Toni Soellner Grüner Veltliner 2015

Toni Soellner gruner veltliner 2015, Wagram, Austria

Wine: Toni Soellner
Vintage: 2015
Country: Austria
Region: Gösling, Wagram
Grapes: Grüner Veltliner
Vines: Biodynamic
Production: Small
Price: $18

"You shall become who you are." Thank you Frederick Nietzsche.  My young friend Zach had this quote tattooed inside a tombstone on his forearm, as you can clearly see here. "It's a joke," he said. It's all a little over my head, almost too simple to understand. We can only become who we are, yes? Can we become someone else? If we do become someone else, as when a person might say of a former friend, "I don't even know who she is anymore!" then certainly that "someone else" is now who we are. And then again, aren't we always becoming? In any case, I think it's important that we take stock of our position from time to time and make sure we are being the truest self we can be, who is the only who we can be anyway. With me?  

Fortunately, we have delicious, fruity, honest white wines like Toni Söllner's grüner veltliner to mitigate any brain hurt associated with attempts at solving the big puzzle of being human. Toni and his wife Daniela have been farming their small estate by biodynamic practices since 1995 and ferment all their wines with native yeasts from the hillside vineyards. In true biodynamic fashion, legumes and wildflowers and herbs can be found growing among the vines. He makes about five different grüners plus a couple of roter veltliners (ancient variety, no relation to grüner), a red and a sparkling rosé, though I'm unsure if the latter two are available stateside. This cuvée, the T.O.N.I., would be the starter wine from the Söllner estate. The acronym stands for Tasty, Original, Natural, Individual. If that isn't everything...

The Toni Söllner Grüner Veltliner 2015 is bright and easy, much fruitier and slightly softer than many grüners can be, though the classic spice and white pepper notes are there, too. It's a great quaffer in this insanely miserable summer  heat, and it'll go with light dishes and cold dishes and bathwater-warm swimming pools. Oh, the dream of a 70 degree stream...

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Blogging to Build Personal Community

The Blog as Platform for Building Personal Community - Bloggers Report Wine Bloggers Conference 2016 #WBC16

When I moved to New Orleans last October, I came with a big block of confidence between my ears, most of it anchored in wine prowess. In a pitch to deliver a talk at the Wine Bloggers Conference I wrote, "After spending nearly a decade in the New York City restaurant and wine industry, and a few more years helping turn a small Alabama town (with a church on every corner) into a sophisticated wine drinking enclave, I thought I was a big damn deal." But, as the conversation continues, I was no deal in New Orleans. No one had heard of me and, let's face it, being a wine blogger isn't a guaranteed pass to the in-the-know wine community. But talking about Pig&Vine and the wines I drink and write about on here have helped forge my personal community with folks who share my vinous interests. 

The folks behind the Wine Bloggers Conference loved the idea, so I will be one of a handful of bloggers each sharing our experiences with other attendees. I'm honored to be a part of the doings, and looking forward to an educational trip to California in a few short weeks. 

Follow @pigandvine on Instagram & Twitter for real time happenings over the conference weekend, and all the time. 

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Division-Villages 'Les Petits Fers' Oregon Gamay Noir 2014

Divison-Villages Les Petits Fers Oregon Gamay Noir 2014

Wine: Division-Villages 'Les Petits Fers'
Vintage: 2014
Country: USA
Region: Umpqua Valley & Eola-Amity Hills, Oregon
Grapes: Gamay
Vines: Sustainable
Production: Small
Price: $22

Gamay noir, known simply as gamay to its closest friends, is best known for its role in Beaujolais, France, though there are some plantings in the Loire Valley and increasingly in the US. Tom Monroe and Kate Norris of Division-Villages and Division Winemaking Company are making excellent and interesting Burgundian varietal wines in their Portland, Oregon urban winery, like the Méthode Carbonique Pinot Noir 2015 I wrote about last month. One of my many wine goals is to taste everything they make and the 'Les Petits Fers' Gamay Noir 2015 happened to be next in line,  purchased from Keife & Co

The nickname "Les Petits Fers" means "little irons" and is a respectful nod to their friends Veronique and Christian Bernard of Domaine des Grands Fers, which means "great irons", in the Grand Cru village of Fleurie in Beaujolais. I was half through the bottle when I realized the connection, sending me into a reverie about a lunch with Veronique and Christian in a restaurant in Fleurie several years ago. This was possibly the only time I've witnessed someone actually smoking while eating. Veronique held a cigarette in one hand and a fork in the other and the cigarette, as soon as it was extinguished, was followed by another. They ordered for my two traveling companions and me, and one of the dishes arrived without explanation. They wanted us to try it before we had a chance to reject it. The flavor was excellent. Heavy garlic and butter dripped from tender white meat with thin black veins like a map and tiny bones. Lots of tiny bones, which I carefully removed from each bite  until suddenly I could see the shape of a legless frog. It was frog! And it was delicious, like garlic-bathed chicken with subtle brackish notes. Later that night Christian and another winemaker-negociant took us to a night club. The rest, as the cliché goes, stays in France.  

The Division-Villages 'Les Petits Fers' Gamay Noir 2014 is a delicious, buoyant quaff of cherry and strawberry notes, light body and great acidity. If it's meant to echo easy drinking Beaujolais Villages table wines, it's succeeding and then some. Beautifully balanced, easily paired to food and people. Like the pinot noir previously featured on P&V, it undergoes at least partial carbonic maceration if not full. Notes for the 2015 say that vintage was made 25% by partial carbonic, 50% full carbonic and 25% traditional fermentation. I couldn't find specifics for the 2014 but I'm expecting to see the new vintage on shelves before too long. If you see it before I do, grab a bottle and shoot me a note. I'm confident it's going to be delectable.  

*Read more about gamay and how other winemakers are making it sing in earlier Pig&Vine posts. 

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Domaine de Majas L'Amourouse Rosé 2015

Domaine de Majas L'Amourouse Rose 2015 Cotes Catalanes

Wine: Domaine de Majas
Vintage: 2015
Country: France
Region: Côtes de Catalanes
Grapes: Merlot, Syrah
Vines: Organic
Production: Medium
Price: $ 15-$17

Yesterday I listened to Kristin Tippett's latest "On Being" podcast with author Elizabeth Gilbert, which was titled "Choosing Curiosity Over Fear." That one line has been echoing in my ears since, even igniting a strong desire to have it tattooed onto my right forearm as a constant, inescapable reminder. It's a mantra to follow one's passion, heart, vision - whatever you want to call it - to let your curiosity for an idea lead the way, not the fear of failure. Alain and Agnès Carrère have done exactly that with their 30 hectare estate Domaine de Majas.

Alain comes from a winegrowing family in France's Côtes du Roussillon, the far west region of Languedoc-Roussillon that abuts the Pyrenees mountains, not far from the Spanish border. Historically the Carrères sold their wine in bulk, as was the regional custom, but cooperative fees grew prohibitive by the early 1990s and the family had to re-think the game plan in order to stay afloat. Alain started the Majas estate in 1992 with 2 hectares, but as he began to acquire and inherit vineyard land from his father, the pressure to sell off all the wine became a matter of staying in business or closing up shop. Then a major French supermarket chain offered to buy up everything Alain made, but that deal came with stringent guidelines that effectively erased any sense of place from the wines and any personal vision the Carrères might have had for themselves. Plus, they were losing money. 

Then New Zealand-born Tom Lubbe, whose own domaine, Matassa, is nearby the Carrères', came into the picture and helped the Carrères take back their vision by converting all 30 hectares to organic viticulture and to focus on making wines without commercial yeasts and excessive additives. Today the Domaine de Majas wines express where they come from and what they truly are: delicious, natural gems. No more compromising. They've even taken to labeling their wines IGP Côtes Catalanes instead of AOC Côtes du Roussillon because the latter requires strict adherence to a set of winemaking rules they'd rather not follow. They're following their own curiosity and it's working. 

