Category: Uncategorized

They Say “Garnacha” We say “Grenache.”

Grenache makes compelling drink. The French might think they own it, but they would be sadly mistaken.

Do the French produce admirable efforts at Grenache?  Yes, they do – great plantings dot the entirety of the Rhone River Valley, the southern provinces of Languedoc and Rousillon and are they inky unctuous aromatic efforts? Yes, they are.

But when the discussion turns to Spain, therein are the oldest greatest patches of Grenache in the world and there are many who make a study of such things that would argue that Spain is the region of origin.  Toreador indeed.

Spain is a high desert plateau and many of its prime vineyard areas share similar attributes to our own climate; dry, arid, nasty soil where weeds refuse to grow (organic soil whether they like it or not), tremendous diurnal temperature swing (high daytime temperature /low nighttime temperature) and very old vines with very low yields.

These are catnip words to the serious wine dork and they should be as they invariably point to wines with tremendous richness framed by bright acidity.  For some strange reason, these wines are perversely underpriced.  Considering the production parameters on many of these hidden treasures, should these have California labels they’d be 2 x or 3 x the price.

It’s a sturdy and hearty little bugger capable of surviving in arid windy conditions where lesser vines would suffer and despite its thin skin it produces colorful deep rich red wines with lusty flavors and aromatics, this is tough stuff and it makes a compelling bottle of juice, especially when Spain is the country of choice, and thankfully, like so many other categories, Spain is the king of value for the wine consumer.

Where to start?  It doesn’t take much money to enjoy this stuff. Or even do a regional study of Spanish entries alone!  The best however come from two different regions: Calatayud in the northeast and Navarre in the north.  My choices start cheap and stay cheap.

Vina Borgia Spanish Wine

My picks?  The tremendous bottlings from the ancient Roman town of Borsao’s benchmark producer Bodegas Borsao; beginning with the tremendous value that is the Vina Borgia (UDABC Code 914133/ $14.49  – for a 1.5 L bottle), a tank fermented rendition from 50 year old vines, the Camp de Borja bottling (UDABC  Code 914925 / $8.51) and the utterly ridiculous Tres Picos (UDABC Code 914924/ $17.99) bottling which sources fruit from vines 80 + years old and allows some finishing time in French Oak.  The Tres Picos bottling is named for the peaks of the Alto Moncayo mountains which dot the horizon of Calatayud from all  directions and is one of the most tremendous wine values in the world today.  It fools many Very Serious Palates.

In that same neighborhood are wines from a neighboring bodega, Bodegas Atteca.  Atteca is a newer concern run by the Gil family from Jumilla.  Their two bottlings offer serious gravitas to the field with their value priced Garnacha de Fuego (UDABC Code #915230 / $ 8.49) and their contender the Bodegas Atteca  “Atteca” (UDABC Code #915232 / $16.99).

For the professional wine dork, these two properties offer a study of Garnacha terroir, which is abundantly evident; the Borsao bottlings are grown over red gravel and the Atteca bottlings are grown over slate.  Either way, these two sumptuous properties offer pleasure year round but seem especially suited for a cool fall night’s  table filled with harvest bounty.

They are the Goldilocks wines of choice for me, not too heavy, not too hard, as always, they are just right, floating like a butterfly and stinging like a bee (they average 15% after all).


The Year 2009

There’s much to be said about 2009.  It’s a momentous year for a variety of reasons; an African-American president, an economic meltdown of historic proportions and a lengthy list of otherwise global chaos – but there was one corner of the earth that ignored the whole mess and responded with meteorological grace and style framed with a series of long warm days and cool nights, this one epic vintage in the south of France, this “year of the Comet.”  The releases are finally popping up like boozy daffodils all over the state wine stores racks.

My personal favorite is also the least expensive Louis Latour Grand Ardeche Chardonnay 2009 (UDABC Code 255425 / $11.49) This is quite frankly the finest Chardonnay value in the whole wide fucking world and it comes from far south of Burgundy in Languedoc, specifically an area called “Ardeche.” The vines are sourced from the great Grand Cru hillside of Corton and farmed exactly the same way as it’s more expensive northern cousin.  Yields here are less than two tons an acre and once the wine finishes fermentation, it rests in two year old French oak barrels, specifically those that had been the home of a much more expensive wine, such as the utterly fabulous Corton Charlemagne.  Keeping in mind production parameters, were this wine made in California, it would have been three times the price.

