When Anthony Nicalo decided to get into the fine-wine business, he did it with gusto—total immersion, eyes wide-open, handmade contacts in Italy, France, Austria, and elsewhere—and a major mortgage.
“No point doing this sort of thing by half-measures,” he tells me. “I’ve got everything I have—and am—riding on it.” So far, so good. The “it” is Nicalo’s importing enterprise Farmstead Wines, which started with a bang a year ago, with a big dinner to introduce big wines in the $30-to-$70-plus range.
Nicalo’s solid and simple premise is encapsulated by Farmstead’s slogan, “Know Your Farmer”. As a former working chef, he long ago learned to appreciate naturally farmed, handcrafted foods and wines from all over the world. He sought out small farms, tasted and kept copious notes, and then got into the byzantine jungle that is wine importing in B.C.
Here are some Farmstead wines that may—or may not—still be available. You’re asking where? The answer is those like-minded, enterprising private wine stores we have in abundance around Vancouver, as well as some outstanding wine-heavy restaurants. See www.farmsteadwines.com/ for details.
Sample seven from the first release with me. They don’t all work, at least not for this palate, but some of them work spectacularly well. All are worth exploring if you have the wherewithal: time to track them down, and money to pay the tab. In order of ascending cost, then”¦
Let me start by telling you I’m not having much luck with Austria’s most famous white-grape variety, Grüner Veltliner. It’s a clumsy name—not even some marketing dolt’s stab at mnemonics, “groo-vee”, seems to help. It’s an insipid grape that even at its best isn’t all that great. I can’t shake the comment Philip Kerr makes in his brilliant trilogy Berlin Noir that “the Austrians have a penchant for fresh wine that is essentially undrinkable.” Martin Arndorfer Grí¼ner Veltliner Strasser Weinberge 2006 ($28.95) has a nice—if slightly sweaty—aroma and good golden glints in the glass, but where’s the acidity? There isn’t much definition, and it’s a shapeless wine that doesn’t deliver $28 worth of taste. It doesn’t compete much with a good Wild Goose Pinot Gris or several dozen others out of the Okanagan.
There—got the kvetch out of the way. Here’s a little red that’s also from Austria: Claus Preisinger Heideboden 2006 ($37.95), a tasty and imaginative blend of Zweigelt, Blaufrí¤nkisch, St. Laurent, and a touch of Merlot. Really, its only drawback is the cost—handmade or not, I think the price is steep for a simple little midweek dinner wine. But it is fresh and tasty, especially with some simple little midweek dinner dish.
Now we start heading into lip-smacking—and down-laying—territory. Agricola Marrone Barbera d’Alba La Pantelera 2001 ($42.95) is all-organic, 100 percent Barbera, a year in oak, terrific. But remember, Barbera doesn’t age as well, or as long, as many wine commentators like to think. A goodly number of them went down the sink at my house after a decade in the cellar. Never mind, taste it now; it’s at its prime as a seven-year-old: silky, soft, and ultra-rich. This is a heady, full, gorgeous wine that demands the best you can feed it—Polderside Farms, Sloping Hill Farm, all those purveyors of marvellous meats we now have in B.C.
Speaking of rich and deep, here’s another: Renato Fenocchio Langhe Rosso Aurora 2004 ($49.95). It’s got a plum-and-syrup consistency and beautiful flavours, a handsomely confusing array of them to rumble over the palate; you can spend an hour trying to sort them all out. An intense, top-of-the-pyramid red wine. If it cost half of what it does, I’d drink it most Sunday afternoons. At the present price, I’m going to have to save it for Christmas dinner.
Domaine Gauby Vieilles Vignes Vin de Pays des Cí´tes Catalanes Blanc 2005 ($55.95) is also all-organic and also gorgeous: soft, silky, and supple; not a hint of harshness (and what’s the grape?). It’s a lovely pre-(Christmas)-dinner wine, or a perfect foil for richly sauced seafood. This is one of those wonderful wines you want to pour for your wine-snob cousin who took a course in France last year; ask him to identify it.
The most amazing wine of this first Farmstead tasting has to be an Alsatian Pinot Gris, which will totally turn your head around about Pinot Gris of the past. Marc Tempé Schoenenbourg Pinot Gris 2001 ($62.95) will most likely be (a) the oldest PG you’ve tasted, and (b) the costliest. Here is rich, unctuous, huge, stunning fruit, making the wine taste and feel a lot like a late-harvest wine. It certainly is not a dinner wine as we know it, Jim—like, the choucroute probably couldn’t handle it—but it would make a sensational stand-alone or even after-dinner wine. You can feel the manifesto off the back label come to life: “delicious, hand-made, free of chemicals and pesticides, full of love”. It ranks high on my ever-evolving, decades-long list of the most amazing wines I’ve tasted. A cellar keeper, I’m sure it would maintain its luxuriant texture and taste for another five or six years.
Finally, Martin Arndorfer ChNb Die Leidenschaft 2005 ($69.95) tips the scales, dollarwise. The Ch refers to Chardonnay, but I don’t know what Nb references. It’s not nota bene; leidenschaft is German for “passion”. This is a magnificent white wine with a lovely light golden hue and soft, full fruit, plus a good edge of acidity; it’s very fresh and bright and easy to drink. Not so easy to own, maybe—seventy bucks? Strikes me that Tinhorn Creek does it for 20 or less. But give the ChNb its due—it’s one of the finest Austrian whites to cross my palate in decades.