December 2021 CASE Wine Club
Azul y Garanza Viura – Organic and Biodynamic
Raul Perez Rosé – Organic
Greenhough Nelson Sauvignon blanc River Garden – Organic
Domitia Picpoul de Pinet – Organic
Vullien Mondeuse – Organic
Miloca Samsó (Carignan) – Organic following Natural Practices
Di Majo Norante Aglianico Contado Riserva – Organic
Sobon Zinfandel Rocky Top (practicing Organic)
Mullineux Kloof Street Chenin Blanc – Sustainable
Pardas SUmoll – Organic and Biodynamic
Kathryn Kennedy Small Lot Cabernet – Sustainable
Scribe Nouveau Pinot Noir – Organic
AZUL Y GARANZA viura (ORGANIC)
The Azul y Garanza vineyards begin in the lunar landscape of Bardenas Reales Natural Park, the largest desert in Europe.
Founders Dani Sánchez and María Barrena (and Maria’s brother Fernando) work with “landscapes” – not merely vineyards – with each of their plots enjoying as much biological diversity as this harsh climate will allow. The surrounding plants, shrubs, trees, and animal/insect life play as much a part to the success of the grapes as the vines themselves.
Winemaking is quite natural – the widespread, almost exclusive use of concrete vats, natural yeasts and gentle hands. Shallow, clay-traced soils, with minimal water, and irregular, almost non-existent rainfall, as well as extreme contrasts in temperature between day and night.
Due to these singular geoclimatic conditions, the vines offer a naturally low production of small grapes that have a high concentration and a perfect equilibrium. Dani and María are passionate about organic farming and have additionally invested in farming their vineyards 100% organically, without the use of pesticides, insecticides, or chemical fertilizers that wear out the soil.
100% Viura from the vineyards of Murillo & San Isidro del Pinar, located just northwest of the Bardenas Reales. Certified organic and handpicked grapes from vines that are an average age of 18 years old on clay-calcareous at 1300 feet above sea level.
The grapes undergo a 16 day, wild yeast fermentation in concrete tanks followed by brief aging in stainless steel until bottling and release.
Fresh, dry, and delicious, making the case for bigger is better (at least in terms of volume). Viura (you may know as Macabeo, or maybe as the white wine of Rioja) can tend to be somewhat neutral (boring) but the naturally low yields here preserve and bring out lively citrus and pear fruit flavors on a balanced backbone of acidity.
Raul Perez Rosé – Arrotos del Pendón – Organic
Raúl Pérez Pereira is universally considered to be one of the world’s most visionary winemakers. Since he produced his first vintage for his family’s winery in 1994 at the age 22, he has been in the forefront of the conversation about what has been called “The New Spain”.
In 2005, he left his family business to strike out on his own, creating Bodegas y Viñedos Raúl Pérez, which quickly became the point of reference for the Bierzo appellation. In the intervening years, he has expanded his sphere of activity to include the appellations of Rías Baixas, Ribeira Sacra and Tierra de León, but his heart and his home remain in Valtuille de Abajo, the village in Bierzo where his family has been tending vines for well over 300 years.
In addition to numerous other accolades, Raúl was named “Winemaker of the Year” by German publication Der Feinschmecker in 2014 and “Best Winemaker in the World” for 2015 by the French publication Bettane+Desseauve.
In the February 2018 Decanter, Master of Wine Pedro Ballesteros wrote, “Raúl Pérez is the archetype of the intuitive winemaking genius.” A picture of Raúl in that same article is captioned, “Is this the best winemaker in the world?” Raúl would certainly not self-apply any of these superlatives. In fact, his genius is far exceeded by his humility and generosity of spirit. That humility comes through in his wines. These are not “winemaker” wines so much as they are unadulterated expressions of the villages and vineyards from which they hail.
The Arrotos bottling is 100% Prieto Pecudo, an indigenous grape. The very old vines are planted to stony clays soils at 2600 feet above sea level. The grapes were macerated on the skins for two days before bleeding off, and then fermented with indigenous yeasts in stainless steel tanks. Left on the fine lees for four months for increased mouthfeel, and bottled unfined and unfiltered, this is a perfect wintertime rosé, with deep rich flavors.
92 points Vinous: Pungent cherry, raspberry, and floral aromas take on spice and smoky mineral nuances with air. Shows very good heft and chewy texture, offering sappy red berry, bitter cherry, and spicecake flavors (and a hint of licorice). As much a light red wine as a rosé. Finishes long and floral, with the spicy note adding final cut.
Greenhough Nelson Sauvignon blanc River Garden – Organic
With a restraint that is typical of Nelson, this Sauvignon is more ‘Loire’ than ‘Marlborough’ in style. It was made 95% in tank and 5% in seasoned oak barrels to give more creamy palate weight. There’s white fruit on the nose then nectarine notes on the palate with some citrus too. Poised and balanced.
Fragrant green citrus leaf aromas, delicate lime, and fresh herbs. The wine is medium-light on the palate with crisp pear, nectarine, and grapefruit flavors. A bright line of balanced acidity provides crunch and appealing freshness.
Over thirty years ago Andrew & Jenny Greenhough left Auckland city to follow their winemaking dream in a rural corner of Nelson, encouragingly named “”Hope””. A small pioneer vineyard and winery become home and their journey began. The learning curve was steep and progress rapid. Demand for the wines grew, production expanded and export markets developed.
In 2008 they committed to organics with full certification three years later. “Hope is now home, and we want to protect the land that has tested, inspired and rewarded us. When nature thrives, so do we. The next vintage is always on the horizon, inspiring and testing us. Over thirty years on our craft remains as exciting and dynamic as ever.”
domitia Picpoul de Pinet – Organic
We’ve carried Picpoul de Pinet since opening day, and consider it to be a staple white wine for its bracingly refreshing taste profile, its ability to go with many foods, and attractive price point. Along with Muscadet, Picpoul de Pinet is one of the great white wines where you can still pick up world-class exemplars for under $15!
One of only two exclusively white wine AOCs in the Côteaux de Languedoc, Picpoul de Pinet overlooks the salt water lagoon of the Bassin de Thau, where oysters and mussels are farmed.
(Picpoul is an old Provençal word for lip-sting, or more accurately lip-smacking). Most of the Picpoul imported to the USA is made in co-ops and doesn’t have much sense of place.
The wine is somewhat of an anomaly -estate Picpoul – as the lion’s share of the wines from this AOC are produced in the cooperatives. The wine shows surprising complexity with notes of spring flowers and a streak of minerality that provide a beautiful framework. Because the wine finishes with such clean and bracing acidity, the rich mid-palate of melon and stone fruit is a delightful surprise.
This wine is a classic example of why Picpoul is known as the “Muscadet of Languedoc.”
Intriguing, briny mineral notes in both the nose and mouth provide the perfect backdrop for fish and shellfish. Some melon and citrus flavors keep you coming back for more and the crisp acidity assures that your palate does not tire from this zesty wine.
The soil is limestone and gravel, and the higher elevation and proximity to the cool sea breezes make for a wine with excellent freshness. Picked in the early hours of the morning, the grapes are then fermented by the Daumas Gassac team in stainless steel tanks and left on their lees for 3-5 months.
As a wine-growing district, Languedoc-Roussillon has had to struggle somewhat. However, the area’s reputation as a mass producer of simple bulk wines is beginning to wash off and the district seems to be producing one brilliant wine after the next.
It’s a perfect foil for oysters, other seafood, and fish. It’s also a great aperitif wine.
Vullien Mondeuse (Organic)
The eastern French region of the Savoie is one of the most exciting wine regions on the planet, and it’s near the top of my must-see places to go once we can get on airplanes and visit other countries again.
Savoie is blessed —a cool mountain climate on a warming planet, and about as idyllic a place to grow and make wine as one could ask for. Known more for skiing and other outdoor pursuits, the Savoie is not so well known as a wine-producing area, though within the area known as the Combe de Savoie, there are a handful of the best producers.
With little-known grape varieties such as Jacquère, Mondeuse, and Altesse nestling alongside Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Gamay, the world of Savoie wines begs to be explored. I was astonished at the quality of Jean Vullien’s wines, especially when compared to most other producers in the area.
How were they producing such high-quality, clean, and fresh wines when so many others clearly couldn’t? It transpired that Jean Vullien learned viticulture in his native Bordeaux and his two sons, David and Olivier graduated from renowned wine college, La Viti in Beaune.
The region’s best come from a boomerang-shaped string of hillside villages between Grenoble and Albertville (site of the 1992 Winter Olympics) called the Combe de Savoie (Combe is a word of Celtic origin meaning a sharp, deep valley). Jean Vullien and his two sons, David and Olivier, tend 69 acres on the Combe in the villages of Chignin, Montmélian, Arbin, St-Jean de la Porte, and their hometown of Fréterive.
The Domain’s holdings include all of the region’s indigenous grape varieties, as well as strategically-placed parcels of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir. The wines range from a crisp, lemon and mineral Jacquère-based white that British wine author Andrew Jefford would categorize as “Muscadet of the Alps” to complex floral and spiced reds made from Mondeuse. In recent years, David and Olivier have also earned a reputation for their excellent Méthode Traditionelle sparkling wines. Though the Vulliens have been making wine for 40 years, the family is perhaps best known as a leader in another segment of the wine industry.
Since 1890, Vullien Pépinière Viticole (vine nursery) has been supplying young vines to growers throughout France. In fact, they were the source for about 25% of the Chardonnay planted in Chablis after the ravages of phylloxera.
Climatically, the Savoie is more challenged than many other wine producing areas of France, hence the different native grape varieties. Jacquere, which is widely available, drinks like a dry Sauvignon Blanc and is superb with shellfish and seafood. Gamay, which is the principal variety of Beaujolais, is comfortable in this slightly cooler climate too. They are succulent, light and full of fruit with the Gamay Rose airing more on the side of a dry rose. Both work extremely well with Savioe dishes such as raclette, tartiflette, tarte flambee (flammekueche) and cheese fondues.
Their Mondeuse bottling is a winner- grown on the dark Jurassic limestone and black marl soils of Savoie. The grapes come from 16 acres of sustainably farmed vines, including parcels in the crus of St-Jean-de-la-Porte and Arbin. All grapes are de-stemmed and after fermentation, the wine is aged in 100% French oak barrels for 12 months.
The resultant wine is wonderfully complex with bright floral and spice notes to complement the fresh red and black fruit flavors. Pair with chili or a hearty beef stew. Mondeuse is the mountain cousin of Northern Rhône Syrah—literally, in the sense that DNA analysis has linked it to Syrah, and figuratively, in that it drinks like the prettier, wilder, barefoot version bedecked in Alpine wildflowers.
This 2019 is not merely a tangy, smoky, lip-smacking joy to drink now but is a sneakily complex wine that will likely age nicely over the short term. The Vullien family holdings include 16 acres of Mondeuse in St Jean de la Porte and Arbin—the only two crus within Savoie that produce exclusively red wine from Mondeuse in a region otherwise dominated by whites.
Miloca Samsó (Carignan) – Organic following Natural Practices
Winemaker Josep-Maria Vendrell is in his thirties, but he already has a lot of experience under his belt, having spent several years as assistant winemaker in the Capçanes cooperative in Montsant.
His family owns 40+ acres, 17 of vines around the village of Marca in Montsant, not far from Falset. He keeps the best old-vine lots of grapes and sells the rest off in bulk to Miguel Torres.
The trend in this area is to produce formulaic wines that show very little character other than the new oak that the popular winemaker-consultants in the area insist will please the journalists.
This young man is already bucking that trend, for he knows that the terroir (teruño in Spanish) of his area and very old vine (50-80 years) Garnacha and Cariñena are worth showing through in his wine. He is a winemaker to watch that strikes us as already being at the top of his game after only a few vintages on his own.
Vendrell’s vineyards are farmed organically without synthetic fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides. They are continuously plowed not only for weed management but to encourage deep root growth. By doing this, the grapes will inevitably show the underlying character of the terroir but also be more resistant to drought. His winery is perfectly suited to his artisan stature. It is modern, but manageable by one person. With the help of his father and an old family friend in the vineyards, this is truly hand-made wine that undergoes minimal handling in the cellars and leaps out of the glass once released from its bottle.
Josep-Maria Vendrell produces very little of this intriguing red wine produced from 100% old vine Carignan (or Samsó in the local Catalan language). A deep purple color belies this vibrant wine that is both rich and fresh. It’s viscous texture braced by almost crisp acidity and gritty mouth feel make this a stunning high-class “country” wine. -Importer Organically cultivated, Miloca Montsant hails from 50-80 year old Carignan vines and boasts seamlessly integrated notes of cherry, chocolate, sappy tannins, smoked meat and pepper.
Di Majo Norante Aglianico Contado Riserva – Organic
Founded in 1968, the Di Majo estate cultivates more than 200 acres under vine. In order to ensure consistent, high-quality production for all the estate’s wines, Alessio Di Majo hired renowned oenologist Riccardo Cotarella as a consultant. In addition to producing quality wine at an outstanding value, the Di Majo family is dedicated to practicing environmentally sound agriculture.
The Di Majo Norante winery sits on the estate of the Marquis Norante of Santa Cristina in the region of Molise, along the Adriatic Sea between Puglia and Abruzzo. The cultivation of vines in this area dates back to 500 BC, when the region was inhabited by two pre-Roman civilizations, the Sanniti and the Osci. The estate has been dedicated to growing vines since the 1800s. In the 1960s a modern cantina was constructed and vines were replanted in the Ramitello area.
The Contado Riserva is made from 100% Aglianico grapes grown in the southeastern region of Molise. The grapes are hand-harvested in late October and undergo an extended period of maceration to build incredible concentration and flavor. After fermentation in stainless steel, the wine is matured in a combination of stainless steel and barriques for eighteen months, resulting in a layered, complex wine.
92 points, James Suckling: Aromas of blue fruit and wet earth with a hint of lavender. Medium to full body, firm and silky tannins and a long, flavorful finish.
91 points, Robert Parker’s Wine Advocate: Of the many value reds offered by this estate, the 2015 Aglianico del Molise Riserva Contado is my favorite. The wine delivers the power and density that is attributed to this fabulous red grape, followed by warm-vintage aromas that are exuberant and generous. You get black cherry and blackberry preserves followed by light baking spice. This is a full-bodied wine that achieves careful balance.
Sobon Zinfandel Rocky Top (practicing Organic)
Sobon Zinfandel Rocky Top is made by the Sobon family in Amador County. The winery was founded when the Sobon’s purchased the old d’Agostini (designated a State Historic Landmark), and started producing deep structured wines using sustainable and organic farming methods.
We’ve carried Rocky Top for fifteen or so years, and really like its bold flavors and brambly fruit. Produced entirely from Sobon’s organically farmed estate old vine vineyards in the Shenandoah Valley, these special vines yield intensely concentrated Zin full of ripe blackberry and cherry fruit aromas and flavors, with hints of chocolate and that classic Amador spiciness. It is a perfect match for roasts, steak, and rich sauces, and will complement aged, full-flavored cheeses.
From one of the few remaining blocks of pre-prohibition era Zinfandel on the Estate, this ridge-top vineyard of cobble loam gives us a full-bodied wine of great depth, structure, and character. Aged 18 months in small French & American Oak barrels, 30% new Tasting Notes: Notes of summer berries, licorice, and a woodsy earthiness with hints of white pepper and allspice. Heady aromatics lead to a rich, long, lingering finish.
The Sobon Estate winery started in 1989 when Leon and Shirley Sobon bought each other a second winery for their 30th wedding anniversary present. They purchased the historic D’Agostini Winery, one of the oldest in the state. This winery has been designated as California State Historic Landmark #762. This site was chosen not only for its historical winery but also for its vineyards and vineyard land.
The old vine Zinfandel was retained, and the other vineyards replanted with the best varieties and clones. The Sobon Estate label launched the estate line of wines for the Sobon Family — the best wines from their own grapes. Over the years, Leon garnered many National and International awards for Sobon Estate and Shenandoah Vineyards wines. Both family label wines are distributed nationally, as well as internationally in Canada, Switzerland, and Hong Kong. Leon is widely recognized as a leader in the wine industry and has actively participated in many industry boards and committees. He is also sought after as a judge for many prestigious wine-tasting competitions. Today … the winemaking and business aspects continue to be a family affair. Shirley is the Finance & Gallery Manager while Leon contributes his years of winemaking knowledge to every vintage. Sons Paul, Robert, and Son-in-Law Tom Quinn continue the family tradition that began all those years ago.
