1/5/2024: Two only-in-Minnesota gems from Leo Steen and Annette Peters

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The cork on this week’s Pinot Noir says it all.

Hi everyone –

** Note that we’re changing our “Friday Offers” to “Exclusive Offers” and they are now available at special pricing for only 24 hours. As we find truly incredible wine buys for you, we’ll be putting them out into the world right away instead of always waiting until Friday. More info soon on a few other changes here at TCWE. **

It’s been nearly a month since a proper offer! The December rush at Solo Vino was huge (thanks to y’all) and we needed to give them a break from packing, organizing, and finding orders while the store overflowed with customers. But now we’re in January, a time for a wine shop to catch up on all the things on the to-do list, and a good time for an Exclusive Offer.

The first offer of 2024 is one we’ve been wanting to do for a while but needed to wait until the time was right: inventory in hand at the distributor, some great pricing available to you, and the right wines for the season.

The time is NOW!

Two wines. One white, one red. Both stunning. Both made by one of our favorite winemakers.

And both available ONLY in Minnesota.

Those labels!

Some of my favorites at the moment. And never forget it’s totally okay to buy wine based on the label. Anyone who is going to put the time and money into a great label is probably (hopefully) putting it into the bottle as well.

Only available in Minnesota? What’s going on here?

Smart fine wine wholesalers who know their stuff (in terms of knowing great wine when they taste it, and building relationships with winery partners and great winemakers around the world) are taking the time and the investment to develop their own labels and brands. This gives them products to sell that they have more control of, plus the wines are not ‘shoppable’ on a national basis.

Plenty of our best local distributors do this including Libation Project (Moonshot, in partnership with Luke Shimp of Red Cow), The Piedmont Guy (Ercole), and The Wine Company (Santa di Terrossa Pinot Grigio). One of the top of the top wine pros in town is the legendary Annette Peters of Bourget Imports and her own Domaines and Appelations, and these wines come from her.

Many of you know, or have heard of, Annette. She’s a mentor of mine, one of the first wine pros to take me under her wing in the 1990s to help my career along. We were lucky enough to work together in the late 2000s at World Class Wines, where we had so many great times. She’s one of the best wine tasters in the state, and her decades of experience brings a perspective that the younger wine pros can’t compete with.

As Annette had the initial ideas for these wines, she went through her Rolodex to find the right winemaker to work with. She needed someone with integrity and independence, along with the respect of fellow winemakers to help source just the right fruit. She also needed someone willing to take on a small-production project of the highest quality that would sell at reasonable prices (in other words, a labor of love with minimal profit).

Enter Leo Hansen.

About Leo Hansen of Leo Steen Wines

From his winery website:

All winemakers are shaped by their experiences, and the paths that have led them to their love of the grape. My personal journey has certainly shaped my sommelier’s palate, my gentle approach to natural winemaking, and the restrained, food-friendly style of my wines. 

I was born and raised in Denmark, and as the son of a chef and hotelier, food and wine have always been a passionate part of my life. I grew up in the service industry, and started working in my father’s kitchen at the age of 12. When I was older, I earned a degree in business sales and marketing, but food and wine were in my blood, and I soon began studying at the Kolding Hotel and Restaurant School. During my four-year apprenticeship there, I was very fortunate to work alongside Orla Farmann, the national champion for the Danish Sommelier World Cup Team. Orla helped me develop my palate, and further deepened my love of wine.

Over the next several years, my love of wine took me to many places, from Alsace, Loire, Champagne and Burgundy to Spain and Italy. Those travels culminated in my certification as a European sommelier, and in 1997, I became the wine director at Kong Hans, Copenhagen’s first one-star Michelin guide restaurant. In time, my work at Kong Hans took me to California to scout out new wines for our list. I felt an immediate connection with California’s vibrant winemaking scene—both the quality of its wines and the freedom given to its winemakers.

In 1999, I moved to California to immerse myself in winemaking firsthand, and spent the next several years working days in wineries and nights as a sommelier. (My grape-stained fingers were part of the inspiration for the sommelier’s print.) At the same time, I complimented my practical experience by studying chemistry, viticulture and winemaking. My journey led me to Stuhlmuller Vineyards, an acclaimed, family-run winery in the Alexander Valley, where I ultimately became winemaker in 2004—the same year I founded Leo Steen Wines.

Since then, I have worked to hone my craft, always with an eye towards that place where style and vineyard authenticity naturally meet. My classically trained European palate is a part of that equation. So is my appreciation for the charm and character of great California winemaking. As a result, I have developed a gentle approach that focuses more on natural yeasts, lower alcohols and less new oak. The winemaker in me thinks about the organic, biodynamic and sustainable vineyards I am privileged to work with in Sonoma, Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz and Mendocino, and what I love about them. While my sommelier side reminds me that great wine finds its most elegant expression served alongside good food in the company of family and friends. I hope you find both sides of this philosophy realized in my wines.

https://www.leosteenwines.com/about-leo

Cuvee Steen White 2021

A stone, a grape, a winemaker!

A blend created for Bourget Imports by Leo Steen Winery. Justly named “Steen Cuvee” since it is representative of multiple terroirs, is mainly Chenin Blanc (also know as Steen in South Africa), and is made by winemaker Leo Steen Hansen.

In June 2022, Annette Peters got together with winemaker Leo Hansen to taste components of the 2021 vintage he had in his cellar with the idea of creating the perfect white blend. Leo has a reputation for extraordinary Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay, and this was a fun exercise for him, as well as helping Annette deliver a prestige California blend at an affordable price.

Here’s how the blend ended up….

50% Saini Ranch Chenin Blanc — raised in neutral puncheons (500L) barrels. This 41 year old vineyard is one of my favorites, located in the ‘sweet spot’ of Dry Creek Valley. The Saini Ranch is mostly Zinfandel (which often goes to Seghesio for a limited production wine) but there is a tiny plot of Chenin Blanc that goes to Leo Hansen.

25% Santa Maria Valley Chardonnay — From Annette: “The first thing that leapt to mind when tasting this component from the barrel was MACON in Burgundy! It is fermented in stainless steel and then aged in neutral french oak for 6 months. So much lemon peel and minerally characteristic is the mark of a very cool climate Chardonnay. These are old vines, many of which are ungrafted. Just enough controlled barrel oxygenation to reveal all the richness possible with Santa Maria Valley fruit.”

12.5% Arneis from Mendocino — There’s barely any Arneis in the world, but there are a few tiny plots in Mendocino county planted by Italian immigrant families. Sourced from elevated coastal vineyards in a remote Southwestern part of Mendocino known as Lost HIlls Ranch. Fermented in stainless steel and then raised in a neutral barrel. This is so full of exotic lemon balm, bay leaf, chamomile, with a textural power that carries the finish of the blend.

12.5% Sauvignon Blanc from the Russian River Valley — A bright and citrusy example of Russian River Sauvignon that brought the perfect ruby grapefruit and herbal notes to this Cuvee. As Leo does not typically make Sauv Blanc, this was another barrel (like the Arneis) sourced through a friendly winemaker “trade-sy” that brought another “color” to a palette of choices in this blending exercise.

Jason’s and Angela’s tasting note: It’s totally unfair and misleading to say one wine ‘has it all’ because of course every wine has its own personality. But THIS ONE comes as close as I can imagine. It’s unfiltered and a wee touch cloudy and natural, so it appeals to the natural wine crowd. It’s balanced and precise and correctly made, so it appeals to the technical wine tasters out there (like Annette). It’s loaded with white peach, green apple, lilac blossom, pineapple, talc, wet stone, and lemon rind. It’s dry and lip-smacking without being toooooo acidic. It’s just freaking great and super versatile.

Angela’s accolades on this wine included lots of positive profanity, which I’ll leave to your imagination.

On last thing on the Cuvee Steen White: the label is printed on some great waterproof paper, ensuring it will not curl off if condensation develops or if you drop it in an ice bath. It’s a small touch that few wineries do, but it stands out to me and I wanted to mention it.

Mendo Pinot Noir 2020

This is one of the top buys in Pinot Noir in the world, and it’s only available here in Minnesota. There, I said it. Boom! Drop that mic! Word up!

Before I get into the wine’s details, take a moment to think back to September and October 2020 when this was harvested. Take a moment to think about all we went through since then. Every time I’m coming across a 2020 vintage wine, I’m taking a pause to consider this because we should be proud. We made it through the other side from those hellish years. Okay, back to the wine…

From the back label: “At the gateway to the Mendocino coast, just 100 miles north of San Francisco, is the premium wine region Anderson Valley. Known for world class Pinot Noir influenced by cool marine air and alluvial terraces, the diurnal shift here causes up to a 50 degree swing in temperature, creating some of California’s best Pinot Noir.”

It’s also important to remember that the 2020 fires were mostly located in Napa Valley and a bit in Sonoma County. The smoke influence was far away from these vines. This wine is CLEAN.

The fruit was hand harvested and de-stemmed, then fermented in small batches with indigenous yeast. Post-fermentation it was moved to tank where it completed malolactic fermentation, and then matured in seasoned French oak Burgundy barrels for 16 months.

Anderson Valley is a region that I have not yet personally explored, though I’ve had hundreds of wines from there over the years. The time to get there is now. It’s an area that is poised for more attention as Napa becomes overrun with overpriced Cabernets, and Sonoma is wine-gentrifying before our eyes. Mendocino County in general, and Anderson Valley in particular, have what it takes to become a new ‘must go’ wine destination. Due to the lack of vineyard land (grapes are not the leading cash crop here, if you know what I mean), the growing demand for sparkling wine (which is a specialty of Anderson Valley) and the wild temperature swings, Anderson Valley is in a unique position. I highly suggest you plan a trip to this region before it changes too much. I know I am!

Jason and Angela’s tasting note: It’s always dangerous to call a Pinot Noir “pitch-perfect” because Pinot Noir comes in so many styles that satisfy different people for different reasons. However … and you may see where I’m going here … this is as crowd-pleasing in a top-quality way as it comes. It has the wild strawberry aromas that will satisfy Russian River lovers. It has the structure, acidity, touch of tannin, and framework that will satisfy Willamette Valley lovers. And it has the sense of place/terroir that will make Burgundy lovers sit up straight. It’s a wine, dare I say it, that may be more successful if it was more expensive because then the consumer’s expectations would raise to where the quality in the glass lands.

It’s freaking awesome.

Anderson Valley AVA vineyard, from Wikipedia

A must-read article on Mendocino County

You can find it at the incredible Vinography blog: Poised for Greatness: Tasting the Evolution of the Anderson Valley, published in 2021. It’s the best article on the area I’ve read and brings historical perspective to the region and the products. As they say in the article, “Something is going on in Anderson Valley, and it’s pretty damn exciting.”


Final thoughts and buying advice

I love everything about these wines. The story and planning behind them. The vision of Annette Peters. The winemaking of Leo Hansen. The labels! The sourcing regions. The quality of the grapes. The hands-off winemaking. The precise quality. EVERYTHING!

One cool thing to think about is serving these wines to your friends from out of state. You can do a neener-neener to your know-it-all wine friends from California, New York, Chicago, and Dallas. Ha ha! You can’t buy these!

We’ve set them up so you can buy them individually, buy a two pack at a discount, or buy a six pack (three of each) at the lowest price you can possibly find. Deal pricing only available for 24 hours. Enjoy!

Jason Kallsen
Sommelier and founder/owner of Twin Cities Wine Education


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