MAN Chenin Blanc ($8.99)
From the producer:
"Chenin Blanc thrives in the Mediterranean climate, deep soils and bush-vine vineyards of our region. We use only the free-run juice (no pressing of the grapes) to preserve its clean and natural character, refreshing acidity and delicious ripe fruit flavours.
A crisp, expressive, light-bodied wine. Light straw in appearance. Vibrant aromas of quince, pear and pineapple. On the palate, fresh stone fruit and apple flavours are backed by refreshing acidity, minerality and a well-rounded mouthfeel. A versatile food wine that will pair well with poultry, shellfish and vegetable dishes. Also, fabulous as an aperitif for a hot summer afternoon. Great to drink now, but ages beautifully over 2-5 years. Serve chilled."
Chenin Blanc, also known as "Steen" in South Africa, is the most planted varietal in that country, and arrived there in the late 17th century. If you've had Vouvray, you've had Chenin Blanc, but in the warmer climate of South Africa the wine is very different from its Loire Valley cousins. There is still crisp acidity, but the fruit profile tends toward ripeness and tropical notes. This particular wine is dry-farmed (no irrigation), grown on bush vines (rather than trained on wires), and is not pressed--the weight of the grapes in the vat squeezes the juice out without mechanical force. This is a really good introduction to South African Chenin Blanc at an outstanding price.
Aslina Chardonnay ($19.99)
From the producer:
Aslina Wines is the realisation of a dream for South Africa’s first black woman winemaker, Ntsiki Biyela. Launched in 2016, the Aslina brand is named after Ntsiki’s grandmother, whose care and guidance provided her with the inspiration and vision to succeed. Ntsiki’s ambition is to create quality wines. After 13 years as winemaker and ambassador for boutique winery Stellekaya, she continues her journey of inspiration by starting her own brand, Aslina Wines. There are currently four different wines under the Aslina range: Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Umsasane, a Bordeaux blend.
Ntsiki Biyela’s deep belief is that winemaking is an expression of love and passion. She fervently supports the idea that winemaking should respect the gifts and riches offered by nature and that these should be savoured and enhanced while offering the least interference.
Therefore the philosophy of Aslina is to make sure that its wines are produced to reflect nature’s offerings as closely as possible, merely providing a light hand of guidance to bring out their innate beauty. In that way, the journey of each wine, from vineyard to glass, tells its own unique story. A good wine is any wine that excites your palate, everyone's palate is different so the most important questions are: do I enjoy it and if so, why ?
A complex chardonnay, creamy , round and soft. Partial wooding gives this wine the edge and to show the beautiful tropical fruit and limy character. Slight buttery character showing on the palate. Good acidity balancing the fruit and wood."
I could not be more pleased to carry Aslina wines. They are a completely different expression of South Africa than I have yet tasted, and they are a wonderful introduction to what upper-level winemaking is like in that country. Ntsiki Biyela has really put her own touch on these wines and has become a standout in the field. This Chardonnay will be unlike any you've tasted--it is distinctly South African but uniquely Ntsiki's.
There is an entire vocabulary that wine professionals use to talk about, rate, and sell wine. While it can be helpful to know some of those terms, they can also create an exclusionary feeling for the average consumer. Do you need to be able to identify the subtle notes of lead pencil shavings in your Cabernet? No, you do not. If learning how to talk about wine in such ways seems important to you or fun, by all means, carry on! If not, that's okay, too! If I had to choose one really useful lesson to know, though, it's how to differentiate between “sweet” and “fruit-forward” (or “fruity”).
When helping customers choose wine, we often land on the topic of sweetness, and inevitably the conversation evolves into a discussion of sugar content versus aroma and flavor profile. Since this comes up so frequently, I thought I'd jot down some helpful information in the blog.
Let's start by defining our terms so that we're all on the same page:
Residual sugar: the sugar that's left in the wine after fermentation ends. I like to think of it like Pac-Man. Imagine that Pac-Man is the yeast and the “dots” are the sugars in the grape juice. The yeast eats up the sugars, producing alcohol, and any “dots” that didn't get eaten are residual sugar. In general, then, wine with higher residual sugar tends to be lower in alcohol. Most Moscato, for instance, is about 5.5-9.5% alcohol by volume (ABV) while dry reds tend to be 12-15.5% ABV.
Sweet: Wines that contain a larger amount of residual sugar. The spectrum of sweetness goes from 9-120+ grams/liter (or .9%-12.0%+)
Dry: Wines that contain 9 g/l (.9%) residual sugar or less.
Off-dry, medium-dry/semi-sweet, and medium-sweet fall on the spectrum in between dry and sweet. See Wine Folly's helpful graphic here.
Now that we have some definitions, let's talk about how this plays into your wine-buying experience. When I ask customers what they are looking for in a wine, often the answer is “anything, but not sweet” or “nothing really dry, but not super sweet.” After many conversations, I realized that we weren't always talking about the same thing, and it took a while for me to figure out how to talk about residual sugar content versus aroma and flavor.
