Thursday, December 24, 2009

Our greatest in store tasting ever! Domaine Leflaive!

Domaine Leflaive: Saturday December 26th - Noon to 3pm - Free Tasting!

Without question, for white wines, there is one estate that shines above just about every other, Domaine Leflaive. The wines from this biodynamic estate are legendary and revered; auction houses scurry to secure collections where Leflaive is held, collectors scour the auction circuit to obtain the tiny amounts made and the wines age forever. Some of my greatest experiences with Chardonnay have been from this great Domaine - and you will have the opportunity to taste them and see for yourself the brilliance of this incredible, legendary estate! We will have the following wines open to taste, while the bottles last...

Bourgogne Blanc 2006

Meursault Sous le Dos D'Ane 1er Cru 2006

Puligny Montrachet Les Pucelles 2006

Chevalier Montrachet Grand Cru

If you love White Burgundy, you won't want to miss this event. The wines are in limited quantities so don't be late...we guarantee it will be more fun than fighting the crowds at the mall to return unwanted gifts! For more information and to order the wines visit us online at 56 Degree Wine. For more information on the Domaine visit their spectacularly infromative website at Domaine Leflaive - Happy Holidays!

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

Best wishes to all for a happy, healthy and safe holiday season! Today we are tasting my top bubbly of the year, the Demeric "Catherine de Medici" - a rare release made only in special years. This terrific small estate still uses only the old style vertical press, and still practices remuage by hand, ageing 50% of all their wine in oak cask.
The current release is a blend of 50% each Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and is half each 1995 and 1996, and was disgorged in 2002. Only made about twice a decade, the last was 89/90 and the next will be 2000/2002. Only 22 six packs of magnums came to the US - We got three!! Complex, creamy, yet laser focused, with lovely lemony tones, brioche - rich yet with brilliant supporting acidity. Long and absolutely stunning! To order it call us at 908.953.0900 or email to For more about this terrific producer visit Champagne Demeric

Friday, October 16, 2009

Wine Alert: Giacosa Barbaresco Asili 2001

Just tasted the Bruno Giacoasa 2001 Barbaresco Asili and have to say that it is about as pure an expression of the magnificent Nebbilo grape as one could ask for. And why not? This wine was born and raised in the perfectly suited climate and soils of Piedmont, nurtured in the vineyard, and then guided gently along in the cellar, by one of the greatest winegrowers in the world. It was born to priveledge and has more than lived up to its pedigree. It is aromatic and seductive immediately, with lovely dried cherry, dried flowers and spices on the nose, medium ruby garnet in color, expressive, pure and focused on the palate. Seamless, integrated, and intriguing, understated and impressive at the same time, finishing with a warm, satisfying glow that lingers on and on (and compels me to have another sip!) A contemplative, reflective, thought provoking wine that reminds me of why I love this business so much. Drink now with decanting and over the next 10-15 years.

But it gets even better! Typically this wine sells for $125 - 175 per bottle, with a few shops offering it on sale at $119.99. After several months of haggling and negociating, we have been able to secure a limited amount of this world class wine at a fantastic price (one small benefit of a sluggish high-end wine market!) and pass it on to our clients. We will send an offer to our list on Monday, but if you are a follower of Down to Earth Wines you are getting advance notice. While supplies last it is available at $119.50 per bottle, and an amazing $99.50 by the case of 12. Don't wait! To order call 908.953.0900. Wine arrives week of Oct 19, supplies limited, no further discounts, while supplies last. If you love elegant, finely-crafted, balanced and harmonius world-class wine, look you need no further.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Our Commercials

Check out our old commercials! Filmed in late 2004 or early 2005 from what I remember, not long after we opened. Pretty funny how (at least on my computer) my mouth isn't synched with the sound, and maybe I look just a tad younger! But the concept's still the same - great small grower wines, stored in perfect conditions, each wine tasted and approved, and the "know-how" to match our clients with wines they will love!

Monday, September 28, 2009

Burgundy: La Tour de Cote!

I spent the afternoon yesterday at the home of a great friend, golf partner and fellow food aficionado's in scenic Bucks County Pennsylvania for a grand tour of the wines of the Cote D'Or. Nearly every village was represented with at least one wine (we skipped a few for sobriety's sake!), all arranged on a long farmhouse table, with each bottle appropriately stationed on a coaster in its terroir on a huge map of Burgundy that stretched the entire length of the table. Along with the following wines, we enjoyed perfect petite croque monsieurs, toasted bread with melted gruyere cheese, an appetizer of deliciously garlicy muscles, decadent macaroni and cheese with lobster chunks and dusted with crunchy bread crumbs, savory and tender Bouef Bourguignon, a delicious cheese course and Crepes Suzette, flaming and festive, for dessert. The wines came from a mutual friend/wine importers cellar: a terrific, diverse and eclectic selection. Here's the lineup, with a few thoughts on each of the wines:

Savigny les Beaune 1er cru Les Haute Jarrons 2002, Maurice Ecard - med straw gold, orange peel nose, secondary notes, bottle aged and very nice. Mineral, tightish. Good.

Auxey Duresses Les Hauts 2002 - Jean et Michel Lafouge - creamy, lovely nose, balanced, mid weight, drinking great, drinking well above its pedigree, would love to have this around the house!

St. Aubin Marc Colin, "en Montceau" 2001 - advanced, slightly oxidized - Judy and Carmen drink this a lot and said this was an off bottle rather than indicative of the wine. Also had 1996 Meursault, forgot the producer, that was a bit beyond its prime.

Chassagne Montrachet Les Caillerets 2000 - Marc Colin - creamy, still fresh, beautiful, with a stony minerality underneath. Lacks a little stuffing but balanced and very nice - drink now - 2012.

Chevallier Montrachet Grand Cru 2003, Marc Colin - What a treat! Lovely, creamy, stony, rich, and layered. A little fat, but relatively balanced and fresh for 2003, out of its shell but not showing any real secondary development yet. Don't think it's one for the ages but will be terrific with a few more years in the bottle and at least thru 2015.

Corton Charlemagne 1998, Maurice et Anne-Marie Chapuis - Slightly reductive and closed at first, fuller and richer with time, with lemon-butter-creme- nose, with 10 minutes in the glass this opened and expanded revealing pain grille notes, with complex non tropical fruit - hawthorne, linden, acacia. On the palate, full and plush with good acidity and cut, and a long finish. White wine of the night, even better than the Chevalier at the moment, just got better and better as it opened up!

Chorey les Beaune 2002, Chateau de Chorey - med ruby - good earthy cherry notes, firmish, old school, slightly rustic in a nice way - drinking great, perfect workday Burg!

Volnay "Carelles" 1998, Paul Pernot - Wish I spent a few more moments with this wine, as it is still tight, has classic '98 character with high-ish acids and structure, fine grained tannins and pure flavors, still a bit wound up, but with dark silken fruit underneath. Drink 2011-2015 would be my guess.

Pommard 1999, Gabrielle Billard - Lovely aromatics of dark plum and cherry, on the palate it is balanced with ripe smooth tannins, dark dried cherry fruits, sanftig and plush for Pomerol, very enjoyable now, drink now - 2015.

Fixin 2003, Meo Camuzet - Feral and a little dirty or reduced at first, fresh turned earth notes, ripe-ish, raw and young. Mod tannins, touch scorched fruit and a touch hot, vintage shows. With a little time this fleshed out and showed some more dark fruits. A little awkward - needs 3-4 to come together - then what? Could work out the kinks, maybe not?

Marsannay 2003 Meo Camuzet - Fresher, tighter, more tightly knit than the Fixin, less 2003 - like. Fruit and tannins silkier, ripe-ish, raw bing cherry, better integration all around than the Fixin. Needs 3-4 years at least, drink 2013-2016 -/+.

