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terroir: n - /terˈwär/ - the environmental conditions, especially soil and climate, in which grapes are grown and that give a wine its unique flavor and aroma

This month, we are featuring Rhône-inspired wines from around the world. 

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Costers del Priorat

Blanc de Pissarres 2020

Priorat, Spain

Brought to us by: De Maison Selections | Free Run Wine Merchants

Regular: $39.99

TWS SALE: $29.99

There are few grape growing areas with terroir quite as intense as Priorat. The vines are planted into dizzyingly steep mountainside terraces of pure dark brown slate. The topsoil is a loose gravel and just feet below is completely solid rock. The roots have to search deep into the mountainside to find water. It seems like this all points to an area that nobody should ever try to grow crops, right? Well, Priorat’s dramatic and unforgiving slate is also its secret weapon. The vertical cracks in the rock (as seen in the photo of me dorking out about a Priorat soil cross-section) are able to trap water and allow the vines a much needed drink. The slate also absorbs the sun’s intense heat throughout the day, then keeps the vines warm throughout the cold nights. All of these factors contribute to the vines’ very low yield and incredible concentration of flavors in wine from Priorat. 

Costers del Priorat and their winemaker Jose Mas Barbera’s hands-off approach to viticulture and winemaking allows for one of the most pure expressions of the terroir of Priorat available in the market. All the farming is done by hand (tractors can’t drive up mountainsides!) and the vinification leans heavily on stainless steel and concrete. Somehow, every Costers wine is loaded with intensity, concentration, and precision, which perfectly conveys the drama of standing atop a Priorat vineyard looking down the slope. Their Blanc de Pissarres is no exception to this rule. The blend is based with a white mutation of Grenache, Garnacha Blanca, and the grapes are spontaneously fermented in stainless steel and French oak barrels after three days of maceration. On the nose, bouquets of white flowers and green apple combine with a salinity and herbaceous quality. Zesty lemon meringue topped with mint and thyme greet your palate. The texture is rich, while light on its feet, as the well-integrated acidity and minerality strike a harmonious note through the long finish.

-Jake Groenke

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Carol Shelton 

Coquille Blanc 2020

Paso Robles, California

Brought to us by: Artisans & Vines

Regular: $27.99

TWS SALE: $21.99

The effect of climate upon wine is often subtle, but every now and then we come across bottles so exuberant they cannot help but broadcast their origin. Since spring is here and everything is in bloom, it feels appropriate to recommend a celebratory bottle, something bold and extravagant to match the season.

Paso Robles in Southern California makes powerful wine. The climate is quite like the Rhone, and since the eighties, this is the area in America where the Rhone varieties have been most successful. Many people are familiar with the red Rhone wines (Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas, Cotes du Rhone, etc), but the whites of the Rhone are something of a secret, especially white Rhone blends hailing from the States.

A wonderful introduction to these wines is the Coquille Blanc 2020 from Carol Shelton. She has been a pioneer in Californian wine making since the seventies, and this carefully constructed blend of Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Viognier, and Marsanne shows her experience. The temperatures are a bit more extreme in Paso than in the Rhone, and this is perceptible in the wine. Everything is turned up a notch. Even the soil (from the Nevarez vineyard in central Paso), is intense. The land here is unusually sandy (which often results in more aromatic wines) and is planted with Viognier and Roussanne (two of the most effusively aromatic grapes), so the combination results in an incredibly complex nose. Though Paso’s warmth gives the Coquille serious richness and body, the finish is beautifully stony and crisp, making this a wine for warm weather sipping. (And/or pair with pork or shellfish.)

The following notes are not an exaggeration! The nose shows: marzipan, butter, cream, mango, faint coconut, pineapple, stone, earth, white button mushroom, honeysuckle, faint jasmine, white peach, Anjou pear, honeydew melon, green apple, and crystallized honey. The palate adds on fruit cocktail, white pear, peach, orange pith, and almond: Much complexity for just $21.99.

-Kasimir Bujak

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Syrah 2016

Cape South Coast, South Africa

Brought to us by: Kysela Pere et Fils

Regular: $49.99

TWS SALE: $39.99

Lismore Estate Vineyards was founded in 2003 by Samantha O’Keefe, and since her inaugural vintage in 2008, her determination and attention to detail have allowed her to produce elegant wines that showcase a unique sense of place. Her wines are like terroir nesting dolls – her standard range expresses the cool Cape South Coast Region with clarity, and her estate wines open up to reveal the articulate voice of the Overberg district and the distinct timbre of the Greyton ward at the base of the Riviersonderend Mountains.

Fruit for the 2016 Lismore Syrah was sourced entirely from the Overberg district – half from vines in Elgin (planted in sandstone and shale soil), and half from Lismore Estate vines in Greyton (decomposed shale). A rumination on this wine is largely about the characteristics of cool climate Syrah, and how they are expressed when in the hands of a talented winemaker. Overberg is known for quality cool climate grapes – a slightly higher elevation (Samantha’s vines are planted at 300m on mountain slopes) as well as cooling breezes from Walker Bay create lower nighttime temperatures that linger through morning, and the afternoon sun provides persistent warmth to vines. This contrast in temperature is a wide diurnal range, and it results in a longer growing season – grapes in Overberg are picked about 3-4 weeks later than surrounding areas. Syrah in this environment will ripen more slowly, meaning the grapes mature and develop complexity but retain higher acidity and lower sugar. This amplifies the peppery, savory, meaty, and floral aspects of the variety, and results in a lighter bodied and leaner wine than Syrah grown in a warmer climate.

Production of the Lismore Syrah sees 40% whole bunch fermented in open vats (60% destemmed and fermented in wooden fermenters), pressed and racked into large oak barrels for 9 months of maturation. This wine has a beautifully intense nose, showing violets, white and green peppercorns, macerated cherries, blueberries, raspberries, rosemary, hickory smoke, and bouillon. The palate is medium bodied and lithe, with structure and grip balanced by bright acidity – a reminder of where the grapes call home. A bit of bottle age has done wonders for this wine, and it is ready to play with a rack of lamb, a rack of ribs, risotto with peas and pancetta, or an earthy mushroom dish.

-Lauren Loeffler

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Chateau de Ségriès

Tavel 2021

Tavel, Rhône Valley, France

Brought to us by: Kysela Pere et Fils

Regular: $22.99

TWS SALE: $17.99

Since this Rhône edition of our terroir series falls at the feet of rosé season, it felt only natural to feature Tavel. Tavel is an appellation in the Southern Rhône valley that is known for strictly only producing rosés that are robust and dry with a deep pink hue. This appellation can be found just across the Rhône river from the famous Châteauneuf-du-Pape. The Château de Ségriès Tavel is grown on flat land in soils of silica, slate, sand, clay and galets roulés (larges pebbles) along with neighboring resinous herbs such as sage and rosemary. These soils drive the roots of the smaller shrub-like vines to dive deep for water and nutrients. The famously powerful "Mistral" winds in this hot and dry climate facilitate plenty of sunshine for the grapes to reach phenolic ripeness. All of these conditions, paired with extended skin contact during fermentation, create a rosé with depth, richness, darker color, and a bit of tannin. It is this hearty nature of Tavel that makes it a versatile wine for food pairing as well as a rare rosé that can benefit from aging.

Château de Ségriès is a small, family run operation that bottles on site. Of the several varietals that can be used in Tavel, de Segries features 50% Grenache, 30% Cinsault, 10% Syrah, and 10% Clairette harvested from 60 year old vines. The wine is fermented in cement after a night of maceration. The result is a juicy rosé with raspberry, strawberry, and watermelon on the nose. The palate is full with bright notes of cherry and ripe strawberry, finishing with a balance of acidity and tannin. It is as delicious on its own as it would be paired with summer dinners on the patio. Much like Châteauneuf-du-Pape, this AOC has a rich history and strong following. Tavel is known to have been a favorite of kings Philip IV and Louis XIV, popes of Avignon, as well Ernest Hemingway. Perhaps you will join this list of Tavel enthusiasts!

-Sheena Callage

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Syrah 2019

Zenata, Morocco

Brought to us byEuropvin USA | Elite Wines

Regular: $32.99

TWS SALE: $25.99

Ahh, the Northern Rhone Valley: where Syrah reigns supreme and ages like a dream. Up in the 45th parallel, Syrah reaches its northern limit where it relies on southern facing slopes to protect the vines from the Mistral, a chilling wind that comes from the north through central Europe, and catch sunlight reflecting off the Rhone River in order to enhance ripening. But, guess what? None of that even matters, because the wine we are talking about is from Morocco! About 12 degrees latitude south of the most renowned Syrah vineyards lies Zenata, Morocco: home of the Domaine des Ouleb Thaled vineyards. Here an altitude of 500m as well as the ocean breezes of the nearby Atlantic help keep the climate cool. The vines grow on a mix of red and black clay that sit over a base of limestone and ocean remnants. Organically farmed, these grapes are destemmed and fermented in closed concrete vats. The wine is aged for 15 months; first in tanks, and then finished in used casks imported from Burgundy.

As Syrocco is opened and poured into the glass, the wine shows the cool ocean breezes taming of Syrah where it shows rather light for the grape grown so close to the equator. At first, the wine presents notes of ripe cherry, hints of blueberry, cedar, forest floor, and a bit of mushroom. After the wine is given time to open up, black pepper as well as ripe-to-cooked berries come to the forefront of the palate. The structure & flavor intensity that Syrah is known for become more integrated and pronounced. 

This is a beautifully complex wine that shows that refined, complex wines can come from many corners of the globe if one is willing to search and take chances just as winemaker Alain Graillot did here in Morocco. Graillot came to fame producing wines from Syrah in the Crozes-Hermitage, but unfortunately passed away this March. I would enjoy a bottle of this at an evening cookout in the late spring where the cool nights still remain that welcome a full bodied, intense red. Cheers!

-Matthew Supik

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Les Chemins de Bassac

Roussanne 2020

Languedoc, France

Brought to us byJenny & Francois Selections | Plant Wines | International Cellars

Regular: $19.99

TWS SALE: $15.99

Les Chemins de Bassac is a small biodynamic winery located in the Languedoc that focuses on quaffable, approachable wines. (including a few pet-nats) They released a beautiful 100% Roussane which is aged concrete tanks. It is unusual to see a single varietal Roussane due to it being predominantly used for blending northern Rhône wines. Also, it’s known for being a very finicky and fussy grape, but Bruno and Thama of les Chemins de Bassac take the time and care to produce a very delicate and nuanced wine with notes of honeysuckle, cantaloupe, and ripe pears. 

In appreciation for such a fantastic wine I’ve written a haiku:


A gentle freshness 

Round like a ripe cantaloupe 

It’s 15.99 

-Andrew Thorp

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Chateau La Tour de Beraud

Blanc 2021

Costières de Nîmes, Rhône Valley, France

Brought to us by: Voila! Collection | Oslo Enterprise

Regular: $16.99

TWS SALE: $12.99 

For the Rhone segment of our Terroir series, I have chosen Chateau La Tour de Beraud Costières De Nîmes Blanc. Chateau La Tour de Beraud is a property stretching over 30 acres, located south of Avignon on South-facing slopes in the southern part of the Rhône Valley in AOP Costières De Nîmes. The vineyards are situated only a few miles from the Rhône River. The flat rounded stones (“galets”) on clay and limestone soils enable the vines to draw nutrients and moisture from the depths of the soil. The galets protect the soil from evaporation and also add a touch of minerality and freshness to the wines. The legendary Mistral winds blow the vines dry. This Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Vermentino and Viognier blend is made entirely in stainless steel, which preserves the natural freshness and fruitiness of the grapes. Lees ageing contributes complexity and depth to the wines flavor. To preserve bright acidity, the wine does not undergo malolactic fermentation. Look for flavors/aromas of tart apple, pear, tangerine, honeysuckle and citrus. Cheers!

-Dan Zetlmeisl

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Sage Canyon 2019


Brought to us byTrinchero Family Estates | Republic National Distributing Company

Regular: $27.99

TWS SALE: $21.99

The term “Rhône Ranger” is one of my favorites in the wine industry, due in no small part to my love of silly puns. Originally coined by Wine Spectator in 1989 for Bonny Doon’s Randall Grahm (do yourself a favor and image search that Wine Spectator cover on Google. You just don’t get this kind of kitsch absurdity often in the modern era), the term now applies more broadly to Californian winemakers (often from Paso Robles) espousing the usage of Rhône varieties in Californian wine.

With good reason too: the rugged yet fertile Californian landscape provides a perfect habitat for these vines native to a Mediterranean climate. The similar heat, moisture distribution, and sun exposure provide an analogous climate to promote full phenolic ripeness and sufficient sugar levels at harvest. If anything, grapes seem not just to survive but thrive in the Californian sun! While true Rhône wines may express more of the classic “garrigue” aromas, Californian Rhône-style wines make up for this with a fuller body and more bold & generous fruit.

Neyers Sage Canyon is a little bit of a stylistic oddity, with Carignan rather than Grenache dominating the blend. The overall impression isn’t wholly dissimilar though. Neyers presses all grapes by hand (foot?) rather than using a pneumatic press to preserve some of the more delicate aromas and maintain the integrity of the stems (the base wines are all whole cluster, with the stems adding tannin and some mild bitterness). The wines are pressed as separate lots and matured in neutral 60 gallon French oak for a year before the final assemblage. The Sage Canyon aromatics are a densely knit weave of wild berries, wood spice, and dried herbs. The palate is lively and piquant, expressing notes of raspberry, cranberry, macerated strawberry, and red plum. Full-bodied and ripe, but with enough rustic structure to keep the fruit in check. The result is obviously in the tradition of Rhône wines and utilizes many of the same techniques, yet the final product is unmistakably Californian in origin.

-Andrew Sayers