I

I find more joy in a simple glass of wine these days than I ever have. Yet that course correction comes amidst a wee paradox: Except for when I was a graduate student, I’m drinking, on average, the least expensive wine of my life–but it’s not cheap.

Julien Sunier of Beaujolais: a producer who does things the “right way”

Do I care less about wine? Or people? The pandemic–that revealing accelerant–has changed so much of our lives, but there’s a lot of silver in the linings. (I should mention that I’m also drinking less.) It is, I think, not that I care less about people or wine, but that I care about more people and more wine.

The case for cheap things is a cornerstone of late-capitalist consumer culture. However, most of the true costs of cheap products are spread among many people over vast areas–all of which suffer unfairly. Wine, for example, up to, say, $7 is, in a way, a false narrative. A bottle of wine that costs $7 (or less) can’t truly be had in 2022. Of course, you can find a wine for seven bucks in shops across the country, but most of the actual costs are hidden from most consumers. It might be a good deal for us, but somewhere down the line, as it were, it’s a bad deal for someone else–and often many others.

If everyone along the way to the production of a bottle of wine is being paid a living wage and has healthcare of some stripe–and if the environment is not taking an unhealthy hit–a bottle of wine should cost about 20 bucks*.

I realize this sounds a bit highbrow, or at least uppity, and perhaps it is, but too many of the costs of production for such radically inexpensive products are not in our calculus.All we think is that we deserve these products or just can’t afford to spend more–but we’re still paying. A 99-cent hamburger proves the same moral math. The environment takes an often uncalculated, off-the-menu hit as do many laborers along the way, including all of us.

Capitalist culture will tell you that some products are, in fact, too cheap to yield profit, but that’s by design. Some businesses say it’s their choice to sell their products at whatever prices they want. This, however, is thinking without consideration beyond profit. Such “loss leaders” fail to consider the lives of low-paid workers the world over, and such manipulations further accelerate environmental degradation and climate change. Is this true in every case? No, but we live in the Capitalocene, not the Anthropocene.

I am more interested in organic wine, biodynamic farming, or wine that is raised naturally. I want balance first, and pleasure first, and globally available local wine first, and if I can afford it, I want to pay for it because I want to support it–not merely for the bottle I take home, but for the whole process.

For many companies, the best way to sell a product is to limit the customer’s evaluation time during the purchase decision, and the easiest way to do that is to make the product cheap. The next step is to hide some of the costs, which often means hiding the human and environmental damages of the production.

So, I’ve begun to buy and drink wine that represents a good value but is also organically farmed and often biodynamically raised–and not falsely cheap. I’m trying to buy wine that is produced by growers that pay living wages to all their workers. The new pleasures I’ve found during these times include concern for the welfare, so far as I can tell, of people I will likely never meet. I’m still working it out, but I think if our only measure of success is to find the cheapest wine, and so, to line the pockets of the rich, it only serves to praise an idleness that feels cheap.

 

II

All the great wine shops in the East Bay, including Oakland Yard, Bay Grape, Ordinaire, and Minimo, have great selections and take responsibility for the wines they sell. That includes, to the extent currently possible, consideration of the wellbeing of everyone along the lines of production.

Like all the buyers in the shops mentioned above, the buyers at Paul Marcus Wines try to find wines with varietal authenticity, provide a sense of place, and are delicious. Furthermore, we try to ask the right questions of the importers in the hopes of making better purchase decisions for you. And this comes at a cost: the cost of a more equitable society.

This is not a note saying we are raising prices, but rather to say it is important to remember what we’re doing when we so often quickly or blindly “support the economy.”

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* This number is an approximation–a rhetorical flourish of sorts. The number would change dramatically depending on the variety in question, the location of the fruit source, and the city in which the wine is sold.

At Paul Marcus Wines, we are always excited to introduce our customers to up-and-coming winemakers, and we’re thrilled to offer an array of wines from a small, relatively new Burgundian producer from the Hautes Côtes de Beaune. David Trousselle, located near Saint Romain, grows single-vineyard chardonnay and pinot noir from the cooler areas in the hills west of the Côte de Beaune, and the quality-to-price ratio of his wines is nothing short of remarkable.

Trousselle uses traditional Burgundian techniques in the cellar. Chardonnay is pressed directly after the harvest and fermented and raised in mostly neutral barrels. Pinot noir is de-stemmed and given a short maceration prior to fermentation to increase color extraction, with minimal use of new oak. The resulting wines are fresh, supple, and full of character.

We are proud to offer four wines from this rising star of Burgundy:

2020 Bourgogne Blanc ‘La Couleuvraire’ ($29)

This chardonnay has a distinctively classic Burgundian nose with hints of Meursault and a nice mineral edge on the follow-through.

2020 Bourgogne Rouge ‘En Cre’ ($29)

A characteristic Beaune nose promises warm red-fruit flavors, and it surely delivers. The grapes for this lightly extracted bottling come from high-elevation, limestone-rich vineyards.

2020 Auxey-Duresses Rouge ($36)

This cool-climate beauty, from a tiny, recently acquired plot in Auxey-Duresses, offers lovely aromatics, taut minerality, and an elegant texture.

2019 Santenay Rouge ($36)

Boasting darker and denser middle fruit, the Santenay finishes with a slightly earthy and savory note.

Imagine a grape variety that gives you the silkiness and grace of pinot noir; the dark fruits, pepper, and floral notes of syrah; and the joyous lift and moderate alcohol of gamay. This grape shares nebbiolo’s knack for making a variety of wines–everything from easy everyday wines to important site-specific ones, not to mention singular rosés and sparkling wines. And, to make it even more palatable, it boasts an appealing quality-to-price ratio, with most coming in at under $25. Voilà: we give you blaufränkisch!

The best-known name of the grape, blaufränkisch, gives us an idea of its pedigree: From the Middle Ages onward, German-speaking peoples used variations of fränkisch (“from Franconia”) to distinguish higher-quality from run-of-the-mill varieties. Blaufränkisch is the name that’s used in Austria, which is the most important source of quality wines made from the variety. But there are lots of synonyms, depending on where it’s grown: kékfrankos in Hungary, limberger/lemberger in Germany, borgonja in Croatia, and gamé in Bulgaria, among others. (I’m not the only one to have noticed the partial resemblances to pinot noir and gamay!)


Whatever you call the grape, the wines made from it are as much fun to pair with food as they are to drink, thanks to their lively acidity, moderate alcohol, and judicious dollop of fruitiness. Start with the dishes you love to eat with pinot noir or syrah, especially savory things like mushrooms, tomatoes, sausages, and smoked meats. Then dial up the spices if you want: paprika, barbecue sauce, capsicum…. If you’re up for going Hungarian-style native, importer Eric Danch suggests offal (“bloody, minerally stuff”), culminating with kakashere pörkölt (rooster testicle stew). Back here in the Bay Area, experiment with izakaya plates: grilled and fried bites, pickled vegetables, and the like.

Here are eight examples of this variety from Paul Marcus Wines. (Continue reading for a special discount.)

2020 Pfneisl Blaufränker 1-liter [Austria]

Sisters Birgit and Katrin Pfneisl farm their family’s certified organic vineyards in eastern Austria, near the border with Hungary, and make this deliciously gulpable blaufränkisch. The wine is light, fresh, fruity, and just 12 percent alcohol. Chill it for 20 minutes to enhance all of these qualities. It’s great for barbecues, picnics, and camping–the full-liter bottle is finished with a screw cap, for easy access.

2019 Schreiner Blaufränkisch Burgenland – Rust [Austria]

Gernot and Victoria Schreiner practice certified organic farming in their hometown of Rust, on the western shores of Lake Neusiedl. This wine is from a parcel called Gemärk (limestone, sand, and sandstone). It’s aged in large, old oak casks for 14 months and is classic Burgenland blaufränkisch: inky black and blue fruits without heaviness and with a pleasing bitter hint. At 12.4 percent alcohol, it’s lively, fresh, and fun, yet with a serious, elegant side.

