According to some, there are two kinds of people in the world: those who wonder “how it works” and those who ponder “what it does.” The “it” could be a tool or a machine or a process. Put another way, some folks focus on how a final product is achieved while others focus on the various characteristics of the final product itself.

Since I’ve always been more of a “what does it do” guy than a “how does it work” guy, I will mostly sidestep the chemistry aspect of lees aging (proteins and enzymes and the like) and turn our attention to the final product. How does lees aging affect the wine in your bottle?

Lees aging is a winemaking regimen in which the juice is not cleared of its fermentation residue. After the yeast is introduced and the process of fermentation–converting sugar to alcohol–is complete, the dead yeast (lees) sinks to the bottom of the vat or barrel. At that point, the winemaker might decide to leave the juice in contact with this milky byproduct for an extended period. Depending on how much lees influence is sought, the juice can be stirred (a process called bâtonnage) to increase its effect.

For starters, lees contact will give the wine richness, depth, and warmth. It helps to smooth a wine’s rougher edges while adding complexity and breadth to the flavors and aromas. Lees aging might also help stabilize a wine by helping to fend off oxidation. Producers of “serious” wines from Champagne and Burgundy have traditionally relied on lees aging, but so have makers of sleeker, mineral-driven wines such as Muscadet and Galician albariño.

To me, there is a certain sweet spot when it comes to lees aging–when the technique takes place in stainless-steel tanks. The combination of stainless steel and lees contact gives a wine creaminess and texture without sacrificing acidity. It creates wines that are fleshy but still fresh, and it lends the wine a bit of weight and gravity while maintaining expressive, bright fruit. It offers some characteristics associated with wood aging, but with a more restrained touch.

I find that wines made in this style are often perfect for rich, shellfish-based dishes. At Paul Marcus Wines, we offer a wide range of white wines made in this steel-plus-lees style that are worth discovering, including three of particular note:

2019 I Favati Fiano di Avellino – Pietramara Etichetta Bianca

Fiano from the hills of Campania is perhaps the most esteemed white grape in all of Italy, and this multifaceted bottling offers ample proof why–especially when accompanying casarecce with rock shrimp in a spicy tomato-cream sauce.

2022 Benanti Etna Bianco

Made with 100 percent carricante from the eastern and southern slopes of Sicily’s Mt. Etna, this bright, gently smoky, beautifully balanced wine will shine alongside brinier dishes such as steamed clams and mussels in a lemon and white wine broth.

2020 Luis Rodriguez Ribeiro – Os Pasás

Predominantly treixadura, and filled out with small amounts of albariño, torrontés, and lado, this Galician stunner would pair well with gambas al ajillo (garlic shrimp) atop buttery white beans.

These three wines seem to have much in common: distinct minerality, lovely texture, and a subtle tropical vibe–melon and mango and such–along with a cleansing salinity. We are talking about dynamic, age-worthy whites that are much more complex and stimulating than your run-of-the-mill Sancerre and half the price of a comparable white Burgundy. As summer approaches and shellfish season begins, it’s the perfect time to get to know these charming white wines.

At Paul Marcus Wines, our staff shares a deep love for classic wines–the “B, B, B, & C’s” (Burgundy, Barolo, Barbaresco, and Champagne) among other prized wines of the world. But in reality, these are usually wines for occasions and celebrations, and only sometimes for a Wednesday night. As true wine lovers, we also appreciate “table wine” in its truest form: wine for everyday drinking, and options that overdeliver for the price.

With an increase in demand for value wines, we have been stuffing the Value Red and Value White sections to the brim. Located in the front of the store, these are our weeknight favorites–and our weekend porch-pounders. Of course, this is just a starting place, and there are many bottles in the $20 range tucked away throughout the shop.

Before PMW, I worked with small importer-distributors, so if you permit me to don my “importer” hat for a moment, I’d like to explain some challenges in sourcing affordable wines. While browsing our less expensive selections, you will notice that all but a few of these wines are imported. You might be thinking that local wines, with shorter transport times and fewer hands to grease along the way, should cost less. You’re not wrong–except for the fact that it is that much more expensive to grow wine in the States.

To start, the cost of land is exorbitant here, and many young winemakers in California and Oregon are purchasing fruit for their wine (ex. Folk Machine Parts & Labor). By contrast, many European wineries have long lineages extending more than four generations, and they have inherited the land and equipment (ex. Château La Coustarelle Cahors). Some come from places with a rich history of peasant farming such as Southern France and Italy, or Spain and Hungary.

