A customer recently threw me for a loop. His brother, he said, insisted there was no reason to prefer “organic” wine because there was no Scientific Evidence that any effect on your health would ensue from doing so. This represents a basic and common misunderstanding. As was said in an Outer Limits episode many years ago: “Your ignorance makes me ill and angry.” Grrr.

Ferdinando Principiano overlooks his domain

I recently asked Ferdinando Principiano, a noted Piemonte producer, why he switched to organic practices 20 years ago. He had already shown us a native flower that had re-appeared on his property, and nowhere else, after 10 years of careful stewardship. He talked about the stream that he used to catch fish in as a boy that no longer supported fish and how determined he was to change that. And he also said there were days, when he finished spraying pesticides, that he would come home and throw up, not to mention the headaches and his trouble breathing.

*****

Not long ago, I spent the day at a friend’s house in Sonoma Valley. The property is bordered by an olive grove and a vineyard. It’s ridiculously nice. Bucolic. But he took me aside and said that sometimes, at 4 in the morning, he sees people in hazmat suits spray the vineyard. Not bucolic. (I wondered how much of the decision to spray at that time was concern over leaf burn and how much was “optics.”) Of course, in California, the owner of the vineyard hires laborers to do the dirty work, so he or she will never experience what Ferdinando personally experienced, and therefore, may never have a similar “aha moment.”

I don’t think it’s likely that the probably minute amounts of pesticide and herbicide and fungicide residue that transfer from “conventionally made” wine to the consumer would have an effect on a person’s health. At least not compared to the shrink-wrapped, processed meat we’re cooking on our Teflon skillets. (Add your own examples ad nauseam…) But that’s not the whole story.

*****

We asked Ferdinando why he doesn’t draw attention to his costly and labor-intensive farming on his wine labels. He said he didn’t want to say organic is good and conventional practices were bad because that would insult his parents. Because his parents had not practiced organic farming; because they couldn’t afford to. As we heard from many in the Langhe region in Italy, Ferdinando said his grandfather’s generation was really poor. Until very recently, grape growers had to sell their grapes to the highest bidder–and the bidding was rigged against them.

When you go fully organic, your yield per acre falls dramatically. (This is a serious and not romantic aspect of organics.) If you can’t get more money per ton of fruit, you’re simply slashing your income while increasing your labor. Being able to farm organically requires buyers who are willing to pay more for it. Ferdinando knows how lucky he is to live in a period where he can farm this way: “I have this good fortune, and I must do something to merit it.”

There are so many farmers like Ferdinando–in Italy, in America, everywhere–that want to farm without the chemicals that require hazmat suits, that want their kids to be able to safely eat the fruit and sniff the flowers in their backyard vineyards, and we live in a time where they can.

Let me let you in on a little secret: It’s getting hot out there. As climate change wreaks havoc on our world in significant ways, it’s also messing with our expectations about wine, and presenting ample challenges to winemakers across the globe. Look no further than the wines of Beaujolais.

Overall, the 2020 vintage in Beaujolais was a relatively smooth ride despite intense heat and is considered an excellent vintage in many respects. It is a “more” vintage, to be sure–high yields, dense, concentrated fruit, and loads of acidity. And yet, while there are numerous fine examples of 2020 Beaujolais, even some of the finest bottles lack the defining lift and focus we’ve come to expect from the region. In other words, many of the wines are good, even great, when looked at in a vacuum of sorts, but they just don’t taste like, you know, Beaujolais.

In contrast, the 2019 vintage was a roller-coaster ride of frost, heat, and hail that severely cut into yields and generally made life difficult for growers. But despite all of that, the 2019 Beaujolais harvest produced wines of great elegance, charm, and complexity with the mineral edge and buoyancy we anticipate from the terroir.

Anthony Thevenet worked with Beaujolais legends such as Georges Descombes and Jean Foillard before setting his own path. Thevenet truly knocked it out of the park with his 2019 Morgon Vieilles Vignes. The fruit for this cuvee comes from a mix of 70-year-old vines located in Douby (in the northernmost part of Morgon) and in Corcelette. These are sandy plots that give the resulting wine a certain finesse and refinement, yet the age of the vines delivers great depth as well.

A balanced, well-integrated wine is like a finely tuned orchestra: There are a lot of different instruments playing, but you don’t hear them individually–it’s a mellifluous sound, not a cacophony of competing elements. The 2019 Morgon Vieilles Vignes is a perfect example of this. The bright, bold blend of red, blue, and black fruit is perfectly balanced by ample acidity and minerality and a few floral and savory notes as well. It’s not a light wine, per se, but it still offers grace and precision. It’s not particularly natty or funky, and yet I wouldn’t necessarily call it “clean” either. All in all, it’s a true stunner that certainly wouldn’t mind a few more years in the cellar.

As always, winemaking remains a tricky balancing act between imparting a producer’s style and philosophy and letting nature do its thing. Climate extremes present more tests for the winemaker, but thanks to ever-evolving winemaking techniques and the knowledge and experience gained over the last decade, the best producers are able to maintain regional characteristics and typicity while still, in effect, taking what nature gives them. Anthony Thevenet has mastered the trick with this terrific bottling.

This beautiful 300-hectare estate in Castelnuovo Berardenga, the southernmost of the Chianti Classico zones, has long been one of the great wine producers in all of Tuscany. The estate (with 54 hectares devoted to vineyards) is owned and led by the formidable Principessa Coralia Pignatelli della Leonessa, with whom I had the good fortune to have lunch with several years back. She is as elegant and charming as you might expect and has a great sense of humor. She got a big kick out of the old joke we told her: “How do you make a small fortune in the wine business? Begin with a large fortune.”

Castell’in Villa produces traditionally made Chianti Classico from 100 percent sangiovese, fermented in stainless steel using indigenous yeasts and then aged for two-to-three years in large barrels before bottling. They produce classic, extremely age-worthy wines, yet they are wines that never come across as being severe in their youth.

The 2018 is an absolute gem, beautifully balanced with deep cherry fruit, sandalwood, licorice, and the typical earthy, forest-floor notes of the Berardenga zone.

Principessa Coralia Pignatelli della Leonessa

This vintage has produced a great bottle to drink now with just about anything–meats, poultry, pasta, eggplant parmigiana, I could go on. It’s a lovely and generous wine, a bit more forward than the 2016 and a little less fleshy and ripe than the 2017. But the ’18 is so balanced and harmonious, with good structure, that it will no doubt age gracefully for many years, as do nearly all Chianti Classico wines from Castell’in Villa. Don’t miss it.

Let’s face it: Words like “charm” and “finesse” are not often used to describe aglianico wines. The thick-skinned aglianico grape, which thrives in the warmer climes of Southern Italy, produces wines known for their concentrated dark fruit, robust tannins, and earthy richness. These bottles usually need several years (decades?) to open up, and even then, they can still be knotty, powerful beasts that favor intensity over balance.

However, if you dig a little deeper, you can find aglianico wines that temper that inherent muscle with complex, appealing elements of tobacco, spice, and underbrush. Factor in the grape’s naturally high acidity and the mineral notes imparted from the region’s volcanic soil, and it’s easy to see how–at its best–aglianico can reach heights that few other grapes can achieve.

The slopes of Monte Vulture, an extinct volcano in Basilicata

The two most significant appellations for aglianico are Taurasi, which is about an hour or so east of Naples in the hills of Campania, and Aglianico del Vulture, with its vineyards on the slopes of Monte Vulture in mountainous Basilicata. Generally speaking, Taurasi wines tend to be a bit more vigorous and Vulture wines a tad more restrained–sort of like the Barolo vs. Barbaresco distinction for Piemontese nebbiolo–although there are always exceptions.

At Paul Marcus Wines, we’re fortunate to have a few prime examples of aglianico that find an attractive balance between power and elegance. Let’s start with the 2015 San Martino Aglianico del Vulture Superiore ‘Kamai’–about as graceful and light on its feet as aglianico gets. Made from 60-to-70-year-old vines from a single plot at an altitude of nearly 2,000 feet, this wine undergoes a two-month maceration and ages in wood for about a year before resting in bottle for at least three years. Boasting gorgeous vibrant fruit and loads of acidity, the San Martino feels almost Burgundian in style. (Unfortunately, we only have a few bottles left of this dazzling gem.)

Also from the Basilicata side, we have the 2019 Fucci Aglianico del Vulture ‘Titolo.’ Elena Fucci produces just this one cuvee from her vineyard more than 2,000 feet up in the Titolo lava channel, with most of the vines planted in the 1950s. After a manual harvest, the juice undergoes malolactic fermentation in 100 percent new French oak barrels. Herbaceous and savory, with notes of black tea and exotic spice, this wine will certainly benefit from a few more years of cellaring, but it’s already highly enjoyable (after a bit of decanting) with, say, a hearty bowl of pasta with pancetta, shallots, and sage leaves.

Finally, we have a couple of superb bottlings from Taurasi’s Michele Perillo, coming from some of the highest-elevation vines in the area. The 2010 Perillo Taurasi offers tannic brawn and deep, dark fruit with a freshness and vivacity that you get from the high-altitude vines. Better still is the 2009 Perillo Taurasi Riserva, which is made from Perillo’s best lots of fruit. This wine is softer, rounder, smoother, and more voluptuous than its counterpart, yet still delivers incredible energy and liveliness. These two jewels sell for about half the price of a Barolo of similar quality, and they will sing beautifully with all manner of roasted or braised red meats.

Though nebbiolo and sangiovese rule the roost of Italian red wine, these fine offerings prove that, in the hands of talented winemakers, aglianico can certainly hang with the big boys.

Juan Francisco Fariña Pérez–JuanFra to people who know him well–is making some of the most exciting wines on the Canary Islands. His winery is located in Arafo, which is in northeastern Tenerife and serves as the hub of the Valle de Güímar DO. JuanFra calls his wine project Los Loros, named for the laurel shrubs that inhabit the upper elevations of the Valle de Güímar.

Farming in these parts is primarily conventional, but JuanFra favors a more holistic approach, while practicing organic and incorporating some biodynamic methods. The vines that JuanFra cultivates are primarily listán blanco and albillo criollo, located adjacent to the winery. Other vineyard sources higher up the mountainside offer an array of local varietals, with varying elevations up to 1,400 meters. The terrain in this neck of the woods is mostly volcanic sand, with some clay and limestone dotted in and around; abundant sunshine is moderated by the cooling Atlantic trade winds.

JuanFra’s winemaking philosophy delivers wines that are gorgeously pure and elegant expressions of these indigenous varietals, without being too serious (or reductive). Whole clusters when fermenting reds? Check. Gentle pressings and very minimal, if any, SO2 additions? Check. We all should strive to drink more wines like these going forward.

His 2020 Los Loros Listán Negro comes from 40-50-year-old vines at altitudes ranging from 700 to 1,300 meters. This wine spends a relatively short few months in old wood, and it shines brightly, with a savory salinity accompanying its smooth tannins and spicy red fruit. Time to char some broccoli and grill some sausages!

The 2019 Los Loros Listán Blanco de Canarias hails from two separate parcels, about 30 to 40 years old, and it offers a wonderful mix of fruit and volcanic minerality that screams for fried fish, or any richly flavored wonder of the sea for that matter.

Other Canary Island producers we carry here at Paul Marcus Wines include Suertes del Marqués, whose 2017 Vidonia cuvee, made from ungrafted listán blanco, will remind you of a top-notch white burgundy with its impeccable balance of fruit, minerality, structure, and length. Then there’s the 2019 Envinate Taganan Tinto, a benchmark field blend perfect for anyone who’s curious about Canary Islands wines, and a kaleidoscopic vision of what red varietals can produce from this volcanic terroir. Finally, we have the 2019 Envinate Taganan Margalagua Tinto, an exceptional wine that comes from a steep, very special single centenarian parcel that includes a dizzying assortment of red varietals. Subtle and saline, it’s a unique bottling to say the least.

To learn more about the stimulating, progressive wines of the Canary Islands, please come and visit us at the shop.

Dominique Lafon, the legendary Burgundy producer, must’ve raised a few eyebrows when he invested in the Mâconnais more than two decades ago. What would inspire a winemaking superstar based in Meursault–one of the most prized villages in Burgundy and all the world–to venture south into this decidedly second-rate region? Lafon trusted his instincts, and it turns out that, as usual, he knew what he was doing.

Perhaps more than anyone, Lafon, along with longtime winemaker Caroline Gon, helped restore and resuscitate the reputation of Mâcon chardonnay. Once known more as a consolation prize for those who couldn’t afford “real” Burgundy, the Mâconnais today produces wines of prestige and pedigree while still offering great opportunities for the value-driven consumer. Look no further than the wines of Les Héritiers du Comte Lafon, which Dominique Lafon founded in 1999.

 

With no oak influence, loads of bright acidity, and a steely, sleek minerality, you might mistake the 2020 Mâcon-Milly-Lamartine for a Chablis…until you get that pop of ripe orchard fruit and lemon curd that tells you this is, indeed, Mâcon. Lafon gets most of the grapes–all biodynamic–from his highest-elevation vineyard in the region, with nearly 40-year-old vines at an altitude of 350 meters.

An amazing combo of palate-cleansing freshness and deep, complex fruit, this would pair extremely well with pan-seared chicken breast in a white wine, shallot, and cream sauce. And at just over 30 bucks, it offers Burgundian brilliance at an attractive price.

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.

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.