Offer available through Monday, 10/23/2023, or as inventory lasts.
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Hi everyone –
On Thursday, October 19th, we gathered with Hilary Cline of Cline Family Cellars for an AMAZING wine dinner at the Highland Grill in St. Paul. It was a perfect way to say Thank You to Hilary and her family for literally decades of wine enjoyment in our wine lives.
Hilary Cline with the staff of the Highland Grill
More on Cline and the Sonoma AVA offering in sec, but first I will let you know about an incredible Cru Beaujolais that just landed in the Twin Cities. Barely anyone has tried this, and I’m hoping it also frames and shapes your understanding of how wines arrive in Minnesota.
Who imports your wine matters, and here’s why
We’ve said this time and time again. But let’s break it down a bit more.
There are amazing national importers (who have rights to the brands they represent across most states in the US, often inventory the wines stateside, and have regional and national sales directors that travel the country educating the wholesalers, retailers, and restaurants). Top-notch in this category are Kermit Lynch, Dreyfus Ashby, Vineyard Brands, Banville Wine Imports, Europvin, and dozens more.
Then there are amazing direct importers (i.e., wholesalers that also have importation licenses) that do the hard work of flying out to regions (often but not always in Europe), knocking on doors, tasting through wines at wine bars to find the next new thing, making connections, signing contracts, and eventually shipping the wine directly, in our case, to Minnesota.
In our state, we have a particularly robust direct importer culture. Domaines and Appellations, Small Lot, New France Wine Company, and Libation Project are particular favorites along with the finder of today’s wine: The Wine Company.
Wil Bailey, the import director for The Wine Company, is a great friend and mentor in the wine business. Part of his job is to fly to France every January and taste the new wines, make buying decisions (that sometimes don’t become wine in a shop for three years), and hunt for new finds. This past winter, he discovered Domaine Ruet from the Beaujolais Cru of Brouilly.
Brouilly is an appellation for red wines produced from vineyards in central-north Beaujolais. The lower slopes of Mont Brouilly and the surrounding countryside contain significant plantings of the Gamay grape variety. Relatively robust and full-bodied wines are made, quite unlike the light, fresh Beaujolais Nouveau wines. The wines are more fruit-driven than many of the other Beaujolais cru wines, their plum and berry flavors outweighing Gamay’s traditional floral character.https://www.wine-searcher.com/regions-brouilly
Domaine Ruet “Voujon” – new arrival for Minnesota!
This is a fourth-generation Beaujolais producer (since 1926!), and this is one wine from one plot in one vineyard (known as a “Lieu Diet” in France). 100% Gamay, of course.
This wine has everything going for it:
- 20 to 60-year-old vines.
- There have NEVER been any chemicals used in their vineyards. They resisted and fought the agro-industrial revolution post WWII that led to so much chemical usage that is being abandoned today.
- Hand-harvested fruit, no machines.
- Partial destemming and partial whole cluster fermentation (traditional in this region).
- No added sulfites during the bottling process.
- Certified Biodynamic … even down to using the lunar calendar to optimize bottling dates.
- A very balanced and moderate 13% ABV.
Twenty-five cases arrived in Minnesota on the first shipment, and we’re the first to offer it to the public.
Jason’s tasting note: Plummy and fresh, with aromas more toward black-purple than the traditionally expected red of Gamay. Layers of aromas with lilac blossoms, plums, minerals, and dried leaves all presented with fresh acidity, making it so good with food. Have this with a roasted chicken loaded with rosemary and thyme while listening to some Edith Pilaf — you’ll suddenly feel like you’re in southern France!
CLINE FAMILY CELLARS and the Sonoma AVA four-pack
Many of you know our love of the Cline Family and what they stand for and produce. It was actually the first winery Angela and I ever visited on our first trip to northern California in 2000, on a rainy day in February. Over time, their wines continuously get better and better without major price increases at all. Famously, they held their prices steady for over ten years in the 2000s. It’s part of their ethos: Fred and Nancy Cline have always said they want their wines in people’s glasses, not stuck in the cellar gathering dust.
The next generation is taking over, and Hilary Cline and her siblings are continuing the brand’s evolution while always increasing quality. How they do it, I don’t know. I wish more wineries were like Cline.
One aspect of Cline that most consumers don’t know about is their “beyond organic” approach, which is all about farming their vineyards and how they go above and beyond organic standards. You can read all about their sheep heard, compost teas, solar energy production, and use of their minerals on this page. Seriously, they are the best when it comes to the topic of grape farming sustainability. I’ve spent many, many days with them in the vineyards learning about their practices and nobody does it better.
Learn while drinking: the perfect Sonoma AVA collection
Here we have four wines, covering four American Viticultural Areas in Sonoma County.
When I’m contacted to educate a group about Sonoma County, say ahead of a trip there, these are the four wines that I bring for tasting. Each wine represents the top grape of its AVA, all produced by the same winemaker. It’s the perfect way to understand Sonoma County and these four varieties.
This is a perfect four-bottle wine education. Every wine is pitch-perfect for showcasing the best-known grape variety of that particular AVA. Let’s go through them one by one:
Cline “Hat Strap” Chardonnay, Carneros AVA
At our Cline Wine Dinner, this was a HUGE hit, especially with those who haven’t enjoyed a Chardonnay in a while due to getting burned by over-oaked or simply uninteresting wines that are out there.
Great Chardonnay balances rich orchard fruits, acidity, careful malolactic fermentation, and a touch of high-quality oak. Oak in a Chardonnay should be like salt on a dish: just enough to add shape and flavor without calling the dish “salty” — you know what I mean? Oak adds texture to the wine, and just the right amount (as in this case) makes the flavors explode.
The grapes for this wine come from the Carneros AVA, where the winery is located south of the town of Sonoma. It’s one of the chosen spots for this grape, which shows in this wine.
Cline “Fog Swept” Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast AVA
The Sonoma Coast AVA is controversial because when the boundaries were first drawn the area they covered was basically “anything but the others.” Look at the map above, and you’ll understand. Grapes grown as far inland as Bennett Valley and Chalk Hill can legally be called Sonoma Coast AVA, even though they are far from ocean influences.
But not Cline’s Pinot Noir. This is 100% ocean-influenced Pinot Noir, and it is fantastic.
This is a photo I took of the exact vineyard this wine is from, which is located in the Petaluma Gap. This area is known for fog, wind, and cold. It’s one of the coldest vineyards in Sonoma County, making it perfect for Pinot Noir.
This wine sings like Ella Fitzgerald. It’s sassy, brassy, and complex. It has guts but is also polished. It’s simply damn good Pinot Noir that speaks of a place, loud and clear.
Cline “Eight Spur” Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley AVA
The Dry Creek Valley was settled in the late 1800s by Italian immigrants, many of them brought to the region to work at the old Italian Swiss Colony Winery, just north of Healdsburg. In fact, there was an old town called Chianti, now long gone.
The Italians quickly discovered a love of Zinfandel, which could make robust and peppery wines that tasted great the year after the harvest and go with their traditional dishes. They planted it en masse in the area. Today, as you drive up and down through Dry Creek Valley, you can see those Yoda-like vines in all their ancient and wisdom-filled glory standing proud.
Like all the wines in this Sonoma AVA series, the Eight Spur Zinfandel is not only textbook in style but overdelivering in quality. Everything you could want in a Zinfandel is here, and it reminds me quite a bit of the single-vineyard Zins that Seghesio made in the 2000s, especially their “Home Ranch.” That’s a big compliment because that was one of my favorite wines twenty years ago.
Cline “Rock Carved” Cabernet Sauvignon, Alexander Valley AVA
When Fred and Nancy Cline started their winery, they focused on Rhône varieties and Zinfandel. As Hilary Cline said at last night’s dinner, it was difficult to talk her dad into Cline producing a Cabernet. And guess what? It’s now the most popular wine at the winery.
Alexander Valley is in the far northeastern corner of Sonoma County and is the hottest region. Stunning Caberents come from this area including the legendary Jordan. To me, a great Alexander Valley Cabernet always has a volcanic and dusty edge and intensely ripe black fruits. I sound like a broken record here, but this wine is stunning, begging for some fall and winter drinking with short rib pot roast.
In terms of overall bang for the buck, this is one of the best offers of 2023. Every wine, from the Cru Beaujolais through all of the Cline wines, is simply delicious and tastes more expensive than they are.
Personal suggestion: the four-pack of Cline plus one bottle of the Beaujolais.
If you know you’re a big fan of Cru Beaujolais, up that to two or three bottles.
If you have friends, clients, customers, employees, etc. that you know are fans of Sonoma (or are planning a trip there), maybe double or triple up on the Cline four-pack. You won’t regret it.
Sommelier and founder/owner of Twin Cities Wine Education
Offer and special pricing are available through Monday, or as inventory lasts