The Man Who Changed Burgundy

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The sad passing of Anne-Claude Leflaive last week also made me think of Jean-Claude Rateau. Rateau pioneered biodynamic viticulture in Burgundy in 1979 and was then only the fourth vigneron in all of France to practice biodynamics. His lecture on biodynamics a decade later drew many Burgundy producers including Anne-Claude Leflaive.

Since then most of the top Burgundy vignerons converted to biodynamic viticulture, including, Leflaive, Leroy, DRC, Lafon, Lafarge, De Montille, to name just a few. Amazingly Rateau still remains somewhat undiscovered today. I’m very pleased to help import his Burgundies to the U.S. His wines are not easy to find even in France, so I’m very happy for this new opportunity.

Jean-Claude Rateau is a native of Beaune. After completing wine studies at the Lycée Viticole, he went to train in Beaujolais, where he found out about biodynamics. On his return to Burgundy, he started practicing biodynamics on …

Bourgueil Stephane Guion — Deals and Steals

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This has opened up deliciously from just six months ago. If you drink it now you’d be happy. Or you can sit on it more and you’ll be amply rewarded. The 2008 from magnum was glorious recently, but alas sold out.

From 40 to 85 year-old Cab Franc vines farmed organically since 1965. Vinified using natives yeasts, without additives and no addition of sulphites until bottling, when a small dose was applied.

We sell it for just $17! One of our Deals and Steals!

Bourguiel “Cuvee Prestige”, Domaine Guion 2012 $17.00 (order here)

Weekend Tasting: 6th and 7th March 2015

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A couple of new Gamays just arrived, one from the Loire and the other from Beaujolais. Come and taste these new arrivals this Friday and Saturday, Mar. 6th & 7th 12pm-5pm. Tasting is complimentary.

Simon Tardieux worked with Catherine Roussel and Didier Barrouillet at Clos Roche Blanche in the Touraine region of the Middle Loire. Without any vineyards, he teamed up with Alain Courtault who was just in the process of converting his vines to organic farming. Together these two are crafting delicious, unpretentious thirst wines or vin de soif at very affordable prices. The 2011 Gamay is made naturally, with native yeasts and without additives and just a small dose of sulfites at bottling.

Nicolas Testard trained at Domaine Prieure-Roch and with his close friend, Frederic Cossard, two of the very few natural wine producers in the Cote d’Or. Prieure-Roch is owned by Henri Roch, one of the co-owners of DRC and a nephew of Lalou Bize-Leroy. After his Burgundy stints Testard went back to Beaujolais and started his own domaine making affordable thirst wines or vins de soif with little intervention: no additives and no added sulfites. The 2014 Beaujolais-Villages Primeur is a Nouveau wine released late last year for immediate enjoyment.


Beaujolais-Villages Primeur, Nicolas Testard 2014 $14.00

Touraine Gamay, Domaine Courtault-Tardieux 2011 $16.00

What Happens When Burgundians Make Grenache From the Rhone?

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Rhone from Burgundy? Yes, that’s right. Burgundy producers Jean-Pascal Sarnin and Jean-Marie Berrux apparently love wines from the Rhone that they decided to bring up organically grown Grenache grapes from Ardèche to the Cote d’Or! One is not supposed to do this, otherwise worlds collide and the AOC doesn’t like that. But they did it anyway.

The fruit came from Gérald and Jocelyne Oustric of the highly regarded Domaine Le Mazel. Sarnin and Berrux vinified the grapes at their winery in Monthelie, as usual with natural yeasts, no additives and no added sulphites, except for a small dose at bottling. The result is as brilliant as any of their highly touted Burgundies. Yet there’s a fun factor, too: the fact that you’re drinking great Grenache made in Burgundy!

Vin de France “Les Muriers 2”, Sarnin-Berrux 2012 $27.00 (order here)

A Day With FiFi

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Fifi. What can I say. Only worthy dudes are known by just one name.

Fifi will always be associated with the Ten Bells wine bar in New York that he founded, but he’s moved on to other pursuits lately. He opened a tiny wine store two years ago in Brooklyn called Passage de la Fleur, then more recently he launched his import business called Fifi Imports. He imports wines, of course, but he also added the magnificent Perceval knife selection.

I’m elated to collaborate with Fifi in introducing more great natural wines to San Francisco Bay Area wine lovers. Since starting Vineyard Gate 16 years ago, I’ve been keen on carrying wines made without junk. I was one of the first to sell in the Bay Area wines from Yvon Metras and Clos Roche Blanche back in 2000, then I brought in the West Coast for the first time the wines of Domaine l’Octavin and Jean-Marc Brignot. While I would’ve loved to carry more natural wines from the outset, unfortunately, their availability in the States was tough, as there were very few sources even in the East Coast.

Today, finding natural wines in the US has gotten a lot better, especially with Fifi entering the scene with a terrific portfolio of producers. While most natural wine producers we’ve seen are from Beaujolais, the Loire and, the Jura, what’s unique about Fifi’s selection is that he’s scoped out some of the best producers in the South of France. Vineyards along the Mediterranean, from Provence to the Sud-Ouest, is now the hotbed of rising natural wine producers in France. Land is cheap and plentiful. The weather is warm and sunny, which makes it easier to producer natural wines.

Fifi flew to the West Coast last November to launch his import selections. He hit the road touring Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area. We kicked off his San Francisco visit with a store tasting, then a wine dinner at Belcampo in San Francisco.

We made Bacchus proud as we opened over 30 different bottles that one night. Everyone who attended were charmed by both Fifi and all the wines we drank….

Mikkeller Mission Chinese Food

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Mikkeller, based in Denmark, is one of the greatest brewers in the world. They constantly create bold new flavors that surprise and delight, as well as expand the notion of beer. For a wine lover like me this is totally exciting!

Here is one of Mikkeller’s latest creations, a collaboration with the highly celebrated San Francisco pop-up restaurant, Mission Chinese Food. Brewed in Belgium, it is a pale pilsen flavored with Sichuan peppercorn! At 4.5 ABV, it is ight in body and alcohol but intense in taste. Not quite fire-breathing but gently spicy with subtle herbal notes that enhance its refreshing taste. A great beer with appetizers or small plates, perhaps with some fried garlic or a bowl of wok-tossed mussels with Thai chili.

Mikkeller Mission Chinese Food 330ml $5.85 (order here)

La Grange Aux Belles (Anjou)

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Young vignerons Marc Houtin and Julien Bresteau formed their small domaine La Grange Aux Belles near Angers in Anjou in 2008. Production is tiny and their wines sell out fast mainly in Paris natural wine bars, and in a few cities in Europe. The winery’s motto is: Des vins de plaisir sans artifices. Their wines are made for pleasure, without additives or tricks. The grapes are grown organically and the wines are vinified with natural yeasts and made without additives and little, if any, addition of sulfites.

The “Fragile” is 100% Chenin Blanc from 20-40 year-old vines planted in clay-limestone and schist soils. The fruit for this cuvee is harvested late with 5%-10% botrytis. Of course, the wine is fully fermented, bone-dry with less than 2 g/l residual sugar. I’ve always believed that the best dry Chenins are harvested with a bit of botrytis, as the wines offer Chenin’s full potential. The wine was barrel-fermented and aged in second and third-year barrels using native yeasts and without any additives and no addition of sulfites. The flavors are sharp and intense, well layered, and getting deeper and deeper on the palate.

An incredible Pineau d’Aunis is the Brise d’Aunis from La Grange Aux Belles. Aptly called “Brise” (breeze) for that’s the sensation I feel drinking it. It’s a clever tongue-in-cheek, of course, since it’s a Vin de France, hence Marc and Julien can’t put the varietal on the label, as well as the vintage. Kudos to their creativity and to the lusciousness of this wine! Bright, intense flavors. So good to pair with any food.

Vin de France (Anjou White) “Fragile”, La Grange Aux Belles (2012) $25.00 (order here)

Vin de France “Brise d’Aunis”, La Grange Aux Belles (2013) $22.00 (order here)

The Milkman Cometh: Frédéric Cossard’s Burgundy

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A native of Burgundy, Frederic Cossard doesn’t come from a family of winegrowers. Instead, his family background is the milk trade. He went to milk school and worked in the milk trade for ten years traveling around Burgundy where he met many vignerons and got interested in what they do. He decided to change jobs and established his domaine in Saint-Romain in 1996.

Today, Frederic Cossard is one of Burgundy’s small generation of young winemakers bucking the modern, conventional way of winemaking that’s dependent on intervention and chemicals. He goes way back to the roots of how wine was made in Burgundy before chemicals, additives and sulphur got introduced. To do this today is not easy because one has to almost re-learn winemaking, but Cossard’s background in the milk trade has helped him a lot. He equates making unpasteurized raw-milk cheese to making sulphur free and chemical-free wines.

But what is Cossard’s point to all of these efforts? Just like any true Burgundian, Cossard aims to make authentic wines that express their terroir as purely as possible. He starts, of course, with fruit from a great site farmed organically. His 2010 Nuits-St.-Georges Premeir Cru Les Damodes is a fine example.

Les Damodes is a very interesting terroir as it combines Nuits’ power and generosity with the elegance of a Vosne. The Les Damodes vineyard lies at a high slope bordering Vosne-Romanee to the north and Boudots, Cras, and Richemone on the Nuits side. The terroir has a lot of Vosne in it and Cossard’s 2010 shows that in its firmness and more upright character compared to other Nuits. The vintage offers very good richness and concentration, and all through the finish there is vibrant minerality and energy.

Nuits-St-Georges Premier Cru Les Damodes, Frederic Cossard 2010 $105.00 (order here)

Les Caprices de l’Instant

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I learned late last year that Les Caprices de l’Instant was sold by its longtime owners. Situated in the Bastille-Marais neighborhoods of Paris, I was taken there one afternoon three years ago by a good friend from Japan. There we found Roberto Petronio, photographer and writer for La Revue du Vin de France, sitting at an office desk in the corner of the cramped floor minding the shop. Perhaps he took me for a high-roller Japanese wine collector so he showed me the backroom and the basement, which were stacked floor to ceiling with cases of top labels of Bordeaux, Burgundy, and Chateauneuf du Pape. He mentioned they stock more wines at a storage in Bordeaux. This made me wonder.

After the tour, Roberto attended to some customers, while I perused a thick catalog of reserve wines they stock. I noticed there’s no cash register, computer or any electronic gadget in the store. Presumably, there’s a telephone at least somewhere. But clearly, business here is conducted personally and concluded by handwritten receipts.

Now, I wonder how things would change at this shop with the new owners. I do wish they don’t change the name.

Brews for Wine Lovers

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Brews for wine lovers. I like this description for our growing selection of specialty beers. While the trend in craft beers right now is dominated by heavily hopped IPAs with high ABVs, I go the other way. I do like the complex and food friendly taste of bitter ales, but I favor maximum flavor power with minimum alcohol. I love beers that don’t go much over 5 ABV but with a richness of funky infusions that produce layers of taste sensations, which I could only compare to wines. Not least of all, these kinds of beer scream for food.

I urge you to try out our unique beer selection. If you are a wine lover, then chances are you have an adventurous palate. You would love these creatively-made beers that I’ve selected, which are disruptive in the beer world. My credo is there’s always a wealth of taste waiting to be discovered.

Mikkeller, based in Denmark, is widely praised as one of the greatest brewers in the world. In Denmark, with over 11,000 brewers, Mikkeller has been awarded best brewery, and routinelty many of its beers are rated best in the world. It owes its success for pushing the envelope on tastes, coming up with new and surprising flavor profiles. One of its latest beers is a collab with San Francisco’s (though more like New York lately) Mission Chinese Food. It is a pale pilsen brewed in Belgium, flavored with Sichuan peppercorns! Not quite fire-breathing, but gently spicy with subtle herbal notes. 4.5 ABV. It is a great beer to start off a meal before imbibing wine, perhaps with a bowl of fried garlic or wok-fried mussels with Thai chilis.

Mikkeller “Mission Chinese Food” 330ml $5….

Handmade Soba with Sake, Plus Dry Riesling

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Back in October we had our first handmade soba noodle making demo with sake pairing. I say “first” because the event was a hit and many interested people missed out due to space limitations. I plan to invite Yumi again to the store see her magically transform mere buckwheat flour and water into tasty strands of noodles with just her bare hands!

The drinks pairing feature was mainly sake. With the appetizers, I poured the Amabuki “Sunflower” sake, a more dry sake made with sunflower yeasts that proved to be everyone’s favorite. Another one I poured was the Sohomare Tokubetsu Kimoto Junmai (buy it here), a more subtle and expressive sake with depth in the finish.

While viewing Yumi’s noodle making demonstration, I served a glass of Iwate Brewery Japanese Herb Ale Sansho (buy it here), a fun and refreshing beer flavored with sansho. I find this beer’s slight bitterness and herbal and spicy flavors attractive to wine enthusiasts.

Finally, with the soba itself, I presented the 2011 Van Volxem Mosel Riesling “Wiltinger Braunefels (buy it here). Earlier this year when I was in Kyoto, I enjoyed drinking this wine so much at Ryuhei, which serves soba-themed kaiseki style cuisine. This mineral, dry Riesling I find has an affinity with soba that’s subtle and sublime.

Francis Boulard Champagne Extra Brut Les Murgiers

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This is a standout Champagne. Pure and simple. On the tasting table next to impressive and more expensive cuvees from Cedric Bouchard, Jacques Lassaigne, Andre Beaufort, Tarlant, and Benoit Dehu; this Extra Brut Les Murgiers (there’s a Brut Nature version) from Francis Boulard stood out for me. I went back and forth, just to be sure.

Francis Boulard is the sixth generation vigneron in his family. He is a tiny producer, with less than 3 hectares of vineyards in the Montagne de Reims area. He is helped by his daughter, Delphine. They farm organically and biodynamically and they make sure they harvest at full ripeness, even if they have to wait late.

This Les Murgiers cuvee is a Blanc de Noir, consisting of 70% Pinot Meunier and 30% Pinot Noir. The grapes are vinified with native yeasts and the wine undergoes full malo, aging in wood–a combination of old barrel and casks. Afterwards the wine is bottled unfined. This Extra Brut sees very little dosage, only between 3 to 5 g/L.

Drinking beautifully, full of energy and luscious fruit. In fact, it’s very hard to stop sipping it because of its luscious minerality and depth of flavors. A really stunning grower Champagne selling at a reasonable price. Disgorged October 2012. This recent release was the top choice of the highly respected 2015 Bettane & Desseauve Wine Guide from Francis Boulard, beating their higher end cuvees!

Champagne Extra Brut “Les Murgiers”, Francis Boulard NV $56.00 (order here)