Special Tasting Report

Grapelive Flashback
By Kerry Winslow

Wine is a celebration of a moment in time as much as it is a celebration of place and tasting old vintages is like a flashback in time, it reminds and stirs old thoughts, people and emotions, it an essential joy in experiencing wine. I am better suited to tasting young wines, but I am also thrilled to taste very old bottles and see what history has to say. Sometimes there is nothing left, maybe a hint or a sad whisper of life left, but other times there is magic, something truly special to rejoice in, and it is always best to have these times with people, a shared experience, with wonder, laughter and child like fascination, that is when wine is at it’s most glorious. Here are a few of my latest flashbacks, they include a very much alive and kicking California Cab from 1970, a fading 1983 Chateauneuf and a couple of other interesting characters that popped up in this last week.

1970MondaviCS1970 Robert Mondavi, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley.
For sure at full mature status, but still alive with secondary flavors and refinement, this is classy stuff with autumn leaves, forest floor, mild stewing of red fruits along with loam, currant, black cherry, mint/anise, sandalwood and tea notes adding to a core of plum, blackberry and cedar. I was getting this bottle late, maybe after a few hours of being opened, but things were very together and while not a mind-blowing wine, this was a great drinking old California wine, holding on respectably well, and certainly if you were to find a bottle of this wine out and about it would be a super evening spent enjoying a more than pleasant Napa Cabernet at 44 years of age! As with the next wine, a big thank you goes out to Josiah and Stevie of Bay Grape in Oakland California for sharing this beauty with me, their kindness is something for which I’m most grateful, they have a very cool wine shop and tasting bar, be sure to support them if you live near by.

1983Beaucastel1983 Chateau de Beaucastel, Chateauneuf du Pape Rouge, Rhone Valley, France.
I have had a few old Beaucastels, and have even had direct from the Chateau bottles with Francois Perrin, a once in a lifetime experience to taste about 10 vintages of Jacques Perrin, plus I have twice in the distant past had this 1983, so it was wonderful to see what it was like now, even if only a flitting glimpse. Well, this bottle was fading fast and while I enjoyed it, it must be said I think she’s toast at this point, but I highly suggest drinking it up, as I have found lots of bottle variation and there will be some real gems, even though it won’t get any better from this point on. Again, I got some of this bottle late on and while I personally found some fruit and pleasing character, many of those that tried it didn’t have the same joys. I know these wines show high levels of brett and can be very animal/horsey in flavor, this bottle was more about soy sauce, bouillon cube, decaying flowers and strawberry reduction. Each sip was differing and while very beefy in profile there was hints of past glory with kirsch, raspberry, leather, dusty stones and lavender oil. The final sip turned to wild boar, blood and jerky with a total final death throw, sad, but still worth the time and experience. Again thanks to Bay Grape for allowing me to revisit an old friend, if you have this or any eighties Beaucastel, best to get on with popping them corks.

VTMiura2000 Domaine du Vieux Telegraphe, Chateauneuf du Pape Rouge, Rhone Valley, France.
Wow, the nose on this magnum bottle of Telegraphe was stunning with delicate strawberry, floral notes and thyme, it was at it’s best in the bouquet, and while the follow on the palate wasn’t up to those expectations, given the nose, it was still a reliable and purposeful wine if not all that great, I suspect there are better bottles out there, but you never really know with these middle aged Vieux Telegraphes. I certainly think the 1999 is one of the best ever, but I have often been left a bit flat by the 2000 and lately by the 1998, both highly regarded vintages, leaving me to believe it’s best to buy VT in the off vintages! While not great, the 2000 from magnum still showed near perfect color, no off notes and drank well, without much change at all throughout the night, solid, but not all that memorable with lots of chalky, chunky tannins, red peppers and medium depth of fruit with raspberry, minty notes, cherry pie and poached plum. I feel it best that 2000 better be consumed sooner vs later, and again I am sure some bottles will show much better of this Rhone classic.

