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The first couple months of the year are a flurry of activity when it comes to restocking our shelves. For some reason, this seems to be when the bulk of new vintages from my favorite producers in eastern France make their way stateside, and today’s offer is case in point.
We’ve long been fans of the singular wines of Nicolas Gonin. With 5.5 hectares of vines in Saint-Chef, forty-five minutes due east of Lyon in the IGP Isère, he has dedicated his life to resuscitating ancient, indigenous grape varieties (Persan and Verdesse, anyone?). Nicolas studied enology in Beaune in his early 20s, and it was during this time that he took particular interest in the field of Ampelography, or the genealogy of grape varieties. Today he is Vice President of the Pierre Galet Alpine Ampelography Center and after winemaking stints around France, notably at Domaine Tempier, he began the arduous task of vinifying the same varieties he had helped to discover.
Nicolas’ own vineyards are planted in sandstone-rich, gravelly soils and he achieved organic certification in 2012. Vinification and élevage are done with indigenous yeasts in enamel vats, the vessel that Nicolas thinks is optimal for minimal impact on the wines. Sulfur additions are kept to a minimum and are made a few days before bottling, timing which Nicolas deems crucial to the SO2’s integration with the finished wine; bottling is done without fining or filtration.
Even though some of these wines are made from the most unique grape varieties that I’ve heard of, I’m not going to go on about how limited these wines are or anything like that. In fact, the best part about them is that they are readily available, practically begging to be served at your next dinner party. Why would you want wines this pure and delicious to be hard to find? Tim Gagnon
*These wines arrive Tuesday, 2/14.
The blend for Nicolas’ Blanc Classique cuvée changes every year and this vintage is a lip-smacking and delicious combination of Viognier, Altesse, Chardonnay, and Pinot Gris planted in mainly gravel soils. Waxy lemon peel, green herbs, clementine, and anise abound on the nose, while the palate skews bright and mineral laden. Perhaps a bit more ripe than 2014, but perfectly balanced, it is much more mineral and high-acid than fruit-forward; green apple and fresh-squeezed orange pulp come through on the finish. Tim Gagnon
Verdesse is a variey that ampelographers widely agree is very old, most likely originating in the Drac and Grésivaudan valleys in Isère. 2015 is the second year that Nicolas has made wine from these young vines, and it is a stunner. This drinks like a true mountain wine with a deep and intense bouquet, reminiscent of orange brioche, almond butter, mountain wildflower, lime zest, and ripe peach. On the palate it is quite rich with an almost toothsome texture, with stone fruits and sea salt backed by a dense mineral core. Long and very beautiful, this is a fantastic showing! Tim Gagnon
Although the exact origins of this grape variety are unknown, the earliest mention of Persan was in 1846 in the department of Isère. This is exactly what has brought Nicolas Gonin to work with this variety. Nicolas farms 5.5 hectares in the village of Saint-Chef and spends his time between his own domaine and working in a nursery tracing the lineage of ancient grapes and trying to bring back the lost varieties of his region. Gonin’s Persan is harvested by hand and destemmed before it is fermented with native yeasts in enamel vats. The nose is rife with dark, smoky berries, graphite, pomegranate seeds, and blueberries. There are also even deeper hints of tar, pine resin, tobacco, violet petals, and pepper – almost brooding. The palate takes a different tone with bright, tart fruit and damp earth; pepper and herbs come forward and are backed by bold tannins and high-toned black berries on the finish. Serve slightly chilled alongside grilled lamb, cheeseburgers, or roasted duck breast. Tim Gagnon