Old Vine Magic

Today’s Story: Sandlands Vineyards

Sandlands Vineyards is a small family-owned and operated passion project of Tegan and Olivia Passalacqua established in 2010. Tegan, a winemaker with a proven track record of crafting fantastic old vine Zinfandel at Turley Wine Cellars, branched out into this side project with a focus on ancient and “forgotten” varieties. In the far reaches of California winegrowing in Lodi, Contra Costa County, Santa Lucia Highlands, Amador County, and the more familiar Sonoma Coast, Tegan sources Chenin Blanc, Cinsault, Trousseau, Carignane, Mataro, Syrah, Zinfandel, and other varieties from vines that are at times more than 100 years old. Though these varieties and the vineyards he sources from have been farmed for decades and generations, they oftentimes lay outside of the “norm” for California viticulture and are even mostly planted in decomposed granite (i.e. sand). What’s more, the vineyards Tegan works with are typically head-trained, dry-farmed, and own rooted. Tegan crafts these wines in a traditional and minimally invasive manner, allowing the unique terroir and vine to shine through in each bottling which results in lower alcohol, easy drinking, but complex wines. Production is miniscule and quantities are quoted by the barrel, so these can be hard to find and the mailing list is the easiest way. At the very least, I suggest checking out the Sandlands website here for incredible pictures of their source vineyards.

Today’s Wine: 2018 Lodi Red Table Wine

33.3% Cinsault, 33.3% Carignane, 33.3% Zinfandel; 13.3% ABV

The 2018 Lodi Red Table Wine is pale to medium purple in color. I know this is young but I couldn’t resist trying my first bottle, so I let this open up for a couple hours and sampled it along the way to see it evolve. The nose is somewhat delicate with medium intensity and aromas of tart red cherry, red plum, cranberry, black raspberry, blackberry, violets, licorice, smoke, wet gravel, and stony mineral. Meanwhile the palate is also of medium intensity while showcasing notes of redcurrant, red cherry, ripe strawberry, wild raspberry, blueberry, black tea, sweet tobacco, smoked game, a hint of coffee grounds, and baking spice. This dry red blend is light- to medium-bodied with medium acidity, medium tannins, medium alcohol, and a long, captivating finish. This is very, very good already showcasing great balance and I am excited to see it evolve further in the bottle.

The Cinsault comes from the Bechthold Vineyard planted in 1886, the Carignane from the Spenker Ranch planted in 1900, and the Zinfandel from the estate-owned Kirschenmann Vineyard planted in 1915.

Price: $40. This is right in the absolutely worth its price to very solid value camp. I imagine these are slightly less expensive on the mailing list, but I will hands-down buy this again retail in the time being. The balance, complexity, and quality at such a young age are truly impressive and this is well worth a try.

Chuggable Rhône Blend

Today’s Story: Ad Vinum

Ad Vinum is a small natural wine producer established in 2016 by Sébastien Chatillon, a former sommelier at Le Chateaubriand in Paris. Sébastien was not always interested in wine, however, and after dropping out of college he worked as a candy salesman, stablehand, and rock band member amongst other odd jobs. Sébastien’s interest in wine actually stemmed from partying with his friends in one of their father’s wine caves, thanks to his realization that he truly loved the beverage and wanted to learn more about it. After his time at Le Chateaubriand and taking a deep dive into natural wines, Sébastien moved to Vallabrix in the Gard department of southern France with the goal of making his own wine. Ad Vinum’s fruit is all organically farmed and hand-harvested, with the fermentation process accomplished spontaneously with only indigenous yeasts. Some of the wines also see carbonic or semi-carbonic maceration. Practicing restraint in the cellar, Sébastien wants his wines to speak for themselves and the terroir and he bottles them unfined, unfiltered, and with zero added SO2.

Today’s Wine: 2018 Bim!

Blend of Grenache, Cinsault, and Mourvèdre (no tech sheet); 12.5% ABV

The 2018 Bim! is mostly opaque pale to medium purple in color. Once this opens up, the nose becomes incredibly aromatic and fresh with aromas of blackberry, candied plum, stemmy red berries, violet, crushed rock, black pepper, and bright mineral. On the palate, this lively wine displays notes of blueberry, boysenberry, brambly raspberry, strawberry licorice, sweet tobacco, green underbrush, and rocky mineral. This is medium-bodied with medium acidity, medium tannins, and a medium (+) length finish.

Price: $35. This is a delicious, highly chuggable wine that can be perfect for those branching into natural wines. Bim! is wonderfully balanced and made with carbonic maceration and spontaneous fermentation in stainless steel tanks, providing a beautiful freshness to it. Pair this with grilled lamb, spicy Mediterranean chicken, or barbecue.

Remarkable Quality (and Value) From Lebanon

Today’s Story: Chateau Musar

Chateau Musar was established in 1930 in the Bekaa Valley of Lebanon by Gaston Hochar when he was 20 years old. Inspired by his travels throughout Bordeaux and the 6,000-year-old winemaking history of Lebanon, Gaston set about producing wines with a non-interventionist philosophy and planted Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignan, and Cinsault for his reds in high-altitude gravel and limestone soils. During WWII, Major Ronald Barton of Château Langoa-Barton and Leoville-Barton was stationed in Lebanon and became friends with Gaston which strengthened the tie to Bordeaux and exists to this day. In 1959, Gaston’s eldest son Serge took over winemaking after studying at the University of Oenology in Bordeaux and started making wines “his own way.” Shortly thereafter, in 1961, Gaston’s second son Ronald joined the family business to handle the financial and marketing aspects. Serge was named Decanter Magazine’s first ‘Man of the Year’ in 1984 thanks to his steadfast production of quality wines during Lebanon’s Civil War (1975-1990) and the brand continued to build upon international fame for its elegance and quality. In 1994, Serge’s son Gaston joined the winery and was accompanied later in 2010 by his brother Marc. The two manage the estate together today with Gaston running the winery operations and Marc running the commercial aspects.

Chateau Musar became Lebanon’s first certified organic winery in 2006 and their wines spend a remarkable 7 years at the winery before release. The red wines are fermented in separate cement vats, racked 6 months after harvest, aged for 12 months in French Nevers oak barriques, and bottled without filtration at the end of the third year after harvest before the blend is aged an additional 3-4 years before release. The white wines also ferment in Nevers oak barrels for 6-9 months but are bottled after their first year and spend 6 years in the cellars before release.

Today’s Wine: 2011 Chateau Musar Rouge

Roughly equal parts Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignan, and Cinsault; 13.5% ABV

The 2011 Musar is opaque deep ruby in color. I decanted this for about an hour and drank it over the following hour. The nose showcases aromas of blackberry, plum, black cherry, anise, cigar box, forest floor, slight barnyard, exotic spice, and faint smoke. Once in the mouth, this displays notes of redcurrant, juicy plum, dusty cherry, black raspberry, worn leather, tobacco, dried earth, crushed rock minerality, baking spice, and black pepper. The wine is medium- to full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, tight-knit and dusty medium tannins, and a medium (+) length finish.

Price: $50. Chateau Musar is always one of my favorite wines to buy in the $50 price-point because they offer incredible value and the opportunity to explore a wine region I wager most people haven’t experienced. These wines are also incredibly cellar-worthy. Pair this with peppercorn-seasoned steak, venison, or mature cheeses.