June weather begs for a cool, crisp porch pounder, and the Nortico Alvarinho will assuage you! Positioned on the southern banks of the Minho River in far north Vinho Verde region, Galicia, Spain is just on the other side of the river. In the Minho region, the towns of Monção and Melgaço, solely devoted to the Alvarinho varietal, are like a walk back in time as ruins of medieval castles are dotted throughout the area. Using centuries’ old techniques, Alvarinho vines are planted in small granite plots (pergolas) known as “jardins” because they look like tiny gardens of grapey goodness. Interestingly, the Nortico allows the grapes to shine without the addition of aeration (i.e., carbon dioxide) as is the case with so many other Vinho Verdes. What you experience is lime, yellow apple, peach, and saline minerality with a clean finish. While the Portuguese love to accompany an Alvarinho with cornbread and butter, we suggest trying the Bermuda Barracuda fish tacos from Killer’s Tacos.
The world can be split into Chardonnay lovers and “ABC” fiends—Anything But Chardonnay. Chardonnay is the winemaker’s dream grape because it is neutral in nature, and winemakers are free to experiment and influence the grape however they see fit. While we at Steve’s have recently offered more lean, steely, and mineral options, this Chard is not that. It is truly what a big California Chard is supposed to be; it will please the Chard diehards and, although it may not recruit the “ABC’s,” it does its best to entice. Prominent notes of pear, tropical fruits, apricot, and nectarine are enveloped with vanilla, caramel, and yes, butter. The 14-month sur lies aging gives the wine a creamy feel. You just have to pair this wine with something creamy and delicious, like the Blackened Chicken Alfredo from Frilly’s Seafood Bayou Kitchen.
While Serbia may not be the first location you think of when it comes to wine, this unique offering really showcases the Balkans. Sfera comes from the Serbian word for “sphere,” referring to the round concrete vessel that is used in much of Bikicki’s winemaking process, and the “noir” is comprised of Pinot Noir and Black Muscat. Don’t let the name muscat deter you—this is a dry wine that really empowers the red and black fruits to sing. A low-intervention wine that uses native yeasts and used barrique aging, Sfera Noir is truly delightful and has surprisingly high alcohol (at 14.5%!). Subtle notes of rose mixed with cherry, plum, cranberry, and blackberry are rounded out with a touch of spice. Try it with the Harvest Bowl from Soulgood Vegan Café.
Larry Levin, winemaker for Block Nine, is a champion of Pinot Noir. Block Nine is just one of his many ventures, as he has had a hand in leading other well-known brands such as Quintessa, Franciscan, Mount Veeder, and Estancia, as well as projects in several states as well as Argentina. He calls himself a “vine to wine” consultant, and his experience with viticulture is evident when tasting this Pinot Noir. Well-balanced and unintimidating, it will entice white and bold red drinkers because of its accessibility and approachability. Floral aromas are complemented by red fruits, black tea, and spice on the palate. Pinot offers so many great pairings, but partnering this one with the Mesquite-Grilled Salmon from Prairie House will certainly prove tasty.
The Zuccardi Winery is having a moment. After planting their first vines in in Mendoza in 1963, the family has not only ensconced itself in Argentina, but in the world. Robert Parker has awarded three of their wines with 100 points, and Wine Enthusiast magazine has labeled them as “Best Winery in the New World” AND inducted them into the Best Vineyards’ Hall of Fame (bet you didn’t know that was a thing!). With a young research and development team, Sebastián Zuccardi has created the ideal winemaking vessel for them, a concrete vat with a long, tapered neck, “the element that makes it possible to work more naturally with the grape juices and wines.” He eschews oak aging and long maceration periods, wanting the fruit to speak for itself with minimal intervention. Through innovation and terroir-driven viticulture, Zuccardi has produced this Q Cabernet Franc (Q for quality!), with its gorgeous cherry, raspberry, cassis, and violet flavors. Almost any grilled or smoked meat would work well with Cab Franc, but for fun, treat yourself to the Smoked Shiner Pork Loin at Greenhouse and mix a little Argentina with your Texas.
Few Texas winemakers have fought for Texas wine to be seen as legitimate more than William “Bill” Blackmon and Chris Brundrett. Since 2017, they have pushed for legislation similar to California’s; the goal being when you experience a Texas wine, the grapes should actually be from Texas. In 2021, a compromise bill was passed (they didn’t get their 100%er): if a label specifies one of eight Texas AVAs, 85% minimum must come from that AVA (similar to the EU’s laws), and if a label designates a vineyard, at least 95% must originate from the stated vineyard. William Chris proudly displays the “Grown in Texas” logo on their bottles, and this ‘Skeleton Key’ Cab showcases High Plains fruit. It has some quintessential Cab notes: black cherry, cassis, subtle green bell pepper, and baking spices and would definitely be complemented with BBQ or something like the Ranch Hand burger from The Dive Bar and Restaurant.
The Flor d’Penalva Tinto is a lovely red blend of three grapes: Touriga Nacional, Tinto Roriz (also known as Tempranillo), and Tinta Pinheira, usually used for blending. Touriga Nacional is most often associated as the primary variety used in Ports, so all three of these combined coalesces into a richly-hued, tannic, full-bodied red. Notes of violet, plum, forest fruits, and earth prevail, and the Flor de Penalva is satisfying and quaffable. While a rustic Portuguese recommendation would pair this wine with grilled lamb hearts, I say let’s go in a different direction with some Thai food. The Beef Mas-Sa-Mun Curry dish at Thai Square will whet your appetite.
While we have enjoyed Piattelli before at the bar, it is always fun to entice with a smooth and bold red, especially at the end of a tasting. Piattelli is led by female winemaker Valeria Antolin, who has been with Piattelli since its inception, worked her way up the ranks. Piattelli wines, highly rated in Wine Spectator, sources grapes for this wine from old vines in Luján de Cuyo and the Uco Valley. The ‘Trinita’ is a blend of Malbec, Cabernet, and Merlot, and evokes a luscious black currant flavor bomb, with plummy, cherry, and mocha notes along with spice from 24 months of oak and bottle aging. The braised short rib plate from our friends at The Chestnut Tree would be a wonderful accompaniment to the ’Trinita.’