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February, 2015 — 678 Club:

Trapadus Cotes du Rhone, France, 2013

Okay. You remember that Johnny Cash classic “A Boy Named Sue” — right? That’s the tune running through our head, as we introduce you to winemaker Helen Durand. Because you see, she is actually a he (go figure what the French are thinking when they name their children). Come to think of it, perhaps Helen’s name is partially responsible for his work ethic — this guy has been making wine since he was a teenager, and by the ripe old age of 22 he was in complete control of the entire domaine. That was almost 20 years ago, and the work he’s done these last two decades has been nothing short of phenomenal — including converting the entire vineyard to organic and biodynamic principles, and experimenting with new techniques until they’re perfect. Which is how we would describe this 100% Grenache Cotes du Rhone, all made from grapes grown on a single parcel with 35 year old vines. We love the color — a deep ruby red — as well as the gentle aroma, with hints of dried cranberries and wet leather. It’s surprisingly delicate and bright, with good acid and a lingering finish — perfect for those strong and stinky cheeses you’ve been wanting to try!

Doural Tinto, Portugal, 2012

Many of us who love “all things wine” are quite familiar with the name Kopke — this Portugal powerhouse has been making world-class Port since 1638. Like many famous brands, Kopke also has a separate label (Doural) that they use to make other wines, like this amazing and refreshing red. Using the same varietals that will one day make the famous Kopke Port (when the vines are much older, that is) this vibrant bottle of deliciousness has the aroma of freshly baked cherry pie on the nose, with spice on the palate and a structure that holds up through the long finish. This is a wine you’ll want to have on hand at all times, just in case friends stop by unexpectedly and a party breaks out. Pair it with grilled beef, or your favorite cheese — and enjoy a surprising, delightful, bargain wine from one of the world’s most respected vineyards!

Domaine La Tour Boisee Plantation ‘1905,’ France, 2013

1905 was quite a year. The world’s largest diamond, weighing in at 3,106 carats (1.37 lbs) was discovered in a South African mine. For the first time, an automobile exceeded 100 miles per hour. Albert Einstein created quite a stir when he introduced his Theory of Relativity. And Domaine La Tour Boisee was already some 80 years into planting vines — some of which are now totally unique in all of France. In keeping with a family tradition that dates back two centuries, this old world gem blends 23 (!) varietals from this historic estate in the south of France, to create a wine that’s smooth and subtle, with (we think) perfectly balanced acid, tannin and alcohol. It’s easy drinking at its best, with a nod to the history that’s kept France at the forefront of the wine industry for centuries. Enjoy with your favorite cheese and charcuterie plate, and who knows — perhaps by the end of the bottle, Einstein’s Theory of Relativity will actually begin to make sense!

Bastide Bigorre, France, 2011

Brand new appellations get us excited. Especially in France, a country that both treasures and implicitly trusts its system of wine classification, and makes changes to its appellations only after considerable deliberation. A small portion of the Madiran in Southwest France was recently recognized as an individual appellation with its own terroir, and this rough country gem is a damn fine example of what’s being produced there. A fresh Cabernet Franc blend (with Merlot and Tannat), this baby carries hints of smashed plums and crushed violets on the nose and palate, all the while maintaining a lively acidity. This is a big red, which sees no oak during its élévage. While meant for everyday drinking and not to be reserved for special occasions, it would nevertheless pair extremely well with seared duck. Or just do what we do, and enjoy it with some cheese and olives, while watching a movie or your favorite television show!

Chateau les Arromans, France, 2013

This is a story we see repeated over and over, and, frankly, we love it. So much. The father (or grandfather) creates an estate and plants a vineyard, somewhere between fifty and one hundred years ago. The father (or grandfather) builds the business into a respectable winery, but then decides it’s time to retire. The kids take over. And all of a sudden, everything is being converted over to organic viticulture with biodynamic principles, while the traditional techniques used to craft the wine remain true to form and heritage. Which is exactly the case here, with Joel Duffan inheriting and changing Chateau les Arromans, and in the process producing this beautiful gem from Bordeaux, a delightful blend of 75% Merlot and 25% Cabernet Franc, with the aroma of violets, currants, and black cherries on the nose and just the slightest hint of white pepper on the palate. Let the finish linger, and perhaps you’ll begin to think like we do — we’d be happy to drink Joel’s organic wine any day of the week, with or without food!

Viña las Perdices Cabernet Sauvignon, Argentina, 2013

Let’s play the word association game, shall we? We say “partridge,” you say ... family? Or perhaps you hum “in a pear tree”? Now let’s try it in Spanish. We say “Perdices” and you say ... familia? Well, you get the point. Way back in 1952, when Don Juan (yep, that’s really his name, get over it) Muñoz emigrated from Spain to Argentina, he landed in “the valley of the partridges” — and immediately fell in love with his new companions, eventually naming his winery after them. Today his son Carlos is in charge, carefully nurturing the now 50-year-old vines on the high elevation estate. After winning international acclaim, Viña las Perdices continues to produce outstanding wines, including this 2013 Cabernet Sauvignon. Just don’t confuse it with a mediocre California Cab, because this one is old school all the way — rich but delicate, with hints of coffee and black pepper, lots of good fruit up front, and a pleasing finish. Serve it with beef stew, braised lamb, or spicy sausage. Or, ummm, maybe a partridge, because c’mon ... you know you wouldn’t be the first, right?

Domaine Jouclary Sauvignon Blanc, France, 2014

We’ll admit it.  Quite happily, in fact.  We’re in love with the Languedoc region of France!  Particularly their crisp, dry, beautifully balanced whites.  And in this case, winemakers Robert and Pascal Gianesini don’t disappoint.  This 100% Sauvignon Blanc is carefully harvested in the cool of the early morning (to avoid oxidation) and then fermented at equally cool temperatures, with some skin contact ahead of the grapes being pressed, before resting in its lees for months.  The result of all of this careful attention to detail?  A fresh, aromatic, and intense wine, with the faint aroma of citrus and stone, and only the slightest hint of green apples on the palate.  Pair it with spring vegetables like artichokes or asparagus, and enjoy a light, refreshing meal with the perfect bottle to go with it!

February, 2015 —  234 Club:

Domaine de la Cabasse Les Deux Anges, France, 2012

Here’s the perfect recipe for a great wine trip vacation:  Take a world heritage site, the beautiful Rhone Valley village of Seguret, which seems to be built upon a giant rock.  Then head down from your perch in town to an estate located just below it, aptly named “Domaine de la Cabasse” (which, loosely translated, means ‘house under the town’).  There you’ll find an absolutely beautiful winery, complete with a small but well-appointed hotel, as well as a delightful restaurant — all run by winemaker Benoit Buadry and his wife Anne.  From their estate come gorgeous wines, including this 2012 blend of Granache (70%), Syrah (27%) and Carignan (3%).  With vines planted in sable (sandy) soils, and grapes fermented in concrete before being aged in large, Slovenian oak barrels, this elegant wine has good fruit (blackberries and currants) up front, followed by a whole mouthful of secondary nuances.  Drinking it will make you want to go hang out with Benoit and Anne — and as far as we’re concerned, you absolutely should!

Domaine de la Biscarelle, France, 2013

Ask most winemakers, and they’ll tell you that 95% of the finished bottle of wine starts with the grapes themselves.  How old the vines are, where they’re planted, the slope and soil and elevation and sun exposure, how and when they’re harvested, not to mention the microclimate.  So when husband and wife team Jerome and Christelle Grieco approach their winemaking, they do so with the conscious intention to let the grapes speak for themselves.  In other words, as little meddling along the way as possible.  Using organically grown grapes from vines that range between 40 and 7o years in age, they practice “whole cluster fermentation” with no oak, which allows the wine to ferment from the native yeasts that are found on the skin of the grapes.  Between this minimalist approach, and the wonderful fruit they’re starting with, they’ve crafted a unique, old-school wine (predominantly Grenache, with a bit of Carignan and Syrah, along with a touch of Cinsault) that is both dense and elegant, floral yet dark, and refined but still structured.  We think you’ll enjoy the way this wonderful Cotes du Rhone Villages expresses itself, without all of the bells and whistles that are often used to polish modern wines!

December, 2014 —  678 Club:

Olivier Hillaire Vin De France ‘H’, France, 2012

Ahhh, Olivier.  What a character!  Next time you find yourself in Chateauneuf-du-Pape, we insist that you stop by his boulangerie — right in the city center — for a bite of delicious lunch, and to try some of his outstanding wines.  Just meeting him will be worth the effort, trust us.  With an infectious laugh and insatiable love for great food and wine, Olivier embodies everything we think about when we consider French culture.  And this wine — a blend of Grenache, Carignan and Syrah — embodies everything we think about when we consider beautiful wines from Chateauneuf-du-Pape!  It’s an extremely limited production — only 35 cases total — and with hints of licorice and candied cherries, it goes down smooth, not overpowered by too much tannin or acid.  It’s easy drinking and fun!  Serve it with homemade Mac-n-Cheese (none of that blue box stuff!) or with homemade chili, and it will warm you nicely on a cold winter night!

Chateau Jouclary Cabardès,  France, 2011

In the deep south of France (which makes us wonder if there’s a French language equivalent to y’all?), not far from the border with Spain, lies the ancient walled city of Carcassonne, a place worth seeing if you’re ever in the area.  Just outside the city walls you’ll find Chateau de Jouclary, where Robert and Pascal Gianesini preside over 60 hectares of prime real estate, in one of France’s newest A.O.C.’s.  With a unique climatic situation that includes influences from both the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea, this up-and-coming region is producing some of the new stars of French wine.  You’ll taste rich, ripe cherries and wild blackberries in this beautiful blend, with a finish that’s not overly complex or complicated.  Enjoy it with poultry, lasagna, couscous, or any Middle Eastern dish!

Biurko Rioja Joven, Spain, 2013

Omg.  We had no idea the graphic designers from Portlandia had infiltrated the traditional wineries in Rioja!  Put a bird on it, indeed.  But once you get beyond the label, we think you’ll find this 100% Tempranillo to be as delightful as we do.  It has intense, forest fruits on the nose, with good balance and softness on the mouth, and a long, persistent finish.  Our last Rioja was a Bespoken club favorite that inspired many reorders, and we think this gem will do the same.  It’s the perfect wine to pair with a charcuterie platter, or with any hard cheese.  Don’t overthink this one:  Just open and enjoy — perhaps while watching that classic Portlandia episode.  So go ahead:  Put a bird on it!

Jean Louis Denois ‘Les Garrigues’, France, 2012 

When you grow up in Champagne, in a family of farmers and winemakers, you really don’t have much of a choice about what career you’re going to pursue.  Or perhaps you do, but we’re glad that Jean Louis Denois decided to stay in the family business!  After years of apprenticeship, including an extensive time traveling and learning from winemakers around the world, he finally launched out on his own, relocating to the Languedoc (specifically Limoux), where both the land and his finished wines would provide much greater value than anything in Champagne.  Known for his sparkling offerings, Jean Louis also makes phenomenal still wines — like this wonderful blend of Syrah and Merlot (with supporting roles played by Grenache, Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon).  This is a wine that over-delivers in every aspect, we think — the Syrah and Grenache offer supple, round, ripe fruit, while the twin Cab’s provide structure, backbone, and definition.  Produced from grapes organically farmed at his high elevation estate, this one is sure to please at any holiday gathering or celebratory soiree.  And, it’s versatile enough to pair with wide range of comfort foods  — so it’s the perfect choice when the menu is potluck.  Just open and enjoy!

Bodegas Vegalfaro Rebel.lia Utiel-Requena, Spain,  2013

You know we’re all rebels at heart, right?  But in this case, we’re rebels with a cause — as in, this award-winning wine from Valencia.  It’s a wonderful blend of Granache, Tempranillo and Bobal grapes — which gives it a dark, black-cherry hue.  Hints of black currant and blueberry give way to floral nuances and a willing wood, with a touch of leather and spice, all followed by a long, elegant, and structured finish.  Serve it with tapas, and your guests will love you for it!

Domaine Boisson Cotes du Rhone, France, 2011

Nestled between Rhone and Ventoux in Provence, in the small village of Cairanne (the heart of the Cotes du Rhone), Domaine Boisson is a perfect example of the kind of vineyards we scour the world for:  Small, relatively unknown, with an absolute commitment to producing outstanding wines, combining finesse and intensity to their unyielding faith in the terroir.  On property that was bought and developed following WWII, Regis Boisson and his son Bruno have been perfecting their craft for decades, and we’re the lucky recipients of their work.  This blend of Granache, Syrah, Cincault, Carignan and Mourvedre is a fruity and approachable wine, evoking aromas of raspberry, cherry, and strawberry jam, heightened by a touch of licorice.  Feeling adventurous in the kitchen?  Serve it with small game birds, such as quail or pigeon.   Or just some cheese and olives will do nicely, too.  Either way, we think you’ll be saying oui to this one!


Domaine Philémon “Perle” Gaillac, France, 2012 

In southwestern France, just north of the city of Toulouse, lies the Galliac A.O.C., a region that makes claim to being among the earliest viticultural centers of ancient Gaul.  The grapes of the region include the little-known and indigenous Len de l’El, along with more traditional Sauvignon Blanc and Muscadelle.  Domaine Philémon, located in a small village on the Vere river between Albi and Cordes, grows these three varietals on their organic farm, training the vines in the gobelet fashion (meaning they are head pruned, and the yields kept exceedingly low).  Because of the low yields, this wine fills the palate with a wonderful concentration of flavors, while retaining a freshness that’s underscored by mineral and citrus notes.  This baby is easy to drink, yet has depth and complexity.  Serve it with seafood, salty nuts, or Crottin de Chavignol cheese — and enjoy!

Giogantinu Vermentino di Gallura Superiore, Italy, 2012

From Sardinia — the second largest island in the Mediterranean Sea, behind Sicily — comes this gem of a wine, produced in Sardinia’s only D.O.C.G. appellation, where the Vermentino grapes gain impressive richness while still retaining their essential acidity.  This puppy has aromas of ripe apple and peach, with a full texture and rich body, followed by a smooth, herbal finish with just the hint of minerality.  It’s an excellent match for creamy chicken or casseroles, the perfect winter white!

Domaine de Ménard Cotes du Gascogne, France, 2013

In the heart of A.O.C. Bas Armagnac, Domaine de Ménard is situated on the famous Via Podensis, a road taken for centuries by pilgrims going to Saint Jacques de Compostelle.  The vineyard is established on premium and ancestral terroir, with plots situated on a geologic marine site — you can, in fact, find many fossils as you walk along the clay and lime soil of the vine rows.  This fifth-generation winery, in continuous operation by the same family since the 1920’s, makes outstanding wines — including this blend of Sauvignon Blanc and Colombard, with hints of grapefruit and bright fruit.  This is a solid, easy white.  Pop it open when you’re shucking fresh oysters, and you’ll think you’re in heaven on earth!

