Blog » Neal Rosenthal
Pure & Precise: Famille Levet Côte-Rôtie
Famille Levet is one of Côte Rôtie's most fervent traditionalists and smallest domaines with only 1,000 cases produced annually. While my love of Northern Rhône Syrah veers heavily toward the most old-school and authentic interpretations of terroir, Levet is almost in a category unto itself.
This domaine has been the standard-bearer for ultra-traditional Côte Rôtie since Neal Rosenthal has imported the wines, starting in the early 1980s. Rosenthal's words on Bernard and Nicole Levet have always stuck with me, declaring these as the best and most carefully tended to vines in his iconic portfolio (also filled with names such as Fourrier, Jacques Carillon, and Paolo Bea).
The magic derives from the raw material on these treacherously steep terraced granite slopes. Levet works with the oval-shaped Serine, a genetic variation of Syrah more common in Côte Rôtie, known for its vivid, explosive violet tones, bacon fat, smoke, and black pepper, with a pulverized granitic streak that carries through the long finish. The wines are fermented with 100% whole clusters with a three-year aging regimen in foudre, demi-muid, and smaller barrels.
At the northernmost, cooler-temperature stretches of valley, Côte Rôtie is where we find Syrah at its most hauntingly pure and precise. These characteristics have long turned the eyes of Burgundy collectors south with this kinship—this should be your first stop on the stylistic shift into the Northern Rhône.
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Alto Piemonte's One & Only: 2018 Ferrando Carema
Ferrando was the first European wine that Neal Rosenthal began importing to the U.S. in 1980. The following is still relatively small, but those who line their cellars with Giacomo Conterno and Bartolo Mascarello know the secret of Alto Piemonte. While pricing is always below the top examples of Nebbiolo from Barolo and Barbaresco, Ferrando's Carema deserves equal attention.
In the region of Canavese, these terraced vineyards sit at the foot of Monte Bianco. Here, Nebbiolo portrays an alpine inflection different from Barolo and Barbaresco but with the same track record of aging. Unlike their more famous southern neighbors, vines are trained high up on pergola to harness maximum sunlight. The Carema appellation is just 16 hectares of plantings, with Ferrando holding less than three.
Rosenthal's words have always stuck with me. He once declared that if given only one wine to drink, it would be Ferrando's Carema. Bottles going back to the late 70s are renowned for their freshness, unparalleled clarity, and underlying power. Looking at images of this alpine appellation reminds me of how this wine can come from nowhere else on earth. It is Nebbiolo at its most singular and awe-inspiring.
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Red Burgundy Secret: Edmond Cornu
I'm continually learning new lessons as a retailer, and I have vivid recollections of how tasting the 2013 and 2014 Edmond Cornu Bourgogne Rouge put the domaine on my radar. Small purchases of each proved to be great buys and immediately found devoted supporters. However, the wines quickly vanished from the iconic Neal Rosenthal portfolio in weeks after those initial purchases.
Edmond Cornu is famous for his terrific Grand Cru Corton, and his Les Barrigards Bourgogne Rouge is sourced from a single vineyard of old vines nearby. Each year, it delivers everything we love about Côte de Beaune's exotically spiced Pinot Noir. Vintages like 2005, 2009, and now 2019 are ideal to go all-in on the Bourgogne level red wines: More concentration, deeper texture, and finishes lengthened!
Cornu is a legend among Burgundy collectors and purists. The domaine was established in 1875, then Edmond began bottling instead of selling his grapes to negociants in 1959. Cornu's Grand Cru Corton reaches great heights, but for 20 percent of the price, Les Barrigards deserves a spot in every Burgundy lover's cellar.
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Giovanna's Chianti: 2019 Le Boncie Le Trame
"Giovanna's wines are pure, bright, fresh and juicy, with bracing acidity and lingering flavors of red fruit and flowers." — Eric Asimov, NYT
When I have the opportunity to prove that Chianti Classico can show grace and pristine fruit quality akin to Red Burgundy, I use Giovanna Morganti's Le Trame as my first example. I implore you to trust this will be your moment of clarity for Sangiovese.
Importer Neal Rosenthal's Montevertine is a benchmark for the region, but his other discovery, Le Boncie, better illustrates Sangiovese's sometimes elusive, fruit-forward profile and silken tannins. Earlier this year, Eric Asimov of the New York Times included Le Trame in his top ten list of Chianti Classicos.
Giovanna farms her fives hectares using organic and biodynamic principles. I could go down the rabbit hole on farming, fermentation, and aging specifics, but I'd like to cut this one short and say: This is a profound wine that's a joy to drink. I've lost count of the number of times I've used this bottling to convince friends that Sangiovese can be fun, approachable, and deadly serious. Below is a photo from my 2017 visit and the gorgeous color of the barrel sample that had me in love.
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Alpine Heroics: 2020 Grosjean Valle d'Aosta
The Grosjean family has been farming their vineyards in the mountains of Valle d'Aosta for generations. Importer Neal Rosenthal is dialed into the alpine vineyards throughout Northern Italy like no one else. His portfolio includes diverse talents like Jean-Marie Fourrier, Jacques Carillon, and Montevertine. However, it's smaller, modestly priced producers from these esoteric regions that define the portfolio's brilliance.
As far as Italian alpine wines go, there is very little competition in the realm of organic and biodynamic estates. The village of Fornet in the Valle d'Aosta sits in the shadow of the towering Mont Blanc. As you can imagine, the high-altitude conditions provide a snap and clarity to the wines with a signature herbal note.
Petite Arvine, a local white variety, is sourced from Grosjean's Rovettaz Vineyard, situated at 700 meters above sea level. Ripe peach and fennel meet a salty, alpine-influenced finish, harnessing some of the mystical mint profile also evident in Torrette.
Also from the Rovettaz Vineyard, "Torrette" is primarily made of the native variety Petit Rouge (80%), with smaller amounts of Vien de Nus, Doucet, Fumin, and Mayolet. Black raspberry, red licorice, and wild herbs meld together to craft an absolutely delicious wine reflective of its unique place. The wine is aged in stainless steel to preserve its bright, fresh-fruited personality.