Hold on a Second! You Tellin Me There’s Extra Special Wine Available In Richmond?

So I was out for my afternoon constitution when I came across this sign announcing a private tasting showcasing Virginia’s own all natural wine importer Williams Corner Wines.  I decided to sneak in.

The tasting took place at the popular eatery Acacia Midtown which was great because the wine list here could sure benefit from the incredible wines being showcased.

It all started with some delicate but assertive bubbles from the small seventh generation Champagne grower Laherte Frères.  A blanc de blanc (all Chardonnay) from a single Premier Cru vineyard… “La Pierre de la Justice”  got things going before a 2006 vintage 100 % Pinot Meunier (the third grape of Champagne) “Les Vignes d’Autrefois” and a 2004 “Prestige Millesime” came along and lovingly kicked my ass.  Laherte Frères organically farms just 10 hectares of vineyards spread over a crazy 10 different villages.  Each parcell is vinified separately.  Dosage is minimal, sometimes they allow malolactic fermentation to take place, sometimes they don’t.  They kind of simply let the wines be themselves.  

Look at this!  More Champagne from another wine grower!  This time a young 26 year old guy named Charles Dufour from the off the beaten path area of the Aube.  The Aube historically played second fiddle to the more famous northern areas of Reims and Épernay where a lot of the big production houses are. These days the Aube is home to more and more little grower producers that make distinctive and honest Champagnes.  First came an unusual 2009 Coteaux Champenois Pinot Blanc (Pinot Blanc is still allowed in Champagne but very uncommon these days), second a non-vintage Extra Brut “Ma Cuvee Maison” and third a no-dosage 2006 vintage Blanc de Blanc.  These Champagnes were spicy, wild and lush.

Moving along to some beauties from the Loire Valley… Fanny Breuil was on hand representing some wines from Genuine Wines showcasing selections from Domaine Marie Thibault-Cabrit that included a lovely, sprite rosé “Le Zeze”, a naturally fizzy Chenin Blanc “La roue qui tourne”, a reserve barrel fermented and aged Chenin “Premier Nez”, and the chuggable “Les grandes Vignes” which is a blend of Gamay and Côt (the local name for Malbec).  If you try these and love these you can email the wine grower, her Hotmail address is right on the label, how’s that for small production?

Then to Italy, Emilia-Romagna more specifically… some orange wines made an appearance.  The tiny 2 hectare white grape only estate Denavola specializes in tannic and chalky wines which are the result of several months long skin maceration.  Complex, weird and powerful they are sure to anger your dinner party.  Absolutely awesome.  The only thing cooler than a crowd pleasing wine is a wine that freaks crowds out.

If you like the funk…the 2004 Vino Da Tavola Rosso “Protoasciutto” from Tenuta Grillo provides plenty of it.  “Protoasciutto” is 100% Dolcetto from Monferatto, unlike any other Dolcetto I have tasted.  It was savage and robust, atypical hence the table wine designation.  I would love to take a bottle home if someone in Richmond actually carried it.  Retailers, restaurants, order some for the people.

People love wines from Hungary and people love cool labels, the high altitude Alpine wines of Peter Wetzer come from vineyards comprised mostly of black volcanic soil.  The 2009 Soprani Gemischter Satz “Sag” is made up of several different white grapes that are fermented together.  The red 2009 Soprani Kekfrankos (called Blaufrankisch in Austria) tastes of Autumn with fresh pepper and citrus.  The second red “Silberberg” is also 100% Kekfrankos and comes from old vines.  If you are looking for something different but still tasty you can’t go wrong with these cool weather honeys.

Cool, check it out!  The wines of Domaine du Pech from that area in Southwest France, Buzet, which is west of Toulouse and south of Bordeaux.  The three wines included La Badinerie du Pech which is an aristocratic blend of foot crushed Cabernet Franc, Merlot , and Cabernet Sauvignon.  Smooth, harmonious and exhilarating.   Maybe this is what Bordeaux kind of tasted like 300 years go?

Kevin McKenna was down from NY to help with the tasting representing wines from the Louis/Dressner portfolio (which he co-owns).  The portfolio started by the late Joe Dressner was one of the first ever to feature small production, all natural and traditionally farmed wines.  They are still carrying on his mission and thanks to Williams Corner we are able to enjoy their wines down here in  Virginia.

The big surprises of the day came from the active volcano Mt. Etna in western Sicily.  Salvo Foti is one of the leaders of the natural wine movement there crafting distinct wines from indigenous grapes Nerello Mascalese , Nerello Cappuccio, Alicante and an unknown hodge-podge mix of vines known as Francisi.  We all think of Sicily as being sun drenched and hot but in fact the high altitude area around Etna gets bitter cold in the winter.  The grape growing season is long with harvests taking place in October and early November.  The wines are traditionally and illegally made in Palmentos which are old stone structures where you basically take the grapes to a top level, crush them on the stone floor and slide them through a trap door into old wooden casks to let them ferment.  No electricity involved, only natural gravity.  There are hygiene concerns working this way but it contributes to the natural yeast that is present and adds to the character of the finished wine.  Don’t worry, healthy grapes that have healthy acidity will keep away the bad stuff.  There was 2010 Etna Bianco “Vinujancu”, a blend of Renano,Grecanico, Minella Bianca and Carricante which was complex, wild, and teeth shattering fresh, the two reds included a 2008 “Vinupetra” and tasted of bottled smoky meat.  Elegant and graceful.

Old favorites were here, energetic and meaty Côtes du Rhône Brézème , aromatic and grippy black fruited St Julien en St Alban both from Eric Texier.  Everyday chuggin “Frappato” from Tami, Friday night sippin “Il Frappato” from Occhipinti of Sicily.  Incredible and richly textured white Gambellara (Soave’s neighbor in the Veneto) from La Biancara di Angiolino Maule.  Crazy Slovenian Orange wine from Radikon…

and check this out!  A slightly fizzy Costadila 2010 Rosso dei Colli Trevigiani which comes from a Prosecco producer and happens to be 100% Merlot from vines that were ripped out last year.  The wine will no longer exist after the 2011 vintage.  You have never tasted a Merlot like this.

Also pouring was the big guys son, Jules Dressner.  He walked us through slick Valpolicello Ripasso and thick Amarone Classico from biodynamic producer Monte dall’Ora, more Etna Rosso from stunning Romeo del Castello and he also let us know about the return of 2 awesome German wine estates Knebel and Clemens Busch, both from Mosel.  These guys were part of the now defunct Mosel Wine Merchants portfolio and have found a new loving home at Louis/Dressner.  Both of the wines being sampled were bone dry, steely Trocken Rieslings, pretty minty and refreshing after the dense and powerful Amarone.

Well here we go again, more wines from Sicily!  Back to Mt. Etna, I Custodi produces only 2 wines, a white from Carricante, Minnella, and Grecanico called “Ante” (Etna spelled backwards, those clever Sicilians!) and a red “Aetneus” which is fat, ethereal and savory.  Also from Etna, a bianco and rosso from Ciro Biondi.  People compare the terroir driven wines of Etna to Burgundy but in reality they are their own beast.  They do have in common the finesse, mineral flavors and structure making them ideal to pair with all sorts of food.  Clean and balanced.  Speaking of volcanoes…Lipari, the island is part of a volcanic archipelago north of Sicily and home to Tenuta di Catellaro and soil heavy in pumice and obsidian.  The white made from Malvasia delle Lipari and Carricante grapes taste what I imagine pumice might taste like: stony but with a dose of fresh orange and lemon citrus.  The red from Corinto and Nero d’Avola Grapes is pleasantly ashy, tasting of red-rasberry fruit.

And bringing up the rear the final wines of the tasting were also from Sicily (!) this time the same place that the Italian-American Chicken Marsala recipe comes from…Marsala!  The western most point is home to the non-interventionalist wine growing of Nino Barraco.  The 4 wines represented were all 100% varietal wines…whites are Catarratto, Zibibbo, and Grillo, and the red from Pignatello.  All wines undergo spontaneous fermentation with indigenous yeasts without temperature control, a second malolactic fermentation sometimes happens, some of the wines rest on their lees and none of the wines are filtered or clarified.  Pretty exciting stuff.

Acacia had some good finger snacks and they showed well with the variety of wines,

The place was packed proving that Richmond wants honest wines from responsible vineyard stewardship.  We are lucky to have an importer/distributor like Williams Corner bring in these special reflections of viticultural heritage.  I guess our little city is pretty wine savvy after all.

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