a coin––
where the rubbing
was a few words
whispered secretly,
saying how much it meant
that you were out there
arranging the earth
before the next rain.

Only connect.

It is, after all, the conversation under the fig tree. The figuring out, the pursuing of:

(       ) or (     ) (  ) or (  ) and (                 )

Chemistry

The Problem of Describing Trees

Of Films & Memories

In 1971, Pauline Kael reviewed The French Connection, starring Gene Hackman (maybe the only actor to have been in every film ever made), and in her review she says, “There’s nothing in the movie (for me) you can enjoy thinking over afterward” ––I think wine reviews that invoke that thinking will benefit wine drinkers everywhere.

*

My uncle Don died this morning.

Tradition

In the opening credits of the 1994 film Star Trek: Generations, starring both Patrick Stewart and William Shatner, we follow, as the names appear in some Hollywood sequence, an unopened bottle of Dom Perignon, Vintage 2265, as it tumbles through deep space to crash on the USS Enterprise NCC-1701-B.

There is much clapping inside the ship when the bottle explodes—and the ship doesn’t.

You can see them raise their glasses. Begin to talk…

After Work

I’m sure the stained-glass makers laughed
as they made mistake after mistake. Tracing
the cartoon while only occasionally looking
up. Trying to stay within the lines. All the
curves. An arm only later, clearly too large,
after the lead had cooled. A chest that could
in no human way support all that light. An
extra leg, a joke, noticed just before the evening
meal. The father, after the long day, telling
how the day went. The stories he took home.
Variations from the Word. The spiral of
blue where the earth should have continued.
The children still washing and laughing.
Repeating the variations, and for the first time
knowing the story is not so much a window
as it is a panel of light. As it is a story.

You can read Part I of this essay here.

Last month, I wrote about dry wines (and one sweet ringer) from Tokaj, in northeast Hungary. This month, we’ll fan out into other Hungarian wine regions and explore more of the dazzling plethora of characterful indigenous grapes, wine regions (many of them, like Tokaj, with volcanic soils), and small, family-run producers.

Most Hungarian white wines offer some body and texture, along with prominent acidity and minerality. They’re also low in alcohol; all but one of the wines presented here are under 13 percent. Don’t let the unfamiliar words on the labels scare you off: I’ve included some pronunciation guidance below, and in any case, the proof is in the glass. If you love French, Italian, Iberian, and higher-acid domestic white wines, these wines will expand your horizons and add a new dimension to your meals (or Zoom happy hours).

Hungary Wine Map

The Hungarian wine appellations mentioned in this article (plus Tokaj, from last month’s article).

2013 Fekete Béla Somló Hárslevelű ($23)

Somló (SHOWM-low) is a wine appellation in western Hungary, not too far from the border with Austria–a low volcanic mountain rising out of the plain. Fekete Béla is by local acclaim the “Grand Old Man” of the appellation. This very wine is the last vintage that he made before retiring in his 90s. Hárslevelű (harsh-LEV-el-oo) is the grape variety, a genetic offspring of furmint that’s more aromatic and a little softer in structure.

This wine is aged in large Hungarian oak casks for two years before bottling. The nose is a festival of dried herbs, with some dried flowers playing supporting roles. There are lots of texture and body, plus a hint of sweetness, with just enough balancing acidity and a whisper of bitterness. Those who like aged Sancerre will enjoy this. And how often do you get to drink seven-year-old Hárslevelű?! Try it with herb-y pizza or pasta sauce, or just on its own at the end of a meal, maybe with an herb-crusted semi-aged cheese. (13.5 percent alcohol)

2017 Sziegl Pince Hajós-Baja Olaszrizling Birtokbor ($22)

Hajós-Baja (HI-yosh-BYE-uh) is located in southern Hungary, near Serbia. Olaszrizling (OH-loss-reez-ling), called welschriesling or riesling italico in other countries, has no genetic relationship to true riesling. It’s widely planted throughout Eastern Europe and the most widely planted white variety in Hungary. The Sziegl family started their winery in 2012, with husband Balázs in the vineyards and wife Petra running the cellar and making the wine–a new generation following the old Hungarian custom of men working in the vineyards and women running the cellars. (Pince (PEEN-sa) means cellar; it’s a word you see frequently on Hungarian labels.)