Aside from knowing what the numbers on a bottle of wine indicate (ABV and RS), what does it mean to be dry or sweet? I have found that people often use “sweet” to describe the aromas and flavors that they discern in a wine, independent of the residual sugar content. That is, a wine that comes across as fruit-forward or giving the initial impression of cherries, berries, plums, etc., may strike us as “sweet” because our brains associate that smell or taste with sweetness. When we taste a real strawberry, it is relatively sweet, so we think: strawberry=sweet. When we taste something like strawberry in a wine, our brain recognizes the flavor as a sweet one. If you've ever had savory strawberry soup, you will know that it takes a minute to get over the mental hurdle of taste association.
So fruitiness can often come across as seeming sweet, even if there is little residual sugar. When I know that a wine is fruit-forward, and a customer is asking for something very dry, we move along to another product. If someone wants a wine that is not sweet “like Moscato,” but not super dry, a fruit-forward wine can be just the thing.
In both red and white wines, acidity levels play into the perception of sweetness as well. If a fruit-forward wine also has a high acid content, it will come across as less sweet. Pinot Grigio is a great example of this, because while it is vinified as a dry wine, many customers say that they want to avoid a “sweet Pinot.” What they have discerned is that some styles of Pinot have lower acidity and strong, ripe fruit aromas/flavors, while others have higher acidity. If you are drinking a Pinot Grigio that is very tart and crisp, it is probably more acidic.
Red wines have varying levels of acidity, but they also have varying levels of tannins. An easy way to understand how tannins work on your palate is to over-steep black tea. When you drink it, you'll notice that it seems to dry out your mouth, usually in the middle of your tongue and in the front part of your cheeks. Red wines also have tannins (they occur naturally in the skins, seeds, and stems of grapes and can be conferred by the oak of wine barrels). A dry red wine that is very fruit-forward might come across as less sweet-tasting because of the drying mouthfeel of strong tannins. When a customer is looking for a red wine that isn't “very dry” but not sweet, we talk about avoiding one that is very tannic.
There are five main characteristics that define a wine, and I remember them with this mnemonic device:
As you try wines, attempt to discern in what proportion these work best for your palate. These characteristics are quantitative and qualitative: they have measurable values that produce both predictable and subjective results. For instance, high acidity will create a certain level of tartness in a white wine, but the way one person experiences that sensation might be different from the way another does.
This brings us back to sweetness. Residual sugar is measurable and directly informs a wine's sweetness, while fruit-forwardness is a subjective perception on the palate that can exist irrespective of RS. Figuring out how you feel about both and trying to articulate your preferences can be very useful when you shop so that you don't end up with a dessert wine when you really wanted a Napa Cab.
When tasting wine, look at the alcohol content and, if it's listed, the RS content. Think about, as you taste, what's happening in your mouth. Get to know how your own palate works, and how you perceive wines in relation to the measurable characteristics. The most important aspect of wine-buying is that you go home with a bottle that's right for you, and not one that someone else tells you is the best. Being able to tease out the aspects of wine that suit you and using some basic terminology should help you to that end.
Glendalough Wild Irish Gin ($34.99)
From the producer:
"To make this extraordinary gin, we forage wild plants in the mountains around the distillery. What we pick goes fresh into the still within hours of foraging.
All the plants are sustainably picked by our full time forager, every day we distill. We take a lot of care that we don't adversely effect the areas we find them in. That means sometimes using scissors rather than picking to make sure roots aren't pulled, or maybe skipping a few before picking the next one, or finding different patches of the same plant, to make sure an area isn't over-foraged.
Our aim is to leave no trace that we were ever there. It's harder work but worth it to keep the mountains beautiful and wild.
Then these wild botanicals are painstakingly slow-distilled to tease out delicate flavours, in very small batches of less than 250 liters. Some go in the pot, and some are hung in a basket to let vapors extract their essential oils. The cut-points are decided batch by batch, by smell and taste (never timed or automated) as if each batch is the first.
This brings the flavour of our Wild Gin to a whole other level. The knowledge, experience and man-hours in each bottle are what make this liquid so special."
The first time I tried this Gin, I fell in love. It's one of my top three of all time, and it's also my house go-to. I love that the botanicals are hand harvested from the wild, and that they go into the still fresh, rather than dried. I think that informs the delicacy of the flavor. Do watch the video found here.
Writers' Tears Copper Pot Irish Whiskey ($40.99)
From the producer:
"Writers’ Tears is a unique vatting of Aged Single Pot Still and Single Malt whiskey. Distilled entirely from Pot Still and Malt, without Grain, this is a truly special Irish whiskey. Writers’ Tears is triple distilled, non-peated and matured and aged in American Oak bourbon casks. A gold Medal winner at the International Spirits Challenge in London and one of the highest rated Irish Whiskeys in Jim Murray’s Iconic 'Whiskey Bible' 'Altogether a very unusual Irish Whiskey, a throwback to the last century where spiced Pure Pot Still whiskey was married with Floral Single Malt' – Jim Murray . It has also been added to Ian Buxton’s publication '101 Whiskeys to try before you die.'
