Over the past five years, Jean Foillard’s Beaujolais, specifically the Côte du Py bottling from Morgon, quietly turned into the Where’s Waldo of wine lists all over the place. If you looked closely enough, it was there, and still is—a knowing wink from the sommelier, as if to say, “I got you.”
That a single wine from a small producer could be so pervasive is remarkable. Foillard has a 20-acre plot on Morgon’s Côte du Py and his importer, Kermit Lynch, only brings in about 500 cases each year. That’s a mere 6,000 bottles for the entire country. The math is perplexing, but even more astonishing is how a single wine became a calling card for so many sommeliers looking to telegraph a point of view—one that favors small-production over mass, classic over modern.
Foillard’s universal presence has not shrunk by any stretch, but it’s recently been joined by a slew of similarly coveted wines for those who purport to know what’s what. But who are these new touchstone producers among the country’s most progressive wine lists? I looked at dozens of wine lists from restaurants that are considered smart places to drink smart wines, from Drifters Wife in Portland, Maine, to Bufalina in Austin to Stems & Skins in Charleston to Prime Meats in New York. In these mostly short-form lists (the phone book wine list has been outmoded for a while now), it’s not hard to identify a hit-list of the who’s who of wine cool.
Unsurprisingly, France (and, more specifically, the Loire, Champagne and the Rhône) dominates, with a few beacons from Italy, Spain, Germany, Austria and some bright lights in the U.S. Below are the names that surface most frequently.
Domaine Romaneaux-Destezet (Hervé Souhaut)
It’s no wonder Hervé Souhaut, who created Domaine Romaneaux-Destezet in 1993, has become a sommelier darling. He makes perfumed, approachable old-vine syrahs from the northern Rhône (St.-Joseph, in particular) and happy gamay from the northern Ardèche. “As a lover of northern Rhône and Beaujolais, I loved ’em immediately,” says Steven Dilley of Bufalina. “They’re semi-carbonic, but not in an annoying, bubblegum way; it’s more of an ‘I-can-easily-finish-this-bottle’ thing.” Souhaut’s wines have been in the States since 2002, but over the past few years that they’ve started to sell out on arrival.
The biodynamic wines of Dominique Belluard showed up in the U.S. a few years ago—at first, quietly. But over the last year and a half, his full-flavored and intensely mineral still and sparkling wines have become as coveted here as they are in Paris’ wine-forward bistros. For many sommeliers and wine lovers, Belluard’s wines—particularly his work with the rare gringet grape—have come to represent the under-heralded potential of France’s alpine Savoie region.
“I’ll admit to being a follower rather than a leader here,” says John Herbstritt, wine director at San Francisco’s Mister Jiu’s. “I wanted Savart because I knew that people would be excited to see it on the list.” Frédéric Savart’s wines came onto the U.S. scene well after grower Champagne had hit its stride, offering a reminder that stones still remain unturned there. A third-generation winemaker, Savart farms a mere ten acres of mostly pinot noir on two premier cru sites in the villages of Ecueil and Villers-aux-Noeuds, in Montagne de Reims. His entry-level L’Ouverture has become a go-to for value among sommeliers and retailers alike, while his even smaller production bottlings—like the vintage L’Année and non-vintage Bulle de Rosé—have also become regular staples. Savart adds a percentage of reserve wine from previous vintages to a number of his cuvées, giving the wines a little bit of weight and the impression of age without needing tons of cellar time—ideal in a restaurant setting.
Considering he’s not yet 30, and only has five vintages under his belt, winemaker Yann Bertrand has made quite an impression. His tiny production Beaujolais, mostly from old vines on his family’s farm in Fleurie, are now in restaurants and shops in a handful of cities around the country. How did they become so coveted so quickly? Joshua Adler of Paris Wine Co., Bertrand’s importer, traces its California popularity to an Instagram photo posted by winemaker and former sommelier Rajat Parr a couple years back. Unfortunately, nature hasn’t been so generous in the past couple years; whereas Adler was able to bring in 500 cases (of the 1,800 produced) of the 2015 vintage, Bertrand was only able to produce 500 cases in 2016 because of the terrible hail that befell his vineyards.
“When I first had this chenin, I was like, ‘Holy shit! This is everything I want in a wine! It’s easy to drink, pleasurable, pure and very honest,” says John Paterson of Prime Meats. Amidst a renewed interest in chenin blanc, Guiberteau has become a cult star (complete with hashtag) for concentrated, tightly wound, dry chenins “of punk rock violence,” as his importer describes them. His basic Saumur Blanc, which accounts for a quarter of his production, appears most frequently on wine lists, but the more limited-production bottlings, specifically Les Moulins, are also regular sightings.
Since 2006, Matthew Rorick has been purchasing small allotments of obscure varieties (verdelho, trousseau, mondeuse, etc.) from largely unknown California appellations in the Sierra Foothills to make his signature bottlings. This renegade style of winemaking has resonated with sommeliers across the country. “He has managed to create fruit-forward yet balanced and nuanced wines out of varieties that, in a less-skilled person’s hands, would be anodyne,” says Herbstritt. Because the quantity of each bottling is so limited, there’s great diversity in what appears on wine lists. Herbstritt showcases the Kerrigans Albariño at Mister Jiu’s, while Bread & Butterfly in Atlanta, Georgia, offers the Nacré Semillon and Jon & Vinny’s in LA highlights Sihaya Ribolla.
Domaine de l’Ecu
“One of my qualms about most Muscadet is that they can be kind of thin—a little minerality, a little acidity and not much else,” say Paterson. “But Fred [Niger’s] wines [are] complex and intense while also being extremely quaffable.” Niger Van Herck is a relatively new addition to the winemaking scene in Muscadet. In 2009, he took over the domaine from a beloved producer in the region, Guy Bossard, whose family had made Muscadet for five generations. Bossard had always focused on the distinct terroirs of his vineyards and Niger carries that tradition on in his single-soil bottlings, which he labels Granite, Gneiss and Orthogneiss.
Florian Lauer has been running his family’s estate in Germany’s Saar region since 2005, producing rieslings that are neither fully dry nor fully sweet, a result of natural fermentation (when they’re done, they’re done). “For me, with Lauer, it boils down to purity, transparency and acid,” says Matty Colston, sommelier at Chicago’s Parachute. “I’ll taste a wine from Lauer and all of those facets multiply.” His entry-level Barrel X bottling is the most common sighting on lists, but his dry Grosses Gewächs Fass-numbered bottles (which denote not only the vineyard, but the number assigned to the single barrel the wine’s been aged in), are worth the splurge—if you can find them. According to his importer, Stephen Bitterolf of Vom Boden, only 20 cases of each bottling made it to the U.S. this year.
The Roagna family has been making wine in Piedmont’s Barbaresco region for nearly 150 years, and in neighboring Barolo since the 1940s. While the wines have been beloved for a long while now, Luca Roagna, the current winemaker, has propelled the estate to a new level of sommelier adoration. The wines are undoubtedly traditional, but still a bit more approachable in their youth—a huge boon when it comes to the often unruly nebbiolo. While the prices of Barolo and Barbaresco continue to climb to astronomical heights, Roagna’s wines remain outstanding values. His Dolcetto and Langhe Rosso are mainstays, but it’s Roagna’s high-end Barbaresco Pajè that has become the most sought after among sommeliers.
Envínate is the project of four winemakers (and farmers) with a communal agenda: to make wine from extremely idiosyncratic vineyards up and down the Atlantic coast of Spain. This terroir-driven group works with older vines planted in a number of different soil types in places like Ribeira Sacra and the Canary Islands, exploring what can come of grapes that are truly exposed to the elements. What’s emerged is a diverse line up of wines—all fermented with native yeasts and farmed organically—that have struck up an avid curiosity in wine buyers. A number of the sommeliers with Envínate on their lists offer a couple selections from different regions for comparison’s sake, but it’s the red wines from the Canary Islands that have been of particular interest, reminding some of Beaujolais, with a bit more grip.