Oh, to be a new winery in an old country — well-funded and with the ability to blend, as you like, the best of new and old in a classic setting.
The 15-year-old Caiarossa estate is located in the Maremma coastal area of Tuscany, a place that was "re-discovered" over the past 30 years or so when many of the super-Tuscan producers, who dared use French grapes along with the traditional sangiovese, located here.
Caiarossa is not housed in an ancient castle or monastery but in a muted-red, barn-like, modern structure designed by Michael Bolle. Its plantings are primarily 11 varieties, mostly French. Its methods in the vineyard and cellar are old — but not old with local know-how and certainly not peasant rustic. Caiarossa reached to Austria for its biodynamic growing regimen — down to bio’s famous buried cow’s horn — and to China for the feng shui design of the winery itself, albeit the gravity-fed nature of it could be local.
Finally, it is owned by a Dutch entrepreneur, Eric Albada Jelgersma, who also happens to own two well-respected Bordeaux châteaux — Giscours and du Tertre.
I recently tasted a vertical of six vintages (2004-2009) of its primary red blend, simply called "Cairossa," and two of its second label, a sangiovese-dominated wine called "Pergolaia."
With a young winery, vertical tastings are particularly interesting because they hint at a direction that the wine is taking more than where it’s been. Like most bio wines (whatever their specific processes), there tends to be in each Caiarossa vintage more savory notes than are present in fruit-driven "modern" wines. And like so many oxygen-starved or reductive wines, the Caiarossa needs to be aired out or decanted before drinking — sort of like opening the windows and removing the furniture covers in a beautiful sun-lit salon that has been closed during the winter.
That said, the older wines, while delicious, tended to lean heavier toward the savory, especially the 2005 and the 2007, both of which emphasized forest floor fragrances, mushrooms, anise, dusty chocolate. The 2008, while still very closed, seemed to have a slightly better fruit balance. The 2009 Caiarossa — the current vintage you will be able to buy for about $65 per bottle — is even fruitier, although some of that can be expected in a younger wine. It has a mixture of very vibrant, somewhat-spicy dark cherries with a slight undertone of balsamic tanginess — very complex and quite good.
Like the 2007 Caiarossa, the 2007 Pergolaia also is quite savory and a little pungent, whereas the 2008 Pergolaia (about $27) showed more promise — dark cherry fruit rising above a very-lean, sangiovese citric, dusty-tannic structure with a nice touch of closing bitters. It’s an ideal food wine.
Then there is the white wine — the 2010 Caiarossa Toscano bianco ($45), a rare 50/50 blend of viognier and chardonnay, not always an auspicious pairing.
But here is works — almost-buttery, mellow-apple flavors with a good balance and somewhere between a southern Rhone white and a Napa chard, very-interesting and food-friendly.
For Caiarossa, it’s been 15 years well-spent.
Touring Texas Wine Country
How to best explore the area between Johnson City and Fredericksburg.
T he Hill Country has matured into one of the top wine destinations in the world, and we aren’t the only ones saying as much. But with a few dozen wineries dotted around the Fredericksburg area alone (and a handful tucked along the backroads in places like Sisterdale and Comfort), it can be overwhelming deciding which ones to visit if you’re planning a short trip. Below are a few answers to the questions I’m asked most frequently about how to plan a weekend winery road trip to the Hill Country.
This will be the first in a series on touring the best wine destinations in the Hill Country. The next in this series will be published later this month.
How many wineries can I realistically visit in one day?
This depends on how many people you’re with. A weekend getaway for two? You can probably fit in four to five. Touring in a large group? The ideal number is probably three limiting the number of stops allows everyone in the group to have time to tastes, savor, buy wine, and load back in the car/bus/van for the next stop.
Know Before You Go: Tastings include three to five wines (potentially more if you reserve time for a special tasting and tour at different wineries). Try to start relatively early, like 11 a.m. don’t forget to eat lunch (you will be consuming a fair amount of alcohol, after all) and be sure to stop and smell the, wait for it, rosé.
Should I drive myself or should I hire a tour company?
If you plan on drinking, do not drive. Period. If you insist on taking your own vehicle, assign a designated driver.
Know Before You Go: There are number of reasonably priced tour options that take you to the wineries of your choice. The drivers often tell you a bit about each place (these companies are typically quite familiar with the area’s wineries), and most will help you carry purchases to the car, where they will store them in a cool, conditioned compartment. Some tours will even arrange boxed lunches for a convenient meal to enjoy at one of the wineries along the way.
For a large group, Texas Wine Tours runs a few fifteen- and twenty-passenger limousine buses, and they can also arrange smaller limo and town car options for more intimate grops. For smaller groups looking for an expert guide, take a ride with former cellar rat, Clint Thomas, of Cellar Rat Wine Tours, who worked with William Chris Vineyards, Pedernales Cellars, and Grape Creek Vineyards. Or, for more of a hop-on-hop-off experience, take advantage of the 290 Wine Shuttle that leaves every twenty minutes from the Fredericksburg Visitors Center taking wine enthusiasts to the various wineries with pick-ups and drop-offs in twenty-minute intervals for $19.99. (The shuttle runs on Saturdays only from 10:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m.)
What are the must-see wineries?
This will depend largely on your personal palate, but this short (and by no means comprehensive) list of wineries along the U.S. Highway 290 corridor heading east to west — with a couple off-the-beaten-path suggestions—offer a range of tastes, from sweet and fruity to robust and structured.
One of the newest wineries to arrive on the scene, Lewis Wines is the collaboration of business partners Doug Lewis and Duncan McNabb, two young entrepreneurs who jumped feet first into the grape-crushing tub of Texas wine. Focusing primarily on varietals that thrive in Hill Country and High Plains soils, you’ll find bold red wines with beautiful color extraction and structure, as well as a few great refreshing white wines. Call ahead the winery currently only offers tastings by appointment only.
Top Picks: 2010 Texas Red Wine Mourvedre Blend, 2013 Texas Chenin Blanc
Tasting Fee: $10 (waived with purchase of one bottle of wine)
Located in the small little town of Hye, between Johnson City and Stonewall, William “Bill” Blackmon and Chris Brundrett produce craft wines using fruit grown all over Texas. They offer tastings in both intimate rooms of their 100-year-old renovated house and in an expansive adjoining modern tasting room. Drinks can also be enjoyed on the front porch. (On the weekends, they have music showcases.)
Top Picks: 2012 Mourvedre (red) and Enchanté (red blend), 2013 Blanc du Bois (white) and Mary Ruth (rosé)
Tasting Fee: $10 (waived with the purchase of three bottles of wine)
An old standard in the Hill Country wine scene, Pedernales Cellars originally started with Larry and Jeanine Kuhlken, who planted a vineyard near Fredericksburg in 1990. The winery took off under management by their son, David Kuhlken, and son-in-law, Fredrik Osterberg, who together built on the concept of a full-scale winery. Today, Fredrik runs the operations, and David makes the wine. Stop by for an unscheduled tasting or, for a more intimate experience, take advantage of the winery’s new Reserve Room (reservations required). Viognier and Tempranillo are Pedernales’ bedrocks, but if they are offering their red and white wine blends, they are not to be missed.
Top Picks: Texas Tempranillo Reserve, Moscato Giallo
Tasting Fee: $12.95 for tasting room, $25 for Reserve Room
One of the oldest wineries in the region, Becker Vineyards was started by Dr. Richard Becker and his wife, Bunny, in the early eighties. It’s one of the most trafficked wineries on any given weekend, understandable given that it’s also one of the prettiest, especially when the adjacent lavender fields are in full bloom. The winery produces a wide variety of wines made from Texas grapes, as well as some using varietals grown out of state.
Top Picks: 2011 Canada Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon, 2011 Claret
Tasting Fee: $10 for six samples.
This unique venture is a combined partnership of three of Texas ’ top wineries: McPherson Cellars of Lubbock, Lost Oak Winery of Burleson, and Brennan Vineyards of Comanche. This sleek tasting room opened a few years ago to give Texas wine lovers a chance to make a one-stop visit to sample some of their best portfolio offerings.
Top Picks: McPherson’s 2013 Roussanne and Les Copains Red Wine Blend Lost Oak’s 2013 dry Riesling and 2012 Syrah and Brennan Vineyards’ 2012 Viognier and 2011 Tempranillo
Tasting Fee: $10 to $20 depending on selection
Another hardy standby on the 290 Wine Trail is Grape Creek Vineyards, which offers a Tuscan-inspired wine experience. You can easily stop in for a quick tasting, but, as is the case with several area wineries, the tasting and barrel room tour gives that more intimate experience. Ask for the Texas Appellation wines.
Top Picks: 2011 Rendezvous (Red Rhone blend), 2010 Estate Epiphany (Red Italian blend)
Tasting Fee: $12 (waived with purchase of wine or wine club membership)
You’ll have to drive about half an hour out of the way to reach this little Hill Country gem, but it’s worth the added effort. Bending Branch Winery, with its two tasting rooms, has firmly captured the attention of wine experts across the state for its rich and robust red wines made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Tempranillo, and the lesser known French grape variety, Tannat. And they’ve got a bright and perky white wine made from French “lip stinger” grape, Picpoul Blanc.
Top Picks: 2011 Texas Tannat, 2011 Tempranillo
Tasting Fee: $10 (waived with the purchase of two bottles of wine)
Wineries to Watch:
Hye Meadow Winery recently joined the stable of wineries along the 290 corridor with a great selection of Washington state wines and a handful of Texas wines. Other highly anticipated additions include the July opening of Dallas winery transplant Calais Winery, a fall opening of the new Kuhlman Cellars and Lost Draw Cellars , and the new wine venture from celebrated Spicewood Vineyards, Yates winery , which is scheduled to break ground in coming months.
Where should I eat and stay?
Their are numerous B&Bs, boutique hotels, and guesthouses in the Fredericksburg area, a long list that can be pared down using online reservation services such as BedandBreakfast.com or local operator Gastehaus Schmidt. On either site you can narrow down a search for just about any kind of accommodation you’re looking for.
And no need to stop your wine tour for dinner most of Fredericksburg’s restaurants offer area wines, like Otto’s German Bistro or The Cabernet Grill, which uses local ingredients and offers a Texas-only wine list.
10 New York State Wines to Drink Now
Here are top-tier bottles from producers in the Finger Lakes and Long Island, regions that deserve more respect than they receive.
Credit. Tony Cenicola/The New York Times
New York is the third largest wine-producing state in the country, after California and Washington. Yet it doesn’t get nearly the respect it deserves.
Not that its numbers mean a whole lot. But over the last 20 years, the quality of New York State wines has evolved rapidly, particularly in the two leading winemaking regions, the Finger Lakes and Long Island.
The Finger Lakes, in particular, has developed its identity as the leading cool-climate wine region in the United States, with exceptional, eloquent rieslings and expressive, graceful cabernet francs as the signature wines, although pinot noir may one day be a third leading variety.
Long Island’s progression has not been as smooth, with a few fitful starts in the direction of California’s once-dominant style of powerful fruit and too much oak. But Long Island’s maritime climate makes that style difficult to support. More producers in recent years have stepped off the accelerator and embraced more moderate wines, which seems far more in tune with what the region can offer.
On a digital shopping spree through some of Manhattan’s leading retail shops, I picked up these 10 New York gems, five from the Finger Lakes and five from Long Island. I could easily have picked 10 more.
The Finger Lakes has been especially exciting to watch. This historic wine region developed in the 19th century around native American and hybrid grapes. They were more adapted to the climate than the more familiar vinifera grapes, which include virtually all the familiar European wine grapes.
Some of those native wines became household names, like Manischewitz, the proverbial kosher wine made of the concord grape.
In the early 1960s, Dr. Konstantin Frank, a World War II refugee from Ukraine, demonstrated that vinifera grapes could withstand the cold climate of the Finger Lakes. Over the next few decades, his winery, Dr. Konstantin Frank, and a few other vinifera pioneers like Hermann J. Wiemer, preached the virtues of the Finger Lakes, often to an indifferent public.
But their work paid off, particularly in the last 20 years as dozens of younger producers have demonstrated how good the wines can be.
The new and improved reputation of the Finger Lakes rests on vinifera grapes like riesling and cabernet franc, but my guess is some native and hybrid grapes, like catawba, delaware and some not currently associated with the Finger Lakes, may eventually stake a claim as well, as serious producers demonstrate their worth.
Long Island’s wine-producing history dates back only to 1973, when Alex and Louisa Hargrave founded the first commercial vineyard and winery. For a region less than 50 years old, the progress has been quick as producers have come to understand the terrain and how best to farm it.
A lot is left to learn. Long Island producers are still determining which varieties do the best, and two of my favorite skilled and experimental producers are no longer there. Shinn Estate was sold a few years ago and has transitioned to Rose Hill Vineyards — I have yet to see or taste the wines — and Southold Farm and Cellar was forced out in a zoning dispute.
Still, I find a lot to like in Long Island wines. Aside from the five producers in my selection, keep your eyes open for Macari, Bedell Cellars, Anthony Nappa, McCall and Lenz.
From the Finger Lakes keep an eye out as well for Konstantin Frank and Hermann J. Wiemer, both under new leadership, Forge Cellars, Empire Estate, Keuka Lake and Lakewood.
One last point: In an era where wines around the world often are 14 percent alcohol or higher, nine of these 10 wines are 11 percent to 12.8 percent. Only one, the Onabay, rises to 13.3 percent.
What the Heck is Natural Wine?
Ask three vintners what it means to make “natural wine” and you’ll get three different answers, probably accompanied by a shrug.
“Oh, the loadedest of loaded questions,” says Regan Meador of Fredericksburg’s Southold Farm + Cellar. “At this point, it’s more of a marketing term, and we shy away from those.”
Unlike products labeled “certified organic” or “non-GMO,” natural wine doesn’t have a checklist of attributes or an independent seal of approval. And yet, natural wine production is on the rise across the country. Currently, there are three Texas outfits—Southold, La Cruz de Comal Wines, and Robert Clay Vineyards—growing grapes and making wine following the natural credo.
Southold Farm + Cellar owner Regan Meador
Think of natural wine as less is more. Growers do as little as possible to the grapes on the vine, and winemakers do as little as possible to the wine in the barrel, avoiding chemical pesticides, insecticides, and preservatives, as well as color and flavor additives.
But this simple explanation leads to more questions. If natural winemakers are hands-off, what are other folks doing?
Just as farmers and ranchers make choices about fertilizers and pesticides, so do grape growers. And then there are purely cosmetic decisions. Even a discerning drinker might be surprised to know there’s something called Mega Purple, a grape-juice concentrate many mass-production wineries rely on to deliver the hue we expect from a robust pour.
“There are people who look at natural wines and think everything else is unnatural,” says Andreea Botezatu, an assistant professor of enology—or the study of wine—at Texas A&M University. “There’s an argument that conventional wine is the fast food of wine. Yes, there are big corporations making cookie-cutter wine, but others do a very good job of expressing terroir [or the environmental characteristics present in a wine]. Their interventions are for the quality of the wine and the pleasure of the consumer.”
As any farmer will tell you, agriculture is a gamble. Pesticides exist because bugs are a grape’s worst enemy—unless you count powdery mildew, flash floods, or any of the other crop-destroying pathogens and weather patterns that flourish in Texas. Chemical solutions to those environmental challenges are part of a conventional winemaker’s toolbox, and many in the industry say there’s a way to use them responsibly. By forgoing those tools, natural wine producers leave themselves more exposed to nature’s whims, making their own jobs harder. But natural winemakers are nothing if not dogged.
Lewis Dickson, owner of La Cruz de Comal Wines in Canyon Lake, doesn’t adhere to wine trends. In 2007, after years of experimentation, he stuck to just two little-known grapes when planting his 3-acre vineyard: blanc du bois and black Spanish.
Because of the extra environmental risks, some popular varietals—cabernet, for example—just won’t make the cut in some growing regions. If you’re going to make natural wine in Texas, you have to choose grapes that can withstand the heat. “In my opinion, the Hill Country is not sauvignon country,” Dickson says. “It’s a late-ripening grape, and late-ripening grapes do better in areas that have four distinct seasons.”
Dickson didn’t set out to be a natural wine flagbearer. “That’s just how I was taught,” he says. “I make biscuits the way I make them because that’s the way my mother taught me.” He learned winemaking from a California friend, who learned from his Tuscan grandfather. “My wine is completely natural—no yeast, no acid, no sugar, no sulfites—but that’s not the banner I’m principally waving,” Dickson says. What matters to him is that you like how his wine tastes.
Meador, of Southold Farm + Cellar, has worked out a Texas-friendly analogy for why he prefers natural wine. “There are two ways you can grill a steak,” he says. “You can take a nice cut and put it in a bag with a bunch of Italian dressing, throw it on a really hot grill, cook it all the way through, and slather it with barbecue sauce. Some people think that’s good, and that’s OK. But another way is to buy a nice cut, season it with some salt and pepper, and cook it just a little.”
Before relocating to Fredericksburg in 2017, Meador, a native Texan, spent five years making wine in Long Island, New York. When he ran into roadblocks expanding Southold’s original location, he and his wife sold the farm and headed south, where land was cheaper. He saw an opportunity to help blaze a new trail.
Think of natural wine as less is more. Growers do as little as possible to the grapes on the vine, and winemakers do as little as possible to the wine in the barrel.
Like Meador, Dan McLaughlin knows what it means to start over. He started farming Robert Clay Vineyards in 2012. The 50-acre Mason property, planted by a previous owner in 1996, was in such rough shape, McLaughlin made the agonizing decision to chainsaw the entire lot and let the vines regrow. “It was give up or go all in,” he says. In 2013, he harvested no fruit. In 2014, he picked 21 tons, and he has increased production nearly every year since.
After five years of conventional farming, McLaughlin began transitioning to organic growing and additive-free winemaking in 2017—a U-turn almost as big as bulldozing his vines. He readily admits looking to Meador and Dickson for advice, usually before going his own way. “I don’t listen to people too long,” McLaughlin says. “If I have a gut feeling, I follow it.”
For him, that means embracing the Old World concept of terroir and acclimating customers to the idea that this year’s wine will differ from the next. “One thing I started to dislike about conventional wine is that, at least in the United States, it’s got to taste exactly the same every year,” McLaughlin says. “And I get that: When people buy milk, they want it to taste like milk.”
But the uniqueness of natural wines is what makes them so special. “Natural wines express a sense of place, of time, the conditions of the year. They’re not made to be reproducible, year after year after year,” A&M’s Botezatu says. “They’re an expression of the moment.”
Robert Renzoni Vineyards
Old Country Soul Meets New World Flavor
When former rock ’n’ roller and alcohol distributor Robert Renzoni opened his namesake winery in 2008, he carried on a family tradition that began with his great-grandfather, Federico, who worked in the vineyards of Fano, Italy, in the 1880s.
His opulent, Tuscan-villa-like property now features a popular Italian restaurant, beers on tap and plenty more tourist treats, but Renzoni’s commitment to wine quality has only intensified each year.
“Everything begins and centers on wine being number one,” says the winemaker, Olivia Bue.
An Encinitas-raised graduate of the University of California, Davis, Bue started at the winery in 2014. That came after jobs at Mollydooker Wines in Australia and Cakebread Cellars in Napa.
“There is no budget for making the best wine,” she says. “If there is something we need in the cellar, he will buy it.”
To keep his team abreast of trends and styles being pursued elsewhere, Renzoni takes them on tasting trips throughout California and in Valle de Guadalupe in Mexico. “It’s been great to get inspired together,” says Bue.
Like many of her neighbors, Bue makes more than two dozen annual bottlings from nearly 20 grapes. But the winery has experienced the most success with Italian varieties like Montepulciano, Sangiovese Grosso, Vermentino and Barbera, for which they’ve developed a longer-aging riserva program.
“We’re all in it together, figuring out what excels down here,” she says. “There is room for trial and error, and every year we’re doing experiments.”
The warm weather, dry conditions and the lingering specter of Pierce’s disease, which devastated the region in the late 1990s, can be challenging. Yet, Temecula’s main hurdle is to receive critical acclaim and attention from serious wine collectors.
“But as winemakers, we feel like we have it all in our hands,” says Bue. “There’s nothing holding us back.”
Joseph Wiens / Photo by Gabriel Nivera
Wine cellars have staying power in Atlanta homes
A wine cellar might seem like the last item you’d expect to see being built in a down economy. But these domestic shrines to oenophilia-- the devotion to wine -- continue to do a brisk business in Atlanta homes.
Erik Kuehne, director of Southeast design and sales for Cincinnati-based Wine Cellar Innovations, installs between 20-25 wine cellars a year in the city.
“Atlanta is one of the fastest growing wine markets in the country,” said Kuehne. “Wine demand has just gone through the roof and people need places to store it.”
Local cellars range from baronial 10,000-bottle cellars designed by Wine Cellar Innovations to a relatively, modest 250-square-foot wine cellar in a Buckhead basement created by interior designer Carter Kay of Carter Kay Interiors as part of a whole house renovation. To give the look of a cellar that had always been in the home -- a common request from wine cellar owners -- Kay used salvaged brick and reclaimed wood to bestow a sense of character and history.
A good wine cellar performs a number of duties. It is, first and foremost, a functional space that requires practical features like refrigeration units with temperature and humidity controls. But they are often also social spaces where homeowners and their guests gather to sample wines.
For a wine cellar he created in the basement of a '30s-era Buckhead home, Castro Design Studio owner Rodolfo Castro created plenty of places outside the refrigerated cellar itself, including a wet bar and seating area, where the homeowner could have wine tastings and socialize with friends.
Kuehne, who is based in Chamblee, has been designing wine cellars, principally in the northern suburbs, for almost 10 years. Although he has built cellars from the $5,000- to the $250,000-range, with as many as 10,000 bottles, he has seen a trend toward more smaller-scale (under 2,000 bottles) cellars in recent years. To keep track of their personal catalog of wines, Kuehne said clients often use a free online service called www.cellartracker.com.
Along with the trend toward smaller cellars, the location of wine storage has shifted too, said Kuehne.
“It used to be that the wine cellar went in the basement. These days with the proliferation of refrigeration systems . we’re able to do wine cellars in pretty much any area of the house” said Kuehne. “Were taking little nooks in walls that are 15 to 20 inches deep and we’re building in a custom cabinet that is refrigerated.”
But the basement is still the least expensive and classic place to locate a wine cellar. Kuehne worked with a master craftsman from Ohio to install a wine cellar fora 5,000-bottle collection for vascular surgeon Chuck Moomey and his wife, Michelle, a nurse, in the basement of their Suwanee home.
“It’s meant to sort of mimic an old dungeon,” said Chuck Moomey. “It’s got a huge 12-foot stacked-stone wall with exposed timbers and then you go through this big iron door into the cellar itself and you’re greeted with storage on all four walls for wine bottles.”
Moomey was inspired by a trip the couple had taken to the Italian wine community of Montalcino and the historic cellars they encountered there. He used 100-year-old timber in the cellar’s ceiling to lend that antiqued ambiance.
Though the Moomeys’ cellar was designed primarily for storage rather than socializing, it often becomes the social hub when guests visit. “Invariably people end up migrating into the wine cellar and that seems like where most of the conversation and fun goes on,” Moomey said.
“What I love about my cellar is that it’s more than just bricks and timber and concrete and wood. To me it is sort of a catalyst for friendship,” he said. “I don’t go downstairs just to admire the cellar itself. To me it’s more important to have something to share with others.”
Interested in a cellar?
Erik Kuehne of Wine Cellar Innovations offers his tips for clients thinking of adding a wine cellar to their home.
A Taste of the New American Cider
Art & Science Symbiosis
Made by: Dan Rinke and Kim Hamblin
Region: Willamette Valley, Oregon
What: 50 percent gruner veltliner, 50 percent feral apples, co-fermented
What it tastes like: This is a full-bodied cider loaded with peach blossoms and white pepper that has the rich, dense texture of a smaragd gruner veltliner.
Why it matters: Both the grapes and the apples were grown biodynamically at Johan vineyards and then naturally co-fermented in neutral acacia barrels.
Made by: Chenoa Ashton-Lewis and Will Basanta
Region: Sonoma Valley, California
What: 92 percent organic Gravenstein, Jonathan, Rhode Island Greening and Golden Delicious apples co-fermented with freshly pressed viognier grapes and carignan grape skins
What it tastes like: The grape skins transform these apples into a honeyed, floral, oily and purply cider that is bracingly fresh with lots of texture to sink into.
Why it matters: Though they make up only 8 percent of the total cider, the grapes have a profound impact on the apples, bringing weight and a fruity profile. All of its parts are still identifiable, but brought together in a complete package.
