2013 Chateau Pradeaux, Bandol Rouge, Provence, France.
Etienne Portalis, the fourteenth generation, winemaker at Pradeaux has made a brilliant and deep Bandol in the 2013 vintage, it is my pick for #Mourvedre day, it is a traditional and old school wine that is made with the blessing of the warm Mediterranean sun and his family’s old vines. The Chateau Pradeaux, founded back in 1752, is a Provence legend and the house style is natural and powerful with Etienne only using whole cluster with stems, these are wines that have firm structures from the raw/authentic skin tannins and wines that can age many decades, that said, this 2013 shows a beautiful freshness of detail and refinement after it’s extended time in large used cask. The 2013 is deep in color with a dark garnet hue around a blackish core with an earthy profile that opens to a full bodied and complex wine, which almost 100% Mourvedre with a tiny amount of other black grapes, it reveals layers of dusty blackberry, kirsch, plum and boysenberry fruits, peppery briar spice, leather, chalky stones, anise, bitter coco and a touch of floral lift with a mix of violet and lavender as well as a cedar/tobacco element. This 2013 is drinking with an impressive palate impact with plenty of dry grip and force, but turns generous with air with a ripe opulence allowing lots of pleasure and textural charm, it’s a serious example that will gain further with short to mid term cellaring. Imported by Rosenthal Wine Merchant, Chateau Pradeaux is without question, along with Domaine Tempier, is a standard barer of the region, and this 2013 is a beauty that will be perfect with rustic and simple country cuisine, it’s a big, bold and robust Bandol with a natural sex appeal and inner energy, drink over the next 10 to 15 years.
($45 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2016 Martha Stoumen, Nero d’Avola, Mendocino County.
Martha Stoumen is a new vigneron that you should check out, she’s already got an amazing CV and is one of California’s stars in the natural wine movement, though I find her wines well crafted and pragmatic without the usually natty clumsiness, there less dogma and more passion crafted. Stoumen is to California what Bow & Arrow is to Oregon. This ruby/garnet hued Nero d’Avola, inspired by her time at COS, where she worked with Giusto Occhipinti, famous for his natural wines, some of which are aged in amphora like the ancients made them and where his niece Arianna Occhipinti crafts her natural styled offerings too, in Vittoria on the southern side of Sicily where Frappato and Nero d’Avola are grown. Stoumen believes in organic/holistic vineyard management and leases and farms most of her vineyards where she can, otherwise she only buys grapes grown by generational farmers that understand their land and respect their total environment, something Martha admires and respects. Her Nero is bright and tangy with a garnet garnet hue in the glass and it shows a burst of wild cherry, plum and red peach on the palate, reminding me of the mentioned Occhipinti and with it’s light wood note it has almost a Jean Foillard Morgon class to it, this is highly entertaining low alcohol wine, at 12.4%, with a fine structure and a mineral tone adding an array of spices and chalky stones to the vivid/vibrant fruit core. This is a medium bodied, but full flavored wine that impresses from start to finish, it has tons of personality and charm, it captures the true Nero d’Avola varietal essences along with it’s California terroir, it is utterly delicious and thought provoking, it’s a wine to spend an evening with and is best enjoyed with rustic cuisine and romantic company. Layers of bitter coco, anise, cedar, earth, florals and tangy raspberry join the party with air, this Martha Stoumen Mendocino Nero d’Avola is seriously good and complexly layered, while staying fresh and playful throughout, drink now.
($35 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2015 Etienne Becheras, Crozes-Hermitage Rouge “Le Prieure d’Arras” Northern Rhone, France.