Savigny Les Beaune les Narbantons 1999, Maurice Ecard - I have always loved Ecards Savignys, well made, affordably priced classic Burgundy - alas the Domaine is no more, sold out of the family. I will miss them! This wine is no exception showing lovely just barely mature cherry fruit, earth and spice-box nose, ready to drink, fine, balanced and elegant. Mid weight. "Bring on the coq au vin" was the refrain around the table, and I would put it forth as the best red wine value of the night. Again, too bad the domaine is no more, was one of my favorites! Beautiful wine - wish I had a case in the cellar.

Chambolle - Musigny 2000 - Thierry Mortet - Perfumed, lacy dark and red cherry, and a whiff of subtle darker earth notes underneath. Mid weight, true Chambolle style: lithesome and elegant. Shows a little 2000 character, balanced but without the density or core concentration to be long lived, but a perfectly lovely wine to drink now and through 2015+.

Beaune 1er cru cent-vignes 1999 Chateau de Chorey - dried cherry, med weight, good, but not inspiring. Pommard and Ecard showing better in class to my taste. Very enjoyable never the less, and without the competition of tonight's lineup I would be happy to imbibe anytime!

Charmes Chambertin 1998, Dominique Gallois - sweet, earthy, with hints of tobacco, sice and trffe, good and proper Gevery, but to me just not showing its Grand Cru caliber. Still a bit youthful and closed, this needs a few years or so, when perhaps it will reveal a bit more of its pedigree, but not sure. Very good wine, just not quite living up to its terroir in my opinion.

Vosne Romanee Les Suchot 1996 - Francois Lamarche - No notes - must have gotten lazy here, or more likely the next wine just stole my attention! I do recall us mentioning that it was a bit tight and closed at the moment, and in need of a little more time to open. One of the perils of doing so many wines is that we really didn't spend enough time on each, as this might have been a big beneficiary of a little time before the next two wines.

Clos Vougeot "Musigni" 1999, Ann Gros - Wow! Perfumed and aromatic, with cherry and spice nose, it is polished, elegant and fine, feminine even, with a core of sweet fruits underneath. Just barley out of its youthful stage, it is still primary but hinting at much more to come with cellaring. This is a seamless, silky, perfectly harmonious wine that will most likely drink great on any given day for the next 10+ years. Excellent!

Clos Vougeot 1998, Meo Camuzet - This couldn't be more different than the Gros: more earth, wild, raw and sauvage, especially when first opened. Bigger boned wine, plenty of muscle on a sturdy frame. Meaty for '98, with grippy structure and good acidity. With time began to reveal dark fruits, earth, spice and a core of locked up potential. Still youthful and a bit awkward, this needs 5-8+ years to really come into its own. Another terrific wine!

Last wine of the night was a Chambertin trapet 1990 from magnum - this had a bit of seepage evident, and unfortunately I clearly sensed tell-tale baked fruit notes, potentially heat damaged, sadly off, and a reminder of the fragile, living nature of these great wines - cellar them well!

With the two Clos Vougeot wines, we had truly arrived at a perfect illustration of the essence of Burgundy, not only because of the sheer unmatchable Grand Cru quality of each of them, but also because of their stark differences in style. They are both Pinot Noir, both Grand Cru, both Clos Vougeot, but there the similarities end. Different vintages, different winemakers and different parcels within the Clos have created a familial resemblance, but the two twins are much more fraternal than identical. These magical, magnificent variations, frustrating at times and sublimely rewarding at others, are what makes Burgundy so unique, the very essence of what keeps you coming back for more - kind of like a great golf shot! These two wines, and all of the wines we tasted this afternoon on our trip through the Cote D'Or, make the case that with Burgundy, getting there is half the fun. You have to love the trip and the sights and experiences along the way, be able to travel with an open mind (and palate), with a sense of adventure and learning, and be willing to go along for the ride, valleys, peaks and all.

Saturday, September 19, 2009

In Store Tasting - September 19th and 20th 2009

This weekends wines are the Giovanni Almondo Arneis Bricco della Cieliege 2008, without doubt the finest Arneis I have ever tasted. The estate has 12 hectares of vines planted, with the highest six hectares (at 380 meters) planted to the Arneis grape. The cool climate at this altitude and the lighter sandy soils, while not great for red grapes, is perfect for producing Arneis. This has hints of pear and white flowers on the nose, cool and clean, with great acidity, medium body and great texture and mouth feel. Perfect with mild fish, cheeses, linguine with shrimp or white clams sauce or as an aperitif. $24.50.

Sancerre Chavignol 2008, Serge Laporte - Cool, crisp and focused, just the way I like'em. Hints of gooseberry, citrus, great acidity and a mineral texture all the way through to the finish - bring on the oysters! $28 per bottle.

Macon Solutre-Pouilly 2008 - Philippe Forest-Auvige - This lovely Chardonnay comes from the heart of the Macon region from vineyards in Solutre-Pouilly. The dramtic landscape and the history of this place is fantastic, and the wine is too! Crisp, focused, with nice weight and a hint of oak, it is a versatile, value priced wine that is better than many a Pouilly Fuisse. Corn silk, creamy nose, hints of vanilla, good acids underneath, clean lingering finish. $23 per bottle.

Chassagne Montrachet Rouge 1er Cur Les Boudriottes, Lamy-Pillot - While better known for making some of the greatest white wines in the world, the vineyards of Chassagne Montrachet are planted roughly half to Chardonnay and half to Pinot Noir for red wine. While some of the reds I have had seem to have a rustic, coarse edge, this excellent example from Lamy-Pillot has a lovely nose of crushed dark cherry and spice, mouthfilling dark fruits, moderate tannins that are fine and supple, good supporting acidity and a great, mouthwatering finish that calls you back for more. A perfect wine for pouissin, quail, duck, and lighter meat such as pork or veal, it will also go great with grilled salmon. Drinks well now, especially if opened or decanted just before serving, and will age and improve for 3-6 years. $44 per bottle.

Both wines are opened to sample all day Saturday September 19th (from 10am-7pm) and Sunday September 20th (12-5pm)

To purchase, visit us online at 56 Degree Wine Online

Sunday, September 13, 2009

2005 Clos Rougeard: A must Have Vintage

Well the much anticipated 2005 wines from Clos Rougeard have arrived and the verdict is in: without doubt some of the finest expressions of Cabernet Franc I have ever had. This vintage, from this estate, is an absolute must have for my cellar.

To me, Clos Rougeard is one the benchmark wineries in the world, occupying the same rarified space as some of my other "desert island wines" like Lopez de Heredia, Giacomo Conterno, Donnhoff, Rousseau, and Raveneau to name a few. This is a winery that quietly and gently coaxes pure, seamless, complex and elegant wines out of the soil and terroir of their splendid plot of land in Saumur -Champigny. These are wines that get mentioned in the same breath as Cheval Blanc. When visiting wine makers see them in our shop they are floored to see them, with several Bordeaux wine makers commenting that the Clos has the best Cabernet Franc vines in the world and that they are trying to buy cuttings for their own vineyards.

Saumur-Champigny in the Loire Valley is not the first place that most would list when thinking of where some of the greatest red wines in the world are made, but there it is, defying popular misconceptions. The Clos is owned by brothers Nadi and Charlie Foucault, and has been in the family for generations. They hand-craft wines from organically grown grapes, crop at tiny yields, and vinify in barrel, where they slowly and naturally mature them in their cold cellars, and bottle them unfiltered.

I get asked all the time "if you had to have just one wine, what would it be?". And while I hate that question, (too much to love out there!) these wines are definitely on the short list. It is an incredible line-up, with wines that in some way seem to embody the elegance and transparency of great Burgundy, the depth and class of right bank Bordeaux, and the cool minerality of their Loire Valley roots.

