Many have sought to express this distinct terroir from the eastern slope of the volcano, but one family is most synonymous with the greatest heights it has achieved. Etna doesn't have a classification system to rank estates or vineyards like Bordeaux and Burgundy, but if there was one Grand Cru white from these volcanic slopes perched over the Mediterranean, it would surely be Benanti's Pietra Marina.
Sourced from 80-year-old vines, Pietra Marina showcases Carricante at its most structured and age-worthy. While salinity is a hallmark of this grape variety, the defining element here is a tightly wrapped core of citrus, orange peel, and almond. There's a frame and touch of austerity to Pietra Marina that shows a discipline worlds apart from the more oxidative and plush style of wine commonly found in Milo. In the end, it's the vein of minerality and grip that appropriately put this benchmark bottling on the table with top Chablis and Burgundy.
Benanti's story began in the 1800s, but it was in 1988 that the estate began to garner fame. Giuseppe re-examined and questioned every aspect of Benanti's viticulture and winemaking, challenging conventional wisdom on clones and their compatibility in each parcel. Aging in stainless steel is a crucial element in keeping this southerly white wine so fresh and crisp. But make no mistake—it's these same qualities that give Pietra Marina its backbone to age in your cellar for many years to come.
It's a rare treat to be able to offer a new American wine project and be present at inception. Years ago, in Potter Valley, Mendocino, walking the Kimmel Vineyard with Sashi Moorman and Jason Kimmel, it became apparent a special combination of minds and terroir was ready to take form. Today, I'm happy to announce our exclusive release of the 2019 Kimmel Lilied and Ungilded!
Kimmel Wines was born to honor low interventionist winemaking, allowing the land and each vintage to be the guiding light. Lilied began as an idea from Sashi Moorman to produce a soulful blend of equal parts Syrah and Cabernet Franc similar in style to the wines by Provençal iconoclast Domaine Trevallon. The wines all go through élevage under the guiding hand of Sashi and his thoughtful team led by John Faulkner. Founded in 1969, Kimmel Ranch is in the far reaches of Mendocino in western Potter Valley. Located at 1,000 feet of elevation, at the entrance of the Mayacamas, the sprawling mountain range gives way to afternoon coastal breezes allowing for cool relief after warm summer days.
Lilied is 50% Cabernet Franc from the Kimmel Vineyard and 50% Syrah from the famed Bien Nacido Vineyard's X Block. A long élevage (First in barrique and then puncheon) was crucial to resolve the firm tannins into silky fineness that dances on the mid-palate. The Cabernet Franc's nervy nature and dark fruit, married with the savage wildness of Syrah, makes for a striking wine you can confidently enjoy now. The cuvée name means "to adorn" and combines the names of Lilian and Edward Kimmel.
Ungilded is 100% Cabernet Franc from the Kimmel Vineyard, inspired by the wines of Clos Rougeard. The fruit is destemmed and fermented without additives, and it starts in an open-top dairy tank to give a greater cap-to-juice ratio. The unadulterated fermentation gives a pure expression of Cabernet Franc (Hence the name, Ungilded). The nervy nature of the Cabernet Franc softens to a lacey texture with classic floral aromatics. These vines were planted in 1980 on Franciscan shale with Saint George rootstock in a California sprawl configuration. Edward and Lilian had the foresight to settle in the far reaches of the California wine region and plant where there were few vines at the time.
You might imagine that the most decisive moments in buying Burgundy fall at the very high end. But who wants to be promoting $400-plus bottles that don't quite reach the highs their tariffs imply? Rather, it's the humble Bourgogne-level wines that I fret about the most. I've argued many times in support of the truth that value exists at every twist and turn in Burgundy. You just have to look hard enough.
Charles Van Canneyt is best known for his day job producing the revered wines at his family's estate in Vosne-Romanée, Domaine Hudelot-Noellat. A few years ago, Charles wanted to have some freedom to express Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in a slightly different vein and started his own label. Within the context of Burgundy, though, the wines are still extremely tied to the Hudelot-Noellat style. Purity first.
Looking at Burgundy's $30 to $40 category can be a bit of a minefield. It's critical that the names in question apply the same meticulous process as top cuvées. That's precisely why the Bourgogne Rouge from Charles is such a winner. Tasting this alongside his Charmes-Chambertin and Chambertin-Clos de Beze, the Bourgogne Rouge carries the same translucency and rigorous definition as the Grand Crus.
Regal structure aside, there's also an immediacy and fruit-forward component that makes these super primal in their deliciousness. This has become a house Burgundy for me. I once came upon a bottle of the 2013 bottle hiding in a dark corner of my cellar, and its expression had only grown more vibrant in three years: Gorgeous bright cherry fruit, a finely woven thread of minerality, and a hint of forest floor residing under it all. From one of the most gifted minds in Burgundy, this is a great chance to line the walls of your cellar for a song.
The most significant domaine I visited in the Loire this spring was Bernard Baudry in Chinon. When Max decided to open a wine shop, in 2015, it was producers like Baudry that exemplified the soul of KWM’s selection: “Great people doing the hard work and expressing terroir as thoughtfully as possible,” Max explained to me. “And on top of that, the wines are pure, delicious, and have masterful structure and finesse.”
Coming from a long line of winegrowers, Bernard Baudry left his family’s domaine to set out on his own. In 1975, he started by purchasing Les Grézeaux and slowly expanded to what’s now 30 hectares spread across Chinon. They are deeply interested in “making wines according to the soil,” as Bernard’s son, Matthieu, put it. He joined his father in 2001 and now oversees the winemaking. Over nearly five decades, the Baudry’s have closely studied their landscape through vinification parcellaire, or parcel by parcel, with each cuvée capturing its soil and terroir.
Le Grezeaux, the vineyard where everything began, sits closest to the Vienne river, on gravel soils with rocks and clay, while the entry-level cuvée, Le Domaine is at the very top of the plateau, where there is a mix of sand and clay over limestone. Le Grezeaux’s gravel soils yield supple body and concentration with silky tannins, while the Le Domaine has chalky minerality and freshness due to the limestone.
Clos Guillot is unto itself, in the middle of the slope, where Chinon’s limestone is most prominent. “Limestone is what I call the white gold,” Matthieu declared. Well, in this case, the limestone is actually yellow. Clos Guillot combines rich red fruit and striking minerality, power and elegance, making it the most ageable of the three rouge cuvées here today. We rarely compare Chinon to Burgundy, but Clos Guillot's uniquely similar soil type has transparency and finesse in line with the Côte d'Or.
In my earlier offer for Domaine de la Chevalerie, I mentioned Bourgueil and Chinon are more alike than different. Matthieu admitted to this, explaining that his wines can be more reminiscent of certain Bourgueil producers than Chinon neighbors who farm with pesticides. Still, the latter is considered the Loire’s top appellation for Cabernet Franc. Importer Kermit Lynch has much to do with Chinon’s star power, according to Rajat Parr and Jordan Mackay's The Sommelier’s Atlas of Taste (2018). It was the 1989 vintage that Kermit Lynch first began importing Baudry to the U.S. market.
If there is any Chinon producer to add to your cellar, we would argue that it is Baudry. Our operations director, Marc, blinded us on a bottle of 2012 Le Domaine. Its peppery notes gave away that it was Cabernet Franc, but I was astounded to find it was Chinon. Looking back, these wines have the grandeur of Bordeaux but elegance and freshness undoubtedly tied to the Loire. In a decade, this entry-level wine had preserved its youthfulness with incredible grace. The fact that these wines are so reasonably priced rank them among the best-valued Cabernet Francs in the world.
The magical wines from the Foradori estate in Trentino's Dolomite Mountains have been well-documented here before, and I find an added layer of refinement and precision with each release. If you're curious about Italy's extreme alpine setting, Foradori is where I recommend you turn first.
Teroldego is an esoteric variety that opens with dark plum and licorice, followed by softer floral and herbaceous qualities, and finishes with a finely pronounced minerality. From the first sip to the last, Elisabetta's wines are constantly changing and fascinating to no end. The entry-level teroldego ages in neutral barrels and cement tanks while the old-vine, riserva-level "Granato ages in old foudres.
Elisabetta's father unexpectedly passed away while she was still in enology school, and after graduating, in 1984, she was thrust into harvest and production thereafter. Though her winemaking garnered awards in the 90s, the wines came into their own when she adopted biodynamic principles, eliminated lab yeasts, lowered sulfur additions, and included riper stems in the ferments. Visits with Giusto Occhipinti of COS introduced her to the use of clay amphora for aging.