Delicate and Pure Entry Level Champagne

Today’s Story: Billecart-Salmon

Billecart-Salmon is a family-run Champagne house established in 1818 in Mareuil-sur-Aÿ through the marriage of Nicolas François Billecart and Elisabeth Salmon. Nicolas François, who handled the commercial aspects of the new Champagne house, brought his brother-in-law Louis Salmon on board to make the wines. 200 years later, the 7th generation of the Billecart family manages the house with the 6th generation still very much involved. Together they cultivate 100 hectares of vineyards across 40 crus of Champagne and an area of 300 hectares, the majority of which sits around Epernay. Billecart’s signature style comes largely from their fermentation process, which is accomplished in stainless steel tanks at lower temperatures to prolong fermentation an coax out delicate aromas and purity of fruit. All vinification occurs cru by cru and variety by variety, allowing each to maintain the unique expressions of the varying terroir. The house’s wines rest in chalk cellars dating to the 17th and 19th centuries, with the NV bottlings enjoying 3-4 years in the cellar and the vintage bottlings enjoying 10 years.

Today’s Wine: Champagne Brut Réserve

40% Pinot Meunier, 30% Pinot Noir, 30% Chardonnay; 12% ABV

The Champagne Brut Réserve is transparent gold in color with tiny bubbles. On the nose, I get aromas of yellow pear, golden apple, honeysuckle, toast, yeast, and chalk. There’s a delightful herbal earthiness there too. Once in the mouth, the wine showcases notes of crisp green apple, lemon citrus, stone fruit, honey, brioche, rose petal, and cream. This is medium-bodied with great effervescence and vibrant, mouthwatering acidity into a medium (+) length finish.

Price: $45. I think this is a great “entry level” Champagne from one of the larger, more recognizable houses. You can without a doubt find better values from growers, however you can’t go wrong with Billecart-Salmon in this price-point over some of the bigger names.

Delicious, Small Production Australian Shiraz

Today’s Story: Coriole Vineyards

Coriole Vineyards is a third generation family owned and operated winery established by Hugh and Molly Lloyd in 1967 in the McLaren Vale region of Australia. At that time Coriole consisted of 12 acres of vineyards with Shiraz vines dating back to 1919, and the Lloyd’s released their first “Claret” wine in 1969. Though Shiraz is undoubtedly one of the varieties McLaren Vale is known for, Coriole spiced things up over the years by planting Sangiovese in 1985 which makes up 10% of the land under vine. Coriole consists of 25 different vineyards, made up of 65% Shiraz, 10% Sangiovese, 5% Chenin, 5 % Cabernet Sauvignon, 5% Nero d’Avola, and the balance inclusive of Fiano, Grenache, Barbera, Mourvedre, and Montepulciano. The Lloyd family farms their vineyards adhering to organic practices and they are pending certification, while when it comes to winemaking itself they are largely traditional.

As the website is full of additional information, gorgeous pictures of the vineyards, and the full portfolio of wines, I encourage you to visit here.

Today’s Wine: 2016 Lloyd Reserve Shiraz

100% Shiraz; 14% ABV

The 2016 Lloyd Reserve Shiraz is opaque medium purple in color. Once this opens up, the nose showcases aromas of plum, blueberry, black cherry, cola, tobacco, graphite, cedar spill, tilled rocky soil, and cinnamon. On the palate, I get notes of spiced black plum, blackberry, black raspberry, black cherry, sweet tobacco, wet gravel, and light toasted oak. The purity of fruit here is striking. This is medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, fine grained medium (+) tannins, and a long finish. 330 cases produced.

Price: $40 ($80 from the winery). I got this for an absolute steal and it’s worth every penny. This is a gorgeous, textbook modern Shiraz and even at $80 I would be tempted to give it a shot. I will certainly be buying more at $40!

Fantastic Riesling From Eden Valley’s Oldest Vineyard

Today’s Story: Pewsey Vale Vineyard

Pewsey Vale Vineyard was first established in the Eden Valley wine region of South Australia in 1847 by Joseph Gilbert. After arriving from England, Gilbert sourced his vines from Macarthur Vineyards at Camden in New South Wales which were originally sourced from Rheingu, Germany in 1837. Importantly, Pewsey Vale Vineyard is not only Eden Valley’s first ever planted grapevines, but the first successful recorded importation of the Riesling variety to Australia as a whole. Though the vineyard fell into disrepair during the global financial crisis of the late 1920s and 1930s, it was rediscovered in 1961 and vigneron Wyndham Hill Smith started revamping the site. Today, Pewsey Vale produces 4 bottlings of Riesling from this historic site.

The vineyard itself sits on average around 485 to 500 meters above sea level and is planted entirely to the Riesling variety. Difficult to manage due to its high altitude, rocks, and varying microclimates, the vineyard demands constant care from winemaker Louisa Rose and viticulturist Darrell Kruger. In 2013, the Contours block of the vineyard (where my wine today comes from) received organic certification, though Kruger farms it adhering to biodynamic practices.

Today’s Wine: 2013 The Contours Museum Reserve Riesling

100% Riesling; 12% ABV

The 2013 Contours Museum Reserve Riesling is transparent medium straw in color with greenish-yellow hues around the rim of the glass. This is gorgeous on the nose, with aromas of lemon, lime, green apple, white florals, petrol, wet stone, and rubber. On the palate, I get notes of lime zest, grapefruit, underripe pear, lemongrass, honeysuckle, toast, and rocky mineral. This dry Riesling is light- to medium-bodied with vibrant high acidity and a long finish.

Price: $34. This is a very nice wine with only untapped potential with more bottle age, and one that I find to be a great value. Definitely give this a shot if you come across it.

Great Value Rioja Gran Reserva

Today’s Story: El Coto de Rioja

El Coto de Rioja was established in 1970 when they completed their first harvest in Rioja, however the winery was not completed until 1976 in Oyón of the Álava province. Rather quickly, El Coto de Rioja ramped up their commercial goals and throughout the 1980s laid the foundation for drastic increases in global exportation that occurred during the 1990s. By the mid-1990s, demand for the wines was nearly outpacing production so El Coto de Rioja expanded their original winery and became the leading brand in the Spanish market for Crianza and Reserva by 2000. In 2004, the estate’s Los Almendros vineyard (450 hectares) became the largest in Rioja and today the winery is the largest winegrower in the Denominación de Origen Rioja. In 2010, El Coto de Rioja started producing white wines which preceded, in 2014, the creation of a separate winery (still within the overall facility in Oyón) built exclusively to produce white wines.

As briefly mentioned, El Coto de Rioja is the largest winegrower in the Denominación de Origen Rioja with 730 hectares planted to vine. These vineyards are spread throughout the region, broken down into 8 separate “farms.” Maintaining their own estate vineyards is a crucial aspect of the winemaking process for El Coto de Rioja, for it helps them ensure a consistent quality across all the fruit. This mentality continues to the winery itself, which is organized as twelve “separate” wineries each designated to complete one step of the winemaking process. For example, there are separate buildings for production, blending, aging, bottling, and the finished product, all with optimized conditions for their tasks.

To learn more about the estate or to look through their portfolio of wines, check out the website here.

Today’s Wine: 2012 Coto de Imaz Rioja Gran Reserva

90% Tempranillo, 10% Graciano; 14.5% ABV

The 2012 Coto de Imaz Rioja Gran Reserva is opaque deep ruby/purple in color and nearly black at its core. I decanted this for 5 hours or so, tasting along the way, and it needed it. While initially the nose is dominated by oak, cinnamon, and vanilla, over time it develops to showcase black cherry, plum, cassis, tobacco, black tea, graphite, rocky mineral, and cedar. Moving to the palate, I get notes of tart cherry, blackberry, black raspberry, licorice, red florals, baking spice, iron, and oak. This is full-bodied with high acidity, grippy medium (+) tannins, and a medium (+) length finish.

Price: $30. I think this is a great value for Rioja, especially a Gran Reserva. This would be a great accessible wine for people trying to explore Rioja who may not be familiar with the region or the Tempranillo variety. Drinks beautifully now with some air, but plenty of gas left in the tank.

Lovely Young Sauternes From a Historic Producer

Today’s Story: Château Suduiraut

Château Suduiraut traces its roots back to 1580 through the marriage of Nicole d’Allard to Léonard de Suduiraut. Though the estate was destroyed during the Fronde civil wars of the mid 1600s, the current château was rebuilt later on but still during the 17th century. During the late 18th century, the estate went to Jean Joseph Duroy, who was a nephew of the Suduiraut family, and it was renamed Cru du Roy. In 1992, AXA Millésimes acquired the estate and the company continues to focus on producing high quality Sauternes with traditional vineyard management and winemaking inspired by Suduiraut’s rich history.

The vineyards of Château Suduiraut total 91 hectares of which 90% is planted to Sémillon and 10% is planted to Sauvignon Blanc. The gravel and sandy clay composition of the soil proves poor for water retention and therefore the vines struggle, reaching deep for nutrients and focusing energy into smaller clusters of fruit. The soil acting in this way largely contributes to more concentrated and higher quality fruit. Come harvest, Château Suduiraut picks entirely by hand and sorts the grapes with great care due to noble rot (Botrytis Cinerea) as they become overripe. The great care and immense quality protocol requires up to five pickings during harvest season, oftentimes going vine by vine or bunch by bunch.

Today’s Wine: 2016 Sauternes

96% Sémillon, 4% Sauvignon Blanc; 14% ABV

The 2016 Sauternes is a beautiful, transparent deep gold in color. The captivating nose emits aromas of peach cobbler, apricot, orange marmalade, honey, savory herbs, florals, and vanilla. On the palate, I get notes of apricot, candied orange, pineapple, crème brûlée, caramel, ginger, and hazelnut. This wine is medium- to full-bodied with gorgeous medium (+) acidity and a long finish. While this drinks beautifully right now, it will certainly cellar nicely for at least another decade.

Price: $75. I think this is a pretty good value for Sauternes, and the $35 I paid for this half bottle was perfect both in price-point and for bottle size as a light after-dinner beverage. This is a gorgeous wine.

Everyday Drinking Syrah

Today’s Story: The Paring

I previously wrote about The Paring when I reviewed their 2015 Red Blend, but I wanted to revisit the brand for the Syrah today.

The Paring is like a “little sister” to Jonata and The Hilt, both wineries I wrote about previously, and is produced from blocks that are either too young or not stylistically aligned with its big sisters. As I mentioned in previous posts, Jonata and The Hilt are sister wineries of Screaming Eagle through a shared owner in Stan Kroenke who also owns the LA Rams and other sporting teams. Jonata excels with Rhône and Bordeaux varieties while The Hilt commands Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, providing the basis for the Paring portfolio which includes a Bordeaux Blend, Syrah, Sauvignon Blanc, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and Rosé of Pinot Noir. Fruit for The Paring is sourced primarily from the Ballard Canyon, Sta. Rita Hills, and Santa Maria Valley regions of Santa Barbara, and the winery also shares its skilled winemaker Matt Dees with Jonata and The Hilt.

Today’s Wine: 2017 Syrah

100% Syrah; 14.4% ABV

The 2017 Syrah is opaque deep purple in color with heavy staining on the glass. Once this opens up, the nose showcases aromas of blackberry compote, blueberry, plum, sweet tobacco, wet gravel, baking spice, and oak. On the palate, I get notes of blueberry pie, candied black plum, black raspberry, underbrush, charred earth, slate, asphalt, and oak. This wine is full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, grippy high tannins, and a long finish.

Price: $25. This is a classic California Syrah built for everyday drinking, and I think the price is perfectly fit for it. While certainly young and drinking more like a people-pleaser’s Syrah today, this would go great with food.

Fresh, Vibrant, and Fun Coastal Chardonnay

Today’s Story: Lady of the Sunshine

Lady of the Sunshine was established in 2017 by Gina Hildebrand with a focus on Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinot Noir sourced from organic and biodynamic vineyards in California’s Central Coast. Gina grew an appreciation and passion for wine growing up thanks to spending a lot of time at her family’s winery Narrow Gate Vineyards, though it also helped her discover the importance of biodynamic farming which her family also practices. With Lady of the Sunshine, Gina sources fruit from organically farmed vineyards at a minimum and, since early 2018, personally farms Chêne Vineyard and transitioned it to biodynamics with Demeter certification earlier this year.

When it comes to winemaking itself, Gina crafts fun wines meant to emphasize the terroir and her farming practices through minimal intervention in the cellar. All of the Lady of the Sunshine wines are fermented with native yeasts and see minimal sulfur additions in neutral oak. The wines are stirred from the lees only once for bottling, with all bottled unfined and unfiltered.

Today’s Wine: 2018 Chêne Vineyard Chardonnay

100% Chardonnay; 12% ABV

The 2018 Chêne Vineyard Chardonnay is transparent medium to deep gold in color. Given some time to open up in the glass, the wine showcases aromas of lemon citrus, crisp golden apple, stone fruit, white lily, brioche, flint rock, and saline mineral. Moving to the palate, I get notes of green apple, slightly underripe pear, baked pineapple, lime zest, olive oil, sea salt, and lightly toasted hazelnut and almond. This is medium- to full-bodied with vibrant high acidity, a plush and somewhat oily mouthfeel, and a long finish.

Price: $34. I think this is very fairly priced and it’s a very fun, clean, vibrant Central Coast Chardonnay. I really like how the low alcohol and minimal intervention winemaking makes this a true representation of the terroir and transports you to the coast.

Easy to Find Everyday Rioja

Today’s Story: Bodegas Faustino

Bodegas Faustino is a large, family-owned winery established in 1861 by Eleuterio Martínez Arzok in Oyón, Spain. Eleuterio purchased the manor house and existing vineyards of the property with a plan of producing wine and ramping up bulk production and improving quality over time. Around 1920, Faustino Martínez Pérez de Albéniz helped reconstruct the vineyards (which were destroyed by phylloxera) and later took over. One of his major accomplishments was being the first to bottle the family’s wine. In 1957, the winery leadership transitioned to third-generation Julio Faustino Martínez who, during the 1960s, established the Faustino brand and was the first to create an international market for their wines. Today the brand’s wines can be found in over 70 countries and the Faustino I Rioja Gran Reserva accounts for over 30% of all Gran Reserva DOCa Rioja sold around the world.

Bodegas Faustino currently owns about 650 hectares of vineyards in the DOCa Rioja, making them one of the largest vineyard owners in all of Rioja. The Faustino winery is also quite large to keep up with the vast production of wines shipped all over the world, with barrel rooms which hold about 50,000 oak barrels and cellars that hold about 9 million bottles at a given time. To learn more about Bodegas Faustino and explore their wide range of wines, check out the website here. To learn more about Faustino I in particular, visit here.

Today’s Wine: 2006 Faustino I Rioja Gran Reserva

86% Tempranillo, 9% Graciano, 5% Mazuelo; 13.5% ABV

The 2006 Faustino I is opaque medium to deep ruby in color. I gave this 2 hours to decant, which it needed to blow some of the oak and heat off the wine. Once opened, the nose emits aromas of fig, brambleberry, black cherry, cola, cigar box, truffle, forest floor, dill, mineral, and oak. On the palate, I get notes of plum, blackberry pie, tart cherry, dried earth, cedar, baking spice, chocolate, vanilla, and charred oak. This is medium- to full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium tannins, and a medium length finish.

Price: $27. I think this is a decent value Rioja for anyone new to exploring the region and its wines. The nose is certainly better than the palate in my opinion (palate still a bit people-pleasing) and this must be accompanied by food. Please, please, please give it some air before enjoying as well, as this really did start showing nicely at the 2-3 hour mark.

Complex Primitivo From a Lesser-Known Region

Today’s Story: Agricola Felline

Felline was established during the 1990s by the Perrucci family in Manduria of the Puglia (Apulia) region of Italy. Under the leadership of Gregory Perrucci, Felline is a champion of older native Italian varieties such as Primitivo, Negramaro, Ottavianello, Malvasia Nera, and Sussumaniello. Though these older varieties and many wines coming out of Puglia were “cheaper table wines” made in bulk, Gregory champions the region and spent great effort in studying the various soils and microclimates to produce higher quality, true-to-variety wines. Alongside Felline, Gregory established the Accademia dei Racemi to further his goals of bringing greater renown to the older varieties and wines of Puglia with the help of other wineries who share a similar mission. Gregory has been instrumental in building the reputation of Puglia as a winegrowing region, and it seems there are only greater heights ahead.

Today’s Wine: 2010 Primitivo di Manduria Cuvée Anniversario

100% Primitivo; 14.5% ABV

The 2010 Primitivo di Manduria Cuvée Anniversario is a rather beautiful, translucent, medium garnet color. Given some time to open up, the wine showcases a nose of sweet red cherry, strawberry, fig, red licorice, violet, exotic spice, cinnamon, and gravel. On the palate, I get notes of blackberry purée, ripe cherry, strawberry rhubarb, raspberry jam, sweet tobacco, dried earth, iron, and medicinal herbs. This wine is medium- to full-bodied with medium acidity, chewy medium (+) tannins, and a long finish.

Price: $50. I think this is very fairly priced and it’s a fun bottling of Primitivo with some age on it. There’s certainly still plenty of gas left in the tank emphasized by the wine’s fruit-forward characteristics and structure, but it is beautiful now. Share this with your Zinfandel lover who may not know it’s the same genetic variety!

Great Value Italian Syrah

Today’s Story: Tenimenti d’Alessandro

Tenimenti d’Alessandro was established in 1967 by the d’Alessandro family when they acquired property in Manzano near Cortona in south-east Tuscany. Today the estate consists of about 30 hectares of certified organic vineyards, which are planted to Syrah, Viognier, and Sangiovese. During the 1980s, Tenimenti d’Alessandro experimented with a number of varieties before ultimately finding the soil and climate uniquely suited for Rhône varieties of Syrah and Viognier. In the beginning of the 1990s, d’Alessandro released their first Viognier and Syrah called Fontarca and Bosco, respectively, and have since become a benchmark producer in Cortona. Several years ago, the Calabresi family who had been partners of Tenimenti d’Alessandro since 2007 took ownership of Tenimenti d’Alessandro and today Filippo Calabresi handles much of the winemaking process. Under the Calabresi family, the winery became certified organic in 2016.

To further explore the estate or their wines, visit the website here.

Today’s Wine: 2013 Il Bosco Syrah

100% Syrah; 14% ABV

The 2013 Il Bosco Syrah is opaque deep purple in color and almost black in the bowl of the glass. I decanted this for 2 hours and drank it over the following 2 hours. The nose showcases aromas of black plum, blackberry, black licorice, tobacco, damp tilled soil, mild smoke, and oak, with some alcohol also poking through. Once in the mouth, the wine offers notes of black cherry, plum, blueberry, purple florals, sweet tobacco, crushed rock, dark chocolate, and green peppercorn. This is full-bodied with medium acidity, medium (+) fine-grained tannins, and a long finish.

Price: $38. This is my first Italian Syrah, but I do drink a good amount of Syrah and find this bottling to be a very strong value. While both distinctly Italian and distinctly Syrah, I think this would be a fun wine for any Syrah lover to try.