The southernmost part of the Burgundy appellation, the Macconais, is home to its greatest values.  Two other 2009 Maconnais values that defy description are the Latour Pouilly Fuisse 2009 (UDABC Code 962974 / $21.99) and the Latour Montagny La Grande Roche 2009 (UDABC Code 917092 / $19.99).  Both of these go through malolactic fermentation but do not see any oak treatment.  These are a much fresher brighter counterpoint to the more serious rich spicy tones of the Grand Ardeche, but they have terrific length and minerality with tremendous intensity and what I like to call “lift.” These wines are best served cool, not ice cold, which gives them a chance to show off their unctuous finery.  These Latour 09s are flat-out brilliant with the same length and intensity as the hard-to-find bottlings that cost two and three as this modestly-priced bottle.

There are two other wines that deserve notice.  The venerable Henry Fessy Beaujolais made their debut in Utah with this comet year vintage.  I have hated this grape for so long and with such blazing intensity that it required massive amounts of crow, grilled, sautéed, and otherwise, for me to choke back my shame.

They are quite frankly the most versatile cheese wines I have encountered in my brief career at gluttony (certainly the gluttony is a lifelong venture but having been paid for it is a recent development).  Tasted without food, these wines show modest charms and minimal alcohol, but with a little charcuterie (Jersey translation = meat & cheese plate), they become brilliant aromatic and intense. A.O.C. laws require that yields are kept low and that wines are treated to fine wood ~ so, in short, they are required to make quality wines. As a matter of fact in each of these designated villages like Moulin a Vent and Julienas, they aren’t allowed to make the infamous pink scourge Beaujolais Nouveau at all! Cru Beaujolais really does deserve notice.  Start here. Henry Fessy “Moulin a Vent” Cru Beaujolais 2009 (UDABC Code #917998 / $16.99) and the Henry Fessy “Julienas” Cru Beaujolais 2009 (UDABC Code #917997 / $16.99)


A Classy Acid Trip

Ever find yourself rummaging in the fridge after a couple late night glasses?  You can thank the acidity in wine for stimulating your salivary glands.  Increasing saliva means you get an increase in digestive enzymes — this is your body signaling to the rest of you “INCOMING!!!!”.   I know that I always get the growls after a glass or two (which explains my ever increasing girth).

What are acids?  Well, some will tell you that acids are substances which concentrate hydronium ions in solution (not that I understand a word of what I just said, but in practical terms, think of acidity as “tartness”).  Grapes that are harvested at lower sugars will make wines that taste more tart thanks to higher acidity and lower sugar in the fruit, they will also have lower alcohol and feel more refreshing in the mouth.

Few grapes express that bright acid freshness better than Sauvignon Blanc.  Its most classic benchmark expressions come from France’s Loire River Valley where these wines show bright lemon-lime, mineral and citrus zest flavors and aromas.  New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc gives a riper show; with lots of pink grapefruit and in California it’s a bit of a free-for-all with a pastiche of flavors and aromas depending on the winemaker at work.    Either way, winemakers for the most part like to keep it clean and fresh, which means minimal oak and minimal second fermentations that soften the primary acids fresh charms.

My advice?  Buy and drink, same grape of course, but from different regions.  Three great places to start are with some of my new favorites; Honig Vineyards Napa Valley Sauvignon Blanc 2010 (Utah Code 912696 / $13.99). Winemaker Kristin Belair makes a textbook perfect clean style.  This wine never sees any oak or malolactic fermentation so it tastes fresh and snappy and clean as grapes off the vine.

Phenom Geordie Carr takes an entirely different look at Sauvignon Blanc with his Bump Cellars Sonoma County Sauvignon Blanc 2010 (Utah Code 918097 / $14.99) This is a big, juicy, sumptuous fruit forward style that shows the tropical end of Sauvignon Blanc.

Perhaps the most intense of the group is the Saracina Vineyards Sauvignon Blanc 2009 (Utah Code 916733 / $17.99) this shows a stunning leesy richness with a backbone of steel.  This sees stainless steel only but the extended lees contact gives it a thrilling grip.  And just for fun, grab a bottle of one of my perennial favorites and see what all the fuss about New Zealand is about Spy Valley Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2010 (Utah Code 915608 / $14.99) offers up a bracing blast of fresh grapefruit framed by sweet herbs.  Its all a win win win win from here.  Don’t forget to stop by Caputos and grab a little goat cheese (its always a perfect match with sauvignon blanc)


Real Men Drink Pink

Spring continued to bite and claw and soak with an incessant wintry chill when all of summer kicked the door in, the sun showed its face, my seeds broke clear of my magnificent soil preparations and voila, I knew I would not be wearing pants again for at least another three months.  My back was sore from hucking manure, my hands were dirt-bound and my palate wanted lightness before I took root.  I went to my fridge and there it was, a chilly bottle of pink satisfaction a cork pull away.  Right then and there I knew that real men drink pink.

Pink wine gets a bad rap from the wine illiterati among us.  Blame Sutter Home and the accidental origins of White Zinfandel, but there is such a thing as fine pink wine  among us, and where the puerile comfort of sugar and booze is not to be found, great pink wine is dry AND aromatic AND magnificently textured stuff with finish and grip.

Pink wine is generally made one of three ways; a winemaker bleeds juice from a primary fermentation (we don’t like this stuff and it invariably makes a pointless flabby sweet beverage) or our heroic winemaker presses it directly, allowing some skin contact (juice and grape skins soaking together) creating a bone-dry perfumy bit of elegance.   Either way, since the juice gets minimal skin contact, the resulting wine gets minimal color.

Three phenomenal examples of quenching pink freshness are arriving in Utah this month offering a perfect complement to summer garden appetites (and dirty fingernails).

Alois Lageder Lagrein Rose

Soter North Valley Rose 2010 / $14.99, hails from the Williamette Valley of Oregon.  It’s a blend of Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris that balances the perfume of Pinot Noir with the plumpness of Pinot Gris.  The Alois Lageder Lagrein Rose 2010 / $17.99, is a direct pressing of Lagrein (a grape that usually makes a plummy jammy wine) as pink wine it keeps its astringent charm with lovely acidity.  The La Valentina Cerasuolo Rose 2010/ $12.99 frames its sunny Montepulciano D’Abruzzo fruit with bright fresh cherry tones and hints of sweet herbs.



Sturm und Drang

Aroma is a highly personal connection to survival and the sublime and for all our accumulated caveman experience, we all have a different series of buttons, hotspots, things that make us tickle and giggle and blush. When I encounter the aroma of great white burgundy the reaction is nigh unto immediate, the cheeks flush and blush, my grip on the glass eases and each sip is slower and slower. I luxuriate in the wines textures, tossing them like silk sheets around my mouth, then swallow and breathe and I am awash in aromas of skin and spring and freesia and jasmine and fresh warm sheets on the line.

Louis Latour Pouilly Fuisse

For all the Sturm und Drang that populates Utah’s wintry spring, said Sturming and Dranging does serve a useful purpose, agitating the palate and soul, bumping the whole mess from sleepy torpor toward lighter, brighter and livelier pastures. And nowhere does that alarm ring more clearly than in the wines of Burgundy, specifically its southern swing of the Cote Chalonnaise and the Maconnais.
While my soft spot for all things Burgundian is well known, I cannot often afford its more profound expressions. If I could drink Corton Charlemagne every day I would, but like any junkie needing my angry fix, I can tide myself over on cheaper highs and there are three options at the ready that will take residence in my fridge during the coming months of planting and soil and warming sun. This is chardonnay at its expressive finest (and most reasonably priced. Yes reasonable. Were you to price similarly produced ~ low yield, extended lees contact, French Oak finishing ~ Chardonnays from elsewhere around the world, the price would be vastly greater).

Maison Louis Latour St Veran les Deux Moulin

With all that said, it is spring, therefor this month I celebrate the wines of Maison Louis Latour, beginning with the ubiquitous Pouilly Fuisse 2009 / UDABC Code 962974 ~ $21.99. Vintages are usually to be taken with a grain of salt; great winemakers always make something dependable with what Mother Nature gives them from year to year. The 2009 however is something special. It is a massive, concentrated luxurious beast that shows the presence of something much more expensive, think of one of its more expensive northern cousins like Chassagne. It shows trademark aromas of talc, lime, fennel and jasmine that develop and develop with length and precision as they impose a fresh intensity on the palate.

Maison Louis Latour Montagny La Grande Roche

Another long time favorite is the appellation of St Veran “Les Deux Moulin” / UDABC CODE 915661 ~ $15.99. St Veran sits just below Pouilly on the hill, and is often referred to as Poor Man’s Pouilly. While it does not share the precision and intensity of the Pouilly, it does show wonderful softness that many fans of the bigger blousier California renditions will find appealing and it does share all those marvelous aromatics and ripe lengthy flavors.

Also not to be missed is “the Big Rock”. Latour’s Montagny “La Grande Roche“ / UDABC Code 917092 ~ $19.99 is yet another stunner that punches way out its weight class. Situated in the hills of the Cote Chalonnaise (just north of the Maconnais) its hillside exposure and limestone bedrock endow it with a length power and concentration on the palate. It is a silky and loaded and perfumey wine with scents of mint and jasmine and lemon curd, framed by wonderfully bright acidity.

Cheers ~



Wines of Spain – Grenache, Tempranillo, Syrah

Vina Borgia Spanish Wine

Let me wax rhapsodic about the virtues of Spain.  I am a vinous everyman, I too, even after 15 years and thousands of wines tasted, smelled, spat, excoriated, cursed or elevated, seek that rarest of intersecting elements; character and value.  The world is loaded with mediocre plonk, dumbed-down least common denominator juice fashioned not to please but rather not to offend.    I will not join that zombie tide of forgettable grape squeezings. I want a wine to hold my interest without emptying my wallet and thus it is that I head to the Spanish aisle.

Spain is a poor grape fiend’s paradise; it’s among the top five wine producing countries in total volume, with more acres under vine than any other in the world (and best of all, they export less than 20% of what they make).   Wine is integral to the national character here and the country’s inhospitable soils are littered with acre after acre of old or ancient vines.   And wouldn’t you know it, suffering ancient vines make compelling statements once in bottle.


wines of spain tempranillo venta mazzaron

Everyone knows Rioja and its elegant native grape Tempranillo, but there are other flavors dotting the country from coast to coast.  While the French may lay claim to prominence with Grenache, northeastern Spain provides a glittering array of claims to superiority, most of which originate in Calatayud.  Perhaps the most dazzling value of the bunch is Vina Borgia, 1.5 L for a mere $14.49 (UDABC CODE 914133) from 60+ year old vines, this is deep dark richly textured Grenache with trademark aromas and flavors of violets, baking spices and black cherries.

The values are everywhere; Zamora in northwest Spain is loaded with old Tempranillo vines that sit on cool hillsides with sandy soil.  Venta Mazzaron $15.99 (UDABC CODE 916360) is a ripe supple beauty that shows a ripe, polished black fruit anise and espresso characters.


Wines of Spain - Luzon Jumilla syrah

Or you could head to the Mediterannean Coast to Jumilla, where Bodegas Luzon manufactures one of the more stunning values in the Universe, the “Luzon” (UDABC CODE 917620) a blend of old vine, dry farmed Syrah and Mourvedre which is loaded with ripe black fruit characters, earth, smoke and chocolate notes.  It is a stunner that weights in at 14.5% for a mere $8.99.


Please join me at Caputo’s downtown on March 14th for more reasons why Spain makes your mouth and wallet sing in unison.



Sticky: Agitprop is…

francis wine broker utah
definition:  propaganda; especially : political propaganda promulgated chiefly in literature, drama, music, or art

origin:  Russian, ultimately from agitatsiya agitation + propaganda
first known use: 1935 [courtesy of those fine folks at Merriam Webster]

current use:  Francis personal agitations on all things wine and some things food
(some might call it a blog)


Cru and Crow – Henry Fessy Beaujolais

Finally and at long last a thaw sets in. It’s only a momentary pause from the bone splitting cold, but it’s a welcome one that I do not expect and the warmth of the moment is writ large in the twilight almost-night sky with the colors on the sunset clouds a joyous relief from the wintry gray muck. I know its only here for a minute and soon winter will return with more days of inversion-ish goo, but right now my step is light and my palate wants more. It’s late and I am pacing. I don’t know why, I just am because with the thaw comes a motion, a desire to move, a desire to be somewhere else. My mouth as always goes first and leads the way. For some, desire begins in the genitals, for me it always begins in the mouth.

What I do is a constant source of surprise. Just when I think I am at my jaded best, and the mind and palate are firmly locked – closed – shuttered up, along comes a wine that reminds me I am never too good for anything. This time of year the palate wakens and it’s a jolt with every sip. I crave acidity.

I digress. So what is it that spoke to me and woke my somnolent tongue? This time anyway? Well…it was a fine dish of crow served with a side of Cru Beaujolais. There are grapes that have earned a certain measure of disdain from me, enmity even, and it didn’t happen overnight. I have tasted extraordinary amounts of wine and over time, the sheer repetition, and the battery if you will, of one nasty bilious example after another led me to a dark place wherein I could not countenance another sip. I could not force myself for love, guns or money to admit any affection toward poor Beaujolais, misjudged Malbec and the invariably malodorous charm of Pinotage. I am no different than any one else, I have my likes and dislikes too and each of these had committed their various sins against me. I am sure these comments will invite their ardent defenders of each. 2010 was terrific for my palate if for no other reason than only one horrid wine remains on my most hated list. Pinotage. When I learn to love a tire fire, I will come’ round to Pinotage. There may be oceans of mediocre Beaujolais polluting palates everywhere, but my beef with Beaujolais is now over.

Henry Fessy Crus Du Beaujolais

Henry Fessy, France's King of Cru Beaujolais, Cheese & Wine Perfection

Now what about Beaujolais? It’s the southernmost region of Burgundy and its warmest, thus, even though the Gamay grapes share physiological similarities with their Pinot Noir cousins, Beaujolais shows considerably riper characters thanks to its warmer countryside. Beaujolais is also the largest of the Burgundy appellations producing farm more overall tonnage (and wine) than their snootier northern family. Beaujolais’ reputation for shwag seems connected to the relative massive volume of the region. Yes you can fill a lake from 50,000 acres of plantings, but there are great wines that spring from this lake o’ goo, albeit haling from a small portion of that overall acreage. Of the 100 some odd designated Villages and the twelve appellations, only 12 villages have earned Cru designation. AOC rules further ensure that those villages remain unique among their peers by enforcing strict yield limitations of 3 tons an acre or less and barring any Nouveau Beaujolais production whatsoever. Low yields ensure greater concentration of flavor in fruit and, I find, a more interesting wine.

Enter Henry Fessy. First established in 1888, the winery quickly established itself as a presence in the Cru Villages, with purchases of land in the classified area of Brouilly. Over time those holdings expanded and in 2008 Maison Louis Latour acquired this venerable old firm. The results have been nothing short of magnificent. One family joined another in short, with the Fessy family working alongside the Latours, using the extra resources and expertise to acquire additional holdings in the Cru designated villages, very good wines became great wines. New arrivals to Utah, the Henry Fessy Julienas and Moulin a Vent, both 2009 showed me a radiance I had not encountered in Beaujolais.

What can I say? They withstood “The Test”. They remained sound for four days while open on the countertop. (I have many a test for sound wines and the countertop test reveals all)

How long can a wine sit open on a countertop before it turns south to vinegarland? It varies from wine to wine. Higher acid, lower alcohol wines are more stubbornly resistant to acetobacter (a lovely little bacterial thug that likes to eat alcohol and crap vinegar, and is the responsible party for your wine taking its inevitable nosedive). It’s a revealing test, you see, because the things in your wine that allow it to withstand the countertop test are the same things that point to age-worthy wines. Regardless of your choice of drink, you can always slow its oxidative death by refrigerating the wine. Remember to return the cork to bottle and keep the bottle upright. The lower temperatures will slow the oxidation and the upright bottle will reduce the surface area exposed to oxygen.

So back to Mssr Fessy, both bottlings, the Cru Villages of Julienas and Moulin a Vent, stayed bright and vibrant for several surprising days. The Julienas was the more serious minded of the two showing characters of black fruit (think plums, blackberry, black cherry), coffee, licorice and cocoa powder while the Moulin a Vent was the much cheekier affair with livelier brighter expressions of livelier boysenberry jam notes with scents of sage. ( I toss off the pretentious fruit babble only as a reference point).

Henry Fessy Cru

Julienas & Moulin a Vent at the Cheese Fest; A Perfect Wine Marriage

What was particularly striking was what these two did with food, specifically cheese. These took everything I threw at them in stride, from blue veined stink to aged washed rind funk to lively goaty goodness. They were a seamless fit with everthing the Caputo’s Cheese Cave had to offer and even made my usual pilgrimage to the Creminelli Salami counter a grander reward than usual, why, it was piggy love. They will age better still they make a joyful meal.What was particularly striking was what these two did with food, specifically cheese. These took everything I threw at them in stride, from blue veined stink to aged washed rind funk to lively goaty goodness. They were a seamless fit with everthing the Caputo’s Cheese Cave had to offer and even made my usual pilgrimage to the Creminelli Salami counter a grander reward than usual, why, it was piggy love. They will age but better still they make a joyful meal.

They are, in short, my vote for best food wine of 2011 so far. I am sure something else will come along, but for now, my palate is grateful (as is my wallet). These two little gems are only $16.99.

Henry Fessy, Moulin A Vent, Cru Beaujolais 2009 (UDABC Code 917998/ $16.99)
Henry Fessy, Julienas, Cru Beaujolais 2009 (UDABC Code 917997 / $16.99)


Old Hill Winter

It’s a bleak cold Utah winter and a New Year is firmly on my door.  As always, I spend the first days of a New Year recalling exactly how I failed myself the previous year.  (There is a certain introspective quality to the hangover, you see, one that forces a necessary analysis).   So here I am, compiling lists of business not done and business to be done.

I have learned a great many things in the past year; how to taste for evidence of winemaking chicanery and manipulation, the arbitrary nature of the human palate, the never ending arguments many wine enthusiasts will have over ever finer degrees of filigree and before I know it, the white noise, the static has reached such a dull, mind-numbing roar that it takes a truly compelling wine to snap me back into remembering why I love what I do.

Consider me a drunken Diogenes, searching for that one honest wine.  I could tell you all the tasting note references, tossing off pretentious adjectives willy nilly, but great wine comes from great dirt.  It all begins in the vineyard and with that I humbly offer Bucklin Old Hill Zinfandel 2007 / $24.99.  Sourced from one of California’s most historically significant vineyards, it’s a mystifying mélange of 27 varieties interplanted over 14 acres made into one wine.  The original plantings predate the Civil War.  The vineyard itself is isolated from any main road and finding it is much like stumbling through the closet to Narnia.  It is a quiet and peaceful place occupied by a very very smart farmer and his wife.

Old Hill Winter

Bucklin Old Hill Ranch Zinfandel

I am always enamored of this bottle for a variety of reasons, perhaps most of all are the evocative aromatics.  I’ve always said that the best wines are the ones that remove me from practical professional considerations, wines that make me jelly up in the knees, wines that smell more like a place and a time than they do the usual medley of fruits and spices that I am required to puke up as if on demand when asked for an appraisal.    Its the aromatic memory of an Old Hill Summer that maintains my faith in Art and Dirt through these cold winter months, reminding me that Summer is always and once again, right around the corner like warmth and baseball.

I am not a fan of factory farming or feed lots. Rolling through Winnemuca on my way to harvest 2010 confirmed this as I rolled down my window during a driving rainstorm, hydroplaning my way to Reno, hucking my grilled KFC Double Down out the window.  I know that there is an endless universe of desire for all things flavorless, and I shouldn’t complain that I am indeed fortunate enough to have a roof over my head and 3 squares a day, but there is enough of dulling everyday routine to sully my soul’s remaining real estate.  I am fortunate enough that I can avoid it when it comes to all matters viticultural.  I know what winemaking shortcuts and commercial practices taste like.  I know that it happens; I know that wine is generally a least common denominator money game for the producers.  What keeps me, what sustains me are those producers who do not follow that path.  Cheers –