2008 Lioco, Sonoma County Chardonnay — “Lioco” is a fusion of the names of this winery’s two founders, Matt Licklider and Kevin O’Conner. Matt hails from North Berkeley Imports (importer of fine French and Italian wines) and Kevin was wine director at Spago-Beverly Hills. The two share a love of classic European wines, and joined forces to produce Californian wines equally expressive of place. They sourced the fruit for this Chardonnay from tough, stony, creekbed soils, and used only wild yeasts, with no fining, filtration, or oak. At $19.75, it has inviting Old World qualities: rustic earthiness on the nose and beguiling complexity on the palate. It is balanced and delicate, yet substantial. As a food pairing, the label suggests tandoori chicken, fish tacos, or ceviche. It was a big hit at the tasting, prompting many variations of, “I can’t believe this is a California Chardonnay!” See for yourself.
2008 Elk Cove Vineyards, Pinot Gris — Elk Cove is one of Oregon’s oldest wineries, founded by Pat and Joe Campbell back in 1974 when there were only a handful of wineries operating in the Willamette Valley. The winery has been family owned and operated since its inception with a focus on hand-crafted, estate-grown Pinots — Noir, Gris, and Blanc. Their son, Adam Godlee Campbell, joined them in 1995 and is now winemaker and manager at the family winery. After a difficult 2007, 2008 is being talked about as a classic vintage in Oregon, and this Pinot Gris, at $19.75, is a delicious example. It is medium-bodied, with lots of lovely fruit on the nose, and great minerality, supported by a richness that is characteristic of Elk Cove wines. The balanced acidity makes it a great partner for fish, main-course salads, or for Asian-influenced dishes. Or enjoy it as an aperitif.
2007 Mas des Brunes, Cuvée des Cigales, Vin de Pays des Côtes de Thongue — We’ve always been amused by the name of this small region in the south of France, just north of Béziers, within spitting distance of the Mediterranean Sea. (You’ve gotta love a wine that can “Coat da Tongue.”) It is a region of intense sunshine and low rainfall, perfect for producing the rich, concentrated wines typical of Côtes de Thongue. Mas des Brunes is owned and operated by Claude and Isabelle Bertrand, who sell most of their fruit to negociants, but reserve the best for their own wine. This one, a blend of Syrah, Grenache and Carignan, is dark and rich, and full of rustic garrigue character. It’s ready to enjoy now, with grilled meats and game, or roasted vegetable dishes. It’s $18.50.
2007 Podere Ciona, Montegrossoli — This month’s trio of Small Vineyards direct import wines begins with this “baby super-Tuscan” blend of Sangiovese and Alicante Bouschet from Podere Ciona. This is one of the smallest estates in the Small Vineyards portfolio, and the place where the original idea of what was to become Small Vineyards was first conceived. Winemaker Lorenzo Gatteschi made only 290 cases of the Montegrossoli, at his family winery in the Chianti Classico region. It is bright and Chianti-like, with spicy, ripe fruits and a crisp, lingering finish. At $15, it is a great mid-week pizza or pasta wine, or a fine accompaniment for more special meals as well.
2008 Martorana, Contrada Ragabo, Sicilian Red — Then it’s back to Sicily, with another one of Giuseppe Martorana’s great reds from the Nero d’Avola grape. When he’s not busy working as the town police chief, Martorana can be found producing some of the fabulous wines that make their way to our shelves and into our Collector’s Club. His goal in making this wine, he said, was to create a wine so easy to drink that “when you are finished eating with your family, you notice there are three or four empty bottles on the table.” Well, all things in moderation, of course (perhaps he has a large family), but we hope you find this one as easy to enjoy, with its fresh, bold flavors and deep, dark fruit. It’s $13 and perfect to enjoy anytime, perhaps with pasta with meat sauce, or your favorite pizza.
2008 Palamà, Arcangelo Salice Salentino — Here is a brand new face in the growing family of wineries brought to us by Small Vineyards. The Palamà family has been making wine on their small estate in the austere, desert-like appellation of Salice Salentino, in Puglia, since 1936. This wine is an 80/20 blend of the two most important grapes in this region: the dark, spicy, Negroamaro, and Malvasia Nera, a red sub-variety of Malvasia. This is a delicious, robust, and rich wine, perfect for grilled food, or on its own. At $12, it’s a great wine to grab for any occasion.