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Grapelive Special Report: Five New Pinots to Explore

Grapelive Special Report: Five New Pinot Noir Offerings to Explore!

By Kerry Winslow,

2016 Rochioli, Pinot Noir, Estate, Russian River Valley.
This Estate is a blend of their many different vineyard sites, seventeen percent Little Hill, thirty-three percent Sweetwater, twenty percent West Block, twelve percent Big Hill, twelve percent East Block and six percent River Block. This full bodied wine possesses the typical Rochioli character and the Classic Russian River Valley charm. Aged in French oak for 15 months this 2016 isn’t as sweet/oak as the 2014 and 2015 wines were, in fact this beautifully detailed 2016 shows a beautiful balance and a certain level of restraint that is very appealing, though pure Rochioli through and through, it gives a sexy performance in the glass and should just get better still with more bottle age. The Estate Grown 2016 Pinot Noir starts with a sleek sweet smoky entry and flowery nose before popping on the palate with energy and bright detail, it’s mouth filling, but not heavy with pretty texture and lovely length showing pure Russian River fruit with black cherry, plum and spicy raspberry along with vanilla, blood orange, minty herb, tea notes and cola bean. It is vivid and vibrantly expressive Pinot Noir that lives up to it’s reputation and is wildly and riotously hedonistic, while still be well focused, after a day of being open it reveals a denser sensibility and rich, impressive still as the acidity holds and keeps things racy, it does not disappoint, best to hold for 3 or 5 years.
($62 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2016 Morgan Winery, Pinot Noir, Tondre Grapefield, Santa Lucia Highlands.
The single vineyard Morgan Pinots are incredibly textured and wonderfully expressive wines, these 2016’s especially, made by Sam Smith are gorgeous with lovely depth of character and generous on the palate, easy to love young, but with the stuffing and structure to age well for a decade with this Tondre Grapefield being my favorite at this stage, it’s gifted with racy flavors and a spicy intensity. Smith’s arrival has really given Morgan a kick up in quality and an added dimension to the complexity, the wines seem more finessed, less overt and with a great balance between open expressiveness and a drier feel on the palate, his whites are just as charming too, it’s great time to re-discover Dan Lee’s Morgan Winery, a Monterey classic, their latest set are maybe the best set I’ve tried from this label since Joe Davis’ days at Morgan. First of all, over the years I’ve been not enthusiastic about Tondre, so it is really saying something for me to like this one, I have been humbled and will have to eat a bit of crow here, as Morgan’s Tondre is the real deal, and this 2016 made from mix of clones including Pommard is damn good and very pretty with layers of dark fruit, chalky stoniness, herbs de provence and subtle oak shadings as well as an inner bouquet of liquid roses. The 2016 Tondre Grapefield starts with a sexy mix of smoky sweet oak, dark flowers, black cherry, brambly spices, minty herbs, mineral and a hint of forest floor earthiness, it’s a forward and opulent expression of Highlands that feels full and rounded, but with a lift of life with a fine cut of acidity and a touch of briar laced tension to keeps things interesting, it will be exciting to see how this one ages, it’s got a youthful fruitiness covering it’s natural tannin at this early stage of it’s journey, it will be one to watch/follow. As with all the limited or single vineyard wines, the grapes start with native yeast ferments and care sorting and de-stemming with cool macerations and gentile handling with a good dose of new French oak up to 50%, they usually see about 10 months to a year in barrel, all of which add up to a fine example of the region’s best qualities and character, right up there with Roar and Lucia!
($64 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2015 Cellars 33, Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast.
The Cellars 33 Pinot Sonoma Coast is a pretty example of California Pinot Noir with nice ripe flavors and smooth textures, only 175 cases were made, making it a small production value, it was crafted from two sites one off Westside Road in the Russian River Valley and Hummingbird Hill off Taylor Mountain, a cooler site that gets the Petaluma Gap breezes. Fresh, and medium bodied, John Fones make a treat in this 2016 vintage, this edition has blended from a barrel selection and only saw neutral French oak with modest alcohol, at 13.9%, it’s got a sweet cherry and plum palate with layers of spice, subtle floral tones and satiny textures. Opening up to round red fruits, this is one of the best editions of Cellars 33 to date and I really like the restraint and lovely softness to be found, it gathers some structure and depth with air, but it’s strength is it’s feeling of lightness. Cellars 33, based in San Francisco is a micro winery that turns out quality stuff, you’ll also want to check out their new Pinot Noir Rose, it’s a unique pink that gives full Pinot fruit expression and bright tangy detail, crafted from one of California’s most prized Santa Lucia Highlands Cru sites along with some Sonoma Coast fruit, this is the best yet for Fones Rose and will be a fun Spring bottle.
($30 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2016 Halcon Vineyards, Pinot Noir, Oppenlander Vineyard, Mendocino County.
The incredibly perfumed Oppenlander Pinot Noir from Paul Gordon’s Halcon Vineyards, crafted by winemaker Scott Shapely (Of Roar) is a true cool climate wine of delicacy and length, coming off the clay rich soils of the ultra west Mendocino County, this hillside vineyard is dry farmed and own rooted with clone 115 plus a bit of Pommard, it’s a gorgeous and youthful expression that will certainly gain with time in bottle. Brilliant ruby/garnet with vivid magenta edges the 2016 Oppenlander shows fresh details and a touch of sweet/smoky oak with an intense floral range throughout along with a light/medium palate of earthy dark fruits, spice and mineral tones, it’s has lots of vitality and inner brightness filling the mouth with black cherry, plum, blueberry, rosewater, cinnamon stick and snappy herbs plus a hint of mocha. This has a bit of Morey-St.-Denis about it, it’s almost crazy pretty, but with a racy/edginess from the 35% whole cluster, it’s also a wine of silken class with a low natural alcohol refinement, this stuff gets much better with air, filling out with a lovely textural personality and even more layering as well as gaining a savory side to compliment it’s beautiful fruit and flowers opening. Halcon Vineyards really is rocking right now, all these new releases offer immense quality and drinking pleasures, with this native ferment Pinot Noir being one of the best, it saw just 20% new French oak and needed no adjustments for acids or PH, allowing this 120 case production, unfined and unfiltered wine to show it’s more pure form, best to give it about a year more in bottle to develop, best from 2020-2026.
($38 Est.) 92+ Points, grapelive

2015 Theopolis Vineyards, Pinot Noir, Yorkville Highlands, Mendocino County.
The Theopolis Vineyards Yorkville Highlands Pinot Noir, which was over seen by the talented Ed Kurzman, who has made Freeman, August West and Roar wines, has plenty of stuffing and richness to impress with the vintage’s ripe concentration on display, but with smooth textures, soft tannins and a dense mouth feel, it’s easy to love and will be a wonderful early drinking Pinot. This cool climate wine has a poised feel, in fact it’s quite opulent and decedent with juicy red fruits and polished French oak on point with sweet raspberry, plum and black cherry fruits, wild flowers, vanilla, a hint of lavender and a touch of briar spiciness. While most known for their wildly good Petite Sirah, these Pinots are showing extremely well and should not be overlooked, Theodora Lee has really created a distinct set of wines and her winery is one to follow, each of this latest set of wines has a sense of grace and are full of California warm and up front flavors, immediately approachable and with a joyous hedonistic appeal. Only 110 cases were made of this ripe, 14.4% alcohol, native yeast ferment Pinot Noir, it is starting to hit it’s sweet spot, but should provide nice drinking pleasure for the next five plus years with ease.
($42 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day February 24, 2018

2017 Ian Brand “Le P’tit Paysan” Rosé, Pierre’s Pirouette, Central Coast.
The new release of Pierre’s Pirouette Rosé from Ian Brand’s P’tit Paysan is a very Corbières, it reminds me of the Kermit Lynch imported Domaine de Fontsainte Gris de Gris a lot, it’s a bright dry pink that is vibrantly refreshing with a generous energetic palate of zesty fruits, spice and stoniness, this year saw a savvy Rhone varietal blend of 48% Grenache, 43% Mourvedre and 9% Cinsault making the cut here, and it’s wonderfully fresh, dry and very French in style. Brilliant in it’s delicacy and vitality with a pale kiss of pink the new P’tit Paysan Pierre’s Pirouette Rosé shines in the glass and thrills the palate with a classic brisk profile of pretty rose water, wet rocks and faint spices along with a core of sour cherry, racy citrus, strawberry and watermelon as well as a touch of seductive texture without any weight, it’s perfectly judged lingering with a touch of mouth watering acidity, chalk, dried Herbs de Provence and a Grenache (balanced fruitiness) heavy charm. There’s so much to like about this P’tit Paysan line from Ian Brand and team, these are exceptional values and serious wines, it’s hard to see another set of wines in this class for the price, they are enjoyable in every way and deliver total quality, complexity and playful fun, especially this wonderful pink wine that promises to be one of the bargains of the Summer.
($19 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day February 23, 2018

2015 Cameron Winery, Pinot Gris “Rouge de Gris” Orange Style Wine, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
In an ode to Radikon, John Paul has crafted an American orange wine that gives a new twist on an ancient style of skin contact wine from the Willamette Valley. Made for centuries in Georgia, this fashion of skin contact white has been revived in western Europe, especially in the remote northeast of of Italy, near the Slovenian border, in Friuli where you find the savory weirdly dry wines made by local legends like Gravner, Skerk and the mentioned Stanko Radikon, who Paul tributes this wine to, after his death in September of 2016. Stanko’s wine were the ultimate pursuit of naturalness, they are unique and often brilliantly complex, to achieve his goals and without the use of chemical additions he looked to the ancient Georgian techniques of long skin contact and amphora, though Radikon also uses neutral cask as well, as does this Cameron, extended time on the skins in white wines leads to intense dry palates with wildly savory notes and a yellow/orange/pinkish hues, (Pinot Gris is very dark skinned and gives a bit more intensity and pigment during maceration) it is believed the skins add extra protection against spoilage and added antioxidant benefit. In recent years many natural wine producers around the world have been experimenting with orange wines, some adding refinement and sophisticated class to the category, wines by Elisabetta Foradori, especially her classy and very pretty “Fuoripista” (also made of Pinot Grigio) and Frederic Niger (of Domaine de L’Ecu) come to mind. Otherwise it is a style that mainstream wine drinkers avoid like the plague, brave is the new world winemaker that tries to craft such weirdness, and with that we’ll explore John Paul’s version. First thing you’ll notice is the deep ruby reddish color, it’s like a light Pinot Noir in hue in the glass and the flavors are more pretty than raw with a slight savory element, it’s dry and crisp with a nice textural mouth feel leaning on tart cherry, strawberry and with the impression of red apple as well red peach, a touch of nectarine fruits, a light dusting of spices, earthy notes, grilled/dried citrus, mineral and saline infused wet stones. Some orange wines, while interesting are not easy to love or often  joyous to drink, but the Dundee Hills based Cameron’s medium bodied and ripely flavored Rouge de Gris is intriguing and very enjoyable, it can be used to great effect as an alternative to a serious Rose and will go well with a range of cuisine, and for those that have had and like Foradori’s skin contact Pinot Grigio from the Alto Adige, then this will be an exciting wine to try too.
($33 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day February 22, 2018

2017 Bonny Doon Vineyard, Picpoul, Beeswax Vineyard, Arroyo Seco, Monterey County.
The latest Bonny Doon Picpoul, the 2017 vintage, is a beautiful white wine, where the 2016 was refreshingly zippy, this version has the added benefit of textural charm and depth without losing it’s focus or verve, it takes California Picpoul to the next level with it’s vibrant citrus and white orchard fruits, mineral tones and beautiful mouth feel. Picpoul only has a few champions in the new world with Tablas Creek in Paso Robles (maybe the first) and Gramercy Cellars in Washington State being the best I’ve seen so far, but Randall Grahm’s version is absolutely great, maybe the best out there, it has the energy and zip of it’s old world cousins of Picpoul de Pinet in the Languedoc, though taking on it’s California personality in it’s best possible way, taking on a denser sense without being heavy and a more defined fruity palate while still being wonderfully brisk and dry. Picpoul is a fabulous food wine, it goes fantastically well with our local sea food and produce, it’s grape that also plays a minor role in some Chateauneuf du Pape Blancs, adding acidity and life to those marvelous wines. Randall’s 2017 Bonny Doon Vineyard Picoul has a bit of that old world character in it, it starts with pretty white flowers, salty stones, before opening up on the light to medium bodied palate that delivers a seamless array of white peach, wet shale, lime, kiwi and smooth green melon as well as a hint of spring garden herbs. This is a brilliant wine, with a Mediterranean like charisma or sensibility, it joins a vital selection of thrilling dry Alt-White varietal wines from Monterey County, like Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Riesling, Malvasia, Gruner Veltliner and Albarino, all of which are amazing values and offer distinct flavors that a give joyous Spring and Summer drinking experience. Bonny Doon’s white wines don’t get the the credit they deserve, they are serious bottlings and they deserve your attention, especially their amazing Le Cigare Blanc, in particular the Reserve, one of California’s great treasures, the 2014 is simply and utterly gorgeous, and this Picpoul, it’s a ridiculously good white wine that has a nice play between tension and lushness at a bargain price.
($18 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day February 21, 2018

2017 Joyce Vineyards, Dry Riesling “Alluvial Fan” Monterey County.
One of Monterey’s most serious dry alternative whites, Russell Joyce’s Alluvial Fan Monterey County Dry Riesling is bursting with intensity, energy and vigor, I doubt many would guess where it’s from, it shows what careful farming and winemaking can do with this varietal in California, impressive for it’s exceptional mineral focus and savory tones, this 2017 is simply excellent and well made white wine that deserves your attention. Joyce recently showed off their 2017 Rose, 2017 Albarino and this vivid 2017 Dry Riesling, all of which I’ve tasted and rated outstanding, the vintage was looking good, but these certainly rise above the norm and look set to be stars this Spring and Summer, all are modern clean with vibrant brisk details without any hint of sweetness or opulence, these are austere wines that sizzle with acidity and stoniness, especially this Alluvial Fan Dry Riesling, which flows with precise and lean form, it’s crystalline and clear with loads of lime, sour peach, green melon and basil/herbal essences along with that bracing acid, mineral steely/racy grip and wet stones. This is pure and stingingly crisp Riesling, refreshing and full of lift, it’s got plenty of extract and picks up texture as it warms adding rosewater, a hint of bacon fat, saline/brine and white cherry notes, this is not your granny’s Riesling! Joyce’s whites including his Tondre Chardonnay give a nod to the classic old world versions, but are all California in personality and unique in style, the future of California whites is looking better and better, Joyce joins a new generation that are taking chances and making thrilling wines, this group includes Ian Brand (La Marea & Vocal), Tatomer, Arnot-Roberts, Scribe, Ryme, Stirm, Lepe, Wind Gap and others. Joyce’s Riesling is due out soon and so grab a dozen oysters and or spicy crab when you get it, it’s a mouth watering joy in the making.
($22 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day February 20, 2018

2010 Chateau La Vieille Cure, Red Bordeaux, Fronsac, Grand Vin de Bordeaux, France.
Wonderfully open, this Merlot based Bordeaux really over delivers for the price, it’s a true classic in styling from a great vintage, if you can find any of this stuff you’ll be well served to grab it up, I was wonderfully impressed with it’s depth and complexity as well as it’s round mouth feel and dark character. Grown on the chalk and clay, La Vieille Cure is mostly Merlot with a touch each of Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, all the grapes are de-stemmed and maceration lasts about a month before fermenting in stainless, then raised in barrel where it finishes malos. Fronsac in a vintage like 2010 is way under valued and while not as desirable as Pomerol, it’s a great place and terroir for structured Merlot wines, this La Vieille Cure is a beautiful example, it’s not a blockbuster or flashy wine, but a well crafted Claret that shows solid layers of ripe dark fruit, mineral and possesses opulent textural charm with deep color and flavors, leading with a cedary and floral bouquet with a palate of blackberry, mulberry/currant, blueberry, tobacco leaf, kirsch, sage/herb and faint graphite/loaminess. This wine has a nice tannic core, but graceful, giving pure detail and length, adding minty anise and dusty plum notes to the whole, framed by well judged oak shadings, things get even better with air as it gains a full bodied impact. What’s not to like? This is why we still love a good Bordeaux, especially a wine like this Chateau La Vieille Cure, and I’ll be interested in the 2014 and 2015 versions too, as the release price is only $24, this 2010 is a savvy cellar choice, it has plenty of life left in the tank, best from 2020 to 2025 easy, I really should have got more.
($40 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day February 19, 2018

2014 St. Innocent, Pinot Noir, Freedom Hill Vineyard, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
Mark Vlossak’s brilliant 2014 Freedom Hill Pinot is bursting with minty rose oil, bing cherry and mineral tones, this bright and gripping wine is absolutely everything you’d want from an Oregon Pinot, in fact it’s very Volnay like in the glass with racy fruits, earth, spice and intense detail, I already want more! Coming off the replanted northern block, exclusive to St. Innocent, this young vine Pinot shows the quality of it’s Coastal Range terroir with a mix of Wadenswil, Pommard and 777 clones on ancient sedimentary soils, it’s a very different site than let’s say the Jory soils of Dundee and the warm days add tannin to the skins while the cooler nights add to the vibrant acidity, all of which add up to a complex and firmly structured Pinot Noir and in this 2014 vintage it is the best of everything, making it a stunning example of Willamette Valley Pinot. To capture the pureness and vivid nature, Vlossak chose to used all de-stemmed grapes, fermented in cold lots in stainless steel then raised in 27% new French oak for 16 months, ending up with bright flavors and with vintage influenced heady 14.2% natural alcohol. Mark Vlossak founded St. Innocent in 1988, he is in the generation that brought Oregon to world attention along with Ken Wright, Mike Etzel (Beaux Freres) and John Paul of Cameron, his wines aged gracefully and are wonderful values when compared to the other wines at this level, especially in a vintage as good in Oregon as 2014 was! This 2014 Freedom Hill, with it’s ruby/garnet hue looks beautiful in the glass, delivers black cherry, plum and wild strawberry fruits on the medium bodied palate along with rose petals, mineral, subtle spearmint/tea spices, earthy loam and a touch of vanilla, everything is tightly wound, but well integrated with an exciting lightness of texture, this is a seriously good Pinot that has years of life and progression ahead of it, I see great potential in 5 to 7 years, though I just love it’s youthful thrill and intensity of form right now. Last year, I had the 2000 Freedom Hill and it was fantastically fresh and showed almost no decay or age at all, so while this vintage is from younger vines, the terroir quality is certainly there, I will be getting a few more bottles myself! Note: I got my sample from Vinopolis Wine Shop in Portland, they have a special $29/bt offer as of Feb 2018.
($38 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day February 18, 2018

2015 Domaine Julien Cecillon, Saint-Joseph “Babylone” Rhone Valley, France.
Wonderfully expressive and pretty from the get go, this 2015 Cecillon Saint-Joseph shows Syrah in it’s purest form with terroir shinning throughout, it’s a lovely expression of vintage and place with detailed blue fruits and seductive floral and spices bursting from the glass in a deeply colored wine that oozes sex appeal. This is where the magic of the Northern Rhone happens, this Saint-Joseph gives and earthy impression before revealing sweet violets, plum, black cherry, blueberry and subtle cassis notes as well as minty anise, peppercorns, light oily olive, crunchy flinty stones and a faint hint of blood/game. Well made and medium bodied there is a warm ripeness to the palate and freshness of youth to enjoy in this new vintage of Cecillon, it’s an old school wine that takes it’s clues from the year, this is an impressive effort and I highly recommend it, it has everything you’d want from this region and a bit extra. There is an attractive focus and vitality here and with air things get better and better with more richness, length and robust nature with a touch of fig, boysenberry and leather adding to the complete picture, this is a wine that invites you to sip again and again, I think I’ll need a few more bottles! Look for a solid window of fabulous drinking here, I love that you can really dig into it right now too, best guess would be a 3 to 5 year wait, but it should go a decade with ease, very nice stuff.
($38 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day February 17, 2018

2017 Ian Brand “La Marea” Albariño, Kristy Vineyard, Monterey County.
The La Marera Albariño, coming off a unique bench land vineyard that is set on the broken sediment of ancient sea beds with some shales, it’s a site that brings out an inner brightness and mineral intensity, but with an extra bit of hang time that allows full flavor development with low natural alcohol, and Ian Brand’s 2017 is near perfection with an added dimension that reminds me more of Pouilly-Fume than Galicia! The 2017 La Marea Albariño is bursting with vitality and old world (read Loire Valley Sauvignon Blanc) like charm to start with intense gooseberry, lemon/lime and dusty chalkiness, Brand gave a small amount of skin contact and used no malo, this I believe adds to it’s gripping personality, it also shows an earthy tone, as well as a righteous steely edginess, this is wonderfully complex for such a light and youthful wine, though with air in the glass things get back to the varietal character with white peach, green/bitter apple, sea breeze/briny and wet river rock and a mouth watering saline and citrus finish. This cooly crisp Albariño really goes it’s own way in this vintage, it makes for a nice counterweight to Joyce’s ultra brisk/clear version and Richard Alfaro’s leesy round style, with all three being exceptional examples of California Albariño, all would be admired by the best producers of the Rias Baixas, Albariño’s historic home. Monterey’s whites are getting their grove on in recent years, and there’s a lot to discover beyond Chardonnay, especially Albariño, along with the gorgeous white Rhone inspired offerings like Randall Grahm’s Le Cigare Blanc and his Bonny Doon Picpoul, both of which rock, as well as the dry Rieslings of the region, look for Joyce Vineyards and Stirm Wines. Brand is continuing to create a masterful lineup of wines and is one of the central coast’s top guns, his new P’tit Paysan Pierre’s Pirouette Rose is also a must have Summer wine and do not miss his amazing Cabernet Franc(s), Cabernet Sauvignon and old vine Mourvedre under his I. Brand & Family label, along with his sexy old vine La Marea Grenache, in particular the new 2015 Brosseau, all of which are great bottlings. This whole cluster pressed and cold fermented Albariño is an electrically charged white with verve and playfulness, it is seriously a thrill in the glass with it’s vitality and complexity, again with a start that will fool and seduce with that extra layer of Sancerre like character with a tiny hint of flinty, cat pee, wild herbs and pretty white flowers all making subtle appearances in this lovely and refreshing dry wine that begs for goat cheese(s) or fresh fish (both raw and delicately cooked), a great pairing for oysters and mussels as well, drink now and often.
($24 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day February 16, 2018

2012 Fattoria Rodano, Chianti Classico DOCG, Castellina in Chianti, Tuscan Red, Italy.
Set on Castellina’s limestones soils, the Rodano Chianti Classico is believed to be 100% Sangiovese from their certified all organic vineyards, it is a pure old world red, crafted using all native yeasts and long maceration(s), up to 22 days with hand punch-downs then aged 15 months in large neutral Slovenian oak cask or Botte. The 2012 vintage was warm, with a resulting ripe flavor profile and a natural alcohol coming in at a heady 14.5%, but good for the typically acidic Sangiovese allowing for rich textures and a fruit forward profile, not as big as the 2013, a warmer year, and more pleasing than 2011 and the bad 2014. The ripe personality is balanced by this Sangiovese’s natural acidity and savory charms with layers of black cherry, plum and raspberry fruits, minty herbs, pipe tobacco, cedary wood spices and dried flowers as well as a touch of mulberry, mineral and chalky earth. There is a Tuscan warmth that flows through this pure Chianti that is unmistakable and beautiful, it makes you crave more and transports you there, this is a wine that casts a terroir spell that is impossible to resist, it is in a great place right now and is joyous with rustic cuisine, it craves simplicity and rewards your attention with a stellar performance in the glass, more bottles needed, drink now, not a long termer, but splendid now without question.
($24 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive