The HPS Portfolio Tastings are coming up –

Trade & Press Only

Join us for 3 comprehensive portfolio tastings, showcasing more than 100 exceptional wines and a dozen passionate growers from France, Spain and Argentina.

New York: April 23, 12 - 3:30pm
Keen’s Steakhouse
72 West 36 Street, NY

Chicago: April 26, 12 – 5 pm
Morton’s Steakhouse
65 East Wacker Place, Chicago

San Francisco: April 30, 12-5 pm
The Sir Francis Drake Hotel - Upper Mezzanine
450 Powell St, SF

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Blogging the Blending – Monday 23 January 2012

VTV ‘n me – Cabirau & Le Cirque &…

I bought the 13+ acre Cabirau vineyard in Maury in 2007. Planted entirely to Grenache, there were two wines in that vintage. ’Serge & Tony’, from 20 year old vines, was made at the Penya Cooperative. ‘La Bonte des Amis’, from 60 year old vines, was made at l’Edre.

In early 2008 I joined the Tautavelloise Cooperative, a forward-looking magnet group with members in 10 towns (most Coops only have members from their own village). I exchanged leases with another member to give me Syrah and Carignan, necessary for the Cotes du Roussillon Appellation favored in European markets, while planting some parcels and replanting others with the same grapes.

2007 was a good vintage for Cabirau. 2008 was the best until now. The 2009 I’m currently releasing is pretty good (90 and 91 point ratings from the Wine Advocate). 2010 is pretty but light and will be sold at a lower price.
The 2011s had not finished fermenting, the blends won’t be finished until April, but it is clearly the best vintage yet. Thanks to the new parcels, there is also more wine. YAY!

There will be one or two cuves of Cotes du Roussillon; some of the younger vines may wind up in a blend at a lower price. There will be a Vin de Pays Grenache ‘Serge & Nicolas’ from the 60 year old vines, as there has been since 2008. And there will be a new wine from the new Appellation ‘Maury Sec’. It will be called ‘First Things First’ and will probably feature two amazing tiny lots of Carignan, one from 4 year old vines, the other from a leased vineyard 70 years old.

Up next: Le Cirque & Syrousse

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Blogging the Blending – Monday 23 January 2012 – Part 2

VTV ‘n me – Le Cirque

Le Cirque is the Vin de Pays brand for the Cooperative I joined, Les Vignerons de Tautavel & Vingrau (VTV). Their introduction last year was a huge success. Red, white and rose all sold very well… before they got scores of 90, 90 and 89 from the Wine Advocate.

‘Le Cirque’ is a vast ampitheater of vines between the two villages. Mostly planted to Grenache and Carignan (with more recent plantings of Syrah and Mourvedre, and Grenache Blanc and Gris for whites), it is a superb terroir whose 1500 acres of vines average well over 30 years of age.
In the big, structured 2010 vintage Le Cirque red was a blend of 50% Carignan with 25/25 Mourvedre and Syrah. The goal was quality equal to entry-level Cabirau but with a different style, focusing on the minerality of Carignan and Mourvedre rather than the red fruit and earthiness of Cabirau’s Grenache. Obviously this succeeded brilliantly and we are down to 1500 cases.

Texture in the 2011 vintage was broader, rather than deep like the 2010s. This makes the red-fruited Grenache an important component at 40%. The stony old vine Carignan at 25%, spicy Syrah at 20% and mineral Mourvedre at 15% round out the blend of a worthy successor to the 2010. Despite the varietal differences in the blend, the terroir of this spectacular vineyard shines through both bottlings, making them more similar than different.

VTV ‘n me – Syrousse

Time for Sunil to take the lead with some blends. It’s been a decade since Roussillon earned its own reputation, separate from Languedoc, in the markets of Northern Europe. It is finally happening here (cf Schildknecht, Teague &c). VTV is there for us, with a Roussillon Appellation red line-priced with Le Cirque.

Roussillon started planting Syrah before most of Languedoc and there is substantial acreage in the Le Cirque vineyard, with average age now about 25 years. Sunil used a black fruit and garrigue-driven lot as the basis of his blend, softened with 20% of a broad, ripe Syrah along with 10% of a juicy yet very mineral Carignan.

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Blogging the Blending – Sunday 22 January 2012 (no blending)

Domaine de l’Edre – The Boys are Better than All Right

Domaine de l’Edre is a garage in Vingrau. Jacques Castany was born and lives in the house above the garage. His wife was born a few houses down. He’s a dispatcher for a bus company in the unreal world.

Pascal Dieunidou was born in a village 100 miles away. He’s married to a Vingrau girl, lives across the street. Pascal is head of IT in Languedoc for a huge bank. He’s relinquished some tasks so that Microsoft doesn’t keep sending him to Seattle to sell him software while he’s trying to prune his vineyard. Pascal has priorities.

There’s a white wine. We don’t import it. The entry level red (2000 6-packs a year) is ‘Carrement’ rouge. The Mourvedre they planted a few years ago now figures into this. l’Edre is the flagship, 1000 barrel-fermented 6-packs of Syrah, Grenache and Carignan a year. Both wines closely mimic the black fruit and intense minerality of great Priorat. They are not cheap at ~$35 retail (Carrement) and ~$60 (l’Edre), but comparable Priorats sell for double or more. ’09, and ’10 are excellent vintages. ’11 may be better, but IMO ’08 and ’05 were the best ever.

Jeff Carrel is not in Paris any more
HPS deals with Estate growers, Cooperatives, negociants and one flying (peripatetic, intinerant) winemaker.

Jeff Carrel was born in Paris where his father and grandfather were Real Estate lawyers. After his Bachelor’s degree, Jeff dutifully applied to the Sorbonne law school. He also mischievously applied to the Montpellier wine school (without telling the family). Accepted at both, he went to Montpellier.

At Montpellier, he decided that cool climate Languedoc wines would be his career. To prepare, he worked two years each in Alsace and the Loire. Jeff came back convinced that Cabernet Franc would do better in Languedoc than Merlot or Cab Sauv. He convinced some growers to plant it. The result is one of our best and best-selling wines: Puydeval. It’s a blend of 60% Cab Franc, 30% Syrah and 10% Merlot, lightly but lavishly oak-aged for a year in mostly American, mostly 2 – 5 year old barrels.

Jeff has a wide variety of other wines, some of which sell amazingly well, some of which are too bizarre even for us, much less our customers. Villa des Anges Cabernet Sauvignon is simply the biggest bang for the buck in Cab Sauv… from anywhere. The old vine Cinsault Rose from this property is another huge success, with the Merlot coming up quickly. The moderately priced textbook Languedoc ‘Les Darons’ and the bold and beautiful Valauclair wines are new and already well-received. We refuse to import Jeff’s intentionally oxidized barrel-aged Chardonnay.

As in most of Mediterranean France, 2009 is a good (not great), very warm vintage. The 2010s are marvels of massive balance. The 2011s are simply pleasure bombs of moderately rich body, heartbreakingly pure fruit and amazing harmony and balance.

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Blogging the Blending – Saturday 1/22 (no blending)

Blending mostly happens at bigger enterprises; Cooperatives and Negociants. They are not open on weekends. This is the time to visit our growers and assess the new vintage. Saturday we left Spain for Narbonne, geographic and cultural center of vinous Languedoc.

Domaine Malavieille – The Gray Pioneers
The first stop was Domaine Malavieille, a wonderfully strange property almost on the shores of the equally strange Lac de Salagou. The Bertrand family has owned this for 150 years. Mireille and Andre Bertrand are in their young mid-sixties. They went organic 20 years ago, biodynamic 10 years ago and have been planting wonderfully strange varietals all along. Who else grows Petit Manseng in Languedoc?
They have over 100 acres and make a wide range of wines. No varietals are bottled as the goal is to express terroir. Appellations range from Vin de Pays (clumsily being renamed ‘Indication Geographique Protegee’) to the new Languedoc Grand Cru ‘Terrasses de Larzac’. We mostly work with VdP, competitively priced and an easier sell than non-varietal, little-known Appellations.
Rose has been a consistent winner. Here’s my note on the 2011, to be bottled in March:
-Medium salmon color. Very spicy strawberry and red cherry aromas with a tiny hint of banana. Ripe and round palate with intense strawberry fruit. The fat palate segues into a lean, bright and very long finish. True to their belief in terroir, the blend is:
50% Syrah
20% Cinsault
10% Mourvedre
10%Grenache
5% Cabernet Sauvignon
5% Carignan
I think that adds up to 100%?