Etienne Becheras, a fifth generation vigneron, has a small estate domaine with parcels in both Crozes-Hermitage, where the family lives and in Saint-Joseph, which are all farmed organic and where he has spent the better part of his adult life rebuilding the vineyards and rescuing parcels so his domaine more resembles what it was in his grandfather’s era. I had had his beautiful and soulful Saint-Joseph a few times in the past, but earlier this year I got to meet the man himself at one of his importer’s, Rosenthal Wine Merchant, west coast stops and taste through the extended lineup, all which impressed me further, his 2015’s are absolutely gorgeous, especially this Crozes-Hermitage Rouge Le Prieure d’Arras, from his home grown Syrah vines. Becheras, an ex-Rugby player, is a big guy and you can tell he works hard on his steep slopes, he is a man of the earth and there is no pretense nor illusion of fame or wealth, he will just pursue his own passion and make wines that are traditional and pay homage to his ancestors, his life and that of his wines reflect this terroir. The 2015 Le Prieure d’Arras, 100% Syrah is pure Crozes-Hermitage, slightly rustic and authentic, but with alluring aromas of violets and sweet black fruits leading the way to a medium full palate of boysenberry, blueberry, damson plum and tangy currant fruits along with leather, minty licorice, peppercorns, greek olive, a hint of truffle and lingering kirsch. The ripe tannins make their presence known, though it’s youthful freshness keeps things vibrant and the fruit always things covered, with air this Crozes expands and adds flint and loamy earth as well as bitter lavender adding a nice contrast to the flow of blue and black fruit, this is a wine that you can’t seem to let go of, every sip grabs your attention and seduces with it’s depth, dark garnet/purple hue and natural power of attraction, it’s an amazing wine for the price. Etienne Becheras uses old school methods in the cellar, whole cluster, native yeasts and extended elevage in well seasoned used cask, there is nothing fancy employed, but it all works here and I highly recommend all of his wines, they are terroir driven and will reward cellaring in the short and mid term, drink this one over the next 5 to 7 years.
($28 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2011 Weingut Leitz, Riesling Trocken, Rüdesheimer Berg Schlossberg “Ehrenfels” Rheingau Germany.
The Leitz 2011 Trocken Schlossberg Ehrenfels is really a (pre Leitz VDP labeling) Grosses Gewachs and it’s pedigree shows, this under the radar bottling is amazingly pure and terroir driven, racy and mineral focused, but with dense extract and leesy class that provides a Puligny like mouthfeel and textural beauty. The Grand Cru (Grosse Lage) Rudesheimer Berg Schlossberg is one of the world’s absolute best vineyards and it’s stunningly picturesque, it is one of my favorite places on earth, it’s a site of special serenity and energy rising above the Rhein River with it’s ancient castle “Ehrenfels” that gives it it’s name overlooking a narrows that used to be a place where (boat) tolls were paid to pass, but it’s the vines that are the real historic interest hanging on to the steep slate hillsides. Leitz’s plot and parcels here are arguably the best with direct southern exposure and with the most intense slopes, making for incredible intensity in the wines, and this gorgeous 2011 is really blossoming in the bottle and drinking amazing right now. My two extended visits to the Rheingau have had lengthy hikes up here, it’s almost perfectly between old town Rudesheim and Assmannshausen, and even in the rain it’s a must when visiting the region, and it’s right across the Rhein from where the Nahe meets up giving a view up the western part and vineyards past Bingen. Johannes Leitz, one of Germany’s best wine producers, loves purity of form, he prefers extra clear musts and cold/fresh ferments, and while the top crus get aging in stuckfass, he uses lots of glistening stainless steel vats, his wines are full of energy, charm and try to highlight each vineyard site, this is especially true in the Rudesheimer Berg Crus, each have their own personality and it’s almost impossible to pick a favorite between them, the Roseneck, Kaisersteinfels Terressen and (this) Schlossberg all offer a unique expression, like Puligny, Chassagne and Meursault do. The 2011 Leitz Rudesheimer Berg Schlossberg “Ehrenfels” Trocken, which was happily drunk with fresh sushi, really got my attention for it’s depth and richness while being so dynamic and vibrant with perfect pleasure and tension, it flowed across the palate with beautiful texture showing a lovely white flowers and rose petal perfume balanced up with a nice mouth watering salinity and flintiness with lime, green apple, lemon curd, white fig and almond notes along with steely mineral, brioche, peach pit, apricot flesh and river stones. With air the body gains and it rivals an aged Burgundy for impact and grace, without losing it’s Riesling quality and sense of place, it’s as mentioned an under the radar wine and vintage that I wish I had more of! Drink now and for the next 5 to 7 years, it is a white wine that even appeals to red wine drinkers, it’s something you should always keep a eye out for, especially since the newer vintages are labeled GG (Grosses Gewachs) an fetch a much higher price!
($39-55 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive (reviewed 5/18/18)
2017 Alfaro Family Vineyards, Rosé of Pinot Noir, Estate, Santa Cruz Mountains.
I recently tasted three brilliant California dry Summer Rosés that you should get on quickly, Lioco’s Rosé of Carignan, the Reeve Rosé of Pinot Noir, which I reviewed last week and Richard Alfaro’s Alfaro Family Vineyards Santa Cruz Mountains Rosé of Pinot Noir, always a favorite of mine and an awesome value. The Alfaro dry Rosé is well balanced and does have full Pinot flavors, while still being zippy, vibrant and cooly crisp, it’s just not overtly severe or stingingly acidic, great on it’s own for warm evening sipping pre dinner or beach/sunset quaffing. This 2017 is a pink Pinot with a depth of flavor and texture that is not all that common, the grapes were de-stemmed and placed in temp controlled tanks where the grapes’ own weight did the crushing, then after a very long 20 hours on their skins, the grapes were pressed and the juice was cold-fermented in a large stainless steel tank, which lasted about 4 weeks, with the wine then rested for 4 months in neutral oak, all of which goes a ways in explaining the wine’s completeness and mouth feel. It’s a serious Rosé from start to finish with a brightly vivid salmon/pink hue in the glass and a burst of distilled raspberry, watermelon, strawberry and zesty citrus, wet stones with lovely floral notes on the nose with lingering rosewater, mineral and a hint of spice on it’s steely frame, it comes in at just over 13% natural alcohol, which allows a fullness of expression and giving the impression of density, though still feeling light and refreshing on the palate. Complex and compelling all by itself, this Rosé certainly can match up with a variety of cuisine, from robust and spicy, perfect with BBQ and lighter fare as well including shell fish, poultry dishes and cured ham, stocking up while it lasts is a good idea, drink over the next 5 to 7 months, no need to wait.
($18 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2004 Weingut Kruger-Rumpf, Riesling Spatlese, Münsterer Dautenpflänzer, Nahe Germany.
Deep, golden and mature in character, the opulent and beautiful 2004 Münsterer DautenpflänzerSpatlese from Kruger-Rumpf is in a wonderful window, it may just be the peak period for this vintage with layers of apricot, quince jelly, candied pineapple, marmalade notes and vinous textural charm along with nice salinity, mineral, rose led florals and light earthy and petrol fume notes in a classic Nahe Riesling. In recent years I’ve been lucky enough to have been able to re-visit some 2004’s and they have really blossomed, losing the year’s awkward form, going from an almost an ugly duckling into a swan in bottle with age, this is especially true in some late releases by Schlossgut Diel and this Weingut Kruger-Rumpf Münsterer Dautenpflänzer Spatlese, both of which can still be found if you look, a well worth it exercise. The VDP Grosse Lage (Grand Cru) Münsterer Dautenpflänzer, a tiny parcel within Kapellenberg, is set on quartzite and loess-clay based soils, which in my humble opinion highlights fruit detail and brings out a yellow fruit profile along with crystal clear mineral intensity with this wine bringing out baked peach core on the palate with hints of honey, fig and liquid stone. Georg Rumpf is moving towards organic in most of the vines with his vineyards being farmed to sustainable practices with hand harvesting employed to ensure that only optimally ripe grapes are selected, there is intense attention to detail here, I was here at harvest in 2016 and saw the team in action as well as the vines, which are steep and well cared for, Rumpf goes for native (spontaneously with ambient yeast) on the cru trockens (dry) and fruity (off-dry and sweeter) Rieslings and his uses large old stuckfass (oak casks) with extended lees aging, this all adds to the wines purity, extract and concentrated depth. This such a steal, I highly recommend searching for a few bottles, drink now.
($40 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2015 Domaine de Gour de Chaule, Gigondas “Cuvee Tradition” Southern Rhone, France.
Vigneron Stéphanie Bonfils, following her mom’s absolute love of Grenache, continues to craft Domaine de Gour de Chaule’s Gigondas with that focus with 85% of the vineyards planted to Grenache, with about 10% dedicated to Syrah and Mourvedre, along with a tiny amount to Cinsault. This historic estate was started in 1900, but was not selling their own wine until the early 1970’s and not a serious domaine until Bonfils the elder got things rolling in the 1980’s, but since then has made a significant impact joining the greats of the region with traditional and authentic wines, joining the classics likes of Saint-Damien, Saint-Cosme, du Cayron, Grapillon d’Or, Montirius, Montmirail, Château du Trignon and La Bouissiere, as well as the new guys on the block L’Ourea and Kermit Lynch’s Les Pallieres. Similar to the more famous Chateauneuf du Pape, Gigondas is blessed with the sunny Mediterranean climate and clay and limestones soils, but they can be fresher and certainly less costly, with some having higher elevation vines that give a vibrant intensity to these heady full flavored Rhone reds. The average age of the Grenache vines planted within the Domaine de Gour de Chaule plots is 55 years old and Stéphanie uses whole cluster fermentations with cement cuves employed for both primary and malo (secondary) before being racked to used large foudres (oak cask) to rest, for about 18 months prior to bottling unfixed and unfiltered. This 2015 is brilliantly detailed, full bodied and shows the vintage’s depth and concentration perfectly, it delivers a warm rush of Grenache purity and character with sweet strawberry, boysenberry, kirsch and plum along with dusty stones (chalky), light floral notes, peppery spices, classic lavender (garrigue) and anise. This feels rich and textured in the mouth gaining earthy elements and while deeply fruit driven there is a spine of fine ripe tannins that gives a sense of structure that holds the weight in check, it never feels too heavy or dull, it’s a beautiful old school Gigondas that really impresses the palate. Imported by Rosenthal Wine Merchant, Domaine de Gour de Chaule Gigondas “Cuvee Tradition” is always a treat and a bell weather for the year and this 2015 an absolute must for Rhone fans, enjoy it for it’s youth now or put a few away for exceptional mid term drinking, as it will reward some patience, best from 2018 to 2026.
($32 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2008 J. Rochioli, Chardonnay, River Block, Estate, Russian River Valley.
An aging beauty with load a character and powerful intensity, in classic Rochioli style, this River Block 2008 impresses with a real palate impact, from their old vines and clones, this wine never fails to be massively appealing. A pure pleasure in the glass, reminding me of Chave Hermitage Blanc, the Rochioli River Block is rich and densely packed, this is no wall flower, showing sweet fruit, smoky oak and liquid mineral that explodes on the palate, in a wine which somehow remains fresh, detailed and heightened, revealing caramel apple, apricot, honeyed citrus/lemon curd, grilled pineapple along with butterscotch/creme brulee, it’s full bodied and thickly lush adding a bit of bright citrus tanginess, golden fig and vanilla cream. I can imagine this with lobster and or soft cheeses, it lingers on and on, it’s more Scarlett Johansson than Kate Blanchett in the glass, incredible for almost 10 years old. Deeply golden/yellow hued, though still crystal clear and perfumed, almost like a late harvest, but with a balanced vitality and a complexity flavors that offers a luxurious thrill ride, adding to the total experience and pleasure. Barrel fermented and aged in lots of toasty new oak, this Rochioli River Block is a full throttle style Chardonnay, but one that has aged well that you can’t help admire, and especially in an unheralded vintage like 2008. This Rochioli delivers everything you’d want and more, it’s a showy and flashy example of mature California Chard that rivals the best from Aubert and Peter Michael in this rich style. I love it’s overt nature and personality, if you have some of Rochioli’s single vineyard 2008 bottlings it’s a great time to drink them, in particular this one, it’s peaking right now and showing it’s best form, it’s great stuff, drink up.
($80 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2014 Parsonage Village Vineyard, Petit Verdot, Bixby Reserve, Estate, Carmel Valley.
One of the region’s most interesting wines and one of Carmel Valley’s best, the cuvee Bixby Reserve is a unique bold Bordeaux style red made mostly from Petit Vedot from Bill Parsons’ steep hillside estate just past the Carmel Valley Village. Bill along with his winemaker and son in law Frank Melicia, who also makes Alan Silvestri’s wines, have always gone for powerful ripe wines and this wine is oozing with black/purple fruit density and mouth coating tannins, highlighting it’s incredible palate impact, it’s an alien here in the valley where most of the wines are lighter and higher in natural acidity with the exception of Joyce’s estate Merlot and Cabernet bottlings, these are much less lean than Galante, Georis and the historic Durney ranch. Bill Parsons planted the seven-acre Parsonage Village Vineyard back in 1998 on a south-facing hillside, it’s is just about14 miles from the Pacific Ocean and about a mile east of the Village on the Carmel Valley Road. His vineyard is planted to 3.5 acres of Syrah, 2.0 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, 1.0 acre of Merlot and 0.5 acre of Petit Verdot (all of which, goes into this wine!), with estate being the first to plant Syrah in Carmel Valley, and they produce tiny amounts of wine. I’ve been a fan and following Parsonage since their first vintage and have always been impressed and admired the level of quality and richness they possess, and while some of the wines get a bit oaky at times and feel more like modern Paso Robles stuff, the region is hugely grateful to the diversity of styles available and Pasonage is certainly a head turning winery, that all said this 2014 is the most refined and balanced version I can remember, it shows a lovely purity and mineral tones, plus it has absolutely integrated it’s new oak to perfection, it takes Parsonage to the next level. Only two barrels were made in 2014, it was crafted with about 75% Petit Verdot and 25% Cabernet Sauvignon using 1 new Taransaud and 1 new Seguin Moreau, (less than 50 cases released) and while it has hints of smoky vanilla it has ate up that oak in a polished way, revealing a deep floral perfume and with a full bodied personality with opulent blackberry, sweet creme de cassis, plum and blueberry along with crushed violets, briar spice, cigar wrapper/tobacco, anise, chalky stones and cedar, picking up the Cabernet Sauvignon character in this opaquely dark and lengthy wine. This Bixby Reserve is a thrilling and big shouldered red, coming in at 15% natural alcohol, much in the same vein as L’Aventure’s Estate Cuvee, another wine that has lots of Petit Verdot in it, it has an amazing finish that goes on and on picking up racy currants, kirsch and acacia blossoms. Again, even though this is no wallflower or shy wine, I was surprised at the mineral streak and the focused structure that hides the weight in this sexy wine, though I certainly recommend robust cuisine to cut through the gripping tannin, it should prove a worthy cellar selection as well, drink over the next 5 to 7 years.
($80 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2014 Hanzell, Chardonnay, Estate, Sonoma Valley.
One of California’s absolute legends, Hanzell Vineyards in Sonoma Valley, is a historic winery founded back in 1953 by Ambassador James D. Zellerbach on 200 acres near Sonoma Mountain where cool breezes and perfect soils make for exceptional Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, which has proven out over the 60 years with amazing long lived wines of remarkable class and quality. The greats of California, Chalone, Mount Eden-Martin Ray, Swan and Hanzell made their mark in the wine world in the 1970’s and early 80’s with Chateau Montelena joining the party with their fabled victory over the French in the judgement in Paris tasting, but since then it must be said that only Hanzell has stayed at top of their game and remain a Grand Cru force! This 2014, while still a baby, is amazingly detailed, vivid and mineral driven with hedonistic concentration and depth, I am always thrilled to try these wines and this one is without question a beauty in every regard showing a light perfume of white flowers and flowing across the palate with a lemony vitality before gaining a full width of flavors that includes apple, bosc pear, peach and a hint of smoky vanilla and wet stones. Pure and heighten by natural acidity this powerful Chardonnay is ready to withstand decades of age, wow, this gets more intense by the minute adding hazelnut, and more lemon zest to it’s steely frame, anyone who thinks Burgundy rules the world might wanna try this magnificent Hanzell Chardonnay, it’s outrageously good, and a stunning example of what California Chardonnay be, beyond the buttery/flabby stuff that appeals to cocktail class of Chardonnay drinkers. An estate blend The Hanzell 2014 Chardonnay, is sourced from thirty-two acres of Hanzell’s historic Ambassador’s 1953, Day, de Brye, Ramos and Zellerbach parcels, all set on mostly hillside rocky volcanic and clay-loamy soils, that are planted to Hanzell and Old Wente (heritage clones) mostly, along with Robert Young, Dijon 76, Dijon 95, Hyde and Prosser clones, with an average age of thirty-five years on the vines at between 500 to 830 feet of elevation. Hanzell, to preserve freshness, fermented 75% in stainless steel tank with 25% barrel ferment, they pressed after a two hour cold soak on the skins and after primary (25% lees aged with full malos in barrel, the rest non-malo) the wine was aged in small barrique for 12 months, it’s a winning formula for this estate and the wine is just stunning, brilliantly golden pale with extraordinary precision and lingering tanginess. This bottle, a prize for Arsenal beating Chelsea in the F.A. Cup a couple of years ago, thank you Kim, it’s tasted even better than I’d have imagined! Drink from 2020 to 2028.
($70 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive