10 Most Exciting Wines I've Had This Year Under $100

In addition to selling wine and having fun conducting wine tastings, I also believe in sharing things from my experiences that are great… just for the fun of it!  I want my friends to see the genius, quality, and overall pleasure in the things that have proven to be special to me.  The things that excite me the most tend to be food, & wine. But, who could blame me there?

Over the past year our pursuit in picking out the very best wines for OWC has allowed us to taste many (and I mean many…1,500+) wines.  70% of them being dull, boring, manipulated, or just poorly made. Along the way there have been great wines too, if I can get the right price they may even end up on the shelf at OWC.  But there are a select few that are special, not just “this wine tastes good” kinda special… no. I’m talking about the kinda special that wakes me up, makes me think, and alters my outlook of a wine or region… wines that truly ring my bell!  If you come across them, they might just do the same for you. Enjoy!!

 

#10 2014 Eyrie Vineyards Pinot Blanc Dundee Hills, Oregon

This winery is known for having the oldest Pinot Noir vines in Oregon.  This particular vineyard source has a cool climate and glacially-deposited soils. Organic viticulture is practiced here. The wine gives notes of lemon, wax and fresh cut flowers on the nose.  On the palate an explosion of apple, pear, peach, & saline finishing nutty and long with beautiful concentration. Gorgeous.

 

#9 2014 Revana “Terroir Series” Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley, CA

Thomas Rivers Brown is at the winemaking helm here, and it shows. This one man is responsible for turning out multifaceted, high-end wines at several top Napa properties (Outpost, Schrader, Maybach, Rivers-Marie, Hestan, Kinsella, Jones Family, Pulido-Walker, Revana, Gemstone…. just to name a few).  This is one of those wines that does all the work for you. It is delicious in every sense of the word.  It is powerful yet light on its feet.  It has incredible depth, but alcohol is in check. It has the ability to age but drinks so great now. Flat out impressive.

 

#8 2015 Domaine le Sang des Cailloux Vacqueyras “Cuvée de Lopy” Rhone Valley, France

As most of you know, the 2015 vintage all over France was one for the books.  The warm, even growing conditions led to wines of tremendous depth & complexity with lots of fruit.  Loads of deliciously ripe fruit allowed early drinkability.  I LOVE THIS WINE, here’s why…Sang des Cailloux is a producer that makes wines that are typically more “Northern Rhone” in style, meaning that instead of getting the quintessential ultra-ripe, baked fruit with a touch of white pepper that Southern Rhone is known for, the wines from S.D.C. seem to be much fresher (picked earlier?) and a bit more reserved.  The S.D.C. wines are wound a little tighter than most and have wonderful precision.  Those traits in a warm vintage creates magic my friends.

 

#7 Domaine de la Cote “Memorious Vineyard” Pinot Noir Sta Rita Hills, CA

This is one of Cali’s hot new wines…and is the brainchild of Rajat Parr & Sashi Moorman.  Raj, a former Sommelier and Sashi, a former Chef have joined forces to make Burgundian style Pinot Noirs drawing inspiration from Volnay.  This wine is Exotic!  Copious amounts of cherry-cola, strawberry, rhubarb, and fresh cut flowers on the nose. The palate is explosive with dynamic fruit, pronounced sea salt, and amaro tones.  The stem inclusion gives this wine extra dimension and a rounded-out finish.  Unlike any other California Pinot Noir that I’ve had in the past, just thrilling.

 

#6 2015 Jean Chartron Puligny Montrachet (Clos du Cailleret) 1er Cru Monopole Burgundy, France

Not to be confused with Maison Chartron et Trébuchet, (Jean Renés joint venture with Louis Trébuchet). Jean René Chartron has produced some incredible wines in the 2015 vintage (known more as a year for red wine than white).  As the only owner of the Clos du Cailleret Vineyard in Puligny, Charton is trying to make a name for this wine.  On the nose, tons of mineral, lemon oil, and flint.  The palate has incredible tension between the striking tones of pear, green apple, lemon, mineral, and the deep rich bass notes of custard and bruleé.  All these nuances are kept bound to the playful acidity that this wine possesses.  This wine is dynamic, it stands tall above the rest at this price point.

 

#5 2014 Evening Land Seven Springs Estate “La Source” Pinot Noir Eola-Amity Hills, Oregon

These guys are killing it!  Again, the dynamic duo of Sashi Moorman & Rajat Parr strike gold in Oregon, with one of Oregon’s most prized sites the Seven Springs Estate. As close to a Burgundy as one can find from the U.S. in terms of style. This wine has profound tones of cranberry, tart cherry, raspberry, cedar, and porcini mushroom.  In the mouth the wine is an open-knit spectrum of fine tuned fruit that feels natural and untouched.  Just a beautiful expression of Pinot Noir that is complete and round but not too round…just right.

 

#4 R.H. Coutier Blanc de Blancs Disgorged 02/2017 Ambonnay, Champagne, France

Ambonnay is home to some of the most lauded Champagnes on the planet earth. Not to mention some of the world’s most expensive Champagnes.  Notes of roasted almonds and toast fill the glass with aroma. Big, full, rich tones of custard and lemon-meringue wrap the tongue while a whipped like texture sends the tiny bubbles cleansing the entirety of the mouth.  The finish is accented with praline and marzipan leaving you wanting another sip.   Drop dead sexy wine chalked full of class.

 

#3 2012 Clos du Clocher Pomerol, Bordeaux, France

2012 was not an incredible vintage for Bordeaux by any means.  However, the Merlot on the right bank came in perfectly in ‘12.  I’m not sure why its not talked about more. This wine is wide open right from moment the cork is pulled.  Classic Bordeaux tags on the nose, cedar, plum, spice, & lavender.  This wine thrills me with its incredible velvety texture.  Smooth as can be with cassis, blackberry and Damson plum giving way to a long finish that is generous and full.  The 75% Merlot, 25% Cabernet Franc blend in this vintage is the secret in the sauce on this beauty.

#2 2013 Cantina del Pino (Ovello) Barbaresco Piedmont, Italy

I have been a big fan of Renato Vacca (Cousin of Aldo Vacca/Produttori Del Barbaresco) ever since I met him six or seven years ago.  The guy gets it. He embraces tradition but is also open to new ideas about making better wine.  The proof is in the pudding. Ovello is one of Barbaresco’s outstanding vineyard sites and this wine coming from a top vintage is something special.  When you taste this wine, it awakens you. Its as loud, but as refine and beautiful as a church bell when struck. Impeccably balanced for the depth that the wine shows with thick black, and red fruits soaring from the glass.  The finish is marked with the unmistakable essence of licorice and cola.  This excites me because the wine can be drunk now but will be an absolute stunner in another 5-7 years.  It reminds me of something that Luca Currado of Vietti once told me “A great young Nebbiolo is like an incredibly beautiful woman that’s always pissed off” …..LOL!!  Give the wine a little time, it will be much calmer, and it will be even better!

 

#1 1999 Chateau Musar Bekaa Valley, Lebanon

Wow! What a wine. Its beautiful characteristics are seared into my brain. This is a blend of equal parts Cabernet Sauvignon, Carignan, and Cinsault. This wine starts off broad and rich with a bouquet of crushed roses with accents of mint. Beautifully balanced with tons of energy and transparency. The wine shows rich and lifted but incredibly light on its feet. Already complete and gorgeous but there are tannins behind the exotic fruit and brilliant freshness. Still quite youthful for having 19 years of age.  This was on the table with other very, very expensive wines and it was every bit as impressive….my favorite wine of the year!  Not only an extreme overachiever, but a top-quality wine at any price point. I have a new-found respect for this winery and region after tasting this wine.  In the words of Ferris Bueller …“it is so choice, if you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up.”

Natural Wines

Natural Wines….

“Natural wine” is one of the hippest terms in the wine world, but it’s also one of the most misunderstood. The biggest questions are “Isn’t all wine natural?” followed by the counterpoint “Is any wine really natural?” but neither are that useful in the genuine pursuit of knowledge. Knowing how wine is made isn’t essential to enjoying wine, but understanding the process of making wine helps one appreciate the work of winemaking and the wonder of terroir.  Natural wines promote responsible and sustainable vineyard practices with as little synthetic treatment as possible (i.e. the use of pesticides, herbicides, fungicides, Mega Purple, Ovo-Pure, Isinglass, liquid oak, oak chips, & sulfur.)  All winemaking begins with grape growing, and most every winemaker or serious brand marketing sheet will profess that “Great wine is made in the vineyard!”, but the truth is much more elaborate than that.

There is a far edge of natural wines, but also another side: traditional wines that use old-school techniques, or very careful and deliberate modern techniques to most clearly express terroir.

vin de terroir / vin d'excellence / vin de soif

new school natural vs old school natural

Winemaking is an ancient practice, with a history of going back more than 8,000 years. Advancements in grape growing and winemaking occurred throughout the millennia, but the most impactful have been made in the last century. Synthetic nitrogen fertilizer, developed to make bombs and abundantly available after the First World War, allowed much larger harvests than ever before, but created new problems, like an excess of weeds. The mechanical and herbicidal solutions to weed control created issues of their own and the solutions to those problems yet more to deal with.

Organic farming attempts to prevent this cycle by approaching farming from a holistic perspective, using the processes of nature to grow crops that are healthier and need less intervention. Clean, healthy grapes have everything they need to turn into wine and should not need any additives. Growing grapes organically is the first essential element of natural winemaking, though the grapes may not be certified. In addition to growing grapes without the use of synthetic chemicals, practices like cover cropping, horse plowing, composting, and dry farming can contribute to healthy living soils and, in turn, robust vines that bear compelling fruit. These practices don’t make any location produce great wine, but allow a good site planted with right variety to fully express itself. Grape vines will naturally produce a large crop load and quality can suffer, so working a vineyard by hand to reduce yields can improve ripeness, and harvesting by hand will ensure that only the best fruit in made into wine. These techniques are not unique to “natural wine” and are standard for most high quality wines, but cannot be achieved with the industrial-scale production of big-brand wines.

At this point the subjective decisions of the winemaker become important. Though not a requirement, many natural winemakers pick their fruit earlier, seeking a wine of moderate alcohol with a balanced acidity that does not need to be edited in the winery. Grapes that are grown cleanly will have a natural yeast culture on the skins, and the use of added yeast, especially laboratory-made yeast, is disallowed by all definitions of natural winemaking. Most conventional wines have sulfur dioxide added before fermentation to control the process and prevent oxidation, but the tendency within natural winemaking is to use none before fermentation and as little as possible after. There are a wide range of opinions regarding other techniques, including temperature control, mechanical aeration, oak aging, and filtering, but heavy fining and filtration is frowned upon, and the highly manipulative processes like reverse osmosis and chaptalization are always disallowed.

When the base knowledge about what goes into winemaking is applied, one can fully understand the point: crafting and appreciating wines that have a connection to nature, and even better, to a place, encompasses the core makeup of the natural wine movement.  Some natural wines at the far end of the spectrum are downright funky and have no terroir, and even a rather feral character that can be raw & unpolished to the uninitiated, but loved by some natural wine enthusiasts. Most wines that follow a natural philosophy and meet all of the technical points are clean, well-made, and reflect their origin. Some of them are even historical estates that have always made wine the old way, or adopted more modern practices of the decades but decided to get back to the essentials.

Wines that have a pure disposition and reflect their place of origin are the types of wines we at O.W.C. seek to have on our shelves.  This is why you will not see many of the same name brands typically found at local “Gourmet Markets” or Grocery stores here.  We don’t believe in promoting mass-marketed wines that are full of synthetics.

The wines listed are a sample of some of the natural wines that can be found at Old Woodward Cellar.

Domaine Charvin - Châteauneuf-du-Pape, France

Ampelia - Costa Toscana, Italy

Guy Breton - Regnie Beaujolais, France

Occhipinti - “Il Frappato” Terre Siciliane, Italy

Domaine de Roally - Vire-Clesse Burgundy, France

Domaine de la Pinte - “Pinte Bien” Poulsard Arbois Jura, France

Domaine Zind Humbrecht - Pinot Gris Alsace

Dr Burklin-Wolf - “Burklin Estate” Riesling, Germany

Artuke “Pies Negros” Rioja, Spain

Ermitage du Pic Saint Loup “Guilhem Gaucelm” Languedoc, France

Pedra Basta Vinho Regional, Alentajano, Portugal

Domaine Lupier “El Terroir” Old Vines Garnacha Navarra, Spain

Fento “Xabre” Mencia Blend Bibei, Spain

By: Jarred Gild & Nick Apone

If you drink wine north of $50 per bottle you should be using these...

Old Woodward Cellar has secured the sole exclusivity to retail Zalto Glassware in the state of Michigan. The look, the design, and more importantly the impeccable balance of Zalto stemware has us in awe!!   The Burgundy glass is the very best stem on the market. Just ask one of the Sommeliers at the worlds top restaurants that refuse to use anything but Zalto i.e. (The French Laundry, Le Bernadin, Brooklyn Fare, Bouley, Eleven Madison Park, & Per Se to name a few.)

The glass has such a unique design, lots of time and science went into developing such a high-end glass that you can put in the dishwasher...wait what?!? Yup it's true, dishwasher safe.  Their reasoning behind why the glasses look as they do is almost extraterrestrial..“The curve of the bowls are tilted at the angles of 24°, 48° and 72°, which are in accordance to the tilt angles of the Earth. The ancient Romans utilized this triumvirate of angles with their supply repositories, finding that produce stayed fresh for a longer time, and that it also showed improved taste. Due to these cosmic parallels, we believe that a wine can reach its utmost potential in a Denk`Art (the official name of the line) glass, developing everything that is possible in the nose as well as on palate, due to these cosmic parallels.

Don't laugh... most highly acclaimed winemakers also believe in and grow their vineyards using a bio-dynamic approach. Not only is it organic, it is seen as the purest form of farming.  Long story short, they are better wines and better glasses. Try the Burgundy glass for Pinot Noir's young Chardonnays, Nebbiolo, even high end Grenache, and Corvina. It will provide an out of this universe experience.  If you drink good wine all the time, why use an inferior stem that you can buy at Target?