Darrin’s Wine Musings

Two of the items featured in our newsletter this week are very pleasant surprises. They are from producers that we’ve been fond of for years, but they both fall into the “Bin-End” category, that is that they represented the last few cases left in the importer’s warehouse and they’ve offered us deals to help them move on to fresher vintages. Here’s the thing though, as some of you may know, many wines get better with age!

It was only a slight surprise that the 2011 Graci Etna Rosso (reg. $33.99, Sale $21.99) is still drinking so well. The factor that may have encouraged the supplier to part with the last few cases of this vintage is the cloudiness it shows in the glass. This condition can sometimes lead to funky flavors and aromas, and to a gritty mouthfeel. Neither is the case here. While the wine is weighty on the palate, it has soft tannins and is down-right silky at this point. The Nerello Mascalese (grape) shows through in the dried cherry and pomegranate fruit. The volcanic soil shows in the herbal and cigar notes.

I shouldn’t have been surprised that Robert Denogent’s Saint Veran Vieilles Vignes 2011 (reg. $42.99, Sale $21.99) was still singing a sweet song. Having championed this same producer’s old vine Pouilly Fuisse from the same vintage just a few months ago, tasting this wine was somehow familiar. The primary golden apple and lemon fruit is still prominent and hasn’t yet given way to the secondary notes of almonds, honey and butterscotch. The texture is creamy/buttery overall, but there is still ample acidity late, giving the wine fine balance.

I’ve had the good fortune to visit Alto Adige in Northern Italy, or Sudtirol as it is know the many German speakers of the region, on a handful of occasions. It is a place that can instantly overwhelm a person with its beauty. It is also a region that can lay to rest many preconceived notions that people have about certain wines. Pinot Grigio from these steep, terraced vineyards from diverse, varied soils of volcanic porphyry (in Merano, Bolzano, and Kaltern) to weathered primitive rock soils composed of quartz and mica (the Isarco Valley) to limestone and dolomite (the Bassa Atesina) to sandy marl (south of Kurtatsch), will impress even the most jaded American who is used to drinking from the “Lake of Pinot Grigio” that emerges from the marshy flatlands around Venice.

On my first visit to the region in 1995, I was lucky enough to tour the vineyards and winery that would come to be recognized as a true standout, world-class producer, Cantina Terlano. Once inside, we descended what seemed like 75 feet below the tasting room into their cellar, ogling dusty old bottles in cages that we assumed were just for show. We were then seated at a long and ancient table in a freezing, stone-walled room for lunch and a tasting of white wines going back to the late 1950s. We were shocked at the freshness of Pinot Bianco from the early 1960s and Pinot Grigio from the 1970s. The sad thing is that although we were truly enamored with the wines we tasted, we didn’t realize the absolute greatness that we were in the presence of. For example, The 1991 Terlano Pinot Bianco Rarity (essentially the same blend as the Terlaner Classico, see below) now sells for $400/bottle and recently received 97pts from Wine Advocate. We currently have two stellar whites in stock from them, the 2016 “Winkl” Sauvignon (Blanc) (Reg. $42.99, Sale $35.99) and the 2016 “Terlaner” Classico ($34.99, 92pts Wine Advocate, 60% Pinot Bianco, 30% Chardonnay and 10% Sauvignon Blanc). The winery’s history, going back to 1893, is documented with carvings of the likenesses of each of their winemakers since the beginning in the sides of large wine barrels; there are only 3 of these barrels and Klaus was just getting started – you do the math! I’ve tried to convey just how special these wines and this place are, but perhaps this video does it better: Cantina Terlano

Emilio Moro has earned a reputation as one of the great producers of Spain’s Ribera del Duero region while still maintaining value in his wines. The best value in the bunch is the “Finca Resalso” which is sourced from his youngest vines (5-12 years) and aged around four months in a combination of French and American Oak. Made from 100% Tinto Fino (the local name for Tempranillo), we’ll have the 2016 open for tasting this Friday. But, of course the lineup doesn’t end there. The Estate Emilio Moro Ribera del Duero is also 100% Tinto Fino, but sourced from 12-25 year old vines and aged for one year in a similar combination of French and American oak (more new oak in this mix). We have a few bottles left of the 2013 vintage (90pts Vinous) and a good supply of the 2015 vintage (91pts Suckling and 90pts Wine Advocate); both are $32.99. And the gem of their lineup is the “Malleolus” (2010, $59.99, 92pts WA, 94pts WE), from 25-75 year old vines, is aged for 18 months in Allier French oak barrels. Come on in and taste the Resalso with us Friday; if you’re like me, it is likely to be the “gateway drug” to their top offerings.

If you’ve been to the store and asked me for a wine recommendation more than twice, I’ve probably shown you a bottle from Eric Solomon’s European Cellars. This import catalog from France and Spain contains so many “sure things” and is so often where I go when someone asks me for a wine to give as a gift when they don’t know the specific tastes of the recipient.

I’ve come to think of Domaine Lafage, from French Catalonia as the heart of this portfolio. Pretty much everything they ship to the U.S. is delicious, capable of pleasing both the wine snob and the novice. There’s a ton of glowing press for the wines (2015 Bastide Miraflors – 94pts WA, 2015 Centenaire Blanc – 90-92pts WA, 2014 Tessellae Old Vine Carignan – 92pts WA…and all these are under $20) and a random search of my home recycling bin is sure to turn up one or two of these bottles on any given week.

But it’s the wines of Jean-Marc Lafage’s second estate, Domaine Saint Roch in Maury that have been captivating me lately. I like the way Solomon introduces Maury, “Maury is probably best know for its aged, fortified wines, which means that it’s really not that well known at all. When was the last time you had a Maury?” Maury Sec AOC is a new (2011) appellation for dry red wines made from at least 75% Grenache Noir. I popped a bottle of the 2014 “Kerbuccio” ($21.99) last week, and all I can say is “Wow.” O.K, it’s not all I can say; this is one of those wines that intoxicates you not with its alcohol, but with the way the aromas and flavors grow in the glass. The purple capsule on the bottle is a hint of things to come. It is a mix of exotic dark berries, floral notes and fine grained oak. As it airs, it becomes super silky, and it seems. My one word to best describe this wine is “depth.” We don’t have a ton of this vintage left, but the 2015 is right on its heels and it’s supposed to be every bit as impressive.