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Wine Reviews

Have You Heard About Domaine Faury-Gros Pinot Noir?

July 31, 2019
domaine faury gros pinot noir cork

François Gros is pretty good at understatement. Which means he’s a master at that Gallic style of sharing big news in an offhand way.


He says has a barrel company. Translation: He runs the U.S. business for H&A one of the nation’s biggest barrel-leasing companies. Business is good — two years ago he leased about 2,300 barrels. This year he’s already moved three times that amount. “I have trucks and warehouses… it’s crazy.”


But not too crazy to meet me at The Oxbow on a Thursday morning for a wine tasting at the picnic tables. We’re here because he mentioned in passing he makes pinot noir with a friend, and at the time, they only sold it by word of mouth.

François Gros calls himself a  finance guy, but he knows what he likes in pinot.

Turns out this friend is another Frenchman— Simon Faury, the winemaker at Merryvale Vineyards. They had had bumped into each other in Condrieu at Domaine Yves Gangloff years back.
But they didn’t actually meet until they both visited Dolce in St. Helena. Faury, the more direct of the pair, says he saw a guy in line who looked like he’d just stepped off the Champs-Élyseés. They started talking, and realized they were both from Lyon. They decided to have lunch, which quickly led to friendship and planning to make a pinot.

Though they love Burgundy like Chambolle-Musigny, they knew it’s impossible to make a truly Burgundian pinot noir in California without winemaking tricks like diluting the wine with water. Faury said they wanted to make an honest wine straight from the vineyard, so that was out.

They sourced fruit from a steep, rocky block of the Siebert Vineyard, a dry-farmed site on the Sonoma Coast north of Santa Rosa. Working at a friend’s cellar, they fermented the fruit with native yeasts in an open puncheon. Then they let the wine rest quietly, waiting to do the secondary malolactic fermentation months later. Friends thought they were crazy, but it fit their minimal style.

“They believe winemaking is about how you control the wine. We believe the wine can control itself,” Gros said. “We are the assistants.”

They aged a third of the juice in a new barrel, a third in a barrel that had been used once and another third in a barrel used twice for 16 months.

Simon Faury Merryvale

Winemaker Simon Faury at Merryvale Vineyards. His uncle Lionel is a well-known winemaker in Condrieu.

In the glass, it’s pure liquid garnet scented with raspberries, red plums, tart cranberries and pretty floral notes. There’s bright acidity, red fruit and a pleasing savoriness too. It’s a big wine with 13.9 percent alcohol, but it doesn’t taste or feel big. It has all the beautiful aromatics you want from pinot noir, but there’s depth too. As the taste slowly fades, you realize there’s this soft tannin like raw silk.

Faury-Gros fans include winemaker Aaron Pott, Master Sommelier Matt Stamp and me.

Gros suggests decanting his wine a couple hours before serving with allows it to really unfurl, and show his favorite pinot aroma: scented violets.

“You can’t open a bottle of wine and then drink it right away, like you do with a Coca-Cola,” he says. “Wine is sleeping in the bottle. It’s alive if you let it open up.”

domaine faury gros pinot noir

“Wine puts a spotlight on your meal and you get another dimension,” says Gros.

It’s a perfect food wine, begging for lamb or salmon. “This astringency and tannin love fat,” Gros says. “We need to eat with this wine.” He says it will really come into its own in 2021.

Sadly, the Siebert vineyard was one of the prime growing sites destroyed by the wildfires of October 2017. They won’t be able to get grapes from it anytime soon if ever. Which makes their wine that much more desirable. It’s available now at their Domaine Faury-Gros website and through First Bottles. 

Sparkling Wine, Wine Reviews

Can Sparkling Wine Age? You Bet!

December 26, 2013
This 1987 bottle of Schramsberg Reserve Sparkling Wine still had plenty of golden fruit, along with nutty flavors, when we opened it 26 years later.

This 1987 bottle of Schramsberg Reserve Sparkling Wine still had plenty of golden fruit, along with nutty flavors, when we opened it 26 years later.

So as I looked in my wine fridge for a wine to bring to a holiday dinner, I discovered a bottle of Schramsberg Reserve sparkling wine from 1987.  What a thrilling discovery – vintage bubbly! But I kind of worried too that I had aged it into a bottle of Napa Valley pinot noir vinegar.

Both the front and back labels call it “Napa Valley Champagne.” Back in 1987, a gallon of gas cost 89 cents. The most popular car was the Ford Escort (MSRP $6,895). That was also the year that The Simpsons and FOX Broadcasting debuted and Prozac went on the market. I was barely old enough to drink legally. So much has changed in the past 26 years.

Fortunately, well-made sparkling wine can wait. Once uncorked, the wine was a deep golden color with deep notes of golden apple, nuts, toast and Madeira wrapped in mouthwatering acidity. The bubbles were persistent but so very tiny, that we could really enjoy the flavor of the wine. It was beautiful on its own, as well as with Dungeness crab cakes and a juicy pork loin.

I resolved to start aging more sparkling wine — and think you should try it too.

Of course, if that bottle of bubbly you’re thinking of laying down costs under $20, you may have nothing but vintage vinegar at the end of your experiment. But if it’s a fine méthode champenoise wine that was carefully crafted and had some extended contact with yeast in the first place, it absolutely has that potential.

While they don’t have high amounts of tannin or sugar — two factors that allow other cult red wines like Screaming Eagle to age — sparkling wines and champagnes are naturally graced with a high amount of acidity. This acidity helps preserve the wine and allow it to develop in a positive way, just like a great German riesling or white Burgundy.

So next time you go to your favorite winery and pick up a bottle of their special release, consider putting it away in a cool place and forgetting about it for 20 years or so.

The back label says the wine is nutty, toasty and ?? - and it was still true 26 years later.

The back label says the wine is nutty, toasty and well aged – and it was still true 26 years later.

Sparkling Wine, Wine Reviews

Wine Review: Va de Vi from Gloria Ferrer

October 18, 2011

People often ask me to name my favorite bubbly. And my answer is always the same: it depends.

I appreciate sparkling wines ranging from the crisp brut nature champagne to the deep dark sparkling shiraz from Australia to the sparkling ice wine from Canada. What I want depends on what food I’m eating.

I found that the right food made all the difference with VA\a de Vi, a dry (read slightly sweet) sparkling wine that’s a recent release from Gloria Ferrer in Sonoma. The first time I tried it, we didn’t connect.

But when I tried it with a variety of Asian foods that might be challenging for other wines, Va de Vi charmed me with its versatility.

Va de Vi is a  golden méthode champenoise sparkling wine with persistent medium-fine bubbles. The winery calls it an “ultra cuvée” crafted from a blend of 89% pinot noir,  8% chardonnay plus 3% muscat and then aged for 18 months. The aroma is quite fruity with hints of golden apple and peach. The golden apple carries through in the flavor, along with toasty bread notes and some deeper hints of cherry and plum.  And while Va de Vi has a hint of sweetness, it’s also got mouth-watering acidity.

A friend who often shares bubbly with me even though it’s not his thing liked it right away. He said the Va de Vi felt softer than some of the other sparkling wines we’d tried.

The first food I tasted with it was a Japanese seven spice-crusted ahi tuna salad with pickled ginger, avocado and a rice vinegar and soy dressing. The Va de Vi brought out the sweetness in the ahi tuna and ginger while complementing the saltiness of the soy sauce.

I poured another glass with my leftovers from a weekend trip to Mission Chinese Food, where most of the food is laden with Szechwan peppercorn, red peppers and jalapeño for good measure. The Va de Vi was the perfect foil for Thrice Cooked Bacon, a smoky jumble of bacon, salty black beans, chewy tofu skin, bitter melon and healthy dose of chili oil. The wine tamed the spice while lifting the flavor of smokiness of the dish.

I poured the last of my Va de Vi with spicy tuna roll and California rolls with real crab.  Va de Vi was a perfect sushi wine, as it enhanced the flavors of the seafood while softening the edges on the soy and wasabi. By this time, Va de Vi felt like an old friend. And I was sorry to see it go.

NV Gloria Ferrer Va de Vi Sonoma County Sparkling Wine, about $19

Sparkling Wine, Wine Reviews

Sex in a Glass: A Sparkling Wine from Michigan

August 31, 2010
Sex is the titillating name of a rose sparkling wine from Michigan by Larry Mawby.

Sex is the titillating name of a rose sparkling wine from Michigan by Larry Mawby.

There are lots of drinks described as sex in a glass: pinot noir; champagne; and there’s even a Sex in a Glass cocktail made of Cointreau, Kahlua and Angostura bitters. But as it happens, Sex is the name of a sparkling wine from Michigan that I tasted recently.

It’s made by a quirky winemaker named Larry Mawby. For the past 10 years, Mawby has made nothing but sparkling wine in the Leelanau Peninsula, in the northern part of the state.

Mawby likes to get people’s attention. His newest wine is a fruity and slightly sweet sparkling wine called Detroit, that blends riesling with the rather obscure grapes traminette and Cayuga. But he’s probably best known for his M.Lawrence range of sparkling wines with titillating, tongue in cheek names like Wet, Fizz and Sex.

He also makes a more “serious” range of méthode champenoise wines under the name L. Mawby. I ordered one of those too — The Talismon. I opened that at a party on the Fourth of July and was very pleasantly surprised. The wine was a delicious balance of citrusy flavors and aromas with toasty ones. It had a nice long finish and the first sip made me want another. I thought it was a of the better domestic sparkling wines I’ve tasted, and for just $30 a bottle. The only thing I found odd about it was the tiny cork – probably the shortest I’ve ever seen on a sparkling wine.

Larry Mawby uses tiny corks on his wines, compared with the size of a Dom Perignon cork at right.

Larry Mawby uses tiny corks on his wines, compared with the size of a Dom Perignon cork at right.

Sex was a different story – a $15 wine with a pretty pink blush color, nice bubbles on the tongue, followed by a hint of indistinct fruit and some distracting musty aromas.

While Talismon and the other L. Mawby wines get their bubbles from a second fermentation in the bottle – just like French champagne – Sex is fermented in a tank. Tank fermentation is a cheaper way to make wine and it’s great for wines like prosecco and moscato which have delicate aromas and flavors that would be lost in a traditional fermentation. But tank fermentation can’t produce a wine of the complexities and nuances of a méthode champenoise wine.

So if you’re looking for a fling with a fun sparkling wine with a racy name, something to eat with pepperoni pizza and barbecue ribs or a gift for a bachelorette party, then Sex might be it.

Like they say, sex is a lot like pizza. Even when it’s bad, it’s still pretty good.