The wines are imported by Louis Dressner Selections who sum up the estate on their web site in their typical droll manner:

"Just our luck. We have a cult estate. Every three-star restaurant in France hustles to get a small allocation. No one in America, outside of the lucky few, has heard of it..... Would you like to buy some? It is exceptionally expensive. And it is sold out."

Unfortunately, this is pretty much the case, with the only change being that the Americans do know about them now, as the wines have been discovered by the press and an increasing number of savvy wine buyers. A must have - and if you want some, don't wait!

Clos Rougeard 2005 - I absolutely refuse to call this the "entry level wine", the "regular" bottling or in any way refer to it in the diminutive! There is absolutely nothing "regular" about it, and were it the only wine made by the freres Foucault, they would still have a reputation for making some of the best red wine in the Loire Valley. So let's call it the "Clos". It is produced from 25 year old vines and matured in older oak barrels. To me it is the generally the most forward and accessible of the reds, fine, cooler and more classic in some ways. The 2005 is absolutely lovely Cabernet Franc; herbal, finely boned and elegant, with earth notes and underbrush underneath, and some dark fruits as well. Lovely burst of flavor at first, but with fine grippy tannins; focused and linear when first tasted, opening and expanding with a bit of time in the glass, showing the depth and character of the vintage and a glimpse of what those patient enough to hold on to this delicious wine for 6-10 years or so will enjoy. $57* per bottle.

Les Poyeux - The Poyeux is from 40-60 year old vines, and fermented half in new Allier barrels and half in one year old barrels from Chateau Haut Brion and Chateau Margaux. Right out of the gate this is fuller, more aromatic and expressive than either of the other two. A sweetness of dark fruits, kirsch and hint of smoky/charred wood and tobacco; complex, layered. Even more expressive with time in the glass. This is riper and more complex than the lovely "Clos", with more exotic spice box nose and darker fruits, more forward than the brooding Le Bourg. Ripe tannins are ample, but they well-integrated and woven into the wine, mainly showing in the finish. Cellar this for 7-12 years. $76* per bottle

Le Bourg - This wine is from 80+ year old vines pruned to extraordinarily low yields, fermented and aged in 100% new Allier barrels with minimal racking. This to me is always the most reserved, closed and structured wine of the trio, and the 2005, even with the concentration of the vintage, holds true to form. Slightly closed at first, with a deep core of locked up dark aromas and flavors that take time to evolve. Solid and fine, with cedar, cigar box, earth, truffle; definitely more rigidly structured than the others. Less up front in nature, but very deep - almost Bordeaux like. This should be aged from 10-15 years and perhaps even longer. $110* per bottle

To purchase these fantastic wine, visit us online at 56 Degree Wine or call us at 908.953.0900.

* Wines are net, no further discounts. Prices valid while supplies last or through September 30th 2009.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Great French Country Red!

What a wine! I had this fantastic country French red the other night with steaks on the grill - makes one wonder how can they make wine this good for so little money? Owned by M. Louis Colomer, Domaine de Rolland is located in the region of Fitou, the oldest Appellation in the Languedoc-Roussillon in the south of France (and some argue the best as well). The region has a winemaking history that goes back as far as the Greeks, and is split into two distinct zones. The Coastal area is noted for beautiful beaches and the deep blue Mediterranean. The inland area (where the Domaine is located near the village of Tuchan) is dotted with ancient castles, limestone gorges and perfumed lavender, thyme and rosemary. The sunny and dry Mediterranean influenced climate creates a perfect environment for the Carignan, Grenache, and Syrah grapes that make up this wine.

The 2006 Domaine Rolland Fitou drinks WAY beyond its very modest price! Deep, and rich, with plumy dark fruit, hints of garrigue, the French term for the scent of the earth, landscape and terroir of the region. Underbrush, game and spices abound, it is full bodied but not heavy or cloying at all. Versatile and food friendly, you can sip this by itself, have it with grilled chicken, burgers, or steaks. Better yet, order a case, and when you come down to pick it up, stop by the Griggstown stand at the Farmers Market Saturday morning in Bernardsville, and pick up some Quail or Pouissins - perfect on the grill with this wine! Only $11.50 (on sale through Aug 16th or while supplies last). Unfortunately, there is only a limited supply so don't hesitate!

To buy it visit us at 56 Degree Wine and search on "Rolland".

Saturday, August 8, 2009

In Store Tasting

Tasting some great inexpensive country French wines all day Saturday Aug 8th from 10-7 and Sunday Aug 9th from 12-5 - stop in, cool off and join us in the shop if you are in the neighborhood! 56 Degree Wine 40 Quimby Lane, Bernardsville - 908.953.0900 for info!

2007 Chateau Capion 1C Vin de Pays de L'Herault Blanc, Languedoc ORGANIC - While Chateau Capion has a rich history dating back to 1873, the Buhrer family from Switzerland purchased the estate in 1996 and the wines have been on the rise ever since. Organically grown fruit grown on limestone soils, there is no irrigation at play. Michel Tardieu is the talent behind this blend of 40% Chardonnay, 40% Roussanne, 15% Viognier and 5% Sauvignon Blanc that is raised in new and old French oak for 8 months. When I first heard this wine described I envisioned something heavier, fatter and more unctious with its Chardonnay and Roussanne majority in the blend. I was happily, completely wrong! While it has some body, it is absolutely lively and fresh on the palate, perhaps from the limestone soils, with tangerine, citrus blossom and honeysuckle nose and a palate to match! Perfect summer white all on its own or with a wide range of seafood, meaty fish, lobsterm shrimp, scallops, asian cuisine - real find! Click on the name above to order! $17.50 per bottle.

2007 Chateau St Jean de la Gineste Corbieres Vieilles Vignes, Languedoc ORGANIC - Located in Corbieres, just west of Narbonne, this organic estate sits on 54 hectares of well draining limestone. That is the genesis for this wonderful blend of 80% old vine (25 to 105 years) Grenache and 20% Carignan, which is vinified in old concrete vats for 12 months. Marie-Helene Becave now runs this picturesque estate with a serious commitment to the land, as well as the wine. All hand harvested, this deep black cherry, dried plums, smoke and meat dripping laced wine is long and lovely on the palate. Perfect with grilled pork, but big enough for red meat, this is a fantastic wine for summer sipping. $15/bottle.

2007 Le Paradou Cotes du Luberon Grenache - Syrah - This blend of 80% Grenache and 20% Syrah is made employing sustainable/organic methods although they are not certified - loaded with warm, crushed berry tones, spice and sweet fruits. Soft, supple, midium-bodied and mouthwateringly delicious. Versatile and food friendly, spark up the grill! $13.50

To buy these wines click here: 56

Friday, August 7, 2009

Great Super Tuscan - Isole Olenas Cepparello 2006

Isole Olena and Paolo di Marchi

Paolo di Marchi is one of my favorite winemakers I have had the pleasure of meeting in my entire wine career. I have sold his wines for a couple of decades at least, first the fantastic Isole Olena wines from their estate in Tuscany, and now the exciting new project for the next generation (his son Lucca runs it) in Lessona. He was one of the very first winemakers to visit the new store when we opened in Bernardsville, and we have wined, dined and shared great stories and a wine philosophy of respect for the terroir and natural winemaking many times both here and in Italy.

The family bought the estate in 1960's, putting two properties together, Isole and Olena. At the time, the dynamic was quite different than todays Tuscany. Sharecroppers picked grapes and wheat, with wheat bringing in the better price! These were the days of cheap Chianti in the basket, and you have to give the Marchi family credit for having the vision and foresight to imagine where Tuscany and its wines would go in the intervening 40 years.

They meticulously worked and improved the vineyards, improved winemaking and became committed to the ideal of classic, true to the place Tuscan wines. Paolo is an icon among winemakers for what he has accomplished here, and the wines are known by true connoisseurs as some of the very best in the region.

Considering that most top "Super Tuscans" sell for $100 or more, this is a true steal at almost half its competitor's price! Add to that the string of very good vintages, in particular the great 2006, and you have a very compelling reason to stock in the fantastic Cepparello from this world class estate!

One of THE Greatest Tuscan wines!

Cepparello, a 100% pure Sangiovese from the heart of the Chianti Classico area, is quintessential Tuscan wine. Paolo De Marchi has established a new standard for Sangiovese-based wines by assembling the very best of his fruit, grown on the high hill of San Donato in Poggio, and vinifying it for fourteen months in small barrels, one third of which new. The result is of stunning complexity and even if very approachable young, definitely worth ageing. The 2006 is complex, elegant, and stylish, beautiful aromatics, with incredible sense of purity, length and fine boned structure. Accessible now, but best from 2010-2015+ this is a must for any serious lover of great Sangiovese.

To order, click here and search on Isole.

Rosso di Montalcino, baseball and a calzone!

Watching the Yanks and Red Sox in a defensive duel to follow the slugfest mauling of last night, bottom of the 13th now, it's late enough in the season that baseball begins (for me) to become interesting. Outside, summer is slowly transitioning to fall - fireflies are losing ground to katydids, days are quietly but steadily getting shorter, the latter going on since June - it's a little depressing! We are now just past the apex of summer; really the best weather of all in the northeast when crowds at the beach thin, and after labor day are non-existent, dry warm days and cool eves begin, sultry and verdant vegetation reigns, the water's warm, swell is in, and there's an abundance of farm fresh ripe local produce, Jersey Corn and tomatoes. Yet just underneath is the looming sense, an edgy reality check, that this verdant, lush life has limits and that fall, and naturally winter apres, will inevitably follow.

What to do? Make the most of it - dine outside, fire up the grill, drink up the '08 Rose, and enjoy while it's summer and the livin' is easy - there are only a few precious weeks left! Beverage and cuisine of choice tonight? Cheating with a calzone from my fav local pizzeria and a Rosso di Montalcino 2007 from Pieri Agostina. This baby Brunello has classic earth tones, is elegant, supple, and approachable, with that blood tinged, iron like nerve and taught cherry fruit of Sangiovese, with depth and richness underneath - the best part of the story is that it is only $27 per bottle vs $60-$100+ for most Brunello, and you can drink it now as opposed to 10 years hence! A little overkill for my pizza - I would LOVE this with Griggstown Farm quail on the barbie, risotto con funghi and some type of bitter greens sauteed with olive oil, garlic, pepper and sea salt - but lazy is as lazy does and I'll suffer through.

To buy this wine, visit us online at 56 Degree Wine.

To learn more about what's happening in Montalcino, read a recent post on The Pour

For more on Agostinini visit Agostini

Friday, July 31, 2009

Sharing a cold one!

Today the President met with a Boston Police Officer and a Harvard Professor to patch over what at best is a series of miscommunications, and at worst an insight into the sorry state of racial relations in the good old USA. To help us steer clear of these minefields, the choice of beer of each of the participants has now topped the list of popular discussions into just what everyone involved was thinking when they did what they did and said what they said to get themselves into this mess. The fact that there was a choice sours the whole thing in my opinion, an over-orchestrated press/photo op to show what regular guys they all are. Well, I'll throw my choice of beer for the day into the mix - with some trepidation about what it might "say" about me. What kind of beers do Masters of Wine drink anyway? Do they ever lower themselves and their exalted palates and fussy noses to such a common beverage? Absolutely! In fact so much so that our evening nightcap (or pre dinner warm up) had its own moniker, the PCA, short for palate cleansing ale. The PCA was a nightly ritual practiced almost religiously by my mates during the first and second year courses - a moment to get away from the maniacal focus we all had on wine and just enjoy something on its sheer merit. For the moment we were free from any responsibility to know everything there is to know about what we were drinking, and we able to simply drink'em up. No disecting hop contents, yeast strains, brewing techniques, and on and on ad nauseam. We just "had" them, cold, drank'em down like background music while we talked about how we thought we did that day.
So, like the policeman, the professor and The President, I too had a beer today, but mine I will assume, under much more enjoyable circumstances, or at least with a whole lot less pressure. And while I am a lover of many craft type beers, artisan, micro and the rest, today on a summer sail on the windward coast of Ohau it was a simple, refreshing Corona, served avec citron vert (field stripped with the bottle cap because we didn't have a knife) and squeezed into the bottle before inserting it to provide the crisp hint of refreshing and lively zip it needs. Served ice cold, at the "sand bar" in Kane'ohe bay with A BLTTA (bacon,lettuce, tomato, turkey and avocado) from the little market on Kailua Beach - I can tell you it doesn't get better than this!

Monday, July 20, 2009

Les Alps!

Well it was a tough weekend for the veterans! Tom Watson, after playing 71 holes of golf missed a long putt to win The Open and truly make history in one of the greatest comebacks of all time. In the end, Cink was too much in the playoff, and Watson's incredibly exciting run came to an end. But second place ain't bad at nearly 60, and my hat's off to Tom!

In the tour, the first stage of the Alps into Verbier might be telling the same story, as Alberto Contador poured it on in the last climb in a burst of incredible climbing power and ability to leave the Peloton eating his dust, including 37 year old Lance Armstrong. The difference is that this one's not over, and anything can happen in the final week. Lance is in second by a little more than a minute, and there's still a lot of race left!

Tuesday the race starts in Switzerland, over the Hors Category climb of the Col du Grand-St-Bernard and into Italy where they will descend into the Aosta Valley. This is one of the most amazing wine regions I have ever visited, and I love the wines not only for their unique character, but for the gritty tenacity of the people who still grow grapes and make wine in some of the highest vineyards in the world on the steep slopes of the high Alps.

2008 Le Cave du Vin Blanc de Morgex et de la Salle Vini Estremi Vallee d'Aosta, About $20 - While we generally work only with estate grown wines, La Cave du Vin Morgex et de La Salle is a cooperative that bucks the trend. Founded in 1983 in an attempt to rescue viticulture from becoming extinct because of the sheer labor involved to grow grapes in this extreme environment, over 90 growers united to cultivate the Prie Blanc grape, an obscure variety that is indigenous to the Vallee. The growers here look at you with incomprehension if you ask if they farm organically. Here in the high Alps, traditional farming never left; it is simply how they have always done it. The system of trellises used on the steep terraces is called pergola bassa, or low pergola, and they have been used for centuries. La Cave winemaker Gianluca Telloli explains that the low pergola helps protect the vines from wind and deep snow in winter, and allows every ounce of energy from the sun to be captured to help in the ripening of the grapes in summer. By keeping the vines close to the close to the ground, heat is stored and reflected. Stone piles scattered throughout the terraces look haphazard but serve the same purpose, gathering and reflecting heat to the vines.

As for the wine, it is a truly unique white with aromas redolent of white flowers. Crisp and light yet persistent, with just a tinge of spritz. It is as pure and clean on the palate as the alpine environment where it is grown. Delicate nuances of pear, melon, and sea salt flavors are delivered with a stony minerality that comes from the sheer rock where the vines are grown. It has great intensity and finishes with bountiful acidity and very fine length. Sip it on its own, or serve it with salads, charcuterie and anti-pasti, shellfish or mild fish or a poached chicken breast with lemon and herbs.

2005 Caves de Donnas Valle d'Aosta Rouge, about $24 - This is another incredible wine carved out of the rocks of the Alps; Dried cherry, mid weight and with charming old world rusticity. While this is the work of a cooperative, it is work featuring the utmost attention to detail. The vineyards lie on the hillsides of the Dora Balthea on steeply terraced slopes. A blend of 85% Picotendro (Nebbiolo) with a bit of Freisa and Neyret, this is a deliciously rustic red with perfumed dried cherry, cloves and bits of leather. Reminds me of an incredible dinner I had when skiing in Cervinia at a place called La Niege D'Antan, drinking all local wines I had never had before, incredible multicourse dinner culminating with a veal Val D'Aostana, double thick chopped, split and stuffed with Fontina cheese, all melty in the heat of the chop, and crisped parma ham and sage to set it off. Superb!

Renardat-Fâche Cerdon de Bugey, about $24 - The tour leaves the lovely Valle d'Aosta via another HC climb over the Col de Petite St-Bernard and back into France and the Haut Savoie. This is a truly iconic wine region with unique wines from little known grapes. The small French town of Cerdon lies in the shadow of the Alps, an it is here that Alain Renardat-Fâche makes his unique Cerdon de Bugey. This is a pink sparkler made from Gamay and Poulsard grapes using the tradiotnal method of aging the wine in the bottle and disgorging like Champagne, but it's a lot less money! It has moderate sweetness, but is not cloying or heavily sweet at all - just like eating fresh berries - naturally low alcohol makes it a perfect choice on a warm summer day as an aperitif, or after dinner for a refreshing nip that won't do too much damage!

To buy the wines, visit us online at 56 Degree Wine

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Bourgogne Rouge and Chinese!

Watching The Tour, enjoying a bottle of 2006 Roty Bourgogne Rouge "Cuvee de Pressonnier", about $33 - who says all Burgundy is expensive? The wine is from Rotys' holdings in the Pressonnier vineyard which lies partly in the appellation of Gevrey Chambertin, part in Bourgogne. Some growers separate the two, making or selling the Bourgogne as such, and the Gevrey under the Village level moniker. Roty declassifies the Gevrey to Bourgogne to make this favorite of mine: delicious, spicy and lively, with some dark fruits, good juicy acids, still fresh and youthful and crisp even. With an hour or so, it begins to reveal a little more of what's wrapped up down deep in this moderately priced Burgundy. More dark fruits surface, as well as more weight and richness and a flavor profile that says "solid Cote du Nuits".

Drinking instructions: Buy a case plus six bottles, hold the case 1-2 years, then open and enjoy over the next 2-3. Drink the other six in the meantime with an hour decant! Terrific tonight with pan fried pork dumplings followed by chicken in a black bean sauce with baby bok choy. Grilled Tuna or Salmon, chicken, pork, a skirt or hanger steak al la French Bistro with pan jus wine shallot reduction, frites and a green salad wouldn't be bad either! Buy it, click here and search on Roty.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Tour de France - Along the Kimmeridgian Trail

Today the Tour is close to the halfway point and continues its meander through the French countryside starting in Vatan and heading northeast to St. Fargeau. A fairly flat stage and a day for the sprinters, the route winds just north of some of the best places in the world for the Sauvignon Blanc grape in the villages of Quincy, Reuilly, Sancerre and Pouilly sur Loire. Tomorrow, it drives on, starting just east of the village of Chablis, where the Chardonnay grape morphs into one of its most mineral, racy and intense expressions anywhere.

During this swing it follows a narrow vein of ancient fossilized seafloor that pokes up in England and then again here in France to create well drained marly limestone soils and some spectacular conditions for grape growing. Like all hallowed wine grounds, the wines of this area are the synthesis of millions of years of geological evolution, a specific climate, and the perfect match of grape varieties and wine making tradition. The soils impart their own signature to the wines, amplified and focused like a laser by the cool continental climate to create wines of unique character, quality and inimitable style: some of the classic of the wine world.

While Sancerre and its neighboring villages are technically part of the Loire Valley, it is closer not only physically to Chablis (110k) than it is to Vouvray (188k), but also geologically. Chablis, in a similar manner, is closer to Sancerre (110k) than it is to Puligny Montrachet (145k), and the argument can be made that these two villages, along with those surrounding them, share a common bond that runs deep. To see the route click Google Maps. For a few recommendations of wines along the route, read on! For more information on the wines visit us online at 56 Degree Wine.

Bring on the oysters! The lemony acidity and crisp clean nature of these wines make them the penultimate companions to chilled seafood, and in particular oysters and clams on the half shell, an experience perhaps best captured in Hemingway's' "A Movable Feast", where he describes the sensual joy of this combination and its effect on the soul:

“As I ate the oysters with their strong taste of the sea and their faint metallic taste that the cold white wine washed away, leaving only the sea taste and the succulent texture, and as I drank their cold liquid from each shell and washed it down with the crisp taste of the wine, I lost the empty feeling and began to be happy and to make plans.” Ernest Hemingway, A Movable Feast

Wednesday: The Loire Valley and Sauvignon Blanc

2008 Domaine Adele Rouze Quincy Sauvignon Blanc, ORGANIC - The wines of Quincy have never been looked upon with the same amount of cache as those from its northeast neighbor, Sancerre. That may change as this offering from Adele Rouze is exacting and pure Sauvignon Blanc from organically farmed vines with perfumed aromatics, zippy pink grapefruit and citrus notes. Fresh and ready to drink now.$20

2008 Florian Mollet Pouilly Fume "Tradition", Loire - The entry level Pouilly Fume from Mollet trumps most vineyard designates from other producers. 100% Sauvignon Blanc, it is light and crisp with fresh grapefruit notes, hints of gooseberry and stony resolve, this is seafood-perfect wine with wonderful acidity. $19

Thursday: Chablis

Chablis is home to some of the greatest Chardonnay in the world. Crisp, mineral, flinty and focused, the wines here are the result of perfect synergy between the mineral soils, focused into laser precision by the cool northern continental climate. Its vineyards follow the Burgundian quality chain from Bourgone Blanc, up through Village level, Premier Cru and on to the sublime Grand Crus. Nearby there are some lesser known regions making great wines like Saint Bris and Chitry, offering exceptional value in not only Chablis-like Chardonnay, but Sancerre-like Sauvignon and some lovely racy fresh Pinot Noir as well. Look for Olivier Morin and Domain Groissot and you won't be disappointed. A couple of Chablis that I love not only for sheer quality, but for their value as well:

2007 Gilbert Picq Chablis "Vaucoupin" 1er Cru - On my last visit to the cellars of Gilbert Picq I was absolutely stunned by the brilliant quality of these small production, handcraft wines that truly capture to cool, mineral, focused intense. The other mind blowing thing (aside from the numbing cold in the cellars in February) where we tasted village level wine all the way back to the 80's that were delicious like only fine old Chablis can be. Lovely stony white fruits, sea shells, citrus and minerals on a big boned frame resolves with superb acid balance. $31

2008 Chablis Gilbert Picq - In another terrific vintage for the region the 2008's I have tasted seem to have the minerality and racy acids of the 2007, plus a little more heft and concentration that makes them very appealing! The '08 Picq is another in a great series of wines I have loved from the grower. Delicious now, if you have the patience this wine will age and improve over the next decade and more if properly stored. Amazingly only about $20, making all the better!

Next stop: Alsace!

Wednesday, July 8, 2009


Tonight dinner at Culinariane in Montclair (Walnut and Pine Streets) - Joe Bembry's neighborhood restaurant - lucky guy! Tonight we took advantage of his standing bi-weekly reservation, and it was as great as ever. I love this restaurant, not just for the food, but always great service, beautiful glassware, and they don't even blush when we come in with twice as many wines as diners!

First wine was the '95 Rodez Empriente de Chardonnay 1995, a family owned small grower who have been in Ambonnay for nine generations. The wines are now made by Eric Rodez, who before coming full time to the family business went off to make his mistakes on someone elses' dime. In this case, it was the prestigious house of Krug. Well Eric learned a thing or two and brought this knowledge back to his own property and proceeded to adapt what he had learned with special regard to making the highest possible quality wines from his holdings in the Ambonnay terroir. The wine was superb; creamy, lovely and mature, moderate to fairly quiet bead, some brioche, toast and even a hint of yellow fruits. Perfect! Joe says he used to go with smaller bubbles intentionally prior to '96, after he looked for a more pronounced mousse, but not too much. I stayed with the bubbly through a corn fritter amuse bouche, in a mild onion cream sauce - sweetish, fried, needed after long day of tasting, and half a main course portion for an appetizer (cheerfully accommodated) of Shrimp, heads on, over baby bok choy, fried rice, plus one of Bill Adams' fried oysters, crispy and light, horseradish creme, micro greens, shredded celery root maybe in the sauce? All very good.

Next wine was Volnay 2002 Les Chevrets, Jean Boillot et fils - medium ruby color, lovely, smoky sweet red cherry nose, still a little primary; supple, good flavors and aromatics, and fairly accessible, but ideally needs time to fully unfold as the nose is leading the palate, maybe 4-6 yrs more? Still grippy in mid palate, but so fine boned!

Cos d'Estournel 1970 - good color, ruby garnet red, very mushroomy, dark heavy earth tone, some oxy muddled notes on nose and palate with some dark cocoa powder bitterness and dried porcini notes. Just a little past in my opinion, but still worthy! Solid and dark if a touch tired - Thanks Bill!

Next course a huge double cut pork chop (yabadabadoo!) rubbed with coriander, with cabot cheddar cheese grits , broccoli rabe, pork jus. Perfectly cooked - so many get
pork wrong, especially this thick. Had it with perhaps THE perfect wine for this dish, Grange des Pere 2005 - elegant, fine, layered, balanced with exotic north African spices, cardamom, coriander, plus a hint of herault garriuge, subtle, and a whiff of Bordeaux cedar/cigar box again subtle, some noted a hint of eucalyptus, I didn't get it, more like herbs de Provence? What a wine - had opened significantly since we tasted it in the afternoon. I have to get some mags of this! Long, complex, absolutely singin' in harmony with this dish!

Climens 1971, Sauternes - Barsac: Wow! Medium deep gold, perfectly evolved and still fresh; off dry, fine, hint of creme brulee, what can I say, simply great - goes on forever! Layered tangerine, nectarine, lime, orange blossom, vanilla, spices. Palate is clean, persistent, sure it has plenty of sugar but is "off sweet" on the palate and not cloying at all, re-corked 1994 at the Chateau. Beautiful wine, thanks Gino! Lots of life left here, glad you have a few more bottles - call me when you open them! We all loved this wine, a little research shows we aren't alone, with this quote from Michael Broadbent: "Ambrosial, in the class of '29 and '49, grapes with perfect pourriture noble harvested in four tries between 8 October and 3 November....last tasted Oct 2001 at the Chateau, will continue to age for another quarter century. *****" Michael Broadbents' Vintage Wine, p. 193, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

For more info on Culinariane, click click here

Tour de France - Languedoc to Barcelona!

Lance Armstrong in the Yellow Jersey? Not quite, but only by a nano-second after a great team time trial on Tuesday and a bit of heads up riding the day before by the wiley veteran. Today the Tour continues its swing south through the Languedoc - Rousillon towards Perpignan on Wednesday, dips a toe into Spain and travels through Cataluna Thursday, and heads north on Friday to Andorra and into the mountain stages of the Pyrenees over the weekend. While it has been a bit more exciting than anticipated in these opening stages, the race will most likely be determined by who survives the mountains, and the first of these challenges begins Friday as the tour enters the Pyrenees. It also passes through some lesser known regions with some excellent wines - so follow along! A selection of these wines will be open to taste all day Saturday and Sunday July 10th and 11th while the shop is open. For additional information or to order, please feel free to call us at 908.953.0900, email us at or visit us online at 56 Degree Wine.

Languedoc: Banyuls et Coulliere and Coume del Mas

Coume de Mas is located in the southwest of France, not far north of the border with Spain, where the Pyrenees Orientale meet the sparkling Mediterranean sea. Here, steep terraced vineyards of mainly Schist soils bask in the warm southern French sunshine, moderated with mountain air to cool the vineyards. The winery was founded in 2000 by Philippe Gard and his family, who have now put together an estate of about 12 hectares with many parcels of old vines. The steep vineyards have to be worked by hand, a few can be plowed by horse, and the vines are tended organically wherever possible. The vines are literally growing in rock here, struggling for every ounce of essence they can extract to create concentrated, lovely wines. The dry wines are made under the Appellation of Collioure, the sweet wines are appellation Banyuls. To learn more and to see more photos visit the Coume del Mas Website and Blog by clicking here.

Coume del Mas "Schistes" 2006, Collioures - Deep, dark saturated, with spice, black fruits, from 30 Parcels of old vine, 100% Grenache Noir. Hand-sorted, de-stemmed and fermented in stainless steel for about 5 weeks, pressed and then 8-9 months back in tank before bottling. Dark, spicy and deep, with mineral tones from the schist soils, hearty and solid. Lamb and grilled meats come to mind - burgers on the grill wouldn't be out of place here either!! About $32 per bottle.

Coume del Mas Banyuls Galateao 2005 - Deep and dark and saturated with lovely black fruits and sweet plum with a hint of rasiny ripeness. Though it is fortified, it is not as liquorish as a Port, more wine-like and balanced, with lower alcohol, it works with many of the same foods - it's especially good with chocolate! About $40 per 500ml.

Cataluna: Gramona Cava

Gramona Gran Cuvee Cava 2006 - Cava is a traditional sparkling wine made in Cataluna, not far from Barcelona. It's a blend of Xarel.lo, Macebeo and Chardonnay in equal parts and fermented in the traditional method in the bottle. While some of the mass produced brands can sometime be dull and uninspired, there are a number of small growers making lovely, fresh and exciting Cava, Gramona being one of our favorites. Crisp and fine, with lovely small bubbles, fresh and lively on the palate. Great aperitif or with all kinds of seafood, shellfish and appetizers. About $19.50 bottle.

The Pyranees - Madiran

The tour leaves Catluna, goes through Andorra and then into the Basque Country of the western Pyrenees. The region of Madiran has made wine since Roman times, with wine making becoming even more important with the arrival of Benedictine Monks from Cluny who built an Abbey in the 11th century. It is known for gutsy, rustic country reds made from Tannat, blended with Cabernet Franc (locally called Bouchy) and Cabernet Sauvignon , which as the joke goes, is blended in to "soften the Tannat".

Chateau Laffitte-Teston "Reflets du Terroir" Madiran - French country wine at its finest, this rugged blend of 80% Tannat, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon and 10% Cabernet Franc is full of fragrant aromatics and solidly structured fruit. Leather and mixed berries with meaty notes of and spices, coolish and firm, with solid mouth filling tannins. Classic bistro wine for classic bistro fare, enjoy this now and over the next four years. Just add steak or lamb chops on the grill, a tossed green salad, and frites - presto! You're in France! About $18.50.

Monday is a rest day - they'll need it after the Pyrenees - then on to the Loire Valley, Chablis and Alsace! Don't forget to watch the action live on Versus!

Monday, July 6, 2009

Tour de France - Stage Four

Tour de France – Stage 4,
Wednesday July 7, 2009 – Montpelier, Languedoc-Rousillon

Today’s stage from Marseilles to Le Grand Motte, through beautiful Provencal countryside and the villages of Les Baux de Provence and Arles, proved to be much more exciting than anticipated. Windy conditions and smart riding allowed a small group of attentive riders, including none other than seven time winner Lance Armstrong, to join a move by the Columbia team on a sharp turn and ride away from the pack to finish 39 seconds ahead of the next group. With this, the tour leaves Provence (not to return until the killer stage up the infamous Mont Ventoux) and swings to the south and west into the heart of the Languedoc-Rousillon. This is one of the most ancient wine regions in France, with history that begins with the Greeks in the 5th Century BC, continuing with the Romans next, and nearly unabated since.

The hot, dry, sunny Mediterranean climate makes it easy to grow grapes, but it has a mixed history as far as quality goes. Its ease of growing grapes encouraged mass production of wines of lesser quality to be made, and much of the region became sadly known as the home of oceans of plonk. In the last 20-30 years, the shift has been away from the wines of the past with a drive towards higher quality, a change that has not been without some fairly significant social upheaval, but the result has been a bigger focus on quality over quantity.

Wines from this region are mainly grown from heat loving southern Rhone varieties, the major red wine grapes including Grenache Noir, Carignan, Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre, with seemingly omnipresent Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot making the scene too. Whites include Grenache Blanc, Picpoul, Marsanne, Roussanne, Viognier, Chardonnay, Chenin, Mauzac and Clairette Blanche. The main reputation here however is for hearty full-bodied reds that range from rustic and traditional to slightly more modern in their approach. The following are just a couple of suggestions, although there many many fine AOC’s and VDP’s to choose from. The Granges des Pere is one of the greatest in the region, a “neo-Classic” if you will, with a cult following the world over. The next two “Cellar Defenders™ are indicative of all of the improvement in quality the region has seen, creating a wealth of wines that are delicious and affordable without giving up the soul and character of their terroir.

To quote Joe Bembry: “Domaine de la Grange des Peres is famous. - famous for being clearly the best Domaine in the Languedoc-Rousillon? Yes, it’s unquestionable. But also fame comes in the form of the Laurent Vaille, the former physiotherapist turned wine wizard. His tutelage under Gerard Chave and Francois Coche-Dury gave him the tools to become the legendary figure he has now become. Starting in 1992, this winery has gone from “on the map” to “off the charts”, wowing not only the wine press, but all who taste the wines. They are that spectacular…Just last week, the wine press bestowed them with their highest scores yet for the 2005 vintage. But as you know, you can’t drink a score. And because we were able to secure the wine before the rating, we are able to offer these rare, wonderful wines in both 750ml bottles and 1.5L magnums.

2005 Domaine de la Granges des Peres – Granges des Peres – A big rich blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah and Mourvedre that defies logic with a balancing act of jammy dark berry fruit and savage, meaty, gamy…at the same time. A wine that will age magnificently in a cool cellar, but is truly hard to resist right now. Available in both 750ml and also a few extremely rare magnums. $94/bottle – buy 6 bottles or more pay only $79.50, MAGNUMS - $185 net. *Wine arrives Thursday July 9th.

2005 Domaine Salitis Cabardes Cuvee Premium - Surprisingly regal effort for a wine from the not-so-sexy appellation of Cabardes, this deft blend of Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah & Grenache is really beautifully made. Rustic edges accent the supple flavors laced with red fruits, raspberry, pepper, game and solid length; this is made for red meat with a sturdy framework of tannins and wealth of fruit. Fire up the grill! $18 - $16.20 by the mixed case.

2007 Domaine Sallies Marselan Vin de Pays, Languedoc - Reminiscent of a Cru Beaujolais with a bit more structure, this offering based on the Marselan grape has uncommon origin. A crossing between Cabernet Sauvignon and Grenache, the Sallies has pretty blue fruit tones, plums, minerals and fine tannins. Tasty stuff for chops and big enough for roasts, enjoy this now and over the next year or so to enjoy all the lively fruit. $13

For more information or to purchase these wines visit us online at 56 Degree Wine or call 908.953.0900

Stage Five – Thursday July 8th - Le Cap d'Agde - Perpignan - Watch it on Versus Channel or online at Le Tour De France

Sunday, July 5, 2009

What I'm Drinking

Fourth of July pig roast! Drinking 1999 Ronchi di Ciall Bianco (Ribolla Gialla, Verduzzo, Picolit), clean, youthful, none of the oxy wildness of Radikon or Gravner, textural - great with the apps.

Then on to Sinskey Vin Gris 2008, quintessential summer quaff! Then the carving of the pig and Monsalvat Priorat 2000, this is even better than I remembered it - time in the bottle has not been wasted! Silky, deep, roasted notes, dark earth and dark fruits, mouth filling and long finish.

Finally we raided Stu's cellar for a 1976 Dr Fischer Ockfener Bockstein Riesling Beerenauslese - gold hue, lovely lime citrus and baked apple nose and palate, creamy, lively and fresh "off-sweet" at this stage of maturity, delicious - and Quintessence from Coume del Mas, Banyuls - dark, sweet, winey - alsogreat but drinking in the shadow of that great Riesling. Had it with s'mores over an open fire! Perfect!

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Le Tour de France Commencer! - Provence and the Côte d’Azur

Every year for the last few years I have gone through the moral dilemma of whether or not I am going to watch the Tour de France, and every year I get sucked back in. Like all major sports these days, it has its problems - but there is something about the technicolor Peloton juxtaposed with the classic French scenery whizzing by, the crazy fans, grueling climbs and life endangering descents that truly make this one of the greatest sporting events in the world. Pastoral farms and picturesque villages contrast with dizzying shots of the Pyrenees and the Alps as helicopters and motorcycles cover the race with vertiginous camera angles. The race is one big love affair with the French countryside; eachday as unique and different as the Alps are to the Loire Valley. Add to the normal pre-race buzz the return of record seven time winner American Lance Armstrong, and the stage is set for an exciting Tour. I'm in!

This year it begins in Monaco on July 4th, then to the South of France and Provence, Languedoc, a quick jaunt in and out of Spain and into the Pyrenees for the first of the big climbs. Then up through the Center of France, pastoral plains, fields of grain, through the vineyards of the Loire Valley, Chablis and to Alsace. On to the east of France, back into the high mountains and the Alps, a stint in Switzerland, through the Val d'Aosta in Italy, back to France, more mountains, and into the Haut Savoie, with an hors category final climb of menacing Mont Ventoux before the last day in Paris. Twenty three days, twenty one stages, over 3,500 kilometers.

The whole spectacle reminds me of everything I love about France, how each region is beautiful and unique in its climate, geology, and topography, and how the French love and respect of the land is inextricably interwoven with their traditions and incredible cuisine and wines.

This year I am going to follow the tour vicariously, highlighting each region with a couple wines from upcoming stages so you can travel along the route and live and experience some of the flavors of the regions as you watch the race unfold. Stay tuned!

Stages 1-3: Monaco, Cote D'Azur and Provence

Stage one of the Tour begins rather tamely in the Principality of Monaco on the sparkling Mediterranean. A city better known for Formula One, Grace Kelly and Casinos than wine, it should be a dramatic and glamorous backdrop for the start of the race. Stage 2 (187 kilometers) meanders through the Cote D'Azur, beautiful scenery, and while not well known, there are some very interesting local wines. Stage 3 (196.5 kilometers) entering Provence - land of lavender, sun, and wine. To celebrate the commencer du Tour, the wines of Chateau Pibarnon perfectly capture the soul and character of Provence and the south of France where they are grown and made.

Chateau du Pibarnon is located in Bandol just east of Marseilles where stage three begins. The property is high above the sea, an absolutely gorgeously rugged, rocky amphitheater of vineyard that owner Henri de Saint Victoire purchased in 1975 after visiting and falling in love with it at first sight (and taste). I visited the property back in 1999 and still joke that if I didn't have another appointment later that day I might still be there! I arrived with pal Robin Kelly O'Connor and got the full tour of cellars and vineyards - and then to a private vertical tasting of 10 or so vintages of the red and several of the Rosé, which amazingly ages well.

The 2007 Bandol Blanc is a blend of Clairette (40%), Bourboulenc (20%), with Marsanne, Roussanne and Petit Manseng making the balance. It is fresh and lively with good weight and a mixture of white flowers and hints of peach and apricots. Bouillabaisse, meaty white fish, or all on its own on a lazy summer afternoon! $30/$27 by the mixed case.

The 2008 Bandol Rosé is 50% Mourvèdre and 50% Cinsault - with a lovely coral/salmon hue - hints of raspberry and strawberry and flowers on the nose. On the palate it is refreshing, but also has a bit more complexity than your typical quaffing pink - without being heavy of weighty at all it has lively, layered flavors - perfect with grilled Tuna, Salad nicoise, all kinds of olives, saucisson, grilled vegetables and appetizers too! $26/$23.40 by the mixed case

The 2005 Bandol Rouge is mainly Mourvèdre, which thrives here in the high hills, rocky soils and Mediterranean climate. It is deep and dark, brooding, with earth tones, black cherry,and spices, dense, yet with balance, power and elegance at the same time. Perfect with lamb, game, roasted and grilled meats of all kinds. Accessible now, it will age an improve through 2015 plus! $48/$43.20 by the mixed case.

To buy the wines, visit the shop at 56 Degree Wine, to get updates follow me on Twitter. And don't forget to follow along on Versus television and online at Le Tour de France!

Next Stages 4-5: South from Provence to the Languedoc-Rousillon

Thursday, June 25, 2009

What I Am Drinking

Just tasted a few fun wines from Oregon that are perfect for summer drinking - think grilled chicken, burgers, salmon, tuna, pork, and all kinds of sides.

From Cristom, the Willamette Pinot Gris Estate 2007 - Love this winery, visited here several years ago and due for a trip back - this Pinot Gris is in the Alsace style more than any other, all tank fermented, all malo. It's creamy, lovey, and rich with good varietal character, mouthfilling and moderately full without the oak. A great Chard alternative. Grilled shrimp, lobster, chicken salad, all kinds of fish, cheeses or all on its own! About $22/bottle.

Patricia Green 2007 Estate Vineyard Pinot - The Estate owns 52 acres in the Ribbon Ridge area, and this comes from 11 plots planted between 97-2001. Medium ruby color, subdued, earthier, much less sweet fruit, more structured and reserved with darker cherry tones. Medium bodied, with good balance, acidity and structure, more Burgundian - and great value! About $32/bottle.

Patton Valley Pinot Noir 2007 - Patton Valley Winery sits on a top of a hills not far from Forest Grove and Gaston. Though close, the micro climate is different, influenced by a ridge of hills to the west that they speculate splits the weather systems sending more rain to the south and north of the vineyard, leaving their spot a little drier. While the site is warm, cooling breezes that come up the valley also keeps it dry and prevent it from getting too hot. When I was last at this winery in fall of 2007 they were making a Rose saignee in just at the end of harvest. Cool, windy and rainy, it was a tough year. But with a severe selection in the vineyard and winery (only 700cs was the estimate at the time as opposed to 2,100 or so average), they created a lovely Pinot. Fresh, dark cherry and earth, wild yeasts only, destemmed and an array of fermenters including some very cool small wooden ones. The winery is Certified L.I.V.E. (low impact viticulture and eonology), going beyond organic to address issues outside of the actual vineyard and into the winemaking and operation of the entire winery. About $42/bottle.

Rex Hill Pinot Noir 2006 - Jacobs-Hart Single Vineyard. This wine shows the difference between the two vintages, with this 2006 being deeper and more powerfull all around - this wine is medium ruby red, with dark, ripe, charred, smoky notes, good dark cherry fruit, ample body and weight, solid, with lots of earthy brooding fruit. Delicious! About $56 per bottle.

To visit us online and buy these wines click here 56 Degree Wine.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Drink Well - Spend Less - Part One: "Off Vintages"

In the current economy, the question of the day seems to be how we can spend less and still not give up too many of the good things in life. The good news is that when it comes to wine, there is hope! At 56 Degrees we spend far more time looking for great value wines than we do on the cellar-able classics, in part because they are harder to find, but also because it's a little more work and more time consuming. We taste thousands of wines every year and only select those we feel provide great value and quality, regardless of price or scores, vintage or producer, grape or region. This is part one of a series of short thoughts on how you can drink well and spend less. It's a little more work, but if you stick with us we've done most the the ground work already!  Enjoy!

Rule # One - Don't be afraid of "off" vintages: With better wine making, better weather forecasting and maybe a hint of climate change in the air, it seems that there are not all that many disastrous vintages these days. Yet entire vintages and regions tend to get written off by the press and consumer at large, when in most cases a shade of grey is more likely the story rather than "good" or "bad". I can't really blame people for avoiding wines from vintages deemed less good. It's complicated, and you really do have look for the quality in some years, sometimes only finding one wine from a grower that really sings. "Ze hail, she meesse zis vineyard!". Seriously though, I have found that good growers tend to make good wine even in lesser and more challenging vintages, and often sell them for substantially less. If you persevere, get good advice, and close your ears to the nay sayers, you can find wines that have a lot of the similar characteristics of the more expensive vintages, and that can be more accessible and perfect to drink while you wait for the big boys to mature.

The only reason I picked this topic first is because of the fantastic wine dinner we held last evening at Sette Cucina in Bernardsville where we tasted the 2003 vintage of Collemattoni Brunello (as well as the 2004 and 1998 Riserva). While 2004 is world class and without doubt the "better" wine, it's a baby, quite young and tight, and in need of about 10-20 years before it truly stretches its legs and shows what it really as to offer. The 1998 Riserva, a "difficult" vintage, was stunning too, but alas it's not available, and was there to illustrate what these younger wines will become with time. (It was great!)

That brings us to the 2003, not generally my favorite vintage, a tough year with the heat and drought conditions leaving many wines with a dried, scorched, even sunburned over ripeness that can make them seem heavy and a bit blowzy and disjointed, but again the idea of this article is looking for value in lesser years! The 2003 Collemattoni has none of that - while it is a bit more precocious and ripe, (an attribute that manifests itself in this wine in a supple, mouth-coating plushness that makes it more accessible at this young stage), it still has lovely freshness, superb dense, dark, earthy fruit, all wrapped good solid tannins and not a hint of over ripeness or cooked character. It is a wine that after decanting for an hour or so really starts to shine, but will age and improve for 5-15 years developing more secondary aromas, flavors and complexity. It was perfect with the grilled baby lamb chops, perfectly pink, seasoned and succulent, bravo Chef Russo! 

But what really makes this 2003 stand out is the price, severely reduced in part because it's living in the shadow of 2001 and 2004 (with people are holding out for the world class 2004's), but also in part due to the economy. The result is a win/win for our customers. A lovely, classic Brunello, ready to drink now and over the next 5-10 years (while you wait for your 2004's to mature) that is under $45 per bottle (regular price over $60!) and an amazing $39.50 by the case! Click on the following link to go to our website and purchase, but don't wait - it won't last long at this price! 56 Degree Wine.

About Collemattoni: 

Region:  The winery is located on the south side of Montalcino, close to the tiny village of Sant' Angelo in Colle. They own seven hectares in all, divided into four parts. Sesta, Fontelontano (for Riserva), Cava and Collemattoni which is the oldest is where the winery is located.

Grape(s): 100% Sangiovese Grosso (Brunello)

Density of plants: 4500 plants/ha.

Altitude: 350/400 m above the sea level.

Soil: sandy clay with fossils and marl. 

Vinification: de-temmed, soft pressing, fermentation in stainless steel casks at the controlled temperature of 28-30° C, maceration on the skins for 20-25 days with extracting technique made with delestage (one a week) and pumping over. 

Method of aging: it ages for a minimum of 30 months in Slavonian oak barrels of 32 Hl. Then other 4 months in the bottle.

Aging potential: 10-20 years according to vintage.

Next in the series: Second labels