A June 2016 visit in Burgundy meant tastings with some of my favorite storied domaines like Mugneret-Gibourg and Denis Bachelet, but it was after a lunch with Jeremy Seysses at Domaine Dujac and a beautiful bottle of 1993 Clos de la Roche that I got tipped off to something happening across the street—the new Domaine Charlopin-Tissier.
Yann Charlopin-Tissier’s background is surrounded by legendary figures. His father, Philippe Charlopin, was a student of Henri Jayer as he started his own domaine in 1978. Yann worked closely with his father starting in 2004, and then with another mentor, Jean-Marie Fourrier, before launching his own domaine, now at just 4 hectares. Like these Vosne-Romanée and Gevrey Chambertin mythic names, Yann favors picking as ripe as possible and prefers de-stemming.
Yann filled me in on his methodical and organic approach to viticulture, his excruciatingly low yields, and his disdain for talking too much about winemaking choices in the cuverie. "These wines are made in the vineyard," he would repeat. And the dirt under his nails, and muddy boot prints littered throughout the courtyard drove home that point. For me, this image greatly juxtaposed with what you find in bottle––suave and sophisticated texture, luxurious mouthfeel, supported by very concentrated ripe fruit buffered with mouth-watering salinity.
My two favorite wines of the 2020 vintage capture precisely what is so special here: The Marsannay La Montagne is surely the sleeper pick in the range, but this lieu-dit coming from the top of the slope in Marsannay where it is substantially rockier than below offers a masterclass in balance, between bold, ripe, dark fruit with powdery tannins and mineral finish. The Pernand Vergelesses Sous Frétille is one of best kept secrets in Premier Cru white Burgundy. Always a site that delivers crisp salinity and a Grand Cru-level drama. Yann’s version has a ruthless intensity of fruit with a chalky grip that is truly head-turning. This reflects his ambition for powerfully concentrated wines that still somehow have a wizardly refinement on the palate.
Paolo Bea is most famous for its wildly interesting take on Montefalco's Sagrantino red grape variety, but today, I’d like to pivot to their orange wines. Paolo's son, Giampiero, was one of the first naturalists in Italy to adopt the practices of Josko Gravner and Stanko Radikon (the Friulian winemakers who repopularized the ancient-old tradition of fermenting white grapes on their skins). Today, Bea’s Arboreus is considered a benchmark in the world of orange wine, and it has a fascinating backstory.
These Trebbiano Spoletino vines were planted below oak trees on the Paolo Bea estate over 120 years ago and have completely wrapped themselves around the trees (Hence the name Arboreus). Once harvested and de-stemmed, the grapes ferment on the skins for several weeks and spend a minimum of two years on the lees in stainless steel tanks. Gravner and Radikon produce the most concentrated, structured examples of orange wine you’ll come across and are undoubtedly the pinnacles in this category. I more often gravitate toward Paolo Bea's style, though. Arboreus has that same deep amber hue, golden stone fruit showing apricot and yellow plum, powerful tannins—but with an added streak of freshness that balances its other components. Note: This is a great food wine with the tannins to take one heavier foods than typical whites (Lamb kabobs and saffron rice were on my mind when we tasted this).
If you prefer your orange wines, well, less orange-y, consider Lapideus. The grape variety, soil type, and winemaking are the same as Arboreus (same skin-contact and élevage regimen). Except, these 80-year-old Trebbiano Spoletino vines, trained in the traditional cordon method, grow in a cooler microclimate, resulting in a leaner, more acid-driven orange wine. Paolo Bea provides a counterpoint to the argument that this style of wine can’t be terroir-driven! There are also Monastero Suore Cistercensi’s orange wines, Coenobium and Ruscum, as value-driven options. Based in Lazio, these wines are farmed and produced by the Sisters of the Cistercian order, with some guidance from Giampiero.
