Drouhin, at home and abroad

When entertaining friends who don’t spend an inordinate amount of their time thinking, drinking and writing about wine, I’m sometimes peppered with questions: How did you get into writing about wine? What do you look for in a wine? What makes one wine better than the other?

So last night, rather than talk all evening, I opened two wines as examples: The Drouhin-Vaudon Chablis 2014 from Joseph Drouhin, and the Roserock Pinot Noir 2014 Eola-Amity Hills from Drouhin Oregon. Same family, different terroirs, two delicious wines.

img_4781The Chablis was pure chardonnay — not in the sense of being unblended, but in that it tasted of fruit and little else. It wasn’t puffed up with oak. It didn’t need to be. The wine was full-bodied without being heavy, and it seemed to channel the chalky soils of Chablis. It was an excellent partner for dinner (grilled chicken, sage sausage, spicy jicama salad).

The pinot noir was quintessential Willamette Valley: smoky dark fruit flavors and a pitch-perfect balance. It was a beautiful wine to savor on the patio on an unusually cool August evening.

When I mentioned that Oregon pinot noir is my go-to wine whenever I feel sad or melancholy, I ignited another line of questions — from my wife. But that’s another story.

Posted in Burgundy, Food and Drink, Oregon, Pinot Noir, Wine | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Wednesday wine recommendations, 8/2/2017

Here are some more wines for summer: An enjoyable sparkler to get the party started, two rosés to help set the patio mood, and a substantial red to wash down those hefty meats off your grill.


Le Clos des Caillou Chateauneuf-du-Pape 2013


Rhone Valley, France, $40

I’ve always liked this wine for its elegance and sophistication, in contrast to many Chateauneufs that are overpowering with alcohol at 15 percent or higher, and because it’s made from organic grapes. It has also been a consistently good value. This vintage is creeping up in price and maybe alcohol, but it retains its finesse. Decant it an hour ahead to let the fruit flavors emerge. Alcohol by volume: 14.5 percent.

Distributed by Dionysus: Available in the District at Mom’s Organic Market, Rodman’s; on the list at Mirabelle, Marcel. Available in Maryland at Balducci’s and Bradley’s Food & Beverage in Bethesda, Mom’s Organic Market (Rockville). Available in Virginia at Balducci’s (Alexandria, McLean), Mom’s Organic Market (Alexandria, Arlington, Fairfax, Herndon, Woodbridge).


Domaine du Pas de L’Escalette “Ze Rosé” 2016


Languedoc, France, $20

One of my favorite producers from Languedoc produces this delicious rosé, with soft fruit and deceptive acidity that reveals itself only with food. This one shines with fruit, especially summer-ripe peaches and berries. ABV: 12.8 percent.

Distributed by Elite: Available in the District at Arrowine & Spirits, Cork & Fork, Cork Market, Schneiders of Capitol Hill, Streets Market; on the list at 701, Acadiana, Range. Available in Virginia at Arrowine & Cheese and Twisted Vines in Arlington, Bottle Stop in Occoquan, Cheesetique in Alexandria, Market Street Wine Shop (Uptown) in Charlottesville; on the list at Choices by Shawn in Fairfax, Pomme in Gordonsville, Saison in Richmond.


Famiglia Corsarini Rosato First Press 2016


Italy, $11

This is a delightful, zesty rosé with crisp strawberry flavors up front and watermelon and cantaloupe on the finish. ABV: 12 percent.

Distributed by M. Touton Selection: Available in the District at Capital City Wine & Spirits, Eye Street Cellars, Rodman’s. Available in Maryland at Bethesda Co-Op in Cabin John, Meridian Market & Wine in North Bethesda, Old Farm Liquors in Frederick.


Nicosia Vulka Etna Bianco 2015


Sicily, Italy, $22

Mount Etna produces some intriguingly delicious wines, including this white, a blend of carricante and catarretto grapes. This needs food to show its best, don’t drink it as a cocktail. ABV: 12.5 percent.

Distributed by Lanterna: Available in the District at A. Litteri, Cleveland Park Wine and Spirits, Connecticut Avenue Wine & Liquor, Daily 14 Liquors, Grand Cata, Rodman’s; on the list at Dino’s Grotto, Floriana, Iron Gate.


Salasar Crémant de Limoux


France, $16

This spritely sparkler is a delightful way to transition a hot summer’s day into twilight and evening. Don’t think champagne, just think fun. It’s fruity and crisp with just a hint of sweetness, more from the fruit flavor than any residual sugar. ABV: 12 percent.

