Naveran Cava Brut Rosado 2016
No disagreement here that Cava, Spain’s contribution to the sparkling wines of the world, is one of the best values in wine. That you can walk into most grocery stores and for ten bucks buy bubbly made with the same laborious method as Veuve Clicquot seems too good to be true and, honestly, sometimes it is. There’s a lot of ordinary, even terrible Cava out there, but since the vast majority of them are priced within a few bucks of each other, how do you pick out the good ones?
Look for vintage Cava. Most sparkling wines (including very expensive Champagne) are blends of wines from different vintages. This is usually a good thing, with older wines contributing depth and texture, balancing out the freshness of the younger wines to make a whole greater than the sum of its parts. It can also be a way to get rid of subpar wine by diluting it in a batch of better wines, and Cava can be very guilty of this. With vintage Cava, there’s nowhere to hide.
That’s where Naveran comes in. Naveran makes vintage Cava, and they can take that chance because they only make wine from their own estate vineyards; the Cava equivalent of Grower Champagne. If the fruit isn’t good enough, they don’t use it, and they just make less wine. All their wines are worth exploring, but for me it’s always been the rosado that’s the most distinctive. Indigenous parellada is the base wine here, with the pink color coming from pinot noir instead of the cheaper garnacha used by most Cava producers. This gives the wine a more, well, vinous quality, with pinot’s earthy spice, citrus, and red berries taking on a brioche-like richness from extended aging. The bubbles themselves are finer, more voluminous, and longer lasting than most Champagnes, to the point where this makes one closely question why they would shell out for Champagne.
Because of this, I don’t really recommend popping this open to drink by itself; it’s far from offensive as an apéritif, but you’re cheating yourself and the wine. Serve it very cold, and maybe give it a half hour to open up in the fridge, but treat it like a bigger pinot noir and give it plenty of flavor and texture: Duck with morels, rotisserie chicken, and pungent soft cheeses are all knockouts with this, but the best pairing I’ve had is a simply grilled ribeye. However you enjoy it, you won’t soon forget it.
Monte Tondo Garganega Frizzante, Verona 2016
Vinho Verde, the ubiquitous semi-bubbly of Portugal, offers a lot of simple fun for the money, but similar to the Cavas discussed above, they can get a bit samey. For when you need a little spritz but don’t want a full-on sparkling wine, look to Italy and its frizzantes. Italian whites get very unfairly criticized for being heavy-bodied, but there’s a grain of truth to that, especially among the more affordable examples. Adding a soft bubble to those whites, like garganega that’s used to make rich Soave, breathes life into them and highlights the hidden juiciness and minerality.
Monte Tondo, seen as one of Soave’s standard bearers and prestigious names, resisted this less serious approach to their fruit for a while, but thankfully came around to make one of the best and most addictive frizzantes around. Peaches and wisps of fresh flowers are not shy, but tamed by the gentle fizz and garganega’s inherent salty edge. Serve it nice and cold, and chug it with gusto either by itself, with seafood risotto, or any fried seafood but especially Oregon razor clams.
Thomas Pico Chardonnay, Vin de France 2016
Those two circles you see on the map to the left are not a mistake. For those of us with nothing better to do than closely scrutinize the climatic changes in small international wine regions, 2016 was a weird year. Fantastic, possibly the actual vintages of a lifetime, happened in Bordeaux and the Southern Rhône. Up in Chablis, however, it was a different story. Frost early on, followed by huge hailstorms, finished off by mold problems over a cool, rainy summer meant problems in both quality and quantity, to the point where some producers simply didn’t make wine because their vineyards were destroyed. While that deprives us of wine, it deprives the producers of a living; all those farming bills still have to be paid. So Thomas Pico, of rare, obsessively collected, and intensely fetishized Domaine Pattes Loup in Chablis had an idea.
His friends down south in Limoux, who are equally intense as Thomas in their dedication to organic viticulture, had an ideal vintage. Cooler temperatures over a longer season brought out more complex flavors and a brisk acidity not usually seen in chardonnay from this warm part of France. Sensing a stylistic match, Thomas went down and harvested chardonnay to the same exacting standards he uses for his coveted Chablis, crushed it there to preserve the freshness and transparency he prizes, and trucked the juice up to his Pattes Loup in Chablis to raise it; hence the two highlighted areas on the map.
What resulted is the best non-Burgundy French chardonnay. It’s doesn’t have the flinty, seashell and cucumber coolness of Chablis, nor the fat tropical fruits of Limoux, but it’s got more chardonnay flavor crammed into it than any sub-$30 chardonnay from anywhere in the world. Heady floral scents, vivid lemon, dripping ripe peaches, and hot cement minerality charge right up your nose, and the first sip isn’t any more bashful. Velvety and almost oily from the warm weather and lack of fining or filtering, the peaches and citrus get a little brighter as they take on a slightly honeyed character that dovetails nicely with the chewy body and flash of acicity that wraps this up. So not Chablis, but a chardonnay with a Chablis makers fingerprints and blood and tears all over it.
