Stephen’s Pick: 2015 Domaine Billaud-Simon Chablis, Tete d’Or, $32.00

Ah, the elegance and purity of a good Chablis! Chablis is the northernmost Burgundian region, therefore wines produced there are technically white Burgundy.  While they are both Chardonnay based, the comparison stops right there. The weather in Chablis tends to be cool, rainy, and sometimes downright miserable. The consequent result of this climate is a white wine known for its austerity and unadorned, honest integrity. One must also mention the abundant limestone chalkiness of the stony soils that are nearly always damp and cold. Because of the tendency of this region to experience sudden drops in temperature, wine-makers in Chablis will frequently employ extravagant techniques to prevent the delicate Chardonnay grapes from freezing. Slow-burning chaufferettes (little stoves) are placed between rows in an effort to minimize the damage caused by freezing conditions. Additionally, Chablis producers will employ the “water aspersion method” where vines are deliberately sprayed with water at critical moments in order to develop a thin coating of ice, which is designed to insulate them against any further drops in temperature. These are merely two of many examples of intensive care given to grapes grown in a region that has produced some of the world’s finest wines since the 11th Century! 

To present an accurate description of the experience of enjoying a good Chablis, think of the feeling you get when you are indoors, curled up with a good book, comfortably reading and deeply engaged—while outside, it is cold, rainy, and miserable. Think of the blissful contrast of cold misery outside combined with the comfort and intellectual stimulation reading indoors. Such are the positive attributes of a great Chablis—cool, pure simplicity, drizzling with minerality and an honest freshness that reminds us that all is well, in spite of the chaotic harshness of the outside world. If a buttery, voluptuous California Chardonnay is Marilyn Monroe, then Chablis is Grace Kelly in a grey flannel suit with a pure-white linen blouse and sterling silver accessories. Chablis is the “Hitchcock Blonde” of wines!

Domaine Billaud-Simon’s Chablis Tete d’Or 2015 is a reasonably priced, excellent Chablis that delights the drinker with everything a good Chablis should be. Fermented in stainless steel, then aged in 80 percent stainless, and 20 percent oak for added texture—it’s refreshing flavor and faint traces of oak and butter, enable it to stand proudly with head held high among all the other great wines from this region.  The nose offers subtle citrus and white flowers; the palate is smooth and rich. It is perfectly balanced, lively yet discreet, slightly fruity yet refined, offering steely minerality without being too dry. For those of you that have yet to enjoy Chablis, this is an inexpensive, tremendous credit to one of France’s most coveted and virtuous wines. Drink now and pair beautifully with halibut, monkfish, cod, or even chicken-salad.

Kent’s Pick: 2011 I Tre Vescovi Barbera D’Asti Superiore, $12.99

I really enjoy Barbera, because it’s a very versatile wine that can pair well with a lot of different foods. So when we brought in the I Tre Vescovi, I knew I wanted to take a bottle home. One of the things that peaked my interest in the wine was the ‘Superiore’ classification. For Barbera to be classified as Superiore, the wine must have an alcohol content of at least 12.5 percent, and must be aged for at least 14 months, of which six must be in oak or chestnut barrels. The resulting wine will be bigger in fruit and rounder in texture. The nose of the I Tre Vescovi shows ripe dark fruit and a hint of earth. On the palate, the wine is soft and supple due to the oak aging (this bottling spent over a year in oak) and slightly higher alcohol content which makes it a bit lower in acid than you would normally find in a Barbera. Flavors of dark raspberries, ripe cherries, and a touch of earth are framed in a light vanilla note. This is a great food wine: pair it with pork chops or pork tenderloin, but it will also stand up to a hearty beef or lamb stew.

Kathy’s Pick: 2011 Kerloo Stone Tree Malbec, $30.00

Every once in a while, we get a close-out offer, and if we feel it’s a good deal, we jump on it. That’s the case with this Kerloo Malbec. Originally priced at $40 a bottle, it’s a great wine from Washington, small production, and as some of that state’s wines need a little time in the bottle to fully integrate, it’s drinking beautifully now. Here is what the Wine Enthusiast said about it: “Coming from a mixture of blocks 17 and 24 at Stone Tree Vineyard, it’s a dark, glass-staining wine with notes of plum, crushed blueberries, coffee, tar and spice. The palate is silky soft, textured in feel with concentrated coffee flavors. An exquisite sense of balance carries through to a long, lingering finish.” They rated it 92. But we only got a few bottles at this price, so buy it before it’s all gone.

Genny’s Pick: 2016 Airfield Dauntless, $14.99

This month I have been intrigued by Washington red blends. Always looking to find a delicious wine that fits my budget, I tried this wine from the Yakima Valley. Once again, Washington did not let me down. Unlike the big, bold Tempranillo’s and Malbecs that I tend to gravitate to, this Merlot dominant blend had the lighter body and elegance more typical of some Old World wines. It was full of character; I was pleasantly surprised. The Dauntless certainly has some depth and complexity. According to the winemaker, “This Right Bank Bordeaux style blend encapsulates the richness of plum and spice with the elegance of smooth tannins and soft oak. Black cherry flavors on the palate lead to a long, well balanced finish.” Enjoy this wonderful red with your favorite pasta, or chuck roast. I’ll be checking out Washington blends more often!

Dave’s Pick: 2015 Pierre le Grand Crozes-Hermitage, $18.99

Pierre le Grand’s name is on the label, but in reality, the wine is produced by Jean Pierre and Hélène Mucyn, proprietors of Domaine Jean Pierre Mucyn. Their Northern Rhône estate, located in the village of Gervans, is in the heart of the Crozes-Hermitage AOC, and covers some 45 acres. The grapes come from vineyards that have reached an average age of 40 years, with vines rooted in sand and cailloux soil. The estate is sustainably farmed, the grapes hand harvested and completely destemmed. One hundred percent Syrah, this 2015 Crozes-Hermitage offers dusty dark fruit and spice aromas. The silky plum, cassis and berry fruit flavors are backed by creamy mocha and nuanced touches of earth, mineral and bacon. This is a lush bargain made in a style very different from most Australian, Northwest or California Syrahs. A must try red wine.

Bruce’s Pick: 2016 Pieropan Soave Classico, $18.99

I originally was going to pick an inexpensive ($10) Bordeaux for February with the idea that it would be a small wine for a small month. That did not go so well, as I didn’t like the wine enough to recommend it.  At the last minute I remembered that I had recently had this Pieropan Soave at a restaurant, and it had previously caught my eye in the cooler in the shop. I was so impressed that I purchased a bottle to confirm my impression from the glass I enjoyed at the restaurant. Sure enough, it was even better than I remembered. This bottle comes with an inscription from Lionildo Pieropan “My 50th Vintage,” and wow should he be proud of it! This is perhaps the finest Soave I have ever tasted. It’s a blend of 85 percent Garganega and 15 percent Trebbiano Soave from the family’s estate in Veneto’s Soave Classico. The wine opens with fresh and savory aromas of white flowers and stone fruit, and continues on the palate with white peach, crisp apple and lemon drop, backed by just a hint of almond. It finishes with a saline minerality and zingy acidity that enhances its long mouthwatering finish. This would make an excellent aperitif or would pair well with vegetable-based starters, soups, egg-based dishes and seafood. I simply cannot recommend it highly enough!

Bob’s Pick: 2014 Casa Santos Lima, Colossal Reserva, $11.99

I call them emerging markets: those wine regions that, for some reason or another, have yet to be discovered, or sometimes re-discovered. Remember how cheap Australian wine used to be? Kind of like that. Well my latest re-discovery is Portugal. Yeah, fortified Ports are great, but there are other great wines that come from Portugal, made from the same grapes, but fermented dry. Fortunately for us, not too many people either know about them, or cannot be bothered to explore yet more unfamiliar grape varieties, so the prices are better than reasonable. This reserva (one year in bottle, two years in oak) has intense ruby color, and presents itself with a great concentration in the nose with a predominance of red ripe fruits and some floral notes. It’s well integrated with notes of spice coming from the French and American oak barrel aging. In the mouth, it shows great complexity, offering plum and blackberry. The finish is rich and elegant.  Oh yeah, and those mostly unfamiliar grapes varieties: 30 percent Touriga Nacional, 30 percent Syrah, 30 percent Tinta Roriz and 10 percent Alicante Bouschet.

Stephen’s Pick: 2016 Chateau Mont-Redon Côtes du Rhône Blanc, $14.99

Many wine drinkers have not had the opportunity to try a white Côtes du Rhône. Here at the Wine Shop, we have received mixed levels of enthusiasm regarding this wonderful, not always appreciated white wine. When I found out about the subpar feedback from customers regarding white Rhônes, I was surprised; however, after a little bit of investigation, I discovered why. A French wine-expert friend of mine explained to me that many people drink white wines at very cold temperatures, assuming that all white wines are meant to be enjoyed cold, which is, to some extent, true. However, the word “cold” is quite relative. The Roussanne and Marsanne varieties that are the usual components of white Rhônes tend to have a bit of a bland taste when consumed at the too cold temperatures found in most household refrigerators. This could be due to their viscosity, however, I was able to analyze this phenomenon further, and I realized that when the taste receptors on our tongues (“gustatory receptors”) are too cold, they lose some of their ability to distinguish subtle flavors. The solution is to drink some white wines at cool temperatures rather than “cold” and the difference is quite dramatic!  White Côtes du Rhônes are a family favorite and when we enjoy them, we usually take them out of the refrigerator a good half hour prior to drinking, and at this “cool” temperature (rather than “cold”) they are absolutely delicious! The 2016 Chateau Mont-Redon Côtes du Rhône Blanc is utterly sublime! A blend of equal parts Viognier, Grenache Blanc and Roussanne, the vines grown in this region are planted in stony, limestone-clay plains. The result is a superb white wine, pulsating with beautiful, floral aromas and round, well-balanced acidity, with a long, luxurious, creamy finish. Pair this with pork, chicken, duck, lamb, sausage, veal, and Asian dishes. White Rhônes also go beautifully with spaghetti Bolognese and other dishes like Beef Stroganoff that have cream or sour-cream based sauces. Do yourself a favor—try a white Côtes du Rhône, but make sure it’s not too cold.