91% Zinfandel, 9% Carignan. “Full aromas of ripe black fruit, cooked cherry, and hints of toasty smoke. Round and full on the palate, with blackberry, plum and cinnamon, over a peppery spice. Balanced, rich finish ending on a dark chocolate note.”- Sante Magazine
Mullineux Kloof Street Chenin Blanc – Sustainable
I first tasted Andrea and Chris Mullineux’s wines at my friend Fran Kysela’s house in Virginia in 2010. Fran is a Master Sommelier and a huge supporter of South African wines, and he had just started importing their wines.
I was impressed by the wines’ purity and sense of place and decided right then and there that we’d be supporting their wines in the shops as soon as they landed in California.
Chris and/or Andrea have poured at the shops several times in the intervening years, and we hosted a great wine dinner with them a few years back. They hosted Carol and me at their home for a few days in 2015, and then again in the Summer of 2019 and our kinship with them has only grown.
They’ve been receiving great acclaim for their wines – Parker loves them, Galloni does as well, as does the South African wine and lifestyle magazine Platter, which has named them Winery of the Year five times.
They are located near the village of Riebeek Kasteel in the Swartland region of South Africa, and produce a select range of hand-crafted wines from the varying soils of the area.
The Swartland is a beautiful and wild place. The landscape is a series of rolling hills with a few significant outcrops of rock that form the Paardeberg, Kasteelberg and Piketberg mountains. It is not an easy place to establish vines, and is a region that has as much of an influence on the vineyards and people who farm there as the people have on the land itself.
The Kloof Street range is all about freshness, balance and great drinkability. The Kloof Street Chenin Blanc comes from three sustainably farmed vineyard parcels in different parts of the Swartland: One parcel of 35 year old Chenin planted in the stony Shale and Schist based soils of Kasteelberg, and two parcels of 40+ year-old dry land, bush vine Chenin grown in the decomposed Granite soils of the Paardeberg. After pressing, the juice is racked to tank (85%) and older French oak barrels (15%) for fermentation. Fermentation is with indigenous yeasts and lasts up to 6 weeks. The barrels are racked and blended with the tank fermented portion and then bottled.
Pardas Sumoll sus scrofa – organic, biodynamic, natural
Celler Pardas started when two growers from Penedès, Ramon Parera and Jordi Arnan, acquired an old estate called Can Comas in Alt Penedès, close to Sant Sadurni d’Anoia. The property surrounds an old medieval farm and spans 80 acres of forest and other crops (mainly cereal) as well as the local grape varieties—Sumoll and Xarel-lo—that Ramon and Jordi planted for their wines. The other source of fruit for the wines come from two ancient plots further north, where they own old vines of Sumoll, Xarel-lo and Malvasía de Sitges; Ramon calls this fascinating local strain of Malvasía, an incredibly acidic grape notoriously difficult to vinify, the “Riesling of the Mediterranean”.
From the start the work on the land focused on a holistic approach; they manage the forest surrounding the vineyards as well as the land bordering them to create a whole agrarian ecosystem and live in the property. Many biodynamic principles are followed: the vines are dry-farmed, and the clay-limestone rich soils are not ploughed to avoid erosion and foster the micro-biology of the place. They regularly use ground vegetation, and no synthetic products nor pesticides are utilized. Their work is certified organic.
Ramon and Jordi are in the forefront of the varietal revolution happening in Penedès. The story of native grapes in the region is not unlike many others in different areas: the local varieties, deemed hard to work and less valuable than international ones, were slowly substituted by high-yielding types. Many of the new generation of growers in the area, however, decided to replant and work with the original grapes. Pardas’ plantings all come from cuttings of old vines found in the region.
The work in the cellar is as respectful to the wines as their work on the vineyards is to the land. Fermentations are spontaneous, the wines are never clarified nor corrected, and they use a mix of steel, concrete and oak for winemaking and élèvage. The resulting wines are expressive and very direct. Sumoll is not an easy grape to master—“the most masochistic grape there is”, says Jordi— but as the Sus Scrofa shows, Parera and Arnan have conquered its rusticity and are making a delicate, fresh, and immediate wine. The same goes for their Xarel-lo and Malvasía, which are floral and aromatic and yet retain great salinity and minerality, no doubt owing to the chalky and rocky nature of their vineyards.
100% Sumoll made from a blend of three parcels, the oldest of which was planted 70 years ago. The vineyards sit on clay and chalky soils. Made in concrete tanks fed by gravity, 50% whole-cluster. This is a bright, refreshing red wine that is suited to a brief chill, showing notes of cherry and pomegranate around a core of limestone minerality.
Sus Scrofa is the latin term for wild boar, an animal that makes its home in the hills of the Alta Penedès. It is also the emblem of Celler Pardas. Sus Scrofa is the younger vine, more easy drinking 100% Sumoll from Celler Pardas. Why Ramon at Pardas has an affinity for such a pesky animal is a mystery, but the name and label of this wine are completely appropriate. Sumoll is extremely difficult in the vineyard – like the wild boar.
Kathryn Kennedy Small Lot Cabernet Sauvignon – sustainable
Kathryn Kennedy Winery leases and farms small parcels of Cabernet dotted across the Sana Cruz Mountain range, some as tiny as a few rows in a backyard. The wine is blended from these tiny parcels to create the final project–a masterful Cabernet painting a great overview of the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA.
Kathryn Kennedy was an original and a pioneer in every way, establishing one of the first estates in Santa Cruz that specialized exclusively in Cabernet Sauvignon. Inspiration to plant a vineyard came from a fine bottle of Martin Ray Cabernet from the 1950s and from observing men tend an old Cabernet vineyard across the road from her home.
Kathryn was a pioneering female in the CA wine industry. Her brand was one of the first to bear a woman’s name. Her location was unusual too: although Saratoga had a stellar wine history in the 1880s, by the 1970s it was far from Napa and off the map to all but the most astute. After selling fruit for two vintages to Mount Eden Vineyards, Kathryn established her brand and winery in 1979.
Marty Mathis is considered one of the top winemakers in the Santa Cruz Mountains region, he is best known for Cabernet Sauvignon wines capable of achieving world-class quality with age. Marty’s knowledge of the Santa Cruz Mountains allowed him to access grapes from superior small vineyards.
Winemaker notes: Brilliant garnet red in color, this wine offers aromas of creamy oak, black raspberry, cherry, and dry loamy earth with an alluring hint of herbs and chocolate/mint candy. A plush and gentle entry leads to a full, rich mouthfeel with great persistence and mild, well-developed tannins. The signature long delineated finish of the Santa Cruz Mountains shows a style reminiscent of great Italian reds.
Jancis Robinson: Smells of sweet black cherry and cassis. Quite juicy and fresh, with black cherry and Bing cherry fruit touched by a hint of blueberry and cassis. Excellent acidity and a note of green herbs add to the overall impression of freshness. Faint muscular tannins gain strength through the finish.
Scribe Nouveau of Pinot Noir, Los Carneros
Like many other wine merchants, we’ve eschewed the Nouveau Beaujolais bandwagon for the past several years: the idea of air-freighting cases of Nouveau Bojo to the West Coast in order to fit some 1970’s French marketing scheme never seemed to be sound, and many years the wine wasn’t that good anyway.
But, the idea of fresh, newly pressed, and vinted wine, released soon after harvest is an age-old tradition, in France and elsewhere – it’s a celebration of the end of harvest, and the hopes of new beginnings.
Several savvy New California wineries have embraced the ‘nouveau‘ idea, and many of these locally made wines are quite tasty.
We’ve brought in a few cases of Scribe’s organically farmed Nouveau of Pinot Noir – it’s the first glimpse into the vintage and a celebration of the harvest.
After a 100% carbonic fermentation with native yeast, they bottled the wine unfined, unfiltered, and without any added sulfur. This process produces a lively, juicy wine that’s meant to be enjoyed right away. Natural, organic, and vegan friendly.
I had a bottle last week; I loved the fresh raspberry, mountain wildflowers, and papaya (!) notes that the wine brings. Chill it down for 45 minutes or so as you would a Beaujolais, and pair it with lighter fare, or try it as a wonderfully refreshing aperitif!