A message from our departing curator

Ever since the launch of our first edition, Le Metro has been the journey of a lifetime. As I prepare for my next adventure with my family and begin to say my goodbyes, I’d like to personally thank each of you who helped turn my vision into reality.

This project has truly taught me the meaning of the word “community.” When Julia and I arrived in San Diego three years ago, we knew almost nobody here. Yet this past Saturday night, Le Metro hosted more than 100 people at our Summer Solstice Rosé party. It would not have been possible without you.

More importantly, it wouldn’t have been possible without the commitment of my friends at PROTOCOL wine studio. In 2013, I came up with this crazy concept for a “content-based wine club,” but I had absolutely no idea how to implement it. Tina & GUY took a leap of faith in me, and assembled all of the pieces. Now, as I officially pass them the torch, it is with immense gratitude. I hope that you’re as excited as I am to see where Le Metro goes from here.

My friends, THANK YOU for your support. Thank you for your enthusiasm. Thank you for following along, and for sharing your thoughts. Please do stay in touch! You can keep track of my own voyage at Winedad.com and TrailingToddler.com, or by following @TheWinedad on Twitter or Instagram.

Cheers and endless thanks,

Aaron Epstein


New Le Metro artwork is coming soon!

Over the past twelve months it’s been an immense pleasure to introduce you to the artwork of Elaine Chukan Brown, and more fun than I can say to collaborate with her. Last week’s release of Volume XVII: Curator’s Reserve represents a full calendar year that we’ve been working together, and we’ve decided that it’s time to switch things up.

Elaine’s portfolio of work is simply astonishing. And as well as her own writing and illustration, she’s recently contributed to World of Fine WineWine & Spirits, and Men’s Health. It’s a been a ridiculous honor to have her as part of Le Metro.

Tina, GUY, and I are excited to continue building a community of artists as well as wine professionals. And although I’ll begin by introducing you to a local San Diego artist who I hold dear, I’m looking forward to expanding our roster of collaborators to folks around the world.

Please join me in thanking Elaine for her invaluable contributions to Le Metro. And at the same time, start getting excited for the next surprise!

Aaron Epstein, Curator

“Pick up the receiver… I’ll make you a believer…”

Running in 4 week sessions, PROTOCOL wine studio presents an online twitter-based educational program where we engage our brains and palates! It’s part instruction and wine tasting, with discussions on wineries, varieties, tourism, terroir, regional culture, food and wine matching and what all this means to us as wine drinkers.  #WineStudio –  Tuesday evenings 6pm pacific 

Below is a compilation of the best content of the Shades of Pinot Noir Twitter discussion right here for your (long) reading pleasure.

Week 1 –  January 7: all about the grape we love to love – Pinot Noir!

Ahhh, Pinot Noir. How we love to love you and how you constantly beguile and confuse us. There is no singular profile for the grape Pinot Noir. It is truly a grape that is an expression of its surroundings.

The name Pinot Noir is derived from the French words for “pine” and “black” in reference to the grape’s tightly clustered dark purple cone-shaped bunches.  Its skin is relatively thin, making it a tricky, yet rewarding, contender for wine production.

And its origins? It seems to be an offspring of Pinot Meunier and Gewurztraminer. As author Stuart Pigot notes in Planet Wine, “Pinot Meunier gave Pinot noir its bright, berry aromas and initial charm, while Gewurztraminer its silkiness, extravagance, nobility, and fickleness.”

The overall taste of Pinot noir is very susceptible to variables in the production process, leading to a wide range of flavors, textures, and impressions that often confuse. So let’s read on and make our own conclusions through our collection.

Week 2 – 14 January: Old Grape in the New World 

Evesham Wood 2011 La Grive Bleue Pinot Noir Eola – Amity Hills, Willamette Valley

Winemaker Erin Nuccio and I spoke by phone and he revealed quite a bit:  “When I came to Evesham in 2007 the joke in the Valley was when Russ Raney starts picking it means harvest will start in two weeks.  Most people call it picking early, but I call it picking on time.  We’re looking to pick with earlier flavors, when the acid is still there and when the brix have not soared.  We certainly strive to produce a more elegant or feminine style.”

Evesham Wood is a founding member of the Deep Roots Coalition–a group of nearly two dozen wineries in the Willamette Valley that have all committed to not irrigating their estate vineyards or purchasing irrigated grapes.

The La Grieve Bleue bottling is sourced from a 2 acre block on the estate vineyard, Le Puits Sec, planted in 1996 to all dijon clones. The gently sloping, east-facing vineyard is tightly-spaced and nestled on a low terrace (300-420 ft. elevation) on the eastern side of the Eola-Amity Hills ridge. This area, known locally as “Spring Valley”, has already proven to have one of Oregon’s best micro-climates for the production of Burgundian and Alsatian varieties. It is here that the rather shallow volcanic basalt soils allow Evesham Wood to achieve the low yields, great intensity and complexity. It is the uniqueness of this “terroir” that gives Le Puits Sec wines their signature.

