For me, a week off in late summer means the chance to be a soccer dad and to work in some sailing and fishing. It also means, of course, the chance to leisurely taste some new wines with the hope of finding a few that stand out.
So before I went away I made a trek down to lower Manhattan to Chambers Street Wines, a store which specializes in small-production artisanal wines that you won’t find everywhere. Part of the fun of wine is taking a chance once and a while with an unfamiliar bottle or two or three.
David Lillie and Jamie Wolff, the proprietors of Chambers Street, look for wines that are organically or biodynamically produced or at least made with a hands-off approach, which means an emphasis on letting the wines reflect where they were grown and the natural conditions of a vintage, with minimal intervention in the winery lab room. Among the things you won’t see here are scores or ratings or the blurbs known as shelf talkers that adorn more commercial wines in more mass-market retailers.
Lillie, whom I have known for 15 years or so, methodically takes me around his store in an old firehouse, concentrating, as he always does, on the wine roads less traveled in France and Italy, perhaps with a suggestion or two from Austria or Germany or Spain. This is not the place to find Yellowtail or mass-produced American brands. There is no hard sell here and no hurry as we casually discuss wine and wines.
Of those I tasted in my week off — I didn’t get through the whole case — three stood out, two from Italy and one from France. And all of them, coincidentally, were imported by Louis/Dresser Selections, an important source for these small-production wines.
There was the 2004 Arcese from Vittorio Bera in Piedmont in northwest Italy, a white made from the cortese, favorita and arneis grapes native to region. Dry and sophisticated, it shows stone fruit and melon, some herbs and has a slightly bitter finish. It’s an excellent value at $11.
From the Valle d’Aosta, also in Italy’s northwest, I enjoyed the 2004 Torrette from Franco Noussan, Torrette referring to a zone in this region in the Alps. This $18 red, based on the petit rouge, cornalin and vien de Nus varieties, is light, brightly acidic and earthy, like the gamay of France’s Beaujolais, with cherry and berry fruity and a spicy finish. I served it slightly chilled with grilled chicken.
Another red to serve slightly chilled is Domaine de la Pépière’s 2005 Cot, which is the malbec grape, from France’s Loire Valley. Marc Ollivier’s property is well known for its mineral-driven white muscadets, but the $11 cot, with its pretty fruit and firm structure, was a real find. It’s classified as a country wine, a Vin de Pays du Jardin de la France, and is available in the United States only at Chambers Street and K&L Wine Merchants in California. For more information you can contact Louis/Dressner Selections.
These wines are all marked by their individuality, striving to be nothing more than the unique and honest wines that they are. There are plenty of them out there, just waiting for the chance to be found.
Edward Deitch's wine column appears Wednesdays. He welcomes comments from readers. Write to him at EdwardDeitch