It’s a stunning value, and one to buy in quantity while you still can, as this should age nicely over the next four or five years. As such, you’ll want to give this plenty of air – say an hour in a decanter if you have the patience – and serve it not too cold; 55º is about right. After it opens, unleash it on grilled fish, a simple salad of Oregon bay shrimp and white beans, or a summer squash and herb pasta, and brace yourselves. It’s not hard to drink it by itself, but it really does perform better with food, so consider this something of a special occasion wine.
Cantine Elvio Tintero Rosso NV
Look familiar? Tintero’s lightly sparkling white, for which they’re best known, was in last month’s bag. So this month we get take a look their best kept secret: A non-vintage rosso. Italy’s typically byzantine wine laws are the reason for label’s modesty, that can’t tell you this is a 2016 blend of nebbiolo, dolcetto, and barbera from excellent soils across northwest Italy’s Piedmont, made without oak, chemicals, or pretention. So you get, somewhat perversely, a summer nebbiolo blend.
It’s clearly of the Piedmont, with its cedar and cherry-berry nose, and tobacco-y depth, but the rustic austerity and grip is gone. In its place are fine tannins, jocular and forthright fruitiness, and a gentle acidity to induce carefree drinking. On paper, the savory, woodsy flavors of the Piedmont do not sound at all appealing in the summer, but I’ll be damned if it isn’t uniquely satisfying. Hell, I might even put a little chill on it to add some zip and give it a little texture. Immensely satisfying by itself, but you can really pair this with anything that seems like it needs red wine. It does take particularly well to the seared pork loin chop with tomato and cheese salad included here, but even boxed mac and cheese is going to be good with this.
Garofoli Rosso Piceno Fárnio 2016
Every month needs a pizza wine, because every months needs a pizza. Sometimes several pizzas. Sometimes unexpectedly, like when you have people over for a relaxing backyard grilling session and it decides to pour rain out of nowhere and you clearly aren’t going to be grilling. That will 100% happen to you this summer and there’s nothing you can do to prevent it. Garofoli to the rescue.
Garofoli is the oldest producer in Italy’s Marche region, one the few places in Italy where the country’s two main red grapes, sangiovese and montepulciano, are given equal esteem. Their nearly 150 years have taught them the delicate balancing act of harnessing the warm winds off the Adriatic to ripen lusty montepulciano while exploiting the cool evenings to preserve sangiovese’s clarity and zip. Since they use no oak in the making of this, they have to nail it every year, and they do. Wild cherry and spicy plums on the nose grow rounder on a peppery, intense, but soft and easy palate. No need to chill this or let it breathe or pair it with anything, this is standing at the ready for any occasion, not just emergency pizza.
Hermanos Peciña Rioja 2016
Most people drinking Rioja aren’t drinking real Rioja. Technically speaking, it satisfies all the legal requirements to be labeled Rioja, but it tastes like a fruity red that could be from anywhere. Which is fine! For what little they cost, they do the trick better than most. The real stuff, though, savory and soft and haunting, is only made by a handful – literally like four or five – of producers, with most others in the region caving to the worldwide demand for simple, cheap red wine. Most of them have been around for more than a century, but the not even 30 year old Hermanos Peciña, founded by Pedro Peciña, the longtime vineyard manager of traditional Rioja legends La Rioja Alta, has a head start. His intimate knowledge and access to the best soils in Rioja Alta is not squandered on the ordinary or easy. That he’s willing to adhere to such an involved winemaking process on a small scale (he only has about 50 acres of vines) when other Rioja producers have decided that juice ain’t worth the squeeze anymore shows there’s still hope for a resurgence of these one of a kind wines.
Though this young wine of theirs doesn’t go through the years of aging in American oak that their other wines do, it does use the unusual oxidative open-air racking method to clarify the wine, giving it that expansive, arresting depth of those. Old leather, grilled mushrooms, and toasted almonds glance toward stately aged Rioja, but the dark fruit is fresh and pure in a reserved, complementary way. The fruit opens up a bit and even shows some flash on the firm, more concentrated palate, with tangy blackberry, wild black currant, and cooling blueberry all working together for an easy balance and drinkability. It also packs a little more zing than most Rioja, which helps extend and develop the finish much further than young Rioja usually manages.
2016 was an abundant vintage in Rioja, and a very good one (literally; there’s a regulatory board that gives an official rating to Rioja vintages), so if you’re looking for a wine to stock up on for slightly elevated evenings, this is going to be the most versatile red you’re going to find for anywhere near the price. Sure, it works with Spanish food like chorizo and beans or jamón, but young Rioja is secretly a lot more adaptable than that. One of the more surprisingly great pairings with it is just about any spicy southeast Asian cuisine. Indian, Korean, Filipino, Thai – all of their exotic, even hot and spicy qualities work well with the wine’s soft tannins and accessible fruit. Less surprising is young Rioja’s cozy relationship with Moroccan food, an influence on Spain’s food for centuries. The most useful companion, though, is the food of the American southwest. Whether New Mexico chile, smoked Texas brisket, or even chile con carne, the smoky earthy flavors have a way of completing the wine by expanding the non-fruit elements of the nose onto the palate. Serve at room temperature, always with food.