Top Three Wines of July: Swartland, Minervois, Santa Barbara
This month’s top wine wrap up spans three continents including Africa, Europe, and North America. These are all remarkably compelling wines pushing farming and élevage to the edge of their regions’ traditional boundaries. While they are all urgently recommended, securing a bottle or two of Testalonga El Bandito or A Tribute to Grace will require intense investigation and a modicum of begging. The Hecht & Bannier Minervois is an older vintage that can still be found at retail while the current 2008 bottling is widely available
I have no idea how much El Bandito sells for at retail since Lammershoek‘s 29 year old genius winemaker Craig Hawkins stuffed a bottle of this wine, his own personal project, into my hands as we finished our comprehensive Lammershoek and Testalonga cellar tasting. Craig makes two Testalonga wines; the white El Bandito and red Cortez. It did not take longer than a couple of days following my return from South Africa to find an excuse to open the bottle. The old vine Chenin fruit, in whole clusters and undestemmed, sees carbonic maceration and sits on its lees for a couple of years in wood. The result is a wine of intensely rich texture, deep yellow/orange color, amazing freshness to fly in the face of its oxidative style, suggesting characteristics of sherry with nuts, spice, and rich stone fruit. I opened the wine at a birthday dinner celebration with The Passionate Foodie and every experienced palate tasting the wine that evening agreed it wasn’t exactly like anything else they had ever experienced before. This will be difficult to find, but Craig is working on US distribution now. In the mean time, you should look for the more available Lammershoek wines that he is applying his creative genius to and write to Craig here and beg him to find a way to get you a bottle of this wine. I will taste the Cortez this month and I wouldn’t be surprised to see it on August’s top three wine list. Craig Hawkins is a wine making force that you will undoubtedly hear a lot more about in the coming years.
I am not familiar with many negociants working the Languedoc. They may exist, but I don’t know of too many. Hecht & Bannier started in 2002 and visits hundreds of wineries in the south of France each year in search of the best juice to acquire and blend into specific appellation bottlings. They benefit local winemakers by blending their wines to showcase the best intrinsic character the region can offer to be shipped around the world. While they also produce simple blanc, rosé, and rouge blends, H&B creates AOC specific wines. This one from Minervois is a spectacular value at $18 and boasts a roasted and scorched earth character that is filled with herbal aromatics presented in a silken velvety mouthfeel. It conjured thoughts of a country wine with private school education. Click here to find what’s left of the 2006 H&B Minervois.
(***** $49) 2008 A Tribute To Grace Grenache Santa Barabara Highlands, California
You probably know I favor pretty wines over bruisers. This wine walked straight into my wheelhouse compliments of blogger turned natural winemaker Hardy Wallace. He shared this wine with me at an after party at the recent Wine Bloggers Conference and it stopped my in my tracks. Not just because I had been drinking mostly unimpressive wines that tragically pulsed through every artery of this conference, but because it was unlike any other California Grenache I had ever tasted. It was light in color, sexy in its mouthfeel and aromatics and pure in its fruit. The wine was actually delicate and sensual. It’s made by a young New Zealand winemaker named Angela Osborne who is dedicated to Grenache and guided by natural, bordering on biodynamic, winemaking thought. You need to find your way on to their mailing list since less than 200 cases of the wine is made. You want to experience A Tribute To Grace, it is another work of creative genius.