Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Blasé about Rosé?

Well, you'd better snap out of that mode of thinking because this is not the flavor of pink this post will be about...

Love those floating pink petals!
No, at this time of year we are more interested in rosés that can be described by terms such as dry and crisp, balanced and fresh. Hailing from every corner of the map and composed of a wide array of grape varietals, rosé possesses food-friendly versatility and distinctive characteristics. These wines may be bottled with a light-hearted label and stocked to shelves when we in the Northeast are transitioning into the no fuss, relaxed mode of summer, but pink wines can offer unexpected and sterling tasting experiences.

Although it's practically August, we still have a number of delicious 2011 rosés in stock. Here are a few recommendations:

Chateau Bellevue La Forêt Fronton Rosé 
Blend of 60% Negrette, 20% Gamay, 10% Syrah, and 10% Cabernet Franc from vineyards situated between the Garonne and Tarn Rivers in South West France. The grapes are gently pressed and then vinified separately at low temperatures. Following an “elevage sur lies” an assemblage is made. The local Negrette grape gives the wine both its luminous strawberry color and lively floral aromas. The supple mouth feel supports flavors ranging from orchard fruit to notes of herbs and spices.


Bonny Doon Vin Gris de Cigare 
"Pink Wine of the Earth" from Randall Grahm's Bonny Doon Vineyards. Fresh and bright with hints of wild strawberry, ripe peach, and subtle notes of spearmint give way to zesty tones of strawberry, watermelon, blood orange, peach, and citrus. 73% Grenache, 10% Mourvèdre, 8% Grenache Blanc, 5% Roussanne, and 4% Cinsault from the Central Coast of California.

False Bay Rosé 
A recent arrival from South Africa composed of grapes from old Cinsaut vineyards in the Stellenbosch and Riebeek area and a small portion of Mourverdre from Paarl region, which adds further complexity. Delicately spiced with summer fruit on the palate.

Château Jouclary Cabardès Rosé 
Pale salmon in color with aromatics of red currant, citrus, and exotic fruit. The flavors of fresh fruit are supported by a good structure and acidity that allows the wine to remain buoyant and fresh throughout the palate. 40% Merlot, 30% Syrah, and 30% Grenache from Cabardès, one of France’s newest A.O.C.’s.


Rimbert Rosé "Petit Cochon Bronzé" 
Composed of 25% Carignan, 35% Syrah, 20% Cinsault, 20% Mourvedre, the "Tan Little Pig" offers notes of ripe red cherry in harmony with herbs and a palate of blood orange, red berries, and minerality. Sustainably produced by Jean-Marie Rimbert in the Languedoc's Saint-Chinian AOC.
Pour a glass, sit back, and kick those rosé blues.

Call your Wizards Rep for more information.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

From the Tank

François and Jenny at work. Image from Organic Spa Magazine.
Search "Jenny & Francois Selections" through your preferred Internet search engine and several pages of excited reviews, well-articulated interviews, and passionate blog entries will keep you entertained all morning (true story!). Established by Jenny Lefcourt and François Ecot in 2000, the company offers a range of natural wines from small producers in France, Italy, Spain, and California. On Wizards' radar for several years, Jenny & François Selections have been the buzz in New York City and beyond for over a decade. Slow to launch our bid for representation due to our existing emphasis on artisan, terroir-conscious producers and strong attention to the wines of France, we have nonetheless carefully followed their progress and conquests in the U.S.. Wizards Nick and Howard had the opportunity to attend the 2012 Natural Winemakers' Week NYC in February and the rest, as they say, is (recent) history! We have established a relationship with Jenny & François' portfolio and are absolutely thrilled with Rhode Island's response.

Image from Jenny & Francois Selections.
Jenny & François Selections works with organic and biodynamic growers and, perhaps more importantly, with producers who take a natural approach to their wine-making. As explained on their website, "What we call natural wines are wines made with the least possible use of chemicals, additives and overly technological procedures." This means, in simple terms, that cultured yeasts are completely absent, little to no sulfites are added, and fining and/or filtration are avoided. The product is wine with unique terroir characteristics. In their words, "This style of winemaking for us represents a more true expression of place, of terroir. We do not eschew modernity, but we favor techniques that help to express the natural terroir rather than new-fangled modern ones that tend to homogenize wine styles and erase individuality."

Image from Jenny & Francois Selections.