I first tasted the Domaine de Majas rosé 2015 at Bacchanal, which was offered by the glass at the time.  It was fruity and sumptuous and interesting. It quenched the thirst and invited me back for more. Naturally I bought a bottle to take home, and it was a perfect pairing with burrata over greens tossed with fresh basil and mint, and a few slices of buttery prosciutto from St. James Cheese Company. Bright summer berries and red fruits are generous on nose and palate, with balanced acidity and a long, congratulatory finish. It was a great companion for re-watching "Annie Hall". In fact, I'm dubbing this unusual yet completely approachable little merlot & syrah blended pink the imitable Diane Keaton of summer wines.  

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Pinot Noir (n.) Grape Variety

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. 

Pinot Noir (n.) Grape variety

Pinot noir is one of the sexiest grapes in the wine world. It's the fastest growing variety  in California and the poster child for Oregon wine. It's grown all over the planet, from Australia and New Zealand to South America, South Africa and Europe. It's the main red in Germany, an occasional player in Northern Italy, a partner in many Champagnes and sparkling wines, and the everything in Burgundy. It makes wines capable of superb expression of place, wines with light tannin and color and complex aromas, and wines with rich, lush fruit that envelop the palate, like George Costanza's velvet jogging suit. It makes elegant pink wine, like the Pfendler Rosé and the Robert Sinskey Vin gris and the Philippe Gilbert Menetou-Salon. It's the envy of monied collectors; the DRC, the Armand Rousseau, the Dugat-Py, the La Tâche, the Richebourg, all of which go for no less than a cool $1,000 per bottle depending on the producer and vintage. It's a mutation of pinot, one of the oldest named grapes in the vinifera lineage, and it is thought to be approximately 2,000 years old. Maybe pinot noir was the wine Jesus made when he turned water into a palatable elixir. 

The grape is thought to have been named for its conical shape, like a pine cone, from the French le pin, which later became pineau, and today is pinot [pee-NOH]. The 't' is silent. Just making sure I cover the bases. Only once have I heard it pronounced pee-NOT, but it was often and consistent and grating, as in, "I'll have the pee-not grigrio." Grigio was said correctly. Which brings up the question, are noir and grigio related? 

Yes. Pinot blanc and pinot gris (aka grigio), pinot noir and pinot meunier are color mutations of pinot. They're different grapes, but the DNA is too close to differentiate parentage. Pinot, however,  has likely sired many offspring, most commonly with the gouais blanc grape. Together they made gamay noir & blanc, romorantin (a rare, old white Burgundian variety), aligoté and our beloved chardonnay. Plus a slew of other never heard varieties. Not surprisingly, these all grow within the same geographic region. They're all accidental field crossings. Pinot is also a proud grandparent to teroldego and lagrein in Italy's Trentino-Alto-Adige, and great-grandparent to syrah. Like any great genealogy, there's incest in the mix, too. Pinot is either a parent or progeny of savagnin (Jura), and together they made sauvignon blanc, sylvaner and the royal chenin blanc, among others. All in the pinot family. 

If you're not completely lost in pinot noir's ancestry, the take away is this: it's a very special and noble grape with a lot of history. Increasingly we hear winemakers talk about what clone of pinot noir they're growing. The clones vary slightly in berry size and yields and like all things of tiny differences, invoke a range of opinions and preferences by winegrowers. Several clones are numbered, like the 115, 667 and 777 (aka Dijon clones). Others are named for the dude who propagated the clone, like the Wente, popular in the US. This goes much deeper, but I share this information to give an idea of the complexity involved, which very few grapes can claim. 

Pinot noir has thin skin, small berries and tight bunches, leaving it especially susceptible to varying weather conditions that can lead to fungal issues and viruses, plus it's early budding and early ripening, which makes it vulnerable to spring frosts and sunburn near harvest. It prefers cool weather climates and stony soils and typically produces wines with cherry, black cherry and raspberry aromas and secondary notes of earth and compost. It is one of the great aging wines, capable of lasting decades, though it can be stubborn in its development. It's the most common suggestion for pairing red wine with fish and since the movie "Sideways" hit theaters in 2004, it's markedly changed the red wine drinking game. 

For more pinot noir thoughts, check out these beauties recently on Pig&Vine. 

Division Wines Méthode Carbonique, Oregon

Domaine Largeot Chorley-lès-Beaune, Burgundy

Bailly Lapierre Crémant de Bourgogne, Burgundy

Domaine Chevillon Passetoutgrains, Burgundy

Les Hexagonales, Loire Valley

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Bedrock Old Vine Zinfandel 2014

Bedrock Wine Old Vine Zinfandel 2014

Wine: Bedrock Wine Co.
Vintage: 2014
Country: USA
Region: California
Grapes: Zinfandel, misc.   
Vines: Sustainable
Production: Small
Price:  $25

Bedrock Wine Co. founder and winemaker Morgan Twain-Peterson comes from a winemaking family with a California legacy. His father, Joel Peterson, founded Ravenswood Winery in 1976 as a part time project. By the early 1990s they'd finally turned a profit and earned media attention. The iconic label, a circle of ravens, is one of the first I can recall seeing, an emblem immediately recognizable and synonymous with California wine. After all, the wines were based on America's heritage grape, the zinfandel. Joel first began tasting wine with his father at age 10, and his son Morgan began tasting even earlier. He made his first wine, a pinot noir, at age five. Today, Ravenswood is a mammoth entity in the zin world and a pillar of quality and prestige. Morgan's own wines have a growing reputation, and the Old Vine Zinfandel is one of the most accessible in his collection, which Twain-Peterson has dubbed, "the gateway drug to Bedrock." 

I drank this bottle with my writer friend Autumn at Bennachin in the French Quarter on a Tuesday afternoon during a rain storm. The African-influenced restaurant doesn't have a license for alcohol so BYOB is welcome. The waitress brought us "go cups" and a wine opener and so we began our nearly three-hour lunch. We writers always seem to have a lot to say, possibly a side effect of spending so much time alone. I had the boiled lamb with dried apricots and broccoli over couscous and Autumn had a spicy black-eyed pea situation which was far tastier, though the zin and lamb were well-matched. 

I had anticipated the Bedrock Old Vine Zinfandel 2014 would be much richer than it was, having recently tasted the Ridge and Mauritson Dry Creek zins, two wines considered restrained for the grape. This one was the most restrained, with acid and structure more dominant than lush, succulent black fruit. Even the mid-palate was comparatively subtle, but the quality and deliciousness were abundantly present with briar fruit and herbal hints. It's the quiet American celebrating our nation's birth at home with a book and a bottle, like some writers we know... Made from 77% zinfandel grapes grown in several different AVAs,  the remaining 23% is a field-mix of alicante bouschet, petite sirah, carignan and maybe some other black grapes. The details are not clearly stated anywhere that I could find, reflecting a true throwback to California grape growing a century ago, which Clay Mauritson talked about in a recent interview with Pig&Vine. Happy Birthday USA. 


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Pfendler Pinot Noir Rosé 2015

Pfendler pinot noir rose 2015 Sonoma Coast

Wine: Pfendler Estate
Vintage: 2015
Country: USA
Region: Petaluma Gap (Sonoma Coast), California
Grapes: Pinot Noir
Vines: Sustainable
Production: Tiny
Price:  $18

The concept of terroir is a tricky one to define, most loosely within the broad confines of place, which, we all know is a concept that varies in subtleties and extremes. Culturally speaking, you can't say Los Angeles and San Fransisco are interchangeable for being within California any more than you can argue New Orleans and Nashville are the same because they're both south of the Mason Dixon. This is kinda how the Sonoma Coast AVA looks right now, which Jon Bonné calls "the big lie" in his book "The New California Wine". It's a 750 square mile swath of land that reaches from the actual coastline to the east side of the Sonoma Mountains, encompassing parts of The Russian River Valley and Carneros. Inside that AVA, which Bonné attributes to a gerrymandering led by Sonoma-Cutrer Don, Brice Jones, in 1987, are many micro-climates that more precisely define terroir as the French (the Burgundians anyway) meant it to be.  Most of these areas are still awaiting AVA approval by the federal government, and the Petaluma Gap is a frontrunner. It's also home to Pfendler's 19 acres of estate vineyards.

The proposed AVA's climate as stated by the Petaluma Gap Winegrowers Association:

"Geographically, the Petaluma Gap borders West Marin and Valley Ford on the west, then follows Chileno Valley and Spring Hill Roads to Adobe Road on the east, Cotati on the north and Lakeville on the southeast. This is not your normal geography. As inland valley air heats up, it pulls the cool coastal air into a naturally formed 15-mile-wide “gap” in the coastal range mountains. The wind flows off the ocean between Tomales Bay and Bodega Bay, builds up speed as it funnels through the gap, then empties into San Francisco Bay. Wind and fog define the area, giving the term “micro-climate” real meaning."

Fog and coastal wind influence grape growing to the point of creating a cool climate atmosphere, a favorite environment for pinot noir and chardonnay. If you've never stuck your toes into the Pacific Ocean off the Northern California coast, this isn't bathwater-warm Miami Beach, or even Montauk in August. It's damn cold, and so are its breezes. The four Pfendler vineyards sit on the ocean-facing side of the Sonoma Mountains, planted from foothill to mountain top. Winemaker Greg Bjørnstad works with proprietor Kimberly Pfendler to produce three wines totaling fewer than 700 cases. It's truly a tiny operation, and the wines can be had outside Cali only through direct order from the winery. Don't be mad, this is the digital age. Full disclosure: this bottle was a sample sent to Pig&Vine for possible review from the winery.

The Pfendler Pinot Noir Rosé 2015 is a pale salmon-hued beauty with a nose of ripe strawberry and raspberries still hanging on the bush. Fog and mountain clouds with mountain fruit (I feel high already) persist on the palate and in the mind. Balanced acidity, alcohol and flavors of delicate nuance slide into a long, delicious finish. I savored it last Saturday afternoon, too stubborn to work and too lazy to leave the house, while watching the final episodes of OITNB Season 4. Paired it with an arugula salad with avocado, cucumbers, sweet tomatoes and feta, plus a little Maldon salt for perfection (just like Judy King). 

Get yours here and, if I were you, I"d grab a chard and a pinot, too. 

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Le Sot de l'Ange Rouge 'G'

Le Sot de L'Ange Rouge 'G' Loire Valley grolleau Quentin Bourse

Wine: Le Sot de l'Ange
Vintage: 2014
Country: France
Region: Touraine Azay Le Rideau, Loire Valley
Grapes: Grolleau
Vines: Biodynamic (Demeter certified)
Production: Small
Price: $22

The young Quentin Bourse makes wine from 12 hectares of biodynamically certified vines in Azay Le Rideau that he took over from a friend in 2013. I first discovered his chenin blanc 'Sec Symbole' at N7, the curtained French inspired Bywater restaurant with a mostly natural wine menu and a disdain for publicity (who the owners are remains a secret). The chenin was delicate and delicious with honeysuckle perfume and ripe melon fruit in such beautiful balance that the producer was instantly listed high on my Yes, please! list. It's also the one that made me take note of importer Selection Massale. The small company focuses on natural wines farmed organically and biodynamically in France and Swabia, a loosely defined border that encompasses the southwestern German provinces Württemburg and Baden. With their hand-drawn pruning shears emblem conspicuously placed on each back label, they're easy to spot on the shelf, and I've been looking ever since. They're also the geniuses who bring in Les Capriades pét-sec. I picked up this grolleau at Bacchanal a few weeks ago. 

The Sot de l'Ange, roughly translates to 'fool the angel'. There's a story there, I'm sure. Bourse makes small lots of chenin blanc, gamay, grolleau, côt (malbec) and cabernet sauvignon. The Rouge 'G' that we have here is grolleau 'sans soufre' made in a ridiculously quaffable style that'll take a chill if you're so inclined. But it's fault-free and drinks just as easy at room temp. Bright and juicy, light in color, cool yet undemanding, it's as friendly as a *Tri Epsilon pledge who's a closeted art student . It was the perfect accompaniment to a recent art installation project where I arranged a few Hipstamatic prints on the wall above my couch. 

*Tre Epsilon is not a real organization, best I can tell, but the Tri Ep house is the central setting in the 1952 pulp fiction novel "Spring Fire", which I've been reading, and the main character is a new pledge and impossibly innocent when the story begins. 

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Philippe Gilbert Menetou-Salon Rosé 2015

Domaine Philippe Gilbert Menetou-Salon Rosé 2015

Wine: Domaine Philippe Gilbert
Vintage: 2015
Country: France
Region: Menetou-Salon, Loire Valley
Grapes: Pinot Noir
Vines: Organic/Biodynamic
Production: Small
Price: $27-30

Menetou-Salon is Sancerre's quiet twin, the one in glasses with her hair pulled back and a bookish personality. But when they reached college, Sancerre's popularity found competition among the other coeds and Menetou got contact lenses, let her hair down, and suddenly her beauty commanded attention. But she's still the shy one, and most people overlook her. 

Sancerre sits a little east of Menetou-Salon and has both more acreage under vine and more popularity, so much so that one could argue Sancerre might be, at times, overpriced. In the hands of producers like Philippe Gilbert in Menetou, sauvignon blanc and pinot noir can be every bit as expressive and delicate and alluring as its neighbor. I discovered this producer in Neal Rosenthal's portfolio last summer and fell in love immediately with the rosé, so when I saw the new vintage at Keife & Co., I did not think twice. 

Philippe farms his 27 hectares (a fairly sizable chunk of vineyard land in this part of the world) with biodynamic practices and is certified organic. Philippe was a playwright in his previous life, writing and producing plays for the theater, but the call of the vines was too strong to resist and so he returned home to take over for his father and run the family winery, which dates back to 1768. That's a hard legacy to walk away from, and I'm so glad he didn't.

The Domaine Philippe Gilbert Menetou-Salon Rosé 2015 is, in a word, gorgeous. The delicacy of the pinot noir grapes balance ripe fruit without being juicy, stoney notes with great acidity and a long, long finish of all these lovely entwined flavors, like a lover unwilling to leave your side. About 300 cases are allotted to the US each vintage.

It's a great quaffer on its own, but I paired it here with the burrata and herb salad from 1,000 Figs in the Bayou St. John neighborhood. I first dined there last September when I came down to New Orleans to look for an apartment. What began as a food truck called The Fat Falafel -  in operation since 2012 - branched into the brick and mortar that produces this incredible cream-filled mozzarella ball of goodness so fresh and divine that I've developed a regular craving for it. Seriously, I have to cap myself at one order a week.

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Centonze Frappato 2014

Centonze Frappato 2014 Vittoria Sicily

Wine: Centonze
Vintage: 2014
Country: Italy
Region: Vittoria, Sicily
Grapes: Frappato
Vines: Sustainable
Production: Small
Price: $18

The older I get, the fewer the existential crises. Hello 40s, keep the apathy coming. But last week, in the midst of advertising my good fortune in the blogosphere and asking folks to vote for Pig&Vine for a Wine Blog Award (two things I inherently hate - self promotion and asking for anything ever), I slipped into an existential state. Of course I’m incredibly flattered and honored to be among some very talented writers on the shortlist for a Best Writing Award, and of course I want to win…but what does it even mean to win?

A few days ago, Andy Borowitz reported for The New Yorker that the Cleveland Cavaliers’ new slogan, borrowed from Sartre’s 1943 Being and Nothingness, hung above the Quicken Loans Arena entrance.  “All human activities are doomed to failure” it read. My young friend Zach, with whom I watched and mostly distracted from watching Game 3 Wednesday evening, pointed out that I’ve been writing about existentialism quite a bit lately. So in attempt to avoid becoming a whiny bore (existential crises are inherently self absorbed acts of over thinking) I chose a particularly buoyant red wine to drown out the morose voices in my head. 

The Centonze family established their winery in 1998 in the Trapani region of Sicily, farming 20 hectares of indigenous varieties, including frappato, grillo, Nero d'Avola and zibbibo. Giovanni Centonze runs the estate with his son Nicola and daughter Carla, applying modern trellising in teh vineyard with contemporary technology in the winery. The Centonze Frappato 2014 exhibits the grape's typical style with ripe strawberry fruit aromas and flavors, and soft, lush tannins. It goes down exceptionally easy. Actually, this was a repeat bottle as the first one went down so quickly I forgot to snap a photo. Vinified and aged four months in stainless steel tank, it then rests another four months in bottle before release. It's 100% pure, happy fruit eager to be everyone's friend, with or without accompaniments. Go forth, be free, good-humored and excellent. 

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