Our blog was created to help make the world of wine and beer easier to understand and fun to navigate. There are a million things to know in this industry, we just want to help you understand the latest news and trends from around the globe. So sit back with your favorite sip and let's go on an adventure.
Family owned and operated, Delmas is the realization of the Robertsons’ dream, 35+ years strong, to honor a distinctive place; a distinctive taste. Born of unique geology found within The Rocks District of Milton-Freewater, as well as the climatic eccentricities of the Walla Walla Valley, Delmas is dedicated to producing exceptional wines of enduring value. Elegance is preferred to power and exoticism at Delmas; restraint, nuance, and those impossible-to-define, (pleasurable), qualities that elevate all great wines.
Owen Bargreen, 97 pts: A true heavyhitter, the 2017 Delmas Syrah is entirely sourced from their estate SJR Vineyard in the Walla Walla Rocks AVA, deftly managed by Brooke Robertson. Crafted by superstar winemaker Billo Naravane, MW, the wine is a stunning blend of 91.5% Syrah with the reminder Viognier. Aged for 14 months in 60% new French oak (Troncais) prior to bottling, this needs about an hour of air exposure in order to evolve to its full unveiling. The nose is nothing short of intoxicating, yielding some insanely good range. Potpourri, Umami, pipe tobacco, cedar, and shades of cran-orange aromas all create an amazing effect in the glass. The heady aromas push you back to the glass for more. The texture its astoundingly good, giving off a sexy, silky edge. Red cherry candy, Umami, Hoisin sauce, Asian spice and guava with citrus rind accents as well as shades of black truffle with minerals and stony accents all complete this scintillating new wine. While remarkable in its youth, this will evolve well over the next decade. Drink 2019-2029
Vinous 95 Points: “Full dark red. Pungent spicy lift to the aromas of raspberry, boysenberry, smoked meat, grilled herbs, rose petal and red licorice complicated by white pepper and black olive; coffee and mocha notes emerged with extended aeration. Really remarkably aromatic Syrah: supple, savory and concentrated, conveying strong Rocks salinity to its flavors of raspberry, plum, cured meats, spices and flowers. Shows a strong resemblance to the 2017 but that’s hardly a surprise as Steve Robertson’s wine comes entirely from the parcels of Syrah that he originally planted in 2007. Enticing sweetness and broad, ripe tannins give this seamless wine early accessibility but it has the energy and stuffing for mid-term aging. Really spreads out to saturate the palate on the long finish. This quintessential Rocks Syrah was even silkier with extended aeration. Incidentally, Robertson will make his first varietal Grenache from the 2020 harvest, from a one-acre parcel that he also planted in 2007 (i.e., its 14th leaf).”
Spring is coming. Winter doldrums are being beaten back into dark cupboards, attics, and basements to hibernate until next year, and vineyards around the northern hemisphere are waking up. Dry January is a distant but surprisingly clear memory, and we are all, hopefully, drinking wine again.
Now, I love a nice bottle of Champagne to celebrate a promotion or birthday, and I enjoy savoring a bottle of Barolo that’s older than I am. Unfortunately, I’m typically working with a Prosecco or Langhe Nebbiolo budget. Lucky for me, the shop always has a ton of fantastic budget options. So, join me in raising a glass to the Tuesday night wines, the workhorse wines, the “little wines”, the three-day weekend Friday afternoon wines, the pizza and burger wines. These are the wines that got us hooked on vino in the first place.
FUSO is one of our favorite recent discoveries in the land of budget bottles. They are a company that sources wine from a wide variety of excellent growers and winemakers throughout Italy, from north in Piedmont all the way south to the island of Sicily. While they lack a regional focus, all of their wines share a consistent approach to viticulture and winemaking. Their requirements, from their website:
These wines are light, quaffable, chillable, sustainably grown, and the price is just right. The whole range would be awesome with a charcuterie plate featuring dry-cured salumi, castelvetrano olives, and boquerones, or any number of fancy pasta dishes. Their approachability and natural acidity also make them fantastic for tacos, cheeseburgers, frozen pizza, hamburger helper, tater tots, Thai takeout, tuna casserole, or any number of easy-button Tuesday dinners. Because even Tuesday night deserves a well-made bottle of wine, don’t you think?
Tim Doyle is a true iconoclast of the Walla Walla wine scene. I have yet to come across another winemaker in the valley who thinks about and makes wine with his heady, scientific attention to detail and form while maintaining such a modest and quiet demeanor. His youthful project, Marginalia Winery, produces only a handful of bottlings that upend the norm of what is produced in our area and we are incredibly proud to represent them here at The Thief. Perfect for pairing with a variety of dishes, we welcome you to get adventurous this week with Walla Walla wines and put Marginalia on the table!
Tim splits his time between his winemaking passion and his job as a professor at Whitman College(ancient philosophy and foundations of mathematics), as well as being a husband and father. His commitment to minimal intervention, brainy, somewhat natural wine is a beautiful thing to witness – and it may get you into an epically detailed conversation on the world of wine if that’s what you come looking for. Most of all, however, his wines are delicious, incredibly fun, and worth exploring. We hope you will think so too!
In Tim’s own words: “Lighter red wines and amber wines are not accidental points of focus for Marginalia. I work primarily with these styles of wine because I think they taste good with the foods I tend to eat: rustic breads, strongly flavored vegetables, salty cheeses, olives, lots of herbs and garlic, umbellifer spices, and glugs of olive oil. The wines taste good on their own too, but the real test of a wine is whether it makes a simple meal into a memorable one”.
From Kermit Lynch:
While viticulture on the slopes of Mount Etna dates back thousands of years, only in the last decade or two have the wines produced on Sicily’s mythical volcano entered the global spotlight. Eager to exploit the terroir riches of this stunning natural wonder, waves of newcomers from around Italy and abroad have settled, relying on both traditional methods and modern enology to search for Etna’s truest expression.
The fascination with Etna in the eyes of growers and consumers alike stems not only from its fertile soils of sandy, decomposed volcanic rock but also from the elevation that allows its wines to retain an uncommon freshness and delicacy at such a southerly latitude. Reaching over 1,000 meters above sea level, Etna’s vineyards are some of Europe’s highest, and the cool nights late in the growing season favor slow ripening and the development of extremely complex aromas at relatively low alcohol levels. Harnessing this potential to create wines of nuance and finesse, however, is another story altogether: it requires vision, dedication, and careful execution. It is with tremendous excitement, then, that we announce our collaboration with Vigneti Vecchio, a small family-run estate on Etna’s northern face.
Carmelo Vecchio and his wife, Rosa La Guzza, did not come from afar to make wine on Etna: they are true locals, raised in the heart of the vineyards. Carmelo began working at the nearby Passopisciaro winery at a young age, and after fifteen years of hands-on experience, the time came to strike out on his own. From barely one hectare of vines up to 130 years old inherited from Rosa’s family, the couple took matters into their own hands: sustainable farming by hand, with the goal of achieving an elegant balance in the grapes; micro-vinifications in the tiny cellar beneath their home, with respect for tradition and terroir; and aging the wines in used barrels before bottling without fining or filtration.
Armed with excellent raw materials along with Carmelo's years of experience and an appreciation for ancient local practices such as skin maceration for whites and blending white grapes into the reds, Rosa and Carmelo succeeded in crafting delicate, pure, and highly refined wines from their inaugural 2016 harvest. While Etna still searches for its identity, Vigneti Vecchio demonstrates that this towering volcano rising from the Mediterranean can in fact produce wines as beautifully nuanced as anywhere else in Italy.
Whole cluster fermentation is in, destemmers are out (good riddance, as anyone who has cleaned one will agree), and Henri Jayer is rolling in his grave. We’ve discussed the fickle nature of the wine industry on this blog before. There is always a fresh flavor of funky newness coming over the horizon, or an as yet undiscovered wine region (the enological North Sentinel Island) to be both championed and gate-kept by Magellanic sommeliers. Everyone is drinking rosé again, Cru Beaujolais and the Jura have celebrated their time in the sun, and regenerative viticulture is just now entering the cool-wine zeitgeist.
Whole cluster, though, has managed to pervade both the edgy corners of wine nerd-dom and the pillared halls of wine orthodoxy. There are even large national brands advertising whole cluster fermentation on their labels! Unfortunately, the term is not very well understood, and winemakers have confused the issue further by using several different names for the same process (whole cluster/whole bunch/partially destemmed/etc). We want the truth, the whole cluster truth, and nothing but the truth!
What do you mean by whole cluster?
In a typical red wine fermentation, grape clusters are dropped into a destemmer, which removes the stems and spits out clean purple grapes that look like blueberries. Skip this step, and you are left with full clusters of grapes still attached to the stem. These are whole clusters.
Great, we’ve got whole clusters. Now...uh… how do we make them into wine?
Oftentimes these clusters will be crushed and piled into a fermentation vessel. This crushing can be done mechanically, or through the time-honored tradition of foot-stomping (“pigeage”). This releases juice, submerging the solids, preventing microbial spoilage (also known as vinegar).
That sounds easy! Why would anyone ever use a destemmer?
Well, some varieties are not as well suited to whole cluster fermentation as others. Pinot noir, Grenache, Syrah, Mencía, and Gamay are generally regarded as good fits for whole cluster fermentation, but pyrazine-heavy reds like Cabernet and Merlot can become green and vegetal. Stemmy fermentations also require careful tannin management to prevent hard, unyielding wines. Finally, the potassium in stems (as well as any incidental carbonic maceration) causes the pH of the finished wine to rise, which can lead to instability.
Hey, you tried to sneak in a word there! Think I wouldn’t notice?!? What’s carbonic maceration?
Yeesh. Ok. Carbonic maceration is an intracellular fermentation that takes place in an anaerobic environment, usually a CO2-filled tank. Fruity esters, reminiscent of strawberry and raspberry, are produced, and the malic acid of the grapes is degraded, raising the pH. Uncrushed whole clusters are very conducive to carbonic maceration, and almost all of the classic producers of Cru Beaujolais use whole clusters and at least semi-carbonic maceration. This leads to the fruity aromas and silky textures that the region is known for.
Welp, I’m sorry I asked. Ok, I think I’m getting it. If you’re lazy and you don’t want to use the destemmer, you can use whole grape bunches in your wines. That’s whole cluster.
Well, mostly. Remember, a winemaker doesn’t have to leave his entire harvest as whole bunches. Many winemakers will choose to either destem part of a crop or fill a fermenter with alternating lasagna layers of destemmed grapes and whole clusters or destem the whole crop and then add back in some of the de-graped stalks. Domaines in Burgundy will often vary the amount of whole clusters from vintage to vintage, with a poor or rainy vintage usually getting less while a warm solar vintage gets more. It’s just another wrench in the winemaker’s toolbox.
So, whole cluster usually means not de-stemming grapes, except when it doesn’t. Got it. Very clear cut. Thanks for all your help. What do these Schrodinger wines taste like? Both wine and not wine at the same time, until you drink them?
*Oblivious to sarcasm* You’re very welcome. They taste delicious! Yes, sometimes they can be a little...ahem…stalky, but in the hands of a sensitive winemaker, stems can add lift, spice, and resinous snap. The best way to understand the impact of stems is to try two different wines, one whole cluster and one destemmed, from the same producer or region. Maybe try a rustic, spicy, whole cluster Cornas next to a suave, fudgy, destemmed Hermitage. Ask your local wine purveyor to help you pick out a wine with whole clusters and see what all the cool wine kids are excited about.
Let’s see, what do we have here? *digs through cases of newly arrived wine* Ah, yeah, pretty standard stuff: a grape no one has heard of, grown on the side of a volcano off the coast of Africa, a zero-sulfur blend from the suburbs of Barcelona, a Rioja that tastes like it came from the Loire, a natural pet-nat from Mexico’s Marcel Lapierre, and a Chilean Pinot Noir fermented in a cowhide. Just another day at The Thief.
What do all of these wines have in common? They’re all imported by José Pastor Selections, a relatively new discovery that has been shaking the heck out of the Spanish speaking wine world’s Etch-A-Sketch. From fresh updates to classic regions like Rioja or Ribera del Duero, to undiscovered treasures in the Canary Islands and Mexico, Pastor’s wines share a commonality of sustainable viticulture, low-input winemaking, and vivaciousness, coupled with an uncommon (in the natural wine world) rigor of cleanliness, clarity, and typicity. The wines from four-way collaboration Envínate have received a fair bit of press already (and remain some of our favorites in the portfolio), but there are plenty of other fascinating producers. Let’s meet a few of our favorite new faces...
José Pastor is possibly best known for contributing to the popularity of wines from the Canary Islands. Tenerife, the largest and most populous island, lies 200 miles off the coast of Morocco. Here, Dolores Cabrera organically shepherds centenarian Listán Negro (a variety believed to grow nowhere else) vines trained in the local cordon trenzado braids. Her La Araucaria Tinto cuvee is dark, spicy, and smoky, a common thread for volcanic wines. It is also, at $24, one of the shop’s best values.
After stages in some of the most illustrious cellars in Rioja (La Rioja Alta and CVNE), Juan Peñagaricano Akutain began planting his own vineyards. He hoped to recreate the classic wines of the region with exacting micro-cuvees, rather than the domineering omnipresence of the larger bodegas. If his 2018 Consecha is any indication, he might be outstripping the larger houses. A crunchy, fragrant, funky joven (young) wine, this is a bistro buster that deserves a hot grill.
These might be the first wines from Mexico that the shop has carried! Bichi has only been around since 2014, but they are standing on the shoulders of hundreds of years of local wine production. The winery began as a collaboration between the Tellez family and Burgundian Louis-Antoine Luyt, who is best known for his work with the Mission grape in Chile. Bichi now farms 25 biodynamic acres of vineyards around Tecate, east of Tijuana, and collaborates with local growers on other organic vineyards, striving to produce “vinos sin maquillaje”, or wines without makeup. For the Listán cuvee, 100-year-old Listán Prieto (also known as Mission or País) vines produce tiny yields of concentrated grapes that are then fermented in locally made concrete tinajas. These are culty, hard to find natural wines, and they are going to go quickly.
Carolina Alvarado and Arturo Herrera built their adobe winery by hand, and 15 years later they still do not have electricity. Instead, they rely on traditional enological techniques, including incorporating cowhides in the fermentation of their red wines. This is a cooler part of Chile just north of the Casablanca Valley, where Sauvignon blanc and Pinot Noir reign supreme. Their La Zaranda Sauvignon blanc, named after the local manual destemmer, is macerated for a couple of days before fermenting and aging 17 months in concrete. Bottled without SO2, this is a salty lime and candied jalapeno zinger that has me dreaming of a hot porch and bottomless fish tacos.
The wines you like usually show the worst possible wine flaw - perceptible new oak. They are the Chevy commercial, Bob Seger, unironic denim jackets of wine.
I have trouble deciding if the wines you like are flawed, or if the winemaker’s mustache wax fell in the barrels.
High alcohol. New oak. Structure you’d be better off chewing than sipping. Not all of us have hearths and overstuffed leather chairs to sit in while we swirl our grape whiskey and think about the Civil War.
“Natural Wine” is throwing away everything and all the technology to make things better. You probably prefer porn from the 70’s.
“Old school” Spanish wine, especially Rioja, was just mimicking Bordeaux after it was wiped out by phylloxera. Who knows, maybe whole cluster no so2 carbonic zero zero biodynamic dry-farmed no-till regenerative b-corp wines were already a thing before the homogenization. And...uh…uh… Priorat is dumb.
I think some new-age hipster winemakers heard high VA gets high scores. They should not have set their bar at actual nail polish remover. That wine you made me taste with a “little” brett would pair nicely with filet mignon and a horsesh&% demi-glace. BTW, it was so underripe the side of green beans tasted more like grapes than the wine did.
Syrup is for pancakes, not Syrah, score-chasing is for people who don’t know enough to trust their own palate, and, to quote Sideways, “I will not be drinking any fucking Russian River Pinot!”
Flashy labels are for beer. You can f&%* beer up and brew another batch. You would think after making a bulls$%# wine and wasting an entire vintage, one would learn, but no, they just got stoned and thought mother earth would come and save the day.
Michel Rolland and Robert Parker were the vinous equivalent of a human centipede. Is this Carmenere, Merlot, or Malbec? Who knows? It smells like prune juice and tastes like it was made by a 10-person committee at Budweiser. I bet you like Crocs.
I once heard winemaking was like going to battle with microbiology. Apparently, your wines are like the French, just not like French wines.
Look, I’m sorry your wines haven’t been cool since Carson Daly was a thing. You and I both know that these things go in cycles. Pet-nat and carbonic maceration are cool right now, but by the time your daughter is drinking wine, the hot new thing will be Elon Musk’s Martian Merlot, or Botswanan Acacia Vermouth, or skin-contact Viura fermented in a burned-out Terminator exoskeleton. What I’m trying to say is this - even then, your wine still won’t be cool.
We haven’t come to a compromise, but one thing is for sure: we would both happily share a bottle of Vega Sicilia Unico Reserva Especial. As long as the other one is picking up the tab.
NOTE TO READER: Do not attempt to buy either of these bearded gentlemen Vega Sicilia Unico. They’ll just find a reason to make fun of you.
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