2017 Burg Ravensburg Blaufränkisch Sulzfeld [Germany]

Here’s a German example of blaufränkisch/lemberger. It’s perhaps a little higher-toned than the Austrian and Hungarian versions, with especially bright acidity. The grapes are farmed organically, and the wine comes in at 12.5 percent alcohol.

2017 Stumpf Pinceszet Kékfrankos Nagy-Eged [Hungary]

Father János and son Péter Stumpf dry-farm 20 hectares of vines in the Eger appellation of Hungary, halfway between Budapest and Tokaj. This wine is from 40-50-year-old vines. Nagy-Eged means “Eged Mountain,” and it’s the highest-altitude red-wine vineyard in Hungary. The wine is aged for 20 months in 500-liter acacia and Hungarian oak barrels and bottled unfined and unfiltered. The only addition is a small amount of SO2 at bottling. This is a kékfrankos that’s sophisticated and even a touch flashy, with dark fruit and noteworthy structure. It gains complexity with bottle age.

2020 Wetzer Kékfrankos [Hungary]

Peter Wetzer is a producer in the appellation of Sopron, right next to the border with Austria. His kékfrankos is a blend of several organically farmed 40-50-year-old vineyards, with loam, limestone, and mica-schist soils. Fermentation is in open vats and aging in used 500-liter Hungarian oak barrels. It’s bottled unfined and unfiltered, with a small addition of sulfur. Vivid dark fruits are etched with vibrant minerality and acidity. This is a lot of wine for the money.

2019 Moric Blaufränkisch Burgenland [Austria]

Roland Velich started Moric (MOR-itz) in 2001 with the goal of doing with blaufränkisch in Burgenland what producers have achieved with pinot noir in Burgundy, syrah in the Northern Rhône, and nebbiolo in the Langhe. (Read Alder Yarrow’s article “MORIC: The Apogee of Blaufränkisch.”) This wine is from 10-50-year-old vines growing in limestone, primary rock, and loam. Farming is uncertified organic, and fermentation is with indigenous yeasts in open vats and steel tank. Aging is in a combination of barrels ranging from 600 to 4,500 liters in size. No fining or filtration and minimal SO2 added at bottling. This is a super-classy wine that manages to be both impressive and understated at the same time.

2017 Karner Vitézföld Kékfrankos [Hungary]

Here is the wild and kinky side of kékfrankos. Gábor Karner is the godfather of natural wine in northeast Hungary (as well as a progressive metal drummer with the band Æbsence). His daughter Fanni works with him in the wine region of Matrá, between Budapest and Tokaj. Their wine is from the organically farmed single vineyard Vitézföld (“the good soldier’s land”). It sees one week of maceration and then 18 months of aging in stainless steel. Unfined, unfiltered, and no additions of any kind, including SO2 (ØØ). This is a serious natural wine: concentrated and complex, while walking the line between sauvage and fine.

2021 Kobal Blaufränkisch Pét-Nat Rosé Bajta [Slovenia]

We’ll finish–but maybe you should start–with an utterly hedonistic fizzy pink wine from Lower Styria (Štajerska) in Slovenia. Four hours of skin contact give the electric-pink color. Fermentation finishes in the bottle, resulting in a wine that’s juicy, yeasty, fruity, and exuberant–the opposite of serious!

Special Offer
Take 10 percent off any three or more blaufränkisch/kékfrankos that you buy through April 15th. The offer is mix-and-match: three different wines, three of the same thing, or anything in between. Use discount code frankish10 (no “c”) if you shop at our online store.

I was sipping an exotic wine with my favorite Vietnamese takeout last night and was surprised by the smoky, salty, “volcanic” aromatics that underlay the delicate muscat-like lychee fruit notes. Majorca, where the wine’s from, must be a volcanic plug of an island, I explained to my partner. Only that could account for the savory base I was tasting.

I’m regularly wrong, so I was already doubting myself even before I read that the Balearic Islands, of which Majorca is the biggest, are not of volcanic origin. Being naturally flexible, I was able to quickly pivot to my next explanation: The wine was reductive.

“Reduction” is the rare wine-geek term that’s not (mostly) subjective. At its simplest, it’s the technique of strictly limiting oxygen during a stage of fermentation. Certain compounds given off by the yeast cells are prevented from binding with good-old reactive oxygen molecules, and they stay trapped in the soon-to-be wine. Wines that feature reduction, or are reduced, exhibit a range of savory, salty, smoky, gunflint, matchstick, or even full-on sulfurous aromas. This can be good or bad, a lot or a little. In my wine last night, I enjoyed the added complexity; the fruit shone through unscathed, but there was more than fruit to think about.

Stéphane Tissot, star of the Jura

Preventing oxidation in wine seems like a good thing, and winemakers can tell themselves they’re not adding flavors through the technique–no, they’re just protecting the wine from premature aging. But, of course, they’re doing both. Some are very good at it (see Walter Scott’s lineup of Oregon chardonnay), and some push it pretty far (like Tissot in the Jura).

Many wine professionals are fans of reductive wines–Master Sommelier Rajat Parr, for one, praises Tissot highly for it in The Sommelier’s Atlas of Taste. Fruity flavors are wine’s easiest achievement. Stony, more mineral flavors are much harder to capture. And while it would be unfair, too broad, perhaps even, gasp, reductive to say that too many wines present so much sweet fruit that they might benefit from the addition of a savory element, it might also be, occasionally, a little true.

So, if you find yourself wanting more than just fruit flavors in your wine, or want to keep abreast of trends, or simply want to know what Raj Parr is talking about, stop by the shop and ask us about reduction.

The staff at Paul Marcus Wines has a wide range of tastes and tendencies–some more traditional, some more eclectic. But if there’s a common PMW thread that binds it all together, it’s probably the concept of balance. In short, we look for wines in which all of the components–might they be fruit and earth, herbs and spice, tannins, acidity, and minerality–work together in harmony, where none of the individual elements dominate the tasting experience.

That brings me to the 2018 Oddero Langhe Nebbiolo, a gem of a bottle that will surprise and delight wine drinkers of all stripes. This wine simply oozes charm and charisma–it’s wonderfully bright and accessible, yet with a depth and complexity that belies its relatively modest ($33) price tag. There’s an abundance of fresh red fruit, but it’s augmented by a subtly dazzling array of earthy, herbaceous, floral, and spicy notes.

The legendary Oddero has been bottling for nearly 150 years

The grapes for this knockout come from the San Biagio vineyards in Barolo’s prized La Morra village–a spot known to accentuate nebbiolo’s more aromatic, delicate qualities. It’s aged in very large oak barrels for up to 18 months, allowing the wine to retain its purity and sparkle while adding a bit of polish to the alluring tannins.

The end result is graceful and refined, but not at all shy. What I mean to say is: Go get yourself some Casoncelli Bergamaschi (meat-stuffed pasta with butter and sage) from neighborhood favorite Belotti Ristorante and crack a bottle of this magnetic Oddero nebbiolo. You can thank me later.

With spring on our minds, there’s a glimmer of hope that the temporary existence near a salty sea is real, and not too far off in the distant future. And so we dream of Rías Baixas, the mystical, fjord-like land in far northwestern Spain, just above the Portuguese border.

With its rugged shoreline, juxtaposed with pristine forests, this coastal zone is so appealing on a number of levels. Notably, it’s home to some of the great white wines of western Europe. The Rías Baixas Denominación de Origen (DO) lies within the region of Galicia, centered around the province of Pontevedra. It is believed that its signature albariño grape was first introduced to the area in the 12th century by the Cistercian monks.

Deep, cold-water currents are the reason Galician seafood is so renowned, and albariño, the most important white grape cultivated here, is truly a harmonious match with the salinity and richness of North Atlantic seafood. The deep estuaries of the Rías Baixas are filled with an abundance of sea creatures and acres of oyster beds teeming with life! The soils here for viticulture are predominantly granitic and sandy.

The albariño grape has steadily been gaining traction with consumers thanks to its versatility at the table–and its downright delicious flavor profile. Albariño’s high natural acidity and saline qualities are a couple of the reasons it marries so well with the full gamut of seafood, as well as pork or chicken dishes.

