D. Ventura ’09 Vina Caneiro Ribeira Sacra

A sense of place, grape, winemaker and culture are the magic of what we taste in a great wine.

The photo above is of a tiny plot of 80-year old Mencia grapes on this almost vertical slate cliff hanging just above the River Sil in Amandi in the Ribiera Sacra region of Northwestern Spain.

This vineyard was hand-terraced over 2000 years ago by the Romans to produce wine for their armies and for scores of generations, has produced wine for Ramon Losada’s family.

Ramon, the winemaker, with his assistant Gerardo Mendez, scramble over these steep terraces, moving grapes around in dumbwaiters. Sweltering in the sun, cooled by the roar of the river at their feet, they are making this wine to share with us.

This story is what I taste in this remarkable glass of 100% organic Mencia that I’m swirling in a huge goblet, evoking aromatic scents of the Galician landscape as I jot down these notes.

I’m a big fan of Ribeira Sacra (map of wine region). There is something about this isolated, obscure, landlocked region that is unique unto itself. Geographically and culturally with a common thread of passion toward these ancient vines and hillsides that permeates many of the wines I’ve tasted.

There’s historical gravity that has drawn winemakers like Ramon back to his ancestral vineyards to make wine naturally, by hand, with techniques that are not dissimilar to how they produced wine a thousand years ago on that very grouping of  terraces.

Ramon Losado is one of my favorite winemakers. He is a veterinarian by profession; winemaker by birthright. The D. Ventura brand is named after his grandfather who taught him winemaking and includes three small vineyards in Ribiera Sacra.

I reviewed his D. Ventura ’07 Pena Do Lobo Mencia last year and talked at length about the area, his family and his approach to winemaking in that post.

The Vina Caneiro Mencia is distinct, even though both vineyards are on the hillside above the River Sil. The Viña Caneiro vineyard (pictured at the top of this post) is seriously steeper and hangs on top of the river. This keeps it cooler and makes for a different microclimate than Pena Do Lobo. As well, Caneiro is Losa (pure slate) while Do Lobo is slate and granite.

Both sites are planted in 100% Mencia, grown organically and hand harvested to insure that each cluster is fully mature when harvested. Only indigenous yeast is used to start fermentation. None of the wines are filtered or cold stabilized.

The ’09 Vina Caneiro Ribeira Sacra Mencia is a bold wine with lots of zest.

Bright fruit, lively acidity and strong but silky tanins. The bouquet is layered and pervasive even through the lingering finish.

I tasted a few bottles of this over a week. I decanted it, and got more from the bottle in large goblets with a lot of air. Mencia is an intense grape. This wine with 14% alcohol has deep fruit flavors but remarkably, with graceful balance. It’s riper and more full bodied than the Pena Do Lobo, but still distinctly Burgundian in style.

This is a satisfying red wine, great with grilled food or with nibbles of cheese. I spent the week tasting raw sheep and goat’s cheese from Spain with it and it seemed a natural fit.

At $23 a bottle, this is a steal. A taste that satiates and intrigues. A complexity that is smooth yet firm. And organic and made by hand just for you.

I bought mine from Chambers Street Wines. If they are out of this one and you can’t find it online, the Pena Do Lobo is a bit simpler to source.

A huge thanks to Christopher Barnes, Spanish wine maven at Chambers Street and a good friend, who has brought these wondrous wines to lower Manhattan. It’s a labor of love for him. We are the beneficiary of his passion.

Les Chais du Vieux Bourg ’07 Poulsard Cotes du Jura

I love the wines of the Jura…

The natural crispness, the delicate earthiness and the elongated bouquets are the unforgettable taste footprint of this tiny and obscure wine region in the foothills of the Alps on the eastern border of France.

This taste of place bridges the indigenous red varietals of Poulsard (like the Les Chais du Vieux tasted here), Trousseau and the field blends. Each vineyard in the Jura inherits it’s own unique micro-terroir. Each is noticeably individual but naturally stamped with the sleeping expectation of an unforgettable taste experience.

The reds from the Jura, lightly chilled, are natural wines of summer.

I’ve tasted many wines from all over the Jura and have yet to be disappointed. This bottle of Poulsard from the winemaking couple of Ludwig Bindernagel and Nathalie Eigenschenck is no exception. It’s a find.

Ludwig, a Bavarian by birth, and Nathalie, a Frenchwomen from Paris are newcomers to the wine world. They started their vineyard, Les Chais du Vieux Bourg, in 2000 with the first vintage in 2002. To my knowledge they have no previous heritage as vignerons nor formal education as winemakers.

But Ludwig and Nathalie have something else–palpable passion for the land and the grape, and a rigorous dedication to a non-interventionist and natural approach to wine making. From what I can taste, this is more than enough.

Their tiny organic vineyard of 2.5 hectares is in Arlay in the center of the Jura. The vines are 50-60 years old; the soil all marl and limestone. They produce only 1500 bottles yearly.

Ludwig, like many natural winemakers, believes that ‘wine is made in the vineyard’. No insecticides or chemical fertilizers nor machinery is used. Demeter biodynamic certification is in process.

The Poulsard’s are produced with no added sulfites.

Information about this wine making couple is scarce. You now know what I do.

But…I do know what I tasted in the ’07 Les Chais du Vieux Bourg Poulsard. And it is representative of the best of the Poulsards I’ve drunk from the Jura.

In the glass, there is an overt tanginess of cherry fruit that quite overwhelms even in the bouquet. You smell the taste before you sip it and it leaves a refreshing, aromatic and clean sensation that extends from the first sniff to the end of a long finish. This wine has its own fingerprint that is as familiar as it is pleasurable.

To place it in context with other great Poulsards from the Jura:

Ludwick’s Cotes du Jura Poulsard is pale and quiet in color in the glass, not dissimilar to the ethereal Domaine de la Tournelle ’04 Ploussard de Monteiller from Evelyn and Pascal Clairet. But this bottle is tangier and less delicate and more fruit forward.

Ludwig’s Poulsard is also less mineral and rich than the ’06 Poulsard “M” from the master winemaker, the ‘Pope of Arbois’, Jacque Puffeney.

But friendly and appoachable and just plain quaffable, like one of my favorites, the ‘08 Arbois Poulsard Old Vines from StephaneTissot.

It’s always difficult to suggest that you drink this Poulsard over another when the field is so superb. But after sharing a few bottles of the Chais de Vieux with both wine geeks and just casual wine lovers, I’m comfortable recommending this bottle as representative of the Poulsard grape and the Jura in general.

Try the ’07 with its soft acidity and delicate tannins over the more recent ’08, which was still well worth drinking but slightly less bright and still a bit tight to drink today.

The Chais de Vieux Poulsard is a perfect spring and summer rooftop wine. With or without food. Low in alcohol at 11.7% this is a no worry, satisfaction guaranteed bottle to share with friends.

Serve just slightly chilled. And don’t buy just one bottle as I guarantee it won’t be enough.

The ’07 is getting a bit hard to find but worth the search. Average price is around $27 a bottle. Check online at Chambers Street Wines in TriBeCa to see if there are any in stock.


Note that I await impatiently the detailed and personal notes from Sophie Barrett, Arbois maven from Chambers Street Wines who recently visited the Jura and stayed with Nathalie and Ludwig. I’ll share them when they are out.


Ganevat ‘09 Cotes du Jura J’en Veux



What a story this bottle of natural wine from the Jura tells…

It’s an inspired education in the detailed simplicity of biodynamic winemaking. And a cultural nod to the ancient tradition of field blends emphasizing the dominance of place over the individuality of the grape as the true signature of terroir.

The wonder of this wine is in its drinking pleasure. Round and fresh with a crisp mouth. Spicy red fruits, snappy tannins and a savory effervescence that is clean, alive and memorable. This is a rustic palate with natural crispness and uncannily refined.

Jean-François Ganevat is the iconoclastic Jura winemaker responsible for this natural treat. His family has been vignerons in the area for generations. He’s been making wine at his family domaine since 1998.

I’m a student of the wines of the Jura, located in east central France in the foothills of the Alps. But Ganevat is the first winemaker I’ve focused on from the southern part of the region. His vineyard is in the tiny Hamlet of La Combe above the village of Rotalier.

In the Jura there are over 40 different grape varieties grown, most indigenous to the area and quite obscure, and many cultivated only in the Jura region itself. On Ganevat’s tiny vineyard, 17 of these 40 grape varietals are grown, sometimes vinified separately for his Poulsards and Savagnins, and in the case of J’en Veux, all 17 are harvested and vinified together as a field blend.

