Many highlights of being in Tacoma for Thanksgiving but one was undoubtedly being reunited with a long time Hall of Fame white wine: Domaine des Cassagnoles Cuvée Gros Manseng. This is the top white wine, pound for pound, dollar for dollar you’ll find. I haven’t seen it in New York but it has kind of a cult following in Seattle. (Which I will take some credit for from my days as a buyer.)
Domaine des Cassagnoles 2016 Cuvée Gros Manseng Reserve Selection (Côtes de Gascogne) $13
If you’re looking for bargain white wine, head to Southwest France. Particularly, the Côtes de Gascgone region, the home turf of DdC. The winery makes a blend even LESS EXPENSIVE than the Gros Manseng (which is the grape, BTW). If you see CdG on a label, just buy that dang white wine.
So this bottle has so much easy-drinking flavor and actual texture. It’s not too searingly acidic like a lot of cheap white wines. I’d call it medium-bodied, which is remarkable for a “simple” wine. It’s not perfume-y like a Viognier or Torrontes, but is aromatically enticing. The Gros Manseng checks off so many boxes for a wine of this price. (BTW, got the price from Wine-Searcher.)
If you’re having trouble finding it, the importer is Weygandt-Metzler. So when you go to your local wine shop, let them know this is the company responsible for bringing this amazing bottle to our fair shores.
Since 2004 I’ve been talking about choosing wines for x day on the calendar, y special occasion, z oddball event. How many more arrows do I have in my dang quiver for this? What to do about holiday wines?
I was thinking about this while at Vino Volo in SeaTac, on my way to visit family in Tacoma for Thanksgiving weekend. I don’t travel with wine because checking bags is anathema to me. Frankly, I wasn’t going to bring any wine and just chug whatever was around. (I said as much in my newsletter. Subscribe! I get weirder, more off the cuff, opinionated, etc.)
Well stoping at VV and seeing an old pal from my retail days, Geoff, had me changing my tune. I picked up two bottles. Was very impressed with the selection at Vino Volo. You’ll pay a premium for retail wines. But considering I didn’t have to check a bag, retrieve it, and obsess about breakage, I call it an excellent deal.
I’ll get to the dynamic duo of wines. First I want to explain choosing holiday wines by “labels with memories.” These are not some #smartlabels internally loaded with memory that can “demystify” wine and “engage” drinkers with “curated” content.
It’s rather like an old, familiar, quirky signpost whose distinctness transports you to a time, a place, a person, a table. MAYBE EVEN DOWN LOVE’S MEMORY LANE, IS THAT SO CRAZY?!?
Now these labels aren’t the slick, rad, modern graphic design-y stuff I usually dig. They have a swoon-worthy amount of ye olde* charm that completes me.
Also, I just realized both labels have houses on them. Well, calling each a house is putting it a bit simply. But I want to be shrunk to scale and transported into these tiny label houses (that are actually large) and live my tiny life drinking out of tiny cups with tiny cats. THE END. (Maybe they’re smart labels after all? Whoa.)
Anyway, the holiday wines for Turkey Day.
Abbazia di Novacella Kerner 2017 (Alto Adige, IT) [$18]
I first wrote about this wine in 2010 and then again in 2012 so after six years, why not make it a trifecta? It’s made at a monastery in the extremely picturesque Alto Adige wine region way up in northern Italy. That should seal the deal already. Speaking of deals, average price on Wine-Searcher is $18. It’s a white wine with a very small amount of sweetness you won’t really notice cuz it’s a mountain bomb of alpine floral refreshment. Dang, this wine is so easy to drink.
I really like the script for “Kerner” and the ornate frame for the monastery painting. The latter is so charming. I stare at it and imagine leaving everything behind. (Which would be like my IKEA bed, a bike, and a coffee table plucked from the street. Easy-peasy.)
Château Thivin Côte de Brouilly** (Beaujolais, FR) [$27]
What can I say about Cru Beaujolais that I haven’t already said? These are wines from ten designated sites that are like uber-Beaujolais. You can age them and they also have a complexity recalling fancy Burgundy (Pinot Noir) just north of the region. (Though Cru Beaujolais is made from Gamay.) Côte de Brouilly may not be the most prestigious of the crus but go by the impeccable producer, Château Thivin. Cru Beaujolais has gone up in price over the years, but if you love elegant reds with substance please gobble up all the CB you can while it’s sub-$30.
This label. I love the color scheme. With the rusty-orange mountain and roof, green trees, and yellow-y cream, it’s a label I can spot from a mile away. It’s not a color scheme that should work but it’s absolutely perfect here. The font for “Château Thivin” really does something for me, too.
I’m also transported back to Beaujolais, where I recall a dinner with a handful of winemakers who brought large pots of assorted rib-sticking dishes and we hung out a winery over long tables. It was, in fact, a dinner at Dominique Piron’s and Claude Geoffray from Thivin was there as well. (Also Jean-Paul Brun. Wow, that was a Beaujolais geek’s dream.) So this label is extra-special and MEMORABLE and that’s how I’ll choose my holiday wines FOREVER.
Hey, it’s time for RAW WINE New York! It’s the renowned natural wine fair created and organized by Isabelle Legeron MW, taking place again in Bushwick, Brooklyn. It’s like natty wine’s prom, Super Bowl, and college reunion all rolled into one. If you can make it to the event Sunday or Monday (11/4 and 11/5), that’s awesome! I’ll be there the former day via a comped press pass. As you can see in the photo below, it gets kinda crazy packed.
Besides the big ol’ tasting at RAW WINE New York, there are some pretty cool seminars, too. Whoops, I mean Speakers’ Corner events. “Seminars” sounds very dull and un-natural. If you’re there, step away from the tasting tables and grab a dang chair for these natty brain morsels:
11:30-12:30 What’s a pet nat and why should I drink it?1:00-2:00 Montréal – A Taste Journey2:30-3:30 Natural Wine 1014:00-5:00 Cider 101: more like beer or more like wine?
But what if you’re spending Sunday watching football and drinking beer? Or doing hot yoga then eating donuts? Hiking? Going to IKEA and afterwards putting together a dang cabinet-type thing? And you have to go to work on Monday? OH NOS!!!
Fortunately, there are events going on all week in New York. It’s #rawwineweek y’all. Which is actually TWO weeks, from October 31st to November 14th. Why? Because the LA edition of RAW is November 11th and 12th. So there’s a lot of bi-coastal natty nuttiness. (Also the fair in Montreal is 11/1.)
I’m not going to list ALL the events here in NYC, just the ones that I am particularly excited about because of the venue, the wines, the people, or a combo of all three. (Here’s the complete lineup, FYI.)
Suggested RAW WINE New York EventsSwick Wines
I’m confident Joe Swick is the only natty winemaker who is equal parts Michael Bolton and Michael McDonald enthusiast. At least according to what I see on his Instagram account. Which I take at face value, like everything I see on the internet. Perhaps he’s pulling my leg? If so, I took the bait. Anyway, Swick Wines are made from Oregon and Washington grapes with unique blends and lesser-known grapes. Like Touriga Nacional, for an example of the latter. Ok, he does Pinot Noir and you’ve heard of that. Some of his wines are also creatively named. Like, “Wyd, U up?”
Find Joe and his bottles at Wine Therapy 11/1 at 6pm and at Thirst Wine Merchants 11/18 (ok, #rawwineweek is more than two weeks long) from 3-5pm. (Sidebar: Thirst has really cool custom wine shelving.)
Anyway, Joe, this is for you (maybe?):
The Doobie Brothers "What a Fool Believes" '81 Live - YouTube
Compagnie des Vins Surnaturels
Compangie is a classy, dark-ish, plush, couch-y/chair-y spot with a very nice bar. They are putting on a few wine boot camps that sound cool: Drinking RAW WINE in the USA on 11/1, Let’s Talk About Farming on the 6th, and Pet-Nats on the 12th. Each class has a 6 and 7:30 time slot but check with Compagnie to see what’s available.
This is a great shop in my beloved neighborhood of Greenpoint. Head to Dandy for a tasting of Purity Wine with Noel Diaz, who makes wines from grapes in California’s Sierra Foothills, on 11/2 from 6 to 8.
I’ve known William from Two Shepherds for years now and his wines keep getting better and better and they were pretty damn good to start with. Most recently I had his 2017 Carbonic Carignan “Wiley” (named after a cat and with felines on the label…hey, remember this cat wine?) and it was a chillable, chuggable red. YUM! Find him at Whet Whistle 11/2 from 6-8 and the next night (11/3) from 6-7:30 at Winey Neighbor.
This narrow, cozy space in the East Village is a new favorite. I love tiny bars! There’s a BTG takeover on 11/7 from 6pm to midnight, featuring the wares of Winemonger. Get a stool at 5:59.
Delinquente Wine Co
I am a huge fan of Delinquente. The first time I had their stuff was at Somm Time, falling for a Nero d’Avola rosé from…South Australia!!! Then I tried a Pet-Nat made from…Bianco d’Alessano?!? WTF!?! It was a fizzy, refreshing delight. So Delinquente’s deal is Southern Italian grapes coming from South Australia. Dime a dozen wineries doing that, right? Find winemaker Con-Greg Grigorou at Corkscrew Wines 11/3 from 5-7, at a fried chicken dinner at Grindhaus 11/5 8pm, and another dinner at Uncle Chop Chop the next night (11/6) at 7pm.
The Ten Bells
It will be loud, packed, and you probably will stay too late. This natty wine bar in the LES is celebrating 11/3, 11/4, and 11/5 from 8pm to “very late.” You will see lots of winemakers here for sure.
I love Ops so much!!! TLA! It’s a charming pizza place with literally tiny menus, natty wines but no list, and the square pizza is amazing. They are having a day one (Sunday) afterparty with Zev Rovine Selections from 7-11. Noel from Purity will be there 11/6 starting at 7.
June Wine Bar
Speaking of places I love, June is such a gorgeous spot and this wine bar serves some of the best food in the city. Like Ops, they have a great brunch, too. Check out Cabin Wine with Super Glou. It will be your first chance to taste wines from this portfolio, so go and get your bragging rights from 5-7 on 11/7. (Sidebar: Super Glou is an amazing name for a wine and spirits importer/distributor on so many levels.)
Stop by and Eat/Clink/Drink with Pascaline Lepeltier MS (who is managing partner and sommelier at Racines) and Alice Feiring (wine writer…and beyond…extraordinaire). Winemakers, wine flights, wine pairings, and a special prix fixe menu are all available. (But you can just chill at the bar, yo.) Starting at 6pm on 11/4.
Henry’s Wine & Spirit
If you are at RAW WINE New York, stop by Henry’s. This retail shop is like a 15 minute walk, no excuses. You’ll get 10% off any purchase with your wristband on the 4th and 5th and they stock bottles from a lot of the producers pouring at RAW.
Finally, what if you don’t live in Montreal, New York, LA and can’t go to RAW WINE? Explore the Wines and People & Places sections of the dang website. Learn yourself some natty wine, for real! Then go forth and demand satisfaction from your vino merchants and local restos. THE END.
You ever fly across the country just to conduct a wine tasting? Well now I can say I have. I jetted to Reno to lead my mother and about a dozen of her neighbors through an evening of blind tasting Syrah. Of course the main reason was to see my mom, duh, because I am a (pretty) good son (at times). This goes in the plus side on The Ledger of Life.
I picked out six wines, two from the west coast of the US and four bottles of international vino. Here’s the unveiled lineup:
Blind Tasting Syrah: The Wines Revealed
Tenet Syrah 2016 The Pundit (Washington) $25
Fess Parker Syrah 2014 (Santa Barbara County) $24
Montes Alpha Syrah 2013 (Chile) $19
Mollydooker Shiraz 2016 The Boxer (Australia) $21
Nobles Rives Cave de Tain Syrah (France) $13
Mullineux Syrah 2015 (Swartland, South Africa) $35
This is also the order the wines were poured. I thought about slotting the Mollydooker last because it would stick out so much with its juicy fruit and alcohol and oak, etc. But then I supposed it would be an interesting/jarring contrast to the more subtle wines following. Seems kinda counter-intuitive to have this fruit bomb detonate on your palate then follow it up with some chill juice, but we had a lot of food and took our time in between wines so no biggie. Wasn’t one of those tastings where you have six glasses in front of you and haul ass.
