Wine of the Week: Mining for hidden wine gems

Linda Elliott-Smith, left, checks her latest shipping records and regulations as her husband Patrick Elliott-Smith packs wine at their Elan Vineyards in Napa, Calif., Friday, Jan. 6, 2006. A lot has changed since the Supreme Court opened the door to shipping wine across state lines. But change hasn't been swift in an industry that sometimes seems as rich in red tape as it is red grapes. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg)

WASHINGTON — Once in a while you might try a wine and think, “Wow. This is awesome. I wonder where in the world I can find it?”

At least I do.

Then you go online and search high and low only to discover that the bottle in question is not available at any wine shop in the area. What’s a thirsty wine lover to do?

Well, with the easing of interstate shipping laws and new state regulations, it is now easier to have your favorite wines shipped directly from the winery to your doorstep.

But before I make a case for ordering wines directly from the winery, I always try first to find those special wines at my local wine shop. Even if the shop does not carry the wine, I will ask the shop to see if they can procure the wine for me. Sometimes they can, sometimes they can’t.

With the advent of the internet, many wineries in the U.S. have adopted a direct-to-consumer approach. That means that the winery will only sell its wines to customers who are either on their mailing/waiting list or to customers who contact the winery directly.

The winery may sell some of its wines to restaurants (also known as “on premise” sales), in order to get the wine exposure in certain marketplaces. This is what happened to me. I recently tried a wine in a restaurant, fell in love with it and had to have it. Turns out, it’s only sold online by the winery.

Until recently, consumers had little choice about how they purchased wines. For the most part, wine lovers were limited only to wines that local merchants carried. That all changed on May 16, 2005, when the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that states that permitted wineries to ship wine out of their jurisdiction must also allow wineries outside of the state to ship wines in.

Washington, D.C. has allowed residents to receive wine shipments for quite some time, and Virginia opened its boarders shortly before the high court’s ruling. Maryland was the lone holdout in the area.

But starting July 1, 2011, Maryland joined its neighbors, allowing wineries located outside of the state to ship up to 18 cases of wine per year to Maryland residents who are of legal drinking age. The Maryland bill excludes shipments from out-of-state retailers. Virginia allows up to two cases of wine or two cases of beer per month for your personal consumption and not for resale.

Of course, there is a price to pay when you have wine shipped to your doorstep. First, you have to pay the regular tax rate — collected by the winery — and then, of course, you have to pay for shipping. The latter can add anywhere between $1 and $10 per bottle to the price tag, depending on the method of shipment. And you never ever want to have your wines shipped when the weather is either too hot or too cold.

Lastly, many wines will need to settle down for a few days after receipt to recover from “bottle shock.”

I am usually in favor of developing a relationship with a local wine shop, which can have many ancillary benefits. For example, as your merchant gets to know you and your palate, he or she can offer suggestions that can broaden both your knowledge and your appreciation for different styles of wines. In addition, many wine shops will actually let you try a wine before you buy it. Or, at the very least, will include you on an email list that will alert you to in-store wine tastings, many featuring winemakers or producers.

While I do try to make a concerted effort to make sure that the wines I talk about on Wine of the Week are available in local wine shops throughout the area, sometimes there are wines that are simply worth the added expense and headache of having them arrive on your doorstep.

Here are a few of those wines:

This is the wine that inspired this article. Friends of friends started this winery a couple of years ago in Napa Valley, California and their 2015 Hard Six Seated Cloud Sauvignon Blanc will put them on the map. The fruit for this wine was whole-cluster pressed and then fermented and aged in 100 percent neutral French. The sharp edges of this wine are definitely tamed by the oak treatment, but it still remains crisp and dry and true to its varietal characteristics. Charming scents of gooseberry, white peaches, melon and lemon grass float up on the bouquet while flavors of melon, lychee and passion fruit dance on the tongue. Notes of ripe pear and bright citrus shine on the lingering finish. Only 329 cases produced. $35 plus shipping

Winemaker extraordinaire, Celia Welch — whose success with the California Cult wine Scarecrow has earned her a perfect score of 100 points from Robert Parker — has her own brand, called Corra, in Napa Valley, California. Her 2016 Corra Tail Feathers is an homage to her childhood in southern Oregon, from where the grapes for this wine are sourced. This white wine blend displays bright notes of jasmine, white pear, key lime, honeydew melon, wet straw, and lychee in a showy blend of engaging aromas. On the palate, the wine shows a dry, crisp, very fresh entry, with the bright lime zest and passion fruit dominating the primary impression, while the more subdued flavors of dried pineapple, wet rock, and fresh pear linger through the finish. $35 plus shipping

Sometimes the people you grow up with grow up to surprise you … like my best friend in high school, Blair Pence. While we went our separate ways after college, wine brought us back together — Blair, as a wine producer, and myself, as a wine writer. Go figure. But despite our childhood bonds, I can honestly say that Blair makes some pretty good juice. I am particularly fond of his 2016 Pence Ranch Rosé. The pinot noir fruit comes from the estate vineyards, which are organically farmed on clay soils. The grapes are harvested and the juice is bled off the skins in the saignée method. It is fermented in stainless steel tanks and then carefully racked clean to preserve its freshness and lightness. It is briefly aged in neutral wood to soften the edges even more. It features aromas of white cherry and tangy cranberry. Bright flavors of strawberry, red cherry and ripe peach coat the tongue. Its generous mouthfeel and crisp acidity make it a winner with grilled salmon and soft cheeses. $25 plus shipping

Goosecross Winery in Napa Valley is another secret that will not be secret for long. Its State Lane estate vineyards features millennial coastal deposits over a wash of river rock, interspersed with gravelly silt loams, which provides a moderately fertile growing environment for vines. That is the power behind the beautifully crafted 2012 Goosecross State Lane Cabernet Franc. The wine exudes concentrated aromas of rich red cherry pie, red currant and mocha scents. The lovely mouthfeel offers up a core of solid fruit, including dark plum, red cherry, dark raspberry and a touch of mocha. There is just the slightest hint of lavender and sage on the ultrafine tannin finish. $59 plus shipping


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