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“France’s most physically messianic winemaker…” “Dagueneau glared at tasters; he poured samples with studiedly curt swiftness; all questions were met with monosyllabic replies. He would rather, one felt, have been racing huskies in Finland (as he did for three months the following winter). His wines smelled not of Sauvignon Blanc, nor of gooseberries or asparagus or of micturating felines, but of......Spring. Sipping the Buisson Renard was like standing beneath a waterfall: the flavours were clean, limpid, eerily palpable, a soft shock. The Silex was not the parody flintlock of popular myth; it was pure, sappy, soaring, rich, finishing with just a hint of stone after rain. I had not been expecting this calm and majestic retreat from the varietal. I learnt something new.” Andrew Jefford, The New France
“Due to a titanic level of work in the vineyard, his pure-bred Sauvignon Blancs act like a terroir sponge.” Michel Bettane, Le Grand Guide des Vins de France
“I had a few scores to settle with the family,’ he said. ‘So, I decided to make wine, to make better wine than them. That was my first motivation. So, I decided to make the best Sauvignon Blanc in the world. Not at all pretentious for someone who’s been making wine for two years.” Didier Dagueneau, in Decanter
“In my opinion, 80% of the growers are thick and lazy.” Didier Dagueneau, to Jancis Robinson
Exacting. Motivated. Perfectionist. Iconoclast. Daredevil. Hirsute. Didier Dagueneau looms over the Loire Valley appellation of Pouilly-Fumé 12 years after his death, as famous for his strutting rejection of conventionality and his neighbors’ still ruffled feathers as for his transcendent Sauvignon Blancs. In an era of chemical farming and overcropped, watery wines, Dagueneau demanded parsimonious yields and delicate, labor-intensive handwork in the vineyard, employing one worker for every 2.5 acres (the same ratio as Domaine Romanee-Conti). He forsook his family domaine in favor of establishing his own, forging a reputation for both brilliantly expressive single parcel cuvees and brutally frank opinions. Finally, he rebuffed the orthodoxy that Pouilly-Fumé and other Sauvignon Blanc based wines were meant for early consumption. His first wines from the mid-80’s are still (reportedly) drinking quite well.
After a short career as a motorbike racer (he retired after two severe crashes), he turned to winemaking, establishing his domaine with rented vineyards beginning in 1982. He would slowly add cuvees throughout his tenure, beginning with his flagship Silex (named for the siliceous terroir it is planted on) in 1985, and continuing until his 2006 acquisition of a small plot in the storied Sancerre vineyard of Monts Damnes, overlooking Chavignol. Didier’s winemaking idols included legendary producers Edmond Vatan of Sancerre and Henri Jayer of Vosne-Romanee, vignerons renowned for marrying transparent site expression to a singular house style.
Dagueneau, forever restless, experimented over the years with native yeast fermentation, extensive battonage, a low sulfur regime, and various types of oak, but the domaine’s core principles always remained the same. It began with massal selection vines pruned very aggressively, producing less than half the total yield allowed by the appellation. A practitioner of organics and biodynamics (though not certified; Didier did not mix well with bureaucracy), herbicides were eschewed in favor of plowing, whether by horse (he was one of the first growers to revive the practice, well before DRC adopted it) or tractor. At harvest, Dagueneau’s late harvesting and rigorous selection led to phenologically ripe wines without the damp heaviness of rot and botrytis. Elevage always took place in oak, though the vessels’ size and shape varied considerably over the years. Didier is famous for pioneering the use of 350l oblong “cigar” barrels with very low levels of toast, which allowed the piercing minerality and Satnav terroir of his cuvees to shine.
“A chip off the old Silex”
When Didier Dagueneau died following an ultralight plane crash in 2008, many assumed that his domaine was doomed. Louis-Benjamin Dagueneau, having studied with biodynamic Loire luminary Francois Chidaine and Olivier Jullien of shop favorite Mas Jullien, was ready to strike out on his own, much like his father before him. Instead, Louis-Benjamin took up his father’s considerable legacy, expanding upon the domaine’s fame with a string of successful vintages that have left some wondering if the son has surpassed the father. The vineyards are cared for with the same laborious intensity, and the work in the cellar has only become more precise and translucent. Methinks his father would be proud.
“Didier was more than a light, he was a natural phenomenon, a storm, a commotion and a celebration in a world that is often too dull and glum.”...“Yes, he was bigger than life. But Dagueneau was a man who didn't suffer fools and clichés lightly.” Joe Dressner
Jo Landron, Muscadet vigneron and prominent moustache owner
Muscadet might just be the summer wine. Unlike more aromatic varieties, it shows well with a serious chill. It is always refreshing, low in alcohol, and thirst-quenching. It is also (usually) very reasonably priced, so you can afford a couple bottles to get you through a sweaty summer evening.
Where is it from?
Muscadet is in the far western part of the Loire Valley, north of Bordeaux. It abuts the Atlantic Ocean, which contributes greatly to its maritime structure and salty flavor. Nantes, the nearest city, is a bustling, rainy tech hub that has been called France’s Seattle.
What is it made of?
Melon B., formerly Melon de Bourgogne. For a more thorough history of the grape, including its unceremonious banishment from Burgundy, please refer to this earlier Thief blog.
What does Muscadet taste like?
Melon, a neutral grape, often tastes of orchard fruits such as green apples or pears, with a lean structure built around citrusy acidity. Muscadet’s proximity to the sea causes a distinctly saline, minerally finish that makes your mouth water. Some producers age their Muscadets on lees for extended periods, providing extra weight and creamy autolytic flavors like baking bread (similar to Champagne).
What should I pair with it?
The classic Muscadet pairing is fresh oysters with mignonette, though they provide an excellent foil for nearly any seafood (particularly raw or light preparations). They also play really well with green vegetables, which can be a difficult pairing. Well-made examples pick up some golden weight as they age, allowing them to be paired with richer foods like chicken in a cream sauce or leeks au gratin.
When should I drink it?
Fresh Muscadet is delicious, salty, and quaffable, the kind of wine to drink on your porch tonight. Aged Muscadet can hold for 10 years or more, growing weightier and more complex as the years roll by. So, I guess the answer is, you should’ve been drinking Muscadet this whole time!
Ch. Thebaud, Famille Lieubeau
Chateau de la Ragotiere Muscadet Sevre et Main Sur Lie 2018
Lemon and the lightest texture are lifted by intense acidity and a lively, fresh aftertaste.
Domaine de la Fruitiere Cru Clisson 2014
Sourced from profoundly granitic soils that are some of the oldest in France, these wines have a lash of savory acidity and remarkable longevity.
La Berriere Muscadet Sur Lie 2018
The wine is fresh and has unusual depth and minerality. Thanks to its exceptional terroir, the wine is very floral and will develop fuller flavors with aging.
Joseph Drouhin Rully Blanc 2016
A wine full of charm! The color is a beautiful white gold, with a ravishing purity and brilliance.
St. Cosme Little James Basket Press Pays D'OC Blanc 2018
Chateau de Saint Cosme is the leading estate of Gigondas and produces the appellation’s benchmark wines.
Ingrid Groiss Gemischter Satz Braitenpuechtorff 2018
The oldest wine-growing districtus in Austria, the Weinviertel DAC, is where Ingrid Groiss calls home. Hailing from the town of Breitenwaida, in northeast Austria, near the border with the Czech Republic, Ingrid crafts wines expressive of terroir, keeping with her family’s long tradition of winemaking. She is supremely passionate about her wines, with sustainable practices in the vineyard and minimal interference of modern technologies in the cellar.
Peyrassol La Croix des Templiers Rosé 2019
The name of the estate is the first indication of its long, illustrious past. Located in the heart of Provence, near routes traveled by Crusaders in the early Middle Ages, the Commanderie de Peyrassol was founded by the Knights of Templar who were dedicated to protecting the Crusaders en route to, and in, the Holy Land.
Domaine de la Patience Rosé Nemausa 2018
This family estate located in the Costières de Nîmes takes its name from a wild, aromatic herb “La Patience” that can be found throughout the vineyard.
Figuiere Mediterranee Rosé 2019
Over a period of 25 years, the Combard Family has grown Figuière to its current size of 210 acres. Additionally, Figuière produces an entry-level tier of wines called "Méditerranée" using meticulously selected grapes sourced from négociants. The perfecting touches of maturing and blending are carried out in the domaine’s cellars.
Sparkling wine labels can be confusing as heck. Traditional method, Charmat method, brut, extra dry, Prosecco, Cava, Champagne, BLAARGH...I just want bubbles in my glass!!! Here’s a handy guide to help you find the right bottle the next time you’re celebrating a promotion, an anniversary, or even a Tuesday.
Traditional Method - The method used for Champagne, Cremant, and other fine sparkling wines around the world. First, the grapes are picked and pressed, just like regular white wine. The juice is then fermented, usually in stainless steel tanks or oak barrels depending on the winemaker’s preference. The highly acidic still wines that are produced are called the vin clairs. These are blended with reserve wine from previous vintages (unless the producer wants to make a single vintage wine) before being bottled with a small amount of yeast and sugar. As the yeast ferments the sugar, it produces carbon dioxide. This trapped CO2 from the second fermentation stays in the bottles. Blammo, we’ve got bubbles.
As the yeasts die, they drop out of the wine and form sediment in the bottle known as lees. The amount of time a sparkling wine spends on the lees has a huge impact on its aroma and flavor, contributing notes of baking bread or roasted nuts which round out and soften the wine.
After the lees are removed through a process known as disgorgement, the wine is dry and still very tart, so a small amount of sugar is often added to balance the wine. This is the dosage, and it determines the finished sweetness of the wine. Brut is the most common level (~12g sugar), but drier styles have become more popular recently, with some producers choosing to forgo this step in favor of brut nature or zero dosage wines (more on that later).
Cava - Spanish (Catalonian) DO that produces traditional method sparkling wines, often based on Macabeo, Parellada, and Xarel-lo. Often excellent quality vs price.
Prosecco - Italian DOC or DOCG in the Veneto and Friuli (northeastern Italy), often produced from the Glera grape (itself formerly known as Prosecco, recently renamed to avoid confusion). Made in the Charmat method, where a wine is refermented in tank, rather than in each bottle as with the traditional method. The lower production cost allows Prosecco to be sold at very reasonable prices.
Sweetness - The sweetness of a sparkling wine is determined by the residual (unfermented) sugar. In the traditional method, the winemaker will often add a dosage of wine and sugar after disgorgement. In the Charmat or tank method, a dosage is often added after sterile filtration.
Here are the sweetness levels for European sparkling wines:
Brut Nature - 0-3g/l. No added dosage, the driest of the dry.
Extra Brut - 0-6 g/l. Not to be confused with Extra Dry.
Brut - 0-12 g/l. The most common sweetness level. Still drinks fairly dry because of sparkling wine’s high acidity.
Extra Dry - 12-17 g/l
Demi-Sec - 32-50 g/l
Dulce - 50+ g/l
If you’d like a sparkler with more perceptible acidity, a drink to pair with a full meal from salad to main course, head for drier climes. If you prefer a softer, fruitier sparkling wine, or you need something to pair with dessert, aim for the sweeter end of the spectrum. Most importantly, taste a range of styles and learn what you prefer. After all, bubbles are about enjoying yourself!
We love the pyrotechnic wines of Mt. Etna, but it would be a shame to forget about the wines from the rest of Sicily. The shop just received a large shipment from one of our favorite Sicilian producers: COS. This is the hottest week of the summer so far, so it seems appropriate to daydream about olive trees, fried eggplant, and spicy wine.
COS was founded in 1980 when three friends purchased an old estate in Vittoria, in southeastern Sicily. At the time, they were the youngest producers in the region. Sicilian wine was just beginning to wake from its post-phylloxera, post-war slumber, and its wines were often marked by a tarry rusticity that is the hallmark of inelegantly made Nero d’Avola. COS quickly established a new paradigm with fragrant, energetic wines based on two local red varieties: Nero d’Avola and Frappato.
Nero d’Avola is the darker varietal of the two. Giusto Occhipinti (the O in COS, and Arianna Occhipinti’s uncle) likens it to Syrah. It has many of the same structural and aromatic qualities, with dark plummy fruit, black pepper, and violets, as well as the ability to retain acidity in Sicily’s warm Mediterranean climate. Frappato is lighter, with red berries (especially strawberry) and intense florality, reminiscent of Cru Beaujolais.
COS bottles several monovarietal renditions of Nero and Frappato, but the varieties really shine when they’re blended. Sicily’s only DOCG, which COS was instrumental in establishing, is Cerasuolo di Vittoria (“cherries of Vittoria”), which must be a blend of 50-70% Nero d’Avola and 30-50% Frappato. Nero d’Avola provides structure and density while Frappato brings lift and aromatic potency. This inherent balance, especially when combined with limestone soils and COS’s attentive organic viticulture, makes for a sun-kissed, unabashedly Mediterranean wine with surprising vivacity and freshness.
Their pursuit of freshness does not end in the vineyard. COS was one of the first wineries in Italy to revive the ancient practice of fermenting and aging wines in unlined terracotta amphora (that’s big clay pots to you and me). The amphoras are neutral vessels that allow the wine’s fragrance to shine without the obstruction of oak, while their porosity provides small amounts of oxygen (as opposed to an anaerobic stainless steel tank).
The wines of COS are distinctive and iconic (much like their squat, old-timey bottles), and they have helped to revive the winemaking industry in Sicily. Fry up some eggplant, boil some pasta, and enjoy a bottle or two as the summer heat shimmers.
Arianna Occhipinti - the student becomes the master. Arianna formed her domaine at 22, after helping her uncle for several harvests. Her wines share many qualities with COS’s, from organic viticulture to cutting edge winemaking. Her Frappato is frankly Burgundian.
Feudo Montoni - a new addition to the shop. Value priced, well-made wines for a Tuesday pasta.
Il Censo - Another organic producer, inspired by Umbrian legend Paolo Bea. Deep, dark, Syrah-y Nero d’Avola perfect for roasted lamb.
Colosi - a shop favorite, punches well above its price. Screams for anything with grill marks.
Planeta - wonderfully floral Frappato makes a great red wine pairing for lighter fare, including rich seafood.
Tasca d'Almerita - Salty, spicy Grillo from near Marsala. A maritime white for squid, shrimp, or even, gasp, green vegetables.
Vital is a non-profit winery founded by Ashley Trout of Brook & Bull working for better healthcare for vineyard and cellar workers. Many of the materials are donated by Washington state vineyards and wineries.
Time & Direction is a boutique, Rhone focused winery run by one-man-show, ex-sommelier, and former Thief employee Steve Wells. His Syrahs have already received high accolades from several wine publications, and he is just getting started.
Prospice Wines consists of the winemaking duo Jay Krutulis and Matt Reilly. Their first shared project was a WWCC Merlot, and now years later they continue to produce fantastic “f@#$@$% Merlot!” Take that Miles.
itä Wines is a new winery from WWCC Enology program graduate Kelsey Albro Itämeri. She crafts elegant, balanced wines from high elevation vineyards on Walla Walla’s east side.
Rotie’s Sean Boyd has been a driving force in Walla Walla’s Rhone scene for more than a decade, producing wines with power and finesse from some of the region’s finest vineyards.
Kelly and JJ of Aluvé Winery use estate-grown fruit from the vineyard adjacent to their home for this succulent, ripe Chardonnay. After 20+ years in the Air Force, harvest is a breeze.
Jason Fox sources the Pinot Noir for his rosé from Breezy Slope Vineyard, one of the highest elevation vineyards in Walla Walla. The elevation helps this notoriously finicky variety hold its acid, making it perfect for refreshing rosé.
This dry, concrete fermented Grenache rosé from Matt and Kelly Austin is a cheeky nod to the California Blush wines of the past, though it’s done in the light, refreshing house style of this new winery.
A local rosé pack is not complete without one of Fiona Mak’s delicious bottles. Her label is rosé exclusive, with releases reflecting the changing seasons. Rosé all year!
Advanced Sommelier Robert Gomez’s new label, with its striking artwork and thoughtfully crafted wines, has quickly become a shop favorite. He hit it out of the park with this rosé from Blue Mountain Vineyard.
El Corazon is a party, and Spencer Sievers is the MC/DJ/disco ball/Winemaker. This Malbec rosé will cool you down like a lake in July. Rbbbbt.
This blend of Grenache and Syrah from French Creek Vineyard is always one of our favorite rosés, and the new vintage has not disappointed. Consulting winemaker Todd Alexander has produced an aromatic, fresh pink to beat the Walla Walla heat.
There are some wines that are meant for contemplation, for decanting and incanting, for polished goblets and crystal flutes, for making new friends and for shaming your enemies - wines that scoff at crudité and salads, that demand steaming hunks of beef like a demi-god demands at a sacrifice.
These, however…these are decidedly not those wines. These are wines for a pool, or a boat, a sprinkler in the backyard, or a sprinkler in a pool on a boat. These are wines for grass and sunshine. These are wines for brunch and prolonged brunching. Brunch isn’t just a meal, it’s your own personal holiday, and you get to pick the date.
These wines are gulpable and unpretentious, the perfect base for a brunch drink, or brunch punch, if you will. Try one of these out the next time you’re tired of mimosas. Heck, try them out when you’re sick of orange juice – we won’t tell.
2 ripe white or yellow peaches
1 bottle Zardetto Private Cuvée Brut
Blanch peaches for 1 minute in boiling water. Remove to ice bath. Peel peaches, then cube, removing pit. Blitz in food processor or blender. In a flute, combine 1 part peach puree with 2 parts Zardetto. Presto!
1 part Cappelletti (can substitute Aperol or Campari)
3 parts Rosé Limé
Serve with a slice of lemon or orange. Put on a caftan and pretend you’re in Miami.
Valpolicella lovers in need of a summer beverage – this one is for you! Add a small scoop of Colville St. Patisserie rhubarb sorbet to a mug of ice-cold Raphael Bartucci Bugey Cerdon. Or, if you’re feeling ambitious, make your own watermelon-orange sorbet.
½ ripe watermelon, cubed
Zest from one small orange
Warm water, as needed
Place watermelon cubes on a lined baking sheet. Freeze for a minimum of 4 hours, or overnight. Place frozen watermelon chunks and orange zest in a food processor or blender, allowing 5 minutes to begin thawing. Blend until smooth, pressing down with a spatula and adding warm water in small increments to facilitate smoother texture. Santé!
The staff of the Thief likes to eat nearly as much as we like to drink wine. Spicy Spanish red wines are a no-brainer when you’re grilling, but here are a few more ideas to get you through the summer.
(Click name in red to shop)
Emily - Argentine-style steak with chimichurri sauce paired with Laurel Priorat.
Karin - Chipotle marinated flank steak and grilled tomatillo salsa with Lapostolle Carmenere.
Matt (that’s Curly to you) - Peppered ribeye with Produttori del Barbaresco Montestefano 2013, or coconut grilled shrimp with Pichot Vouvray.
Devin - Honey-cider vinegar glazed pork chops with Château d’Orschwihr Riesling.
As for me (Allan), I recently wrote about a great experience with slow-grilled pork brisket and lightly chilled Beaujolais-Villages from Foillard, but I also love harissa grilled lamb with Hervé Souhaut Syrah. I’m kind of surprised no one called for steak and Champagne!
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