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!
Visiting with Christoph Schaefer seven years ago at his family's cellar at the foot of the wickedly steep Domprobst vineyard of Graach (pictured above) was an unforgettable experience. The wines have long impressed me for their featherweight lightness and mineral spring purity of fruit. The balance found throughout the wines coming from the Mosel River Valley captivate us at every turn, but, for me, those from Willi Schaefer sit in a select category. Along with J.J. Prüm, this is where the Mosel reaches its crescendo.Today, I'm happy to offer the full range of in-stock Willi Schaefer Rieslings. The list covers current releases as well as extreme rarities. Value can be found with age, now at 15 years the 2004 Riesling QBA at $34/btl is a great example of the magic capable of developing in bottle. And, several Auction (Grosser Ring) bottlings with a big emphasis on the epic 2001 vintage certainly marks the highlight of this group.Schaefer's minute holding of 4.2 hectares almost exclusively focuses on two vineyards in the village of Graach, the Himmelreich and Domprobst - both comprised of Devonian slate soils. The Himmelreich, in its youth, is the more approachable, fruity, and silky. Lots of citrus and white peach tend to dominate. There's an agility and sense of weightlessness to Himmelreich that personifies the magic of the Mosel.The Domprobst is the more deep, spicy, and powerful. Earthy characteristics reveal themselves here in wines with slightly higher acidity. Flavor profile tends to push further away from the citrus register and into yellow and red orchard fruit notes.
Last week's Alberto Nanclares offer sold out quickly. Today I'm happy to announce two of Nanclares' top cuvées that have just arrived, as well as the very last bottles in California of the previously sold out Soverribas and "Nanclares". Quantities are again very limited.
After weeks on the road covering nearly every corner of Spain I walked away with a lot of epiphany moments. But, none surpassed the thrill I had during my introduction to Alberto Nanclares. His traditional pergola-trained Albariños from Cambados, the seaside village with vines just meters from the Atlantic, marked a massive shift in my understanding on what descriptors like crystalline and acid-driven can truly mean in the context of a Spanish white wine.
Today, I'm happy to offer Alberto Nanclares 2017 Pajare Mina and A Graña Rias Baixas Albariño.
Paraje Mina is a west-facing single vineyard planted on sandy soils over granite. Fermented in a 1,000-liter steel tank and one 500-liter and 450-liter used French oak barrel, which saw weekly battonage for the first 2 months. Less than 2,500 bottles produced. The west exposure here gives a full bodied expression of sun-drenched Albariño with neutral wood and stainless steel providing ample cut and tension.
A Graña is a north-east facing single vineyard also on sandy soils over granite. Aged in a new 800-liter chestnut cask and a 200-liter steel tank. Weekly battonage for the first 3 months. Among the most acid-driven Albariños in all of Rias Baixas, one that incorporated new oak elements of the chestnut cask to soften the texture a touch with more oxygen exchange during élevage. Only 1,212 bottles produced.
Tempus Vivendi may lead you to believe this is truly an entry-level wine with its humble $29 price tag, but nothing could be further from the truth. Among the greatest value whites in the world, this Albariño is dramatic in its complexity and precision. Sourced from 6 parcels in the parroquias (or parishes) of Vilalonga, Noalla and Dorrón close to the municipality of Sanxenxo along the Atlantic coast. Aged exclusively in stainless steel.
On the re-loaded "Nanclares" and Soverribas:
Drinking these two cuvées multiple times abroad, I'd be remiss if I didn't share two familiar wines that share a common thread to help give some context. "Nanclares" is to Roulot's village Meursault, as "Soverribas" is to Dauvissat's Chablis Premier Cru La Forest. If you, like me, put those two iconic wines at the top of your wish list, you will be pleasantly surprised in what you'll find from this master of natural winemaking in the most historic and traditional village of Rias Baixas.
