Satellite Wine Club, November 2020
Flower Power - An Aromatic Inquiry
Sous le Vegetal - Muscat Blanc au Petit Grains - Samos, GR - 2018
Erggelet Brothers - Malvasia Bianca - Skin Contact - Contra Costa County, CA $32/Bottle, $307/Case
Breath deep! This month we’re using our noses quite a bit!
As the air chills and the holidays begin in earnest, I thought it appropriate to take us on a new adventure. We haven’t been down this road before, friends. Call it a left turn, an interlude, let me lead you down the (literal) garden path. This month we turn our back on fruit, opening our minds (and our smiling faces) to the beautiful, delicate floral aromas of aromatic white wines.
WTF? Aromatic? What are those? I don’t know if I like it! Blegh! Is it sweet? How do I drink this? HELP!
Ok no fussing, this is exciting. This month we’re looking at some of the most vivid, uninhibited, and elegant flavors in wine. The amazing, perfumed world that has periodically captivated the wine world for millennia. I’m talking about the world of Muscats, Malvasias, Gewurztraminers, and Torrontéses! Heck, even Riesling, Sauvignon Blanc, and Albariño fit under the big tent of aromatic wines (though, to a much lesser extent).
What makes a grape aromatic anyhow? A good rule of thumb: if it smells like flowers and leaps from the glass to your nose it’s probably an aromatic grape. Why? Terpenes, dude.
Terpenes; Terps. No, friend. I’m not talking cannabis, I’m talking viticulture. Terpenes are a whole group of molecular aroma compounds that these grapes pump out at rates many times that of normal grapes. These are often the exact, or at least, almost the same compounds found in exotic flowers ranging the gamut of Roses, Geraniums, Orange Blossoms, Lilies, Violets, and even Lavender. As a Cabernet Franc grape’s pyrazines match the same molecule in green peppers, so do these terpenes in aromatic grapes.
Biologically, one concludes these evolutionary adaptations increase interest from pollinators and seed spreading predators. The stronger the flower’s scent, the busier the bee. I like to think we too have hit the evolutionary lottery with these grapes :)
And what the heck am I supposed to do with these flower wines!? As we know from the great Sci-fi novel, Dune: “THE SPICE MUST FLOW!”
But seriously, aromatic white wines are the perfect pair for spicy food. Particularly at home with bright & spicy Southeast Asian, Indian, Szechuan, Mexican, and even hot fried chicken sandwiches, aromatic whites act like a garnish upon the meal. While a little leftover sugar in the wine will help cut the heat, it’s not necessary for the perfect pairing.
The world of aromatica isn’t just for spice friend! A classic aperitif, a very fine and delicate floral white like the Sous le Vegetal you have this month acts as an elegant first glass at a party. Especially bright on a virgin palate, the loud cacophony of flavors can open up the palate and stimulate hunger just like a Spritz or Vermouth drink.
Equally compelling for dessert though not in the scope of this month’s club, I highly recommend seeking out a classic sweet aromatic wine. Dramatically under-appreciated and thus excellently priced, succulently sweet and incredibly complex wines like the legendary Klein Constantia ‘Vin de Constance’ (a favorite of Napoloeon Bonaparte… he drank 300 gallons of the stuff on St. Helena!) pair incredibly well with nutty, creamy, and even citrusy desserts.
Before we dive into the bottles allow me to drop one more flavorful information nugget upon your floral-focused brain: There are Red aromatic grapes too! I won’t dive in, but if this is your thing I recommend seeking out the following grapes for ‘research’: Aleatico, Mondeuse, Schiava, and Mencia.
There’s a whole world of aromas out there my friend... Let’s try some!
Sous le Vegetal - Muscat Blanc au Petit Grains - Samos, GR - 2018
Greece has been bumming me out.
Boring, Flat, Too Safe, Bland, Unadventurous, Anywhere Wines
These are a few of the most commonly underlined words from my tasting notes on the great bulk of wines from Greece in the past few years. UGH!
It shouldn’t be this way! The region’s history is steeped in wine. The ancient Greeks worshipped Dionysis - the partyboy god - and regularly threw insane parties that could last weeks on end… because it pleased the gods.
So, in this land of Milk, Honey, and Day-Drunk Demigods: why do so many modern wines from Greece leave me wanting?
I’ve got a few socioeconomic theories but the core is this: Greece has lost a fair bit of confidence. For much of my life they’ve been the poor man of Europe; an ailing, classical country on the eastern periphery of Europe… While the foundation of modern “Europe” is anchored in the civilization of ancient Greece, Europe’s modernity has perpetually marched further and further west. Though a fiercely “European” nation there’s a deepening sense of marginalization and even orientalization both by the other Euro-Nations and by Greece itself. Blame the poor economy, exploitative big grocery chains pushing down wine price/quality, or simply the exodus of rural youth from the endless islands of the Grecian archipelago.
I’ll adapt a classic LCD Soundsystem lyric to the subject: Greece I love you, but you’re bringing me down.
Enter the heroes of our story: Jason Ligas & Patrick Bouju - Sous le Vegetal. These guys are here to save Greece in the eyes of this simple wine man.
No, winestronaut. I was not just attracted to this bottle by its incredibly beautiful and simple label featuring a crater on some unknown celestial body. I mean, yeah I absolutely love it, but there’s something so much more important going on here.
Jason Ligas and Patrick Bouju are buds bridging the gap between France and Greece.
Ligas is a polyglot with deep connections to France, Germany, and Greece. works making natural wines with his family in Greece’s northern Pella region, just south of Macedonia. There they focus on the typical grapes of the region, like Assyrtiko and Xinomavro [Greek grapes are fun to pronounce!]. Their viticulture is deliberately regenerative as this deeply historic wine growing region has been ravaged by modern conventional agriculture. They’re bringing traditional winemaking back to a place so steeped in wine history that the local church’s mortar was mixed with wine rather than water!
Patrick Bouju, based in Auvergne, FR, is an equally skilled winemaker to Ligas and a naturalist in no uncertain terms. An engineer by trade, Bouju realized in university that he had an allergy to excess sulfur in wine. Later, when serving in the French Army at Chalon-sur-Saône in Burgundy, Bouju befriended the sons of many natural winemakers and discovered a desire to make his own wines. He settled in Auvergne, a traditional winegrowing region that had been left largely unplanted for much of the 20th century as the Phylloxera soil louse had devastated the impoverished rural area in the late 1800’s. On that diverse, volcanic soil, Patrick created a simple estate called DOMAINE LA BOHÈME where he lives and farms today.
These two are farmers first: deeply believing that nourishing first the microcosms of the soil and the vine is the only path to making a wine of true quality; one that honors the individuality of its place and the grapes. Boujou says it best:
“I want to reveal the expression of the microterroirs of Samos island, earn the local people’s respect, avoid interrupting existing processes, far from that — rather preserve them, says Jason. I want to feed on these traditional gestures. My project is entirely geared towards a very specific level of quality, and in order to nourish this project, I rely on the microcosmos, on the infinitely small. Furthermore, I believe in the infinitely slow.”
In order to accomplish their dreams with Sous le Vegetal (btw: That translates to ‘Under the Plant’... These guys get it) Ligas and Boujou make every effor to insulate their vines from the industrial agriculture of the surrounding island. They eschew the denser, freakishly hot coast for thin strips of terraced vineyard on the steep cliffs of the island’s volcano, Mount Ampelos (Wine Mountain :D ), over 2600ft above sea level. At that height the daily coastal temperatures over 100º subside to the mid 70º’s. Healthier temps, constant breeze, pure mineral soils - that’s the magic of wine mountain! There they found, repaired, and nourished three old vineyards of Muscat Blanc a Petits Grains. This is not easy work and even though they span just 20km from vineyard to vineyard the trips take over two hours between them… this is rugged terrain.
Boujou and Ligas brought with them the tricks of some of the great naturalists of the french wine world. They work under the theory of permaculture in the vineyards. Chamomile and Nettle extracts help the vine manage the heat of the sun; a protective balm of olive oil lees and propolis are applied heal injured vine plants, and absolutely nothing synthetic is ever used to treat the vineyard. Basically they farm with their hands, hand tools, and the plants growing around them.
