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The Red, White and Rosé: Three summer wines to elevate an ordinary day

After a long time apart, we’re ready to enjoy life with our friends and loved ones. And that means wine. Not just any wine, though. Every bottle should be a little special, to remind us all what we have. Here are a white, red and rosé to help you celebrate the summer. Each stars a little-known grape, giving you the chance to show off your wine knowledge.  

For white, we are drinking Txakoli (chah-kuh-lee). I recommend the Ulacia, but if you see the Ameztoi or Gorrondona, those are delicious too. All three are around $20, and each brings super high acidity, citrus fruit and usually just the whisper of bubbles. These are wines to wake you up and refresh you. That first sip might sting a little. But the second is a little more refreshing, and soon you will be quaffing your Txakoli like a pro. The Ulacia contains the wonderful Hondarrabi Zuri grape (and yes, for the geeks out there, a little bit of Hondarrabi Beltza). These will pair terrifically with shellfish and spicy fare.    

In the industry, we are all a little bored with Provence Rosé, but luckily, we have an antidote for these feelings of ennui. Meet Clos Cibonne Tentations.  It is the entry level wine of Clos Cibonne, and can be found for around $18.  The higher-end bottlings of Clos Cibonne cost more than $30, and are some truly world class rosé. However, the Tentations is a damn nice bottle on its own. Like the Clos Cibonne, it includes a healthy percentage of Tibouren, highly sought after because it brings great intensity to both aromas and flavor. A sniff and sip of this wine lets you know why the grape is prized;  the fruit seems a little more focused, there’s a hint of smoky herbs in the palate and it’s all in balance. It has great acidity and it’s dry and very focused; try it at a warmer temperature to bring out more fruit. It will be a little difficult to spot in the wild. If you see it, pick up a few, as this will not last throughout the summer.

We are going straight into fruit bomb territory with our red, Li Veli’s Susumaniello. It’s summer, and we’ll drink fruit bombs if we want to. This one is a doozy, starring red fruits, black fruits and more fruits. It’s light on tannins, with just enough acidity to bring you back for another sip. It is not, however, going to be easy to find, as most shops have a very limited Susumaniello section, but I have it on authority that it can be found in the southern, middle and northern parts of the state. It will be great with anything on the grill and doesn’t mind being drunk all by itself.  




Flavors of Fall: How to pair wines with cozy autumn cooking

The moment my skin pricks with the first crisp snap of fall air, my mind races with all of the fall vegetables and fruits that I can cook with, and the red wines to pair with them. A large portion of those wines comes from Piedmont, Italy, located in the northwest part of the country. It is a large area, but the most famous wines come from around the towns of Alba and Asti, amongst the fog-covered hills. Barolo and barberesco are justly considered some of the great wines of the world; however, for most fall dishes, I look for something a little easier and simpler. Instead of barolo or barbaresco, I choose a nebbiolo with a Langhe designate. They are usually much more accessible young and more gently priced, often in the $20 – $25 range. Vajra, De Forville and Vietti are all great examples. Vietti is a great barolo producer, and likewise, their regular nebbiolo wine veers toward the large scale, with some hefty tannins and darker fruit. De Forville, a barbaresco winery, makes a Langhe nebbiolo that is perfect for fall. The fruit is more red than black, and smells of forest floor capture a lot of fall qualities. There is something in the wine that is of the earth, just like the root vegetables we often eat this season.

The other two major red grapes of Piedmont are dolcetto and barbera, which also serve for an understanding of wine terms. The dryness and structural feel you get from dolcetto? Those are tannins. The brightness and structural feel from barbera? That is acidity. I’m a fan of dolcetto and its youthful energy and the textural feel of the wine. Poderi Cellario is a great producer to look for. But I’m in love with barbera. Many winemakers take special pride with their barbera. While barolo and barberesco bring the international acclaim and high prices, it is barbera that everyone, including themselves, drink. It remains a good value with many great options available. There are higher end bottlings out there of old vine single vineyards, but most barberas cost less than $20. Some, like Elio Perrone’s Tasmorcan, are delightfully fruity and vibrant. Others, like Cantene Valpane, are full of different fruits and spices, with each sniff and sip bringing out a new flavor. There are dozens of great producers available, but the one thing they have in common is that bright acidity that is perfect with food and a little textural crunch that pairs so well with squash, apples and other fall bounties. Of course, there is also that vibrant, beautiful red fruit. It works with grilled burgers on a hot sunny day, or with pork chops and apples on a day that requires more comfort.  

And if you are looking for something light and refreshing with the apple pie after dinner? Don’t forget moscato d’asti, the original moscato. These are sweet but refreshing, slightly sparkling, and rarely more than 6% alcohol. I am partial to Vietti’s rendition, which is usually around $16. It tends to have a great freshness to it.  

We are also seeing a lot more varieties from Piedmont entering the states.  Grapes like freisa and grignolino are fun wines, often made in a light style, and usually incredibly drinkable. Many producers often make blends as well. The Elvio Tintero Red ($13) is like cranberries in a bottle, while G.D. Vajra ($16) produces a dry fruit blend that is a delight. Luigi Giordano makes a very light, beautiful example of Rosso ($18) that can be served with a slight chill. Much of the fun in drinking wine comes in experimenting with bottles. Enjoy exploring Piedmont!




Explore the Loire: Try one of these summer sippers during your staycation

The Loire Valley wine region starts at the Atlantic Ocean and reaches into central France. It is most famous for Sancerre and Vouvray. While great examples of each exist, for the most part, the most expensive and least interesting wines imported into the US are going to be from these two appellations. Luckily, there are 67 other appellations full of diverse styles of wines to explore at great prices.

The Bubbles

After Champagne, the Loire Valley produces the most sparkling wine in France. These bubbles come in every different style, and you can get a bottle of sparkling white, rosé and red from the Loire for the same price as one bottle of nice Champagne. Sparkling wines from the Loire, like all wines from the region, are not as mainstream in our country. This means two things. It is best to shop at a store specializing in wine to find them, and when you do find them, you can be reasonably sure that the liquid inside is going to be delicious. Some names to look for include Lambert, Louis de Grenelle, Champalou and Domaine Terres Blanche. Huet, from Vouvray, is one of the more famous names (especially for their sweeter still wines). You might also come across some sparkling reds, which are really wild. Domaine Terres Blanche is one example and Chateau de Miniere also makes a really cool red pét-nat.  

The Whites

If forced to drink whites from only one region, I would spend three seconds thinking about it before opting for the Loire. There are so many great wines in so many different styles, mostly from three different grapes: sauvignon blanc, chenin blanc and melon de bourgogne. If you find a wine from a different grape, buy it! It’s going to be fun, trust me. The western most part of the Loire is the Muscadet or Nantais region. At one point, most of this region consisted of large areas of machine harvested vines, grown to produce the largest harvest possible. This resulted in flavorless, diluted wines, which some growers then aged on their lees (mostly dead yeast cells) to add texture. Thankfully, a revolution began in which growers started working with organics, hand harvesting and producing smaller yields. This vanguard recently started giving way to the next generation, which are continuing these ideas, but also experimenting with new ideas as well.  Once Muscadet was Muscadet. Now there are 10 Crus within Muscadet, highlighting different soil types and terroir. Muscadet is a wonderful region, making white wines that can age for years. They are crisp, minerally, often even a little briney — the perfect foil for our shellfish. They are also comically undervalued as compared to the appellations of Chablis and Sancerre, with which they share certain characteristics. Names to look for include Eric Chevalier, Jo Landron, Pepiere, Luneau-Papin, Michel Caillot, Domaine des Cognettes, Michel Delhommeau and so many more.  Once you’ve explored melon de bourgogne a bit, reach out for the other wines of the region. A good start is Jean Aubron’s Folle Blanche, a steal for under $15.

What about chenin blanc? You can find chenin from the Loire dry and bright, rich and full bodied, and sweet and succulent. It’s amazing what this grape does in different regions. Skip Vouvray and look for wines from Saumur, Anjou and Savennieres (a little pricey). These are underrepresented appellations, and many of the winemakers are very small, so the best bet is to ask your local wine merchant for recommendations, or better yet, have her choose a few different styles for you to explore.  

Sauvignon blanc gets all the love. Many people today equate the Loire Valley with Sancerre. It’s true that some of the great sauvignon blancs of the world come from Sancerre, but it’s also true that the United States is awash with mediocre Sancerre, usually selling for $30 or more. Unless someone needs to be impressed, your best bets are to explore the wider Touraine region. For under $20, and often more like $15, there are sauvignon blancs full of bright acidity and crisp citrus fruit. Henri Bourgeois, a Sancerre producer, makes a $15 petit sauvignon blanc that is delicious. However, there are many more like Les Deux Moulins, Domaine L’Aumonier and La Chapiniere, among others.  

The Reds

Cabernet franc is king in the Loire. Whether you are drinking from the appellations Anjou, Saumur or Chinon, you are drinking cabernet franc.  With its red berry fruit and crunchy texture, these wines are all perfect for the summer. With climate change, you can even find wines big enough to pair with a steak. Look for gamay as well. Often labeled with a Touraine or even Vin de Pay designation, gamay from the Loire often showcases peppercorn and bright red berries. It can usually be served with just the slightest chill. If you see a wine from the grapes grolleau, pineau d’aunis or others, be sure to grab them. They make fascinating bright, light wines. You might even find pinot noir. Two of my favorite pinot noirs on either end of the spectrum are both from the Loire Valley. Jean Francois Merieau’s Les Hexagonales is easy and delicious at $16, while Claude Riffault’s version from Sancerre is savory, elegant and beautiful at $40.