Flashes of apple with hints of vanilla and honey over a distinctively pot still base.
Gently spiced with a burst of ginger and butterscotch with background notes of toasted oak.
Long Elegant finish with subtle notes of milk chocolate and almonds."
This is the first Irish Whiskey that really made me take note. It's easy and mellow with a depth of flavor that will leave you satisfied. I like that it's a family-owned business, and that they are committed to maintaining the integrity of their product. Put down the Jameson and pick up the Writers' Tears!
Prizefight Irish Whiskey ($43.99)
From the producer:
"When Flor Prendergast decided to create a whiskey, he brought in his American friend and spirits maverick, Steven Grasse, who had an idea that required a transatlantic collaboration: whiskey from Ireland, finished in rye barrels from America. They formed Pugilist Spirits to bring this idea to life, with whiskey distilled and aged in West Cork, Ireland and rye barrels sourced by Grasse’s own Tamworth Distilling in the U.S.
Inspired by the Irish-American connection, Grasse had the idea to call the whiskey Prizefight. The brand tells the incredible stories of the Irish who came to America and became the greatest fighters of their day. Each bottle commemorates the boxing legends who came with nothing and fought for everything.
Prizefight is a collaborative Irish whiskey, distilled and aged in Ireland, and finished in American rye casks. The result is incredibly complex whiskey, a smooth and mellow spirit that packs a punch but never burns.
Prizefight is a blend of 10-year-old malt and 4-year-old grain, finished in rye barrels for 6 months.
Tasting Notes: Fresh and clean with fruit, floral, and spice notes. Sweet and refreshing up front, followed by a subtle hint of bitterness and a spicy finish."
I like the transatlantic approach that the producers use for this Whiskey, and as a lover of Rye, I definitely appreciate the spicy note on the finish. The prizefight to which the name refers was between Yankee Sullivan and John Morrissey, which is notable for our area because Morrissey was one of the founders of Saratoga race track. Pour a glass and drink a toast to Ireland, to scrappy fighters, and to the legacy of John Morrissey!
West Cork Distillers Glengarriff Bog Oak Cask Whiskey ($39.99)
From the producer:
"West Cork Distillers’ Glengarriff Collection of Irish whiskeys are single malts aged for 4 years in sherry casks before being finished in barrels that have been charred using natural fuel sources obtained from the iconic Glengarriff Forest in Southern Ireland. Each barrel is prepared using a proprietary charring device that was hand-built by West Cork Distillers with the guidance of a local fifth-generation blacksmith. Each of these special release whiskeys delivers a unique flavor profile that embodies the innovative spirit of West Cork Distillers.
Bog Oak Charred Cask:
Aroma - Spice, dried leather with a sweet dried fruit undertone
Taste - Intense spice, malt and cracked pepper
Finish - Spice, nutmeg and long lasting malt"
This will be the most unusual Irish Whiskey you'll taste. There's an earthy undertone to the flavor that I find really compelling, and there's more smoke than you might be used to from Ireland. I would call this the wine drinker's/Scotch lover's/cigar smoker's Irish Whiskey. The method for imparting this flavor profile is also unique: rather than smoking the malt, the barrels used at the end of the aging process are charred using a bog oak fire. The result is both light and earthy.
Jean-Louis "Grande Réserve" Côtes du Rhône ($13.99)
Southern Rhône Valley, France
From the distributor:
"This wine is the creation of Jean Louis Canto, owner of the great Châteauneuf-du-Pape estate Domaine de la Roncière. Jean-Louis produces this “Grande Réserve” from Plan-de-Dieu, a region which now covers an area of 1,500 hectares at an altitude of 100 meters. The vines grow on a bed of red clay packed to a depth of 10 metres with a mass of smooth-rolled pebbles. Given this stony foundation, the skimpy soils yield little: some barely have enough grapes to produce one bottle of wine per vinestock. The wines are all reds, made from three of the Côtes du Rhône’s leading grape varieties: Grenache, Syrah and Mourvèdre. From this soil, they produce wines that are high in color, dense and concentrated. The nose is reminiscent of the surrounding garrigue, with scents of thyme and bay laurel.
Juicy yet structured Côtes du Rhône displaying aromas of red berries and black fruit, hints of earthy undertones and fine tannins. This wine will seduce your senses and bring a touch of elegance to hors d’œuvres, pork and roasted meats.
Grapes: 85% Grenache, 10% Syrah, 5% Mourvèdre
Soil: Sand and clay
Age of Vines: 30 Years Old
Fermentation: 60% whole cluster, 40% destemmed in concrete for 18 days
Aging: 12 months in concrete vats
Production: 144,000 bottles per year"
I have been planning to introduce a mid-level Côtes du Rhône, and this one found me at just the right time. It is an incredible value for money, an excellent example of a more robust style from the region, and very well-balanced. Fermentation and aging take place in concrete, which allows for flavor development without taking on characteristics of a barrel. I am very pleased to offer this wine.