I was first introduced to field blends, known as Gemischter Satz in Austria by young and talented winemaker Gottfried Lamprecht from the Styria region. I tasted his crisply delicious Buchertberg White field blend in Vienna last year. Gottfried is a passionate believer that field blends are the truest expression of terroir.

Field blends emphasize the dominance of the place over the grape.  Ganevat’s J’en Veux is a prime example of this. With J’en Veux you are literally tasting the Hamlet of La Comb not any of the individual varietals themselves.

Understanding the taste footprint of this bottle is less about the broad stroke of an organic or biodynamic approach– even though the vineyard is Demeter certified–more about the intense care and stewardship of the grape as the vessel of the vineyard itself.

J’en Veux is truly a handmade wine. Each grape is individually destemmed with a scissors, keeping every grape intact and unbruised. This maniacal attention to detail is painfully labor intensive with a 600-kg load of grapes taking 10 people a full day just to separate and remove the stems.

Add to this care, an extended elevage (aging) and a minimum of one year in tronconic (think cone-head shaped) wooden vats. Nothing is rushed. This is a gentle process with an eye towards creating a natural product that has time to discover itself.

J’en Veux has no sulphites added at all. While the wine is certainly ‘alive’ if you keep a bottle for a few days after opened, it is pure and and balanced and technically, quite perfect.

This is a wine of spring and summer. A chilled red with purity, natural crisp taste, refreshing, food friendly and alcohol light. When I shop for vegetables on an early Saturday morning at the Farmer’s Market, the fresh smells of the stalls makes me pine to cook and pair the food with a bottle of J’en Veux.

And this refreshing unique taste produced in a 100% natural way comes at a price of less than $30 a bottle.

Buy this if you can find it. Available at writing at Chambers Street Wines in TriBeCa, NYC.

Thanks to Sophie Barrett, Jura maven for recommending this bottle.

Photo credit to wineterroirs.

Cousin, Le Cousin Rouge Vielles Vignes Grolleau

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Can a bottle of wine be described as just plain fun and joyful?

Yes is the answer and the bottle that epitomizes this for me lately is the unusual and awe inspiring Le Cousin Rouge from biodynamic winemaker, Olivier Cousin from the Loire Valley.

Everything about this wine falls to the natural side of the center:

  • Certified biodynamic
  • 100% Grolleau. Ancient almost extinct grape entirely used for rose wine
  • Ancient vines, reportedly 80 years old
  • Winemaker’s notes state no sulfites

And everything about this bottle speaks to accessibility, enjoyment, and suspending disbelief.

I love presenting the story behind the bottle as I serve and taste wine with friends. I’ve brought out this bottle, maybe six or more times since Thanksgiving to both wine geeks and infrequent wine drinkers alike. And every time I’ve held back the story at first and let the wine speak for itself.

The result has been unanimous! This is a taste test winner every time I’ve uncorked a bottle.

Screen shot 2011-02-10 at 12.25.15 PMThis is just a terrific bottle of wine. Tastes pure and country and exuberantly buoyant and is strangely reminiscent of some the best Trousseaus from the Jura.

There is an earthy berry taste, ever so easy on the palate but focused and concentrated. You can taste the loamy minerality of the soil but it is crisp and silkily acidic.

Oliviere Cousin is an educator, mentor and coach of the biodynamic approach to wine making. He believes…and lives the belief that there is a harmony between man and nature and the intersection of that can be…and is to our benefit, his wine.

His vineyard is tiny, only 12 hectares in the village of Martigne-Briand in Anjou, in the Loire Valley. It is Demeter certified biodynamic. All work is done by hand with the help of his horse Joker. None or very limited added sulfites, no enzymes, no non-indigenous yeasts and no sugars added. And extended maceration period per the winemaker is the key to the character of the wine.

This bottle of Le Cousin Rouge Vielles Vignes Grolleau is not that easy to find. I purchased mine from Chambers Street Wines and they will have more coming in. Ping them and ask to be put on the list or search around online.

At $20 a bottle this is a treat. I would buy it at twice that and be content.

I incessantly lament that the best small production artisanal wines need to be remembered on the palate and in this blog as they are limited in production. What I do is set up alerts on Google by the winemakers name and buy the winemaker as he makes wine regardless of the vintage. So far, this strategy is working as while each vintage is different, its the place and the winemaker that are my trusted guides to something new.

Try and find wines by Olivier Cousin, imported by Jenny & Francois Selections. It’s worth the effort.

I and many of my guests have found this wine wonderful. Please do let me know what you think.

Ponce ’09 Manchuela Buena Pinta

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Juan Antonio Ponce is my trusted guide to the unusual…and the wonderful from Manchuela, Spain.

I first tasted his ’08 La Casilla Bobal last spring and was inspired with both the wonders of his wine and his approach to natural winemaking. I jumped at the chance to try his new offering, Manchuela Buena Pinta, a blend of Moravia Agria and Garnacha Tinta, two grapes that were completely unfamiliar to me.

Juan Ponce at 29 is a rising rock star of the Spanish wine world with his pulse on the natural rhythms of the Bobal grape. Viticulture and Manchuela are in his genes. Born into a grape growing family that has tended their high-altitude vineyards in Manchuela for generations, he returned home at the age of 23 after working with natural winemakers Olivier Riviera in Rioja and Marcel Lapierre in France to start a vineyard with his father on their generational and tiny plots of ancient Bobal vines.

The results of the Ponce family vineyard as I sip from the large goblet on my desk, are surprising, unusual and astounding.

Juan has managed to create clear, bright, layered, rich and very accessible wine from the tannic-ridden and highly acidic Bobal grape. He has been called the ‘prophet of Bobal’ but I prefer to think of him as a “Bobal and Manchuela whisperer”, working with micro-terroirs and grounded in a commitment to the core beliefs of biodynamics.

To Juan, terroir is all about individual microclimates–parcel-by-parcel, not vineyard-by-vineyard. He tends and picks and vinifies the grapes by each individual parcel, searching for the unique taste that starts with the soil and vine and the place itself. Whole clusters of grapes are hand harvested from each individual plot and are fermented separately before being combined to produce the cuvee.

While not certified biodynamic, he has a passionate dedication and a common sense understanding of the approach. When questioned about the logic behind a biodynamics, he stated simply that “If the moon is strong enough to influence the tides of the sea, why wouldn’t it affect something as equally natural as wine.” The superior qualities of his wines are a testament to the logic of his craft.

Only natural yeasts are used and partial carbonic maceration is employed in ancient foudres (open wood casks) to soothe the tannins inherent in these grapes.

I was emphatic about Ponce’s Bobal after I tasted it last year. I’m blown away by the Buena Pinta. This is something different altogether.

The ’09 Manchuela Buena Pinta bottling uncaps the unique characteristic of two obscure indigenous varietals. The bottle is 60% Garnacha Tinta (rumored to be from the last remaining parcel in his area) with 40% Moravia Agria, a local blending grape. This is the marriage of the ripe berries of the Garnacha with the herbal earthiness of the Moravia.

It’s hard to articulate the fingerprint from a non-interventionist winemaker like Ponce but the underlying freshness of this bottle and skeletal acidic structure with rippling fruit ties what he has mastered with Bobal to this Garnacha blend.

My friend and Spanish wine mentor, Christopher Barnes from Chambers Street Wines in New York talks about natural wines being alive in the glass. I agree but this wine is truly effervescent. Sparkling berry flavors, rich minerality and a bright herbaceous palate. Quite remarkable. Quite Delicious. Even more rare in a hot-climate wine with a rich grapes and high alcohol (14%) content. How you combine these elements to create something that is so light and springy and alive from a climate so hot, an altitude so high and from grapes so innately tannic and acidic?

The magic is in the bottle.

Juan Ponce is the native son of Mancheula and the ambassador for a completely new way to look at this region and its indigenous grapes. His wines speak to crisp honest purity that is permeated in a vivacious taste. He has created something that will please the world by discovering how to be uniquely itself.

Great with most all food; perfect with grilled meats and vegetables. Yet self-contained to hold its own as a complement to conversations and snacks. Or just to swirl and wonder and enjoy on its own

One of the pleasures of small producer artisanal wines is that they are each unique. One of the challenges is that the productions are low, thus sell out fast.

At $22 a bottle Ponce’s Buena Pinta is a must buy if you can find it. If you cannot, certainly drink one of his Bobals. All are reasonably priced. All I’ve tried are quite wonderful. Available from Chambers Street Wines online.

Watch this winemaker…and try these wines. If you like a luscious red with character, personality, zest and finesse, this is a winner.