Lastly, I highly recommend reading Giampiero's interview with Sprudge Wine, which includes a photo of those stunning Arboreus vines. If you are a skin-contact fanatic, like me, Paolo Bea is a must-try, as these were the among the defining wines for what's now a booming category.
Situated between Pomerol and Saint Emilion on the second-highest point along the Gironde estuary, Chateau Le Puy is a Bordeaux estate rooted in sensibilities more commonly found in Burgundy. The wines' finesse, dead-serious focus, and drinkability are worlds apart from the stylistic norm.
These vines have been farmed free of chemicals since 1610, and today full biodynamic practices are employed, with work done by horse. The estate's plantings include 85% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc, 6% Cabernet Sauvignon, and small percentages of Malbec and Carménère on an amalgamation of red clay, silex, and limestone soils.
In addition to working the vines organically and biodynamically, their fermentation and élevage methods are considered uncommon. Infusion and semi-carbonic methods limit the extraction of hard tannins and retain more primary fruit traits, providing soft texture with bright, open-knit fruit out of the gate. And aging in large foudre preserves all of that verve carried into bottle.
Some of our most successful offers to date have been late-winery releases from Portugal and Spain. Our two mainstays are Caves São João in Bairrada, Portugal, as well as Lopez de Heredia in Rioja, Spain. Past offers have highlighted the Poço do Lobo Branco (White) wines, but we’re returning to their tried and true Tinto (Red) wines, with vintages going back to 1983.
Caves São João was established by the Costa brothers in 1920. Today, their family also produces wines under the Porta dos Cavaleiros, Poço do Lobo, and Frei João labels. In their devotion to producing traditional Portuguese wines, these wines fell out of the limelight in the 1990s during the Robert Parker era, but freshness and finesse are in again! Bairrada is a formidably wet, cool region in the dead center of Portugal. The soil is clay and limestone, and the main red grape variety, Baga, produces small berries with thick skins. Incredibly tannic and acid-driven in their youth, these wines blossom to reveal profound finesse and complexity in due time.
Luckily, we don’t have to go through the hassle of cellaring these wines for decades. In 2013, the Costa family opened their cellars and released wines aged on-site from the 1959 to 2000 vintages. No oak is used—all of the wines age in cement tanks for a minimum of 24 months to retain their freshness. Having these aged wines arrive directly in California is a fortune that rarely happens. In fact, Caves San João is the only winery in Portugal (and one of the few in the world) to do this commercially.
Note: We advise against decanting the red wines, but the white begins to hit its stride after about 30 minutes in a decanter.
Finding jaw-dropping hillside vineyards beyond each weave and turn of Napa Valley's roads is common. However, finding winemakers that live up to the landscape by pursuing graceful, nuanced, and site-specific wines is more of a challenge. Diana Snowden Seysess typifies this essence like few others in the valley do, and the winery's history explains why the personification of place is her ultimate intent.
Snowden eschews many winemaking practices that have become commonplace today. No cultured yeasts are employed, no enzymes to enhance color, no "bleeding" of the must for concentration, no fining, and no sterile filtration. Diana presses off the skins when they're dry rather than ongoing maceration to pick up more density and extraction. The wines never see more than 50% new French oak.
The Snowden Ranch began in 1878 after the Homestead Act encouraged the settlement of new agricultural lands in the valley. The Snowden family took control of these vineyards in 1955, planting different parcels of Cabernet Sauvignon. Through the 1980s, the family worked closely with Warren Winiarski of Stags Leap Cellars to improve their vineyards. Finally, Snowden Vineyards produced its first wines from the family estate in 1993.
Diana grew up in Napa Valley and graduated from the UC Davis Viticulture and Enology program. In 2003, she became the oenologist at Domaine Dujac and worked alongside her now-husband, Jeremy Seysses, crafting some of Burgundy's most celebrated wines. Her time between Napa and Burgundy brings extraordinary perspective. These wines re-shape how Napa Valley speaks to sense of place.