Erin described the 2011 as “Springtime hillsides leaping from the glass”. Indeed.

Erin mentioned he’s concerned about a cooler future along the coast. “The Pacific Northwest is a cool area already, and if that’s the scenario, we could be pushed out of growing Pinot Noir,” Nuccio says. ” We’re already a cold area at about the limit of where Pinot Noir will grow, and if it got much cooler I’m not sure what we could do.”

Zepaltas, 2011 Russian River Valley Pinot Noir Russian River Valley, Sonoma

Ryan Zepaltas strives to produce wines that go well with food, and have the potential to evolve throughout the aging process. We like that! His wines are also on the lists of some of the finest restaurants in the country. “I am an old-world romantic,” Zepaltas says, “so I believe that wine goes best with food on the table. I still get all tingly when I see my name on a wine list.”

His winemaking philosophy is that less is more. And maybe there’s a little bit of skateboard rebel thrown in. Yeah, did you know Ryan was a professional skateboarder prior to making wine? Ryan makes wines with passion, fervor—the kind that should always be in every bottle of wine, all over the world, regardless of its soil.

“I feel that you can easily make powerful, intense wines at lower alcohol/higher acidity in California. There is no need to hang fruit until it begins to shrivel to achieve this.

And of course, Ryan took time out of his busy day to join us online. When we mentioned that the 2012 smelled and tasted of- wet stones – like in a cool brook, wild cherry! He said I could be his PR person. That made my night, obviously.

Ryan also let slip an interesting little tidbit for us:  “Cabernet Franc is the new drug.” Pinot is the best, but I have wandered a bit :)

This wine is blended from 4 different Vineyards in the valley: Nunes, Suacci, W.E. Bottoms, Devoto and Marshall Ranch Vineyard. Wild and youthful came to mind when I tasted. You know, like hitchhiking at 3am from some inebriated dude in Clifton, NJ. Oddly enough, he was a super nice guy. Huh. Backbone! Raspberry and rose petals but grit as well—whole cluster! Throw a few bottles in the cellar and taste the development.

Week 3 – Shades of Pinot in the Old World

Weingut Friedrich Becker, 2010 Becker Estate Pfalz

Rudi Wiest Wines says of the Pinot: This is Becker’s liquid business card, once you know it, you’ll want more.

For many years now, the Becker estate located in Schweigen, very far south of the Pfalz on the border of Alsace, has been one of the top Pinot Noir producers in Germany.

In 2007, the Beckers started to work with lower must weights more in the range from 92-98 Öchsle rather than previously with 100 Öchsle or more. They learned that physiologically ripe fruit needs acid more than additional sugar. The old vines with mostly German clones and some French grow on deep marl lime soils that produce powerful but also refined, mineral driven Pinot Noirs.

The total production is 5000 cases, and Rudi Wiest imports about half of this quantity.  This is a linchpin wine and it is placed with all of its key distributors.

Some of the selection of the 2010 Becker is sourced from their GG (Grand Cru) vineyards St. Paul and Kammerberg with their perfect chalky limestone foundations.  Harvested at 96 Öchsle (23 Brix). Quite balanced on the palate, slightly smokey, plush and supple, dark cherry violet and lavender, cola and dark chocolate.  Velvety, very soft and elegant tannins.

A little side note here: Rudi Wiest carries one of the hottest portfolios of German wines, but no Twitter presence. We helped changed that! (insert mouth noise of confidence.) I think the power of forging wine relationships is well at play here. We’ve known Allie, our rep for years and she always has a smile or good word for everyone—she is truly one of the kindest people we’ve met. Thank you Allie!

Mazzolino, 2009 Noir Pinot Nero Oltrepò Pavese, Lombardy

Rock star alert!!! When I contacted Mazzolino winemaker Jean-François Coquard to join us online he did not hesitate even though he technically would still be in bed  in Italy.

Near and distant cultures intertwine at the Mazzolino Estate, whose name means “meeting point, layover” (from the Latin: Mansiolinum). Pinot Noir grows best across northern Italy where the climate is much cooler. The fruit flavors of Italian Pinot Noir are similar to that of France, but the earthy flavors lean toward smoke, tobacco, white pepper and clove. Pinot Nero, as the Italians call it, tend to have more color extraction and higher alcohol.

Jean-FrançoisCoquard says Pinot Noir is grown for the last 100 years in this area, around 300 miles from Burgundy.

I found a super interesting group called the Association Pinò Club, the first in the region, driven to identify the reference point for dell’Oltrepò Pavese. Three objectives that the Club intends – to promote, defend and enhance the ‘image and visibility of Pinot Noir vinified as red as a product of excellence in dell’Oltrepo’ Pavese; – create a common front which works for the promotion and knowledge of cultivation techniques and processing to improving overall quality in the production of Pinot Noir DOC dell’Oltrepò.

It is in the old village of Mazzolino, near Corvino San Quirico, that the Braggiotti family, owners of the Mazzolino Estate since 1980, planted the roots of the winery’s philosophy: 40 acres of land in the hills, twenty of which are vineyards, favoring the grape varieties most suited to this area.

Jean-François was kind enough to forward pictures and mini video.

The Mazzolino Estate’s Noir vineyards, in the municipality of Corvino San Quirico, are planted on a clayey-calcareous soil, on west-facing hills. They were planted in the eighties using Pinot Noir clones imported from Burgundy. The grapes are entirely hand-picked in crates when they are fully ripe and are further selected with great care on the triage table, so only perfectly healthy, whole bunches are used.

Week 4 – Where it All Began

Clément Klur, 2011 Pinot Noir d’Alsace

Aaron reminded me that we were the first (and probably still only) shop in California to carry the wine.  We were lucky to have Joanie Karapatien on with us representing A.I. Selectionsimporter for Klur.

Pinot Noir, originally from Burgundy, is the only red grape variety authorized in Alsace. Principally used in the production of light and fruity wines, Pinot Noir is vinified more and more commonly as a red grape, thus reviving an ancient tradition. Largely present in the AOC Alsace, it is also used for the production of Crémants d’Alsace blancs de noirs and Crémants Rosés.

Joanie Karapetian mentioned that growers in places like Alsace don’t make Pinot Noir unless they’re amazing…and the prices are low!

“We’re beginning to see some good Pinot Noir in Alsace,” comments Maurice Barthelmé of Albert Mann. So what has changed to persuade some Alsace growers that it’s worth trying to make Pinot, rather than rosé-style wines? “Global warming has helped us,” confirms Barthelmé. Bringing grapes to the requisite degree of ripeness is no longer an issue in this relatively northerly vineyard.

The second development is that Pinot Noir increasingly takes pride of place in top sites, including in Grand Cru vineyards, even though it’s not one of the officially permitted varieties.  The Klur family are stewards of terroir –  where biodynamics rule.

Interesting to note that “When you plant Pinot Noir in a Grand Cru vineyard, you lose something – you take a risk.” Why so? Because the only grape varieties that qualify for Grand Cru status are Riesling, Pinot Gris, Gewurztraminer and Muscat. Pinot Noir planted in these premium sites automatically forfeits the price-premium associated with Grand Cru.    So grand cru soils that are now producing very small quantities of Pinot Noir at significantly lower prices. Why are they growing Pinot Noir? Because they can.

Another big change is on the clone front. Thierry Meyer, who tastes and selects Alsace wines for the Bettane & Desseauve Grand Guide des Vins de France, one of France’s most prestigious wine guides, explains that after World War II, when the region set about rebuilding its devastated vineyards, there was “une course aux rendements” (a rush for big yields). Overcropping is one of the enemies of Pinot Noir, which only gives of its best when yields are reined in. The big yield, big bunch clones that were planted in the rebuilding phase are gradually ceding ground to less vigorous clones with smaller bunches.

2011 Regis Bouvier Rouge Les Longeroies “Vieilles Vignes” Marsannay 

A Burgundy signature is quite possibly absence of signature.

Régis Bouvier’s reds are his crowning achievement, managing to be wild and exciting while refined and elegant at the same time.  Marsannay is the only communal appellation which produces wines of all three colors. Their typicity is that of the Côtes de Nuits, and their style resembles that of their neighboring appellations Fixin and Gevrey-Chambertin.

The Marsannay reds have intense coloration and a nose that smoothly blends cherry, strawberry and blackcurrant, blueberry. On the palate the wine is powerful and generous finishing into a long and meaty finish.

How about a quick single track tour through Marsannay, see the vines!

The winemaking history of Marsannay runs centuries deep, as far back to the 14th century when the Ducs of Bourgogne preferred Marsannay above other villages. Régis Bouvier’s two parcels are adjoining—the Clos du Roy is on the slope and Les Longeroies is between the slope and the valley floor.

Marsannay Rouge Les Longeroies “Vieilles Vignes” means “alongside the king” and aged in barrel for 12-16 months, 30% new oak. Whenever you see Kermit Lynch logo on the back of a bottle, you know you’re not only purchasing a bottle of wine but being transported into Kermit’s “personal” Burgundy.

“Burgundy is a diva. It’ll take you home, and then it’ll break your fingers in the door.”

“The supreme concern of Burgundy is – or should be – making terroir manifest. In outline, this is easily accomplished: small berried clones; low yields, selective sorting of the grapes; and, trickiest of all, fermenting and cellaring the wine in such a way as to allow the terroir to come through with no distracting stylistic flourishes. This is where terroir comes smack up against ego, the modern demand for self-expression at any cost, which, too often, has come at the expense of terroir.” Matt Kramer

And as I finish this post, I’m drinking the other half of the bottle Klur, where even more pronounced stones rubbed in cold hands emerge from the glass.

Thanks to all who participated!!

Intrigued? yeah. The 6 pack collection is available!

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