If you are curious about alpine wines, you must check out Savoie's native red variety, Mondeuse. One of the best examples we have encountered this year comes from a first-generation vigneron: Nicolas Ferrand.
Coteau de la Mort, or hill of death, was one of many ancient hill vineyards re-planted during Savoie’s renaissance in the 1990s, thanks to early champions like Michel Grisard of Prieuré St-Christophe. In 2013, it became a part of the 1.5 hectares Ferrand purchased when starting Domaine des Côtes Rousses. Saint Jean de la Porte, one of Savoie’s top crus for Mondeuse, has distinct red clay soils mixed with limestone and moraine. Ferrand has farmed organically from the beginning and utilizes horses and sheep in the vineyards.
Wink Lorch, author of Wines of the French Alps (2019), describes Coteau de la Mort as “a devout and serious wine,” comparing its taut youthfulness to a meditative monk. What a description! It's comparable to Northern Rhône Syrah, with high-toned black cherry, black pepper, and pressed rose petals, but today, the 2018 bottling is also juicy and sleek. It's fair to say Ferrand has our attention with this current release—a refreshing take on this sliver of Savoie history.
When it comes to beer, Cantillon is the holy grail, and for lovers of wine, there is no substitute. In June 2018, I finally made my pilgrimage to Brussels and visited this 1900-founded Lambic brewery.
Lambics, also referred to as sour beers, initially pulled me in for their vinous qualities and unusual persistent finish. I oftentimes find a flinty reductive quality that calls to mind White Burgundy. There is also driving intensity and crazy levels of concentration that conclude with unparalleled freshness. Cantillon spontaneously ferments their lambics with natural yeasts, made with about 35% wheat, 65% malted barley, and relatively small amounts of aged hops.
In the 1950s, there were hundreds of Lambic brewers within this Pajottenland region of Belgium, but only a few remain. Production is extremely labor-intensive, and other brewers didn't have the financial incentive to continue this tradition. Changing gears into beer territory isn't always easy, but once you taste the magic from this fabled Lambic producer, you will become a believer!
“I make my wine like Bartolo Mascarello!” That's what Massimiliano Calabretta told his U.S. importer when they first visited his estate in Sicily. The family's formula is simple: To work with old-vine and own-rooted parcels preserved as long as possible through organic farming. Their historic practices have stood the test of time as the world around them rapidly changed. The wines at Calebretta are entrenched in tradition, just as Bartolo Mascarello would have approved.
Nerello Cappuccio is often considered a blending grape (mainly because of its viticulture difficulty and susceptibility to disease than any varietal shortcoming). Calabretta saw his old, ungrafted vines offered a very different expression of the variety, with an aromatic lift that stood apart from his counterparts: Dark red fruits, smoke, lavender, violets, and a saline-infused finish that has made reaching for this wine habitual.
Nerello Mascalese is the primary red variety on Mt. Etna. The vines for Calabretta's old-vine cuvée, Vigne Vecchie, start at 60 years old and go well over 100 years, many of which are un-grafted. Aging takes place in 50-70 hectoliter Slavonian casks for up to 42 months. This protocol draws parallels to traditional Barolo producers, but the similarities go beyond aging formats.
It's overwhelmingly agreed that Raveneau and Dauvissat represent the most crowning achievements in Chablis, but Patrick Piuze is a king-in-waiting. Piuze is a wizard at working with stainless steel and oak to craft Chardonnay from Chablis' fossilized ancient sea bed that delivers the grandeur expected from these top vineyards. Like Raveneau and Dauvissat, it's the regal structure, seamless contours, and definitive cut married to this breadth that places Piuze in elite company.
Wine critic William Kelley on the vintage:
"2020 is another excellent vintage at this address, and even if the two years were very different on paper, it might be compared to a more extroverted, open-knit version of the superb 2017 vintage at this address... The resulting wines are elegantly textural but incisive, clearly differentiated by site. This is also the best address to explore the village-level Chablis AOC, as Piuze produces a number of cuvées and lieu-dit bottlings designed to highlight the diversity that this large appellation encompasses."
There is a firm dividing line of style between the modernist and the traditionalist in Barolo. And then there's Giovanni Canonica. Although his approach is rooted in traditional methods in the cellar, the wines produced at this tiny estate are singular expressions of Nebbiolo. Upon first pour, it's clear the aromatic profile, supple tannins, and ultra-pure fruit sit outside the norm of Piedmont.
Canonica's Baroli are known for their elusiveness and outrageously vivid perfume. The vines (Less than two hectares) sit at 400 meters above the town of Barolo. This higher altitude site puts forth a Barolo defined by grace and open-inviting nature rather than a monolithic structure. Menthol, sage, cinnamon, and tobacco are tasting notes to gush over, but above all, this is an unadulterated, fruit-forward expression.
Neighbors Bartolo Mascarello and Giuseppe Rinaldi have a vineyard-first mentality, employ long macerations in the cellar, and age in Slavonian botti. Canonica's style takes cues from these legendary figures and heightens the pitch of the black cherry fruit while doubling down on the florality. If Nebbiolo's calling card is tar and roses, then Canonica seems intent on displaying the rose descriptor with high-definition focus.