Let me start by stating the obvious: at Appellation, we love wines that respect both tradition and terroir, wines that are produced with respect to history and to nature. Sometimes producers begin with this core belief; other times they find their way to it over an extended course of experimentation. This week’s featured producer—Azienda Agricola COS of Vittoria, Sicily—slots into this second category. As the story goes, COS started with three friends taking their summer break together in 1980 before heading off to university. That summer, with uncharacteristic free time and a shared passion for wine, they decided to team up and make their own.
Summer, for me, is cocktail season. It’s not that I stop sipping my spirits neat, but there’s something about warm weather that snaps me out of my funk and energizes me enough to bother with more than one ingredient in my glass. The warmer months also pair perfectly with the flavors in my favorite classic cocktails: Manhattans, Old Fashioneds, margaritas, negronis, gimlets, gin & tonics, Cuba Libres, caipirinhas, and the list goes endlessly on. As much as I appreciate these classics, I’m also a firm believer that every home bar needs a ‘wildcard’ option, something that not only inspires brand new creations but also adds a fun twist to more familiar cocktails.
The name ‘Farm of Seven Moons’ speaks to me of a mystical romance evoking the fair elven halls from one of Tolkien's classics, where willowy fair-skinned beings play sonorous melodies under the moonlight in a long forgotten time. As a teen I rather enjoyed being swept up in a literary fantasy world, where epic adventurers embarked on new quests set against majestic mountain backdrops, roiling rivers, and barren plateaus. In adulthood, I don’t have to look much further than the Northern Rhône to find a glimpse of this fantasy landscape (although I may have to swap the enchanting elven queens for vignerons in workboots and overalls!).
In my pursuit of wines with a whiff of the exotic, from a region a bit off the beaten path or just underrepresented in shops and restaurants, I realized recently that I routinely pass on Verdicchio—without good reason, as it turns out. The wonderful offering from Marches producer La Staffa poured in the shop a few weeks ago was far from the mediocre 'plonk' I remembered from the 1980s, when Verdicchio, often in a fish-shaped bottle, was all the rage among my peers. The taint of fad I'd held onto instantly vanished with a taste of La Staffa!
For New Zealand, Sauvignon Blanc accounts for approximately 70% of the nation's total wine production: perfumed, summery, and somewhat predictable. In most cases, regardless of producer, you know more or less what you're getting. Fair enough. But here's the thing: if your experience so far with wines from New Zealand has stopped here, you're in for a real treat. This is an incredible, diverse wine growing country, worthy of further exploration, where a handful of small, naturally-minded producers are bucking the corporate trend and making truly special wines. Family-run Pyramid Valley Vineyards, located in Canterbury, is among the very best.
In early January I wanted to write an email newsletter on High Wire Distilling Co.’s ‘Single Source’ Watermelon brandy. The eau de vie was everything Appellation stands for: miniscule production, true to the earth, and from a producer who combats convention by rediscovering (or reimagining) traditional American distillates. Sadly, I was too slow, and in three short weeks every single bottle of our original six had been sold. Luckily for you, a state (we won’t say which one to save them the embarrassment) refused their allocation and six more bottles found their way into our store. It’s like Christmas came early! Or late, depending which way you’re counting.
The greatest pleasure in selling wine—other than tasting bottles I can’t afford—is sharing the story behind a particular bottle with you, the enthusiastic customer. In most cases a wine’s story focuses on something interesting or unusual the grower does: playing classical music to the grapes in the vineyard, foraging for ancient, almost-extinct grape varieties high on a Corsican mountainside, or aging the wine in giant clay pots buried underground. Other times, however, what sets a winemaker apart is what he doesn't do.
I am at Appellation Friday and Saturday. Each week, I look forward to seeing which new wines have been added to the selection; like most wine lovers, I am ever on the alert for something new, something different—and, of course, something good. Imagine, then, my recent delight at spying a pair of wines from the Czech Republic, a country famous for its beer consumption.
Look, I’m not one for picking out wine based on the label’s aesthetics, but you have to give Weingut Hahnmühle some credit. Their tall, slender bottle is adorned with simple black and white graphics, an armored knight, a row of stylized grapes, and pragmatic text that describes what’s inside and where it’s from: 2014 Riesling + Roter Traminer, Nahe. From a design perspective, the juxtaposition of medieval imagery with an almost-modernist minimalism is quite striking, a fitting tribute to a pioneering blend the winery has produced for over 100 years. From a taste perspective, this wine is just as alluring, approachable but unsual, a bottle worth talking about whenever it graces your table.
The bottle stands, three-quarters empty, upright as if to attention and awaiting further orders. The stark red of its label, although restrained in design, shouts amongst the grey; brashly like insignia on a uniform denoting its status. The tiny silver coat of arms and the name “Abbatucci” resonate with history, of battles fought and glories won.