Southern French Goodness.

November 29, 2011 § Leave a comment

The rugged countryside of the Languedoc around the regional city of Montpelier is not as lush and bucolic as Provence. It’s drier, craggier, and at times almost lunar. That’s fine with me, it keeps the tourists away. It’s also ideal for growing the hearty wine grape varieties of Syrah, Grenache, and Carignan. Julien Zarnott and Delphine Rousseau bought vineyards here in 2003 after learning the trade in the Loire Valley, and are making deliciously attractive wines from their 25 acres. They work the land by hand, adhere to organic farming practices whenever possible, and also happen to be some of the nicest folks I’ve met.

Domaine du Pas de L’Escalette Coteaux du Languedoc “Les Petits Pas” 2010

This blend of Grenache, Carignan, and Syrah is exactly what I like about this region of France; concentrated red fruits, aromas of fresh herbs, and a dusty texture. I know, sounds gross, right? Dusty texture. But what I mean is that immediately I can picture the rocky limestone slopes, the wind depositing a fine coat of vineyard dust on the hood of the car that’s ticking slightly as it cools. And the sound….like 60 cycle hum but it’s just all the fauna; the dragonflies and other bugs. And little civilization, as far as the eye can see. So, dusty can be good.


My Pick of the Week

September 1, 2011 § Leave a comment

I love wine grown by family estates, by one family or individual I can point to as the source for the great wines I sell. So it’s a rare thing for me to get behind a wine that comes from a cooperative of growers; it’s got to be truly delicious AND expressive of its place and grape for me to support it. The tiny Southern French wine growing region of Corbieres is home to just such a co-op- Castelmaure. There are 65 growers in the co-op 15 of whom are responsible for 85% of the production. Everything I have tasted from Castelmaure is an authentic expression of Corbieres; their Grand Cuvee is a delicious blend that I might talk more about when the weather is colder. Right now I think the less heavy, more versatile “Col des Vents” bottling is the ticket for satisfying red wine drinking.

Castelmaure Corbieres “Col des Vents” 2009  Packed with ripe red fruit, but it’s all held in check by peppery spice, subtle limestone minerals, and bright acidity. It’s quintessential bistro red that shouldn’t be over intellectualized… not the center of conversation, but the bacchanalian catalyst for good conversations.


Pick of the Week!

August 18, 2011 § Leave a comment

Kermit Lynch may not be a household name, but he is among the most important figures in the evolution of wine drinking in America. He has been a premier importer of French and Italian wine to these shores for 40 years. He has championed the cause of unfiltered and unfined wines for decades, and gravitates toward growers who farm naturally and sustainably. His portfolio includes some of the most well regarded producers from all the great appellations of France and Italy.
Plus, he’s odd.
He can’t use email. He hates that his wines have UPC codes on them. His retail store in Berkeley CA still uses those manual credit card swipers. He has delusions of being a rock star….well, who doesn’t? He is, in short, a character. The kind that are quickly becoming hard to find. The kind we love. In this case, he has paired up with one of his Northern Italian producers on a delicious red wine that carries the Kermit Lynch label.
Monferrato label
Kermit Lynch Monferrato Rosso 2009   $15 Monferrato is, in case you were wondering, a wine growing region in Piedmont, Italy. It isn’t as famous as its surrounding neighbors, and so is cheaper. This wine is a blend of 60% Barbera, 20% Croatina, and 20% Freisa (but who cares, really? I don’t), fermented in stainless steel without any oak…..just the way we like ’em in the summer. Bright, snappy red fruit, a little earthy but not too much…vibrant, fresh red wine for anything. I wish it came in gallon jugs. In Italy, it probably does.

Hard Times

September 22, 2010 § Leave a comment

I have always had an uneasy relationship with spirits, and I’m not talking about being butterfingers with the ouija board. I appreciated single malt Scotch for instance, but didn’t find it terribly useful in day-to-day life. Same goes for Cognac and the like. Good when it’s good, but….when? I decided that the hard stuff wasn’t for me, and largely stopped paying attention beyond the occasional margarita or gin and tonic. My attitude started to change a few years ago as the resurgence of the well crafted cocktail began to take hold. I realized I had no appreciation for the thought and creativity that goes into a really good cocktail recipe. And like most good recipes, success is partially dependent on the quality of the ingredients. Once I made the acquaintance of Eric Seed, the man behind Haus Alpenz, I was down the rabbit hole. Thanks to the aforementioned resurgence, there is now an astounding array of delicious hard liquor, aperitifs, liqueurs, and cordials available. I have since gotten to meet Brian Ellison and find his Death’s Door Gin to be tremendously useful. I have fallen in love with American whiskies as well, thanks to the folks at Tuthilltown Distillery (when I’m feeling super flush) and the superb range from High West (still need to feel pretty flush).

High West Peach

High West Peach Vodka isn't sweet kids' stuff

I remember sitting near the service bar of a busy restaurant several years ago as the machine cranked out ticket after ticket for Cosmopolitans. “*&^%$ that ##@% show, I am SICK of making &*$% Cosmos!” spat the bartender. Indeed. I’ve walked away from my former cocktail routine and my tastes have been richly rewarded for it. Patronize bars that are experimental, that are putting  time and effort into their cocktails, and are spending the money to stock interesting, esoteric spirits. It’s such an engaging way to sample a range of crazy stuff, and to indulge the whims of some very creative people….all while having a ball. And be sure to pop into The Wine Shop at The Wine Market on your way through to the bar; we’re finding new and interesting spirits every month, and will be moving out of “industrial” brands wherever we can. We hope you’ll have as much fun shopping the new selections as we did.

Fringe Benefits

July 30, 2010 § Leave a comment

I’ve been sort of blown away this month by how diverse and generally awesome the world of wine is. I have tasted so many delicious and affordable wines from kooky places made from kooky grapes, I’m having a hard time paying much attention to anything one might regard as “mainstream.” I’m hoping the customers are feeling experimental in August; my 8-months pregnant wife will not appreciate piles of unsold wine in the living room.

Things got off to a left-of-center start with the arrival of Terry Theise and his guided tasting of German and Austrian wines. You can Google Terry and learn all about him; suffice to say he is an anti-industrial wine importer of the sort that are being hunted to extinction by suits who love golf and the word “consolidation.” There were many brilliant wines, but the one I settled on was the Geil Scheurebe Kabinett because  a) it was a brilliant balance of sweetness and juicy acidity and  b) the importer described Scheurebe as “Riesling’s transvestite brother.” I had to have it. We’re pouring it by the glass.

The next wine that got my attention was this Sacra Natura Terra Alta 2007, of certified organic grapes and hailing from Spain. It’s a little wild, a little ragged maybe even, but it all hangs together, actually it totally pulls together into one majestic rock and roll red. It’s like The Replacements in a bottle. It’s Sacra-licious.

The other two crossed my glass on the same day, and they both have green labels. A Green Day, then. Falernia Pedro Ximenez 2009 is Chilean. Which didn’t stop any of us from pronouncing “Ximenez” in the Barcelonan style, since usually Pedro Ximenez is reserved for making Sherry. This entails forming a “th” sound with your tongue in place of the “z.” Like Letter Man and his Varsity Sweater. None of which has anything to do with the wine, which was refreshing like a Sauvignon Blanc, but with less overt citrus and a bit more texture. And it’s from Chile, which is odd.

Quattro Mani [toh-kai] 2008 was the second wine that day. [toh-kai] is what you get when Tokai develops a Prince fetish and introduces some symbolism into its name. This wine is from Slovenia. Isn’t that bat-shit crazy? It is to me. Biodynamically farmed Tokai spelled [toh-kai] from Slovenia for well under $15 qualifies at bat-shit crazy in my book, despite my resolution to clean up my language.

The thing is, none of these wines is hard to love. All that’s required is an open mind and an empty glass. No matter where you shop for wine, pay attention to the fringe…’ll likely find some very attractive wines there. And the wine buyer’s spouse will thank you.

What Would Shirley Ellis Drink?

July 19, 2010 § Leave a comment

I found myself in the unwelcome position of making a customer feel awkward last week.  The blame rests with a certain cultural laziness when it comes to grape names, likely connected to our discomfort with foreign language. When one’s relationship with wine commences, it’s all formality- Cabernet Sauvignon. After a few dates it’s down to a “Cabernet”  first-name basis. Soon enough you’re co-habitating and using nicknames like “Cab” or “CS.” That’s all fine so long as we all know who we’re talking about….but what about poor Cabernet Franc? Or Sauvignon Blanc? Such was the difficulty I encountered when a customer asked to be shown the Pinots. Pinot Noir I assumed, “Pinot” being the generally accepted nomenclature for such. Alas, this customer, when presented with a row of red wine in Burgundy bottles, frowned and said, “uh….the white Pinot, from Italy.”

Grigio? Really? Who decided it was get so chummy with Pinot Grigio? We all know what happens when you whisper the right nickname in the wrong ear- embarrassment and recrimination. And so it was that I, anxious not to reveal that I thought a little faux-pas had been made, abruptly changed course and headed for the Italian section with an “ohhhh THAT Pinot!” and a smile. I now live in fear of the Pinot Meunier fan and the Pinot Blanc lover…will they too assume I’m on the same page? I just hate those awkward moments…

I never thought someone a hipper wine enthusiast for using words like “Cab Sav” or “Pinot;” I don’t consider them terms of art. In fact there is one person in my  past whom I tried to avoid for, among other things, bandying about the term “Savvy Blanc.” Oh, the irony. So I’m calling for a return to formality on some of these grape varieties. Please. It will save us all some embarrassment.

Allons, enfants

July 1, 2010 § 1 Comment

The Tour de France 2010 kicks off this week, albeit in Holland. In the coming days, I won’t be able to resist having a live feed streaming into my life, a continuation of the continental vibe that infuses my summers along with Wimbledon and the arrival of futbol fever every fourth year. Nor will I resist falling in love again with French wine; I renew my vows every summer, when Maryland’s locavore bounty shifts into high gear, demanding  vinous versatility.

To me, it is jaw droppingly amazing how diverse true French wine culture is, and how much of the good stuff we have access to in little ol’ Baltimore. I do not speak of famed appellations necessarily, or the belles of the journalistic balls. Rather, it is the thousands of families for whom wine growing and wine making is simply what they do, without any glamour or raves attached to it, that I love. The succulence of the southern Rhône, the nervy juiciness of the Loire, the lustiness of Languedoc and the quixotic men and women working there, the daft sparkly cremants from all over…there is literally a wine for every occasion and dish.

I’m reminded of an exchange I was privy to years ago, between a French wine skeptic and Bruce Neyers. Bruce is the national director of sales for Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant, the Grand-père of French wine importers. He also has his own winery in California. The skeptic lamented the rise of French wine prices due to the vagaries of currency exchange. Bruce raised a glass of Chablis from Olivier Savary and quietly exclaimed, “The wine in this glass comes from a region that’s been making Chardonnay in the same spot for the better part of a millemium. I’d kill to have this much finesse in my Napa Chardonnay, and even with the exchange problems it’s still $5 cheaper. People don’t know how good they actually have it.”  Now, I’m not saying everyone has to like what I like, or even that everyone has to like French wine. But during this season of Le Tour, I am saying that lovers of wine who have not bothered to explore the wines of France for a while should consider doing so.

The last thing the internet needs is another dissection of a wine growing country and its regions. What I’d like to offer is an invitation. In my first 45 days at The Wine Market, I’ve bought about a half dozen wines from France I would love for you to try, if you’re willing to step outside your comfort zone. I want to show you how Sauvignon Blanc is done in the region that the grape calls home. I want you to fall in love with Grenache because it just loves Maryland’s summer food so much. I want you to swoon for red wine that isn’t very big, because it has balance and finesse and goes with everything, including an ice pack at the bottom of a picnic basket. If you’ve got 20 bucks, I’ve got a growing section of wines I think you ought to try.