Tami´Grillo 2014

Wine: Tami´ by Arianna Occhipinti
Vintage: 2014
Country: Italy
Region: Contrada, Sicily
Grapes: Grillo
Vines: Certified Organic
Production: Small

There's been a dedicated interest in reviving native Sicilian varietals and the old ways of doing things in recent years, and Arianna Occhipinti is among those leading the revolution. At age 16 she began helping her uncle and renowned winemaker Giusto Occhpinti, then studied winemaking at university, and after graduation, began making her own wine from a tiny abandoned vineyard in her native Sicily in the early 2000s. Today she makes several blends and single varietal wines with an unwavering commitment to organic viticulture and natural winemaking under her eponymous label, Occhipinti. She's also begun to replant with native varieties that have become nearly eradicated from the island, and in 2014, built a cellar with concrete fermentation vats designed for gravity, eliminating the need for inert gas to move wine from one place to the next. I've had many of her wines and they are always a joy to drink, packed with incredible purity and finesse.   

She makes three wines under the Tami´ label, a collaborative project from organic vineyards around 15 years old. Two reds and one white are made simply in stainless steel, filtered and bottled with the intention of drinking early at an easy price.  I've had the frappato, one of the two reds, but I was new to the grillo. Grillo typically produces easy, aromatic, zippy whites, so I was surprised to find this bottle deep gold in color and slightly oxidized on the nose and palate. I didn't mind it at all and wondered if it might have been on purpose. The only tasting notes I could find on the internet and social media suggested a bright, outspoken wine, so I decided to call the importer in New York to see if anyone in the office could help me understand. Proprietor Jules Dressner answered the phone. He said the wine was near the end of its vintage and wasn't surprised to hear it had begun to oxidize. Arianna makes her wines naturally, using only native yeasts and presumably very little sulphur, which helps explain why the wine evolved so quickly.

The Tami´Grillo 2014 was an interesting experience. Though I wish I had tasted it in its youth for comparison, it's a pleasant reminder that wine is a living thing, and that, like humans, it transforms over time, sometimes for the better, sometimes just differently. For me, it expressed orange blossom, honey and lightly toasted hazelnuts with sharp acidity and good length. The 2015 vintage should be available soon, and I look forward to drinking one.   

Thank you for reading. I appreciate you! If you enjoyed it, I'd be super stoked if you shared it with someone.

Fining & Filtration (v.) Winemaking Terms

This is part of a series called Wine Words, a glossary in the works that breaks down the barrier between those in the wine know and those who have no idea what the hell everyone's talking about. A new word posts once a week, covering everything from a grape name or region, to a winemaking or tasting term. 

Fining & Filtration (v.) Winemaking Terms

We Americans like our liquids clear. If we're perfectly honest with ourselves, we might admit that we're obsessed with germs, bacteria, sterilization, and cleanliness. What would you think if you pulled a bottle of white wine you bought six months ago from the back of the fridge only to discover it's a little cloudy? Or when you poured out the last of it, tiny particles resembling shards of glass came with it? You might think the wine went bad. You might think it is unsafe to continue drinking. You might think someone is trying to poison you. Likely all three of those conclusions are false. But it is the American market that has driven wine producers, especially those making large quantities of table wine intended for drinking young, to take extra steps to insure we never get a "bad bottle." 

A cloudy wine is not a bad one. The truth behind stabilization and clarification is that more times than not, it is unnecessary, except for placating the marketplace. Thus filtration and fining. Often used in tandem, filtering removes larger particles from the finished wine, fining removes tiny, otherwise soluble bits

Those particles and bits of grape skin and solids, dead yeast cells and other proteins are kinda floating around, minding their own business. Given enough time, they'd sink to the bottom of the fermentation vessel, no harm, no foul. It's commonly accepted that not only do those dead yeast cells and phenolics not harm the wine, but they actually help it by contributing more flavor compounds and complexity. This is especially relevant for higher quality wines intended for aging. It's one reason we decant wine. That said, education is expensive and complicated, but running the wine through an industrial filter is, by comparison, not. 

Fining takes it a step further and removes even tinier particles that would otherwise, left alone, dissolve themselves and become one with the wine.  A common element to become visible if a wine is not fined, are tartrate crystals. These are the shards of glass that aren't actually glass at all, nor do they impart any foul odors, flavors or temper.  If you seen them in your wine, don't freak out. Just leave them be. Again, most table wines intended for early drinking will be fined. 

When a wine is unfined and unfiltered, that's the winemaker saying, I've made a conscious decision to leave all the good stuff in the wine. Please enjoy.

And now you can.

Thank you for reading. I appreciate you! If you enjoyed it, I'd be super stoked if you shared it with someone.

Chateau Dulac Blanc de Blanc NV

Wine: Chateau Dulac Blanc de Blancs
Vintage: NV
Country: France
Region:  South West
Grapes: Ugni Blanc, Airén
Vines: Mechanical/commercial
Production: Mega

Wednesday before last I got a text around 10 AM from my friend Simone. "Interested in Champagne and fried chicken for lunch?" I mean, really. Yes! Especially since I was supposed to be writing ALL DAY LONG. I couldn't imagine a better distraction. She brought the chicken, a box of 10 pieces from McHardy's on N. Broad Street (we devoured 8 of them), and I opened the bubbles, still chilling in the fridge leftover from Christmas day. The weather bumped 70 degrees, and so we picnicked in the courtyard of my apartment building among the blooming Lantana and vibrant crotons. 

I picked this bottle up at Hopper's on Magazine Street for about $10. Because Hopper's has a solid reputation, I trusted a $10 non-A.O.C. French sparkler would be fairly decent. That's the kind of trust you want in your local retailer

I knew that for ten bucks it wasn't going to be from some tiny biodynamic estate, and as I began to research I discovered it is indeed from a mega producer (in Pig&Vine terms that means 50,000+ case production). Actually, mega is an understatement. This is not like the wines I typically promote, but in the words of Jeffery Tambor's character Maura in season 2 of Transparent to his daughter Ali, expertly played by Gaby Hoffmann,* "Be careful of overly dogmatic people." There's always a little room for some mass-produced joy. 

Chateau Dulac Blanc de Blancs NV hails from South West France, below Bordeaux, close to the Spanish border. It's made from the ugni blanc and airén grapes, both used for brandy and Cognac production. Haven't heard of airén? We don't see much of it in anything but brandy, and even then it's highly unlikely the grape would get any recognition for its part. The airén is the most widely planted white grape in Spain, hogging more land area than any other wine grape on the planet. As far as I can uncover, it's not planted outside of its native country, which means this wine has to be a Spanish-French blend, something else we don't often see, but that explains the price and absence of legal designation, like Vin de Pays or an A.O.C. region. It is made in the Charmat method, typical of large production sparklers. The Champagne method or Traditional method requires the second fermentation - the one that makes the bubbles - occur in bottle. The Charmat method does so in tank, then bottles the wine. It's a less painstaking, inexpensive process. 

The aromas and flavors are simple, bright and fresh, white flowers and orchard fruit. It is not a thinking wine, but well-suited to a mid-week afternoon of indulgence and great conversation with a new friend. Or an old one for that matter. 

* I was unable to confirm this exact quote, but the sentiment is correct. She may have said wary not careful.

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Bayou Wine Garden, New Olreans

One thing I've quickly grown to love about New Orleans is all the outdoor patio action. Many restaurants and bars have a courtyard, backyard, deck or a simple bench against the building wall. Granted, we are having an atypical warm winter across the country, but I hear the recent temps aren't too far off the norm. Several days of 40 degree weather shifts to 60s or even low 70s and sunshine for a few days. Perfect for hanging around outside. I've been warned the summers are brutal. I'm sure. But I am a seventh generation Floridian, after all, and the first 18 years of my life weathered well the hot and sticky of sea-level swamp.

Earlier this week I wrote about Sylvain in the French Quarter, a favorite spot in my new town. I didn't mention the restaurant's courtyard, but it is famously popular in its own right. And now, a newcomer already on my "yes list," The Bayou Wine Garden, opened last Saturday, behind sister-restaurant, Bayou Beer Garden in Mid-City, just off the Lafitte Greenway. My friends and neighbors The Rosens and I biked along the Greenway to Parkway Bakery and Tavern for poboys, High Lifes and Bloody Marys before cruising down the street to check out the new garden venture specializing in wine on tap. It was a perfect day, sunny, 60-something degrees, easy. 

The Bayou Wine Garden far exceeded my expectations, with wine selections that represent some of the more interesting and forward thinking producers in the U.S. and beyond. Several wine on-tap offerings from Red Hook Winery caught my eye, and Caroline and I tried a cabernet franc rosé and a white blend of pinot blanc-albarino-muscat, all grown on Long Island. The winery opened in 2008, a few months after I left NYC, so I never made it over there. Until now I haven't had an opportunity to taste the wines, made by California cult winemakers Abe Schoener and Robert Foley. A couple of Schoener's Scholium Project bottlings are also available on tap. By the glass prices range from $5 to over $10. The bottle list features several of my favorites, including the always delicious and versatile Southern French red Les Hérétiques, D. Ventura Viña Caneiro from Ribeira Sacra, Spain, and Domaine de Pallus Chinon (my heart). A few fall below the $25 line but most are priced in the $30 to $45 range. The Menu features a selection of house-cured meats and imported cheeses, sandwiches, appetizers and, through crawfish season, crawfish by the pound. The beer garden flows into the wine garden, the one almost indistinguishable from the other, with seating open to all. Sixteen wines on tap at the patio bar with a view of the large screen television showed New Orleans native Peyton Manning leading the Broncos to a 20-18 win over the Patriots and a bid to Super Bowl 50. Half as many selections on tap are available at the inside bar where the decor is rustic-chic and cozy. I'll definitely be returning.

Bayou Wine Garden - 315 North Rendon St. - New Orleans - (504) 826-2925 

Thank you to Caroline Rosen for contributing photography for this post.

Thank you for reading. I appreciate you! If you enjoyed it, I'd be super stoked if you shared it with someone.

Elevation (n.) Vineyard Term

This is part of a series called Wine Words, a glossary in the works that breaks down the barrier between those in the wine know and those who have no idea what the hell everyone's talking about. A new word posts once a week, covering everything from a grape name or region, to a winemaking or tasting term. 

Elevation (n.) Vineyard Term

Of course you know what elevation means. As in, the act of elevating your swollen feet or the angle of the gun you're carefully holding, and for the skiers, the elevation at which you broke your leg on that black diamond slope (nice job, hot shot). I often mention vineyard elevation when writing about a wine. Last week I wrote about the Escaravailles CdR Les Sablières 2013 and mentioned the estate's vineyards are approximately 600 feet above sea level. In early December I wrote about a very small production Greek white, Domaine Douloufakis Vidiano 2014, whose vineyards sit at 1,800 feet above sea level. Perhaps you're thinking, Okay, that's nice, but WTF does that have to do with wine? Why should I care? 

You should care about it because elevation is one of the many factors that attributes to a wine's terroir. What's terroir? Another post on another day. In the meantime, let's break it down to one aspect: elevation. The greatest effect of elevation is the change in temperature. The temp drops about 1 degree Fahrenheit every 330 feet above sea level. Cooler temperatures mean slower ripening grapes. As grapes ripen, they gain sugar; as the sugar levels rise, the acidity levels drop. Grapes allowed to ripen over a longer, cooler growing season than one that's fully ripened in hotter temperatures, will produce more balanced wines with more finesse. Balance is everything. In contrast, grapes ripened on the sun drenched valley floors of California will produce high alcohol wines with low acidity, hot and flabby. No thank you. 

Higher elevation vineyards are likely to experience more cloud cover and more rain, and the terrain is more likely to be rocky and stoney, which makes the vines work harder and produce better quality grapes. Grapevines don't love super fertile soil. They're stubborn overachievers, gonna do it their way even when it's the hard way. 

In short, vineyard elevation is one of the elements that affects wine quality. 

Thank you for reading. I appreciate you! If you enjoyed it, I'd be super stoked if you shared it with someone.

Cieck Erbaluce di Caluso 2014

Wine: Azienda Agricola Cieck
Vintage: 2014
Country: Italy
Region: San Giorgio de Canavese, Piedmont
Grapes: Erbaluce
Vines: Sustainable
Production: Small

I found this treasure as a by the glass offering at Sylvain in the French Quarter. If you don't know Sylvain, let me gush for a moment. It's one of my top three favorite New Orleans restaurants and one of four I've visited more than once since moving here in October, 2015. To put that into context, I've checked out approximately five new restaurants every week in that time. Maybe more. I'm certainly not the only one who adores Sylvain - I've met many people who bring visitors there for brunch in the courtyard or masterfully crafted cocktails in the late afternoon or for house-made pappardelle bolognese and the signature "Chick-Syl-vain" sandwich for dinner. And I'm hardly the first to write about it. The always bustling spot has become a mainstay for locals and vacationers alike, and being just a pleasant 20 minute walk from my apartment, it's rather easy to frequent. Sommelier Darrin Ylisto maintains a small, interesting list that appeals equally to the whatever-wine-is-finers and the know-it-all-nerds. Big score on the erbaluce. 

It's also where, in my first few days as a Nola resident, we shot a Journal feature for my client Billy Reid (one of my writing day-gigs). 

Moving on to the wine, the Cieck winery is situated in Italy's Piedmont region, known for Barolo and Barbaresco made from the nebbiolo grape. The far northwest corner of the country is also home to a few white varieties, like arneis, favorita and erbaluce. The Cieck Erbaluce di Caluso 2014 is one of the better ones I've had, demonstrating the bright, crisp acidity expected of the grape, paired with an aromatic richness and great personality. Erbaluce [air-bah loo-chay] is similar to Loire Valley's chenin blanc in structure and versatility; it gladly makes sparkling (spumante), still, and sweet wines (passito). Domenico Caretto and Lia Falconieri make all three styles from the estate's 16 hectares of vineyards, trained on the traditional pergolas, a high trellis that allows the grapes to hang over one's head as you pass through the vineyard. Molto romantico. Medium bodied, pear and orchard fruit on the nose and palate, great acid, good length, stony. Great as an aperitif and with the Sylvain brussels sprouts salad.

Thank you for reading. I appreciate you! If you enjoyed it, I'd be super stoked if you shared it with someone.

Domaine des Escaravailles Les Sablières CdR 2013

Wine: Domaine des Escaravailles Les Sablières
Vintage: 2013
Country: France
Region: Côtes du Rhône (Rasteau)
Grapes: Grenache, Syrah
Vines: Lutte Raisonée (sustainable) 
Production: Medium

Third generation winemaker Gilles Ferran now runs the domaine that was founded in 1953 by his grandfather Jean-Louis. The domaine's name, Escaravailles, translates to scarab (beetle), which was the nickname given by the local village to the black-robed Catholic monks who populated the area's hillsides in the 1600s. Today, the domaine farms 40 hectares in Rasteau and another 25 across the nearby villages of  Cairanne, Roaix, Villedieu and St-Roman. They practice lutte raisonée with a strong leaning toward organic viticulture. 

Gilles works with wine consultant Phillip Cambie, native of the Languedoc who works closely with a handful of wineries in the region. The Les Sablières cuvée is a 70% grenache and 30% syrah blend. The grenache vines average 40 to 50 years old at roughly 600 feet above sea level surrounding the village of Rasteau. The combination of old vines, elevation and sandy-clay soil give this wine a huge advantage over valley floor CdR vineyards, which too often produce thin, insipid wines better used for making vinegar. 

Domaine des Escaravailles Les Sablières 2013 is deep ruby in color with vibrant aromas of raspberry and blackberry, followed by juicy fruit flavors on the palate, balanced acidity and firm yet gentle tannins, giving it an impressive structure. Smooth, medium-long finish with sour cherry notes lingering. Versatile pairing options. Excellent value. 

Thank you for reading. I appreciate you! If you enjoyed it, I'd be super stoked if you shared it with someone.

Grenache (n.) Grape

This is part of a series called Wine Words, a glossary in the works that breaks down the barrier between those in the wine know and those who have no idea what the hell everyone's talking about. A new word posts once a week, covering everything from a grape name or region, to a winemaking or tasting term. 

Grenache (n.) Grape

I've always thought of grenache as a French red wine grape, one that shows up time and again in Côtes du Rhône and Languedoc blends alongside syrah, as if the two were fraternal twins. This probably has more do with the fact that I drink far more French wine than any other, than it does a clear perspective on the grape's origin and popularity in other countries. I always back up my memory of wine facts with quick research before I put the information out into the world. Usually, what I find confirms what I thought I knew. But this time was different. Turns out, grenache, called garnacha in Spain, is actually Spanish in origin, according to Jancis Robinson's Wine Grapes. The 2012 text states that some recent research suggests the grape may be native to Italy's Sardinia, where it goes by the name cannonau, though Robinson offers a stronger argument for Spain being the grape's mother country.  

Grenache/garnacha/cannonau is the Wine Word today because of its proliferation in Southern France and the Rhône Valley, specifically in Côtes du Rhône wines, two of which made the Pig&Vine approved-for-drinking list this week. Grenache grows best in warmer climates, including California, parts of Washington, and Australia. It has the potential to produce higher alcohol and sweet ripe fruit flavors of red berries, subtle spice and herbal notes, as well-represented in the Aphillanthes CdR Plan de Dieu I wrote about earlier this week. . By law, grenache must make up at least 40% of the blend in CdRs from Southern Rhône vineyards (the rules favor syrah in the Northern Rhône), and is a major player in Châteauneuf-du-Pape. It's also a popular grape in Provence, where it's used to make many of the bright, delicious rosés we love. 

Check out this search page for grenache on P&V for recent posts about wines made with this grape. No surprise the majority are rosés from Southern France.

Also this beauty from Rioja, Spain; a true gem every. single. vintage. 

Thank you for reading. I appreciate you! If you enjoyed it, I'd be super stoked if you shared it with someone.

Domaines Les Aphillanthes CdR Plan de Dieu 2012

Domaines Les Aphillanthes CdR Plan de Dieu

Wine: Domaine Les Aphillanthes Cuvée des Galets
Vintage: 2012
Country: France
Region: Côtes du Rhône-Villages Plan de Dieu
Grapes: Grenache, Syrah
Vines: Biodynamic
Production: Small

I wrote about the Aphillanthes rosé this past July, when my youngest sister, her husband, and their new baby - my wonderful, smart, beautiful, loving niece - traveled from their home in Prague, Czech Republic, to Alabama for a few weeks. I loved that rosé and wrote that I needed to find some of the domaine's prized reds ASAP. This one came from Keife & Co. here in New Orleans. If I remember correctly, I bought the rosé at Bin 428 on Magazine Street when I visited Nola in June. 

Husband and wife team Daniel and Helene Boulle make small lots of Côtes du Rhône wines from their certified biodynamic and organic vineyards near Travaillon in the Southern Rhône. The wines are of exceptional quality (in a  market packed with CdRs that garner a 'Meh' reaction at best) with complexity and heft - they all weigh in at 14% and 14.5% alcohol, which is 2% over the legal minimum. This cuvée comes from the Plan de Dieu commune, one of 18 allowed to append their name to the higher quality CdR wine, Côtes du Rhône-Villages.

The Domaines Les Aphillanthes Côtes du Rhône-Villages Plan de Dieu 2012 is a deep ruby color with shades of purple and blackberry and ripe fig notes on the nose. Fruity and sumptuous on the palate with silky tannins, stone and a long finish. A rich wine with a lot to give that will appeal to those looking for a bold weeknight experience. 

Thank you for reading. I appreciate you! If you enjoyed it, I'd be super stoked if you shared it with someone.

La Zorra Rufete-Aragonés 2013

Wine: La Zorra
Vintage: 2013
Country: Spain
Region: Sierra de Salamanca
Grapes: Rufete, Aragonés
Vines: Lutte Raisonnée (sustainable)
Production: Small 

Jancis Robinson's impressive tome, Wine Grapes, describes the ancient rufete grape as "demanding, late-ripening variety that is susceptible to powdery mildew and botrytis bunch rot." Can I relate to a grape's personality? Late bloomer, particular, occasionally difficult...maybe, but I've got the mildew under control. On Monday I wrote about La Zorra's Teso blanco 2013, an intriguing blend of palomino, rufete blanca, and moscatel, with five months of barrel aging under flor. If you're not up for something quite so adventurous - though the blanco was aromatic and friendly when first opened -the red is juicy and powerful. 

Aragonés is Sierra de Salamanca's name for tempranillo, the principal grape in Rioja and Ribera del Duero. And like both those D.O.s, the wine ages in both French and American oak, which lend distinctive spicy notes to the wines. Winemaker Augustin Maillo is making small lots of three wines, this one his "house" wine. The Maillo family has made wine for years, but only recently begun making quantities that could support an export market. The vines are farmed ultra sustainably, leaning heavy toward the natural, in granite and slate soils, and are over 60-years old. The wine is fermented with native yeasts in stainless steel tanks before spending nine months in barrel.

La Zorra 2013 is a blend of 60% aragonés and 40% rufete. Inky black in color with tobacco and spice on the nose, chocolate covered blueberry on the palate alongside gripping tannins that mellowed over night. Good finish, though the tannins at first open are a little green for my taste, but with generous, rich fruit. Bordeaux drinkers who love Napa cab, take note, this is your bag. I often drink a bottle over two to three days, sealing the wine with a Vacu Vin (I swear by it) and refrigeration in hot weather. I liked both the Zorra wines better on the third day. If I wanted to get there faster, I'd decant this guy and swirl it up in the glass. Good finish, great value.

Thank you for reading. I appreciate you! If you enjoyed it, I'd be super stoked if you shared it with someone.