La Coustarelle Cahors, a staple of our value section, is still only $15.

Another element is the cost of labor. I cannot speak to the labor laws outside of the U.S. (and, to be frank, I am no expert on domestic regulations either). But ultimately, years of reporting conclude that labor is a smaller percentage of overall cost in other countries than it is here. Seeing that there are relatively few domestic wines that are offered at value, we turn to imports to find the bang-for-the-buck options.

Perhaps a few years ago, we had no trouble finding great imported wines that hit the shelf under $15. These days, it is more difficult, as we are now dealing with rising fuel costs. Wait–didn’t I just say that it’s less expensive to transport wine all the way from Europe than it is to get straight from California? Yes, that’s true, but we must still consider all of the energy that brings wine (or any product) to the store: diesel for farm equipment, trucks to pick up wine from the cellar and bring it to the containers (refrigerated, of course) on ships, then back on trucks again to deliver wine to our front door. Glass is heavy, and this all adds up.

To provide context, a 40-foot refrigerated container that once cost $5,000 to go from France to Oakland is now upwards of $10,000. Adding insult to injury, the wine industry got hit with significant tariffs that affected a broad sector of imported wines. While the tariffs have passed, the effects are still filtering down to distributors who might still be sitting on some inventory that entered the country with the added tariffs.

Due to these and many other factors, wines that used to be $15 on the shelf are now creeping up to $20 or more. (A tangential note of optimism: There have been major technological improvements in alternative packaging such as cans, bag-in-box, and tetra-pak cardboard.) My point here shouldn’t come as a huge surprise–retail prices are rising across all products–and it’s worth having the conversation about what it takes to get a bottle of wine from the farm to your glass.

If you want to learn more, please don’t hesitate to talk to me or any of the staff on your next visit to the store!

— Ailis Peplau


Every so often, we encounter a wine that we all love, but are a bit hesitant to buy for the shop. Perhaps it doesn’t fit neatly into any of the store’s most well-traveled sections. Maybe the price tag doesn’t scream “value.” It could be that the grape or the region of origin is unfamiliar. Still, we deem it worthy of shelf space at Paul Marcus Wines because we want to share these discoveries with our customers.

Piero Incisa della Rocchetta

One recent arrival that falls into this category is the 2021 Bodega Chacra Sin Azufre Pinot Noir from Patagonia, Argentina. The winery, which lies in the Rio Negro Valley, was founded about 20 years ago by Piero Incisa della Rocchetta, grandson of an esteemed Tuscan winemaker. The Rio Negro is basically desert terrain, with fewer than 10 inches of rain per year. However, the valley is also a riverbed for the confluence of two Andes tributaries, and so its soils offer a unique mix of clay, limestone, and sand–as it turns out, a perfect home for old-vine pinot noir.

Piero’s ‘Sin Azufre’ cuvee checks all of the boxes of a natural wine–biodynamic grapes, no sulfur added–but has little of the funkiness you’d expect. The grapes, from a vineyard planted in 1955, undergo whole-cluster fermentation, a Burgundian touch for a wine that is certainly Burgundian in style, and the juice sees no new oak. Bright, floral, and succulent, this wine will especially delight cru Beaujolais fans with its clarity and liveliness, balanced by subtle mineral and earthy tones. It’s a buoyant wine, with loads of character.

To learn more about this wine or to discover other hidden gems at Paul Marcus Wines, please come visit us at the shop.

We’re all familiar with the thriving natural wine scenes in France, Italy, Spain, and the rest of Western Europe–as well as here on the West Coast. But not everyone knows that Central and Eastern Europe is a hotbed of natural winegrowing and winemaking as well. Oszkár Maurer is a celebrated natural grower and maker in Subotica, Serbia, just south of Serbia’s border with Hungary. Farming is organic, and all wines are ØØ: nothing added during the winemaking–including sulfites–and nothing taken away (no fining or filtration). We currently have four Maurer wines in stock, three of which just arrived at Paul Marcus Wines.

