Wine Club Pick-Up is this Saturday, December 5th, 1-4pm. It’s free for members, and $10 for the rest of you. Sign up in December and we’ll give you a little Christmas present. Cheers!
2014 Sextant “L’Ecume” Vin de France
I feel lucky to know the wines of Julien Altaber. I could just as easily be ignorant of their existence. He makes a microscopic amount of wine in an old garage in a little village on the outskirts of Burgundy, a world away from the famous grand crus, about which he (and I) could care less. He’s young and sorta quiet, and he gets a little nervous when you taste his wines. He’ll pull a barrel sample and pass it around. It smells great—bright citrus, tart apple, wet rock, lots of freshness and reticent complexity—but Julien is avoiding eye contact and looking like he wants to be out of the cellar and in the vineyard. We all swirl, taste, and then swallow. When no one spits a little smile cracks in the side of Julien’s mouth. The wine is showing well—full of energy and irrepressible fruit, but unlike any of his other cuvées. “What is it?,” we ask. His smile broadens. It’s a quirky little one-off blend of Aligoté and Pinot Noir. Julien decided to make this into a fun sparkling wine, bottling it before fermentation completed in order to trap some naturally occurring CO2 in the bottle. It’s fruity and crisp, celebratory in a frivolous sort of way—just the thing to have around for an impromptu toast to a friend, or for a cheese plate oozing with Epoisses. Take it home and put it in the fridge. You’ll be thankful you have one cold.
2013 Domaine Guion Bourgueil Cuvée Prestige
Stéphane Guion makes a base-level Bourgueil that is, for me, both a regional benchmark for the Cabernet Franc grape and a great example of no non-sense, classic natural winemaking. It’s called “Cuvée Domaine,” it’s like $15, and I always send two cases to my dad for him to have around for whatever—drinking, braising, entertaining, juggling, etc. This month’s club features the “Cuvée Prestige,” which is slightly more serious. The grapes come from older vines, and therefore display greater density and concentration. Stéphane ferments everything with native yeasts, then moves the wine to old oak barrels to age for a year, softening the rustic tannins and allowing the dark fruit to broaden out and frame the lively mineral and herbal aspects. While Bourgueil is often eclipsed by the neighboring Chinon (mostly because “Chinon” is easier to say), I find that Cabernet Franc from these limestone-rich clay soils has a certain rustic depth that stands shoulder-to-shoulder with Chinon’s finesse, making it a perfect winter wine. The 2013 is wonderfully juicy, showcasing plump dark fruits and softer-than-usual tannins. Serve it with braised short ribs and celeriac purée.
NV Franz Strohmeier “Schilcher Frizzante”
Obscure grape varieties do not always make a wine interesting or delicious. Blauer Wildbacher didn’t ring any bells for me either, but it happens to be esoteric AND delicious. Known for his macerated whites, which are extremely atypical for Austria, Franz Strohmeier works with small amounts of this high-acid red grape to make a rose that is bubbling with peppery red fruit, bitter-edged minty herbs, and holiday spice. Strohmeier is a staunch naturalist in the vineyard, avoiding any Organic/Biodynamic certifications in order to develop and use his own quirky methods of vine treatment. For instance: he recently began spraying his vines with whey (milky and acidic by-product of yogurt and cheese production) as opposed to copper sulfate. Strohmeier is located in the Austrian wine-producing region of Styria, where still Blauer Wildbacher rosé is chugged alongside a regional variation on Fried Chicken. That should give you some idea of it’s versatility on the table. However, this wine is a gregarious and celebratory way to mark any special holiday occasion, whether there is food involved or not.
2013 Andrea Calek “Penultieme” Vin de France
Andrea Calek is not as punk rock as he used to be. Yes, he still wears the knee-high Doc Martins, the long grey trenchcoat, cuts his hair high and tight with militaristic post-punk precision. But the wines. The wines are what’s changed. They used to be provocative and polarizing, prompting heated table-side conversation and a little bit of juggling from one importing company to another. Volatility, bottle variation, liberal amounts of brettanomyces, the usual cast of “flaws” that mark the wines of a forward thinking and experimental winemaker in his/her early vintages. Calek has managed to take all that raw energy and eccentricity, and form it into wines that are more focused and precise than anything he has made to date. He upholds an exacting and scientific approach to whole-cluster carbonic maceration, always careful to not eclipse sense of place with in-your-face fruit. “Penultieme” is his magnum opus, the greatest example of how far he’s come. Merlot and Syrah, with a dash of Viognier to harmoniously marry the two. It is a deep, layered, vivid picture of new-wave natural wine-making potential in the South of France. This wine is warming and soulful, enjoy it on a chilly winter night with those you love. Or brown-bag it at a basement show with a crowd of strangers. Penultieme is Calek all grown up, but listen close enough and you can pick up on whispers of his fist-pumping, head-banging rock n’ roll past.