$15 FINDS

06/27/2014

 
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.

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DOMAINE VAUGONDY VOUVRAYVouvray 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.

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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!

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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. 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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!

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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!

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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!

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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?

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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.

 

Saint Cosme Wines

06/07/2014

 
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I confess I was a geeky child who read an atlas for fun.  This was of course before the internet and Google Maps entered our lives, so a map meant paper and a detailed map meant lots of paper. I remember unfolding maps on the living room floor and reading the names of all the tiny towns around the state I had never heard of. It was a virtual road trip and the atlas on our family's bookshelf had all kinds of useful trivia like population numbers from every nation on the planet. I was captivated.

Not much has changed, actually. I have a wine atlas that is so detailed it has vineyard names and elevations, even some soil types. You can travel Burgundy from one end to the other identifying the premier and grand cru vineyards along the way. I suppose this is why I love wine so much, Old World wine in particular. Every bottle is like taking a trip. Every region is storied and full of rich history. Place. Terroir. Legacy. This is what makes wine special.

Chateau Saint Cosme epitomizes this tradition.  The oldest estate in Gigondas, it has been in the same family since 1490, and the family has been the vignerons for 14 generations. The original Gallo-Roman fermentation vats are perfectly preserved. Saint Cosme is not merely a museum, though, but a living, breathing testament to the terroir of Gigondas. They farm organically and make wines that reflect a real sense of place. They have three distinct terroirs throughout 15 hectares of old vines (average 60 years old). The single-vineyard wines rival any Chateaneuf-du-Pape (Parker gave the 2010 Hominis Fides 100 points for what it's worth), but the more attainable simple Gigondas ain't too shabby (Parker gave the 2010 93 points for what it's worth).

Since 1997 they have been making negociant wine as well including a fabulous Cote Rotie. They have estate Cotes-du-Rhone, but their negociant CDR is 100% Syrah (very unusual) and is crafted with all the care and respect for terroir as their estate wine. Personally, I think that 100% Syrah CDR is a real treat, especially at $15.

I say all of this because I want to sell you Chateau Saint Cosme wine. But even if I don't I can't help but be thrilled when I look into this wooden chest filled with their wine. There's some really special juice in there, and some of it is crazy expensive. But it's a place in a bottle, and they didn't cut any corners on the affordable stuff either. That 100% Syrah Cotes-du-Rhone is from a spot along the Rhone river covered in galets roulés (rolling stones) very similar to some of the best Chateaneuf-du-Pape locations. Louis Barruol, the current winemaker who took over from his father in 1992, talks about this wine as his baby, his little syrah he says, even though he can't claim those vines as his own.

When you drink this wine you are the beneficiary of the Romans who first planted vines here, and especially the monasteries who determined what grew best where and which slopes and valleys bared the best fruit. Drinking through this portfolio is like a virtual road trip.

Saint Cosme Little James Basket Press: $13
Saint Cosme Cotes-du-Rhone 2012: $15
Chateau Saint Cosme Gigondas 2011: $41
Chateau Saint Cosme Gigondas "Valbelle" 2011: $68
Chateau Saint Cosme Gigondas "Le Claux" 2011: $88
Saint Cosme Cote Rotie: $62


 

Hot Summer Reds

05/30/2014

 
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We've found some customers have a dilemma when it comes to drinking wine as the mercury approaches triple digits. There is always a chilled white or rosé waiting, but that may not always pair with what you're eating, or perhaps you're just not interested. When you need a red, only a red will do.

However, a high-alcohol big tannin Cabernet is the last thing that I find refreshing on a hot night here in Phoenix. Fortunately, the world of wine is much bigger than Big Cab. 

These wines all take a chill very nicely (serve below 60° F) and should be exactly what you're looking for on a hot day.
  • Pecchenino Dolcetto san Luigi Dogliani $16: I can't help but open a bottle of this anytime I cook something even remotely Italian. Barolo might be the King of Wines but this is what the villagers of Barolo are actually drinking with their dinner each night. Dolcetto can too often be an after-thought for the winemakers of Piedmont, but Peccenino takes Dolcetto very seriously and Dogliani is probably the best place Dolcetto can come from. A perfect balance of fruit and acidity with perfume and earth on the nose. A very serious wine.
  • Pascal Grainger Julienas Special $22: I love Beaujolais and this is a fantastic example of what I love about it. Silky-smooth and thirst-quenching, but all the aroma and depth you expect from Burgundy. This is a serious wine worth every penny, but we carry other Beaujolais including a fantastic one from Dupeuble at $15.
  • Chateau de Piraza Minervois $13: This one is a little more difficult to nail down, but I knew I had to represent the Languedoc considering its reputation for delicious value wine and the fact that they have pretty warm summers as well. You could insert several Cotes du Rhone's in this slot, but I find this Minervois especially nice. It has soft touch and goes down easy.
  • Fiorini Lambrusco Grasparossa $15.50: From the foot of the Apennine Mountains near Modena, where they take cuisine very seriously. In other words, Lambrusco is a very authentic part of one of the world's most famous cuisines. A dry sparkling red wine, it is certainly out of the ordinary, but it also one of the most refreshing wines for a hot summer day.
  • Gardoni Le Fontane Bardolino $15: The Corvina grape makes some of the most sought-after wines in the world with great complexity, but Bardolino isn't often mentioned among them. Bardolino, on the shores of Lago di Garda, is about as charming and easy-drinking as they come without sacrificing any character. This is a truly terroir-driven wine: slightly smokey with the presence of the lake-effect air on the bouquet.
  • Valle dell'Acate Il Frappato $15.95: Not surprisingly, a final selection also comes from Italy. This Sicilian wine is often compared to Beaujolais due to it's light body and easy-drinking nature. There are qualities that set it apart however, including a delightful cocoa finish. Don't forget to chill this - I think it shines that way.

 
 
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Recently I was reviewing my inventory and realized I had a problem. I have three Dolcetto's from three different producers and only the occasional buyer of them. Maybe it was time to revisit my love for Dolcetto...we'll call it research.

As if the stars were aligning, we hosted a winemaker from Barolo last weekend. Just imagine a charming, dapper young Italian man with endless stories of village life among the vines. With him he brought several varieties of his Barolo, all of which blew me away, but what really stuck with with me was his family's Dolcetto. 

In Italian, Dolcetto means "the little sweet one." If you were constantly standing in contrast to Nebbiolo you'd be called "the little sweet one" too. I asked the young wine-maker what he drank every day: Dolcetto was his response. I can see why. Honestly, many of the best wines I've ever had have been Barolo (made from Nebbiolo), but that may say more about my exposure than anything else. Most of us, however, don't have a 20 year-old Barolo waiting around to enjoy every day. But that nice Italian wine-maker does... and he still reaches for Dolcetto for his go-to wine with dinner.

I ordered a case of Giuseppe Vaira's Dolcetto, but it won't be state-side until May. In the meantime I have three amazing Dolcetto's at affordable every-day drinking prices. I can't say I have a favorite, they are all so good and so different. They also each bare a resemblance to their Nebbiolo big brothers. In France they call that terroir, but there's plenty to go around in Barolo as well.

Bottom line: Dolcetto will fit in on any occasion you require a red wine, and these three particular ones are complex enough to satisfy even the most experience wine-drinker. Cork, pour and enjoy even without food. They're that good.

 
 
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Years ago in New Orleans I was lucky enough to tag along with a friend on some exclusive blind brown bag tastings (bring your own special bottles from your stash) at a great independent wine shop. I couldn't believe some of the vintages that were revealed from the brown bags after tasting… 10, 20, 30 year old wines.

I also couldn't believe they were letting me even taste this stuff; I expected them to kick me out just as soon as they realized I was there. Instead, I learned that day that wine collectors must know their treasures are worthless if they are not shared. Collecting is about the joy of showing off what you had the foresight to squirrel away years ago, but also about the joy of sharing something you value with another who will value it in the same way.

I learned something else that day, some fellow named Kermit Lynch was really important. Anytime his name was on a label it got attention, and very often the most revered wines we tasted were revealed to be his imports. I really felt out of my league, and my pallet was not at all prepared to appreciate much of what I was tasting, but I took away those two great lessons.

Fast-forward several years and now I’m an independent wine retailer myself. I didn't waste any time stocking the shelves with Kermit Lynch imports, and the timing could not be better: Kermit Lynch is celebrating the 25th anniversary of his industry-changing memoir, Adventures on the Wine Route.

As I read the book I kept thinking, “This guy has amazing taste! He likes what I like!” Silly me. It eventually occurred to me that I’m living in Kermit Lynch’s world, not the other way around. My tastes are a direct result of the influence he’s had on the American palate through the wines he’s imported for decades.

If you’re curious about French wine, I strongly recommend his memoir. It’s part travel journal, part wine geek narrative, but one hundred percent entertaining. I also recommend you take home some of his wine. Lynch hand-selects cuvees one barrel at a time and even works closely with growers and wine-makers to produce wines that reflect the traditional old-world style he advocates. His wines are often unfiltered and unadulterated, just as they've been made by the generations that preceded us.

My favorite is the Domaine Tempier Bandol Rouge, but the red Burgundies are also terrific. A fabulous Chinon, Tavel, and Cotes du Rhone are all available for under $20. Now that I think about it, it's warming up so much outside it's about time for a glass of Tavel in sunshine. We carry eleven KL wines, and I intend to grow the collection.


 
 
One look at a vineyard in Châteauneuf-du-Pape in the Southern Rhone valley of France and it’s clear that what makes a great tomato isn’t necessarily what makes great wine. One taste of a Châteauneuf-du-Pape, and it’s clear that there’s some magic in all those pebbles covering the ground.

Châteauneuf-du-Pape literally means “The Pope’s new castle,” and is a legacy of that brief period where the papacy was in Avignon. Viticulture that began way back in the 14th century lives on to this day. It’s amazing to think anyone back then considering planting anything at all in the seemingly barren soil, but I’m so glad they did. The wines of Southern Rhone were the first that made me say, “Wow, I’ve never had anything like that from California...” The gnarly old vines that crawl along river-rock covered earth are unlike the pastoral Napa Valley.

The wines of Southern Rhone are different from their cousins in the northern part of the valley (Hermitage, Cornas, St. Joseph, Cote Rotie, etc) which are typically made from Syrah (there are exceptions of course). In the South, Syrah is still a big part of the blends, but there are up to 13 varietals used, Grenache and Mourvedre being the most common. These blends are so wonderfully balanced, showing the fruit of Grenache, while being full of spice, mineral and all the herbs you can imagine in the surrounding landscape. 

Châteuneuf is on the higher end of Southern Rhone wines, but even for high-end French wine it’s remarkably affordable. The most notorious Châteuneuf-du-Pape is Château Beaucastel, and those are pretty pricey, but we sell one made from vineyards literally a stones throw away from their famous neighbor for less than half the price at $34.95 (Domaine de Cristia) and it’s a 2010 which was about as good a vintage as there’s ever been in the Southern Rhone valley. A Châteuneuf will age very well, and most avid fans don’t find what they’re looking for until the wine is 7+ years old, but that 2010 vintage is drinking very well for such a young wine.

However, most folks don’t jump all in and drop $35 on a bottle of wine if it’s their first foray into a new region. If that is the case, I have just the alternative for you. In fact, don’t consider them alternatives, but experiences in their own right. Wines from Gigondas and Vacqueyras nearby can be just as expressive and retail starting at $19.95. 

The larger region surrounding these AOC’s and comprising most of the Southern Rhone valley is Cotes du Rhone. A Cotes du Rhone is a terrific food wine, typically ready to drink right away and is a perfect entry into the flavors of Southern Rhone. Our best-selling wine is Domaine des Bachantes, a 2010 Cotes du Rhone, and because of that amazing vintage is drinking like a wine of much higher pedigree and it’s only $11.95. We also have very affordable Cotes du Rhone from Kermit Lynch and J.L. Chave, and I learned a long time ago to try anything with their name on it.
 

Chinon Rouge

09/04/2013

 
Do you get sticker-shock when shopping among the Bordeaux and Bourgogne regions of the French aisle? I feel your pain. However, I have just the thing for you. A Chinon Rouge has all the charm of an old-world wine, minerality, meaty, not a fruit-bomb, but at a very accessible price that will not leave you feeling guilty about stepping outside your California comfort zone.

Chinon Rouge is typically 100% Cabernet Franc, with allowances up to 10% Cabernet Sauvignon. If you haven’t had a Cab. Franc before, this is the place to start. Cab. Franc actually predates Cab. Sauvignon, as Cab. Sauvignon is a hybrid of Cab. Franc and Sauvignon Blanc. When blended in Bordeaux, it rarely is the lead grape, and instead lingers in the background with its noticeable pine resin and medicinal aromas. Some Bordeaux producers even call the grape their “insurance” grape, if the weather turns out to be unfavorable for Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot.

Cab. Franc ripens earlier than its descendant, Cab. Sauvignon, which really allows it to shine in the cooler climate of the Loire’s Chinon. The Loire Valley is best known for its white wine (Sancerre, Pouilly-Fume & Vouvray), but I have to say that discovering my first Chinon was a real treat. You can really taste the rocky soil known throughout the region, and while I understood the wine to be rather light in body, I was pleasantly surprised by its depth and tannic quality.

This is really an over-generalization and I’m sure there will be plenty of people out there who scoff at this, but here it goes: a Chinon Rouge, while having nothing to do geographically with either Bordeaux or Bourgogne, feels like an easy meeting place between the two. It has a wonderful, silky mouth-feel like a polished Pinot Noir, light in body and very expressive of the terroir, but also the meaty spiciness we love from those great Bordeaux vintages. An added bonus: while it can age very nicely, it is often ready to drink much sooner than a Bourgogne or Bordeaux, which takes some of the risk out of trying one.

You can find the pictured Chinon Rouge here at FG for $14.95, which is noticeably more affordable than many of its rack-mates. It truly is a treat to enjoy on its own, or pair it with a range of flavors from cheese to our Chicken & 40 Cloves of Garlic or our Beef Bourgogne.
 
 
We've had several people tell us, "Thank you for opening in my neighborhood!" I cannot think of a better compliment. When we set out to start our first business, we had in mind a French-Creole bistro tucked away in a neighborhood, just like the ones we enjoyed dining in for years in New Orleans.

French Grocery has been an evolution in concept, but one ideal has remained the same: we need to belong to a community, a foundation of support from regulars and neighbors who feel like French Grocery belongs to them. It is so wonderful to get to know those of you who stop in so frequently, and we are honored to be cooking for your family table.

Tomorrow, Tuesday July 9th, we are introducing a menu of dinner-to-go soups, salads, entrees and sides. We expect this will generate plenty of attention on day one, but we are even more excited about our plans to grow the menu and tailor it to what our neighbors and regulars enjoy.

We're still a mom and pop, but we can tell already our customers are challenging us to be more ambitious. We'll be in a constant state of growth for the foreseeable future, and we hope you will enjoy all that we are now, and all that we will become. 

Sincerely, 

Kevin, Erin & Melissa