Les Vignobles de Jacques Blanquette de Limoux ($15.99)
From the producer:
"Blanquette de Limoux was created in 1531 in the cellars of the Benedictine Saint Hilaire Abbey when a monk discovered that the wine that he had bottled and carefully corked formed bubbles, after a second fermentation. The first sparkling wine in the world had just been invented in this splendid abbey.
Known as BLANQUETTE for the fine white coating which forms on its leaves, the Mauzac of the Blanquette appellation is the traditional grape variety of the Limoux vineyard. It distinguishes itself by its aromas of green apple, acacia flowers and apricot with toasted nuances. This Blanquette is perfect as an aperitif or with an entrée like marinated salmon.
Grapes : 90 % Mauzac, 10% Chardonnay
We realize that protecting the landscape is very important as well as respecting the biological diversity and we always tried to minimize the treatments. For each of our vines we apply the method of reasoned agriculture by observing the vineyard every day and with the help of a professional technician we know how to use treatments only if it’s really necessary. On the other hand we choose only products that help in protecting the soil : for example we only use organic fertilizer."
I love the idea that this is the original sparkling wine in France, but that it's a fraction of the cost of Champagne. This Blanquette de Limoux is one more wine in the shop that represents my interest in indigenous varietals and in winemakers who seek to explore older styles and techniques. The wine is fresh, bright, and perfect for a New Year's toast.
Champagne Rene Marie Catel Blanc de Noirs ($30.99)
From the importer:
"Varieties : Pinot Noir 100%
Vinification : Traditional
Aging Bottle: 24-month
Radiant nose, revealing white-fleshed fruits (apple, pear, peach white), citrus (lemon) and floral nuances. Ample in the mouth, combining generosity and subtlety. Full, fresh and crisp.
Coming from families who have been growing grapes in Champagne since 1710, René and Marie-Noelle Dautel started producing their own champagne in 1971. Sylvain Dautel, their son, is now in charge of the vineyard located in Loches-Sur-Ource, a small village in the heart of Côte des Bars. Sylvain is perpetuating the tradition of his ancestors, using environmental friendly practices to create the most delicate, yet intense Champagnes. Cuvée René-Marie Catel is a rare Brut Blanc de Noirs (100% Pinot Noir), aged for two years on lees before disgorgement."
This wine is incredible value for money. It's a grower Champagne (the people who own the vineyards make the wine), it's 100% Pinot Noir, it drinks like a dream, and it's under $35. This kind of bargain is very hard to find in Champagne, and it is thanks to the source of this product: Côte des Bars in the far south of the region. This used to be considered a second-rate area of Champagne, but in the last decade it has become more prominent, and a place in which winemakers aren't afraid to think outside the box. Read Wine Folly's excellent blurb about it here.
Wines of Illyria Stone Cuvee ($20.99)
Bosnia & Herzegovina
From the producer:
"Indira Bayer, originally from the Former Yugoslavia, immigrated to the United States in 1996. Since becoming a US citizen, she worked seven years as an Assistant Vice President of Bank of America's Small Business Banking, six years as an Assistance Coordinator and other roles with the US Department of State in the Balkans, and a year as an Adjunct Lecturer of Accounting at the American University in Bosnia and Hercegovina.
In January 2015, Indira founded Wines of Illyria, a wine import company in Austria, dedicated to bringing wines from the former Yugoslavia to European Union consumers. Her goal was to create jobs for unemployed youth in Bosnia-Herzegovina and stop the brain drain, one of the biggest issues the country was facing at that time. In addition, Indira wanted to create a positive image of Bosnia-Herzegovina and add it to the list of world’s well known wine producing counties, as the long history of wine making warrants it. In March 2016, she expanded the business to the US. Indira continues to work with both large and small wineries throughout the Balkan Peninsula sourcing and bringing to consumers premium quality wines made of native varieties: Vranac, Blatina, Plavac Mali, Zilavka, Malvazija, Posip and others.
This wine is made of 90% ZILAVKA and 10% BENA, indigenous grapes of the sun washed Herzegovina region. Clean and refreshing, showing elegance and flavors of green apples, lychee and honey, scents of chamomile and verbena with a slight mineral tone. The ripe, warm flavors of apricot, star fruit and a hint of anise are coddled by juicy acidity, fine minerality and a long herbal-toned finish. Best paired with white meat dishes and seafood."
As most of you know, I love unusual wines from unexpected places. The Stone Cuvee is a wonderful example of indigenous wine from Eastern Europe, though the flavor profile is reminiscent of Gewürztraminer, with its distinct notes of lychee. I find this to be an elegant wine that, while ripely fruity, has a nice acid balance and mineral lift to keep it light. This is a must try.
Wines of Illyria Plavac Mali ($20.99)
Bosnia & Herzegovina
From the producer:
"This wine is made of 100% Plavac Mali, a grape variety of the Herzegovina wine region which has a Mediterranean climate and a limestone rich soil. This very tasty and elegant wine exhibits ripe pomegranate, plum and almonds, currants, and other dark red fruit flavors. Authentic, pure and very well balanced, with wonderful tannin and acidity integration. A lovely wine to pair with vegetarian dishes."
Let's get this out of the way: Plah-vatz Mah-lee.
This wine is from the same company that makes the Stone Cuvee. This is also an indigenous grape, but one that is a little more well-known. One of Palvac Mali's parent grapes is Zinfandel, and the wine produced from it shares a dark fruit flavor profile. There is also mild spice and richness on the palate. I think this is a very elegant and interesting red.
Mas Becha Roussillon ($19.99)
From the producer:
"This cuvee is based on a blend of Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre, which has gone through extended berry maceration to give it a more powerful structure. Depending on the vintage requirement, it is aged in oak barrels for 8 to 10 months. This period of maturation in barrel softens the tannins to their silky texture and makes for a richer structure. The color and its intensity are always relatively pronounced. This wine features a very deep violet red color with a few blue notes in its youth.
The nose shows a beautiful complexity, showing its grape maturity through notes of very ripe black fruits, blueberry and blackcurrant jam, while allying the complexity obtained from its barrel aging through highlighting touches of vanilla, and elegant, lingering wood. The mouth is generous and full, and relatively well concentrated, under- lined by a touch of nerve, which raises fruity notes such as strawberries and ripe raspberries. The natural generosity from its Mediterranean origin gives a beautiful dimension and roundness in the mouth. The ageing softens its tannins, giving them a sweet dimension and making the wine explosive as well as pleasing to drink.
Wine & food pairing : Its aromatic spontaneity and its generous mouth are a sensation to enchant your friends around a glass of wine, but its capabilities are just as able to rejoice your guests with beautiful meat cuts. I favor duck with a cherry jam, a long cooked lamb leg confit or simply a grilled T-bone. Serving temperature : 15 to 17°C
Ageing potential : Even if the pleasure this wine gives is immediate, this cuvee offers a real ageing potential. It should delight your palate for 7 to 10 years.
I was lucky to welcome Charles Perez, the winemaker, to the store a few months ago. He is young and interested in making wines with little intervention that express the terroir of Rousillon in southern France. This wine is a blend of Syrah, Grenach, and Mourvedre, and it has a wonderful earthy balance to the dark red fruit tones.