Curious about alpine red wines? Then, you have to check out the Savoie's native red grape variety, Mondeuse. One of the best examples we’ve encountered comes from the young Nicolas Ferrand. We spread the word to as many of our customers as possible and are down to only a few cases.
Coteau de la Mort ($79) has the depth of Northern Rhône Syrah, with high-toned black cherry, black pepper, and pressed rose petals, though this Mondeuse is also surprisingly juicy and sleek. Ferrand does a semi-carbonic fermentation without any piegeage (pressing of the skins), no fining or filtering, uses minimal sulfur, and ages in larger format barrels.The cuvée's name, hill of death, refers to the ancient hillside vineyards re-planted during Savoie’s renaissance in the 1990s, thanks to early champions, like Michel Grisard of Prieuré St-Christophe, who I've written about in past offers. In 2013, the vineyard fell under the stewardship of Ferrand when starting Domaine des Côtes Rousses.
One of the Savoie’s top crus for Mondeuse, Saint Jean de la Porte has distinct red clay soils (the inspiration behind the domaine name), as well as limestone and moraine. Ferrand has farmed organically from the beginning and utilizes horses and sheep in partnership with his neighbors. He's native to the area, but his family previously farmed cattle, making him a first-generation vigneron.In the last decade, Ferrand's vineyard holdings have increased, and so has the buzz for his wines. Savoie expert and author Wink Lorch says, “Nicolas’s wines should become a staple in every Savoie wine lover’s cellar,” and we fervently agree. Coteau de la Mort is a refreshing take on Savoie history.
We all have regrets. One of mine was passing on Bitouzet-Prieur Volnay and Meursault when I turned on the lights in 2015. A friend once said, “If you’re not embarrassed by choices made in the previous year, then you’re not growing.” The 2020 vintage of this domaine marks my redemption.
With winemaking medals galore filling the home of Vincent Bitouzet back in 1860, the marriage to Annie Prieur after that marked the official start of what is now the most classic domaine in Volnay, along with Lafarge. And the whites from vineyards like Meursault 1er Cru Charmes and Perrières are now another great reminder that value is alive and well in the Côte de Beaune.
I only have a few wines from Bitouzet-Prieur, but they are the best cuvées to me after an extensive tasting with the domaine in Brooklyn last year. The Volnay is destemmed, and pigeage (punchdowns) occur twice per day—a process that has seemingly gone out of fashion in Burgundy of late as many opt for remontage (pumpovers) to bring softer contours and more immediacy to the fruit. But the 2020 Volnay is pure class and is precisely the type of Burgundy I seek out—from the greatest red village of the Côte de Beaune.
The whites see extended lees contact and a maximum of 20% new oak. They pull back on the fruity Chardonnay traits, instead digging deep for a saturating mineral through-line that reminds me of wines common pre-2005 heat. Still bursting with site-specificity and deliciousness, they take my mind back to another time with their soft-spoken spirit.
For the first time, the iconic Hirsch Vineyards has allocated the release of their flagship San Andreas Fault Pinot Noir ($78). And it's no surprise why. 2021 marks not only the most successful vintage for Sonoma Pinot Noir in the 21st century but also the best-ever bottling of this wine.
Hirsch sits half a mile from the San Andreas Fault line. With 34 vineyard blocks comprising the eponymous cuvée, this signature blend is the ultimate snapshot of place. As David Hirsch notes, the fragmentation is unmatched even by the famously subdivided vineyards of Burgundy’s Côte de Nuits. The result is a wine exploding with fresh red cherry, strawberry, and mint notes that segue into a precise finish with dark chocolate, orange skin, and dusty minerality.Driving the winding road from downtown Sonoma to the property at the far edge of California’s coast is a rite of passage. I was lucky enough to work one ridgeline over at Failla’s Estate Vineyard, and I can tell you, despite the acclaim of the Pinot Noirs, the extreme Sonoma Coast’s rugged terrain remains built for a few. David was the first to plant Pinot Noir here in 1980, and the location remains completely remote.Producing wines of consistent ripeness and grace in a marginal climate like this one is no easy feat, especially when the grapes are known for having formidable tannins. And yet, that is precisely the tall task that daughter Jasmine Hirsch and Consulting Winemaker Michael Cruse have accomplished.
The style has changed throughout the last twenty years since David built a winery and began putting Hirsch Vineyards on his own label. Today, they have opted for 100% de-stemming across the board and about 30% new oak for this particular cuvée. Again, 2021 is the most successful version of Hirsch’s San Andreas Fault Pinot Noir, and in a vintage where the entire lineup has received “perfect” praise.
Winter always marks a dramatic shift in the wines we begin to reach for. Many regions that have largely sat on the bench during the sweltering months have eagerly anticipated their call up to the plate. January also coincides with one of the very most exciting releases of the year––The Rioja Cellar.Hiram Simon's WineWise, the official California importer of Lopez de Heredia, visits private cellars each year in and around Rioja. There, he tastes and acquires aged wines from the deepest and most serious cellars in the region. I gave my order request last year based on his tastings, and today, these pristine Tempranillo-based Rioja gems are in stock and ready to ship.Over the last two years, the highlight of Hiram's selections, for me personally, is in these more relatively modestly priced wines. This is always such a rare opportunity to taste one of the world's most classic and age-worthy regions with simply perfect provenance. As mentioned, these wines have been aged in cellars in and around Rioja since their initial release.Note: Gran Reserva (sp.) is part of a nomenclature implemented in 1982. Before that, the Reserva wines were all non-vintage and denoted as 6º Año, in the case of Tondonia. Any wine called Cosecha is by nature the wine subsequently marketed as Gran Reserva.
Photo Credit: Julia Volk
The hunt for German Pinot Noir producers who get it is a never-ending pursuit. Much of the point-chasing efforts from estates in Baden (Pinot Noir territory) are overly masked through excessive oak, extraction, and out-of-whack ripeness seemingly intended to elicit oohs and ahs from tasters as if they had finally made that Burgundy-beater. Any German producer intent on outshowing Burgundy would be better suited in another line of work.
Today's afternoon offer is exciting for a couple of different reasons. First, Alexander Götze and Christoph Wolber have spent over a decade working at Burgundian domaines like Leflaive, De Montille, Pierre Morey, and Comte Armand. Secondly, I have fond memories of spending time with Alex during my year-long stint in Beaune. His goal was always to return to Germany and produce Pinot Noir that followed the sensibilities that the Côte d'Or naturally transmitted.
Wasenhaus is Pinot Noir at its most ethereal. For me, the entry-level bottling, Grand Ordinaire, is the highlight of the lineup. The delicacy and levity here brought an up-front drinkability and ease that's undeniably delicious and equally brilliant. No doubt, the duo's experience in Burgundy imparted an important lesson: That great wine is made in the vineyard and raised with a soft touch in the cellar.
Much of the elegance in the Wasenhaus range can be attributed to working with vineyards with a higher content of limestone and sand versus the heavier clay soils that are more common throughout Baden. As you can imagine, those with an eye toward grace above power will choose their sites wisely.
The Spätburgunder ferments with 90% destemmed fruit and 10% whole clusters. Aging takes place in neutral barrel for one year, followed by six months in stainless steel. This switch really benefits the wine as it holds in those more crunchy and bright red berry fruit characteristics. The lingering finish with sweet brown spices and savory tones is persistent, especially given the humble price point.
I'm always up for tasting German Pinot Noir, but I rarely find wines that pull me in like red Burgundy. For Wasenhaus, it's the effortless sensibility and focus on terroir that shines the brightest.