Here at Solstice we love red wine. We also love sparkling wine, white wine and rose wine, but that's all for another day. The philosophy behind our wine program is to emphasize "Farmers and Families"; to take a deep a look into not just what's in each bottle but how it got there. This approach means that we as much (if not more) time and effort into meeting wine makers and hearing their stories than tasting what's in the bottle. What I as the sommelier have come to learn is that all of these farmers care vastly more about their grape vines than we could ever care about their bottles of wine. These incredibly talented and passionate people emphasize what many people call "Natural Wine".
Natural wine tends to get a bad rap. These unfiltered wines tend to be pretty funky, maybe even murky. They also tend to be supported by the cool kid, hipster class of wine enthusiasts. I'll be honest, not all "natural wine" is perfect (though neither is "conventional", mass produced wine.) I've had some wines that just haven't held up in the bottle and have gone bad. Sometimes they have a slight smell of, how do you say, horse manure, er, uh, as we somms call it "barnyardy". I know reading it might make it sound less than appetizing, but these dank, earthy aromas lead to incredibly beautiful wines. These winemakers are emphasizing a "less is more" approach to their wines. These are wines made without chemical pesticides, herbicides or fertilizers. These are wines bottled without any added coloring and with natural yeasts. "Natural" is the way wine had been made for hundreds of years up until the 1950s; well before anyone started handing out 100 point scores. The result is a wine that screams of place. The wines that we're talking about being "natural" are wines that taste of nothing but the earth they're grown in and the grapes picked off the vine; they're the wines you want to drink every day. These are delicate California Pinot Noirs with bright raspberry undertones and classic Rhone varietals that are rich and deep and complex. Here are a few of our favorites, the ones we're drinking on #NationalRedWineDay:
Onward Hawkeye Ranch Pinot Noir, Redwood Valley, California
Winemaker Faith Armstrong might be the most passionate person I've ever met. She talks about her wines the same way she talks about her kids (her first son was born during harvest, so they're actually pretty interrelated). Her passion for her vineyards comes through in her wines ten fold. She has built up long term relationships with the vineyards she works with that enable her to control every component of the grape growing process. This means Pinot Noir grapes grown with minimal intervention; just grapes left to do their thing. The result is about as perfect a California Pinot Noir as I've ever tasted. This is neither "rich and oaky" nor "Burgundian". This bottle is light and airy while still having a ton of bright fruit flavors. This is a wine that makes you want to go back for glass after after glass and makes you wonder why everyone doesn't make Pinot Noir like this.
Catherine et Pierre Breton "Les Perrieres" Bourgeuil, Loire Valley, France
When people talk about biodynamic wine makers they sometimes use words like "icon" and "legend". If they are, they're probably talking about the Bretons. The Bretons are a husband and wife team who have been making wine in the Loire Valley for 30 years. The Bretons have been working with certified organic grapes since 1991 and have been practicing biodynamic since 1994. To be completely honest, neither of those facts really matter in this situation. These wines are simply delicious. They have incredible depth and complexity; they are bright and fresh with over a decade of age in the bottle. The 40+ year old vines of the "Les Perrieres" vineyard produce a truly unique, complex wine. These Cabernet Francs are wines that can age in a cellar for decades, but I recommend coming in and drinking a bottle with your dinner tonight. And tomorrow. And next week...
Edmonds St. John "Rocks and Gravel", California
Winemaker Steve Edmonds has been making wine in California for longer than I've been alive. It's pretty safe to say that he isn't producing wines to stay "on trend". Edmonds just set out to produce the wines the he enjoys drinking. Not the powerful, rich wines favored by 80s tastemakers but wines similar to the Rhone Valley; wines with freshness, that are nimble and bright. His version of a "Cotes du Rhone", the Rocks and Gravel is the perfect table wine. It's vibrancy pairs well with anything on your table. It's the perfect wine for the table who orders salmon, chicken, steak and gnudi and wants something that will make everyone happy.
Cascina Ebreo "Torbido!" Barolo, Italy
To say that Cascina Ebreo is the best Barolo you've ever tasted would be a lie; it's not technically DOCG Barolo. As legend has it, winemaking couple Peter Weimer and Romy Gygax submitted their first couple vintages to the Barolo council for their seal of approval. The council thought Cascina Ebreo's wines were too unique, too rebellious; they did not taste like all the other Barolos and had a far too unique sense of place. Weimer and Gygax gave the council the hypothetical middle finger and Cascina Ebreo has been producing these extraordinary wines since 1991. Torbido! is not produced every year, only in truly extraordinary vintages, similar to Special Club Champagne. This is the wine I want to impress my friends with or to celebrate a big occasion; it's perfect with a whole Peking duck and perfect with the one you love.
Marcel Lapierre "Raisins Gaulois" Beaujolais, France
Beaujolais has about as bad a reputation as any world class wine region. When people think of Beaujolais they think of a certain mass produced wine sitting in bright bottles at the end of every super market aisle. Marcel Lapierre never produced that wine. Beginning in the early 70s Lapierre fought ardently against the use of chemicals in his home town and worked tirelessly to produce wines with soul. Though he has sadly since passed, his torch is being carried by his children. They produce this young vine gamay (20 years is young in Burgundy but old in California, as age is clearly relative) to be consumed immediately; "glou glou" in French culture. This fresh bottle is not the "nouveau" at the end of your grocery store, it is bright and lively and fun and wants to be drunk outside on the porch watching the sunset and grilling.
- Tim Wallace