Artisan Wine Club
Back in 2004, when we started planning this venture, we had just returned from a road trip to Napa Valley with a car full of wine (12 cases, as I recall), and quite deeply enamored of the delightful experience of tasting wine poured by the person who made it, often in a garage-like setting, and learning about how it was made, where it was made, and what the winemaker was trying to accomplish. This set of connections among place (aka terroir), winemaker, varietal, and vintage is for us the endlessly fascinating kaleidoscope of small production, hand-made, artisan wines, and our goal has always been to give our visitors, literally, a taste of that artisan experience– taste the wine, learn a little bit about where it came from, and get a feeling for the relationship between the wine and the person who made it.
By the way, also back in aught-four is when Pat designed our logo, which I have always thought captured some essential je ne sais quoi of our vision. In all these years, I don’t recall anyone’s ever having commented on it one way or the other, but for what it’s worth, I really like its vaguely art-deco style.
Not-so-fast forward to today, and we are still committed to the same “artisan wine” goal, even though, I must admit, it is only in retrospect that we can detect an actual, you know, “goal” in all of this. At times we have carried large production wines; for example, the Garnacha de Fuego mentioned below, and which we are pouring this weekend, produces something like 10,000 cases a year. Is that too much for an “artisan wine? Hard to say, when you consider that Yellowtail (we recently carried their “Reserve” for awhile) makes something like eight million cases a year! Anyway, periodically it is good practice to take time to review one’s goals and recommit to those that still resonate.
So…back in aught-four, when we were first contemplating this venture, “artisan wine club” was the name on our initial application for a State Liquor License. However, it turned out that the folks at the WSLCB (Washington State Liquor Control Board) were not happy with the word “club,” because it sounded way too much like, you know, a “Night Club,” where people get roaring drunk, dance on tables, and regularly need visits from the police. So to oil the wheels of our progress we changed our name to “Artisan Wine Gallery,” though we had already purchased the domain name “artisanwineclub.com.”
Over the last seven years we have built a wonderful community of people who met us and each other right here in our shop. That is deeply satisfying, and we are continually surprised and enriched by it. Over the next few weeks we will be making a renewed effort to get back to our “artisan” roots with the (finally!) formation of a more formally structured “Artisan Wine Club” which we hope will bring more good wines– and the relationships that go with them–to more people. Stay tuned!
Wine Deal of the Year?
Over the past several years we have carried a lot of Spanish wines from an importer named Jorge Ordonez, who has put together a remarkable stable of delicious Spanish wines at remarkably affordable prices. One of those wines, that many of you have enjoyed over the last several years, is an old-vines garnacha called Garnacha de Fuego. The wine has typically earned scores of 88-89 points from critic Robert Parker, and we have typically priced it at $10. Well, this year two things have happened: first, the wine earned an astonishing 92-point score (think of it as an A-plus!), and second, they lowered the price, so for the moment it’s only $8. We have a limited stock, not sure if we can get more. Come in this weekend and check it out!
By the way, over the years we have unsuccessfully tried to pin down a relationship between suitability for the label “artisan wine” and “quantity produced,” with mixed results. Our rule of thumb is that an “artisan wine” probably makes fewer than about 2000 cases oer year. On the other hand, we have run into numerous winemakers who consider their wines to be “artisan wines” even if they make, say, 30,000 or 50,000 cases. We still aim for under 5000 cases for an “artisan wine,” but it is definitely not an exact science.
Last week “with the Italians”
Over the years we have learned to lower our expectations for numbers of visitors as the holidays approach. It may be the busy season elsewhere, but people go away and things usually slow down here on The Rock. So it was a bit of a surprise to have boisterous crowds on both Friday and Saturday after Thanksgiving. Lots of Islanders and weekenders were in attendance, and it made for an ongoing festive atmosphere…! All of the wines we poured were Italian, most having just arrived in our semiannual shipment from importer Small Vineyards. They are a little like Lake Wobegon, in that, especially for the price, “all the wines are Above Average!” One of them as it turns out, was a lot more above average than the others, because we sold out of it despite its $36 price tag. That was the Lonardi Privelegia, an elegant blend of corvina and cab franc, possibly the only such blend in the world, and delicious. If you were lucky enough to taste it, you know what I mean. We’ll keep an eye out for more, but it all came in from Italy on special order, so chances are slim.
This week’s wines
This week we are featuring wines from France, Italy, California, and Spain. As it turns out, we have visited the French and Italian wineries, and had great experiences at both. Bertrand Stehelin is a charming young French winemaker just outside the famous village of Gigondas, and shares a winery with his father there. Sablet is a small wine region just south of Gigondas. His wines have a delightful, unassuming richness; this particular wine we played a role in convincing the importer to bring in, and I think you will see why.
Similarly, the second wine, from Ciacci Piccolomini in the southeast corner of Montelcino, not only makes great rosso and brunello, but also makes blends of French varietals like cab and merlot, like this one, which has a very satisfying weight and texture as well as very pleasing, lingering flavors.
Bertrand Stehelin Sablet Blanc ’10 89pts France $23
Blend of grenache blanc, roussanne and marsanne; Aromas of smoky pear and citrus with hints of iodine and lees. Deeply pitched orchard fruit flavors braced by tangy minerality and show good energy and focus.
Ciacci Piccolomini Ateo ’09 Italy 88pts $16
Juicy cab-merlot blend that shows excellent up-front intensity, with notes of freshly cut flowers and mint that give the dark berry fruit an attractive sense of lift.
Peirano Estates Petite Sirah ’10 California $12
Tempts the senses with an array of blueberry, blackberry, cocoa, and black pepper.. The palate is filled with blueberry, blackberry, plum, sweet black cherry, and chewy tannins, with a hint of dark chocolate.
Bodegas Breca Garnacha de Fuego ’10 Spain 92pts $9
This amazing value wine boasts a dark ruby/purple color along with a sweet kiss of jammy black cherries intertwined with an undeniable crushed rock minerality, hitting the palate with a full-bodied, voluptuous texture and flavors of ripe raspberries and black currants with hints of camphor and forest floor.