Several times a day, a customer will come in and ask, “Where do I find Barolo?” And with good reason–Barolo produces some of the world’s greatest wines. These customers have certainly come to the right place, because we do have a large selection of exceptional Baroli.

Rarely, though, does anyone ask to be directed toward our fabulous Barbaresco section. Why is this? For starters, Barbaresco is smaller than Barolo, and far less of it is imported to the U.S. Plus, it hasn’t received as much attention from the public or from wine journalists. This is unfortunate, because Barbaresco can be every bit as marvelous as Barolo, with the added advantages of earlier drinkability and much lower price points.

The Estate of Produttori del Barbaresco, a favorite within the shop.

Barolo and Barbaresco come from the hills of southern Piedmont in a region called the Langhe. Both must be produced using 100 percent nebbiolo. Much like pinot noir, nebbiolo produces elegantly textured, lighter-colored wines that nevertheless have tremendous depth and intensity. Its aromatics are as beautiful and complex as they come, and with incredible contrast. (Famously, descriptions such as “tar and violets” or “rose petals and truffles“ are used in attempts to depict these wines.) They also deliver gorgeous cherry fruit, with notes of licorice and leather.

Just like pinot and sangiovese, nebbiolo can thrive in a number of different zones, each with its own distinct vibe. But, as with those other two grapes, its most noteworthy achievements usually come from just a couple of modestly sized areas. In this case, that means Barbaresco and Barolo. If you have not experienced much in the way of Barbaresco, by all means treat yourself to a few examples.

Without over-generalizing, Barbaresco tends to have a little more finesse and a little less power and tannin than Barolo. It is more closely aligned to the softer wines of La Morra in Barolo than those of, say, Serralunga. At Paul Marcus Wines, we offer wines from some of the top Barbaresco producers. There are the great traditionalists like Produttori del Barbaresco, which is finally getting the acclaim it’s long deserved, and La Ca’ Nova, whose wines represent insane values, with offerings from the grand-cru-level vineyards Montestefano and Montefico for prices below those of even entry-level Barolo. There are the beautifully elegant, polished wines of Sottimano and Musso, as well as gems like Poderi Colla, Serafino Rivella, and Cascina delle Rose. For well under $50 a bottle, you can experience some magnificent wines from this amazing enclave.

Lest I shortchange the “king” Barolo, I should mention that we currently have very small amounts of some of the most impressive and hardest-to-find Baroli, from esteemed producers such as Bartolo Mascarello, Giacomo Conterno, and Giuseppe Mascarello. Please visit us at the shop if you are interested in any of these prized bottlings.

– Joel Mullennix

The hilltop enclave of Montepulciano, located in the Southern Tuscan province of Siena, has a long and storied winemaking history. As with much of Tuscany, sangiovese reigns supreme here (known locally as prugnolo gentile). The historic town, surrounded by vineyards and benefiting from mild Mediterranean weather, produces wines that are capable of reaching the heights of its more recognizable (and, often, more expensive) neighbors, Chianti and Montalcino.

The Vino Nobile di Montepulciano moniker dates back about a century, and in 1980, the appellation became one of the first to receive Italy’s DOCG designation. To qualify for the DOCG, wines must be made of at least 70 percent prugnolo gentile and undergo at least two years of aging (three years for riserva). In the past, Vino Nobile was often considered a midpoint between the brighter, red-fruited Chianti and the darker, more tannic Montalcino offerings, although those generalizations don’t necessarily apply today.

Usually, Vino Nobile wines deliver ample medium-plus structure and bracing acidity, with tannins that are both present and quite polished. (It should be pointed out that wines from this Tuscan region are completely unrelated to wines made in Abruzzo using the montepulciano grape.) Earthy, spicy, and balanced, Vino Nobile can handle everything from hearty roasts and braises to classic tomato-based pastas.

At Paul Marcus Wines, we are currently featuring a number of worthy examples. The stunning 2013 Palazzo Vecchio Vino Nobile di Montepulciano “Maestro” shows a dark ruby color and an enticing floral bouquet typical of high-level sangiovese. Made with 85 percent prugnolo gentile and rounded out with a little canaiolo and mammolo, the Palazzo Vecchio spends at least two years in French oak and six months in bottle before release. The result is an exquisite blend of power and elegance that is entering its prime.