Distributed by Elite: Available in the District at Ace Beverages, Argonne Market, Eye Street Cellars, Quincy’s Liquor Store, Sherry’s Fine Wine & Spirits, Streets Market; on the list at B Too, Ici Urban Bistro, Kingbird. Available in Maryland at Decanter Fine Wines in Columbia, Fenwick Beer & Wine and Snider’s Super Foods in Silver Spring, Finewine.com in Gaithersburg, the French Paradox Wines in Stevenson, Georgetown Square Wine & Beer in Bethesda, Petite Cellars in Ellicott City, Vintage Cellars in Clarksville, Wine Cellars of Annapolis; on the list at Dish & Dram in Kensington. Available in Virginia at Bottle Stop in Occoquan, Libbie Market in Richmond, Loki Gourmet in McLean, the Wine Guild in Charlottesville; on the list at Del Ray Café and La Porta’s in Alexandria, Patowmack Farm in Lovettsville, Requin in Fairfax.

(Originally posted on washingtonpost.com on July 22, 2017.)

Posted in Bargain Wines, France, Italy, Sparkling Wine, Wine | Tagged | 1 Comment

Grgich Hills celebrates 40 years in Napa Valley

Grgich Hills Estate celebrated its 40th anniversary this weekend. The winery was established by Mike Grgich and Austin Hills in 1977, and was Grgich’s breakout after the Judgment of Paris in 1976. That was the famous tasting in which the Chateau Montelena 1973 Chardonnay, which Grgich crafted, bested some of Burgundy’s best chardonnays as judged by a panel of top French tasters. In the four decades since, Grgich Hills has been a steady producer of top quality Napa chardonnay, sauvignon blanc (labeled as Fumé Blanc) and cabernet sauvignon.

I was not able to attend the celebration at the winery, but I did have the privilege of interviewing Mike Grgich last year for my feature in The Washington Post on the 40th anniversary of the Paris tasting. We met in Grgich’s old house just north of Yountville, in Napa Valley, which the winery still owns. When I arrived, Grgich, who is well over 90 and walks with difficulty due to spinal stenosis caused by a winery accident, serenaded me with “You Are My Sunshine.” As a writer, I’ve been buttered up and slathered in lard in many ways, but this was the only time I’ve been serenaded by a Napa Valley legend.


With Mike Grgich in Yountville, California, in April 2016

Since I wasn’t able to be at the winery celebration, I opened the Grgich Hills 40th Anniversary Chardonnay 2014 to toast the occasion. The winery had sent me a sample of this wine, which is rich and opulent with roasted stone fruit flavors and great acidity to balance its richness. The new oak is quite generous, more so than on most Grgich Hills chardonnays, I believe. So this 40th anniversary Chardonnay may be even better for the 45th anniversary, after the new oak integrates a bit better. But the great fruit we have come to expect from Grgich Hills is there, with an opulent mouthfeel and great finish.

Happy anniversary, Mike!

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Wednesday wine recommendations, 7/26/2017

Okay, so it’s actually Thursday, and deadlines and baseball intervened. But here are some wine recommendations to help you slake your summer thirst. Rosé of course, including a top-notch Sancerre and a fun one from Italy, plus three delicious whites – two from Italy, one from Spain.


Kevin et Christian Lauverjat, Moulin des Vrillères Sancerre Rosé 2016


Loire Valley, France, $23

This rosé of pinot noir is textbook Sancerre, with bright cherry and strawberry fruit and a core of minerality familiar to fans of the region’s more famous sauvignon blanc. Just delicious – and with wide availability in the region. Alcohol by volume: 12.5 percent.

Distributed by Elite: Available in the District at Batch 13, the Bottle Shop, Burka’s Wine & Liquor, Chat’s Liquors, Connecticut Avenue Wine & Liquor, Gallagher & Graham Fine Spirits, Georgetown Wine & Spirits, Harry’s Reserve Fine Wine & Spirits, Mac Market, Magruder’s, Metro Wine & Spirits, Morris Miller Wine & Liquor, Sara’s Market, S&R Liquors, Streets Market, Tenley Mini Market, Wagshal’s Deli, Whole Foods Market (various locations), Wine Specialist; and on the list at many restaurants. Available in Maryland at Annebeth’s in Annapolis, Bradley Food & Beverage in Bethesda, College Square Liquors in Westminster, Cranbrook Liquors in Cockeysville, Dawson’s Liquors in Severna Park, Finewine.com in Gaithersburg, Fairgrounds Discount Beverages in Timonium, Graul’s Wine & Spirits and Wine Source in Baltimore, Highland Wine & Spirits in Highland, Landover Liquors in Landover, Old Town Market in Kensington, Red Run Liquors in Owings Mills, Shawan Liquors in Hunt Valley, World Gourmet Wine & Beer in Potomac. Available in Virginia at Balducci’s (Alexandria), Cheesetique (Ballston), Culpeper Cheese Co. in Culpeper, Dominion Wine & Beer in Falls Church, the Grapevine and the Town Duck in Warrenton, Libbie Market and Shields Market in Richmond, Norm’s Beer & Wine in Vienna, Streets Market in Alexandria, Whole Foods Market (Alexandria, Arlington, Pentagon City, Reston).


Fantini Cerasuolo d’Abruzzo 2016


Abruzzo, Italy, $10

This amusing wine is lively with acidity, a little unusual for Italian rosés, which often are a bit heavy. Cerasuolo means “cherry,” referring perhaps to the bright, light pink hue the wine earns from spending six hours on the grape skins after pressing. The variety is Montepulciano d’Abruzzo. This wine is gulpable by itself but will pair well with seafood dishes or light appetizers. ABV: 12.5 percent.

Distributed by Bacchus: Available in the District at Burka’s Wine & Liquor, Gallagher & Graham Fine Spirits; on the list at Centrolina, Dino’s Grotto, Fig and Olive, Il Canale, Urbana. Available in Maryland at Bay Wine & Spirits in North Beach, Ceriello Fine Foods (Brewer’s Hill) in Baltimore, Giolitti Fine Italian Deli & Market in Annapolis; on the list at Grano Emporio in Baltimore, Scossa in Easton, Touch of Italy in Ocean City.


Valdrinal de Santamaria Rueda Verdejo 2015


Spain, $10

This delicious white wine is an ideal way to start a meal or to accompany light fare such as seafood salad. It tastes like just-ripe peaches and a hint of citrus. ABV: 13 percent.

Distributed by Stefano Selections: Available in the District at Calvert Woodley, Chevy Chase Wine & Spirits, Connecticut Avenue Wine & Liquor, Potomac Wine & Spirits, Sheffield Wine & Liquor Shoppe; on the list at Silo. Available in Maryland at Bristol Wine & Spirits, Hampden Park Liquors, the Happy Grape, Mt. Vernon Supermarket and Wells Discount Liquors in Baltimore, Decanter Fine Wines in Columbia, Dulaney Wines & Spirits in Towson, Eastport Liquors in Annapolis, Fireside Deli & Wine Shop in Swanton, Liquor Pump in Parkville; on the list at Deep Creek Seafood in Oakland. Available in Virginia at Grand Cru in Arlington, Planet Wine & Gourmet in Alexandria.


La Mesma Gavi 2015


Italy, $18

Light and slightly floral, this delicate white wine makes a nice match for salads and lighter pasta dishes.

Distributed by Elite: Available in the District at Broad Branch Market, Paul’s of Chevy Chase, Quincy’s Liquor Store; on the list at Centralina, Lapis, Oval Room, Radici, Salt Line, Urbana. Available in Maryland at Beards Hill Liquors in Aberdeen, Frederick Wine House in Frederick, Mt. Washington Wine Co. in Baltimore, State Line Liquors in Elkton, the Wine Bin in Ellicott City, on the list at Gnocco in Baltimore, Pure Wine Café in Ellicott City, Viniculture in Frederick. Available in Virginia at Arrowine & Cheese in Arlington, Bottle Stop in Occoquan, Cheesetique (Ballston), Ellwood Thompson’s Local Market in Richmond, Streets Market & Café in Alexandria, Whole Foods Market (Fair Lakes, Tysons); on the list at Bistro 360 in Arlington, Sefton Coffee in Richmond, Trattoria Villagio in Clifton.


Indigenous Verdicchio dei Castelli di Jesi 2015


Italy, $16

This white wine is medium-bodied and full of ripe tree-fruit flavors. The vintage was riper than usual, so it doesn’t have the marine salinity verdicchio typically offers, but it makes up for it with extra fruit. ABV: 13 percent.

Distributed by Hop & Wine: Available in the District at Cork & Fork, Rodman’s. Available in Virginia at Altura Wine & Gourmet in Alexandria, Oakton Wine Shop in Oakton.

Originally posted on washingtonpost.com on July 8, 2017.


Posted in France, Italy, Spain, Washington Post, Wine | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Almaviva: Chile’s grand opus turns 20

Almaviva is now 20 years old. This is the joint venture between Viña Concha y Toro, one of Chile’s largest wine companies, and Baron Philippe de Rothschild SA, the parent company of Chateau Mouton-Rothschild in Bordeaux. Almaviva was launched in 1997 as a Chilean-Bordeaux partnership akin to Opus One, Mouton’s joint venture with the Robert Mondavi Winery in Napa Valley. The goal was to combine French winemaking with Chilean terroir and craft an icon wine for Chile that could stand among the best in the world.

I visited Almaviva earlier this month while in Santiago to judge the Catad’Or wine competition. Almaviva is located in the Maipo Valley on the outskirts of Santiago, just beyond where the freeway ends, though I suspect that description won’t last long as the city continues to expand. The winery draws upon the legends of the Maipu peoples, and the name means “living soul.”

Continue reading

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Lots of excitement in Chile and Argentina

My recent visit to South America reminded me there is much to be excited about with Chile’s wine scene – and I hardly scratched the surface. Winemakers are exploring new regions, and rediscovering old grape varieties. Large wineries are pursuing “icon wines,” while independent mom-and-pops are crafting soulful vino at very affordable prices.

Chile’s big problem – at least here in the US – may be its image as a producer of cheap plonk. As my friend Alfredo Bartholomaus, the now-retired importer who popularized Chilean and Argentine wines in the 1980s and 1990s through his Billington Imports, likes to say: “Chile made the mistake of coming into the US long ago at $1.99 a bottle. Once you fix that price in the consumer’s mind, you can’t go up.”

Luckily, I didn’t have to drink the cheap plonk while I was there. My main purpose for going to Santiago was to be one of 45 judges from 12 countries evaluating wines for the Catad’Or wine competition, an annual, privately run judging now owned by Pablo Ugarte, a former rock musician in Chile. The competition featured 636 wines from 150 wineries in seven countries; mostly Chile, but also Argentina, Brazil, Uruguay and even Australia. Ugarte aims to highlight the wines of the “southern cone,” and he organized separate categories for small producers and what he called campesinos, or farmer wines, to be sure we weren’t focusing solely on the icon wines. With very few exceptions, the wines my panel tasted impressed me with their quality and consistency across these categories.


Some of the judges for the Catad’Or wine competition in Santiago, Chile. I’m hiding in the back. (Photo: Catad’Or)

And I was interviewed by CNN Chile.

Argentina doesn’t necessarily have Chile’s reputation for cheap wine, though there’s plenty of inexpensive Malbec to go around. Argentina’s excitement remains the exploration of the Andes foothills and the “alluvial fans” that brought granite and limestone down from the mountains when the glaciers melted. In an all-too-rushed visit on my last day, I toured the spectacular new winery the Zuccardi family built in the Uco Valley, a 90-minute drive south of Mendoza. And during a visit with the Catena Zapata team, I enjoyed a fascinating (and frigid) vineyard visit and tasting in Gualtallary.

There are some common themes in Chile and Argentina, which I will write about in future posts. And these won’t be unfamiliar to wine fiends in general. Everyone seems to be doing electro-magnetic mapping of their vineyards to identify their “micro-terroirs.” The name of Pedro Parra, a winemaker and vineyard consultant known as Chile’s “Dr. Dirt,” is whispered with awe and reverence by his clients. It’s hard to walk through a vineyard without tripping into a soil pit. Many vintners are dialing back on new oak and high alcohol, believing the “international style” of wine masks the true expression of their vineyards. Several winemakers described their efforts in identical language, so that I began to wonder if Wines of Chile and Wines of Argentina had distributed official talking points for 2017. But the wines were delicious.

And of course, the scenery was magnificent. More to come …


The quality of the wines at the Catad’Or competition was impressive. (Yes, the glasses look empty, but there were plenty of wines to taste. Photo: Erin Kirschenmann)

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Wednesday wine recommendations, 7/19/2017

We’ve had some glorious summer days of late, so to celebrate here are two new rosés as scene-setters to slake your thirst, plus a savory pinot noir, a white Burgundy and a fun Malbec.

Domaine de Fussiacus Saint-Véran 2015


Burgundy, France, $21

“Fussiacus” is the ancient Roman spelling for the town of Fuissé in a part of Burgundy known for producing some the world’s greatest chardonnay. This beauty is another reminder to buy 2015 vintage wines from France — any part of France — whenever we can find them. The ripe vintage chardonnay produces something akin to peach cobbler in a glass: Think juicy, sweet peaches with a buttery biscuit topping. Then drink it in. Alcohol by volume: 13 percent.