What about rosé? The Loire valley makes plenty of that, too. Most tend to be brighter and more focused then the Provence style that is so in. They are, for the most part, can’t miss, especially for anyone looking for a different type of rosé. Like most wines from the Loire, they are terrific with food. So get out there, and start exploring this amazing region before everyone else finds out how great the wines are!




Forging a New Path: Campus Fine Wines discusses shifting their businesses during the pandemic

Campus Fine Wines is owned by two couples, Howard Mahady and Natalie Butler, and Andrea Sloan and Vin Scorziello; Howard and Andrea both brought years of experience in the wine industry to the local liquor shop. Campus is the place to go to find the coolest bottle of wine you didn’t know about, whether your budget is $10 or $50.  I caught up (remotely) with Andrea to talk about their store and their decision to only offer curbside and delivery during the pandemic.  

Justin Hutchins (Motif): Describe Campus Fine Wines.

Andrea Sloan: Campus has been on Brook Street in Providence since 1974, but we bought it in July 2012. We focus on organic and natural wine and grower champagne, but we’re a full neighborhood liquor store, so we also have the usual lineup of beer and spirits and everyday-bargain sections. 

JH: Can you talk about your decision to move to curbside and delivery only, and your choice to remain that way even while other stores opened up?

AS: We had been watching this pandemic since January, when it was just a blip in the twittersphere. That’s when we started ordering gloves, bleach, Lysol, etc… Perhaps that sounds like paranoia, but we were reading what epidemiologists were saying, and it just sounded dire… So we were mentally prepared to close, and we honestly thought that we would be ordered to close, which never actually happened. We went to credit/debit only in the beginning of March, and then decided that we would close to the public before the pandemic was declared. We decided to do this because we couldn’t justify putting our employees, ourselves or our customers at risk, especially when so little is known about this disease. We also lost Vin’s (Andrea’s husband) mom the day before the pandemic was officially declared in the US, so this isn’t abstract for us, and the no funeral, no closure (“no days off cuz you’re essential!”) thing is really not fun. So we would like to avoid other people having to go through that same thing, if possible. 

We also stay closed to the public for the same reasons we closed at the beginning: the safety of our staff and our community, especially when mask-wearing has become political, which is just extraordinarily stupid, but not at all surprising. But there’s also the financial aspect; if one of us gets COVID, we have to close and quarantine for a minimum of two weeks. We don’t know about anyone else, but that would be hard for us to weather.

JH: Give me an idea of what you had to do to run the business in the current format.

AS: We had to trust that our customers would not abandon us. And thankfully they have not! Then because our staff is so tiny, we reduced our hours and days that we’re open to Tuesday through Saturday, noon – 6pm. There are only five of us here, and life is too damn short to work seven days a week, 12 hours a day. 

Because we’re curbside/delivery only, we really had to up our e-comm game, which meant creating an e-comm site. So there’s been a lot of loading product and notes and praying that the inventory is accurate (narrator: the inventory is not always accurate). And we took advantage of 0% financing at a local Ford dealership and got ourselves a van, so we were able to increase our delivery capabilities substantially.

JH: What has the response been from your customers? 

AS: It’s been pretty fantastic, and we’ve even gotten new customers because of our business model during this crisis. The only people who give us grief (and some do, loudly, from the sidewalk) tend to be maskless and unfamiliar to us, which is why we stay curbside/delivery only. 

JH: Campus is a very brick-and-mortar store, in the sense that it is rooted in the community.  Have you found new ways to stay connected to the community? And how have you adjusted while being closed to the public?

AS: Probably not new ways, but we try to keep up with the newsletter every week, just for some sense of normalcy. But it’s not easy, and it’s frankly impossible to act like anything is normal. Instagram is generally our go-to for posting new items and sharing any bits of news. And we still chat in our doorway! 

JH: What climate would allow you to feel comfortable opening your doors to the public again?

AS: That’s difficult to say. We think our local government is doing a pretty good job at managing this pandemic, but there are some serious ignoramuses at the federal level, and we’re just not sure how we’re supposed to trust the info that trickles down. Then you have well-managed, science-appreciating countries that re-opened only to shut down again. We’re not infectious disease experts, but we think we’re going to see a second wave, and we’d rather not rock the boat now. 

JH: Tell us about the process of choosing wine for your store, and how you have adapted without tastings or trying new wines from sales people and suppliers.

AS: We do request things to try, and we’ve always sought out and asked for wines from producers and importers we know and trust, so it’s not all that different from before. No tastings is a challenge, and there’s not one of us here who is comfortable doing some Zoom video thing, so it’s going to stay no-tasting for quite some time. But we do try to taste as many new items as we can as they come in so that we can accurately describe and confidently sell them. Unless it’s some teeny tiny production allocated thing, which we rarely get to taste anyway!

JH: Campus Fine Wines is very active in social issues. In a time where many businesses are politically and socially neutral, why do you feel it is important to take the stands that you do as a business?

AS: As a society we’ve been trained to accept this notion that regular people aren’t supposed to share political opinions (that’s for the talking heads on TV!) and that “responsible” media isn’t supposed to differentiate between truth and lies (that would show bias!), so that leaves us all at the mercy of the loudest yellers who are usually collecting hefty paychecks for their opinions. The rest of us are supposed to “stay in our lane.” Why does Tucker Carlson get to express opinions but we don’t? We have no intention of ceding our 1st Amendment rights to cable television and YouTube personalities, and our platform is just as or perhaps more valid than theirs; no one pays us for our opinions, but we know what’s right. You either side with humanity or you don’t. If you don’t, there are plenty of other shops out there. And right now, more than ever, silence really does equal complicity. 

JH: Can you explain the philosophy and choices you make in choosing wine, and why you think that is important?

AS: We try to support producers and importers with whom we already have relationships, and we generally go for real wine from real people. The industrial, corporate producers will be just fine without us, so we’d rather support the little guys, who tend to take a more ethical/responsible approach to farming and doing business.

JH: Say I’m getting into wine, and I want to explore wines in the natural category. How do I navigate all these crazy labels and even different colors?

AS: Haha, yeah it is a little nutty out there … well, first, it’s usually not super cheap. You *can* find natural wine under $20, but it’s not all that common, so be prepared to spend a little more, especially with the tariffs still in place. You want to know your importers, from old-school, like Louis/Dressner, to Jenny & François, Selections de la Viña, SelectioNaturel … and then talk to your trusty retailer! People email us all the time now for recommendations, and that’s a really good option when no one can do tastings. But natural wine is not all funky, murky, barnyard situations. We have plenty of flawless wines that are naturally made, so you don’t need to have an out-there palate to enjoy them.

JH: Tell us the easiest way to get cool wine from you with the way you are currently operating.

AS: The e-comm (campusfinewines.com) is the easiest, but if you don’t see what you want or you want more guidance, send us an e-mail or give us a call. 

JH: Lastly, what’s your go to wine of the moment?

AS: Well it’s hot right now, so rosés and muscadets are no-brainers. We just got a fun Pipeño from Selections de la Viña, 2019 Estacion Yumbel Pipeno, 100% Pais from 150 year old vines, fermented and aged in 60-year old pipas (vertical, large barrels made from the native beechwood tree called Raulí). This is a chillable, lively, old-school, Chilean red that’s perfect for summer. 




Bubbles!: A handy guide to becoming a toast master

Sparkling wine can be separated into two categories: Champagne and everything else. Champagne only comes from Champagne, France, located about 2 hours east by car from Paris. The wine can contain chardonnay, pinot noir and pinot meunier. The region boasts centuries of wine-making, but sparkling Champagne’s popularity only began in the mid 19th century.  Many wine connoisseurs list Champagne as one of the greatest wine regions. They point to the tiny bubbles that create almost a creamy mouthfeel; complex, bready aromas and flavors from the yeast; and the bright minerality from the limestone soils. Many wine lovers talk of the terroir of Champagne. When you sip Champagne, you know it is from the region, and, in fact, could come from nowhere else. Unfortunately, the entry level of Champagne is $40 a bottle. Champagne is expensive, bruh! 

Even within Champagne, there are two categories to consider: brands and growers. Brands are large houses that buy most or all of their grapes to make staggering amounts of bubbly. Veuve Clicquot and Moet are the dominant names here. These are not the best Champagnes, but they are the names that people recognize. The celebratory occasion that often coincides with the bursting of bubbly often has less to do with what is inside the bottle than the label on the bottle. Everyone knows that Veuve Clicquot is Champagne and expensive, which might mean more than the much tastier grower Champagne at two-thirds of the price. However, the people who wax poetic about the magic of Champagne are talking about the grower stuff. Growers at some point stopped selling their grapes to the big houses and began making their own Champagne. At one point a consumer would be lucky to spot the occasional Pierre Peters, but these days grower Champagnes are everywhere, in every different style. Many start in the $40 range and trend upward from there. If you have tried Champagne and feel like there is nothing else like it, this is the world you want to explore.

And what about everything else? These days, almost every winery has a sparkler of some sort. The most common remains prosecco. Whereas Champagne is elegant — even austere — prosecco is all frothy fun. The popularity of the brand led to oceans of it being produced, the majority of which is instantly forgettable if not outright bad. But there are some great values in prosecco to be found. Adami is one of the easiest and best values out there, and can be found for around $16. Producers like Bisson up the quality level another notch while keeping everything under $20. Cava is the other popular sparkling wine. Like Prosecco, there is lots of forgettable cava flooding the market. There are also producers making method champenois wines full of complexity and flavor at half the price of Champagne. Gramona and Raventos i Blanc are names to look for.

The hippest trend these days are pétillant naturals, or pét-nats. This ancient style of making sparkling wine results in a wide variety of bubble levels, and includes white, pink and red wines, with every type of grape. The wines can vary from year to year or even batch to batch. They often are small batch wines, so if you dig the natty wine scene, its best to consult with your wine merchant to pick something that fits your interests.

 Some wineries in the Loire valley make wonderful cremants, the term for sparkling wine in France outside of Champagne. Sparkling wines do not need to be as ripe as table wines, so in America there are great examples not just in California, but all over the place, including Long Island and across the border in Massachusetts with Westport. England is one of the rising producers of bubbles (thanks, climate change), and while the quality is exceptional, the prices tend to rival Champagne.

Ultimately, there is a world of sparkling wines to explore for the intrepid wine geek, but here are five surefire hits:

Adriano Adami Garbel Prosecco ($16); Great value, dry prosecco

Cleto Chiarli e Figli Vecchia Modena Lambrusco ($16); Dry red sparkler, fun and delicious

Domaine de Martinolles Blanquette de Limoux Le Berceau ($16); Dry sparkler from the home of sparkling wine

Raventos i Blanc (price varies); Spectacular vintage cava

Thierry Triolet Champagne Brut ($40); Well-priced, well-made grower Champagne




The Pet, The Boring, and The Just Right: Is finding a tasty glass a fairy tale?

Goldilocks would be all too comfortable navigating today’s wine lists. “Most of these are too boring,” she would think. Occasionally, a tiny little wine bar brings a different reaction. “These wines are all the somm’s pets. They are too strange.” Alas, Goldilocks by now learned not to give up easily (this is of course years after her bear encounter), and eventually she locates the elusive list. “This is just right.” You, too, are likely to be handed all of these types of lists at a restaurant or wine bar. Here’s how to navigate them.  

The Too Boring List: The most common of wine lists, its formation starts when restaurant owners and buyers share little interest in or knowledge of wine. The list is complete when a distributor shows up and offers to print the wine list or some other favor in trade for choosing the wines on offer.  The restaurant and drinks business are not fairy tales, though. The wines on these lists aren’t chosen for their ability to pair with the food. More likely, sales goals and incentives are the lead decision-makers. It’s easy to spot these lists because even a casual wine imbiber is likely to recognize most of the names. Most of these wines are perfectly fine. None of them are likely to be amazing or make you exclaim at a new wonderful food and wine pairing. When choosing from these lists, the goal is finding a satisfactory wine without being gouged by the price. Unless you are lucky, the staff are unlikely to offer much guidance beyond telling you which wines are popular. Decide if white (seafood, high acid foods) or red (meat, rich foods) is likely to go with everyone’s meal, and pick from there.  Probably stay away from chardonnay unless everyone wants it. It is likely to be heavily oaked, which is a more divisive style, and will make some pairings problematic. A sauvignon blanc, pinot noir or merlot are usually fine.  

The Somm’s Pet List: On the opposite end of the spectrum lies the somm’s Pet List. These are most often encountered in cities. Most of the winery names will be unrecognizable, even unpronounceable. Even many of the grapes are often inscrutable. The wines might be categorized into white, orange and red. These places are all very high on the risk/reward level. A glass could make you rethink what wine even is. There might be a new food pairing that takes you on a philosophical journey about the nature of taste. Conversely, it’s possible you drink something that makes you wonder if they just put the dirty dishwater in a bottle. You are at the mercy of the somm/server here, but the good news is that almost every sommelier wants to sell you a bottle that will bring you joy. The somms to watch out for are those who think the list is more of a personal testimony to themselves, their great wine knowledge and taste. That means the wines might not have anything to do with the food being served. You also might be surprised that despite all of the different places and grapes on offer, the wines fit into a general spectrum of flavor and style. Fans of rich, oaky wines could have problems here. The best course of action is to explain what you and your party like, how much you would like to spend, and what everyone is eating, and let the somm do the work. That will bring the odds strongly in your favor, and while you might not like every wine chosen for you, the odds are quite high that not only will you try something new and great, but you might have found a new spot to learn more about wine. If there is nobody to offer guidance and you’d like to play it safe, probably ignore the orange wines.

Then there is the Just Right list. Elusive, but marvelous. This is the list that isn’t too long, isn’t too familiar or too strange, and carries selections that are specifically thought of in the context of the food. There is almost always someone knowledgeable about the list who will listen attentively and offer a well-thought-out selection. There should be a combination of familiar and unknown wines, so that you can embrace the flavors of a known commodity or reach a little to the unknown. Often the wines are not that flashy at first, not as exotic as the Somm’s Pet List. However, when the food comes, both the wine and dish is elevated. Afterward you might have a difficult time separating the wine from the dish in your memory. 

And yes, if all else fails, and you have no idea what to do and no interest in dropping a lot of money on an unknown, buying the second least expensive wine in the category you are considering has a surprising success rate.




Rosé Colored Glasses: Pink stuff for porch drinking

It’s rosé season. The popularity of the pink stuff now transcends the wine itself, with clothing, cocktails and events dedicated to the rosé lifestyle. Much of this can be tied to the success of Whispering Angel, from Chateau d’Esclans. Started by a former Bordeaux property owner, Chateau d’Esclans first made headlines more than a decade ago with a bottling called Garrus that retailed for more than $100, a price unheard of for rosé. Soon every yacht owner needed a bottle, bringing it success. However, Whispering Angel, the entry level wine at $25 from Chateau d’Esclans, took a US trend and made it explode. Three times as much Whispering Angel is imported into the US as the entire Provence region sent a decade ago. Approximately one in five bottles of Provence rosé sold is Whispering Angel. Great marketing and labeling, and following Jess Jackson’s footsteps with Kendall Jackson Chardonnay (adding a little sweetness) made Whispering Angel one of the greatest wine success stories.

Provence rosé can be wonderful, but the success of Whispering Angel flooded the marketplace with imitators and knockoffs. Rosé doesn’t need to be complex or amazing, but it should be fun. And there are so many different types to explore, for much less money than the famous brand. There is literally a whole world of rosé out there to be explored, with different flavors and textures, and made from different grapes. Here are some places and wines to get you started.

Italy: Italian producers make rosé in myriad styles, called rosato, and this is a great style to explore. Here are three outstanding values, all under $15: The Tintero Rosato hails from Piedmont. This producer contends for the best value in esteemed importer Kermit Lynch’s portfolio. The rosato is slightly sparkling, or frizzante, giving the wine a nice zip. It is all bright flavors and super refreshing. This sells out before the summer is over, so find it sooner rather than later. And pick up an extra bottle — it goes fast! Tenuta Sant’Antonio Scaia Rosato is another sure bet. From Veneto, the grape is rondinella. It is super easy drinking, but there is a slight herbal quality and a great balance that brings some depth to this wine, making it a steal for around $14. Li Veli is a producer from Puglia, and their rosato is jam packed with fruit. People often talk about Jolly Ranchers when describing rosé, and Li Veli is a classic example of this, but it finishes completely dry.

France: The French make rosé from all over, not just Provence. The Loire Valley has many different styles. Chinon Domaine de la Noblaie ($16) makes a Cabernet Franc version that tends to have a deep mineral texture. Sancerre rosés are made with pinot noir, which is often a little bit pricey (Romain Reverdy ($24), Lucien Crochet ($35)). However, they tend to be extremely elegant, beautiful versions of the style — a wine more suited to a meal than a pool day. Languedoc is chock full of good values and it’s always worth giving something from this region a try, as they rarely cost more than $15.

Spain: Traditionally, many of Spain’s roses were darker in color, heavier and often benefited from a little bit of age. These are definitely worth exploring. But first, try some of the great values from the country. Armas de Guerra ($14), made of mencia from Bierzo; Siete ($14), grenache from Rioja; and Olivares Rosado ($12) made of monastrell from Jumilla are all fruit forward, juicy, dry and extremely delicious.     

Austria: There are so many great Austrian rosés. They are often super bright and easy on the palate, making them easy drinkers. They are sure to please a crowd. Steininger, Mittelbach, Schloss Gobelsburg, Sattler and Landhaus Mayer are all great and under $20.  

California: Don’t forget the Sunshine State. Truthfully, many of the inexpensive rosés from California are mass produced, boring, plonk. Sorry. It might not be worth many disappointments to find the rare success like Toad Hollow or Alexander Valley Vineyards. However, there are some great expressions in the $20 to $25 range such as Broc Cellars, Railsback and Copain.

Lastly, you owe it to yourself to grab a bottle or two of the truly stunning wines. These are not swimming pool gulpers, but age worthy expressions full of contemplation and elegance. Pop one open with a nice meal and see the heights that rosé can reach. If possible, look for 2017 or even 2016 vintages, as these wines need some time to show their stuff. Clos Cibonne Tibouren ($27) is a truly stunning example from Provence. Domaine Tempier ($47) and Chateau Pradeaux ($30) make rich, full-bodied examples in Bandol, and Mathhiasson from California is putting Napa Valley on the map for world class rosé.

There really is a world of rosé waiting for you to explore, so dive in, try new places and grapes, and discover its diversity.




The Oregon Trail: Caravan to your local liquor shop for a pinot noir from Oregon — covered wagon not required

CoveredWagonThe first flowers sprout from the ground, and our thoughts turn to lighter fare and wine.  Pinot noir, with bright cherry fruit flavors, light body and purity, creates perfect synergy with everything spring. One failing of pinot noir, however, lies in the value the grape offers. Thin skins, small berries and tight bunches mean tiny yields and susceptibility to disease. While examples of $15 or less cabernet sauvignon and other grapes that show typicity and are delicious abound, the same cannot be said for pinot noir. Value pinot noirs usually are boring and insipid, funky and rustic in a not good way, or beefed up with syrah so the resulting wine no longer resembles pinot noir.

No other variety expresses the place it is grown quite like pinot noir. No other grape rewards a deft hand in the winery so well or punishes mistakes so severely. The grape has called Burgundy its home for 2,000 years, but if pinot noir has a second home, it is Oregon. The first vine was planted there fewer than 60 years ago, and the first bottling of Oregon Pinot Noir didn’t exist until 1967 (and Willamette Valley’s first bottle would be another three years away). Yet today, profound examples of the grape exist from dozens of producers. Oregon winemakers, often working together and sharing openly, have come to understand the soils and climates, and have learned which clones grow best where — and they did it at breakneck speed. Stunning single vineyard bottlings abound, with prices that match fine burgundies. But there is much more to find than these wonderful, but expensive, versions. 

In local wine shops, Oregon, where over the last decade climate change has resulted in riper, friendlier vintages, is the best place to look for pinot noir under $30. Producers of the entry-level pinot noirs from Oregon usually blend from a number of sites across the valley. While you lose the site-specific characteristics of a single vineyard bottling, you gain a wonderful example of both the producers’ style and the vintage, all wrapped in Oregon’s embrace. These elements result in an impressive number of delicious pinot noirs from Oregon in the $20 – $30 price range. It is the only region, and the only price point when it comes to pinot noir, that you can be pretty sure of success when randomly picking a bottle. You want to be more than pretty sure, though, so here are some of the best bottlings available in Rhode Island, all under $30:

Belle Pente: From pinot gris to chardonnay and beyond, all of the wines from Belle Pente are wonderful and worth hunting down. Their pinot noir offers a balanced and transparent expression of the vintage.

Kelley Fox: Look for the Ahurani Pinot Noir. Kelley Fox kneads the essence of the earth along with the grapes. If you are a fan of minerally wines (along with ethereal, exotic and haunting feelings), then you will be drinking a lot of her remarkable wines. 

Patricia Green Cellars: This mid-sized winery focuses on single vineyard wines, even bottling separate blocks and clones within vineyards. They make more than two dozen pinot noirs each year from some of the great Oregon vineyards. The Reserve is their blend, with dark red fruit and a hint of the savory qualities that many pinot philes go nuts over. It manages to be effortlessly delightful and slightly serious at the same time.    

Vincent Wine Company: Vincent Fritzsche is a one-man operation. His wines are incredibly pure, very classic and eminently drinkable. He also makes a gamay to die for, and I could devote a whole article to it.

Other safe bets: Natural Bent: Swick; Larger Wineries: Adelsheim, Foris, Willamette Valley Vineyards; Shouldn’t Forget: Patton, Holloran




Four Surefire Ways for Finding a Horrible Bottle of Wine

Most wine store carry hundreds, if not thousands, of different wines. It’s often difficult just figuring out which words on the labels are the place and which are the grapes. With no way of knowing, there are a few tried and true methods to make sure your chosen bottle is not very good.

Choosing the wine with the cutest/funniest/best looking label

This is the big one, the way an overwhelming number of people choose their wine. Here’s the catch: Those great labels are usually slapped on by giant wine companies after extensive consumer testing. It’s a great trick to keep anyone from focusing too much on the juice inside the bottle. Once they have that winning label, the wine is poured from towering  tanks and sugar added, water taken away, and a cocktail of powders, syrups, and the other 62 permitted additives allowed in wine are mixed in. A wine perfectly acceptable to as many people as possible is born. These wines are guaranteed to make sure you never utter wow after taking a sip. They are processed, commodified, disfigured and spit out of the giant metal plant that makes up the winery. After all, why should wine be made and treated any differently than soda or vodka? Unless of course, you are looking for something real, for the authentic, for something to take your mind away from Alexa and Siri, from your wearables and push buttons. Here’s a neat trick that works about 75% of the time. If the wine’s name is the name of a family or estate, it’s usually made by those people. For those willing to go the extra mile, look for the words “estate” or “produced by” in the fine print. That’s it. One of the easiest tricks for eliminating 90% of the wine that all tastes pretty much the same.

Buy Napa Cabernet Sauvignon

Everyone’s heard of Napa Valley. That’s where they make wine. Cabernet Sauvignon to be specific. Now I don’t have anything personally against Napa Cab. Sure, the wines are really expensive, and I have to admit that most of them taste like a wine milkshake, but in a good way. There are thousands of wine regions and wine grapes out there, much less expensive and made with a wild variety of different grapes, but those wines do not say Napa on them. Napa wines are so expensive, they must be the best. Are they the best? Who’s to say? (No, they most definitely are not. I said it.) It might, occasionally, just for research purposes, be interesting to look for something from a lesser known region or pick a grape with a hard to pronounce name. It might be likely, that whoever brought that wine from Austria into the store did so because it’s a great bottle of wine. One could surmise that the only reason to stock that Frappato is because it’s so delicious. After all, the wines from Napa sell themselves! Here’s another quick tip for the overachievers. If you find that Furmint from Slovenia utterly amazing, look at the back label for the importer. They probably bring in other wines that are equally wonderful.

Do Not Talk to The Wine Salesperson Standing in the Corner With a Notepad in one Hand and a Bottle of Wine in the Other

Sure, the odds are that person knows a lot about the wines in the store. I get it, there’s a good bet that said salesperson spends an extraordinary amount of their time thinking about wine. That is a little weird. However, it’s likely that they would love to share some of the thousands of hours of useless knowledge about wine with you, namely in quickly finding a bottle based on what you like and how much you would like to spend. It can be a bit odd, conversing with someone who works inside a building selling goods inside that building, who is desperate to find something that you will really like so that you come back to the store again instead of telling your phone to choose something and have it delivered. I do not mean to suggest that there is any sort of rewarding nature in such an interaction.

Buying the Cheapest or Most Expensive Bottle

The cheapest bottles in the store are almost always made by that large company that wants to suck your soul away. The most expensive bottle is made by a really rich guy who wants to tell his really rich friends that he makes a really expensive wine.  There are many wines in between these two points. At that $10 – $15 price point are lots of neat wines full of flavors and that fit any occasion. Hit that $20 price point, and things can get really interesting. Unfortunately, there is almost no correlation between price and quality in wine. However, as you play with different price points, searching for a bottle from an interesting place, from a quality importer, chosen with help from your new wine geek friend, the odds of wine success do increase exponentially. Then again, that bottle with the koala and the funny wine pun is so damn cute!




Got Wine? Here Comes The Sun

 

Thank God for spring. I don’t mean that as an insult to winter. I have no beef. If not for winter, I wouldn’t appreciate spring so much. How’s that for a New England sentiment? But these days, these times, I need a big ‘ole warm spring hug. Used to be, I’d pause and smile at the first sight of sprouting crocuses, then continue on with my day. Not any more. Now I prowl my yard looking for any sign of color, collapsing to the ground in desperation only to find that speck of purple is just a piece of litter blown from the road. I know the weather’s been pretty mild, but I need some rays of warm sunshine.  

Let us beseech the spring gods to bring their bit of brightness to the world, and I mean right now. We’re going to make/procure a meal, get some wine and wring what drips of hope and warmth we can from the burgeoning spring. For food, grill something up if you like grilling. Don’t feel like getting the grill out? Prepare something tasty and simple in the kitchen. Don’t want to cook? Order some decent take-out. The key is simplicity. Nothing too expensive, nothing too cheap. We’re looking for moderation here.

That goes for wine as well. Don’t go buy a magnum of that foot wine or blow $50 on an overpriced Napa Cabernet. No extremes. No best-of’s or just-getting-by’s. Remember: Moderation.  

Get to a wine store. Not a liquor store, a wine store. Where the employees spend a significant part of their lives thinking about wine. It’s strange, I know, but their odd predilection allows you to find cool wine and they can help you select even cooler stuff. This time you are going to look for or ask for Berger Gruner Veltliner. It’s about $17.

If they don’t have Berger Gruner Veltliner, then you aren’t really at a wine store. Exit and try again. You don’t want to take shortcuts here. The Bergers don’t take shortcuts. They farm organically. They make honest wine that tastes exactly like it’s supposed to, and they even put it in a liter bottle, so it’s like you are getting almost two glasses free. Two glasses free because they want you to be happy. Why wouldn’t you want to buy wine from this family?  

So you have your Berger Gruner Veltliner. You’re at home, and you have food. Have you been around people all day and need some alone time? Then it’s time to eat. Looking for some company? Invite a friend over. See if your neighbor’s hungry. Sure you could drink that liter all by yourself, and I’m not here to judge, it’s delicious, but sharing’s cool. You can always get two bottles. Trust me, you can’t have too many bottles of Berger.

That’s it. Turn the phone off. Put some music on, or turn the music off and just listen. Eat and drink. Take a look outside and look for signs of spring. Isn’t that nice?

Is there a note of white pepper in the wine? Probably, but let’s briefly note it and move on. The wine isn’t there to be analyzed, ranked, compared and contrasted. It’s there to drink. It’s easy and delicious. It’s just right. And spring is almost here. As Bek David Campbell told us, “Things are gonna change, I can feel it.”

Right, so you might not want to drink Berger Gruner Veltliner every day. There are probably other wines that fit the season. Let’s stick with wines that aren’t too cheap or expensive. Go talk to the wine geek you made friends with at the store. Tell ‘em you want a rose, a bottle of bubbles, a light red in the glou-glou style, and that you aren’t spending more than $20 on any of them. They work there, make them work. When you pop the bottle open, spend a few seconds or up to a minute thinking about the flavors and structure of the wine. Then take another sip and just think how delicious it is. Spring wants you to live in the moment; why fight it?