July 2008

Corti Brothers Grocery Store is a Sacramento institution; and for locals truly interested in food and wine, a necessity. That they recently lost their lease at the 59th and Folsom location came as a shock to me. It’s hard to imagine the store anywhere else (even though the East Sacramento location isn’t the original one) because it has been at that corner since I was a little girl. It is where my mom went every Christmas season to find the obscure ingredients for her antiquated fruitcake cookie recipe. And it is where I go now to do the majority of my wine shopping. It is also hard to imagine a more desirable tenant than Corti Brothers, but I have a feeling money has something to do with it. A “natural-organic crossover market” is what East Sac has to look forward to instead. I am beyond thrilled that Darrell has decided to move to another spot rather than choose this unfortunate moment to retire. Let’s hope he lands somewhere in the grid!


For the most part Spanish wine disgusts me. It rivals California and Australia in making overripe, modern, high alcohol wines with no sense of history or tradition. It wasn’t always this way. There are many glorious spanish wines, Sherry foremost among them. I also like Txakoli, some Rias Baixas, Godello from Valdeorra. Mostly white wine from the very northern regions. And I like traditional (versus modern) style Rioja with age. The best possible examples are found in the wines of Lopez de Heredia. This family run winery (Maria Jose is the current proprietress) has been making wine for 130 years in the town of Haro. Rioja wine as we know it has a strange and relatively short history. In the mid-19th century, when the phylloxera plague decimated the vineyards of France, winemakers from Bordeaux set up shop just over the Pyrenees in Spain. They brought their techniques, including extended barrel aging, and started a wine tradition which Lopez de Heredia extends today. If there is one thing that makes this winery, or bodega, stand out, it’s the fact that they do extended barrel aging followed by a long period of bottle aging for their reds, whites, and even rosés. The current rosé release is the 1997 vintage (and it is wonderful!). Rioja has about seven grape varieties allowed in the appellation, but the Tempranillo is the main player, followed by Garnacha (Grenache), Mazuelo (Carignan), Graciano. The whites are made with the Viura (also called Macabeo elsewhere in Spain), Malvasia and Garnacho Blanco grapes. Lopez de Heredia has four vineyards: Vina Tondonia (the family jewel), Vina Zaconia (which makes the wine called Vina Gravonia), Vina Bosconia, and Vina Cubillo.  Vina Tondonia makes the most elegant, long-lived wines, and Vina Cubillo makes the simplest, easiest drinking wines. All the wines ferment in large, old oak barrels with natural, native yeasts. Then they age in 225 liter barrels made from American oak (barrels made on their property, in their own cooperage) for 3 to 6 years. After being fined with egg whites, the wines are bottled, unfiltered, by hand directly from the cask. Then the wines undergo extensive bottle aging, especially the Gran Reservas. In Rioja, there are classifications which indicate how much age a wine has: Crianza, Reserva, and Gran Reserva. Lopez de Heredia tends to outdo the minimum aging requirements by a large margin. I believe the most current Gran Reserva release is from 1987, 21 years old! I recently attended a luncheon featuring the wines of Lopez de Heredia. It was held at the Union Square restaurant B44. The highlights for me were the following:

Vina Bosconia 1981 (still tangy after all of these years)

Vina Tondonia Rosado 1997 (it was interesting to note how it deepened in color as it was exposed to air. Notes of cherries and hazelnuts)

 Vina Gravonia Blanco 1996 (spicy apple, fresh, not very oxidized)

 Vina Tondonia 1987 (cedar and cinnamon notes, pretty but still young)

 Vina Tondonia 1964 (earthy, funky, dried cherries and pits, tangy cherry fruit on the palate)

And not pictured, and my favorite of all time: the Vina Tondonia Blanco 1981 (nutty, rich, coffee and hazelnuts).

Just when you think you’ve got a handle on the “important” growing regions of the world, you get a tip on a winery in Slovenia.  I discovered Movia a couple of years ago in New York.  These wines were fairly readily available on wine lists at some of the more interesting restaurants.  I had a lovely Pinot Nero at ICI.  The store where I worked sold the crazy “Lunar” bottling, along with a more sane (?) Ribolla Gialla and their second label Vila Marija Pinot Grigio.  The Pinot Grigio was simple, refreshing, and vibrant with a certain honeydew quality to it.  The Ribolla Gialla was also nice, very floral and mineral.

The Lunar, also made from the Ribolla Gialla grape, is an extraordinary bottle, made with as little human intervention as possible.  The winemaker, Ales Kristancic, picked the grapes (biodynamically grown) and dropped them into the barrel and then never looked back.  The note I wrote at the time was: “A fascinating wine made by allowing whole bunches of grapes to ferment, age, and stabilize without intervention!  The result is a tasty unfiltered and cloudy wine with light tannins and notes of chamomile and cider.”  The wine region Kristancic is working in is called Brda, which is a continuation of the Friulian wine region called Collio.  This makes sense because his Friulian cohort like Josko Gravner and Stanko Radikon are making similar wines.  I love these crazy, cloudy, cider-like wines! They seem ancient, and for good reason.  The methods are likely more similar to Roman winemaking than the current UC Davis regimen.  Gravner actually uses amphorae and buries them in the ground until they are deemed ready.  All three winemakers are allowing skin contact with the grape must, a practice which has been almost completely abandoned for white wines.  The result is that the wines have a gorgeous orange color, and a tannic bite.

They are reminiscent of Eric Bordelet’s excellent ciders from Normandy, one of which I had on Sunday at Dolores Park in San Francisco.  One of my companions described it perfectly by noting the peaty smell and flavor!  It wasn’t hugely popular with the crowd, and even I have to say it was a bit challenging. It was the Sydre Brut bottling, which I’d never had before.  The Doux and the Argellette are a bit more approachable because they have more residual sugar to balance the considerable acid and tannins (they still don’t drink “sweet”).  The Brut has about 5-10 grams of residual sugar, whereas the Doux has 80 grams. He also makes Perry, or Poiré as they say in France, essentially a pear version of cider. Perry and Cider are made in an identical manner to wine.  The base ingredient is fruit, which already has sugar (unlike barley for beer), and is fermented with natural yeast.  Very elegant.  I’m currently aging Bordelet’s higher end Poiré bottling called Granit because when I met him at a tasting he told me it would age well due to the extremely high acidity and the caliber of the the fruit. The pears come from 300 year old trees.


If you live in Sacramento, I suggest getting in your car (I know, gas is crazy, that’s why you should fill your car up with friends), driving south on Freeport, running in to Taylor’s Market and buying a simple German riesling or two (they only charge a corkage fee of $5/bottle), continuing south until you get to New Lai Wah and ordering the steak in red wine sauce, romaine hearts with shrimp paste and some sort of crab, lobster or duck! This relatively inexpensive feast is a great way to beat the heat! Enjoy!

The Loire Valley is one of my favorite wine regions due the the incredible amount of diversity found there. You could devote your life to becoming a Loire expert and never quite get there. From the west to the east you have the four general wine regions: Nantais, Anjou-Saumur, Touraine, and Centre.  The Nantais is best known for Muscadet, the salty, fresh, lovely white wine made from the Melon de Bourgogne grape. The region has a couple of other appellations too, specifically Fiefs Vendéens where they make crazy red wine out of gamay, pinot noir, and other grapes.  Anjou- Saumur is really two regions, where they make Anjou rouge and blanc and Saumur rouge and blanc in great quantities. The rouge and blanc are Cabernet Franc and Chenin Blanc respectively. More well known from Anjou are the Chenin Blanc-based dry and dessert wines from Savennieres, Coteaux du Layon, and Quarts de Chaume.  The Touraine has Bourgeuil and Chinon, appellations which make both simple and complicated wines from Cabernet Franc depending on the soil type of the vineyard. Also there is Vouvray and Montlouis, appellations for dry, sweet and sparkling Chenin Blanc. And finally, the Centre, which boasts the Sancerre and Pouilly-Fumé regions, known for what used to be inexpensive Sauvignon Blanc for Paris bistros. Now Sancerre is generally around $25 a bottle,and Pouilly-Fumé not much less so people look to neighboring regions that make similar wines like Menetou-Salon, Quincy, Reuilly and further away, Cheverney. Not to be overlooked is Sancerre and Menetou-Salon rouge, made from Pinot Noir and really versatile on the dinner table.

That is just a general overview of the region…Many details and appellations have been left out, including one of my favorites: Cour-Cheverney. Southeast of Cheverney, the two regions make compeletly different wines. Cour-Cheverney is the only area (that I know of) to utlize the grape Romorantin. I first became acquainted with Cour-Cheverney in my school books, and I imagined that I would never get to taste such an obscure wine! This is a phenomenon that used to vex me quite often, with wines like Cour-Cheverney, Vin Jaune, and Colares, but those wines fell into my lap sooner than I anticipated. Most wines that you read about are imported in to the United States, which is great. Colares might be, but I’ve only seen it in Portugal. At any rate, when I moved to New York, Cour-Cheverney was not only available in several speciality wine shops, but available by the glass at special restaurants (like Trestle on Tenth).

I recently enjoyed a fine example of the wine in Pascal Bellier’s 2004 Cour-Cheverney. Absolutely delicious! Steely, impressive acidity which allowed it to last throughout the week, and tasted like it was full of ground up mineral dust. There was also an apple cider component, and the 4 years of age had added some pleasingly complicated aromas to the mix.