Nothing says “holiday celebration” like a bottle or three of Champagne. If you’re looking for some direction in your choice of bubbles, we’ve assembled a three-bottle Champagne Party Pack that showcases the stylistic diversity of the famed region–with different grape blends, dryness levels, vineyard locations, and winemaking approaches. This specially discounted package will help distinguish your own holiday party–and it’s also the perfect gift for the oenophile in your life.

Bottle 1: Vouette & Sorbée Blanc d’Argile Brut Nature ($126)

(Certified Organic, Biodynamic, and Demeter)

This house is named for Bertrand Gautherot’s two growing parcels in the hills of the town of Troyes in the Côte des Bar. Bertrand is a true vigneron–just as present in the fields, cultivating the vines, as he is in the cellar–the epitome of “grower champagne.” His devotion to his vines and to biodynamic viticulture has garnered him quite the cult following. His precision and unwavering attention to quality has made Bertrand a sought-after name among sommeliers and collectors alike.

Bertrand’s wines are all fermented with indigenous yeast in French oak barrels. He prefers to make wines as transparent as possible; therefore, in addition to his strict farming and winemaking practices, he does not add any liqueur de l’expedition (a mix of wine and sugar to top off the bottle after disgorgement). It’s a true brut nature (absolutely no dosage/sugar additions), and he only adds small amounts of sulfur in accordance with the Demeter law.

Bertrand’s vineyards in the Côte des Bar are more akin to those of Chablis: rocky Kimmeridgian and Portlandian limestone. This region of Champagne is known for its pinot noir production, but of course–being the renegade he is–Bertrand’s Blanc d’Argile is 100 percent chardonnay from Briaunes, his largest parcel, with a small amount of fruit from scattered plantings in his other Côte des Bar townships. Its ripe fruit is offset with acidic tension.

Mineral, nougaty, and salty, this wine is often compared to a (bubbly) grand cru Chablis. Pop these bubbles to impress the wine expert in your life or to experience an indulgent night in.

Bottle 2: Saint-Chamant Epernay Rosé Brut ($80)

(Practicing Organic)

Champagne Saint-Chamant was established in 1930 by Pierre and Hélène Coquillette. Their son Christian took over the estate in 1950 and brought Saint-Chamant to international recognition. Christian’s son Stéphane succeeds him as the third generation.

The estate is located in Epernay in the Côte des Blancs, which is known for its chardonnay production. This rosé is 92 percent chardonnay (all grand cru fruit) and 8 percent pinot meunier. Farming is done under organic practices (however, the estate does not hold any certifications). All vineyard work is done by hand. Christian believed in extended lees aging, and all the wines are disgorged to order, something that is particularly unique in Champagne.

This Champagne is rich, with bursts of raspberries and cream upon opening. The finish is dry, with a dosage of only 5g/L, yet creamy. The bubbles are fine, giving this NV Champagne an aged feel. These bubbles are sure to please Champagne drinkers of all types. Enjoy with cheeses, meats, and rich shellfish dishes.

Bottle 3: NV Jacquesson Cuvée 745 Extra Brut ($89)

(Sustainable/Herbicide-Free)

Jacquesson Champagne production traces its roots back to 1798. This name has laid the foundation for some of the greatest and most renowned Champagne houses, such as Krug. (Johann-Joseph Krug left Jacquesson in 1843 to produce his own wine.) The success of Jacquesson, however, is not simply in their longstanding name or parentage of other great houses, but also in their modern manifestation as a large-production, grower Champagne.

In the 1980s, brothers Laurent and Jean-Hervé Chiquet took over the winemaking and estate management from their father. They immediately adopted pesticide-free, organic practices in order to produce a less manipulated, more terroir-driven Champagne style. Only juice from the first pressing is used, and all the juice is either from grand cru or premier cru vineyards. The wine ferments in large foudres with regular battonage (lees stirring).

To further highlight their vines’ terroir, they began using a majority of a single-vintage base for their blended, non-vintage wines–a non-vintage wine in a vintage style. They marked the start of this new philosophy by labeling the wines as the 700 series. They began with 728, and each year, a subsequently numbered cuvée is released, with Cuvée No. 733 based on the 2005 vintage, Cuvée No. 734 based on the 2006 vintage, and so on.

The 745 uses the 2017 harvest as its base and includes grapes from the areas of Ay, Dizy, Hautvillers, Avize, and Oiry (Vallée de la Marne). The blend is always about 80 percent chardonnay plus about 20 percent pinot noir and pinot meunier. Late-onset frosts were particularly destructive and were followed by a hot and wet summer. Rigorous sorting left them with small yields, but incredibly premium fruit.

The wine is lush and plush with a creamier-than-usual palate due to the low, ripe yields. All Jacquesson wines spend a minimum of five years on the lees, and the very low extra-brut dosage of .75g/L deftly complements the wine’s natural ripeness. It offers notes of pineapple and creamy lemon curd, with bright lemony-chalky acidity and persistent perlage (fizziness).

 

To learn more about these exquisite bottlings or to discover the wide range of Champagne available at Paul Marcus Wines, please visit us at the shop.

— Emilia Aiello

As we always say here at Paul Marcus Wines, “wine is food.” To us, your choice of holiday wines is as important as anything else on the menu. (OK, fine, it’s much, much more important.) In past years, we’ve focused on Thanksgiving wines that are “outside the box” and “off the beaten path.” This year, we’re going to take the opposite approach–wines that are firmly in the T-day pocket–specifically, wines from Burgundy and Beaujolais.

There’s a reason why chardonnay, pinot noir, and gamay are perfect choices for the Thanksgiving table–their stylistic versatility allows them to pair well with a wide range of flavors. They are meant to complement, not dominate, the array of food before you.

The task at hand was for the staff to share ideas for one “value” and one “splurge” from the celebrated wine region in the heart of France. Of course, some of us couldn’t resist wandering off the beaten path … which just goes to show: There are no rules in the world of wine–only suggestions and propositions. Here are a few ideas to get you pointed in the right direction, but the ultimate destination is up to you.

Stunners and Showstoppers (Sorry, Uncle Buck)

Aside from the usual bubbles we will share at our Thanksgiving table, my wife and I will start with a bottle or three of the 2020 Domaine Joseph Voillot Bourgogne Rouge Vieilles Vignes. The wine is so bright that it makes no difference if you serve it before your rosé or white wines; it has a bracing but friendly acidic spine with crunchy fall fruit. Notes of cranberry and raspberry swell over the palate. This is all old-vine pinot noir with depth and a surprising concentration that will accent a variety of dishes–and at $42, this is a financially feasible opening gambit. Oh yeah.

As we move forward, I will open a bottle of the 2017 Marchand-Tawse Gevrey-Chambertin ‘En Pallud.’ Round and rich but rippling with bright old-school acidity, this is a top-flight red Burgundy that is a showstopper every time I have it, and its $85 tag represents a great value for Burgundy.

For a white “pairing” with the Marchand-Tawse, we’ll turn to the truly great 2016 Comte Abbatucci Cuvee Collection ‘Diplomate d’Empire’–perhaps the pinnacle of white wine from Corsica. Dominated by the Corsican mainstay vermentinu, it also adds a mix of local grapes including biancu gentile, rossola bianca, brustiano, and genovese. Grown on granite soils, it is, like all of Abbatucci’s wines, very organic. (“Very?” you ask; the Count has musicians play occasional nocturnes to the vines in the red-brown, blue evenings.) Six years of bottle age allow the wine’s complexity to rise from the glass.

The Diplomate blanc is not for the faint of heart on any level. It is both subtle and powerful, intensely laid back and truly stunning. And at $91, I would suggest not rushing through it. It deserves time to breathe, and I’m definitely not too worried about Uncle Buck getting any of this very-limited gem!

To that end, I find it helpful to remind myself that not everyone at the table needs to get a glass of every wine that is opened. I also advise having a few bottles open at the same time, which gives people choices and helps manage the more expensive tastes at the table, so I would suggest having a bottle of Cava at the ready.

— Chad Arnold

When Playtime’s Over

I see two kinds of wine for T-day. Mostly, I serve any manner of fresh, fruity, lithe, low-alcohol wines–red, white, or rosé, it hardly matters. These are the joyful, playful, early-meal wines that keep the conversation light and bouncy. Amateurs and kids love ‘em.

But once the kids leave the table and the food and conversation slow, it’s time to go deeper. No shouting or boasting wine, but serious nonetheless–serious, yet graceful, because it’s been a long meal. The 2012 Marchand-Tawse Morey-Saint-Denis ‘Pierre Virant’ is all that. After 10 years, it’s composed and elegant and quietly insistent about its worth. It’s a wine that creates enough pause to allow you to consider how good things are.

— David Gibson

 

Burgundy and Beyond

A terrific white Burgundy from 90-year-old, organically farmed vines in a single terraced vineyard, the 2019 Agnès Paquet Auxey-Duresses ‘Patience No. 12’ has an explosively expressive nose of orchard fruits and deftly integrated oak. The palate is voluptuous without excess, with refreshing acidity and great depth and length.

To surprise your relatives, consider the 2017 Burg Ravensburg Pinot Noir ‘Sulzfeld’ from Baden, Germany. Most of your tablemates don’t know how much reputable pinot noir comes from Germany–and at great prices. The Burg Ravensburg is delicious pinot noir with some bottle age at an appealing price–organically and biodynamically farmed, old-school yet still elegant.

For high-end red “Burgundy,” the 2015 Georges Remy Bouzy Rouge Coteaux Champenois ‘Les Vaudayants’ is a true ringer. Coming from the village of Bouzy in Champagne, it’s an amazing, single-vineyard, still pinot noir that rivals great red Burgundy and yet comes from a place that almost no one knows makes still red wine–never mind world-class still red wine. Certified organic and biodynamic, this is perfumed, delicate, red-fruited pinot noir with great texture, finesse, and depth.

— Mark Middlebrook

 

Côte de Beaune Brilliance

There is little doubt that red Burgundy is the perfect complement to the Thanksgiving meal. The 2016 Domaine Tawse Volnay Premier Cru ‘Fremiets’ is textbook Volnay. The vineyard, which borders Pommard and shares similar limestone soils, is an early ripening vineyard. The farming is organic and biodynamic, and the wine is lovely. A bit forward, the mouthfeel is middleweight with complex details that express both the terroir and the winemaking. With a little earth and a lot of suppleness, it has a long, seamless finish.

Many of you are already familiar with the wines from Maranges’ Domaine Maurice Charleux et Fils. Maranges is located four kilometers southwest of Santenay in the Côte de Beaune, and vintage after vintage, the wines of this domaine have been overachievers. The 2020 Charleux Maranges Blanc falls right in line. It has deep notes of apple and pear, with a touch of Côte d’Or exotic fruit and a lovely beam of acidity that supports its rich fruit–an ideal white wine for the holiday table. Enjoy!

— Paul Marcus

Souls Reaching Their Goal

The remarkable success story of Agnès Paquet continues with her latest releases, including the 2020 Agnès Paquet Santenay Premier Cru ‘Les Gravières.’ Farming 13 hectares (about 31 acres) organically, using only indigenous yeasts, Paquet, the first in her family to make wine, is now known as one of the leaders in a new generation of excellent young producers in Burgundy. And I will add that the outstanding price-to-quality relationship of her wines is a true rarity in the region.

This beauty is a little richer, darker color than you might expect, plush on the palate with nice red cherry fruit and a hint of licorice. It will be able to handle all of those diverse Thanksgiving flavors and will truly shine with dark-meat turkey (and if the white meat is dry and boring, have a sip of this wine and you won’t care).

I am breaking the rules by including an Italian wine with all of the Beaujolais and Burgundy–hey, I am the Italian buyer after all–but the 2021 Torre dei Beati Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo ‘Rosa-ae’ is just too perfect to leave out. The name Torre dei Beati (“tower of the blessed “) derives from a 14th century fresco in a local church that tells a story of souls reaching their goal through hard work and many tests. This organically farmed estate chose the name because they embrace the same philosophy in their winemaking.

Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo is perhaps most easily described as somewhere between a light red and a more full or serious rosé, and it’s best served cool but not ice cold. The 2021 Torre dei Beati is a great example of these unique wines. It is vibrant with red berry “frutti di bosco” (like a light red) and is lifted by a pleasant stony, mineral zip (like a good rosé). This is an easy-drinking, delicious, and refreshing accompaniment to the Thanksgiving meal.

— Joel Mullennix

 

Long and Tall

Georges Descombes

While you’re sweating it out in the kitchen chopping jalapeños for your cranberry sauce or mincing onions for your gravy base, throw a chill on the 2020 Georges Descombes Régnié. Made from 100 percent gamay grown on granite soils, it’s the kind of wine that brings brightness and lift from its shorter maceration time and partial carbonic-fermentation period. At $30, this is my kind of Beaujolais: long and tall and purely, utterly tasty.

On the other hand, the 2019 Joseph Voillot Volnay Premier Cru ‘Les Fremiets’ ($100) is more contemplative for sure–definitely the kind of wine you’ll want to sit with for a while. A cornucopia of red fruits, orange peel, and spice drawer, all wound together around a tight core of limestone minerality, Voillot’s Volnays offer such clarity in these times of uncertainty. How can you resist?

— Jason Seely

 

My Kind of Jam

Tasting my way through Paul Marcus Wines’ extensive Beaujolais selection, I’ve learned so much about gamay and its wide range of expressions: from incredibly light and fresh to medium-bodied and darker-fruited. Unless you’re familiar with the producer’s tendencies, you won’t quite know what you’re in for. The 2021 Domaine Chardigny Beaujolais-Leynes was a surprise for me. I didn’t have unreasonably high expectations for it at $27 a bottle, but upon opening it, I could tell even just by the nose that it was my kind of jam.

This wine strikes right down the middle of the gamay extremes. The notes of ripe cranberry and juicy pomegranate give the wine some flesh, while the immediately apparent peppery note and tangy finish counter what could otherwise be an overly fruity wine. (That tangy finish is most welcome in the face of what is to be a heavy, buttery Thanksgiving meal.) It is a great starter wine for those diehard red wine drinkers that refuse bubbles and whites, but don’t be surprised if you find yourself sipping on it throughout the entire evening–it will keep you salivating and ready for the next bite.

While $99 is certainly not the price of an everyday wine, the 2012 Marchand-Tawse Morey-Saint-Denis ‘Pierre Virant’ sure feels like a steal. This producer consistently delivers above its price point, and the 2012 confirms what we knew all along–they just don’t disappoint. Notes of mushroom and forest floor immediately upon opening give way to dried red cherries and the teeniest, tiniest hint of smoky flint. The acid is still fresh and persistent, making the wine quite light on its feet despite packing in so many flavors. The tannins are soft, but present at the finish. If mushrooms or black truffles make an appearance at your Thanksgiving spread, this is a must-have pairing. If not, try it with hard aged cheeses and gravy-soaked turkey … or even better yet, turducken.

— Emilia Aiello

 

Which Is the Splurge? Which Is the Value Play?

Recently, I’ve been rather delighted by the wines coming out of Marsannay. If you’re looking for value, Marsannay, the northern gateway to Burgundy, consistently delivers wines of quality and character that tend to be approachable in their youth. While they don’t have quite the power or complexity (not to mention the cache) of its Côte de Nuits neighbors, Marsannay wines are accessible and food-friendly, with deep, meaty fruit and ample acidity thanks to its combination of limestone and clay soils.

Jean-Louis Trapet

The 2019 Trapet Marsannay Rouge, at $55, is a relative Burgundy bargain. Aromatic and downy, with a dense heart of red and black fruit that’s tempered by its boost of acidity, this wine can certainly hold its own at the feast. It delivers classic Burgundy characteristics–without the triple-digit price point.

It wasn’t too long ago that you couldn’t find Beaujolais for more than 30 bucks, and shelling out almost 50 bucks for gamay was considered almost obscene–yes, times have changed. Yet Beaujolais is home to some of the world’s most distinguished and talented producers, and the region’s most accomplished winemakers take a backseat to no one.

The 2020 Yann Bertrand Fleurie ‘Chaos Suprême Olivia’ (named for Yann’s daughter) comes from old vines (some more than 100 years old) grown on pink granitic soil in the Grand Pré vineyard. A multifarious wine of refinement and distinction, it’s floral, bright, and supremely balanced–graceful and precise, but not without depth and structure. Naturally vinified without any additional SO2, this is undoubtedly worth the $48 splurge it will cost you to delight your guests.

— Marc Greilsamer

At Paul Marcus Wines, we never run out of ideas for your holiday table. Stop by the shop, and we’ll be happy to share them. Happy holidays, and thank you for your patronage.

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.

Organic, biodynamic, natural–what does it all mean? Truthfully, these terms have become a jumble, even for wine professionals, and navigating them is not an easy task. Among industry folk, it is an ever-evolving conversation–especially since the discourse now includes everything from growing techniques to winemaking ideology to ethics.

The team here at Paul Marcus Wines cares about these big-picture topics, and we feel it’s our Bacchus-given duty to involve you, our customers, the people who make our world go ‘round, in the discussion.

Organic Viticulture and Winemaking

Wine is an agricultural product, and all of us are increasingly treating it as such; it is food, after all, and we want to know what we are putting in our bodies. The benefits of organic agriculture are clear–eliminating chemical fertilizers or pesticides creates biodiversity, supports the ecosystem, combats climate change, and actually cultivates more nutritious food than conventional farming practices. For fresh vegetables and fruits, the conversation typically stops there (though we are now becoming more aware of labor ethics and transportation costs). However, the moment we take that product and put it through a process, we have more questions, and we instinctively flip to the back label on the jar.

With the exception of United States viticulture, organic certifications in wine really only apply to viticulture–to the actual growing and treatment of the grapes before they are harvested and enter the cellar. Once in the cellar, most bets are off. While the grapes may not have been grown with pesticides and chemicals, your wine can still have all sorts of additives in it, and the only requirement is that those additives are also certified organic.

Many grape growers and winemakers are sincere, and seek the organic certification because they truly believe in its holistic philosophy, but technically speaking, unless you ask all the questions (or trust your local wine shop to ask them for you, *wink *wink), you really cannot know.

In the United States, a USDA Organic wine certification largely affects cellar practices, which some believe is creating a damaging marketing discrepancy between domestic and international wines. Organic domestic wines cannot have any sulfur added at any stage of the winemaking. This ban on sulfur use is not realistic for many winemakers, so they opt instead to put on their back label, “Made with organically grown grapes.” In this scenario, the grapes are organically farmed, and the winemaker has more freedom in their winemaking choices.

What Does “Natural” Actually Mean?

Natural is a complicated term because it really has no definition. Sure, we know what it implies, but there are no actual parameters for a wine to be natural. For this reason, there are a lot of wolves in sheep’s clothing out there, and our savvy, capitalist market knows how to, well, capitalize on this freedom.

Skin-contact wines in clear bottles have almost become synonymous with natural. Add a crown cap, and awoogah! Yet, a clear bottle with hazy liquid should not be your only indicator that the grapes were grown organically (or biodynamically), or that the wine was not manipulated or pumped up with
additives in the winemaking process.

A huge concern these days is sulfur additions. It’s a valid concern–when sulfur exceeds a certain threshold, it becomes toxic, and some people truly do have a sensitivity (even when it is present in smaller amounts). At the same time, it is also a naturally occurring element, and winemakers have been using it as a preservative since the (somewhat) ancient days. Like all things, I believe it’s about balance. Sulfur is a preservative and, especially for wines we consume from overseas, it can be a necessary addition.

Even with no sulfite additions, a wine label is legally obligated to tell you it “contains sulfites,” because the truth is, we can’t avoid them completely (it’s a byproduct of fermentation). Naturally occurring sulfites usually come in between 10-20mg/L. Minimal sulfite additions usually come in under 60mg/L. These are very small numbers when compared to the permissible 150mg-250mg/L for conventional wines. And just think: The average dried fruit package contains 220mg of sulfites!

Like all things in this global market, defining terms and getting everyone on the same page is complicated and near impossible. But we shouldn’t shy away just because it is so. The folks here at Paul Marcus Wines are here for just that: to ask the difficult questions so you can have more control over your choices.

For a wine to find its way to the shop’s shelves, it goes through an entire tasting-panel discussion between our buyers. We ask our importers questions about growing and winemaking practices so we can relay the information and help you to make the best selection. For those looking for low-to-no-additive wines, we have increased our selections and have been working on clearly identifying wines with no sulfur addition (00) and low sulfur addition. We are here to help you navigate wine labels and their lingo.

To that end, here are a few definitions of important terms related to winemaking practices:

Conventional: No certifications. It is free-form and follows the rules set forth by a larger governing body, such as the USDA. In the context of viticulture, it typically means that the vines are treated with chemicals and the wine itself can also be pumped with additives (sugar additions, acid additions, fining agents, etc.). Most of your generic grocery-store wine will fall into this category.

Natural: No certifications. A loose term that has no defined parameters, but many use it to define low-intervention, low-additive wine made with (fingers crossed) organically grown grapes. It should be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Sustainable: Certifications in this realm exist in California (CCSW), the Pacific Northwest (LIVE), and New Zealand (SWNZ), among other niche programs. All these have different codes, but they apply to sustainability often beyond viticulture and winemaking (for example, renewable energy and labor laws). In the EU, there is no official certification, and it is a rather loose term (like “natural”) that still permits for herbicides, pesticides, and additions in the cellar. It should be considered on a case-by-case basis.

Organic: In the EU, the term applies only to viticulture and grape growing, where only copper and sulfur sprays can be used to control disease pressure. In the United States, it means the same agriculturally, but also applies to winemaking. For domestic wines, it is a very restrictive certification; for EU wines, it allows for conventional-like freedom in the cellars.

Biodynamic: This practice follows all the organic principles, but the main difference is that grape growers are required to prepare certain treatments according to the biodynamic code in the vineyard. It requires the grower to be in tune with natural growing cycles of the moon and natural treatments, such as compost prepared on site. Additions and manipulations in the winemaking process are slightly more restrictive than for organic wines.

Demeter: This term is one we do not hear or see too often, but it’s the closest certification to “natural” out there–it is the most restrictive when it comes to additions in the winery, and even requires spontaneous fermentation (no selected yeasts). It applies to winemaking in the cellar, not agriculture or viticulture. However, a Demeter winery must grow or use certified biodynamic grapes.

Yes, it’s a lot to digest, but rest assured, there’s something for everyone in the shop. Come on in, chat us up, and leave with the right wine for you.

— Emilia Aiello

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.

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.