Finding a bottle of bubbly that you can pop open with abandon any night of the week—that pairs with a wide range of food but is just as transporting on its own, and that is so pleasurable it tastes like it costs more than it actually does—is cause for celebration.
The Evening Land Seven Springs Pétillant Naturel 2019 is a sparkling Pinot Noir produced from grapes that were harvested early in the Eola-Amity Hills AVA of Oregon’s Willamette Valley. The team behind Evening Land—Rajat Parr and Sashi Moorman—place a serious focus on respecting the land, and converted the viticulture at Seven Springs to biodynamics in 2007. It’s also LIVE certified (Low Impact Viticulture and Enology) and dry-farmed. The result is a line-up of wines that is profoundly expressive and deeply honest. I’ll be discussing Evening Land’s Pinot Noir and Chardonnay in an upcoming piece on the wines of the Eola-Amity Hills, but for now, my recommendation is to seek out these wines immediately.
As for this particular bottling, it proves that pét-nat has the potential to be as layered as it is joyous. The 2019 leaps from the glass with strawberries and distinct yeastiness, with notes of sweet clotted cream, peaches, red-berry fruit, and candied rose petals, all of it electrically energetic. Sweet spice is hinted at, too, and the balance of fruit and subtle savory notes make it dangerously easy to finish the bottle in one sitting. It’s proof that the méthode ancestrale, the process by which the fermentation is allowed to finish in the sealed bottle, resulting in a delicate bead of bubbles, can achieve levels of complexity and flat-out lovability that it’s often criticized for lacking. When pét-nats are done right, in other words—like this gem—they can be terrific. And at $35, it’s a serious deal, too.
My red Wine of the Week is the Viña Ardanza Rioja Reserva 2015 from the iconic La Rioja Alta, S.A, which was founded in 1890 and continues to produce benchmark wines from Spain’s most famous region. This particular one showcases what makes the Reserva category so interesting: Its fruit is still present though the transition to more mature characteristics is clearly underway, and the balance between the generous and lively alongside more savory notes is fascinating.
The 2015 is a blend dominated by 78% Tempranillo, which was grown in their Montecillo and Cuesta vineyards and benefits from 30 years of vine age. After fermentation, the wine was aged in used American oak for three years. The remaining 22% of the blend is Garnacha from their La Pedriza estate, which spent 30 months in American oak. The finished composition was finally bottled in the autumn of 2019, and the result is excellent…and an excellent value, too, as Rioja tends to be.
A bright nose is still anchored by a core of oak spice that is fully integrated at this point, and the combination of black raspberries, brambly berries, flowers, Turkish coffee, and charred vanilla pod is very appealing. On the palate, this wine is at that point in its evolution where the fruit of its youth is transitioning to more savory flavors, yet it’s still generous and ripe. Brandied cherries are balanced by tobacco, purple and red plums find a counterpoint in cinnamon and allspice, and all of it is tugged along by notes of licorice and scorched earth.
Finally, I also recommend the Manatawny Still Works El Murciélago Whiskey Aged in Tequila Barrels. This is the latest small-batch release from the always forward-thinking distillery in Pottstown, Pennsylvania, and a deeply successful one at that. Over the years, they’ve crafted a wide range of spirits that have occasionally challenged received wisdom, but that, as a result of their excellent base spirits, and the sense of balance and judiciousness they bring to their aging and blending, are reliably excellent. Their seventh anniversary set of two single malt peated whiskeys, for example, each in a 375ml bottle and each aged in different barrels, is a perfect example. The surprisingly delicate, stone fruit- and honeysuckle-driven Batch 21a spent four years in heavily charred, third use honeycomb Minnesota oak barrels; and the dense, smoky Batch 21b, with its aromas reminiscent of mesquite and slow-smoked meats, reposed for 18 months in new American oak followed by a further 33 months in French oak that had previously held white wine. Each on its own is excellent. Experienced side by side, they are the whiskey equivalent of an advanced degree.
This one, El Murciélago, which means “the bat” in Spanish, is composed of 40% malt, 39% wheat, 17% oats, and 4% rye that was aged for 21 months in ex-bourbon barrels that previously held tequila. The result is a youthful spirit that remains light in texture and full of energy, and that rises from the glass with effusive aromas of pears, apples, stone fruit pits, and flowers. The pear notes follow through to the palate, where they’re joined by a subtle sense of spice and something quietly herbaceous, almost minty, that lends real freshness to the sweet and gently spicy finish. As a side note, it’s called “the bat,” according to the brand, “to pay homage to the Mexican long-nosed bat responsible for pollinating agave plants.” $2 from each bottle sold benefits PA Bat Rescue. It’s a good cause, and a delicious whiskey. Win-win.