2017 Domaine Lucien Crochet, Sancerre Blanc, Loire Valley, France. One of the best Summer whites, and certainly my favorite Sancerre of the vintage, is the Lucien Crochet 2017 with its purity and mineral focus that highlight the classic terroir of this Loire Valley Sauvignon Blanc, with the grapes coming for this basic cuvée from the vineyards in Bué, crochet’s home village, as well as Vinon and Crézancy. Crochet who started going organic in 1989 make some lovely wines with soulful expressions of both Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir from their La Croix du Roy lieu-dit, which in some vintages rival some big names making Premier Cru Burgundy. This 2017 is steely with vivid citrus, white flowers and chalky with layers of grapefruit, lemon/lime, white peach, kiwi and green melon fruits, wet stones, a touch of herb and tangy lemongrass as well as a fine textural quality and exciting acidity. This is perfect as a fresh and vibrant young white, to be drunk over the next year or two.
The Lucien Crochet uses exclusively temperature controlled stainless tanks to ferment this Sancerre cuvée, and like all the whites at the domaine, according to Rosenthal Wine Merchant, their importer, this wine sits in contact with the fine lies for a considerable period of time, between 9 and 12 months overall, with the racking being done late in the spring following harvest. The vineyard sites all are mostly the classic white Kimmerdigian soils, but also with some Oxfordian era limestone, all of which cleanly and transparently show here and shine, this ultra pale Sancerre is gorgeous in its naked form and electric on the light to medium bodied palate with leesy mouth feel adding an elegance and substance to the performance. This wine is wonderfully dry and brisk, refreshing and a great companion to the region’s goat cheeses and Summer cuisine choices, including grilled fish and or lemon chicken and Couscous. ($32 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2017 Halcon Vineyards, Petite Sirah “Tierra” Theopolis Vineyard, Yorkville Highlands. The thrilling and edgy Halcon Tierra is one of California’s most intriguing Petite Sirah(s) with intense and racy inky dark fruits and spicy notes that excite the senses in a way that few Petite wines can, it has a more northern Rhone presence in the glass that you could ever imagine. This is Paul Gordon’s fifth edition using this unique vineyard site, owned and run Theodora Lee, of Theopolis Vineyard, who also with the help of Ed Kutzman makes a fine version too, is a high elevation and terraced vineyard that is always on the edge of ripening, but provides amazing grapes with fascinating depth and complexity with generally lower natural sugars or brix at harvest, with the Halcon 2017 coming in at a very refined 13.9% alcohol. Gordon, who has his own signature Syrah vineyard much higher up, and one of the best labels for whole cluster driven Syrah and Rhone style wines, really has made a brilliant Petite Sirah that delivers a performance more in line with a great Cornas, think Thierry Allemand, Guillaume Gilles, Domaine Lionnet and or Auguste Clape rather than a more traditional California style. While mostly Syrah like, there is a part of this wine that has an old school Cabernet Sauvignon side with its structure, this is astonishing opaque purple/black and garnet stuff that benefits robust cuisine, and or hard cheeses. I have been nothing but impressed since first trying the Halcon and each vintage gets even more spine tingling, these wines rival anything in their price class no question and are of the same quality as many of the state’s top Rhone producers, and these 2017 have taken it up a notch or two, even as tight and youthful as they are.
