‘CHEAP & CHEERFUL’ SELECTIONS – November, 2023
- Llicorella Vins, Bluegray DOQ Priorat $20 (ES)
- Delta Pinot Noir, $17 (CA)
- Bondar Junto, GSM Blend, $22 (AU)
- Capolino Perlingieri Sanno Greco, $16 (IT)
- Zebedeo Blanco (Albariño/Godello), $15 (ES)
- Château de Fontarèches ‘La Chapelle Mignard’ Corbieres Blanc, $20 (FR)
1. Llicorella Vins, Bluegray DOQ Priorat, Spain, $20
As is common in the reds of Priorat, this is a heavyweight, tipping the scales at 15% alcohol. It’s a blend of Garnacha (grenache), Cariñena (Carignane), Syrah and Merlot (40/30/20/10). The wine is inky black in the glass, with notes of smoke, beef jerky, cherry, dark chocolate, licorice and violet along with tell-tale signs of cracked pepper.
The DOQ Priorat Region
This Priorat (PRE oh rat) DOQ is a small, steep appellation located in Cataluña – the Northeastern portion of Spain. From the capital city of Barcelona it’s an easy day trip south along the Mediterranean coast (unless you rent an electric Renault, but that’s a tale for another time over several glasses of wine!). Priorat literally forms the tip of Montsant mountain and is surrounded like a donut by the Montsant DOP. The surrounding mountain range protects Priorat from the strong, drying winds (Cierzo) that are so strong they can be destructive to even the most established vine.
Aside from the Cierzo, Priorat is also known for its schist soils. The locals have created a word for them – “Llicorella” (this is a tough one! Say eel kor RAIL yah) – a quartz-rich blue slate that fragments easily (leading to the local saying “Schist happens”. When visiting a Priorat vineyard for the first time, a common thought that runs through your head is “how can ANYTHING grow in soils that are really just layers and layers of rock?!” (see image at right)
The truth is – the grape roots really struggle. But it’s one of the many miracles of wine that the vine is more stubborn and persistent than most plants in its quest for water and nutrients. But when grape vines grow in soils low in nutrients and water, its fruit yield is very low and the grapes themselves are smaller and their juice more concentrated. The resulting wine is rich in fruit, minerality, and elegance.
Priorat is known for red blends made primarily of Garnacha and Cariñena, often blended with smaller percentages of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, and/or Merlot. The red wines of Priorat are age-worthy, there is no need to do so here – open and enjoy!
2. Wines for Change, “Delta” Pinot Noir, CA, $17
Matt Laconis attended UC Davis to play football and study aeronautical engineering. But one elective winemaking class and he was hooked 0 it didn’t take a rocket scientist to see he would soon change his career trajectory. After graduating he travelled the world to study under world-class winemakers (Australia, New Zealand, Italy, France…) In 2011 he founded Brick & Mortar winery in Sonoma with his wife, Alexis. She came from the restaurant/hospitality industry, attending the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park NY. Working as an intern in Napa, she too was bitten by the wine bug, and changed HER career direction, eventually passing the Advanced Sommelier test from the Court of Master Sommeliers. The two were married in 2014 and now live and make wine in Sonoma County, California with their three children.
It goes without saying that few industries are as dependent on the environment as agriculture. And as wine is one of the few ag products to successfully defy commoditization, wine growers feel an ever-increasing urgency to protect future harvests.
Delta, meaning change, was born out of a desire to create wines that help make a difference in the fight to protect our planet. Wines for Change partners with organizations committed to making a positive impact on the environment such as cleaning up our oceans and reducing CO2 emissions. The winery goes beyond offsetting their own carbon footprint by donating a portion of sales to the Surfrider Foundation and Cool Effects. In the first three years since the launch of this initiative, Wines for Change has donated $75k to these worthy causes.
The grapes for this wine are from cool-climate, coastal vineyards found from California’s Mendocino to the Central Coast. The grapes were fermented using native yeasts found on the grape skins and in the environment at the winery. A mix of new and used barrels were used, adding seasoning to the wine’s red cherry/cranberry fruit notes, amplifying its cedar, lavender and rose petal.
Only 2,500 cases produced.
ABV 14.1% A share of proceeds from this wine go to the Surfrider foundation.
3. Bondar “Junto” GSM Blend, Australia, $22
“Junto” is a Spanish term for ‘Together’, which describes this husband-wife effort as well as the many grapes that contribute to this wine:
- Grenache (62%)
- Shiraz, aka Syrah (21%)
- Mataro, aka, Mourvedre (15%)
- Cinsault (2%)
As with many of Australia’s great Reds, this wine is inspired by the wines of the Southern Rhone – blends of multiple red grapes. The Grenache its pretty red fruits and perfume to the party, while the Shiraz and Mataro lend spice, depth and structure.
Bondar’s fruit is all hand-picked and handled gently in the winery, with élevage taking place in old oak.
This wine is unpretentious and easy to drink – a perfect bistro wine and not a bad house wine to enjoy on a regular weeknight!
Bondar is a small family company making wines from Australia’s McLaren vale and Adelaide Hills. Their house style is a wine that’s lighter, brighter, more savory, structured and beguiling. Such wines are notably different from the Australian archetype. Since launching the winery, they’ve been named James Halliday’s ‘Best New Winery’ in his 2017 Australian Wine Companion, and have gone on to be named one of the “Top 50 Young Guns of Wine” in both 2018 and 2021.
The story behind the name is simple – it’s Andre and Selina’s surname, Bondar. While it may seem a no-briner to append your family name to your wines, for Andre and Selina this was a well-considered decisoin. They feel it is a testament to the integrity behind the wines they make:
“To use your surname means your wines must stack up” says Andre. “We would never put our name on a bottle unless we believe in it 100%“
Fun side note – the name Bondar has a strong connection with winemaking as it is the Polish and Ukrainian name for Cooper (barrel-maker). The logo references this connection with its barrel-shaped curve. The pine tree is taken from the flag of the town in Poland where Andre’s grandfather lived before fleeing to Australia as a WWII refugee.
4. Capolino Perlingieri ‘Vento’ Greco Sannio, Italy $16
Though Perlinerieri observes organic practices, they also deviate from them to move towards a more sustainable standard. They eschew the use of organic chemicals they have found to be damaging to the vineyard. And they also believe that those in pursuit of “Natural” wines have forgotten that the MOST natural state for fermented grape juice is vinegar, and they take steps in the cellar to avoid such an end state!
The Grechetto grape is difficult to work with. Thin skinned and prone to oxidation, it changes drastically after bottling and on through its ~5 year lifespan. Early characteristics suggest notes of wax, citrus, and yellow orchard fruits. Over time a pleasant waxiness develops, and the fruit profile moves toward ripe Golden Delicious. Drink now through 2024/5.
100% Grechetto. 13% ABV
In 2003, when Alexia Capolino Perlingieri was thirty, she left behind her beloved Milan and an investment banking career to take up the family role of winegrower – a love of the land that had passed on to her from two prior generations. But Alexia took things to a whole new level. Her Grandfather and mother considered winegrowing to be little more than a hobby. But the world had changed since their days as dabbler winemakers, and her ambition far exceeded their winemaking achievements, so Alexia started from scratch.
She bought new land, replanted obsolete vineyards, built a modern cellar, hired an oenologist and worked side-by-side with her workers to understand the dynamics and complexities of her property. In other words, Alexia is no Prima Dona!
Her family’s farm in the Sannio area is now home to 30 acres of vineyards and a 12 acres of olive trees. They guide their farming using organic practices whenever possible. Alexia chose to plant her vineyards with Campania’s heritage grape varieties instead of the “International varieties – Cabernet, Merlot, Syrah…”. Though wines made from these native grapes can be more difficult to sell to a market unfamiliar with them, Alexia believes her vineyard’s wealth lies in its uniqueness. This truth seems especially so in a global economy where commoditization reigns. Regression to the mean is not always a good thing.
Sannio is a sub-zone within Campania almost unknown to most people because it’s off the well-worn tourist path. Though it’s only 45 miles from Naples, Sannio is quite different from stereotypical Campania: there are vineyards and olive groves extending as far as the eye can see. Standing at the base of the Apennine’s that run North-to-South for most of the Italian peninsula, the Sannio region borders Campania, Apulia and Molise.
For centuries, the wines of the Sannio region were popular in Rome. But they were transported through the Pompeii market until the fatal eruption of Vesuvius put an end to that route in AD 79. That day ended its worldwide trading business along with so many other heart-breaking losses.
Today, almost 2000 years later, Sannio produces 315,000 gallons of wine. That’s the equivalent of about 120,000 cases, making up 45% of Campania’s overall production.
5. Zebedeo Blanco (Albariño/Godello) Rias Baixas, Spain, $14.50
This is a delightfully refreshing blend of Albariño and… Godello(go-DEY-yo), a rare white grape that we feel deserves more attention than it gets. But it’s hard when you play second fiddle behind the great Albariño.
That aside, we think this wine delivers more goods/$ than most of the white wines we’ve sampled this year. The Albariño brings crisp freshness while the richer notes of Godello create a unique and beautiful wine.
Nectarine, pear, apple, citrus zest, a flutter of raw honey/beeswax and a lot of wine for the money!
This wine comes from Rías Baixas (REE us BAY jhas) wine area within the larger region of Galicia (ga LEE thee ah*). Rias Baixas is a subregion defined by four estuaries. Wines from this region have fairly well exploded over the past decade as people seek crisp and refreshing wines with lower alcohol. The white wines of Rías Baixas fit this bill to a tee! Made exclusively or primarily from Albariño, the workhorse grape of the region.
Galicia is Spain’s most northwestern wine region, located just north of Portugal. If you were to order a white wine at a sidewalk cafe in Portugal, you’d likely to be served a glass of Albariño, though the grape changes its name slightly – once it goes over the border into Portugal it’s known as Alvarinho!
*Fun Trivia – It’s said the unique Catalan and Galician use of a lisp-like pronunciation stems from centuries ago when their king spoke with a lisp. I don’t know if this is true, but it’s a good story, and helps us remember how to properly pronounce words like Galicia, Barcelona and more!
6. Château de Fontarèches ‘La Chapelle Mignard’ Corbieres Blanc, France, $20
A deliciously quaffable white blend (Roussanne and Grenache Blanc, 60/40). The wine has a pale white/golden color. Its nose combines white-fleshed fruit and fresh spices. Very light toasted notes are perceptible and reveal the fermentation in barrels of the Rolle (Vermentino). The palate is full-bodied and well integrated but with a freshness that makes this wine a quaffable companion during happy hour. The finish lingers, featuring notes of white fruit and a citrusy crispness. Alcohol: 13.0% vol.
One of the fun things about studying and drinking wines from the Old World is the history they bring. For example, the history of this Château goes something like this:
- (date not recorded) Original tower was built
- AD 984 – the property is first entered into recorded history as the Archbishop granted “the small holding known as Fontareche with the small tower that is there, except for the church and ecclesiastical elements“
- AD 1201 – the moat is commissioned
- Late 1600s – granted status as a “specific seigneury”, it became the property of nobles. Ownership passes to famed painter Pierre Mignard, portraitist for the court of King Louis XIV (pre-revolution, clearly, as there wasn’t much demand for portraits of headless kings). This wine is named for him.
The region – Corbieres is the dominant sub-zone within the larger Languedoc-Roussillon of Southern France. Corbieres provides a whopping 46% of the wine from Languedoc-Roussillon , but only 2% of that production is a white wine like this one.
Which is a shame! This wine is delicious. And a great value to boot!