For many, Mediterranean's seaside towns of Saint-Tropez and Nice represent France's most luxurious enclaves. However, once it's clear that not all that glitters is gold you may very well be lucky enough to come across Cassis. Likely, this is first via an abrupt stop to take in the dramatic Cap Canaille, France's highest sea cliff. Celebrities looking for a more private setting nestle into homes along these windy roads that can resemble the Hollywood hills.
While the seemingly never-ending pallets of Domaine Ott might distract those impressionable by glossy double-page magazine ads, those who understand the smaller grower-producer estates offer the highest quality and complexity might be lucky enough to come across my single favorite rosé of last year.
Today, I'm happy to offer the 2018 Domaine du Bagnol Cassis Rosé for $35 per bottle, and down to $32.95 for orders of 3 bottles or more.
Bagnol's Cassis rosé is comprised of 55% Grenache, 31% Mourvedre, and 14% Cinsault. The setting of the vineyards (pictured below) is directly on top of the Mediterranean, endowing a salty sea-breeze element taken quite step further than your typical ocean-influenced pink. My first sip of Bagnol's rosé was a proverbial light bulb moment. The combo of deliciousness with finely-etched mineral threads woven throughout this complex rosé was simply in a league of its own.
If Tempier's Mourvedre-dominant rosé shows Provence's most exquitsite full-bodied form, then Bagnol's Grenache-dominant example is all about racy, wild strawberry fruit and citrus tones lingering with salinity on its long finish. Bagnol might not have the same wide-cast spotlight as Tempier, but with only 500 cases annually imported to the entire U.S. it is my most secret pink for my home cellar. Our allocation from Neal Rosenthal is six cases.
2018 in Beaujolais marks a much-needed return for growers to good yields and very high quality with a dry harvest. The last couple vintages have not been kind for vignerons in each of these areas. Massive amounts of spring rain actually proved a blessing as July and August heatwaves came next, meaning reserves of accumulated ground water was more than sufficient during through this stretch. 2018 is a ripe vintage for sure, but as compared to the bombastic 2015's, the alcohol is lower, acidity higher, and freshness a big part of the finished product.
As compared to other titans of Cru Beaujolais, Foillard and Lapierre, I find Dutraive's often lighter in color, with a more concentrated, lifted spice, and a more wild natural element that stands out from the pack due to his lower sulphur protocol. Waiting several years after release to get into top cuvées has been a big goal of mine, as the rare aged Dutraive is pure magic when fruit begins to fall more to the background and exotic spices become more prominent.
The drive from Mt. Etna to Vittoria was a great reminder as to just how varied the landscape and terroir of Sicliy is. Temperatures rise and the climate turns dry and arid. It's hard to believe this place I'm headed is beloved for the freshness and clarity of its wines. There's no better introduction to the wines of Vittoria then through the 1980-founded dream project brewed up three young friends.
Today, I'm happy to offer the 2018 COS Frappato for $26 per bottle, along with the COS Nero d'Avola and Cerasuolo.
Originally, Giambattista Cilia, Giusto Occhipinti, and Cirino Strano (COS) chose as young men to produce 1,470 bottles of wine in October 1980. Cilia's father had a winery, and 3 hectares of nearby bush-trained vines were sourced. It was simply intended as a fun project. After showing the wine to a renowned sommelier in Palermo the trio received a much surprised enthusiastic response, and were told they needed to follow down this path.
The magic of Vittoria, one that took some time to make itself evident to the naked eye, is the soil and wind. There's a constant breeze coming from the Hyblaean mountains sweeping through these vines resting on red clay/sand over a deep bedrock of limestone. The wind helps moderate these inland temperatures preserving acidity, the red sand cools immediately after the sun sets, and the limestone is responsible for low pH levels in the wine - giving high acidity and nervy minerality. Organic and biodynamic viticulture here are implemented on all parcels.
Putting all this together it's clear why the red wines coming from COS resemble traditional Burgundy and Northern Rhone in their brightness, energy, and spice. Frappato and Nero d'Avola are the two main red varieties. An over-generalization can be made to the former resembling Pinot Noir, with the latter resembling Syrah. Blended together the most recognized of the wines of Vittoria is produced, called Cerasuolo.
COS has put these two obscure varieties on the worldwide map. Over the years the small region of Vittoria has garnered more attention, and rightfully so. The three friends are the ultimate ambassadors and are constantly pushing the envelope in maximizing the potential for their wines, never resting on their laurels.
I met with Giusto Occhipinti just as they were starting to bottle the new vintage. The Cerasuolo is fermented in cement and aged in large Slavonian oak casks, similar to what is used for traditional Barolo and Brunello. This is certainly one of the most important choices made to ensure the wines are accentuated by crisp, refreshing notes that make the wines a joy to drink, and just as importantly pair well at the dinner table with a wide range.
Naples is regarded as Italy's "ungovernable wild child", and exploring the city by foot last summer was one of the most unforgettable experiences of my life. Situated on the Mediterranean coast, it's ominously just west of Mt. Vesuvius. The city is synonymous with its famous Neapolitan style pizza, but truth be told, the real magic of Naples is its seafood. And, when I must choose from the delectably crisp and dynamic whites from the greater Campania region, without hesitation I turn to Ciro Picariello.
Today, I'm happy to offer Ciro's 2018 "BruEmm" Falanghina Beneventana at $25 per bottle.
Ciro Picariello is the rockstar of Campania. Everything he touches simply turns to gold. Even on a value-driven scale Ciro's whites have a richness and an extra 6th gear depth that's on a completely different level from his contemporaries.
The debut of Falanghina Beneventana from Ciro is immediately the benchmark for the grape. Tasting much over the years I'm accustomed to the variety's rich, textural personality with green apple notes and a faint honeyed inflection. Ciro's example works off these traits, but endows them with an pulsating stream of mineral verve and a textural gloss that surprisingly remains taut despite the extra horsepower. There's an added layer of white peaches and mountain herbs that showcase Falanghina's most compelling side.
Without a doubt, this debut was one of the most thrilling young Italian whites I've ever tasted. At $25 per bottle, the value here is shocking until you look at the entire Picariello portfolio. It's the model for affordable, great Italian whites that transcend their categories. I've also featured the range from Ciro below, including his Greco and Fiano.
Ciro's small production comes equally from 7 hectares where high altitude plantings are the focus. Only stainless steel is used at the winery, wines are kept undisturbed on fine lees for aging, and only small amounts of sulphur are added. As Ciro has proven, when executed with precision this brings the flavors one step closer to the raw materials on vine and a distinct sense of place. This is the best stable of young white wines coming from southern Italy today.
Often I'll beat the drum for the small, family producer. Campania's wines are overwhelmingly dominated by large brands with insipid products from an industrial approach. Ciro represents the other side of the spectrum, the absolute height of what can be achieved when conscientious and fastidious work is the foundation. To close out August, there's no white wines more salivating and delicious than those from this Campania benchmark!
Thivin's Côte de Brouilly has been a staple in our Cru Beaujolais category since day one. The value at $31 per bottle is always refreshing as pricing for top producers in the region continue to climb. These 50-yr-old vines are situated in as unique a location as any in Beaujolais, here on blue volcanic soil and an unusually steep 48% grade slope. There's a blue-fruited quality to the Gamay that leads one to believe terroir can impart an extremely obvious sense of place.
2018 is an exciting vintage for the region, with the hot summer not bringing a roasted or jammy quality as we often saw in years like 2015 and 2009. The abundant spring rains kept these soils hydrated through the stress of summer heat spikes, and in turn, the wines show fleshy, full-bodied fruit with an unmistakable acid-streak and pronounced minerality.
Château Thivin’s roots date back to the 15th century. But, it was in 1877 when Zaccharie Geoffrey purchased the 2-hectare estate at auction that Thivin began as we know it today. His grandson, Claude was pivotal in the creation of the Côte de Brouilly appellation during the great depression. And now his grandnephew, also Claude, his wife Evelyn, and their son Claude-Edouard are behind production of this benchmark Côte de Brouilly. Kermit Lynch visited the domaine during his first trip on the wine route with Richard Olney in 1976.