Paul Gordon, who through this vintage had Scott Shapley, as his wine consultant and winemaker, known for his work at Roar , helping out with the wines, crafted this Petite Sirah, grown on poor, low vigor and gravelly soils, using 50% whole-cluster in the fermentation with significant stem inclusion, almost unheard of in Petite Sirah, and then aged in neutral French oak puncheons, which allow for exceptional purity of form. This unfined and unfiltered Tierra is bursting with ripe blackberry, currant, plum and blueberry fruits, along with dried violets, incense, cigar box, sandalwood, bitter coco, black licorice, savory peppercorns and Asian spices. This vintage is lively and with a big powerful mouth feel, but lifted with a streak of mineral and acidity and while gripping and firm the tannins are polished enough to allow a full revealing of this wines dynamic and exotic personality, this is an outrageously great wine and one that should age amazingly well. With air this wine takes on a regal confidence while still keeping its riveting tension and thrill gaining a lushness of fruit and incredible length with hints of frankincense, leather, lavender/sage and creme de cassis. I can’t say this enough, get on Halcon’s mailing list and buy these wines, the wine is worth at least double if not triple the asking prices, especially buy their Syrah(s) both the classic Alturas that is co-fermented with Viognier and the monumental Elevación made from 100% Chave Hermitage Selection Syrah clones, along with Gordon’s Grenache/Mourvedre, his Oppenlander Pinot Noir as well as this freakishly good fleshy Petite Sirah. Drink over the next two decades! ($32 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2017 Desire Lines Wine Co. Red Wine, Evangelho Vineyard, Contra Costa County. Cody Rasmussen’s Desire Lines Wine Co.“Evangelho” red is an intriguing old vine Carignan and a touch Mourvedre from the sandy Contra Costa soils that delivers a punch of dark fruit, spice and earthy intensity with crunchy/juicy plum and blueberry from the Carignan and a meaty power with black cherry, blackberry and baked earth edgy side from the famous Evangelho Mourvèdre/Mataro vines. Rassmusen, who is the assistant winemaker for Morgan Twain-Peterson at Bedrock Wine Co. has really created quite a splash with his own line of wines, making an excellent set of interesting things, especially his Griffin’s Lair and Shake Ridge Syrah(s), his Cole Ranch Riesling and this awesome Evangelho red blend. Layered with the black, blue and red fruits this vintage shows a minty and spicy side with boysenberry coming through with air adding anise, crushed stones, a touch of cedar and tart currant. I can imagine some leather and sanguine notes popping up in the future in this deeply flavorful and purple/garnet hued wine, though as it is drinking vividly and joyously I cannot think that many will put any away to rest in the cellar.
For his 2017 Evangelho Red Wine, Rassmusen says he ended up with a blend of roughly 95% Carignan and with just 5% Mourvèdre, though it feels like more on the dense palate. The wine, which Cody notes was inspired by his love for the great Cru Beaujolais of France like Clos de la Roilette’s Cuvée Tardive Fleurie and the old-vine single parcels of Château Thivin in Cote de Brouilly, which are his personal favorites and mine too! The Evangelho Vineyard, which is now owned and farmed by Twain-Peterson, Carignan/Mourvedre was fermented with about 30% whole cluster under a submerged cap and was rack to cask where it was aged for ten months in larger neutral 400L barrels to give these edition an expressive personality and fresh character. This is quaffable, but structured stuff, it has a unique flexible ability to be great with a slight chill with picnics and BBQ, but equally at home with a formal sit down dinner with classic steak and fixings or a rack of lamb, drink this over the next 3 to 5 years. This is a winery to discover and a young winemaker to follow, I highly recommend getting on their list as soon as possible. ($35 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2018 Alfaro Family Vineyards, Gruner Veltliner, La Playita Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains. One of the central coast’s most intriguing alternative whites has to be Richard Alfaro’s estate grown Gruner Veltliner, the Austrian national grape famously grown along the Danube River to the west of Vienna in the Wachau, where like here, makes for a mineral driven dry white wine with interesting stony fruit and bright acidity. Alfaro has crafted a slightly richer denser version in 2018 without losing its vibrant and zesty character, it certainly has a palate impact and loads of extract with a touch of leesy like roundness, highlighting this exceptional vintage. This La Playita Vineyard edition GruVee is serious stuff along the lines of some of the legends of Gruner such as Hirtzberger, Pichler, Knoll, Hirsch, Berger, Nigl and Ingrid Groiss to name of few (of my particular) favorites that make dry crisp styles, but with depth and mouth feel. This 2018 is cool and steely, it starts briskly with lemon/lime and white peach fruits with a touch of loam, almond oil, verbena and wet rock before opening up and filling out with a touch of green apple and muskmelon which adds a fleshy dimension along with just a hint of herbs and brioche. This wine has the same stylish appeal as you would find in a Sur Lie aged Muscadet going great with fresh shucked oysters and or other local sea foods and soft cheeses as well as being a nice Summer sipper.
The 2018 Alfaro Family Vineyards La Playita Gruner was aged 6 months in neutral oak and comes from estate vines set in the unique terrior of Corralitos, at the southern end of the Santa Cruz Mountains appellation on some sandy loams. These soils give lots of fruit detail and the cooling influence of the Pacific Ocean less that 10 miles away preserves a fresh intensity of form in the wine. The South facing La Playrita (Little Beach in Spanish) Vineyard site sits at approximately 500 feet of elevation and next to a seasonal stream, this parcel is at the coolest spot on the Alfaro farm. When planted in 2008, Alfaro notes, there were only about 10 acres of Gruner Veltliner in all of California, and with the wine’s success that acreage is growing and today there are approximately 170 acres more planted, and there is sizable number in Oregon now too. Alfaro’s efforts have been brilliant, and now there are even some cult wines coming from his vines with Vocal Gruner and even Arnot-Roberts making one from these vines, while we are also now seeing fine examples of this varietal coming from Santa Barbara County, Edna Valley and the Sonoma Coast. I’ve tasted this bottling a three occasions now and it has got better each time making me think it can age a few years with no problem, but of course it is wonderful right now, drink anytime. ($25 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2017 Domaine Vincent Paris, Saint-Joseph Rouge “Les Cotes” Northern Rhone, France. Vincent Paris, whose first vintage was 1997, is one of the Northern Rhone’s awesome collection of great young winemakers and is co-president of the Cornas appellation, where he is based and his small lot collection of Syrah(s) include Cornas, for which obviously he most famous for and a selection of Crozes-Hermitage and Saint-Joseph bottlings like this gorgeous version. Vincent’s uncle is the legendary and now retired Robert Michel, one of Cornas’ finest ever growers mentored him and helped make his first few vintages, before he stepped out on his own and got his own cellars and a vineyard plots, with Vincent’s total rented and owned holdings amounting to a mere 8 hectares. They are located at different places primarily along the southeast facing Cornas slope, a bit in Crozes and a small lot in St. Joseph where he gets the grapes for this one. This is such a satisfying Northern Rhone that is high-toned and pure, it has potential to get even better, making it a great buy for the price, even though it is not as thrilling as the more whole-cluster driven Cornas, but still a wonderful wine.
Farming all organic and tending steep granite soil sites, Paris crafts bold and expressive wines, fermenting in tiny batches and with this Les Cotes Saint-Joseph he uses native yeast and ferments in a combination of steel and wood, at low temps to preserve the beautiful aromatics, with this wine seeing a year in barrel. With the Saint-Joesph he uses less whole cluster to focus on elegance and refinement, which this vintage shows especially, but with the vintage’s depth and concentration this is an awesome mouthful of Syrah. After fabulous stuff in 2015 and 2016, these 2017 had a lot to do to match and excite the Rhone enthusiasts cravings and it does and then some! This 2017 Saint-Joseph is freshly detailed with classic elements, it’s impressive in the glass with a deep garnet/purple color and layers of blackberry, currant, boysenberry and blueberry fruits along with graphite, anise, cedar and pepper, adding density with air and gaining hints of subtle florals including violets. There is a bright almost sharp focus here with some raw tannin and while poise and ripe it gives some muscle to this Syrah, making it best with food, drink over the next 5 to 10 years. ($35 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2017 Gregory Brewer Wines, Syrah, Ex Post Facto, Santa Barbara County. A much more serve version of Santa Barbara County Syrah than you’d expect from a wine with close to 15% natural alcohol this 2017 vintage details a more austere style than the last year with plenty of wild herbs, loam, bramble/briar spiciness and less, at this stage, forward fruit with more subdued layers of blackberry, blueberry, tangy currant and cranberry on the powerful palate. This wine moves to its own agenda and with a snails pace adding crushed pepper, olive and anisette notes before revealing pretty violets, kirsch and a vinous mouth feel. I will put a few bottles away for another year or two and revisit, as I felt it is more of tease at this point, hinting at more pleasure and poise to come. Best to decant this and or serve with hardy cuisine, including grilled meats, hard cheeses and or lamb dishes.
The new vintage of Ex Post Facto Syrah from Greg Brewer, one of California’s great winemaking talents and original partner in the famed Brewer-Clifton label as well as doing his Chardonnay specialist label Diatom, is a rich and earthy version that shows classic Northern Rhone character and spiciness. This 2017 is expressive and whole cluster flamboyant, but still quite tight in presentation, this stuff needs age and I can see why Brewer is waiting until late fall for its official release, that said you can already see the huge potential here and I was very impressed with the lift and balance in what is a very serious and ripe vintage. For those that don’t remember Brewer’s fabulous efforts with Syrah at Melville, especially the Donna’s, you’ll want to get on the list for these wines, which he sells through Diatom & Brewer-Clifton, this stuff compares well with the likes of Pax, Drew, Andrew Murray and Sashi Moorman’s Piedrassasi label as well as Stolpman in Ballard Canyon, and is priced exceptionally well considering it’s limited availability. ($32 Est.) 90-92 Points, grapelive
2017 Clos Ste. Magdeleine, Cassis Blanc, Provence, France. I’m a huge Cassis Blanc fan, I think it is one of the great wines of France and one of the wine world’s best kept secrets, and Clos Ste. Magdeleine is one of the best producers, imported by the famed Kermit Lynch, this elite Provence winery makes stunning versions and this 2017 absolutely rocks my world! Clos Saint Magdeleine, now run by Fancois Sack was originally founded by Jules Savon, who won the Gold Medal for the domaine at the World’s Fair in 1900 and put this estate on the map and the Sack family who have been in charge for four generations continue to make awesome wines in this picturesque village on the Mediterranean sea, not far from both Bandol and Marseille, where Cassis is a favorite at the best bistros and cafes. The village (AOC) which allows only White and Rosé is an ancient fishing village, and as Kermit Lynch notes, Cassis has seen its fair share of visitors over the millennia. Greek colonists from Phocaea first arrived in the sixth century B.C., and with them came the timeless Ugni Blanc grape and viticultural savvy. The Romans later made their way here, as well as their Barbarian successors, followed by the medieval Counts of Les Baux, all the way to tourists of the modern era looking to escape the cold, dark cities. Cassis is not only an active port, but what Kermit calls “an earthly paradise…”, with the vineyards of Clos Sainte Magdeleine being particularly stunning, and a place I hope to visit in person. These vineyards jut out on to a private cape to meet majestic shoreline and spectacular limestone cliffs, poised above gorgeously beauty of the sparkling, azure Mediterranean, which even from pictures is breathtaking, I can only imagine witnessing it in the flesh. It is well known that only a handful of vignerons today are fortunate enough to produce A.O.C. Cassis, with Domaine Bagnol and Clos Sainte Magdeleine being the top, and the small quantities available are largely consumed locally, making it hard to find, but well worth searching out, especially this one.
The 2017 Cassis Blanc is made from organic grapes, about 40% Marsanne, 30% Ugni blanc, 25% Clairette and 5% Bourboulenc, with the last three varietals being Chateauneuf du Pape legal and the Marsanne, which makes up the biggest part and does exceptionally well here close to the sea is one of the main grapes in the Northern Rhone, and most famously in Hermitage Blanc. I always find that the basic cuvee with it’s higher percentage of Clairette Blanc is the most interesting, to my tastes and that is seems have a bit more vitality and intriguing aromatics with a wonderful mineral quality, while the upper end single vineyard/parcel Bel-Arme with much more Marsanne offers a more textural feeling and is fuller, while still fabulous, I much prefer the regular Cassis and its refreshing form, especially this warm vintage. The all organic Clos Sainte Magdeleine Cassis Blanc is all de-stemmed and gravity pressed and then the juice is fermented and aged in 100% temperature-controlled stainless steel tank with some lees contact and with full malos. Aged in total for between 14 to 18 months in tank, Clos Sainte Magdeleine’s Cassis Blanc, as Kermit adds, success lies in an uncanny ability to capture a dichotomous nerve and sun-kissed unctuousness, making it both incredibly food-friendly and delicious entirely on its own, of which I complete agree with. Bright with layers of lime, tangerine, orange blossom, wet and saline rich stones, a touch of almond oil, verbena and unripe peach/apricot along with zippy acidity and clove spice this vintage has a hint of ripe apply creaminess from the Marsanne when in warms in the glass giving the impression of serious intention without taking away from the fantastic energy, this is brilliant wine and perfection on a warm evening, drink over the next 3 to 5 years, though there is no reason to wait. ($35 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2017 Cameron Winery, Pinot Noir, Ribbon Ridge, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Very different from his Dundee Hills bottlings, John Paul’s Cameron Ribbon Ridge Pinot shows terroir and darker black fruit profile, which seems highlighted by the Marine Sedimentary soils, though there is a family resemblance in its slight reductive presence in the glass and Burgundy like class. As Paul Notes, the grapes for this wine are sourced from two distinct vineyards, Foster Farms Vineyard and Armstrong Vineyard in the Ribbon Ridge AVA. The young vine Foster Farms site which was planted in 2006 that is lovingly tended by famed cider apple grower Alan Foster, along with the Armstrong Vineyard that was recently converted to dry-farmed only grapes, both of which give this wine its soul and complexity. Paul adds, fruit from Ribbon Ridge is always intense with loads of structure, making for a bold and gripping personality in the wine(s), but vintage is always key sand this beautiful and lacy 2017 is stunner with a poise in the glass that is remarkable in this price point, this is a killer bottle of Pinot for the money, no wonder it sells out so fast. Part of the Deep Roots Coalition, Cameron is committed to dry farming for many obvious reasons, quality and intensity of the grapes through smaller yields and the less diluting of flavors and terroir transmission, plus he is concerned for the environment and wasting water is something he wants to avoid as that water usually means taking away from areas that need it, the kick on effect is it saves salmon streams as well.
Bursting with blackberry, plum and dark cherry fruits, a hint of sweet smoke and earthy tones this vintage of Cameron’s Ribbon Ridge is a thrilling wine with pure old world character, it gains in everyday possible with air, taking on a deeper form, spices, layers and florals. As with all of the Cameron wines they see almost no irrigation and the winemaking is tradition Burgundy all the way with native yeasts used for primary fermentations and long elevages, usually between 18 and 20 months in barrique, that are seasoned with a couple of fills. The Winery is very particular about its wood and Cameron’s choice of barrels, as Paul puts it, is equally crucial to the quality of the final product. For both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay he usually select barrels from a wonderful cooper he discovered, who lives in the village of Saint Romain in Burgundy. His name is Claude Gillet and together with his children and several master coopers they turn out some of the most exquisite wine barrels to be found. in fact every year Claude and his son, Laurent, visit our winery, taste the wines in barrels and make recommendations for choice of forest, toast level and all of the other minutia that go into crafting an oak barrel that suits Cameron’s style. As mentioned, John Paul, Cameron’s legendary winemaker believes that barrels reach their perfection only after a couple vintages, he prefers to utilize used cooperage which is between 1-3 years old for our most precious cuvées and even older for the regional or village wines, like this one. Drink this Pinot over the next 5 to 7 years and always pair it with matching cuisine, both Cameron’s Dundee Hills cuvee and this one are ($30 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2018 Ameztoi, Rubentis Rosé, Getariako Txakolina, Spain. The beautifully delicate and mineral fresh Ameztoi Rosé is crafted from local basque grapes 50% Hondarribi Beltza and 50% Hondarribi Zuri grown on limestone and sand with mostly old vine fruit with some of these vines dating back to 1918, this slightly spritzy and low alcohol wine is one of the world’s most exciting Rosés. The Getariako Txakolina region is on the Bay of Biscay and is a cool zone in the basque area of Northwest Spain within sight of San Sebastian, the food mecca just South of the French border. Ignacio Ameztoi, of Ameztoi, is the fifth generation of his family to carry on the tradition of making Txakolina in the province of Getaria, on a unique stretch of land that extends out into the bay, and he has played a key role in the advancement of the region in the last decade, cleaning up the wines and promoting a lighter and fresher style wine to great effect. The 2018 version is divinely vivid and lifted with snappy and tart raspberry water, sour cherry and tangy garden strawberry fruits along with zippy grapefruit/citrusy notes, mineral tones, salty wet stones and rose oil. It should be noted this winery still uses some grapes from their special plot that was planted in 1840 that has been preserved by the Ameztoi family, this pre-Phylloxera block is one of the oldest set of vines in Europe!
The iconic Rubentis Rosé, the region’s first pink wine, was naturally fermented in refrigerated stainless steel tanks utilizing indigenous yeasts from the vineyard. The tanks are closed to preserve natural carbonation from fermentation, which is the preferred style of Getaria. The fermentation tanks, according to importer De Maison Selections, are kept chilled to near 32 degrees Fahrenheit before bottling, which preserves the wine’s delicate, effervescent character and signature mousse. The Rubentis Rosé a field blend of the white Hondarrabi Zuri and the red Hondarrabi Beltza grapes, which are co-fermented for three weeks. When most local wineries gave up on the indigenous red hondarrabi beltza vines, the Ameztoi family retained their old vines, which gives their rose exceptional vibrancy and complexity. This vintage is perfection and a thrill in the glass with quaffable character, it is a wine that proves a wine doesn’t have to be heavy or dense to have a serious impact on the palate, and it delivers a wonderful performance that leaves you always wanting more with an electric shock of mouth feel and mouth watering brisk detailing, it is a wine that should never be missed, especially in Summer. Absolutely great on its own at the beach, with its only 11% natural alcohol making it a refreshing dry treat, though it can easily be enjoyed with an array of cuisine choices, great with spicy dishes, salads, fried sardines, mussels and or briny oysters as well. ($22 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2018 Russell Joyce Small Lot Collection, Old Vine Chenin Blanc, Carmel Valley, California. The new edition of Small Lot Collection by Russell Joyce, of Joyce Vineyards, is an amazing old vine Chenin coming from the Massa Estate, formerly the Durney Estate Vineyard in Carmel Valley and it’s a great example of vintage and terroir, it is a unique and powerful expression of this Loire white grape. The 2018’s intensity, vibrancy and density is on full display, showing beautiful definition and sharp detailing, but with an expansion on the palate that is utterly compelling and impressive, it is a wonderful wine of purity and class. The 2018 is rich and mouth filling without being ponderous or heavy, in fact has almost the driving force of a red wine in character such is the impression it makes, even for such a young wine it gives a spellbinding performance, especially when it gets air and paired with food. Russell, who killed it with his Gamey Noir bottling under his personal label, has crafted another thrilling wine, using native yeasts, whole cluster pressed juice with about 8 hours of skin contact and barrel fermenting for his Chenin Blanc along with employing well seasoned French oak for the six months of lees aging, making for a wine of substance and textural charm. Chenin has a long and cherished history, locally as well as all California where it was one of the greatest white grapes before Chardonnay eventually took over, and while seemingly an obscure Loire varietal, it’s re-emergence is looking like one of the most successful comebacks of all time, especially in Sommelier and wine geek circles, and this Joyce Small Lot version is without question a real Geek Star wine!
Drinking it over several days really proved all the quality on display here, even after four full days this wine shined with crystalline mineralilty and grace, it never for a minute dropped off and delivered on its promise with each and every sip, impressive for a wine recently bottled and I can’t wait to see this in a year or more, I expect it will be much better, which means it will be astonishingly good. The 2018 has layers of white peach, pear and lemon fruits along with a seductive aromatic profile that hints of orange blossom and honeysuckle, which is offset by leesy notes and a stony personality adding a phenolic element, unsweetened honeycomb/wax and wild fennel. Time and air reveals more width and dimension allowing this Chenin to fill out in the mouth without losing its steely charm or focus with the fresh acidity holding everything here in check, though you can tell it will get more brioche and butter cream with bit of age, but not anytime soon. This is exceptional Chenin that is very limited release, so you’ll want to act fast if you are interested, it joins an elite group of producers that are leading a California renaissance of this grape, like Raj Parr, Pax, Littorai, Lieu-Dit and Jaimee Motley to name a few that are bringing Chenin back to the top of the states white wines, don’t miss it. ($35 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive