2005 Domaine du Vieux Chateau-Daniel-Etienne Defaix, Chablis, Les Lys, Premier Cru White Burgundy, France. Daniel-Etienne Defaix, who uniquely cellar ages his wines before release, continues this long family tradition of wine growing, which has been working the vines around Chablis since the 1500s, and now he manages 26 hectares planted exclusively to Chardonnay, which most all there vines in a selection of Premier Crus. Defaix, a natural minded vigneron, who’s family is from Avallon, not far from Chablis, with his ancestor Etienne-Paul Defaix moving the family into Chablis during the eighteenth century, he uses largely self taught methods to craft his wines with ideas passed down and learned from his own experiences. His severe selections of grapes and his long fermentations highlight his deft and gentile touch in the cellar, which shows here in his latest release of Les Lys from the 2005 vintage, it is a gorgeous Chablis with incredible texture, mineral notes, remarkable lively character from this warm vintage and polished depth. This 2005 gives a subtle floral perfume, hints liquid rock, clarified cream, apple, pear and lemon preserves as well as wet stone (chalk), acacia honey, hazelnut and lingering fleshiness of form, it is a seamless Chardonnay of great class and detail.
The Chablis 1er Cru Les Lys comes from a monopole plot known as “Clos du Roi” and the average age of the vines is close to 45 years on a sloping hillsides that have a near perfect southwest exposure that allows warm ripe flavors and richness, while the Kimmeridgian (limestone) soils give fabulous structure, acidity and minerallity. Daniel Defaix ferments, 100% de-stemmed grapes, in stainless steel tank, using 100% natural yeasts, at cold temps, which takes close to three weeks and then the wine is rested almost three years on the lees, again in stainless (only) and goes through natural malos, then racked again back to stainless tanks to aged up to ten years before bottling! The results are amazing and this 2005, which shows the benefits of that regime and the age delivers a great performance in the glass with a sexy layered mouth feel and secondary elements beginning to shine through. The “Les Lys” Premier Cru vineyard, part of the Vaillons, is located on the left bank of the Serein River, overlooking the villages of Chablis and Milly, making for an intriguing terroir, one of the most rare in the series of Premier Crus from Chablis and with a stony personality, but with a softer tone than some of neighboring sites, in particularly this Defaix version, it is wonderfully elegant, especially now. ($54 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2016 Uphold Wines by Ryme Cellars, Red Wine, Lot 01, California. Megan and Ryan Glaab of Ryme Cellars in Geyersville have created a second label Uphold Wines that are their way of giving back and all profits are donated to social causes and for the protection of equal rights, so here is a chance to drink some seriously fun and delicious handcrafted wine for the greater good of your fellow humans. The 2016 Uphold Red from Lot 01 is reportedly all Carignan, a grape the Ryme gang does exceptionally well and for the price, it is a killer little wine with a lovely quaffable personality and with crunchy fresh dark fruited profile. This Rhone (one of the Chateauneuf varietals) and Languedoc grape, found in Corbieres, Minervois and Gigondas wines, has been in the state for over a hundred years and old vine versions are easily as delicious and serious as Zinfandel, and can be found in many field blends from Heritage Vineyards.
Carignan or Carignane (as you sometimes see in California) is a grape on the rise and you are seeing many quality examples out there, especially from Pax, Ridge Vineyards, Martha Stoumen, Sandlands, The Princess and the Peasant, Broc Cellars and of course Ryan and Megan’s own Ryme Cellars, all must try versions of this varietal, just to highlight a few. The Uphold Red Lot 01 is juicy with loads of blue fruits and light spices showing layers of black raspberry, plum, blueberry and cherry fruits adding a touch of cinnamon, cedar and minty herbs. Everything seems easy, but substantial with a touch of rustic charm, this is super smashable and will be great with BBQ and hard sheep cheeses. Uphold is solid wine for a great cause, enjoy this over the next 2 to 3 years and be sure to check out the latest Ryme offerings, in particular, look for their Vermentino(s) and Aglianico, as well as the Ryme Carignan! ($20 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2017 Domaine de L’Eau, Muscadet Sèvre et Maine “Granite” Loire Valley White, France. The classic and briskly focused Domaine de L’Ecu Granite, from old vine Melon de Bourgogne in Muscadet’s Sèvre et Maine zone on granite soils for which this cuvee gets its name, is bursting with energy and subtle concentration, coming across a touch serve, but with air it turns amazingly lovely and should age decades. The 2017 shows loads of bright citrus and liquid mineral with light leesy notes, it leans on lemon/lime, wet river stones, a touch of white peach, straw, verbena and bitter almond. Fred Niger used traditional methods here and all organic grapes with low sulfur, as he prefers a very natural approach, he employs a gentile touch with his wines in the cellar all of which are gravity fed with no use of pumps, 100% wild yeast fermentations with no racking of the must, again with ultra low or no sulfur depending on the wine, with only 25 mg of sulfur added between alcoholic and malolactic fermentation in this Muscadet. As will all Muscadet Sèvre et Maine, by law, it was aged on the lees, in Fred’s cool underground vats, for 15-18 months, everything done to preserve freshness, vitality and purity, which really shows in this 2017 Granite, making for a vigorous white white that is a glorious Summer wine that will go fantastic with freshly shucked oysters and or chill beach sipping.
The Granite is a unique single parcel Muscadet from 50-60 year old vines in a single soil type that flows crisply across the palate with refreshing acidity, though that 15 plus months on the lees in tank adds a polished textural quality. Domaine de l’Ecu was originally founded by the pioneering Guy Bossard, who was a visionary in the region, like Joly saw the future in a spiritual connection to the land and the vines, going all organic in 1972, then the first in Muscadet to get certified biodynamic by Demeter in 1998. L’Ecu has been producing unique, single terroir wines for almost 40 years running now and Fred Niger, who trained extensively with Guy before taking over the estate in 2012, is an equally hands on vigneron and fanatic in the vineyards, he crops extremely low, and produces Muscadets that have remarkable depth, precision, as well as ageability. Like Guy, Fred is deeply committed to biodynamic and organic practices but he has taken these commitments even further by incorporating various types of energy work in the vineyards and in the cellar, as well as working with various vessels for aging including terracotta amphora and working without any, as mentioned above, added sulfur in many cuvées. Niger is like the Ganevat of the Loire, crafting an amazing array of wines, I adore his Muscadets, along with his more obscure wines like his Ange clay pot aged whole cluster sans soufre Pinot Noir and both his Gamay and Cabernet Franc too. ($26 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2018 Eden Rift Vineyards, Pinot Noir, Eden -A- Vent, Cienega Valley Estate, San Benito County. The new carbonic maceration/fermentaion Eden -A- Vent 2018 from Eden Rift is an exciting and easy to quaff Pinot Noir that plays the line between fruit essences and savory tones to perfection, much the same way a fine Cru Beaujolais does. This well judged version, crafted by Eden Rift’s Cory Waller, a native son of Hollister and the Cienega Valley, who was assistant winemaker with his brother mike at the famed Calera as well as having made wine in Oregon and New Zealand including Pinot specialists Soter and Martinborough. His latest set of wines at Eden Rift are extremely sexy wines, especially his Terraces 2017 Pinot and Chardonnay bottlings which are made from tiny yields and heritage clones, some from cuttings acquired from Calera, their neighbor on Mount Harlan, as well as his old vine red from vines that date back to 1906, along with the crisply dry Rosé of Pinot and this fun Carbonic Eden -A- Vent. A tour of Eden Rift was riveting, both in wine tasting and the views on offer, and the scenery is amazing with steep terraced vines and the historic setting, in fact the Eden Rift property was originally planted in 1849, making it one of the oldest wine producing sites in California. The estate has seen many owners over the years, though it looks like new owner Christian Pillsbury, one of California great wine enthusiasts who helped get Coravin up and running and who after meeting famed Burgundy guru and importer Martine Saunier of Martine Wines, who helped mentor him and pushed him to un imaginable heights in the wine world, as he played a huge role in Hong Kong’s rise in the wine world. Representing such iconic brands as Chateau Rayas of Chateauneuf du Paper in The Rhone and Domaine Leroy in Burgundy with Martine, and getting into the greatest Chateaux of Bordeaux made him one of kingpins in the Asian wine world. Still, he wanted roots in California and began a search for a meaningful property to made a unique wine and brand, and that over time led him to the Cienega Valley and to this estate that would become Eden Rift. When Christian took control of this site he immediately set about replanting and grafting to Pinot Noir and Chardonnay along with restoring the old vines and began expanding unused areas with a few Rhone plots as well.
The 2018 Eden -A- Vent Carbonic Pinot, made from exclusively 828 clone, was 100% whole cluster, fermented in a closed small stainless tank with an adjustable (floating top) that sealed the whole bunches creating that no air environment with Waller keeping a close eye on things venting CO2 when needed and getting the wine off the stems at exactly the right time to keep the bitter notes in check, while allowing the subtle earthy tones to come through. The Eden -A- Vent was then aged in used French barrels for a few months before bottling to keep it lively and fresh, which it is and unlike more commercial carbonic it avoided the candy/bubble gum and wild tropical (banana) flavors, instead it has a sense of Pinot fruit purity and is very poised in the glass with a lovely ruby hue, soft florals and a layered palate of black cherry, plum, wild strawberry and pomegranate fruits along with a hint of pepper, chalk dust, dried lavender, grilled citrus, fennel and a faint sweet and sour Thai basil and racy currant jelly note. This is vivid and vibrant, it should be served with a little chill to keep its juicy character flowing, it has a light/medium body, but does impress for impact and style, it makes for a fun choice for picnics, outdoor dinning and BBQ’s, I can easily find dishes and occasions for this stuff, Korean beef with Kimchi rice, spicy pulled pork and coleslaw and blackened salmon all solid choices. For many years, the Eden Rift estate tried Italian varietals with limited success, but Pillsbury, a huge Calera fan, saw the calcareous, granitic, limestone and mineral-rich soils throughout, and his intuition compelled him to believe that Burgundian varieties would and should again thrive in this isolated, wind-swept mountain canyon, and already the potential is obvious. This is a winery to watch and the current set of wines are worth searching out, and you can’t help but admire the pioneering spirit here, check it out! ($28 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2018 Domaine du Bagnol, Cassis Blanc, Provence, France. One of the most under the radar wines in the world, but one of the very best is the white from this tiny picturesque fishing village in Provence, not far from both Bandol and Marseille, usually crafted from Clairette Blanche along with Ugni Blanc and Marsanne, with Domaine du Bagnol being one of the finest available. This white is great with all types of sea food and Cassis, which was first planted to the vine in the 12th century and the vineyards were developed on the north, east and southeast slopes that surround the village which sits immediately on a little bay on the Mediterranean, in unimaginable beauty and perfectly placed to supply the tables of ocean front bistros. While like most of Europe, Phylloxera wiped out the vineyards almost completely in 1870, but by 1892 Cassis had re-established their vineyards and began swing up in quality as well, which continues today. Domaine du Bagnol has going through many up and downs, but under currant owner Jean-Louis Genovesi, a native of Cassis, and his son, Sébastien, they have revived the domaine. The estate’s wines, both, the Blanc and Rosé, are more compelling than ever. The domaine sits just beneath the imposing limestone outcropping of Cap Canaille and is a mere 200 meters distance from the shores of the Mediterranean. Thus situated, the Domaine du Bagnol is the beneficiary of the cooling winds from the north, northwest and northeast including Tramontane, as well as the famous Mistral and the Grégal along with the natural gentle sea breezes that come ashore daily during the growing season in this ideal and glorious setting.
Domaine du Bagnol Cassis Blanc is made from mostly Marsanne at about 51% complemented by Clairette Blanche at 31% and with a good dose of Ugni Blanc 18% which is all de-stemmed and cold pressed and fermented totally dry with no malos to preserve intensity and freshness details, the fermentation continues for three weeks in cement cuves all very gentile and temperature controlled with cooling jackets. Importer Rosenthal/Mad Rose Group adds, The vineyards to produce the white wine at Domaine du Bagnol cover a bit less than 9 hectares and are planted on a gentle slope on clay and limestone soils with a north by northwest exposure, all of which adds to the cool and crisp feel on the marvelous palate and gives this wine its terroir complexity, along with the cellar work making this wine incredibly pure and vivid. The profile, somewhere between Picpoul de Pinet and Chateauneuf Blancs, of Cassis Blancs is of more coastal Mediterranean warmth than lets say Saint-Joseph Blanc, but still vibrant and elegant, less weighty than some of the coastal or island Vermentinos, they shine with fruit from the clay and mineral/stony character and acidity that the limestone highlights. This 2018 Bagnol delivers layers of white peach, green apple, tangerine/lime citrus, wet stone and a hint of waxy tropical fruit as well as touch of orange blossom, muted spices, saline and apricot pit all in a vibrant, but smooth feeling white wine of refined class. Domaine du Bagnol, along with Clos Ste. Magdeleine make some of the most exciting wines of the Cassis AOC and should never be overlooked, especially for long Summer days and Marseille style cuisine, especially their famed bouillabaisse. ($29 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2015 Domaine Jean Foillard, Fleurie, Cru Beaujolais, France. Jean Foillard, who took over his father’s domaine in 1980, is one of the legendary Cru Beaujolais producers and best known for his stylish wines from his vineyards that are are planted on the Côte du Py, the famed slope outside the town of Villié-Morgon and the pride of Morgon, but he also has a tiny parcel in Fleurie that makes for maybe his most exotic and perfumed bottling of Gamey Noir. These vines sit on rare pink granite, while his Morgon vines on set on the regions classic granite and schist soils that sit on an alluvial fan at the highest point above the town making for super intensity and vigor as well as imparting great complexity, for which Foillard is famous for, as well as the finessed winemaking that rivals the best of the region. Foillard’s Morgons, as noted by Kermit Lynch, his importer, are deep, structured and evocative, with a (sexy) velvety lushness that makes them irresistible when young despite their aging potential. It is pretty well known now that, Jean raises his wines in older barrels sourced from top estates in Burgundy, one being Domaine de la Romanee-Conti, which a logical decision for someone crafting Gamay in a traditional Burgundian style. Kermit also notes, Foillard was greatly inspired by natural wine guru Jules Chauvet, a traditionalist who defied everything that the more commercial brands were touting in the region and wanted to go back to pre-industrial organic farming and not use chemical additives in the cellar. Jean and three other local vignerons, Marcel Lapierre, Jean-Paul Thévenet, and Guy Breton, soon joined in on the movement, This became the Gang of Four, as Kermit christened them, who called for a return to the old practices of viticulture and vinification, starting with old vines, never using synthetic herbicides or pesticides, harvesting later for ripe density, rigorously sorting to remove all but the healthiest grapes, adding only minimal doses of sulfur dioxide or none at all, and refusing both chaptalization (the addition of sugar in the must) and or filtration, all to promote purity and terroir.
The Foillard Fleurie is made exclusively from a single hectare and sourced from two lieux-dits, Grille-Midi and Champagne (where top Dutraive’s, the king of Fleurie has his best parcels), of organic 45 to 50 years old vines set on the mentioned pink granite and sandstone that give this Cru its unique personality and heightened perfumed character, and this 2015 with its warm vintage fullness is a seductive and hedonistic wine that rivals the famed 2009! Foillard for this wine used native yeasts as per normal and the whole cluster fermentation lasted about 4 weeks before racking to those neutral (used) Burgundy barrels a total of 9 months in oak. Foillard also choses to hold back his Fleurie in the cellar, in bottle for an extra year, so when his Cote du Py, his signature wine comes out the very limited production Fleurie is on the previous vintage, making it always a touch more polished and elegant on release. This 2015 is still remarkably fresh and fruit dominate with a dark grapey essence and purply color in the glass, it is well structured and lively with layers of sweet plum, black cherry, currant and strawberry fruits as well as a hint of savory spice, mineral tones, crushed violets, walnut hard wood and a stemmy/herbal edgy/grip that doesn’t rise to the level of aggressiveness, but adds a contrast to the opulence and succulent mouth feel. Nice underlying acidity also helps cut the impression of weight keeping things wonderfully vivid in this impressive Fleurie, it has at least another decade of almost heroic decadence ahead it it, this is gorgeous stuff for those lucky enough to get their hands on some. Foillard’s 2016 are a touch retrained by comparison, but well crafted, and I am on my seat’s edge waiting for the thrilling and dynamic 2017’s, which will not have the weighty seduction of the 2015’s, though should make up for it in vitality, class and purity. ($54 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2016 Weingut Selbach-Oster, Riesling Kabinett, Zeltinger Schlossberg, Mosel Germany. The 2016 Zeltinger Schlossberg by Johannes Selbach at Selbach Oster starts with mineral intensity and reduction before opening to a delightfully lacy off dry Riesling with orchard fruits and tangy acidity that never lets you forget the slate driven terroir. Johannes Selbach and his wife Barbara, run this famous winery which dates back to the 1660’s with the increasing help of son Sebastian and daughter Hannah, manage their vineyards and cellars along with the added talent of ex-Kartauserhof man Christian Vogt, as a winemaker. Selbach-Oster has continued the use of traditional oak fuder in his cellar, bringing in new large casks every few years. Vinification is carried out in a combination of fuder and stainless steel, in a hands-off manner with no fining, and predominantly with wild yeasts, but are well known for the purity and clean definition in their wines. Based in Zeltingen mostly, Selbach’s holdings include many old vine parcels in some of the Mosel’s most prime vineyards set on almost exclusively blue Devonian slate, as is the case with this Schlossberg cru, one of my all time favorites. Selbach is unafraid of low alcohol and residual sugar and excels in the sweet wines, but their drier offerings should not be overlooked, especially their single parcel wines, though I adore their Spatlese and Auslese too. If you are looking for insane values, Selbach’s Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Riesling Spatlese Feinherb Ur-Alte Reben (Ultra Old Vine) and this Kabinett Zeltinger Schlossberg are do not miss wines.
While 2016 posed a difficulty in vineyards and was making everyone a nervous wreck with an exceptionally weirdly cool summer, fall ended with a really good stretch that saved the vintage from mediocrity in what some German winemaker call a divine miracle, and the wines continue to shine and get better in bottle, like this one. The flinty/sulphur nose blows off quickly in the glass to reveal delicate tropical notes, peach, apricot, tangerine and muskmelon along with a touch of earth, citron/herbs, crystallized ginger, wet shale and tart apple skin. The light frame is countered by the creaminess of the sugar and the vibrancy hides the extract and depth, so there seems to be even more to come in the Schlossberg given a few more years, but it is a easy Riesling to enjoy now. I loved the denser form of the 2015, it was a touch more hedonistic and pushy, but this 2016 is a classic, and I hear that 2017 might be the best ever, if so I am looking forward to that! Be sure to try the Selbach-Oster Schlossberg with your favorite Asian cuisine, it’s magic and shows twenty times better with medium spicy foods and or robust dishes. ($24 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
The Chenin Renaissance by Kerry Winslow, grapelive.com
Chenin Blanc, the famous grape of Vouvray and Montlouis, also known also as Pineau de la Loire among other names, is a white wine grape variety from the Loire Valley of France where it makes some of France’s most sought after wines like those of Domaine Huet, Chidaine, Joly and Guiberteau. Chenin has been in California for a longtime and it was once as popular as Chardonnay if not more so prior to the early 1980s. Recently this grape has made a comeback and is highly regarded by sommeliers and wine geeks with many outstanding examples being made throughout California, below I am highlighting a few that really standout. Its high acidity means it can be used to make everything from sparkling wines to well-balanced dessert wines, although it can produce very bland, neutral wines if the vine’s natural vigor is not controlled. This renewed interest and the rise of Chenin in California looks set to be a thrilling movement, that looks unstoppable as people look to exciting alternative offerings, one just has to look at the success of Albarino and even Gruner Veltliner to see this is not just a passing fade.
Outside the Loire it is found in most of the New World wine regions, in fact During the 1980s, the California wine industry had more acreage of Chenin blanc planted than France, though the numbers of plantings later steadily declined. it is the most widely planted variety in South Africa, where it is also known as Steen and like California, there are some amazing versions too, like those from Sadie Family, Reyneke and Mullineux. For most of its history in the California wine industry, the grape was considered a “workhorse variety” that could be used anonymously in bulk and jug wine blends, but there also was some fantastic versions being produced, anyone who had Daniel Gehrs, Chalone, Casa Nuestra, Durney or Chappellet, just to name a few, can tell you these are and were amazing examples. Chenin’s natural acidity and ability to adapt to wines of varying degrees of sweetness made it an ideal blending partner with Colombard and Chardonnay in mass-produced blends, as well as making interesting dessert versions like those made by Sterling Vineyards during the 1970s.
Chenin grows from the Baja to Mendocino to great effect with serious plantings in Santa Barbara County, the west side of Paso Robles, Monterey County, the Sierra Foothills, Lodi, Clarksberg, Sonoma, Napa Valley and the mentioned Mendocino County, and there are a number of vineyards that date back to the middle of the last century.
The newer generation of Chenin champions in California include some exciting new producers as well as some old hands, including talents like Ted Lemon of Littorai, Pax Mahle, Chris Brockway of Broc Cellars, Justin Willett of Lieu-Dit, Andrew Jones of Field Recordings, Combe by Raj Parr and Stolpman Vineyards, Tegan Passalacqua of Sandlands, Russell Joyce of Joyce Wine Company, Jaimee Motley as well as the classics still made by Nuestra, Chalone and Chappellet. It is a great time to re-discover Chenin Blanc in California as it re-emerges from obscurity to center stage, here are three wines to look for that are either out now or will be very soon, these are small producers that focus on handcrafted wines and have put a lot of effort into making these beauties to highlight the grape’s best qualities and terroir. Chenin’s rebirth in California is rewarding to watch in real time, especially with these wines.
2016 Pax, Chenin Blanc, Buddha’s Dharma Vineyard, Mendocino County. Chenin Blanc has made a remarkable come back in California in recent years, it was arguably the best white wine in California back in the 70s, 80’s and into the early 90s, but had fallen into obscurity until these times with people like Ted Lemon of Littorai, Andrew Jones of Field Recordings, Justin Willett of Lieu-Dit, Raj Parr of Combe, Jaimee Motley, Tegan Passalacqua of Sandlands, Royce Joyce of Joyce Vineyards and Pax Mahle, who has made this new one under his Pax label, but has been doing awhile under his old Wind Gap label. Those old school wines, like Daniel Gehrs, Durney, Chalone, Chappellet and Casa Nuestra (still making it) from old vines were unique wines, so I’m glad this grape has made its rennesaince in California, This Pax 2015 Buddha’s Dharma Chenin shows exceptional and crystalline flavors and has a crisp and tangy dry palate with classic varietal presence in the glass. Pax crafted this bone dry wine with native yeasts, whole cluster pressing, he fermented his Buddha;s Dharma in a combination of stainless steel, concrete plus used barrel and raised it all well seasoned neutral french oak casks for 10 months, finishing up at 12.9% natural alcohol, which shows it this wine’s cool refreshing presence in the glass.
Planted in 1944 just north of the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, this old vine vineyard is one of the gems of Mendocino, it’s dry farmed without chemicals, to organic principles at the base of Enlightenment Mountain. The Chenin is grown on gravelly volcanic soils, and Pax says he is absolutely amazed at the concentration and intensity of fruit from these vines. The 2016 Pax Chenin is flinty and smells like liquid rock, almost Riesling like in intensity, and is wonderfully brisk in detail with lifted citrus at its core, but as the wine opens you realize just how much more is there, it reveals white peach, white flowers, lemon/lime and golden fig notes. I can imagine this amazing Chenin aging close to two decades gaining in complexity with every year, those that like the classic Saumur or Savennières, think Joly or Domaine aux Moines! This wine is more mineral driven than fruit driven with a steely core that again is more similar to a dry Riesling or Chablis, though again with air it fills out on the palate and adds spicy elements, wet stone and light herb notes, and food really makes everything come alive even further, especially creamy cheeses and or even oysters. Lingering with delicate floral tones and a hint of paraffin/wax this is a lovely crisp white wine. ($26 Est.) 93 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!
Getting an extended pre-release preview and drinking it over several days really proved 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, it will be very limited on release, so you’ll want to be sure to let Joyce know 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 snd 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.) 93+ Points, grapelive
2017 Sandlands, Chenin Blanc, California. Tegan Passalacqua’s inter-regional Chenin, under his Sandlands label is a beauty with fresh detail and lively fruit with pure peachy charms and delicate mineral focus. This wine is 58% Chenin of Passalacqua’s own Kirschenmann Vineyard, in the Mokelumne River AVA of Lodi, and 42% Chenin from the Buhdda Vineyard located on the Talmage bench in Mendocino County. Wonderfully balanced and rich in texture this graceful white is only 12.4% natural alcohol, making it feel easy to quaff, though it comes through as a complex and serious wine. The Sandlands label is the personal project of Tegan and Olivia Passalacqua, a small winery that does a line-up that encompasses some the forgotten classic California varieties, like this Chenin Blanc as well as Mataro (Mourvedre) primarily grown on decomposed granite/sand. Tegan gets his grapes from regions and vineyards that have been farmed for many generations, but maybe have remained the outliers of California viticulture, featuring mostly head-trained, dry-farmed and own rooted vines, with vineyard sites that, as he puts it, harken back to California’s roots of exploration, wonder, and hard work.
Tegan, a Napa Valley native, got his start in the wine industry working in winery labs in Napa, but quickly established himself as a talent. For the past eleven years, he has worked for Turley Wine Cellars, working his way up from harvest intern to Winemaker/Vineyard Manager, where his has crafted some of America’s best wines, especially his old vine Zinfandels. Additionally, he has worked in the cellars of Craggy Range in New Zealand with Doug Wisor, with Eben Sadie in the Swartland of South Africa, and with Alain and Maxime Graillot in the Northern Rhone Valley of France, all of which are legends in the wine world. Getting back to this brilliant 2017 Chenin, it’s hard to resist with layers of the mentioned peach, honeyed pear and vivid citrus on the medium bodied palate and the aromatics are exceptional with wet stones, white flowers, clove and apple butter that fold into the background flavors very nicely. The wine opens and expands with air, but still keeping its fresh and crisply dry nature all the way. it is a well judge effort that will drink well for quite awhile, be sure to look for this very reasonably priced white. ($22 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2009 Cobb Wines, Pinot Noir, Coastlands Vineyard, Sonoma Coast. Cobb Wines, founded in 2001, by winemaker Ross Cobb, is one of the state’s most respected Pinot Noir specialists, focuses on cool climate vineyard sites and traditional Burgundian practices in the cellar. Ross Cobb’s signature wine from his family’s Coastlands Vineyard which his dad David Cobb planted in the western Sonoma Coast back n 1989, and contains some of the oldest Pinot Noir vines on the Sonoma Coast. Coastlands, which is regarded as a top Cru in this region along with the likes of Hirsch and a few others, became famous for supplying grapes to the legendary Williams Selyem, who made many vintages of single vineyard wine from here. One of the coldest Pinot Noir vineyards in California, and as the winery notes, one of the last to ripen each season, this wind-swept 14.5-acre vineyard is located at an elevation of 900 to 1,200 feet, and sits on a ridge that overlooks the Pacific Ocean only about four miles to the west. The southwest-facing vines are set on sandy loamy soils (Yorkville and Kneeland types), and feature several different varieties of Pinot Noir including Pommard, Martini, Wadenswil, and Mt. Eden heritage clones. Ross Cobb, who holds a degree in biology from the University of California, Santa Cruz, has worked harvests in Burgundy and been the lap manager as well as an enologist for Randall Grahm at Bonny Doon Vineyard, before more serious winemaker gigs at Flowers and Hirsch, as well as having worked with Bert Williams and Bob Cabral at Williams Selyem and Ferrari-Carano Vineyards, as well as most recently crafting some thrilling wines at Reeve.
At ten years old, the Cobb Coastlands Pinot is proving to be a Grand Cru class wine with an amazing concentration of fruit, complexity/depth of flavors and textural pleasure, it was a thrill to re-visit this wine recently as I had had it only once upon release and tasted blind I thought it was a Calera Jensen, which is high praise as it is or has been one of the greatest Pinots in California, which this one easily matched up to. The 2009 vintage for Cobb was certainly more opulent in style than most years with an extra degree or so of warm and ripe fruit, while still allowing for his style to shine through with partial whole cluster and refined low alcohol, with the 2009 finishing at 13%, he also prefers longer elevage, with this one getting a full 20 months in 35% new French oak. Ross notes, while 2009 was a heart breaker in terms of crop size (less than 1 ton per acre at Coastlands), the fruit was spectacular, and I agree, even more now with age as this wine has found a near perfect place and drinking outrageously good. The nose is very seductive with potpourri, spice and a delicate earthy red fruit profile before a silky palate of black cherry, brambleberry, racy plum and strawberry fruits along with a hint of forest floor, minty herb, rose hip tea, a hint of smoke sweet toastiness with a touch of mineral. The flavors flow seamlessly in the mouth and everything is on point, this is a stellar effort that is still vibrant and with vivid detailing, making it a wine to search the secondary market for with excited vigor. There is so much to enjoy here, and it still has miles to go yet, even as a long time fan of Cobb, this one blew me away! ($70 Est.) 96 Points, grapelive
*In 2013 I reviewed Cobb’s special 2009 Diane Cobb: Coastlands Vineyard bottling, see that review by Clicking Here
2016 Chateau Massiac, Minervois Rouge, Languedoc, France. Here is an absolute stunner that has to be one of the great values of the vintage, proving again the Languedoc is a go to spot for awesome bargains, this savvy black fruited and spicy blend, heavily influence by the Mediterranean climate, made by Bernard Boudouresques of Chateau Massiac, in the Minerois region, is all organic hillside grown blend of about 75% Syrah and 25% Carignan, though they do have small amounts of Grenache and Mourvèdre as well. The Chateau Massiac, founded back in 1667, has a long history that dates back to the Roman Empire when this area was colonized by the Romans using the nearby Mediterranean port (30 kilometers) of Narbonne as an access point. In the 17th Century, two brothers from Massiac in the Auvergne region traversed the area in service to the King of Spain and eventually settled at this spot situated almost precisely halfway between the clock towers of the villages of Azille and Rieux Minervois.
Sadly during the French Revolution, the original “chateau” was burned to the ground in a statement against the disparity of wealth in France at the time. The certified organic domaine lies at the extreme south of the Massif Centrale, effectively in the gently sloping foothills that lead to the Mediterranean coast which is not terribly distant. The terroir is unique here with mainly clay, silt and sand with subsoils that are essentially limestone/silex and marble infusions, all of which was formed during the ancient Lutecian geologic era. The soils have particularly good drainage which accounts for the sexy concentration that Massiac delivers in its wines, especial their classic Massiac Minervois Rouge. As well, as importer Rosenthal notes, the site is exposed to both the winds that sweep north from the Mediterranean and the cooling northwest breezes coming from the mountains known as Le Cers which consistently dries the vineyard and makes it less vulnerable to the maladies of the vine, with this constant air flow aiding the health of grapes.
The 2016 Minervois was made with selected yeasts and fermentation and aging occurs in concrete tanks with about a month of maceration and primary, then the wine is racked back into concrete for aging that is almost 18 months, which gives these wines their sense of power, extraction and purity of form. This vintage, from all de-stemmed grapes, one of the best I’ve tasted from this domaine, shows blackberry, boysenberry, blueberry, plum and kirsch fruits along with dried lavender, anise, earthy loam, crushed chalk rock and lingering floral notes, light herbal elements, cassis and game. There is a presence in the glass with its inviting opaque purple/garnet hue and seductive medium/full boding palate and serious impact, something you usually don’t find in such a normally rustic country wine, this Chateau Massiac is a complex and opulent Rhone like wine that compares well with much more pricy wines, like those from Gigondas and Vacqueyras! ($18 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive