Château Thivin Côtes de Brouilly 2013

I've tasted one remarkable 2013 Beaujolais after another as these have been released and the recently landed Château Thivin Côte de Brouilly, a must-buy Beaujolais every vintage for me, is another knockout. This is the oldest estate on the Mont de Brouilly dating back to 1383(!) when the first part of what was to become Château Thivin was built. The domaine is now run by the Geoffray family, the sixth generation Claude-Edouard having come aboard in 2007. Farming of these avg. 50 yr old vines is impeccable here with almost everything done by hand from pruning, plowing and canopy management to harvest. Considering the 48% slope of the vineyard, this is actually sort of a dangerous undertaking. 

The winemaking here is also very traditional with hand harvested fruit transported to the cellars in small baskets where the whole bunches are fermented on native yeasts. After a gentle pressing, the wines are transferred to giant oak foudres of between 2,000 and 4,000 liters, some of them over a hundred years old, where they mature and settle for 6-8 months before bottling.  The cellars here are reminiscent of traditional Barolo cellars bearing no resemblance at all to the gleaming, modern, stainless steel tank lined cellars so common in this far southern corner of Burgundy.

The Cóte de Brouilly appellation is the most refined of the three top cru, the other two being the more masculine Moulin-a-Vent and Morgon (and the small bit of Fleurie where Clos de Roilette is situated). To make a Còte d’Or comparison, this would be Volnay compared to Pommard. Thivin is unquestionably the finest source of Cóte de Brouilly and one of the longest lived of all Beaujolais if you like to age them. 

Deep, brooding nose of dark berries, fresh herbs and a bit of woodsmoke. Bright red and black fruit flavors with an excellent mid-palate firm acidity, ripe tannins and a long sappy finish. Hard to resist opening these when they arrive but will improve for years in the cellar.



December 17, 2013


Zélige-Caravent Pic St.-Loup Ellipse 2010

Zélige-Caravent Pic St.-Loup "Ellipse" 2010 
The Zélige-Caravent story is not an uncommon one: a couple tires of their day jobs and decides to disappear into the countryside to pursue an agrarian lifestyle. What is uncommon is what this couple, Luc and Marie Michel, were able to achieve in a very short period of time. Leaving his government job with the local department of l'Herault in 1999, Luc decided to return to the family roots and reclaim a few hectares of vines belonging to his grandfather in the Languedoc, more specifically in the northern reaches of the Pic St.-Loup appellation between Montpellier and Nîmes. This is one of the best terroirs in all of Languedoc, located in a dejection cone with deep, chalky soils with lots of gravel and great drainage. His wife Marie, who left her job as an event planner to pursue her passion for art, joined him soon after and with neither of the two having any experience at all with viticulture or winemaking and no cellar or
equipment to work with, they decided to start as growers and sell their fruit to the local co-op. Their organic farming methods and insistence on keeping the traditional local  varietals like Aramon stood out in stark contrast to the practices of their neighbors, virtually all of whom had torn up the old Cinsault, Alicante-Bouschet and Carignan vines to plant Syrah and using lots of chemical fertilizers and pesticides in the process. After a couple of rudimentary courses in enology and a little research into biodynamics, they began producing their own wines in earnest five years later and  these two are now producing some of the most beautiful wines in the appellation. They still don’t have much in the way of cellar space or equipment with a couple of tanks outside of what looks like a garage. The term low-tech comes to mind and it’s really an understatement. Production here is tiny with most wines being sold to a loyal band of private clients so we don’t see very much in the US. The domaine name, by the way is an interesting construct. You can read about it here
The Pic St.-Loup “Ellipse”, 50% Syrah/40% Carignan/10% Cinsault, is the prettiest, most elegant wine from the Languedoc or anywhere else in the south of France that I’ve ever tasted. Though Pic St.-Loup has a reputation for producing some of the finest wines in all of the Languedoc, the dominant style here is a big, bold red wine based on Syrah and Grenache; elegance isn’t the first word that comes to mind. The wines at Zélige-Caravent are definitely something different. The first thing that draws you in is the striking perfume of this wine. All violet and iris with notes of ripe red berries and subtle black tea. A soft, almost shy attack with gorgeous, plush texture that grows on the palate with a long, mineral finish. This the sort of finesse I expect in great Burgundy, not from anything made out of even a little bit of Syrah. Very limited, 24 bottles in stock. 


24 bottles in stock 
buy here

December 09, 2013


Olek Bondonio Langhe Nebbiolo 2010


Olek Bondonio Langhe Nebbiolo 2010 

Baby Barbaresco from one of the Langhe's rising stars

I've written plenty about Olek Bondonio and his great Barbarescos and other traditional Langhe wines and I'm not the only one. Since starting his winery in 2005 on a family estate in the commune of Barbaresco, Olek has managed to gather quite the worldwide following for his traditional Barbarescos and a handful of traditional Langhe wines like this one. This despite the fact that he produces next to no wine. I visit the azienda and taste at least once a year and every time I see him he seems to be covered in dirt. Not surprising since he spends so muchtime in his vineyards. In fact, the azienda logo is a tractor. Not the typical landowner's crest, castle or portrait of a decrepit ancestor found on so many of these wines but a modern piece of farm equipment. The same one he almost randomly ran me over with on a bike ride through the hills here a couple of years ago. Most great winemakers will tell you that the wine is made in the vineyard and while I'd never argue with that, very few of these winemakers are actually out there doing this backbreaking work. For as much work as he gives the vines, the wines get almost no attention. Olek's approach to winemaking is a custodial one; start with the best fruit your terroir can give, crush it and make sure nothing goes wrong until it's time to bottle. I know that's an oversimplification of things but it's not far from reality here.


We don't often hear the words affordable and Nebbiolo in the same sentence but there a few examples. The Langhe Nebbiolo designation is the only way for Barolo and Barbaresco prodcuers to declassify their production into a d.o.c. wine. this usually means young vines, fruit from vines on less than perfect and often undesirable terroirs, less time aging in cask and sometimes no cask at all. Olek's Langhe Nebbiolo is all sourced from Roncagliette (Olek's home vineyard, aka Gaja Sori Tildin and Costa Russi at $300 per bottle) and Starderi in Neive.This is not only my favorite Langhe Nebbiolo but nothing even comes close in my opinion. In fact, there are countless Barolo and Barbaresco DOCG wines at twice the price and more that don't deliver at this very high level. This "baby Barbaresco" has all the pretty aromatics and flavors you might expect from a wine with much more pedigree and a complex profile that belies its humble appellation. A perfect school night wine and a good reason to let your more precious bottles live to see another dinner. A bottle from last night showed all of the fireworks of the varietal; deeply perfumed and dark fruited with the slightly chewy, ashen tannins you expect in traditional Nebbiolo with ripe cherries and firm acids on the finish. Just the thing with a fresh batch of agnolotti dal plin to go with this week's cold snap here in LA.


N.B. there isn't much of this available and the only other retail source in the US who managed to get any of this is listing it at $34.99



$23.99  buy here
December 01, 2013


Occhipinti sp68 2012

Occhipinti SP68 Rosso 2012

Hyper-allocated Sicilian beauty from Arianna Occhipinti


just 36 bottles in stock 

Sicily has always been a major source of wine, one of Italy's most prodigious, but never a source of great wine. It was almost always dull, industrial reds and sweet whites with the occasional bright spot like Regaleali's great Rosso del Conte. That situation has changed dramatically in just the last ten years. Two regions in the east of the island have been spearheading this transformation: Etna and Vittoria. Both of these winegrowing regions can attribute their recent successes to a new, younger generation of winegrowers who've embraced not just their obscure, native varietals but also responsible farming and natural winemaking. Arguably the most successful of this new generation, Arianna Occhipinti crushed her first vintage in 2004, right out of enological school and all of 22 years old. Fast forward seven years  and she's become not just the most famous Sicilan winemaker ever and one of Italy's brightest, rising young stars but a seminal figure in the world of natural wine. Encouraged by her uncle, Giusto Occhipinti of COS (one of Sicily's top wine producers), Arianna started her operation with just one hectare of abandoned vines in Vittoria, her home turf in southeast Sicily, between the mountains and the sea. She's now farming a total of 18 hectares of mainly the indigenous frappato and nero d'avola on land never touched by chemicals. These wines have become very difficult to source and those in the know tend to grab whatever can be had on release and it's generally just bottles. This bottling is a second label of sorts, young vines that would ordinarliy be bottled as Cerasuolo di Vittoria DOCG, and I only receive 3 cases which will go quickly.

The SP68, named for the Strada Provinciale 68 that takes you to the winery, is a great example of this new wave of Sicilian winemaking. A 60/40 blend of frappato and nero d'avola grown in the regions limestone soils. The nero d'avola provides the dark, meaty backbone of the wine while the frappato gives the wine it's vibrant raspberry fruit and floral perfume. Fresh, bright, earthy and complex, with long-lasting floral, fruit and mineral flavors. A fantastic wine for the holiday table and a great introduction to this exciting new wave of old school Italian winegrowing.


$25.99  buy here
November 17, 2013


thomas-labaille sancerre les monts damnés

Domaine Thomas-Labaille Sancerre Monts Damnés 2012

Rare Sancerre from one of it's best sources at a great price

There are a number of factors that we consider when choosing wines to carry but the two most important are quality and value. When we're talking about Sancerre, there are a handful of top rank producers but there really aren't many good values these days. With Sancerre of fairly ordinary quality starting at $20 in the market, $25 for the Thomas-Labaille is a crazy bargain if you know this wine. The Monts Damnés vineyard in Chavignol is considered to be the finest of all Sancerre vineyards, and of the small group of  producers who make great wine here (the Cotats, Boulay etc.) this is the only one you'll see for less than $45. Wines from this dead south facing, extremely steep limestone slope don't tend to produce the typical expression of Sancerre, i.e, gooseberry, grass and pipi du chat notes. This is classic Chavignol Sauvignon Blanc which is to say pure, rich, mineral driven, lots of citrus and extraordinary complexity. These wines actually have a lot more in common with high quality Chablis.Winemaker Jean-Paul Labaille


The Thomas-Labaille wines are made  the old fashioned way;  organic farming, low yields from old vines, harvesting by hand, long slow fermentations and aging in neutral oak and cement. These are among the only Sancerres that improve with age but I don't know many people who allow them to survive their first year. Our tiny, annual allocation of this jewel just landed and it won't last long. A terrific choice for the Thanksgiving table as well. Another great Louis-Dressner selection.



$24.99  buy here
November 17, 2013


Angelo Germano barolo 2007

Angelo Germano Barolo 2007


Great under the radar traditional Barolo at a spectacular price

It's not often you see Barolo at this price in the US these days and when you do you should probably be at least a bit skeptical. I know I would be. Barolo prices have been steadily rising along with worldwide demand and that may be great news for Barolo producers but the days of buying high quality, sub $50 Barolo are numbered as a result. The California agent for Germano turned me on to these wines a few years back and I'll bet I sold 100+ cases of 2005 in a years time with the bulk of that being repeat business. It was easily the best Barolo value I'd run across in all my years in this business and the 2007 is no differrent. These wines, like everything else in his portfolio, are direct imports meaning that the typical multi layered distribution model is avoided along with at least a couple of unnecessary price mark ups. 

The 100+ year old, family owned Angelo Germano estate is now being run by third generation winemaker Davide Germano who's continuing to turn out the traditional, soft, perfumed Barolos that La Morra is known for. 2007 is a precocious but excellent vintage offering telltale notes licorice, tar and rose petal with big flavors of dark fruit, truffles and earth. There's a reason these wines are regarded as the finest in Italy and
at these prices, a Barolo can actually be your house wine! 


$33.99  buy here
October 09, 2013


Joyeux Nectars



Great Beaujolais is pretty easy to describe. That is, unless you happen to be a wine critic whose vocabulary is limited to descriptors like blockbuster, hedonistic, tarry minerals. Whatever the hell that last one is supposed to mean. I read a professional review of a red Burgundy recently that included the note "incipient notes of game bird" ??? Your golden retriever might be intrigued by that but I have know idea what that's supposed to mean either. Great Beaujolais is really simple though deceptively so; no palate staining tannins, no mocha or espresso, no pornographic levels of anything, no kaleidoscopic mélanges. Just vivacious red fruit, minerality and joy. Pure, unadulterated happiness. 

There are a number of excellent cru Beaujolais in the market but my favorite year to year is the Jean Foillard Morgon Côte du Py, the 2011 in this case. This particular bottle was opened at a pre-wedding lunch on Bainbridge Island last week with a handful of dear friends. A persistent rainstorm, actually more of a typhoon and really intense even by Seattle's standards, made for a weekend of inclement weather and we made the best of it with great food, wine and company. A handful of us stayed in attending to last minute wedding details and were rewarded with a memorable lunch of salad niçoise made with Italian tuna belly and sandwiches made from thin blades of the excellent local Beechers Cheddar, jambon de Paris, good butter and ficelles de pain.

All washed down with the Foillard as a fantastic accompaniment. It's moments like these that remind what I'm doing here.