Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Luscious Jura Pet'Nat From Octavin

The light sparkling wine called petillant naturel--nicknamed pet-nat or pet'nat--is in my view the best drink for summer. Lighter and fruitier than Champagne, a great pet'nat is everything, and fun, too. It is the perfect bbq wine, picnic wine, patio wine, pizza wine. Pet'nat should be your bff, especially in the summer.

Pet'nat is naturally made, without the fuss of Methode Champagnois. The wine is simply allowed to finish fermentation inside the bottle, rather than in the tank or barrel, trapping the CO2 gas that's produced by fermentation inside the bottle, thus creating a fizzy wine. The amount of fizz or pressure is about half that of Champagne, hence pet'nat is delicate, oftentimes off-dry, and usually delicious and refreshing. The natural flavors of grape juice are still fresh and lively. pet'nats are fun and easy to enjoy.

The best pet'nat I've come across these days is the one made by Domaine de l'Octavin in the Jura. Called "Foutre d'Escampette", it is 100% Chardonnay grown in the La Mailloche vineyards in Arbois. La Mailloche is reputed to be one of the best sites for Chardonnay in the Jura. Recently, the Domaine the Marquis d'Angerville from Burgundy bought a parcel there.

Octavin is owned and run by the young winemaking couple, Alice Bouvot and Charles Dagand. They farm their vineyards organically and biodynamically. No sulfites or any additives are applied to their wines. They also don't fine and filter, so sediments are always present in their wines, a proof of purity. This pet'nat was vinified whole-cluster and bottled while still fermenting. Delicate with just 11.5% alcohol, yet its off-dry fruity flavors are delicious and brimming with fresh energy.

Domaine de l'Octavin is small but their wines are highly sought after and appear on wine lists of some of the most progressive wine bars and restaurants in Paris and elsewhere in Europe, including Noma in Copenhagen (voted best restaurant in the world), and in Japan.

I'm pleased to say Vineyard Gate is one of the few stores in the country to regularly stock Domaine de l'Octavin wines.

Vin de France "Foutre d'Escampette", Domaine de l'Octavin NV $29.00 (order here)

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Wine From Aveyron

Aveyron is in southwest France in the Midi-Pyrenee region next to Gascony, an eastern extension of South-West France. Old castles, stone walls, and ancient bridges--evidence of a once bustling region remain. Its hillsides have long been growing typical South-West grapes like Fer Servadou, Chenin Blanc, Negrette, Jurancon Noir, Portuguais Bleu, and the occasional Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. But much of the vineyards are now abandoned. Residents have left their impoverished villages for a better life up north in Paris.

Nicolas Carmarans is an Aveyronnais. His family, too, left Aveyron to open bistros and cafes in Paris. Nicolas is well known in Paris for re-opening in 1994 the historic Cafe de la Nouvelle Mairie in the Latin Quarter, where famous French artists and photographers like Robert Doisneau frequently hanged out. He turned it into a wine bar serving food and featuring an extensive list of mostly natural wines. It was one of the first of its kind to open in Paris, over a decade before other natural wine bars followed suit today.

Nicolas Carmarans became close friends with many of his wine producers, and after learning much from them he decided in 2007 to return to Aveyron to make wines from the small plots that he was able to acquire and rent. He managed the cafe part-time but sold it altogether by 2012. Carmaran's wines are now highly sought-after not just in Paris but also in many European countries and, in particular, Japan.

In the US, Nicolas Carmarans' wines have only been seen in New York, specifically at Ten Bells and Chambers Street. However, I'm very pleased to say that outside of New York and in the entire West Coast Vineyard Gate is the first and only one to offer his wine!

The 2011 Averyron Red "Cuvee 12"--named for the French department number for Aveyron--consists mainly of Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon with a bit of Fer Servadou. Most of the vines date back to 1960. Carmarans saved the plots from building construction and has farmed them organically and traditionally without wires. He doesn't chaptalize, or add any additives or use sulfites. He vinifies with native yeasts and without temperature control in vats and casks. Beautiful wine, luscious blackberry flavors, earthy, with Cabernet notes of pepper and herbs. The palate is well-balanced and the finish is long. The wine really grows on you and is hard not to keep sipping.

An amazing value for an awesome red made with meticulous, artisanal care and that is rare to find in the US.

Aveyron Red IGP "Cuvee 12", Nicolas Carmarans 2011 $25.00 (order here)

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Coffee Lessons

My other beverage of choice is coffee (as well as tea, but that's another story). The other day I received my order of green beans and proceeded to roast a batch at home. I roast most of the coffee I drink. Purchasing green beans allows me to experience many single-origin coffees that are not available even at micro roasters, much less at the neighborhood Starbucks. However, before I could get to that experience I must be able to roast the greens properly.

Practice and too many mistakes over the past 3 years have made me quite adept at roasting. The batch I roasted this week was done close enough to optimum. It was a pound of Yemen Mokha Ismaili. On the second day after roasting, the pot I made was simply magical.

I finally realized that roasting coffee is in many ways similar to making wine, when I read the short newsletter that was inserted with my order of green beans. It mentions the following:
"There is a popular notion people have that 'strong coffee' means dark roasting. In reality, coffee is strong because you use more ground coffee when you brew, or because the coffee has well-defined flavor characteristics. Unique flavors which originate in the cultivar, the climate and the processing method of the coffee are actually more intense at lighter roast levels! Dark roasts make most coffees taste about the same, with tangy, carbony and pungent notes. One of the joys of home roasting is being able to taste the fantastic difference in coffee, from origin to origin, lot to lot." Tiny Joy July/August 2014, Sweet Maria's Coffee
As in wine, the heavier wine that got too much ripening, a lot of extraction, over manipulation, etc., etc., tastes simple and one-dimensional. Wines made this way pretty much taste the same. Thus, the terroir where the grapes are grown is totally wasted, as you can't experience it in the wine. While lighter made wines that strive for elegance are transparent and expressive; the flavors are well-delineated and show the unique character of the wine and its origin. I find this experience always enjoyable.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

2012 Chablis from Thomas Pico

Thomas Pico In His Own Words
"30 years old today, I spent my childhood in a small village of Chablis called Courgis. Growing up with a father and a grandfather who were both winemakers, I quickly inherited the passion for the job. So I naturally chose to turn to viticulture and oenology studies in Beaune BTS.
My passion for winemaking, my curiosity and my desire to respect the environment and the health of my family were paramount in my thinking. Organic cultivation of my vines, became obvious.
Back in 2004 I took over the family estate of Bois d'Yver, converting the 8 hectares to organic (ECOCERT). I thus created my own domain, "Pattes Loup or the "Wolf Paws".
In 2009, I got my certification in organic farming."

I've enjoyed Thomas Pico's Chablis for the past few years, but getting some to sell has eluded me, until now.

Pico's production is small, to be sure. He has been farming a mere 6 to 8 hectares of vineyards over the past decade. But demand for his wines in France and around the world is massive. He exports to 28 countries! Thus, not much of Pico's Chablis makes it to the US. I'm elated to finally get hold of some from the 2012 vintage, a terrific vintage. I was in Chablis last September visiting Alice de Moor in Courgis, the same village where Thomas Pico lives, in fact he's just around the block. There are only 3 Chablis producers in Courgis: Alice et Olivier de Moor, Thomas Pico, and Thomas Pico's father. Thomas happened to be busy the day I visited but after having tasted the 2012s of de Moor, I must say it is an awesome vintage! In fact, de Moor's wines are already sold out. I'm lucky to even find some of Pico's 2012.

Chablis, when made in the quality that de Moor and Pico make it, is as great as high-end white Burgundy from the Cote d'Or. The only key difference is instead of paying $60 to $100 for a Puligny or Meursault, you'll spend much less than $40 for Pico's Chablis.

Pico achieves such high quality in his Chablis by farming organically and doing a lot of manual work in the vineyard and by making the wines as naturally as possible, without additives, vinifying with natural yeasts, and adding just a minimal amount of sulfites to protect the wine.

If you love great white Burgundy that's pure and mineral but don't want to spend big bucks for Puligny, then this Thomas Pico Chablis is for you. My only warning is you might obsess about it after you've enjoyed a bottle. It happened to me.

Chablis "Vent d'Ange", Domaine Pattes Loup (Thomas Pico) 2012 $33.00 (order here)

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Offering Wines That Are A Balaast!

Since opening its doors in 1998 Vineyard Gate has always been a unique wine store. I don't say this because I'm the owner. Look at the facts.

First and foremost Vineyard Gate's wine selections are my own, they are not dictated by scores and brands. I go the opposite way, I specifically look for wines that are overlooked, underrated and undiscovered. I try to carry wines that are not covered by the wine journalists and are not found in most wine stores. It's not the wisest business move. In the West Coast, especially in the San Francisco Bay Area, this retail approach is pretty much suicidal.

To overly generalize, West Coast wine consumers love brands and scores; they feel comfortable with this kind of shortsightedness. In the East Coast wine consumers are more independent-minded, more adventurous, and more influenced by Old World taste for elegant wines. Wine trends tend to happen there first before spreading to the West Coast. I lived in Boston for almost ten years and about a year in New York. When I arrived in San Francisco in the early 1990s I was elated to find wine outlets everywhere, as there is less restriction in selling alcohol here, not to mention that the nation's foremost wine country is at our doorstep. But it didn't take long to notice that the wines every store carried were pretty much the same type and the same brands. I walked into one of the biggest wine stores and I could not find a Spanish wine, an Austrian wine or a Portuguese wine. I asked for a wine from Cinque Terre in Liguria and no one has heard of it. The entire selection of Burgundies were half a dozen and there was not a single Meursault. German Rieslings were pathetically few. I happen to be acquainted with the owner of the largest wine retailer in San Francisco at that time. He told me that he didn't carry Italian wines because they just don't move. Instead, he had an entire wall that was fifty feet wide crammed with California Chardonnays. Even California wineries that were small and whose wines cater to more Old World palates struggled to find representation in wine stores, hence, many opted to sell direct to consumers like Williams & Selyem, Mayacamas, Stony Hill, Rochioli, Rafanelli, and Gary Farrell.

Sure, today, West Coast wine stores carry a ton of wines from many parts of the world, but in essence not much has changed because they still pick them by brands and scores. That's how their model works because they can't possibly sell volume if most of their wines are not branded or scored.

I compete in a different way because I don't depend on volume. I'm small, just like the wine producers I carry whether they're from California or France. Most wine stores have thousands of skus or product items in inventory, but at Vineyard Gate I only have a few hundred. You see, I have to know every single wine I carry, as well as their producers. How could I adequately convey their stories to my customers if I carry thousands of wines?

Vineyard Gate reflects my enthusiasm for wines and so it attacts wine consumers with a similar enthusiasm. I love wines that are made honestly, without tricks, from vineyards in good sites that are well taken care of. These wines are not only pleasurable to drink, but also exciting because their flavors are interesting and offer a surprise. I believe these are the best quality wines and usually the best values, too.

I strive to be the first or one of the first wine merchants to introduce to customers some of the world's best wines from different regions. A few examples of producers I've championed early on from the Loire include: Olga Raffault, Clos Roche Blanche, Clos Rougeard, and Herve Villemade. In Italy: Borgo del Tiglio, Bea, Sant'Elena, Roagna, Angiolino Maule, Brovia, Vajra. From Spain, Lopez de Heredia and Sherries from Alexander Jules, Argueso, and La Guita. From California: La Clarine Farm, Bedrock, Kenny Likitprakong's wines (Ghostwriter, Folk Machine, etc.), and J.Brix. From the Jura: Jean-Marc Brignot, Octavin, Macle, Tissot. And in Burgundy, several, including: De Moor, Camus-Bruchon, Chandon de Briailles, Heresztyn, Denis Bachelet, Olivier Merlin, Fourrier, Barthod, Mugnier, and Maison Lou Dumont. Many of these producers are still carried by Vineyard Gate, but some I've dropped because they've become overpriced, too hyped, or difficult to source because they've been discovered by everyone.

The fact is there are always great producers that remain overlooked, underrated, and undiscovered. Vineyard Gate's mission is to find them and bring in their wines before they get hyped up and become expensive and hard to find.

Lately, one Burgundy producer that blows me away is Frederic Cossard. I've sent email blasts calling attention to this guy's wines, which are almost impossible to find in the US as few cases make it to the country. Cossard's wines are snapped up by Paris bistros and most are shipped to Japan, Belgium, and Scandinavian countries where many of his fans are. All his wines are totally natural, which is to say from organically grown fruit and made without adding sulfites or any other additives. Yet, Cossard's wines have an amazing capacity to remain fresh even after being opened for several days or weeks. This kind of tells you that they would age well. But it also says a lot about Cossard's skill and successful approach to making pure, natural wines. I can tell you that very few producers in the world can make wine like this. I'm really proud to be able to offer unique wines like Cossard's Check out his wines and see for yourself!

The 2010 Saint-Romain "Combe Bazin", Domaine de Chassorney (order here)

And here's the 2010 Nuits-Saint-Georges Premier Cru Les Damodes, Frederic Cossard (ordere here)