This month we are looking at wines, and more specifically unique varietals, in which we either have a small representation of that varietal, or we currently do not offer at all in the bar.
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Most wine-drinkers, at some point in their lives, have likely had a bottle of Côtes du Rhône they found at a grocery or box store. What does it mean? And why are there such huge price-differences for bottles that look identical? Like many confusing wine terms, there are layers of meaning with the Côtes du Rhône label. It’s a region, or group of regions, in Southern Rhone that operate on different levels of classification (Côtes du Rhône, Côtes du Rhône Villages, and Côtes du Rhône Village (Named)). The bottom level accounts for roughly 50% of wine production for the entire Rhone Valley, and are generally red blends based on Grenache, Syrah, and Mourvedre (Hence the origin of the GSM label). Though white blends are often found in the more exclusive crus in Rhone, you can find some awesome values in the Côtes du Rhône level, such as the Domaine La Lyre! This easy-drinking white is a blend of Grenache Blanc, Ugni Blanc (the primary grape in cognac), and Viognier. It pours a pale yellow with green hue, offering notes of green pear, lemon, and citrus peel mixed with floral notes on the nose. The palate is juicy, fruity, and fresh, enveloped in a light-medium texture with pleasant acidity. This will go well with grilled seafood, or white meats with a creamy aspect.
Fun fact: Did you know that Carmenere is technically a minor Bordeaux variety, sitting in the same crowd as Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot? Many of the currently planted vines in Chile were thought to be Merlot until they were genetically tested in the mid-20th century, revealing them to be the long-forgotten Carmenere. Speaking of Carmenere, it has been a MINUTE since we have featured one here at the wine bar, so we have brought a fun, approachable version for everyone to enjoy! The Root 1 Carmenere pours a rich ruby with noted purple hues. The nose offers quintessential notes of wet earth, leather, and hints of fruit. The nose is subverted by the palate; offering a fresh, plush medley of blue and red fruits accented by vanilla, black pepper, and a host of other spices. The combination of savory nose, plush palate, and supple tannins suggests something rich in umami, like a dish centered around mushrooms, pancetta, or bacon.
Vina Chocolan is a familiar sight at Steve’s, as we have featured a number of their Carmeneres in addition to a few of their red blends. This time, we are featuring their Merlot, which perfectly exemplifies how the Chilean terroir influences Bordeaux varieties. This Merlot is blended with small percentages of Cabernet Sauvignon and Syrah, and is aged in 33% new French oak. This is likely a more savory version of Merlot in comparison to other New World examples. The nose offers notes of plum, baking spice, and cassis cut with slightly spicy notes of oak. The palate is fresh, juicy, and accented by surprisingly bright acidity and supple tannins. This is very versatile as a food wine, and should go with a plethora of earthy dishes (think mushroom risotto).
Woah. Three Chilean bottles in a row? Yup. The stars aligned for a Chile-Centric gold tasting; and what an opportunity to see just how varied the viticultural scene is! While generally, and falsely, seen as a ‘cheap’ wine region, Chile has rapidly become a haven for lovers of intensely-juicy, fruit-forward reds; from their take on traditional Bordeaux to their embrace and enhancement of the least known Bordeaux variety, Carmenere! The Toro de Piedra is no different, bringing two notoriously bold varieties together in a well-woven package. This roughly equal blend of the two is aged for 12 months in a combination of French and American oak. It pours a striking ruby with purple hues. The nose offers a decadent blend of cherry, raspberry, coffee grounds, and black pepper. The palate is supported by a heavy body, encompassing a core of fresh, juicy red fruits accented by notes of vanilla and nutmeg. Though steak would be served well by this wine, you might find it most at home with BBQ.
When you think of the primary varieties of Burgundy you likely think of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Pinot Gris, maybe Gamay? But Aligoté is the one you will get to know this month. Generally treated as a cheap alternative to Chardonnay or used as an affordable blending grape in Crémant de Bourgogne, it displays a sleek, mineral-driven palate that has made it a cult favorite of Old World white-lovers. Rarely seen outside of Burgundy, it has found a home in the vineyards of renowned California Burgundy savant Jim Clendenen. This wine is unmistakably new world, with a medium gold color with white hues. 10 months in French Oak has imparted scents of cream, vanilla, and tropical fruits. The palate is laden with ripe apples, melon, and other rich tree fruits. To say this will just appeal to Chardonnay lovers would be doing it a disservice, this is a phenomenal wine for all to enjoy.
It’s taken some time, but we finally have Loire Cab Franc in, and your resident wine nerd is ecstatic! Not only that, but this one comes from some of the most sought-after land in the entire region. Most of the wines from this region are grown on a hill covered in limestone and sand, resembling something closer to Champagne than Sancere. The results are elegant wines, including nuanced reds such as this. This wine pours a striking cherry red. The nose offers notes of tart cherry, plum, with whiffs of black pepper and herbs. The palate featured plush plum and berry notes, with pronounced crushed-earth minerality and subtle tannins that give way to striking acidity. Though one could appreciate the complexity and excellence of this wine on its own, it would also go well with pork chops or a rich stew-like dish such as goulash.
The bar’s love for the Merlots of Washington is no secret at this point, as we have featured a plethora of stellar examples from North America’s own ‘Little Bordeaux.’ Continuing that trend, we bring you Milbrandt’s Estate Merlot, a Washington staple that eschews certain traditional aspects of Washington reds for something more approachable. Undergoing 26 months in primarily American oak, this ruby/purple colored wine offers aromas of vanilla, mocha, and cinnamon; backed by a plethora of red fruits. The palate offers rich layers of blue fruit, cassis, and the same vanilla accents, with chewy tannins and balanced acidity. This is the quintessential steak wine for the month.
Often overlooked for other Italian collector reds, Amarone della Valpolicella, or just ‘Amarone’, is among the most uniquely-produced wines for the world. Given the opportunity, we had to bring it in. Amarones are typically blends driven by Corvina, arguably the most important varietal in all of Veneto. Post harvest, the grapes are laid to dry on either small mats or boxes where the grapes slightly shrink and take on a raisin-esque appearance. This helps remove moisture and concentrates the phenolic compounds, including tannin, and flavors of the grape before they go through an extensive oak program ( 3 years in this instance!). The results are powerful, intense wines high in alcohol that are the true litmus test for ‘bold’ wine lovers. Our example pours a rich garnet with bricking on the outside. The nose offers rich aromas of baked earth, asian spices, and intense black fruit. The palate truly embraces the ‘macerated cherry’ note, with subtle notes of spirits, red fruit, savory spices, and underlying vanilla from the oak. This is a bold, intense wine, and deserves something of equal richness; think foie gras, duck, or braised red meats.
Talk about a grape that gets a bad rap. Gewurztraminer has been tragically lumped into the ‘ I don’t drink sweet wine’ category, and it’s a shame. Thankfully, we have an example from its most famous home, Alsace, to show what this grape is truly capable of! Not so much sweet, as off-dry, Alsatian Gewurztraminer is famous for mineral/acid-driven profiles with fruit notes of lychee, peach, and asian pear. There is truly nothing like it. This example by Gustave Lorentz is a fantastic example, and is featured as a sort of ‘bonus’ wine for the month. Whether you have this in between your tastings, after the whole thing, or as its own experience, I implore you to give this phenomenal wine a chance.
* Platinum Club Members - please taste your white wine (#5) first and then the Gold Club white (#1) for your tasting order.