All day, every day, the Lushes have been searching and exploring…challenging our palates to expand as we try new grapes, regions, producers, and styles. We have discovered what we adore, what we LOVE and what do not care for. And, we discovered that our tastes have evolved, twisted, turned, and ended up in new places, the same places, and places we never imagined we would go. As a staff, we have a very eclectic, bizarre, and sometimes frightening taste in all things fermented.
Set to task, dedicated to choosing our very most favoritest wines, we set a very strict set of criteria…we want outrageous quality for the cash, of course, but we also require craft winemaking, juice that speaks of where it comes from and that inexplicable, intangible, expression of something extraordinary.Our staff picks of the year are titillating, intellectual stimulating, and definitely remarkable…unforgettable, even. So, we are memorializing our favorites of the year in this year end rewind.
So, without further ado, the LUSH Wines of the Year, 2011. Ha. No, silly, you have to come to the tasting to get a sneak peek and a secret sip…
Sundays with LUSH: Staff Picks
Jess T. -
NV Domaine Berthet-Bondet Cremant du Jura, Jura, France – Chardonnay and Savagnin
The Jura. Nestled alongside the Swiss border, this is the sort of picturesque terrain that beckons travelers with views of both the wooded Jura Mountains and the snow-capped French Alps. Archeologists have found vines that date back over 5,000 years; making this some the oldest wine country in France. However, this little nook of grape goodness only accounts for about 1% of the total French wine production. On parallel with Burgundy, the similar suspects Pinot Noir and Chardonnay make their presence known, though more obscure varietals, like Trousseau, Poulsard, and Savagnin do not go unrepresented.
It is in the Jura that the eminent vin jaune and vin de paille are produced. Chateau-Chalon is a legendary exponent vin jaune, a unique style in which fermented juice is left to age in sealed wooden barrels for six years. During this time a flor develops, think similar to fino sherry, but unfortified. This quirky number is meant to age, and generally has appropriately dynamic price tag. For vin de paille, grapes are left to dry either hung from rafters in heated buildings, or by using wire mesh/wicker trays. Clusters will eventually shrivel up into highly concentrated, near raisins, which are pressed to produce sweet wine of amber color and extreme longevity.
Neither Jean Berthet-Bondet nor his wife Chantal had an explicit family background in the winemaking industry. The domain was purchased in 1984, after 50 years of non-existent wine production, and brought it back to life. It encompasses 10 hectares that span both the Chateau-Chalon and Cotes-de-Jura appellations. Production includes still whites and reds in classic or “sous voile” styles (not topped up, so wine evaporates and a layer of yeast sets of the surface), vin de paille, Grand Cru de vin jaune, eau de vie, Macvin du Jura liqueur; quite the varied range of products to select from.
I adore their Cremant du Jura, a fabulous sparkler blended from Savignin and Chardonnay grapes. Creamy, yet mineral; honeyed nuts, orchard fruits, quince, and orange blossom all seam to float in these tiny, refined bubbles. Underrated, underpriced, and unpretentious, this is exactly the style of bubbly I would drink all day, everyday.
Elena Walch Gewurztraminer, Alto Adige, Italy
So. Gewurztraminer. I love it. I have a sweet tooth. Like many young ladies, it was one of the first wines I drank before venturing beyond the land of residual sugar. But that’s what’s so great about this grape. If you need it to be, it can be baby steps into dry mineral and complex wines. I cut my teeth on German Gewurz. But oh man. Italy. They do things to this grape you never thought possible. And I went through so much of my wine loving years not knowing how freaking fantastic their version of this grape is. This wine was enough to make me immediately dabble into the history of where this swoon-worthy version comes from: northern province (Alto Adige) in Italy. Ahem…
Alto Adige has changed hands from the Romans to the Austro-Hungarian Empire and back to the Italians, and it has collected a potpourri of tradition and technique in its viticulture. In fact, German is still spoken and is used for many of the wine names; and for this population, Alto Adige is known as Südtirol. Here in the mountain slopes and hillsides the indigenous Lagrein thrives and the noble Pinot Noir is at its best on Italian soil. The site is also fabled to be the origin of Traminer grape. It is so mountainous in these parts that only 15% of the land can be cultivated – and this miniscule number represents less than 1% of the wine produced in all of Italy. However, quantity is not the focus in these ancient vineyards – the region boasts the highest proportion of DOC wines in Italy. Much of the exported wine goes to Austria to cater to their need for quality red wine and the little that does make it to the States is scooped up quickly.
But enough about that. How does this damn fine wine taste? Aromatics are out of control. Quite like standing under a shower of white blossoms, with fresh white peaches, freshly juiced ginger and yuzu fruit, with a single lychee fruit just cracked. The palate is alive, literally, with bright, prickling acidity, but a lovely play at sweetness that is balanced by very tart and acidic fruits and a bit of jasmine and honeysuckle.
I don’t know much Italian, but I know Mi piace molto! And dammit. Mi piace molto questo vino (I really like this wine!)
Forlorn Hope ‘Sihaya’, California – Ribolla Gialla
Mister Matthew Rorick. The dashing, daring, anthropologist turned enologist, is all about pushing boundaries, playing with the vines, and loving wine. After taking a departure as the full-time winemaker at Elizabeth Spencer, Rorick has dived straight in to solely producing his own wine. His ‘rare creatures’. Those with just the thinnest slice of hope to succeed. But, ‘success’ has many definitions, and I am all about the taste, the experience, and loving it. And, oh honey, I love this wine. I am obsessed with the quirky, weird, and on the fringe.
Sihaya is all about a balance of form. This wine is round in all the right places, lean in others, textured and layered, and delicious. With extended skin contact and wild fermentation, not to mention bio-dynamic farming, this wine is a peek into the direction winemaking in the U.S. is taking in near future. Get on board.
This wine just floored me upon first sniff. The aromatics are wildly aggressive, with yellow pear, sweet cream, and lavender blossoms. A dusting of cardamom. The palate is just waves and waves of layered flavors, with lemon curd and caramel, cinnamon, baked pear and juicy pear, stones and salt, coriander. The texture is beautiful, and tangibly viscous. Afforded the 7 days of skin contact during fermentation, the tasty morsels in suspension, and the lively acid, this wine suggests that it will absolutely continue to evolve for years. $26.50
Domaine St. Nicolas ’Gammes en May’, Fiefs Vendeen, Loire, France – Gamay
This was my perfect wine of the summer. Light and beautifully bright with an enticing minerality and exciting little whiffs of salt-air, this was the red I wanted to sip on the days of 90 degree temperatures and bbqs. We’re in the cold grip of winter now, but this wine still reminds me of warmer times.
Biodynamic, 100% gamay from vineyards not so much kissed as bullied by coastal winds. The effect of these winds keeps the vines low to the ground (as in so low harvesters have to crawl to pick the grapes) and makes them have to fight to produce. A little adversity tends to be just what vines need to produce the most delicious and intensely flavorful grapes. Thierry Michon of Domaine St. Nicolas is so committed to Biodynamic production, that over time he has purchased ‘buffer’ land around his property. These land parcels help prevent chemicals from other winemaker’s fields from drifting onto his vines. Biodynamic practices help bring out the truest expression of terroir in the wine. No interference, just the vines, the soil, that salt-laden ocean air, the climate, all coming through in your glass. $19
2009 Littorai, Sonoma, California – Pinot Noir
My love affair with Littorai began about 2 years ago when I tried 2008 Littorai Vin Gris, a vintage that was marked by a devastating wildfire in California. The result? A beautiful rose. So unique, so incredible, demonstrating just how influential grapes truly are to their terroir. This was an awakening moment for me. And since then each bottle of Littorai wine I try produces the same result. An awakening moment where I get it. I get the wine.
So Ted Lemon has been called the Michael Jordan of the wine world by the self proclaimed Prince of Pinot, William “Rusty” Gaffney, M.D. I kinda have to agree with this statement, although, perhaps he is a bit less known. After he graduated Brown University, Ted (yes, we are on a first name basis) received a fellowship to study winemaking at the Universite de Bourgogne. In France. He apprenticed at some rather impressive estates. And in 1982, when Guy Roulot, winemaker and patriarch of the Domaine Roulot, passed away, Roulot’s widow asked friend and famed winemaker Jacques Seysses for a suggestion on a replacement winemaker. His response… Ted Lemmon. A 25 year old American. And that is how Ted Lemmon became the first American person to run a Domain in Burgundy. Dude. Ted Lemon rules. Seriously.
Fast forward a number of years. Ted, now back in California with his wife Heidi, felt that there had to be an untapped region in California that could create the style of wines they had in mind: terroir driven age worthy Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays. After searching sites that led them all the way to the Mexican border and up to Northern California, they settled in the coastal regions of Sonoma, Mendocino and Anderson Valley. At the time these were not Pinot Noir making regions. Now, without question they are.
Backed by the belief that great wine is made in the vineyard, Ted farms organically and biodynamically. The “Les Lamers” is actually a blend of multiple lots from Lemon’s Anderson Valley parcels. These are the grapes that didn’t make the cut to the really expensive wines. And I couldn’t be happier!! Composed of declassified fruit from Cerise and Savoy vineyards and intended for earlier drinking, the 2010 Les Larmes Pinot Noir is to me how Pinot Noir should behave. Dirty yet classy. At the same time.
Valle dell’Acate, Vittoria, Sicily, Italy – Frappato
I seriously heart this wine, and if anyone took a look at my purchases last year (please don’t!) there’s a very good chance I drank at least a case of this wine, and enjoyed every drop of it! Soft and juicy, this is a perfect wine to drink in the afternoon, with dinner, or at 1am on a Thursday night while pretending to be a rock star* (don’t ask). Either way, you get the point, it’s so delicious any time of day. Bright and fresh, with a lingering finish, this is also a great wine to pair with a number of foods. Pasta with a little spicy sauce? Done. Roasted chicken? You bet. Going to a byob? This is your wine. Try it, you’ll probably love it just as much as I do. $19.50
2010 Altos las Hormigas ‘Las Liebres’, Mendoza, Argentina – Bonarda
2011 was a tumultuous year–one that I will always remember for its worldwide protests, economic crises, “austerity measures,” and also a personal commitment to try and save money, perhaps under a mattress where one of the evil banks couldn’t get it. For this reason, I have selected this delightful, $10 red as my choice of the year. It can’t always be baller bubbles or swanky Savennieres. A girl needs some wine with her meal, and on a Tuesday night, it’s not going to be a $40 bottle. I’m certain that many of you will agree.
One of the things we Lushies do very well is weed out all the crappy stuff at this price point, and bring in only the wines that are interesting, have character, and represent a fantastic value for the price. This bonarda is one of them. A fairly obscure Italian grape (hey, I am still a wine nerd, even at the $10 level!) that made its way to Argentina, this wine is the brainchild of some really fancy Italian winemakers: Marc de Grazia, superstar winemaking consultant Attilio Pagli, Le Terrazze’s owner Antonio Terni, Alberto Antonini of Antinori, and Antonio Moreschalchi. They have mostly focused on producing high end, single vineyard malbec, but this little gem reflects a certain quirkiness, and a tendency to want to introduce something a little different to their customers.
Buoyant red fruits and a hint of herbaceous characteristics prevail, and, unlike many “cheap wines,” the palate has a definitive beginning, middle, and finish. The body is medium weight, with fairly high acid, thus making it an ideal food wine (pizza or Mexican have both worked nicely for me), but the fruit is just juicy enough to appeal to the drinker who just wants a glass or four, no food necessary, thank you. And last but not least, the label is awesome. “Las liebres” means “the hares,” and ever the animal lover, I couldn’t resist. Cheers. $10
Kiuchi Brewery Hitachino Nest Beer “XH”, Japan – Sake-Cask Aged Beer
The barrel-aged madness is not only continuing into 2012, but there’s a good chance that it’s hitting the mainstream full force. While the beer nerds might pout and claim that Bourbon County Stout has sold out and that Darkness was too hard to get, there’s others who know some secrets. Specifically, that Hitachino has been brewing their own barrel-aged beauty for almost a decade now. Aged in distilled sake (shochu) casks for three months, the beer has a similar malt profile to their classic Nest beer. But three months of mingling with the fruity rice sugars in the Shochu barrels and a bit of chocolate malt put this squarely into the Belgian strong ale category. A floral and woody nose leads to a rich, beautiful body of concord grapes and dark chocolate. Everything gets wrapped up in a mix of oak and hops that keeps the tongue fresh and ready for another sip. Delightfully, dangerously easy to drink for an 8% beer!
Founder’s Porter, Michigan
In today’s craft beer culture there’s such a push to do the experimental, barrel-aged, lactobacillus, brettanomyces, 1000+ I.B.U., or ultra high alcohol beers that it seems that the well crafted, balanced, and easily drinkable beers fall by the wayside. That’s not to say that Three Floyds Dark Lord, Goose Island Bourbon County Stout, Russian River Consecration, Dogfish Head 120 Minute IPA and other large and/or difficult to get beers aren’t excellent, but there is much to be said for a balanced, flavorful, and sessionable beer. Founder’s Porter is an excellent example of exactly that. It’s a moderate 6.5% American Porter that skirts the line between roasty, hoppy, chocolate, and malt so well that it’s a joy to consume with all senses. In a time when Ghost Chilis are making their way into beverages, and people are enjoying things that would have previously been considered infected, it’s nice sometimes to take a step back to the subtly complex tastes of an expertly crafted, well balanced, and absolutely excellent beer. This beer wasn’t chosen to be counter culture, but to showcase a beer that may get overlooked for the rare and extreme. It also has the bonus of never being in short supply!