Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Italians are Coming!

Well, you knew it had to happen eventually.  I always try to keep an open mind, and more importantly, an open palate, so I'm always on the lookout for something interestingly different but good and affordable.  Which means, of course, that I taste a lot of crap and really abuse my tongue for my customers.  But, alas, such is my lot in life...

For some time now I've been seeking Italian wines, but between business development at home and herding my French and Spanish winemakers, I had not really had time to focus on that search.  So I jumped at the opportunity to taste some Chiantis when a local trade tasting took place.  And lo and behold, I found what I was looking for: a small farmer Organic Chianti.

Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the Italians are coming!

Located in Cavriglia, between Florence and Arezzo, the Tenuta San Jacopo winery was in a state of disrepair, its old vine Sangiovese, Canaiolo and Trebbiano vines lying uncared for, until 2002.  Then three wine-loving brothers from Milan purchased the property and set about restoring it to its former glory.  

Stefano Balzanelli (the long-haired guy up top) manages the property, set in rolling dry hills between Florence and Arezzo.  This mid-sized property is planted to 38 ha (93.9 acres) of vines, with another 20 ha to old olive groves.  Portions of the vineyards were replanted after the purchase, while the older, healthier vines were tended to and brought up to modern standards.  Certified Organic methods are used to take care of the land, the vines, and the grapes.  These are then hand-harvested in small baskets, then sorted again at the winery and destalked before going into stainless or wood fermentation tanks (depending on the cuvee).  The end results are lovely, earthy old-school renditions of Chianti.  No over-ripe or over-oaked fruit here!

We are proud to add the Tenuta San Jacopo wines to the Vinotas family, and we’re sure you’ll be very pleasantly surprised with them as well.  Stefano’s Poggio ai Grilli Chianti is lively, aromatic and refined while at the same time rustic, very Italian in so many ways.  Bright, fresh red cherry fruit is complemented by earthy minerality and a wonderful lift, with a long finish.  This is truly an old school Chianti.

I am so excited that I could start singing "When the Moon Hits Your Eye..." but I'm not sure that's appropriate.  In any case, the wine is outstanding, it's Organic, and it will retail under $20 too.
PS: As usual, more pictures can be found HERE

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Gaillac? Gaillac!

Well, let no one say that we've been lazy this year.  It's been NUTS.  To quote the great philosopher Mel Brooks, "Nuts!  N-V-T-S nuts!"  The first 8 months of this year have been spent doing business development, keeping our current customers happy, and juggling tastings of samples sent from Europe.

Speaking of which, now that the August slow-down is here, I have some time to talk about someone I met while in France earlier this year.  I had heard about some interesting winemaking going on in the Gaillac region of France, which is northeast of Toulouse, in the Southwest part of the country (see below).

Truth be told, I was a tad surprised.  This was a region better-known for making cheap jug and box wines from international varieties.  But, my sources insisted that no, something unique was going on here.  Some folks were shepherding the local indigenous grapes like Braucol, Duras, Loin de L'oeil, Prunelart, and making wildly good wines in the process.  Yeah, I never heard of them either, so don't feel so bad.

So after much back and forth, I ended up meeting with several producers from the AOC.  One in particular stood out: Nicolas Lebrun (that's him at the top of the page), who runs l'Enclos des Braves.  Quiet, unassuming, and rather shy, Nicolas poured me his white Gourmand Sec (a blend of Loin de l’Oeil and Sauvignon Blanc), which was perfumey, minerally and crisp and really deliciously different.  Intrigued, we kept tasting through his lineup, until by the end I was convinced I had found a winner.  His Gourmand Rouge, an assemblage of Duras, Gamay and Braucol was like liquid dark velvet, with a crystal minerality that lasted for a ridiculously long time.

After having worked at other wineries for over 12 years, in 2005 Nicolas found the plot he was looking for: L’Enclos des Braves.  This small hilly 6 ha (14.82 acres) vineyard was topped with limestone-rich soils and a thick layer of clay, perfect for drainage.  The vines were all 20 to 35 years old, and Nicolas took to them like a father to his kids.

Treating them in accordance with Biodynamic principles, he uses only indigenous yeasts, manually harvests everything, and adds barely any SO2 at bottling.  Like children, he lets the wines take their time.  To put it mildly, he is making beautifully wild and soulful wines with these local grapes.

I was blown away by the quality of his wine, but to make sure I wasn't wine-goggling them, I had our star winemaker from Azay-le-Rideau, Pascal Pibaleau, try them.  He was floored as well, so I knew I'd found a winner.  Just to make sure, I retasted some samples at our offices in NYC and our team fell over themselves in happiness.  One even said, "I want to wrap myself up in this wine."  OK, a tad hyperbolic, but you get the idea.  A few calls, emails, telegraphs and smoke signals later, and we were in business.

So, I am proud to introduce our newest winery, l'Enclos des Braves.  Biodynamic, small farmer, lost in the wilderness, and making some killer juice from old vines of stuff that would have disappeared without his support.  His wines will be available in Fall 2013, arriving early September, and heading to several different markets, I'm happy to say.  Look for the label above, and you won't be disappointed.  

Especially as it's sure to retail under $20.
PS: Come see more pics at our Facebook Fan page, www.facebook.com/Vinotas