On Sunday, July 12, 2015, I had the great fortune of meeting the co-founder of Bliss Wine Imports, Alleah Friedrichs, along with some other wine writers, to taste some of the wines from the portfolio. I had met Alleah online through her mother, Christi Friedrichs, the owner of DripTeez and also a partner in Bliss. I fell in love with the wines and the journey of Bliss, so I asked about tasting the wines, and voilà, Alleah organized a tasting at Bisou Bistro. I knew I wanted to share Bliss, but how? In hearing Alleah speak at our tasting with such passion, I realized the story would be best told in her words, not mine. I decided on an email interview, followed by my tasting notes.
What was your defining “wine moment?”
Not sure exactly how to take this but here are a few things that pop to mind:
– First time I saw a winemaker “acidify” wine….he dumped a big bag of white tartaric acid in a vat of wine mixed it up and gave it to us to taste. This was like walking in on your parents having sex…you don’t quite know what you are seeing but you know you don’t like it.
– First time I tried googling the vineyards of wines sold at Trader Joe’s, I realized the majority of wines were untraceable and didn’t actually come from vineyards we assume they come from.
– First time I saw a wild vineyard that never had chemicals applied to it. It had a rustic beauty and was untamed. Bugs, flowers, rocks all over. I realized this is the kind of vineyard I want the wine I drink to come from.
Why wine importing?
I was working in the solar industry and saw my friend start importing goods and selling them on Amazon. I saw her take this from a side project to quitting her job and making a career out of importing. I thought it was genius. I contemplated it very much and was coincidently drinking copious amounts of wine while doing so. Out of thin air, wine importing popped into my head as the perfect thing for me. I always wanted my own business but couldn’t think of an idea. The second I thought of wine importing, I knew I would do it someday…maybe two years…maybe five years down the road. At that point, I didn’t realized I’d quit my job a year later and go full speed ahead. Best decision of my life and I am so happy.
How did you end up based in Napa as an import company?
Napa is where all the wine warehouses are! Well, they exist all around California and sporadically throughout the United States…but the best service and the most serious wine warehouses we found were in Napa.
Why did you choose the name Bliss?
Months after realized I wanted to import wine, I had decided to start the licensing process so when I was ready, I’d already be set up. In order to do so, I needed a name. My mother, partner, and I sat around the kitchen table to brainstorm. I said I wanted a name that sounded the way I feel when I drink wine. My mom thought of Bliss…and it was perfect. The word is round, flows, and feels good to think about.
How do you discover and select your wine producers?
Ahh haha…you want the secret? There are lots of ways and we have to kind of improv with each new country. First off, we find our wineries by actually traveling and going to these wine regions. We scour European wine blogs, get referrals, talk to local restaurant owners, network with winos that have traveled and have recommendations of wineries not yet in the United States. I’d say mostly we use improv sleuth tactics. One example is a friend in the US told us about an amazing restaurant he went to in Italy. We decided to go check out this teeny, tiny place. I emailed the owner ahead of time to make sure they were open because a lot of places close in November. He was going to be closing literally one day after we would get there. I also told him we were looking for small, local, off-the-beaten path wines from natural producers. We ate dinner at his place and he told us to come back at 8:30 in the morning. He brought us to this amazing winery that blew us away. It’s some pretty unusual wine that confused us because it was so weird, yet so delicious: a to-the-extreme, biodynamic winery with no-sulfite red and orange wine. That shipment will arrive in the next 6 weeks (I hope) and we are so excited.
How/where can we find your wines?
They are being served by the bottle and by the glass in restaurants like Sens Restaurant, Michael Mina, Bisou Bistro, Beso Bistronomia, Farmhouse Kitchen Thai Cuisine and soon some restaurants in the East Bay. We will be launching a wine member program as well and if someone is interested, they should check out our website or email me, alleahf (at) blisswineimports.com. I enjoy putting together custom cases for people. We have about 60 private clients in California for whom we already do this.
During the tasting, we were so fortunate to try the following wines from this portfolio. What I loved about these wines is that they are produced in the most natural way possible, the way I think wines should be made: handpicked fruit, rustic, unfiltered, and unfined. What you are drinking are the purest expressions of fruit and terroir from these vineyards and winemakers. You will notice that in parentheses beside each wine is a name. Bliss is on a first-name basis with the winemakers, so each wine is referenced by their names. As Alleah told us at the tasting, they envision Bliss as an extension of the farmer. Links to the wines are included for those that are available on the website. Below are my notes from the tasting.
Quinta do Cabeco, Arrojo 2013, Malvasia Fina/Rabigato/Viosinho, White, Douro, Portugal (José) ($17)
The fruit for this wine was handpicked, then fermented and aged in stainless steel for six months. It’s a great summer sipper, with aromas and flavors of tropical fruits and lime, coupled with good acidity and minerality. 12% ABV. 2500 cases produced.
Le Conte des Floris, Ares Blanc 2012, Marsanne/Carignan Blanc, White, Languedoc, France (Daniel) ($34)
My first blend with Carignan Blanc! The grapes were handpicked, then fermented and aged in in oak 1.5 years and in tank another six months, with malolactic fermentation, which gives it a rich, creamy mouthfeel. On the nose and palate, it’s super floral and tropical. 13.5% ABV. 3000 bottles (250 cases) produced.
Le Conte des Floris, Six Rats Noir 2012, Syrah/Grenache/Carignan, Red, Languedoc, France (Daniel) ($25) (sold out before a tech sheet could be produced)
The wine’s name, when pronounced aloud, is see-rah nwahr (Syrah Noir), a bit of French-speaking humor. This wine is unfiltered and unfined, and gives one a glimpse of its terroir in a glass: peppery and earthy, with blackberry, plum, and a tart cherry finish. 14% ABV.
Pago de Larrea, Verderon, Viura 2013, White, Rioja Alavesa, Spain (Luis) ($19; link is to the 2012 vintage)
The white Rioja was one of my favorites of the tasting. It’s fermented and aged in American oak for six months and possesses characteristic aromas and flavors of dill, herbs, and white peaches. Malolactic fermentation adds creaminess and a touch of coconut and vanilla. 13% ABV. 500 cases produced.
Pago de Larrea, Joven Tempranillo 2013, Red, Rioja Alavesa, Spain (Luis) ($17)
Affectionately nicknamed a “porch pounder” at our tasting, this Tempranillo is easy to drink. It’s light bodied, with low tannin and acid, but lots of juicy fruit flavors like cherry, raspberry, and pomegranate. Fermented and aged in stainless steel. 14% ABV. 3330 cases produced.
Quinta da Zaralhoa, Colheita 2010, Touriga Nacional, Touriga Franca, Tinta Roriz (tempranillo), Tinta Barroca, Douro Superior, Portugal (Luis) ($45)
This wine is a beautiful, complex gem originating from steep-sloped vineyards in Douro. Fermented and aged in 100% new French oak for two years (five different toast levels) and one year in bottle, with maximum color and fruit extraction, it exhibits aromas and flavors of black fruits, chocolate, and spice and soft tannins. 13.5% ABV. 1000 cases produced.
Quinta da Boavista, Terras de Tavares Reserva 2003, Jaen/Touriga Nacional, Dão, Portugal (João) ($45)
Bliss discovered this wine in João’s cellar, where it had been aging for 11 years: two years in neutral oak and nine years in the bottle. What a find! The production process included no-till farmed fruit and non-temperature controlled fermentation. Unfiltered and unfined, it’s reminiscent of Southern Rhône, a mélange of cooked cherry and chocolate on the palate, firm tannins, and rustic minerality. Decanting recommended. 13.5% ABV. 8000 bottles produced.
Bodegas Tritium, 97 yr. Old Vine Tempranillo 2012, Rioja Alta, Spain (Francisco) ($45)
Last, but certainly not least, is this Tempranillo, whose old vines yield low-production, concentrated fruit. Unfiltered, unfined, and aged 15 months in oak, this wine smells and tastes of ripe cherries, fresh raspberries, and spice, with a nice balance of acidity and tannins. 15% ABV. 800 cases produced.
I think it goes without saying that this tasting was a defining moment in my wine writing tenure to date. Thank you, Alleah, for giving me the opportunity to taste and write about Bliss Wine Imports and your wines. Everything about the approach to importing – meeting the producers face to face, handpicking the wines, and connecting the consumer with the winemakers – appeals to me. The wines capture a sense of time and place in a bottle. Those of us who participated in the tasting quickly realized we were tasting the future of wine importing and it sure is blissful.