Since 1481, there have been 16 generations of unbroken lineage at the Chave estate along the Rhone River's towering granite slopes. When we look closely at the birthplace of Syrah there's no name more respected than that of Jean-Louis Chave.
Today, I'm happy to offer the 2015 & 2016 Domaine Chave Saint Joseph, along with back-vintage Hermitage Rouge and Blanc stretching through 1985.
Chave's Saint Joseph captures everything that thrills the senses from Northern Rhone Syrah, while offering an immediacy and generosity upon release that Hermitage simply cannot. Each vintage flaunts a huge spectrum of black, blue, and red fruits. Spices range from exotic Indian to cracked black pepper. And the tell-tale notes of violets, olive tapenade, and roasted meats are always on full display.
However, it's the underlying mineral component from these granite terraced slopes serving as the backbone of Chave's wines. It's this definition that allows the wines to age effortlessly, and makes reaching for another sip habitual. Examples of the Saint Joseph from the late 1990's have floored me for their sense of vivacity, freshness, and still-present regal structure.
Jean-Louis Chave joined his father Gérard in 1992, following his studies in Enology at UC Davis. Once home, he undertook his primary mission of re-planting the steep slopes of Saint Joseph, as his ancestors had done centuries ago. In fact, it was precisely on this hillside that the domaine officially started in 1481. These vineyards had remained fallow since phylloxera decimated vineyards throughout France in the late 19th century.
Along with carrying on the tradition of producing the the iconic Hermitage bottlings, Jean-Louis knew that these treacherously steep hillsides in Saint Joseph were capable of producing magnificent wines, and offered a value to consumers that Hermitage could not. 25 years have now passed since these terraces began to be re-built by hand, and vines have been re-planted among the traditional échalas stakes. Today, the results are stunning wines that remind us the root of all success in the Rhone comes from hands-on work and fastidious attention to detail, something the Chave family has personified for hundreds of years.
Since the Saint Joseph appellation was officially given AOC status in 1956 the boundaries have expanded immensely. It's these choice parcels that represent the best and most serious terroir for the zone. Slopes that the Chave's knew were capable of producing intensely concentrated, structured, and age-worthy Syrah. Land where machines were incapable of working, as everything must be done entirely by hand.
When considering the most soulful and magically unique wines in Italy, the name Paolo Bea always leads the discussion. The family roots in Umbria's Montefalco region stretch back to the 16th century on this property, now a diverse eco system of livestock, vegetables, and fruits, with only five of the fifteen hectares devoted to vines.
Today, I'm happy to offer a deep lineup from Paolo Bea, including rare 1.5L and 3L bottlings.
San Valentino is an intriguing blend of 70% Sangiovese, 15% Sagrantino, and 15% Montepulciano from a clay-dominant single vineyard at 1,300 feet. With Umbria's fruit forward personality, the high elevation here adds a dimension of lift that makes this one of the world's most hedonistic, yet refreshing wines. From 50-yr-old vines.
Rosso de Veo comes from Sagrantino vines in the Cerrete vineyard which sits at the highest point in all of Montefalco at 1,500 feet. Clay and limestone comprise the soil here. 2005 was the first vintage of Rosso de Veo, and has since been adored for its more approachable and fruit forward nature, as compared to the Pagliaro. Fermentation and aging follows the same protocol as Piparello.
Pagliaro is all planted to Sagrantin, also perched at 1,300 feet. The grapes see harvest toward the end of October and spend up to 50 days on their skins for maceration. The fermented wine is aged for one year in stainless steel, then two years in large Slavonian botti, and finally one more year in bottle. Many of the notes from the Rosso de Veo are found here, but there's a darker and more wild expression of fruit and earth. Sagrantino is notorious for its firm tannins, but Bea's examples always show softer and more approachable tones than is the Montefalco norm.
Cerrete is Bea's highest altitude Sagrantino vineyard, and has only been produced since 2007. Like the Pagliaro, it's immensely concentrated, but the added lift and brightness is something entirely different.
Arboreus is comprised of clone of Trebbiano known as Trebbiano Spoletino where vine training is high, allowing clusters to hang above the ground. Planted in Trevi and Montefalco between 650-700 feet on clay and gravel soils. The Trebbiano sees skin contact for up to 3 weeks and then is pressed and aged in stainless steel tanks for minimum two years. Sulphur is never added.
Huber Lignier is best known for his iconic Grand Cru, Clos de la Roche, as well as for his extended macerations and long barrel aging. Today, I'm happy to offer a range of Lignier from 2011 through 2016. The concentration and intensity of the 2016 vintage particularly suits the domaine's winemaking protocol and sets up this stable to again reflect the long-distance runner that has enamored collectors for forty years.
Lignier has been imported by Neal Rosenthal (Barthod, Fourrier, Jacques Carillon) since the 1978 vintage, marking one of Neal's earliest and greatest successes. The style of the domaine has always been one that emphasized structure and a distinct terroir-driven soil expression. Located in Morey Saint Denis, Lignier's wines all display that gorgeous rusted earth, black cherry, and hoisin note that the village is often associated.
2016 follows the dark-fruited and robust 2015 vintage. At first, 2016 appeared to be considerably brighter, but as the wines evolved in barrel they gained a darker profile and richness. They still show a more lifted style as compared to 2015, but in the end these are also going to be wines with very long aging potential. They are deeply complex, arguably a bit more site-specific in profile than the 2015's. They are terrific, but surely the Grand Crus will begin to enter their peak drinking window likely at age 15, and perhaps at age 10 for the Premier Crus.
Each cuvée is unique from the next, and modest levels of new oak keep the focus squarely on site. 20-30% new wood for Villages and Premiers, 50% for the Grand Crus. All grapes are destemmed, receive a 5-day cold soak, and then a relatively long fermentation of 15-20 days. The Villages wines are raised in barrel for 18 months, with Premier and Grand Crus receiving a 24-month elévage.
Coming up short on finding back-vintages of Hubert Lignier has always been a thorn in my side. Rarely do collectors part with these aged gems, as the reward with years in bottle is too significant to part with.
Sometimes wine takes you to unusual settings, and introductions the most mystical wines ensue. In July, that meant finding myself in rural, northern Sweden for dinner atFäviken with an eclectic mix of wine lovers from various backgrounds. There aren't many words to adequately sum up this magical weekend organized by Rajat Parr, but suffice to say, it was incredibly special. While lunches and dinners saw tables lined with everything from DRC to Raveneau to Conterno to Selosse, the true walk-away experience for me was what I found in Bruno Schueller's Alsatian Pinot Gris Reserve.
Today, I'm happy to offer Schueller's 2017 and 2011 Pinot Gris Reserve for $44 per bottle, and down to $41 per bottle on vertical 2-packs.
Schueller's Pinot Gris Reserve comes from Grand Cru vineyards Eichberg and Pfersigberg, both with heavily limestone-dominant soils, perched west high above Colmar at the start of the dense forests of the Vosges mountains. The "Reserve" denotes extra time in barrel, and like every aspect of Bruno's approach, it's this methodical and patient pace that informs what we find in bottle.
The Pinot Gris Reserve takes everything you've come to expect from top Grand Cru Alsace and adds about three more gears and revs up the RPM's for a level of complexity and layered depth that's in a league of its own. White peach and nectarine meet electric-charged green apple and meyer lemon, with honeysuckle and ginger notes wrapping up in an almond paste finish and a pulverized sense of minerality.Of course, tasting notes are subjective and a bit silly, but I want to impart a touch of the story on the diverse personality at hand here.
Schueller's magic in bottle is very much traced to an extremely long growing season for his varieties, assisted by pronounced leaf cover that allows his vines to be harvested weeks after his neighbors, still maintaining equal sugar levels. There is no ploughing, nearly zero use of sulphur sprays, and there are no additives used in the cellar.Long aging for the Pinot Gris Reserve takes place in his frigid cellar in large, old foudre.
At $44 per bottle, and down to $41 on vertical packs, Schueller's wizardry reflects everything that is so exciting in the discovery of wine and new producers still floating under-the-radar. Of course, like all great things, availability is limited. Today, we have only 12 bottles only of each vintage.
In the peak of summer I find myself longing for those cool, late fall nights complete with a big bowl of pasta and a bottle of favorite Barolo. Below is my dream list. The kind of names that may keep one up late at night, tossing and turning in bed, with images of wild boar bolognese, homemade fusilli, and a cheese plate filled with top notch Pecorino.