December 234 Club:

Now this is the kind of wedding gift we’d like to be able to give:  500 acres of beautiful, rolling farmland, nestled in the low hills of the Tuscan Maremma, with Mount Argentario on one side and the magnificent Orbetello lagoon on the other.  But, alas, we’re not aristocrats from Florence, as much as we might aspire to be.  And besides, the Florentine banker Michele Giuntini beat us to it way back in 1830 — and Tenutla la Parrina has been in the Spinola family ever since.  It’s one of our dreamy Italian locations, where you can stroll along the long avenue lined with Eucalyptus trees, past the goats and sheep grazing near the in-house creamery, stopping at the olive groves for an olive oil tasting, before making your way to the winery.  With several authentic Tuscan farmhouses available for rent throughout the property, an on-site restaurant, a wildlife reserve and a rare plant nursery, you’ll never want to leave!  La Parrina was the first wine producer in this D.O.C., and they’ve maintained their commitment to organic farming from the very start — in fact, everything on the entire farm is produced organically.  This month, we’ve chosen two of our absolute favorites from La Parrina for our 234 Club.   These are classic Tuscan wines, big and bold, and very food friendly.

La Parrina Sangiovese D.O.C., Italy, 2013

A full-bodied Tuscan style red, this 100% Sangiovese has a surprisingly delicate nose, reflecting wild raspberries and eucalyptus, with just the faintest hint of the Mediterranean in there as well.   On the palate is where this baby shines, though — it’s rich, fruity, harmonious and velvety in the mouth.  We love letting it swirl around our tongue, tasting the fresh acidity, as we enjoy the intense crimson color of what’s left in our glass.  Pair it with grilled meats and vegetables, or a nice charcuterie platter.  Or do what we do:  pull out some olives and cheese, pop it open, and delight whomever stops by with a tasting sensation!

La Parrina Vermentino D.O.C., Italy, 2013

This beautiful, golden-colored 100% Vermentino has hints of apple, orange peel, and peach on the nose, with a smooth, balanced and fresh finish.  It’s the perfect winter white!   Serve it with fish, shrimp, bruschetta or savory mushroom crepes.  Or, just curl up on the couch with a warm fire and a good movie or book, and enjoy it on its own.

[Tasting Notes from Previous Club Deliveries]

November 234 Club:

Bodegas Pinord  +&+  Cava, Spain

Go to Barcelona, and hang a left.  On second thought, wait — before you do that, chill out in Barcelona for as long as you can afford to stay there.  It’s one of our favorite places on the planet!  Rent an apartment in the Born District (El Born Barrio), walk along the spectacular waterfront, get your people watching on, check out the Picasso Museum, and eat so many great tapas that your head starts to spin.  Then — and only then — hang that left, and head south.  That’s where you’ll find Bodegas Pinord, a family-run winery that dates all the way back to the 1800’s, in the Penedes region of southern Spain.  For hundreds of years, this was the only place you could get Cava (although, somewhat sadly, about ten years ago the Spanish Wine Board loosened the laws, and now producers can call their sparkling wines Cava even when they’re not from Penedes).  But we tend to go with centuries of tradition, and on this one we think we’re dead on.  With intense, tertiary aromas from the second fermentation mixing with the first, this beautiful bubbly has a distinctive bouquet, with a smooth, silky, and long finish.  Serve it with mussels, shrimp, or grilled chicken.  Or pizza!  (Seriously!)  A blend of three grape varieties (Macabeo, Parellada, and Xarel-lo) — all fermented separately and then blended, before undergoing a second fermentation in the bottle for over a year — this baby is sure to delight your senses.  It will make your tastebuds do a happy dance!

Masseria Setterporte Etna Rosso, Sicily, 2012

We’ve got to be honest.  Every time we taste a wine made from grapes grown on the slopes of Mount Etna — which is the largest active volcano in all of Europe, if you didn't already know that — we get scenes from that PBS Nova special about Pompeii running through our heads, where everyone gets incinerated in about 2 seconds.  But apparently, none of that bothers the winemakers who labor there on a daily basis, churning out small batches of incredible wines.  Maybe they’ve never seen Nova.  Or more likely, they simply don’t care about our American sensibilities as it relates to living in the shadow of active volcanoes.  Whichever the case, the Portale family is nurturing vines at a high elevation (almost 2,000 feet) in the rich volcanic soil of their small estate in Sicily, producing a wine that’s so elegant and delicate it’s almost Pinot Noir like — most definitely not the big, rich, juicy wine you would expect from the hot climates of this region.  Chalk it up to the elevation and varietals (the traditional Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappucio grapes) — but we have to admit, we love it.  And we think you will too!  Fermented in stainless steel tanks, followed by another six months in the bottle, this deep-ruby-red wine is dry, harmonious, elegant and persistent, with hints of red fruit and wild berries.  Serve it with blanc de pigeon au rouge.  Or if you don’t know what the hell that is, any kind of pasta will do!  In any case, we like to think that it lives up to the first word in its name:  Masseria means “fortified farm” — a place that could ward off pirates and other invaders from the sea.  And this one will definitely ward off the bad guys!

November Holiday 3-Pack:

Barbazzale Cottanera, Sicily, 2013

It’s the tallest active volcano in all of Europe, a behemoth that’s almost always in a state of constant activity. Not the kind of place we would choose to live, personally — but that doesn’t seem to bother winemaker Enzo Cambria one single bit. In the shadow of Mount Etna, he and his family have labored for the last two decades to lovingly restore the 80 year old vines planted in these fertile volcanic soils, on north facing slopes at an elevation of 700 meters. With no direct sun, warm days, cool nights, and lava-enriched soil, you have the ideal place to grow superb grapes.  Well, except for that part about the active volcano.  But other than that, it’s really perfect.  Apparently, Enzo just ignores the rumblings and goes on about his business.  Which is good for us!  This beautifully balanced white wine, named for the small village nearby, is a wonderful blend of Viognier and Inzolia grapes, with a rich, round texture, and good acid (but it’s not overly acidic, like so many cheaper whites).  It has plenty of body and weight — more than enough to hold up to your Thanksgiving turkey — but it could just as easily pair with first course dishes.  Hints of grapefruit and ripe apples rest softly on the palate, with only the slightest touch of anise on the finish.  This region where Enzo makes his wine is often called “the Grand Cru of Sicily” — and with gems like this, it’s easy to see why!

Rousseau Freres Touraine Noble Joué Rosé, Loire Valley, France, 2013

Most people think of rosé wines the same way they think about those white jeans in their closet.  After Labor Day, they get put away, not to be seen again until the temperatures start to rise and summer is upon us once again.  We get it.  But the thing is, we don’t agree.  Why limit yourself to a few months a year, when you could be drinking some truly fantastic wines all year long?  Anyone who has ever been to France knows that they drink these gems every month of the year, and consider any other approach to be silly.  And especially when it comes from a tiny appellation, one of the smallest in the whole country, with only nine vineyards — all of which are managed for the sole purpose of making rosé wines.  This bottle is no afterthought, or crazy experiment.  This is all that winemaker Rousseau Freres does.  This is what the entire appellation — Touraine Noble Joué — is all about.  Beautiful rosé wines.  And after you taste it, we think you’re going to agree.  Rousseau has taken the three pinots (Gris, Meunier, and Noir) and blended them together to make a slightly dry, beautifully balanced, wonderful wine.  The food pairings are almost endless.  Personally, we’d serve it with a cheese and charcuterie platter, as your guests first arrive.  But, don’t be afraid to set it out on the table, either!  And while you’re at it — why not go ahead and bust out those white jeans at Thanksgiving dinner, as well?  After all, rules are meant to be broken, right?

Domaine Rochette Beaujolais-Villages, France, 2013

Alright, time for a little primer on French wine labeling.  You see that word “Villages” on the label?  No, it’s not some small town that’s missing its idiot.  Whenever you see it, pay extra attention — because the winemaker is telling you that this is the good stuff.  When he wants to show off his wine, this is the bottle he reaches for.  And in this case, we’re completely sold.  This Beaujolais is the quintessential Thanksgiving wine — light on its feet, fresh, fruit forward, and perfectly drinkable with every course.  It has high acid, but it’s not overly tannic — so you’re not going to have sunken cheeks and a dry mouth after you take a sip.  In fact, quite the opposite — this bottle will make you and your guests want another glass!  Matheiu Rochette is a second generation winemaker in the Regnie region of southern France, running a sustainable winery that does things the right way, for both the environment and the wine.  And this 100% Gamay Noir is a perfect example of his winemaking skills.  Just pop the cork, set it out on the table, and wait for the compliments.  Most likely, it will be your easiest task of the entire dinner!

[Tasting Notes from Previous Club Deliveries]

Pascal Marthouret Syrah, France, 2012

Here’s a story for you:  Take a garage mechanic — the one guy in the tiny hamlet of Coins, France who can actually fix the vehicles when they break — and let him inherit 3 hectare of vineyards from his aunt in the appellation of Saint Joseph, in the far northern reaches of the Rhone Valley.  All of a sudden, tinkering takes on a new twist … and boy, does it ever!  Pascal Marthouret quickly discovered he had a natural gift for winemaking, taking the gorgeous grapes from his vineyard and making a lovely Syrah — with hints of cherry, smoky bacon, and white pepper.  This is a bright and beautiful wine, aged in neutral wood, with a very limited production.  We think it brings tinkering to a whole ’nother level (although, we’re not quite sure where the people in Coins get their vehicles fixed anymore — their loss, our gain).  Pair it with grilled lamb chops (and if you do, please invite us over).  Or, for a vegetarian option, you could also serve it with grilled eggplant (and then you wouldn’t even have to bother with inviting us … so there’s that!)

Chateau de Viella, France, 2011

We love unpretentious people.  And when they make great wine, we love them even more.  Alain Bortolussi is the poster child for this — wealthy and living in a beautiful home in the foothills of the Pyrenees, he nonetheless presents himself in a modest style that endears him to his neighbors.  And he makes a wine that endears him to us.  This blend of Tannat and Cabernet Franc from the Madiran appellation is a soft wine (Alain calls it his “baby”), standing out in sharp contrast to the bigger wines from the region.  The way he blends it means you can drink it today, instead of having to wait 20 years to enjoy it.  We think it’s a lot like Alain:  It tastes expensive, but in fact it’s very laid back and approachable.   Pair it with blue cheese, a grilled steak, or a nice cassoulet.

Bodega La Azul Malbec, Argentina, 2013

Most of us who love wine are, by now, familiar with the Malbec grape.  Native to France (specifically the region around Cahors), it’s now much better known as the iconic grape of Argentina, shooting from relative obscurity to international fame in just a few short years.  Whereas most vineyards in the Mendoza region of Argentina use that acclaim to focus on exports, Bodega La Azul is the exact opposite:  They sell most of their wine to high-end Buenos Aires restaurants, with only a small number of cases making their way to the U.S. market.  Thankfully, we’ve managed to get our hands on a few of them!  This is a big wine, with lots of texture and balance — it’s rich, ripe, jammy and juicy, with lots of structure.  Serve it with braised lamb shoulder, goose confit, or any meat that comes off the grill.

Bodegas Torrederos  Tempranillo, Spain, 2012

In a small village northeast of Madrid, four families — all longtime grape growers — get together and decide to keep the best grapes for themselves, and collaborate on making wine, in a venture they name Torrederos.  It’s the same grape (Tempranillo) grown in the Rioja region next door, but the rockier soil of the Ribera del Duero makes for a much different wine.  This is a Tempranillo that is true to the terroir — hints of candied cherries covered in dark chocolate prevail (need we say more?!) with a subtle but present tannin.  It pairs wonderfully with roasted vegetables and cured meats, but it’s also splendid with lasagna, pizza, and any other dishes with tomato-based sauces.  Or drink it on its own, and call it Mama’s little helper.  Because as we all know:  if Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy!

Mas des Boislauzon La Chaussynette, France, 2012

Siblings who get along are the best — especially if that means they collaborate on making delightful wine!  Brother and sister duo Daniel and Christine Chaussy are sixth generation winemakers who both live on the family property in the northernmost corner of the southern Rhone valley in France.  This blend (60% Grenache, 40% Syrah) is appropriately named “La Chaussynette” — “the baby wine of the Chaussy’s.”  Produced from a single vineyard just north of the Chateauneuf du Pape region, this easy-drinking baby is the perfect bistro or table wine, with hints of black berries and ripe cherries.  Serve it with slow-cooked pork shoulder, or a hearty winter stew … preferably in front of a crackling fire!

San Lorenzo Il Casolare Rosso, Italy, 2013

Often when one sips or talks about wine, we forget the human factor — that this delicious nectar is the product of someone’s passion and personality.  It’s worth mentioning that winemaker Natalino Crognaletti is the most jovial of souls, and also a very proud, young father.  His love of life and intoxicating joy spill over into his wine making.  And make no mistake about it, his wine is delicious!  Natalino’s vineyard — all of which is farmed organically and biodynamically — is located just inland from the Adriatic coast in western Italy.  This blend of 50% Sangiovese and 50% Montapulcinio is aged in concrete, so it sees no oak.  It has a well structured palate, with good body and a nice, pleasing acidity.  Serve it with baked cheese-stuffed pasta shells, carbonara, or lamb chops.  Personally, we enjoy sipping it while relaxing on the couch with a good book!

San Matteo Vineyards Gavi, Italy, 2013

In the southeast corner of northwestern Italy is a small area in the Piedmont region called Gavi, where winemaker Massimo Diotti lives in a tiny village with one restaurant and one bar.   Blink and you’ll miss it.  Which is fine if you’re traveling through, but don’t miss this gem of a wine.  This old-school winemaker with a totally modern facility produces a wine — fermented and aged in stainless steel — that’s super minerally, with notes of almond and lemon.  It’s a fun, easy-drinking white that’s appropriate year-round.  Pair it with pasta and wild mushrooms, or sesame-crusted fresh caught tuna — and watch your friend’s faces light up with the delight of being invited over for a perfect evening.

Les Perles Piquepoul de Pines, France, 2013

Winemaker and oenologist Jerome Calmes — who understands that elevation is everything — only farms the terroir of the higher, cooler slopes of his property.  Which, as it turns out, is absolutely perfect for making well-balanced wines.  One of the things we love about Jerome (and there are many to choose from with this delightful Frenchman) is that he’s a farmer and winemaker at heart, more interested in making great wine than he is in selling it.  He’s terribly shy when you meet him, which we find to be both charming and endearing.  His Piquepoul — one of the five grapes used in Chateauneuf du Pape white — grows well in the Languedoc region of southern Franc, and the high elevation of Jerome’s vines make this even more true. You’ll taste stone fruit, citrus, and a hint of minerality in this dry, crisp, and well-structured wine, all balanced by good acid.  It pairs wonderfully with oysters, and also with cream-based seafood dishes, where the acid serves as the perfect counterfoil to the tongue coating creaminess.  Clam chowder, anyone?

San Lorenzo Il Casolare Bianco, Italy, 2013

Often when one sips or talks about wine, we forget the human factor — that this delicious nectar is the product of someone’s passion and personality.  It’s worth mentioning that winemaker Natalino Crognaletti is the most jovial of souls, and also a very proud, young father.  His love of life and intoxicating joy spill over into his wine making.  And make no mistake about it, his wine is delicious!  Natalino’s vineyard — all of which is farmed organically and biodynamically — is located just inland from the Adriatic coast in western Italy.  This wine, made of 100% Verdicchio, is fermented and aged in stainless steel.  Rich on the palate, but with a clean finish, it holds up to sturdy dishes and classic pastas.  Think fettuccine alfredo or pasta alla carbonara, and enjoy comfort food with the perfect comfort wine!

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Fattoria Moretto Lambrusco Grasparossa Di Castelvetro Seccco, Italy, 2013

What do you do when you’re not really in the mood for traditional wine, don’t want a beer, and the thought of a cocktail just doesn’t do the trick for you?  You turn to this baby.  It’s frizzante style — small bubbles instead of being fully sparkling, like a spumante would be — and it will delight your taste buds with a sense of frivolity you don’t often find when you uncork a bottle of red wine.  Winemaker Fabio Moretto is every bit as effervescent as this tiny production Lambrusco he makes, his bubbly personality delighting friends and strangers alike in the small village of Castelvetro, nestled between Parma and Bologna in the Di Castelvetro region.  This is the part of Italy that gives us world-class prosciutto and parmesan cheese — which both, as it turns out, pair well with this gem.  Or, try it with pizza — we recently had it with a wood-fired spicy salami pizza, and it was absolutely superb!  You can also serve it with Thai or Vietnamese food.  It’s the perfect choice when you want to shake things up and try something different — our guess is that it will open your eyes, and your palate, to a whole new way of thinking about red wine!

Bodega La Serrana Bagante Crianza, Spain, 2008

Everybody gets to have a favorite, right?  Don’t get us wrong — we love all the wines that eventually make their way into our clubs.  By the time they’ve been chosen, they’ve been through quite an arduous selection process, and if they could, they’d beam with pride at beating out all the others.  But every so often, one wine in particular will cause us to go a bit bonkers.  And that’s exactly what you have with this 2008 vintage Bagante.  Perhaps it’s because we’re from Oregon, where Pinot Noir reigns supreme, and if there’s one grape you would describe as similar to Pinot, it’s Mencia — which is 100% of the contents of this bottle.  Or it could be the terroir where winemaker Jose Manual Nunez Cerezales grows his grapes:  It’s a high elevation vineyard with 80-year-old vines, windy with no humidity, all undergirded by rocky soil with slate, quartz and clay — perfect for avoiding mold and fungicides, which allows him to stay true to his organic production objectives.  But mostly likely, what makes us crazy for this wine is what happens when you open the bottle:  There’s a cinnamon spiciness on the nose, with the brightness of clean, refined fruit behind it, followed by a silky smoothness on the palate that makes it hard to put down your glass.  Six years after it was first bottled, this wine is definitely ready to drink.  Serve it with appetizers before dinner — a plate of thinly sliced Jamon Iberico and a rich Manchego cheese would be perfect — and it will totally set the tone for everything that follows!


Cantina del Pino Dolcetto d’Alba, Italy, 2012

Great things come in small packages.  Or in this case, great wines come in small production.  Especially when the winemaker, who was previously working for a legendary Barbaresco producer in the region, inherits the family vineyard and decides to keep all the grapes that had been being sold, and use them to make his own Dolcetto d’Alba.  And a damn fine one, at that.  Fresh aromas, an earthy texture, and a long, beautiful finish make this a wine you’ll want to return to again and again.  Enjoy it with any pasta dish, or a cheese and charcuterie plate.  Or just pop it open the next time you order a pizza, and make your night off from cooking that much better.  Seriously.

Les Perles Syrah, Pays d’Oc, France, 2012

From winemaker and oenologist Jérome Calmes comes this immensely drinkable, smooth on the palate Syrah, featuring hints of black cherries, pepper and tarragon, with medium acid and mellow tannins.  Jérome’s understanding of the elevations and microclimates in his Mediterranean vineyard helps him avoid the over-maturated “wines from the sun” so common in this region.  This wine pairs wonderfully with seasoned steak, lamb, or wild game.

Quinta das Maias, Portugal, 2009

Raised on 35 contiguous, organically farmed hectares nestled in the foothills of the Serra da Estrela mountains in the central Dão region of Portugal, this delightful blend of four distinctly Portuguese grapes is masterfully crafted by husband and wife team Luis and Lucia Lourenço.  A full body wine with good tannin, this bottle leaves the taste of solid red and black fruits, with just a hint of sweet tobacco, on the palate.  Serve it with slow-cooked pork shoulder, smoked meats … or a blue-cheese bacon burger.

Domaine Chatelus de la Roche Beaujolais, France, 2011

A wine with structure, yet softness? Delicate on the nose and sexy, but with a clean, silky finish?  It’s possible, yes.  But make no mistake about it:  Beaujolais can be a difficult wine.  Sometimes it’s amazing.  And sometimes it tastes like a mouthful of unripe cherries with the aroma of bubblegum.  Thankfully, this one falls in the “amazing” category.  Crafted by Pascal Chatelus at his family-run domaine, with grapes grown on a steep, southwest-facing granite slope, the wine has hints of strawberry, black cherry and coffee.  Put a slight chill on this bottle, and enjoy it with roasted root vegetables, baked tarragon chicken, or a pork loin seasoned with savory spices.

Domaine de L’ldylle Cruet, France, 2012

Just like Vegas, what happens in Savoie stays in Savoie.  Only this time, we’re talking about the wine that gets produced there.  Why is that, you ask?  Because the lucky residents in this high altitude French Alps region like to drink them (rightly so!) and don’t necessarily feel the need to share.  Lucky for us, every so often a few cases escape into the world at large — like this 100% Jaquére from winemaking brothers Phillipe and Francois Tiollier.  Light and simple, this elegant wine tastes of Meyer lemon infused with glacier ice.  Pair it like the locals do:  With fondue, fresh fish, or shrimp and seafood dishes.

Cillar de Silos Ribera del Duero Rosado de Silos, Spain, 2013

Think Tempranillo, and your first thought is red … right?  But hang on.  With just the right amount of skin contact you get one hell of a róse.  Cillar de Silos specializes in Tempranillo, with grapes from their 100 year old vines.  And this time, they’ve produced a perfectly dry, mouth-watering, delicious róse — think strawberries and pomegranate, with a subtle herbal component of sage and tarragon, and you’ll get the picture.  Combine all of that with nice weight and structure, and you have the perfect wine for sipping on the front porch, or enjoying with a juicy burger.  We think it’s the perfect transition from summer whites to winter reds!

Fernanda Cappello Pinot Grigio, Italy, 2013

Fernanda Cappello grew up in the vines, on her family’s 100 hectare vineyard in the foothills of the Fruili mountains, where the confluence of the warm Adriatric meet the Alpine winds of Val Tramontina.  When her parents retired, she decided to abandon her career as an architect and return to her first love, building a new state-of-the-art winery and crafting the style of wine that she was passionate about — including this gem.  Her Pinot Grigio is delicate on the nose, with a subtle orange flower nuance and a hint of pineapple … fruity richness but with good acidity.  Serve it with salads, light chicken dishes, and seafood.

Domaine Chiroulte Terres Blanches Côtes de Gascogne, France, 2012

Nestled in Southwest France, the Fezas family estate borders Tariquet, one of Europe’s wine powerhouses.  They’re the little guy in the region, going up against the big boys with small quantities of carefully crafted Gascon wines — like this one, a blend of Gros Manseng and Sauvignon Blanc, with just a touch of Ugni Blanc.  It’s wonderfully dry, with floral and mineral components on the nose.  This is a superb everyday white — the grapefruit freshness and good balance combine to make it immensely drinkable.  We keep it around all the time, and bet you’ll want to as well!  Frankly, just open the bottle and drink it, no food required.  It’s that good.

Marchesi de Gregorio ‘Nero’, Sicily, 2012

When your family has been doing something successfully for almost 300 years, you’re bound to figure out a thing or two.  But sometimes, it takes a new leader at the helm to take things to the next level.  Enter Massimo Gregorio.  Building upon his family’s rich heritage and tradition, Massimo turned all of the Gregorio estates into organic havens, and refocused on indigenous varietals.  The result?  A spectacular wine, with a mouthful of dark berries and a perfectly bright and balanced finish.  This one is a go-to wine for us, personally — that’s how much we love it.  Pair it with grilled ribs, chicken risotto, parmesan eggplant pasta … or just enjoy it with a wedge of your favorite cheese.

Bodegas Pedro Martinez Alesanco Crianza, Spain, 2011

Rioja lovers, rejoice!  And for those of you unsure about Rioja, either because you had a bad bottle somewhere along the way, or just haven’t gotten around to trying wines from this region — you’re in for a treat.  This seventh-generation wine from the Alesanco family (five generations of whom still live on the family property) is a traditional blend (80% Tempranillo, 20% Garnacha) that’s been common in Rioja Alta for half a century.  Hints of black cherries, with the faintest bit of licorice.  Serve it with a spicy seafood stew, paella, or grilled hangar steak.

La Collina Lunaris Secco NV Emilia Romagna, Italy

Had enough of cheap Prosecco, made by the oceanful in huge industrial vats, with little taste or character?  Yeah.  Us too.  So when we tasted this 100% Malvasia di Candia, we immediately fell in love with it.  Bursting with stone fruit, orange and candied citrus rind on the nose, this delightful sparkling is La Collina’s answer to those mass-produced and unremarkable sparkling wines so prevalent on the market today.  This gem is bubbly, balanced, slightly off dry, with great body and the perfect amount of acidity.  Start your party with this one, and everyone is going to be happy!

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