Hand harvesting. Image from Jenny & Francois Selections.
One addition to our book from the Jenny & François Selections portfolio that we are especially intrigued by isn't anything we haven't encountered before. However, it a very good, and therefore more unusual, expression of the concept. The subject of this enthusiasm is From the Tank, a three-liter bag-in-a-box that offers great value, ecologically sound packaging, and delicious natural wine that will last for one month once opened. A direct collaboration between François and Denis Deschamps of Les Vignerons D’ Estézargues fame, From the Tank is of the exact same quality as blends bottled for Jenny and François. A red and a white are available and are great for serving by the glass at restaurants, for parties, picnics, boat trips, or for people who want only a glass of wine a day.

From the Tank Vin Rouge
Côtes du Rhone Blend of 40% Grenache, 35% Syrah, and 15% Carignan
Chosen as The New York Times' 2nd best boxed wine in August 2011

Jenny & François Selections Tasting Note: Garnet in the glass with shimmering highlights. Elegant notes of smoky red fruit, violet, sweet herb & a note of baking chocolate. The palate is rich with ripe cherry & berry flavors, & a mineral note that is followed by supple acidity & velvety tannins. This is a very expressive red with a great concentration of fruit & yet it is never overly extracted. The wine finishes with floral notes & a dash of black pepper.

Pair with grilled chicken and pork, cold cuts, or by itself.

From the Tank Vin Blanc
Certified Organic
100% Chardonnay from Domaine de la Patience, Languedoc

Jenny & François Selections Tasting Note: Pale yellow in the glass with a tart, fruity nose & dynamic mineral scents. The palate opens with crisp citrus & peach flavors that are boosted by vibrant acidity & heady minerality.

Pair with seafood dishes, hearty garden salads, grilled vegetables, soft ripened cheeses or by itself.

 Image from Jenny & Francois Selections.
Bag-in-a-box wines have had a stigma associated with them, but consumers are adjusting their opinions and perspectives. From the Tank offers great wine perfect for a crowd with a volume equivalent to four 750ml bottles.  From the Tank offers great wine perfect for an individual with its one month lifespan once opened. The packaging is light, difficult to damage, and has a much lower carbon footprint than glass bottles. And most important of all, the wine is good! Please email us or ask your Wizards rep for a taste or for more information.

For further reading:

We thought it would be great to introduce Americans to the beautifully pure wines that we had grown to love and that are a true expression of the multitude of terroirs, disappearing varietals and traditions of France. We wanted to defend natural wines in the world, against big industrial wines with no life, no personality, no expression of "difference." We wanted to bring the taste of the varied terroirs of France to the US in the form of these pure, real, and revolutionary wines.

Jenny Lefcourt in My Daily Wine

Monday, April 9, 2012

Introducing... Part II: Elizabeth Spencer Wines

Continuing along in our introductions, we are delighted to present the wines of Elizabeth Spencer. Established by Elizabeth Pressler and Spencer Graham in 1998, Elizabeth Spencer Wines are characterized by their purity of flavor and balance. With a beautiful tasting room in Rutherford (built in 1872, it was once the post office), Elizabeth Spencer Wines source their grapes from  Napa Valley, Sonoma Coast, and Mendocino. Working closely with a small number of growers to monitor each vintage's growing cycle and fruit development, Elizabeth Spencer strives to achieve their model of "intensity without excess weight, purity, persistence and length" for each of their varietally focussed wines. Wine Wizards is thrilled to offer the Rhode Island market Elizabeth Spencer's Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Noir, and Syrah.

Image by Elizabeth Spencer Wines.
Pursuing parallel careers in the food and wine industry before joining together in the mid-1990's, Elizabeth and Spencer, in Elizabeth's words, "both grew along with the industry. We did not make our fortune in another walk of life and come here to fulfill our dream. This always was our life, and we've been blessed to love our dream." Wine Wizards Nick and Barbara Zeiser knew Elizabeth from her incredibly successful marketing career for California labels including Etude, Franciscan, Harlan, and Viader, among many others. It has been a very happy coincidence to reconnect with Elizabeth in her new role as the Elizabeth behind Elizabeth Spencer Wines.

Our belief is that wine should be delicious and representative of its appellation of origin. We make wines to drink -- inviting wines that we and our friends, and by extension our customers, truly enjoy.                 -Elizabeth Spencer Wines

Spencer and Elizabeth. Image by Wine Country This Week.
We have incorporated four Elizabeth Spencer Wines into our portfolio...
Sauvignon Blanc 2011 Mendocino County
Certified Organic, this wine is a pale lemon green with fresh apple and grass aromas. High acidity and notes of citrus and stone fruit resolve into a clean, fresh finish. 107 Barrels Produced

Cabernet Sauvignon 2009 Napa Valley
An excellent vintage for Napa in general, this wine has a floral and red raspberry nose. The red fruit notes continue on the palate with a bit of chocolate, offering volume and a long finish. Aged in French oak for twenty four months, the wine was bottled without fining or filtering. 88% Cabernet Sauvignon, 11% Merlot, 1% Cabernet Franc. 60 Barrels Produced

Pinot Noir 2009 Sonoma Coast
Dark ruby in color, the nose offers tart red fruit notes. Ripe flavors of black fruit, cedar, and herbs finish with a hint of pepper and bright cherry. 20 Barrels Produced

Syrah 2008 Sonoma Coast
Well structured, the wine has aromas of blackberry and plum. The palate is defined by black cherry and apricot, finishing clean and long with persistent tannin. 25 Barrels Produced

Elizabeth Spencer Wines' website offers details tasting notes with information related to vineyard site, vintage, and winemaking approaches should you find yourself thirsting for more information. Your Wizards rep is also happy to help, as always.

Image by Elizabeth Spencer Wines.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Introducing Donkey & Goat Winery and Elizabeth Spencer Wines, Part I

We are absolutely thrilled to announce the addition of two exciting producers from California to our portfolio. Donkey & Goat Winery is based in Berkeley while Elizabeth Spencer Wines hails from Rutherford. Sharing the belief that the character of their wines should be determined by the grapes' place of origin, each also happens to be run by husband-and-wife teams -- something we know about very well here at Wine Wizards. We encourage you to check the wines out through your Wizards representative or, for members of the trade, at our upcoming portfolio tasting.

We begin, alphabetically, with Donkey & Goat Winery.

Tracey and Jared Brandt embarked upon their wine making careers in 2001 by moving to the Rhone to apprentice with Eric Texier who, in the Brandts' words, "taught us the art and craft of making wines that speak to the soul about the earth from which they originate." Over a decade later, the Donkey & Goat label is well regarded for naturally made wines that possess the distinct characteristics of their California vineyard sources.

With a focus on Rhone varietals and Chardonnay, Donkey & Goat sources its grapes from vineyards located within the Sierra Foothills, Monterey, and Mendocino County. As stated in their wine making philosophy, "Because we firmly believe that wines are made in the vineyard, our first objective is to start with the best possible fruit we can find. Then, our job in the cellar is easy. In fact, the most difficult decision we often make is to do nothing."

Image by Donkey & Goat Winery
All of Donkey & Goat's wines are made in their Berkeley winery. The Brandts do not use any plastics, machines for crushing, or new oak. Wild yeasts are relied upon and there is very little, if any, sulphur used at fermentation. Stabilization, fining, or filtration are not a part of their pre-bottling process. Vintages vary from year to year as the vineyards experience different temperatures and weather events year to year.

We are currently featuring three Donkey & Goat wines in our portfolio:

Sluice Box White '10
A blend of white Rhone varietals grown in the El Dorado hills. The name is inspired by that region's rich (har, har) gold mining history.

Five Thirteen Red Blend '10
449 cases produced
A classic blend of Rhone varietals also grown in the El Dorado hills.

Syrah "Fenaughty" '09
120 cases produced
Syrah with blend of less than 4% Viognier.

Jon Bonne named Tracey and Jared as Winemakers to Watch in 2011 while Food and Wine Magazine's Katherine Wheelock featured Tracey in her 40 Big Food Thinkers 40 and Under. Donkey & Goat's website can be found here.

Oh, and the unusual but unforgettable name? It's inspired by the donkeys used in French vineyards for organic weed control and their companions, the goats, who provide balance for the hardworking donkeys. Naturally.

A donkey and a goat. Source: www.carcassonne-gite-wine.com

Monday, March 5, 2012

Ravines Wine Cellars

Over a wintery weekend in January, Wine Wizards Bob and Howard drove, and drove, and drove to New York's Finger Lakes to visit Ravines Wine Cellars. Situated on the east side of Keuka Lake, Ravines produces several varietals of wines expressing the Finger Lakes' unique terroir. We are delighted to have recently incorporated their wines into our portfolio.

Ravines is owned and operated by Morten and Lisa Hallgren. Wine maker Morten learned his craft in the South of France, where his family has owned an estate for centuries. Following a time of additional training in Bordeaux and the United States, Morten landed in the Finger Lakes and began making wines that soon became the subject of great acclaim. He and wife Lisa, a chef, acquired their Keuka Lake site in 2000. As their website explains, "This land is located at the widest part of the lake which allows grapevines to receive maximum benefit from its temperature-moderating effects, it has a good slope which keeps the mineral rich soils well-drained, and is situated between two deep ravines, which drain cold air from the land during the winter." Those ravines are the namesake of the winery.

On the shore of Keuka Lake, below Ravines' winery. Photo by Howard.

Multi-tasking Bob in the Ravines tasting room.
The Hallgrens opened the Ravines tasting room in 2003.
Photo by Howard.
With a mission to strive for elegance, finesse, and balance, Ravines focuses on making "fine, classically styled wines that allow for the cool climate characteristics to be shown without compromise." Terroir plays an important role in the production of approximately ten varietals at Ravines, including the Dry Riesling, Chardonnay, and Cabernet Franc represented in the Wizards portfolio.

2010 Dry Riesling
Delicate bouquet of white flowers mingled with pear, apple, and citrus notes followed by a lingering mineral finish and a vibrant acidity.

Named one of Wine Spectator’s Top 100 Wines of the World for 2011, Ravines Dry Riesling has been featured in The New York Times by Eric Asimov, who wrote that the wine is, “juicy, tangy and lip smacking; floral and mineral aromas and flavors."

2009 Chardonnay
Rich and supple with citrus, melon, fig, and hazelnut favors. Ravines' own adaptation of the Passito method used to balance fruit and oak. Butter & toast aromas developed during aging in lightly toasted French Oak balanced with a fresh acidity lent by the coolness of the 2009 vintage.

2009 Cabernet Franc
A classic fruit-forward style with ripe red fruit and notes of earth and spice, with soft tannins and perfect balance. Ravines states, "Cabernet Franc is poised to become the flagship red variety of the Finger Lakes. It is particularly well suited to the growing conditions of the Finger Lakes. The vibrant fruit, lively acidity and earthy and spicy notes are remarkably reminiscent to what can be found in the Loire Valley."

The line-up. Photo courtesy Ravines Wine Cellars.

Great thanks to Bob and Howard for making the eight+ hour drive back and forth to the Finger Lakes. Our van is not the swankiest of vehicles so we really appreciate their willingness to make the drive, especially in icy January.

We are also grateful to Morten and Lisa for hosting Wine Wizards' visit.

For additional information, please contact your Wizards rep or refer to the following:
The New York Times, "Wines for Thanksgiving Dinner"
The Chronicle-Express, "Keuka Wine is Among Top 100"

Monday, January 30, 2012

False Bay Wines

One-way ticket, please!

We are thrilled to announce the recent addition of South Africa's False Bay Wines to Wizards' offerings. A portfolio from the Waterkloof Estate, False Bay Wines are the product of biodynamic farming principles and a winemaking process driven by the creed that character is defined by terroir, quality by people, and personality by the weather. Management of the estate's Stellenbosch vineyards goes hand in hand with wine making. Winemaker Werner Engelbrecht interferes with natural processes as little as possible, relying on naturally present, wild yeasts throughout fermentation.

We have incorporated three wines into our book.

False Bay Chenin Blanc '10
Paardeberg and Riebeek Vineyard Sites
Bright acidity with apple and tropical fruit notes. Natural fermentation lent the wine's great complexity and length. 

False Bay Shiraz '10
Swartland and Paarl Vineyard Sites
Dark berry and spicy flavors with silky tannins and great length. Fermented in stainless before spending six months in wooden vats prior to bottling.

False Bay Pinotage '10
Low yielding, old, un-trellised bush vines at Schapenberg
Spicy berry aromas and hints of chocolate transition to blackberry and plum flavors. Fermented in stainless before spending eight months in large oak vats, which tempers the wine's tannins and adds complexity. 

False Bay Wines are now available at several Rhode Island wine shops at a very good value. If you have any questions regarding False Bay or South African wines, please do not hesitate to send us a message.

False Bay, South Africa. Anyone for a field trip?

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Out in the Field: Terry Theise Portfolio Tasting

The crowd at City Winery
On Tuesday, January 17th, our team hit the road to New York City for the annual Terry Theise portfolio tasting. Hosted by Michael Skurnik Wines at City Winery on Varick Street in Lower Manhattan, the tasting featured over twenty-five producers from Austria and Germany. We are fortunate to represent Theise's portfolio within Rhode Island and were thrilled to taste the most recent releases while meeting many of the winemakers.

