Part of the joy of working the wine business is the amazing wines you stumble across when you least expected. Every year there are few wines that especially stand out and this year we rounded them up in a single article for you to peruse and hopefully try! This year’s line up is an eclectic selection of wines you may have never heard of, top notch classics, strange grape varieties, and all around dang good wine! While we might want to forget most things 2020 related, we urge you to get in on these staff favourites while they’re still kicking around!
Jesse’s Pick: The Wines of Natte Valleij
If the COVID-19 crisis magically lifted and I could be whisked away to any wine region in the world tomorrow, it would be South Africa. A combination of rugged beauty, beautiful old vineyards and energetic young winemakers make this one of the most intriguing and exciting wine producing countries in the world today.
I first discovered the wines of Natte Valleij early 2020 and immediately fell in love. These are elegant, beautiful wines produced by young visionary Alex Milner. Alex has chosen to focus on the often overlooked Cinsault grape, working with unique vineyards throughout the Cape to explore the potential of the grape. His Coastal Cinsault is one of my favourite under $30 reds of the year, showcasing lovely fruit notes, red apple skin and spice. His single vineyard Cinsaults offer a unique exploration of the terroir of the Cape, and his P.O.W Bordeaux Blend shows excellent structure and could be confused with a quality wine from the Médoc. Lastly, we loved his Axle Chenin Blanc so much we bought every bottle that came to Alberta!
I highly encourage you to include the wines of Natte Valleij on your 2021 drinking radar, and if you haven’t explored the amazing new wave of wines coming from South Africa, you should also ensure it is part of your New Year’s resolution!
Shop wine from Natte Valleij: Natte Valleij Simonsberg-Paarl Cinsault, Natte Valleij Swartland Cinsault, Natte Valleij Coastal Cinsault, Natte Valleij P.O.W Bordeaux Blend, Natte Valleij The Swallow , Natte Valleij “Axle” Chenin Blanc
Andrew’s Pick: Le Potazzine Rosso di Montalcino $51.69
As much as I enjoy Le Potazzine’s Brunello di Montalcino (there are a handful of bottles of the 2015 vintage in my wine cellar), it was the 2017 Rosso di Montalcino that kept me coming back for more in 2020. Montalcino born winemaker Gigliola Giannetti captures the essential character of that most Italian of grapes, Sangiovese Grosso. Flavours of luscious marasca cherries and red plums are accompanied by piquant notes of cocoa, roasted roma tomatoes, olive tapenade, and sage. Finely woven tannins blanket the palate. The finish is elegant with a dusting of sweet spice.
The grapes for this wine came from two meticulously organic farmed vineyards – Le Prata and La Torre. Educated by Franco Biondi Santi and Giulio Gambelli, Gigliola only uses natural yeasts and ages her wines in traditional Slavonian oak casks. Delicious in a humble way, the 2017 Le Potazzine Rosso di Montalcino is the perfect match for a hot bowl of fagioli all’uccelletto (Tuscan bean stew).
Shop wine from Le Potazzine: Le Potazzine Rosso di Montalcino
Klaire’s Pick: Domaine du Cros “Lo Sang del Pais” $26.84
Domaine du Cros embodies that pastoral charm that can often be found in the wine regions off the beaten path, which is one of the reason I fell in love with it. Farming only 1 hectare until 1982, when the Teulier family started acquiring more land, Domaine du Cros has only ever worked with Mansois. The grapes for Lo Sang del Pais are harvested by hand from Domaine du Cros’ healthy vineyards. The vineyards aren’t certified, but Phillipe Teulier farms them organically and makes use of biodynamic practices. Destemmed grapes are fermented in stainless steel before maturing in large oak and chestnut barrels for 6 months.
Like the grape variety, the region, Marcillac, flies under the radar. Located in Southwest France, the stunning, dramatic slopes surrounding the Vallon de Marcillac see influence from both the Atlantic Ocean and the Mediterranean Sea. Iron-rich clay over limestone soils, known locally as “les rougiers”, compose the vineyards. Domaine du Cros’ “Lo Sang del Pais” has a medium, yet textural, body with savoury, velvety tannins. I love the wine’s rustic flavours of wild black currant, spicy clove, and fragrant sage. Its distinctive graphite note really makes the wine pop. This lovely little red pairs perfectly with a wedge of roquefort cheese, which is made in the same region, saucisson, and a chunk of good bread. What more could you need?!
Katie’s Pick: Zsirai Tokaji Furmint $25.31
The grape furmint is usually associated with lusciously sweet Tokaji wine. This wine is made from the same grape, but is fermented to completely dry, showcasing the bright, crisp acidity inherent to the varietal. Located in Mád, Hungary, sister Petra and Kata Zsirai and their mother run the winery, carrying on the legacy of their father. Zsirai makes the classic sweet Tokaj, dry whites like this one, and a red wine from Kadarka. The family owns about 15 ha of vineyards in Tokaji, Villány, and Somlό and only works with grapes grown on their properties. The sisters are experimenting with organic practices in their vineyards and use indigenous yeast to ferment their wines. This furmint was fermented in barrel and aged for 8 months in 220 litre Hungarian oak barrels.
I love it’s crispy acidity, the stone fruit on the palate and the crazy minerality. Plus the price point is soooooo great and packaging is sexy! Plus it’s such a great little surprise as so many people don’t know what to expect!
Deena’s Pick: Claire Naudin Le Clou 34 Aligoté $38.02
Considered the “other” white grape, Aligoté is the underdog of Chardonnay in Burgundy (and who doesn’t have a soft spot for an underdog). Truth be told, I fell in love the first time I tried Aligoté years ago at a restaurant I worked at (it was a bottle from Domaine Leroy, a famous Burgundy producer). When time and care are put into this grape the results can be quite beautiful. I was reminded of this beauty when I tried Naudin- Ferrand Le Clou 34.
The grapes are from vines that are at least 60 years old and are fermented and aged in stainless steel tanks. It has a very expressive nose of peach, pears, slight floral note, minerality and a hint of hard cheese, such as comté. The acidity is beautifully balanced with the weight of the wine. The peach and pear notes follow from the nose onto the palate, and the finish is long with a great hit of minerality. This is the type of wine that makes you stop what you are doing to just focus on the wine because you don’t want to miss a single nuance.
Shop wines from Claire Naudin: Claire Naudin Le Clou 34 Aligoté, Claire Naudin Ladoix 1er Cru, Claire Naudin Hautes-Côtes de Beaune Blanc, Claire Naudin Bourgogne Aligote Mallon, Claire Naudin Gamay d’Allier, Claire Naudin Orchis Mascula, Claire Naudin Nuits-Saint-Georges 1er Cru
Krista’s Pick: Yves Cuilleron Cote Rotie Bonnivières $149.16
The first ever sip of Cote Rotie is not easily forgotten. The combination of smokey bacon, white pepper, dark fruit and violets captivate and delight. I was transported back to that introductory taste with Yves Cuilleron Côte-Rôtie Lieu-dit Bonnivières. The intense and complex nose of smokey bacon, sandalwood and graphite were wound around a core of spicy dark fruit. The interplay of power and elegance support a long, rounded finish with surprisingly silky tannins.
The Cuilleron family have been the stewards of their Chavanay estate in the Rhone Valley for the last century. Yves Cuilleron inherited the estate in 1987 from his grandfather and has been growing their vineyard holdings throughout the Rhone ever since. The 100% Syrah grapes for the Bonnivières are from a single plot, hand-picked and sorted, before fermentation on native yeasts takes place. The wine spent 18 months in barrique.