Olivier Morin Crémant de Bourgogne Rosé NV
Many, if not most regions of France make sparkling wine, and producers just about all of those places will tell you their bubbles are just as good as those from Champagne. Those people are lying. Or deeply delusional. There is a reason Champagne is the world’s most acclaimed sparkling wine: Their specific combination of cold weather, chalky soil, and generations of know-how exists nowhere else in the world (for now; keep an eye on England though). So it only makes sense that if you want to drink wine as close as you can to Champagne quality, you drink wine as close as you can to Champagne on a map. That would be around Chablis, which is actually closer to Champagne than it is to the main part of Burgundy, where Chablis is technically classified.
This just happens to be where Olivier Morin makes this pink fizz, and the similarities to Champagne are such that this actually is as good as a lot of entry level Champagne. Made from 100% pinot noir and it tastes like it, with unmistakable strawberry and cherry fruit lifted by sweet flowers and herbs, and expanded by brioche and fresh earth. I mean, that’s about pinot as it gets. There’s a bright, significantly chalky finish here that goes on and on and cries out for some kind of food to hang around with, but that’s not strictly necessary; if you wanna pop this open to celebrate the first nice day of spring and hang out in the park, that’s a perfectly fitting fate for this wine. If you do get a little hungry, though, try some Vietnamese salad rolls, top-quality canned tuna with cannellini beans in vinaigrette, or grilled pork chops with lemon and white pepper.
Elicio Rosé, Pays de Méditerranée 2016
Everybody knows how good rosé is – that’s no longer even kind of a secret – but what even most dedicated rosé lovers don’t yet know is that if a rosé is good when just released, it’s even better with a little age on it. After all, it’s serious enough wine, and it needs a little maturation. This is especially the case with wines from warmer parts of Europe like the Mediterranean. The hotter climate, stronger winds, and local winemaking style build structure into the wine that necessitates a year or so in the bottle to show its best. It’s the same principle you’d apply to high-end Bordeaux or Napa cab, but because rosé still doesn’t get respect as a Serious Person’s Wine, nobody thinks of aging it at all. Here’s what those chumps are missing out on.
Elicio is one of the most reliably rocking rosés every vintage, and has been for over a decade. What it isn’t is the pale, salmon/copper colored, carefree Provence-styled rosé with a that’s become commonplace in the U.S. No, this is very much of Ventoux, that place where the Southern Rhône meets Provence, and the wine tastes like it: Juicy, intense, almost punchy fruit with a more vinous body and texture meant to stand up to the region’s hearty foods like garlicky sausages, ratatouille, and olives. If you’re thinking “Hey, those sound a lot like the same flavors I’d get on a pizza” you’re on the right track; this is pizza wine par excellence. It’s also exceptionally good at washing down Eggs Benedict. To get all it has to offer, don’t serve this too cold, just serve it often.
Domaine des Forges Sauvignon, Pays de Val de Loire 2016
[Yeah, they call this sauvignon instead of sauvignon blanc. Confusing in modern parlance, but when you’re dealing with a producer as traditional as Domaine des Forges they’re gonna call the grape by its given name. Sauvignon blanc and cabernet franc crossed to make cabernet sauvignon in the 17th century. No, you’re not the only person wondering how two relatively mild mannered grapes breed to create something as formidable as cab. Wine is weird.]
Longtime members are now well acquainted with Domaine des Forges, who make what I’d argue are the best value wines in the world. Those of you who are new to the club, well…I’m sorry. E-mail us and order a bunch of Domaine des Forges cabernet franc, gamay, chenin blanc, and Coteaux du Layon, because they really can’t be beat as daily drinkers.
Speaking of daily drinkers, among the many reasons to be grateful for acceptable weather is that sauvignon blanc is perfect for spring in Oregon. Sure, Dungeness crab, bay shrimp salad, razor clams, clam chowder (for those days that feel like January), and just about any Oregon seafood plainly prepared will make this wine rock, but it’s not just a seafood wine. This is also the wine to pop when you’re having chanterelle pasta, chicken and cabbage tacos, or obliterating pistachios in front of the TV, because this isn’t your ordinary sauvignon blanc.
See, 2016 in the Loire wasn’t fun. Frost and hail in spring, rain the in the summer, and less than ideal conditions all around made for whites that bounce a little slower off the walls than in normal vintages. This is not a bad thing, because for all that struggle we get wines of unusual depth and strength. Normally we’re talking grass, grapefruit, peach, and pineapple; in 2016 that mellows to basil, bergamot, nectarine, and passion fruit. Heavier bodied with a softer acid profile than expected, it needs no ceremony nor much of a chill, and really shouldn’t be served that cold at all if you want to enjoy its elegant integration of chalk and acid that keeps the friendly and slightly nutty fruit flavors afloat. If you’re a sauvignon blanc type, get a case or two while it’s still available.
Domaine Maestracci Calvi Clos Reginu 2016
Ostensibly this wine club exists in part for y’all to learn a bit, so we’re going to revisit some previous wines and dig a little deeper in their regions. First stop, Corsica. You may recall from February’s Domaine Santa Giulietta rouge that “island wines” are having a moment right now, and their distinctive salty, herbal undertones seem inherent to all wines from these windy isles. The thing about Corsica is that even though it’s small, it’s also mountainous, and if you know much about wine you may know that mountains are important even if you’re not quite sure why.
The reason is the difference between daily high and low temperatures. The greater that difference, the higher the acid in the wine, and if you’ve ever been up in the mountains at night, you know it’s a hell of a lot colder up there than the valley floor. So it is with Clos Reginu, a very high altitude vineyard. So even though it’s comprised mainly of niellucciu and grenache like the Domaine Santa Giulietta, the additional altitude lights this up, delineating red fruit into lovely pure strawberry and raspberry, flowers into dried rose petals, and herbs into mint and fresh fennel. There’s also a light funk, somewhere between old campfire and tar, that lends nice depth. It’s an overgeneralization to say that altitude equals quality, but there are worse rules of thumb. Like most Corsican reds, you can chill this a bit if you want, but you’ll need food like grilled eggplant, roasted or stewed lamb with fava beans, or simple pasta with cheese and herbs, so long as it gets a liberal dousing with some very good olive oil. Keep it elemental, and let the wine do its thing.
Château d’Oupia Minervois 2014
Back in February, you were also “treated” to an extended screed about the personal importance of Château d’Oupia’s Les Hérétiques carignan, and how its guileless pleasures opened me up to seeing the potential in what are thought of as otherwise simple wines. Now check out its big brother.
Though there are similarities in their darker fruit and prominent mineral streak, that’s about where the similarities end. This is not simple in the least, and even though it’s easy to love with all that black and red bramble fruit, it can be easy to mistake this for a cheap and cheerful cocktail wine if you don’t pay at least a little closer attention. Underneath the sultry ripe fruit on the nose are layers of violets, exotic spices, pepper, a little licorice root, and even some cured meat, which are all typical of wines from Minervois, but the elegant way in which they move together as one is definitely not; if you want to see the difference, go out and buy another Minervois and it’ll be readily apparent. Minervois also tends to produce heavy, deep, and even overripe wines, but the hillside vineyards I mentioned in February imbue this with a tangy acidity that perks everything up just a bit without any astringency or tartness. That acid also gives this a surprisingly long finish that takes on an olive-like herb-fruit dimension as it lingers. Plus, with a couple more years in the cellar, it’ll do even more of all I just mentioned.
It’s certainly more complex than the Les Hérétiques, but better? On paper, yeah, sure, but in everyday life? That’s harder to say. Unlike its more fun-loving sibling, this isn’t something you want to just pop open and drink around the grill, although grilled food (especially spicy sausages for some reason) complements it better than just about anything else. You’ll need time for it to open in the glass, to really get in there and see what this can do.
Quinta do Montalto Vinha da Malhada, Lisboa 2014
Remember (or still have) last month’s Cavalo Barão? Get ready for a huge contrast between this and that liter of unpretentious Portuguese joy, as we delve into some serious Portuguese terroir.
It’s easy to lump in Portugal’s wines with Spain’s. They use many of the same grapes, they’re both warm regions (generally speaking), and both produce a good bit of big, easy red wines at an exeptional value. What’s easy to forget about Portugal is that most of it, and nearly all of its vineyard land, is coastal. So you get a cooling marine influence that, not unlike the aforementioned island wines of Corsica, brings a briny edge, zippy acidity, and rougher tannins from wind-thickened grape skins to their better wines. And the wines of Quinta do Montalto certainly qualify as better.
At over a century old, Montalto held on to some indigenous Portuguese grapes that are just now starting to receive some serious attention (and, of course, price tags), and the most interesting of these is baga. It’s easy to see why baga fell out of favor: It ripens late, it’s difficult to grow, it’s very susceptible to rot, and it has very small and thick berries that make for intense, tannic wines that need age. Just like other finicky grapes such as nebbiolo and pinot noir, though, the flavors and textures of which baga is capable are worth the hassle if you can pull it off. When you open this and give it at least a half an hour of air, the smoky, woodsy aromas of baga will hit you right away. The other classic plum, blackberry, dried herb (notably bay leaf in this case), and coffee aromatics coalesce around that comforting baga rusticity, then carry on right through the full but piquant palate and long finish. Food is a necessity with this, and red meats prepared simply (as in, say, the kebabs with pomegranate-onion relish recipe included this month) work best, but a nice sharp cheese will also do the job here.