Wonderful Etna Rosso

Today’s Story: Frank Cornelissen

Frank Cornelissen established his winery on Mount Etna in 2001 with vineyards located on the Northern Valley of the active volcano. While the winery is relatively new, Etna was still largely undiscovered as a wine region at that time. The estate currently encompasses 24 hectares, 13 being old vines in the alberello training system, 9 being old vines in modern rows, and 2 being olive orchards. To me, this is remarkable because Frank produced his first wine in 2001 with only 0.40 hectares of vines.

Viewing himself as a steward of the land, Frank adopted a farming philosophy that natural interactions in the vineyards are complex and we should allow the earth to steer farming of grapes rather than laying a heavy hand. To this end, Frank seeks to avoid all treatments on the land such as chemical or pesticide use. The farming is organic (certified in 2010), while some practices of homeopathic or biodynamic farming are also used. Buckwheat is added to soils low in organic material instead of industrial compost, soil-tilling is avoided as much as possible, and local fruits are interplanted in the vineyards to foster bee colonies. Nonetheless, Frank will use treatments such as copper sulphate and sulphur if he absolutely must to keep the vines from dying (this occurred in 2013 and 2015, both very tough vintages).

Today’s Wine: 2016 Munjebel PA

100% Nerello Mascalese; 15% ABV

The Munjebel PA is produced from the Porcaria cru in the contrada Feudo di Mezzo. Situated at 640m above sea level, the vineyard is challenging to farm and harvest though the average age of the vines is 60+ years. This wine is made with destemmed fruit that is lightly crushed, and fermentation is accomplished using only indigenous yeasts. The wine sees skin contact for 60 days during fermentation, is aged in neutral epoxy tanks, and is unfined but filtered before bottling with cartridges of 5 micron. They add as little sulfur as possible, typically ranging from 5-30 mg/l.

The 2016 is pale to medium ruby in color and fairly transparent. This benefits from a little decanting, and I’d suggest serving it in an aroma collector glass such as a Zalto Burgundy. Once this opens up, the nose offers aromas of ripe raspberry, strawberry, red rose, green herbs, tar, smoke, and volcanic soil. In the mouth, the wine showcases flavors of strawberry, raspberry, cranberry, green cooking herbs, scorched earth, and mineral. There is also a prominent rocky component to the wine as well. This is light-bodied with medium (+) acidity, medium tannins, and a medium length finish. Roughly 166 cases produced.

Price: $65. Etna wines are starting to jump in price (and justifiably so). While this bottle is on the pricier end, I’d suggest trying some of Frank Cornelissen’s other bottlings to gain exposure to the magnificent wines being produced there. You can typically find the standard Munjebel Rosso for $40 or less. Pair this with meatballs, steak, pork, or tuna.

Delightful Old Vine Garnacha

Today’s Story: Domaines Lupier

Domaines Lupier is a relatively new wine estate, founded in the 2000s by Enrique Basarte and Elisa Úcar. Enrique comes from a background in wine, having worked in vineyards throughout Spain following degrees in agronomical engineering and oenologist studies. Elisa studied economics and holds an MBA, though she also has more than a dozen years of experience in the wine business. Both equally passionate for winemaking in its entirety (the vines, terroir, and production of wine), Enrique and Elisa started rescuing small plots of Garnacha from very old vines to jumpstart their own project.

The efforts of tracking down and studying existing vines ultimately yielded the couple 27 parcels of Garnacha planted in different soils and microclimates ranging in elevation of 400-750 meters above sea level. Some of the vines they own even date back to 1903. This broad range of terroir and old age of the vines allows Domaines Lupier to showcase a true and brutally honest representation of the Garnacha variety and the land from which it comes.

Still a relatively small winery, Domaines Lupier produces two wines. Their El Terroir annual production sits around 30,000 bottles, while La Dama annual production sits around 4,000 bottles. In order to make and age their wine, Enrique and Elisa purchased and renovated an old manor house near their vineyards. They constructed a cellar to hold 50,000 bottles of wine, outfitted the winery with 3,500 and 5,500 liter vats, and updated the technology to modern standards. All of their wine is aged in French oak barrels under careful watch of both Enrique and Elisa.

