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It's Memorial Day weekend and if you're drinking wine I'll bet you're keeping it casual. You're either taking a road trip up north or you're kicking it around the house for a stay-cation. Let's keep it simple and keep the wine casual as well. Each of these wines are $15 and under!
I can't imagine cooking outdoors without copious amounts of rose to keep one hydrated over the flames. This Savoie from Carrel made me do a double-take when I first tasted it. It's so refreshing with juicy melon tones it cannot possibly be from the Alps! They must crave the same wine as me under clear blue summer skies.
Croze-Hermitage Blanc...hmm...Let's simply say I've had more bad ones than good ones (mostly the Croze's fault, not the Hermitage). Most folks I know are completely unfamiliar with the whites of the Northern Rhone, so Chapoutier "Petite Ruche" is my best recommendation if you're looking for a new experience. The price cannot be beat for the pedigree, and it's nothing short of satisfying. Bee's wax, jasmine, and often a dozen other potent fragrances on the nose, they can often feel flabby and oily on the palette. This, however, is opulent and racy, spicy and floral with a zip. I can imagine several things I would eat with this: flounder and halibut, grilled chicken, cochon du lait, (ooohhhhh I just thought of a hot dog smothered in sour kraut!), and I recently recommended it to a guy who was about to grill octopus. I have no idea how that turned out, but he seems like a pretty cool guy. I want a friend who grills octopus.
Last but not least, our good buddy Kermit Lynch brings us his "Cypress Cuvee" Cotes du Rhone. Mostly grenache, old vines, minimally filtered, expert vigneron, blended by Mr. Kermit himself, and only $12. Need I say more? Ok I will. It's truly a crowd-pleaser. You'll probably be around people who drink California Cab when it's 110 degrees outside anyway, so throw them a bone and a have a red around, only this one you'll be very pleased with. Juicy, meaty, and even thirst-quenching with a slight chill.
Under the right conditions, great wine will only improve with age. How much improvement, how long to age, what will appear, what will disappear, are all mysteries. To some this is infuriating, but to others it is all the more exciting. When everything comes together, it is like an orchestra performing in prefect unison. Aging wine requires old-fashioned values: patience and delayed gratification.
My dream is to buy all the great wines, age them for you, and have a retail shop filled with past vintages long gone from the market. Trouble is, it requires an enormous amount of cash up front, a decade or so with no revenue, and then cross your fingers and hope customers want what you’ve set aside for them.
In the meantime, the best I can do is set a few things aside for a future you, and encourage present day you to set some things aside for yourself. Let’s forget the collector’s angle and the people you read about in the news selling their cellars for millions of dollars. We should be aging wine to drink - to enjoy! I’d like to point out solid wines from great producers with long legacies that will stand the test of time…. And you can afford them!
This will be an on-going series where we discuss what is required to age wine, what one should expect and of course, many of the great and affordable wines from our inventory. Here is an obvious place to start:
2011 Domaine de Fontsainte Corbiéres Rouge “Réserve la Demoiselle” $17
This Languedoc red comes from an ancient vineyard, quite literally the thoroughbred of the Corbiéres. I first heard about the Demoiselle vineyard in Kermit Lynch’s 1988 memoir Adventures on the Wine Route:
“The twelve-acre Demoiselles vineyard rolls down like a carpet from a hilltop crowned with forest much like Le Corton. It is 80 percent Carignan, 10 percent Grenache noir, 10 percent a mélange of ancient varieties, including Mourvèdre The entire vineyard consists of seventy- to eighty-year-old vines!”
Those eighty-year-old vines in 1988 are now nearly one hundred-years-old. Imagine the extraordinarily low production of such ancient vines, and then imagine the concentration of terroir, the complete expression of a place in the bottle. Demoiselles is rich without being overwhelming, spicy without feeling one bit artificial or over-oaked. Perhaps I’m simply having a craving for a plate of mole negro, but as I write and swirl the Fontsainte in my glass, beautiful aromas of dried red ancho chilies, garden fresh tomatoes and a very real presence of fire-roasted meat, like when the rendered fat drops onto the hot coals and flares up.
It is pure pleasure and I am personally grateful to the stewards of this historic site because of the joy it delivers every vintage, and it is a serious bargain! This wine will age nicely over the next ten years, and you can actually afford to collect a few of them to enjoy in the future.
Good advice from a good adviser:
Today’s high remained safely below 100 degrees and from this point forward our local climate looks to be improving each and every day. All the more reason to drink rosé. When the rest of American is downing rosé, I personally avoid the great outdoors, but by October I can’t seem to stay inside. One must not drink rosé exclusively outdoors, but it does improve the experience.
Many retailers and restaurants around town will begin to deplete their rosé offerings, but we’ve actually increased them at French Grocery. We know that many of you are like us, and are reemerging from your summer hibernation to cook over an open fire, dine al fresco, and watch a sunset - hopefully with a glass of rosé in your hand.
Below is a list of some new offerings you would not have seen if you last shopped for rosé for the 4th of July or even Labor Day. But before that, I will whet your appetite with some food talk.
My favorite meal to cook outdoors is Paella. There is little better pairing for rosé, and cooking over an open fire not only enhances the experience, but the smoke subtly improves the whole dish. Its descendent from Louisiana, Jambalaya, is a favorite version of mine from back home. I like to cook Paella with those familiar Creole spices and cured meats (andouille and tasso), but I prefer the Paella pilaf-style of rice cooked shallow over a large surface area, rather than piled high in a cauldron, which finishes sticky like Jambalaya. The result will be a blend of crispy browned rice at the bottom and fluffy rice on the top. I’ll give you a rough outline and you can fill in with your preferred spices and ingredients.
Start your fire early and preheat your great big paella pan. Brown cut-up chicken (skin-on) in olive oil with Spanish chorizo or other sausage. Remove the meat after it’s nicely browned but before it’s fully cooked. Sautee onions, celery, red bell pepper and lots of garlic in the oil and bits left in the pan. The aromas will really be getting the neighbors’ attention now.
Add rice and stir to coat each grain in the oil. There are traditional Spanish varieties, but don’t worry too much; Basmati and Jasmine are great, but any variety you have will work. Deglaze with a bit of that rosé you’re drinking and then add chicken stock or shellfish stock. It’s best if you’ve steeped some saffron in your stock ahead of time, but if not add saffron at this point. Add your meat back to the rice, bring to a light simmer, and add shrimp and mussels to the top. Green peas are traditional, and green onion and lemons make a terrific garnishment as well.
Cover, wait and drink more rosé. Serve the whole pan on the table and let your guests dig in. Bon appétit!
I think the most exciting part of buying (and collecting) wine is the risk. If money weren't an object, there wouldn't be much risk right? Imagine a billionaire version of yourself coming up from your cellar, popping the cork on a sixty year-old DRC to find that its past it's prime, or worse, corked! Too bad, you'll just have to go back downstairs and grab one from a different vintage.
I imagine even a billionaire could be disappointed in a wine, but I think the sting is worse for the rest of us. Parting with hard-earned money on a liquid that will be immediately consumed leaves little room for error. Consequently, we don't often like to take risk when it comes to drinking wine. "I like Cab... I see Cab on the menu... I'll have a glass of Cab please..." Over and over and over again.
As a retailer I have to take lots of risk on wine. You may see me swirling a glass of juice around with a distributor when you come in the shop, but the reality is I've acquired most of our wines without even trying them first. How do I make a choice? Well when you deal primarily with European wine, there is literally centuries of legacy for many of these regions, and generations of legacy behind many of the producers. Otherwise, I have to do what anyone else does and take the best of my knowledge, apply it and hope for the best.
Ioppa's 2007 Vespolina is one of those truly rewarding finds that confirms the joy of taking a risk. This is wine that is not stocked locally by a distributor and I can only get a crack at each vintage once a year. Vespolina is pretty obscure to most American wine drinkers. It's is a variant of Nebbiolo that is less tannic, more spicy and floral. Like all the great wines of Piedmont, they are built to age for decades, but this particular one is cellared for several years prior to release in the market. This release, already seven years-old, is ready to start drinking and maintains a long life ahead of it.
If you've had any experience with Nebbiolo (the varietal in Barola, Barbaresco & Gattinara) you know that this can be an illusive grape. Greatly crafted Nebbiolos of Piedmont can be stunning and I find them some of the most pleasurable and romantic of all wines. I'll never forget a twenty-year-old Barolo whose finish lingered on my mind for at least a week afterwards. Everything else I tasted seemed boring in comparison. On the other hand, this grape can often need decades to unwind, and trying to drink value-driven young Nebbiolos can be very disappointing: full of tongue-wrapping tannin and lacking any identifiable fruit.
Fortunately, this Vespolina was unforgettable for all the right reasons. I knew what was in my glass, a $28 bottle of wine and not the usual $40+ for Barolo, but I couldn't believe what I was tasting. When I placed the order, the fear was in the back of my mind, "Great, another Nebbiolo that will fall flat for my customers..." Instead, however, I found a real jewel possessing all of the elements of a great wine. Best yet, not only could you enjoy it the day you bought it, but it was only $28!
Maybe $28 is a bit much for a bottle, you say, but I'm telling you there's not much risk in this one. If you've wanted to try a Barolo but haven't shelled out the money yet, this is a chance to get pretty close to tasting Nebbiolo at its best. Also for you collectors, a case of this stuff won't put you back as much as that Barolo you've had your eyes on. Keep it for another decade, and enjoy a bottle when you want without feeling guilty.
Once upon a time, $10 was a benchmark for an everyday crowd-pleasing wine on a retail shelf. A consumer felt good about the price, and it also represented somewhat of a sweet spot for producers and distributors as well. While we are proud to carry wines that hover around $10, they are not the same wines you used to get for $10.
Today, $15 is the sweet spot. That's where you can often find wine that over-delivers and stays within your budget. I began to make a list of all-stars at this price point and found enough to prove my point. The options go on and on, but for the sake of brevity I've paired it down to a manageable list.
DOMAINE VAUGONDY VOUVRAY: Vouvray isn't always that easy to navigate. Chenin Blanc, like Riesling, can be sweet or bone dry with lots of variations in between, and even variations between vintages of the same producer. Unlike German Riesling, the producers are not always very helpful by stating on the label what to expect in the bottle. Domaine Vaugondy makes an excellent off-dry Vouvray: just a touch of sweet. Refreshing and an excellent companion to food.
DUPEUBLE BEAUJOLAIS: Oh Beaujolais, how I love you... except when I don't. There are no exceptions for Dupeuble, however; I love this year after year. I think we've all had Beaujolais that was closer to Kool Aid than to its neighbors in Burgundy, but if you stick to the good producers you'll not be disappointed. This is a fantastic wine at any price, but at $15 it's especially great!
KERMIT LYNCH COTES DU RHONE: He doesn't just import anymore, but has a couple of Southern Rhone wines that he produces as well. Imagine all the connections Kermit Lynch must have, so it's conceivable that he can walk into most cellars in France and blend together as good of a wine as anyone. We've enjoyed every vintage since 2009 and they are consistently pleasing and of enormous value.
CLOS LA COUTALE CAHORS: If you've been around wine long enough, a Cahors was probably your first exposure to the grape Malbec. These days, however, cheap Malbec from Argentina is trendy, and while there is worthy Malbec out there, most of it is simply boring. Not the case with this one. You probably won't see this on a restaurant's wine list, so order in some Peking Duck and enjoy this rustic wine from Southwest France.
RAFFAULT CHINON: I've written about Chinon before here, but I'll take the opportunity to again remind you of the adventure you can have for only $15. Chinon, made from Cabernet Franc, is so out of the mainstream of what we're constantly being served that it truly wakes up your pallet and makes you take notice. Silky smooth and light in texture, yet full-bodied and tanic all at once. This Chinon is very aromatic and is as exciting to smell as it is to drink.
NISIA OLD VINE VERDEJO: it's become a cliche, but great Spanish wine would cost at least 50% more if the same wine was from a French AOC. This is Verdejo from Rueda where the soil is very poor and sandy. The vines are upwards of 125 years old, so consider the low yields and therefore the concentration and extraction of fruit. That's all very good for Verdejo, which can be razor sharp, and it makes for one of the single best values in white wines that we carry. I have taken this wine over to Hana across the street several times and can testify that there is no better pair with Sushi.
VALPANE ROSSO PIETRO BARBERA: I wish I could take credit for best describing this wine, but I must give the credit it to our loyal customer David. "This wine is simply charming," he said. I could not agree more, and I really do wish I had beaten him to the punch. Barbera is distinctive, so distinctive that I'm often at a loss for words to describe it. "Well, it smells like Barbera... and it tastes like Barbera," I might say, which can lead one to thinking they're all the same. But they simply are not, and this one in particular is about as charming as a wine can be, and most certainly dangerously easy to drink.
PALLADINO DOLCETTO D'ALBA: I've written about Dolcetto here, and if I've ever caught you browsing the Italian section I have probably tried to convince you of its virtue. I am sorry. Here I go again. I don't know why so many customers tell me they don't like Dolcetto, but I'm happy that I've changed many minds about it. I'm sure there's some swill out there, but everything we have here is top-notch. A serious wine from a serious producer, and at $15!
JEAN-PHILLIPE BLANQUETTE DE LIMOUX: The sparkling wine of Blanquette de Limoux was the first sparkling wine made in France, even before Champagne. The primary grape, Mauzac is a bit obscure outside the Languedoc, and lends a bit of green apple to the profile. It's wonderfully refreshing and every bit a satisfying sparkler when one requires some fizz. In our climate we need to drink more sparkling wine, so no need to wait for a celebration: it's $15!
CHATEAU LAUZADE COTES DE PROVENCE: The first thing you'll notice is the curvy bottle. Normally you shouldn't let this fool you, but in this case it's quite indicative of what's in the bottle. Next you'll notice the pale salmon color, a trademark of Provence rosés. Consider this: in most other markets, retailers look at rosés as a liability, something they have a very short season to unload on their customers, otherwise get stuck with last year's rosé when it's snowing outside. But here in Phoenix, we can appropriately enjoy rosé all year long. I can't think of any other wine that is made for such immediate pleasure. Don't forget to enjoy rosé today!
DOMAINE BRU BACHE JURANCON: So you might be disappointed that while $15, it's half the size of the others. Welcome to the world of desert wine. You will indeed want to drink more than 375ml of this Basque country classic, but it's best you don't. These wines pack in tons of flavor and over-ripe sweetness into a tiny bottle, and this Jurancon comes with some modest fizz to lighten things up. The French author, Collette, called the wine of Jurancon a "great seducer" that "inflamed" her as an adolescent. Aren't you at least a bit curious to try it?
JEAN TOUZOT MACON VILLAGES: I learned about "a Macon" long before I was old enough to drink one thanks to Hemingway. Perhaps it showed up in other novels, but I distinctly remember him and F. Scott Fitzgerald drinking their share of it in A Moveable Feast. I recall they were driving in a convertible in Burgundy and of course it was raining so they ducked into a bistro along the way and downed a few a bottles. It's still quite drinkable today and most likely better too. The rest of the world's success with Chardonnay has put upward pressure on this "lesser" region of Burgundy to improve their export. I can't complain: at $15 it still beats most California Chardonnay at comparable prices.