For some, being homebound during the coronavirus pandemic is an opportunity to drink away the boredom (if you doubt this, note that wine retail sales are through the roof). But it’s also a time to taste new wines, even build a new stockpile. Here are a few suggestions that will get you through quarantine and binge-watching those Zoom virtual happy hours or even a socially distant curbside toast you share with your neighbors.
The cheekily named “Bare Necessity” is a sparkling syrah made by Scott MacFiggen and Regina Bustamante, the husband-and-wife team that founded Sosie, a three-year-old boutique winery in Sonoma.
For the 2018 Sosie Vivio Vineyard Bennett Valley Sonoma Rose MacFiggen used the saignee method—the French word for “bleeding,” which describes draining the juice of grapes after only a few hours of skin contact. Craig Roemer, former winemaker at the renowned Schramsberg uses the traditional method of second fermentation in the bottle.
The bright orange-copper color sets a cheerful tone matched by appealing tangerine and floral aromas. Delicious watermelon and tangerine flavors flow on a stream of crisp acidity. By itself or with a few sushi rolls, Bare Necessity is a pick-me-up sparkler. 92 points. Only 1,092 bottles were made; expect to pay a reasonable $30. Contact the winery to secure yours: [email protected].
Long Meadow Ranch’s Anderson Valley estate is quickly becoming one of my favorite California wines. Long Meadow Ranch dates to the latter part of the 1800s when President Grant signed a land patent granting Civil War veteran E.J. Church 640 acres in the Mayacamus mountains that became Long Meadow Ranch. The property thrived until Prohibition, and remained abandoned for the next half century until the Hall family purchased it in 1989.
Ted and Lattie Hall cleared the encroaching forest, replanted a 16-acre vineyard, an apple orchard and olive grove. Today the organically farmed estate is the founding owners’ home, from which they oversee their 74-acre Rutherford vineyard and farm, and the 145-acre Anderson Valley property they purchased in 2015.
At the remote Long Meadow Ranch Anderson Valley vineyard (69 acres), the Halls cultivate their Burgundian-styled chardonnay and pinot noir, along with pinot gris in the region’s cool climate and morning fog.
Winemaker Stephane Vivier was born in Burgundy and earned degrees in viticulture and enology from the esteemed University of Burgundy in Dijon. Experience in Pommard, Meursault and Chassagne-Montrachet augmented his education. My palate was seduced by the refined and elegant 2019 Long Meadow Ranch Rose of Pinot Noir Anderson Valley, an eye-catching gossamer-pink wine.
Nearly one-third of the grapes underwent the saignee method and all the juice was fermented in stainless steel. In addition to the color, also captivating are the grapefruit and red-berry scents and ripe strawberry and cherry-like flavors. Brightly acidic, the freshness of the wine was a perfect counterpoint to the rich osso buco I made that morning, and it was a best friend to the accompanying creamy, celery root puree. 91 points. Retail price is approximately $25.
Mendocino County’s cool weather make Anderson Valley pinot noirs livelier, spicier and usually less weighty than those from Napa Valley. That is all true of the 2016 Long Meadow Ranch Pinot Noir Anderson Valley with its bright raspberry-like fruit aroma and flavor against a background of rhubarb and cranberry tastes. Its elegant texture and long, pleasing finish shows Vivier’s mastery of his native grape. 94 points. Retail price range from $32 to $45.
Blaufrankisch (BLAU-fronk-eesh) is a central European variety that is Austria’s primary red grape. The red wine is made in two styles: new oak-barrel aged with full bodied, intense black-fruit flavors, a peppery kick and noticeable tannins reminiscent of pinotage or mourvedre. Or, the polar opposite: fermented and aged in stainless steel, used barrels, or large casks, which result in light- to medium-bodied wine with red-fruit flavors and bright acidity. The latter recalls gamay from Beaujolais and lighter pinot noir wines such as Chorey-les-Beaune.
In 1990, Gernot and Heike Heinrich founded their 2-acre Austrian winery; today they have 222 acres certified for biodynamic farming. The 2016 Heinrich Blaufrankisch Burgenland was fermented with the natural yeast on the grapes skins in a combination of wooden vats and stainless-steel tanks, then aged for 21 months in large oak vats and second-use 500-liter barrels. The absence of new oak and presence of neutral vessels preserved blaufrankisch’s natural juicy red-fruit aromas and flavors. A lively peppery pop gives the cherry-cranberry taste an edgy character that is light on the palate, tangy in the finish and akin to some classic Cru Beaujolais. While you’re homebound, make an Austrian beef stew with paprika from Hungary, the other region that produces blaufrankisch. 90 points. Retail prices range from $12 to $26; buy at less than $20.
In 2014, Domaine Blain Soeur et Frere in Beaujolais’ Brouilly appellation was founded by siblings Lucie and Marc-Antonin Blain, whose parents own Domaine Blain-Gagnard, one of my favorite Chassagne-Montrachet producers.
The Beaujolais wine region stretches about 120 miles from south of Macon to near the city of Lyon. Domaine Blain’s vineyards are in Brouilly and Cote de Brouilly, two of the 10 Cru Beaujolais appellations.
Marc-Antonin makes three wines from his 14-acre vineyard and purchased grapes. Recently, I enjoyed the 2018 Domaine Blain Soeur et Frere Brouilly. The grapes are transported to the family’s Chassagne-Montrachet winery where they are crushed, fermented with natural yeasts on the grape skins, then aged for eight months in egg-shaped concrete tanks. Its fruit-driven aroma and flavor and classic Brouilly light body make this an ideal wine for lighter foods and plates of pate, prosciutto and salami. 88 points. Retail price is about $20.
I would be remiss if I didn’t include a few wines for at-home pasta dinners—assuming you can find any during these pandemic times.
One of the easiest meals to put together is clams or mussels with spaghetti or fettucine, and for this you’ll want a delicate and refined white wine. I found that in the 2018 Zenato Lugana di San Benedetto.
In 1960, Sergio and Carla Zenato founded their winery in Italy’s Veneto region; today it’s in the hands of their children, Nadia and Alberto.
The 2018 Lugana is a selection of Zenato’s best trebbiano grapes from the San Benedetto property near Lake Garda, Italy’s largest lake. Trebbiano can be as bland as water, but Zenato harvested ripe, flavorful grapes and preserved the acidity by fermenting and aging the wine briefly in stainless-steel tanks. Its white-peach aroma and flavor are lifted with a zippy citrus-like acidity, making it the perfect wine for your bowl of clams or mussels and pasta. I recommend seasoning with chopped sage and a dollop of butter in the broth. 88 points. Priced from $11 to $18, widely available at less than $15.
Zenato’s Alanera red wine is a blend of the primary grapes for Amarone—corvina, rondinella and corvinone—and five percent each of merlot and cabernet sauvignon. Half of the grapes undergo appassimento, the drying method that reduces the water in the grapes and concentrates the phenolics and sugar, adding structure and complexity.
The 2016 Zenato Alanera Rosso Veronese is blackberry colored with pungent raisin, tarragon, blackberry and spice aromas. Black plum and blackberry flavors wrap around the full velvety-textured body, leading to a lingering black-fruit finish. It’s a perfect partner for meat sauces with heftier pasta such as rigatoni, penne, farfalle, lasagna. Or have this with braised short ribs. 91 points. Retail prices range from $13 to $23; it’s an outright steal at less than $17. Also, if you see Zenato’s 2015 Alanera, don’t hesitate to buy it. I thoroughly enjoyed it last year.
Tasting a few of these bottles either on your own, or a Zoom tasting group will be a pleasing diversion. If you’re not up for cooking, it’s easy to order take-out meals with similar themes: This will add to your enjoyment while supporting your local business in their most challenging times.
Photos by John Foy