2013 Albatross Ridge, Chardonnay, Estate, Carmel Valley, Monterey County.
The brilliantly clear and elegant Estate Chardonnay by Albatross Ridge shows crisp detail and subtle richness highlighting the cool marine influence and chalky/rocky of the hillside soils. Garrett Bowlus is emerging as one of Monterey’s best young winemakers crafting exciting and delicately natured wines from his Albatross Ridge Estate near the Los Laureles Grade in Carmel Valley, especially his Pinot Noirs, which are gorgeous and full of energy, but you don’t want to overlook his Chardonnay either. This 2013 Estate Chardonnay is medium bodied, but full of flavor and layers with a distinct wet stone core and a loam/chalky element along with classic apple, pear and lemon curd as well as clove spice, vanilla/butterscotch and golden fig. The main take away here is that it never feels heavy or dull in style or feel and that is has a less fruity/creamy presence and more of a Chablis briskness and a cool gravelly almost savory side. Best to enjoy this fresh and lively Chardonnay with seafood cuisine and or creamy expressive cheeses, drink over the next year or so.
($45 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2016 Waxwing, Rosé of Pinot Noir “Blair Vineyard” Arroyo Seco, Monterey County.
Scott Sisemore’s Waxwing Wines just released an impressive set of new wines and it looks like this small handcrafted selection of offerings look like the best yet from Waxwing, especially noteworthy is the delicately pale orange/pink hued 2016 Waxwing Rosé of Pinot Noir from Blair Vineyard in Arroyo Seco. Sisemore tweaked his Rosé this year and it is really a serious effort, with the 2016 vintage he fermented whole cluster (pressed in stainless steel) then stirred the lees (weekly) vigorously (batonage) in neutral French Barrel for 3 months to add viscosity and mouth feel to this bright and vibrant Rosé. The 2016 Waxwing Rosé is all from Pommard clone 4 and there is a bit of Burgundy or Marsannay style going on here, it is dry and crisp, but with excellent mouth feel and texture showing ruby grapefruit, summer watermelon, sour cherry and strawberry fruits along with steely mineral, chalky stones, rosewater, bitter herb and orange zest. The cool nights and ocean influence add to bright acidity and vitality in this intriguing Rosé, the alluvial soils which are gravelly, sandy and silty which adds to the earthy notes and saline elements, giving a unique almost terroir driven character, making for a classy pink. There was only 2 barrels made and Waxwing has about 40 cases available, mostly sold through their website, and be sure to check out Waxwing’s new A la Volee Sparkling Riesling from Tondre Grapefield in the Santa Lucia Highlands as well as his Syrah and Pinot Noir.
($20 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2016 Sheldon Wines, Tempranillo, Springloaded Monkeypaw, Luc’s Vineyard, Sonoma Coast.
The latest from Sheldon Wines is a wildly geeky wine that is both a joy to drink and a total mind freak, it’s a carbonic Tempranillo that is wonderfully fruity, but vibrant and serious, the best way to describe it is to say it’s like a Fleurie meets unoaked Rioja! The 2016 Sheldon Springloaded Monkeypaw, a tribute to a close friend of the winemaker’s Dylan & Tobe Sheldon, Chris Wright, who sadly passed away last year at 41, it’s also where the name comes from, as Springloaded Monkeypaw was a song that Dylan and Chris wrote one crazy late night and recorded on old flip phones. The Tempranillo was fermented whole cluster, carbonic and aged without ML (malolactic) in stainless, kind of brave type of Nouveau style hybrid. While fruity, the crisp acidic edge keeps things vigorous and fresh, it gets off to a beautiful start with a lovely lilac and wild flower perfume that is quite heady along with blueberry compote, candied black cherry, boysenberry/strawberry jam, cinnamon spice and sweet and savory minty/salty licorice. This deeply colored red is purple/blued edged ruby and opens to a medium bodied wine with a lot of inner energy and light mineral tones and very low alcohol at 11.7% that adds to the lighter lively feel, though it does have a nice layered mouth feel in this intriguing and expressive Tempranillo. Only 24 cases were made of this stuff, it’s definitely a wine geek wine, with proceeds going cancer research it is in support of a great cause! It is really fun in a Cru Beaujolais way, available only through Sheldon Wines, drink on the quicker side, like now!
($41 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2011 Donatella Cinelli Colombini, Brunello di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy.
The 2011 Donatella Cinelli Colombini Brunello is a really charming wine, full and lavish with pure Sangiovese character, and it’s drinking great right now. A warm vintage and with ripe flavors makes for a pleasing experience and the Colombini is plush and showing wonderful style and density with racy red fruits, sweet spices, mineral tones and sexy mouth feel. Donatella Cinelli Colombini is a small high-end estate in the heart of Montalcino, with the Brunello coming from their Casato Prime Donne estate grown in 6 small plots around the old castello, the Brunello DOCG is aged 2 years in oak cask and 3 years in bottle before release. While 2011 isn’t regarded as a great vintage, it drinks wonderfully and certainly this Colombini will surprise many with it’s quality and flair, I wouldn’t pass up a chance to enjoy this beautiful Brunello. The 2011 Donatella Cinelli Colombini Brunello di Montalcino DOCG starts with pretty details including a light floral note, a hint of smoky wood, dark berries and a mineral element leading to a round palate of sweet cherry, black licorice, tangy currant, wild plum, cedar along with tobacco leaf, baking spices plus a touch savory earthiness. Quite lengthy and lingering this deeply colored garnet/ruby Brunello offers a clear and modern feel, nicely impressive, drink from 2017 to 2021.
($74 Est.) 93+ Points, grapelive
2015 Ridge Vineyards, Geyserville Proprietary Red “50th Vintage” Alexander Valley.
Ridge’s 50th Vintage of Geyserville is an absolute killer wine, one of the best young Geyserville(s) I’ve ever had and it should only get better with age, due out soon it is a not to miss wine! The new Geyserville is a blend of mostly old vine Zinfandel along with parts Carignane, Petite Sirah and a bit of Alicante Bouschet and is aged in mainly seasoned American oak with a ripe, but not over ripe 14.5% alcohol making the 2015 Ridge Vineyards Geyserville Zin blend a rich and deep wine with lush and vibrant flavors. The 50th Vintage (Ridge Geyserville) starts with a bramble red berry and cassis note along with light floral tones, earth/loam and cedary spice in a garnet/purple hued wine, opening in the mouth to a dense and lively palate that flows with black raspberry, plum, olallieberry and currant compote fruits along with briar, anise, cinnamon and dried vanilla. There is a sense of flair and lavish elements, but there is a brilliant focus and even though this is a full bodied and hedonistic wine, the tannins provide structure and balance, this is an impressive Geyserville and it really stands out as an exceptional Zinfandel and world class wine. Drinking this remarkable Geyserville will be a pleasure from day one, but will last 20 plus years, it’s a classic from Ridge, you’ll want this no question.
($40 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2015 Domaine Frederic Esmonin, Pernand-Vergelesses “Les Boutieres” Red Burgundy, France.
It was a wonderful experience to see Frederic Esmonin (at the Atherton Wine Imports tasting in San Francisco Feb. 27, 2017) and taste his latest wines, the 2015 vintage across the board was a fantastic set of wines from this Domaine, they will be very limited as the crop was tiny in comparison to a normal vintages, so I suggest you get your orders in quick for these lovely wines! The 2015 Esmonin Red Burgundies are fine efforts, some of the best young wines I’ve ever tasted from this winery, from the very top cuvees to some of the most basic cuvees, you can’t go wrong here, especially the 2015 Frederic Esmonin Pernard-Vergelesses “Les Boutieres” which offers great depth and substance with beautiful Pinot fruit and terroir detail all at a truly remarkable price. Other great wines in the Esmonin lineup include his Gevrey-Chambertin(s) and in particular his Grand Cru(s) Mazy-Chambertin and Ruchottes-Chambertin all of which are very serious wines that are gorgeous in flavors and textures. The “Les Boutieres” Pernand-Vergelesses 2015 is lightly perfumed with dark fruits, crushed violets/rose and opens to a medium bodied wine of layered classic flavors of black cherry, plum and tangy currant with mineral notes, cinnamon, cedar, faint sweet smoke, earthy loam and licorice. This wine danced on the palate with vibrancy and life along with fine satiny tannins and subtle juicy acidity, this is a little jewel and a seductive Burgundy, it will drink nicely on day one and certainly over the next decade, don’t miss this one!
($30 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2015 Piero Benevelli, Langhe Freisa “Alla Mia Gioia” Piedmonte, Italy.
Freisa is a very interesting and rare grape, similar to Schiava and or Trousseau with wonderful delicacy and bright flavors and like Ruche was a varietal that almost was lost, which is now making a come back in Piedmonte with a few exceptional examples available, like G.D. Vajra and now this one from Massimo Benevelli. The Langhe Freisa is all stainless steel fermented and aged, it’s fresh and easy, but has terroir character, it was grown on sandy/limestone on 25 year old vines, and with a warm year that adds a bit more flair and substance. While not as monumental as the Vajra, the Benevelli Freisa is a great value offering and delivers great purity and is very delightful with excellent freshness, almost zingy, but ripe and fruity in detail showing classic strawberry, tart cherry and plum fruits along with subtle mineral, faint rose petal, anise and frambroise notes. Lovely light to medium body, silky textures help this ruby/red hued Freisa perform with joyous harmony and elegance, it is a seriously fun wine that will please the senses and it’s graceful nature make it a great choice with lighter fare, especially nice with cured meats and melon, cheeses and wild mushroom dishes, as well as poultry and pork. Best when served a bit cooler than more hearty reds Benevelli’s lovely Freisa, imported by Kermit Lynch, deserves praise for it’s quality and style, it highlights the vintage, the place and grape to near perfection, drink now and often. Benevelli makes a surperb set of wines, be sure to check out the Dolcetto and in particular their stellar and value priced Barolo Ravera di Monforte Cru, with the 2012 being a top choice.
($18 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2015 Tenuta delle Terre Nere, Etna Bianco, Calderara Sottana, Sicily, Italy.
The wonderfully brilliant and deep Carricante “Calderara” from Terre Nere is an absolute thrill with gorgeous detail, spice and earthy/mineral layers with exotic fruit and beautiful texture. This Etna Bianco comes from a single plot of vines that were planted in 1956 on the lava based soils which gives a slightly smoky and flinty edge to this wine. The palate is full and mouth feeling without being heavy, showing bright lemon/lime, dried ginger, pineapple and apricot/peach fleshiness along with delicate white flowers, passionfruit and earthy melon. Medium weight and lively throughout this Terre Nere performs exceptionally well from start to finish with sublime focus, the balance between lush and vibrant is spot on and while not cheap it delivers world class style and substance. I think this Tenuta delle Terre Nere Calderara Sottana is the best white I’ve ever had from this winery and I highly recommend it to the volcano freaks out there, and to all that love intriguing whites, drink this fascinating Etna Bianco from 2017 to 2022.
($42 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2012 Paolo Conterno, Barolo “Riva del Bric” Piedmonte, Italy.
These 2012 Barolo wines didn’t get much hype and now we are hearing about how good the 2013 vintage is, but they are really lovely wines and this Paolo Conterno 2012 Riva del Bric is a beauty that can be drunk young and fresh, though it has enough structure and class to age well too, it’s a pure and joyous Nebbiolo and a solid value. While the 2013 certainly has a bigger form and earthy depth with heightened tannins, this 2012 feels more delicate in comparison, but really fills out nicely on the palate and has more juicy/fruity openness with decedent red fruits, smooth/satiny mouth feel and lingering detail. The Paolo Conterno founded in 1888 in Monforte d’Alba above the famed Ginestra Cru, one of Barolo’s best sites set on calcareous and clay soils with near perfect slope and exposure, they are clear and persistent wines with an old school feel, the two main wines include an old vine top Ginestra, as well as this sub site Riva del Bric that comes from a small parcel in the Ginestra Cru, which usually considered their basic or entry level Barolo, though always a wine worth searching for especially in fine years. The 2012 Riva del Bric starts with a mix of dried and fresh rose petals, amaro/herb, balsamic dipped strawberry, dark cherries, plum and brisk currant along with saline, anise, backing spices, earthy/stony notes and kirsch/liqueur. This is pretty stuff, if you are looking for a solid under $50 Barolo this one would not be a bad choice, maybe just behind the 2012 offerings from Giovanni Rosso, Oddero and G.V. Varja, but within a point or two and it does not disappoint, drink over the next 3 to 5 years.
($49 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2016 Matthiasson, Rosé, California.
The new Matthiasson Rosé is a crisp, refreshing and delicate pink that delivers a subtle flow of fruit, spice and mineral notes with brisk flavors and a very dry profile, very much in keeping with Steve Matthiasson’s elegant style. With air this lovely Roségains depth and intrigue with vibrant grapefruit, strawberry, spiced/sour cherry and watermelon as well as bitter herb, pepper and wet stones. Matthiasson crafted an interesting pink for the 2016 vintage from a range of varietals including about 46% Grenache, mostly from McDowell Valley in Mendocino, 27% Syrah from plots in the Napa Valley and Dunnigan Hills, 14% Mourvedre coming also from Dunnigan Hills, 7% Sauvignon Blanc from Ryan’s Vineyard in Napa Valley and 6% Counoise, all which add complexity here, also the low alcohol at 11.3% helps add to the refreshing nature in this wonderful California Rosé. This bright and tangy wine is a fine example and expression that is lighter in fruitiness and all the better for it, it’s a great celebration of Spring and Summer, don’t wait though, as this Rosé has a serious following that buy it up like candy, it sells out fast! The Matthiasson wines are beautiful and unique offering a great alternative to the mainstream, especially this Rosé, drink now.
($26 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive