“We had noticed that the purest wines were made with biodynamic viticulture, and it was out of the question that I would poison myself or others. I think that every living element plays a crucial role in the characteristics of the grapes.”
~ Winemaker Catherine Maisonneuve
This month we challenge your palate Old World style. Get ready—our first wine involves some tannic tough-love, but it truly rewards an open mind and a meat-centric food pairing. It comes from France’s Cahors region in the Dordogne, where the Malbec grape reigns (yep, they were doing it long before Argentina). This beautiful area is one of France’s oldest wine regions, with many vineyards dating back to the Roman occupation. These so-called “black” wines, because of their inky color, reveled in their tannic greatness early on but were later overshadowed by Bordeaux’s mellower blends and lost all but local popularity. These classics remained relatively obscure outside the region until recently when, thanks to a few dedicated and talented winemakers, Cahors came back, this time with the unruly intensity of the Malbec grape tamed. Literally crushed into submission—although delicately, mind you.
The team of winemaker Catherine Maisonneuve and Matthieu Cosse of Domaine Cosse-Maisonneuve make this month’s Cahors “Les Laquets” and they’ve really set the bar high for the region. Catherine, an oenologist, spent many years in other wine regions of France honing her craft before settling in Cahors with ex-rugby player Matthieu. An elegant (think oenologist) yet rough-and-tumble (think rugby) wine: just what one would expect from the synergy of these opposites. Together they have bridged the gap between traditional and modern winemaking techniques. The vines are farmed biodynamically with very low yields. Each parcel is vinified separately to highlight the terroir. This 100% Malbec comes from a tiny 5.6-hectare parcel of land, and the grapes are hand-picked, hand-sorted, and aged in a combination of old and new oak. This wine has a dark fruit palate with a rustic edge. Enjoy by a warm fire with a hearty meat dish!
Our second wine, Cortese di Gavi, or just “Gavi” comes from the hills of the province of Alessandria in Italy’s northern Piedmont region, expanding over thirteen communes. Tassarolo is the municipality where Castello di Tassarolo makes their biodynamically farmed wine from a single vineyard of 40-year-old vines. This food-friendly wine is bone dry in character, with a hint of flintiness that emerges from the mineral-rich soils of the area. The bouquet hints at white flowers, green apples, and honeydew, yet the unique concentration and complexity bring a richness that comes from barrel fermentation and a subsequent 12 months in barrique. This depth is cut with bold acidity to balance out the weight. Due to its close proximity to the Ligurian coast, the region’s winemaking and gastronomic traditions lean more toward the Ligurian than the Piemontese. Try with seafood, or even traditional pesto Genovese.
Region: Appellation Cahors Contrôlée, France
This deep-hued red is no fruit bomb, as one might expect from a New World Malbec, but rather it’s traditional in style, coming from the grape’s place of origin, France. The nose is muted with blackberry, plum, sassafras, and anise. The palate is slightly earthy with a rustic edge. Malbec is the primary grape of the Cahors AOC, and in an effort to reclaim the prize that was once theirs, they have priced them reasonably well to compete with their New World counterparts. This is a great example of an Old World Malbec ready to drink now.
Castello di Tassarolo
100% Cortese di Gavi
Region: Gavi DOCG, Piemonte Province, Italy
Gavi is Piedmont’s shining white star. Made from the indigenous Cortese grape, it’s blessed with all the noble characteristics of a true Gavi. The nose is floral and citrusy, with a slight minerality. The body is medium with a degree of richness and texture on the palate. The finish is crisp and clean. As the Castello di Tassarolo Estate says, “an intense and persistent bouquet that develops for up to 15 years. A classic table wine for seafood and white meats.”
Recipe of the Month
Lamb and Lentil Stew
This fairly simple dish is easy to prepare so long as a few simple cooking rules are followed. First, marinating the lamb overnight and properly drying it before browning. Second, not crowding the pan when browning the meat. And third, cooking the lentils separately and adding to the lamb just before serving.
3 pounds stewing lamb – cubed
1 bottle course red wine
2 large onions – medium dice
1 pound carrots – medium dice
1 pound French lentils
½ gallon chicken or beef stock
1 bunch parsley- chopped
Orange peel from one orange
1 head garlic peeled
Clove and/or allspice – pinch
Salt and pepper
1. Combine lamb, red wine, onions, carrots, garlic, clove, pepper, and orange peel in large bowl. Hold overnight.
2. Remove lamb from marinade, separating from veggies. Hold marinade. Dry lamb on towels.
3. Heat a large heavy pan until just smoking, add pieces of lamb but not too many at a time. Brown on all sides and remove.
4. Repeat process until all lamb pieces are browned.
5. In a large pan add marinade, beef and enough stock to cover meat, bring to a boil before turning to simmer. Stir frequently. This part takes around 3 hours.
6. In a separate pot, gently boil lentils in remaining stock with salt and pepper. If using a package of lentils, follow their directions or cook according to your own preference. This takes no more than 45 minutes.
7. When lentils are just tender, remove, strain, and hold.
8. When lamb is tender and comes apart with a fork add lentils and parsley.
9. Adjust seasoning to taste and enjoy with a nice bottle of Cahors!
“Evening land….may quickly produce the greatest Pinot Noir and Chardonnay yet made in the New World—particularly if one measures greatness by the standards of Burgundy’s Côte d’Or.” - Mannie Berk, The Rare Wine Co
This month starts not only a new year but a new decade, and we’re kicking it off by keeping it local. But fear not, Francophiles, this month’s red has got Old-World chops. Take Oregon’s Willamette Valley’s most expressive terroir, add legendary Burgundian winemaker Dominique Lafon and Master Sommelier Larry Stone, stir in some serious local talent in winemaker Isabelle Meunier, and there’s a recipe for excitement: Evening Land Winery. With the goal of sourcing the best Pinot Noir and Chardonnay vineyards on the West Coast, they secured three heritage vineyards in three very different American wine regions: the Willamette Valley, the Sonoma Coast, and the Santa Rita Hills. In total, they have 120 acres of organic and biodynamically farmed vines producing 13 estate wines, each expressing its own unique terroir. In Oregon, Evening Land has acquired the renowned Seven Springs Vineyard, known for producing benchmark Pinot Noir. Isabelle Meunier is guided by Dominique Lafon, one of Burgundy’s top producers and owner of Domaine des Comtes Lafon, a legendary estate that produces bottles costing thousands. Says Lafon, “I have tasted Oregon Pinot Noir, and while it is not the same as wines in Burgundy, Oregon is close in style to what we do. For me, it is about elegance, purity, and silkiness, not about alcohol and overripe fruit.” Piqued your interest? Check out our website or the enclosed list for other Evening Land wines.
Our second wine this month is also from the Eola-Amity Hills AVA in Oregon. The Love and Squalor Riesling comes from vines planted on their own rootstock, which is quite remarkable in an age where phylloxera has forced most vineyards into grafting (to protect the vines from this root louse). Love and Squalor winemaker Matt Berson is also assistant winemaker at Brooks Winery, and his experience shows. Using the least invasive means, the grapes were gently pressed whole-cluster and fermented in small stainless steel drums using five different yeast strains—including a native cultivar. You won’t find this off-dry, luscious Riesling outside of Oregon. Only 185 cases of this biodynamically farmed wine were produced. Enjoy!
Love & Squalor
Region: Eola Hills Vineyard, Willamette Valley, OR.
This is another prime example of how great the potential for the Riesling varietal can be in Oregon’s Willamette Valley. All the pure and recognizable Riesling characteristics are alive and dazzling—minerality and stone with crisp green apple and a touch of peachy sweetness to balance out the remarkable acidity. A rich lusciousness comes through mid-palate while retaining its freshness and vitality.
Seven Springs Pinot Noir
100% Pinot Noir
Region: Seven Springs Vineyard, Willamette Valley, OR.
This medium-bodied Oregon Pinot wafts aromatics of sweet rose hips and red berries. The palate is more focused with an earthy touch and a silky fineness, a luxurious characteristic found only in the delicate Pinot Noir grape. Aged 16 months in 33% new oak, with moderate tannins, this wine is accessible now, but also should evolve beautifully in the next couple of years.
This month’s food and wine pairing is … Raclette!
It’s been pretty cold around here and my spirit for cooking elaborate meals was well saturated last month. That means this is the right time for Raclette. I’m happy to report that both of this month’s wine selections go quite well with it. To do this right, you really need the specialized tabletop griddle w/ broiler. Raclette, never quite as popular as fondue, is still common enough that any kitchen supply store should carry the cook top; it’s also a reliable thrift store find.
Basically, with this dinner dish you all sit around a table with the cooker in the middle, and each person heats slices of cheese (I prefer Comte but it’s fun to try 3 or 4 different ones) on these special utensils under the broiler. Once it’s nice and melted, you scrape it onto your plate or directly onto bread and eat it. On the griddle top, you can put sausages, vegetables, and potatoes. Side dishes like pickled things go well with the food but do no justice to the wine. While the Riesling wine is an obvious pairing, the pinot from Evening Land offers layers of depth with its dark cherry fruit. Traditionally, an evening of Raclette is followed by a glass of cherry brandy so the pinot delivers on the tail end. Try it and just follow the basic instructions that come with the cooker.
The cool thing about being famous is traveling. I have always wanted to travel across seas, like to Canada and stuff.
I love hanging out with winemakers. It takes a certain type of person—passionate, slightly eccentric, probably obsessed—to dedicate a life to wine, and those lives yield great stories. The “winestory” may be of wine produced, or it may be of the makers’ lives before vin. At any rate, it was many years before I learned about the background of soft-spoken Scott Paul Wright, an unassuming, talented winemaker and importer who fits right into the Oregon wine scene. Little did I know that he was once the radio DJ Shadow Stevens/Shadow Steele, or later, the executive at Epic Records responsible for signing Pearl Jam. And as the story goes, he woke up one morning to discover his company signing Britney Spears, at which point he dropped out to realize his true calling in Pinot Noir. He’s been a Burgophile ever since.
Only 2,026 cases of this month’s first wine, Scott Paul’s ’06 La Paulée Pinot Noir from the Willamette Valley, were produced. Choosing not to craft more muscular wines (for ratings’ sake), Scott Paul prefers the Burgundian techniques and philosophy, which means a hands-off approach and no yeast inoculation (only wild, indigenous yeasts are used), and no must-pumps or additives, keeping the process pure and simple. New French oak is kept to less than 20% and used only for ageing the wine, allowing it to breathe and develop naturally, rather than to impart artificial toasted flavors. The wines are un-fined and unfiltered, so the expression of fruit is truly pure. With this selection, we’ve chosen elegance over brawn, a sip to complement your favorite holiday foods. If you’re looking for an in-your-face fruit bomb, that’ll come another month. This wine tells a tale, much like its maker.
Eric Nuccio’s winestory took him from culinary school in DC to a job as a wine-shop steward, then to a distributor position, and on to Napa and Sonoma to study viticulture. He’s now arrived in Oregon, saying that in the Willamette he can make “the most interesting, balanced, and complex wine possible in the U.S.” Maybe we’re biased, but we heartily agree! And so, after much soul-searching, Eric’s finally come into his own, with a branded label and some great wines. His passion for Pinot equals his commitment to sustainable agriculture, and he uses the best fruit possible from organically, biodynamically, and sustainably farmed vineyards. Only 50 cases of this refreshing yet complex rosé were produced, and we think it’ll be the yin to your Thanksgiving meal’s yang. Who says rosé must be reserved for summertime patios?
*A note about the Haden Fig label: Eric’s wife, Jordan, during her work at the Portland Audubon Society as a volunteer veterinarian, became enamored with the northern saw-whet owl. This owl is a natural predator for vineyard pests and an essential part of a healthy symbiotic vineyard and ecosystem.
Wines of the Month
Scott Paul, La Paulée, 2006 Willamette Valley, Oregon, Pinot Noir
Scott Paul, a tiny producer in the Willamette Valley, makes this velvety-smooth Oregon Pinot Noir. His wines turn up their “noses” at more muscular Pinots in favor of elegance and suppleness, and the winery’s mission is to handcraft small lots with finesse and a gentle, hands-off regimen. The silky texture of this wine is remarkable, with red-fruit overtones, and a long, smooth finish. This elegant Pinot will pair beautifully with all your traditional Turkey Day fare.
Haden Fig, Pinot Noir Rosé, Willamette Valley, Oregon 2008
Haden Fig is an extremely small local winery offering wines from organically and biodynamically farmed vineyards. This rosé is 100% organic Pinot Noir crafted saignée method, meaning the grapes are first crushed with the juice and left in contact with the skins for about 24 hours. The pink juice is then drawn off and fermented in stainless steel. The result is a real contender, with hints of bright red fruit and a refreshing acidity. Enjoy this superb first release—it’s earned a place at our Thanksgiving table!
Recipe of the Month
Brussels Sprouts with Bacon and Chestnuts
This is an excellent side dish for Thanksgiving.
1 1/2 pounds brussels sprouts - trimmed, and halved
6 bacon slices - chopped
1 medium sized onion - chopped
2 cups peeled roasted chestnuts (about 1 1/4 pounds) or jarred chestnuts (about 12 ounces), halved. (Using canned or pre-roasted chestnuts is a huge time saver but sacrifices a little flavor).
1/2 cup broth or water
Cook brussels sprouts in large pot of boiling salted water or chicken broth until crisp-tender, about 4 minutes. Drain and cool. Sauté chopped bacon in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat until crisp, about 4 minutes. Transfer bacon to paper towels and drain.
Heat bacon drippings in skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion, brussel sprouts, and chestnuts and sauté until brussel sprouts begin to brown, about 8 minutes. Add 1/2 cup broth/water and cook until brussel sprouts are just tender and most of liquid is absorbed but mixture is still moist, about 3 minutes longer. Stir in bacon. Season to taste with salt and pepper. If the flavor needs a little brightening up, add a couple dashes of balsamic vinegar and maybe a pinch of red pepper.