Their olaszrizling is bright, mineral, and slightly herbal, with medium body and mouthwatering acidity. It leans more toward grüner veltliner than toward riesling. GV fans, among others, should check it out. Drink it with all of those green things that you’re inclined to eat with grüner veltliner or sauvignon blanc: artichokes, green beans, basil, arugula pesto… (12.5 percent alcohol)

2018 Losonci Mátra Riesling [skin contact] ($22)

This winery, run by Bálint Losonci (low-SHOWN-see), is in the volcanic appellation of Mátra, in north-central Hungary, between Budapest and Tokaj. He and a few other likeminded small producers are rehabilitating the reputation of Mátra from decades of Communist-era industrial farming and winemaking. Bálint farms organically and works naturally in the cellar, favoring skin contact for the white wines, no filtering, and only minimal SO2 addition at bottling. All of the wines benefit from naturally high acidity due to the crazy mix of volcanic, iron-rich clay, and chalky soils in the vineyards.

This wine is true riesling–not olaszrizling—but utterly unlike any you’ve had, thanks to the soils and a week of skin contact. It’s the other end of the spectrum from a Mosel (German) riesling: spicy, smoky, redolent, textured, and powerful, yet still without overt weight or alcohol, and of course completely dry. If you love riesling, you need to try this wine–and if you don’t, you probably should try it, too, because it’s so atypical. Smoked oysters, spring rolls, kolbasz (the Hungarian version of kielbasa), and barbecue all leap to mind. My wife and I also enjoyed it with a bunch of Vietnamese dishes from Tay Ho in downtown Oakland–yes, that’s a plug. (12.5 percent alcohol)

2017 VáliBor Badacsony Kéknyelű ($32)

Kéknyelű (cake-NYAY-loo) is the grape variety, of which there are 41 hectares (100 acres) in existence, all of them in Badacsony (BOD-ah-chah-nya), a region on the northern shores of Lake Balaton in western Hungary. The producer, Péter Váli, has the perfect description of this wine: “It tastes like frosted basalt rocks.” There’s a smoky, flinty minerality. It’s textural, but with knife-edge acidity. This is a special wine; it’s age-worthy, and also drinking great now. Chablis drinkers will love it–and it offers Premier Cru quality at a Village-level price. Think oysters, Petrale sole, and shrimp risotto. (12 percent alcohol)

 

2018 Losonci Mátra Pinot Gris [skin contact] ($23)

Here’s another skin-contact white (or, more properly, gray/gris/grigio) from Bálint Losonci in Mátra. Three weeks of skin contact give a medium rosé color and extravagantly spicy nose with minerals, rocks, and baking spices. Aficionados of skin-contact white wines, step right up: This is your (dry) jam. There’s some tannin, so pair it with proteins: Meats (pork, chicken, tacos al pastor) and hard cheeses work well. Or, if you like a gentle tannic twang unadulterated, go for it. (12.5 percent alcohol)

 

 

Many thanks to Eric Danch of Danch & Granger Selections, the importer and distributor of all of these wines, for his help with this article.

We tell ourselves stories in order to live.
– Joan Didion

I’ve been thinking about what to say during the pandemic when someone walks into the shop and asks what wine they should drink with dinner.
Something different, I say, as “different” seems to describe most of our lives right now, and I think most of us want something different because we want at least that consistency.

The Central Paradox

It seems to me that we are sharing the experience of the pandemic, but we often feel alone. So open that bottle of Pommard, Gevrey-Chambertin, or Barolo you’ve been saving and sit on your porch–if the Air Quality Index allows–and open it. Say hello to the neighbors you didn’t know you had.

I’ve been thinking about what words to use to tell you…
…that the wine you drink today will chart more than your future. That each bottle you drink and think about will give you more language. That you’ll be able to talk about Rothko and the Faiyum mummy portraits.

Pavane

Silence is a shape that has passed.
-Wallace Stevens

Every glass is a shape, a still life, a piece of music, the curl of green in the tree outside your window. The last plum.

What Do We Really Want to Talk About When We Talk About Wine?

We want, it nearly always seems, to talk about love or the garden. Or the moon dervishing in her scarves.

Say…
…you’re at my house for a dinner party. We’re on the deck. It’s about 7:15, and the Champagne is, sadly, though not tragically, nearly gone. And while everyone is enjoying it, some of us are sort-of-secretly hoping a brave soul will socially distance the bottle and save the remaining third until we’ve had time to try the trousseau. Surely, the Champagne will taste different after a glass of snappy fall-fruit red from the Jura.

I never want to get in the way of anyone’s enjoyment, but too often we don’t try out new ideas, or revisit old convictions. Making alterations in our accepted patterns seems especially important during these times because we might find better solutions or even see problems for the first time.

So why not save the Champagne for a while and see how it goes with the entrée? Or–open a bottle of Ulysse Collin’s Blanc de Noirs ‘Les Maillons’ Extra Brut NV Champagne to go with that piece of grilled rib eye.

Explanations (i)

The drinker is part of the wine. Q. E. D.

Explanations (ii)

We tell ourselves stories because we need to follow a narrative to make sense of the weeks; we tell ourselves stories because we need to lie to ourselves to deal with the pandemic, the fires, the inevitable shifts in our country’s foreign and domestic policies.

since feeling is first
We want, it so often seems, to say what we’re thinking. It takes practice to articulate what our bodies want.

A Lakeside Cabin
All worthwhile subjects exist in part and in paradox.

The less we understand about a subject, the longer the conversation can be about that subject. That’s a good thing. We want to talk about things we want to understand more about, like wine, cosmology, or the price of furniture–though the letter involves rickety logic. Each bottle is its own story, its own beginning, seemingly isolated but sipped along the same shore, our toes trailing the cold clear water.

Explanations (iii)

We are at times only essence.

Two Concepts to Help You Learn About Wine

  1. There is a relationship between what you know and what you like.
  2. It is the strangeness of Goodnight Moon that appeals most.

What We’re After, After All

An accurate application of language to experience. Something new, perhaps? A glass of kadarka or jacquere? Lamb chops at 1:00 AM?

[Stay tuned for Part II of this essay, coming next month.]

Hungary Wine Map

Vinum Regum, Rex Vinorum (“Wine of Kings, King of Wines”) was the famously enthusiastic pronouncement by King Louis XV as he proffered a glass of Hungarian Tokaji to Madame de Pompadour, the official chief mistress of his court. (Yes, that was a real position in Ancien Régime France.) Louis and his main squeeze were enjoying a sweet wine in the mid-18th century. Though traditional Tokaji remains among the noblest sweet wines in the world, the habits and attention of most of us–noble, bourgeois, and plebs alike–have turned to dry wines.

Luckily for us, modern Hungary is here to help, with a dazzling plethora of characterful indigenous grapes. The white wines tend to have some body and texture, along with prominent acidity and minerality. They’re also low-alcohol; all of the wines presented here are under 13 percent. The words on the labels may be unfamiliar and a little challenging to pronounce, but don’t let that scare you off. With a wide array of wine regions (many of them with volcanic soils) and small, family-run producers, Hungary offers so much to discover and enjoy for those of us who love French, Italian, Iberian, and domestic white wines.

This month, we’ll discuss white wines from Tokaj (TOKE-eye), in northeast Hungary, with a little chunk of Slovakia. (Tokaj is the name of the region; Tokaji is the wine from that region.) Next month, we’ll cover white wines from four other Hungarian wine regions.

2018 Bodrog Borműhely Dry Tokaj ($16)

Bodrog is the main river running through Tokaj, and Borműhely (bor-MEW-hay) means “wine workshop.” This wine, made with 70 percent furmint and 30 percent hárslevelű (Tokaj’s two most important grapes), is organically farmed, then fermented and aged in stainless steel. Salty, high acid, and fully dry, with some texture, it’s utterly delicious and an outrageous deal for an organic wine of this quality and character. If you enjoy fresh, young Loire Valley chenin blanc, give this a try. Drink it with clams, chicken, or something spicy, or even as an aperitif if you like something with a little body. (12.5 percent alcohol)

2018 Tokaj Nobilis Furmint Barakonyi ($24)

This wine is all furmint, the most noble variety in Hungary and the backbone of most Tokaji, whether dry or sweet. Tokaj native Sarolta Bárdos created this family winery in 1999, and her vineyards are also certified organic. She is among the new generation leading the quality renaissance in Tokaj and part of a long tradition of woman winemakers in Hungary (where the men historically worked in the vineyards, and the women ran the cellars).

This wine comes from the single vineyard Barakonyi, which has been officially recognized as first-class (premier cru, more or less) since 1737. Fermentation and aging are done in Hungarian oak barrels. It delivers pear-like, slightly honeyed fruit with an almost icy minerality and a hint of oak. There’s texture, elegance, purity, and length; those who enjoy white Burgundy or restrained California chardonnay will like this a lot. (Plus, where are you going to find one of those from a premier cru vineyard for $24?!) Drink it with richer fish and poultry dishes, pork, and spicy enchiladas. (12.9 percent alcohol)

2015 Barta Tokaji Furmint Öreg Király Dűlő ($32)

Here’s another 100 percent furmint dry Tokaji, this one from the equally storied, first-class Öreg Király Dűlő (Old King Vineyard). It’s the highest-altitude, steepest, and most distinctly terraced vineyard in Tokaj. The several extra years in the bottle give you the opportunity to see how dry Tokaji ages. Winemaker Vivien Újvári, yet another woman in charge of a Hungarian cellar, uses organic farming and minimalist winemaking techniques, aging her wines in larger Hungarian oak barrels. 

This wine is beautifully expressive and vibrant now, with a more smoky minerality and a saltier, quite savory palate. If Tokaj Nobilis Barakonyi echoes some of the qualities of white Burgundy, the analog for Barta Öreg Király Dűlő might be aged Loire chenin blanc. It’s a perfect accompaniment for white meats and game birds of all species, smoked salmon, and Asian dishes without too much sweetness. (12.7 percent alcohol)

2016 Patricius Tokaji Aszú 5 Puttonyos (500ml, $45)

OK, this is an article about dry Hungarian white wines, but it would be a dereliction of vinous duty not to mention our one sweet wine from Hungary: Tokaji Aszú. (Vinum Regum, Rex Vinorum!) It’s an aristocratically hedonistic and spectacularly delicious nectar made in part from individual berries (mostly furmint, plus in this case some hárslevelű and other local grapes zéta and kövérszőlő) affected by botrytis, a so-called “noble rot” that shrivels, concentrates, and transforms the flavor of the grapes. You’ll find notes of dried fruits, especially stone fruits, along with a thousand other flavors, fruit and otherwise. 

There’s no need to analogize here, because Tokaji Aszú is simply the greatest dessert wine in the world (sorry, Sauternes). It will sing with blue cheeses, chocolate, and even potato chips. (The last pairing is my invention, as far as I can tell. Try it with José Andrés potato chips, made by San Nicasio in Andalucía, Spain, and available at Market Hall Foods.) Or simply have this Tokaji Aszú on its own as a very special way to end a meal, perhaps with some dried apricots. (11.5 percent alcohol)

Many thanks to Eric Danch of Danch & Granger Selections, the importer and distributor of all of these wines, for his help with this article.

 

There is something very unassuming about the intricacies of Sicily, given its vast, arid landscape, rustic way of life, and history as a cultural crossroads. The people of this island, situated at Italy’s southern tip, take enormous pride in the simple and beautiful treasures that the land has to offer.

View overlooking Cefalù

It is hard to find another place that has been impacted by such a wide array of cultural influences: Phoenicians, Greeks, Arabs, Normans, Romans, Spanish, British, and French among them. Over time, these influences have helped spawn some of Italy’s most cherished agricultural products. Their olive oils, from several different parts of the island, are regarded as some of the finest around. World-class chocolates hail from Modica, and Sicilian nuts are highly prized as well, especially the pistachio, hazelnut, and pine nut (actually a seed). Of course, the wines of Sicily are no exception.

Mount Etna, located in the northeast, is an active volcano that is home to a diverse range of vineyards, some of them planted as high as 1,000 meters up the slopes. These infertile basalt soils are rich in magnesium and iron, which provide little organic matter for the vines. This produces low yields and higher-quality grapes. 

The red nerello mascalese grape is king in this region, exhibiting characteristics of both nebbiolo and pinot noir, while typically boasting some serious structure and rusticity. Carricante is the focus of mineral-driven Etna Bianco, while catarratto, inzolia, minella bianca, grecanico, chardonnay, and other local varieties are sometimes called on to round out the blend. At Paul Marcus Wines, we’re fortunate to work with some of Etna’s most esteemed producers, including Girolamo Russo, Terre Nere, Benanti, and Graci.

The Val di Noto, in the island’s southeastern region, is home to some of my absolute favorite wines on the planet. Vittoria is famous for its blend of frappato and nero d’avola, called Cerasuolo di Vittoria. These wines can offer an amazing balance of freshness, aromatic complexity, and red-toned earthiness that just screams “Sicilia.”

A somewhat newer producer to me, from the town of Pachino just south of Siracusa, is Mortellito. I’ve quickly come to appreciate Mortellito’s wines for their transparency and honesty. There is a rosso made mostly from frappato, with a touch of nero d’avola. It is bright, yet rustic, and not overly floral like frappato can be for some palates. They also make a couple of white wines, including one–comprised mostly of grillo with a bit of catarratto–that reminds me of melons and citrus zest, with a pistachio earthiness and a solid backbone of acidity.

 

 

COS is a winery in Vittoria that was started in 1980 by three friends. Forty years on, their wines have endured; in fact, I feel like they’re making some of their best wines as of late. Their frappato is a jewel, with a bit more depth than most. COS is quite well known for the wines they make in pithos, or amphora–terracotta vessels buried in the ground to age wines before bottling. These wines, just like Mortellito’s, have an amazing freshness and lift for wines grown in such a warm climate. Thank you, white, limestone-rich soils! 

 

 

*****

In the late spring of 2017, my family and I traveled to this uniquely gorgeous locale. So much of the island feels as though you’ve stepped back in time–at least a generation, if not two or three.

I still remember our stay above the picturesque northern coastal town of Cefalù, where we floated in the serene waters of the Mediterranean with our young daughter. (I could really go for that right about now.) The Arab-Norman cathedral in the town square is a real jaw-dropper, too. I also recall spending a late afternoon, bleeding into early evening, on our rooftop terrace in Ortigia, sipping Graci’s Etna Bianco and Russo’s Etna Rosato all the while.

One of my fondest memories was our visit to winemaker Ciro Biondi in Trecastagni, a small town on the southeast side of Mount Etna–an absolute gem of an experience. It was a hot day, not too uncommon in these parts, and we slowly navigated our way up the narrow roads. When we finally arrived, Ciro greeted us with such warmth and took us on a walk to the vineyard just above his house. 

The house was once a palmento–these were traditional winemaking structures, usually just one big room or so, that housed the area for the grapes to be received from the vineyards, then pressed and gravity-fed into its next vessel (concrete, wood, or terracotta). We spent an hour or two tasting a few of his wines on his patio, complete with outdoor kitchen, in the middle of his vineyard. He took us back down to his house and made us pasta for lunch–noodles made from local grains, breadcrumbs, a bit of garlic, fennel fronds, and lots of Etna olive oil. 

Just a few humble ingredients of the utmost quality to make a dish shine: the true Sicilian way.

There is something undeniably satisfying about a chilly glass of Provençal rosé on a warm summer’s evening (or, perhaps, afternoon). This style of rosé has become enormously popular around the world, and with good reason–gently fruity and crisp on the finish, these pale, refreshing wines are incredibly easy to enjoy, especially when temperatures are on the rise and light snacks are on the plate.

While France still dominates the pink market, wine drinkers in the U.S. have been exploring Italy’s dizzying array of rosato wines more than ever before. If you think that rosé is only suitable for porches and picnics, think again. Paul Marcus Wines offers a range of captivating, food-craving rosatos that will absolutely shine a tavola.

Our journey begins in the south, on the island of Sicily. The volcanic soils of Mt. Etna are home to the nerello mascalese grape, which produces a wonderfully complex and savory style of rosato. These wines tend to be quite dry, aromatic, and bursting with minerality. At PMW, we’ve been enjoying both the Graci Etna Rosato (a bit more focus) and the Terre Nere Etna Rosato (a tad more fruit). From the southern part of the island comes the Due Terre Rosato di Frappato, a bright, floral wine with a striking deep-amber hue.

East of Rome and bordering the Adriatic Sea, the verdant Abruzzo region is the province of the dark-skinned montepulciano grape, which produces a rich, structured style of rosato called Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo. The Ciavolich Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo ‘Fosso Cancelli’ is darker in color than some of the “red” wines that we carry. After 24-36 hours of skin maceration in concrete, this wine is moved to terracotta amphorae for further fermentation and aging, resulting in a wine that is dense, yet still lively–a match for more substantial fare than your typical rosé. Fermented and aged briefly in stainless steel, the low-sulfite Cirelli Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo represents a lighter version of this noteworthy type of rosato.

Next we move to Piemonte, where the majestic nebbiolo grape reigns supreme. The nebbiolo of Alto Piemonte, in the northern part of the region, is usually more etched and mineral-driven, with softer tannins, than the nebbiolo found in the more-famous Langhe area two hours to the south. Producers and consumers alike are quickly discovering how well suited the nebbiolo of Alto Piemonte is to rosato.

PMW currently stocks three different expressions of Alto Piemonte rosato. The rust-colored Le Pianelle Coste della Sesia Rosato ‘Al Posto dei Fiori’ adds a touch of vespolina and croatina to its nebbiolo foundation, along with just a hint of oak influence. It’s a full-flavored, multifaceted rosato that still manages to be fresh and nimble thanks to ample acidity and a mineral edge. The Antoniolo Gattinara Rosato ‘Bricco Lorella’ undergoes a relatively short maceration (about three hours), and the resulting wine is vibrant and graceful, with vivid red-berry notes.

Finally, we have Nervi’s Il Rosato, which falls stylistically somewhere between the first two. The oldest estate in the Alto Piemonte DOCG of Gattinara, Nervi was recently purchased by Barolo superstar Roberto Conterno, and they decided to use some of their top vines for this delightful rosato. Malolactic fermentation and a spell of lees aging give this wine a bit of texture without sacrificing any of its zest. For a different twist on Piemonte rosato, try the Vigneti Massa Rosato ‘Terra Libertà’, an herbaceous blend of barbera, cortese, and freisa that hails from the Colli Tortonesi in Piemonte’s southeastern hills.

Summer might be creeping to a close, but these versatile, food-friendly rosatos have year-round appeal. Visit or call us at Paul Marcus Wines to begin your discovery of Italian pinks. Buon viaggio!

I’ve always had a particular fondness for red Burgundy. At their best, these wines proudly display their terroir, that distinct sense of place; they boast a balanced mouth feel and are structured yet elegant. At Paul Marcus Wines, we have always taken pride in our extensive selection of Burgundy, and that remains true to this day.

Lately, I’ve been rather impressed by a couple of noteworthy producers who happen to lie at opposite ends of the Côte d’Or–and opposite sides of the price spectrum: Domaine Duroché in the far north of the Côte de Nuits and Domaine Maurice Charleux et Fils at the southern tip of the Côte de Beaune.

Photo of Domaine Duroché via Polaner Selections

Whenever you hear anything about Domaine Duroché, you are bound to hear the words “rising star.” Pierre Duroché joined the domaine in 2003 and took the reins of the operation two years later. Since then, he has turned the domaine around, bringing a new energy and focus to this esteemed Gevrey-Chambertin house that’s been around since 1933.

Duroché owns more than eight hectares of vineyard holdings in the Gevrey appellation. As you would expect, the utmost attention is given to the health of the soil. The grapes are rigorously sorted both in the vineyard and the cellar. Everything is de-stemmed, and the wines never see more than 15 percent new oak.

While Duroché’s top-level cuvees sell for upward of $500, their village-level wine still represents somewhat of a bargain. The 2017 Domaine Duroché Gevrey-Chambertin ($78) has understated power and appealing elegance, revealing the earthy, mineral Gevrey flavors that are so typical of the terroir. Though it will be sure to age gracefully, it can also be enjoyed young.

About an hour south of Gevrey–just to the southwest of Santenay, but still in the Côte de Beaune–are the three small villages of Maranges. The hillside commune of Dezize-lès-Maranges is home to the wines of Domaine Charleux.

Many of you are already familiar with these value-driven Burgundies; they have been a staple in our shop for many vintages, and are perhaps the most consistent Burgundies available in that price range. In general, the wines of Maranges are medium-bodied with just enough acidity to make them appropriate for near-term aging. The soils are clay and limestone, and most of the vineyard exposure is south to southwest.

The 2018 Maranges Vieilles Vignes ($29) is produced from vines that are more than 80 years old and offers admirable concentration and length. Somewhat dark-fruited, it exemplifies the liveliness of the 2018 vintage.
From the warmer 2017 vintage comes the 1er Cru Maranges ‘Les Clos Roussots’ ($33). The vineyards here have south and southeast exposure and are mostly blue-clay soils with some limestone. This red-fruited wine is forward and easy-drinking, with noticeable complexity in the raspberry-like finish.

We also have a few bottles left of the 2016 1er Cru ‘Le Clos des Rois’ ($30). These south- and southwest-facing vineyards contain a greater proportion of limestone, which gives this bottle ample structure and complexity. This wine has red-fruit aromas along with floral and spicy notes–simply delicious.

Of course, Paul Marcus Wines has dozens more notable Burgundy producers from which to choose. Let us help you explore the many delights of Burgundy. See you at the shop.

– Paul Marcus

The fertile French terrain situated at the confluence of the Loire and the Vienne has been producing wine for hundreds of years. Established in 1937, the Chinon AOC lies on the south bank of the Loire, bisected by the Vienne in the westernmost reaches of Touraine. Chinon is almost exclusively the province of cabernet franc, a grape that seems to thrive in the region’s terroir.

Two offerings from Domaine Olga Raffault

Domaine Olga Raffault is perched on the bucolic triangle of land known as the Véron, between the two rivers just east of where they converge. The Raffault family has been making wine in Chinon for five generations. Tragedy struck in 1947 when Olga’s husband and partner, Pierre, died suddenly, leaving Olga and her two children to fend for themselves.

According to family legend, it was one of the estate’s employees, Ernest Zenninger, who vowed to the dying Pierre he’d look after his family. A repentant former German soldier, Zenninger was grateful for the kindness the Raffaults had shown him and would from that point on dedicate his life to the family business. Zenninger became the estate’s winemaker, mentoring Olga’s son Jean along the way, and together Jean and Ernest would help solidify Olga Raffault’s status as a Loire Valley legend.

Image sourced from olga-raffault.com

Today, the venerable house is operated by Olga’s granddaughter Sylvie and her husband, Eric de la Vigerie, with able assistance from their son, Arnaud. They have recently converted to organic farming in their vineyards, where they pick all the grapes by hand, using native yeasts for fermentation. Working with vines in some of Chinon’s most desirable terrain, Domaine Olga Raffault remains one of the appellation’s benchmark producers.

Raffault’s flagship bottling is the Les Picasses cuvee, 100 percent cabernet franc from a south-facing slope on the north bank of the Vienne. The vines are more than 50 years old and feed off a mixture of alluvial clay and chalky limestone. After fermentation in stainless steel, it’s aged for roughly 18 months in relatively large barrels and then aged in tank and bottle for a few more years before release.

The resulting wine is incredibly balanced and complex–ample-bodied, rich with dark fruit and plush tannins, earthy but with plenty of acidity and a mineral edge. Think cassoulet, braised oxtails, roasted lamb, or similarly robust fare. Next time you’re considering a Bordeaux, reach for this instead. At less than $40 a bottle, Raffault’s Les Picasses is still one of the Loire’s great value plays.

I wrote earlier that Chinon is almost exclusively the province of cabernet franc, and while that’s true, there is a negligible amount of chenin blanc planted there. Thankfully, one of Raffault’s 24 hectares of vineyards is dedicated to chenin, the plot of land that produces the wonderful Champ-Chenin cuvee.

In its youth, this wine definitely plays hard to get; there’s just a tantalizing hint of the pome-fruit fleshiness that has yet to fully emerge. But you can tell it’s coming. Even with the fruit still somewhat subdued, there’s enough depth, vitality, and sophistication to satisfy even the most impatient among us. No malo or wood here, just some lees-aging to give it a bit of texture. Cellar-worthy, indeed.

Both the 2014 Les Picasses and the 2018 Champ-Chenin are currently available at Paul Marcus Wines. They are drinking beautifully now, but their best years are still ahead of them. If you’re interested in Chinon wines, you should probably get to know Domaine Olga Raffault.