Sake does not fight with food!

As many of our customers already know, wines that pair with food are our specialty here at Paul Marcus Wines. However, our hearts and palates are not limited to wine. Enter, sake, the national beverage of Japan, and a very food friendly beverage to boot.

Due in part to its subtle flavors, lower acidity and near absence of tannin, sake does not run the risk of overpowering many dishes. In addition to traditional Japanese cuisine, the perfect sake can pair with a wide variety of fare, including grilled meats, fish, roasted vegetables, fried foods and many appetizers. There are even off dry – delicately sweet sake that pair well with spicy dishes.

Want to know more about sake or need a pairing suggestion? Then please stop by Paul Marcus Wines and we’ll share with you our current selection from Japan Prestige Sake.

In the meantime, we’ve put together a short list, if you will, of commonly asked questions regarding this nuanced and versatile beverage. Please read on!

What is sake?

Simply stated, Sake is an alcoholic beverage produced from polished white rice grains. Along with this base material, water and a mold laden rice known as koji are combined in order to transform the rice kernels into a sugary liquid. The addition of yeast then converts this liquid via the process of fermentation into the alcoholic beverage known as Sake.

How is sake different from wine, distilled spirits and beer?

Sake is an alcoholic beverage made from rice. Wine is an alcoholic beverage made from fruit, and most often, grapes.

Sake (like wine) undergoes a fermentation via the introduction of yeast in order to transform sugars into an alcoholic beverage. Distilled spirits start with a fermented product containing alcohol, which is then most often heated in order to capture, cool and condense the vapors that are released during heating process. This process is known as distillation.

Sake, like beer, is made from starchy, solid grains, however the process by which this starch is converted to sugar such that fermentation can begin is very different. In beer production, unpolished grains germinate, which enable them to convert densely stored starches into fermentable sugars. This process is known as malting.

As sake rice kernels are polished beforehand, they do not contain the necessary components (the germ), to undergo the malting process. For this reason, a mold known as koji must be added to the steamed rice in order to convert the rice starch into fermentable sugars.

What is the alcohol level of sake?

Sake generally has an alcohol level of between 15-17%, which in most instances is higher than most wines ands beer.  However, sake is much lower in alcohol than distilled spirits like vodka, gin, tequila or whisky, which are generally bottled at or around 40% abv.

How do I know if a sake is sweet or dry?

The S.M.V. (Sake Meter Value) is the gauge for measuring the dryness or sweetness of the sake. The higher the S.M.V., the drier the sake.  The SMV range extends from -99 for very sweet sake to 10+ for some of the driest. The median value of S.M.V. is +3, which would for most drinkers register as a dry, but plush example of sake. However, like wine, there are a myriad of components (acidity, pH, mouthfeel) that determine if a sake tastes sweet or dry to a sake particular drinker. What one person might find very sweet and lush, another might quite dry.

What is the best way to serve and drink sake?

The best way to enjoy sake is in a neutral vessel, preferably made of glass or glazed ceramic. The traditional O-choko works very well. A Wine glass is also an excellent option, especially for sake that is served chilled or at room temperature. You’ll want to avoid any vessel that has a porous texture, like wood, that could impart additional flavors to the sake.

Once open, how long does a bottle of sake last?

An open bottle of sake can last anywhere from 1-2 weeks if refrigerated properly. However, during this period, the sake will begin to lose its subtle nuances and flavors. As such, the ideal consumption period for most open sake is over the course of one to several days.

Is a chilled sake always higher quality than a sake that is served warm?

Not necessarily. Sake that are more delicate and fruit driven are often served slightly chilled in order to enhance the melon, pear and fresh nuances of the beverage. On the other hand, full bodied sake that display more savory or earthy components often show best served at room temperature or even slightly warm.

Wherein the folks at Paul Marcus Wines get to the bottom of our most FAQs in the shop.

Is my bottle of wine corked?

You show up to a friend’s party with two bottles of your favorite Côtes du Rhone. The first bottle tastes great! Fresh, vibrant and juicy…just as you remembered it. However, the second bottle smells a bit like wet cardboard, and doesn’t have nearly the same fruit nuances and charm as your first bottle. Is your bottle of wine corked?

I. What exactly is a corked wine?

Cork taint is a wine fault that is caused by certain molds sometimes present in the bark of cork trees. These molds can and do live in cork after it’s been harvested, processed and shipped out in the form of finished corks. For most people these molds are undetectable, until they co-mingle with chlorine or chlorophenol compounds at any time during the winemaking process.

When these cork bark molds and chlorine interact, an aromatically unpleasant compound derivative 2,4,6-Trichloroanisole can develop. This compound is more commonly known as TCA.

As you can imagine, the possibilities for the formation of TCA are numerous. For instance, cork bark undergoes sterilization in the production of corks, and bottles need to be sanitized before being used.

Of course, chlorine is found in our water supply, and in many cleaning agents. For this reason, wineries are vigilant when it comes to their water source and how they sanitize not only bottles but all winery equipment, and often eschew such chlorine detergents in favor of peroxide based cleaners.

II. What does a corked wine smell like?

While small amounts of TCA a wine can result in a very subtle loss of aromatic fruit and vibrancy, higher levels of TCA can impart distinctive and downright unpleasant aromas.

Descriptions of a corked wine include: moldy cardboard, old sofa, swamp, wet dog or stale fruit flavors.

(Note: older bottles of wine will often display earthy and dank nuances when opened. This is not an indicator of TCA. Aged bottles of wine will often shed primary fruit notes and develop more secondary nuances. As such, special attention should be given when evaluating older wines)

III. What is not an indicator of a corked wine?

  1. An old, or crumbly cork. The physical appearance of a cork does not indicate that a bottle wine is contaminated with TCA. Older bottles with corks that look less than pristine, often do a fantastic job protecting wine over the years, and with no evidence of cork taint.
  2. A pushed cork, or one that rises above the level of the bottle most often indicates that the wine was exposed to higher temperatures at some time in the past, or that the bottle was overfilled. This condition is not necessarily an indicator that a wine is corked.
  3. Bottle seepage or capsule corrosion. Wine seepage or a corroded capsule are unrelated to TCA contamination and do not indicate that a wine is corked.
  4. Mold on the cork. Frequently bottles of wine, especially older bottles that have been stored in humid conditions may develop some sort of mold or fungi around the wine capsule or cork. These fungi are not necessarily related to molds that cause TCA.

IV. What should I do if I think that I have a bottle of corked wine?

If, after careful evaluation you’ve concluded that TCA might be the culprit, here’s what you’ll want to do.

Don’t pour out the bottle of wine. Re-insert the cork and save as much of the wine as possible. A reputable wine shop will exchange a bottle of wine that is contaminated with TCA. However, they will want evaluate the bottle in person before making a definitive judgement.

Here at Paul Marcus Wines we love to celebrate any and all occasions involving food and wine.  Which is why we are so psyched about March 20th. Why? Because it’s International Francophonie Day! This day celebrates the approximately 220 million Francophones, plus the additional 72 million Francophiles throughout the world who are learning French.

International Francophonie Day was in 1988, and celebrates the signing of the Niamey Convention in Niger on 20 March 1970. The convention established the Agence de Coopération Culturelle et Technique, the precursor to the International Organization of La Francophonie, which represents countries and regions throughout the world where French is the lingua franca. Although French speakers come from diverse ethnic, cultural and political backgrounds, all can rejoice in that they are united by the love and commonality of their shared language.

Irina Bokova, the former General Director of UNESCO aptly described the honorary day, on the occasion of International Francophonie Day March 20, 2017.

“The French language crystallizes centuries of culture and history. … It is in French that Pascal, Voltaire or Rousseau led the fight for tolerance, democracy and human rights. It was in French that Assia Djebar defended the rights of women and that Césaire, Senghor and so many others laid the foundations of modern humanist consciousness. On all 5 continents, hundreds of millions of men and women express their hopes for a better life in French.”

So how can we, out here in sunny California, celebrate Francophonie language and culture? How about checking out a French language film? Nouvelle Vague perhaps? Or breaking out that iconic Charles Aznavour record that’s collecting dust in the closet. How about revisiting one of hip hop’s best and brightest, MC Solaar (La 5ème Saison – oh yeah) All this talk of Francophonie is making me hungry.  A chunk of chevre on a freshly baked baguette sounds pretty fantastique right about now.

And if wine is your thing (and as you are reading this I suspect, yes) how about pulling the cork on a bottle of French wine to celebrate! We at PMW certainly will do so. Incidentally, the wine thing pairs equally well with movies, records, and cheese. Below are two of our current staff favorites that we’d love to share with you. Both wineries are family owned and operated, and tout à fait francais.

2017 Patrice Colin “Pierre a Feu” Coteaux du Vendomois (Chenin Blanc) – $19  

“Pierre a Feu” literally translates to “Rock of Fire” in French- an appropriate name for a wine that proceeds from the flinty soils of the “Coteaux du Vendomois” appellation in the Loire Valley. While this area only received its appellation status in 2001, wine production here can be traced all the way back to the 11th century, and Patrice’s family has been in the business since 1735.  All farming is organic and vegan here, with the fruit being vinified in stainless steel to preserve crisp floral and mineral flavors. This is a beautiful example of Chenin grown to the north of Vouvray… dry, elegant, and pure. Chevre and other semi-soft cheeses call forth pear and peach fruits, and “Pierre a Feu” is also excellent with fried fish, cilantro, (think Baja-style tacos) or chicken.

 

2016 Roc des Anges “Segna de Cor” Cotes Catalanes – $29 

Another wine with an interesting linguistic twist in the title, “Segna de Cor” is actually the name of the producer- which is Roc des Anges, but just spelled backwards! And truly, “Rock of Angels” is the perfect name for this project, as these vines are grown in full view of the majestic Pyrenees mountains. This is breath-taking country can be a bit difficult for vignerons: it is infamous for its arid climate, intense sun, wind, and nutrient-poor soil. However, the cold mountain air does encourage complexity in the grapes, which winemaker Marjorie Gallet has bio-dynamically farmed since 2001.

Gallet’s self-proclaimed goal is to chisel out structure and elegance from this challenging terroir, where “concentration is the enemy.” Sample some of her determination in “Segna de Cor”, a GSM  blend that sings with aromas of blackcurrant, date, and fig- making it a wonderful pairing with the savory-sweet flavors of Moroccan cuisine. Alternatively, pick up a bottle to bring along with you to a plein air picnic to usher in the spring. The depth of fruit, good acid, and dry finish make it perfect with semi soft cheeses, paté and charcuterie.

à votre santé!

What Is A Guided Tasting?

In the interest of sharing my passion for the broader world of wine with the people close to me, I decided to have a group of friends over for a guided wine tasting – that is, one in which one person (me in this case) guides the discussion and helps draw out responses from everyone. My goal was to share a bit of my knowledge and to help my friends understand better what exactly they’re getting when they order a bottle of wine in a restaurant or bring one home from a store. And as Mark said in our previous newsletter, “the goal, as in other kinds of parties, is good conversation and good times spent with good friends.” I wanted my tasting to be fun and not to get bogged down in formalities.

Choosing Your Theme

I had come up with several ideas for tastings, including one that focused on the formal techniques of wine tasting. One evening over dinner, I bounced my ideas off my partner. He’s a valuable resource in this discussion, since he has a good knowledge of wine but doesn’t take it too seriously. His suggestion seemed like the best: a comparison of common California wines and their French counterparts. The idea was to analyze how differences in climate, wine making, and culture can affect what’s in the glass – a conversation that sounded fun to me. This kind of tasting also would give me a chance to clear up the mysteries of French wine labels and help folks get an idea of just what expect from a particular bottle of French wine.

To Blind Taste or Not?

With this theme in mind, I decided to make it a formal, blind tasting of four reds and four whites. I chose Pinot Noir and Cabernet Sauvignon for the reds and Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay for the whites, with a California and French example of each of the four types. I chose to do the tasting blind (i.e., with the bottles in paper bags to cover up the labels) so that no one would be tempted to jump to conclusions based on any preconceived opinions in favor or against either California or French wines.

Having chosen a theme and format, I invited four couples over for an after-dinner wine tasting party. That made the total ten people, an ideal number, and with various prior engagements, the group whittled itself down to eight. I offered to supply all eight wines and to host the party at my house, asking others to bring some snacks to munch on while tasting. (Bread, cheese, and pâté are great to have on the table with a tasting – they help clear the palate and put something in your stomach besides wine.) I also borrowed some glasses from a co-worker. The idea was to do two flights of four wines – first the whites and then the reds.

I had the luxury of 64 small wine glasses (8 per person), but it would be possible to do this kind of tasting with 32 (4 per person) or even 16 (2 per person). In the latter case, you’d simply taste the wines in flights of two rather than four.

Keeping Conversations Going

I put a lot of thought into how to facilitate the conversation. I wanted to avoid my tendency to get too pedantic, knowing that no one wanted a lecture. But I also wanted to make sure that there was at least some serious discussion about the wines. I figured the best way to facilitate discussion was to minimize my spiels and ask everyone else questions. There are a few basic questions to ask when tasting wine that can help you start to make distinctions:

  1. How are these wines similar?
  2. How are these wines different?
  3. What do I like about each wine?
  4. What do I dislike about each wine?
  5. Which wine do I prefer, and why?

Providing Common Ground

I’ve experienced firsthand that dazed expression in other people when I start using language to describe wines that is routine to me. I wanted to avoid the pressure that people feel to come up with “good” descriptors and instead ask everyone to say in their own words what they thought of the wines. These basic questions provide a framework for discussion while allowing each person to respond to and talk about the wines in an individual way.

As my guests arrived, I assembled the wines in the kitchen, opened them, and smelled them to make sure that none of the bottles was corked. I put each of the bottles in a brown bag and wrote a letter on the bag (A through H) so that we’d have a way to refer to the wines as we talked about them.

Starting With Whites

Starting with whites, I poured two Sauvignon Blancs, 2001 Honig from Napa ($12.99) and 1998 Château Reynon Blanc from Bordeaux ($11.99), followed by two Chardonnays, 2000 Handley Anderson Valley from Mendocino ($15) and 2001 Trénel St.-Véran from Burgundy ($12.99). We tasted the wines first in pairs and then together as a group of four. After a few minutes of quietly sampling the wines, we had a short discussion and then ranked each pair according to personal preference.

In a tasting where all of the wines are a single varietal or style, it is common to taste all the wines and rank them from 1 to 8, according to preference or perceived quality. Since the different styles of whites and reds in this tasting are hard to compare with one another, I asked each person to pick a favorite from each pair.

It’s no surprise that opinions differed wildly from person to person. I was expecting the more familiar California wines to be favored, but that was not universally the case. The Honig Sauvignon Blanc was preferred over the Château Reynon Bordeaux Blanc, but both the Handley Chardonnay and Trénel white Burgundy had its share of admirers.

Follow with Reds

For the reds, we first tasted two Pinot Noirs: 2001 Elk Cove Willamette Valley from Oregon ($18) and Heresztyn Bourgogne Rouge from Burgundy ($16). (I could’ve substituted a California Pinot Noir for the Oregon one, but the Elk Cove seemed like the best West Coast Pinot from the store in the price range.) Then we finished with two Bordeaux style blends (wines based on Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot): 2000 Surh Luchtel Mosaique ($24) and 2000 Château Teynac St. Julien from Bordeaux ($19). The Oregon Pinot Noir was definitely the favorite, but the Bordeaux stood its own against its California counterpart.

Tasting a group of wines like this is a great opportunity for friends (new and old) to get together, with a built-in topic of conversation. Of course, after a few glasses of wine, people’s spirits are lifted and the conversation can go many directions. I selected a special bottle of wine from my cellar to enjoy after the main tasting – something a bit more complex than the relatively simple, inexpensive wines we’d tasted formally. It was a nice reminder that wine offers us all the opportunity to get together and enjoy our friends.

Editor’s note: This article is the second in a series on how to organize and host wine parties. The first article, in our March 2003 newsletter, discussed the types of wine parties and the basic procedures and considerations for any type. If you’d like to host a wine tasting similar to the one that Paul C. did – or something completely different – come talk to us. We’re eager to help you select the wines and provide pointers to help ensure that the party goes off well.

List of Wines Tasted

Here is a simple list of the wines we tasted:

Sauvignon Blancs

  • 2001 Honig from Napa ($12.99) and
  • 1998 Château Reynon Blanc from Bordeaux ($11.99)

Chardonnays

  • 2000 Handley Anderson Valley from Mendocino ($15)
  • 2001 Trénel St.-Véran from Burgundy ($12.99)

Pinot Noirs

  • 2001 Elk Cove Willamette Valley from Oregon ($18)
  • Heresztyn Bourgogne Rouge from Burgundy ($16)

Bordeaux Blends (Cabernet Sauvignon / Merlot)

  • 2000 Surh Luchtel Mosaique ($24)
  • 2000 Château Teynac St. Julien from Bordeaux ($19)
Day Wines Lineup

What will you be drinking this National Drink Wine Day? (Or as some others may refer to it as, “Presidents Day“). Whether you’re celebrating the day off with family or at home by yourself, we’ve selected a few wines that should make your day off a little more exciting. For this special holiday, we are showcasing some President’s “Day” Wines. Day Wines is led by Brianne Day, a natural wine producer who seeks to capture the essence of “place” in Oregon’s Willamette Valley.

National Drink Wine Day Silvershot Vineyards Pinot Noir

Silvershot Vineyards 2015 Pinot Noir

This Pinot Noir hails from the Eola-Amity Hills, the southernmost sub-appellation in the Willamette Valley. The nose is all decadence with aromas of strawberries and raspberries, but on the palate this wine shows real class and restraint. 2015 was the hottest vintage in recent Oregon history, and according winemaker Brianne Day, the vines in Silvershot actually had a stress reflex to the heat and lack of water- they stopped accumulating sugar- and that’s the reason why the wine has a lower 12% alcohol content. A delicious accompaniment to your President’s Day BBQ, or just your back porch. (available for $34)

National Drink Wine Day Silvershot Vineyards Pinot Noir

Belle Pente Vineyard Chardonnay 2015

Cherry blossom, fresh cream, lemon, and nectarine. The stunning fruit here comes from “Belle Pente” (or “Beautiful Slope”), a site which truly embodies bio-diversity in the vineyard. The husband and wife team who care for the vines there also farm veggies, fruits, chickens, geese, and even cows! Brianne has crafted a pristine and head-turning Chardonnay with this bottling, reflective of the harmony and uniqueness of the site. (available for $38)

National Drink Wine Day Silvershot Vineyards Pinot Noir

“Queen D” 2016

50% Marsanne, 25% Roussanne, and 25% Grenache Blanc, this is a clean and precise blend which showcases Brianne’s light and intuitive hand in the cellar. From Oregon’s rugged Applegate Valley appellation by the California border, this dry and subtlety stone-fruited wine is excellent with chicken, cheese boards, and seafood. (available for $23)

Photos Credit: Day Wines | Tasting Notes by Heather Mills

And to keep up with all the National Drink Wine Day news, make sure to follow the National Wine Day facebook page for more content.

Valentine's Day Special Selections - Paul Marcus Wines

Make your Valentine’s Day complete with the perfect wine pairing. Below we have hand selected and tasted 8 bottles we believe will pair perfectly with a range of meals. Looking for some prepared meals to go with these great wines? We have also selected some pairings from Market Halls special Valentine’s Day menu that would go great with our wine selections.
Valentine's Day Special Selections - Paul Marcus Wines

Red Wines

Domaine Charleux Bourgogne - Valentines Day WinesDomaine Charleux Bourgogne – $20
Bourgogne, Pinot Noir
This village-level Pinot Noir is a fantastic value. Approachable and generous with its raspberry fruit and slight spiced note, it is enjoyable on its own and most certainly a versatile choice for chicken, pork, or game if you are cooking for your special someone.
Frederic Esmonin Gevrey-Chambertin 2014 “Les Jouises” Vieilles Vignes - Valentines Day WinesFrederic Esmonin Gevrey-Chambertin 2014 “Les Jouises” Vieilles Vignes – $50 
Gevrey-Chambertin, Pinot Noir  
This is an old-vine offering from one of Gevrey’s top producers. It greets the taster with aromas of ripe black cherries and red currants, followed by crushed rock, damp earth, and strawberries on the palate. A bold and traditional offering with good acid and length. Pairs perfectly with duck.

White Wines

Domain Pellé “Les Blanchais” - Valentines Day WinesDomain Pellé “Les Blanchais” 2017 – $33 
Menetou-Salon, Sauvignon Blanc
Ephemeral orchard fruits, subtle yet supple with real limestone minerality. Great with any kind of  seafood, vegetables, or salad, or just with a glass and a loved one…
Mount Eden Vineyards 2014 - Valentines Day WinesMount Eden Vineyards 2014 – $64 
Santa Cruz, Chardonnay 
This cuvee is the epitome of richness and balance. Full-bodied, crisp golden apple and lemon chiffon on the nose, followed by vibrant acidity and a good weight on the palate. This is serious Santa Cruz Chardonnay that is grown, fermented, and bottled at 2,000 feet of elevation.

Rose Wines

Chermette 2017 Beaujolais Rose - Valentines Day WinesChermette 2017 – $17 
Beaujolais, Gamay 
Pretty, red fruits with a crisp clean close. Excellent and drinkable Valentines Day pink from Beaujolais!
Domaine de Terrebrune 2017 Bandol Rose - Valentines Day WinesDomaine de Terrebrune 2017 – $29 
Bandol, Mourvedre 
With high aromatics of honeydew melon and white flowers, this Bandol is on the lighter side, and arguably the most elegant rosé that we have in the shop. Chin-chin!

Sparkling Wines

Patrice Colin NV “Les Perles d'Anne Sophie” - Valentines Day WinesPatrice Colin NV “Les Perles d’Anne Sophie” – $21 
Sparkling Loire | Brut
This bottle of bubbles is pure delight. A blend of Chenin, Pinot Noir, and Chardonnay, we’re charmed by the atypical yet decadent aromas of Anjou pear and baking spices. This Loire sparkler is a little rich but has a clean, dry close.
Jacquesson 741 - valentines Day WinesJacquesson 741 – $80 
Champagne | Extra-Brut
Based mainly on the 2013 vintage, but blended with 33% of reserve, this is a complex and finely-tuned champagne truly fit for a king or queen. The Jacquesson house has existed since
the 18th century, and remains today one of the most unique and high-quality producers in the region. The grapes achieve optimal ripeness and are only sourced from Grand or Premier Cru plots. This graceful bottle showcases flavors of star fruit and lemon curd, but it is the wine’s lithe acidity and palpable minerality that make it an exceptionally balanced and beautiful Champagne.

Market Hall Valentine’s Day Pairings

Market Hall Foods will be featuring a special Valentine’s Day menu, to compliment their updated menu, we have selected a Red and White that will compliment most of the menu.

White: Domain Pellé 2017 Menetou-Salon “Les Blanchais”

This Sauvignon Blanc hails from Menetou-Salon, an appellation adjacent to Sancerre. In this single-vineyard offering, we encounter subtle orchard fruit and herbaceous notes highlighted by limestone minerality.

Valentine’s Menu pairing: Crab Croquettes with Lemon Caper Aioli, Beet-Cured Salmon with Horseradish Crème Fraîche, or Mixed Chicories Salad with Citrus, Mint & Green Olives.

Red: Frederic Esmonin 2014 Gevrey Chambertin “Les Jouises” Vieilles Vignes

This wine, from one of Gevrey’s top producers, opens with aromas of black cherries and red currants, followed by earth, strawberries and wet stone on the palate. Bold and traditional with good acid and length, this middleweight old-vine Pinot Noir perfectly complements the earthiness of braised duck and mushrooms.

Valentine’s Menu pairing: Braised Duck Legs with Wild Mushrooms & Cipollini Onions.

Champagne & Caviar Pairings

Caviar: Tsar Nicolai “Classic” – $38
Pairing: Xavier Reverchon NV Brut – $27

This “Cremant” (which is a sparkling wine made in the same way as Champagne, but from a different region in France), is broad and rich. The wine shows very subtle fruit, with bass notes of salinity and minerality, complementing the light brine and fruitiness of Tsar Nicolai’s “Classic” caviar.

Caviar: Tsar Nicolai “Estate” – $64
Pairing: Jacques Lassaigne “Les Vignes de Montgueux” NV  – $59

This Chardonnay-based Champagne has high-toned citrus and herbal notes, with plenty of acidity and brightness to complement the richer sea brine of the “Estate” level caviar, while the wine’s limestone minerality coaxes out its more subtle flavors.

Caviar: Tsar Nicolai Truffled Roe – $20
Pairing: Dehours & Fils “Terre de Meunier” – $53

This Champagne is made of a single grape variety, called “Meunier.” This is a grape which contributes body and richness to Champagne blends. In this Dehours bottling, extended lees contact provides toasted, brioche-like flavors that meld perfectly with the decadent and earthy flavor of truffles.

(Tasting notes by Heather Mills)

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!​

Bramaterra Riserva Vintages from Tenuta Monolo

The Producer

I recently had the opportunity to taste several older vintages of Bramaterra Riservas from Umberto Dilodi of Tenuta Monolo, thanks to PortoVino importers. The tasting was held at the Kebabery in Oakland, and sure enough, Kebabs and aged Bramaterra Riservas are a stellar match!

The DOC of Bramaterra borders Gattinara and Lessona in Alto Piemonte. This particular DOC has a unique terroir in that it is less exposed to wind, coming predominantly from the north, and is composed of both volcanic and marine soils. Spanna (Nebbiolo), Vespolina, Croatina, and Uva Rara grapes are typically grown in the region. Since the climate here is cooler, the tannins of Spanna generally do not ripen to the same extent as its neighbors, and so instead it is often blended with the other grapes grown. As a result, the wines are known for their freshness, as well as balance and power.

More than likely though, Umberto’s wines haven’t shown up yet on your or other Piedmont enthusiasts radars, since they were never released to the market. In fact, Umberto made the decision to not sell his wines in order to avoid a conflict of interest while he was an integral part of elevating the region to its DOC status in the late 1970’s.  Unfortunately, with Umberto’s passing, the winery operations came to an end. However, PortoVino has brought new life back to the winery by acquiring the entire cellar, and provides further insight into the winery below:

Origins

The Tenuta Monolo cantina was once part of a villa that contained over 40,000 volumes of manuscripts and books on philosophy, classical music (especially Baroque and Renaissance), and art. Surrounded by three-quarters of a hectare of vineyards, the villa was home to the eccentric musician Umberto Gilodi and his life-long friend, cellar-master, painter and engraver Orlando Cremonini.The two men lived a simple life. All farming was organic; Umberto Gilodi was a meticulous note-taker, and we have his documents that attest to not using pesticides or herbicides in a time when most in that area were. Fermentation was in large wooden botti with native yeasts. The vineyards, and so too probably the wines, were 60% Nebbiolo, 20% Croatina, 10% Vespolina, and 10% Uva Rara. The vineyard and cellar were followed by the famous Italian wine professor from Torino’s Enology School, Professor Italo Eynard.”

The Wines

Bramaterra ReservaThese wines were properly cellared in Rome after Umberto’s passing.  Paul Marcus Wines is excited to be able to share the following stellar and rare line-up of aged Bramaterra with you:

2004 Bramaterra Riserva $49.00 (In-stock)
Supple and gentle on the palate, with a nice lift of acidity and good length. Great combination of tertiary aromas, including white pepper, cherry, and roses. Perfect to drink now.

2001 Bramaterra Riserva $70.00 (In-Stock)
More structure and tannin, and a bit more rustic in character, with predominately meaty, spicy, and floral notes.

1996 Bramaterra Riserva $66.00 (In-Stock)
My favorite based on its high acidity, fine tannins, and detailed spice notes. I particularly enjoyed its energy and precision.

1991 Bramaterra Riserva $66.00 (2018 Arrival)
The earthiest of the bunch, showing less floral character and more dusty mushroom and savory tomato notes. Also with less acidity than the ’96 so the wine is lovely and gentle on the palate. Do expect to find sediment, and as such we highly recommend decanting this wine.

1990 Bramaterra Riserva $56.00 (2018 Arrival)
Moving towards tertiary aromas and flavors. You will find rustic woodsy, wool, and meaty character on the nose, in addition to salty flavors. This wine expresses the vintage, which on the whole was a bit warmer, with a heartier and tannic palate. This would be outstanding paired with grilled steak or kebabs.

1985 Bramaterra Riserva $85.00 (In-Stock and Limited Quantities)
Absolutely lovely, lighter-bodied, and etherial. Quite simply a pleasure to drink.

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.