Try either the 2020 Granbazan ‘Etiqueta Verde’ or the 2020 Carballal ‘Sete Cepas’ with crispy fish tacos to experience the zippier, more chiseled style of albariño. We’ve also been enjoying the 2020 Nanclares ‘Dandelion,’ a wonderful, biodynamic choice that highlights the herbal side of the grape. Think grilled mackerel smothered in salsa verde.

Then there’s Do Ferreiro. They farm a dizzying array of small plots of albariño, with both old and young vines, to create its 2019 Do Ferreiro Rías Baixas. This reference-point bottling has a bit more depth and plushness than the others, as well as more white fruit. This is likely a result of the high percentage of old vines that go into this cuvée. The grapes get a cold soak before indigenous yeasts start off the fermentation, and the juice then gets six months of lees aging. Try this with a richly flavored pork stew, grilled pork with fruit, or even a paella that might have a variety of seafoods as well as chorizo.

For an extraordinary albariño experience, grab a bottle of the elegant and complex 2018 Do Ferreiro ‘Dous Ferrados.’ Only two 500-liter barrels are produced of this hand-picked, cooler-climate cuvée. 

The landscape, culture, and natural bounties of Rías Baixas have a lot to offer those looking for an escape or a discovery off the beaten path. Its calming simplicity will surely fulfill many of our daydreams as we search for a less frenetic existence.

“Where are your pinot grigios?” It’s a common question we get at the shop, and understandably so. After all, pinot grigio has become the world’s most popular white-wine varietal, and there are certainly many to admire–in the crisp, clean, straightforward style of Elena Walch and in the traditional, skin-fermented “ramato” style preferred by Elisabetta Foradori and others.

 

While we are quite happy to carry these two excellent examples of pinot grigio, we always feel a pang of hopefulness that the customer might discover the wonderful, wide world of Italian white wines beyond pinot grigio. From the Alps in the north to Sicily at the tip of the boot, Italy produces some of the world’s most exciting and distinctive white wines.

Here are a handful of affordable, versatile, and delicious Italian whites worth discovering:

2020 ColleStefano Verdicchio di Matelica

This is one of the best-selling wines in the shop, because just about everyone who tastes it comes back for more. From organic, high-elevation, cool-climate vineyards in Le Marche on the Adriatic coast, these are focused, vibrant wines, with nice minerality and refreshing, lively acidity.

2020 Aia dei Colombi Falanghina del Sannio

What a great value this wine is! Thanks to its clean, citrusy fruit, a saline mineral note, and a pretty, lifted finish, I will put this Campania falanghina up against any similarly priced ($16) pinot grigio on the market.

2020 Centopassi Giato Bianco

These organic grapes are grown on land reclaimed from the Mafia near the area of Corleone. (The estate name is derived from the 2000 film I Cento Passi, or One Hundred Steps.) The Giato Bianco is 60 percent grillo and 40 percent catarratto, and it offers generous fruit with enough zip in the finish to balance it. What I love about this wine (along with the under-$20 price tag) is that you can sense both the warm days and cool nights of these Sicilian vineyards (1,800 feet above sea level).

2018 Vigneti Massa Timorasso ‘Derthona’

Amazingly, timorasso, now being recognized as one of the potentially greatest white grapes in Italy, was nearly extinct before Walter Massa made a point of saving it and producing superlative examples. Timorasso, in the hands of a master like Massa, has an attractive, slightly oily texture, but with ample acidity–rich but firm. These wines make for surprisingly successful food pairings. Try it with Asian fare.

2018 Guido Marsella Fiano di Avellino

Many Italian wine aficionados believe Fiano di Avellino to be Italy’s supreme white wine, and I would have to agree. We always offer an extensive range of them, so they are pretty accessible for discovery. I love the Marsella for its gorgeous texture, its expressive notes of volcanic terroir, and a snappy finish that holds together all of the exotic, intense flavors.

At Paul Marcus Wines, we’ve always been staunch proponents of Italian whites. Stop by the shop to discover the world beyond pinot grigio.

Etna is a special wine region. Actually, it is a magical region in many ways and has so much to offer beyond wine. Much of my interest and affection for Etna is due to Ciro and Stef Biondi, who were gracious enough to take me in for the 2018 harvest. In fact, the Biondi family (alongside Marc de Grazia, the Benanti family, and the late Andrea Franchetti) deserves much credit for Etna’s winemaking revival.

Mount Etna, the largest volcano in Europe, is located on the island of Sicily in the province of Catania, and Etna wines are grown on the slopes of the volcano. Locals often refer to Mount Etna as Mongibello (“beautiful mountain” in Sicilian dialect) or, simply, Mamma Etna. Mongibello also happens to be the scientific term referring to the most current layer of ash and lava caused by Etna’s eruptions dating from 15,000 years ago to the present day.

The History

Etna has been a central hub for quality wine production and research for longer than we realize. By the 13th century, Etna had established wineries or “commanderies” that were tended to by the Knights Hospitaller. These men were barons of the Catholic Crusades, and established themselves in the area for centuries.

The winemaking tradition persisted, and in the 18th century, the powerful and well-traveled Spitaleri family brought back French winemaking techniques. For generations, the family practiced these newer methods, elevating the otherwise high-yielding Etna vines to a status that rivaled Champagne and Bordeaux. This assertion is not an exaggeration; in the 1800s, this Etna family would bring back first-place prizes for their sparkling wines, outdoing their French counterparts at world expositions and trade fairs.

Etna’s reputation as a quality wine-producing area, with old-vine production on volcanic soils, blew up in the early 2000s. (Appropriate imagery, right?) It happened fast, and all at once. Producers have hustled to keep up with the production and quality standards that the export market continues to ferociously demand.

Despite its recent success, Etna is still an experimental hub. True to the region’s history, present-day winemakers experiment with different vinification and maturation methods–often with “minimal intervention,” a term that has become synonymous with the natural wine movement.

The Land

The region’s soils are … volcanic. Seems obvious, but what is not so obvious is that a volcano releases a different mineral, rock, and gas composition every time it erupts. Mamma Etna is still active and erupts often, naturally fertilizing the entire Etna area. Etna is also classified as a stratovolcano, which means it is a conical volcano, built up by many layers or “strata” that scientists date and name. After more than 100,000 years of eruptions from different volcanic systems, one can only imagine just how complex the Etna geology is. Despite its natural mystery, there are some specific clues when we taste Etna wines that lead us to certain zones of the volcano.

The three major classifications of Etna’s volcanic history are the Ellittico, Mongibello, and the Milo systems. Ellittico is the oldest of the three, encompassing eruptions from more than 15,000 years ago. Being older, these Ellittico soils are typically under the younger Mongibello strata. There are, however, some areas where the Ellittico soil is exposed: Randazzo in the north and Biancavilla in the south. Wines from vines grown on Ellittico in the north tend to be higher-toned, or “nervy,” meaning that the acid is higher, the fruit brighter, and the minerality more pronounced. Wines from Ellittico in the south have a similar mineral depth and energy, but are more concentrated in fruit–the sun favors the south side, and the vines pump out extra-ripe grapes.

The Etna DOC was established in 1968. It’s surprising it has not yet reached DOCG (Denominazione di Origine Controllata e Garantita) status because of its ever-growing reputation and demand for the wine. It could happen–the Etna Consorzio in the last few years has already taken strides to regulate production, and there has been some buzz of “upgrading” the denomination. For now, it remains a Denominazione di Origine Controllata. The production zone also has altitude delimitations (400-1000 meters above sea level), and a winemaker producing an Etna Rosso can only use grapes that are grown within this altitude range.

The Grapes

Etna has always been home to an assortment of grape varietals (some of which certain winemakers are committed to cultivating despite the fact that they cannot make the wine under the Etna DOC label). Etna, like the rest of Sicily and the Mediterranean, has a multi-cultural heritage, so it is not uncommon to find, say, grenache (brought over by the Aragons) still growing on its slopes.

Today, the mainstay red grape of Etna is nerello mascalese, even though this grape doesn’t show up in historical documents until the 18th century (where it is referred to as “negrello”). The late mention is probably due to the fact that the peasant population cultivated this varietal and had virtually no access to the historical record. Nerello produces stylish, complex wines with brilliant fruit, notable freshness, and a mineral edge. Carricante, the leading white grape, makes dry, structured wines with flinty, herbal notes.

At Paul Marcus Wines, we’ve been Etna aficionados from the beginning, and we continue to enjoy long, thriving relationships with a number of the region’s top producers. Benanti, with vineyards to the north, south, and east of the volcano, creates wines of tremendous finesse and refinement. Graci, in contrast, tends to offer wines of great concentration and depth. Then there’s Girolamo Russo, a producer who offers the best of both worlds. Finally, we have Marc de Grazia’s Terre Nere, one of the pioneers of the Etna renaissance.

Thanks to the versatility of the grapes, the diversity of winemaking styles, and distinctive terroir, Etna wines are quite well-suited to a wide range of foods and personal palates. To learn more about these Burgundian-style, elegant, and age-worthy wines, visit us at the shop.

— Emilia Aiello

Sometimes, there’s just no convincing the people. Though sherry is a relatively recent discovery for me, I’ve been singing its praises for more than a decade–with little success. I hear all the familiar refrains: “My grandmother used to love her $6 sherry,” or “Who are you, Frasier Crane?” That’s fine–more for me.

 

A solera at Bodegas César Florido

Made primarily from the palomino grape, grown on a chalky, limestone-laden type of soil known as “albariza,” sherry is an incredibly versatile and nuanced type of wine. Its homeland is Jerez (hence the name sherry), located on the Atlantic coast in Spain’s southwestern Andalusia region. Sherry can be mellow and easygoing, sharp and bracing, and everything in between. Some are as friendly and relaxed as an old dog; some have enough power and intensity to send ol’ grandma into cardiac arrest.

Sherry is produced using what’s known as a solera system, in which barrels are stacked in tiers to allow for fractional, cross-vintage blending. When the older stuff at the bottom is removed for bottling (a process called the “saca”), it is replaced at the top by the latest vintage.

The lightest, driest, and tangiest sherries are fino and manzanilla, which spend their aging regimen under a layer of yeast known as “flor” (a process known as biological aging). Amontillado and palo cortado begin life as a fino or manzanilla, but are allowed to oxidize after the yeast dies or is killed off by fortification–a combination of biological and oxidative aging– imparting a nuttier, more caramel-like tone while still retaining tang and freshness. Oloroso sherries are fully oxidative (no yeast) and are rich with toffee and dried fruit flavors, yet still mostly dry. Finally, there are sweet sherries made with grapes such as Pedro Ximénez (PX) and moscatel.

The three poles of the Sherry Triangle are Sanlúcar de Barrameda to the north (home to manzanilla), Jerez de la Frontera to the east, and El Puerto de Santa Maria to the south. At Paul Marcus Wines, we are proud to feature sherry producers from throughout the region (and even a couple that are technically outside the triangle).

Up in Sanlúcar, the venerable Bodegas Hidalgo-La Gitana has been making sherry since the 18th century. Their budget-friendly, young Amontillado Napoleon is bright and dry, with subtle hazelnut notes and a long, clean finish. For a special occasion, try the Amontillado Napoleon VORS, which is pungent, mouth-filling, and caramelized, yet still surprisingly focused and floral for a wine aged well more than 30 years. We also have the Wellington Palo Cortado VOS, a sophisticated 20-year sherry that, despite its age, never lets you forget it started out as a manzanilla–it’s sharp, salty, creamy, and nutty all at once, and a reasonably priced entry point into the world of high-end sherry.

Bodegas Faustino González was founded 50 years ago, but its Cruz Vieja line is a newcomer on the sherry scene. The winery is located in the San Miguel neighborhood of Jerez de la Frontera, where the higher elevation invites the Atlantic breezes in from the west. They source their grapes from the historic Pago de Montealegre vineyard, and they own soleras that date back nearly 250 years.

All of the Cruz Vieja sherries are bottled “en rama” (unfiltered), including a delightfully complex, persistent, and mineral Fino En Rama, aged under flor for six years, and a lightly toasted, elegant, amber-hued Amontillado En Rama, which spends six years under flor plus another six aging oxidatively. Their Palo Cortado En Rama spends only the first of its 12 aging years under the veil, but still exemplifies their lighter touch and commitment to freshness. For a completely different experience, their Pedro Ximénez En Rama is raisiny and sweet as molasses, yet is also highlighted by a few spicy, savory notes. Pour this one over a bowl of vanilla ice cream.

Around since 1896, Bodegas Lustau remains one of the best-known and most-respected sherry producers in the world, offering a wide selection of bottlings. At PMW, we offer two from their Almacenista collection–sherries that come from small, independent producers. The Fino del Puerto González Obregón is a salty, citrusy, and edgy five-year fino from a bodega in El Puerto de Santa Maria, while the Oloroso Emperatriz Eugenia, from a solera in Jerez de la Frontera started by Emilio Lustau in 1921, is rich, woody, dark, and robust, ripe with dried fruit yet still mostly dry.

From El Maestro Sierra, which dates back to 1830, we offer a 15-year Oloroso, which balances its richness with a few higher-toned elements. We also have a few bottles left of some of El Maestro Sierra’s most prized releases: the 70-plus-year-old Palo Cortado and the Oloroso 1/14–wines of tremendous electricity and complexity. In addition, there are a couple of VORS (Very Old Rare Sherry, more or less) bottlings from Osborne, the Oloroso Sibarita and the Pedro Ximénez Venerable. Like the two high-end offerings from El Maestro Sierra, these offer unique, once-in-a-decade drinking experiences that will make you wonder how grape juice can be made to taste that way.

From outside the official Sherry Triangle, we have wines from Chipiona’s César Florido. Chipiona, located five miles west of Sanlúcar, is known for moscatel, a grape that produces sweet wines (though not to the level of PX) balanced with some acidity and gentle fruit and spice elements. Florido’s Moscatel Dorado is a great introduction, with its notes of orange peel and honey. Florido’s Fino Cruz del Mar is a three-year en rama fino that is quite dry, yeasty, and smoky–bright, but laid-back.

Bodegas Alvear can be found in Montilla, about two-and-a-half hours to the east of the Sherry Triangle. PX is king in Montilla-Moriles, and Alvear’s Oloroso Asunción is made with sugar-filled PX instead of palomino. Fermented into a welcoming off-dry style (19 percent alcohol, without any fortification), it combines sumptuous dried figs with a surprisingly lucid and lively finish.

Finally, PMW still has a few options from the Alexander Jules line. Alex Russan had been releasing his barrel-selected sherry since 2012, but recently moved on to other endeavors. Luckily, there are still a few bottles of his Amontillado Sin Prisa 1/42–all culled from a single barrel of a long-forgotten 42-barrel solera in Sanlúcar. Only 400 half-bottles were produced of this vigorous, dynamic, yet unexpectedly polished nectar.

With such an array of producers and styles, there’s a sherry that’s perfect for pretty much every part of the meal. As the old saying goes, “fino or manzanilla if it swims, amontillado if it flies, and oloroso if it runs.” Of course, it can be awfully rewarding as an aperitif or, especially, a digestif–a wine of reflection, if you will. Once you discover the wonders of sherry, trust me, you’ll be hooked.

Just don’t tell anyone else…

Perhaps you’re looking for a singular bottle to dazzle your holiday guests. On the other hand, maybe you want a wine to savor by yourself in quiet reflection, in celebration of the holidays being over. In either case, for the rest of the year Paul Marcus Wines is offering a 15 percent discount on all red Burgundy wines priced at $100 or more. We offer a wide selection of standout wines from some of the world’s most prestigious pinot producers. Amaze your friends and family, or simply treat yourself after a long year.

In addition, we’ve extended our sale on all large-format bottles through the end of December! Get 15 percent off any magnum-sized (or even larger-format) bottle; receive 20 percent off if you buy two or more. Perfect for a last-minute gift. And remember: 1500 is the new 750.

Speaking of last-minute gift ideas, might you consider a membership in the PMW Wine Club? The PMW Wine Club offers three different courses, each at the same price of $75 per month, plus tax (and shipping, if required). Delight the wine lover in your life!