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The United States is in the midst of a wine revolution of sorts, where each year new regions are making not only passable, but very good, wine; in addition, with each passing year new grapes become popular, frequently from old vineyards planted long ago by immigrants. Today we have wines from a wide array of obscure grapes and strange regions, all of which are made with native yeast fermentation, focus on terroir expression, and rigorous hand-crafting. In fact, we think that the more detailed a producer is, the more they focus on small single plots, and ferment with native yeast, the greater the breadth of geology and climate that they will be able to translate successfully into their wines.
From Cabernet Franc grown on the slopes of Lassen Peak, California's highest active volcano, to Petit Manseng from Virginia's Shenandoah Valley, we're offering some out-of-the-way gems that we think portray the wines of these United States in all their diversity and majesty.
In addition, two of these wineries will be visiting our store this week. On Friday (3/15), Bryan Harrington of Harrington Wines will be pouring his old vine, obscure varieties from California. On Saturday (3/16), Lee Campbell will be pouring some of the best handcrafted wines being made right now in Virginia from Early Mountain Vineyards. Come on by to taste! Andrew Farquhar
This wine is from the Green Valley of Solano County, located just over the Vaca mountains from Napa. This wine comes from two vineyards, the Frei Vineyard and the Wirth Ranch Vineyard, both of which are dry-farmed and have average vine ages over 65 years. This style of wine was formerly known as Napa Gamay, and for good reason; the taste is reminiscent of Beaujolais with medium tannin and great energy, though more purple in color and with darker fruit. Partial carbonic maceration gives the wine a light and lifted character. Pair with pork chops, veal, branzino, or carnitas tacos. Andrew Farquhar
Precedent is the label of Nathan Kandler, longtime winegrower at Thomas Fogarty in the Santa Cruz Mountains, a renowned destination for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Precedent illustrates Kandler's versatility and curiosity and has introduced us to some truly unique California vineyard sites. Wirz Vineyard is home to 60+ year-old dry farmed, head-trained Riesling on decomposed granite over limestone in the Gabilan mountains. We usually have an off-dry Riesling on the table, but I'm happy to go in a drier direction in this case...concentrated, gleaming apricot, citrus rind, and tropical fruit is laced with gritty, long minerality and backed by supple texture and acidic tension. Terrific with herbed root vegetables and citrus glazed poultry or fish and anything peppery or spicy. Ariana Rolich
This dry Muscat is from the Suisun Valley, and it's the first year Folk Machine has bottled a Muscat. 100% Muscat Canelli (Muscat Blanc à Petit Grains), this was fermented in stainless steel. This dry wine has gorgeous floral, peachy, white grape juice aromas, but on the palate is a well-built, finely structured dry wine. There is a breadth of palate that makes it excellent for sipping cold in the sunshine.
Petit Manseng is an obscure grape that hails from Jurançon in Gascony in France's deep southwest. Best known for producing sweet wines from this tiny region, there is a growing consensus that it is capable of producing fantastic dry white wines as well. When I first was tasting with Early Mountain and they said they had a Petit Manseng, I thought that was very strange, but they said in no uncertain terms they believe it to be the future of wine in Virginia. Why is this? Petit Manseng makes wines of fantastic acidity in the warmest, humid region in France. Petit Manseng's thick skins make it resistant to rot and fungus, and allow it to thrive in Virginia. A match made in heaven, this is a beautiful, elegant, well-structured, refreshing white, with zippy acidity and beautiful aromas of ripe peach and apricot. Enjoy as an apéritif, with fried chicken & biscuits, or Virginia country ham. Andrew Farquhar
Ovum is an exciting, predominantly Riesling-based project from winemakers John and Ksenija House from Southern Oregon, based out of the Rogue Valley. The Rogue Valley is in fact made up of the valleys of three separate rivers which are, from West to East: the Illinois River, the Applegate River, and Bear Creek. The Bear Creek Valley is the warmest and driest place in the state of Oregon, whereas the Illinois River Valley, from which this Riesling is sourced, is the coolest and wettest region in the state. Grown in serpentine soils, very rare for viticulture due to its hardness and poor nutrient retention, this is a powerful Riesling with loads of electric acidity and an incredible funky floral character: lime flower, sap, and dense crystalline citric fruit meld together in an amazing, expressive wine. Andrew Farquhar
Stolpman's Roussanne vineyards have an amazing advantage that makes us believe Roussanne from Santa Barbara will become a well-known style in the future. As many know, Santa Barbara is one of the coolest regions in California, though it is also the southernmost. After the break in the Coastal Range that lets in all the cold air from the Pacific, the Transverse Ranges funnel the fog in towards Ballard Canyon and it dissipates earlier in the day and the maritime influence is mitigated, yet still the air is cold. Being at 34 degrees latitude south allows the skin of the grapes to tan in the long hours of the sun, giving them the rust color, or 'Rousse', for which they have been named. In July, the vineyard team pulls leaves away from the bunches, and they rotate the grapes 180 degrees to give an even tan. This extra sun does not lower acidity too much, due to the cold nights and limestone soils. These aspects come together to produce a wine of massive structure, with a broad, intense palate and high acidity, that nonetheless gives us beautiful citric character and lush white fruits. This is a white wine for pairing with heavier dishes like lobster, pork loin, or even a beef braise. Andrew Farquhar
The original vineyard planted by Mr. Wiemer himself, this wine is from a parcel farmed biodynamically. Cold spontaneous fermentation takes place over the course of months. 65% of the grapes picked two weeks late allow for this wine's beautiful mellow sweetness. 20% fermented in 1000L Hungarian barrels. This is an extraordinarily pretty wine, with delicate, expressive acidic structure laid over with a number of layers of beautiful fruit. Notes of peach, Meyer lemon, and white flowers all mesh together in harmonious accord. Pair with Peking duck, fresh fruit, or blue cheese. Andrew Farquhar
Napa winemaker George Vare fell in love with Ribolla Gialla on a trip through Friuli-Venezia Giulia in the early 90's. He took cuttings from Josko Gravner's vineyard and planted the first Ribolla Gialla in North America in 1999, in Napa's Oak Knoll District. This wine was whole-cluster pressed, spontaneously fermented, and aged for 8 months in neutral oak. Only 8 barrels were made of what I believe to be Arnot-Roberts's smallest production wine. Elegant and ethereal, with fine slightly-floral, slightly-oily minerality and a delicate underbrush character, this wine is fantastic after a brief decant, but will improve for up to ten years in the bottle. Serve with a simple Italian pasta with slivered almonds, apricots, and garlic tossed in olive oil with Parmesan. Andrew Farquhar
The 2017 Honeymoon is a blend of 65% Colombard and 35% Roussanne both fermented in used French oak barrels. The Colombard is sourced from the Ricetti vineyard in Mendocino, dry-farmed and certified organic, situated in the Redwood Valley AVA. The Roussanne is sourced from Contra Costa County, and is in the middle of the three year process of organic certification. This wine has a nice blend of racy qualities marked by a richness from eleven months of lees aging. A rich flaxen color in the glass, the nose has notes of melon, wool, and a touch of honey. Redolent of Chenin Blanc but a little more overtly ripe. This wine feels juicy and fleshy, which is in contradistinction to its being only 11.5% abv! 252 cases produced. Andrew Farquhar
Sourced from Benson Ranch, a dry-farmed head-trained vineyard in Mendocino tended by the winemaker, this is a fascinating Negroamaro Rosato that isn't quite like anything I've ever tasted. This is a hugely structured wine, with an intense, wild character, fantastic acidity, and lots of layered earthy, herbal, saline, funky notes. This wine was definitely intriguing and multifaceted, and in quintessentially southern Italian fashion is a rosato that will benefit from some bottle age. I would also suggest decanting for an hour or more to reveal its depths. It is still fascinating now, and will pair fantastically with lots of classic, intensely flavored Mediterranean foods, from Gaeta olives, to anchovies, to swordfish fillet. The racy acidity will work well with spicier mezze as well. 136 cases produced. Andrew Farquhar
This wine comes from the Luchsinger Vineyard in the Clear Lake AVA in Lake County. Though considerably less well-known, Lake County is the fourth of the counties that make up the North Coast wine country. It is located to the east of Mendocino and Sonoma and directly north of Napa. The main feature of this area is Clear Lake, the largest natural lake wholly located within California, and the oldest freshwater lake in the nation. The lake, at 1,300 feet, is at quite a high altitude, making for cold nights. A blend of 80% Touriga Nacional and 20% Tinta Cão, a less famous grape from the Douro. Whole-cluster, foot-trod, and kept on the skins for 24 hours, this is a beautiful, bright, classic rosé with finely-grained tannins and a nice spicy bite disguising a nice earthy chassis beneath. Andrew Farquhar
Made from a blend of Syrah, Mourvèdre, and Counoise, this is a surprisingly intense, herbal rosé from one of our favorite producers in California. Hank Beckmeyer works in the Sierra Nevada Foothills, off the beaten wine-world path. Tart minerality, intense herbal notes, wineberries, fresh raspberries and a little canteloupe and grapefruit pith on the finish make for a wine that is both juicy and refreshing but also tart, and seething with focused energy. The perfect level of intensity for a next-level summer rosé. Vegan, unfined, unfiltered, and organically farmed! Andrew Farquhar
Amplify is the brainchild of Cameron and Marlen Porter, two Santa Barbara natives, who aspire to make expressive, structured, linear wines in as natural a manner as possible. 100% Counoise, the Pink Flag rose is not your typical easy-drinking rosé, as half of the wine was aged under a protective layer of flor, in a similar fashion to sherry. The wine aged under flor gives this a nutty, intense, saline quality, while the straight rosé gives it roundness and pretty red fruit. This is not a weak or facile wine. Drink with Marcona almonds, lobster, venison, or octopus. This wine is unfined and unfiltered, with no added sulfur until bottling. Andrew Farquhar
Sourced from dry-farmed Valdiguie vines that are over 90 years-old in the organic certified Rosewood Vineyard in the Redwood Valley of Mendocino. A fine crunchy mousse with great acidity and the character of a handful of wild berries or the underbrush they were gathered from, this is a wonderful, deeply-hued rosé from one of our favorite winemakers. At only 11% this is a fantastic bubbly for the summer, and as Pét-Nats go has enough pop and fizz to be used in a celebratory fashion. Andrew Farquhar
This Cabernet Franc is sourced from the organically-farmed Cedar Crest Vineyard at 3,000 feet on the slopes of Lassen Peak, California's only active volcano, in Tehama County in the far north. Virtually unheard of, this mountain has the possibility of being California's Mt. Etna. The main difference is it is in a much cooler climate region, and Cabernet Franc is better suited here. This wine is made using native yeast fermentation, élevage in neutral French oak, and minimal sulfur at bottling. This wine has classic Cabernet Franc character, but with a little volcanic twist: black pepper, violets, a bit of graphite and some stony aromas are found on the nose, while the palate is a touch darker fruited than a lot of Cabernet Franc, with some plum skin, a little touch of coffee, and a bit of snuffed candle. The long, pleasing finish ends in a wisp of gunsmoke. Decanting for half an hour really brings the fruit out. Only 52 cases produced! Andrew Farquhar