Theise Manifesto

Beauty is more important than impact.

Harmony is more important than intensity.

The whole of any wine must always be more than the sum of its parts.

Distinctiveness is more important than conventional prettiness.

Soul is more important than anything, and soul is expressed as a trinity of family, soil, and artisanality.

Lots of wines, many of them good wines, let you taste the noise. But only the best let you taste the silence.

With Theise's manifesto in our back pockets, we spent nearly four hours tasting both new vintages of wines in our book and wines by new or unfamiliar producers. We shared this experience with a strong representation of Rhode Island store owners and buyers as well as a hundred + other national wine industry colleagues. Sharp elbows and stores of patience were generously utilized throughout the afternoon, but what's a tasting without at least one spit bucket mishap?
The crowd's better side at City Winery

Highlights from the tasting included meeting...
Johannes Leitz and tasting the 2011 Leitz "Leitz Out" Riesling
Johannes Selbach and tasting the 2011 Selbach Saar Riesling Spatlese
Bernhard Ecker and tasting the 2011 Ecker Gruner Veltliner.

Other highlights included the...
Hofer Riesling 2010
Berger Gruner Veltliner 2011
Schloss Gobelsburg Gruner Veltliner "Gobelsburger" 2011
Nigl's single vineyard Gruner Veltliner "Herzstuck vom Kirchenberg" 2010
Glatzer Zweigelt "Riedencuvee" 2010 and Glatzer Blaufrankisch 2009
Ecker Zweigelt 2010.
Cornelius Donnhoff and Johannes Leitz hang out behind the table

Wizard Nick and Johannes Leitz

One of our more challenging decisions following the tasting will be to select a rose from one of the tasted producers for the upcoming season. Last year, we featured Schloss Gobelsburg in our book and received very positive feedback from our accounts. We all found the Gobelsburg Rose 2011 to be very appealing: strawberry, a bit of spice, and touch of sweetness with nice acidity. However, we were also fans of the Brundlmayer Zweigelt Rose 2011, which was a very well balanced wine. We will keep you posted on our decision!

With tired palates and mouths abused by all of the acidity, we ended our day at Frank Pepe's in New Haven. Two large pizzas--one with cheese and the other with sausage and roasted red peppers--and a pitcher of Genesee were just what the doctor ordered (well, not exactly) after our excursion out into the field.

Monday, January 16, 2012

In the News: Corison Wines

We are delighted to share that Cathy Corison has been named San Francisco Chronicle's 2011 Winemaker of the Year. This exciting news was announced on the first of the year.
Image courtesy Corison Wines
Cathy has made 25 vintages of her heralded Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Her tastes and techniques set her apart from her neighbors and colleagues soon after her move to Napa in 1975. As the SFC article explains, Cathy Corison is "Napa valley's unofficial voice of restraint.... After three decades of making wine, she shows that it's still possible to make a complex, restrained Cabernet that honors California's best traditions." With pronounced depth, fruit flavors, and smooth tannins, Corison Wines possess a modest alcohol level compared to the 14%+ levels of most Napa Cabs. As Cathy puts it, "A wine that just jumps out of the glass and punches you in the nose often doesn't have much more to say."

Cathy in her St. Helena winery. Image by John Storey, Courtesy SFChronicle

Cathy is a proponent of organic farming and has practiced organic techniques since acquiring her Kronos vineyard in 1995. She also recognized the impact and significance of terroir quite early in her career. As she explains, "Everyone was running over to France and coming back with a beret on, and trying to do exactly what they did in France. In Europe, riper was better. Here we have the opposite issues. We have sunshine and heat."

No berets here! Image by John Storey, Courtesy SFChronicle
In a statement on the Corison Wines website, Cathy explains, "My philosophy is to make complex wines that walk the fine line between power and elegance. I employ time-honored winemaking techniques, using only small French oak barrels sourced from several forests for complexity. Mine is a hands-off approach to winemaking; it is my job to let the vineyards speak."

Image courtesy Corison Wines
Cathy has held true to her tastes and visions in her vineyards and winery. She persevered not only as a woman in a male-dominated winemaking industry but as a skeptic of popular outlooks, opinions, and techniques assumed by her classmates, colleagues, and peers. She truly deserves the Chronicle's (and others') accolades. We wish her our congratulations!

Please contact your Wizards rep regarding the Corison Wines currently represented in our portfolio, including the Corison Cabernet Sauvignon "Kronos" from 2005 and Corison Cabernet Sauvignon from 2007.