2014 Marie Courtin, Resonance, Extra Brut Blanc de Noirs Champagne, Sparkling Wine, France. The vital and elegantly lifted Courtin Extra Brut Resonance is a 100% Pinot Noir Blanc de Noirs that was fermented and lees aged in stainless steel with no dosage which gives this beautiful Champagne an intense and structured feel and crisp restrained nature, making it wonderfully pure and deliciously entertaining. Dominique Moreau, winemaker/cellar master at Champagne Marie Courtin, is crafting all biodynamic/organic grower fizz from a single vineyard in the Cote de Bars zone of the southern most part of the region, not too far away Chablis, set on the same Kimmeridgian (limestone) soils using a massale selection of old vine grapes that were planted in the 1970s. This warmer area allows for ripe fruit, light or non dosage and add to the textural pleasures of these sparkling wines made by Moreau, and while the domaine is rather new with the first release coming in 2005 this tiny estate is already highly regarded and sought after, with her offerings joining the likes of Mousse, Cedric Bouchard and Jerome Prevost as a rising star(s) in region doing an extremely dry racy style of mineral driven and terroir bubbly. Glorious with food, in particular briny oysters, seafood, caviar and or creamy cheeses like Epoisses! Briskly focused the 2014 Resonance has tight layers of citrusy fruits with lemon/lime, white peach/cherry, chalky details, steely mineral notes and with a vibrant mousse along with a slow reveal of richness and leesy nutty brioche. This very exciting stuff, more delicate than overt, with good acidity keeps things laser sharp and brilliantly vivid on the zesty palate, if you like more opulent/fleshy or generous Champagnes this might be a shock to your system, but there is no denying it’s class and quality, it’s a style I find thrilling and this Marie Courtin is one of my favorites. ($57 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2017 Joyce Wine Company, Syrah, Tondre Grapefield, Santa Lucia Highlands. Russell Joyce’s beautiful new releases continue to impress and this latest Syrah effort from Tondre Grapefield in the Santa Lucia Highlands is one of the best pure Syrah wines to date from the winery and the region putting it up in same league as Roar and Lucia with maybe a slighter lighter touch, but with absolutely gorgeous detail and medium bodied texture. 2017 is proving a great vintage for Joyce, adding to their stellar run of recent vintages, and while their Pinot Noir lineup is exceptional, digging deeper into their set up wines brings a lot of unique treasures including their fresh dry Riesling, a crisp Albarino, an awesome old vine Chenin Blanc and this perfumed and delicately spiced Syrah, this a winery on a great run and on a high. This vintage saw a bit more whole cluster than prior versions, maybe 30% or more in total, but the stems are wonderfully muted behind the amazing purity of fruit and floral notes with a layering of blackberry, creme de cassis, sweet plum and blueberry compote along with an array of herbs de Provence, peppercorns, anise, violette pastel and a light sense of earth, mineral and cedar. Joyce used small open top fermenters where they were cold soaked for about a week before fermentation began naturally with native yeast, with primary fermentation going for a couple of weeks before it was pressed to barrel. The Tondre Syrah, which has a stylish and rich mouth feel was raised in 100% neutral French oak barrels where it finished malos and the wine was left to age sur lie for close to a year before being bottled unfined and unfiltered to preserve its fresh and natural flavors, very much in classic northern Rhone style, and I love this stuff, it is a wonderful value too, and should get even better over the next 3 to 5 years, this brilliant red is one to stock up on. There is a lot to admire in this and all the current releases at Joyce, and things are even more exciting for the years to come, look for some really limited bottlings next year, Monterey County’s new generation has come of age, no question! ($28 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2014 Cameron Winery, Nebbiolo, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon. The smoky and slightly reduced Cameron Nebbiolo starts out very much like a Nuits-Saint-George Burgundy, but once it blows off and opens up a real Nebbiolo nature comes through with plum, poached cherry, raspberry and tangy currant fruits as well as a mix of red spices, dried herbs, flowers and anise, at once becoming exotic and classic, making it one of Oregon’s most intriguing reds. John Paul, Cameron’s winemaker, known for his famous Pinot Noirs, is also an Italian wine freak, especially Barolo, and he is a pioneer of Italian varietals and styles here in the Willamette Valley and his tricycle label Nebbiolo is a blend of his Jory soils (volcanic) Dundee Hills estate Clos Electrique Vineyard and the White Oak Vineyard. The 2014 Cameron Nebbiolo adds a dusty layer of tannins and brisk orange peel that balances out the warm fruit core, but the wine remains generous and textured throughout and it has a plenty of stuffing, it lingers on and on, making for a glorious and unique wine to geek out on over a long meal, as it certainly gains pleasure and complexity when paired with robust cuisine and given time in the glass to reveal all of its details. This wine really changes wonderfully with time and air, highlighting the youthfulness of it’s nature at this point, gaining zingy berry notes, damp earth and sweet flowers, it is great with food, I mean best with robust cuisine certainly and I would love to re-visit this unique and intriguing wine in another 3 to 5 years. I love this new set of Cameron wines, especially his Pinot Noirs of course, but his Italian inspired offerings are really sexy too, do not miss anything from John Paul! ($36 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2016 Foursight Wines, Pinot Noir, Clone 05, Charles Vineyard, Anderson Valley. Joe Webb and Kristy Charles of Foursight Wines have crafted a gorgeous set of new releases from their estate Charles Vineyard in the heart of the Anderson Valley and especially great is this 100% Pommard clone cuvee known as the “Clone 05” which is a serious, but wonderfully dream Pinot with heightened perfume, smooth red fruits and with subtle spice, mineral and well judged wood treatment to highlight purity and terroir. Webb, ex assistant winemaker at Joseph Swan and Charles made this “Clone 05” from selected Pommard blocks in the vineyard and a careful selection of barrels in the winery, all with native yeast primary and natural malos, using about 25% whole cluster, plus 75% de-stemmed, but whole berry grapes, everything hand down in the vineyard and in the cellar with hand punch downs, making for a small to wine, with only 262 cases, of elegance and with a gentile character, but with hints of raw integrity, earth and silky tannins. The 2016 saw about 40% new French oak, which is surprising as it doesn’t show too much in oak on the palate, except for faint sweet/smoky note on the finish and a hint on the nose, for it is the fruit that really shows up here, plus floral tones and a slight chalky stony element, both of which add to the depth and pleasure in this exceptionally pretty wine. A nice sense of richness comes through with air, but the acidity and finesse keeps things nicely restrained, the medium bodied palate feels lovely, satiny and graceful with layers of black cherry, raspberry, plum and strawberry fruits along with the mentioned earth, wild herbs, vanilla, rose petal tea, cinnamon and it finishes with a touch of blood orange, pomegranate and a deeper sensation of impact that makes this wine stand out. This wine has a very balanced 13.9% natural alcohol, yes ripe and textured, but with fine detail and energy, this is impressive stuff from Foursight, super for mid term cellaring, though brilliant now, drink for the next 5 to 7 years. ($54 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2016 Kelley Fox Wines, Pinot Noir, Momtazi Vineyard, McMinnville, Willamette Valley, Oregon. The gorgeously expressive 2016 Momtazi Pinot is spicy, vibrant and perfumed with a beautiful crimson/ruby hue in the glass, and as in 2015, Fox notes, this bottling is again 100% whole cluster, and it clearly shows in this wines intensity and tension. Kelley Fox has made another awesome wine, and while the vintage was ripe this bottling is fresh and precise in detail making it a stunning effort that is absolutely thrilling, especially if you like stem inclusion and it’s a wine that should only get better and better over the next decade! The all biodynamic Momtazi Vineyard always shows mineral and exotic spices resting on basalt from volcanoes this site has cooling breezes, dramatically set west of McMinnville with some east facing slopes, and Fox likes to highlight the terroir here, so she used no new wood at all, just neutral Burgundy barrels, native yeasts and this vintage came in at 13% natural alcohol, allowing the vitality and energy to flow freely in a pure, richly textured and balanced wine. The nose is explosive with wild flowers, dark berries, minty herbs (stems) and red peppery spices which leads to a medium full palate of black cherry, strawberry jam, plum and tangy currant/berry fruits along with star anise, cinnamon and liquid violets adding a hint of green tea, blood orange and pomegranate with just a kiss of earthy chard and subtle oak. I cannot believe how great this wine is, after falling so hard for the 2015, it was with incredibly high expectations I tried this vintage 2016, and it floored me and I would be hard pressed to pick a favorite, but after time in the glass this 2016 even seduced me further still, it’s tightly wound personality and the stemmy drive might not be for everyone, but for me it’s a total thrill and the potential here is off the carts, I’m putting a bottle away for 5 to 10 years. Kelley Fox has mastered her craft and style to near perfection, this latest set of wines is simply awesome, it particular her Freedom Hill Pinot Blanc and the 2015 and 2016 Momtazi Pinot Noir(s), these are do not miss wines from Oregon, this again is an impressive lineup from a huge talent. ($45 Est.) 95+ Points, grapelive
2013 Poderi Oddero, Barolo DOCG, Piedmonte, Italy. When I go Barolo there are a select group of producers I call my go to, and Oddero is one of those I always love and this 2013 is a beauty with classic Nebbiolo character, true Barolo structure, but finessed enough to be able to enjoy even it’s its youth with its acidity and tannin well hidden behind its pure fruit. Poderi Oddero has a collection of plots throughout Barolo, and while they do some amazing single Crus, I just love this DOCG blend coming from selected sites including Vigna Rionda in Serralunga d’Alba, Brunate in La Morra, Mondoca di Bussia Soprana in Monforte d’Alba, Rocche di Castiglione, and Fiasco and Villero in Castiglione Falletto, all of which are vineyards of great distinctive qualities that represent the region’s great terroirs. The primary fermentation is done in stainless steel to preserve purity and freshness, then the wine is raised in large used Slavonian and Austrian casks with some smaller lots using a bit of newer French oak barrels, then a majority selection is blended to form this Barolo. With the gifted winemaker Luca Vaglio, who’s been the lead here since 2001, Oddero winery has become one of the most prized traditional producers in Barolo, it was founded back in 1878 in La Morra around the town of Santa Maria and is still run by the Oddero family with vineyards on a combination of limestone, sandstone, clay and sandy soils. This 2013, which is more flamboyant than the 2012 and less powerful than 2010 has both the elegance and age worthy structure of each in a wine that finds the middle ground without losing out or missing anything, it’s an impressive Barolo with layers of blackberry, plum, poached cherry, damson plum and tart cranberry fruits along with melted black licorice, tar, minty herb as well as incense, dried violets, earth, chalk, leather and sandalwood. Air allows a textural mouth feel to come into view, and this well crafted Nebbiolo shines, though it needs patience and food to show its best, drink over the next decade and a half. ($39-50 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2017 Cruse Wine Company, Carignan, Evangelho Vineyard, Contra Costa County.
One of the most intriguing vineyards in California, the Evengelho Vineyard, a true heritage site, is all own-rooted on forty-foot-deep banks of beach sand alongside the Sacramento River Delta, now owned and run my Morgan Twain-Peterson of Bedrock Wine Co. who notes, Evangelho is a totally unique site, planted in the 1890s in Contra Costa County which suits the old vine Zinfandel, Mourvedre and Carignane that is there. While Peterson’s Bedrock is a field blend from here, mostly Zinfandel, Michael Cruse has decided to explore just the Carignan(e) as a solo expression, and he has crafted a beauty from this historic vineyard. The 2017 Cruse Carignan is deeply colored, inky dark with a purple/garnet hue in the glass, but the wine itself is vibrant and wonderfully fresh showing blackberry, blueberry and tart plum fruits, light spicy/cinnamony tones, a touch of sweet and sour herbs, a bit of earthy/meay charm, mineral and a nutty/cedary edginess. Cruse has made a wine of lovely depth, old vine concentration and playful easiness that is really fun in the glass, it’s juicy without being jammy and complex without losing any pleasure, it’s impressive stuff. Carignan is the new black, from Pax to Ridge, it is a grape to explore, look for some intriguing examples from Martha Stoumen, Ryme, Skylark, Broc Cellars, The Princess and the Peasant, the mentioned Pax and Ridge, and in particular this Cruse Wine Co. all of which due justice to this underrated varietal, mostly known for its European and Mediterranean versions from Corbieres to Sardinia and for being in some Southern Rhone blends such as Chateauneuf-du-Pape and Gigondas where it is a minor player alongside Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre. Drink this Cruse 2017 Evangelho Carignan over the next 2 to 3 years as it really suits being drunk young, even though I wouldn’t be surprised to see it age well too.
($35 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2015 Domaine Philippe Tessier, Cour-Cheverny Blanc, La Porte Dorée, Loire Valley, France.
The Cour-Cheverny La Porte Doree by Tessier, a natural wines vigneron in the Loire, is an all organic 100% Romorantin cuvée, the rare and unique grape, a native varietal to Cour-Cheverny. Coming from Tessier’s oldest vines grown on limestone bedrock under soils composed of silica and clay, and is fermented using native yeasts then aged in older, neutral barrels for much longer than his entry level version of Cour-Cheverny Blanc as well as being allowed to through full malos. The elevage on this La Porte Doree lasts about 10 months in a combination of Foudres and Demi Muids, then rested a further 5 months in cement tank before bottling to add density and texture without taking away from the fresh character and terroir. Romorantin is a sibling of Chardonnay, and was once very widely grown in the Loire region, but it is now only seen in the Cour-Cheverny AOC, making it a rarity, it produces an intense wine, with a steely charm and has a driving mineral tone, somewhat reminiscent of Chablis, though more oxidative in style and in personality. Vibrant and mineral fresh to start with white peach and citrus, the 2015 La Porte Doree turns a touch nutty with pecan and hazelnut, baked apple and orange rind before regaining it’s vitality and more steely character adding wet river rock and lemon/lime with some leesy rounded mouth feel which gives a slightly creamy sensation to the medium weighted palate. This very natural and far from the mainstream wine is very worthy of your attention if looking for a path much less traveled, it grew on me in glass and I found myself admiring it’s complexity, best to drink the 2015 over the next 2 to 3 years, better yet now.
($28 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2008 Bodega R. Lopez de Heredia, Rioja Crianza, Vina Cubillo, Rioja Alta, Spain.
The beautifully rustic old world Rioja Vina Cubillo Crianza 2008 from Lopez de Heredia is crafted from estate grown grapes featuring about 65% Tempranillo, 25% Garnacho, the local named for Grenache/Garnacha and with small amounts of each of Mazuelo and Graciano that is aged in large casks for 3 years with multiple racking(s) per year and getting a light fining for purity and clarity, while being bottled unfiltered to preserve all the natural character. The 2008 is open and textured, easy to love, highlighting the terroir of Rioja Alta and especially that of Vina Cubillas, which has an altitude of 410 meters, that keeps cool at night to ensure good acidity, and the vines have an average age of 40 years, that adds to the concentration and maturity of expression. The soil here is from the Tertiary Period (a geologic period from 65 million to 2.58 million years ago) and is a mixture of clay and limestone with a littering of river stones that gives these wines their Burgundy like quality and class, it’s place for exceptional Tempranillo, as well as Graciano and the Garnacha and allows the lighter and more delicate nature show through, and even though Vina Tondonia is their flagship vineyard, I always love the Vina Bosconia and especially this Vina Cubillo with it’s softer and more raw personality. This wine shows a slight oxidative note, and an earthy truffle/leather tone at first but feels lovely on the palate, and the stewed fruit blows off and gets fresher with air allowing a hint of dark flowers, creamy cherry and the palate deepens with an elegant textural sense adding a bit of wood and tobacco leaf as you sip further. The layers of Tempranillo led flavors unfold as expected with dark berry, anise and vanilla making core appearances, it needs food to really shine, rich winter stews, country or old school meat dishes and wild mushrooms do wonders for this classic Rioja, drink now.
($30 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2012 Olga Raffault, Chinon Rouge, Les Picasses, Loire Valley, France.
Wonderfully old school and elegant, the Olga Raffault Chinon Les Picasses is a pure and age worthy Cabernet Franc that pays tribute to the late Olga Raffault, who past a few years back, and who’s Domaine Olga Raffault is now and currently run by her granddaughter Sylvie and her husband Eric de la Vigerie who have faithfully carried on her tradition and style. These wines seem to last forever, I’ve been luck to try wines from Raffault dating back into the 70’s and 80’s and they remain vibrant and fresh with incredible structure and show lovely dimension and detail with classic red fruits, light bell pepper and mineral. The Les Picasses, from 50 old vines grown on limestone and alluvial clay soils from a single ancient riverbank plot is fermented and aged in large 30HL wood vats, about 800 gallon oak casks, where the Cabernet Franc is usually raised for between 12 and 18 months, though in some vintage the elevage can last 2 to 3 years, after being moved to chestnut casks and in more recent years they have experimented with more stainless in the wines, though this cuvee is all in the wood. The Les Picasses gets a bit of bottling aging before release, at least a year, and sometimes more, it averages about 48 months after harvest to allow things to be more softened when sold.Their importer, Louis/Dressner adds, Raffault’s Les Picasses’ often has a light garnet color belying the depth of fruit flavor and complexity. Its style is rustic, quite earthy, with hints of orange zest and deep, dark cherry flavor. The tannins are soft, but present, and the mineral complexity in the finish is superb, to which I certainly agree, I adored the 2007, 2008 and 2010 vintages, so I was excited to get my hands on this 2012, and it does not disappoint with a surprising and welcome fresh array of flavors with a sweet violet and saddle leather earthy nose leading to a fine palate of blackberry, currant, black cherry and plum fruits along with a hint of bell pepper, wild ceps, minty anise, stony elements and light cedar. This is so easy to love and a classic Loire Cabernet Franc, but with a bright intensity and freshness that makes it seem lighter than it is, especially with food where it deepens and adds even more complex detail, drink with robust cuisine over the next decade.
($27 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive