Category Archives: Wine Articles

Grapelive: Wine of the Day October 15, 2020

2018 Domaine Jamet, Cotes du Rhone, Rhone Valley, France.
The gorgeously pure and wonderfully early drinking “Baby” Jamet, formerly a IGP Syrah, is now labeled as a Cotes du Rhone Rouge and (still) is 100% Syrah from three parcels, one from young vines inside the classic Cote-Rotie zone along with a plot close to the domaine just outside the regions set boundaries as well as some vines on a plateau above Condrieu with a combination of granite and mica schist soils. While I cannot afford the iconic Domaine Jamet Cote-Rotie too often or even find it for that matter, I adore this Domaine Jamet bottling for its value, ease of use and exceptional terroir character for the price, it is always makes me happy to sip in its dark purple hue, the deep black fruit, zippy herbs and its seductive smell of violets and earthiness. Now imported by famed Berkeley legend Kermit Lynch, Domaine Jamet has a real champion in his corner and American wine fans look set to have more access to these highly sought after wines, all of which is a good thing. Jean-Paul recently celebrated his 40th year growing and vinifying his Côte Rôtie, with the 2016 vintage, maybe one of the all time greats and one I do hope to try in some 10 or 20 years, as his whole-cluster and tannic Cote-Rotie wines are severe and old school in style, while this Cotes du Rhone is made using mostly de-stemmed grapes and is meant for enjoyment while you wait for the Cote-Rotie to age in the cellar, again if you are lucky enough to get them. You can sense the relationship to the top cuvee here and this wine gives a glimpse of its legendary status and prestige, its certainly a wine of cheap thrills, but one that deserves serious attention. I openly admit this wine gets extra credit for just being available and for how geeky I get when opening it!

Jean-Paul along with his wife, Corinne, and his son, Loïc farm a collection of tiny of sixteen (soon to be nineteen) lieux-dits, as Kermit Lynch notes, spread across the best sites of the Cote-Rotie appellation and makes their wine from the blending of all of these rugged and steep rocky set of vines. Kermit adds that, the Jamet path has remained true to his traditions, even as the appellation has modernized around them, Jean-Paul Jamet along with Bernard Levet, Closel-Roch, the youthful Xavier Gerard and a few others proudly fly the flag of their historic style. Despite its popularity, Lynch notes, Jamet always eschewed the use of excessive new oak in his top cuvee, choosing to maintain a cellar full of the classic large oak casks (demi-muid) and Jamet, obviously not a slave to fashion, remains firmly opposed to de-stemming his Cote-Rotie, continuing to vinify his Cote-Rotie in a stemmy whole-cluster fermentation. While this little Syrah from Jamet is 90% de-stemmed, it still has a hint of the stems and the grip to keep it interesting with layers of loganberry, damson plum, blueberry and ripe cherry fruits, accented by the mentioned violets, minty herb, anise, a touch of leathery funk and subtle peppercorns with a lingering creme de cassis. The 2018 vintage, less hot than 2017, is much fresher and vivid, it shows a nice bright core of acidity and the wine feels alive and cooly focused adding mineral and stony notes with air, it has plenty of fruit to please the medium bodied palate, but the savory tones really balance things out. As per normal here, this was fermented for about three weeks in stainless after a rigorous hand grape harvest and selection before resting the wine in used wood, with 10 to 20 year old barriques being used on this one, for about 11 months. The new label is more in line with the Domaine’s image and style, and the wine is well worth the effort to get it!
($45 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day October 14, 2020

2019 Arnot-Roberts, Falanghina, Handal-Denier Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County.
Duncan Arnot Meyers and Nathan Lee Roberts’ 2019 Arnot-Roberts Falanghina is very cool and interesting white wine with a nice play between crisp detail and pleasing textural quality with a dry and savory core of golden(yellow) fruit, spices and stony elements. Arnot-Roberts, founded in Healdsburg in 2001, has helped elevate many unique varietals including Trousseau, Gruner Veltliner and Touriga Nacional in California and started working with this vineyard and the Falanghina grape in 2016, with some success as this food friendly and delicious wine shows. Falanghina, an ancient varietal, as noted by Arnot Roberts, is an ancient white grape variety that traces its roots to Campania, in Southern Italy’s coastal area not far from Naples. It is also known to have been a long time favorite, with Arnot-Roberts adding, that according to the writings of Pliny the Elder, wines made from the Falanghina grape were highly prized by the Romans. The grape’s most famous sites from the Amalfi Coast to Rome are thought to have been originally planted by Greeks, who also are believed to have brought Greco di Tufo to this same area as early as the 7th century BC. Falanghina, which thrives in warm climates and retains good acidity and likes mineral rich volcanic soils, which give the wines perfume, spice and mineral character that make them so compelling with Italian wineries like Feudi di San Gregorio, Mastroberardino, Il Favati and Marisa Cuomo all making fantastic and or classic versions. With the Handal-Denier Vineyard’s volcanic schist and Dry Creek’s consistent and warm Summers gives Arnot-Roberts Falanghina all the natural material to make a world class version and a studied example of this intriguing grape.

The 2019 Arnot-Roberts Falanghina, which feels like it has some skin contact is both pretty and filled with dry extract making for white wine with a bit of grip, this is a wine that has a real personality and presence in the glass with a bright yellowish/gold hue that will appeal to those that enjoy “orange wine” though this wine is not as severe as some, in fact this is a very elegant wine and lingers with a sense of creaminess. Arnot-Roberts, who also do a Ribolla Gialla (another rarity) from Northeastern Italy, usually do a whole-cluster pressing, use indigenous yeasts and allow close to six hours on the skins before an all stainless primary fermentation with the dry wine seeing between 8 to 10 months in neutral (well seasoned) used French oak. This 2019 is a stellar vintage that enjoyed a long cool growing season, that delivered complexity, zest acids and sharp clarity with layers of racy citrus, white flowers, quince, tangy tree picked apricot, dried rosemary, steely notes and clove spice. With food this wine rounds out with hints of caramel and its smooth mouth feel turns almost luxurious, I particularly enjoyed it with grilled prawns and I can see it being fabulous with soft cheeses as well as other fresh sea foods and white fleshy fish, like halibut and or swordfish. Most people know Arnot-Roberts for their incredible red wines, as I have noted over the years as a long time fan of their wines, but I also am greatly impressed by their whites, with this one being one of their most delightful, while their Trout Gulch Chardonnay, from Richard Alfaro’s Santa Cruz Mountains vines, continues to be one of my favorite Chards in the state. If you are lucky enough to find this organic and limited production, only 5 barrels made, white I highly recommend not passing it up!
($32 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day October 13, 2020

2018 Au Bon Climat, Pinot Noir, Santa Barbara County.
Grabbing a pizza and enjoying it outside on a warm Fall evening, it was impromptu, and the pizza shop had a very dad list of choices, so I had to make do with my local Safeway’s wine selections, which includes mostly a sickened array of cloyingly sweet and formula made wines, like 19 Crimes, The Prisoner and Apothic, so some effort is needed to find a pleasing and real wine, my choice made easy when I spotted this Au Bon Climat Pinot, and it saved a beautiful night! Jim Clendenen, the “Mind Behind” Au Bon Climat gave me some of my first great Pinot Noir experiences, bringing this magically grape into my life to my ever lasting gratitude and it was really fun to see what the currant release tasted like now, after 25 years as a wine professional, and I can tell you I got the same buzz and excitement with this gorgeous 2018 vintage, solidifying my admiration for Clendenen, who’s been making awesome Pinot and Chard since 1982. Jim’s wines came up in casual conversation recently, when a winemaker was discussing great values in California Chardonnay, well the same can be said about his Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir, as it delivers exceptional purity and varietal character, and its just damn good stuff, at a more than fair price. The 2018 vintage continues to perform outstanding in the bottle and in the glass with ABC’s basic Santa Barbara cuvee revealing a heady perfume of rose and lily floral notes and red berry fruit on the nose, gaining mineral and delicate earthiness on the nose before opening up to black cherry, plum and raspberry fruits on the detailed and medium bodied palate, accented by snappy spices, subtle wood and bright acidity that helps balance and lift this Pinot. The 2018 Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir only gets better with food, even with zesty marinara, pesto and Italian sausage which did not dull the clarity or quality in the slightest, in fact it brought out its personality and many smiles on my part, it was like being transported back to the early 1990s, remembering the stunning 1991 and 1992 versions of this wine!

Clendenen notes, Au Bon Climat has been making Pinot Noir from Santa Barbara County grapes since 1982, 23 years before the movie “Sideways” brought a spotlight to Pinot Noir and to the region. In the 1980s and 90s, Jim adds, the product mix at Au Bon Climat was 75% to 80% Chardonnay to 20% to 25% Pinot Noir. This era was almost all about Chardonnay and must people, except for some enthusiasts who drank the likes of Joseph Swan, Chalone and Mount Eden, had not yet discovered the joys of Pinot Noir. All this began to change, as Clendenen admits, in the late 90s and now Au Bon Climat makes almost an equal amount of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Au Bon Climat was a pioneering winery, and Clendenen is really part of California history and his wines inspired a region to focus on world class Pinot Noir. Clendenen’s passion and bigger than life personality brought serious attention to the quality of the vineyards in Santa Barbara County and especially Santa Maria Valley’s Bien Nacido Vineyard. Clendenen was an early admirer of this famed site and has crafted some of this historic sites best ever examples, he still makes one of the best, under his Historic Vineyards Collection series, and if this 2018 Santa Barbara is anything to go by, the 2018 single vineyard wines at ABC should be some of the best yet! Clendenen uses traditional Burgundian methods in the cellar with restrained use of new French oak and a more gentle/minimalist approach, he and his winemaking team focus on transparency and drinking pleasure, which is apparent in this latest effort. This wine brought out some child like joy and memories, it certainly shows Au Bon Climat still has it and I am thrilled. I also remember in the early 2000s, Clendenen doing one of first known Mondeuse in California, which I believe was originally mistaken for Pinot Noir. Sometimes moments in life, that happen by chance, make for the happiest of experiences, this bottle turned a normal day into a very special one. Clendenen has had a hall of fame career and has inspired and mentored many top winemakers, it great see he has not lost his groove.
($24 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day October 12, 2020

2017 Ridge Vineyards, Syrah/Grenache/Mataro, Lytton Estate Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County.
One of my favorite red wines, Ridge’s GSM from their estate vines at Lytton Springs is an uniquely Californian version of a Rhone classic blend with a rich and opulent palate, very much in the mold of the winery’s house style and with Lytton Spring’s terroir showing in the taste profile. This ripe and dark fruited 2017 vintage was a blend of 62% Syrah, 27% Grenache and 11% Mataro (Mourvedre) that was indigenous yeast fermented and allowed to go through natural malos in barrel with no additions and very low doses of SO2 to display the sense of place and the year in the bottle, which this Chateauneuf du Pape inspired Cal Rhone does beautifully, as well as letting the grapes speak in each of thrown voices. The Syrah leads the way with dense blue fruits, along with its meaty and spicy character, while the sweet Grenache gives plummy vinous generosity and the Mataro, which really enjoyed the warm season, getting its full complexity, adds some rustic charm and adds an earthy/savory element that helps balance the wine as a whole. Those that love Ridge will find a comfort in this offering, especially in this vintage with its polished full bodied palate and a seamless mouth feel, this is wine that thrills the senses and has an expansive textural quality to go with its layers of boysenberry, plum, red currant and cherry fruits that are accented by a racy array of spice, herb, dried lavender, cedar and anise, along with a touch of toasty oak and lingering violette liqueur. Ridge suggests many intriguing pairs for this GSM, they include a Cajun spiced turkey with collard greens, braised lamb shanks over mashed potatoes as well as crispy pork belly over red lentils and curried squash, all of which sound amazing!

The inky hue and overt fruit really highlight the year and as this 2017 Syrah, Grenache and Mataro opens up in the glass to reveal an additional dimension of mocha, black fig, freshly shaved vanilla and peppery notes making this a wine exceptional with robust cuisine, in particular hearty meat stews, casseroles and BBQs, but it is flexible enough to go with hard cheeses, mushroom dishes and or pulled pork sandwiches. This wine comes from two hillside parcels at Lytton West, according to Ridge, with one plot planted entirely to Syrah while the other one is planted to half Grenache and half Mataro (Mourvedre) vines, and it is fermented and aged on site at the Lytton Springs facility using Ridge’s special 100% air-dried American oak barrels, choosing a combination of 10% new barrels with the rest being mostly one and two years-old casks with a few older neutral ones as well that helps balance it out while softening the tannins in this dark powerful wine. The low sulfur program employed at Ridge protects the wine’s color and keeps it fresh and stable aging so it can keep well in the cellar, while still providing for a more natural purity in the red’s performance. This vintage saw 12 months in barrel aging and then was bottle rested for almost a year before release to mature and settle, so that when the cork is popped it delivers a full account of its self, I usually try to age my Ridge wines, but I felt an overwhelming urge to open this one and I was not disappointed at all, though I can clearly see that this Rhone blend would benefit from a decade in a cool dark place. Ridge is one of America’s great wine treasures with many historic and legendary wines to their credit and they continue to impress me every year, with their awesome collection of releases, like this one!
($38 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day October 11, 2020

2017 St. Stephen Vineyards, Carmenere Reserva, Oda al Vino, Organic Vines, Colchagua Valley, Chile.
I was really excited to try some of St. Stephen’s new releases and check in on Chile’s development with their old pre-phylloxera clones of Bordeaux varietals and my more recent trend of sampling the Mission era Pais wines that have become so fashionable in the last 10 years, it is a great time to discover Chile’s diversity and history in the wine world. The Oda al Vino organic vine Carmenere Reserva is a beautiful example of this almost forgotten Bordeaux grape with lovely mineral tones and polished tannins, you can see why the Chateaux of Bordeaux have started replanting it, after almost 200 years of not having this long lost varietal, it is having a comeback of sorts, while being Chile’s signature grape, that they thought was a clone of Merlot until early in this century. The 2017 has everything that appeals about this grape, a beautiful dark garnet hue in the glass, delicate spices that range from cracked pepper to the more exotic Asian brown spices and a layered array of dark berry fruits with just the right amount of toasty French oak to soften the tannins. Chile’s Bordeaux bias started when cuttings of Carménère were imported by Chilean growers from Bordeaux during the 19th century, where they were accidentally mistaken with Merlot vines. These Chilean wineries of the 1800s modeled their wines after those in the Medoc and in the 1850s these vines from Bordeaux were planted in the valleys around Santiago, like the Colchagua, in the shadow of the Andes Mountains that allow a more warm and mild climate to their west. Also thanks to central Chile’s minimal rainfall during the growing season and well drained and diverse soils growers are able to produce ripe and complex examples of Carménère, like this one. Carménère, with its origins in the Médoc region of Bordeaux, is almost unknown in its country of its birth, but thrives in Chile and interesting enough in Italy’s Northeast regions including the Veneto and especially in the Friuli-Venezia area.

The 2017 Oda al Vino Carmenere Reserva starts with a light floral note, the mentioned mineral element and a whiff of its famous spices along with dusty vine picked berry and a touch of sweet oak before unfolding with blackberry, plum and cherry fruits on the supple, almost silken, medium/full bodied palate. The vintage will charm those that favor old world wines with well judged acidity and smooth structure, it is also excellent with food, in fact the fruit really becomes more defined and the spice more interesting with matching cuisine, in particular a fine cut of filet or confit, either duck or chicken leg meat. Made by St. Stephen’s winemaker José Antonio Bravo von Bischoffshausen, the Ode al Vino Organic Grown Carmenere Reserva saw a primary fermentation with selected cultures in stainless steel tanks, which lasted about two weeks before the wine was pressed to French oak with this vintage seeing close to 50% new wood and elevage lasting 15 months. There were no additions or manipulations done during the winemaking process and no need for acid adjustments with extra care being given to the vines to achieve a more nature and pure wine. The finished natural alcohol, labeled at 13% was labeled out at closer to 12.5%, so this Carmenere has a more balanced feel and an ease in the glass that makes it very approachable and easy to enjoy. I admire the restraint and poise of this vintage and a second glass was wonderfully pleasing and comforting, gaining my appreciation even more, and I look forward to trying José Antonio Bravo von Bischoffshausen’s other offerings, which at the moment, include a Malbec, single varietal bottling and a Cabernet Sauvignon, all from organic vines in the Colchagua Valley. Chile has one of the most unique and long history of winemaking, starting with those Spanish Catholic Missionaries that reached these shores in the 1500s, bringing with them the first European vines to the new world.
($24 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day October 10, 2020

2017 Bucklin “Ancient Field Blend – Old Hill Ranch” Sonoma Valley.
I am always excited to taste the latest Bucklin wines, they are like drinking up California’s past in the glass, especially this Ancient Field Blend bottling with all the grapes coming from the Old Hill Ranch’s Heritage old vines, the oldest Zinfandel site in California with 140 plus year old Zin, dating back to the 1880s. The 2017 Bucklin Ancient, made by Will Bucklin, is a deep and thrilling red blend that has more than two dozen different varietals in the mix, with close to 65% Zinfandel with the remaining balance co-fermented after being picked together. These other grapes, all inter-planted at Old Hill Ranch, includes small amounts of Grenache, Alicante Bouschet, Petite Sirah, Grand Noir, Syrah, Carignan, the rare Person red grape, originally from the Savoie region in the Alpine region of France close to the Swiss border and some Mataro (Mourvedre) as well as some white grape clusters. This dark and complex wine is rich and full bodied on the palate with loads of ripe black raspberry led fruit with some briar notes, an array of dusty spices, polished tannins and just a hint of cedary wood adding plum, cherry and a dark floral element with a few swirls. Bucklin says of his Ancient parcel, simply and humbly “12 Acres, 30 grape varieties, 1 wine” which does even begin to tell the story of this fabulous wine and this special place in the Glen Ellen/Kenwood area of the Sonoma Valley, which was the first place to planted to non Mission grapes in the state. The 2017 with is caressing mouth feel and nice mineral tones is a quality vintage and one that should get better and better in bottle, while I am also really anticipating the new 2018 and 2019 releases and will do my best to secure them as soon as possible, they include a couple of micro single parcel wines, as I hear they are even better and look to be legendary vintages, so we have a lot to look forward to from Bucklin in the coming years!

The Old Hill Ranch estate was found by William McPherson Hill, the namesake of Old Hill Ranch, in 1852, just two years after California became a state, after he bought this property from the famous General Vallejo, who himself contributed to the planting of vineyards in the region expanding on what the Missions had established a century before. As Bucklin notes, the vineyards were planted to grape varieties that Hill had specially imported from Peru, and as mention these were the first non-mission grapes planted in Sonoma. In 1856, Bucklin adds, Hill was growing a grape variety called “Black St. Peters,” a variety prized for its fruit intensity, acidity and color, which was much more pleasing, rich and complex than the Mission grape(s), this Black St. Peters grape was actually “Zinfandel” and it started our love affair with this mysterious Croatian grape (known now to be Tribidrag, thanks to the incredible work of Dr. Carole Merideth at UC Davis) that immigrated here in an unlikely trek from its homeland through Austria, Paris and Boston, finally finding a new home in Sonoma in the 1850s. The Bucklin’s, who have suffered greatly in the latest Napa/Sonoma fires, losing their family compound, bought this property in run down down condition in 1981 and to their great credit, instead of ripping up the old vines with so many almost un-sellable varietals, put in a heroic effort to bring the vineyard back into great health and keep its historic vines intact, we owe them a ton of gratitude for their efforts. On a shoe string budget in 2000, Bucklin started producing estate wines on their own label and now have a fine collection of offerings, which is led by this special wine, but also includes a great Grenache, a Rosé and Cabernet Sauvignon, and it is a really good time to discover and support the Bucklin family. This concentrated and dense 2017 Old Hill Ranch Ancient Field Blend, is a dark garnet/ruby wine that is everything you’d want from an old vine Zin and more, don’t miss it.
($40 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day October 9, 2020

2019 Weingut Korrell, Riesling Trocken, Von den Grossen Lagen, Nahe Germany.
Martin and Britta Korrell have been getting much deserved attention for the last three vintages, all of which have shown this Nahe estate to be one of the region’s best has led us to the 2019 vintage, a year that is looking to join the hall of legends and I can tell you from the early releases from Donnhoff and Korrell that I’ve tried, including this new Von den Grossen Lagen this is not a vintage to miss, especially these dry Nahe Rieslings! Korrell, as mentioned in my last vintage review, won the incredibly prestigious Riesling Cup award with their unique multi (Grand) cru 2017 Von den Grossen Lagen Trocken Riesling, and this 2019 is already eclipsing that awesome wine with an extra sense of life and mineral intensity as well as a sharper definition of fruit which really pops on the gorgeously crisp and chiseled medium bodied palate. Based in the Bad Kreuznach-Bosenheim area of the Nahe River Valley, Weingut Korrell Johanneshof, as noted, is one of the breakout stars to just hit the American wine scene and the latest releases are spectacular terroir driven efforts, in particular I love their Monopol (single estate cru) Paradies Trocken and this Von den Grossen Lagen, which comes from an amazing selection of GG’s (VDP Grosse Lage) sites and a mix of the regions different soils. It can’t be called a Grosses Gewachs because it is not a single vineyard, but it has the class and the depth to certainly be considered a true Grand Cru with its cool crushed rock and sunny array of yellow fruits, spice, vitality and impressive concentration.

The delicately pale golden 2019 Weingut Korrell Von den Grossen Lagen is a complex wine that continues its run of ultra quality, following the last three releases, with layers of bright tree picked peach leading the way along with tangerine, apricot, kumquat and quince fruits, which is again supported by steely/smoky wet shale, rose oil, lime blossoms, verbena and grey sea salts, all in a tight and vigorous, well structured form. The Von den Grossen Lagen Riesling Trocken comes from some of the middle Nahe’s greatest vineyards including Schlossbockelheimer in den Felsen, a site that Donnhoff uses in one of their own great Grosses Gewachs, Schlossbockelheimer Konigfels, which is on porphyritic (volcanic) soils, Norheimer Kirschheck, again a famous Donnhoff vineyard set on slate soils, and an ultra steep parcel at Niederhauser Klamm known for it’s driving minerallity. Martin notes that, the fermentations for the single sites is done separately, the Norheimer Kirschheck begins as always with native yeasts and it is fermented in oak barrel, adding that he uses more classical methods on the other three crus, employing special yeasts and colder ferments in steel tanks, then all the wines see more than six months on the lees, allowing a sensational mouth feel to develop, then expertly blended to make a wine that highlights the very best of the region and the vintage, which this one does without a doubt. Still a bit under the radar in the United States, but I highly recommend searching out this small estate, all of the 2016, 2017 and 2018s are well worth buying up and are top bargains and these 2019s, like this subtly perfumed Korrell, are even better and will classics in the cellar, Riesling fans, myself included, are already grabbing all they can, with good reason.
($35 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day October 8, 2020

2019 Monte Rio Cellars, Skull MRC Red Wine, California.
Patrick Cappiello’s Monte Rio Cellars 2019 Skull MRC Red Wine is a blue fruited and delicious blend of 50% Petite Sirah, 30% Mission (AKA Pais or Listan) and 20% Zinfandel from various organic vineyard sites. Cappiello, who is Food & Wine host for Playboy and founding member of Winemakers & Sommeliers for California Wildfire Relief, has been one of America’s top sommeliers since 2002 since he took over the cellar at NYC’s famous TriBeCa Grill. Every place he’s been at has won honors with each place nabbing Wine Spectator’s “Grand Award” including TriBeCa Grill, Veritas, GILT, and Pearl & Ash. Patrick has won lots of industry praise, he was named “Sommelier of the Year 2014” by Food & Wine Magazine, “Wine Person of the Year 2014” by Imbibe Magazine, and “Sommelier of the Year 2015” by Eater National. And now working with Pax Mahle of Pax Cellars, his fun Monte Rio label is gaining some attention too, with an rustic collection of natural styled California inspired wines, mostly from historic Lodi old vines and a mix of long time California grapes, including the Mission grape which was the first European varietal to find its way here when the Spanish missionaries miraged here in the 1700s on their long move north from Chile that started in the 1500s. With a Zinfandel focus, Monte Rio Cellars’ goal with the chosen vineyards is simple, states Cappiello, harvest ripe, healthy grapes, with balanced acids and sugars, which require no additions from the winery.

Monte Rio has gained a loyal following and the Skull Red Wine is one that seems to have a cult like following, and after sampling this 2019 MRC version I can see why, this is darkly rich and comforting on the medium/full palate with blueberry, black raspberry and sweet plum fruits leading the way with a nice mix of florals and earthy notes as well as hints of red pepper flakes, which I usually get from Mission and a burst of whole bunch crunchiness, mineral tones and lingering herbal highlights which frame the wine’s fruitiness very well. The hands off winemaking approach from Pax and Patrick pays off with the less fussy and more raw character of the wines, these are not wines for wine critics, these are for friends and easy quaffing. This purple/crimson and fresh 2019 Skull MRC Red Wine saw a 100% whole cluster carbonic maceration for 6-10 days in stainless steel then it was, as Cappiello notes, pressed into a mix of concrete and stainless steel for 8-12 days before being aged for 10 months in old wood barrels. Patrick adds that there was no sulfur used in the winemaking process here, there is only the small amount that naturally occurs during the fermentation and that as always with his wines, the farming was 100% organic and only indigenous yeasts to the work here. Picking times are critical with Monte Rio and their style, helping with balance and the low ABV, which finished at 12.5% alcohol and helped retain a lively acidity, making this vintage especially delightful. I am happy to support people that do good things for the world and make wines that are pure fun in the glass, in this case inspired by California’s almost forgotten wine past, I hope you do as well.
($18 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day October 7, 2020

2018 Halcon Vineyard, Petite Sirah “Tierra” Theopolis Vineyard, Yorkville Highlands, Mendocino County.
Paul Gordon’s Halcon Tierra Petite Sirah maybe the greatest and most singular example of this grape in California, taking it to new unimagined heights in a no holds barred Northern Rhone style in the mold of some cult heros like Domaine Jamet of Cote-Rotie and Thierry Allemand of Cornas. I’ve been marveling at this wine for many years now, but this 2018 takes to the next level. The steeply terraced Theopolis Vineyard, set on stony schist, owned by Theodora Lee, in the Yorkville Highlands is fast becoming a Grand Cru site in this region and Gordon, who known for his own awesome high elevation site, where he makes a Syrah that is equally as profound, is hand crafting some of California’s most interesting wines, these are intense, low alcohol, long hang time offerings with whole bunch crunchiness and deep complex layers that rival anything produced anywhere. The 2018 is inky dark and remarkably poised, it delivers a sensual mouth feel and exceptional layering with crushed violets and impressive dark berry fruits leading the way with blackberry, blue plum and morello cherry along with shaved cinnamon, minty herbs, dried lavender, mocha, a touch of peppercorn and lingering creme de cassis. This vintage is less earthy/gamey than the Syrah bottlings giving the Petite Sirah a chance to separate itself and it really shines like a star, this deeply purple/black wine is seriously good, it gives this grape a whole new benchmark, the same way Turley’s legendary Hayne Vineyard did in the nineties. This new Tierra drinks to the senses, nicely perfumed, opulent in fruit density and while still highly wound and full of structural tannin, these prove to be supple and chocolatey when the wine is fully open and everything gets better with matching cuisine, especially flame grilled meat dishes and or short ribs. For me, when reflecting on the taste of this vintage, I got the same thrill I got (or get) when sipping on Chateau Pontet Canet, Ridge Monte Bello and or Domaine du Vieux Telegraphe and Guigal’s Chateau de Ampuis, this wine is big league pleasure, it is one of years best wines I’ve tried.

Gordon calls this 2018 his most powerful and monumental to date, the harvest was the latest on record with his pick date being October 27th, and yet the finishing natural alcohol was just 13.8%, but with amazing depth and concentration, this wine is nothing short of legendary! The high levels of tannin and acidity are masterfully managed here and the raw sex appeal on the full bodied palate is absolutely stunning, this Petite Sirah is riveting from start to finish. Petite Sirah has become, like Zinfandel a Californian grape and it has come along way from its humble beginnings in the Southwest of France, where it was an accidental crossing of Peloursin and Syrah at François Durif’s grapevine nursery. Later on it mistakenly made its way to California, where it lost its original name “Durif” and in, according to Patrick Comiskey’s great research, revealed in his awesome American Rhone book, stole the Petite Sirah name and went on to a huge, though unlikely success, due to the inky color and ability to be blended into red blends, and make for long aged single variety wines. Gordon, who has taken over all the winemaking duties at his Halcon label has proven very gifted in delivering wines of raw transparency and expressing his own interpretation in them, he is, as noted in my reviews, influenced by the classics in the Northern Rhone from Voge, Graillot, Jamet and Chave to Allemand, Clape and Rostaing. So with his Petite Sirah he chose again to use 50% whole cluster in the maceration and primary fermentation, which his does with indigenous yeasts and a low sulphur regiment with the wine getting hand pilage. After the Petite Sirah went dry and finished its primary it was pressed to well used or neutral French oak barrels to finish malos and aged close to 20 months before being bottled unfined and unfiltered. Halcon Vineyards collection, including the two Syrah estate bottlings, the GSM and Mourvedre, also estate grown are ridiculously great values, with world class quality, all are under $40, and the savvy Oppenlander Pinot should be on your radar, along with this near perfect and fantastic Petite Sirah, oh, and by the way it has potential to get even better and age for decades! Is there a better California red for the money?
($32 Est.) 98 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day October 6, 2020

2016 Weingut Spreitzer, Riesling Feinherb, Engelmannsberg, Rheingau Germany.
I was happily reminded that I was in the Rheingau exactly four years ago, having a fantastic experience during the grape harvest, exploring vineyards throughout the famous region and visiting some incredible historic sites, but most importantly it was about seeing friends and meeting new ones, it was especially fun to spend time with Andreas Spreitzer, who I had known for years without getting to see his estate. So, as I look back with some awesome memories of that trip to Germany and wishing I was there right now I wanted to highlight a wine from that special year, it’s a beautiful Riesling made in Spreitzer’s generous style, but still wonderfully dry in the way it drinks with an array of classic Rheingau flavors with orange blossoms, lime, crisp green apple, yellow peach/apricot or fleshy stone fruit and verbena along with mineral tones, wet gun flint and a whisper of crystalized ginger, clove and honeycomb. The Hattenheimer Engelmannsberg Cru sits at about a 100 meters up and has the mineral rich clay, loam and loess soils with Spreitzer’s parcel being from a newer selection of vines, just about 20 years old that are sustainably (using mostly organic practices) farmed, it’s a place that delivers opulent density, but still allows lively acidity for impeccable balance and luxurious mouth feel, especially in Spreitzer’s Feinherb, which is slightly off dry with a creamy medium bodied palate. For purity and freshness of detail, Andrea and Bernd used 100% stainless steel in this one with the golden Riesling grapes whole cluster pressed and then settled overnight to drop out any green phenolic bitterness, again this wine is generous and all about pleasure, it is sublime with delicate curries, spicy cuisine and more traditional dishes as well as both briny fresh sushi and Vietnamese ginger beef with cellophane noodles. The modern Feinherb(s) are typically more dry, but have more sugar in the must, they are more textural than sweet, as this superb Spreitzer version shows, this category is finding a popular niche and can be impressive as well as being top values.

The family domaine of Weingut Josef Spreitzer in the small town of Oestrich-Winkel in the Rheingau first came to my attention when Terry Theise suggested I give them a try at one of his monumental trade/importer tastings and I found out that Andreas was a friend of Johannes Leitz, one of my favorite producers in the Rheingau, plus Andreas is a huge soccer fan, like me, as are most Germans, which gave us lots to chat about as I sampled his family’s wines. The vineyards, which I finally got to visit in 2016, sit in the middle Rheingau where the Rhein is at its widest point and have a huge variety of soils from sandy loam and loess to mixed slate, quarzite and sandstone along with some harden mineral rich clay. This part of the Rheingau is warmer and the Rhein gives an almost lake effect here allowing for great richness and concentration in the wines. The Spreitzer estate was privately founded back in 1641 and is one of the oldest family wineries in the whole Rheingau, with a long tradition as winegrowers as well as, it should be noted, a recent high upswing in quality with the innovations of Josef’s sons Andreas and Bernd Spreitzer who took over the estate in 1997 and bright the label to world attention in the last 20 years, especially these last 6 to 10 years. Their new tasting and education center, which was just updated prior to my 2016 tour, is stunning with amazing views and a settling that is both comforting and sleek, I highly recommend visiting Spreitzer and the Rheingau, it is one of the most important wine regions in the world with exciting villages, restaurants, vineyards, castles, abbeys and hiking trails along one of the world’s great rivers, as well as a stellar array of wines to discover, I can’t wait to go back! The 2016 vintage continues to impress in bottle and gaining in character with each year and I am really excited to see what 2019 is like from Spreitzer, which looks to be a legendary year to grab on release!
($25 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive