Marques de Gelida Cava Brut Gran Reserva 2012
Here’s how this is gonna go down: We like bubbles, so you’re getting plenty of bubbles in our wine club. We like top notch, inexpensive bubbles the best, so you’re getting plenty of Cava in this wine club. What you won’t get is the same old Cava every time. For a wine most think of as cheap and cheerful supermarket fizz, Cava is a vast and eminently worthwhile wine to explore. To that point, last month we had a Cava Brut Nature, with no sugar added, and saw how that brought out a brash mineral side of Cava we don’t often see. This month we see how Cava changes when longer-term cellaring is intended with a vintage Cava.
Vintage Cava is aged a minimum of 30 months before disgorging, and takes on a richer and more vinous quality, especially in its creamy rather than a light, young Cava’s texture. The aromatics and flavors are the familiar mineral and orchard fruits, but ratcheted up to a salty sea breeze on the nose and slightly more dimensional apple and pear fruits on a distinctly yeasty base. It’s a wine you feel as much as taste, that there’s a lot flavor held in the texture of this substantial wine. Despite that, there’s still a dazzling purity here that keeps this the kind of Cava you can open just because you want a glass, but it really deserves a chance to shine with food. As usual, any permutations of preparations of raw fish, bivalves, and crustaceans is gonna work just fine, but since the wine’s giving you a little extra, you may as well take advantage and give it the Chinese take-out or Tex-Mex treatment (I know, but it’s bubbles; it loves any kind of soft, gooey cheese).
Éric Chevalier Muscadet Côtes de Grand Lieu Sur Lie Le Clos de la Butte 2015
If you can decipher the name of that wine up there, you’re probably in the wine industry, because that’s about the most technically dense thing you’re likely to see on a bottle of French wine – and they’re the easiest European country’s wine labels to read! It breaks down something like this: Éric Chevalier makes this in the Muscadet Côtes de Grand Lieu with the sur lie method in the Les Clos de la Butte vineyard in 2015. I’m not saying it’s not annoying, but there’s a certain logic and importance to this nomenclature.
Éric Chevalier has in a very short time become a leader in the quality revolution in Muscadet, employing minimal intervention in the winery and vineyard that set his substantial, honest wines apart from the indifferent juice for which the region is known. The Grand Lieu sub-appellation is notable for its granite soils which give its wines a steelier mineral quality that are distinct from the easygoing chalky, marine wines from the far more common Muscadets of Sèvre et Maine (if you’ve had a Muscadet before, you’ve almost certainly had them from the Sèvre et Maine appellation). The sur lie method, in which the wine is aged on the dead yeast cells (also called lees) that are given a stir every once in a while, contributes a richness that gives the more precise apple, citrus and clean white floral qualities of the acclaimed Le Clos de la Butte fruit room to stretch out get complex. Weirdly efficient to get all that info into the name of a wine now that you think about it, right?
Muscadet is still the oyster wine to beat (sorry Champagne), and I can’t in good conscience tell you a better pairing for this wine, except maybe the sheer joy of carefree enjoyment of a glass all by itself. Served just barely cool, though, it does make a great fancied-up mac and cheese wine, and likes buttered popcorn as well.
Tendu Red Wine, California 2015
And then there’s a label that’s as simple as it gets. Unlike the Muscadet, the name of this wine tells you almost nothing. Red wine from California could be anything, and not in a good way, especially if one were to judge by the bottle cap closure. Fortunately this is different in a too-good-to-be-true way, although it is admittedly unusual.
Tendu is the everyday wine from genius, quasi-culty Matthiasson, one of the bleeding edge California producers making serious, somewhat reserved wines that don’t even vaguely resemble the big, fruity, oaky wines for which the state is better known. Like his Napa cabs and chards, this is lissome and charming, but made from three grapes of Italian origin that barely exist in California: Aglianico, barbera, and montepulciano, not exactly known for their delicacy in their home country. Here, though, winemaker Steve Matthiasson keeps it Californian, taking only aglianico’s spice and dark earth, barbera’s juicy buoyancy, and montepulciano’s spicy, pure redness, leaving their body and extraction behind to give us a tart, briskly red wine with earthy hues and spicy inflections that needs to be packaged in a liter because it’s easy to drink a whole lot of this very quickly. Not quite as easy to get out of bed the next day, but worth it? Oh hell yes. If you give it a quick chill it gets even more irresistible, and when paired with grilled anything or pizza one liter quickly becomes not enough.
Those of you who’ve always loved the impressive, juicy, hearty wines of California, you’ll still find a lot of those same qualities to love here, but they’re going to come at you in unexpected yet still distinctly pleasure-first California ways. For those who’ve quite understandably avoided California wines for their fruit-forwardness and high alcohols, prepare to have your expectations confounded.
Piero Benevelli Dolcetto d’Alba La Costa 2015
Italy is, no question, the hardest wine country to learn. The entire country is under vine, the geography is wildly inconsistent and variable, and naming confusion abounds. For instance, there’s the grape montepulciano, which is not grown at all in the place Montepulciano, on the other side of the country in Tuscany.
Then there’s dolcetto, which means “little sweet one” but is anything but sweet. Don’t get me wrong, there’s plenty of fruit here, and more kinds than one can really count – some days it’s snappy hibiscus and raspberry, others its spiced strawberries and dried roses, and after it’s been open a while it moves into a black currant and tobacco kind of thing – but there’s not a trace of sweetness here. Nor is there much in the way of tannin to weigh down these breezy flavors, but there is a woodsy, earthy streak here that is fairly well definitive of Piemontese mineral terroir and necessitates at least a little food with this. Dolcetto is one of the more loveable, personality-rich wines out there, but cocktail wine it ain’t.
The good news is that dolcetto is about as versatile as wines from Italy’s Piedmont get; it’s what the locals drink while waiting for the nebbiolo-based wines like Barbaresco and Barolo to come around, and what goes best with their spring and summer mountain foods. That means things like roasted pork or chicken with plenty of garlicky seasoning if you’re having a Not Your Average Tuesday dinner, but it also works as Italian wine spackle, going with just about any pizza or pasta featuring anything from pepperoni to salmon wild mushrooms. Hey, if it has to wash down some frozen lasagna it’ll add some party to that dinner. Don’t leave it out of early backyard barbecues either, especially if spicy sausages are on the menu. Really, just keep a half case of this around for anything, because while it’s not a little sweet wine, it is a pretty sweet little wine.
Cavalo Barão Tinto, Portugal NV
So Hannah, your faithful Weekday Wine Club empress, is working her way toward a pretty serious wine certification (the kind where you get to put letters behind your name), and came across this when looking for a typical Portuguese wine to taste for her wine school curriculum. Now I know wine school sounds every bit as harrowing as puppy petting academy or getting a Masters in Sunbathing, but finding a wine that sums up long, narrow Portugal with its not insignificant range of climates and soils is a tall order. When she said that not only did she find one but that it managed to evoke a thrill even after a long class of tasting heavy wines (again, it sounds fun until you’re doing it, I promise), I had a hunch we’d found a shoo-in Weekday Wine Club selection as well. I was not not wrong.
What’s funny about where this typical Portuguese is from is that it’s from one of the few areas of Portugal not especially known for wine, Tejo. This is cork country, and the areas extremely poor soils and higher return on growing cork trees than wine grapes discourage much in the way of wine production. It takes dedication for not a lot of remuneration, so if somebody is making wine there they really, really want to make wine. So in a way it’s not surprising that that kind of passion yielded a wine of such classic Portuguese character: Ripe but balanced red fruits with sun-baked spice and earth that’s just powerful enough to be wholly satisfying without overstaying its welcome. The kind of thing you reach for when there’s a little nip in the air and you just don’t know what wine’s going to get along with whatever kind of evening you’re going to have. Served right at room temperature, it needs no accompaniment more complicated than the nearest drinking vessel. This is Portuguese, though, and so at least some kind of food is assumed to go along with this to both show off the wine and to but a few speed bumps between you and an entire liter of crushable spicy red. Anything sturdier than delicate seafood will work, but its welcoming simplicity doesn’t yearn for complexity, so just feed it pot roast, roasted root vegetables with bacon, or any elemental kind of comfort food like that.
Bodegas Volver Monastrell, Actea, Alicante 2015
If you haven’t opened up last month’s Primitivo Quiles Cono 4, here’s a good reason to invite some friends over and open it side by side with this monastrell to compare and contrast that wine’s ultra-traditional style with this ultra-modern take and see the evolution of Spanish wine culture in two glasses. Same region, same grape, and yet the two wines could hardly be more different. If have already opened the Cono 4, good; that wine is made for brutally nasty weather and winter foods, and this is made for right now. Either way, make sure you’re up for drinking some wine when you open this, because it’s not something you wanna just pop open for fun.
While this differs considerably from more traditional monastrell, you can only modernize a wine so much: This is still very monastrell, with iron-laced, slightly chewy, peppery bramble fruit and black cherry that defines this grape whether its grown in Spain, as mourvèdre over in France’s Provence, or as mataro in Australia and California. Use of some new French oak takes this in a bold, lusty direction, adding layers of toasty chocolate all around that would be out of place if there weren’t more than enough fruit to handle it. Its mellower acid and texture allow this to saunter onto your palate with confidence but without force; it’s a good thing you can’t resist it, because it wouldn’t let you even if you wanted. Yeah, it’s big.
You could theoretically knock back a glass of this all by itself, but that is obviously not what this wine wants. Smoky barbecue is a treat with it, but since it’s spring and you’re in Oregon, why not give it the treatment and roast a deeply savory olive-coated leg of Oregon’s peerless lamb as in this month’s recipe?