For this week’s tasting, we are pleased that Tuscaloosa’s own Nat Gunter will be here to present his complete line-up from Cultivate Wines. The wines are brand-new to Alabama and include three whites and three reds from California, Chile, Italy, and Argentina. Specifically there will be two Chardonnays, a Pinot Grigio, Malbec, and two red blends.
Nat will explain in detail Thursday night how Cultivate’s winemaking team (including him) travels around the globe searching for and tasting juice to use in their high-quality blends. They don’t own land anywhere, they seek out regions with outstanding harvests with the goal of making the best wine possible at the best value possible.
Two of the featured wines are 3 liter “bag in a box;” although “boxed wine” may have a negative connotation, these are high-quality wines from Chile that present excellent value and also, due to the “bag in a box,” will last an incredibly long time once “tapped.”
The following is a note from Nat:
“I’m a T’town native. My parents Sandy and Blanche met at the University moving books into the then new law school. My sister Abbey and I attended Tuscaloosa Academy and I went to college at Birmingham-Southern. After college I kind of aimlessly wandered through New York and L.A. for awhile. In L.A., I met vintners Fred and Carol Schrader. The Schraders had me up to Napa in 2008 and I was sufficiently hooked. Next harvest, I was scrubbing drains, rinsing barrels and learning about winemaking first-hand with Thomas Rivers Brown[*] and the incredible team up at Outpost Winery on Howell Mountain. For the next two years, I worked in the cellar, the vineyard and in sales for Rivers-Marie Wines: a great opportunity to learn the ropes and see every facet of the wine business. During harvest I helped work on projects like Schrader, Maybach, Outpost, Black-Sears, and Hall of Famer Tom Seaver’s GTS Wines.
In Napa, I also met an incredible girl named Lily, who just happens to be a Southerner too! I duly took her off the market. Through Lily’s friendship with winemakers Andy Erickson and Annie Favia, I came to meet Cultivate’s founders, Charles and Ali Banks. Charles and Ali were just crazy enough to hire me and allow me to help start this new wine company. Cultivate turns one year old this month and I’m so excited to be able to share our wines with the community I call home.
Cultivate gives 10% of all sales to non-profits that benefit health, education and basic human needs. We’ve already given away $75k to 18 different non-profits throughout the US. Our very first GIVE was to Jones Valley Urban Farm in Birmingham, AL. Cultivate’s early success would not be possible without some incredibly trusting partners. Larry and Kim Wilkin’s Pinnacle Imports took our wines sight unseen (or untasted rather) and ran with them here in Alabama. It’s a real coup to be represented by such great folks and to have the opportunity to pour at Tuscaloosa’s finest wine shop. Spirits is a huge asset to T’town and I’m grateful to be joining them for an evening. See everyone Thursday night!”
We hope you will join us this Thursday!
Tasting notes provided by Nat Gunter. The specific wines are:
Wonderlust Chardonnay 2011– 3L Bag-In-Box, 13% alcohol by volume. 95% Chardonnay, 5% Semillon. 80% Colchagua Valley, 20% Limari Region (to the north), Chile. All steel fermentation. Full malo on the Semillon and partial malolactic on the Chardonnay. Colchagua is probably the coolest region in Chile’s vast Central Valley. It is the one appellation that opens up East-West to the Pacific so the air-flow and the diverse topography contribute to the character of the region. Limari is farther to the north and closer to the ocean. More Sauvignon Blanc and Semillon are planted here. Some Chardonnay for Wonderlust comes from Limari as well. Ideally, this wine is what I like to call a “patio-pounder.” The wine has character, it’s balanced, but it’s more about the drinkability factor than anything else. Tasting $25.99 (3 liter)
Copa Cabana Red Wine 2010– 3L Bag-In-Box, 13.5% alcohol by volume. 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 40% Carmenere. 100% Central Valley (Specifically the sub-region of Curico), Chile. Curico is probably the hottest pocket in Chile’s Central Valley. The late-ripening Carmenere offers its most developed flavors in this region. The soils of Curico are probably the least diverse of any soil in the country. Lots of clay, lots of vigor going on here. Couple that with really antiquated irrigation methods and you’ve got a region that gives off a ton of ripeness (in warm years), but not a lot of complexity or development. Hence – our Chilean red box wine. Super straightforward with lots of red fruits in the profile. The Carmenere gives some more herbaceous characteristics and a bit of spice on the finish. Tasting $25.99 (3 liter)
Double Blind Pinot Grigio 2010– 750ml bottle, 12.5% alcohol by volume. 100% Pinot Grigio from the Veneto (mostly around the village of Piave), Italy. 100% malolactic – 100% stainless steel fermentation and elevage. So as you [may] know, there is lot of varietally INCORRECT Pinot Grigio out there. The idea with Double Blind was to work with a partner in Italy to create a varietally correct Pinot Grigio whose style was more on the brighter side from a flavor profile standpoint, but whose texture still had that weight and roundness that I think makes Pinot Grigio so appealing to many. The 100% stainless fermentation certainly preserves the freshness of the fruit and keeps the profile firmly in the white flower, citrus and stone fruit end of the spectrum. The 100% malolactic [fermentation] rounds out the mouthfeel in a way that I hope helps the wine stand-up to a broader array of cuisine. Northeast Italy is all about food-friendly wines and we definitely want to be a part of that great tradition. Tasting $12.99
The Gambler Malbec 2010– 750ml bottle, 13.5% alcohol by volume.85% Malbec, 15% Bonarda. 100% Mendoza, 100% Lujan de Cuyo appellation, Argentina. Malbec sees a mix of barrels (old, new, French, American) Bonarda sees stainless steel with some innerstave oak. So the thing that really blows my mind about Mendoza is that the growing region STARTS at 800 meters above sea level and goes up to 1200 meters or more in some places. Lujan de Cuyo is a fantastic sub-region that sits just south of the town of Mendoza. The soil is either really gravelly or really sandy and the air is incredibly thin. Lots of own-rooted vines and not a lot of vine pests up at that altitude. Malbec is obviously synonymous with Argentina and it definitely thrives here. For my tastes though, Malbec, while great and juicy and impressive, produces a fairly one-dimensional wine (unless you’re way up in some pretty incredibly diverse soils). Our solution to this was to add in a healthy percentage of Bonarda, which is a rustic grape variety brought to Argentina by Italian immigrants. To me, Bonarda is all about texture and it produces really brawny wines that I find very food-friendly and fun to drink. Bonarda adds a much needed extra-dimension to the wine and gives The Gambler great texture and mouthfeel. Tasting $14.99
Dream Walking Chardonnay 2009– 13.7% alcohol by volume. 100% Chardonnay. 50% Mendocino, 35% Santa Rita Hills, 15% Napa, California. 80%/20% stainless/barrel fermentation and about 65%/35% stainless/barrel elevage. The cool thing about blending Chardonnay as opposed to restricting yourself to one vineyard or one region is that you get to play matchmaker. I imagine it’s like being an NFL owner at the Draft. You determine what kind of balance and style of team you want and then you go out and find different components (players) to make that happen. For Dream Walking, balance, food-friendliness, and typicity were the three goals. The base component from Mendocino provides the structure and most of the acidity. The Santa Rita Hills component brings that great almond/marzipan nuttiness that I find so compelling in good Central Coast Chardonnays (and in white Burgundies for that matter). The touch of Napa fruit brings a bit of richness and almost all of the roundness in the wine. The more tropical notes of dried pineapple are attributed to the Napa components as well. Tasting $24.99
The Feast Red Wine 2009– 14.1% alcohol by volume. 66% Merlot (20% Atlas Peak, 20% Carneros, 26% Lake County) 34% Cabernet Sauvingon (34% Alexander Valley AVA), California. 100% stainless fermentation. Everything but Lake County Merlot component was raised in barrel. Technically a ‘North Coast’ blend, the goal here was to make a finessed, texture-driven California red wine. To me, Merlot is the best vehicle for great texture in wine. I am my father’s son and I do like the Right Bank [Bordeaux] blends a bit more than the Left [Bank Bordeaux]. Blending the different Merlot components from Napa and Lake County – I hope – gives a comprehensive picture of California Merlot. The old-vines Cab from Alexander Valley brings length and structure to the wine. The wine is still young and definitely benefits from some air. Generally, The Feast is less about the oomph associated with California wines and more my take on the finesse, balance and, dare I say it, understatement that can be found in California. Tasting $32.99
*Thomas Rivers Brown, winemaker at Schrader Cellars (among others), is featured in the current Wine Spectator in James Laube’s editorial “Ascent of the Apprentice.” I think it’s an especially appropriate title (and ironic), considering that Nat Gunter is an apprentice to Thomas Rivers Brown. If you get a chance, check it out!
Laube writes, “If a winemaker can only be as good as his grapes, that explains part of Brown’s success, as he is working with a variety of top sights. His aim is to taper the style to the terroir. Those who know Brown say he’s intuitive, a good listener, confident without being arrogant, and wise beyond his years.”
P.S. We have a special “bonus wine” that we plan to open for the tasting (hint, hint- it’s from Thomas’ private label Rivers-Marie).