From the Wine Shop
The Explore 4 Gift Pack “Wines from Sandy Soils” (750mL)
Grow your wine knowledge and drink well while doing it: That’s the idea behind “Explore 4,” our most popular monthly club. Here’s a chance to check it out—no commitment required!
“Explore 4” surveys the vast landscape of wine and breaks it into small, digestible bites. Each month, we select four bottles that fit a theme, allowing members to experience a diversity of styles while developing their own palate preferences. It’s an ongoing exploration of wine through a sommelier’s eyes and there’s no more effective, and enjoyable, way to learn about wine.
In this edition of Explore 4, we really geek out: The four wines in the pack were chosen because they hail from terroirs with sandy soils. There are many different types of sand, but there are qualities they all share: low fertility; good drainage; and a natural resistance to phylloxera. This assortment takes you to some of the world’s best-known pockets of sand, in search of some answers.
Here are the wines in the 4-pack, which are accompanied by a full-color booklet discussing the theme and the wines in vivid detail:
Domaines Schlumberger, Alsace Riesling “Les Princes Abbes” 2019
Alsace, in Northeastern France, is one of the most geologically diverse wine regions in the world, with vineyards running from the foothills of the Vosges Mountains down to the Rhine River Valley below. Vineyard sources for this wine, including the Grand Cru “Kitterlé,” are huddled near the town of Guebwiller, which contains one of the region’s highest concentrations of sandstone.
This is a dry yet opulent Riesling, with some good weight on the mid-palate and plenty of cleansing acidity. Riesling grown in sandstone is characterized by powerful structure and a “spicy” characteristic: This one offers a hint of ginger along with notes of white peach, yuzu, lemon, and smoke. Medium-bodied and focused. Pair with spicy Thai or Cantonese preparations.
Mother Rock Wines, “Force Celeste” Swartland Sémillon 2020
South Africa’s magnificent Western Cape, and specifically the Swartland appellation, is another rich mosaic of soil types, including sands of decomposed granite from the nearby Paardeberg Mountains. “Force Celeste” is sourced from old, bush-trained vines that are “dry farmed” (ie non-irrigated). Dramatic day-night temperature swings in the region help preserve acidity and moderate alcohol.
If you know Sémillon mostly from Bordeaux white blends, this varietal expression will be revelatory. There are some of the “creamsicle” notes the variety is known for, and the beeswax-y texture, but the wine also delivers lots of savory, salty sensations. It is textured yet brisk, with notes of lemon, pineapple, flint, and flowers. Pair with shrimp scampi and other buttery/lemony preparations.
Yalumba, “Samuel’s Collection” Barossa Bush-Vine Grenache 2020
The Barossa Valley, in South Australia is a broad, relatively flat valley formed by the Para River—effectively an “alluvial” basin with varying percentages of clay, loam, sand, and other sediments. Whereas some of the world’s most powerful red wines (from Shiraz/Syrah most famously) hail from here, there are pockets of very sandy, silica-rich soil that produce very finessed, fragrant, silky styles of Grenache.
The characteristics of “sand-grown” Grenache are readily identifiable (if you’re lucky enough to try Château Rayas Châteauneuf-du-Pape, it remains the world’s most famous example). The fruit character is more red (cherry kirsch, wild strawberry) and the perfume and texture of the wine is almost Pinot Noir-like—albeit with more concentration/viscosity. The tannins are incredibly fine and smooth. A world away from inky, black-fruited Barossa Shiraz!
Quinta de Saes, Dão Tinto 2018
The Dão is said to be Portugal’s “oldest” wine region, older even than the Douro, and it is perhaps the most prestigious of Portugal’s 31 DOC (Denominação de Origem Controlada) appellations. Situated on the Beira Alta plateau surrounding the Dão River, the region is sheltered on all sides by mountains and boasts a relatively cool, dry climate, with soils of weathered schist and granite.
Maybe we’re just suggestible, but there’s elegance, and energy, in wines grown on decomposed granite (see also: Cru Beaujolais). Deep garnet red in the glass, with aromas and flavors of pomegranate, black cherry, dusty earth, violets, tobacco, and warm spice. Tangy and medium-bodied, with lots of length and smooth, well-integrated tannins. It wouldn’t be out of place in a French bistro alongside a plate of coq au vin!
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Through the grapevine
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