The 2014 Il Macchione Vino Nobile di Montepulciano comes from an estate that dates back to the 18th century; today it’s run by brothers Simone and Leonardo Abram, who took over in 2007. The 2014 Vino Nobile, made from 100 percent prugnolo gentile, is a very pure, stylish expression of sangiovese–tense, mineral-driven, and with just enough dusty grit.

For special occasions, we are pleased to offer two of Il Macchione’s big brothers as well. The 2010 Il Macchione Vino Nobile di Montepulciano Riserva, which sees 40 months in wood of ascending sizes and an added three years of bottle aging, comes from their oldest (and highest-elevation) block. The 2009 Il Macchione Vino Nobile di Montepulciano “SiLeo” cuvee, in its first vintage, is named for the two proprietors and spent 50 months in large 2,500-liter barrels.

Finally, if you’re looking for an introduction to the wines of Montepulciano, the shop also offers the 2018 Gracciano della Seta Rosso di Montepulciano. This young bottling adds a bit of merlot to the mix and is done in a fresher, more accessible style, eschewing oak influence for a sleeker result.

To learn more about the sangiovese-based wines of Montepulciano, please stop by and visit us at Paul Marcus Wines.

Tucked into the far northwest corner of Spain, abutting the Atlantic Ocean, Galicia produces some of the country’s most intriguing and memorable wines. Coastal Rias Baixas, where albariño is king, is perhaps the most prominent of the five DOs located in Galicia, but these days, it’s Ribeiro that’s turning heads in the world of wine.

Image from rimontgo.com

Like a lot of recently “rediscovered” winemaking regions, Ribeiro has an impressive historical pedigree that, over the centuries, has been threatened by the usual trials and tribulations–war, invasion, botanical blight, mass production, etc. But winemaking in Ribeiro dates back about 2,000 years, and has also experienced various periods of prosperity and admiration. Several talented winemakers are today attempting to recapture past glory, and wine connoisseurs are taking notice.

Ribeiro benefits from its specific location within Galicia: Roughly 50 km inland, Ribeiro’s vines are both influenced by and somewhat protected from the ocean climate. Therefore, the wines of Ribeiro tend to be a bit riper and fleshier while still boasting the freshness and acidity generated by the proximity to the Atlantic.

Almost 90 percent of Ribeiro’s wine production revolves around white grapes, most notably treixadura. Balanced and bright, treixadura exemplifies Ribeiro’s unique terroir–it’s vibrant and clean, but with ample fruit, a bit of texture, and keen aromatics.

Among the leading lights of Ribeiro is Luis Anxo Rodriguez Vazquez, who has been making wines in the region for more than 30 years. Included in his lineup are two treixadura-based cuvees, both available at Paul Marcus Wines. Viña de Martin Os Pasás blends treixadura with lado, albariño, and torrontes, and it’s aged in steel on the lees for 10 to 12 months. It makes a perfect match for simply prepared fish and chicken dishes, as well as a variety of hard cheeses. A Teixa adds godello and albariño to its treixadura foundation and spends a year on the lees in large wooden vats. This cuvee partners brilliantly with all manner of shellfish (especially scallops) and full-flavored poultry creations.

 

Another producer working wonders with treixadura is Bodegas El Paraguas, whose estate white blend is mostly treixadura with some godello and albariño. With minimal oak influence (only the godello sees wood), the El Paraguas is a bit more focused than Rodriguez’s blends, and equally as satisfying.

Though mencía has a home in Ribeiro, the rising red star of the DO is brancellao; often relegated to blending status in the recent past, brancellao grapes are capable of making complex, commanding wines that belie their relatively modest body and low alcohol content. It is a grape of contradictions to be sure: elegant and lifted, yet with a brooding, smoky side; dark in color, yet almost transparent at the same time; spicy and mineral, but not without a little tannic impact; expressive and restrained all at once.

Rodriguez makes two brancellao-based cuvees (blended with other indigenous Ribeiro grapes including caiño and ferrol) that have been featured at Paul Marcus Wines: the Eidos Ermos bottling, which combines oak and steel aging, and the slightly sturdier A Torna Dos Pasás, which sees 12 months of used oak. These food-friendly blends can accompany anything from spicy pork dishes to tuna steaks.

We were also lucky enough to get our hands on a few bottles of the single-varietal Dos Canotos Brancellao made by Cume do Avia. A study in finesse, this is a lively, lightly extracted red wine that punches way above its weight and shows that brancellao, when handled with proper care, can even give red Burgundy a run for its money.

As the holidays approach, our thoughts often turn to bubbly, which makes Champagne appreciation a rather important topic this time of year. Last month, in Part I of our Champagne survey, we discussed how to recognize the three major categories of Champagne producers. In Part II, we will now consider the region’s distinct styles and flavor profiles.

Rosé Champagne

What would the world be like without rosé Champagne? In fact, pink champagne was produced in limited quantities until the late 1970s. However, since the 1980s, the demand for rosé Champagne has taken off, and thankfully, it appears there is no turning back. In addition to the gorgeous pink hue that such wines display, the inherently fruitier and more forward style combined with high acidity also make for very food-friendly offerings.

Although the practice of blending red and white wine to produce a “pink” wine is strictly prohibited under regulations elsewhere in France, in Champagne this method is not only allowed, it is the most commonly used method of rosé production. More specifically, winemakers will add somewhere in the range of 8 percent to 20 percent (usually around 15 percent) of a red still wine–often pinot noir from a well-reputed village such as Bouzy.

A second and less utilized method of production is known as saignée. In this case, a Champagne producer basically does what just about every other winemaker in the world does when making a rosé wine: leave the juice on the grape skins and macerate the fruit in order to extract color. After a period of skin contact and maceration, the wine is bled off (in French, the verb saigner means to bleed) and winemaking proceeds.

The resulting rosé wine often exhibits a darker hue, along with juicier, bolder flavors. Some argue that this style of rosé Champagne ages better than those made by adding red wine, because the flavor compounds are more effectively integrated.

Blanc de Blancs

The second style of champagne, referred to as Blanc de Blancs, is composed entirely of white-skinned grapes. In the case of Champagne, this is almost always chardonnay. And while chardonnay is grown throughout the region, some of the finest examples come from the Côte des Blancs.

The Côte des Blancs lies south of the Champagne capital of Épernay and stretches southward more than 20 kilometers. Here, chardonnay reigns supreme, where it is planted to predominantly east-facing vineyard sites. Over the centuries, each grand cru village in the Côte des Blancs has established a reputation or characteristic style: Cramant for its heightened aromatics and bouquet, Avize for its focus and delicacy, Oger for its fine bouquet and raciness, Le Mesnil-sur-Oger for its superior finesse and intensity, and Vertus for its inherent fruitiness and roundness.

In its youth, a Blanc de Blancs can sometimes seem a bit austere or one-dimensional. Fresh citrus, lemon curd, and biscuit are common descriptors. However, with several years of aging, wonderfully complex nuances can develop like toasted bread, grilled hazelnuts, dried flowers, and even salty-savory notes.

Blanc de Noirs

Blanc de Noirs is a (non-rosé) sparkling wine vinified using only red-skinned grapes, which, in the case of Champagne, means pinot meunier and pinot noir. Hardy pinot meunier buds later than chardonnay and pinot noir, and for this reason is most often planted in the more frost-prone areas of the Marne Valley. Meunier-based champagnes will often exhibit more earthy, nutty flavors, along with dried orchard fruits. They pair wonderfully with heartier fare like roasted meats, mushroom-based dishes, and pungent cow’s milk cheeses.

Pinot noir is the variety most often found in Blanc de Noirs. In Champagne, pinot noir generally ripens earlier than chardonnay and pinot meunier and is most often planted in the Montagne de Reims and the Côte des Bar. Providing body, structure, and complexity, pinot noir-based Champagne reaches great heights in the grand cru villages of Bouzy, Ay, and Ambonnay.

A great example of a Blanc de Noirs from the villages of Bouzy and Ambonnay is André Clouet’s Brut Grande Réserve. Terrific shades of red fruits, roasted hazelnuts, and biscuits showcase the opulence and superb balance of this grand cru Champagne.

This delightful bottle (along with dozens of others, spanning every style) is available at Paul Marcus Wines. Come visit us at the shop to learn more about the wonders of Champagne.

Champagne, perhaps more than any other wine region in the world, is recognized for its high-profile luxury brands. Grande Marque (essentially “big brand”) houses like Veuve Clicquot, Moët & Chandon, and Louis Roederer are familiar to just about anyone who has ever celebrated with a bottle of bubbly. However, if one looks more closely, Champagne is comprised of an elaborate infrastructure of grape growers, family-owned wineries, and even cooperatives.

Yet, understanding who makes what, and how, is much easier than one might think. The first step is recognizing the three major categories of producers. All you need to do is look for the fine print on the label; a set of two-letter abbreviations will let you know in which category your Champagne belongs. The three most significant abbreviations are outlined below.

NM (négociant manipulant)

These producers buy fruit from independent growers to produce their wines, although many of them maintain their own vineyard holdings in addition. Most of the larger Champagne houses, including Les Grandes Marques, fall into this category. You can identify a producer as a négociant manipulant by the letters NM written in fine print.

Examples of NM producers in Champagne: Krug, Bollinger, Ruinart, Veuve Clicquot, Perrier-Jouet, Jacquesson, Fleury, Taittinger

An example is Taittinger shown below. Note the term NM in the bottom left-hand corner of the label.

RM (récoltant manipulant)

The wines in this category are commonly referred to as grower-producer Champagne. These producers may only use a maximum of 5 percent purchased grapes in the production of their wines; at least 95 percent must come from their proper vineyard holdings. These bottles will have the letters RM written in fine print.

Examples of RM producers in Champagne: Bruno Michel, Franck Pascal, Georges Laval, Pierre Moncuit, Marie-Courtin, Ulysse Collin

An example is Pierre Moncuit shown below. Note the term RM in the bottom right-hand corner of the label.

Here is another example of an RM producer, Marc Hebrart. Notice the RM designation listed in the middle of the label.

CM (coopérative de manipulation)

A Champagne with the CM abbreviation signifies that a cooperative cellar produced the wine with grapes sourced from its member growers. Perhaps the most famous CM brand is Champagne Nicolas Feuillatte, which sources its grapes from more than 4,500 growers and creates a wide array of blends with fruit from across the region. Note the term CM listed on the label of the brand’s memorable prestige cuvee, Palmes d’Or.

Please keep in mind that these classifications are not qualitative ones. There are great NMs, mediocre CMs, and lackluster RMs. There are also a few other designations to recognize, although they are not often found in the United States.

SR (société de récoltants): This abbreviation refers to an association of grape growers, often family members, who share a winemaking facility, but produce wine under their own labels and are not part of a cooperative.

RC (récoltant coopérateur): An RC producer is a cooperative member who sells a wine produced by the co-op, but under its own name and label.

MA (marque auxiliaire or marque d’acheteur): Essentially, MA signifies a “brand name,” one that is not owned by the grower or producer of the wine, but rather a supermarket, hotel, or restaurant chain. MA brands are commonly referred to as BOBs, or “buyer’s own brand,” as well as “private labels.”

ND (négociant distributeur): A wine merchant who markets Champagne under its own name gets the ND abbreviation.

Now that we’ve discussed the different producer categories, stay tuned for Part II of our Champagne survey, which will consider the distinct flavor profiles offered by wines of the region. In the meantime, visit us at Paul Marcus Wines, where we feature a wide variety of grower-producer Champagne from the likes of Georges Laval, Pierre Moncuit, and Ulysse Collin, as well as offerings from the esteemed NM producer Jacquesson among many others.

There’s a reason why nebbiolo remains one of the most prized grapes of the wine world. Few, if any, varietals can offer its combination of fruit, spice, earth, aromatics, acidity, and tannins–a blend of power and finesse that sends palates dancing.

Of course, the Piemontese DOCGs of Barolo and Barbaresco dominate the nebbiolo market, and why not? These regions produce some of the most enduring and memorable bottles you’re likely to find. However, if you head to the north of Piemonte, in the foothills of the Alps, you’ll discover the wines of Alto Piemonte, which provide more affordable and often more approachable alternatives to the bottlings of its Langhe rivals.

Image from Testimony of a wine junkie

There was a time, a couple or more centuries ago, when Alto Piemonte’s offerings commanded the respect and admiration that Barolo and Barbaresco do now. A one-two punch of phylloxera and fiscal downturn ended its reign as Northern Italy’s supreme red-wine region, but a renaissance that began in the late 1900s has only deepened in recent years, making Alto Piemonte a region worth investigating by nebbiolo lovers.

The typical expression of Alto Piemonte’s wines differs somewhat from that of its Langhe counterparts a couple of hours to the south; the wines of the north tend to be a bit more lithe, highly fragrant with softer (though still prominent) tannins and a well-defined minerality. There are a number of reasons for this distinction. First and foremost is the Alpine weather, which provides an abundance of afternoon sun but is tempered by colder nighttime air–helping to keep all of nebbiolo’s myriad elements in balance.

In addition, while the wines of Barolo and Barbaresco require cépage to be exclusively nebbiolo, the wines of Alto Piemonte allow for nebbiolo to be blended with other local grapes such as vespolina or croatina, which tend to accentuate the higher-toned flavors. There are also differences in soil composition: Alto Piemonte’s terroir is more volcanic in nature, instead of the limestone and clay that feature prominently in the wines of Langhe.

The Alto Piemonte is bifurcated by the Sesia River– Colline Novaresi to the east and Coste della Sesia to the west–and the better-known sub-regions lie directly on the river’s shores. Ghemme, on the right bank, and Gattinara, on the left, are the only two to have attained DOCG status.

Ghemme’s terrain includes more clay and sits at a lower elevation. Therefore its wines often have a fuller body and more pronounced tannins than that of its neighbors. With its volcanic assortment of granite, quartz, and iron, Gattinara produces wines known for their vibrancy and mineral-driven focus.

At Paul Marcus Wines, we are currently featuring the all-nebbiolo 2008 Ca` Nova Ghemme, a wine firmly in its sweet spot. Displaying savory notes of earth and spice at first, this wine is rounded out by fresh acidity and a gentle but noticeable tannic grip. The 2013 Antoniolo Gattinara, also available in the shop, is a lively, graceful rendering that spends 30 months in oak and boasts buoyant red fruits with just enough tannic support. Made with 100 percent nebbiolo, this bottle can easily lie down for another decade.

Other Alto Piemonte appellations worth seeking out include the higher-altitude areas of Boca (east of the Sesia) and Bramaterra (west of the river), as well as low-lying Fara (southeast of Ghemme) and sandy-soiled Lessona, whose wines are among the most supple and polished of the region.

There are also wines that are simply labeled Colline Novaresi or Coste della Sesia, usually lighter, more ephemeral wines intended to be enjoyed young. For an example of this style, look toward the Colombera & Garella Coste della Sesia rosso, a lean, refreshingly limber blend of 70 percent nebbiolo, 15 percent vespolina, and 15 percent croatina. (Bear in mind that this producer keeps output low, so these bottles move quickly.)

Fans of rosé can get in on the Alto Piemonte action, too. You can pick up a bottle of the Antoniolo Bricco Lorella rosato–aromatic, herbaceous, and dry, but with a bit of weight–or maybe Al Posto Dei Fiori by Le Pianelle, which ranks as perhaps the shop’s most full-flavored, complex rosé.

Finally, mention must be made of the tiny Carema DOC. Bordering the Valle d’Aosta and a good 40-plus miles west of the river Sesia, Carema’s terraced, steeply situated vines produce streamlined, gloriously perfumed wines bursting with acidity and propped up by persistent, fine-grained tannins. The big fish in this little pond is Ferrando, whose expression of nebbiolo epitomizes the strength and beauty of Alto Piemonte and, in peak years, can age for 20 years or more. Paul Marcus Wines is fortunate to have the 2013 and 2014 vintages of Ferrando Carema. Get them while you can.


Say the word “Bandol,” and visions of blue-green waters, framed by white rock and graceful Mediterranean pines, immediately come to mind. However, there is more to this zone of Provence than just the Cote d’Azur’s outrageously beautiful coastline. Here, limestone soils, the sun’s generous warmth, and a refreshing coastal climate create an ideal environment for cultivating the late-ripening mourvèdre, Bandol’s flagship grape.

