Grapelive: Wine of the Day October 26, 2020

Latest Reviews

2018 Martha Stoumen, Nero d’Avola, Mendocino County.
The latest Nero d’Avola release from Martha Stoumen is simply gorgeous and highlights the rise in Italian varietals, which once struggled to gain traction and never seemed to live up to their promise or the the classic version in the old country, but that has really changed in recent years with many stunning versions of Italian grapes have emerged, including this one. Just this week I tried Ryme’s outrageously good Aglianico and this stunning Nero d’Avola, both of which are just thrilling red wines that marry our terroir and California’s wonderful warm ripe personality with the grapes true varietal character, with Martha’s Nero delivering a beautiful deep color, layered black and red fruits, mineral and spice notes all in a sublime textural wine that fills the palate with expansive, but clearly detailed flavors. Martha Stoumen maybe the only person with such hands on experience with Nero d’Avola, both in its homeland, when she interned at COS winery in Vittoria Sicily and here in California, where she has vines works with in Mendocino, the Benson Ranch in Ukiah, Chiarito Vineyard, also in Ukiah and the Fox Hill Vineyard, on the Talmage Bench, a vineyard that has championed Italian varietals for over 30 years. Her time working with Giusto Occhipinti at COS helped form her only natural style of winemaking and gave her insight on this grape and how best to unlock its true potential, which this 2018 vintage shows, it’s a brilliant effort and charms with a slight rustic and earthy edginess, while still remarkably poised in the glass. The 2018 Nero d’Avola starts with a mix of crushed berries, an array of florals, dried herbs and that inviting dark inky garnet hue before revealing black raspberry, spiced plum, earthy blueberry and morello cherry fruits along with touches of leather, minty anise, cocoa powder, blood orange and a hint of cedar. There is a zesty underpinning of natural acidity and fine grained, almost sweet tannin that makes this wine’s structure so compelling and its form gives Martha’s Nero d’Avola a nice flexibility with cuisine choices, in fact it gets even better with hearty dishes. This vintage, as Stoumen’s tech sheet shows, comes from a blend of three organically farmed vineyards, mentioned above, 63% sourced at Benson Ranch Vineyard, Ukiah, Mendocino County, a 14 year old dry farmed (no irrigation) set of vines, on gravelly loam soils then 25% from Fox Hill Vineyard, Talmage Bench, Mendocino County, these are 33 year old vines (as far as Martha knows, might be the oldest Nero d’Avola in CA), with sandy loam soils, plus 12% sourced at the Chiarito Vineyard, in Ukiah as noted as well in Mendocino County.

Stoumen hand crafts an exciting set of wines, mostly out of the box and unique offerings, with this Nero d’Avola being her signature wine, in my opinion and she has a special fondness and connection to this Sicilian grape. Martha says, she spent a very time working with Nero d’Avola at COS in Sicily, so the fact that Nero d’Avola even exists in California—AND that she get to work with it in both the vineyard and cellar—makes her heart happy, it also makes me happy, especially her efforts with this vintage, which has really brought out the best in this wine. Stoumen also is taking a different path when it comes to vineyard sites, while most winemakers are fighting over coveted coastal sites, making the grapes from those extreme places very expensive, she has chosen to look elsewhere, noting she is proudly looking inland, where the hotter climate and shorter spring season make low-input (organic and holistic) farming a reality. Stoumen adds, she still wants to make elegant wines, with freshness and vibrancy, this has given her a freedom to experiment with a different grape set and a choice of lesser known varieties. For Stoumen the Nero d’Avola has been, as she admits, a perfect and natural fit. She does a few different versions of Nero d’Avola including this one, as well as a Rosato (Rosé) and in a blended red, all of which are well worth searching out, but this 2018 is one you really shouldn’t miss, plus you should also check out her Zinfandel, which is also a studied and natural style, almost old school wine with a bright crunchy profile. Martha’s Nero d’Avola was all de-stemmed and was fermented in concrete tank until dry, before being gently pressed to well used barrels and rested on lees. After 12 months, Stoumen racked it off lees, blended the different vineyard, which were fermented in separate small lots and then put back into barrel for a total of 18 months barrel aging, that helped make those tannins supple. I am very excited to see so many great young winemakers on the scene these days and I am certain the future of California wine is in great hands, with so many intriguing talents crafting a whole new generation of great wines with Martha being one of these exceptional and hard working artisans, their success is a joy to watch and to taste! For this Nero d’Avola, Martha suggests a mouth-watering range of ideal pairings including pasta alla norma, grilled steak with fresh herbs, classic caesar salad, roasted duck breast. She mentions, and I agree, the balanced body of this wine can hold up to many textures and flavors without overpowering them, the same way classic Sicilian examples of Nero d’Avola, like those of COS, Valle dell’Acate and Arianna Occhipinti’s do.
($40 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day October 25, 2020

2018 Alfaro Family Vineyards, Chardonnay, Trout Gulch Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains.
The gorgeously energy filled and textural Trout Gulch Chardonnay by Richard Alfaro at Alfaro Family Vineyards is definitely one of the best values in the state for top quality Chardonnay, and this 2018 is one of the most thrilling vintages I’ve tried so far with incredible detailing, layering of flavors and its heavenly vinous mouth feel. Those that like Cote de Beaune substance and style will find huge joy in this Trout Gulch, with its cool mineral intensity, depth and smooth underlying acidity, it perfectly captures the long and cool growing season that allowed ripe fruit development, but exceptional clarity, balance and the mentioned textural creaminess that is not in least bit heavy, but graceful and luxurious all the same. The Alfaro Trout Gulch starts with spring white flowers, with a hint of honeysuckle and citrus, along with a touch of loam and flint, before a medium to fill bodied palate of apple, pear and tart peach fruit that is accented by lemon curd, clarified cream, clove spice, smoky/toast, hazelnut and a whiff of vanilla. There is a steely drive, a saline (sea shore) quality and a wet rock element that runs all the way through this fabulous Chardonnay that always oops up in my favorite examples and elevates this wine into the top league in my book, it gives me the same pleasure that I get from white Burgundy, especially the really memorable ones, like Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey’s Saint-Aubin and Roulot’s basic Bourgogne Blanc. This vineyard, near the towns of Aptos and Soquel is not far from the Ocean and gets loads of cool breezes and morning and evening marine layer influence and it has been the source for some other fantastic bottlings, like John Raytek’s Ceritas and Duncan Meyer’s Arnot-Roberts versions, both of which are highly sought after and wines I really admire.

The Trout Gulch site was originally established in 1980, but this dry-farmed vineyard, which is nestled between forested hillsides near the town of Aptos in the Santa Cruz Mountains really only came into its own under the guidance of Richard Alfaro and wines like this prove it, this cool climate vineyard is a source of spectacular grapes. It should also be noted, that Richard’s own estate vineyard in Corralitos also produces world class Chardonnay, and while there is great Pinot Noir grown in both sites as well, these Chardonnays are just stunning and shows clearly that Alfaro has a specially touch with this grape. Trout Gulch, which is farmed using organic methods and in full maturity, set on loam and harden clay like soils with some sand, is up at about 600 feet and only 3.5 miles from the Pacific and is planted to the Wente clone that gives this wine its wonderful concentration. The lightly golden Alfaro Trout Gulch Chardonnay was barrel fermented and aged in neutral French oak, where it rested for just 8 months before bottling to preserve its zesty freshness, but still allow for that glorious richness, this would be outstanding with lobster tail and dripping butter, as well as triple cream soft cheeses. Alfaro started his label back in 1998 and has created a solid following over the years since with a solid collection of wines, led by these Chards and his Pinots, which are always tasty offerings, plus his zingy Gruner Veltliner, that is one of the best examples of this varietal outside of Austria. There is a lot to get excited about when tasting through Alfaro’s lineup from this one to his heritage clone Pinot, to his Syrah to the Rosé of Pinot Noir, if you’ve not sampled these wines, you really should!
($30 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day October 24, 2020

2018 Domaine Auguste Clape, Le Vin des Amis, Vin de France, Rhone Valley, France.
I love the bright freshness and deep flavors of this 2018 Le Vin des Amis and its quaffable though serious style, this edition is medium bodied and energetic with classic Northern Rhone character, showing blackberries, plum, cherry and blueberry fruits, anise, peppercorns, a hint of game, earth and a quite heady nose of dark violet florals. The “baby” Clape, which is always a savvy treat is 100% Syrah and comes from 40 plus year old vineyard sites that are located close the this classic domaine’s village of Cornas and the Rhône river set on mostly Alluvial soils with a littering of galets, the rounded river stones found throughout the Rhone basin. The mouth feel is less intense, when compared to the more tannin structured top Cornas cuvees at Clape, but this one gives a very fine account of itself with an edgy stemmy intensity that is compelling to fans of Pierre-Marie’s wines and the Clape family’s legendary offerings, many of which were crafted by the now 94 year old Auguste (Pierre-Marie’s famous dad) himself, who was one of the very first to bottle an estate wine in the Cornas region. Now, as Kermit Lynch, Clape’s long time American importer, notes, Pierre-Marie and his son Olivier, carry on Auguste’s legacy with honor and integrity, as well as hand crafting wines that are some of the world’s most desirable Syrahs. While the Le Vin des Amis comes from just outside the Cornas zone, the Clape’s farm a number of prime parcels, some of the greatest Syrah sites in Cornas, including Reynards, La Côte, Geynale, Tézier, Petite Côte, Les Mazards, Patou, Pied La Vigne, Chaillot, and Sabarotte, the latter purchased from Cornas legend Noël Verset, and they save the best and oldest for their top bottling.

The reds wines at Clape, all made from 100% Syrah, are almost without fail vinified using whole bunches and this Le Vins des Amis shows that vibrant and herbal crunchiness as well as a transparent flavors and a nice textural quality, I used to buy a lot of this wine when not everybody and their brother knew about it and the price was almost half what it is now, but this wine still is a good deal and while not as guiltless on the wallet as it once was it still impresses for the price and is impeccably made. The Le Vin des Amis saw a natural whole cluster fermentation with indigenous yeats in open top cement tanks with about a two week maceration and primary fermentation with pilage and pump overs twice a day before aging in concrete, as well as seeing just two months in foundre (old large oak casks) prior to bottling, which as per normal here unfiltered. The Clape’s pick by hand and concentrate on full ripeness, which give these wines their expressive and dense nature, but as their fans you, these wines always give you a rigorous savory underpinning and have exceptional balance, especially in difficult vintages. The Le Vin des Amis is a gateway wine and a little tease, though these days it has a frenzied cult following itself, which this new 2018 release will continue to elicit with its seductive qualities. This very food friendly Syrah is a fine companion for country and rustic cuisine from grilled pork, chicken and red meats to wild mushroom dishes. The Le Vin des Amis is the entry level Rouge, just one rung down from their Cotes du Rhone and looking way up to the two main Cornas, the Renaissance and the signature offering, that like a top Hermitage or Cote-Rotie needs a decade or more in the cellar to fully mature. So, for no waiting pleasure this inky purple wine is the way to go!
($50 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day October 23, 2020

2018 Ryme Cellars, Aglianico, Camino Alto Vineyard, El Dorado County, Sierra Foothills.
Ryme’s new Camino Alto Aglianico is one of the best and most distinct red wines I’ve had this calendar year so far, it is awesome full bodied and complex effort with true varietal character and exceptional purity. The inky dark Camino Alto Aglianico starts with a heavenly perfume of violets, sage and new leather with a crushed blackberry essence before its powerful and structured palate thrills with black currant, marionberry coulis, plum and kirsch fruits along with melted black licorice, minty herb, cedar and tapenade accents as well as a touch of whole bunch crunchiness and spicy mineral tones. In grape known for rustic and fiery tannins this 2018 is poised, supple and remarkably graceful, the long cool growing season really benefited this gorgeous wine. Aglianico, sometimes called “The Barolo of the South” (because of some similarities to Nebbiolo) is a black grape found mostly Basilicata and Campania, with Taurasi being its top expression. Taurasi is a town in the province of Avellino, in the Sannio part of Campania. Taurasi is a historic wine region and finally made a full DOCG in 1993. Two of the most famous Aglianico wines are the Radici Taurasi, Mastroberardino’s flagship wine which was originally released in 1928, though not officially called Radici, which translates as “roots”, as it was a special clonal selection of ancient Aglianico, until 1986, and Feudi di San Gregorio’s iconic Serpico, that comes from the historic “Dal Re” (“from the King”) vineyard in Irpinia near to Mt. Vesuvius. The Aglianico vines seem to thrive in particularly volcanic soils, but Ryme’s efforts with this grape prove it does great in the diverse soils here in California, particularly in these granite soils as well as Paso Robles’ limestone. It is considered with Sangiovese and Nebbiolo to be one of the three greatest Italian varieties with a long history, it was used to make the Falernian wine, famed during Roman times. The grape, which was once thought to have been brought to Campania from Greece still remains a mystery with no leads on its true origins, though most know think it is more likely a native varietal. Aglianico more recently has been planted in Australia and California, as it thrives in predominantly sunny climates with a long ripening season, like Nebbiolo it really takes an extended period on the vine to develop all of its potential, and Ryme has unlocked its best features, in what is a truly great wine.

Ryme Cellars, with winemakers Megan and Ryan Glaab, have been exploring Italian grapes for many years and have a wonderful collection of thrilling wines with Vermentino, Fiano, another Southern Italian grape, Sangiovese and Friulano, as well as three different versions of Aglianico, which has become one of their signature wines with a Rosé of Aglianico and two single vineyard reds. In 2017 Megan and Ryan began working with this new Aglianico vineyard in El Dorado County in the Sierra Foothills near Placerville and not far from Sutter’s Mill, where gold was first discovered in California, which set off a huge migration to the golden state, which had the effect of bringing grape vines to the area for those settlers in the late 1800s. This gave Ryme, as they explain, an exciting opportunity to see how Aglianico plays out in a very different series of great California terroirs. The Camino Alto vineyard is located at 2800 feet in mineral rich granite based soils in the El Dorado AVA above, the mentioned, Placerville. The days here are quite warm (if not blazing hot) but, as the Glaab’s note, there is a large diurnal temperature shift with cold night air draining from the upper Sierras keeping the vines refreshed, retaining natural acidity. The other Ryme Aglianico, their most exclusive bottling, comes from a beautifully farmed, certified organic vineyard in Westside Paso Robles on Peachy Canyon Road. Its vines set squarely in Rhone varietal and Zinfandel country, at the Luna Matta Vineyard, which also grows a good number of other Italian specialites. The Camino Alto Aglianico was picked in mid October, somewhat early for this varietal, but obviously the grapes came in to near perfection with amazing concentration, energy and impeccable balance. Ryme Cellars is known for their low intervention methods in the cellar and use a combination of modern and ancient techniques with the use of cool stainless tanks as well as Amphora. For their Camino Alto Aglianico, they went old school, the grapes were crushed by foot and fermented 100% whole cluster with nothing added, allowing full native fermentation and hand punch downs, getting a full extraction from the bold Aglianico. After the maceration and primary, the winery says, the wine was aged in neutral French oak barrels for eleven months and bottled without filtration. This is impressive stuff, if you want a stylish big red, to go with lamb, brisket or robust cuisine, you need to get yourself some of this while you can!
($42 Est.) 96 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day October 22, 2020

2016 Domaine Sylvain Pataille, Bourgogne Rouge, France.
I first discovered Sylvain Pataille’s wines with his awesome set of 2012 wines and in that time, between and now he has become one of Burgundy’s hottest stars and the wines are extremely difficult to get and the prices have soared up, though not outrageous they give you pause, with his basic Bourgogne Rouge being the best value in the lineup. At the time I was left with a sense of awe, with his gorgeous and flavorful Marsannay being a stand out wine and one of my wines of the year, so there was a lot of expectations when I opened this 2016, and it delivered, it is a beautifully balanced and tasting Pinot Noir with classic Marsannay coolness of style, expressive dark fruits and mineral notes. The 2016 Pataille Bourgogne Rouge has more depth and expressive flavors than one is used to expect in such a bottling, it displays an array of red fruits as well as having a core of classic dark cherry, accented by strawberry, cranberry, spiced raspberry along with a hint of blueberry, apple skin, earth, black tea, the mentioned mineral tone and seeped rose petals, added to a silky palate that offers a generous and vinous mouth feel. There is a virgorous and lively energetic sense to this lovely Pinot Noir that keeps your attention without seeming shrill or aggressive allowing just a balanced tartness to remind you there there is structure here and plenty of zippy acidity to go great with food. I was thrilled to find this wine again and I look forward to dig into upcoming vintages and exploring the Pataille Cru and Lieu-Dits expressions, especially his Marsannay Clos du Roy. This dark ruby/garnet Bourgogne comes from vines planted in 1956, set on clay rich soils with classic limestone, which gives this wine it’s soulful personality, in this vintage it saw about 10% or so whole cluster and maybe 15% new oak to allow all of its terroir to shine through.

Sylvain Pataille, who consults for a dozen or so high end domaines in Burgundy and founded his own label in 1999, specializes in natural style winemaking and organic farming with his wines coming almost exclusively from vines in the village of Marsannay. Pataille does a tidy set of quality wines, these include around 12 distinct Marsannay cuvées, including not only red, white and rosé Marsannay (Marsannay is the only appellation in the Côte d’Or permitted to label as an AC Rosé), but also Aligoté, Passetoutgrain (a Gamay and Pinot Noir blend) and Bourgogne Blanc and this Rouge. Everything Pataille does at his own domaine, as noted, comes from Marsannay and are all organic, and I believe now all biodynamic, all of the wines were highly impressive, but especially his base Marsannay AC (Pinot Noir) and the single Cru versions, which I thought were stunning when I first tried them, and that impression still holds true after trying this later vintage Bourgogne Rouge. Pataille makes his wines with almost no sulfur and follows the style of Philippe Pacalet, though different in detail, without question he is making some of the most delicious natural wines in Burgundy. Pataille’s wines all see natural, indigenous yeast fermentation, in a combination of fiberglass tank and in stainless steel, with his maceration (with partial whole cluster) and primary being relatively short, they last usually only 10-12 days and are rigorously temperature controlled to preserve freshness and clarity of flavors. The wines are then racked into oak barriques with surprisingly enough, about a third being new barrels and then aged for up to 24 months, though usually this Bourgogne is more like 10 to 12 months and seeing less of the new wood. It is clear Pataille has it all going in top gear these days and is completing the biodynamic certification, joining the elite producers of the region, if you’ve not had Sylvain’s wines yet, it is time!
($35 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day October 21, 2020

2019 Ochota Barrels “Texture Like Sun” Sector Red, Adelaide Hills, South Australia.
I was a huge blow to the wine world, when we learned last week that Taras Ochota passed away, he was an Aussie legend and admired around the world for his larger than life personality and his incredible naturally style wines. Just last month I featured his fabulous Grenache and was mesmerized by the Green Room and couldn’t wait to learn more about his wines and his life, sadly we won’t see much in the future as his wines are almost all sold out now, in a moving tribute to his life his home country has rallied ad bought up everything they could. I was able to secure one of his most playful and intriguing wines to drink and review in his honor, the 2019 Texture Like Sun, which is a curious blend of everything from Pinot to Gamay to Gewürztraminer to Chardonnay! The ex punk rocker, who played an old Rickenbacker bass on a few Australian hit albums, and who was a fan of California surf punkers, including The Dead Kennedy’s made some of the tastiest modern wines in Oz, especially the Grenache and Syrah bottlings, as well as this unpretentious and wild blend. As our thoughts and love go out to Amber Ochota, Tara’s wife, we celebrate his passion and life by enjoying his wines, he will not be forgotten anytime soon and his influence on Australian wine looks set to continue doing into the future. Little is know about the percentage of varietals in this Texture Like Sun Red Wine, though I imagine it is Pinot Noir led as I feel I can taste it, especially here in this moment, but there is so many other flavors to dig through it is hard to say, it could be the Gamay and or Grenache in there that puts that impression out with the Chardonnay giving a creamy sense and the Gewurztraminer adding exotic spices and perfume. I could hardly put the glass down as the taste was so comforting and inviting, it is a tasty quaffer, no question and I love the clear bottle and vibrant light ruby color, it was great with a spicy seafood paella.

The 2019 Ochota Texture Like Sun Red starts with wild floral and spice notes and a light sense of fruitiness with a flavor profile that reminds me of some Piedmonte wines, like Ruche, Croatina or Freisa, but warmly ripe, fresh and textural on the medium bodied palate with strawberry, plum, cherry and wild raspberry fruits along with cinnamon, dried papaya/guava, lychee, lingering rose petals and sweet herbal accents. This wine, which has been noted by other reviewers, weirdly all comes together with silken grace and harmony and drinks fabulously well, its Gamay and Pinot seemingly orchestrating the flavors in the mouth and playing the leading roles, which with everything going on is intriguing, making for a joyously elegant wine. Taras, as I noted in my latest review of his Green Room Grenache, enjoyed many harvests in California, where he worked for producers such as Kunin, Bonnacorsi, both winemakers we also lost too young, as well as Joe Davis at Arcadian, Napa’s Schrader, Outpost and the famous Hitching Post in Santa Barbara County, a favorite spot for Ochota to visit, especially as the surfing was good too. Ochota, following the lead of some of the wine world’s counter culture heros as well as being, as he put it, was strongly drawn to and influenced by the small biodynamic producers he and Amber came across in the south of France. He employed a holistic approach, wanting to use, as he put it, organically farmed vineyards planted to earth that is alive, (with) lo-fi techniques and picking decisions made purely on natural acidity which hopefully contributes to a wine’s energy and nervous tension. He used whole cluster and indigenous yeasts exclusively, loving the texture and stem inclusion character in his wines, preferring long maceration(s) and skin contact. He was also a perfectionist in making sure the wine was all about pleasure, as this one clearly shows, we in the wine world certainly feel his loss and send our love to his family and friends, godspeed Taras, thank you for your artisan wines and the joy they brought us.
($36 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day October 20, 2020

2017 Domaine de l’Austral, Saumur-Puy-Notre-Dame “Manta” Loire Valley, France.
Coming from a special sub zone of the Loire’s Saumur-Champigny region the 100% Cabernet Franc Manta from Domaine de l’Austral is a bright and fruit forward all carbonic wine that is drinking with a natural grace and varietal purity, this is an easy wine to love. A few months ago I featured my first review of this new winery and I am now becoming a big fan of l’Austral and vignerons Pauline Mourrain and Laurent Troubat, the husband and wife team that took over the all organic vines at Château Tour Grise and the ancient cellars there. The pair have hit the ground running with their first vintage 2016 already creating a huge buzz and winning awards and this 2017 Manta shows they are incredibly talented and are looking set to become stars of the region. This 2017 Manta starts with a radiant display of fruit and floral detail before revealing a supple and medium bodied palate of red currant, crushed raspberry, wild plum and cherry fruits that come with a hint of classic bell pepper, plus olive, herbal notes, wild flowers and anise accents, all presented without pretense in a zesty fresh form. This dark garnet and ruby hued is impressively textural Cabernet Franc with an elegant and layered mouth feel that gives the sensation of lightness and softness, while still seriously complex adding subtle earthy/savory elements in the glass. The 2017 vintage is ripe, but less dense than 2016, and will appeal to those that admire delicacy and quaffable structures, which this one delivers with a smile and a wink.

The Domaine de l’Austral Manta Saumur-Puy-Norte-Dame, one a tiny collection of single parcel offerings that Pauline and Laurent make, is from a chalk and Silex limestone site that promotes zesty fresh details and vivid flavors, all of which are most expressive by the holistic farming principals and methods used here that brings out each place’s unique character. l’Austral, inspired by Loire legends like Nicholas Joly and Saumur-Champigny’s iconic Clos Rougeard, strive to make absolute terroir driven wines with natural winemaking techniques born from the regions traditions with 100% native yeast fermentations and ultra low sulfur additions to allow the sense of place to really shine through. The wine at l’Austral is really made from the work in the vineyard, rather than the rustic cellar, most of the tenderness and back breaking work in done, by hand, in the vines, and the results so far speak for themselves. This 2017 Manta really opens up nicely and is wonderfully clean and transparent, its carbonic fermentation, vat raised clarity and fine tannins making it a joy to drink young, while the non carbonic, concrete egg raised 2016 Cuvee 253 is more powerful stuff needing more time to fully mature, both excellent examples, which give you choices to make, though I think I’ll take some of each. This expressive Cabernet Franc is pretty stuff, almost irresistible and tasty, especially with Fall cuisine choices, it will be hard to get, being so limited, but well worth searching out!
($27 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day October 19, 2020

2016 St. Innocent, Pinot Noir, Zenith Vineyard, Eola-Amity Hills AVA, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
Mark Vlossak’s Zenith Vineyard St. Innocent Pinot is his estate bottling and comes from just 7 blocks in South East facing parcels planted to a combination of four clones: Pommard, Wadenswil (old Swiss clone), 115 and 777, which explains the deep color and dense complexity of flavors in what is an impressive and beautiful wine. The 2016 vintage is perfectly captured here with this St. Innocent, one of Oregon’s hall of fame producers, with its richness of fruit, textural excellence and incredible length, my only mistake on opening this 2016 Zenith is that it should still be in the cellar, where I’m sure it reward the patient with an exceptional long life, there’s so much more potential here, even though it is a tremendous Pinot Noir now. The layered fruit is led by black cherry, plum, crushed raspberry and tangy currant that is well accented by floral tones, smoky sweet oak, sassafras, tea spices and a hint of mineral, it reminds me somewhat of a young Meo-Camuzet Vosne-Romanee, which seriously makes me very happy, this is absolutely a pleasure in the glass. Zenith, set on old marine sedimentary soils, in the rolling hills of the Eola-Amity zone and has been a source of top Pinot grapes for many years, with some of region’s best winemakers using these grapes to good effect, including Ken Wright and Mike Etzel of Beaux Freres to name a few, it is a site of quality and terroir distinction with a profile and fruit density more in line with Ribbon Ridge and or Yamhill-Carlton rather than the Jory soils of the Dundee Hills. The St. Innocent Zenith remains somewhat a sleeper in the lineup of great Oregon wines and strangely in Vlossak’s own collection, sometimes hiding behind his Freedom Hill and Momtazi bottlings, which is wild when you taste this awesome Pinot, this is a wine to NOT overlook! For those that prefer aged wines and mature flavors in their Pinots would be advised to add St. Innocent to their collection to put away for later enjoyment, trust me.

St. Innocent makes an outstanding set of wines and Mark Vlossak is one of the state’s best with many classic wines under his belt, he is of one of the Willamette’s legendary generations including the mentioned Ken Wright and Mike Etzel as well as John Paul of Cameron, who all set the world a light with their early to mid nineties wines, especially the 1994 and 1998 vintages, which cemented the region’s place as one of the world’s great Pinot Noir terroirs. I have been a long time fan of Vlossak’s wines and have enjoyed aging a few bottles, I recently opened one of his 2000 vintage Seven Springs Pinots and it was still remarkably youthful and vibrant with years left ahead of it, and that wasn’t a very hyped years either, so I have no doubt this 2016 will go the distance. Vlossak uses classic Burgundian techniques and this Zenith saw his normal regiment with all the grapes being 100% de-stemmed and naturally fermented using indigenous yeasts with no SO2 added with gentle maceration and cool stainless primary fermentation before being raised in French oak barrique with 25% new wood used in this concentrated vintage. The finished Zenith Pinot was gravity bottled after 16 months in barrel without finning or filtration to capture every bit of character and purity, which it does to near perfection here and while it shows the vanilla scented toasty oak, it quickly settles into the background and never intrudes into the enjoyment of this wine. While the fruit dominates here, I want to note there is plenty of acidity and energy in this Pinot and there is a subtle earthiness or savory elements to keep things interesting. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention just how great the value is here, seriously, this ruby/garnet Zenith in particular, with under a thousand cases made, is almost guilt free for what is delivered in the glass, these wines from St. Innocent way over perform for the price. This 2016, a savvy wine to cellar, if opened in the next 2 or 3 years, will be best with fuller cuisine to match the opulent nature of the fruit, it’s medium/full bodied palate and deep flavors will be best served by having matching cuisine. It was thrilling with pulled pork and slaw last night, but I think grilled salmon and or lamb kabobs would be sublime pairings too!
($40 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day October 18, 2020

2019 Desire Lines Wine Co., Carignan/Mourvedre, Red Wine, Evangelho Vineyard, Contra County.
This beautifully dark purple/garnet Evangelho Vineyard Contra Costa Red Wine by Cody Rasmussen at Desire Lines Wine Co. has fast become one of my must have wines, with this 2019, which is a new release I just got this week, being a thrilling young wine and made to be enjoyed young with its deep, but supple rich fruit and satiny tannins. The 2019 version is fresh and lively with some nice savory and crunchy elements from the whole bunches and partial stem inclusion giving complexity and balance to this fruit forward, densely packed red wine. Rasmussen intended this wine to be his own unique version of a California wine that would remind people of a Cru Beaujolais, like those of either Fleurie or Morgon, but I look towards Corbieres for the old world similarity’s rustic area in the Languedoc where Carignan is a major player in the red blends, especially the wines of Maxime Magnon and in particular his gorgeous and natural Corbières Rouge “Campagnès” that comes from 100 year old Carignan, as does this one. Cody, who along with his wife Emily started this label in 2016 and have made it one of the best new wineries with some stellar releases, he has an amazing touch with these wines and California wine enthusiasts really should get on his list. He has great experience already under his belt, having been the assistant winemaker at Bedrock Wine Co and being mentored by Morgan Twain-Peterson, who is one of America’s great winegrowers and a Master of Wine, a rare achievement in the wine world. This vintage starts with seductive floral aromas and snappy herbs, spice and cool blue fruits that lead to a smooth and full bodied palate of black raspberry, juicy plum, pomegranate and morello cherry fruits along with a touch of pepper, baked earth, a cedary wood note and sprigs of anise, sage and lavender. The new Evangelho has a delightful energy and like Zinfandel field blends has loads of pleasing character and textural quality without feeling cloying or heavy at all, making it exceptional with easy or simple cuisine.

The vines at Evangelho Vineyard, now owned by Morgan Twain-Peterson, one of California’s great wine minds, and Chris Cottrell of Bedrock Wine Co., – now over 120 years old – were planted by Manuel Viera in the 1890s on land purchased from John Marsh’s Los Meganos Rancho, though farmed by Frank Evangehlo and family for most of its history. Evangelho Vineyard is located in Antioch, as noted by Rasmussen, just a mile upstream from the confluence of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers and only a few hundred yards south of the water’s edge. These old vines, Cody explains, are planted on what could be considered coastal dunes comprised of weathered granitic sand blown and washed out of the Sierra Nevada over millennia. This is one of the most unique terroirs in California with its ultra depleted, well draining heavy Oakley sand, this soil type is termed Delhi sand and it has protected and comfortingly wrapped these wines to perfection, making for some spectacular wines, like this one and the Heritage Red from his boss at Bedrock. The 2019 Desire Lines Evangelho Red Wine was made from a blend of roughly 90% Carignan and 10% Mourvèdre, that like the 2017 and 2018 vintages, was fermented, with some carbonic maceration, with close to 30% whole cluster under a submerged cap and aged for ten months in neutral 400L barrels. Rasmussen loves the 400L barrel size for his Carignan, saying it retains freshness and builds tension like all large format barrels, but with a less reductive tendency than the 500L and 600L barrels that he prefers for the Syrah and Mourvèdre grapes. I am thrilled with this Evangelho and really looking forward to exploring the rest of Rasmussen’s new wines, including his outstanding Syrah bottlings from Griffin’s Lair and Shake Ridge Vineyard, a very famous Amador County site as well as his 100% Mourvedre from this same Evangelho Vineyard, plus his killer dry Riesling from Cole Ranch, which is chilling in my fridge right now. While tasty and rewarding now, this 2019 Desire Lines Evangelho Red Wine looks set or has the potential to age well, its underlying structure is quite impressive, which will reward those that have more patience than me, drink this Carignan based wine over the next 3 to 5 years.
($32 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day October 17, 2020

2017 Envinate, Lousas “Vinas de Aldea” Ribeira Sacra D.O. Galicia, Spain.
Another beauty from the gang at Envinate, this Mencia from the Ribeira Sacra shows mineral charms and starts with smoky shale rock and crushed violets with bark berries leading the fruit before opening up with some slight reduction and a medium bodied palate of racy black plum, earthy currant, cranberry and dark cherry fruits, dried herbs, a touch of anise and loamy earth with light woodsy notes. This gets a touch riper with air, but feels very Pinot like in the mouth with some Northern Rhone Syrah added in, with its peppery and gamey elements, but definitely appealing and very true to the nature of its place. The Viticultores de Ribeiro Sacra y Envinate Lousas comes from vines overseen by Alfonso Torrente in Galicia on the cool Atlantic coast, in this ancient wine region known as the “sacred banks” with its steep river valleys of slate soils being an awesome area for wine, in fact it was highly prized back in Roman times. Envinate, which means “wines yourself” is four friends that met in college, which are from vastly different regions of Spain, but always promised to make wine together. They are a very talented crew that come from unique parts of the country including the remote Canary Islands to Murcia, as well as here in the Ribeira Sacra, they are winemakers Roberto Santana, maybe the most well known for his incredible Tenerife wines made from Listan Negro and Listan Prieto, as well as Alfonso Torrente, Laura Ramos, and José Martínez, all regional, if not international stars in their own right. I am a big fan of Envinate, as my reviews have shown for many vintages now, and I chase their bottles down for my personal use, they are soulful and intriguing terroir driven efforts made by humble and passionate hands.

As I have reported on many of these Envintate releases, these are very traditionally made and use mostly natural techniques with all organic grapes, and while a touch funky at times, they are pure and transparent wines. The darkly hued Lousas Vines de Aldea is usually 40% to 100% whole cluster with native yeast, with classic foot-trodden maceration, it is fermented in bins and then raised in used mid size oak casks without racking. It is matured for just under a year normally then bottled with only a tiny amount of SO2, unfined and unfiltered. This vintage, which is not quite as good as 2015, but still has loads of character and pleasure to offer with lovely detail, fruit density and lots of mineral spice. The grapes are hand tended from very steep parcels, and as noted before, these Sil River valley slopes look like the Rhein or Mosel and the soils are smoky slate, schist, sand and granite, which gives these Mencia wines their likeness to the Northern Rhone, in fact Lousas means Slate in the local dialect, with this Vina de Aldea coming from 60 year old organic vines on the weathered slate. The Ribeira Sacra bottlings are all well worth searching out, Envintate keeps impressing with each vintage and this one especially shines for the price, it will certainly appeal to those that like lower alcohol and rustic styles of wines. The 2017 still feels very youthful and zesty, it looks set to get better with another year or so in bottle, it is rather shy aromatically at this point and takes some time to truly reveal all that is there and it is way better with food, it thrives with hard cheeses and simple country cuisine, though I did quite like it with Pizza. I highly recommend exploring the full lineup from Envinate, from their Albahra (70% Garnacha Tintorera, 30% Moravia Agria) to the Migan (Listan Negro) from 120 year old vines a top an ancient volcano on Tenerife!
($35 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive