My Favorite Wines of the Year Available for Christmas
Vacqueyras, Vermouth, Cava, Riesling
Holiday Wines 2021
Wow, it feels surreal that it's already almost Christmas! I know: Christmas and Thanksgiving are always the same distance apart and I shouldn't be surprised but every year it's a sprint to get everything done. It's been a crazy year and we're sending it out with a bang! Here's a short list of the wines I'm particularly excited to celebrate with and where to find them.
Anima Mundi Cami del Xops
Find it at X Vault, Friends and Family, The Vault in Lewiston, Store Ampersand, Craft Curbside, Maine and Loire, Meridians, Stompers, Now You're Cooking, and Vessel and Vine
We picked up Anima Mundi only about a month ago and it completely blew me away. I cleaned Jose Pastor out of what they had left. I feel that on value this is the best sparkling wine in the Devenish portfolio!
The vineyards are in the Costers d’Ordal and have extremely calcareous soils from the nearby Garraf Massif mountains. The winery is close to Barcelona but west and on the far side of the Garraf Massif so they are sheltered from the sea. Agusti works with no additives, including sulfur, to let the Anima Mundi speak clearly.
Cami dels Xops is a blend of Macabeu and Xarel-lo from two adjoining parcels. The grapes are wild yeast fermented in stainless steel tanks and old 225L French oak barrels, then bottled before primary fermentation has completely finished (with about 20g/L residual sugar) in the métode ancestral style.
Aroma: lovely vivid lemon! Also wildflowers, viburnum, and white lilac? Freshly squeezed orange and a tiny little hint of honey.
Taste: so creamy and smooth with superfine bubbles, but it has mouthwatering acidity up front that perfectly balances the creaminess and gives it this wonderful tension. It's so beautifully fresh and perfectly balanced. It opens lemon citrusy then this fizz and froth and hint of toast on the mid palate. The finish has more golden fruit and some lemon zest and fades away with bewitching elegance.
Agusti Torello Roca is the wine maker at his family's winery (called AT Roca after him) which specializes in Champagne method wines in the newly created Penedes Classic DO. Anima Mundi is different though and just Agusti working on his own. Agusti dreamt up Anima Mundi as his own project to explore unique terroirs outside of the Spanish DO system. He's a big believer in creating wines that let the terroir speak clearly and the name Anima Mundi basically encapsulates his philosophy. Anima Mundi is a theory of Plato’s, first described in his dialogue Timaeus: “we may consequently state that: this world is indeed a living being endowed with a soul and intelligence...a single visible living entity containing all other living entities, which by their nature are all related.” Often called the theory of the “soul of the world,” Plato imagines this soul as the expression of the unity of the orderly natural world and the sum of its relationships: It is the our bonds to nature and each other and a holistic vision of nature and humanity that inspires reverence for the world, nature, and our place within it.
Guglierame Ormeasco 2019
Find it at: Browne Trading, Now You're Cooking, Stompers, Solo Cucina, and Meridians
This is probably the last vintage to be made by the Guglierame family here as they've sold their vineyards this year. They were the oldest producer here and the family has ben here for approx 800 years. It's fitting they're closing out with such a brilliant wine.
Aroma: red currant, red rose, blackberry, bay leaf... the aroma is enticing and bewitching! Fresh ripe fruit combined with gentle heady aromatic spice; it's dark, sleek, irresistible but also fun and not intimidating.
Taste: juicy raspberry/blackberry, brambly; the balance is perfect. The first flavors that hit you are fresh juicy red cherry and black raspberry but they come with some hints of lavender, thyme, and black olive. The mid palate evolves into this gorgeous plum flavor before gentle tannins sneak in along with a woodsy flavor to draw out the finish. This is so good; the acidity and fruit and tannin are all so well balanced. This tastes like an excellent elegant older Bordeaux! It's really eye opening.
I visited the Guglierame vineyard back in 2017 and it was so incredible it was kind of hard to believe it was real. We drove through empty forest and steep switch backs to cross from Piedmont through the Alps and into this northern corner of Liguria. The town of Pornassio is an ancient mountain hamlet about 10K from France. It felt so remote and like a step back in time... the Guglierame family has been here for many hundreds of years and are the oldest wine maker in the area. They're also the largest in town with.... 2.5 hectares! In fact there are only 3 producers left in Pornassio now. The Guglierames make their wine in the tiny ancient but clean cellar under their tiny castle that if I recall correctly dates back to the 1200s. The vineyards are up above 550m above sea level in the low Alps and are right at the limit of how high grapes can be planted here and still ripen. They exclusively grow a unique local version of Dolcetto that ripens much later, has larger berries, and producers (in my opinion) deeper wines. The grape is locally called Ormeasco. The Guglierame brothers farm organically and make the wine with no additives or interventions beyond a small dose of sulfur for bottling. They're making wine the way their parents taught them, it's hardly changed since pre industrial times. Production is miniscule and I can only ever get a few cases.
This 2019 vintage is the best I've ever had. Sometimes the Alpine climate can make these wines too austere, but 2019 is perfectly balanced: deep, powerful, but also nuanced. It's a very special wine. Which is fitting because this is the last vintage the Guglierames are making. The two brothers are approaching 70 and felt it was time to move on from yearly wine making. The castle is staying in the family but they've decided to sell the vineyards on. The new owner will keep them and make good wine from them, but it won't be the same, it won't be the same direct line to pre industrial life here in this part of the Alps. It's fitting that one of the last vintages-maybe the last- is such and impressive tour de force of what this land and these vines can do.
The view from the back of their little castle looking down the valley towards the Mediterranean just out of sight.
The Guglierame vineyards with snow covered Alps just beyond
Partida Creus MUZ 1L
Find it at: RSVP, Cheese Shop of Portland, Now You're Cooking, Vessel and Vine, Stompers, Monte's, Blue Hill Wine Shop, and Maine and Loire.
Partida Creus MUZ! Old school authentic Vermouth made by Antonella and Massimo in Penedes Spain. This is all the holiday season flavors rolled up and packed into a brilliant looking litre bottle. The aroma is super impressive and dynamic with ginger, cardamom, orange peel, candied cherry, blood orange, sandal wood....it goes on and on. On the palate it is quite juicy with a vivid balance of zippy acidity, ripe fruit, and aromatic spices. Fresh cherry and raspberry up front with lively acidity is followed by some salt and dark blood orange, then more of the aromatic spices come in and it's like a whole Christmas feast of flavors!
Antonella and Massimo were architects in Piedmont Italy who relocated to Spain for work. In the early 2000s they decided to move to the country for a slower pace of life...and what better thing to do in the Spanish countryside than make wine? They started ferreting out abandoned little old vineyards and convincing the locals to rent land to them. Now they make some of the most exciting natural wines in Penedes including this Vermouth along the lines of an old recipe from the Carpano family.
Domaine de Montvac Vacqueyras 2018
Find it at: Now You're Cooking, Monte's Fine Foods, and Meridians
I'm so excited to have grabbed the last of the excellent 2018 vintage of Cecile Dusserre. Cecile is a very talented wine maker and makes some of my perennial favorite Rhone wines. This is Grenache based, of course, from the rocky hillsides of the Montmirail hills and it is as opulently sunny and hedonistic as you could want, but it has perfect poise and support from tasty minerality, bright acidity, aromatic herbal notes, and integrated tannins. This is a showstopper without being "loud".
Aroma: spicy black cherry and pepper. It smells warm and sunny: lush dark fruit and red roses with a little hint of vanilla. Then there's also a high toned rosemary and thyme behind the fruit aroma. It's exactly what you want and expect: rich, serious, and expressive
Taste: ripe black cherry followed by black pepper, a hint of cooked orange, a touch of cloves, then some reduced cherry, more black pepper... the rosemary and dry angular tannins follow and taste completely in balance with the wine. There's something almost a little smoky in the mid palate and then the tannins of the finish make me think of the rocky hills these grapes were grown on. This serious wine has lots of presence but it is so well-balanced and elegant!
Originally founded in 1860 Domaine de Montvac, the winery has been passed down through 3 consecutive generations of women. Cecile is the current owner/winemaker and organically farms 22 hectares in Vacqueyras and Gigondas. The vineyards are exposed to the Mistral wind that comes down out of the Alps to the east and helps to dry and concentrate the grapes. The wind is intense though and Cecile has planted trees through the vineyards to provide shelter from it as well as shade. The vines are densely planted massale selection (cuttings from her own existing vines) but grafted so they can resist phyloxera.
Koehler Ruprecht Kallstadt Riesling Kabinett Trocken 2020
Find it at: Monte's Fine Foods, Bangor Wine and Cheese, Store Ampersand, Maine and Vine, Maine and Loire, Bleecker and Greer, Now You're Cooking, Terracotta Pasta, Meridians, Friends and Family, Riverside Butcher, Cafe Louis, and Helm
Louis Dressner is famous for many of their French and Italian (Tarlant, Mosse, Puzelat, Occhipinti, La Stoppa, Foradori) wine makers but Koehler Ruprecht was actually one of the wine makers that first drew me to the Dressner portfolio. These wines are exquisitely well made and very well priced. I kid you not: I ordered this wine back in March and it is just arriving now! The problem was actually that my PO got lost and wasn't submitted but still! Koehler Ruprecht makes wines that are excellent expressions of their vineyards and classic German wine culture. Wine makers Dominik and Franzi are quite skilled and also love the vineyards and cellar they're responsible for: it's that mix of seriousness and playful passion that I see in many of the wine makers I respect.
Aroma: bright fresh and citrusy! Lemon, clementine orange, fresh mango, apple blossoms and a very gentle little hint of ginger. This is lovely vivacious young Riesling at its best!
Taste: wow! Vivid acidity dressed with lovely fresh ripe orange and cooked lemon fruit but immediately there's also a delicious saltiness on the sides of my palate. There's a perfect gentle hint of spice in the mid palate and then a delicious subtle toasted meringue/baked pastry taste to the finish. This combo of mouth watering tasty salt and vivid acidity is fantastic!
While Koehler-Ruprecht has existed since the 1700's, it was Bernd Phillipi's hard work over the last 30 years that solidified the winery's world class reputation. Bernd's biggest inspiration was his grandfather, and the wines reflect an attitude of winemaking more akin to the 1900's than the 2000's. In the vineyard, no irrigation, or herbicides are ever used, and systemic treatments against pests or fungal illness were kept to a minimum, only in the rare cases when necessary. In the cellar, long spontaneous fermentations occur in large, old German oak barrels with extended lees contact. Nothing is ever added to or subtracted from the wine, and sulfur is only added moderately after alcoholic fermentation and before bottling.
Today, Bernd has moved on to winemaking projects all over the world (Germany, Portugal, South Africa, consulting in China...), and no longer has any role at Koelher-Ruprecht. Since 2008, viticulture/cellar duties have been passed on to Dominik Sona. Dominik is young but already a seasoned veteran: prior to landing at Koehler-Ruprecht, he's worked at Neiss, Kuhn, Van Volxem, Flowers, Littorai and as estate manager for J.L. Wolf. Already a fan of the winery before getting hired, he has vowed not to change a thing in the winemaking process. A few years later, he was joined by Franziska Schmitt; both are omnipresent but Franzi has over the years taken most responsibility in the cellar.
Devenish is now distributing the conservas (tinned fish) of Abel Alvarez in Asturias Spain! Abel's seaside restaurant, Gueyu Mar, is famous summer destination, but the cold stormy winter weather makes the coast a ghost town. So Abel spent years researching and trying out techniques for canning fish. It's paid off and these are recognized as some of the best in the world. The conservas are all fresh fish Abel buys at market for the restaurant, grills over an oak wood fire at Gueyu Mar, and then immediately tins it with fresh local olive oil.
They're delicious and really fun to play with. Think of them as an ingredient that is all cooked and ready to go. Just open the can, heat it, and then serve the fish with whatever you want to add. I've had the grilled tuna steak with diced scallions, olives, some tomato, and a bit of calabrian chile. The Octopus was great chopped, served over fried potatoes, with some sea salt sprinkled on it.
You can find these at Browne Trading in Portland, Bangor Wine and Cheese, Blue Hill Wine Shop, Maine and Loire, Havana, Sawyer's Specialties, Bleeker and Greer, Solo Cucina, and Trillium Caterers.
I warmed up a tin of octopus on the stove last night, served it over fried potatoes with sea salt sprinkled on it, and it was fantastic!
Maybe it's just me, but I think it's so cool to pull a full octopus tentacle out of a can!
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