Post-Blind Tasting Syrah Thoughts
Tenet is a collaboration between Chateau Ste. Michelle in Washington, Costières de Nîmes winemaker Michel Gassier and enology consultant Philippe Cambie, who has a Châteauneuf-du-Pape HQ. The Pundit, a blend of 90% Syrah, 4% Grenache, 4% Mourvèdre, 2% Viognier (co-fermented with Syrah) was my second-favorite wine. Very elegant and balanced. Impressive.
The Fess Parker was deep, dark, and oaky. Monolithic. 15.5% ABV
The Montes had very appealing minty, eucalyptus notes, and was the oldest wine in the group at five years post-vintage. Kind of reminded me of Carménère, which is a little nutty. But none in there: 90% Syrah, 7% Cabernet Sauvignon, 3% Viognier.
A post shared by Jameson Fink (@jamesonfink) on Oct 22, 2018 at 2:00pm PDT
The Mollydooker. Holy cow, 16% ABV, some sweetness. I remember when these wines set the world on fire in the heady heyday of Aussie Shiraz. “GOBS OF FRUIT!”
Damn. I just realized I asked for the Nobles Rives Cave de Tain Crozes-Hermitage but got the plain ‘ol Syrah. Whoops. Not sure what the vintage was, either. Sorry! Well this was…meh. I didn’t love it, I didn’t hate it. Snooze fest. This is a private label for Total Wine, BTW. Anyway, if you are looking to dip your toe into Syrah form the Northern Rhône get a bottle of Crozes-Hermitage. (And scrutinize the label rather than being oblivious me.)
My favorite wine was the Mullineux. It was pretty good when first cracked but really blossomed after a couple hours of air. Excellent stuff with a balance of fruit and other non-fruit stuff (earth, pepper, etc.) that I want from Syrah. Very little new oak here and a lot of large barrel usage for less wood influence on the wine.
In a tasting like this I also recommend going back and trying every wine again. After they’ve been open for a few hours you will be a witness to change. Sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse.
Thanks to Mom, winemaster Keith, and everyone who stopped by the clubhouse to hang out, chat, learn, and drink wine.
Sometimes when I go to a big wine tasting event like Spain’s Great Match, it’s all about cramming as many new wines into my maw as possible. (RESPONSIBLY.) But often the most memorable tastes are when I revisit an old vinous friend. I fondly recall selling the Luzón Verde, a Spanish red wine made from organic grapes. It was over a decade ago at QFC when I first encountered this wine, thanks to one of my sales reps. It has a great label and comes in a case box replicating said label. That means you can:
Stack it High and Watch it Fly
Which is my favorite retail rhyme next to “If it’s cold, it’s sold” for beer/soda/wine.
Let’s take a closer look.
Old vines at Bodegas Luzón. Pretty amazing, huh? And that rocky soil, damn. / Photo via winery FB page
Luzón Verde Organic 2017 (Jumilla) $12
Brought to you by Bodegas Luzón, this red is made from the Monastrell grape. You might be more familiar with it as Mourvèdre, which is what the French (and folks beyond) call it. Visiting Australia? (Lucky you, BTW.) Well it could be referred to as Mataro. You gotta love learning about wine!
It’s a rich, juicy red but with enough snap not be overwhelming. Very crowd-pleasing and pleasurable. Even this nerd who loves weedy see-through low ABV Loire Cab Franc (IT ME) digs the Luzón Verde. I mean, what more do you want from a dang 12 dollar wine? It’s tasty, has a bright, fun label, uses organic grapes, and is made from a non-ubiquitous grape variety.
If you see Monastrell from Spain, particularly hailing from Jumilla or Yecla, you’re going to find delicious bargains. Probably from old vines. When it doubt, go for it. I’d also say the same for Garnacha (Grenache) from Spain.
What’s your favorite inexpensive, surprising red wine? Let me know in the comments.