2007 Miura, Pinot Noir, Garys’ Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands. (bottle-label above with VT)
I have always been a fan of Miura and of course of this great vineyard, but the 2007 Miura was a huge surprise, this wine is really showing great with less over the top fruitiness than it had while young, but still very dark in profile with violets, black plum and dark cherry leading the way, also the oak has subdued and melded in perfectly making for a wonderful Pinot Noir and while not shy, this vintage has plenty of balance and life. Starting with a rich hue, ruby/garnet in the glass the 2007 Miura Garys’ boasts dense black and red fruits, spice/briar notes and creamy texture with plum, rose petals, blackberry/boysenberry, mocha and subtle earthy charm. The acidity which felt low in the first year of release has come back and adds a vigor and lift which has gifted this wine with class and elegance, while still being a rather big and powerful example of modern Pinot Noir from the Santa Lucia Highlands. I’ve tried many a young and old bottle of Miura Pinot over the years and have always maintained they age exceptionally well, and this wine especially looks set to live another 10 years easy and be very pleasing along the way, great showing, this wine really is lovely.

1976Fargues1976 Chateau de Fargues Lur Saluces, Sauternes, Sweet Bordeaux White, France.
This sister wine to the fabled Chateau D’Yquem, by the Lur Sulaces family and from their own estate is spectacular, maybe one of my favorite vintage wines of the year so far, this 1976 Chateau de Fargues is totally sublime. A huge thank you to my friend and Sauternes expert Fred Daniels (my palate thanks you again for another great sticky) for sharing this amazing sweet wine with me, this was truly a monumental wine. In recent years I’ve been able to try a lot more old, and young Sauternes, and as I get more experience with them, the more I crave them, these are unbelievable values in the wine world, except maybe D’ Yquem, but you can find these great wines at reasonable prices, houses like Coutet, Fargues and lesser known Sauternes can be had pretty easily at prices way under the price you’d pay for a very average Cabernet or a vintage Port. The 1976 Chateau de Fargues is sweet, haunting and mouth filling, but impeccably balanced and refined, slightly amber hues now show, mature orange edges and honey gold in color leads to a joyous palate of nectarine, honeyed yellow peach, ripe melon, lemon curd, creme brulee/vanilla and candied orange rind, pineapple, bees wax and brioche. This mature Sauternes has some earthy ones, with supple thickness and a long linger of honeycomb on the finish, this is very sexy stuff, mostly Semillon, drink now and for another 15 to 20 years. On a personal (purely my own opinion) note, I really like where this wine is right now and I’m sure many people would argue to let it sit in the cellar, I honestly think now is a good time to explore this glorious Sauternes.

Wine of the Day September 15, 2014

2012BFV2012 Beaux Freres, Pinot Noir, The Beaux Freres Vineyard, Ribbon Ridge, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
Still young and showing sweet/smoky wood upfront the new Beaux Freres is still a classic and will be a total rockstar wine, given the vintage and the history here there is no doubt in my mind this beautiful blockbuster Pinot will end up one of the best ever from this Ribbon Ridge estate. The 2012 Beaux Freres shows richness, texture, balance and lavish hedonistic pleasures with blackberry, plum, mocha, dark cherry and tangy currants in the mouth with stylish polish, silky tannins and enough lift from juicy acidity to remain focused and lively. There’s hints of cinnamon, vanilla, cedar and finny minerals as well as some dried roses, violets and touch of tea and red spice. The fruit and new wood are very forward at this stage and it might close down a little in the short term, but this is a magnificent wine of density and grace that will just get better and better in bottle if you have the time and patience, this Pinot should be your cellar, don’t miss it, especially if you are an Oregon fan, or a Pinot enthusiast, this is the real deal. Mike Etzel and team deserve all their successes and rewards for their hard work, and this is just one of many glories from this great American winery, stunning, drink from 2018 to 2024.
($80 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

Wine of the Day September 14, 2014

2012LaStoppa2012 La Stoppa, Trebbiolo Rosso, Emilia IGT, Barbera/Bonarda, Italy.
Elena Pantaleoni is one of the revolutionary women winemakers of her generation, she is also one of the world’s most respected natural vignerons, she has taught and inspired many a rising star, including most famously Sicily’s starlet Arianna Ochipinti was mentored here. Elena’s own wines are earthy and speaks from the heart of this region of Italy, these intriguing wines capture the soul of Emilia-Romagna, she has expert help in the cellar with Giulio Armani at the helm of this old winery. This small estate in the northwest side of Emilia-Romagna is known for their Barbera, but also have a local Bonarda (Not related to Bonarda found in Argentina, and as many as two other varietals called Bonarda in Italy itself.) and La Stoppa has some white grapes too with Malvasia being the pride of the place, again it is a unique clone call Malavasia Candia. Of the latest wines from La Stoppa, I was completely blown away with the blended rosso Tebbiolo, which is a cuvee of Barbera and Bonarda, this natural beauty has wonderful deep color, flavors and complexity. This wine is made from organic vines grown on clay and mixed soils, fermented in a combination of steel, cement and wood vats, exceptionally long skin contact is employed here as well, using only native yeasts and no chemical additions, no sulphur, except a low amount at bottling, aging takes place in large used casks. These techniques have been the standard Natural Wine guidelines and La Stoppa has been a model case for these wines for many years now. The La Stoppa Tebbiolo Rosso 2012 starts with plenty of earthy tones, porcini notes, iron/meat, bright red fruits and floral tones making for an alluring mix to excite the senses leading to a fruit driven palate with plum, wild berry, strawberry and black cherry leading the way on the medium palate along with hints of cranberry, chalky tannins, juicy acidity and a array of herbs and spices plus a mineral/stony streak. The wine feels energetic and lively in the mouth, it expanses and widens with air, but never gets heavy, it would be best with hearty cuisine and should drink nicely for another 2 to 3 years easy. Whiffs and teases of licorice, minty notes, cedar, briar and tangy currant linger on the surprisingly long finish, making for a wine that is hard to put down or forget in the glass, this release is far less earthy/funky than past wines in my experience, highlighting the vintage and balance, this is really fun and lovely wine from La Stoppa, imported by Dressner, hard to find, but well worth the search, especially for this Tebbiolo 2012!
($22 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

Wine of the Day September 13, 2014

2005Levet2005 Bernard Levet, Cote-Rotie, Les Journaries, Rhone Red, France.
This 2005 is starting to open up and shows a well of personality, it feels still a bit rustic, but that is it’s most appealing charm in many ways, it has a more Cornas or natural air about it, it is not overly polished or shiny. People used to Guigal with find Levet with a few rough edges, but people that adore Allemand will be very intrigued with this medium weighted and hued Syrah, it shows a lot of old school and is very textural with spice, mineral, earth and not overly fruity. The Levet Les Journaries Cote-Rotie starts with a nice ruby color, fresh and dried flowers, violets, wilted rose petal, light meat/iron notes, new leather, red currant, plum, leading to a lively, especially for 2005, palate of boysenberry, cherry, porcini, loam, wild herbs, pepper and melted licorice. You’d think this was full on steamy at first, but with air things really change and a gorgeous delicacy comes through, the wine smooths out completely and the finish is long and dare I say Burgundy like? Cliche at best, lazy at worst, but you get the idea, the Levet gets sexier and more interesting every moment in the glass, this is classic northern Rhone Syrah with all it’s terroir, style and complexities, along with it’s natural gifts and gritty/earthy side as well, this wine is transparent and beautiful in it’s most naked/exposed form, it is what it is and happy to show you it all, not perfection, but seductive and charming in it’s own confident way. This is a wine geeks wine, no question, but that said, it is totally pleasing and entertaining, drink from 2015 to 2018, though it is really great now now, it put a damn big smile on my face, even without decanting, this is impressive stuff. It’s admirable too that importer Rosenthal keeps these a few years before selling them, this wine is current, great for restaurants and wine enthusiasts alike, clever thinking for sure.
($75 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

Wine of the Day September 12, 2014

2012VVRebusRuche2012 Vinchio-Vaglio Serra, Rebus, Ruche di Castagnole Monferrato DOCG, Piedmonte, Italy.
Here’s another wildly cool wine to search for, imported by Bon Vivant Imports, the Vinchio-Vaglio Serra Ruche from Piedmonte is bright, intensely floral and playfully charming. Ruche is a rare varietal, native to Piedmonte and almost exclusively found in Castagnole Monferrato, it was almost extinct at one point, and still there is only a handful or maybe a dozen producers available, I’ve tried most all the wineries that export to the States, and while I have a few favorites, this Vinchio-Vaglio Serra version might be the best for the money in the 2012 vintage. Last year Twitter lit up with a Ruche di Castagnole Monferrato trend, even Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon was singing the Ruche praise, it was amazing an obscure little grape could explode like that, but it shows the love of Italian reds is still very high and the thirst for new things, but it made Ruche harder to find on the shelf! The 2012 Vinchio-Vaglio Serra Rebus starts with the varietal pureness that Ruche is famous for, a burst of rose oil, rose petals, sweet herbs, wild strawberries, white anise and a lovely ruby hue, the Vinchio-Vaglio Serra is not all perfume though, it deepens on the palate with hints of earth, game and the core flavors expand into cherry, raspberry and are lifted by mild acidity and a refined almost creamy texture along with a cut of minty/basil spice, mineral notes and touch of liqueur. This is a medium bodied red that is well put together with a velvet like finish and lingers with a mix of flowers, spice and fruit, it should be interesting to follow over the next few years, drink from 2014 to 2018, this is a very nice version of this unique grape, it should pair well with lamb kabob, roast poultry, think Thanksgiving meal and I like it with some Indian fare too.
($27 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

Wine of the Day September 11, 2014

2012RadioCoteauSY2012 Radio-Coteau, Syrah, Las Colinas, Sonoma Coast.
The new 2012 Las Colinas Syrah from Radio-Coteau is a gorgeous, seductive and well made wine that makes you wonder why anyone would buy a mediocre $100 Cabernet when you could drink this at almost half the price, well, in a way I’m fine with that, it means there are beautiful Syrah wines out there that are reasonably priced and not too hard to find. Syrah is always considered the next big thing in the wine world, but it never really is, even though the wines are stunning and easy on the wallet, Syrah is grown around the world and made into great wine, from France, of course, to Italy, Spain in Europe to Argentina, Chile and Brazil in South America, there’s super Syrah made in New Zealand and a huge selection from Australia, along with a host of fantastic wines crafted here in California, and Eric Sussman of Radio-Coteau makes one of the finest examples, from the cool Sonoma Coast. Sussman is a natural wine, low alcohol and an artisan producer, he uses native yeast fermentations and some stem/whole cluster with mostly neutral oak, much like the traditionalists of Cornas in the northern Rhone of Syrah’s historical home. The 2012 is an energy filled, dark and wonderfully textured wine, this is one of the best yet from Sussman, it comes off about 5 single cur sites with a mix of soils and clones, including Alban and Durell, it is an unfiltered beauty that should just get better over the next 2 to 5 years in bottle. The Radio-Coteau Las Colinas Syrah starts with violets, camphor, mineral and dusty/salted stones with a deep blueish black hue and a burst of mixed berries, leading to a sweet and savory palate of blackberry, boysenberry, plum, cherry and cassis/currant fruits with cracked pepper, mint, sage, bacon, iron and chalk with hints of cedar and licorice along with unsweetened coco and olive. This is really good juice, a very savvy wine and I highly you recommend you find some, and also check out Sussman’s Pinot, especially his glorious 2012’s.
($54 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

Wine of the Day September 10, 2014

2013SaintCosmeCDR2013 Saint Cosme, Cotes-du-Rhone, Red, France.
Every year, almost without fail I try Saint Cosme Cotes-du-Rhone, and every time I’m just as excited and impressed by this wine. Louis Barruol and his team at Chateau de Saint Cosme deserve all the acclaim and credit they get, for vintage after vintage they turn out some of the best wine for the money any where, especially this one. The basic Saint Cosme Cotes-du-Rhone Rouge is 100% Syrah in most every vintage I remember and it is always a lovely wine, and the latest release from 2013 is no exception with great vitality, charm and style showing dark fruit, spice and savory notes. The Saint Cosme 2013 Cotes-du-Rhone starts with violets, tar, meat and damson plum, black olive, along with a medium/full palate of boysenberry, black cherry, blueberry and currant fruits plus peppercorns, chalky/dusty stones, licorice, lavender, bacon and kirsch/liqueur. The alcohol is about 14.5% and the texture is rich, but there is a juicy freshness and brightness that is pleasing and adds to the balanced feel, this wine is dark hued goodness and I highly recommend securing a bunch this fall. This is a top value in my book and it should drink well for the next 3 to 5 years, but no need to wait, I can tell you, I’m a huge fan and I’ll be scoring more than a few bottles myself.
($16 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

Wine of the Day September 9, 2014

2011VolvoretaNoSulphur2011 Vino Volvoreta, Probus, No Sulphur, Vin Natural, Toro DO, Spain.
Maria Alfonso Hernandez, one of Spain’s youngest female winemakers, is another rising star in the organic/natural wine scene and her wines from Toro are beautiful and intriguing, made from old vine Tinta de Toro, which is Tempranillo. She makes three wines for export, all elegant and beautifully crafted, but it is the Amphora (terracotta/clay vats) raised, no sulphur Vin Natural that stands out for it’s sheer transparency, stunning intensity and seductive qualities, it is delicate and one of the prettiest Tempranillo wines I’ve ever had, with Burgundy like finesse and has lots of unique personality. Maria, like Marcel Lapierre before her thinks there is more purity in the non sulphur version and I will agree it is different and exotic, and this cuvee which reminds me of Elisabetta Fordori’s Amphora raised Trentino Dolomiti reds is really a wonderfully textured wine with silky tannins, chalky mineral essence and bright/fresh red fruits with a gorgeous floral bouquet. Maria joins a growing group of stylish natural/organic winemakers the world over to be a new generation of influential vignerons, she joins Alfredo Maestro, Arianna Occhipinti, Fabian Jouves, Foradori, Lapierre, Philippe Pacalet, Julien Labet and even Tierry Allemand who is now doing a non sulphur version of his famous Cornas Syrah. While the term Natural Wine or Vin Natural, makes a few eyes roll and has caused quite a fight between traditional/conservative and new age wine lovers, between Somms and Wine Critics, causing more than a few customers to get confused on the subject of organic wine, there is no doubt there are some marvelous examples available, and these are not hippie/dippy wines that turn brown and taste like horrid/funky dirty socks. In California, Ojai Vineyards in releasing two versions of certain wines with and without sulphur with good results as well. Careful cellaring is required on low and no sulphur wines and they need to be safe guarded against heat, but these new generation of ancient style wines are very interesting and charming, especially this one from Maria Alfonso’s Vino Volvoreta. Alfonso explained at a recent Bon Vivant Imports trade tasing in San Francisco that her label Volvoreta means butterfly in local dialect and she started her wines in 2004, and that she has done no sulphur versions since the beginning and that her wines have remained true and flavorful, retaining integrity and color while having no percentage of sulphur detectable. The 2011 Vino Volvoreta Propus No Sulphur cuvee is as mentioned exotic with intense floral tones, a deep nose of mixed flowers, lilac, violets and rose petals included with loads of plum, cherry and black raspberry fruit along with dusty stones, mineral, red spices, anise, lavender oil, red peach and tangy currant. This is a clean wine, grown on her bio-diverse, 100% organic, high elevation estate with rocky soils in the hills of the Toro region in upper middle Spain, shows only a faint and attractive loamy/truffle note in the background, it’s main core is pure fruit with a lift of savory elements in a medium weight, with a deft lightness and low alcohol, Alfonso’s talent and passion are on full display here, this is glorious and thought provoking wine of sublime charm, drink from 2014 to 2018. Be sure to check out her normal cuvees too, low oak with only a touch of sulphur they are almost equally delicious and are exceptional values in hand crafted wines.
($45 Est.) 93+ Points, grapelive

Wine of the Day September 8, 2014

2012BDVClaret2012 Bonny Doon, A Proper Claret, Proprietary Red, California.
Randall Grahm’s Bonny Doon Vineyard is one of California’s most innovative and eccentric wineries, making wines that are both gloriously serious and somewhat masterfully humorous, and his foray into a Cabernet Sauvignon based wine is just that. Randall makes the Iconic Cigare Volant, his irrelevant take on Chateauneuf du Pape and is known for his mainly Rhone style wines and focus, even though he loves many wines and is intrigued by numerous grapes. The idea of blending Syrah, Petite Sirah and even Tannat with the classic Bordeaux varietals will make the Downton Abbey watching puritans, well, frown of course, but the dirty little secret is that years gone by, when a Bordeaux vintage wasn’t up to standard, there would be a mid night truck from Hermitage filled with Syrah, a truck loaded with Tannat from Madiran or the like to help make the Chateaux wines much more drinkable, then they’d be shipped off to England for the nobles to enjoy. In that witty context, the new A Proper Claret from Bonny Doon is lots of fun, playful, but it is also a terrific wine with style, personality and a certain rogue handsomeness. The 2012 Bonny Doon, A Proper Claret (Claret is the very English name for a red Bordeaux) is a cue made up of mostly Cabernet Sauvignon, with a huge dark dose of Petit Vedot both classic Bordeaux grapes, Syrah, that Rhone beauty, along with Tannat a very tannic, black grape found in some west France, but now grown with success in Paso Robles and Monterey County, and Petite Sirah who’s real name is Durif and is famously added to many of your favorite wines secretly or not so secretly. This combination of varietals works fantastically well together and makes for a rich and gorgeous extremely dark wine with juicy forward fruit and nice graceful complexity, this is a compelling deep purple/black wine, it is very generous, perfect for a cold night reading Milton by the fire in the library, and for under $20 it really offers tremendous value, poking many a Bordeaux and Napa wines in the eye with causing riots or chaos, well not too much anyway, this is really a well crafted red that deserves your attention, even if your a hardened wine snob, it is good to laugh at yourself once in a while, life’s short, have some fun. The Proper Claret shows wild blackberry, creme de cassis, plum and blueberry compote, hints of cedar, pepper, graphite, sweet and minty herbs, Hershey bar and liqueur notes with a touch of oak and cinnamon stick. There is some vigor and energy, plus ripe, but firm tannins that give structure and poise, no telling how long lived this might be, but for kicks it might wise or unwise to age a few bottles and see what comes, drink from 2014 to 2019, or? Bravo Randall Grahm, Mr Flying Saucer for keeping it real and keeping us guessing.
($18 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

Wine of the Day September 7, 2012

2012BCSRH2012 Brewer-Clifton, Pinot Noir, Sta. Rita Hills.
Steve Clifton and Greg Brewer are two of the good guys in the wine biz, likable, charming and two of California’s great talents, their Brewer-Clifton wines have been wowing us since the late nineties, and now they’ve even raised the bar with their 2012 releases, especially the multi-vineyard cuvee, the Sta. Rita Hills bottling of Pinot Noir. This new edition is simply gorgeous, and amazingly pure, there are no flashy adornments, nor is there any weakness to be found, this wine just sings beautifully with lovely fruit, floral tones and seamless texture, this energy filled and remarkably balanced young Pinot shows the meticulous precision of Greg Brewer’s talents in the cellar, he ferments everything in stainless steel and uses no new oak, and highlights the total commitment to farming the guys are doing, every grape they use now are from vines they farm themselves, this took a big investment and was a risk, as the grapes they were sourcing were from some of the best vineyards in the region and well known, but everything is paying off, and the rewards are really evident in this wine. The vivid and fresh 2012 Sta. Rita Hills Pinot begins with it’s garnet/ruby hue, stunning and bright in the glass, a deep bouquet leading with soft violets, mixed roses and brambly red fruits, sweet herbs with hints of mineral opening to a medium bodied full flavored palate of refined and poised raspberry, plum, currant and dark cherry fruits, super clear, transparent and being lifted by focused acidity, creamy/silky textures and array of subtle complexities including cedar, anise, wild strawberry, pomegranate, stony elements, briar spice and rose oil. This wine is strengthened by the whole, the sum of it’s parts all coming together to be a complete and pleasing wine, Greg and Steve can be proud of their latest wines, and this one in particular is a fantastic Pinot, a real statement of intent, drink now through 2019.
($40 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive