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The holidays are usually a great time of year for wine. Over the Thanksgiving holiday, we had some great wines from Pierre Luneau-Papin, Jacques Puffeney, Heymann-Lowenstein, Rhys and Marcel Lapierre.

Yesterday, I went to a tasting at Weygandt Wines for a vertical vintage tasting of Châteauneuf-du-Pape from Domaine Charvin (2001, 2003, 2004, 2005 and 2008). Really quite a remarkable tasting given that there are few free tastings of such high-caliber wines. It was really remarkable to taste how a great producer can start to blur the impact of vintage but also allow the characteristics of each vintage to speak. The 2001 and 2005 were excellent (as expected given the vintage), but I was also impressed with the 2004 and 2008.

During the last couple of months, I have also been drinking a number of wines from the 2009 Beaujolais vintage. I have had the Marcel Lapierre Morgon a few times and last week I had the Morgon from Jean-Paul Thévenet. Both wines are really quite outstanding. The Lapierre has really lovely aromatics and fruit, the Thévenet has great purity and feels quite Burgundian. These two wines have been the most memorable this holiday and expect that I will enjoy them again before the end of the year.

Jean-Paul Thévenet and Marcel Lapierre are part of a small group of producers that Kermit Lynch dubbed the Gang of Four (the others being Jean Foillard and Guy Breton).  The Gang of Four was not a formal group, but perhaps best embodied the “old school” qualities that these wine makers have championed in the region.

Thévenet works a plot in the Morgon appellation. The average age of the vines is 70 years and they are cultivated organically and yield very little fruit. The grapes are fermented with natural yeasts and, quite remarkably, often without the addition of any sulfur dioxide. After fermentation Thevenet ages the wine for six to eight months in used oak barrels that he manages to get from Domaine de la Romanée-Conti. It is bottled without filtration. 13% alcohol.

It takes a little bit of work, but both wines can be found for about $25. While that might not be inexpensive, both are extremely high quality and outstanding values. Imported by Kermit Lynch.

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One of the most stunning landscapes in Spain is located in the heart of Galiciain in an area known as the Ribeira Sacra (Sacred Banks). Ever since the Romans inhabited the area, people have been growing grapes on the steep terraces lining the two rivers that form the denomination. Working these lands is extremely difficult as the terraces in some areas are so steep that all the grapes have to be brought in on a dumb-waiter. Galicia is the least prosperous region of Spain, but Ribeira Sacra might have some of the best vineyards in the world. Though it has been long overlooked, it seems as though that is starting to change — and this wine is only one example why people are taking notice.

D. Ventura is a new project by Ramón Losada and his family utilizing old family holdings in the region. Their holding are small — about three hectares and family-owned. There are currently three vineyard sites. Caneiro is in an area known as Amandi. This area has been famous throughout time as being one of the best sites for making wines. Caneiro in particular is unique with steep terraces lining the river. The video below provides a visual of the landscape.

The Losada family recognized the potential here and called on an old winemaker friend to help them craft the wine that they knew Ribeira Sacra could produce.  Viña Caneiro is sourced from the over 80-year-old vines of the Amandi vineyard and is fermented in stainless steel with indigenous yeasts. It was fermented in stainless steel and saw no oak. All farming is done by hand and Ramón, with the help of Gerardo Mendez (Do Ferreiro). In addition to taking an organic approach to farming, winemaking has also changed. They only use indigenous yeast and none of their wines are filtered or cold stabilized. Made from 100% Mencia, which usually produces a fruit and mineral driven medium-bodied wine. The older it gets, it becomes more elegant and complex.

The ’07 D. Ventura “Viña Caneiro” has beautiful aromatics of strawberry, raspberry, fruit rollup and dried flowers. Medium bodied, with lively acidity but soft, light tannins. Strawberry, sour cherry and currant on the palate — a little floral with some green vegetable and spice. The nose really leads, but the flavors follow and don’t disappoint. I was really taken with the aromatics and the brightness of fruit. 13% alcohol and very food friendly. Imported by De Maison Selections. Recommended.

I tasted this along with the Ribeira Sacra Do Burat, which was not nearly as bright — it actually tasted a bit muddy and a little tired compared to the Viña Caneiro.

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Spain has an appellation system for wine like France and Italy with the main classification of quality wine is Denominación de Origen (DO). Rueda gained DO status in 1980, the first DO to be approved in the Castilla y León region. While Sauvignon Blanc and Viura can also be used, only wines produced with at least 50 percent Verdejo are permitted to be labeled Rueda. For the Rueda Superior designation, at least 85 percent must be Verdejo. Sauvignon Blanc became an authorized variety for the Rueda DO in 1985. In fact, the importance of this grape is underscored by the fact that it has its own appellation, Rueda Sauvignon, which has to be 100 percent Sauvignon Blanc.

Ángel Rodríguez Leal is said to produce the best wine in Rueda, Martinsancho.  I have only tasted a handful of wines from Martinsancho, but I can say this Rueda is excellent and can certainly imagine it being the best. Ángel Rodríguez is credited with preserving and reviving Rueda’s indigenous Verdejo grape.  In the early 1970s, there arose a push to rip out Verdejo completely. Martinsancho, a vineyard of ancient Verdejo vines that had been in Ángel’s family since 1784 and he refused to uproot them. Rodríguez went further and regrafted his other vineyards from the Martinsancho cuttings. As a result of his efforts, he is credited with having saved Verdejo. Today, the origins of most of the Verdejo vineyards in Rueda can be traced back to Martinsancho cuttings. Ángel Rodríguez’s efforts have even been recognized by King Juan Carlos.

Aromatics of pear, stone fruit, white flowers and honey. On the palate, stone and orchard fruit with some citrus, a burst of tropical fruit (papaya, mango) and loaded with salty minerality. Very approachable and food friendly, not to mention an outstanding value at $16 a bottle. A very unique and distinctive wine. 13% alcohol. Imported by Sole Agents.

This would be on my list of top Spanish white wines of the year, along with the Viñedos de Ithaca Odysseus Garnacha Blanca Priorat 2008 and the Viñedos de Ithaca Odysseus Pedro Ximénez 2008. Strongly recommended.

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img_1167The original Super-Tuscan, Tignanello is produced exclusively from the Tignanello vineyard, a 47 hectares (116 acres) southwest-facing, calcareous rocky-marl and limestone soil plot, planted between 1,150 and 1,312 feet above sea level at Antinori’s Santa Cristina Estate. It was the first Sangiovese to be aged in small oak barrels, the first red wine in modern times to use a non-traditional grape variety, Cabernet, in the blend, and among the first red wines made in Chianti with no white grapes.

Tignanello, originally a Chianti Classico Riserva labeled Vigneto Tignanello, was first vinified as a single vineyard wine in the 1970 vintage, when it contained 20% Canaiolo and 5% Trebbiano and Malvasia, and was aged in small oak cooperage. With the 1971 vintage the wine became a Vino da Tavola della Toscana and was named Tignanello after the vineyard from which it originates. Beginning with this vintage, Tignanello stopped adhering to the rules laid down by Chianti Classico Disciplinare, and with the 1975 vintage, white grapes were totally eliminated. Since the 1982 vintage, the blend has been 80% Sangiovese, 15% Cabernet Sauvignon and 5% Cabernet Franc.

I had been sitting on this waiting for a special occasion. Fortunately, a nice dinner with friends from California provided more than such an occasion. Open and decanted the wine for 3 hours. Deep garnet color. Aromatics of cherry, tobacco, cedar and floral notes. Cherry, strawberry, spice, leather and forest floor on the palate. Full bodied, but more elegant than a heavyweight –structured, fairly complex with good acidity and focus. This was the second favorite wine of the week, after the Giuseppe Quintarelli Valpolicella Classico Superiore 1999. 13.5% alcohol. Imported by Remy Amerique.

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img_09181Mas des Bressades is considered by many as one of the top estates in Costières de Nîmes, located 35 miles southwest of Châteauneuf-du-Pape, on the western side of the Rhône. Cyril Marès has been the winemaker since 1996. He previously worked for Chalone in California and Bruno Prats in Chile. His wife, Natalie Blanc, owns the adjacent estate, Mas Carlot.

For the last 11 vintages, I have bought their Roussanne/Viognier. This wine would be on my short list of white wines by the glass if I owned a restaurant and was looking to develop a wine list that offered quality and value. They make two red cuvées. The Cuvée Excellence is a Syrah-dominated blend, and Cuvée Tradition, is an unoaked southern blend of Syrah and Grenache. Not to mention their Rosé, which is excellent.

This wine is a blend of  55% Viognier and 45% Roussanne which is aged completely in barrel; 80% new oak and 20% 1 year old. The wine only stays in barrel for 5 months in order to introduce some complexity and structure, but isn’t over-oaked in my opionion. Soft aromatics with some tropical fruit. Pear, apple, apricot and some exotic fruits with a touch of citrus and underlying minerality on the palate. Good richness with nice weight and some creaminess, but perhaps just a tad light on the  acidity. The 2007 doesn’t disappoint — a very good wine and a very good value. Recommended.

Their wines are imported by Robert Kacher. He founded Robert Kacher Selections more than 20 years ago. Robert Parker named him “one of the 20 most influential wine personalities of the past 20 years” and in 2004 Bobby became Chevalier de l’Ordre du Mérite Agricole, one of only a handful of U.S. importers to ever receive the honor. Some have been a bit critical of Kacher for his very hands on approach with the winemakers he represents. But he is more often praised for the quality and value of the wines he represents.

I bought this wine at MacArthur Beverages in Washington, DC. It was on sale for $13.99 a bottle. As I have stated before, I love their selection, but I have never been asked if I need any help or been given the proper wine buyer treatment. In my opinion, a critical part of what makes a great wine buying experience is the interaction with the merchant — and their ability to find that perfect match between your palate and a lonely bottle of wine, sitting on the shelf just waiting for you and only you. The sharing of their secret finds, whether it be a great value or a hard to find treasure. It’s all part of the ritual that creates a relationship between you, the merchant and the store. Even if you know what you are looking for, chances are the store is filled with wines that are strangers to you. Someone needs to make the appropriate introductions and make customer and wine both feel special. The right combination of store, wine and merchant can make the store a magical place — but too often one of those elements is overlooked. So I continue to frequent the store based on the selection, but usually leave disappointed with less bottles than if I had been properly tended to — so maybe that isn’t such a bad thing afterall. On a side note, Robert Kacher will be making an appearance at MacArthur on Saturday, December 13th, 2008 from 1:00 p.m. to 4:00 p.m.

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I’m a fan of Sean Thackrey and his wines — and have posted about him previously. I received an email sent out to his mailing list and thought I would post it here as you might want to pick up some Pleiades XVI. He says he will not be making that again for a while, but It sounds like he has some other interesting projects in the works.

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Dear Friends:

No, this isn’t the annual autumn wine offering; that will come along at its usual time, which should be the first week in October.

But it will come along without Pleiades, and I thought you should be forewarned of this fact while there was still time to do something about it.

In other words, we bottled the Pleiades XVI earlier this year, and are not planning another Pleiades bottling any time soon; which means that what remains of Pleiades XVI is all that there’s going to be for a while; and what remains will almost certainly be gone by October.

So it occurred to me that there might be much lamentation and rending of both vestments & wine-maker if I didn’t tell you this now, as opposed to then.

Thus, last call. If you do want more Pleiades – at least up to one case – right now is the time to say so. It can, of course, be shipped now as well, although I’d strongly advise waiting until the weather cools; my suggestion is that we store the Pleiades for you (at no charge) until the autumn offering comes out, and ship the two together. The price ($288./case, $24./bottle, less your usual discount) is unchanged: just return this e-mail with a note of what you’d like to order, be sure to include your preferred contact telephone number, and Leslie will do the rest, as usual.

Otherwise, we have a number of projects in spiritual fermentation at the moment, and now is as good a time as any to let you know about some of them.

When I first named my wines after constellations, I thought one virtue would be an immediate association of the former with the latter. But no. It turns out a startling number of people seem not even to have heard of the constellations; thus, answering questions about what “Ply-aidis”means, or hearing “Orion” pronounced as in “Oreo”, etc. But, not one to give up easily, it dawned on me there’s actually one constellation every American knows: that’s The Big Dipper, and I think it’s a splendid name for a wine; so I’ve trademarked it. It’ll be less expensive than the Pleiades, and probably will be a négociant production, which I expect to be a challenge and quite a lot of fun.

Then there’s my pink wine for the airhead niche market – being blond, I have a natural affection for airheads – to be called “Fifi” (& with the slogan, “Gosh; it came out all pink!”); probably a rosé of Sangiovese, but I’m still working on it.

And then there’s at least one more Pinot Noir, this one called “Cassiopeia”, & made from the splendid produce of a perfectly situated and organically farmed vineyard in the Anderson Valley, Mendocino.

And two more wines from an equally perfectly farmed and situated vineyard in Knight’s Valley; the first being a revival of the Taurus I made in the late 1980’s, thus a Mourvèdre; and the second a Viognier, to be called Lyra, which may turn out to be the first white wine I’ve ever released with a label on it.

But in the meanwhile, leap to your mice, or at least don’t say I didn’t warn you.

with all best wishes,


Sean Thackrey
e-mail: sean@wine-maker.net
website: http://www.wine-maker.net

Visit his site to learn more about him and also sign up to his mailing list.

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Alfred Peet

I was an assistant manager at a coffee shop in Santa Cruz while in college. After I graduated I was involved in a start up and oversaw all of the roasting operations.

As luck would have it, one of the founders was good friends with Alfred Peet — and was able to arrange to have him as consultant to mentor me with my coffee and roasting skills. I was already a huge fan of Peet’s coffee — and to this day I can still remember the first cup of coffee I ever had at Vine street.

Alfred was the Warren Buffett of the coffee world — he was the country’s authoritative voice on all things coffee. That being said, he was not a quiet or soft-spoken man, he knew what he was talking about and was quick to let you know if you didn’t know what you were doing. We had a rep from the roaster company come to our facility and Alfred quickly put him in his place — and reduced the man to tears For a reason unknown to me, Alfred was very patient and helpful with me. My time spent with him was as valuable as it was memorable. He was a very important person in helping me develop my palate.

In my mind, the origins of great coffee in this country start with Alfred Peet and his first store on Vine Street. This is where I had the cup of coffee that will be the yardstick I will always use as the best cup of coffee. It was a cup of Kona, thought secrets be told, Peet’s Kona is not 100% Kona, but that is why their Kona was always so good.

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