Ryan Stirm 2016 Riesling Nouveau
Riesling is a bit of a divisive variety. Though at its best it’s touted and even fetishized by many sommeliers and wine folks, there’s such a glut of the stuff on the market that it’s easy to have a poor experience with wine made from the grape. While waiting tables at restaurants, recommending Riesling is often met with eye rolls, and the expectation of cloying aromatics and sweetness. Ryan Stirm, a true advocate for Riesling, would change any scoffer’s mind with his wines. Stirm believes that “this terpene-rich grape is the most dynamic, the most transparent, and the most exciting” grape for making wine. Stirm makes strikingly pure wines with a focus on vintage and terroir. He ferments with whole clusters and native yeasts, producing wines that let the vines, climate, and region speak for themselves. This 2016 Riesling Nouveau comes from his plot at Kick On Ranch in Santa Barbara, which he farms organically. Stirm bottled it without sulfur for our West Coast Nouveau party, and we loved it so much that we asked him for more. Fermented dry, this wine’s delicate, pretty aromatics and zing of acidity make this wine delicious as an aperitif or paired with dinner, especially one with a bit of spice. -Kara
Swick Pinot Noir Willamette Valley 2015
Faced with the daunting onset of the new year, there’s a buzzing tension in the air. The right kind of anti-establisment sentiment, no matter the arena, has been hitting a deep sweet spot. One of my favorite small subversive activities at the shop is encouraging people to try wines that they wouldn’t otherwise choose. A perfect answer for both Loire Valley enthusiasts, looking for bright pretty reds, as well as for west coast wine enthusiasts exhausted by the typical heavier wines that come from our region, is Joe Swick’s elegant take on Pinot Noir. Joe is a quiet but mighty rebel in the face of conventional west coast wine. Using the grapes traditionally grown in Oregon, he overturns expectations with wines that speak with a wry, sassy whisper. Having made wine in California, New Zealand, Italy, Australia and Portugal, myopia is impossible for Swick. His experience shows in his wines, which are beautifully-balanced, quiet riots. The 2015 Willamette Valley Pinot is berry-fruited with soft herbs, cool-toned and warming at the same time. – Kara
2012 Domaine Belluard Mont Blanc
I was first poured this wine from the neck of a cleanly sabered bottle after-hours at the shop. My drunk and drifting reach extended a glass to catch a cascade of softly spiced, honey-yellow bubbles. It came as an after-midnight revelation, and was just what I needed to give me the energy and composure to suggest that our buddies safely make their way home. Some drunkenly content sleep was in order for everyone that night. As I cleaned up the shop, every five minutes I would pause in order to revisit the wine, trying my best to keep up as it expanded and tempered into completeness. Bubbles dissipated and edges softened as it turned towards vinous. Fruit turned to spice, acid and minerality married, and just as the switch was flipped and the shop went dark for the night, I finished my last sip.
Mont Blanc is the top sparkling cuvée from Dominique Belluard, who makes wine for his family’s estate nestled in the Haute-Savoie, at the base of the Alps and just a stone’s throw away from Switzerland. Gringet is the grape; single variety, single vintage, one year on it’s lees. It’s a unique local variety that was close to extinction before Belluard championed the variety and showed the world its potential to make striking and contemplative wines. No abstract thought or intellect is required in order to understand them, and drinkers from all corners of the wine world are drawn toward their transportive abilities. These are mountain wines. Not the brambly, rustic kind, but noble and upright. There is a sense of polished luxury. Sleek and supple, like the leather upholstered seat of a European sports car with horsepower to lend. Mont Blanc can be a drink of celebration, but it is so much more. If given the time and attention it can truly take you places. -Quinn
2015 Vini Viti Vinci A Gégé
Like with any form of art or expression, sometimes a wine becomes so much more with context. When the wines of Nicholas Vauthier first arrived here in the shop, the labels were a constant topic of conversation with customers. They are weird, whimsical, and provocative. One of the more overtly risqué of the bunch was the label for his Bourgogne Grand Ordinaire “a Gégé”. It depicts a woman insouciantly reclining and reading a book with her legs spread, wearing nothing but what look like galoshes. The stark red, square Vini Viti Vinci label is placed very intentionally, framing her genitalia. For a time I thought nothing of it, just assuming it was inspired by the same naughty humor behind many natural wine labels.
Then we visited Nicholas at his winery in Northern Burgundy. We tasted through his cellar, and eventually approached a barrel of Gégé. As he filled his pipette and slipped us all a little taste of bright, juicy, cool Gamay, he provided us with some context. Gégé was Nicholas’ best friend, who unexpectedly passed away in his sleep on the last night of Vini Viti Vinci’s first harvest, in 2009. To honor him, Nicholas had a label designed that is inspired by the famously erotic oil painting “l’Origine du Monde” by Gustave Courbet, which Gégé had a print of hanging in his home. Courbet was an important leader of the Realist movement who rejected academic convention and was known for the audacity of his work. Shares some parallels with the natural wine movement, no? But anyways, just like that, a wine that I previously drank with simple pleasure has taken on another dimension of deeper meaning. R.I.P. Gégé, whose memory lives on in this spirited and expressive wine, made by the affectionate hands of his best friend. -Quinn