About a year ago there was some excitement among local mixologists about a large portfolio of bitters newly on offer from a local distributor. Prior to that, the only way to purchase Fee Brothers was via FedEx or UPS. This new arrangement should have been good news for drinkers of premium cocktails. However, in order to rationalize a presumably small local delivery of bitters, the wholesale client was encouraged to add wines to the order, mostly with unfamiliar labels. And in order not to miss an opportunity, several friends in that trade asked if I could recommend any of the associated wines. I couldn’t.
Now, I’m trying to find a term that could sum up a mathematically opposite recommendation. “Do buy the wines,” perhaps? Or maybe, “fuck the bitters!” yeah, more like that.
In the past year Cana Distributors has assembled a very good collection of European and American wines. For those who follow importer/curators, there are wines from José Pastor, Charles Neal, and Portovino. In addition to that, Cana has several moving selections – wait for it – from California.
Here are my notes, roughly in ascending order of price:
Please remember, if you are drinking red wine in hot summer weather, have a way of cooling the bottle. An ice bath in a bucket works best. If the air is 90 deg. F, and you want your glass of wine to be 65, to equalize you will need to mix – in your glass – proportional amounts of 90 deg. wine with 40 deg. wine!
2012 Cotes du Rhone, Domaine Piaugier, La Grange de Piaugier
Piaugier is geologically proximate to Rasteau, Séguret and Gigondas, and that could explain the degree of fruit maturity in this modestly priced Rhone. This price range, ~$13, is typically dominated by big generic-tasting blends. And then there are the alternative little wines that struggle for balance and which might have been better off manifested as rosé. The fruit in this example is ripe and complex, with flavors of jam and iron, wild herbs and aromatic wood, but all while the texture, body and drinkability remain inviting.
IFTV* Bobal Estenas, Utiel-Requena
Bobal is very intensively grown in Spain, predominantly in the arid and elevated vineyards west of Valencia where it is mostly used as a base for generic reds and brandy. This wine, by contrast, is intended to show Bobal’s potential to make distinctive wine for the table, and its success seems indisputable. Hot and dry vineyards tend to produce big alcoholic wines, and that quality is indeed evident here, but there is remarkable balance and complexity too. Like a super drinkable spiced blackberry jam, it finishes dry and inviting. I think it will retail for less than or equal to $15.
2012 Sablet Rouge, Domaine Piaugier
This is estate wine from the same property that produced the Cotes du Rhone above, and of a status to be named after the village, Sablet. This wine shows a degree of fruit maturity that might be scary in the abstract: kirsch, jam, creosote, marmalade. But it’s exciting too, and producing a wine like this requires sacrifice, labor and risk. It might best be paired with big flavored food, like a red meat main course created by chef Brad Greenhill, for example. I’m taking a wild guess and saying it might retail for ~$20.
2012 Sablet Blanc, Domaine Piaugier
Where do I start? White Rhones are uncommon enough to not have formed an enduring and coherent stylistic identity. Sometimes they are filler – neutral-tasting alternatives to Chardonnay. Sometimes they are effusive and fragile confections reminiscent of macadamia nuts and pears. So I already suspected that this would require study beyond the first drink. What did it want to be? It seemed outrageously fat and sweet at first. But that doesn’t happen by accident in hot Sablet, and usually not artificially either. Sure enough, repetition helped it make more and more sense, revealing the imperatives of severe selection and severe weather. This is beautifully ripe and expressive, somehow reminiscent of great white Hermitage. Intensely ripe pear, apple, peach, and lots of varied raw nut flavors. Made with fairly equal parts of Clairette, Grenache Blanc, Viognier and Roussanne from sand, clay and silt-based vineyards. This might sell for $20-$25, and we should talk about an appropriate pairing.
IFTV Red Car Rosé – Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir.
The Sonoma Coast. Pinot Noir. Pink wine with elegance and palate durability, and thrilling transparency of flavor. Thankfully, the misguided notion that pink wine should be always cheap is beginning to fall. This should sell for $20-$25.
2012 Crozes-Hermitage, Cuvée Laurent Combier
Bistro-style, meaning the Syrah fruit – dense and oily as it is – is captured and laid bare without apology. There is a raw animal quality to the inception of the drink which is native to mature Syrah grapes, and with repetition the fat ripe charms assert themselves in greater and greater proportion. I’m getting a case of 12 bottles, after I save the necessary ~$26 x 12 – 10%.
2012 Russian River Chardonnay Babushka
Made by Zepaltas and evidently without much, or any, new oak aging. Its great to taste a New World Chardonnay that displays the extreme ripeness expected from these parts of the world without a residual slime of cloying claptrap resulting from fast ferments and other manipulative processes. This is fat, and complex, with flavors of cream, minerals and rare botanicals, and it finishes dry. If it sells for $30 I’ll be buying some. The last time I bought a California Chardonnay was in 2006.
2010 Sonoma Coast Syrah, Red Car
If the Croze-Hermitage above is too animal for you, or even if its not and you just want to experience the range of possibilities for this distinctive grape variety, you should experience this drink. Black and inky but without any cumbersome weight. Velvety but detailed. Expect it to retail for about $36.
2012 Pinot Noir, Suacci, Zepaltas
Expect to see this retailing for just over $50. Good Pinot Noir should be charming and have dimension. Usually one of these qualities is sacrificed for the other. Even worse, often neither are present. This sort of winemaking in California is only feasible in very small batches – the vineyard is only 6.5 acres – with inversely proportional prices. I say spend the dough to get this and drink it up.
2008 Brunello di Montalcino, Passo del Lume Spento
I think this sells for about $50 at Motor City Wine, and it’s totally worth it. There are other wines bearing the prestigious name Brunello at this price, or less, but I can’t think of one that does as good a job delivering on the prime directive of expensive wines: be distinctive, be identifiable in all ways. Haste and economy often let generic qualities creep in. Its a fine line between eliminating flaws and eliminating character. And then there is time. What is the character of good Brunello? Well there is the sense of spiced wood and air-cured berries. The dimension is vast but the weight on the palate is delicate. Most of all its drinkable and thought-provoking.
Tasted but intended to be reviewed in a separate post: 2010 Timorasso, Vigneti Massa Derthona. Tasted but not recommended: 2012 Chardonnay, Heintz, Zepaltas, a couple of Rhones from Domaine Roger Perrin
* I’m hoping to make this the standard abbreviation for “I forget the vintage.”