There’s this phrase that always bugs me, and I find it all over wine bottles and web pages: “Winemaker XYZ believes that wine should be made in the vineyard…” Really? Then why’d you spend all that dough on the winery? So why pay attention to the “winemaker” when we could talk to the vineyard manager? Are they really denigrating their own profession?

No, they don’t mean that. They mean it’s preferable to have grape juice that’s already got all its elements in balance than it is to have grape juice that needs some “adjusting” in the winery–that having to “correct” your numbers in the laboratory isn’t the optimal approach to making great wine. When they write, “Great wine is made in the vineyard,” they’re saying the vineyard produces grapes so perfect that no fancy laboratory winemaking trickery is necessary.

Then you wonder: Surely, that is so uncontroversial it hardly needs mentioning, but it must warrant mentioning if so many do. And perhaps it is because the vast majority of wine made in the world is made the opposite way. With non-artisan wine, the grapes are just raw material that will be broken apart and adjusted as desired. If farming costs can be lowered, great; any shortcomings in the grapes can be corrected later. (The horror…) Industrial production may be necessary, but we should be very thankful that we have, and have access to, handmade wines from all over the world, including right nearby.

At PMW, we get to taste a lot of extremely fine syrah. We have many examples from the great sites of the Northern Rhone valley, the ancient terraced granitic slopes that produce Côte-Rôtie, Cornas, Saint-Joseph, and more. Against this standard, it’s a challenge for a Californian wine to stand out and make a claim for itself–in terms of excellence and value.

Right now, we have two local expressions of syrah that I’d like to highlight, wines that hold their own against any made elsewhere. They are beautifully ripe, “pop” with black fruit and earth aromatics, and coat the palate and linger. And both come in at less than 13 percent alcohol, which means they were farmed with intention and a sure hand. Neither relies on hidden sugar, or oak, or any “additions.” There’s no winemaking trick here, just really good fruit.

Jolie-Laide has established itself as one of California’s premier (tiny) wineries. Their wines are made in small quantities, and the demand for them is strong, so we don’t get much to sell. Their 2018 Halcón Vineyard syrah, from 2600 feet up in the Yorkville Highlands AVA in Mendocino, is a beauty. At 12.5 percent alcohol, it offers texture, flavor, and weight that would delight even a crusty Frenchman.

Jolie-Laide being excellent isn’t shocking; they’ve now got a 10-year track record. Newcomer Darling Wines, however, is a surprise. The 2019 Flocchini syrah, made in the southern portion of the Petaluma Gap AVA, not far from San Pablo Bay and in the path of constant winds, is a baffling wine. It’s one thing to get perfumed voluptuous fruit (that’s easy in this state); it’s another to have your wine come in at 11.9 percent alcohol, with all the virtues that brings. (That lightness encourages another glass.) It’s really a treat to get both in the same wine.

These two wines prove California can grow great grapes (syrah included) and put them in the hands of thoughtful winemakers.

Whether you’re looking to enhance your Valentine’s Day dinner or simply toast with a loved one, Paul Marcus Wines has a range of sparkling wines from which to choose. Here are a few of our favorite bubbly bottles.

Filipa Pato & William Wouters ‘3B’ Extra Bruto Rosé (Portugal – $18)
Portuguese native winegrower Filipa Pato and Belgian chef/sommelier/restaurateur William Wouters are both wife and husband and partners in wine in the central Portuguese region of Bairrada. This lovely sparkling rosé is a blend of local Bairrada varieties baga and bical (hence the name of the wine) made in the Traditional (i.e., Champagne) Method. It’s their Valentine to all of us: affordable, delicious, and bone dry.




Antica Casa Scarpa Spumante Brut Rosé (Italy – $21)
Piemonte in Northwest Italy is not the first place that comes to mind for sparkling wines, but here we are: a creamy yet dry, easygoing yet distinctive spumante made from the rare local variety albarossa. Marvel at the sexy, pale-salmon color and the minimalist, elegant label–then pop, pour, and love.





Kobal Blaufränkisch Bajta Pét Nat Rosé (Slovenia – $24)
For you kinkier couples, here’s an unfiltered, cloudy pétillant-naturel (fizzy from fermentation finishing in the bottle). If just saying “Blaufränkisch Pét Nat” gets your juices flowing, then this is the Valentine fizz for you. Electric-pink color. Juicy, yeasty, fruity, exuberant; the opposite of serious.





Bénédicte & Stéphane Tissot Crémant du Jura Extra Brut Rosé (France – $34)
Here’s another romance-and-wine couple, carrying on their families’ traditions in the beautiful, pre-Alpine eastern French region of the Jura. Their sparkling rosé is 60 percent pinot noir along with 20 percent poulsard and 20 percent trousseau. It’s a bit darker in color and body than the other wines here–more for the (candlelit) dinner table than the pre-prandial couch. If you lusted over the Albert Finney/Susannah York eating scene in Tom Jones, then this may well be your Valentine wine.




André Clouet Champagne Brut Rosé No. 3 (France – $53)
Yes, this is the choice to really impress your Valentine–or simply to celebrate each other’s love of the best and of each other (not in that order, of course). It’s an all-pinot noir rosé from the aptly named Champagne village of Bouzy, in bubbly and elegant yet still hedonistic form. The wine tastes like the label looks: filigree and fine, opulent and impeccable, Grand Cru and gourmandise.

If you stroll into Paul Marcus Wines with $100 to spend on a bottle, you will walk out with a stunning, perhaps even unforgettable wine. Most customers, of course, don’t have that kind of loot, but fear not. For less than $50, you can certainly find a memorable, first-class wine to savor and appreciate. Next time you need to put an exclamation point on a special occasion or simply satisfy a connoisseur’s high standards, consider these standout wines.

2007 López de Heredia Rioja ‘Viña Tondonia’ Reserva ($49)
The standard-bearer in Rioja, Don Rafael López de Heredia first planted his famed, limestone-rich Tondonia vineyard on the River Ebro more than 100 years ago. This reserva spends about six years in large barrels, plus another handful in bottle before release. The 2007 version–75 percent tempranillo, 15 percent garnacha, and filled out by graciano and mazuelo–is a wine of both depth and subtlety, with finely honed tannins and pleasant notes of tobacco and spice. Aging potential of Tondonia wines is often measured in decades, not years.



2019 Domaine Huet Vouvray Sec ‘Le Mont’ ($47)
There’s a certain charm you find in a Vouvray sec that is difficult to replicate–a balanced richness that seems unique to the chenin blanc of that appellation. Those in the know say that 2019 might be one of the best vintages this venerable producer has ever seen. This bottle is already capable of delivering immense pleasure–steely, stony, and energetic, with only hints of the opulence it will deliver over time. When that lush, waxy fruit comes to life over the next 10 years, watch out!



2019 Girolamo Russo Etna Bianco ‘Nerina’ ($42)
Considered in some circles to be the “Chablis of Sicily,” the Etna Bianco DOC, featuring the carricante grape, produces wines that are dry, racy, and mineral-driven. Russo’s Bianco uses only 70 percent carricante, rounded out by an assortment of Sicilian varieties. Aged on the lees in a combination of steel and wood, the result is textured and intense, yet bright, with a volcanic edge and luxuriously long finish.




2016 Badia a Coltibuono Chianti Classico Riserva ($39)
There is something immediately gratifying about this sangiovese (mostly sangiovese, anyway, as this house, which dates back to 1846, still makes a point of adding a little dash of indigenous Tuscan grapes to the blend). This pretty riserva, which sees two years of oak, doesn’t try to do too much–the oak influence is understated, producing an appealingly red-fruited, medium-bodied wine that displays remarkable freshness and finesse.




Hidalgo Wellington Palo Cortado VOS ($38)
Without a doubt, this is one of the best values we’ve found in the world of fine sherry. Although the VOS label indicates a 20-year sherry, its average age is probably closer to 30. What I love about this refined palo cortado is that, despite its long oxidative aging, it manages to retain more than just remnants of its former life as a manzanilla. There’s still a sharp, saline tanginess that perfectly complements the nutty, butterscotch elements. Get yourself some jamón Ibérico and Manchego cheese, and you’ll be in business. Or, after dinner, sip it as a “wine of contemplation.”