Bodegas Pinord Cava Brut Más y Más NV
Did we finally find the perfect Cava? From its inviting nose, into the intense palate, through the just-enough finish, it does everything you want an everyday bubbly to do. Hell, even the name couldn’t be more apt; “more and more” captures exactly what I want when I have this in front of me. So, out of all the Cava out there, why is this one the one to beat for a permanent spot in your fridge?
Pinord, the producer, makes a good bit of Cava; this is not some quaint mom and pop operation like we usually rep. Within their considerable output, though, Pinord lavishes a little more attention on some bottlings than others, and that’s really where the Más y Más name comes from: Extended time on the lees (basically dead yeast that precipitates out of the wine as it ages) gives it más body, más creaminess, and más depth, so if you’re opening this expecting a crisp clean refresher, you’re in for a (pleasant!) surprise.
It starts clean enough, all citrus zest, granny smiths, apricots, gardenia, and even some chalk on the nose. Then a little-toasted almond creeps in, then some brioche, and before you know it you’re nose-deep in a French bakery, a place which we all know is nowhere to hold back. So take a big slug; this isn’t sipping Cava. A well-behaved rush of very tight and tiny bubbles seems inexhaustible as the juicy citrus and apple builds to an energetic peak, then finishes with chalky, nutty stone fruit. It’s a sprinter: Doesn’t last all that long, but boy howdy does it give its all while it’s there. Drink it nice and cold all by itself, or with very lightly flavored foods like seared scallops, burrata with good olive oil, or even fresh bread and butter.
Campesina Iniestense Bobal Rosado, Señorio de Iniesta, Tierra de Castilla 2017
For years, the most widely planted wine grape in California was the mission grape. Thought to only make simple stuff best suited for communion or dessert wine, it eventually got ripped up in favor of noble cultivars like cabernet sauvignon and the like. These days, grown as listán in the Canary Islands and Païs in Chile, mission makes some of the most gratifying wines around and is in huge demand from the world’s more forward thinking/drinking restaurants and wine shops.
Bobal looks set to meet the same fate. Looked at as barely adequate, the vast majority goes into bulk wine and pink Cava of dubious repute due to its tendency toward massive tannins and fruit that crowd out acidity, minerality, and complexity. Much of it is getting grafted over to tempranillo, cabernet sauvignon, you name it. But try this and tell me this is a faceless grape that doesn’t deserve to thrive. Vintage after vintage, this remains one of the most distinctive and best value rosés to hit the shelves, and the dog days of summer is when it’s needed most.
Big fruit is hardly a liability when it gives you powerful aromatics like the dripping ripe strawberry, Luden’s cherry cough drop, and heady tropical fruit here, but it’s not so big that the hibiscus, terra cotta, camphor, and dried herbs don’t come through just as strong. Sure, it’s heavy bodied, but it needs to be to accommodate the oodles of strawberry and herbs, and there’s late-breaking texture and quenching acidity to carry it to a finish that incorporates everything in that wild, seductive nose. Serve this plenty cold, but otherwise, treat it like a red wine and serve it with flavorful, hearty foods like steak, cheese, or the BLT tartine platter recipe included here.
Pazo do Mar Ribeiro 2017
Turns out the rain in Spain doesn’t fall mainly on the plain, but rather up in the northwest. (Little known fact: The northwest part of some countries is rainy.) If only it fell on their sizeable plain, Spain could produce more of the intricate and invigorating white wines that they manage to crank out in relatively minute yet mysteriously affordable quantities. Ribeiro is a region y’all should be watching closely for any color of wine, but while the reds are garnering most of the attention, keep your eye on the supremely balanced blancos, which benefit from cooling Atlantic winds and warm Mediterranean influences.
At the risk of setting the bar too high for what you might encounter afterward, this is a fine place to start getting into Ribeiro whites. Based on the indigenous treixadura grape, this is as classic an example as I’ve ever encountered. You can smell the sea air in here, keeping the lush tropical fruit, juicy orange, and pungent magnolia blossom from getting too heavy. That uncommon orange fruit carries over in a big way on the attack, and it needs to with a body this rich. Some electric tropical fruit and clean mineral surge through for much-needed balance, and it finishes forever with some shockingly pretty floral grace notes, but this is about as intense a white wine as you’re going to get from the old world.
Open this up about a half hour before you plan to drink it, or give it a quick decant; like I said, it’s big. Once it’s ready and not too cold at all, it’ll need unobtrusive but textured food. Think grilled shrimp and vegetable skewers, thai peanut sesame noodles, or get someone with too much free time to make you a seafood paella.
Casale del Giglio Bellone, Lazio 2016
As the idiom goes, there’s nothing certain except death, taxes, and people just back from their first vacation to Rome saying they had the best wine ever at this little trattoria by their hotel and it was only four euro and can I get it for them, and then they show me a picture of the bottle and it’s some janky Frascati that’s barely better than Yellow Tail chardonnay. Or maybe that last one’s not so certain since this…this is something else. After writing off the area around Rome for producing half-assed wine flavored wine for decades, this one is making me wonder if they’re quietly getting their act together over there.
So far as I’m aware, this is the only 100% bellone available in the U.S., which, OK, it’s a rare grape, but that is bananas given how utterly distinctive and delicious it is. It’s almost new world- like in how much it wants to be loved, coming right at you from the start with a wallop of a nose: Passion fruit, strawberry candy, fresh apricot, dried orange peel, a little St. Joseph’s baby aspirin, and something vaguely raspberry-like dart all over the place, while toasted nuts, chalk, and seashells hold the center. The heavy, slightly oily body hardly comes as a surprise after bonkers aromatics like that, but the perfectly pitched acid balance and the ability to clearly taste the seashell and nuts through such concentrated fruit is unusual. I mean, it’s Lazio. They’re not supposed to make good wine here. But when this wine builds to a white-knuckled finale of rocks and berries and salt and velvety power, I don’t want to drink wine from anywhere else.
You can drink this at right-out-of-the-fridge temperature, but you’re gonna need food with it. It’ll hardly disappoint as a cocktail wine, but I can imagine more than one glass getting overwhelming without some food to cut it down to size. That food can be just about anything packed with flavor, though, so it’s easy. Go the traditional route with bucatini dressed with capers, anchovies, olive oil, and bread crumbs and you’re guaranteed a revelatory meal. A shrimp or crab and watermelon salad, flecked with a little ricotta salata, would be memorable as well. I would prefer not to discuss how I know corn dogs are also an excellent pairing.
Fattoria Zerbina Sangiovese Superiore di Romagna Ceregio 2015
The old wine pairing rule of thumb “if it grows, it goes” – meaning that traditional wines and traditional foods of the same region are natural partners – is generally reliable, but wow does Emilia-Romagna make that difficult. See, Emilia-Romagna is where some of the world’s greatest foods originate: Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, traditional balsamic vinegars that sell for hundreds of dollars per ounce (and are worth it), Prosciutto di Parma, mortadella, and many others. However, Emilia-Romagna is not, for whatever reason, where some of the world’s greatest wines originate, and is still best known for terrible Lambrusco (not good Lambrusco, which does exist but is not at all easy to find). So when I’m lucky enough to be staring down a hunk of old parm, some slices of prosciutto, and a couple drops of good Aceto Balsamico Tradizionale di Modena, the wines that grow may technically go, but I’ll take a glass of barbera, thanks. Unless there’s some Zerbina around.
Fattoria Zerbina isn’t the only producer fighting the good fight in Romagna wine, but they’re unquestionably leading the way, farming organically and being very selective with their fruit. And while the sangiovese here won’t make anyone forget the ones from neighboring Tuscany anytime soon, it may eventually. Here on the other side of the Apennines, Italy’s most common red grape takes on a more expressive, juicy, and spicy character that differs far more from Tuscany’s dried, earthy, and austere take than the relatively short distance would lead one to expect. Warm spice and pepper gets some help from smoke and sweet tobacco in firming up baby-soft black cherry, plum, and cranberry fruit. A flash of perky acid jazzes up the guzzleable fruit, and eventually a little tannin encroaches on the edges of the tongue to provide some textural interest. It’s exactly the kind of easy, versatile wine we need at the end of summer for impromptu backyard cookouts, camping wine, or just a glass by itself. A little chill will brighten this up and make it more fun, but if you forgot to throw it in the fridge before the pizza guy shows up, no bigs, it’s still just the right wine.
Mas de Libian Côtes-du-Rhône Bout d’Zan 2016
Last month we had a wine from Mas d’Intras, one of my favorite producers in the weird, ever-evolving and lovably eccentric Ardèche region in (sort of) France’s northern Rhône valley. As luck would have it, not long after that wine went out, we lucked into a rare opportunity to get a little wine from maybe the best producer in the region, Mas de Libian. Their very hands-off winemaking and Biodynamic farming may not be unusual in the Ardèche, but it definitely makes for Côtes-du-Rhône that’s not exactly what you’re used to from the cheap and cheerful ones that dot the lower reaches of wine shop shelves.
The big difference is apparent right from the start, when you’ll smell something you almost never do in Côtes-du-Rhône: Oak. French oak is expensive – about $1,600 a barrel right now – and Côtes-du-Rhône, with few exceptions, is not. Yet there it is, not in Napa cab-like doses (30% of this sees wood), but lending a little chocolate, vanilla, and toast to the bright berry and lavender aroma. It’s also more graceful and layered than your typical wham-bam Côtes-du-Rhône, leaving room for evocative garrigue and licorice amid the saturated plum and blackberries. I’m inclined to attribute this seamless integration to the unusual method of co-fermenting the grenache and syrah here, but some sure-handed winemaking deserves its due as well. Sure, it’s voluptuous and chewy like Côtes-du-Rhône in a warm vintage should be, but unlike the other more serious examples, it doesn’t use its intensity and tannic structure as a brash declaration of “quality.” It’s there because it needs to be, extending the cherry-chocolate finish and providing some aging potential (this should age easily through 2025). Fair warning: There is very little of this available, so if you want more to enjoy with grilled lamb with fresh Mediterranean herbs and olives, as a very impressive Thanksgiving wine, or just as a big ass red to drink by itself at room temperature, hit us up very soon.