Today’s Wine: 2011 La Dama

100% Garnacha; 14.5% ABV

This wine is moderately opaque and medium purple in color. This needed some time in the decanter to blossom, and once it did the nose emits aromas of plum, dried forest floor, mushroom, licorice, smoke, leather, and bitter chocolate. I also get a bit of heat out of the nose thanks to the alcohol content. Once in the mouth, the wine showcases notes of black and blue fruit, dried cranberry, black licorice, slight milk chocolate, loamy soil, crushed rock, and oak. Medium-bodied with medium acidity, medium tannins, and a medium (+) length finish. 353 cases produced.

Price: $60 (United States). I like the price-point on this bottle, it has a certain Old World charm to it that needs to be experienced. This is also one of the most unique Garnacha wines I’ve tried. Pair this with chicken or pork, though you could probably get away with smoked salmon as well.

A Modernist’s Nebbiolo

Today’s Story: Conterno Fantino

Founded in 1982 by Claudio Conterno and Guido Fantino, Conterno Fantino has grown into a somewhat large (~140,000 total bottles annually) producer of Nebbiolo, Barbera, Dolcetto, and Chardonnay. This being said, the winery employs only about 10 people at a given time including Alda, Fabio, and Elisa Fantino who joined over the years. During an expansion for the winery in 2008, Conterno Fantino implemented solar panels and a geothermal system to conserve energy in pursuit of their environmental impact goals, which I will delve into a bit more speaking about the winemaking process.

Throughout harvest and winemaking, Conterno Fantino employs methods such as manual picking of fruit, spontaneous fermentation from indigenous yeasts, and careful use of wood for aging the wine while minimizing sulfites. Taking a step back, the entire farming process is certified organic in an attempt to preserve the land’s biodiversity with a goal of environmental sustainability. All this being said, Conterno Fantino is a great example of modernist Italian winemaking, particularly for Barolo. Namely, Conterno Fantino ages their Barolo in French oak barriques after relatively short maceration and fermentation. While I am not reviewing one of their Barolos today, hopefully I will in the near future.

Today’s Wine: 2015 Langhe Nebbiolo Ginestrino

100% Nebbiolo; 14% ABV

I normally don’t pair Nebbiolo with spaghetti (I prefer a Sangiovese such as Chianti), however, when duty calls and this is what I can find, we drink it. The wine is clear, pale to medium ruby in color which is a bit lighter than most young Nebbiolo wines I’ve tried. Once this opens in a decanter, the nose showcases aromas of cherry, strawberry rhubarb, tomato sauce, tar, red licorice, and mixed green herbs. On the palate, we get notes of cherry, dried raspberry, gravel and slate, slightly smokey earth, and tobacco. Overall very easy drinking with not a whole lot to it, this wine is medium-bodied with medium (+) acidity and medium (surprisingly not medium (+) to high) tannins with a medium (+) length finish.

Price: $35. This is a good price-point for entry level, drinkable-while-young Nebbiolo. Though I am a staunch proponent of traditionalist winemaking, this wine could be a great entry for those not familiar with the Nebbiolo grape or Italian wine as a whole. The wine paired easily with red/meat sauce pasta, though would also go well with lightly peppered ribeye, prime rib, or smoked duck.

Small Batch Syrah

Today’s Story: Lillian Winery

This should be a fairly short and easy read today, as I already talked about the history of Lillian Winery in my post Sensual Syrah a few weeks back. Long story short, Maggie Harrison worked with the Krankl family at Sine Qua Non, and Manfred Krankl encouraged her to start her own Syrah endeavor. Lillian was born in 2004 from that encouragement.

The wine I reviewed several weeks ago was a 2013 Lillian Syrah, while today’s wine is the 2013 Gold Series Syrah. While the two wines are obviously similar in style and overall profile, the Gold Series is a smaller production bottling which Maggie says comes from “a small number of barrels that speak with a different voice.” In other words, the Gold Series comes from barrels with completely different expressions than the rest of the wine bottled as the Syrah. While Maggie will blend some of these barrels with the main Syrah to add complexity, she bottles them on their own to portray a wine that is “singularly exquisite.”

Today’s Wine: 2013 Lillian Syrah Gold Series No. 03

100% Syrah; 14.4% ABV

With the 2013 Lillian Syrah still fresh in my head from a few weeks ago, I thought it would be very interesting to open this Gold Series for comparison. Based on the youth of this wine and my experience with the 2013 Syrah recently, I decanted this bottle for five hours. The wine is deep, opaque purple in color with moderate staining on the glass. On the nose I get aromas of plum, cassis, mint, cinnamon, crushed stone, and loamy earth. Once in the mouth, the wine boasts flavors of blueberry, black cherry, rocky soil, granite, and smoke. Full-bodied with medium (+) acidity, surprisingly refined yet medium tannins, and a long, bold finish. Much like the standard Syrah, I’m excited to try this one again in another five years.

Price: $100. Again, due to Maggie’s history with Syrah, the precision of her wines, and the rarity of these bottlings this is worth the price. Pair this with a leg of lamb, bbq ribs, or a burger.

Refined, Aged Burgundy

Today’s Story: Joseph Drouhin

Joseph Drouhin is a historic producer in Burgundy that found its start in 1880. Joseph, a 22 year old from Chablis, moved to Beaune and started his own wine company with the aim of providing high quality wines. His son Maurice, however, shifted the focus to estate grape growing and winemaking by purchasing land in Clos des Mouches and Clos de Vougeot, amongst other appellations. Robert Drouhin, who succeeded Maurice in 1957, ties most with Joseph Drouhin’s state as it sits today. Robert acquired a great deal of vineyard land, including in Chablis, and was one of the first producers who stopped using pesticides and other chemicals in Burgundy. Today, Robert’s children Philippe, Véronique, Laurent, and Frédéric carry on the legacy of this great producer with the same founding principles of creating high quality, true to form wines at heart.

Today, Joseph Drouhin is one of the largest estates in Burgundy consisting of 78 hectares (193 acres) throughout Chablis, Côte de Nuits, Côte de Beaune, and Côte Chalonnaise. Most of the wines are of 1er Cru or Grand Cru status, with vineyards planted to both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. In addition to their own vineyard land, Drouhin purchases some fruit from other established vineyard owners who they have longstanding relationships with. This allows them to produce a broader assortment of wines for distribution throughout the world.

Today’s Wine: 1995 1er Cru Pommard-Epenots

100% Pinot Noir; 13% ABV

In appearance the wine is cloudy pale ruby turning garnet near the rim. This threw very fine sediment that snuck through the filter, however I did pour some through cheesecloth which cleared it up. On the nose, we get aromas of baked cherry, overripe cranberry, dried green herbs, sous bois, cedar, and tobacco. Once in the mouth, the wine showcases notes of tart cherry, red licorice, wet stone, smoked red meat, and green underbrush. Holding up remarkably well, this is medium-bodied with high acidity and fully integrated light tannins into a medium length finish.

Price: $150. Really cool experience finding and drinking aged Burgundy. Pair this with duck, lamb, or a burger.

Fit for a King

Today’s Story: Blankiet Estate

Blankiet’s roots start with Claude and Katherine Blankiet, a couple who spent years searching for land conducive to grape growing on the western foothills of the Mayacamas Mountains. Finally, in early 1996, an agent working with the Blankiet family showed them an undeveloped property above the famous Napanook vineyard (and Dominus Estate) and the Blankiets purchased the land on site. From the onset of their search, Claude and Katherine desired to create world-class, high-quality, small production Bordeaux style wines and now, with ownership of the land, set right to work.

During development of the vineyards, the Blankiets brought in famed viticulturist David Abreu and winemaker Helen Turley for their expertise. The terroir of Blankiet consists of three volcanic knolls with alluvial deposits between them thanks to water flowing down from the mountains. The vineyards are broken into four sections, each with a unique subsoil and microclimate, and they used root stocks from First Growth Bordeaux estates to get the ball rolling. I encourage you to explore their website https://www.blankiet.com/ for more, as I’d like to talk about my visit to the winery for the remainder of this post.

I was fortunate to visit the winery this past September, and we arrived slowly by way of a long, winding gravel road up into the hills to the Blankiet gate. Once inside, our host Patrick greeted us and walked us through the vineyards where we had an opportunity to taste grapes off the vine. Fortunately, workers were sorting grapes while we were there so we got to see them using dual optical sorters in addition to the classic hand sorting many of us picture. Before walking into the caves, Patrick shared some juice that was beginning its fermentation process from one of the tanks.

Once in the caves, Patrick showed us the barrels they use and discussed the process of fighting evaporation as the wine ages. Unlike many wineries, Blankiet does not fill evaporation in their barrels with sulfur dioxide but rather refills the barrel with more wine. This practice fits well with their goal of crafting wine that is true to form and of superior quality.

After the cave tour, we drove further uphill to the Blankiet family home to do what we came for: taste wine. Patrick guided us through a tasting of five wines accompanied by cheese, charcuterie, and crackers while also giving us a sneak peek tasting of two wines yet to be released. Keep an eye out for these two upcoming wines, as they were quite delicious and while I’m keeping them secret now I think you will know exactly what I’m talking about when they launch.

Today’s Wine: 2014 Blankiet Estate Paradise Hills Vineyard

85% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Merlot, 3% Petit Verdot, 2% Cabernet Franc; 14% ABV

I had an opportunity to taste several Blankiet wines during my visit this past September (including two special wines not yet released), but figured it prudent to open a bottle now to review for my site. This wine is medium purple/ruby in color and surprisingly transparent. The nose showcases aromas of blackberry, blueberry, redcurrant, raspberry, gravel, mild tobacco, and oak. The nose is rather tight due to its youth and either needs a ton of air or 5-7 more years of bottle age. On the palate we get notes of black cherry, cranberry, jammy strawberry, crushed stone almost chalky in nature, blood, and ground cooking herbs. Full-bodied with mouthwatering high acidity, medium (+) tannins, and a long black fruit compote finish. This is already a wonderfully elegant wine but needs time to bring out some of the complexities. 840 cases produced.

Price: $200. This is not your everyday bottle, though it is a fantastic bottle of wine for a celebratory occasion. After visiting the winery and seeing how much care, precision, and hard work goes into each bottle I can comfortably recommend the wine. Pair this with beef or lamb.

From My Visit:

Tasting room at Blankiet Estate. Visited September 27, 2019.
Blankiet family home, with tasting room in the lower level.

Cult Cali Pinot

Today’s Story: Williams Selyem

Williams Selyem is another winery with a homegrown, almost comical, origin story. During the 1970s, Burt Williams received several tons of free grapes from a grower with an abundance of fruit that would otherwise most likely go to waste. With his friend Ed Selyem, in 1979 the pair started making wine at Burt’s house over the weekends with Zinfandel grapes from the Martinelli family. Though the two set out to make wine only for themselves as a hobby, Burt and Ed fully devoted to the endeavor in 1981 and named their winery Hacienda del Rio.

They bottled their first vintage in 1982 and released it commercially in 1983, however Hacienda Winery quickly sent a cease and desist letter that resulted in removal of “Hacienda” from Burt and Ed’s labels. In 1984, Burt and Ed moved production to a nearby garage in Fulton and released the first vintage with the now famous and globally-recognized Williams Selyem label.

Williams Selyem picked up steam very quickly for a new winery in California. In 1985, they released their first vineyard-designated Pinot Noir from the Rochioli Vineyard and in 1987 that wine won the California State Fair Sweepstakes Prize for top red wine. With its status blown open, Williams Selyem grew a cult following and they needed to create a waitlist that immediately spanned 2-3 years. In 1989, Williams Selyem relocated to the Allen Ranch facility on Westside Road and in 1992 Burt and Ed quit their day jobs to focus 100% on their wine.

Six years later, however, in 1998 Burt and Ed sold Williams Selyem to John Dyson who was a longtime customer. John and his wife Kathe still own the winery today, and throughout their proprietorship greatly expanded winemaking by adding estate vineyards along the way. In my opinion, their crowning and historic achievement came in 2009 when Wine Enthusiast Magazine rated the 2007 Williams Selyem Litton Estate Pinot Noir 100 points. This was the first North American Pinot Noir in history to achieve a perfect score by a major wine publication, and while I do not buy wine simply based on score and have my issues with the scale, I can appreciate the historic achievement.

Today’s Wine: 2014 Pinot Noir Ferrington Vineyard

100% Pinot Noir; 13.4% ABV

Over the years, I’ve had a number of different wines from Williams Selyem (both red and white) but this is my first from the famous Ferrington Vineyard. Today’s Pinot is pale/medium ruby in color and fairly transparent. On the nose are aromas of dried strawberry, crushed cranberry, mint, aged leather, gravelly road after a rainstorm, and a hint of oak. The palate showcases notes of ripe red raspberry, strawberry jam, cinnamon, lightly scorched earth, and slate. Medium-bodied with medium (+) bright acidity, medium (-) tannins, and a long mouthwatering finish.

Price: $100, getting up there with the Kosta Browne I reviewed about two weeks back. This is an exceptional quality Pinot that I highly recommend (I love every wine I’ve had from them), though there are some great options for half the price. Pair this with salmon, chicken, pork, or charcuterie.