Cantine Elvio Tintero Bianco, Italy NV
In general, the idea of seasonal wines is dumb. Rosé is just as tasty (maybe even better) in the winter with salmon and root vegetables in abundance. Big, chewy reds are great at summer backyard barbecues. Beaujolais is applicable nearly everywhere, not just at the Thanksgiving table. Elvio Tintero’s white blend, though, is one of the few exceptions, and I’ve been waiting until we’re solidly into spring to show it to you because it is made for right now. No, I mean it. Stop and put this bottle in the freezer for 20 minutes and then open it up while you read about this crazy thing.
Made in the Piedmont from mostly favorita (a close relative of vermentino), arneis, and chardonnay, the bit of fizz here (what, you thought we were going to go without a bubbly this month?) comes from a small amount of both fermented and unfermented moscato that get added to kick off the secondary fermentation. That touch of moscato also contributes the peach and orange blossom prettiness so emblematic of spring, and too compelling to stop drinking. Not the most complex of wines, but not every bottle needs to be Montrachet. In fact, the pure simplicity of this lets you just enjoy the wine instead of analyzing it, and that’s the best tasting note of all. Serve this nice and cold as an aperitif, and serve it often. This is simply one of the most enjoyable wines around when the sun’s out. No food necessary (or even wanted) here. Drink up!
Bodegas Ostatu Rioja Rosado 2017
One of my favorite things about wine is the distinct and historic regional differences in how wines of the same type are made. Napa makes a decidedly different style of chardonnay than Burgundy, Austrian and German rieslings could hardly be mistaken for each other, and pinot noir varies just as widely within Oregon as it does the rest of the world. So while I’m apprehensive about every place’s pink wine moving toward the lighter Provençal style that’s emerged as the world’s clear favorite thanks to Whispering Angel and Miraval, we must face the fact that most Spanish rosado really sucks.
I understand that Spanish rosé’s traditionally darker color and sturdier fruit evolved to support Spanish food’s richer and spicier cuisine, and that tempranillo lends itself to those big flavors and textures, and I could not possibly care less. There’s more than enough light Spanish red that does that job even better, usually for less money. Give me the stuff that wakes up the palate like Ostatu’s rosado, which seems like it goes out of its way to distance itself from the usual Spanish style by being lighter than just about any other pink wine out there. The flavor is still textbook Rioja tempranillo, with rosy red berries that give way to herbs and clay dust, but it’s not juicy or dried or even especially ripe. It just buzzes with the crisp vivacity of a wine meant to charm and please every bit as much as it is meant to accompany food, and it goes with food very, very well indeed.
Its delicacy comes out best when served just cool (about 20 minutes in the fridge ought to do the job), letting the nervy acidity do the work or keeping the wine on its toes. From there, you just need to find something with enough fat to keep the acid busy without too much texture or seasoning to overwhelm the ethereal fruit and flowers. Jamón Serrano is always a good, safe choice, but if you want to branch out with some crab-stuffed piquillo peppers, chévre sprinkled with pink peppercorns and thyme, or just some good olives, I’d recommend it.
Kuentz-Bas Alsace 2016
It always feels like a special occasion whenever I can manage to sneak an Alsatian wine into something called the Weekday Wine Club, because it’s not a region exactly known for its value. 40 bucks there will get you some depressingly ordinary riesling, and flat-out bad $100 bottles aren’t uncommon. So unlike most of the bottles you get in the club, don’t take this as a jumping off point to explore a new and undervalued wine region, because while you won’t be sorely disappointed, you will be poor.
So all the more reason to get excited about how impossibly good a value Kuentz-Bas Alsace blanc is every single vintage, right? Biodynamic viticulture is difficult at best even in easier growing regions (and worth it for the inarguably more expressive wines it makes), but in chilly Alsace it’s an expensive and seriously risky undertaking, so the consistent quality and affordability of all of the Kuentz-Bas wines is not to be taken for granted. This white blend, though, may be their highest achievement. Less familiar but stalwart Alsace grapes sylvaner, auxerrois, and muscat mingle in a way that showcases their individual strengths to greater degrees than all but the most rarefied solo vinifications of each. Muscat’s intense nose of fresh stone fruit, citrus, pepper, and rose compensates for the aromatically-challenged but full-bodied sylvaner, while the deep golden pear/apple and mineral edginess of auxerrois fills in the crucial missing components of this complete wine.
Unlike a lot of Alsatian wines, this is not particularly high in acid thanks to a later harvest vintage, so you have a lot more freedom when it comes to pairing foods. Tarte flambée, choucroute garnie, and Alsace münster will be great with this, and it makes a fantastic Thanksgiving wine, but it’s spring. If you want to save this bottle for fall, go ahead, but you’ll be missing out on how well it works with grilled vegetables or fish (especially halibut), or even grilled hot dogs, which are just Americanized Strasbourg sausages, which originated in, yep, Alsace. Serve on the colder side to help perk up the acid and mellow the body.
Domaine le Roc Fronton La Folle Noire d’Ambat 2015
And now we go from Alsace, in the cold Northeast corner of France, to Its opposite, the sunny and dry Southwest. The wines are also opposite in nearly every way – light to inky, pretty to rugged, fresh to earthy – except for one important point: Both are among the easiest, most fun drinking you can do.
Since this is an obscure wine even by our arcane standards, the basics. The grape is négrette, not known to be related to any other grape, but not totally dissimilar to cabernet sauvignon, grown nearby on the left bank of Bordeaux. The appellation is Fronton, near Toulouse in Southwest France, where the soil is similar to…the left bank of Bordeaux. If from there you’ve extrapolated that this is full of pitch-black berries, violets, licorice, and pepper, well, you’re halfway there; the similarities are striking. What you may not expect is how brash and accessible this is – two terms not generally associated with left bank Bordeaux, nor really Fronton for the few who know these wines. Generous perfumed fruit is apparent the moment you pull the cork, and a juicy ripeness takes up the spice and softer acid profile beautifully.
Not really heavy, but definitely not light, this isn’t something you’ll want to chill at all, nor does it even really need food; this one is perfect as either the first or last wine of the night, preferably around the fire pit with friends. That said, this is from near Toulouse, one of the world food holy lands, so a bottle with dinner certainly isn’t a bad idea. The gobs of fruit here make it friendly with even very spicy flavors (merguez is a great match), but anything rustic, grilled or roasted, meaty, and heavily seasoned will work great. Yes, that also means pizza.
Alcesti Nero d’Avola – Perricone, L’Isola dei Profumi, Terre Siciliane 2016
We’ll round out this month’s selections with a couple more island wines because while they ’re delicious year round, they really come alive in the sunny months when carefree drinking takes a necessary but definitely supporting role to eating. What better time then to open a wine from the most notoriously food-obsessed Mediterranean island, Sicily?
Like a lot of wine fads (Aussie shiraz, California zinfandel and petite sirah, Priorat…), you may have been burned about a decade ago by momentary hype around nero d’avola, which at the time was touted as Sicily’s greatest hope because it delivered fulsome wines drenched in black fruit, dried herbs, and tobacco at an affordable price. Unfortunately, most of those wines delivered those flavors in a way that tasted like they’d been microwaved in a dirty dorm fridge and dosed with Everclear, ending nero’s quest for world domination before it even really began. Unlike a lot of vinous fashion victims, though, Sicily actually learned a lesson from this and quietly retooled its approach to the wine, emphasizing the fresh red fruit and earthy, spicy qualities of the grape. Alas, in the meantime, the wines up north in Etna stole nero’s thunder, which leaves modern nero d’avola as one of the better wine values around.
Alcesti turns up the lights even more on nero with the addition of some perricone, a beatific crowd pleaser somewhat similar to gamay. Together they make a slightly heavier bodied take on a warm weather red: Soft, easy, and poundable with oodles of red cherry and berry, a touch of peppery spice, and a little scrubby herbal kick. You can certainly chill this a bit to pop the acid and focus the fruit, but nothing more than a five-minute fridge session. It functions well as a catch-all Italian food wine, but again, these island wines have a savory depth that sets them apart, so if you’re inclined to branch out a bit, try it with butter beans in lemon vinaigrette, grilled lamb and eggplant skewers, or even grilled swordfish with roasted red peppers, olives, and capers, a recipe for which is helpfully included on the last page.
Domaine Skouras Zoe, Peloponnese 2016
How the wines of Greece, among the earliest winemaking cultures in the world, fell off the face of the earth is a long and complicated story (although having the revolting retsina be your most visible wine is a big part of it), and it should never have happened, although once again it’s hard to complain about the plethora of bargains from there. As the most historic of island wine producers, if you enjoy the profile of these hardy, vital wines, you’d do well to explore what Greece has to offer.
Domaine Skouras itself is anything but old and historic, only having been around since the late 1980s, but were early players in the quality revival of Greek wines, focusing on the indigenous agiorgitiko grape. That in itself isn’t so fascinating, as it’s the most planted red grape in Greece, but where they grow it is another story. Agiorgitiko is something of a chameleon, taking on wildly different flavors and textures depending on terroir, but the consensus best place to grow it is in the hills of Nemea, where the grape attains a perfect balance of rich black fruits and piquant, floral red plums with just the right amount of tannin for early drinking. Right there, about a half a mile up is where you’ll find Domaine Skouras. You’ll find plenty of other agiorgitiko, but odds are you won’t find any as good as the ones coming from Domaine Skouras.
Although this does make an excellent utility infielder for Greek food, don’t feel like you have to save this for a lamb feast or even take out gyros. Agiorgitiko is one of the more versatile wines out there, so treat it like Côtes-du-Rhône: If you’re stumped on a pairing but are pretty sure you need (or just want) a red wine, this is going to work well 90% of the time. It also works 100% of the time without any food at all. Serve at room temperature.