August’s Shamrock Selections

Shamrock Selections is a monthly subscription service that brings you the best wines from around the world. Each month’s selection is carefully chosen by sommelier Keegan Sparks and his team. He keeps a keen eye out for wines that are unique, rare, and new to our market. Shamrock Selections is ideal for enthusiasts and explorers who delight in finding hidden gems and trying new, exclusive vintages. Each month, you can join us on a journey of sampling and learning about some of the greatest wines in the world. Each selection of wine comes with detailed tasting notes and food pairing suggestions from our team.

By now, you’re well accustomed to the idea that Keegan and I try to structure each month’s selections around a central theme, and this month that theme is “exploration.” When explaining Shamrock Selections to potential members, I always want to reinforce that our goal is to nudge our members out of their wine comfort zones. Think you don’t like chardonnay? Wait till you try 1er cru Chablis. Think Barolo isn’t every bit as good as cabernet? Let this Vietti Castiglione change your mind. Keegan and I are always on the lookout for ways in which to show you something as fresh, new, and exciting as we can, but sometimes, that means pushing ourselves outside of our own respective wine drinking bubbles. With that being said, I hope you enjoy these wines for the sense of adventure that they instilled in us.

2015 Lioco Lolonis Vineyard Valdiguie, Redwood Valley California

I’ve been a fan of Lioco for several years now, snagging a few bottles of their wines when I would find them in cities like Memphis, New Orleans, or Dallas. When they finally began distribution to Arkansas in April, I knew that at least one of their wines would make it into your hands.

Kevin O’Connor and Matt Licklider founded Lioco in 2005, fusing their last names into a portmanteau for the winery’s name. They were tired of the rich, over-extracted wines that had become commonplace in California in late 1990’s and wanted to make nuanced and balanced wines that were inspired by the French wines they had first fallen in love with.

Unlike many other wineries, Lioco doesn’t own massive vineyards nor do they produce an “estate” wine. Instead, Lioco fosters long terms relationships with grape farmers to use fruit from some of northern California’s best vineyards. The Lolonis vineyard, from which this valdiguie is harvested, is located in the Redwood Valley AVA in Mendocino County, approximately two hours north of Sonoma Valley. The vineyard is farmed by Athans Poulos and his wife Denise, and while they grow chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, carignan (which we also carry), it’s their valdiguie that’s my personal favorite.

The story of valdiguie (VAL-dee-gay), like that of many obscure grapes, is one of mistaken identity. In France, the grape never gained popularity outside its native Languedoc-Roussillon region. It was often grown under the name Gros Auxerrois and was typically blended into other local wines to increase color and aroma. In California however, the grape, under the name “Napa Gamay” gained modest popularity in the mid 20th century. The grape itself has no real relation to gamay, the grape grown in Beaujolais, but its light-bodied style and heady aromas made for resemblance enough in an age before genetic testing. It wasn’t until 1980 that “Napa Gamay” was found out to be valdiguie, and regulations were set in place that forced all wineries to use the name valdiguie on labels starting in 2007. In the intervening years as cabernet sauvignon and pinot noir became more popular, wineries began ripping out their decades-old valdiguie vines to plant grapes that would be more profitable. As a result, only a handful of valdiguie vineyards remain in California, with the Lolonis vineyard having some of the oldest know vines (some planted as far back as 1945).

The wine itself a dark, inky purple in the glass. This is definitely a wine that will stain your teeth. In the glass, there’s an explosion of blue and purple aromas. Imagine crashing a truck full of blueberries into a field of violets. On the palate, there are still those opulent fruit flavors, blueberry, fig, blackberry, but there’s also an undercurrent of freshly smoked cigar and worn leather. For food pairings, I think you’ve got almost the entire world at your fingertips. I’ve had this wine several times, each with a different meals: roast beef, grilled chicken, and vegetarian lasagna.

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2013 Circle T Winery Rock House Red, Ozark Mountains Arkansas

No, that’s not a typo, this wine really is from Arkansas. Charleston, Arkansas to be exact. Winemaker John Trickett and his Circle T winery are something of a legend in local wine circles. In the spring I got to meet him, tour his winery, and taste the first and only wine he ever made: the Rock House Red. Made entirely of syrah, John sought to imitate the wines he loved from France’s northern Rhone Valley and to do it, he used the only land available: his family’s homestead from the 1800’s.

My meeting with John turned into a profile for the July issue of Arkansas Life magazine. You can read the feature here, and I hope that you’ll take the time to do so. John’s story is a magical one and emblematic of the love and passion that so many winemakers put into their wines. Sometimes we think so much about what to do with a bottle of wine once we open it that we forget that it was made by someone for whom it was their life’s work.

Instead of writing more about the wine (surely one article is enough), I asked John if he might say a few words:

The Arkansas Life article Seth wrote about Circle T and its wine took a while for me to read. I asked a friend or two to go through it first—call it the journalistic equivalent of sending a younger sibling into a closet to prove shutting the door makes the light go out.

One I did read it, I was at once amused, confused, humbled and grateful. The first two impressions came from his framing me as an isolated museum-dwelling curmudgeon shrouded in mystery. I had no idea who he was talking about until the aforementioned friends confirmed his journalistic integrity. The humility and gratitude rose from the praise he gave to Circle T’s wine. As for that, I make it a practice to never argue with writers.

When I planted Syrah at Circle T years ago, I picked the grape variety and the site because of the elevation, the exposure to the sun and the drainage. I didn’t realize until later that the vineyard was on the homesteaded parcel where my ancestors stopped going west from Virginia before the Civil War. It could be they stopped because they liked the views. Frankly, so do I about 160 years later. I love Circle T and I’m grateful to them, too, for choosing to stop there. I hope that I am a worthy custodian of our family’s land.

My goal was simple when those vines went into the ground: Grow Syrah grapes to make wine I wanted to drink. Rock House Red is that wine and I do enjoy it (particularly with my Serrano ham/mushroom risotto).

Reflecting once more on Seth’s article, I must say he is a lively and passionate writer on wine and on a very important point he quoted me accurately: Rock House Red needs a good bit of air before you drink it. There’s a lot of Circle T—and me—in that bottle and both of us are a little shy. Decant it or at least give it a few extra swirls in your glass. I hope you’ll agree that your patience will have been rewarded.

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