Spring has sprung and as nature awakens and unfolds in all its glory, it makes perfect sense that Earth Day is recognized in April. There is a lot of talk about climate change, water quality and protecting our environment these days. Farming is a hot topic as well.
Ask almost any grape farmer, aka winemaker, and they will tell you the foundation for an exemplary bottle of wine is in the vineyard. That being said, not all winemakers take as much care as others when tending to their vines, using pesticides and even adding chemicals to the juice.
All the wines selected for this month’s Grand Case are produced in ways that are respectful to the earth, the planet, the grapes and vineyard employees. This means winemakers and owners employ some kind of farming and/or production method such as organic, sustainable, biodynamic, SIP, etc.
Environment is important to Shohreh Durkin, food and beverage manager of Tarpon Lodge on Pine Island. She has a reputation for hosting entertaining wine dinners and tastings at the historic waterfront lodge and joins me in putting together this diverse case of wine.
Massaya Reserve, Gold Label, 2011 $40
This Lebanese blend is 50 percent cabernet sauvignon, 40 percent Mourvedre and 10 percent syrah. I really love a bold cabernet, but you often have to spend a lot of money for one. This is not only affordable, but it fills your palate from the beginning as it enters your mouth, to the end with its beautiful finish. Aged in new oak, it’s spicy and herbal, good with meat but not too big for proteins such as chicken or even seafood prepared in something like a tomato sauce. Once you open it, every sip is so different; it’s good for conversation. Eating, drinking wine, being with friends and family having good conversation, that’s what it’s all about.
Keenan Chardonnay 2016 Napa 40th Anniversary, Spring Mountain $36
This wine sees some French oak, but it’s not really buttery on the top of your tongue, just a fine amount around your tongue. It’s really good with food. It’s crisp, a little acidic and has a nice long finish. It also has this wonderful aroma of jasmine. I’m from Iran, and those flowering vines are everywhere. Jasmine reminds me of my childhood, even though I was not allowed to drink wine then.
Keenan Reserve Mernet, Spring Mountain, Napa $100
I love this combination of merlot and cabernet. I first tasted it with Michael Keenan himself a couple of years ago, and he said it perfectly, when he compared the blending of the two grapes to that of a wedding. I’ve never had any cabernet and merlot blended to the perfection of this. Really, the 2012 is just perfect. It has high notes, a little sweetness and beautiful rich fruit; it’s just seamless.
Brooks Riesling 2016, Willamette Valley $20
I don’t like riesling, but my God I love this one. Every time I tried riesling in Europe, they all seemed so sweet. This one from Oregon has some sweetness but not to the point that it is so noticeable. This is another perfect wine for sitting around the pool in the afternoon or on the boat. It’s good with cheese, too. I like it because it is summery, it is organic and it’s a great fit for drinking all afternoon at a gathering. I think it feels more like you are actually gathering with the bottle, rather than people.
Massaya Rosé 2017 $15
From Lebanon’s Bekaa Valley, this rosé is made entirely from cinsault grapes and is one of the best wines to take boating. It’s a French-style rosé from organic vineyards, and it tastes smooth and refreshing. I am also a big fan of the brand. I know the owner and went to the winery in Lebanon last August. It’s beautiful with fresh herbs grown around the vines; their flavors come out in the wines. The rosé comes with a screw cap to make it even easier to enjoy when on the boat or by the pool.
Ceretto Barbaresco, Bernadot 2013 $100
Barbaresco is one of my favorite grapes, it reminds me of being in my late teens and 20s, traveling between France and Italy — I learned how to drink there, and I loved it. The owners of this winery came here 2½ years ago, and this Barbaresco was so different. It’s complex but not too complex, a little smoky and has flavors of anise. Made from the nebbiolo grape, you really don’t see it that much in people’s homes or outside of Italian restaurants. I think it’s one of those grapes that if people paid attention to would realize it’s worth every penny.
Source of Joy Rose, Gerard Bertrand $25
This wine just debuted in the US, and I was fortunate to be at the party in Miami to sip it with famed French winemaker Gerard Bertrand. The name of this wine is befitting on many levels. The bottle is feminine, voluptuous, and the Y is upside down, resembling the Eiffel Tower. Joy is meant to conjure ideas of the fountain of youth and natural origins. I’m not sure that I felt youthful from the blend of grenache, syrah and cinsault, but I enJOYed it immensely. It’s full, luscious, floral and spicy with a finish that keeps going. It’s going to be a spring staple for me.
Rutherford Ranch Cabernet, Proprietor’s Selection, 2014 $55
Sustainable farming is in play at Rutherford Ranch, and for a small production Napa cabernet, this one is a steal; it’s perfect for spring grilling, too. With notes of cherry, chocolate and even spearmint, it’s even better the next day, if there’s any left. Since only 586 cases were produced, if you can’t find it, look for Rutherford Ranch 2015 Napa Cabernet ($32) instead or in addition to; it’s approachable, ready to enjoy every day and is a tremendous value.
Croix South Block Six, Platt Vineyard Pinot Noir, 2016 $110
Pinot noir is a great spring varietal, and wines made from this grape come in all shapes and sizes. This is not your grandma’s pinot. It’s inky and sexy and represents everything a great California pinot should and could be. The latest project from charismatic Napa winemaker Kirk Venge, Croix is his foray into Sonoma, and it’s new to the Florida market. The grapes from the Platt Vineyard are organic with only 105 cases made. When you find some, buy two — one to drink now and one to age.
Hahn SLH Chardonnay, 2016 $25
Hahn Family Wines does some pretty awesome things to be good stewards of the environment in the Santa Lucia Highlands of Central California. I rode around the vineyards with winemaker Paul Clifton a few years ago checking out the bat boxes, composting, water recycling and weather monitors, but one of the most fascinating things to me was the deer shield. The device emits sounds of a deer in distress, keeping other deer from coming into the vineyards and eating the fruit. This chardonnay smells like grapefruit, banana and cream. You can also taste those elements along with a lovely spice and some juicy stone fruit.
Bila Haut Occultum Lapidem, Côtes du Roussillon Villages Latour de France 2016 $30
The first time I visited the Rhone Valley, I remember seeing steep, terraced vineyards with large signs in the middle reading “M. Chapoutier” and couldn’t wait to get to a tasting room to try. Winemaker Michel Chapoutier is not only a proponent of biodynamics, but he was also the first to include braille on his wine labels. I love stories like this, especially when the wine is equally good. At 50 percent syrah, 30 percent grenache and 20 percent carignan, it’s more spicy than fruity but still juicy. It’s round, with lots of flavor, texture and a pleasing finish.
Domaine Bousquet Ameri, 2015 $36
Only 500 cases of this wine are made, and it’s only made in the best vintages — this is one of them. A malbec-dominant blend, it’s full bodied, brimming with red and black fruit, even some fig. Awakened by air the longer it sits in the glass, the wine rounds out with black pepper and has a nice long finish. Domaine Bousquet is a pioneer in the Uco Valley for its reliance on eco-friendly organic fruit. If you can’t find Ameri, the winery also makes a nice reserve cabernet that’s a bit rustic, with dark fruit, a little mint, mild tannins and an herbal finish.
This article by Gina Birch, originally appeared on GrandeurMagazine.com