January Wine Club - "Wines Outside the Box"

This month's wine club is called "Wines Outside the Box" because we're featuring wines that you typically do not see on your average store's shelf. These are three unique wines, from three unique terroir, with three unique stories.

Bodegas Atalaya, La Atalaya Del Camino (2015) — La Mancha, Spain

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La Atalaya Del Camino is a red wine hailing from the D.O. of Almansa in Castilla-La Mancha Spain. It is predominately Garnacha Tintorera with roughly 15% Monastrell (aka Mourvèdre) making up the rest of the blend. The main grape may seem familiar, Garnacha is indeed the same as Grenache except grown out of Spain. However, Garnacha Tintorera is actually a cross between Garnacha and Petit Bouschet, and is also known as Alicante Bouschet (a grape you see often in Portugese blends).

The grape itself is a bit of a rarity in the wine world. It came into existence all because of a science experiment. Botanist, Henri Bouschet, wanted to create a grape that had high color intensity, productivity, and fruitiness. Thus, he crossed fruity-Grenache with a densely-colored Teinturier grape, and the rest is history. If you peel back the skin of a Garnacha Tintorera grape, you’ll see, unlike most grapes which have clear flesh, the inside is red!

Being that this grape does considerably better in hot, dry climates, and it’s become a quintessential grape in the D.O. of Almansa, given it’s hot climate and high altitudes. The perfectly suited terroir lends itself to exceptional intensity, depth and character. At Atalaya, they preserve the purity of this exceptional fruit by dry-farming, sourcing from old vines, and fermenting with natural yeasts in stainless steel tanks. They then age the wine for one year in large French barriques.

The profile of this wine is almost Rhone-like, yet with a plush and velvety mouthfeel. There is so much going on in this wine. Inviting aromas of cocoa, baked fruits and vanilla are balanced by savory notes of black olives, smoke and a hint of gaminess. The palate is juicy and powerful with a beautifully persistent finish. This wine is oh so enjoyable now, yet it is an age-worthy wine that could also be enjoyed 5 years from now.

Domaine Zafeirakis, Tyrnavos, Malagousia (2017) — Thessalia, Greece

Greek wines are becoming more and more beloved here in the states, with varietals such as Assyrtiko and Xinomavro being the most well-known. But we’re taking you guys completely out of your comfort zones and introducing you to a whole new varietal indigenous to the region, Malagousia.

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Domaine Zafeirakis has been growing Malagousia in the Tyrnavos region for more than 100 years (and more recently Syrah, Merlot, Sangiovese and Chardonnay) and is known as a unique winery for its extremely high standards and quality wines. Their goal is to respect the environment and highlight the unique micro-climate in the region of Tyrnavos. They do this by dry-farming, and adhering to organic practices which means no chemicals in the vineyard nor the winery.

Christos Zafeirakis, the forth in the line who continues the family tradition, took the family business to the next level by bottling the first wine from his estate vineyards in 2005. After he completed his studies in Oenology (Athens, 1996-2000) he decided that his desire was to enrich his knowledge and expand his experience. Thus, he continued his academic carrier at the University of Milan (Italy, 2003- 2004) where he undertook a master’s degree in Oenology (MSc). Soon after he returned to Greece he followed his father’s footsteps with the main goal to produce high quality wines from grapes of organic farming.

Zafeirakis’ Malagousia is intensely aromatic, almost Viognier-like on the nose, but has a very clean, light and bright mouthfeel. This bottling is actually a blend of Malagousia from two vineyards, one of sandy clay, the other of clay and limestone. One offers the acidity and freshness in the wine, while the other brings the highly floral and fruity aromatics to the table. Put together you get a wonderfully botanical profile, that’s linear and approachable yet certainly not short of substance. It is a unique find that surely will amaze!

Domaine Eric Louis, Pinot Noir (2017) — Loire Valley, France

Now of course, Pinot Noir is not an unusual or unique grape. If you’re a wine drinker, you’ve certainly had Pinot Noir before. However, you may have never had it from the Loire Valley. The predominate red grape grown in the Loire is Cab Franc, the star-grape of the region Chinon. Though Eric Louis’ vineyards are mainly around the village of Thauvenay (nearby Sancerre), though there is a small production from the vineyards in neighboring Pouilly-Fumé and Quincy, all of which are known for their Sauvignon Blanc. And, indeed, we actually fell in love with Eric Louis’ Sauvignon Blanc first, but boy is his Pinot delicious too!

Domaine Eric Louis traces its roots back to 1860, when Eric’s great-great-grandmother Pauline sold her wines at the local markets. Eric, a 4th generation grape grower, is a serious farmer in the commune of Thauvenay, which rises in altitude from about 150 to 300 meters above sea level and above the banks of the Loire. Eric creates lovely, serious, “real” wines from low yielding vines planted in the flint, chalk, and clay soils of the commune. Though not certified, his 18 hectares of vines are tended organically, grass is allowed to grow between the rows to hold the soil and to preserve the water, and the lunar calendar is carefully observed for the best times to perform important viticultural and oenological functions.

For his Pinot Noir, the wine is fermented using natural yeasts and macerates on its skins for two weeks in stainless steel tanks. The resulting wine is bursting with bright, young, fresh red fruits both on the nose and palate. It evokes a sensation of roundness, while still giving you mouthwatering acidity. A great pairing with salumi, white meats, grilled salmon, or grilled chicken.

Evie Olson