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Grapelive: Wine of the Day January 26, 2020

2017 Halcon Vineyards, Elevación Syrah, Estate, Yorkville Highlands, Mendocino County -photo grapelive

2017 Halcon Vineyards, Elevación Syrah, Estate, Yorkville Highlands, Mendocino County.
This is the second vintage of this special 100% Syrah cuvée Elevación by Halcon Vineyards from their high elevation estate in the Yorkville Highlands and it is absolutely outstanding with stunning purity and an amazing play between ripe fruit and savory elements. Paul Gordon, who had enjoyed Scott Shapely of Roar and Flywheel as his winemaker consultant through the 2017 harvest, has crafted one of California’s greatest Syrah offerings from this cool climate hillside site in the wilds of Mendocino County. Syrah is really hitting its groove again in California, and this latest generation of offerings are mindglowingly good, they easily rival top Rhone stuff from some famous names and they are insanely affordable for the quality on offer, especially these Halcon Vineyard bottlings. This Elevación shows an intense black/purple color with magenta/garnet edges in the glass and the magic starts to lift from the rim with a bouquet of violets, black fruits, racy herbal notes and an earthy sultry sensation before unfolding in layers on the medium/full bodied palate with black raspberry, damson plum, blueberry compote, tangy dark currant and kirsch fruits along with a full stems crunch, olive tapenade, melted black licorice, delicate bacon fat, peppercorns and a touch of a mineral/stony element. This 2017 shows warm rich detail, rather forward for this winery, but classic to its track record it has remarkably low alcohol for a wine of this impact, sensual texture and depth, its a very lively Syrah with a personality that reminds me of Auguste Clape or Guillaume Gilles, both famous Cornas producers.

This Halcon Vineyard Elevación was crafted using old school traditional methods, fermented in a very hand crafted small batch using indigenous yeasts, with Gordon admitting he is a Northern Rhone fanatic and inspired by Cote-Rotie and Hermitage, wines by Domaine Jamet and Alain Graillot seem obvious influences. The 2017 Elevación is again, as Gordon notes, 100% Chave selection (Hermitage clone) Syrah fermented with 100% whole-cluster (full stem inclusion) and aged in neutral French oak puncheons, bottled as per normal here unfined and unfiltered, with everything done to promote transparency and highlight the unique schist soil terroir. There were, as Paul adds, no adjustments to alcohol nor acids and again they needed no additions, going for a very natural style with minimal sulfur, as is the fashion. Just like main Syrah offering at Halcon, the Alturas Syrah, this wine benefited from very mature fruit, from the extra long hang time and stems at low sugars, as mentioned, and it came in at only 12.8% natural alcohol. Halcon only made 185 cases of this Elevación, so it is a good idea to get on the list here, it is also a wine that looks like to have a long drinking window with potential to age up to another decade, even though I find it almost impossible to resist even now. I’ve been a long time fan of these wines and still get giddy when I open a bottle, there is an awesome sense of thrill and value for the money in these wines, don’t miss them. This 2017 set of wines is high quality stuff, with this one in particular being a standout, I can’t to enjoy it with Zuni (Cafe in SF) style chicken, spicy lamb and or Korean BBQ pork!
($38 Est.) 96 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day January 25, 2020

2018 Weingut Goldatzel, Riesling Spaltese Feinherb, Johannisberger Goldatzel, Rheingau Germany -photo grapelive

2018 Weingut Goldatzel, Riesling Spaltese Feinherb, Johannisberger Goldatzel, Rheingau Germany.
Johannes Gross is one of the rising stars of the Rheingau and his Goldatzel wines are a stellar set of under the radar Rieslings that deserve wider attention, especially these beautiful 2018’s, like this unique Johannisberger Goldatzel Spatlese Feinherb with its exceptional crystalline detailing and subtle fruit density and depth. This almost dry, but round structured Riesling glistens in the glass with a pale sunlight hue and thrills the palate with ripe and pure fruit layers that includes apple, key lime, white peach, apricot and papaya along with hint of zesty grapefruit, crunchy mineral, saline infused stones and acidic energy, gaining in body and textural charm with air, making a vinous and complex Riesling that would impress both modern dry style drinkers as well as classic traditionalists. The youthful talent, Johannes Gross, who is in his third year post-university, having studied at the famous Geisenheim, one of the world’s great wine college/institutions, has taken the helm of his family’s very respected small estate in the middle Rheingau with selected vineyard holdings in the villages of Johannisberg, Winkel and Geisenheim, not far from Spreitzer, one of my favorites, has brought international interest to this winery in recent vintages and got renown Riesling guru Terry Theise to take him into his fantastic portfolio of wines.

The Johannisberger Goldatzel vineyard site is set on loam, loess and quartzite soils and is beautiful situated well above the Rhein River where it runs at one of its widest points and makes for wines, that Theise calls, are distinct showing fastidious chiseled clarity of form, which Gross’ 2018 Johannisberger Goldatzel delivers with style and generous grace. Goldatzel’s wines are made without extreme dogma and each wine is made with an individual attention to detail, Gross uses whatever techniques give the best results to promote transparency and elegance. They use a combination of native and specialized cultured yeasts and have both large stuckfass and stainless tanks with each vineyard and wine getting the treatment that best suits each lot, with this Johannisberger Goldatzel getting “Sponti” spontaneous fermentation with primary and less aging done in stainless steel. The underlying quartzite influence really shines through and the vinous feel creates a wonderful play in mouth, in particular this 2018 drinks in a drier that the label suggests and while crisp and delicate, there is a serious substance here and it has a real presence or impact, it is a lovely and thoughtful Riesling that gets the juices flowing. After time in the glass it certainly adds a nice perfume too with citrus blossoms and rosewater to the aromatic array and the finish is equally impressive, this would be fabulous with spicy or cracked crab and or Asian cuisines.
($38 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day January 24, 2020

2016 Simon di Brazzan, Cabernet Franc, Isonzo del Friuli DOC, Friuli Venezia Giulia, Italy -photo grapelive

2016 Simon di Brazzan, Cabernet Franc, Isonzo del Friuli DOC, Friuli Venezia Giulia, Italy.
Tucked in Italy’s top right corner, the Friuli Venezia Giulia region is known for most recently as the Orange Wine capital of Italy and famous for great Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio and Friuliano wines, but there is some fine reds made here too, especially Bordeaux varietals like Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and interestingly Cabernet Franc, like this gorgeous very Loire like version from Daniele Drius, a fourth generation winegrower, at Simon di Brazzan winery. The Brazzano and Mariano del Friuli Vineyards, in the Isonzo del Friuli DOC near Cormons and Mariano, are the source of this beautiful and perfumed wine from Drius and the vines which range from 20 to 30 plus years old set on Alluvial allochthonous soil with excellent drainage allowing a wonderful fruit intensity as well as delicate detailing and sublime length, especially in a fabulous vintage such as 2016. I really thought this was a top Loire wine, as I tasted it completely blind in a Bordeaux varietal tasting panel, it has a Bourgueil like elegance, though it also has Chinon like density, so I was surprised to find it was in fact from the Friuli! This winery, which is totally new to me, is now a label I plan to follow closely and I can’t wait to try their other offerings, especially their “Ramato” coppery “Orange” Pinot Grigio and their sparkling wine!

This deep garnet hued and smooth textured 2016 Cab Franc from Simon di Brazzan is a stunner and a fantastic value as well as being unique and maybe geeky cool, it is certainly a wine I would buy and drink often, I am grateful to Ms. Kelsie Gray for bringing this wine, imported by Vinity Wine Company, an imported with a big presence in San Francisco with a top notch portfolio of wines from Italy, including some favorites like Marisa Cuomo, ArPePe, De Conciliis, Damijan Podversic, Cascina Val del Prete, Le Piane, I Favati, Valle dell Acate, Querceto di Castellina and Graci, all that are usually featured at Slow Wine events and winners of famous Tre Bicchieri awards. The traditionally fermented Simon di Brazzan Cabernet Franc, using de-stemmed grapes, it is gently handed and spends about a week on the skins in tank then aged with extended lees contact without new oak to preserve vitality and purity. This expressive wine is generous on the palate with ripe tannins, a sensual medium body and a heavenly perfume of violets and dark flowers, light spices, mineral notes and subtle earthiness with layers of black cherry, plum and currant fruits along with a touch of olive, bell pepper, anise and a faint cedary/tobacco note. This is outstanding stuff to enjoy over the next 3 to 5 years and great with lamb, mushroom dishes and rustic cuisine.
($25 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day January 23, 2020

2017 Tablas Creek Vineyard, Picardan, Rhone White, Adelaida District, Paso Robles -photo grapelive

2017 Tablas Creek Vineyard, Picardan, Rhone White, Adelaida District, Paso Robles.
One of the rarest white wines and varietal in California is Tablas Creek’s tasty Picardan, made from this little known and little planted Chateauneuf du Pape grape. With maybe a dozen or so acres of Picardan planted worldwide, Tablas Creek’s version maybe one of two or three wines made as a single varietal wine and it is a crisp and interesting example with elements that remind me of Vermentino (Rolle), Picpoul and maybe Trebbiano (d’Abruzzo) or Pecorino with a crisp tangy profile. It is surprising in this day and age, just how little is known about Picardan, which is also known as Araignan, Oeillade blanche and or Picardan Blanc other than its classic place as being one of 13 permitted blending grapes within the Châteauneuf-du-Pape AOC in Rhône Valley region of France, but even that is very thin as the grape is usually only found in the blend as a very minor player with maybe six to eight known acres grown in this famous region if that. With Tablas’ success in bringing the Chateauneuf grapes to California, from their partnership with the famed Chateau de Beaucastel and their estate vineyards, it was intriguing that they they brought some Picardan, which I guess was to be used as part of a field blend to add complexity and authentic character to their amazing set of Rhone whites from their estate vines in the Adelaida District of the westside zone of Paso Robles and its limestone based soils. Picardan, lightly golden in hue, is one of the Rhone’s most obscure white grapes, as the winery notes, although it was apparently more common before phylloxera’s arrival in the mid to late 1800s.

The 2017 Tablas Creek Vineyard Picardan starts with orange blossom, wet stones, snappy herbs along with bitter white peach, unripe apple and zesty lemon/lime fruits and even in a ripe year it stays nice and bright with a light delicacy and refreshing acidity, though it does gain a bit of texture (faint oily notes) with air without any sense of weight. Since the variety is practically unknown for any other use than being a tiny part the Châteauneuf-du-Pape blend(s) it is hard to find many reference points to really judge what this wine should taste like, but that being said, this is worthy of place in the lineup and is fun to sip on and I can see it going well with delicate and or briny seafoods, like oysters and steamed clams. There is a saline note, in this Picardan, that is mouth watering and it clears the palate, making it brisk and delightful and it can be enjoyed as a warm day sipper with picnic fare. This is not an exotic or overt white wine, more neutral in style, it’s not going to blow your mind, even though it will hold your attention and easily quaffable. Tablas brought in the budwood (of Picardan) into the United States in 2003 as part of our goal to have all the Chateauneuf du Pape varieties (available) and It was released from quarantine to Tablas in 2012, and they planted a half-acre in 2013, farmed organically, certified biodynamic, with a first harvest in 2016 for a single varietal bottling. The 2017, the second edition, was whole cluster pressed and fermented and aged in stainless steel tanks using indigenous yeasts, all in a quest for purity and made to be drunk in its youth, so drink up!
($30 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day January 22, 2020

2013 Domaine Bitouzet-Prieur, Volnay Taillepieds, 1er Cru Red Burgundy, France -photo grapelive

2013 Domaine Bitouzet-Prieur, Volnay Taillepieds, Premier Cru Red Burgundy, France.
Vincent Bitouzet, from the traditional Domaine Bitouzet-Prieur, makes elegantly structured wines, and is known primarily for his Meursault white Burgundies from his small winery in heart of the Cote de Beaune, but I love his reds, especially his set of Volnay Premier Crus, like this beautiful and firmly framed Volley Taillepieds. Graced with his prized and extensive holdings in Meursault, Bitouzet’s reds also come from pedigreed sites and special Lieu-Dits and every vine is hand tended with extreme care and all the world is done with organic methods, as many of the top estates do, but it should be noted that the Bitouzet-Prieur wines are still by Burgundy standards, exceptional values, especially at the quality levels of their recent vintages. This 2013 Volnay Taillepieds, which is still youthful and tightly wound, is just coming out of its shell and beginning to show its inner beauty and potential with pretty rose petal, strawberry and mineral delicacy unfolding on the chiseled medium bodied palate, this is a serious wine and one that truly needs matching cuisine and a center stage to shine. As this Bitouzet-Prieur comes alive in the glass it grabs your full attention with its ruby/garnet gemstone hue and its layers of cherry, plum, dusty raspberry and racy red currant fruits comes into focus with air along with hints of smoke, dried lavender, Earl Grey tea like tannins, baking spices and candied orange. The texture is rather gripping still, but turns round and silken with time and food, as you’d expect in such a wine with this class and its performance is impressive, and I think it will only get better with some extra cellaring.

Bitouzet is crafting his wines tried and true practices with an authentic and natural style, employing only indigenous yeast fermentations and the reds receive a daily pigeage, depending on the vintage to ensure just the right amount of extraction and are generally aged 24 months of elevage before being bottled. For both Bitouzet-Prieur’s reds and whites, there is never more than 20% new oak is used for the aging here allowing a true sense of the place to shine through and giving a pure form and sensuality to the wines, and in particular these techniques have paid off here, making for a very complete and complex wine that seduces with its poised details. The Bitouzet-Prieur Meursaults are slightly reductive and restrained in style, but get absolutely delicious with bottle age and the reds are similar, as this Volnay Taillepieds clearly shows, these not flamboyant expressions by any means, they are subtle and refined examples of the Cote de Beaune Terroir(s) that require patience. The Volnay holdings are stunning and now working with his son Francois, Vincent’s set of “Taillepieds”, “Clos des Chenes”, “Pitures”, and “Caillerets” plus the most recent addition to the lineup, “Mitans”, which I also reviewed here, are all worth searching out, also don’t overlook the basic Bourgogne Blanc and Rouge. According to importer, Rosenthal Wine Merchant, the Volnay 1er Cru Taillepieds cuvée, one of Bitouzet’s most austere and aggressive wines, as they put it, is one of the most complete representations of the complexity in the finest of Volnay, calling Taillepieds one of the great vineyards in the region, and I find it reminds me of Domaine de Montille, one of my favorites from this vineyard and village, it also should age another decade with ease.
($65 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day January 21, 2020

2018 Château Pegau, Cotes du Rhone “Cuvee Lône Blanc” Rhone Valley, France -photo grapelive

2018 Château Pegau, Cotes du Rhone “Cuvee Lône Blanc” Rhone Valley, France.
The second label of the famed Domaine du Pegau, Château Pegau offers a line of great value Rhone wines, like this fresh and beautiful Cotes du Rhone Blanc “Lône” which was hand crafted by Laurence Feraud, one of the most famous and talented Chateauneuf-du-Pape vignerons. The Feraud family have been growing vines in Chateauneuf-du-Pape since 1670 and while mostly growers over their long history in the region they became one of the most important labels and making their own estate wines, mainly under Laurence’s father Paul, but certainly it was her wines that brought fame here, especially with her Cuvée Réservée Rouge and her signature Pegau Cuvée Laurence, which are two of the greatest Chateauneuf(s) and that cherished by collectors. In recent years Laurence was able to add a prized new set of vineyards to grow their line when Paul and Laurence Féraud purchased a 100+ acre estate in Sorgues, and renamed it Château Pegau. It is an exceptional terroir situated less than 4 miles southeast of Châteauneuf-du-Pape itself and on very similar soils, and Laurence Feraud makes sublime use of these vines. The “Lône” Blanc 2018 is a lovely and stylish white that delivers fresh and ripe flavors with classic details and graceful length, it shows a nice stony charm and highlights Laurence’s gifted touch with her whites.

The latest Château Pegau, Cotes du Rhone “Cuvee Lône Blanc” is a blend of 40% Clairette, 30% Bourboulenc, 20% Grenache Blanc and 10% Ugni Blanc from these estate grown and hand harvested grapes that are from vines that average 35 to 60 years in age and that are set on limestone and clay soils with the iconic “galets” large stones littered among the rows of old bush vines. Named “Lône” after the small stream that runs next to the estate, this wine, all tank raised and vibrant in glass shows stone fruit, citrus blossoms, spice and mineral notes with layers of tangerine, green apple, white tangy peach and pear butter along with a touch ginger/pepper, wet rock and a supple texture that lingers on in this medium bodied and distinctive white wine. This wine is easy to enjoy, in particular with fleshy seafood dishes, not unlike a fine Cassis Blanc and is a wonderful way to explore and or discover the joy of Rhone whites, a sublime stepping stone into Pegau’s more serious Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc versions. This delicious stuff gains with air and food, it takes on a hint of oil depth and refreshes with plenty of saline and crispness, drink this over the next two or so years, and I recommend enjoying it and Pegau’s red bottlings in this series, which are solid bargains. I am a huge fan of Clairette Blanche, it works great in blends like this one and is a grape that like Vermentino is really starting to get the attention it deserves.
($20 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day January 20, 2020

2017 Laura Lorenzo – Daterra Viticultores, Portela do Vento, Ribeira Sacra, Galicia Spain -photo grapelive

2017 Laura Lorenzo – Daterra Viticultores, Portela do Vento, Ribeira Sacra, Galicia Spain.
Laura Lorenzo is one of Spain’s great new generation of vignerons (viticultores) making incredible Mencia based reds from impossibly steep and back-breaking vineyard sites mostly in the Ribeira Sacra, which means “Sacred Banks” in Gallego, the local Galician dialect that is an ancient cross between Spanish and Portuguese in the remote Galicia region. This tall and rebellious young woman is as tough as nails and has a real passion for her wines, Lorenzo, who I have been following since she stated her own label is an outstanding talent and has risen from obscurity to a new hero in the natural wine world and beyond with her soulful, beautiful and transparent/raw wines. Now a darling of the Sommelier establishment Laura Lozenzo’s limited terroir driven bottlings are extremely hard to get, especially offerings like this Mencia based field blend Portela do Vento Tinto, which is one of her most sought after, it’s Lorenzo’s “Glou-Glou” quaffable version with easy textures and a profile that fits nicely between earthy Crozes-Hermitage (Northern Rhone Syrah), Chinon (Loire Valley Cabernet Franc) and aromatic Fleurie (Cru Beaujolais Gamay) with dark fruit, spice and juicy acidity. As Lorenzo puts it, she allows the grapes speak for themselves, she ferments with wild or indigenous yeasts, primarily employing older wooden casks for maceration as well as fermentation and elevage (aging), only adding only small amounts of SO2 (sulfur) during the winemaking process when absolutely needed, much the same way as Arianna Occhipinti and the famous Domaine Lapierre, with no clarification, filtration, or adjustments made to the wines. According to Lorenzo’s importer, Jose Pastor Selections, Laura describes her farming as “agro-ecology with minimal impact.” She works with techniques that nurture life in the soils, helping to create a healthy and thriving ecosystem for her old goblet trained vines. All work is carried out manually, with these conditions and the wild remoteness here demands it and the vineyards are well cared for with some biodynamic preparations being used.

The 2017 Portela do Vento (Mencia Tinto) by Laura Lorenzo’s Daterra Viticultores, crafted from iconic bush vines, is about 90% Mencia and a 10% mix of Alicante Bouschet (Garnacha Tintorera,), Merenzao, Mouraton and Gran Negro fermented partial whole cluster and with native yeasts in a combination of French cask and Foudre with 15 days on the skins before aging 12 months in large 400 and 500L casks. This Portela do Vento, a darkly hued and graceful wine, comes from steep organic sites, with vines ranging from 26 to 80 plus years old in the Sober zone on the River Sil and Mendoia, Trives on the Bibei River, in subs zones of Galicia’s Ribeira Sacra and Valdaorras D.O.’s known as Amandi and Val do Bibei set on mostly pure granite with some sandy loams. The ripe vintage shows in the medium/full mouth feel and lush details, but with under 13% natural alcohol and loads of energy this wine drinks oh so joyous with a slightly earthy element and smooth tannins adding to the complexity here, there’s lots to love in this version with black cherry, plum, strawberry, pomegranate, tart blueberry and tangy currant fruits as well as delicate background layers of cinnamon, crushed floral tones, basil/garden herbs, dusty stones, a touch of leather, mineral and a peppery spice. This is a cool and compelling wine that is great for sharing and is very flexible with food choices, as in Beaujolais, it does enjoy a slightly chilled presentation and seems right with simple rustic or country style cuisine, especially hearty stews and or outdoor grilling. The latest set of wines from Laura Lorenzo are exceptional and wonderfully delicious expressions, both her reds, as mentioned, which are Mencia focused, and her whites that are made from old vine Godello and Palomino, be sure to keep your eye out for them, especially the new releases including her Gavela do Pobo, or Vila, Casas de Enriba, Azos da Vila and this Potera do Vento.
($35 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day January 19, 2020

2016 Weingut Künstler, Riesling Kabinett Trocken, Kirschenstuck, Rheingau Germany -photo grapelive

2016 Weingut Künstler, Riesling Kabinett Trocken, Kirschenstuck, Rheingau Germany.
The Künstler family winery, based since 1965 in the historic Rheingau town of Hochheim, one of Riesling’s original sites near the Main river, has a history that dates back to 1648, but became one of Germany’s top estates under the leadership of Gunter Künstler, who took over the business in 1992, has brought fame to this region that was almost forgotten with his beautiful drier style wines. Gunter Künstler’s gorgeous 2016 (Hochheimer) Kirschenstuck Dry Kabinett highlights Künstler’s elegant style and is serious like a baby GG with riveting and chiseled details and gorgeous texture, it shows beautiful layering and bright energy with lemon/lime, apricot, mango, green apple and peach on the pit fruit along with sea salt, wet flint, verbena and chamomile accents. I have been thrilled by Künstler’s wines for almost two decades, though I have really only started following him more closely since his move into the Terry Theise portfolio and have been luck to have tasted with him on many occasions when he has visited California, and I can’t wait to go to Hochheim to taste the wines on site, where Gunter has converted his vines to organic methods and see his Cru sites like Holle, Herrnberg and Kirschenstuck, where is Riesling comes from. The substance and sublime nature of the Künstler wines is legendary and if you love Riesling, you’ll find them amazing, not doubt about it, also interestingly Gunter has a small planting of Alvarinho (Albarino) too and makes an excellent version.

Grown on a mix of loess, clay, sand, loam, marl and limestone soils that gives these wines from Künstler their complexity and grace, this Hochheimer Kirschenstuck Kabinett Trocken dances on the palate with a Chablis like steeliness and vitality, but with a lush sensation that make this even more delicious and exciting on the lighter Kabinett level frame. The Hochheim area is rather warm and humid, which makes for ripe flavors, but stressful growing conditions, making Künstler work incredibly hard to get perfect grapes without botrytis and makes the decision to go all organic even more evidence of commitment and passion. In the cellar, Künstler is looking for absolute purity and precision, so given his terroir and weather he sorts grapes with extreme care and ferments with selected yeasts and ultra clarified juice to craft his crystalline wines using both stainless steel, like with this one as well as various wood casks. At my most recent meeting and tasting with Künstler I was able to go through a series of vintages and styles and found exceptional quality throughout the range and was blown away with his latest Pinot Noirs, which are stunning wines as well as the set of Rieslings, with his 2007 Holle GG being one of the greatest wines I can remember, and this one, really standing out. Be sure not to miss the 2016, 2017 and 2018 wines from Künstler, and while the Grosses Gewachs deserve to be in your cellar, this crisp Dry Kabinett is one to enjoy now!
($30 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day January 18, 2020

2018 Samuel Louis Smith, Syrah, Sandstone Terrace, Santa Cruz Mountains -photo grapelive

2018 Samuel Louis Smith, Syrah, Sandstone Terrace, Santa Cruz Mountains.
One of the most exciting new labels to emerge in recent years in Monterey is Sam Smith’s Samuel Louis Smith Wines focused on Mountainside vineyards and unique sites, with a tight and tidy collection of what he calls Micro-Negociant wines that deliver exceptional quality and charm for the price, especially Smith’s Pinot and Chard offerings, plus this stunning Syrah from the Santa Cruz Mountains. This 2018 Syrah shows incredible depth and Northern Rhone charm with jaw dropping layering of blue and black fruits, spice, crunchy stems, savory tones and intense florals, making for a pure and outrageously seductive wine. Smith, who studied in Bordeaux and made wine in the Rhone, is dedicated to sourcing fruit from the most distinctive sites possible with what he calls sustainably managed vineyards, with a thrilling selection of vines from the Sta. Rita Hills to the Santa Cruz Mountains, as well as a couple of unique Carmel Valley sources along with an established gem in the Gabllan range northwest of Chalone. He is also head winemaker at the historic Morgan Winery, a pioneer of organic viticulture and traditional winemaking in Monterey’s premier Santa Lucia Highlands region. Sam Smith’s CV is not lacking with stints at Margerum in Santa Barbara County as well as spending a harvest with Francois Villard in the Rhone, where he got a tremendous chance to work with Syrah in its most historic area, and his latest stuff for Morgan has given this Monterey winery a whole new look and elevated it to a fantastic place and quality level, in particular the Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays, as well as Riesling and Syrah, which is in a slightly different style than his own version(s), making for an impressive start to his Monterey career. I’ve reviewed a few of Smith’s wines over the last two vintages and I am a huge fan, you read them here at grapelive.com and this new set is even better, it was a treat to taste with him and get up to date on the latest offerings, these small lot and handcrafted bottlings really deserve your attention, they all have aromatic appeal, pretty detailing, vinous textural (mouth feel) and wonderful energy.

The latest Syrah Renaissance, while still a small niche, is in full swing in California with many fabulous new examples from highly talented and passionate young winemakers, just like Sam Smith, with labels like Desire Lines Wine Co., Halcon Vineyards, Stolpman and Jolie Laide to go with Syrah masters like Pax Mahle, Jason Drew, John Alban and Sashi Moorman, who’s Piedrasassi label provided an inspiration for many that wanted to explore the more stem inclusion (whole-bunches) style. For Smith’s very Cornas, or Jamet Cote-Rotie like Sandstone Terrace Syrah he used 85% stem inclusion with whole cluster fermentation and only neutral French oak aging, using grapes coming from two vineyards in the Santa Cruz Mountains, the little known Gali Vineyard in the cool coastal influenced Corralitos area and more widely respected Zayante Vineyard higher up, closer the the famous Big Basin estate. With Sam using equal 50/50 (percent) between Gali and Zayante which are set on a combination of soils including clay loam, sandy/clay loam coming from weathered sandstone as well as shale and schist that provide glorious complexity in this Syrah that delivers black plum, blueberry, boysenberry and tangy currant fruits, crushed violets, minty anise and grilled/roasted rosemary/lavender or Provençal herbs, peppercorns, sweet kirsch, a hint of cedar, black olive, mineral/stones, dried embers, cinnamon and delicate meatiness that is all well integrated providing beautiful fruit density and a near perfect tension/lively play of exciting earthy and savory elements with the lush ripeness of the grapes along with vintage’s amazingly low alcohol, this is simply awesome and will get more intriguing over the following decade! Be sure to check out this Samuel Louis Smith Wines label and do not miss these 2017 and 2018 vintages, the new Montanita de Oro Pinot Noir, a full review coming soon, and the Spear Vineyard Chardonnay, which is extremely sexy and on par with some of California’s absolute best, like Kongsgaard, Ceritas, Mount Eden and Sandhi to name a few and even has a exotic Hermitage Blanc like presence, are wildly good and sublime values, as is this remarkable Syrah.
($35 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day January 17, 2020

2017 Mendel, Semillon, Mendoza, Argentina -photo grapelive

2017 Mendel, Semillon, Mendoza, Argentina.
The Mendel winery in Mendoza Argentina is usually known for their beautiful Mabec and Cabernet Franc red wines, but what a lovely surprise this Semillon is, it is a really solid version of this rare varietal, more known for its use in white Bordeaux and Sauternes, though it does have a few pockets in the new world where it shines, and this is one of them. This Mendel Semillon, grown at 3,000 ft in the Uco Valley, is vastly different than its French cousins, as well as the expressions from Australia, where it is also found and used in many fine dry wines from the Hunter Valley to the Margret River, with this Mendel showing crisp form and racy acidity with subtle tropical notes and a main core of lemony fruit. Mendel wines, based in Lujan de Cuyo, is a partnership between Roberto de la Mota, one of Argentina’s most respected winemakers and founder Anabelle Sielecki, who is one of the wine world’s dynamos, the winery is name after her father, and her global business expertise and passion has made Mendel one of the top producers in the region from her family’s old vineyard which was originally planted back in 1928. Interesting, as I studied up on Mendel’s Semillon I discovered that Semillon is one of the oldest European varietals in Argentina and Mendel’s comes from high elevation plots that are over 60 years old, which gives this wine its old vine character and concentration.

Roberto de la Mota, who was trained in France and has worked with speciality projects included the Cheval des Andes, the ultra-prestigious joint venture between Chandon & Bordeaux’s Chateau Cheval Blanc has both old world and new world influences and that shows in his elegantly styled wines, especially his Malbecs, which I have been hugely found of since first trying them, and his Semillon is pretty cool stuff, made similar to a Graves with oak aging for 8 months and with an expanding palate that gets more decedent and lush as it opens up in the glass. The traditionally fermented Mendel Semillon feels bright and brisk with lively citrus leading the way, but the lees and new American oak eventually allow for the rich texture to show through adding additional layers of peach, apricot, orange marmalade, lime blossom and a hints of creme brûlée and coconut on the lengthy finish. This dry Semillon has a lot of personality and can go with a wide selection of food choices, with the winery suggesting pairing it with shrimp ceviche, steamed muscles, fresh oysters or grilled lobster, which sounds great to me! This is a fun wine that is worth more than a casual glance and presents this grape in a new and intriguing light, this 2017 should drink nicely more another 3 to 5 years, keep an eye out for Mendel’s Semillon and their reds too.
($25 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive