Tour de France

From our Hang Time tasting on Thursday, July 9, 2015…

This year marks the 102nd running of the Tour de France, the most grueling and prestigious bicycle race in the world.  The course this year includes 21 stages and covers 3,360 kilometers.  Twenty-two teams from 15 countries, 198 riders in all, will compete for about $2,600,000 in prize money.  The Grand Départ took place in the Netherlands on July 4, moved briefly into Belgium, and remains in France for the rest of the race. Today is Stage 6, 191.5 km along the northern French coast.

Red Feet’s Tour de France has only five stages, one for each wine.  Our tour begins in west central France, with the Ch. d’Arveyres Bordeaux Blanc 2014.  This crisp blend of Sémillon, Sauvignon Blanc, and Muscadelle comes from an estate overlooking the Dordogne River that’s been in the same family for 125 years.  Pair with fresh summer greens, gazpacho, or seafood of all sorts.

We’ll break away from the peloton (the main group of riders) for an unusual wine from an unusual place.  Dom Cauhapé Jurançon Sec Chant des Vignes 2014 is a dry wine from a region known for sweet; it is a blend of Gros Manseng and Camaralet, a grape rescued from extinction by producer Henri Ramonteau.  While not widely known outside this corner of southwest France, these grapes produce a highly aromatic, full flavored wine with tangy, peachy, floral, tropical, and melon notes. A fine partner for full flavored Asian food, turkey or veggie burgers, creamy chicken and pasta, or seafood, it also pairs well with honeyed goat cheese or fruit salad.

Moving eastward to the Languedoc, we’ll pause for a rosé, Dom. de Fontsainte Gris de Gris 2014 from Corbières.  This deeply colored wine is a blend of five varieties made using the saignée (bleeding, rather than pressing) method.  It offers raspberry, cherry, strawberry, and mango and manages to be dense and rich while preserving a beautiful freshness.  Serve as an aperitif with crostini and olives, or pair with a range of foods from stir-fried vegetables with garlic aioli to rosemary chicken to lamb tajine.

East again, stopping near Avignon for Dom. de la Guichard Côtes du Rhône 2013, a blend of Grenache and Syrah from a husband and wife team who work entirely alone except for a few weeks during the manual harvest.  The estate sits high atop the Massif d’ Uchaux and is farmed biodynamically.  This is a spicy wine with both red and black fruits and a hint of licorice.  Grill sausages and fennel, or pair with a mélange of summer vegetables.

We’ll move northward to the Morgon region of Beaujolais to sample the Lapierre Raisins Gaulois 2014, made from the Gamay grape.  Organic viticulture, late manual harvest, natural yeasts, traditional fermentation, and no fining or filtering make this wine special.  Its bright, fleshy fruit has a palatable joie de vivre that’s reflected on the label—this is just plain fun to drink!  It pairs well with charcuterie, Greek or pasta salads, grilled sausage or tuna, or a hearty brunch.

–M.P. Rouse

American Wines for Independence Day

From our Hang Time tasting on Thursday, July 2, 2015…

From Maine to Hawaii, Alaska to Florida, every state in America produces wine.  Grapes aren’t the only fruit source—tree fruits, berries, pineapples, and rhubarb are fermented.  Vegetables, honey (think mead), and wild plants (Grandma’s dandelion wine) are also used.  U.S. winemaking laws are less rigid than those of Europe (where laws specify permitted grape varieties, yields, winemaking techniques, yields, alcohol levels, and more.)  The federal Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB), an arm of the Treasury, regulates wine offered for sale in America.  It sets labeling laws and minimum requirements; states may (and do) make them stricter. In 1978, the TTB established an appellation system that recognized wine regions with officially designated boundaries, initially political units—states and counties. The creation of American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) based on climate, soil, topography, and history came a bit later; today there are more than 200 spread across 25 states.  (Missouri saw the first AVA in 1980; New York has nine.)  Wines labeled with an AVA contain at least 75% of that region’s wine.

95% of US wine comes from just four states, and they provide today’s wines.  California is the major producer, making seven times more than New York, Washington, Pennsylvania, and Oregon combined (the other big guns).  We have two California wines today.  Sean Minor Four Bears Pinot Noir 2013 is made from grapes sourced from the Central Coast, a large AVA lying about equidistant from San Francisco and Los Angeles.  California Pinot is riper and fuller than those from Burgundy or Oregon, and this one exhibits dark cherry and floral notes balanced by spice and bright acidity.

Drovers Cabernet Sauvignon 2013 is a collaboration between a small East Coast distributor, Lance McKee of Encore Wines, and a California winemaker, Field Recordings’ Andrew Jones. Grapes come from some of Jones’ friends in Paso Robles; the wine is rich but not heavy, with smoke, spice, and black fruit.

New York provides a local gem, Sheldrake Point Pinot Gris 2014 from Cayuga Lake.  Made from estate-grown fruit and fermented in tank, this is a full-bodied Pinot Gris with lovely stone fruit flavors.

Milbrandt Vineyards Traditions Merlot 2012 hails from Washington; it, too, is an estate wine that has seen oak, mostly older, to integrate the flavors without dimming the fruit.  Small additions of Malbec and Petit Verdot deepen the flavors.

Oregon, the 4th state in wines, adds A to Z Rosé 2014 to today’s line-up.  This deeply colored rosé is made primarily from Sangiovese and shows strawberry, watermelon, plum, thyme, hibiscus, and apricot supported by firm acidity; its savory character pairs with a variety of food.

-M.P. Rouse

Sauvignon Blanc from Around the World

From our Hang Time tasting on Thursday June 25, 2015…

Today’s tasting focuses on a particular grape. Knowing what a wine is made from gives you an idea of what to expect about its aromas, flavors, sweetness, and other qualities.  Since an Old World wine is generally labeled by place of origin rather than grape type, knowledge of its home gives you an idea of its grape(s). In the US, varietally labeled wines must be at least 75% of that grape; in Europe and Australia, 85% is generally required.

Sauvignon Blanc—whose name means “wild white”—produces wine with edges rather than curves, acid rather than butter, zing rather than humming. Its high acidity provides a contrast to the often-buttery roundness of Chardonnay.  It is characterized by aromas of herbs, citrus, stone, green things, and meadows.  Flavors are similar, along with hints of green tea, smoke, and pepper.  Racy and intense, tart and lively, a high-wire aerialist of a wine, Sauvignon Blanc is perfect for hot, humid summer days.

Sauvignon Blanc comes from many places.  In France, it’s associated with Bordeaux and the Loire Valley.  In Bordeaux, the grape’s piercing herbal, mineral qualities are tempered by the soft honey of the Sémillon grape.  In the Loire, blending is forbidden; the brightness and intensity are left unadulterated, reflecting the area’s limestone soils.  New Zealand wines offer a riot of gooseberry, stone, lime, and green tea, almost exploding from the glass.  Chile’s Sauvignon Blancs tend towards citrus, tropical fruits, stones, and grass.  Those from South Africa span a range of styles, from softer, warmer-climate wines through fruited elegance to almost austere green fruit on the rocks, a la Loire.  In California, Sauvignon Blanc is often aged in wood to tone down some of its herbaceousness, producing a wine with fig and melon notes.  Generally speaking, the wines are crisp, clean, and focused (if slightly wild in the case of New Zealand), distinct in aromas and flavors, and great as aperitifs or food partners.  Standard food pairings include seafood, salads, white meats, and fresh vegetables.  Fresh herbs and vinaigrette on anything work well, and Chèvre is a classic match.

Di Lenardo Sauvignon 2014 from northeast Italy offers delicate melon, sage, yellow pepper, and peach; its fresh acidity is tempered by lees ageing, giving tropical fruit notes and a round finish. Our two French wines come from the upper Loire in the east.  Domaine de Villargeau Côteaux du Giennois Blanc 2014, sustainably grown on flinty soils, is a poor man’s Pouilly-Fumé, clean and minerally, with lemon-lime and white flower notes.  Karine Lauverjat Sancerre 2014, grown on limestone soils, is a well-balanced wine offering citrus, tangy white peach, chalk, gooseberry, and melon.  Odfjell Armador Sauvignon Blanc 2014 comes from Chile’s Casablanca Valley, not far from the Pacific.  Dried grass, lime, grapefruit, and lemon are nicely concentrated; the finish is long. The southern tip of the North Island (rather than the northern tip of the South Island) provides Tablelands Sauvignon Blanc 2014.  Here you’ll find fresh-cut grass, lime, gooseberry, and fennel notes on a somewhat fleshy frame.  The finish is dry and elegant.

We hope the style contrast was interesting.  Love that Sauvignon Blanc!

–M.P. Rouse

The Iberian Peninsula

From our Hang Time tasting on June 18, 2015…

Despite sharing the same peninsula, Portugal and Spain have had different orientations since the 15th century—Portugal has looked to the ocean, Spain to Europe and the Mediterranean.  Portugal produced explorers and discoverers; Spain built an empire. Spain was a world player, a sophisticated meeting ground for many of the Mediterranean cultures for centuries.  Portugal was a comparative introvert, Spain an extrovert. This has influenced their wines as well as their histories.

In the 18th and 19th centuries, Portugal’s fame was based on fortified wines (Madeira and Port), shipped primarily to England and America.  Table wines, made from over 230 indigenous grapes, were consumed at home. This changed only in the late 20th century, and even today Portugal’s wines are not well known.  The reds historically had a rustic quality with strong tannins and needed considerable ageing to soften.  This is changing as winemakers use more modern techniques and orient their wines toward the world market.  Spain’s emergence on the international wine scene began centuries earlier, and today the country has more land under vine than any other. (It’s third in wine production; Portugal is eleventh.) The Spanish tradition of long barrel ageing has given way to more modern approaches that produce fresher wines that still show respect for the inherent character and flavors of the grapes. In both countries, red wines dominate.  

We’ll taste two Portuguese wines. Casa Cadaval Padre Pedro Branco 2014 blends three indigenous grapes with Viognier to produce an aromatic, flavorful white with tropical fruits, citrus, and white flowers.  The acidity is balanced and refreshing, making this a good aperitif or a partner for seafood, salads, or light, fresh pasta dishes.

Quinta do Passadouro, long an important player in the production of port, provides Passa Tinto 2012.  Made from traditional port varieties grown on steep, narrow terraces, harvested by hand, and crushed by foot, the wine is aged a year before bottling.  It offers red fruits, plum, and black cherry.  Firm and smooth in the mouth, it pairs well with grilled pork, mushroom risotto, or carne asada.

Our Spanish selections include white, rosé, and red.  Bodegas Lorenzo Félix Cochazo Carrasviñas Verdejo 2013 is pure Verdejo made by one of the founders of the Rueda DO.  It offers bright acidity as well as a honeyed texture and both stone and citrus fruits.  Pair with seafood or gazpacho.

Uncastellum Rosado Ecolόgica 2014 is an organic wine made from old vines using both traditional white fermentation and saignée. This complex, concentrated wine offers rose petal, juicy red fruit, and a savory element.  It can stand up to intense flavors and spice.

Torre Castillo Alegre Monastrell 2013 is an enticing, spicy wine that slides right down, rich but not overblown.  Cooked cherry, dark plum, berry, and wood are in harmony, as are acid and alcohol.  Try this with anything on the grill, pulled pork, chili, or aged cheeses.


Summer Whites and Picnic Reds

From our Hang Time tasting on June 11, 2014…

It’s starting to feel like summer and it’s time for a little al fresco dining. Whether your style is a snazzy wicker hamper with silver, linens, and glasses or a picnic table near a grill in one of our wonderful parks, we have some suggestions for wines to enliven the occasion.

A perennial summer favorite is Grüner Veltliner.  Its been said that if Sauvignon Blanc and Viognier had a love child, it would be a “Grooner,” Austria’s signature white grape.  It’s often bottled under crown cap in the handy one-liter picnic size (love that extra glass!); the Setzer Grüner 2014 is a great example.  This is made in a softer, fruitier style that still maintains the crispness associated with the grape.  It’s good alone or with salads, chicken, and other lighter fare.

The south of France is the source of Hecht & Bannier Languedoc Blanc 2014, an intensely fragrant and flavorful blend of three grapes—crunchy Piquepoul, citrusy and flowery Roussanne, and round Grenache Blanc.  The organic vineyards that provide the grapes are within sight of the Mediterranean, so take a cue from the location and pair with shrimp and fruit skewers or veggie kabobs.

Our reds today are big and bold and are happy to partner big, bold flavors.  The heel of Italy’s boot, Puglia, provides Tratturi Primitivo 2013.  Primitivo has been genetically identified as Zinfandel, but the Italian style has a little more restraint and less jam than its California counterpart.  This one is made near Salento by a local co-op for American importer Doug Polaner.  Grill some eggplant and mushrooms or some Piggery sausage and add some tangy greens, and you’re all set.

Perhaps you’re at a location where glass containers are prohibited or unwise.  Try wine in a can!  The newly-arrived Field Recordings Fiction Red Blend 2013 comes in a 500 ml “tall boy” as well as a traditional 750 ml bottle.  This is a wow of a wine, a blend of six grapes from sustainably farmed vineyards in California’s Central Coast.  It’s ripe and generous, loaded with complex flavors and aromas.  Taking a sip is like listening to a great jazz sextet improvise, trying to figure out where it’s going next.  This wine is versatile, pairing with all sorts of barbecue (beef or pork, wet or dry); spicy bean dishes; corn, slaws, and other flavorful sides.

90+ Cellars Lot 37 Shiraz 2013 from the McLaren Vale in Australia is an outstanding value from a producer whose identity is kept secret. The negociant responsible for this offering chooses high-scoring wines from around the world and bottles them under the 90+ label at great prices.  It’s quite dry and nicely structured, deep and dark without being too heavy.  Try with your favorite type of burger, maybe with a little bleu cheese tucked into the center.

–M.P. Rouse

Fire up the Grill

From or Hang Time tasting on Thursday, June 4th, 2015…

It’s been a most unseasonable spring, running both hot and cold, but Memorial Day and the Ithaca Festival have come and gone, so it’s time to fire up the grill.  Clean off those grates and let’s get going!

While you’re getting things ready, try something light and refreshing—Vidigal Vinho Verde 2014.  A lightly spritzy, low-alcohol Portuguese white made from indigenous grapes, this offers fruity and floral aromas and natural acidity that tempers a hint of tropical sweetness. This is great on its own and pairs well with crisp salads or spicy appetizers.

Argiolas Costamolino 2014 is a Sardinian Vermentino.  This grape is grown in coastal areas and is a natural partner for seafood.  Try this zesty, citrusy wine with grilled fish and shrimp or scallop skewers; serve a gremolata sauce and pasta primavera as accompaniments.

Rosé is a must-have wine these days; our choice is the food-friendly Saint-Ser Côtes de Provence Sainte Victoire Rosé 2014.  This hails from a privileged part of Provence with a special luminosity and rocky clay-limestone soils.  There are only 30 producers in Sainte Victoire, and they use no chemical additives in the vineyards.  This is classic Provençal rosé with a serious side; it offers red berries, hints of watermelon and lemon peel, and lovely, balanced acidity.  Caramelize some red onions, lightly grill some anchovies, slice some Niçoise olives, and make pizza dough for a classic pissaladiére.  You could also make a Bouillabaisse and pretend you’re at a fancy restaurant in the Côte d’Azur.

On to the red wines—big fellows with bold flavors to pair with grilled meats and mushrooms.  X Winery is the offspring of an MBA business plan, UC Davis enology studies, and years in the wine industry; its goal is producing consumer-friendly wines at affordable prices.  Big Gun Red Blend 2012 is ripe and ready to please, with dark fruits and a luscious mouth-filling texture along with touches of toast, spice, and violets.  Pair with beef, barbecued ribs, or well-seasoned veggie kabobs.

Château Maris is a biodynamic producer in the Minervois La Livinière cru. The gravity-fed winery is made of hemp bricks, the vineyards are plowed by horse for weed control, and the winery produces as much energy as it consumes.  The La Touge Syrah 2011 sings of its home and its grapes.  Darkly colored, with meaty, earthy, black fruit aromas, and spicy, peppery, elderberry and black currant flavors, this wine is silky, firm, and generous in the mouth.  Pair with a rare steak nicely charred or portabellas and black olives.

–M.P. Rouse

Here’s what a new tractor looks like at Château de Montfaucon

We carry several wines from Château de Montfaucon, a family-run estate located across the river from Châteauneuf-du-Pape in the Rhone Valley of France.  The amiable owners, Rodolphe and Mari de Pins, have become good friends in fact, over the years.  But we carry the wines out of pure adoration for the quality and because they are tremendous values.

I recently hooked up with my friends for a meal and catch-up in NYC when they were in the country on business.  Rudi told me that he had a new tractor and was anxious to show me photos of it.  I wondered why he was so enthusiastic about a machine; it didn’t seem to be the type of thing that would make him all giddy.  I figured it really must be something.  Probably the latest technology with miniature size and handy new functions; though that had me puzzled as the tractors at Montfaucon never looked all that spiffy.  Rather covered with dirt and very well used.  The estate is traditional, honest, manual, organic and focused on one singular thing:  growing the best possible grapes and then getting out of the way.

Rudi opened up his ipad right in the foyer of Aqua Grill as we waited for our table.  These are the pictures I was shown of the “new tractor.”  Her name is Tiffany and her operator is affectionately called Kojak.

Rudi is especially keen to use this beautiful draft horse in his new plantings and in his very old vines.  He says he can’t stand to see any damage done to his beloved and delicate vines.  He has some Clairette vines that are as old as 140 years, so it would certainly be a crime to hurt them with a machine.  In case you are curious, here’s what a 140-year old vine looks like.  He calls this one “Octopussy.”

I love this photo with Château de Montfaucon (an 11th century Scottish-style, 3-sided castle) in the background.















Here are Tiffany and Kojak working in the new Mourvèdre vines planted in 2013 in honor of Rudi and Mari’s new baby girl, Wilhelmine.  Mari says Mourvèdre is apropos as it’s as sassy and characterful as the little miss!


There they go, working in the new vineyard just below a plateau of garrigue.

Vines do not like a great deal of compaction.  The roots don’t like to be stepped on with a 2-ton machine several times a month.  I’m sure they much prefer this nice horse.  It might look easy, but this is intense work that requires muscle, endurance and a willingness to work for hours in the Provençal sun.  Handcrafted wines indeed.  From vine to glass, these grapes are touched with love.  It makes one realize even more what a value they are at $12 to $49 a bottle.

Below is a video of the dynamic duo cultivating the ground between rows.

tiffany in action

Cheers, Dewi Rainey