In a sea of affordable porch pounders, Muscadet stands tall as one of the benchmarks. Located in Pays Nantais, the Westernmost wine region of the Loire Valley, it is made of a variety called Melon de Bourgogne. Despite the name, Melon is associated exclusively with the Loire Valley. Without any intervention, Melon can produce light, somewhat boring white wines without much in the way of complexity. However, Muscadet is almost always produced with significant sur lie aging (aging on the dead yeast particles), which adds weight, complexity, and richness. The result is still light and lively, with aromas of lime, calcium, tart apple, and brioche. The palate displays zippy acidity, a light body with a touch of creaminess, and refreshing flavors of citrus and salt. Muscadet is often associated with oysters, so we would recommend visiting Hoochies; bottle of Muscadet in hand.
Cinsault and the lightly-hued pink stuff go hand in hand at this point. Whether it’s Provence, Costiere de Nimes, South Africa, the Central Coast, or Texas, Cinsault is a major player in many a rose producer’s repertoire. Though you might not see a ton of Chilean roses in the market, Cinsault plays a significant part as well, particularly in the cooler, more Southerly portions such as the Bio Bio Valley. Muscat, however, is a bit of a weird one. Even in small amounts, Muscat (Moscato, Zibibbo, etc.) is noticeable; offering an intense floral, honeyed, and “grape-y” component to any blend. Winemaker Luca Hodgkinson thought the combination of bright red berries, cotton candy, and a slight spicy green-ness would combine well with these Muscat-y flavors. Turns out he was right! The Brisas rose is made of 90% Cinsault and 10% Muscat of Alexandria (Also known as Zibibbo in the famous dessert wines of Sicily). The result is a showy and bright expression of rose, with aromas of flowers, sweet cherry, and hints of bubble gum. The palate displays zippy acidity with a slightly creamy body, with the aromas following through on the palate. You know that we recommend rose with fried veggies, and this is no different. In this case, might we recommend the fried squash blossoms you can find from time to time at Osteria il Muro?
Another Tempranillo? Garnacha? Nah, Bobal. This sneaky variety is the second most planted red variety in Spain, but is often relegated to bulk wine or grape concentrate, save for the DO of Manchuela. Located within the larger Castilla la Mancha province, Manchuela is the only region dedicated to creating elevated expressions of Bobal. Bodega Altolandon, albeit located closer to Valencia, specializes in eclectic blends and off-beat varietal wines made in an ecologically friendly way, and as such are low-intervention in their approach. The Rayuelo is aged in large French barriques for 8 months and is then aged in bottle until release. The result is a complex and savory red that puts one of Spain’s best-kept secrets in a delicious light. The nose offers dried red fruits, rich licorice, baker’s chocolate cut with notes of new leather and tobacco. Spicy tannins envelop plum and cherry sauce cut with spicy tobacco and black pepper. The age and complexity of this wine makes it difficult to pair, but the balance of creamy and umami-driven notes from Chestnut Tree’s Caponata & Burrata Crostini would do the trick.
Since it’s October, we figured a Halloween-friendly wine would be in order. Though the ‘appassimento’ technique of partially-drying grapes prior to fermentation is most often associated with the wines of Veneto, there’s nothing stopping the process from being used elsewhere. The Corte Fiore is a proprietary blend of Puglia varieties that goes through appassimento prior to fermentation. The result is a rich, ruddy red that showcases aromas of leather, milk chocolate, and maraschino cherry. The palate is rich and viscous with globs of dark chocolate, vanilla, black pepper, and cherry and blueberry coulis. Though this could go well with sticky BBQ, a chocolate, coconut and rye cookie from Demeter’s Kitchen would also do the trick.
Y’all know and LOVE Sancerre- the pinnacle expression of Sauvignon Blanc from the Eastern Loire that has served as the archetype and continued inspiration for some of the world’s most popular white wines. But did you know that there are Pinot Noir-based wines (red and rose) also made in Sancerre? Though in terms of production they lag FAR behind their white counterparts, these expressions of Pinot offer an interesting look into how the minimalist winemaking philosophies of Sancerre translate. Jean-Marc and Mathieu are a father-son team that focus on various bottlings of white Sancerre and small productions of both red and rose Sancerre. None of their wines see oak, as they instead opt for various degrees of lees-aging to add richness and complexity. Their rose offers aromas of tart cherry, fresh peach, and hints of slate. The palate is light with a slight creaminess, electric acidity, and a plethora of tart red berries. Though I’ve leaned into the “rose and fried stuff” pairings recently, this rose is complex enough to go with more “serious” fare. Next time Insurgent is around with their salmon, couscous, and tomato/peach salad, give the Crochet a shot.
It’s been a second, but back to Bordeaux we go. This time around, we are on the Right Bank, land of Merlot and lottery-priced bottles (Hey Petrus). The wines are typically blends of predominantly Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc. Haut-Piquat is found in Lussac-St.-Emilion; one of the satellite regions for the more famous, and pricy, St.-Emilion. The Chateau run by winemaker Riviere Jean Pierre was established in 1850, and focuses on a small portfolio with wide exportation. The estate cuvee sees time in 20% new French oak and an overall combination of oak, vat, and bottle aging. Time in the glass unveils aromas of ripe plum, baked bread, and spices. This follows through on the palate, with a rich, sumptuous mouthfeel supplemented by rich, but balanced blue and black fruit. As I have mentioned in the past, Merlot is the superior ribeye wine, and should be paired with wherever they are sold.
It’s impossible to rattle off the great producers of Santa Barbara without mentioning the cult behemoth that is the talented team at Stolpman Vineyards. Founded by Tom Stolpman, the winery is now run in tandem between his children and Ruben Solorzano, the winemaker behind the magic. Stolpman is known for an eclectic portfolio ranging from ‘serious’ bottlings of terroir-specific Syrah to light-hearted bottlings with fun stories behind them (Read up on their ‘GDG’ for a hilarious example). The La Cuadrilla is no different, with the intent of the line to celebrate the various workers that make Stolpman go. Eventually, this blend that was reserved for the workers themselves is now distributed nationally with all profits made from the wine going directly to Ruben Solorzano and the rest of the vineyard crew. The 21’ vintage is a blend of Syrah, Grenache, and Sangiovese that is fermented both whole-cluster and destemmed; followed by time in large oak vats for a brief time. The nose offers a warm, complex profile of black tea, cherry, plum, bakers’ chocolate, and espresso. The palate is rich, but comparatively soft featuring many of the same notes as the nose with some added spice from the oak. This is a complex wine meant to be enjoyed simply in the company of friends; but it would positively kill with the sweet, sour, slightly spicy Banh Mi Fries from the Pickled Carrot.
Italian viticulture is full of ‘unorthodox’ winemaking methods; many of which result in some of Italy’s truly quintessential wines. Veneto, and Valpolicella in particular, is a hotbed for these, with many of the region’s most significant wines employing techniques such as appassimento or, in the case of this month’s wine, Ripasso. Ripasso is a sort of secondary fermentation which involves a finished Valpolicella blend of Corvina and Rondinella (with some Corvinone or Molinara potentially) being fermented again on the used lees of an Amarone or Recioto della Valpolicella. This fermentation generally results in the base wine taking on more alcohol, more “dried” and “reduced” flavors, and more body. The Torre Mastio Valpolicella Ripasso is a rich and complex version, offering aromas of dried cherry, orange marmalade, cinnamon, and leather. The palate is equally rich, with fine-grained tannins and moderate acidity accenting a plethora of juicy fruits cut with a myriad of spices. Something red meat-focused with plenty of spice and not a TON of fat would be an excellent pairing. Hannah’s Steak-au-Poivre was surely made for this wine.