Refreshing and Well-Made Bourgogne Aligoté

Today’s Story: Domaine Jean-Claude Ramonet

I previously wrote about Jean-Claude Ramonet when I reviewed the 2015 Chassagne-Montrachet 1er Cru Clos Saint-Jean in Exploring a Red From a Legendary Producer of White Burgundy. Domaine Ramonet was established in Chassagne-Montrachet in the late 1920s by Pierre Ramonet, and quickly became one of the preeminent producers of white Burgundy. Though the domaine has had its ups and downs over time largely due to premature oxidation in the 1990s, Jean-Claude Ramonet has returned the wines to fresh heights and remains a force to be reckoned with in the world of white Burgundy.

In the vineyards, Ramonet likes to work with older vines and keep his yields low. Most of the wines are produced from vines 12 to 50 years old, though they typically like to use vines 18 years or older. The domaine’s vinification practices are traditional in nature, with the whites starting in tanks before transfer to French oak barrels and the reds in cement vats for maceration and fermentation. New oak usage varies by wine and vintage, with the whites typically seeing 10-15% for village wines, 30-40% for 1er Crus, and 50%+ for the Grand Crus. Reds typically see 10-20% new oak for village wines and 30-40% for 1er Crus. None of the white wines are bottled fined or filtered.

Today’s Wine: 2015 Bourgogne Aligoté

100% Aligoté; 12.5% ABV

The 2015 Bourgogne Aligoté is transparent medium yellow in color with deep straw variation. On the nose, the wine showcases aromas of golden apple, white peach, white florals, cotton candy, dried vanilla, mild herbs, and mineral. Once on the palate, this displays notes of lemon citrus, yellow apple skins, snap pea, white wildflower, wax, and dill. The wine is light- to medium-bodied with high acidity and a plush, luxurious mouthfeel into a lingering but refreshing finish.

Price: $50. This is a very well-made, high quality Aligoté that I think justifies the price-point. Pair with oysters, roasted chicken, or cheese.

Beautifully Honest Santa Rita Hills Pinot Noir

Today’s Story: Whitcraft Winery

Whitcraft is a small, family-owned and operated winery in Santa Barbara, CA known for their traditionally made and “unadulterated” Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Established in 1985 by Chris and Kathleen (Barnato) Whitcraft, the winery started as a passion for both the craft of winemaking and the lifestyle. Chris learned from California greats including Joe Heitz, Dick Graff, and Burt Williams while simultaneously hosting a radio show about wine from 1978 to 1989. Chris and Kathleen’s son Drake joined the family winery and took over in 2007, maintaining the traditional practices of hand-harvesting, foot-pressing, no added enzymes, and native yeast fermentation. Whitcraft’s wines are pure, well-balanced, and honest representations of the fruit and terroir, often remaining low in alcohol and not seeing much added SO2. Drake hand fills and corks his wines, with production incredibly limited and often reserved for mailing list clients or restaurants. Though Chris passed away in 2014, his vision and passion live on through Drake to this day.

Today’s Wine: 2016 Pence Ranch Clone 828 Pinot Noir

100% Pinot Noir; 13.49% ABV

The 2016 Pence Ranch Clone 828 Pinot Noir is translucent pale ruby in color. Once this opens up, the nose displays aromas of ripe red cherry, wild raspberry, forest floor, stemmy underbrush, mint, dusty dried rock, and light baking spice. Moving to the palate, the wine showcases notes of strawberry, black cherry, cranberry, licorice, tobacco, loamy earth, white pepper, and green herbs and vegetation. This is light- to medium-bodied with medium acidity, light tannins, and a medium (+) finish. Would love to revisit this wine with a few more years of bottle age.

Price: $68. Whitcraft Pinot Noirs are some of my favorites out of California, and while they don’t have that opulence found in a lot of cult Cali Pinots I think they strike up right with some of the big dogs and therefore make a good value play. Pair with grilled duck breast, herb-roasted chicken, or goat cheese and salami.

Outstanding Traditional Rosso di Montalcino

Today’s Story: Biondi-Santi (Tenuta Greppo)

Biondi-Santi (Tenuta Greppo) traces its roots to the mid-1800s when Clemente Santi realized the immense promise of the land and vineyards in the heart of Montalcino. A writer with a profound knowledge of chemistry, Clemente set about crafting wines built for long-term aging and utilized racking and barrel aging techniques that were much more advanced than neighboring producers. Clemente started gaining admiration for his wines, particularly the 1865 vintage of red wine at the 1867 Universal Expo in Paris. After Clemente passed away, his grandson Ferruccio took over and continued the drive of producing age worthy wines with 100% Sangiovese. Though he passed away in 1917, in 1932 Ferruccio was credited with the invention of Brunello di Montalcino by an interministerial commission studying the area.

Ferruccio’s son Tancredi took over management of the estate following his father’s death, quickly becoming an ambassador for Brunello and bringing the wines to new heights. One of the unique practices Tancredi started is the refilling of old bottles of reserve wines, beginning with the 1888 and 1891 vintages in 1927. With Brunello wines at new heights of quality, particularly those of Biondi-Santi, Tancredi’s son Franco eventually took over the estate and brought them to wider audiences. Franco travelled the world tirelessly to showcase the longevity and beauty of his wines, while also growing the estate from 4 hectares to the current 25. Today, Franco’s sons Jacopo and Alessandra work at the estate and are joined by Jacopo’s son Tancredi who marks the seventh generation of family tradition.

The winemaking practices at Biondi-Santi are very traditional, beginning with manual harvesting of fruit and sorting in the vineyards at the end of each row. The fruit is gently crushed for native yeast fermentation in concrete tanks, with the musk pumped over twice daily. Malolactic fermentation occurs under temperature control, lasting 30 days, before the wine is transferred to large Slavonian oak barrels to age. The Brunellos then spend at least 3 years in these barrels before being bottled, where it sits for at least another 6 months before release.

Today’s Wine: 2015 Rosso di Montalcino

100% Sangiovese; 13.5% ABV

The 2015 Rosso di Montalcino is translucent medium garnet in color. This wine showed its best after two hours in the decanter, with the nose showcasing aromas of cherry, dried strawberry, tomato paste, red rose, licorice, tobacco, dried earth, savory herbs, and mocha. Once on the palate, the wine displays notes of cranberry, tart cherry, raspberry, strawberry, violet, leather, tea leaf, woody spice, crushed rock, and underbrush. This is medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium fine-grained tannins, and a medium (+) length finish.

Price: $110 (cheaper in Europe). Certainly not cheap (particularly for Rosso di Montalcino) but an outstanding bottle of wine that lives up to the great Biondi-Santi name. This is a very precise wine drinking beautifully now, but the ageability is certainly there. Pair with meat sauce pasta, lamb with rosemary, or Pecorino cheese.

Rasteau That Unfortunately Does Not Live Up to the Hype

Today’s Story: Domaine Gourt de Mautens

Domaine Gourt de Mautens was established by Jérôme Bressy in 1996 and is located in Rasteau of Southern Rhône. Though Bressy’s family owned vineyards in Rasteau for some time, the small AOC was not incredibly well-known. Jérôme’s father Yves converted his vineyards to organic viticulture in 1989 which allowed Jérôme to inherit healthy vines (30-100 years old) and soils for his first vintage, though he quickly took this a step further and started practicing biodynamic farming (later certified in 2008). The domaine consists of 13 hectares with chalky top soil composed of rocky clay and marl, largely attributed to the fact that water tends to flow toward the domaine following a storm. The name itself comes from “a place where the water flows” (Gourt) and “storm or bad weather” (Mautens). Bressy’s vines struggle due to poor nutrients in the soil, however, and produce low yields of 10-15 hl/ha. All harvesting is manual, and the fruit is sorted three times before beginning natural yeast fermentation. After the wines age, they are bottled unfined and unfiltered.

Today’s Wine: 2016 Vaucluse Rouge

Blend of Grenache, Carignan, Mourvèdre, Syrah, Counoise, Cinsault, Vaccarèse, and Terret Noir; 16% ABV

The 2016 Vaucluse Rouge is opaque medium to deep purple in color. This needs some generous time in the decanter to open up, but once it does the nose showcases aromas of black plum, crème de cassis, black raspberry, fig, black licorice, crushed rock, mild herbs, and black pepper. There’s also a slight sting of alcohol. Once on the palate, the wine shows notes of black cherry, candied strawberry, spiced plum, violet, light smoke, savory herbs, and milk chocolate. This is full-bodied with medium acidity, medium (-) tannins, and a long finish.

Price: $60. This is not my style of wine. It comes across rather big, sweet, and boozy (though I will say the ABV surprisingly doesn’t throw off the balance too much). It drinks more like a cocktail to me, and though I hoped saving some wine for day 2 would be better, it is all too much the same. Perhaps this is a vintage (or off bottle) story, but I don’t think it lives up to the hype.

Incredible Quality Just Outside Ribera del Duero

Today’s Story: Galia

Galia was established in 2009 as a personal project of vigneron Jérôme Bougnaud with the partnership of Daniel García-Pita of El Regajal. Though Jérôme comes from a lineage of winemakers in Cognac, France, he works extensively in Spain and particularly along the Duero River and just outside the official borders of Ribera del Duero in Castilla y León. Galia’s vineyards consist of relatively small parcels and are scattered along the river within the provinces of Soria, Burgos, and Valladolid. Most of these vineyards sit at 795-1,000m above sea level and consist of old vines aging 50-100+ years old. Jérôme practices organic viticulture and all fruit is harvested manually before going through whole cluster or partial whole cluster natural fermentation. The wines age in 15% new French oak barrels before being bottled unfined and unfiltered. Since many of these wines are bottled as Vino de Mesa because the vineyards lay outside established D.O.s, they can be an outstanding play for value given the incredible yet “under the radar” quality of land.

Today’s Wine: 2015 Le Dean

99% Tinto Fino (Tempranillo), 1% Albillo; 15% ABV

The 2015 Galia Le Dean is opaque medium to deep ruby in color with deep purple hues. Once this opens up (I gave it 3 hours in the decanter), the nose showcases aromas of dusty cherry, plum, dried fig, leather, pipe tobacco, forest floor, dried herbs, and cedar. Once in the mouth, the wine displays notes of black cherry, brambleberry, licorice, tobacco, loamy earth, chunky crushed rock and clay, underbrush, and chocolate. This is medium- to full-bodied with medium acidity, medium (+) tannins, and a long finish. 758 bottles produced.

Price: $55. Very high quality and well-made for the price, with the depth and balance (you can’t even tell this is 15% ABV) pushing this into the good value category. Pair with roasted lamb, suckling pig, or charcuterie.

Fun and Delicious Grower Champagne

Today’s Story: Domaine Francis Orban

Domaine Francis Orban was established in 1929 by Léopold Orban in the small village of Leuvrigny, not too far from Epernay. Though Léopold initially sold his fruit to the larger houses of Epernay, he decided to branch out and make his own wines as one of the first Grower Champagne houses in Leuvrigny. The domaine today spans 18 acres of vineyards between Leuvrigny and Sainte-Gemme, with 90% planted to Pinot Meunier and vines averaging 30-40 years old. The vineyards are farmed utilizing sustainable viticulture, harvesting is done completely by hand, and fermentation is accomplished using only indigenous yeasts in stainless steel tanks. In the NV bottlings, about 50% of the blend is comprised of reserve wines. Francis Orban is today’s 4th generation steward of the domaine, following the footsteps of his great-grandfather Léopold, grandfather Gaëtan, and father Pol.

Today’s Wine: NV Champagne Extra Brut

100% Pinot Meunier; 12% ABV

The Champagne Extra Brut is transparent deep gold in color. On the nose, I get aromas of yellow apple skins, golden pear, brioche, white pepper, almond, clay, and mineral. Once in the mouth, the wine showcases notes of lemon citrus, green apple, toasted nuts, toast, crushed rock, and cream. This is very dry and medium-bodied with high acidity and a crisp, refreshing finish.

Price: $45. Great QPR with this one, which tends to be the case with almost every grower Champagne I’ve had over the years. This wine is also incredibly fun to try, not simply for the fact it is 100% Pinot Meunier (typically a blending variety in Champagne) but also because it is Extra Brut with dosage of 3 g/l. Drink this on its own or pair with caviar or shrimp.

Outstanding Value With a Long Life Ahead

Today’s Story: Mastroberardino

I previously wrote about Mastroberardino when I reviewed the 1968 Taurasi Riserva in An Italian Legend early this year.

Mastroberardino is a family-operated winery founded in 1878 in Atripalda within the Provincia di Avellino in the Campania region of southern Italy. While widely known for their production of Taurasi DOCG, Mastroberardino further cemented themselves into Italian viticultural history through tireless efforts to identify and protect native ancient varieties in Campania, particularly those formerly grown in Pompeii. For instance, Mastroberardino was selected by the Italian government in 1996 to oversee the Villa dei Misteri project in Pompeii where they replanted vineyards destroyed by the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in AD 79 using the same plans, varieties, viticulture, and winemaking practices of that period in time. Though the winery has had its ups and downs over time (including near collapse following WWII due to economic hardship, phylloxera, neglect, and even family feuds), Antonio Mastroberardino resurrected his family’s legacy and helped build the winery into what it is today: a standard bearer of winemaking in southern Italy. Traditionalists in style, Mastroberardino continues to make some of Italy’s most historically important wines with Antonio’s son Piero now at the helm.

Today’s Wine: 2015 Taurasi Radici

100% Aglianico; 13.5% ABV

The 2015 Taurasi Radici is opaque medium to deep ruby in color with deep garnet variation near the rim. I gave this a couple hours to open up, allowing the nose to blossom into aromas of black cherry, ripe plum, strawberry, licorice, game, dusty dried earth, crushed rock, cedar, chocolate, and cracked pepper. Once in the mouth, the wine displays notes of blackberry, black raspberry, cassis, anise, violet, tobacco, loamy soil, granite, coffee grounds, smoke, mild vanilla, and rocky mineral. This is medium- to full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, high tannins, and a long finish. Drinks with remarkable depth, complexity, and character now but will only be better in five years and beyond.

Price: $40 (I got a steal at $29). At $40 this is a great value and I do not use the term “steal” lightly when I realize and appreciate I only paid $29 for this experience. This is one of those wines that I could be completely comfortable stockpiling for enjoyment over the decades to come. Pair with wild boar, roasted lamb, or smoked and spicy charcuterie with Pecorino cheese.

Tasty Gewurztraminer From Centuries of Tradition

Today’s Story: Maison Trimbach

Maison Trimbach is one of the most notable winemakers in Alsace, established in 1626 by Jean Trimbach. Today Trimbach is under the guidance of Hubert Trimbach and his nephews Jean and Pierre, rounding out 12 generations of family ownership and shared knowledge. Pierre’s daughter Anne, the oldest of the 13th generation, also now works in the family business. Though Trimbach’s world recognition greatly expanded in 1898 when Frédéric Emile Trimbach earned the highest marks at the International Wine Fair in Brussels, Trimbach is largely famous for the legendary Clos Sainte Hune vineyard. Located in the Rosacker Grand Cru vineyard, Clos Ste Hune has belonged to the Trimbach family for over two centuries and produces some of the most exquisite Alsatian Riesling in existence.

The Trimbach estate consists of 40 hectares encompassing 50 parcels across six villages that include Bergheim, Ribeauvillé, and Hunawihr. Trimbach also operates as a négociant business to produce additional non-estate wines. All of Trimbach’s winegrowing practices are sustainable and they try to preserve the natural environment of the vineyards. Trimbach practices close pruning and soil tilling while encouraging moderate yields and rigorous fruit selection come harvest which is accomplished entirely by hand. When the grapes are gently crushed at the winery, juices flow via gravity and Pierre vinifies and matures the wines adhering to centuries of tradition with both finesse and focus on the terroir. After being bottled each spring, the wines are released by maturity with some spending 5 to 7 years in the cellars to achieve balance before release.

Today’s Wine: 2016 Gewurztraminer

100% Gewurztraminer; 14% ABV

The 2016 Gewurztraminer is transparent medium gold in color. On the nose, I get aromas of tangerine, peach, lemon curd, rose, beeswax, and petrol. The palate is quite vibrant and lively, with notes of mandarin, grapefruit, pear, ginger, white florals, herbs, and mineral. This wine is medium- to full-bodied with medium acidity and a dry, long finish.

Price: $24. I think this is fairly priced and a pretty solid representation for the variety. Pair this with foie gras, Munster cheese, or apple streusel.

Legendary Aged Barolo Just Past Its Prime

Today’s Story: Giacomo Borgogno & Figli

Borgogno is one of the most legendary, time-tested producers in Piedmont, producing Barolo since their founding by Bartolomeo Borgogno in 1761. Though the estate always produced quality wines, it was Cesare Borgogno who launched the estate to new heights when he took over in 1920 by exporting the wines to Argentina, Europe, and the United States. Cesare also initiated the practice of keeping half of the Barolo Riserva production in their cellars for 20 years before release. When Cesare passed away in 1968, the estate went to his granddaughter Ida and her future husband Franco Boschis with the couple joined by their children Cesare and Giorgio in 1984. In 2008, the Farinetti family acquired the winery and remains set on maintaining the rich traditional practices of the Borgogno and Boschis families to this day.

Today, Borgogno consists of roughly 38 hectares with 8 hectares made up of woodlands and 31 hectares planted to vine. Roughly 60% of the vineyards are planted to Nebbiolo, with the balance planted to Dolcetto, Barbera, and Freisa aside from 2 hectares of Riesling and 3 hectares of Timorasso. The estate also owns vines in the famous Barolo Crus of Liste, Cannubi, Cannubi San Lorenzo, Fossati, and San Pietro delle Viole. In 2015 and 2016, Borgogno commenced a shift to organic viticulture and does not use any chemical fertilizers or herbicides in the vineyards. The traditional methods of winemaking remain in place, with wines experiencing long spontaneous fermentation in concrete tanks without selected yeasts and long aging in large Slavonian oak barrels.

Today’s Wine: 1961 Barolo Riserva

100% Nebbiolo; 13.5% ABV

The 1961 Barolo Riserva is translucent and pale tawny in color clinging onto pale garnet in the bowl of the glass. The nose is decidedly tertiary, with aromas of earthy mushroom, musty cellar, dried tobacco, black tea leaf, smoked game, and tar leading the way with incredibly faint dried rose petal, cherry, and dusty raspberry in the backdrop. On the palate, the wine displays notes of forest floor, dried underbrush, truffle, leather, black cherry, fig, rose, anise, and faint cinnamon. This is medium-bodied with medium acidity, light tannins, and a medium finish. While still showcasing textbook aged Barolo characteristics, this is certainly past its prime and I would’ve loved to try this 5 years ago.

Price: $200. This is a bottle for a fun tasting experience, but while it is drinking decently well for the age I do not think it’s worth the price paid because this is past its prime. Pair with veal and truffles, pheasant, or delicate mild cheeses.

High Quality New Zealand Pinot Noir

Today’s Story: Fromm Winery

Fromm Winery was established in 1992 by Georg Fromm and winemaker Hätsch Kalberer, with the intent of producing European-styled wines of Pinot Noir, Syrah, Malbec, Chardonnay, Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, and Gewürztraminer. The vineyards and wines are 100% organic, and Fromm believes in allowing the fruit and terroir to speak for themselves rather than being heavy-handed in the cellar. The vineyards are densely planted, they do not use any artificial chemicals, and refrain from irrigating the vineyards so the vines struggle and produce quality, terroir-driven fruit. Though Georg Fromm returned to his native Switzerland in 2008 to tend to his family winery, Fromm Winery today is under the watchful eyes of family friend and owner Pol Lenzinger, co-owner Stephan Walliser, and George Walliser.

Today’s Wine: 2017 Cuvée H Pinot Noir

100% Pinot Noir; 13.5% ABV

The 2017 Cuvée H Pinot Noir is pale to medium ruby in color and translucent. Once this opens up, the nose showcases aromas of black cherry, strawberry, licorice, forest floor, gravel, mixed herbs, mild baking spice, and vanilla. On the palate, the wine displays notes of plum, pomegranate, wild raspberry, strawberry licorice, lightly smoked game, loamy earth, finely crushed rock, and light oak. This is medium-bodied with medium acidity, medium (-) tannins, and a medium (+) finish.

Price: $35. This wine offers great QPR, drinking with both quality and depth while coming across quite Burgundian in style. Pair with roasted chicken, Beef Wellington, or quail.