Emme Wine Jonathan x Nero D’Avola Co-Ferment Pét Nat
Made by: Rosalind Reylonds
Region: Sebastopol, CA
What: Jonathan apple juice, pressed by Tilted Shed, co-fermented with nero d’avola skins from winemaker Martha Stoumen
What it tastes like: Juicy apples and blackberries with strong sweeping tannins from the nero d’avola. Reynolds says it is reminiscent of “an East Coast autumn, bright sun, crystal blue sky, but with a bracing, chilly breeze underneath. Wear a scarf.”
Why it matters: This is a true product of collaboration between the cider and wine communities.
Rose Hill Pomme Cerise
Made by: Matt Sanford
Region: Hudson Valley, New York
What: 45 percent Northern Spy apples, 45 percent Golden Russet apples, 10 percent sweet and tart cherries
What it tastes like: Blood orange, pears in golden syrup, Sicilian rosato.
Why it matters: It showcases the true power of co-fermentation to create something entirely different.
Wild Arc Farm Dabinett Greening Cider
Made by: Todd Cavallo and Crystal Cornish
Region: Hudson Valley, New York
What: 30 percent Dabinett and 70 percent Rhode Island Greening apples
What it tastes like: Like the limey brightness of sauvignon blanc meets the rich, ripe pineapple notes of chenin blanc.
Why it matters: It’s naturally fermented and aged in oak for 10 months, but packaged in 12-ounce cans, a reminder that domestic natural wine and cider does not need to cost a lot or be saved for special occasions it’s meant to be consumed—spread the love.
The Byzantine world of allocated wines
Securing these coveted wines, even for restaurants and retail outlets, is often a murky business.
“If you wind up with any allocations all, it’s about how much money you spend, who your friends are, and what your previous allocations have been,” says Lieberman. Distributors are known to hold back wines to make them appear rarer. Or they can refuse to sell wines to certain clients in favor of placing them at sexier accounts.
Allocations may also come with strings attached.
“It’s never something written down in a contract,” says Walker Strangis, owner of Walker Wine Company in Los Angeles. “It’s just, wink-wink, nudge-nudge. ‘Maybe we can find another case of this if you can help us move other things.’ ”
His business focuses on old and rare wine acquisition and cellar building, but he had never purchased current-release allocations until 2020.
“Conversations are a lot more open and honest now,” says Strangis. “It’s like, ‘These wines are here. We need to move them. What are you interested in?’ ”
“It’s never something written down in a contract. It’s just, wink-wink, nudge-nudge. ‘Maybe we can find another case of this if you can help us move other things.’ ” —Walker Strangis, Walker Wine Company
Neil Rosen, a 20-year portfolio manager at Rosenthal Wine Merchant, hasn’t changed his approach to allocations much during the pandemic.
“We’re not strategic with our allocations,” he says. “We don’t try to leverage access to certain wines to do more business with people. That does a disservice to the wine, and our other wines [that] we think are just as wonderful.”
Last year, wines got stuck in Rosenthal’s inventory. “For me, it was nostalgic,” says Rosen. “People called about white Burgundy, and something was available that never would have been. It was cool because you could sell to someone who had never had the producers.”
That’s how Strangis got his hands on Domaine Henri et Gilles Buisson for his wine club.
“I would never have known about it,” he says. “It’s small-production. I can make a decent margin and turn my clients onto a wine that’s affordable, and they get to be part of the inner circle.”
Bottles of Mascarello Giuseppe e Figlio 1961 Barbaresco at Walker Wine Company (left) and founder Walker Strangis (right) / Photos courtesy Walker Wine Co.
Flatiron Wines is among the most adept players of NYC’s allocation game, along with shops like Chambers Street Wines, Astor Wines & Spirits, Crush Wines & Spirits and Le Dû’s Wines. The team at Flatiron works to secure allocations and identify quality producers whose wines are likely to be allocated.
“Take Anne-Sophie Dubois,” says Dalzell. “We could have her wines to our heart’s content. But after two seasons, we get cut. But we still get a lot, because we sell a lot. You’re securing your position early on.”
Since the start of the pandemic, Dalzell has received more allocated wines in greater quantities, including bottles that typically only go to restaurants. This means having to do less allocating of her own allocations.
Flatiron’s best customers get priority on certain rare wines that never make it into public view. But in the current climate, it’s been able to offer more allocated wines both online and on store shelves. Flatiron even features bottles like Willi Schaefer Riesling and Marcel Lapierre Beaujolais in its weekly newsletter.
“It’s been years since customers have gotten more than one chance to buy Lapierre,” says Dalzell. “But we got three different drops as restaurants shut down.”
Hill Country Wineries
Founded 1995 | Fredericksburg
After Dr. Richard and “Bunny” Becker found the perfect log cabin retreat away from their San Antonio home, they had to decide what to do with the land. They were inspired by travels in the lavender fields of Southern France, whose terrain and climate reminded them of Texas Hill Country. Richard became one of the pioneers of Texas wine, starting with varietals he enjoyed and researching what grows here. For 25 years, the winery has grown estate sauvignon blanc, semillon, grenache, malbec, merlot, petite syrah, syrah, cabernet franc, and cabernet sauvignon. Becker was the first Texas winery to produce viognier, now one of the state’s signature whites. Careful cooperage emphasizing tight wood grain for softer tannins, unlike the French Limousin region’s looser-grain barrels, helps balance oak and fruit. Stand on the stone porch, and catch the scent of lavender carried by the east-west cross breeze that cools the vines.
Curbside pickup: Mon.-Thurs. 10 am-5 pm Fri.-Sun. 10 am-6 pm.
Spicewood Vineyards and Ron Yates Wines
Founded 2007 and 2016 | Spicewood
Tempranillo was Ron Yates’ muse. The shorts- and sandal-clad vintner, who wakeboarded and water-skied on Lady Bird Lake and went to law school at St. Mary’s University before starting a record label, fell in love with the grape on a trip to Spain in the late ’90s. But the vineyard he ended up buying turned out to be uncannily suited to the sauvignon blanc with which it was already planted—and with which he immediately began to win awards. Try the 2017 vintage, crisp and classic, with the racy minerality you’d find in a Sancerre. Spicewood Vineyards, off the beaten path at the end of a country road, is estate-focused. But for his new eponymous Ron Yates winery and tasting room 35 miles to the southwest, Yates sources grapes from all over the state, based on close relationships with growers. Todd Crowell, the winemaker at both, modulates style. Think an expressive tempranillo for Spicewood—smoky, leathery, laden with brambly fruit—while the style is elegant and unusually reserved at Ron Yates, more cool blueberry with additional time in French oak. Yates recently released two frisky pétillant naturels, all effervescence and fun. Come May, you’ll want to return for a paella in Spicewood’s vineyard.
Bottle service and limited tastings: daily 11 am-6 pm.
Founded 2010 (Opened to public 2014) | Stonewall
The thing to do here is to take in the view of the rolling hills and enjoy a bottle of rosé accompanied by Marcona almonds dusted with herbes de Provence, which the winemaker’s mother sent from France. Bénédicte Rhyne, the Burgundy-trained winemaker, has worked to make rosés in the style of Provence’s lean, strawberry-scented rosés. She produces dainty, taut Southern Rhône Valley rosés with vibrancy and depth, whether crisp and light or refreshing and effervescent. Wines have names like Alluvé and Gypsum, which draw attention to terroir and soil types, and Hensell, which is named after the pink sandstone that underlies Gillespie County’s aquifer. Owners Chris and Jennifer Cobb began in 2010 with an experimental vineyard on a farm they bought near Fredericksburg, a mere 11 acres with varietals planted one per row to see how they grew.
Bottle service and tastings with online reservations: Thurs.-Sat. 11 am-6 pm Sun. 12-5 pm.
Founded 2018 | Johnson City
In his tiny tasting room, Henry Crowson is making low-intervention, “natural” wine—unfiltered and unrefined, with a light touch. It’s not wild, though the yeasts are. The young winemaker, who worked at William Chris and helped found a whiskey distillery, adheres to a philosophy of minimalism, capturing the energy of place through the yeasts that come in from the vineyard (one of the defining precepts of naturally fermented wine). “It excites me that whatever yeast is there was meant to be there,” he says. He makes a gorgeous malvasia bianca and a funky, skin-contact roussanne in amber or orange hues. He channels his love of experimentation into a full-bodied zinfandel made with the French technique of carbonic maceration that yields Beaujolais. Sometimes his choices for his diverse repertoire come from a sense of place, in terms of what will grow well here, and sometimes they come from sense of style, playing with method. What will define Texas wine, he hopes, is variety born of diversity of terroir.
Tastings with reservations.
Bending Branch Winery
Founded 2009 | Comfort
Bending Branch is synonymous with tannat. Owner Robert W. Young became enamored of the Basque grape and its potential. He wanted more color extraction and thought it could be done. With his chemistry background and enology-school experience, he figured out how. At his winery in Comfort, he uses modern techniques like cryomaceration (a freezing method that increases tannins and color compound extraction), flash détente (tannin-releasing heating), and whole-cluster fermentation to yield deep, inky tannats and an estate cabernet whose smokiness pairs well with brisket. Also noteworthy are a crisp, melony, award-winning picpoul blanc and a new tannat rosé made frizzante style, which playfully expresses the grape’s range. For tannat nerds: the 2017 Texas Tannat blends three Texas vineyards and three fermentation styles for a dark, lush, velvety wine.
Curbside pickup: daily 12-5 pm.
The High Plains Drifter
Lost Draw Cellars
Founded 2009 | Fredericksburg
It may hold a vintage Gulf gas pump in the corner, but aside from the legacy oil-and-gas in-law connection that allowed them to land a tasting room in Fredericksburg, Lost Draw is all about moving forward. In its bag of tricks is Andy Timmons, who was awarded the T.V. Munson award, named after one of Texas’ great grape figures, and is one of the most influential growers in the High Plains. He works with his nephew, winemaker Andrew Sides, a Texas Tech graduate who is making some of the best wine in the state. Aside from growing for others, their portfolio includes exceptional whites—albariño, roussanne, marsanne, viognier, picpoul blanc, and the proprietary Arroyo Blanco blend—in addition to malbec and tannat. Look for the popular Spritztown, a play on Fredericksburg’s nickname, and counoise rosé and red, which highlight an unusual Rhône grape for single-varietal wines.
Curbside pickup: daily 11 am-5 pm.
The Long Island Transplants
Southold Farm + Cellar
Founded 2012 ( Refounded 2016) | Fredericksburg
At the top of a hill, behind their modern home ( pictured ), is the tasting room modeled on a farmhouse that Regan and Carey Meador left behind in Long Island when they returned to Regan’s native Texas in 2016. An arrow marked “wine study” points from the bottom of the slope up to the white farmhouse. It is outfitted with Edison light bulbs and has views across valleys to both the north and south. The couple wanted to continue to make their Southold Farm + Cellar wine, but they knew they’d have to figure out all new grape sources. Yet you’ll find one last vintage from Long Island, Suitably Stunning, a Champagne-style sparkling rosé. Regan is joined in winemaking by Adrienne Ballou, and theirs is of the low-intervention variety, responding to the grapes and the process. Carefully sourced Hill Country fruit undergirds the wines now, but rootstock will be grafted in the spring. Whimsical names like Little Pieces of a Big Soul, made from touriga nacional, or Sing Sweet Things, an albariño, underscore the fact that time and place conspire to make every bottle different. Choose one, and settle into a swing on the back porch.
Bottle service with reservations: Fri.-Sun. 12-5 pm.
Duchman Family Winery
Founded 2004 | Driftwood
Many, myself included, consider Duchman vermentino and monte-pulciano to be wines that changed their view of Texas winemaking. Duchman entered the stage in 2004 with sophisticated wines from Italian varietals, which we would begin to see as common parlance, though they were not household names before. They became synonymous with excellence. In the hands of winemaker Dave Reilly, Duchman’s wines brilliantly showcase the varietals, whether the magical vermentino, delicately tropical, aromatic, and vibrant a smoky, nimble aglianico or a dainty trebbiano dry rosé. Reilly likes elegant wines that beg to be drunk with food. He highlights the new style of winemaking, in which masterful restraint and finesse create distinction without getting in the way.
Curbside pickup, bottle service, and picnic meals: Mon. 12-6 pm Sun., Tues.-Thurs. 12-7 pm Fri., Sat. 12-8 pm.
Founded 2018 | Stonewall
On land that belonged to the Lyndon B. Johnson ranch, this lovely, bucolic tasting room nestled under shading oaks was the dream of Erin and Tony Smith from Austin. The pieces fell into place when their kids and their spouses joined them from Dallas—one son-in-law a sommelier, the other a former corporate attorney who trained to become a winemaker. John Rivenburgh, the tannat king who was part of that varietal’s revolution, and whose Kerrville Hills Collective they’re using to make the wines, provided guidance. From a deep, dark tannat to the dazzling 2019 clairette blanche, a first for their estate and a first in Texas, it’s baby steps to pétillant naturels and sparkling reds. They’re genre-pushing and want to be part of the story of learning what grows well in Texas. Their accomplished wines are now part of the expanding universe.
Tasting room: Fri. 12-5 pm Sat. 12-6 pm Sun. 12-5 pm.
William Chris Vineyards
Founded 2008 | Hye
No wine country tour would be complete without William Chris Vineyards, which produces thoughtful, exquisitely precise wines. Decades ago, while standing in the property’s oak grove, founders Chris Brundrett and Bill Blackmon were two of the first to commit to using 100 percent Texas grapes. Old and new still mingle here, as the new tasting room’s world of concrete and glass joins the original farmhouse from the former turkey farm. The vineyard’s portfolio is deep, running from its standout single-vineyard mourvèdre, redolent of black cherry, plum, and leather, to Mary Ruth, a dainty, aromatic white blend of malvasia bianca and blanc du bois named after Blackmon’s mother. Numerous scene-broadening winemakers get their start here.
Bottle service and educational food pairings by reservation: Mon.-Wed. 10 am-5 pm Thurs.-Sat. 10 am-6 pm Sun. 11 am-5 pm.
The Iberian Explorer
Founded 2010 | Johnson City
Doug Lewis, who cut his teeth at Pedernales Cellars, is the wunderkind making wine with Portuguese grape varietals like touriga nacional, tinto çao, and arinto. He favors low-intervention techniques on the Round Mountain Vineyard he leases, and he also takes advantage of grapes from carefully selected local growers. His portfolio includes port a vinho verde-style white made with chenin blanc and blanc du bois (sometimes cut with albariño or muscat) and tinto çao, which he shapes into an age-worthy wine that mingles elegant black fruit, licorice, and tobacco. The winery’s coat of arms hails from his father’s family, the Lewises, reflecting Welsh or Viking—not Iberian—roots. The crest speaks to a desire for an Old World approach to wine, one focused on the relationships between vineyard, grower, and winemaker that express terroir. “If we have a pretty simple way of making wine, the vineyard speaks for itself,” Lewis says.
Curbside pickup with pre-order: Wed., Sat. 11 am-3 pm.
Founded 2005 | Stonewall
This winery has one of the most picturesque views along Highway 290. A century-old agave plant at the entrance welcomes visitors to an old farmhouse and a new winery built into a hillside. For me and many others, Pedernales presented the albariño and viognier that were revelations in the mid-2000s. David Kulkhen’s precise winemaking, informed by the esteemed University of California at Davis enology program, helped make Pedernales part of the cohort (along with Duchman, William Chris, and others) that raised Texas wine to the international level of competition. His wines are elegant. Beautifully cultivated grapes find expression in blends, like the GSM Melange, with its Texas twist or single-varietals like the viognier, with its luxurious weight of satin.
Tastings with reservations and curbside pickup: Mon.-Thurs. 10 am-5 pm Fri., Sat. 10 am-6 pm Sun. 12-5 pm.
Slate Mill Wine Collective
Founded 2016 (Rebranded 2020) | Fredericksburg
Recently, and with new ownership, Slate Mill Wine Collective established itself as a custom crush facility—an incubator model that provides smaller brands with access to equipment and cellar crews. The winery was crafting already under the 1851 Vineyards label, named after the founding date of the winery’s original flour mill. But then they brought on rising-star winemakers who are examples of what collectives allow. Like Randy Hester, a sort of voluntary prodigal son, who brought back to Texas more than a decade of experience in Napa to infuse the scene with his precisely crafted C.L. Butaud wines (big reds and unctuous whites). Or sommelier-turned-winemaker Rae Wilson, who, in 2014, launched Dandy rosé, a bright, dry, Provençal-style rosé slam dunk that catapulted her. A new label, La Valentía, will favor site-specific older vines. Wilson’s involvement with Andrew Sides of Lost Draw Cellars on The Grower’s Project label highlights a desire to tap Texas wine’s vast potential and sustainability through specifically nurtured, small-production growers’ fruit. Also on the roster: Slate Mill’s own winemaker and Tatum Cellars founder Josh Fritsche, who until earlier this year was at William Chris. Try his work in Slate Mill’s lime-bright, mouthwatering trebbiano or in Tatum Cellars’ gorgeous mourvèdre with bold black fruit. Note: Dandy rosé and C.L. Butaud are available through their sites and at Central Market in Dallas. Tatum Cellars wines are available at Slate Mill.
Tastings: Thurs.-Sun. 11 am-6 pm Sun.-Mon. 12-5 pm. Production tours by appointment only.
The Mad Genius
Calais Winery and French Connection Wines
Founded 2008 and 2019 | Hye
Benjamin Calais is the French génie fou with piercing blue eyes and unruly hair who is making Bordeaux-style reds and elegant, oaked whites on land that’s bare save for a French flag and a “cave” dug into the earth. He is obsessed with and passionate about cabernet sauvignon, and so he has done the hard work of seeking the sites where it grows, sourcing from the highest elevations in Alpine and the Davis Mountains AVA, braving frost and hail. He’s able to deliver cabernets that rival those from France or Napa Valley, using single vineyards that express themselves powerfully. But also a picpoul blanc, a sauvignon blanc from some of the oldest semillon vines, and a mourvèdre-heavy rosé meant to age or drink with food. On top of a nearby hill is Calais’ other venture, French Connection Wines, which he debuted just over a year ago with two sommeliers, one of whom is his fiancée. Here, his precise winemaking is focused on lighter varieties of reds, whites, and rosés, like a beautiful, limpid counoise rosé. Nosh on boards with triple crèmes and jambon de Bayonne, and “ la vie est belle ” feels true.
Calais Winery: curbside pickup Fri. 12-4 pm, Sat. 11 am-5 pm, Sun. 12-4 pm tastings by appointment at Bryan’s on 290. French Connection Wines: tastings with reservations Fri. 12-6 pm Sat. 11 am-6 pm Sun. 11 am-5 pm.
Fall Creek Vineyard
Founded 1975 | Driftwood
Susan and Ed Auler’s winery has been sitting prettily in Driftwood, across from Salt Lick BBQ, since 2014. But the couple has been growing grapes in Tow since 1975, when hardly anyone was growing grapes in Texas. Susan is a grand dame of Texas wine, and she is still an influential winery owner. Ed was instrumental in claiming the Hill Country AVA appellation in 1990. Now, with a Chilean winemaker, they continue a roster of consistently outstanding quality. With a GSM, cabernet sauvignon, mourvèdre, sauvignon blanc, and a grenache rosé, the roster focuses on French varietals—both Rhône Valley and Bordeaux. A surprising chardonnay is creamy and beautifully structured, an example of how a winemaker can coax intrigue from a grape not built to thrive here.
Tastings: Mon.-Sat. 11 am-7 pm Sun. 12-5 pm.
République’s new wine director is now one of the most influential Latina sommeliers in the country
Sommelier Maria Garcia sits for a portrait with a glass of wine at Republique restaurant.
(Patrick T. Fallon / For The Los Angeles Times)
Sommeliers Maria Garcia and Taylor Parsons from Republique restaurant are seen in December. Parsons left the restaurant in January, and now Garcia oversees the wine program.
(Patrick T. Fallon / For The Times)
Bottles of wine rest in the cellar above tables at Republique restaurant.
(Patrick T. Fallon / For The Times)
On the second day of January, Taylor Parsons, chief author of one of the most dynamic wine lists in Los Angeles, left his position at République — that day, by his calculation, represented his 1,000th evening menu at the celebrated Hancock Park bistro. He plans to spend the next year developing a restaurant project he can call his own, consulting, and helping his wife Briana Valdez expand her own business, the Loz Feliz Tex-Mex joint HomeState.
He left the wine program in the hands of 33-year-old Maria Garcia, who instantly becomes one of the most important wine directors in the city, and one of the most influential Latina sommeliers in the country.
Garcia is an L.A. native raised in Whittier. She was set on taking her history and political science degrees from UCLA into a career in education — in fact, she was teaching at a high school in Crenshaw when her interest in wine and cocktail culture drew her back toward the culinary arts. Her wine career, then, has been short, but highly pedigreed. After dabbling in retail and wine-slinging as a street rep for a broker, she landed a job at Spago, where for three and a half years she managed the cellars and worked the floor for Chris Miller, M.S. — as did Parsons, for one year, where he became well-acquainted with Garcia’s skills and work ethic.
At Spago, Garcia became a kind of unofficial enforcer for the sorts of service standards the restaurant needed to elevate its game toward the Wine Spectator’s Grand Award, a kind of Oscar nod for restaurant wine programs. Garcia beefed up staff training, service accouterments, storage protocols and monitored countless other minuscule details which helped to bring the entire program to another echelon, resulting in a half-dozen Grand Awards since 2010.
Since joining Parsons at République nearly three years ago, Garcia has retained that role, managing the cellar, overseeing service standards and staff training, such that the wine program runs at an unusual level of efficiency and polish, even as it remains one of the most idiosyncratic in the city, if not the country.
Why idiosyncratic? Parsons and Garcia have, in effect, created a wine list that’s more conceptual than fixed. It’s a nod to the particular demands of Walter Manzke, a chef given not only to daily changing menus, but who is so predisposed to improvisation that he thinks nothing of going four courses deep on the fly for a four top, off-menu, laying waste to the walk-in to pull together something special and singular.
To match up with their chef’s itinerant inclinations, Parsons and Garcia have fashioned a wine program that’s more ephemeral than literal. The physical wine list, the one presented at table, is a single page of about 75 wines. But this is just the tip of the iceberg the rest of the wine selections loom in the cellar, more than 2,000 strong, off-list, which Garcia and her staff draw from depending on the menu, and on the guest and the timbre of engagement they’re looking for, and if needed, draw from the hidden trove stashed away.
For the moment, Garcia is keen on preserving this moving target of a wine list, as she settles into the driver’s seat. While she ponders introducing a reserve list, it’s the mini-list that puts everything in motion.
“The page opens the dialogue,” explains Garcia. “It’s just a conversation starter.” But the additional latitude of the “off list” list gives Garcia, her staff and her customers a much broader horizon. “Guests come here looking for new wines now,” she says, “not something they can find anywhere. They’re here to get turned on to something different.”
Wine Director: Maria Garcia
Floor sommelier(s): Alexander Goldfisher
Number of wines on the list: 75ish
Number of wines “off” the list: 2,000ish
Least expensive bottle: $36
Most expensive bottle: $4,500
Median bottle price: $120
% Domestic/Imported: 20%/80%
Number of wines by the glass: 12-15 (including fortified/sweet)
Particular strength: France: Burgundy, Champagne, Loire and Rhône Valleys. Italy: Piedmont, Tuscany. The “New California.”
République current staff go-to wine:
Cavallotto 2008 Barolo ‘Bricco Boschis’
“We ripped through our allocation of this Nebbiolo,” République wine director Maria Garcia says, “in part because we met the winemaker a few months back. Many of the servers have tasted a few of his vintages and recognized that it was a special list addition. Plus, a lot of guests were looking for something with a little age that’s reasonably priced to celebrate the season, and the Cavallotto was in this category.
Your current obsession:
Loire producers Thibaud Boudignon, from Anjou, and Château de Brézé, from Saumur
“These are two of my favorite producers this year. They possess many of the qualities we look for in producers. They make low intervention, small production wines of exceptional quality. They’re beautiful, textural, mineral wines, appealing to the Burgundy lover in me plus I can introduce these wines to guests without them breaking the bank.”
Your most exciting wine by the glass:
Jean & Sebastien Dauvissat 2008 1er Cru “Vaillons” Chablis
“This is an older Chardonnay from Chablis, in Burgundy, from a special premier cru vineyard. To be able to offer premier cru Chablis with a little bit of bottle age by the glass is something special. The guest can experience what we mean when we speak about development, without having to commit to an entire bottle.”
If you could change L.A. wine tastes just for one day, what would you tell folks to do:
“Trust your sommelier. Go to dinner, tell them what you like, and take a risk. Let them guide you to something new, even if it’s in the wheelhouse of the types of wines you already like. If you trust your sommelier, today might be the day you fall in love with a new wine.”
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