Sorelle Bronca Prosecco Brut DOC Modì, Treviso MV
If you ever see a non-sparkling wine lead off the notes for this month, alert the authorities because something terrible has happened to us. Even more than red, white, or rosé, with their food versatility and relentless enjoyability, bubbles are what should be on the table most nights; and now that sparklers are the second fasting growing wine category in the country, it seems y’all are starting to agree with us here at Weekday Wine Club HQ. Ordinarily cause for concern, but you’re OK this time.
The wine leading the surge of bubbly’s popularity is Prosecco, which is good! Prosecco is fun and inexpensive. The particular brand of Prosecco that’s winning over fans is that grocery store stuff with the Tiffany blue label, which is not good! It’s a corn-syrup sweetened chemical slurry that has the texture of three day old Sprite but lack’s three day old Sprite’s complexity. Florida cannot grow enough oranges for that stuff to even make a passage mimosa out of it. I say it’s one legal technicality away from being a Bartles & Jaymes wine cooler and I say to hell with it.
It’s a shame, too, because there is and always has been beautiful, thoughtfully made Prosecco that’s so inexpensive it’s almost suspicious. Sorelle Bronca has long sat at or near the top of the Real Prosecco hill, and it’s apparent why even in this entry level bottling from them. Organically grown (and extreme rarity for Prosecco, even among the very best producers), handmade, and with an attention to terroir that great terroir like theirs deserves. It’s hard to say whether the bracing freshness or the shockingly tiny perlage is the most dazzling thing about the attack, but the clarity and subtlety of the tart green apple and soft citrus fruit comes so quickly on their heels it hardly matters. What seems quite fruity at first cuts dry and crystalline minerally right when it needs to, carrying the zippy palate into a long finish on the back of bubbles that don’t quit. Serve this very cold, obviously, but don’t feel like you need to have it with anything fancier than popcorn, Cacio e Pepe, or anything at all.
Maior de Mendoza Albariño, Eleusis, Rias Baixas 2017
Like countless wine fads before it, albariño was supposed to the great and historically underappreciated wine that would supplant pinot grigio and cause everyone to get calligraphied “ALBARIÑO” neck tattoos. Like the aforementioned wine fads, it turfed out because the producers saw a gold rush and started taking shortcuts to make more, which is the surest way to kill a wine’s momentum. So back it slumped into the spittoon of wine fad history along with müller-thurgau, grüner veltliner, and other once-worthy hopefuls. Which, as we’ve mentioned, makes this the perfect time to dive in to the albariños that were good and smart enough to survive this bubble burst.
What better place to start than with the oldest vineyards in Rias Baixas, at Maior de Mendoza? They’ve been around, seen it all, and do it right: Sustainably farmed for quality fruit, long fermentations for maximizing the natural flavor of the grape, and aging on the lees for texture and refinement. The result is a savory and peachy nose that explodes into a rich, lush burst of stone fruit and flowers that never overpowers the terroir’s chalk and saline minerality. Strongly recommended to drink this one not too cool, and even more strongly to drink it with food; it’s not a cocktail wine. Pristine shellfish of any kind is the obvious choice, but it also made me crave dumpy take-out Crab Rangoon, so don’t make it a ceremony or anything.
Domaine Isle Saint Pierre Blanc, France 2017
By all rights, this should be too weird to put in something called the Weekday Wine Club. It’s grown obsessively organically on an island in the middle of the Rhône river used in part for researching new wine grapes, and made from three grapes not widely associated with quality southern French wines: chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, and muscat. Turns out it’s one of the most pleasing and loveable white wines I’ve come across in a while, and immediately knew it belonged in the club.
This is about as easy as it gets. The nose is anything but shy, but the star fruit, honeydew, and citrus are confident, not assertive. The honey, tropical flowers, spice, and warm sand are all aromatics that can (and usually are) powerful primary elements of warm climate French wines, but here are all content to inform rather than dominate what is a well integrated and very inviting nose. The palate follows suit, echoing the broad field of aromatics on the nose in a way that’s easily accessible but not intense, lively without being sharp, and satisfyingly textured without being the least bit heavy. Some grassy, herbal licks from the sauvignon blanc and perfume from the muscat give it some flashes of personality, but it’s still so seamless and balanced that much more prestigious wines should take note.
If you’re looking for a guilt-free, all-purpose white for meals or solo drinking, I currently know of no greater value than this. It’s just fine straight from the fridge, but if it warms up a bit in your glass from slow, absent minded, that’s fine too; the freshness of the wine compensates for the warmer temperature and even allows a little deeper taste of what it has to offer. Delicious with herbed mixed olives, a simple salad, or chilled peel-n-eat shrimp, but just as enjoyable snuck into the movies in your “coffee” cup.
Cantina Frentana Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo Vallevó 2017
Not exactly rosé, but rosé in the way Italians best understand it, and certainly better than their dire attempts at mimicking the prohibitively popular pale Provence style. Cerasuolo more or less translates to “cherry red,” and looking at it it’d be hard to argue there’s a better name for this style of wine. Most associated with the Abruzzo region in the mountainous parts near the Adriatic, it’s a style that spread widely due to how well it handles the hearty and often spicy flavors of southern Italian cooking.
Like most quality pink wine, it’s very easy to drink and is made by only keeping the skins of the crushed grapes in contact with the juice for a limited time, but that’s where the similarities end. The montepulciano grape is dark, powerful, and tends toward overt fruitiness (something you’ve surely encountered in many of the too-cheap Montepulciano d’Abruzzo bottles littering the bottom shelves and sad Italian restaurants), so the wines are always going to have a concentration more akin to a red wine. That much comes across in the currant, wild cherry, and fresh plum fruit, and game, earthy clay, and iodine. The acid will also be a little lower, so the firm red fruit here lands on the palate with some heft and seriousness. I’ll admit it’s unusual to those accustomed to standard French rosé; up to this point, it’s even hard to distinguish it from a simple red wine, but once you get oriented, that’s when this turns yet another corner.
All of a sudden, a flash of acidity races across your tongue and brings out the pretty raspberry, ripe strawberry, and punchy tropical fruits that set this firmly in a category apart from red wine (especially the deep reds usually coming out of Abruzzo). Plenty of black pepper and a little grip keep it more rounded like the attack, but it still hits the spot on a hard day. Served just off cold, it really wants food, but it can be plain salami, pizza, or even grilled red meats. I’ve always preferred it with seafood though, and the grilled salmon and herbed cucumber salad recipe included here is about as good a match as there could be.
Bodegas Otero Santin Mencía, Valdecampo, Bierzo 2015
There are small wineries and then there are small wineries…and then there’s Bodegas Otero Santin. Located in a former garage on the bottom floor of an apartment building, it hardly seems like the place to go for any wine you wouldn’t immediately turn into sangria, let alone some of the purest and most expressive mencía out there.
It’s also a lesson in terroir. Once thought to be closely related to cabernet franc, mencía is now known to be the same grape as Portugal’s jaen, used to make some of Portugal’s most stultifyingly dull wines, whose only remotely edgy aspect is that you could very well lacerate your face by falling asleep on your wine glass drinking them. In northwest Spain’s Bierzo, though, the perfect mix of rain and heat in very mineral rich soils temper the grape’s tendency toward tannic overripeness and high acid and deliver wines with a wide appeal and versatility. Most are quite good, it’s just that Bodegas Otero Santin is, despite their humble location, better at making it than most.
Opening with deep black cherry, blueberries, and plums, there are spice, char, and cocoa bass notes that would make you swear this saw some oak, but this is raised entirely in stainless steel. Given a little air (which it needs, but only 20 minutes or so) mencía’s violets and fresh earth come out, but it’s still richly aromatic in a way that even sworn California wine loyalists would love. It gently descends on the tongue with restrained acid and tannin, tasting just like the nose, but the soft and easy texture isn’t what that nose leads you to believe is coming. It picks up a little tannin, as well as some dried herbs and clay, toward the very long finish, but this is still something you could chill to fit your mood, occasion, or food. For instance, if you were having it with grilled venison and a buttery cherry and thyme sauce (and you definitely should), don’t chill it. Spicy seafood dishes like paella, or some Korean BBQ? Take it to about 60. Tomato salad or Manchego? Blast chill it and enjoy. It’s ready for you.
Mas d’Intras Merlot-Syrah, La Cuvée d’Alphonse, Ardèche 2015
The Rhône region is what new French wine drinkers often gravitate toward for its value, accessibility, and simple to understand layout for its red wines: Syrah in the north, grenache in the south. Less known is a little place between the two and a little off to the west that really isn’t like any place else in France: the Ardèche.
Full of countless odditties in terms of climate and soil, it unsurprisingly attracts many eccentric winemakers. Anything goes here, from strange cider-like sparkling wines to big oaky chardonnay, but what’s most common is the uncommon, and that’s certainly true of Mas d’Intras. Merlot and syrah are, to put it mildly, not two grapes you often see blended – mostly because outside of the Ardèche they don’t grow in even remotely the same areas of France – but coming from here it works so well that this could be your new house red.
Give it about ten minutes to open up, then hold on. There’s almost something Italian about it at first, the way the bright red and dark blue fruits and flowers play off the gritty, smoky, and earthy rusticity. As it comes into focus it shows the blackberry, currant, and damp earth of merlot; the cherry liqueur, smoke, and white pepper of good northern Rhône syrah; and the violet beauty that’s common to them both. It glides in easy as can be with intense violet lifting juicy dark berries that gather gentle grip on their way down to the smoky black earth and licorice root finish. It shows the ripeness of the warm 2015 vintage, and its attendant alcohol, so despite the generous fruit and easy drinking texture, this is best with some richer food. Backyard steak grillers, pork butt smokers, and cheese sandwich grillers, start your decanters.