Wine map of Provence showcasing Bandol

Aside from mourvèdre, lighter varieties such as grenache and cinsault–both traditionally associated with Provençal rosés–are also permitted. However, the heavier-hitting mourvèdre grape must still make up at least 50 percent of rouges or rosés (although many producers choose to use more). While Bandol reds can be extremely tannic and take years to open up fully, the same cannot be said of the region’s rosés. Bright, full-flavored, and red-fruited, they deliver an almost decadent seaside pleasure–or simply an evocative sip on a sunny day.

Chateau Val d’Arenc

If you are feeling like you’d like a bit of Bandol rosé in your life, Chateau Val d’Arenc is a good ambassador. Using 80 percent mourvèdre in his blends, winemaker Gérald Damidot practices sustainable viticulture, keeps his yields low, and hand-selects the grapes that make it into the cuvee. With aromas of wild strawberries, watermelon, musk, and a little bit of tannin, this wine would fare well with a fatty fish such as salmon, or an herbed pork or chicken dish.

Domaine du Terrebrune

However, if you prefer something more delicate, grab the Bandol rosé by Domaine du Terrebrune, a favorite at Paul Marcus Wines. This one is lighter in both color and body, with a nose more floral than the d’Arenc version, and a palate that shows more genteel melon flavors.

La Bastide Blanche

Finally, you can reach for a Bandol rosé that is right down the middle, La Bastide Blanche. Neither too heavy nor exceedingly light, this “Goldilocks” wine serves as a great introduction to the rosés of Bandol. La Bastide Blanche also keeps yields low, and its cellar practices are meticulous. The grapes in this cuvee are from a limestone-rich area called Sainte-Anne du Castellet, imparting mineral flavors and bright acidity. With its aromatics of flint and strawberries, and its lingering watermelon flavor, it’s an exemplary expression of the Bandol terroir.

You can find all three of these at Paul Marcus Wines, or just let your mood decide!

Bottles in the cellar at Villa Era, Alto Piemonte

​Excavation

artifact / ärdəfakt /
noun: an object made by a human being, typically an item of cultural or historical interest.

archeology / ärkēˈäləjē /

noun: the study of human history and prehistory through the excavation of sites and the analysis of artifacts and other physical remains.

Experience

Wine can represent many things, like a particular flavor, a palatal experience, the time and efforts of cultivation, or the intellectual design of a product. And we can talk about it in so many ways too, evaluating wines geographically, aesthetically, linearly, horizontally. We use metaphor. We use qualitative biochemical data. We use narrative, and we attach it to a physical object destined for consumption, consume it, and begin to evaluate based on an array of potential methods of inquiry. If we are to treat the appreciation of wine in any academic way, that is to study it, we first must choose the method and scope of inquiry, which for me, particularly regarding older bottles, skews to the archeological.

Throughout my time at Paul Marcus Wines I was fortunate to taste, with some regularity, wines that far surpassed me in age and maturity. Over the past few years I’ve seen a surge in interest, enthusiasm, and availability of more obscure wines like this (18 year-old Sancerre Rouge, 28 year-old Portuguese Arinto, 30 year-old Santa Cruz Cabernet), wines that have taken on the secondary and tertiary characteristics of graceful development. Right away you can recognize acidity and color, defining characteristics of longevity, the ability to stay fresh, and the availability of concentrated fruit. But always, wines like these come with a caveat, a disclaimer of sorts about provenance, about transportation, storage, preservation, the guarantee on untainted products, the artifacts we so casually imbibe. So what can the study (and appreciation) of these agricultural remains signify about history? Perhaps that it inevitably devours itself.

Vineyard at Villa Era, Alto Piemonte

Vineyard at Villa Era, Alto Piemonte

Visiting Piemonte

Last November, I was invited to Italy by the business consortium and viticultural association of Beilla, a small sub-region of the Alto Piemonte, west of Milan and almost to the Alps. It is an absolutely beautiful area, richin chestnuts, risotto, and an earnest wool milling industry. Right now, the region is in the process of redefining itself as a premium growing and production zone for grapes, particularly Nebbiolo. Today about 1,500 hectares of vines are planted in Alto Piemonte, primarily to Nebbiolo, though small amounts of Vespolina, Croatina, Uva Rara and Erbaluce are also planted. In 1900, however, over 40,000 hectares of grapes filled the region, a gross historical disparity which the winemakers there hope to resolve. The cool temperatures, extended sunlight exposure from altitude, latitude, and proximity to the Alps, and the geological event in which a volcano upended a mountain to expose ancient marine soils, all contribute to the severe minerality, acidity, and vivid coloration and red flavor of these Nebbiolo wines. Although the Langhe in the more southern part of Piedmont carries more commercial and critical weight in the industry now, the sheer volume of wine produced in the heyday of Alto Piemonte, and the evaluative quality of that wine, can shed light on both the cultural and natural history of the area. Touring vineyards and wineries, attending a seminar on soil types, tasting recent releases of wines from a dozen Alto Piemontese producers, and eating beautifully from the local farms and tables were all illuminating aspects of the culture and the cuisine and the heritage of the region, but nothing taught me more than tasting through a series of library bottles from four small wineries. It was easily the most personally revealing experience I’ve ever had with wine.

Before the tasting at Villa Era, a tiny producer in midst of laborious reclamation of vineyard sites from a century or so of forest encroachment, we toured the cellars (as we had the previous evening at Castello di Castellengo) to see the dusty, cobwebbed and moldy bottles of mismatched shape and size with tags and decomposing labels that date these artifacts through the past several centuries. These library collections of estate bottlings provide evidence that throughout time the properties yielded a product worth preserving in glass, underground in stable conditions, on the assumption that someday, someone would recognize that this was a fine wine designed to shine for future generations.

Bottles in the cellar at Villa Era, Alto Piemonte

Bottles in the cellar at Villa Era, Alto Piemonte

Experiencing Aged Piemonte

The oldest artifact was a bottle of 1842 Castello di Montecavallo which is almost impossible to describe ingesting other than physical euphoria a, sensation of emotionally charged discovery. To share this piece of completely vibrant, assertive history, with the current generations of folks who farm the same land produced in me this neurological firing where I tried to connect pure sensory experience with the particular circumstance and somehow try to intellectually remember that this wine was deemed over the course of 175 years to be worth preserving, and that this gorgeous and completely unexpected semi-sweet but citric and lively wine five times my age was now going to be absorbed by my body. It felt as though I’d consumed an ephemeral dose of wisdom.

I know that’s hard to qualify. But trying to compare, or at least comprehend, the 1896 Castellengo and 1897 Villa Era was somewhat more grounded. I’d been in these cellars, walked in these vineyards; I was sitting in the building where 120 years earlier one of these wines had probably just finished fermenting, maybe just gone into barrel. One was reddish and slightly tannic, the other golden and slippery, and both were fresh. So you speculate. The grape, the vintage, the design? Two wines made a year apart within ten kilometers of each other and yet so fantastically different. And still with this surreal recognition that these wines were made around the time that my ancestors left Europe to participate in a different history a continent away.

Tasting a pair of wines, 1931 Montecavallo and 1934 Castellengo, I could sense some greater intensity, whether to do with process development or a renewed artisanal concentration in the wines after the industry fallout in the first decade of the 20th Century due to climate and disease, I don’t know. But the Montecavallo, like the 1842, offered a pure, sandy, pear-like quality, and the Castellengo, like the 1896, was denser, richer in color. The 1934 showed great definition as Nebbiolo, herbal, brilliant red, tannic and tough like a the skin of a wizened crabapple, a gorgeous wine and my favorite of the entire tasting.

Modern Respects

The more recent presentations, a 1960 from Villa Era, and a 1965 and 1970 from Tenuta Sella, a producer PMW has recently carried, proved a welcome familiarity, more within the bounds of my previous experience. These were wines with structure, ripe and dusty fruit and emphatic texture. These were wines wound with youth, wines that I expected to develop further. In the Sella wines, particularly, a continuously operating producer since the 17th Century, I tasted exuberance, a great and yet unrevealed potential. I felt aligned with Nebbiolo, a tart little corner of recognition on my palate, but I also felt the resonance of timbre, a uniformity, or at least a seam of connective tissue that stitched me to the place, to the people, to the things this circumstance in time and culture had revealed.

Tenuta Sella 1965 Lessona & 1970 Lessona

Tenuta Sella 1965 Lessona & 1970 Lessona

And then after sharing a bottle of the 2010 Sella Lessona over dinner back in California, and talking and laughing and telling the story, exposing the narrative and presenting the evidence, one can still only project the future. We have what we have and we have what has been preserved and with that we have to make do. I know that in Alto Piemonte they used to make great wine and that over time the wines changed and adapted and that now by looking back, it is also possible to look forward, to understand the history and prehistory of a specific place, the culture of past, present and future through artifacts.

(credit: Patrick Newson)

Coteaux Champenois

Drinking Champagne on a regular basis is something that is regrettably not all that common for many of us. It has a biased reputation for festive or special occasions only. Certainly, price understandably plays a factor here. But the region of Champagne itself, at least in my opinion, should be considered more often, even if you don’t want bubbles in your glass! It was, after all, originally a still wine producing region–and those wines still exist today.

The Coteaux Champenois is an appellation within the region which extends over hundreds of communes and produces excellent still wines. Today, a handful of producers continue the tradition of making both still reds, whites, and roses. For many producers, still wines are made for blending purposes into their sparkling wines. However, some decide to bottle their still wines, as is. Many find the red examples to be most compelling.

So why don’t we see more of these wines available in shops from one of the arguably greatest terroirs on the planet? Limited quantities, low demand, and a lack of marketing generally contribute to this; meanwhile, most of what is produced is simply consumed within the region itself. If you do have the opportunity, seek out these wines and the following producers, such as: Pierre Paillard, Paul Bara, and Jacques Lassaigne — to name a few.

As far as taste, the wines are high in acidity and light in body. This is no surprise since Champagne is known for its typically cold weather. One red we found especially compelling at the shop is Pierre Paillard’s 2012 Les Mignottes Bouzy Rouge for $53. It contains all Pinot Noir from Bouzy’s deep sedimentary soils. Bouzy may be known for its hard chalk soils but small amounts of sedimentary soils do exist, and are ideal for the grape. The wine is highly mineral-driven, fine, and detailed with extremely fresh cherry fruit. This wine is a true standout that any Champagne or Burgundy Pinot Noir fan should consider!​

Château Simone RoseCellaring Rose?

Cellaring is a common practice for wine enthusiasts, whether for just a couple bottles or several hundred. But for those who do age their wines, how many hold on to dry rosé and drink it long after release? At the moment, the market for dry rosé is certainly “flowing.” Just last week in the shop Paul recollected how some years ago you had to really search to find a good rosé. Now, we are fortunate enough to find a wide range of excellent expressions in this category along with ample quantity. In fact, an entire section of the shop between the spring and summer months is entirely devoted to the “pink stuff”. However, although dry rosé is certainly acknowledged more often as a fine-wine category, with a wide range of price points to support, it is still not commonly cellared.

At the end of the day, rosé is primarily made to satisfy consumers’ desires for fresh and enjoyable sipping wine to drink during the warm weather months. Producers pick their grapes early, ferment at cooler temperatures in stainless steel, and avoid malolactic fermentation, in the hopes of give the market exactly what it wants—a charming, delicious, and crisp wine.

Nonetheless, there are several dry rosé bottlings currently carried in the shop that we can recommend cellaring; one in particular is truly a gem, and anything but basic. It is certainly worth seeking out and putting it to the test, well, in a few years!

Château Simone

Château Simone is located in the tiny appellation of Palette within Provence. Many are completely unaware of Palette due to its famous and much larger neighbors, Coteaux d’Aix en Provence and Côtes de Provence. The wines made at this 20 hectare property are unique to say the least with outstanding quality. The area is surrounded by a pine forest, the Arc River, and the Montagne Sainte-Victire mountain range. The vineyards sit on limestone soils at elevations as high as 750 feet, creating a microclimate with superb growing conditions. Some of the vines are as old as 100 years in age. For over two hundred years the Rougier family have run the Château, and are every bit as lovely as their wines.

Their rosé is produced in a similar fashion to their red wines and contains mostly Grenache and Mourvèdre with small amounts of Syrah, Carignan, Cinsault, Cabernet Sauvignon, Picpoul Noir, Muscat de Hambourg, Tibouren, Théoulier, and Manosquin. It is produced much like a red wine, moving from a wooden basket press to wooden vats for fermentation, along with one and a half to two years of aging in Foudres and another year in mature barrique. The dedication to this aging process gives this wine outstanding structure, power, and complexity that will certainly stand up to a decade of cellaring.