2022 ‘Crazy Lud’ Red

“Lud” means “goose” in Hungarian and “crazy” in Serbian. So: Crazy Goose, as shown on the label! The 2022 ‘Crazy Lud’ red is mostly kékfrankos (a.k.a. blaufränkisch), cabernet sauvignon, and kadarka, with a little muscat Hamburg and prokupac for heightened aromatics and grip. The wine is macerated briefly (two-to-six days) on the skins in open vats and then aged in used 500-liter Hungarian oak barrels for one year. It’s a light-bodied red or even a dark rosé that responds well to 20-30 minutes in the refrigerator. This is an excellent introduction to Maurer’s wines: It’s playful, distinctive, and easy to drink, yet with underlying complexity and even seriousness.

2022 Bakator 1909

Fehér (white) bakator is an extremely rare grape variety; according to Maurer, there’s only one other winery producing it, in the Transcarpathian part of western Ukraine. Maurer’s Bakator 1909 comes from ungrafted, bush-trained vines planted 115 years ago. The 2022 vintage had 15 percent healthy botrytis (noble rot) at harvest, was macerated with the skins overnight, and was then fermented in stainless steel for six months. The wine is light amber in the glass, with remarkable concentration, savoriness, and depth. It’s bone dry, despite being just 10.6 percent alcohol. This is a more serious, elegant Maurer wine that nonetheless retains brightness and easy drinkability.

2022 Bakator Pét-Nat

Maurer’s Bakator Pét-Nat comes from the same ancient vineyard and grapes as the Bakator 1909 still wine, but picked earlier and with fermentation finished in the bottle to create the fizz. It’s undisgorged but barely cloudy, 10.7 percent alcohol, and bone dry. Take this bottle to a party, and you’ll definitely win the excellent-fizzy-wine-from-an-obscure-country-and-even-more obscure-grape prize.


This is the most baroque wine in our Maurer lineup. It’s a blend of five white varieties (medenac beli, rajni rizling, tamjanika, kövidinka, and sremska zelenika, if you must know) from several vintages built with three sequential fermentations and then aged in 500-liter Hungarian oak barrels. It’s darker amber in color, exotically spicy, with some tannin, oxidative notes, and wild complexity. There’s nothing else like it in the shop.

At Paul Marcus Wines, it’s not uncommon to find customers looking longingly at our shelf of magnums. “If only I had a special occasion or a large party,” they say, to no one in particular. Well, the holiday season is the perfect opportunity to indulge your fantasies and crack open that big bottle.

We can go on about how magnums mature more gracefully than regular-sized bottles, how they can offer more harmony and complexity–especially when it comes to Champagne. But in the end, nothing shouts “party” like a large-format bottle of wine.

PMW stocks a wide range of magnums from which to choose. As an additional incentive, all of our large-format bottles are 15 percent off from now until the end of the year. Here are some of our favorite large-format selections to get you started.

Bright Stripes

Great Champagne should give you weight and richness on the palate but do so with a spine of acid. The NV André Clouet – Brut Rosé No. 3 is always 100 percent pinot noir, typically with 6g/l dosage, which gives you the richness, but the fruit is grown on mostly chalky soils that give the wine a bright stripe of taught acid that propels the fruit down the palate. While the soils lend the wine some structure, the fermentation and aging in stainless steel keep it bright.

I have served this wine many, many times over the years and almost always serve it with the entrée, often pork. However, in a pinch, it sings with an omelet. This is the holiday magnum that goes with everything, and everyone needs a few magnums of great Champagne around for the holidays. Enjoy!

— Chad Arnold

A Rare and Special Treat

A special meal justifies a special bottle. The 2020 Chambeyron-Manin Côte Rôtie is an irresistibly perfumed and textured syrah that delivers immense “wow” while staying mystifyingly lifted on the palate and reasonable in its alcohol level. The seeming contradiction of ripe purple and black fruit with such freshness and lack of weight makes each sip a happy cognitive dissonance.

The Manin family farm one little acre of a very steep slope in a prized location; the farming and harvesting of grapes are all done by hand (as no tractors can navigate such a slope), and the wine is made in their home just steps from the vineyard. It’s a rare and special treat that would honor any table.

— David Gibson

Racy and Stony

Odinstal is the leading biodynamic producer in Germany’s Pfalz region. The MMXVIII Odinstal Sekt Brut Nature Riesling is disgorged by hand and bottled unfiltered and without any additions, including no dosage. The result: bone-dry, natural, Champagne-quality artisanal bubbles with riesling raciness and stoniness, at less than $100 for a magnum!

— Mark Middlebrook

Palate Dance

As you probably already know, we sell a lot of nebbiolo from the Langhe region in Italy’s Piedmont. My favorite right now is the 2022 Trediberri Langhe Nebbiolo. This slightly lighter wine is absolutely delightful, with clean, upbeat flavors that dance on your palate. It’s both refreshing and compelling.

— Paul Marcus

Lively and Lovely

Not to be confused with muscat (it is not sweet and not aromatic), Muscadet is made from the Melon de Bourgogne grape and comes from the Loire Valley near the Atlantic coast city of Nantes. The Pepiere Clisson is one of the greatest wines of the appellation. It exhibits the classic saline, tart-apple flavors and lively acidity that make Muscadet the perfect oyster wine. But the Clisson has a more viscous, richer texture that will make it work with a wide variety of foods. You can use as you would a Chablis or other unoaked white Burgundy.

Muscadet is one of the great wine values in the world. Even a top cuvée like this Clisson–we have both the 2019 and 2020 vintages–comes in at the very reasonable price of $67 for a magnum (1.5L) and $192 for a jeroboam (3L).

— Joel Mullennix

Earth and Spice and Everything Nice

Mencía makes me happy, especially when it’s Envinate’s village (Aldea) wine. Hailing from a variety of plots with different exposures, elevations, and soils, the 2021 Envinate Ribeira Sacra – Lousas Vinas de Aldea is made from about 90 percent mencía, with the remaining 10 percent composed of other indigenous varieties. Whole cluster, light maceration, and a mixed bag of vessels for élevage create a wine with lovely nuance of earth, spice, and fruit. Yum.

— Jason Seely

Apart from the Rest

We are tasting more and more ethereal and light nebbiolo in the shop these days as producers are prioritizing early accessibility for what is typically a highly tannic, needs-serious-meal-planning wine. No producer nails easy-drinking Barolo like Fernandino Principiano. His incorporation of whole-cluster fermentation and choice not to green harvest (remove leaves and unripe grape bunches) is pretty unheard of in the region, which sets him and his wine apart from the rest. His lower-alcohol, lighter-tannin approach means that this 2018 Ferdinando Principiano Barolo di Serralunga d’Alba can sit on the table with a wider range of foods–from anchovy and butter crostini to turkey to steak.

— Emilia Aiello

Luis Anxo Rodríguez Vázquez

Going Deep

Luis Anxo Rodríguez Vázquez has been producing wines in Spain’s Ribeiro region for more than 30 years, but over the last decade or so, he’s started to find the international acclaim he so richly deserves. His 2020 A Torna Dos Pasás Tinto is a seductive blend of brancellao, caiño and ferrol. It’s stylish and refined, bright and expressive, its red-berry lift buttressed by beguiling spice and mineral notes. And yet there is a smoky, brooding side that imbues the wine with great depth–serious and playful all at once, and quite versatile at the holiday table.

— Marc Greilsamer

A surprising number of Loire Valley cabernet franc aficionados are somehow unfamiliar with the mencía grape. Thriving in the far northwest of Spain, mencía produces bright, herbaceous wines with fairly moderate tannins and acidity. The combination of succulent red fruit, savory, earthy notes, and a streak of minerality would absolutely delight any cab franc lover.

Thanks to a relatively cool, ocean-influenced climate and the artistry of modern winemakers, today’s mencía wines offer complexity and finesse (with alcohol levels often at 13 percent or lower) while remaining robust enough to accompany heartier fare. At Paul Marcus Wines, we are fortunate to be able to feature a number of impressive examples of this food-friendly variety.

2016 A Portela Mencía – Valdeorras

The grapes for A Portela, made by Alberto Orte, come from a single hilltop vineyard in Galicia’s Valdeorras appellation. The plot’s granite soils help create a lighter-style, perfumed mencía with ample acidity, and the extra time in the bottle seems to have highlighted the grape’s greener, more vegetal tones–perfect for croquetas de jamón and other early-meal nibbles.

The vineyard of Fazenda Agrícola Prádio in Ribeira Sacra

2021 Prádio Mencía – Ribeira Sacra

A classic, textbook style of mencía from Ribeira Sacra in Galicia, this offering from winemaker Xabi Soeanes boasts fruit that is a tad darker and riper, balanced by a subtle range of floral and smoky flavors.

2020 César Márquez Bierzo – Pico Ferreira

César Márquez of Bierzo

Moving farther inland, we find the Bierzo DO in Castilla y León, just over Galicia’s eastern border. With the ocean influence diminished, the wines from Bierzo tend to be a little bigger and bolder, and while the ‘Pico Ferreira’ does exhibit a bit more density than the others, the high-elevation, rocky slate soils and Márquez’s touch in the cellar still lead to a graceful, focused result. This cuvée is 85 percent mencía from 100-year-old vines, rounded out by 10 percent alicante bouschet and other indigenous white and red grapes. Márquez studied under his uncle Raúl Pérez, a mencía legend, and has learned his lessons quite well.

2021 Envínate Ribeira Sacra – Lousas

The Envínate gang makes wines from vineyards throughout Spain, including the Canary Islands, and they are at the forefront of modern Spanish winemaking. Their mencía-based bottlings come from Ribeira Sacra and are among the finest examples of mencía available. The 2021 Lousas, like the above wine, is a high-altitude field blend with about 85 percent mencía as its foundation. The grapes, fermented mostly whole cluster, come from several different plots within Ribeira Sacra, and the juice is aged for about a year in a combination of concrete and used French oak. This wine is a knockout, top to bottom, and its modest alcohol (12.5 percent) allows it to pair well with a range of spicy red and white meats.

For a real treat, check out Envínate’s site-specific Doad–a savory, spicy, stylish gem that will make cab franc heads feel like they’ve been transported straight to Chinon!

Wine lovers are perpetually in search of the “next big thing.” Discovering “new” wines from lesser-known regions around the world can be an eye-opening experience offering distinct, unusual flavor profiles, unique food-pairing opportunities, and (if you’re quick enough to the game) the prospect of value hunting.

These days, Spain’s Canary Islands represent one of the hippest and most fascinating growing regions in Europe. Located about 100 kilometers west of Morocco, the Canaries are distinguished by its high-elevation vineyards rich in volcanic soils–the islands also avoided the phylloxera scourge of the late 19th century, meaning they are home to some of the oldest ungrafted vines in Europe.

The Canary Islands now include 10 DOPs (Denominación de Origen Protegida). While each island has its own terroir, Canary wines in general are known for their roaring acidity and prominent mineral notes, often produced by smaller wineries in a low-intervention style. Below are three gems that we are currently featuring at Paul Marcus Wines.

2020 Bien de Altura – Gran Canaria – ‘Ikewen’

The grapes for the Ikewen Tinto, made by rising star Carmelo Peña Santana, come from steep, ungrafted vineyards located in a warm and dry microclimate on Gran Canaria. The old-vine blend is mostly Listan Negro and Listan Prieto, along with a few co-planted white varieties. After a long 40-day maceration, the juice ages for eight months in steel tanks. The resulting wine is bright and energetic, peppery and a tad savory, with enough earthy notes to keep it grounded. Bring on the carne fiesta–the spicy, garlicky marinated pork dish that is a favorite in these parts. The Ikewen is bold enough to hold its own, yet its low alcohol and low tannins won’t clash with the piquant flavors of the meal.

2021 Dolores Cabrera Fernández – Valle de la Orotava, Tenerife – ‘Hacienda Perdida’

The Valle de la Orotava appellation is located on the north coast of Tenerife, the largest of the Canary Islands. This region features a traditional vine-training style known as cordón trenzado, or “braided cords,” a labor-intensive, horizontally oriented system in which the vines can stretch as far as 50 feet wide. Dolores Cabrera is a master of the cordón trenzado system, and it shows. This high-toned mix of Listan Negro and Listan Blanco emanates from Hacienda Perdida, her highest parcel in Orotava, and it boasts a vigorous mineral streak, a hint of reduction, and a whiff of funk–all tied together with some gorgeously supple yet surprisingly lush fruit that lets you know that there is some clay among the volcanic soils.

2021 Tamerán Vijariego Blanco – Gran Canaria

David Silva and Jonatan García of Tamerán

Fans of European football will recognize the name David Silva, the stalwart Spanish midfielder who helped bring home two Euro titles and a World Cup for the national team. A native of Gran Canaria, Silva enlisted the help of Jonatan García (of Suertes del Marqués fame) when he founded his winemaking project a few years ago, focusing on a handful of rare, native Canarian grapes. This bottling is made from the obscure Vijariego Blanco grape, and it is truly a revelation. Aged on the lees in 500-liter barrels for nine months, this wine is quite a bit more textured and ripe than most Canary whites while still showcasing the mineral snap that is the region’s calling card. Thus, it is rich enough to stand up to heartier, more flavorful cuisine, without sacrificing anything in the way of freshness or elegance. It’s not every day you find this level of intensity and complexity for less than 50 bucks.

To learn more about these wines and a host of other Canary Island offerings, please visit us at the shop.

Any thoughtful conversation about why a particular wine tastes the way it does is going to get down and dirty–that is, delve into the soil types in the vineyard. The physical and chemical mechanisms by which different soil types (limestone, granite, schist, various volcanic rocks, etc.) influence wine flavor aren’t yet well established, but there are recognizable aromas and flavors that we can associate with these types. Here are four examples of different soil types and the nebbiolo wines they produce.

The granite-based vineyards of Caves de Donnas

Granite: 2018 Caves de Donnas Vallée d’Aoste Classico

The vines here in the far northwest of Italy grow on crazy-steep terraces of almost pure granite. Granite, along with the relatively high latitude and altitude of the vineyards around the town of Donnas, give acidity, minerality, and a brighter (even “crunchy”) quality to the fruit. Think less-ripe red fruit rather than dark cherries, with an alpine twang. Nebbiolo’s famous floral notes are a little more evident, and its darker, tarry qualities are less prominent. (For a simpler, more budget-friendly example from the region, try the 2020 Caves de Donnas Vallée d’Aoste – Barmet.)

Volcanic sand: 2016 Colombera & Garella Bramaterra – Cascina Cottignano

The volcanic sand of Bramaterra (left); marine sand of Lessona (center)

Volcanic soils are a feature of much of the Alto Piemonte (but not all– compare the next wine). The Cascina Cottignano vineyard’s soil is iron-rich and therefore rusty-red decomposed volcanic sand. The volcanic part gives a darker quality to the minerality compared to granite, and the iron content adds a ferrous and even sanguine note to the fruit. Volcanic soils tend to be high in acidity, resulting in wines whose structure comes more from acidity than from tannin, certainly when compared with Barbaresco and Barolo.

Marine sand: 2018 Colombera & Garella Lessona – Pizzaguerra

The Pizzaguerra vineyard is just a mile from Cascina Cottignano, and yet the soils in the former are not volcanic at all, but rather sand from an ancient seabed. Marine sand (which is what we usually mean when we say “sandy soils”) gives elegance, perfume, and delicacy–less power, more prettiness.

Calcareous marl (limestone/clay): 2018 Produttori del Barbaresco Barbaresco

A combination of limestone and clay, sometimes with some sand in the mix, is the classic soil type found in both Barbaresco and Barolo in the Langhe. Like granite, limestone gives minerality, acidity, and freshness, but it also provides tannin and age-worthiness. Clay gives richer fruit, weight, and fullness. This combination of tannin and body makes for nebbiolos that are more powerful and imposing, compared with the other three terroirs described here.

In some circles, the idea of California “vintage charts” elicits chuckles and smirks. Even within the various appellations and sub-regions, the multitude of microclimates makes any kind of generalization tricky. In any event, please allow me to generalize: The 2021 pinot noir vintage in California seems to have been a uniform success up and down the Golden State.

Yes, it was a very dry year, without question, and drought conditions mean low yields and small berries. But it was also a warm (but not insanely hot), steady, consistent season, and pinot noir seems to have thrived in this setting. The resulting wines show balance, nuance, and complexity, with fruit that is restrained, but not austere.

Below are three noteworthy examples of 2021 California pinot from three distinct growing regions.

2021 Occidental – Freestone-Occidental (Sonoma Coast)

A relatively new endeavor from pinot pioneer Steve Kistler, Occidental focuses on cool, coastal, late-ripening vineyards on the far western edge of Sonoma County. It delivers bright, silky red fruit along with a wide array of spice and mineral notes–laser-focused but still generous in its own way. It might seem like an odd juxtaposition to say that a wine is “loaded with finesse,” but in this case it just feels right–a graceful gymnast with a lithe frame but a powerful core. Delightful in its youth, the Occidental will certainly benefit from a few years of cellaring.

2021 Drew – The Fog-Eater (Anderson Valley)

Medium-bodied and boasting a deeper, darker profile with savory and herbaceous elements, Drew’s Fog-Eater has a bit more prominent, upfront fruit than the other two selections on this list. As the cuvee name implies, Jason and Molly Drew draw the fruit from the colder, cloud-shrouded, wind-swept areas of northwest Anderson Valley. These days, however, there is enough daytime heat to allow the grapes to fully express themselves, and the upshot is a lovely, approachable pinot with great versatility at the dinner table.

Cole Thomas, Madson’s founder and winemaker

2021 Madson – Santa Cruz Mountains

Certainly a house favorite, Madson’s entry-level pinot offers red-fruit flavors that are subdued and elegant, allowing its floral and earthy components to shine through. At 12.6 percent alcohol, it’s a wine of subtlety and moderation, exemplifying the refinement one expects from the chilly, forested hillsides above Monterey Bay. Fermented whole-cluster and aged on the lees for nine months in old oak barrels, this is an unfined and unfiltered gem that consistently over-delivers on its relatively modest price.

These are just a few of the delights from the 2021 California harvest. To learn more about these wines and other beauties, come visit us at Paul Marcus Wines.

If you’ve ever found yourself answering the question, “Well, what d’ya want?” with “Anything but chardonnay,” we’d like a word with you. First of all, come on: The West Coast is having a chardonnay renaissance. From Southern California’s Santa Rita Hills to Oregon’s Willamette Valley, there are a multitude of styles, with as many fresh and chiseled examples as there are oaked and rich. In California, growers keep pushing the vineyards into cooler, windier places that limit quick ripening, while the Oregon versions have their own unique characteristics. They’re worth revisiting. Really.

Yet, if you’re set on trying something different, you should try fiano. The fiano grape (fee-ah-no) is native to southern Italy, with Campania being the epicenter. The story goes like this: Romans named it Apianum, “loved by bees,” and bees aren’t dumb. Fiano tends towards small berries and intense but not plentiful juice. The smaller quantity means that quality needs to be high to justify the labor.

In southern Italy, the summers are just as warm as they are here, and there’s no issue getting grapes to ripen (as there often is at higher latitudes or elevations). The challenge is maintaining the natural acidity of the grapes in the resulting wine. Some grapes fare better than others in this respect. Chardonnay, for example, thrives in cool pockets, but it doesn’t hold its acidity if the days and nights are too warm. You can add acid during winemaking, but that’s a poor substitute for perfect fruit. (Imagine an overripe strawberry sprinkled with citric acid–it’s still overripe.)

Fiano, native to a warmer climate, holds its acidity well. As California winemakers come to terms with a warming climate (2023 being an exception so far), they’re naturally drawn to grapes with a history of making quality wine from warm locales. Because of fiano’s low yields, it’s not the grape that will make growers rich, but climate change helps tip the scale.

At Paul Marcus Wines, we of course feature a world-class selection of Fiano di Avellino (fiano from its Italian home turf), but we also offer a handful of fiano expressions from California’s Dry Creek and Russian River valleys. Unti was ahead of the trend in planting Italian varietals in California (or replanting, but that’s another story), and their success must have encouraged the others. Unti’s fiano (as well as their vermentino, for that matter) shows the brightness and intensity of carefully farmed grapes. Unfortunately, the grape’s reputation for low productivity is true even in California, and they make tiny quantities. Gros Ventre is making fiano from a younger vineyard a couple hillsides closer to the coast, which dials it back a notch and shows a classy refinement. Cruess is working a 1.5-acre vineyard and somehow producing affordable wine.

These California plantings of fiano aren’t on the volcanic soils that dominate Campania, so the wines lack that suggestion of burnt rock. In addition, these California examples of fiano haven’t been given the heavy winemaking hand that many chardonnays have; no one is using new oak barrels to flavor the wine. In truth, these producers are still trying to tease out what California fiano tastes like.

Naturally, it’s worth trying both types of fiano (Italian and Californian)  to experience what’s gained and lost by the different soil types. For a survey of Campania’s finest, you can turn to sleeker examples by I Favati and Guido Marsella or richer styles like Ciro Picariello. We also have higher-end versions such as the Quintodecimo and the I Favati Riserva that are suitable for longer aging.

When pairing with food, fiano can handle dishes with a bit more acid than chardonnay is comfy with, so go ahead and squeeze that lemon or add a splash more vinegar. Any of the rotisserie chickens at Market Hall Foods or a variety of glazed fish dishes would also be excellent matches.

All together, we’ve got enough fiano in the house to keep you busy exploring for weeks. Come on by, and we’ll help get you started on your fiano journey.