2014 Avaler, Cabernet Sauvignon, Dry Creek Valley.
This new Avaler 2014 Dry Creek Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is a deeply flavored small production wine crafted by Jon Phillips of Inspiration Vineyards and Dylan Sheldon of Sheldon Wines that delivers full flavors at a reasonable price, it shows the quality of vintage to near perfection with slightly cool year character and gorgeous opulence offering wonderful balance of vitality and richness. This wine’s release is timely with everything that is happening in the world of Cabernet Sauvignon, recently there has been a huge consolidation of top Napa Valley and Sonoma County vineyards with the potential of taking thousands of tons of fruit away from small independent wineries and boutique producers, in fact they say the average price for Napa Cabernet is heading to about $68 per bottle and parts of Sonoma not far behind, so it’s great to find a hand crafted Sonoma Cabernet with depth and true varietal layers for $25! The 2014 Avaler Cabernet Sauvignon Dry Creek Valley, 14.4% alcohol, is a 250 case cuvee that shows vibrant youthful blackberry, cherry, dark currant/cassis, raspberry and plum fruits, light floral tones, sweet tannins and with an array of tobacco, sage, coconut/vanilla and traces of licorice and liqueur. For those that love Ridge or wines from Alexander Valley will be thrilled with this Avaler Cabernet, as it is not as extracted as most Napa Valley wines, but with very stylish details and a medium/full body as well as having plenty of hedonistic charm and firm structure that makes it a Cabernet that will be flexible with cuisine and showcases the winemaker’s desire to have restraint and grace even in their macho Cabernet. It’s not hard to love this Cab, it gives lots of pleasure for the price, it’s especially joyful with grilled flank steak, prime rib and hard cheeses and is mostly ready to go as is, but should see some gains with age, drink from 2017 to 2025. www.avalerwines.com
($25 Est.) 91-93 Points, grapelive
2015 I. Brand & Family, Mourvedre Old Vine “Enz Vineyard” Lime Kiln Valley, San Benito County.
Ian Brand has made a gorgeous old world style wine from the little known Lime Kiln Valley from old vine Mourvedre that rivals many a Bandol, while Brand may not be a household name yet, he is one of Monterey’s most talented winemakers, crafting his Le P’Tit Paysan and La Marea wines as well as his signature I. Brand & Family offerings. His Enz Vineyard Old Vine Mourvedre is deeply colored with a dark garnet/purple hue that starts with a bouquet of flowers, spice and earth with intriguing violets and bramble berry leading to a palate of rich fruit, leather, peppercorns, loam and seductive meatiness. Layers of dusty boysenberry, wild plum, tart currant and baked cherry flow seamlessly in a dense mouth feel that is held together with ripe tannins and the savory raciness making for a serious wine that reminds me somewhat of Bedrock’s Heritage or Bonny Doon’s mid nineties Old Telegram and a bit like a Cornas too, though with the old school charm of a classic Bandol without the stinky brett, this is impressive stuff that is what is now commonly called “The New California” it’s a wine that reflects the best of what it’s own terroir is as well as paying homage to it’s historical cousins of the old world in a balanced fashion. This rich and full bodied old vine Mourvedre, with lingering kirsch, chalky stones, sticky lavender, minty anise and shaved cinnamon stick, certainly delivers the goods, and made me look up where the hell Lime Kiln Valley was, a touch humbled, I discovered it was in the greater Cienega Valley and has been it’s own AVA since 1982 with the Enz Vineyard first being planted back in 1895! The I. Brand & Family Old Vine Mourvedre “Enz Vineyard” Lime Kiln Valley is from head trained vines that was planted in 1922 grown on limestone, dolomite and covered by sandy loam and gravel along with a micro climate that sees a good diurnal temperature change allowing for very intense and focused fruit with color, flavor and complexity along with a nice lift of natural acidity, this means Brand can use partial whole cluster that adds loads of distinction and edginess, without question this is one of coolest and best finds of the year from the Central Coast! A recent stop at Brand’s tasting room in Carmel Valley Village proved a great experience and one of exciting new discoveries, in particular this Mourvedre that should enjoy a long life, as well as a Chinon like Cabernet Franc, a lovely fruit driven Grenache under his La Marea label and the brisk and energy filled Le P’Tit Paysan “Pierre’s Pirouette” Dry Rose of Mourvedre, Grenache & Cinsault that is a must have pink!
($42 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2015 Bow & Arrow, Melon, Johan Vineyard, Willamette Valley.
Inspired by the Loire Valley’s Muscadet Sevre et Maine the natural and stylish biodynamic Melon de Bourgogne by Bow & Arrow delivers brisk and bright salty flavors with a touch of new world richness, but remains faithful to the French version with driving acidity and steeliness making for a vibrant example of this varietal. Scott Frank’s Portland based micro winery has gained a great reputation for unique and interesting wines taking Bow & Arrow in it’s own direction, away from the only Burgundy influenced path that most of the Willamette Valley follows and is enjoying success with most of the wines paying homage to France’s Loire Valley and especially the Touraine and Muscadet regions with some stellar Gamay, Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc wines as well as this pretty, very dry and slightly raw Melon de Bourgeonne. Bow & Arrow’s Johan Melon starts with an austere nose of saline, ether, crushed earthy stones, straw bale and zesty citrus leading to a pithy palate of lemon/lime, unripe melon and a core of stone fruit, making it a superb seafood companion. Frank’s touch is brilliant here, as with Johan’s fruit giving loads of energy and character, it opens to fleshy peach and kiwi along with some bitter herb and spice offering a fruity vs savory balance along with a hint of brioche/lees that allows for mouth feel and substance, this white impresses for it’s zip and restraint while still giving texture and layers. The vintage shines through in all of the Bow & Arrow wines, these are wonderful efforts, don’t miss them, in particular the Gamay/Pinot Rhinestones blend, the Gamay and the straight Pinot Noirs, all of which are standouts. Bow & Arrow’s Melon is a fun and refreshing white that will compliment oysters, claims, mussels as well as raw milk cheeses and is a great alternative to the sea of less exciting whites out there.
($24 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2015 Domaine de Beaurenard, Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc, Rhone Valley, France.
The famed and historic Paul Coulon winery Domaine de Beauregard dates back to 1695 with brothers Daniel and Frederic Coulon now running this old Chateauneuf-du-Pape house along with the next generation Daniel’s son Victor now playing a bigger role and who I met recently at a trade tasting in Carmel, who was pouring the latest of his family’s wonderful wines. Beaurenard crafts two Chateauneuf whites and two Chateauneuf reds along with a distinct Rasteau Rouge and a great value Cotes du Rhone that always over delivers in quality, these are very intriguing and expressive wines on par with names like Vieux Telegraphe and even Beaucastel! The Beaurenard (The Beautiful Fox) estate with only 4 hectares of white varietals has been a top producers of Chateauneuf Blanc, and been making it at a top level since at least 1929, using a selection of about 30% Clairette, 20% Grenache Blanc, 25% Bourboulenc, 22% Roussanne and a tiny amount of both Picpoul and Picardan that makes up to 3% of the final blend. This 2015 is bright and vibrant at first with succulent and tangy apricot/peach, tangerine/citrus, unripe green apple with hints of jasmine, clove/spice and wet stones that all makes for an elegant a classy white with a mineral essence and a seamlessly flowing palate that expands to a medium body with sublime lightly leesy mouth feel. The warm vintage, contrary to perceived ideas, picked at perfect ripeness with good acidity still in the grapes is lively/fresh and the cool fermentations and no malolactic as well as short vat and barrel time before bottling really keeps this lovely Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc thrillingly vivid and refreshing. This complex and easy to love Domaine de Beaurenard Blanc gives a lot of joyous pleasure and is a great alternative to Chardonnay or White Burgundy offering enough grace and richness to impress any wine lover, drink from 2018 to 2022.
($45 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2015 Weingut Wittmann, Riesling Trocken, Rheinhessen, Germany.
Phillip Wittmann’s entry level dry Riesling is a pithy fresh wine that delivers crisp detail and pure flavors, while it lacks to thrilling concentration of the GG’s this lovely little wine gives a gateway insight into Wittmann’s style, vintage markers and terroir. Having tasted with Phillip Wittmann last year and tasting his signature Morstein I had a good base in which to taste this Rheinhessen Trocken that starts with driving citrus, loamy notes and white cherry before opening on the palate with more yellow fruits and mineral elements in a vibrant and juicy acid burst. The 2015 is still rather austere and tight, a bit surprising, but still charming and a solid value for a wine from a great vintage and pedigree, best to have with cuisine where it shine more clearly, especially with cured meats, oysters or light to medium spicy dishes, it is really vital and refreshing in a lighter frame than the more impressive and deep Grosses Gewachs and single vineyard Trockens. Wittmann began organic conversion in the 1980’s, got 100% organic in the early 1990’s and went full biodynamic in 2004, their adoption of Rudolf Steiner’s philosophy and farming has lifted Wittmann to new highs and the wines show amazing energy and class, making Philip one of superstars of Germany who has lifted the region’s reputation as well. The Rheinhessen has small pockets of terroir that is as good as it gets, and there is no doubt Weingut Wittmann is the leading light. The soils here are more limestone and clay giving the Wittmann wines their unique expressions, in fact Morstein always has a Chablis like steely quality and is a vineyard that was first mentioned way back in 1282, there is a stunning history here, Wittmann’s other top sites include areas of iron rich red volcanic and sandy loam and a bit of loess which adds to the complexity of each Cru, with the basic Trocken getting a bit of each in most vintages. This zesty Riesling Trocken has brisk mouth feel and vigor along with faint white flowers, tropical tones, peachy notes and spices finishing dusty dry and lingering rosewater, mango and biting bitterness. I can see myself enjoying a few bottles of this one on hot summer days, also look for Wittmann’s very rare Trocken Rose of St. Laurent and Pinot Noir, one of Germany’s most geeky fun wines!
($22.50 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2015 Alfaro Family Vineyards, Pinot Noir “Trout Gulch Vineyard” Santa Cruz Mountains.
The brilliantly garnet/ruby hued 2015 Alfaro Family Vineyards Trout Gulch Pinot Noir is a full flavored and concentrated wine with wonderful lavish fruit, but with multi-layered complexity showing subtle earthiness and exotic spices. Since Richard Alfaro took over the lease to Trout Gulch and starting farming this small beautiful vineyard, above Aptos, in the Santa Cruz Mountains has become a top spot for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir with his crew getting the best out of these grapes, which are mostly heritage clones I believe, set on heavy loam, gravel and clay like soils set against some coastal redwoods and a marine climate. 2015 vintage started with a small set of fruit, almost 60% down on 2014, but the year turned out with some spectacular fruit, tiny clusters and dark firm berries that gave intense richness and this Trout Gulch Pinot shows youthful density and structure, but with amazing purity with refined tannins and vibrant acidity providing a glorious framework to show off a palate of black cherry, plum, raspberry and blood orange fruits along with delicate rose petal, tangy tea spices, cinnamon, light earthy/mineral/stony elements, a bit of saline and lush polished wood notes. This is a sexy and seductive Pinot Noir (13.5% Alcohol) that saw about 40% or so new French oak, it really grabs your attention and delivers excellent quality and balance for the money, it should be available soon, but the Alfaro wine club will take the lions share as the yields were so low, so get your requests in early, but don’t miss out on the almost sold out 2014 either, which is also drinking great. Alfaro offers a few very limited edition Pinots from other vineyards, apart from the estate bottlings, these include Garys’ Vineyard, Lester Vineyard and this Trout Gulch Vineyard. The Alfaro estate wines are some of California’s best values and Richard’s winemaking and winegrowing talents are clearly showcased in his wines, his Lindsay Paige Estate Pinot Noir and Ryan Spencer Estate Syrah have been long time favorites of mine and now the Trout Gulch in recent years being added to my must have list of wines, especially these 2014 and 2015 vintages. Drink this Alfaro Trout Gulch Vineyard 2015 over the next 5 to 10 years, it’s a detailed and joyous wine that should develop nicely and age extremely well.
($38 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2015 Inspiration Vineyards, Grenache, Sonoma Valley.
Jon Phillips’ Inspiration Vineyards is a small boutique winery in Santa Rosa that is producing a strong lineup of hand-crafted wines, including this wonderful Sonoma Valley Grenache from Ceja Family Farms vines. Along with production manager Dylan Sheldon, of one of my long time favorites Sheldon Wines, Inspiration Vineyards makes elegant styled small lot wines from selected vineyard sites throughout Sonoma County, each wine is carefully done to highlight each terroir and delicate details, Phillips wants to offer easy to love wines that are full of flavor and value. The 2015 Grenache is highly successful in delivering the goods with a medium/full bodied and vibrantly expressive fruit along with concentrated depth and spicy lingering finish, this ripe and subtlety flamboyant Grenache shows off the vintage with forward nature, rich texture and silky refined tannins, while still being graceful and restrained in alcohol heat. The vines are set on a cooler site which helps with fresh acidity, but allowing the Grenache to express itself with juicy raspberry, sweet currant, dark loganberry, strawberry and pomegranate fruits as well as light peppery notes, mineral tones and tangy lavender. The color is deep red with bright ruby edges and the bouquet is grapey youthful with mixed floral elements with a touch of earthy charm that leads to the palate with a smooth transition making for a seamless and fun Grenache that is a bit lighter in styling, but exceptionally pure in varietal character and certainly it will thrill those that like old world wines, it gives that same sort of pleasure that you find in some Aussie Grenache or Spanish Garnacha. In Sonoma there is a cult of Grenache, somewhat underground, but thriving with wines like Bucklin, Mathis, Unti and Ridge Lytton Estate just to name a few good ones to check out along with this beauty from Inspiration Vineyards.
($29 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2015 Chappellet, Chenin Blanc “Molly Chappellet” Napa Valley.
The Chappellet old vine Chenin is a dry and dusty Savennieres style wine that thrills the Loire Valley fans and is one of the great wine geeks white of Napa Valley, even in a warm and small vintage like 2015 the Chappellet Chenin Blanc delivers steely crisp vitality and lovely balance. With subtle richness and flair this 2015 offers vine flowers, earthy lemon/lime, white peach and unsweet honeycomb as well as light herb and spice with palate that expands to almost a medium body with air, while remaining brisk and taught. There are a bunch of exciting new Chenins in California these days with Littorai being one of the most sought after, but there is Broc and Pax as well that deserve your attention, though classics like Casa Nuestra in Saint Helena, Chalone in Monterey County and of course this wonderful Chappellet offering. Lovely and bright with hints of mineral, leafy notes, earthy tones and stone fruit detail this is a stylish Chenin that can be enjoyed with a vast array of food choices. Chappellet’s current lineup is full of winners, including this Chenin Blanc, but also their 2014 Don Chappellet Signature Cabernet Sauvignon, just released, is a wonderful Napa Valley expression, pure and full bodied with a dazzling palate, right up there with the 2013! If you’ve not had Chappellet or not lately, you’ll want to sample this latest set, drink this Chenin anytime and while great fresh it will age too, as it does have loads of concentration and lifting acidity, best now through 2023.
($38 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2015 Sheldon Wines “The Red Hat” Red Field Blend, Napa Valley.
The upcoming release of The Red Hat is a stylish and old world inspired charmer with deep fruit and snappy spice, this concentrated and robust wine is from an inter-planted single vineyard of Petite Sirah and Cabernet Sauvignon grown with organic/holistic methods near the Mayacamas range not far from Calistoga. This 2015 The Red Hat from winemakers Dylan & Tobe Sheldon of Sheldon Wines, a tiny micro-winery in Santa Rosa, is a special single barrel wine, which should be released in the late Summer, as they like the tannins to soften and allow time for the fruit to open up, but it certainly is showing wonderfully now with gorgeous detail and an inner intensity of floral perfume, dense black fruits, earthy notes, wild briar/bramble and peppercorns giving this basket pressed California field blend a northern Rhone feel. 2015 was a great vintage, but the fruit set was very low, basically 50% less than normal for this vineyard, and serve hand selection and farming to get the very best from the grapes made for maybe the best yet from this unique wine, and I’m grateful for the chance to preview it, frankly I really enjoyed just drinking this one, it has many layers and facets to admire that take time to unfold in a slow seductive dance on the palate. The Cabernet reveals itself with blackberry, acacia flowers and subtle cassis, while the Petite Sirah adds a thick frame, plummy mouth feel and vibrant black pepper, but the varietal nature kind of takes a backseat to the vineyard/terroir effect, plus the gentle and hands off winemaking and use of neutral oak in this unfined/unfiltered wine. This very dark purple with garnet edges red leads with a sweet floral bouquet and faint earthy spices before a full bodied palate of mentioned blackberry along with tangy currant, concord grape, juicy plum, blueberry and huckleberry fruits as well as that vivid pepper, lavender, camphor, incense, kirsch and minty anise. There’s some tannin here, which makes itself known, but is graceful in it’s framing of this wine and at 13.5% The Red Hat is impressively showy, though refined, elegant even and balanced, again it takes it’s cues from the old world with a natural beauty that really gets the heart racing. With only 24 cases made, this will be wine to get on pre-order as I think it will likely only be available direct from Sheldon Wines, best to get your requests in early, it should age and develop nicely as well, best to hide a few bottles away, though as seriously good as it is now that might prove hard, drink from 2018 to 2024.
($48 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2016 Armas de Guerra, Mencia Rosado, Bierzo, Spain.
One of the most rare and unique Rose wines of the season is from Spain’s Galicia region of Bierzo, it’s a Mencia Rosado from Armas de Guerra, a label that is new to me and imported by Ole Imports and Chambers and Chambers (in California) and I learned Vinos Guerra is the oldest winery in Bierzo, dating back to 1879, and is famous for their Vermouth. The 2016 Rosado Mencia by Armas de Guerra is made from vines planted in 1963, over 50 years old, and is an all organic wine that is from free run juice and cool fermented in stainless steel, it is a very refreshing style pink wine that is invigoratingly dry and crisp with mineral and spice notes backing up a bright red currant and strawberry essence with crispy citrus, watermelon and sour cherry. This is the first Mencia Rose I’ve tried, and I will be on the look out for more, Bierzo’s location and soils add to the richness/ripe flavors, though Armas de Guerra’s Rosado is vibrant and zesty throughout with subtle fruitiness and savory/stone elements with lingering peppery spice, tangy herbs and faint rosewater. Oh by the way, for those that need extra confidence in such things, the Armas de Guerra wines are totally vegan as well as made completely without oak, and the price is right for such an enjoyable pale and light Rose.
($14 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive