Clos Cibonne: A Rosé from Older Days

Clos Cibonne Tibouren Côtes de Provence Cuvée Spéciale des Vignettes Rosé 2013  $37.99

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93 Points.  Light orange. Intense red berry liqueur, blood orange and garrigue aromas are lifted and sharpened by suggestions of dusty minerals and gingery spices. Silky and concentrated, offering incisive redcurrant and bitter cherry flavors that expand on the back half. Shows a distinctly mineral, oily, almost saline quality that’s reminiscent of big-time Chablis (yes, really!) and finishes with superb energy, thrust and length. Imagine what would happen if red grapes were planted in Montée de Tonnerre and then made into pink wine: that’s pretty much what I did.”— Josh Raynolds, Vinous Media

Clos Cibonne has been making extraordinary Rosé for 300 years.  Located a half mile from the Mediterranean, they are widely considered to be one of the best, and most unique, of Provençal Rosé.  With a focus on the ancient native varietal called Tibouren, Clos Cibonne is a Rosé which develops in bottle, transcends the category, and is wildly versatile with food.

What makes Cibonne’s Rosé so exceptional is not only the quality of the base material but the unique ageing regime.  Aged for 2 years in 100 year old barrels and covered by a layer of what the French call Fleurette and the Spanish call Flor, Cibonne walks the line between the freshness of Provençal Rosé and the deeper complexity of Sherry.

The Cuvée Spéciale des Vignettes comes from Cibonne’s oldest vines, all 80+ years.  This is, by anyone’s estimation, one of the most profound Rosé in the world and one we’re looking forward to keeping on our shelf, long after the boys of summer have gone.

Jean-Luc Le Du

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Paul Pillot: The Undiscovered Gem of Chassagne-Montrachet

“I taste hundreds of wines in burgundy week, and have to scramble through my notes to check in with my views on many of them, but with Domaine Paul Pillot I remember where the table was in the room, and where I was standing as the wine hit my tastebuds. You just do with wines like that.” 

Victoria Moore, The Telegraph

It’s hard to believe there is still undiscovered country in Burgundy these days.  Without a doubt, the Cote D’Or is the most scrutinized wine region on the planet.  From vineyard to vigneron, there are just too many writers, blogs, and interested to parties to miss a trick.  Or so I thought until I discovered Paul Pillot.

With only 13 hectares of vines, primarily in Chassagne-Montrachet, totaling a meager 550 cases a year, Pillot has been quietly ascending ever since Paul’s son, Thierry, took over the estate 15 years ago.  It really is hard to overstate how rare it is to find Burgundy of this quality for these prices.  Thierry Pillot employs very little new oak, and subdued maloactic fermentations, so his wines fall on the precise and laser-etched spectrum of White Burgundy.

In terms of 2013, as a vintage, it is a lovely year for whites.  The reds are a bit more problematic but when the prices are reasonable, 2013 will offer much pleasure on early returns.  Take a look, specifically, at the Chassagne-Montrachet Rouge 1er Cru Clos St. Jean.  A century ago, Chassagne was most heralded for its red wines, not its whites.  As a result, Chassagne Rouge from a great vineyard by a top-level producer can offer exceptional value, especially compared to similar quality from the Cote de Nuits.  This goes double for the Bourgogne Rouge, from vineyards in and around Chassagne, which is the best entry level red Burgundy I’ve tasted this year.

In the whites, the two St. Aubin are both a ton of wine for the money.  St. Aubin is a tragically underrated appellation.  At their best, the whites can display the same steeliness of Puligny-Montrachet but with, generally, an earlier maturation.  Keep in mind, the two Premier Cru from Pillot are extensions of Chassange-Montrachet vineyards (called Les Chaumees and Pentagerets, respectively).  Any version from the Chassagne side is going to be twice the price!   Both fall into the nervier side of White Burgundy with the Charmois currently showing more generosity while the Pitangerets reminds me most of a richer style of tense Chablis.  Both of the Chassagne-Montrachet are classic examples of some of the best Premier Cru in the appellation.

Despite its low-key market presence, Pillot has no problem selling the 500-ish cases it produces a year so what I’ve listed below is the totality of my allocation.  Everything is discountable so if you want to mix and match 12, they’ll be 15% off at the end of it.  Please let me know if any of the below interests and I hope all is well!

Domaine Paul Pillot St. Aubin 1er Cru Les Charmois 2013  $49.99 

“A hint of matchstick character is present on the equally fresh though slightly riper array of lemon zest, floral and pear scents. There is a bit more volume to the less obviously mineral-inflected medium weight flavors that possess a caressing mouth feel that continues onto the saline-inflected finale. While this should easily be capable of rewarding a few years of cellar time, although it could also be approachable when young.”  Allen Meadows, Burghound

Domaine Paul Pillot St. Aubin 1er Cru Les Pitangerets 2013  $49.99  

“An exuberantly fresh and expressive nose features notes of citrus, green apple and pretty floral nuances. There is excellent definition to the racy, intense and minerally middle weight flavors that possess fine punch and persistence.” 

Allen Meadows, Burghound

Domaine Paul Pillot Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru Les Grandes Ruchottes 2013 $99.99  

“Notes of matchstick, lemon-lime, acacia blossom and white orchard fruit aromas serve as an elegant introduction to the dense yet elegant medium weight flavors that also exude a fine bead of minerality and salinity.  One to consider.”

Allen Meadows, Burghound

Domaine Paul Pillot Bourgogne Rouge 2013 $27.99 

“From vineyards on the border and just outside Chassagne, Pillot’s Bourgogne Rouge is outstanding for its level.  Notably ripe, red fruit is framed by sappy, admirably rich mid-palate.  With earth and baker’s chocolate hiding beneath the fruit, there is ample evidence this will actually improve over the next few years but the immediate pleasure is such there seems no conceivable reason to wait!”  JT Robertson, Le Du’s

Domaine Paul Pillot Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru Clos St. Jean ROUGE 2013  $72.99  

“This is notably more floral with its gently spiced aromas of dark currant, black raspberry, earth and cool wet stone scents. There is fine detail and vibrancy to the wonderfully textured mineral-inflected flavors that possess not only a much finer mouth feel but also markedly better complexity on the balanced and beautifully persistent finish. This is excellent and recommended.”  Allen Meadows, Burghound

With High Regards,

JT Robertson

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Your Greek vacation in a bottle: Santorini’s Domaine Sigalas!

santorini.aerialYou may know Santorini for its picturesque terraces of whitewashed houses overlooking sublime coastlines with vivid, almost impossibly blue water.  It might just be one of the most beautiful places in the world.  But did you know that the island is home to some of the world’s most fascinating vineyards?  Santorini’s current shape results from a volcanic eruption ca. 1620 BC that sank most of the island under the sea, blanketing what remained in a thick layer of volcanic ash.  The eruption laid waste most of nearby Crete, spelling the doom of that island’s Minoan civilization, and its effects may have been felt as far away as Egypt!

The ancients’ loss is our gain, as the landscape of the region, a ring of craggy, windswept slopes blanketed in volcanic ash,  gives rise to some of the most unique and compelling wines in the world.  The Assyrtiko grape (the main grape of the island which by law must comprise at least 70% of all wines of the Santorini PDO), retains its acidity at very high ripeness levels, meaning the wines combine an extreme mineralic tension and vibrant acidity, with a ripe, fleshy sense of fruit.   The volcanic soil gives them a textural element, a certain fuzzy, electric tang that is completely unique, not even seen in similarly volcanic wines from Tokaj, Sicily, or the Canary Islands!

The vinsantorini-vineyardeyards of Santorini do not look like anything else on earth. The strong winds that grace the island, its remoteness, and the prevalence of volcanic soil (in which the phylloxera louse does not thrive) have given rise to their unique appearance.  The vines are self-rooted, and propagated in the ancient way by burying a cane of an existing vine to create a new one.  As they grow, the vines are trained into a low-lying circular shape resembling a basket, with the grape clusters forming inside the basket, protected from the strong Mediterranean sun.  Once the growth becomes unmanageable and the yields too little to be viable, the vine is pruned back to the root and allowed to grow new canes.  Vines maintained in this way have been known to last 300 years or more!  The islanders’ winemaking culture managed to navigate centuries of domination by the Ottoman Empire, whose Islamic faith wasn’t exactly friendly to wine, as well as frequent wars with Russia (an important export market for Santorini despite being a perennial rival of the Turks).

aa_300_13Domaine Sigalas Assyrtiko-Athiri – $19.99

Distinctly Mediterranean nose of sea shells, candle wax, orange blossoms coating the mouth with juicy, tangy meyer lemon, peach, and passionfruit transitioning to a prickly, fuzzy finish full of sea salt and volcanic ash. Flattering acidity.  Substantial and food-friendly but dangerously easy to drink. 

Founded in 1991 by Paris Sigalas, Christos Markozane and Yiannis Toundas, and quickly established a reputation as the island’s benchmark for quality.  The vineyards are farmed organically, and this cuvee is from vines that are all at least 50 and in some cases well over 100 years old.  This wine is fermented and aged in temperature-controlled stainless steel, and is a fascinating exemplar of how modern technical know-how can be seamlessly fused with ancient grape-growing traditions.  A few years ago, I had the good fortune of tasting some older vintages from this winery, going back to the early 1990s, and was just blown away by the freshness and vigor of even the older wines. My best comparison would be a very ripe Chablis done in an all-stainless steel style, but with the flavor palette amped up from Chablis’ earth tones, to something bordering on neon!  These are some of the most vivid, expressive wines out there.

-Duncan

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Encruzado & The Rise of Portugal

Quinta Do Perdigao Encruzado 2014 $21.99

perdigao3Honeyed notes of red delicious, candied lemon, white flowers, and bread just finished baking.  A pure lemon entry, with delicate hints of butterscotch and mint underlying, gives way to a richly textured mid-palate, no doubt from the extended lees ageing and barrel fermentation, before surprising with a racy, mineral finish.  It’s like a vein of silver running up the spine.  There are proper tannins here too, which must come from the 48 hours the wine is kept on its skins.  If you took the fruit of a subdued Sauvignon Blanc, added the weight of a Macon, then a dash of Chenin Blanc, you’d be somewhere close to the mark.  A lovely and unique white which couldn’t have come from anywhere other than Portugal.  500 Cases Produced.

I’m more than a little in love with Portugal.  In my mind, it exists in a younger time.  Life isn’t as complicated.  The old ways are still respected.  Every town has its own way of doing things.  While that’s certainly a fantasy concocted by a fiberoptically wired brain living and working in 21st century New York, it doesn’t stop me dreaming and, besides, there’s more than a little truth there, at least when it comes to wine.

Portugal was, for many intents and several purposes, closed off from the modern world during the leadership of Salazar.  In many ways, it was trapped in amber, maintaining its particular identity amidst the rising tide of globalization.  Too often these days, we end up tasting the same things over and over, just from different places.  Portuguese wine managed to keep its native grapes, its traditions, and its point of view, especially in Dao.

A landlocked region, protected by mountains, Dao is a granite plateau with warm, dry summers.  Until very recently, Dao was known as a producer of cheerfully cheap reds with aggressive tannins.  These days, Dao, like the rest of Portugal, is engaged in a sort of renaissance as the number of small quintas (wineries) has increased five-fold.  This has led to a wonderful increase in thoughtful quality.

Jose Perdigao, Quinta do Perdigao, Dao, Portugal perdigao2

Case in point, Quinta do Perdigao.  A small, family owned winery farming just 7 hectares and producing approximately 3,000 cases a year, Perdigao is one of the few quintas to bottle single varietals.  Because Dao is old and local, the vineyards are, by and large, a hodgepodge of different varietals, generally thrown together to make a red wine for the houses up the road.  In emphasizing grapes like Encruzado, Alfrocheiro, and Touriga Nacional, Perdigao is courageously staking a claim for uniqueness in a world which doesn’t always reward such declarations.

Encruzado itself is a grape I honestly haven’t had much experience with so I’ll go ahead and borrow the words of the incomparable Jancis Robinson:

“A high-quality, well-structured variety, Encruzado has great potential – possibly more than any other white variety in Dao.  A complex mix of capsicum, roses and violets, flinty minerality and lemon, Encruzado marries well with oak in barrel fermentation and lees ageing, giving a well-structured wine a little like White Burgundy.” 

You’ll undoubtedly be hearing more and more about Portugal in the months and years to come.  Across the country, the wine culture is exploding with vigor and genius.  It is a treasure trove for the wine-lover, brimming with producers marching to their own beat and wines singing in singular voices.

–JT

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Rum is waiting for you!

If I were to describe an aged spirit made across a large geographical area featuring an eclectic and compelling array of styles whose versatility allows it to be served in cocktails or savored neat, you’d be forgiven for thinking I was speaking of whiskey.  At a time when the demand for whiskey is outrageous, when Cognac has become a global brand, when tequila and mezcal, formerly Rum’s partners in the basement of public opinion, has gained world-wide recognition, rum continues to languish.  The reason is fairly simple.  Rum has never had its Patron.  It has never had a brand which breaks the barrier of public perception and elevates the entire category.  Twenty years ago, you would have been hard pressed to find someone willing to pay good money for a Tequila.  Patron changed that.  Rum has never had its Patron.

Which is both a shame and a blessing.  A shame because it is without question a category which deserves elevation, but a blessing because the value to those of us in the know is astounding.  The common misconception of rum is that the cheap stuff (you know the names) represents all rum is or can be.  This couldn’t be farther from the truth.  Rum is produced all over the Caribbean and Central America in a dizzying array of styles and flavor profiles.  From the chewy sweetness of Guyana to the rich elegance of Barbados to the raw power of Jamaica to the ethereal complexity of French Martinique, rum comes in all shapes and colors.  It can be made from molasses or pure sugar cane.  It can be sweet as syrup or dry as Cognac.  It can be fresh and vibrant when young or come to possess stunning complexity with years in the barrel.  Coming full circle, the only spirits region with similar diversity would be Single Malt Scotch but I would argue Rum outpaces even Scotland for sense of place and variation of spirit.

The quality is there.  The value is there.  A profound universe of Rum already exists.  It is simply waiting for the barriers to fall and the world to notice.  To do my part, I’m suggesting 3 exceptional Rums, each representing a different style and region, any one of which will completely change your conception of what Rum can be.

Ministry of Rum Collection Saint Lucia Pot Still 5 Year $40.00

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Geeky Distilling Information-The molasses used at St Lucia Distillers was sourced from Guyana and contained 65% dissolved sugar, one of the highest sugar contents of any molasses found in the Caribbean. The high sugar content is attributed to the age of the Guyanese sugar mill. There are three stills at St Lucia Distillers Ltd. A continuous column still, the Vendome still and another smaller pot still.  The distillate is condensed at about 82% ABV.  After distillation, the distillate is collected in large tanks where several batches of distillate are blended. From these tanks, second-use American oak barrels are filled with fresh rum at about 70% ABV.

JT’s Take-Where to start on Ed Hamilton and the Ministry of Rum?  Ed is the English speaking world’s foremost authority on Rum.  Period.  End of Story.  He runs an AMAZING website called Ministry of Rum.  He travels around the world educating people about the wonders of rum.  He is also an importer.  This is a direct barrel selection from Ed Hamilton, the Minister of Rum, himself.  It totals around 123 cases.  It is one of the more profound molasses based rums you’re likely to come across.  As opposed to the rest of the Rums on this list, this Santa Lucia will be closer to the sweet, powerful flavor profile you’re likely to associate with rum.

Tasting Note“The aroma of this full-flavored, pot still rum explodes when the bottle is opened. Hints of pear, green apple and papaya in the initial taste give way to a spicy blend of cinnamon, tropical fruit and smoky oak. The finish is long, as you would expect in a 100% pot still rum, with baking spice tones on top of a slightly smoky foundation.”  Ed Hamilton, The Ministry of Rum

Neisson Aged Rum Reserve Speciale  $70.00

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Geeky Distilling Information– The Neisson distillery, built on Martinique’s northwest coast, benefits from some of the richest soil on the islands.  The family-owned distillery operates a single-colum, copper, continuous still and produces about 400,000 liters of rhum agricole annually.  All of the Neisson rhums are distilled, aged, and bottled only at the Martinique distillery.

JT’s Take-The important thing to know about Rhum Agricole, aka Rum from French Martinique, is these were historically made to take the place of Cognac.  Many who follow wine know about the Phylloxera outbreak in the late 19th century, which decimated the vineyards of Europe.  What many don’t think about is how that also destroyed the production capacity of Cognac.  Cognac being a brandy distilled from grapes, the French called on their colonies to make a distilled spirit which could serve as a substitute until the vineyards came back online.  French Martinique answered the call.  Made from pure sugar cane, rather than molasses, Neisson is one of the most elegant spirits I’ve ever come across.  Imagine the jubilance of Island rum with the ethereal beauty of Cognac and you’re close to the mark.  This is a world-class spirit, no question.

Tasting Note– “Neisson Rhum Agricole Reserva Speciale is characterized by a rich aroma of dark fruit and roasted nuts leading to a hearty body of fruit, nuts, smoky oak and vanilla, followed by hints of spice in the warm, lingering finish.”  5 Stars, Highest Recommendation, F. Paul Pacault’s Spirits Journal

Capovilla PMG Liberation Rhum  $137.00

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Geeky Distilling Information-It’s hard to explain why this is such an exceptional bottle without getting EXTREMELY geeky.  So we’ll just have to dive in.  This is the work of Vittorio Capovilla, one of the two best producers of Eau de Vie in the world, made from the stills of the Bielle distillery located on Marie-Galante, a small very rural island just off the coast of Guadaloupe.  So here’s the geeky part…the sugar cane (and this is all sugar cane, no molassess) is considered to be one of the greatest, rarest forms of sugar cane (Canne rouge B47.259) in existence.  The sugar cane is fermented for five days (unheard of in typical rum production) then distilled in alembic pot stills designed specifically for Mr. Capovilla before being aged for 10 years in First Fill Chateau D’Yquem barrels.

JT’s Take-In distilling circles, Capovilla is as close to a god as it gets.  Based out of Italy, he makes some of the purest, more arresting Eau de Vie on the planet.  He goes neck and neck with Reisetbauer, with Hans once saying to me the only Eau de Vie producer in his same class being Capovilla.  I can’t help but agree.  There is tremendous complexity here.  One of the hallmarks of Capovilla is his ability to capture the fresh essence of his base material then magnify it out into surprising variations.  Never heavy or ponderous, his Libreration hovers so far above the traditional conception of rum, it might as well be a different spirit.

Tasting Note“Fresh oak that speaks first while blood oranges, mocha and touches of tamarind come a little later and make it fresh.   There are also hints of camphor and fern that are very ‘rhum agricole’ as well as pineapple liqueur and touches of coconut. Beautiful freshness. Fruity and nervous, very different from most other young rhums.   It’s almost a fruit salad and it’s much less ‘tropical’ than expected. Absolutely no ‘coconut and banana’ effect, rather baskets of butter pears, apples, yellow plums and very ripe gooseberries.  Absolutely no thick and cloying aged rum. Medium long, clean, with touches of rose jelly, Turkish delights and even gewürztraminer. High-end apple juice. An unusual rum, more elegant and complex than many. Certainly not for mixing!” Serge Valentin

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Summer Madness for Chablis: Pascal Bouchard Chablis “Les Vielles Vignes” 2008

“The best-value appellations of all in 2008 are Chablis and Chablis Premier Cru, which can offer seriously wonderful wine”. Jancis Robinson, Purple Pages

Chablis is the ultimate summer wine but what about getting to drink Chablis from 2008 which is considered one of the best vintages and made from one of the most respected producers in this unique land of Kimmeridgean soil (which is composed of limestone, clay and fossilized oyster shells).

Pascal Bouchard is an independent family owned domaine that draws on the experience of 5 generations of dedicated winegrowers. Pascal Bouchard’s Estate covers 33 hectares within the 4 appellations of Chablis: Chablis Grand Cru, Chablis Premier Cru, Chablis and Petit Chablis. The main part of the vineyard has been planted by Pascal Bouchard during the early 80’s. Romain and Damien Bouchard both bothers have taken over the lead at this reputable estate and are continuing to make some of the top wines in Chablis.

I was fortunate to taste this wine with my co-worker Duncan McRoberts at our Saturday afternoon wine tasting and I was simply blown away by the layers of complexity and how well it had aged. I have to admit that after tasting the 2008 Bouchard I bought a couple of bottles for my summer consumption but I am also going to put some aside in my wine fridge for some additional aging. I urge you not to miss out on this delicious treat as we only have a few cases of it left and remember 2008 only happens once!!!!

Pascal Bouchard Chablis “Les Vielles Vignes” 2008 $29.99 

“Nutty, almond character that has a crisp texture and still lingering finish of green apple and lemon peel.  Taut and generous, this has a creamy richness, with an intense salty character and a hint of oyster shell”.

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“The happiest wine in the world”

When I’m helping someone choose a bottle of wine, one of the first questions I’m likely to ask is “what are you going to to be having it with?”  It’s easy to get so wrapped up in wine and food pairing that we sometimes forget about some styles of wine that are more than fulfilling, sometimes even at their best, on their own!  Summer’s sweltering heat makes the allure of a refreshing, casual, low-alcohol drink especially captivating, and my top choice for any-occasion (or no occasion!) refreshment is a delightful fizzy rosé from a tiny, sleepy corner of France called Bugey!

What’s Bugey?  Well, it’s not the Jura (though they are geologically similar), and it’s not Savoie (though they do share some grape varieties).  Historically speaking, this area was part of greater Burgundy (hence the proliferation of Burgundian grapes like Gamay), but today it is not a part of any of France’s major wine regions; this little district just west of Geneva is its own thing.

New cerdon frontRenardat-Fâche Cerdon du Bugey 2014 – $25.99

Fresh, lively,and expressive, this all-natural sparkling rosé is packed with funky summer blueberry and black raspberry,  lilacs, and powdery minerals.    This wine has just enough sweetness to round off the edges of the acidity and give dimension to the fruit.

Jean-Luc discovered this wine while dining at Alain Chapel in Mionnay, France and managed to talk an importer (the late, great Joe Dressner of Louis/Dressner Selections) into bringing it into the country.  The estate is run today by sixth-generation winemaker Elie Renardat-Fâche, who recently converted his family’s 12 hectares of vines to organic farming.  While most Cerdon du Bugey is almost entirely Gamay with only a token percentage of the finnicky, low-yielding Poulsard, the Renardat-Fâche family love the finesse and mouthwatering acidity it contributes to the blend, and use as much as 30% in the final wine.

cerdonPerhaps the wine for which this region is best known, the distinctive, fizzy rosé of Cerdon began as an afterthought.  It was originally produced by removing some of the juice from a vat of still-fermenting red wine and bottling it early to preserve some sweetness.  The effervescence was a natural consequence of bottling a still-fermenting wine.  Today’s Cerdon du Bugey belongs to the oldest style of sparkling wines, the Méthode Ancestrale.  Unlike more conventional sparkling wines, which go through a secondary fermentation (the one that creates the bubbles) after the primary fermentation is complete, méthode ancestrale wines are bottled while the primary fermentation is still going on, trapping the carbon dioxide in the the bottle, resulting in a softly sparkling wine that is often slightly sweet.  Just what you need to save your summer from industrially-produced beer!

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