Grasso Nebbiolo, New Hope & Currier and Ives

Grasso Nebbiolo, New Hope & Currier and Ives

Last month, for my birthday, Joanne planned a romantic weekend away for the two of us in my favorite little town of New Hope, PA. Joanne and I have always loved exploring the bucolic countryside between Bucks County, PA and Hunterdon County, NJ. In both courtship and matrimony, the rolling banks of the Delaware have offered Joanne and me a refuge from the “real world,” a chance to catch up on sleep. And most importantly the opportunity to reflect and dream without interruption or distraction.

Serendipitously, we always find ourselves there in the winter when all the cozy little towns dotting the Delaware in their frozen and fragile state, are as still, splendid and enchanting as a Currier and Ives print. Hand in hand, she and I sip espresso as we walk along the uneven New Hope streets flanked by Federal style facades. Later savoring cocktails underneath the shadows of Late Victorians in Lambertville, time begins to dawdle about life’s own icy design. And for a moment … maybe a weekend, Joanne and I gently press ourselves into the picturesque lithograph.

For these weekend getaways, we usually try to arrive at our destination early Friday evening. For this trip, Joanne booked a cottage through Airbnb. The cottage was implausibly perfect, detached about 200 feet from the property’s magnificent Main House, and painted to match. The cottage stood in diminutive perfection, adorned with seasonally withered wisteria. Inside, the space was expertly decorated with a tasteful and comforting Southwest motif meets Arts and Crafts revival theme. It looked and lived like a structure that a stylish hobbit would live in, or a well-heeled hobbit who reads a lot of Architectural Digest.
Once we unpacked, and shook off the awe of our surroundings, it was time for a drink. I had packed a number of wines for the trip, as BYOBs are plentiful in this part of the world. As Joanne will attest, about the only thing I’m prepared for in life is a town full of BYOBs. However, to toast the start of our weekend, I wanted something as warming, snug and simple as our new digs, and as comforting as Joanne’s head resting on my shoulder.

Everything was right in the world. I opened a bottle of Elio Grasso, Nebbiolo Gavarini 2018. I poured two glasses. I looked at Joanne, and we smiled at each other. We took a sip. Our world an hour away was in frantic motion. Yet, nestled inside our storybook cottage, a hallow satellite adrift on the Pennsylvania countryside, time was dilating. All of life’s hard edges, were now softly rounded brush strokes.
When you look at pictures of Elio Grasso’s winery perched atop the sun gilded hills of Monforte d’Alba in Northern Italy’s esteemed Barolo zone, it too appears to be a place lifted from an artist’s easel. A rendering of reality where time appears to stands still. If only Currier and Ives were around today … Piedmont Edition. Grasso’s wines, like the property itself, do not merely evoke emotions and memory they imprint them on the taster.

Elio, the patriarch of the family, handed over the wine making and operational duties to his son Gianluca more than 15 years ago, and the wines continue to ascend to new levels of greatness. It’s hard to overstate the quality of wine produced at the estate. Recently, Monica Larner of the Wine Advocate, bestowed a rare 100-point score upon Grasso’s 2013 Barolo Riserva Runcot. Adding, “I found my darling wine of the year.”

Grasso’s Barolos are stunning. But it’s the family’s humble Langhe Nebbiolo offering Gavarini that I find myself coming back to time and again for everyday enjoyment. It’s affordable, “correct” and delicious. A wine to meditate with while waiting for the family’s Barolos, Gavarini Chiniera, Ginestra Casa Mate and Runcot to age into form. Monic Larner notes, “The 2018 Langhe Nebbiolo Gavarini offers a very happy drinking experience with pure varietal typicity that underlines wild berry, cola, mint and licorice (91pts).” A very happy drinking experience indeed. Good Nebbiolo, like Grasso’s 2018 Gavarini bottling has always been my winter weekend getaway wine.
A female acquaintance of mine once told me that being in love with someone means you simply can’t get enough of that person, “you simply want to be together all the time.” If this assumption holds true, then I’m certainly in love with Grasso’s 2018 Langhe Nebbiolo Gavarini, New Hope and especially Joanne. And for at least a weekend there is no parting, no sorrow, no time.

-David Govatos

Spanish Red, Tosca & The Difference Between Listening and Hearing

Spanish Red, Tosca & The Difference Between Listening and Hearing.

Last month I was tasked with pairing wine with arias for our ongoing partnership with Opera Delaware. The event was billed as Opera Uncorked, and it offered a chance to showcase the artistic beauty that parallels both music and wine.

Brendan Cooke, the dashing and talented pizzaiolo and Director of Opera Delaware offered me several arias from which I could choose to pair my vinous selections. The exercise produced some lovely pairings, while some required a little more imagination on both the part of the “listener” and the drinker. Luckily the vocal talent was exceptional and the setting beautiful and intimate.

My favorite pairing of the evening was Vissi d’Arte, from Puccini’s Tosca paired with Bodega Rejadorada’s 2015 Temple bottling. As Brendan had mentioned to me, Vissi d’Arte is sort of like Opera’s national anthem. And though I had “listened” to the aria several times before, I’m not sure I actually “heard” it. As Wesley Snipe’s Character, Sidney Deane, in White Men Can’t Jump taught me, “there’s a difference between hearing and listening.” Up until last month, I had merely been listening.

Brendan’s notes for me, prefacing Vissi d’Arte were as follows: “In the midst of an uncomfortable conversation with Scarpia about the fate of Tosca’s lover, Tosca sings of the two great driving forces in her life: love and music.” After reading Brendan’s notes I decided to stop simply “listening” to Vissi d’Arte.

I queued up Maria Callas’s 1956 rendition of Vissi d’Arte and read the full translation. It was at this moment I began to “hear” Tosca, and in my distant memory I began to recount the tragic story of Antona Garcia.

Pictured on the front of every bottle that leaves Bodegas Rejadorada is a little gilded gate that resembles a miniature golden patchwork quilt. The golden gate is symbolic of Antona Garcia, who in 1476 made the ultimate sacrifice to save her city. Toro at the time was occupied by the Portuguese. Antona, a Shepard’s wife, sided with Queen Isabella I of Castile against the Portuguese support of Joanna la Beltraneja.

In an attempt to aid Isabella, Antona supplied information to Isabella’s army, helping lead a valiant, albeit unsuccessful attempt to take the town. Unfortunately, in the aftermath, she and her co-conspirators were rounded up and executed. Antona, for her part, was hung from the gates of the town. When Isabella’s forces finally took Toro, the gate she was hung from was gilded in her honor.

I used to sip Rejadorada’s Temple bottling and think of Antona. Now when I open a bottle of Rejadorada I must now think of both Antona and Tosca. Two very different women, one real and one imaginary. Both tied to the same grief, and tethered to the same Job-like refrain “Why Me?” Sempre con fè sincera diedi fiori agl’altar. Nell’ora del dolore, perchè, perchè, Signore, perchè me ne rimuneri così? (Always with true faith, I gave flowers to the altar. In the hour of grief, why, why, o Lord, why do you reward me thus?)

Rejadorada’s Temple bottling is as dark and heavy as Tosca’s heart and as bold as Antona’s courage. Comprised of 100% Tinta de Toro (Tempranillo), It carries its 12 months of oak aging and 14.5% alcohol well. Though it tip-toes to the point of being overdone and extracted, it stands at the precipice with sturdy legs and square shoulders. In the glass, the wine attacks with cedar, vanillin, smoldered blueberry, black cherry and pan-grill. This is not for those who celebrate subtly, but neither did Tosca or Antona.

Like Antona, at some point in our lives, we will ultimately find ourselves festooned to the fences of both life’s absurdity and deaths inevitability. Forced like Antona to question even our most noble decisions and plead like Tosca to a silent heaven. “Perchè, perchè, Signor, ah, perchè me ne rimuneri così?” (why, why, o Lord, why do you reward me thus?) However, as the curtain opens and closes with each act within life’s cruel Opera, the stage remains a glow with music, art and wine, “which smiles with more beauty,” than any one player’s sorrowful song.

The show must go on!

-David Govatos

Barbera, Twin Peaks, Moderation and a “damn fine cup of coffee”

“I’m going to let you in on a secret. Every day, once a day, give yourself a present. Don’t plan it, don’t wait for it, just let it happen”– Special Agent Dale Cooper (Twin Peaks)

I miss Twin Peaks, and I miss Special Agent Dale Cooper. A man of duty, moderation and self-discipline. A man who lives his life with a higher moral code than the rest of us. However, even within the confines of his “Lynchian” universe he does not practice total abstinence. Instead, he is always aware and “present,” understanding that continuous simple pleasure in moderation is the key to a happy existence, “for a man who doesn’t love easily, loves too much.” Basically, Agent Cooper is the personification of Eastern philosophical thought. Just Google, “Agent Cooper is a Buddhist” if you want to dig deeper.

Unfortunately, in modern day America, the essence of Coop’s balanced philosophy has been replaced by two divergent extremes, excess and depravation. Like our current political environment there appears to be no middle and there are certainly fewer Agent Dale Coopers. Stuck between Dry-Januarys and Cirrhosis, I adhere to Coop’s philosophy; once a day, every day, to give myself a present, and just “let it happen.

Agent Cooper’s tipple of choice is a hot cup of black coffee accompanied by a slice of cherry or huckleberry pie. My daily “present” is a cool glass of red wine “paired with Life.” Since I adhere to Coop’s “everyday” mantra, I look for something dark, pleasing, versatile and affordable. All can be found in the Barbera’s of Roberto Ferraris. Specifically, his “I Suôrí” bottling, “And Diane… if you ever get up around this way, it’s worth a stop.”

Founded in 1923, the Ferraris estate consists of 22 acres in the district of Agliano Terme, the prime chop within the Barbera d’Asti zone. Barbera shines in this terroir. Roberto’s 70+ year old vines cradled within the property’s natural topographical amphitheater result in dark luxuriously stylized wines. In the glass, the 2018 “I Suôrí” bottling demonstrates vibrant streaks of ripe red fruit. Warm notes of raspberry dominate with hints of cranberry and subtle blue fruit notes linger towards the rim of the glass. The sumptuous rich fruit is accented by whispers of spice, chocolate and a kiss of mint.

“This is…excuse me, a damn fine glass of wine,” and goes pretty darn well with either cherry or huckleberry pie.

 

Give yourself a present!

Nebbiolo, The Color Blue, Truth, Beauty & Non-Binary Wine

Nebbiolo, The Color Blue, Truth, Beauty & Non-Binary Wine

A long time ago a beautiful woman told me her favorite color was blue. When I asked why, she told me because it’s the only color that can be both sad and happy at the same time. In that moment I became aware that beauty, truth and love are not binary concepts but layered mysteries. They reside outside the prison of human language, “beyond good and evil.”

Real wine-great wine, like the sound of a Stradivarius, like the blue hue of Picasso’s “Old Guitarist” or like the blue eyes of my female companion, operate on a multitude of emotional levels within a mosaic of primal impulses. Great wine like great art has a beauty that waylays within the moments without words, hiding within the quantum stillness between the staccato notes of a symphony. It has a truth that operates within the moment before lips touch lips, or lips touch glass to take another sip. If it’s love, when your eyes re-open, it is as if one fell through the mantle of the universe in a single moment, immediately returning tongue tied, yet all knowing.

The great wines of the world can often inspire this experience. Sometimes great company and an average bottle can get you there too. More often than not, if I want to experience Truth, Beauty and Love in a glass, I turn to the noble Italian grape Nebbiolo. The great Nebbiolo based wines of Northern Italy such as Barolo and Barbaresco, and those of Alto-Piedmont are certainly emotional wines “beyond the cage of words,” but often expensive. While kisses are free, Nebbiolo is not. However, in the world of wine as in the tribulations of love and truth, there are always exceptions. I have found one such exception in the wines of Andrea Oberto, specifically his simple yet beautifully mysterious Langhe Nebbiolo bottling.

Andrea Oberto has run the family estate in the La Morra and Barolo since 1978, when he left his job as a truck driver after the death of his father. We carry several offerings from Andrea including his Dolcetto, Barbera and Barolos, but it’s his Langhe Nebbiolo offering that I often find myself going home with. Like the color blue, Nebbiolo can often be “sad and happy” at the same time. Often limpid in the glass it’s gritty tannin structure can be assertive and powerful. Offering an uncommon juxtaposition between sight and sip. It is neither light nor full, but layered. In the glass, Nebbiolo as Jancis Robinson notes has “the most extraordinarily haunting bouquet in which, variously, roses, autumn undergrowth, woodsmoke, violets and tar can often be found.”

Though Andrea’s 2017 Langhe Nebbiolo bottling does not have the depth of his Barolos it does radiate many of the same layered notes of violet, black cherry, tar and baker’s chocolate. Like all good Nebbiolo it expands aromatically as it opens and leaves the taster in a state of wonder. “What is that note, that aroma?” “It seems familiar, yet alien at the same time.” My eyes re-open. It’s late and everyone has gone to bed. There is a cold tranquility in the kitchen. My glass is full of Oberto Nebbiolo, and my heart is adrift in the stillness.

-David Govatos

Spanish Wine With A Soul

Spanish wine with a Soul.

At the start of every week, the endless ritual of tasting wine with sales reps begins anew. It’s a continuous exercise in sipping, spitting and bullshitting, all in the hopes of possibly finding something special that will eventually make it to Swigg’s shelves and eventually into your glass. Finding wines that fits our philosophy, or our wine “Weltanschauung” can often be an arduous task. The practice of tasting with reps, suppliers and winemakers has become a cliché in our business, and often the products being presented can be forgettable.

I’m often reminded of a passage from Milan Kundera’s The Book of Laughter and Forgetting. “(How many times had he made love in his life?) Only two or three were really essential and unforgettable. The rest were mere echoes, imitations, repetitions, or reminiscences.” This is the vinous dance marathon that takes place every week…romance is sadly sacrificed for mere exercise, often in the end leaving both participants more exhausted than elated.

However, sometimes you find some platinum amongst the plonk in these unfortunately essential affairs. I’ve been doing this for a while, but every now and again I find something new, something important. To quote a Devil Wears Prada, “There’s a scale. One nod is good, two nods is very good. There’s only been one actual smile on record and that was Tom Ford in 2001.”

Today I met with David Sampedro, winemaker at Bodegas Bhilar. David and his wines certainly had me smiling. David and his wife Melanie Hickman own Bodegas Bhilar, a supremely positioned boutique winery in the town of Elvillar in Rioja Alavesa, Spain. The lineup David showed me today included some of the most compelling and interesting wines I’ve found this year, radiating with personality, purity and an unshakable aura of place. David was also “super chill”, passionate, down to earth and carried himself with a quite intensity. David simply presented himself as a farmer, and said all he had to say through his wines.

In the vineyard David farms biodynamically, and in 2014 even replaced tractors with horses. According to his website,” When you witness horses working in the vineyards it’s truly transforming…you truly live in the moment.” In the winery he is a not an interventionist, “allowing the land to speak for itself.” You hear this last part a lot from wine makers, but David’s wines in the glass are simply beyond any form of cynicism.

I had purchased some of David’s wines several months ago, but had tasted the wines piecemeal and really never got to explore what he and his wines are all about, even though I was certainly moved and intrigued by the initial offerings I tasted.

I was tipped to Bodegas Bhilar by the great wine writing sage Matt Kramer, by one of his last writing assignments for the Wine Spectator, “The Last Postcard from Spain.” In Kramer’s brief article, he mentions only five producers of note, Bodegas Bhilar being one of them. Described as a “rabble-rouser from Rioja,” Kramer goes on to describe Bodegas Bhilar as “Biodynamically grown Rioja wines of exceptional quality for the money,” and after today’s tasting I couldn’t agree more. I am simply smitten with the wines from Bodegas Bhilar.

 

$23 Nero D’Avola, Albert Camus & Happiness

$23 Nero D’Avola, Albert Camus & Happiness

“In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me, there lay, an invincible summer. And, that makes me happy.”-Albert Camus

A new decade has dawned and we roll into the 20s bleary-eyed and seasonally battered from the recent Holiday. This is my least favorite time of year. My Vitamin-D levels are as depleted as my bank account, and the warmth of family gatherings has been replaced by the lonely cold minutia of American working life.

During this time of year, I often find happiness in wine’s bottled sunlight. It’s wine that reminds me that pitchers and catchers report in 6 weeks, and if the NFL playoffs come, “can Spring be far behind?”

I love Mediterranean island wines this time of year. As I swirl the wine in my glass, I think of the shimmering sun reflecting off of turquoise water and wind blowing through golden hued country sides. These thoughts warm me and make me happy.

I had been searching for another Sicilian producer to work with over the past several months. There’s a menagerie of serviceable yet innocuous bottles of both red and white Sicilian wine. I was looking for something that expressed more than just sun-kissed fruit, I was looking for something with a “somewhereness” (Thank you, Matt Kramer). I found the wines I was looking for in Feudo Montoni.

Feudo Montoni is located more than 50 miles southeast of Palermo within the heart-land of the Island. Along with grape cultivation, the area is synonymous for wheat production. During antiquity the region was known as the “granary of the Roman Empire.”

Feudo Montoni’s geographic positioning is unique to the island and lends a strong and unique character to the wines produced on the estate. The property sits at rather high elevation (500-700 meters above sea level), and the wines in the glass reflect a warm influence, rather than a scorched or baked note present in many other wines from Sicily. Fuedo Montoni’s wines also taste clean and unmanipulated. The estate is certified organic, and cultivates both wheat and olives on the property as well as grapes.

Tonight I’m opening a bottle of Feudo Montoni Nero D’Avola “Lagnusa” 2017. In the glass, the wine displays loads of ripe cherry into black cherry, “squishy plum,” warm earthenware, hints of spice and black pepper on the finish wrap up what is a silken and sumptuous example of Nero D’Avola. It’s a joy to drink while my sausage and peppers simmer on the stove, and in the recesses of my imagination its summer in the “hinterlands” of Sicily. This makes me happy.

-David Govatos

 

$10 Douro Red, Anthony Bourdain & Bifanas

$10 Douro Red, Anthony Bourdain & Bifanas

It was a “wet” night, and the following morning I felt less than “sparkling.” The early afternoon pangs of hunger entered with a growl. In moments like these, only seasoned meat, exquisitely aligned between fresh bread, can quell the hammering in the head and quiet the rumbling in the stomach.

In the hungry recesses of my mind, I remembered Anthony Bourdaine in Portugal. He was wolfing down Bifanas, the country’s famous pork sandwich. For a few moments I quietly fantasized how amazing it would be to have such a sandwich in my hand, and a comforting bottle of Portuguese red wine to wash it down. Nothing cerebral mind you, just something simple, pleasing and red.
Sadly, my reverie was broken by the reality that I would not be able to find a Bifana in my neck of the woods. My imagination then drifted on to a more attainable image of a Five Guys burger, complete with a side of fries. Soon, my Bifana fantasy devolved into a beef-on-bun fantasy with all the trimmings.

All was not lost. As Walter Sobchak from the Big Lebowski has taught me, “If you will it Dude, it is no dream” (Paraphrasing Theodor Herzl).
What was on my mind and in my glass was Calcuda Wine Estate’s, Lago Douro Valley Red 2015. This Portuguese beauty is a sumptuous red wine. Aged 3 months in French and American oak the wine is comprised of Tinta Roriz, Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca and Tinto Barroca. In the glass the wine radiates with smoldering chocolate, black cherry, dried fig and overripe plum. The wine has cabernet like weight but without fatiguing oak accents. There’s a concentration with this wine that always seems to channel Valpoliclello Ripasso. Swigg has carried this wine for several vintages, and though this wine has been quite popular, the 2015 is truly a knockout. It’s a delightful little wine that helped take the edge off and flesh out my “meat laden day dreams” even if they didn’t include a Bifana.

-David Govatos

$13 Bordeaux Rouge, Edgar Allan Poe & Vincent Price

$13 Bordeaux Rouge, Edgar Allan Poe & Vincent Price

We find ourselves deep into the month of October, and the chilly Mid-Atlantic morning fog has drifted from evening-twilight into autumn morning day-break. These are the dawns before death, nature’s way of tucking-in, and turning-off the lights on all that’s living. Winter trudges in with carless cold indifference. It’s no wonder the pagan gods found this time of year ideal for celebrating the ghastly, carnal and macabre. With cosplay and candy, we continue this annual maudlin parade into the crypt of winter. Indulging in all that is “dark” in both nature and ourselves.

My personal observance of the most bewitching of seasons includes good booze and a good book. For “Candy is dandy, but liquor is quicker.” And the silence of a book a fairer friend than the fatiguing glow of a boisterous screen. Tonight, I’ve popped open a “petite” Bordeaux and opened a recently discovered 1965 drugstore copy of, 18 Best Stories by Edgar Allan Poe, with an introduction by Vincent Price. Pretty “rad” find I must say. Sadly, though Price had celebrated acting career, all I can hear in my head as I turn the pages is his narration from the “Thriller” video. To this day it always creeps me out.

Yes, it may be trite, but since I own a wine shop, I started my sybaritic evening with Poe and Price by turning directly to the very last story in the book, “The Cask of Amontillado.” I guess they saved the best for last. If you haven’t read Cask of Amontillado, it’s about an Italian aristocrat, Montresor, who gets pissed-off at another Italian aristocrat, Fortunato for being an “Insulting” dunce. Apparently, Fortunato is such a bigmouth, bullshitting, dunce that Montresor can’t take it anymore. He murders Fortunato. But he Devil is in the details.

Montresor executes Fortunato’s demise by coaxing a drunk Fortunato (dressed in full carnival regalia…think gaudy court jester) into his wine cellar. By disengenously pleading that he needs Fortunato’s expertise in fine wine, Montresor leads Fortunato into his cellar to inspect a recent purchase of Amontillado sherry. Once in the cellar, Montresor chains Fortunato to a wall. Then with what appears to be almost superhuman masonry skill and wicked speed, Montresor walls Fortunato into a stony grave.

The natural segue way would be for me to try to sell you some Amontillado Sherry. But I would be just as disingenuous as Montresor and just as “quack-ish” as Fortunato if I attempted such a feat. Instead, I’ll stick to the aristocratic and affordable juice I’ve been sipping all evening. Chateau Jarr, Bordeaux Rouge, 2017.   Something I’d be content drinking whether immersed in death, regret, unrelenting fear or just a good book. I’m immersed in one of these activities daily, so it helps that Chateau Jarr Rouge doesn’t carry a price tag that will lead me down into anyone’s cellar anytime soon.

Currently certified as biodynamic, Chateau Jarr was one of the “pioneers” of organic farming practices in France, switching to organic farming in 1964. Currently the Chateau farms 32 hectares of vines in Entre-Deux-Mers, planted to Merlot, Cabernet, Cabernet Franc, Malbec and Petite Verdot.

In the glass, the wine shows black berry and pronounced redcurrant. Cedar-like wood notes are woven in between subtle coco, coffee ground and forest floor aromas. The finish is classic in its drying tannin and refreshing acidity. I’ve had great luck paring this wine with an array of Autumn vegetable and pork dishes.

“In Pace Requiescat!”

 

-David Govatos

 

$14 Marcillac Rouge, Anne of Green Gables & Metallica

$14 Marcillac Rouge…Anne of Green Gables…Metallica & Cassoulet

“I’m so glad I live in a world where there are Octobers.”
– L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Green Gables

You probably didn’t think I was going to quote Anne of Green Gables to lead into one of my bi-monthly wine newsletters, but I do love this time of year. Thankfully, my nostalgia for October has nothing to do with pumpkin spice, but I’m sure Anne Shirley would have been an ardent fan if only Starbucks and Yankee Candles existed in her day.

For me, October is the coziest month, a time to celebrate the bounty of the harvest and the last morsels of light before winter. It’s early October in the Mid-Atlantic when the aspect of light begins to change; Just about the time touchdowns begin to outpace home runs. The Sun, which just weeks before had been an unrelenting demon sitting on his high summer perch, now seems to childishly peak out from behind the trees, warming instead of scorching, comforting without suffocating. A chill begins to bookend each day, and the Fall Field Crickets resume their Spring serenade, providing a soundtrack to my once quite porch cocktail hour…or hours.

Few things are as sublime as a late October afternoon. Without getting too verbose, this time of year offers perfect eating and drinking weather. It’s a time to indulge in the heartiness of the land and wash it down with something, fresh, full, and redolent of autumn air, falling leaves and the essence of fractured sun light.

For these occasions, to paraphrase Metallica, “Give me fuel, give me fire give me Cassoulet which I desire!” But who am I kidding? I have two young Children. It’s hard enough to get them to eat toast let alone duck confit. So last Sunday afternoon Joanne made beef chili instead, which I thought was an amicable compromise. As predicted, Griffin and Vivienne ate very little, and I was left to consume the rest. I accomplished this heroic gastronomic feat with the help of Domaine Laurens, Marcillac Rouge, Cuvee Pierres Rouges,2016.

Domaine Laurens is a 21-hectare family run farm located in the wine growing region of Marcillac, primely positioned within the Massif Central mountain range. The property was founded in 1975 by Gilbert Laurens. Currently, Gilbert’s two sons run the property, and focus on growing Fer Servadou grapes also known as Mansois in other growing regions around the South West France.

There is a high content of iron oxide in the vineyard soil of Marcillac, allowing Fer Sevadau grown in this region to exude a lovely iodine like acidity that gives the wines a Umami like quality that adds a perfect lift for rich protein and bean laden stews as well as roast vegetable dishes. Jancis Robinson has noted that the wines from this region are “interestingly perfumed,” and I would argue, make for wines that certainly demonstrate a sense of place.

In the glass, the 2016 Domain Laurens, Marcillac Rouge, Cuvee Pierres Rouge, exudes loads of red current, “dark squishy plum,” rhubarb compote and inflections of raspberry notes and beef bouillon. The wine unravels different layers of earth, spice and funk as it’s left open. There is a defined greenness intermixed with the fruit that reminds me of Chinon. At 12.5% alcohol the wine is totally “crushable,” and its smart interplay between tannin and acidity allows it to cleans the palate while tackling savory seasonal stews.

When Death finally finds me, I hope he finds me half asleep under the warm light of a Sunday October dusk; In front of an Eagle’s game, satiated with Fer Servadou and cassoulet, as ambient chatter of familiar family voices in the kitchen whisk me away.

I too am glad I’ve lived in a world where there are Octobers.

-David Govatos

$21 Cali Red Blend, Red Lingerie & Humility

$21 Cali Red Blend, Red Lingerie & Humility

I met Michael Dashe sometime last year. I always wanted to meet the man behind the whimsical “monkey-riding- on- the- whale” wine labels, at least I think it’s a whale. I also wanted to pick the brain of the man who makes some of the most compelling artisanal-made California wines I’ve been lucky enough to sample.

Our meeting was short, but channeling the words of legendary NFL coach Dennis Green “he was who, I thought he was” …A really cool dude. I don’t really ever get star-struck, but Michael was a different story. Just having a wine maker of his stature in the store on a random Wednesday (I think was a Wednesday) was pretty cool.

Mike along with his wine making partner and wife Anne have been making delicious non-interventionist, single vineyard wines under their own label in California since 1996. However, their craft and their wines are still relatively unknown in the Delaware market, but this is kind of like wondering why Springsteen isn’t played more in North Korea.

Though many wine makers I meet in my shop have impressive resumes, Mike and Anne have a truly compelling background that I think is worth talking about. In many ways, their career paths underscore the immense humility I found in Mike, and what I can imagine I would find in Anne if I ever get to meet her. It’s hard to believe they have accomplished so much in such a short period of time.

In the mid-80s Mike interned at Schramsberg, then Cloudy Bay in New Zealand (You know, the expensive New Zealand Suav blanc that you buy for your friend because it’s the only expensive New Zealand Sauv Blanc you can find). He followed this up by doing a stint at Chateau Laffite in 1989. He then took the position of assistant wine maker at Ridge, where he worked under the Iconic winemaker Paul Draper and ultimately was tapped to manage Ridge’s Lytton Springs winery in Dry Creek.

Anne completed her internship at Chateau La Dominique in Saint-Emilion, and after receiving her National Diploma of Eneology from the University of Bordeaux, she took a job at the classic Napa estate Chappellet. She later took a position as a research enologist at RMS Brandy Distillery in Corneros before going full time with Mike at Dashe.

Basically, the two of them are a “Big Deal,” and even bigger than a Ron Burgundy like guttural growl.

You know what else is pretty cool? Instead of opening up some ego-palace of a winery, the Dashe’s chose to open a tasting room in downtown Oakland. I imagine they believe as I do that wine should act as an olive branch rather than classist sword.

According to the Dache’s website, “In a somewhat controversial decision at the time, we bypassed the bucolic scenes of lush vineyards for a warehouse in Jack London Square, then transformed it into a world-class facility. We simply believed that people shouldn’t have to travel to wine country to taste exceptional wine.” Mike and Anne, were basically hipsters before there were hipsters.

As of next week, Swigg should have several Dashe wines back on the racks. Frankly, it’s my fault for not bringing these wines back into our core offering after we moved the shop last year. They represent everything we stand for, and everything we will be doing in the future.

This week we bought all 5 cases of Dashe’s 2017 Delta Reds Blend made available for the State of Delaware. A sumptuous blend of: 42% Carignane, 18% Mourvèdre, 16% Terlodego, 15% Tannat, 5% Zinfandel, 2% Barbera, 2% Petite Sirah. Yes, that’s one hell of a blend… and it works.

Michael described the 2017 Delta Red to our mutual friend as “Chateauneuf de Dashe,” and it’s certainly Rhone-y, and lavish in pallet profile. The wine sings with high toned notes of oven baked cherry, smoldering fruit that harkens back to my grandmother’s fresh baked cherry crumble where the fruit seemed to glisten with notes of sweet glycerin and baking spices. There are faint underlying menthol and eucalyptus notes too, that give way to a supple core of plum and black cherry fruit with a silken finish.

This is the vinous equivalent of the red lingerie you wish your wife or girlfriend would wear more often. It’s open knit, quickens the heart, yet leaves the imagination open and finishes with shivering content. The fruit here is really “something”, and it just gushes. It’s linear, direct, and glossy, yet it’s devoid of manipulation and absent of irony. It’s just sexy and strong and wants to be consumed rapidly with Carolina BBQ… while everything is dripping.

Take a breath.

-David Govatos

$9 Country White, Miles Davis & Octopus

I throw some Miles Davis on the record player this afternoon, “Stella by Starlight,” and peer out Swigg’s large bay windows. I know Autumn is sauntering in as I draw the curtains to impede the limbo-ing light, that is insidiously tip toe-ing lower and lower upon the sills.

These pre-Fall afternoons have a womb like stillness to them, and the lower arching light twirls and tangos between trees and houses, nature’s candle box, casting a world of shadow and light that complement Miles’s slow sultry trumpet notes.

This is grilling weather at it’s finest, and I’m in the mood for octopus. Swigg just received another shipment of Domaine des Cassagnoles, Côtes de Gascogne blanc, so I know exactly what I will be drinking with my tasty cephalopod. A blend of Colombard, Ugni Blanc and Gros Manseng, Domaine des Cassagnoles, Côtes de Gascogne Blanc has always been in the unofficial Hall of Fame of great wine values, a savior for broke, thirsty wine professionals. In the glass, the wine is radiant with light green and soft yellow inflections that capture the glowing edges of light between the falling leaves on this picturesque afternoon. On the nose the wine displays pithy citrus notes of grapefruit and lemon intermingled with savory green apple notes. Secondary aromas of mountain herbs, white flowers and subtle hints of mint quickly follow.

Miles Davis, Grilled Octopus and Domaine des Cassagnoles, Côtes de Gascogne Blanc…I couldn’t think of a better way to enjoy the last light of summer.

-David Govatos

$9 Nero d’Avola, Black Holes, Island Wines & Paul Simon

$9 Nero d’Avola, Black Holes, Island Wines & Paul Simon.

The way we look to a distant constellation
That’s dying in a corner of the sky
These are the days of miracle and wonder
And don’t cry baby, don’t cry
Don’t cry”-Paul Simon

Sagittarius A* (Sgr A) is a super massive black hole at the center of our galaxy. I’m humbled to think that 25,640 light years away, time and space come, not to and end, but to a nothing-ness. Far away from Sgr A’s event horizon, the cruel demarcation line where no light or other radiation can escape, our blue marble of a planet enjoys the refuge of sitting on the outer tendrils of our spiral galaxy.

Earth is an island within a greater archipelago of stars, planets and rocks protected by a vast onyx ocean of space, time and dark matter. However, I find solace in our isolated loneliness. We exist because of it.

I often think of our position and paradox in the universe when thinking about wine. I love island wines. Wines forged into existence through vines that have been coaxed to express the terroir of lonely, sometimes inhospitable rocks, cast about on Earth’s vast azure oceans and seas.

These places may be geographically isolated, but very much alive. The vines that take residences on these rocky rafts often reflect a vibrant, radiant sun kissed, and lava inflected fruit. This type of purity and delineation of flavor are unattainable without the geological depravation that their desolate locals provide.

For example, one of the most exciting places for wine production in the world at the moment is the idiosyncratic island of Sicily. Once known for primarily bulk wine production several decades ago, there are now a multitude of charming vinous sirens from end to end of the Island that lure my glass to them.

Though I love the wines from Mt Etna, an active volcano on the Eastern side of the Island, I’m currently sipping a simple Nero d’Avola this evening from the Di Giovanna family, sourced from the Western town of Sambuca, and really wishing I had ordered that pizza I was thinking about. Sirens are distracting for a reason.

Unfortunately, Swigg is located in a pizza desert, So I’m forced to think about how great a simple slice of real New York Style pizza would jive with this simple Island red. In the glass, Di Giovanna’s Artist Series Nero d’Avola, expresses restrained red berry notes, somewhere between cherry and plum, autumnal leaf matter, baker’s chocolate, loamy earthen notes and red-rose petal. The lovely drying tannin here and ample acidity, perfectly accentuate the tang of red sauce and cut through the lactic protein of various offerings of fromage. The wine is pure, simple and pleasing. I rejoice that the Giovanna’s did not opt to obscure the wine’s simplicity with new oak.

While I sip this “Black Grape of Avola,” off in the distance, 25,640 light years away, another rapacious, faceless obsidian devil lurks, ripping apart reality from the seams of time. Though an eternity in between, our horizons are the same. To contradict John Donne, every man/ woman is an Island. Though I agree with Donne, we wish we were a “piece of the continent, a part of the main.”

And we should not fret, “don’t cry baby”, this is not a bad thing. Islands have beaches and they have vines, and they have horizons. Places where time stands still and hope is infinite. Wine, physics and Paul Simon can’t be wrong, “these are the days of miracle and wonder” …Drink up!

-David Govatos

Cindy’s Mole

Don’t ask me how…you don’t want to know, but I recently came across an old Vogue article titled, “Who Told Cindy to Remove Her Mole?” The provocative picture of a young Cindy Crawford circa, 1993 sauntering down the runway in Hervè Lèger obviously led me to the quick read. But, it was Cindy’s words that got me thinking about a few of my favorite things: wine, beauty, and truth.

According to Cindy, as a kid, her sister would tease Cindy about her now famous mole, calling it an “ugly mark.” For a period of time Cindy contemplated removing it. Her decision to live with her God given blemish was probably the best career decision she ever made. In a sea of ubiquitous beauty, it was this “ugly mark” that gave her “look” substance as well as elevated her natural allure. It was singularly hers, unforgettable and perfectly-imperfect. Above all else, I would argue, it made her authentic.

So what does this have to do with wine you ask? Well, Swigg is continually searching for Cindy Crawford’s mole, at least metaphorically. Adrift in a sea of ubiquitous, homogenous wine, beer and spirits that wash ashore at your local liquor and grocery store, polished up to look pretty and taste pretty (think lots of makeup), we are fishing for the authentic and the memorable, the beautiful and the profound…we are casting for Cindy, and the seas are, well… rough.

As the great twine writer Matt Kramer has stated:

Many of today’s shallowest, most facile wines are created by winegrowers—and sometimes celebrated by wine critics—who dismiss, disregard or are even contemptuous of authenticity.”

These wine growers, critics and ultimately consumers are the same men and woman who probably think Cindy Crawford’s beauty would be enhanced or even saved by the removal of her mole…her authenticity. Rubbish!

The reality is that the “contemptuous part of authenticity” stems from the fact that many wine drinkers – and wine critics for that matter – as in life, simply reject what they cannot understand. Instead of keeping an open mind and realizing that Cindy’s mole is not an imperfection, and “authentic wine is not an abstraction,” they find solitude in a preconceived, juvenile, “one size fits all” notion of wine, beauty and taste.

To quote my hero once again, “The fine-wine transformation of our time is rooted in seeking the authentic, from the vines to deferential winemaking to the glass. It’s a matter of recognizing that there is indeed a real deal—and getting it.”

One of the producers that captures the “Real Wine” spirit of Swigg is Walter Massa. Every time I pour one of his wines, whether they be his “signature” bottles or his more modest offerings, they resonate authenticity, conjure visions of Cindy and make me want to take another sip.

 

As his national importer has noted:

It’s hard not to get worked up about Walter Massa’s wines: He had a vision for a variety nobody wanted, worked in obscurity for years, rescued the grape (Timorassa), and doesn’t talk about himself but about the territory of Colli Tortonesi,” and after all these trials and tribulations has become the “Sound and fury of Italian sommeliers.”

Walter farms 22 hectares in 8 unique vineyard areas located in the forgotten Piedmontese appellation of Colli Tortonesi located in Northern Italy. If Walter is the beauty, the Timorasso grape is his “Mole.” Timorasso is an ancient Italian white grape varietal that hinged on the precipice of extinction until Walter resuscitated it. Though grown elsewhere in the appellation, Walter has made it his own. Timorasso is Walter’s letter of authenticity, a voluptuous expression of tropical fruit, Christmas spice, honey & bees wax with lip smacking minerality. There simply is nothing else like it. I sip Walter’s wines the same way my adolescent-self stared at pictures of Cindy, with passion and longing for more.

Like Cindy, Massa is not an unknown. Walter was Gambero Rosso’s viticulturist of the year in 2010, and his bottlings of Timorassa are considered some of the finest examples of white wine in Italy. Unfortunately, we live in Delaware, and there are limited bottles of Walter’s wines to drink, Hervè Lèger dresses to adorn, and there are certainly not many Cindy’s…but that’s ok, because I have Joanne, my own authentic beauty, and we always keep Walter Massa’s wine well stocked.

-David Govatos

Rosé ALL DAY

Rosé ALL DAY

I like to read books about natural history. It’s sort of a hobby of mine. I don’t believe there’s anything more terrifying than being confronted with the vastness of the universe. The loneliness that ensues with the awareness that we are exceptionally insignificant is sort of a mental and mortal roundabout kick to the human ego. Though I do not proscribe to any religious ideology… I’m a philosophical masochist at heart.

I recently started rereading Bill Bryson’s book “A Short History of Everything,” which if you have just one curious sinew in your soul, I would encourage you to read. Sadly, curiosity is a commodity these days, as there are more convenient myths than inconvenient truths. The 1980s has always been known as the decade of, “Living in Oblivion,” but with the rise of such groups as the “Flat Earthers,” I think the moniker is more synonymous with this day and age.

Whilst delving through Bryson’s genius tome I often think back to the “Flat Earthers,” and think how decadent a time we must live in for people to believe in such nonsense, and carry about their lives. For example, even though Voyager 1, launched in 1977 is traveling through our solar system at 38,000 mph, billions of miles away from us, and you’re probably reading this on your cell phone, there are actually people who believe the world is flat.

Science…forgive them, for they do not know what they do.

As Bryson points out, the average distance between stars is “20 million million miles away” (The millions millions, is not a typo). There are an estimated 100 to 400 Billion stars in the Milky Way galaxy (who’s counting?) and don’t forget this little nugget, The Milky Way is just one of 140 Billion or so galaxies, even larger than ours.” I’m sure Senator Clay Davis, of The Wire, would end all of this with a classic… “Sheeeeit.”

It’s been said by quantum physicists that time does not exist (at least the way we humans perceive it), and I’ve been told “that every distance is not near.” I have often felt the more knowledge I gain the lonelier I become. Maybe that’s why we have Flat Earthers? They just don’t want to be existentially lonely… or basically just lonely in their case. As Voyager I, the Stars and the Universe expand out of our sight so ultimately do the people and things we love dilate out of our world… but, Just a little at a time (So little at a time, you don’t realize it until they’re gone). Maybe that’s all death is…order giving into entropy, giving way to unfathomable expansion, creating unimaginable possibilities. And then…back again.

I took a little vacation last week over the 4th of July. It’s the longest I’ve been away from Swigg in quite a while. Rehoboth has always been my ancestral place of recess, and the sandy stretch of beach at the end of Virginia Avenue, has always been our families perch. Every morning we sleepily saunter from car to sandy nest, curtained by Maxfield Parrish painted clouds, and cocooned by a milky morning marine mist. Sitting under open sky, marooned on white sand, one gains a whole new appreciation for nuclear fusion.

Why is it, in the audience of the sun, and within the proximity of large bodies of water, time begins to slow within my mammalian brain?
I watched my children play in the water and I played with them. My wife and I smiled at each other quite a bit. I read some Hemingway, and took many half-asleep naps and dreamt of sailing, fishing and drinking. We played silly games, games of chance, games of skill and took home many shoddily made stuffed animals. This is what we did each day, and we lived what seemed like many days inside of one. We did this every day! We took deep breaths of salty umami air intermingled with even saltier aromas from restaurant fryers that seem to festoon the boardwalk. We salivated over the drifting scent of caramelized sugar wafting from confections being made inside ancient seaside buildings and discarded melting cream and glucose on the planks of the splintering wooden avenue.

Every day I would return home, sun smothered, dazed from the Vitamin D. Feeling loopy, in love with life, and the innocent introspective of my children and my wife’s smile. In my post sun-drunk content I poured a drink.

The first “drink” after a long day at the beach, is an important one. It is a moment to capture and accentuate the “high” nature has already given you. I brought a cache of Rosé down with us from a varying number of European locals. Nothing cerebral, just simple delightful stuff I can afford. I opened and poured a finely chilled example of such inside the stillness of my in-law’s house. Dorthy and I put on some deep cuts of Otis Redding as we prepped dinner. I began to pour big glasses of Rosé for she and Joanne.

Later in the evening my son and I went out searching for amphibians of the night. We captured several toads, and held them up to the slivered moon. We laughed at their beauty and design. So “cute” Griffin says. We scurried about searching for more specimens. I looked up into the light polluted sky and wondered where Voyager I was. I thought about the ocean’s tide I had played in all day and the Flat Earthers (Explain tidal forces). I thought about the distances between stars. I thought about Richard Manuel’s voice singing “I Shall be Released,” I thought about Bill Bryson (Man…the guy can f@#king write). I thought about entropy and time. And, I thought about what to drink next.

Griffin and I collected our catch and wandered home. Company had congregated before we had left. When we returned, we released or bumpy moist loves, and Griffin retired to a screen somewhere.

I poured another glass of overly chilled Rosé and rejoined the party.

-David Govatos