Distributed by Elite: Available in the District at Cleveland Park Wine and Spirits, MacArthur Beverages, Whole Foods Market (Foggy Bottom); on the list at Le Diplomate, Matisse, Mirabelle. Available in Maryland at Fairgrounds Discount Beverages in Timonium, Friendship Wine & Liquor in Abingdon, the French Paradox Wines in Stevenson, Reds Wine & Spirits in Kingsville, SoCo Fine Wine & Spirits in Deale; on the list at Ouzo Bay in Baltimore. Available in Virginia at Dominion Wine and Beer in Falls Church, Grand Cru in Arlington, Libbie Market in Richmond, the Town Duck in Warrenton, Vino Market in Midlothian, Whole Foods Market (Alexandria, Arlington).

Brooks Pinot Noir 2014

Willamette Valley, Oregon $28

This wine was reticent when I opened it, as though it didn’t like being called to perform just yet. But a half-hour or so later, it opened into a lovely, savory wine with dark berry fruit and more than a hint of earth. ABV: 13 percent.

Distributed by Country Vintner: Available in the District at S&R Liquors; on the list at DBGB Kitchen & Bar, Del Frisco’s Double Eagle Steak House, Mirabelle, Squash on Fire. Available in Maryland at Old Line Fine Wine, Spirits & Bistro in Beltsville; on the list at Artifact Coffee and Grand Cru in Baltimore, Carrol’s Creek Cafe in Annapolis, the Dish and Dram in Kensington. Available in Virginia at Oakton Wine Shop; on the list at 2941 in Falls Church.

Great Value
E. Guigal Cotes du Rhone Rosé 2016


Rhone Valley, France, $16

From a top producer in the northern Rhone Valley, this rosé is a perennial favorite. It offers strawberry flavors, a hint of herbs, and good value. ABV: 13.5 percent.

Distributed by M. Touton: Available in the District at Best in Liquors, Cairo Wine & Liquor, Capital City Wine & Spirits, Capitol Hill Wine and Spirits, Eye Street Cellars, Pan-Mar Liquor, Rodman’s, Sherry’s Fine Wine & Spirits. Available in Maryland at Bethesda Co-Op in Cabin John, Crestwood Liquors, Old Farm Liquors, Riverside Liquors, Village Mart Beer & Wine and Ye Old Spirit Shop in Frederick, Downtown Crown Wine and Beer in Gaithersburg, the Old Vine and Smitty’s Liquors in Baltimore, Silesia Liquors in Fort Washington. Available in Virginia at Wegmans (various locations), Whole Foods Market (various locations).

Great Value
Petit Jammes Malbec 2015

Cahors, France, $13

Fans of Argentina’s malbecs should check out Cahors, the region in southwestern France that specializes in the grape. Cahors can be rustic and tannic, but this little charmer is more polished and modern in style. Enjoy it with red meat from the grill, takeout kebabs, pizza . . . you get the idea. ABV: 13.5 percent.

Distributed by Dionysus: Available in the District at New York Liquor Store, Rodman’s. Available in Maryland at Balducci’s and Bradley Food & Beverage in Bethesda, Wine Source in Baltimore. Available in Virginia at Balducci’s (Alexandria, McLean), Unwined (Alexandria, Belleview).

Great Value
Beauvignac Syrah Rosé 2016

Pays d’Oc, France, $10

This is a straightforward, delicious rosé, with berry and melon flavors and loads of refreshment. ABV: 13 percent.

Distributed by Kysela: Available in the District at Grape Intentions, Magruder’s, Morris Miller Wine & Liquor; on the list at the Black Squirrel. Available in Maryland at Eddie’s Liquors in Baltimore, Finewine.com in Gaithersburg, Libations in Millersville, Maple Lawn Wine & Spirits in Fulton, Orion Wine & Spirits in Frederick, Petite Cellars in Ellicott City, Port of Call Liquors in Solomons, Wine Loft in Pikesville. Available in Virginia at Culpeper Cheese Company, Kroger (various locations), Wine Seller in Williamsburg.

Availability information is based on distributor records. Wines might not be in stock at every listed store and might be sold at additional stores. Prices are approximate. Check Winesearcher.com to verify availability, or ask a favorite wine store to order through a distributor.

(Originally published July 1, 2017, on washingtonpost.com.)

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