Special Delivery: It’s a happy day when this shows up on your front porch!
I was really flattered when my friend Aaron Epstein asked me to help him with a project he started a few months ago: Le Metro. Wine. Underground. Every month he sends out a 6-bottle package of carefully curated wines to his small (but growing) group of consumers. Weird, wacky wines. Tasty and surprisingly affordable finds. New. Fresh. Inspiring!
Subscribers receive the wines each shipment, along with a beautiful piece of artwork filled with Aaron’s notes on the wines, the winemakers, and the terroir of the wineries. The other side of the poster (which arrives artfully tucked into a record sleeve-holder) is filled with an info-graphic designed by the queen of graphic wine education herself, Elaine Chukan Brown.
This isn’t your daddy’s wine club.
The issue Aaron asked me to collaborate with was titled “California Soil, Italian Soul.” I’ll admit, I was a tiny bit skeptical at first. I mean, isn’t the Cal-Ital phenomenon a bit passé at this point? But then I took my head out of my ass and tried to open my mind. If Aaron finds it interesting, clearly I had a lot to learn. I organized a couple of wine-loving friends and invited them over to taste with me. We were ready with cheese, prosciutto, Le Metro’s wine clubs and a couple of adorable dogs for added social media capital in the photos…
The first wines in the series were both Vermentino, from the same winery, Ryme Cellars in Sonoma County. Already I was impressed. Vermentino? From California? The “Hers” version is the project of Megan Glaab, the wife of Ryme’s wine-making couple. It was salty, briny, crisp and delicious. This is the perfect apperitivo wine- I could drink buckets of it on a hot summer afternoon. I think my friend in Sardegna would approve- Megan really capitalizes on the varietal’s aromatic quality, as well as it’s overall sapidity.
“Yeah he says to decant that bitch!”
Next we opened “His” Vermentino. In reading Arron’s notes we knew it would be a bit of a departure. I had a decanter on hand, but we tasted initially straight from the bottle. The wine was too cold. We could barely taste or smell anything. I dumped it into the decanter to let it warm up and air out. Then 10 minutes later we had pure liquid gold. Tea leaves, ripe peaches, minerality for days.
This is not an easy wine, but if you love the concept of a white that behaves like a red, this is your golden boy. Tannic structure that frames a flowery, ripe, luscious wine. You can easily pair this with a steak, or roast chicken. Intensely structured and full or ripe fruit punctuated with that Vermentino-acidity. Thank you, Ryan Gaab!
Next up was the Piedrasassi Rosato made from Sangiovese. Who knew such fun and flirty little wines could come from the garage cellars of Lompoc? Made with Carbonic Maceration, this is nothing like any Italian Sangiovese I have ever tasted, but it was singularly Californian. Easy, bright, full of the optimism that, indeed, tomorrow would be another sunny beautiful day.
Next up was a perky little bottle of Dolcetto from Idlewild Wines in Mendocino County. Juicy, cranberry flavors punctuated by baking spicies and a looooong acidity, this was another fun surprise. Dolcetto is the first love of most Piemontese winemakers. I will have fun bringing a few bottle sof this with me on my next trip to Barolo for sure!
One of the most interesting of the bunch was this Aglianico from Goirnata Wines in San Luis Obispo County. Hot, dry, calcareous clay soils, proximity to the ocean? Sounds a little like southern Italy to me, too. I liked the varietally correct structure of the wine, along with its masterfully-mitigated tannins. It lacked the overall smokey, minerally, volcanic quality of Aglianico from Campania or Basilicata, but it was powerful, and animalistic in all the right ways.
Mugsy, I am “pazzo” for you…
The last in the bunch was an omage to the “Super-Tuscan.” A Napa blend of Sangiovese, Petit Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon. The Pazzo from Bacio Divino Cellars was everything you’d expect. Ripe, showy fruit. Black, extracted color. There is a hedonistic excess to this wine that makes me want to heap a paper plate with babyback ribs and potato salad and just drink the night away. Bacchanalia all night long!
I love the Le Metro concept. What better excuse to grab some friends and taste a bunch of interesting new wines together. We learned something new about our palates, we got to know some new California producers, and we tasted some really interesting and inspiring wines. I especially love finding that beautiful pioneering American spirit in all of these wines. There is inspiration found in Italy for all of these winemakers, and their attempts to bring it home and to make something new and truly singular is really special.
Thanks for the opportunity to get to know them all, Aaron Epstein. You are the Man.