It is the reliance on our taste buds, along with our olfactory senses, that makes wine tasting such a magnificent organoleptic experience. After all, ultimately it is how a wine tastes that leaves us with a positive or negative impression. In selecting our wines this month, I was not thinking about a specific variety, region, appellation, or producer. Instead, the intent was to start the New Year with wines that would excite your taste buds and offer all the pleasing fresh and vibrant fruit a delicious wine can offer. It is believed that wine was introduced in Greece around 4000 BC, and it’s hard to know if the nomadic Greeks, who took grape cuttings with them as they wandered, knew what “organoleptic bliss” was. They must have experienced it strongly enough for their love of wine persevered, and here we are today reaping the benefits.
Grignan-les-Adhémar is a small appellation at the north end of the southern Rhône, on the left bank of the Rhône River, between the regions of Dauphiné and Provence, stretching from Montélimar as far as Saint Paul Trois Châteaux. This little-known appellation consists of 1,730 hectares with 32 vignerons and eight cooperatives. Being the northernmost appellation of the southern Rhône, vineyards sit at a slightly higher elevation than elsewhere in the southern Rhône.
Vines were first planted at Grignan-les-Adhémar by the Phoenicians in the 5th century BC. The region was then developed by the Romans, becoming one of the most prosperous wine-growing areas in classical and post-classical Gaul. This was thanks largely to the Rhône River, which provided an essential communications and transport artery. The vineyards found a new lease of life in the 1960s, when they were given VDQS (Vin Délimité de Qualité Supérieure) status in 1964 and covered a mere 365 hectares (as compared with 2,500 a hundred years earlier). They obtained AOC status on 27 July 1973, as “Coteaux du Tricastin”, which changed its name to Grignan-les-Adhémar in 2010. Red wines of the Grignan-les-Adhémar AOC are made from Syrah and Grenache, with Carignan, Mouvèdre, and Cinsaut permitted up to levels of 15% each, as long as their combined total does not exceed 30%. Whites can be a blend of Grenache Blanc, Clairette, Marsanne, Roussane, and Viognier; with no single variety allowed to exceed 60% of the final blend.
Domaine de Montine is situated at Grignan in the heartland of Tricastin country. Owned by the Monteillet family for three generations, the 70-hectare estate is run by two brothers, Jean-Luc Monteillet who is in charge of wine-making and the cellars and Claude (or Claudy to his friends), who handles the viticultural side of the business. The Domaine’s wine history began in 1933, when great grandfather Albert bought the farm. His son Roger became an active member in wine making co-op organizations, as well as in the AOC creation in 1973. In 1987, his sons Claudy and Jean-Luc set up the business “Domaine de Montine”, and started selling bottles under their own label.
The Domaine is split up in to 55 hectares of vines: 45 hectares in the Coteaux du Tricastin communes of Grignan and Valaurie, 10 hectares in the Cotes du Rhône communes of Grillon and Taulignan, 6 hectares of lavender production, 3 hectares of truffle "oak woods", and a further 6 hectares of woodland. Since 1994, the Monteillet's have been working their vineyards using eco-friendly methods. All the vines are short-pruned using the Royat cordon method, guaranteeing low yields from the outset. The soil sees no man-made fertilizer and all the vineyards are planted to ensure deep vine-root penetration reducing vine stress and adding a further layer of mineral complexity. No fungicides or pesticides are used and the Tricastin vines average 25 years-old. The winery is extremely well equipped with temperature-controlled stainless-steel vats for the fermentation of whites and rosès.
Domaine de Montine’s 2018 Viognier is composed of 100% organic Viognier from vineyards planted in 1988 around the communes of Valaurie and Grignan. The vineyards are composed of mainly limestone/clay/ sandy soils. Work in the vineyards is all done by hand, so each vine gets individual attention, and green harvesting lowers yields before the ripe grapes are harvested at night for maximum freshness. Once harvested, the grapes undergo a soft pressing following a short maceration on the skins. 70% of the wine is then fermented in temperature-controlled stainless-steel tanks and the remainder goes into new 228-litre oak casks. The barrel-fermented portion has the lees stirred in the oak casks weekly for 6 months prior to being blended and bottled. No malolactic fermentation takes place to preserve the fresh acidity. The result is a Viognier that is smooth, full and quite complex. The wine offers and elegant bouquet of fresh white blossoms, beeswax, and vanilla along with aromas of pear and spices. In the mouth the wine is voluminous, rich and full of energy with intense tropical fruit flavors and minerals, ending with remarkable balance and a long finish. This is a versatile food wine and can be enjoyed with charcuterie, smoked salmon, oysters and tuna tartar. It's terrific with Thai food, and pairs nicely with mild or creamy cheeses.
Richard Bruno pursued his interest in wine by going into the restaurant business in 1985. As a waiter and bartender, the opportunity to taste rare and exiting wines increased as his experience in the industry progressed. After deciding to become a winemaker, he attended UC Davis in 1994 and graduated in 1997. Richard worked for various wineries from Santa Cruz to Napa Valley and as an independent wine consultant in California and Colorado. He was the Director of Winemaking for Don Sebastiani & Sons for eight years and has consulted for various wineries including Niebaum-Coppola and Michael Pozzan Winery in the Napa Valley. While Richard was working for others, he and his friend and UC Davis co-graduate, Chris Condos, founded their own label, Vinum Cellars, following a dream and built on maxing out credit cards along with some help from family and friends. As if he’s not busy enough, Richard has a few side projects of his own. One of them is Misha Pinot Noir, a small-batch Carneros Pinot whose proceeds go towards his son’s college fund, and which is made from fruit Richard purchases from the Sangiacomo family.
Vittorio Sangiacomo immigrated to the California Bay Area in 1927 at the age of 17 from Genoa, Italy, and later married Maria and moved to Sonoma where they raised four children on 52 acres that today comprise the Home Ranch, just south of downtown Sonoma. The next generation Sangiacomos worked in the fruit orchards that Vittorio established, slowly transitioning, beginning in 1969, to grape growing. Over the next thirty years the family purchased several adjoining pieces of land to expand the existing Home Ranch to its current size of 110 planted acres of vineyard. Today, the third generation is responsible for farming approximately 1,600 acres of wine grapes spreading across fifteen different vineyards in four American Viticultural Areas (AVAs): Carneros, Sonoma Coast, Petaluma Gap, and Sonoma Valley. Each vineyard is broken down by terroir into multiple small blocks ranging from 5-10 acres apiece. They have over three hundred blocks and farm each individually according to its unique combination of soil, microclimate, root stock, and clone.
About the Misha Pinot Richard wrote, “I first started working with Pinot Noir years ago in 1994 as an intern at Gloria Ferrer Wine Caves in the Carneros District of Sonoma. I knew then the Sangiacomo grapes I was working with were the finest grapes we were getting, so later in my career when working for Don Sebastiani & Sons I had the chance to work with the Sangiacomos again. Sangiacomo’s Pinot Noir from the Fedrick Vineyard is located on the hill west of the Carneros District and the Infineon Raceway, and is planted to clone 115. I have worked with the fruit from this vineyard for 14 years now (since 2005) and consider it be the best Pinot Noir from this famed third-generation Sonoma grower. The wine is made in small batches and fermented in macro bins and punched down by my son Misha three times daily. We cold soak the grapes for 4 days and add yeast on day 5. We continue to punch down the cap for a total of 14 days on the skins and then drain and press the small lot in a small bladder press. By limiting the pressure to 1.8 bars, we.reduce the potential for astringency. We put the wine into one new French oak Seguin-Moreau-Chagny Burgundy barrel and the other into one new Russian oak Seguin-Moreau Burgundy barrel and age the wine for 24 months. The wine is racked only 3 times every 12 months and then just prior to bottling. One thing Misha has always done from the first vintage is to add a little “magic” prior to bottling. It is unconventional, but I attest it seems to work and it’s his unique touch to finishing each vintage.” (Could these be the words of a proud father?) The 2014 vintage artwork on the label is “My House on Mars” done by Misha at age 7.
The 2014 Misha Pinot is very expressive with berry and cherry fruit and a hint of herbs, roses, oak and bacon. Time in the bottle has allowed the wine to reveal plenty of dark red fruit with interesting compliments of earth, tobacco and herbs. The wine is nicely balanced with a smooth texture and a clean and lingering finish. This rich Pinot Noir will pair well with root vegetables, leafy greens, legumes, and eggplant, as well as ingredients with earthy, umami-rich flavors such as mushrooms and soy sauce. Try it with herb-roasted chicken, layered vegetable casserole, cheesy eggplant Panini, pasta with pesto, and grilled red and white meats.