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Portuguese Groundbreaker: Luis Seabra
There's no ragtag band of young winemakers vowing to carry the Douro Valley's wine region into the future, but they do have Luis Seabra. After spearheading port house Niepoort for a decade, in 2013, Seabra started his own winery, using native grape varieties to produce delicate yet powerful still wines.
What truly sets Seabra apart is his exploration of soil and terroir. Most of his vineyards are in the eastern Douro, planted as field blends, but the Granito Cru Alvarinho is sourced further northwest in Vinho Verde, closer to Galicia, Spain. In Portuguese, the word "cru" translates to raw, so this particular bottling refers to the raw, granitic soil on which the vines grow.
This is hands down the most thrilling Vinho Verde in terms of complexity and depth. Words like saline, electric, and light-footed first come to mind, and as the wine unravels, rich, oceanic, almost umami flavors come to the surface. The 2020 bottling is yet again delectable, with more open-knit fruit right out of the gate, making it nearly irresistible upon release.
Producers like Seabra are few and far between in Portugal. If I were to place him in a camp, he would be among changemakers like Raul Perez, Envínate, and Comando G, who produce fresh, mineral-driven wines in a similar vein. Whether or not other Portuguese winemakers seize this moment, Seabra has reconfigured our former perceptions about this region otherwise known for its blustering red wines. This standalone Alvarinho is not to be missed!
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Featherweight Champion: 2021 Marquiliani Rosé
Marquiliani's pale copper-hued, diamond-cut rosé from Corsica is one of our most highly anticipated rosé releases each year. The native Sciaccarellu grape is grown here on decomposed granite terraces a couple of miles from the Mediterranean, just below the towering 8,000 foot Mount Renosu, ensuring cool breezes to balance out the island's hot summer temperatures.
Here, every single grape grown is destined to be rosé. Vin de Corse Rosé shows the domaine's more incisive, linear style of rosé. The smaller production Rosé de Pauline is a touch broader on the palate but counter-intuitively paler in color than the Vin de Corse. Even with Syrah's more prominent role here, this is rosé at its most featherweight and saline-driven.
Anne Almaric tends these minuscule two hectares of vines, which her family took over in the 1950s. There was a 20-year span where this centuries old domaine was abandoned, and Anne's father was the first to plant Sciaccarellu on the eastern side of the island. Anne's background in agricultural chemistry lends a keen eye toward viticulture, and the vines have prospered under her watch.
Pink Granite Rosé: 2020 Thivin Beaujolais
While Beaujolais red wines have always been a cornerstone, the region's more limited-production rosés never quite made the cut. That all changed when Kermit Lynch asked Château Thivin (our favorite producer in Côte de Brouilly) for a small amount of their rosé for California. From a single hectare of vines planted on pink granite atop the steep slopes of an ancient volcano—this is not your standard rosé.
Pink granite and sand surround the ancient Mont Brouilly volcano, and here, on some of the steepest slopes in the region, Gamay is endowed with purple-toned fruits and wild lavender notes. I was hesitant before tasting, imagining those very bouncy and fruit-forward Gamay traits wouldn’t translate to the crisp and mineral personality I look, but Thivin's rosé has a great sense of salinity and freshness.
This rosé of Gamay is sourced from one hectare of 50-year-old vines. Grapes are pressed immediately giving just a slightly pink hue. The wine is fermented with native yeasts, goes through full malolactic, and spends its life in stainless steel prior to bottling. As a result, it's a snappy and lively rosé that finishes with salty punctuation.
This two-hectare was purchased at auction by Zaccharie Geoffrey in 1877. His grandson, Claude, was pivotal in the creation of the Côte de Brouilly appellation during the great depression. Now, his grandnephew, also Claude, his wife Evelyn, and their son Claude-Edouard are behind the production of this benchmark. Kermit Lynch visited the domaine during his first trip on the wine route with Richard Olney in 1976.
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Rockstar Realized: Guillaume Gilles Cornas
Guillaume Gilles in Cornas continues to raise the bar each vintage. A visit with him in July 2018 was a great opportunity to learn more about the young vigneron who highlights Northern Rhone's new generation. Gilles trained under Jean-Louis Chave and the now retired Cornas legend, Robert Michel.
Gilles leases 2.5 hectares of the famed Chaillot Vineyard from Michel. His traditional approach means zero de-stemming, aging in large neutral barrels, and no fining or filtering. If Michel's wines were known for their uncommon transparency and light-handed touch, Gilles is darker, ferocious, and packed with concentration. Still, they have that undeniable sense of pure granite and 100% whole cluster.
Since Thierry Allemand's Cornas wines easily fetch for $250+ per bottle, I've set my eyes on today's more under-the-radar producers. There's simply no producer more deserving of attention than Guillaume Gilles. That quintessential combination of roasted meats, violets, blackberries, smoke, black pepper, and scorched earth that Cornas derives its name from is always front and center.
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Heaven Sent Albariño: 2020 Nanclares y Prieto
Legendary U.S. importer José Pastor has been the gateway to many new Spanish discoveries, including Envínate and Luis Rodriguez. Alberto Nanclares and Silvia Prieto in Cambados marked a massive shift in my understanding of descriptors like "crystalline" and "acid-driven" when it comes to the Spanish white wine category.
Like Dauvissat's La Forest in Chablis, there's an element of clay in the soil here (mixed with decomposed granite) that gives these wines more texture and breadth on the palate. Nanclares y Prieto's Paraje Manzaniña parcel, in particular, produces a powerful and saturating style of Albariño still founded upon a fresh streak and salty, long finish. 2020 Rias Baixas was generally about half a degree less in alcohol, and like Burgundy and Mosel, it was all about balance this vintage.
In 1992, Nanclares and Prieto left Basque country and settled in the beautifully green and lush northwest Galicia region. Organic viticulture is no easy task in Rias Baixas, as high humidity and constant rainfall mean conventional farming with chemicals and high yields are the overwhelming norm. Nanclares gradually shifted over the years to farm his parcels the right way through painstaking labor.
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