So now that we have an idea of the who, the where, and the how - let’s get down to the what. What is ‘Livia’?
Livia is perfection.
First: Livia is Muscat. Muscat Blanc a Petits Grains is native to Greece and the island of Samos. In fact, one of the many ancient grecian names still used today is Muschat Samou (Samos Muscat). This particular muscat is regarded generally as the finest type. Small, extremely delicate berries, which are susceptible to all kinds of pests, must be grown in ideal conditions to survive to become great wine. The constant cool, dry sea breeze on Samos’ high mountain is about as good as it gets. You can consider this the most regal of aromatic white wines.
The whole idea of the Sous le Vegetal project is to show Muscat in its purest and best forms, through three distinct wines (Livia is the pure, direct press, no skin contact version). The wines are all bone dry in direct opposition to the typically over-ripe and over-produced sweet Muscats of Greece.
The guys are extremely pragmatic in their approach to farming, hands on for everything. In the winery though, they approach winemaking with a soft hand, saying “The grape variety is never a problem; the winemaker can be”. Aside from the cold of the cellar, no other controls or additives are made in the winemaking. Simply: pick the grapes, press immediately and very softly, naturally ferment the juice to dryness in a mix of stainless steel & neutral oak vessels, bottle without sulfur. That’s it!
We work with a lot of natural wines and this wine expresses every element I look for. Clarity back to the vineyard, Clean yet Invisible Winemaking, Stability. I’m in love.
That’s more than enough prologue… Let’s pop this sucker!
First things first:
THIS IS AN AROMATIC WINE! Breath deep young winestronaut. This is the magic of muscat - get to know it. It’s a salted breeze of fresh flowers and… (you guessed it) the wild herbs growing on the scrubby terraces around the vines. I love being transported to those rugged volcanic cliffs in each breath. You can drink the scene with your nose. Note: This is not a typical Muscat of Samos; usually they’re sapidly sweet and over-ripe with a lot more tropical and orangey character. The magic of this wine is how delicate, elegant, and simply captivating it is on the nose. Hot. Damn.
On the palate it’s a study in balanced intensity. The soft haze of the wine in the glass is reflected in the wholeness of the scene on the palate. Textured, savory with a levity of fresh floral notes, lemon blossoms give a citrusy complexity. Salt. Salt is here to back it all up, lift the complexity, showing the Aegean sea’s influence even up at nearly 3,000ft.
The length of the finish, the twists and turns within each sip and between them… this wine is such a rare and beautiful thing.
I don’t know if the prior 3 page rant amounted to much clarity… but I sure hope the wine coalesces into some kind of justice for the information overload!
Erggelet Brothers - Malvasia Bianca - Skin Contact - Contra Costa County, CA $32/Bottle, $307/Case
The Erggelet brothers are a German sibling duo who landed in California in 2014. Sebastian and Julian are brilliant winegrowers, classically German with impossibly high standards and precision in all that they do. It’s a treat to have them right here in CA!
Coming from diverse professional backgrounds in Philosophy and Medicine… they’re applying their skills to the vineyard. Not just any vineyard either, these guys have found themselves a home in one of California’s most impressive and under the radar appellations, Contra Costa County.
In Contra Costa, under the long shadow of Mount Diablo lies a long wash of sand dunes dotted with endless garlic, fruit trees, and vineyards - many of which are over 100 years old. The area was adopted by immigrants from Italy & Portugal and many families planted the vines of their homeland. This rich diversity of oenological possibility was an overwhelming draw for the Erggelets and a harvest turned into many years of falling in love with California.
Here’s their autobiographical experience:
“ We came to California in 2014 with just enough savings to cover two months’ rent and buy a ‘well used’ Subaru. After gaining invaluable experience at OVID and Seven Stones Winery in the Napa Valley, then Martin Estate in Rutherford and Hannah Nicole Winery in Brentwood, we started making our own wine in 2015. Sebastian is the Associate Winemaker for Grgich Hills Estate in Rutherford. Julian spends his days fixing tractors and farming his vineyard and orchard in Contra Costa County. With some patience, a good sombrero and German OCD, we are farming with integrity and make wine that tells a story of sand, blazing sun and howling winds off the California Delta. “
While quite a departure from their training, these brothers appear to have it figured out. Across their portfolio the Erggelet wines are vivacious, ecstatic, and yet laced with a precision and angularity we rarely see outside of the Rhein River Region. It is a DELIGHT.
These guys grew up sipping riesling and chasselas from their grandfather’s gobelet. With a family history of winemaking hundreds of years in the making, they had a serious family cellar with all the magical flavors that turn adolescents into winemakers. They were hooked from a young age and even while they studied for their professional degrees they could hardly keep out of the vineyard.
Nowadays the Erggelets have their own farm called Urban Edge in Brentwood, CA. Beyond the vines they farm everything from chickens to asparagus and even offer hands-on training in the vineyard to locals. Their approach to agriculture is beyond commendable: intentional farming, organic polyculture and quality food - their main focus is on soil building, diverse ecosystems, and a triple bottom line that has become a model for small successful farms across the country. Easy: it is not! Wholesome, however, oh yes indeed.
Julian (the doctor turned tractor mechanic and organic farmer) married into the Checchini farm family. His wife Alli’s family founded their homestead some 100+ years ago and the polycultural estate hosts 25 acres of old italian vines and many more dotted with diverse animals and orchards. This diversity offers an advantage in farming organically and with soil health as a focus - the complexity and diversity means pests have a hard time taking hold and the availability of a rich humus of veggie compost and animal manures makes it a microbiological wonder. Out on this dry, sandy delta the Erggelets have created an oasis of rich, healthy flora and fauna. This is farming done right, mein freund!
They make a very diverse lineup of wines: from Malvasia Bianca two ways, to carignane, mataro, and pinot noir! That’s Italy, Spain, & France across just four grapes… and we haven’t even talked about the new vineyard they’re putting in with a whole slew of diverse grapes. For just 6 years in the US these two are making moves.
Let’s check the juice, shall we?
First things first is that this is a skin contact wine. “But why are you confusing my palate with a skin contact and a non-skin-contact wine Drew? Are you nuts?” Yes. Yes I am. I am nuts for well made aromatic varietals and if you must know my evil plan is to show them side by side and [hopefully] showcase that both approaches are great. If I had to refine the theory down to a line it would be this: “Skin contact for aromatic grapes brings them down to earth, trades the more refined perfume for the whole grape’s fruit, accompanied by a more muddled floral bouquet… the skins bring the bass”. I don’t know if that’s an revoluntionary concept, but I do know I believe it and I love skin contact aromatics!
This wine got about 2 weeks of skin contact and it shows in the color of the wine. A golden, juicy looking thing; yum.
The nose is way more fruit forward than the muscat - that’s partly the skin contact and partly that Malvasia is a much more citrus and tropical fruit focused profile. It’s inviting. It’s rich with diverse notes of mango and tangerine, ripe lime fruit, and kefir leaves. I also get this layered anise and cinammon vibe that makes me think HOLIDAYS! It’s all a little more rich, a little more sunshiney, one might say jammier than the muscat [think about the environment - this wine was grown in the hot dunes of the East Bay at sea level whereas the former scraped the sky at some 2,600+ft on a tiny island wrapped in the legendary Aegean breeze. Californian wines generally have more sunshine and heat - translated right into the juice!]. One impression I get too is that the acidity paired up with the juiciness makes it pop just a little more
On the palate it’s the same magic. Everything in the wine is high volume - intense and fun! Get all that spice on the fruit? It’s a spicy mango party here! The kefir and the exotic quince-anise-cinamon trio shine. The finish reminds me of a bag of dried mangoes!
This wine is a fascination, lively, delicious, complex and yet so chuggable. I hope you’ll come chug it with us on the Satty Patty!
Cheers to you Winestronaut!
Flowers, Fruit, & Salt
This is November at Satellite.