Like Roulot's Meursault, "Nanclares" wows the senses with that unmistakable mineral spring-like purity and acid-driven frame that just levitates on the palate. This parcel of granite bedrock with sandy topsoil captures the very most ocean-influenced personality of Albariño, with white peach and white flowers melding with faint almond notes on the finish. Aging in a combination of older French tina barrels and stainless steel.
As in the case of Dauvissat's La Forest, there's an element of clay in the soil here (mixed with decomposed granite) that gives "Soverribas" more texture and breadth on the palate. This single parcel, Paraje Manzaniña, is a powerful and saturating style of Albariño, however, its profile is still very much founded upon a fresh streak and salty, long finish. The peach profile is a touch more forward and that almond note carries more of a marzipan quality on the mid-palate. *Decanting is recommended to allow its layers of complexity to unravel. Aged for an extended period on its fine lees in 10-yr-old, 2,200-liter tina. The owl on the label is an ode to the Mochuelot (pictured below) that is commonly found in and around this vineyard.
Legendary Spanish importer, José Pastor has been the gateway to so many new Spanish discoveries (Envínate, Luis Rodriguez, to name a couple). Nanclares reflects the philosophy in the vines and the cellar that Pastor has used as his foundation in building such a critical and impressive portfolio of ultra-attentive, thoughtful growers-producers
In 1992, Alberto Nanclares and his wife chose to leave their native Basque country and settle in this extreme Atlantic Ocean setting in the beautifully green and lush northwest Galicia region. Organic viticulture is no easy task in Rias Baixas, as the high humidity and constant rainfall have meant conventional farming with chemicals and extremely high yields is the overwhelming norm. There was a gradual shift over the years for Nanclares to get his parcels farmed the right way, through painstaking labor.
It's wines like these that serve as great reminders that when focus is placed squarely on quality and the most natural viticulture/winemaking the results can ultimately be game-changers for regions steeped in such history like Rias Baixas. Among all the wines I drank through the summer in Spain, there is none that I personally have reached for with more regularity since returning as those from Alberto Nanclares.
I anxiously awaited the arrival of the 2018 vintage from Domaine Savary. In Chablis where many consider François Raveneau king, it was his introduction to importer Kermit Lynch that landed this terrific, under-the-radar domaine in the states. At $33 per bottle for Savary's Old Vine cuvée, this is the greatest value to go deep on from these famed Kimmeridgian slopes.
Savary's old vine bottling captures everything I love about Chablis. Crushed oyster shell, cool-fruited citrus and green apple, with an uncanny texture impossible to resist conjuring the legendary wines of François Raveneau.
Chablis may be part of Burgundy, but its extreme northern setting and soil comprised of fossilized seashells share more in common with parts of Champagne and Sancerre than with the more luscious Chardonnay found 80 miles south-east in the Côte d'Or. The mineral expression matched with the cold climate of Chablis is magical for crafting wines brimming with mouth-watering salinity and faint nutty flavors that reveal themselves with air.
There's still so much of Chablis that's harvested too early, farmed without conviction, resting on the laurels of the iconic appellation printed on the label. Savary is a prime example of what the region can do the very best, pushing ripeness in this frigid northerly climate to the max, while preserving the necessary tension. Fermentation is carried out in 20% neutral wood and 80% stainless steel for their Vielles Vignes cuvée. The wine is then aged in larger, neutral demi-muids barrels.
Olivier Savary follows a long history of vignerons, but due to challenging vintages his parents had chosen not to continue the family domaine. Olivier had to start over when he finished oenology school in Dijon, and since 1984 with his wife Francine, they've slowly built what once was lost. A serendipitous introduction to importer Kermit Lynch by François Raveneau brought these stateside. While pricing of Raveneau will top several hundreds of dollars, today's old vine bottling is a perfect reminder that Chablis is still the bulls-eye for mineral-driven value Chardonnay.
Tasting the entire range with Raphael Bérêche last year was a masterclass in champagne precision. While this stable of artisanal wines are produced in very small quantities, the Coteaux Champenois Rouge is simply on a different scale. I'm thrilled to showcase two warm vintages where this rare bird soars.
Today, I'm happy to offer the 1999 and 2015 Bereche Coteaux Champenois Rouge Les Montées for $109 per bottle.
Bérêches's Les Montées is a blend of Pinot Noir and Pinot Meunier from old vines in the Montagne de Reims. The grapes are only partially de-stemmed and the fermentation is done in barrel, sometimes yielding only a single one. There is no fining or filtering before bottling.
On one hand, Raphael is as adventurous as any vigneron I've met, with a child-like joyous demeanor exuding enthusiasm at every turn in the cave. On the other hand, him and his brother, Vincent (who focuses in the vineyard) take an exacting approach to every detail in this domaine founded in 1847.
The nine hectares owned by Bérêche are farmed by ten full-time workers, an extremely unusual ratio. But, Rapha knows the quality in bottle will be dictated, above all, by the number of minutes each vine sees of hand working through the growing season.
The Bérêche estate also stands out for a vast array of terroir at their disposal. Starting at home base with the chalky soils of 1er Cru Ludes, ideal for Chardonnay (pictured below), all the way to the western Valée de la Marne and those heavier clay soils, where Pinot Noir and Meunier excel. In addition to the Coteaux Champenois Rouge, these other cuvées are available below.
NV Brut Resérve is comprised of equal parts Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay. The Premier Cru village Ludes in Montagne de Reims is where parcels of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir are sourced to bring that nervosity from chalky soils. And the broader and richer tones come from Pinot Meunier and additional Chardonnay parcels from Mareuil le Port in the western Vallée de la Marne.
35% of the Brut Réserve comes from a perpetual blend of reserve wine and is supplemented with 65% from the harvest listed below. It's this reserve portion of the blend that brings a sense of grandeur perfectly suited to mesh with the more taut structure from the single vintage. Fermentation is split between 60% neutral French oak barrels and 40% small vats, aging taking place in 600-liter neutral barrels.
Coteaux Champenois Blanc 1er Cru Les Monts Fournois is the rarest wine from the domaine. A still, single vineyard Chardonnay, this wine from a surprisingly warmer vintage (2013) in Champagne has all of the chalky drive and crystalline personality that you'd imagine, but with a definitive weight that fleshes out on the palate and finishes very long. I've stashed many bottles in my cellar and always am amazed at the evolution from one year to the next, slowly picking up more deeper color, orchard fruit tones, but framed by wild acidity, nonetheless.
Remensis Rosé comes from a single parcel in the Petite Montagne de Reims village of Ormes. 2/3 Pinot Noir, 1/3 Chardonnay, with all color coming from small addition of still wine. This has always been a favorite for its ginger and tangerine notes supported by beaming acidity and a precision rare to find in the world of rosé champagne. Today's offering features wines from the 2012 base vintage, the maturing in bottle has put this in a perfect spot where all of the notes are now more pronounced and expressive than I've ever tasted before, still finished by laser-focused salinity.
Les Beaux Regards is sourced primarily from vines planted in 1902 by Rapha's great-grandfather in his home village of Ludes (pictured below). The interplay between finely-woven threads of minerality and a concentrated driving force through the finish really had the tasting come to a halt in my mind. The balance is an ideal example of how Rapha is at the top of the echelon today. 2013 and 2014 available below.
Les Cran is equal parts Pinot Noir and Chardonnay coming from old vines in the best mid-slope parcels in Ludes. Raphael has an interesting take, "[Le Cran] demonstrates that there is much more minerality in the mid-slope of a premier cru than at the base of the slope in a grand cru.”
Reflet d'Antan is as special as they come. Sourced from a solera started in 1985 by Rapha's father, Jean-Pierre. This is equal parts Pinot Noir, Pinot Meunier, and Chardonnay. Each vintage 2/3 of each barrel is removed to blend with the Brut Reserve. "Reflection of yesteryear" tells the story of this esteemed producer, still showing the fine lacy texture and brimming energy that you will find with the youngest wines here.