Chateau de Lancyre – the best wine Estate in Languedoc
Quite a claim! Let me be clear: Chateau de Lancyre does not make the best wines in Languedoc. But the tiny number of growers who make better wine do so at much higher prices, in much smaller quantities. For quality, availability, consistency and value, nobody matches Lancyre.
Here’s the note on the just-bottled 2011 Rose:
-Beautiful pink salmon color. Very intense aromas of red cherry, watermelon and sage. Richer than usual with fine balance and excellent piquant fruit, with strawberry, watermelon and white peach. Ripe with great vivacity and a long finish.
We tasted 2011 Roussanne, a brilliant wine whose aromas are still closed but whose flavors feature crisp bosc pear and honeysuckle in a dry, zingy format. This does not merely age, but improves for a long time in bottle. We also tasted tank samples of 2011 La Coste d’Aleyrac and 2011 Vieilles Vignes as well as the just-bottled 2010 La Coste d’Aleyrac. 2010 is a big vintage with exceptional density and an ocean-liner (more than a boat)-load of extremely ripe tannins. It is a great vintage for Lancyre that will need time. The 2011s will be crowd-pleasers from the day of release, not as massive as the 2010s but with plenty of body in a round, ripe format.
Regis invited us back to his house for dinner, where his wife Christelle (also a winemaker) had prepared a Baron of Lamb and treated us to more foie gras (sometimes I feel more like the duck being stuffed than the human consumer).

Regis showed off some Lancyres with age. The 2005 Roussanne is probably at peak, but in no danger of going downhill, with a luscious texture and a bracing finish. The 2001 Vieilles Vignes is hitting peak, fresh and vigorous but with full secondary aromas and flavors. The 1994 Vieilles Vignes was a real treat. It is moving into tertiary flavors. Still identifiable as southern Syrah, notes of earth and dead leaves are starting to show.

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Blogging the Blending – Navarra & Paniza, 1/19 – 1/20

Thursday 1/19/12
This was an off day, which is not the same as a day off. Woke up in Jumilla (southern Spain) at 5:45 AM to a crisp 23 degrees. Drove 200+ miles northwest to Madrid to pick up Anna and Heather, then another 200+ miles north to Navarra to visit a new Bodega. Tasted 18 wines, bought nothing. Every single wine was good, but nothing made the cut. To make the cut, a wine has to either scream ‘value’ or roar ‘wow’. These were mumbling.

Friday 1/20/12
Paniza is the home of Las Valles, ia Garnacha and Señorio del Águila, three bright stars of the HPS portfolio.
This is a vast Cooperative with amazingly high standards. 180 member owner growers own 30 acres each, with another 120 part-timers holding 5 acres each for a nice spread of 6000 acres of vines. A fortunate contact with a German supermarket chain 20 years ago led to big sales, with the proceeds invested wisely in improved viticulture (two agronomy PhDs work full time) and enology (a vast, totally modern cellar).

Our first vintage of Las Valles was 2009, a toasty year that gave us a white of decent crispness and an indecently rich red that was a sensational value. Victoriano, a winemaker I respect, preferred the light, aromatic 2010 reds but the American market loves the opulence of riper vintages. Lucky for us, 2011 qualifies.
The Las Valles white has been 90% Viura, 10% Chardonnay. Chardonnay is more expensive, so I was pleased when Paniza offered to up the % of Chard for a few pennies more. We selected a blend of 70/30. For other private label offerings, we also have available a blend of 85/15 and an unusual blend of 85% Viura, 10% Chardonnay and 5% Parellada. The aromatic, flowery Parellada is noticeable even at 5%. This is usually a Cava varietal but can be notable as a still white.

Las Valles red has been 50% Tempranillo, 40% Garnacha and 10% Syrah. Again, for a few pennies, we were allowed to up the Syrah to 20% and the 2011 will be 40/40/20. It is available for private label and we came up with 3 additional red blends for that purpose. #1 is 50/50 Tempranillo/Grenache. #2 is 45/45/10. #3 takes advantage of the excellent 2011 Grenache at 65%, with 35% Tempranillo.

In southern France, Grenache is thought of as an opulent varietal, yielding lightish-colored, broad, soft wines from riverstone soils just a few hundred feet above sea level. In North-central Spain, at over 2000 feet and grown on schist and granite, the wines are dark and firm. Tempranillo on its own can be too soft and here Grenache is added for color, intensity and backbone.

Good as these Grenache components are, they pale next to the 2011 ia Garnacha. The Garnacha for Las Valles is grown at 2000 feet and the vines average 15 years old. The grapes for ia Garnacha come from 2500 feet and of more importance are 60 years old. This year for the first time we blended in a small % of Syrah… to soften it! Toto, I don’t think we’re in the Southern Rhone any more.

Last year the Señorio del Águila wines were introduced to astonished acclaim and great sales. These are incredible values, with a 2009 Crianza available for not much over $10 and 2001 and 2004 Gran Reservas at $15+. The ’04 Reserva at <$15 is a great value from a great vintage, but for me the sleeper is the ’02 (same price), a silky, fully mature beauty. Unlike many Reservas and Gran Reservas from lesser-known D.O.s, these retain color, freshness and power at 10+ years of age.

The Paniza vineyards of the Virgen del Águila Cooperative are an impeccable resource for very good wines at completely improbable prices.

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Blogging the Blends Begins with a Bang!

I just left Bodegas Olivares in Jumilla, southeastern Spain. I blended two wines instead of the usual one and I’m extremely happy with both.

But first the important news: Three months ago Elena Olivares gave birth to daughter Paula and Pascual is now a grandfather (and Paco an uncle). Paula, the 5th generation Olivares in the wine business, is almost ready to take over the vineyards. Her training in enology starts later.

Despite Spain’s economic turmoil, luck smiled on Bodegas Olivares this year. Much of Jumilla’s vineyard was hit by hail. Unusually it happened in May, when the vines are more vulnerable, and 25 – 30% of the crop was lost. None of Olivares’ 680 acres were affected. In fact, their yields were slightly above average. The damage pushed up bulk wine prices, increasing the value of their harvest.

The best news is that this is the best vintage I’ve ever had here, going back to 2003. The top vintages to date have been ’03 and ’06, both real powerhouses with plenty of fruit, and 2010, lighter in body but with an even greater purity and intensity of fruit. 2011 is like a blend of 2006 and 2010.

Monastrell is, as usual, the star. The 2003 was a blend of equal parts Monastrell, Garnacha and Syrah. [Monastrell is definitively identified as Mourvedre by ampelographers, and the neighboring town of Murviedra gives the linguists proof too.] Every year since then the percentage of Mourvedre has crept up with 2011 the highest ever at 80%, with 10% each Garnacha and Syrah. The Garnacha adds some breadth, softness and red fruit to the pronounced black fruit of the Monastrell. The Syrah adds spice and some welcome herbal notes. The wines have all finished malolactic fermentation (not usual in Jumilla in January) and the first bottling will be mid-February.

The new blend will be called Situla, after the wine jugs used by the first Iberians. Panarroz is a wine-lovers’ wine, in good vintages like 2011 a powerhouse with plenty of backbone and brawn. The idea for Situla was something a little lighter and softer, more in the quaffing style. A blend of 2/3 Monastrell and 1/3 Grenache did the trick, with a silky texture and an ideal blend of red and black fruits. Drink 2011 Panarroz over the next 5 years. Drink 2011 Situla over the next 5 minutes.

Dan Kravitz

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