Category Archives: Wine Reviews

Grapelive: Wine of the Day August 18, 2019

2017 Joyce Wine Company, Syrah, Gabilan, Monterey County -photo grapelive

2017 Joyce Wine Company, Syrah, Gabilan, Monterey County.
While making a name for himself in recent years for his outstanding Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays, Russell Joyce is one of Monterey’s young guns changing the perception and bringing national attention to the region, and his under the radar Syrah bottlings are absolutely brilliant wines, especially his new deeply colored and powerfully packed Gabilan release. This was was first experience with this version after having many of Joyce’s Tondre Grapefield Santa Lucia Highlands Syrahs in recent years, and I love them as you can see by following my reviews, but this Gabilan is something special indeed and its stunning performance, even in its youth is riveting and highlights this unique terroir, those that have had the glorious wines of Bradley Brown of Big Basin, who has sourced fruit from here for years, will recognize it clearly in this wine. The Gabilan Range above the Salinas Valley, across the Valley from the hIghlands, is closer in soils to Chalone and its elevation allows a refreshing of the vines with a dramatic day to night temperature change and cooling breezes from the Pacific Ocean, there is wonderful concentration and ripe tannin, but with tons of energy and balance too, which is from the Diatomaceous earth here. These vines set on crumbly/chalky fossilized rock, with a thin layer of dirt with limestone, sand and granite are well drained, but hold water deep down making the vines go deep and helping them make grapes of intense flavor, all which Joyce captured to near perfection on the 2017 Gabilan Syrah. Joyce’s Syrah(s) are wines to discover, they are not far off those of the mentioned Big Basin, Pax and Drew, along with those of Roar, Morgan and Pisoni some of my absolute favorite wines, plus they are priced right, they are great values.

Russell, and team at Joyce, have been fine tuning their wine and approach in recent years have produced an amazing set of offerings in 2017 and 2018, with this one really standing out, along with his sublime set of dry white wines made from Albarino, Chenin Blanc,Chardonnay and Riesling, and of course his stellar lineup of Pinots. Now using most neutral, well seasoned French barriques and indigenous yeasts, Joyce has found a sweet spot, which Russell freely admits was inspired by his experience with wines he admired from other winemakers, including the wines from Greg Brewer and Chad Melville, to name a few. With this slightly exotic Gabilan Syrah Joyce employed about 40% whole cluster, which really makes this wine pop on the palate with a spicy intensity and tension that gives this wine, made from Alban clone, originally source from Cote-Rotie, a Northern Rhone degree of character, while having pure California density. There’s exceptional definition, dimension of fruit and a firm structure holding things together here, it flows with blackberry coulis, boysenberry, tree picked black plum, blueberry preserves and punchy kirsch/cherry along with a crunchy mineral sense, cracked peppercorns, minty/basil (stems?), crushed violets, light cedary notes, anise and lingering creme de cassis. The tannins melt in the mouth with a warm silkiness and the subtle acidity allows a full bodied textural feel, this Gabilan is totally absorbing and should age well, its opaque purple/black and garnet hue thrills in the glass, making for complete experience, and one that can be enhanced with cuisine. Joyce is getting a lot of attention and it’s well deserved, the wines are very impressive and deliver and awesome quality to cost ratio, in particular the Syrah efforts like this one, don’t miss it!
($40 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day August 17, 2019

2017 Cave Dog, Godello, Sonoma Valley -photo grapelive

2017 Cave Dog, Godello, Sonoma Valley.
The surprisingly exotic and lush Godello from Cave Dog fills the palate with peach stone fruit, kumquat, white currant and apple butter along with a creamy texture, impressive for a wine without malo, this is fun stuff that would enjoy a pairing with swordfish, fatty halibut as well as roast poultry dishes or decedent triple cream cheeses. Cave Dog is the latest from Michael Havens, creator of Havens Wine Cellars, which was the first winery in California to do Albarino, which he founded and ran from 1984 to 2008, is known as a champion of Merlot and Cabernet Franc in the Napa Valley. A desire to return to this tradition has led him back to a vineyard he knows well and a wine style, that is more Bordeaux in feel, he reveres as well as returning to Spanish whites, like this unique Godello. Much has changed in the Napa Valley and in Michael’s life, but Cave Dog continues his focus on graceful, elegant expressions of these varieties, and it is good to have him back on the scene after a few years in obscurity, where he pretty much checked out, though he did help Morgan Twain-Peterson at Bedrock with his Abrente white made from Albarino. In fact, Morgan Twain-Peterson and Michael Havens produced the first U.S. Godello in 2012, under the Abrente label. After teaching English at UC Davis in the 1980’s, and early in his winemaking career, Havens decided to take advantage of southern Napa’s cooler climate regions like Combsville and Carneros to showcase their restraint and balance, as he notes was a maverick move, in those days of bigger is better, that lead him to produce one of the valley’s earliest single-varietal Merlots and the first Carneros Syrah. A few years later, he would also pioneer, as mentioned, the first Albariño grown and bottled in the United States, sparking interest that has led to the cultivation of over 300 acres of the grape in California today. As the winery also notes, Michael has also served as a head winemaker and consultant to many different producers, from family wineries like Truchard Vineyards in Carneos, to industry titans such as Foster’s Wine Group. His experience has allowed him to work with nearly every grape varietal grown in California, giving him plenty of opportunities to experiment and too focus his attention on certain grapes that appeal to him, such as Godello, which is almost unknown outside its native Galicia in the cool northwest of Spain on the Atlantic coast, close to Portugal.

The Cave Dog label, the re-booting of Micheal Havens as a vintner, got kicked off with the 2014 vintage without much fanfare, but it looks like an intriguing set of wines, and having now registered both Albariño, first and now with Godello with TTB, Haven’s is as he puts it the premier Galician white wine guy in California. Haven adds, that In 2008, he worked the vintage with Ricardo Perez at Descendientes de J. Palacios, in Bierzo, northwestern Spain and through that experience he discovered some fascinating white wines, made from the Godello grape in nearby Valdeorras, Galicia, which inspired his future efforts. Haunted by Godello, he visited Rafael Palacios, Ricardo’s uncle, who makes what many think is the best white wine in Spain, As Sortes made from Godello, and got Rafael o supply him with pedigreed budwood from his famous Godello vineyards. The Godello grapes tends to make a little richer wine than the Albariño, but still with a lively mouthfeel that keeps it fresh. For Havens’ Cave Dog version its cool fermentation and aging on the lees in neutral white barrels has added complexity, texture and subtle aromatics, while blocking malo-lactic keeps the primary fruit front and center making wine that feels great and smooth on the palate, but retains vibrant acidity. Haven’s Godello, a grape that is often compared to white Burgundy and has considerable density is more Chablis like with mineral tones and loads of energy. While this ripe 2017 is as light or fresh as I am used to from versions from Spain, this is well worth checking out. I am a fan of Michael Havens and even visited his old winery on Hoffman Road in Napa, it’s where I fell in love with Albarino and I got to know his Cabernet Franc and Merlot blend, which I adored, it was one of my secret favorite wines as it was classy and beautiful, plus it was a lot less expressive than Cheval Blanc! I’m glad he is back making wine, though I am sad it took me this long to find his stuff, though this project is under the radar.
($25 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day August 16, 2019

2016 Eduardo Torres Acosta Viticulore, Nerello Mascalese, Versante Nord, Terre Siciliane IGT Rosso, Mount Etna, Sicily, Italy -photo grapelive

2016 Eduardo Torres Acosta Viticulore, Nerello Mascalese, Versante Nord, Terre Siciliane IGT Rosso, Mount Etna, Sicily, Italy.
I’ve really loved these Mount Etna sourced wines from Eduardo Torres Acosta since his first vintage was imported here a couple of years ago, and this Nerello based 2016 from two parcels, both north facing on the volcano is lovely, fresh and exotically spiced, showing this grape in its most flattering light, like Burgundy in class with sense of weightlessness, but with depth, complexity and lingering succulence. The parcels, Pietramarina and Verzella, are located between 550 and 700 meters on soft soils consisting of lava ash from various eruptions on Mount Etna, with Acosta’s vines being between 45-50 years old and they are a field blend mix of close to 80% Nerello Mascalese and 20% other native varieties, including the white Carricante. The Versante Nord red is made via spontaneous fermentation (indigenous yeast), with about 10% whole cluster and It was fermented in cement tanks with somewhere about two weeks on the skins, then the wine is aged 16 months in a neutral Slavonian oak botte (a larger cask). The finished product is a joy in the glass with brandied cherries, spiced raspberry and tree picked plums leading the fruits here in this ruby red and garnet colored wine, adding mineral notes, herbs, flinty red pepper and macerated rose petals along with a earthy hint of reduction. The medium weighted palate is ripe in sweet (smooth) tannin and lifted with pop of energy from the natural acidity with air allowing everything to unfold in stylish fashion. These Etna Rossos are in many ways like Pinot, not flavor wise, but in their silkiness and vibrancy, plus their flexibility with food, especially as you can slightly chill them too and serve with squid ink pasta and briny sauce and or spicy grilled octopus, plus more conventional cuisine.

Eduardo Torres Acosta, a young winemaker from the Canary Islands, first began working with vines in Tenerife where his father (a local postman) had a small plot of land. In 2012 Eduardo moved to Sicily, where he interned at Azienda Arianna Occhipinti, you may have heard of her, one of the natural wine world biggest stars. Soon thereafter he got a job as the enologist at Azienda Passopisciaro, for a few vintages, who are one of the pioneers of Etna’s new wave of producers. Though soon his own label took off, needing more of his full attention. Being imported by natural wine specialist Louis/Dressner has paid off in the states, they have done a great job to put his wines on some great wine lists and Acosta has caught the eye of more than a few influential Somms, making his wines a tough get. Louis/Dressner adds, even despite Eduardo’s “outsider” status, since he wasn’t born on Sicily, he has managed to rent several fine parcels on Etna from the suspicious locals. Up until the 2017 vintage, according to his importer Louis/Dressner, the grapes were harvested and then trucked to Arianna Occhipinti’s estate in Vittoria. Since the winemaking facility is not on Etna, where the grapes are grown, the wines Acosta have made were not allowed DOC status and must carry only the IGT Terre Siciliane designation on the labels, in case there was any confusion. Eduardo was able to convert a small Etna garage into a winery, so this may well change with the release of the 2018’s. Acosta is a name to watch and his wines, a white, this Versante Nord red and a single parcel Nerello Mascalese are all worth searching out.
($35 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day August 15, 2019

2014 Chateau Pradeaux, Bandol Rouge, Provence, France -photo grapelive

2014 Chateau Pradeaux, Bandol Rouge, Provence, France.
In a rare cooler style vintage the 2014 Pradeaux Bandol impresses for its restraint, delicacy and elegance, making for a lovely wine with pretty layers and subtly, rather than the usual Mourvedre power. Showing a sense of refinement, but definitely not a light wine this stuff has plenty of stuffing and complexity to satisfy on the medium/full palate with an underlying, velvet covered, tannic structure. Beautifully deep in color with a purple/garnet hue in the glass this 2014 turns on the charm right from the get go with crushed flowers, bright red fruits, snappy spices and a touch of earth before filling out and taking on a darker profile when open with black cherry, plum and mulberry fruits along with touch of cedar, anise, dusty pepper, lavender and even a classic leather note well in the background. This is a wine of purity and terroir, taking its clues from its limestone influenced Provence soils. Bandol, one of the great wines of France, often age decades and are great with robust and protein rich cuisine, going great with lamb and mushroom dishes and or hard sheep cheeses. This 2014 really starts rocking with food and air and it drinks as gracefully as a fine Medoc Bordeaux, though best to decant an hour before serving.

The Château Pradeaux, run by Cyrille Portalis along with his two sons Edouard and current winemaker Etienne, is situated on the outskirts of the town of Saint Cyr-sur-Mer that lies directly on the gorgeous azur (Blue) Mediterranean between Toulon and Marseilles. The estate has been in the hands of the Portalis family since before the French Revolution and the wines themselves transmit that long history and tradition and Pradeaux has been farmed to organic principles for many years. The estate is all about Mourvedre and this classic cuvée is 95% Mourvèdre and 5% Grenache, all whole cluster and with indigenous yeasts the wines then get a long élevage in large oak foudres, in fact they can last as long as four years. The concentration comes from the old vine fruit with the grapes only coming from vines at least 25 years of age, with most much older. The wines of Château Pradeaux are authentic, bold and sometimes rustic, but this 2014 is easy to enjoy in its youth, a rare joy in a Bandol, also look for their fabulous Rosé, which is composed of Cinsault as well as the obvious Mourvèdre. Chateau Pradeaux remains a great value in a region that has seen huge price jumps in the last 10 to 15 years, and this wine is well worth searching out.
($45 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day August 14, 2019

2018 Weingut Selbach-Oster, Riesling Feinherb, Zeltinger Schlossberg “Alte Reben” Mosel Germany -photo grapelive

2018 Weingut Selbach-Oster, Riesling Feinherb, Zeltinger Schlossberg “Alte Reben” Mosel Germany.
The whole collection of 2018 vintage wines from Selbach are masterpieces of purity and terroir, these are some of the best barrel samples I’ve ever tried and these wines are going to be a legendary set of Rieslings, and one that might get overlooked by traditionalists, but deserves your attention is Johannes Selbach’s old vine Zeltinger Schlossberg Feinherb, it is a do not miss! There is a lot of excitement at Selbach for their 2018 wines, which look to include their first true GG’s, though they might be labeled as Three Stars, the first being their awesome Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Trocken, it should be on your watch list, along with this 2018 Schlossberg Feinherb, with it’s off dry richness (though not sweet) proving very sexy in the glass. All of Selbach Oster’s Zeltingen vineyards – Himmelreich, Schlossberg and Sonnenuhr are all set on steep slopes and set on pure blue Devonian slate soils above the Mosel with great souther exposures allowing deep concentration and mineral complexity. When you look for the best in the region, Selbach-Oster joins Loosen, J.J. Prum, Monchhof, Molitor, Maximin Grunhaus and the impressive Loewen, and while Selbach is known for his classic Kabinett, one of the absolute best wines for the money in the world, his opulent Spatlese and his dense and regal Auslese, his drier style wines have always intrigued, usually selected from singular parcels, they are not wines that have been slaves to dogma or technical regulations and too be honest, most of the time their are better for having a little extra residual sugar in the must with this wine showing that extra RS in the form of graceful textural rather than any perception of sweetness. This Zeltinger Feinherb, and find you this is just a barrel sample, is gorgeous with incredible extract, it’s wonderfully detailed Riesling with forward layers of beautiful stone fruits and candied citrus along with hints of apricot, yellow peach, tangerine, quince, flint rock, saline, chamomile, white flowers and crystallized ginger. With air you get classic green apple, lime and creaminess of mouth feel, though a touch of savory wet stones and a touch of lemongrass add contrast to this tasty stuff. The natural acidity and steely mineral tones certainly keeps the energy high and the balance of form is masterful, under the hood is plenty of depth that leads me to believe that this will be a fantastic wine to lose in the cellar for a decade, it will reward both the patient and those that demand instant hedonistic pleasure!

Selbach Oster, with a long storied history in the Mosel, dating back to the 1600s, is run by Johannes Selbach and his wife Barbara, with the increasing help of son Sebastian and daughter Hannah, they, as importer Terry Theise says, manage their vineyards and winery with passion and respect for the estate’s long held traditions. Never one to stand still, Johannes added Christian Vogt in the cellars, he was the winemaker at Kartauserhof for many years, giving even more talent to this winery. Theise adds that, Johannes, like his late father Hans, has continued the use of traditional oak fuder in his cellar, bringing in new large casks every few years. The vinification is carried out in a combination of fuder and stainless steel, with low intervention in an hands-off manner with no fining, and predominantly the wines are done with wild yeasts or Sponti. I have always loved these wines, especially the Kabinett offerings, with the recent vintages 2015, 2016 and 2017 all performing great in the bottle, but these 2018’s are next level and Riesling lovers will want to pre-order as many as possible, in particular the value priced bottlings, like the Zeltinger Himmelreich Halbtrocken, the regular Mosel Kabinett, the Sonnenuhr Kabinett and the Saar negotiant offerings, along with the more serious Graacher, Wehlener and Zeltinger cru stuff, like this one. I was thrilled to catch up with Johannes at a recent tasting and hear about the 2018 vintage, a vintage that Terry Theise is super excited by as he confided to me as well, the wines all were outstanding and in his own humble way seemed really proud of this set, and interestingly in this vintage he guided me towards his Schlossberg wines, my favorite vineyard of his, in contrast to his usually pushing me to give more time and thought to Sonnenuhr! I concede that he was right about that, though for whatever reason I am drawn to Schlossberg and in this vintage I am overjoyed by the quality of this very special vineyard, with the Spatlese as well as this one being in particular explosive with a glorious expressive personality which shines through. Also, I would be amiss without mentioning Selbach’s fabulous and smoky/stony dry Pinot Blanc, one of the best examples of this grape I’ve ever had. (Note: Tasted from Barrel Sample, the finished wine should be released later this fall or winter)
($42 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day August 13, 2019

2017 Caraccioli Cellars, Pinot Noir, Hilltop Cuvee, Escolle Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands -photo grapelive

2017 Caraccioli Cellars, Pinot Noir, Hilltop Cuvee, Escolle Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands.
The beautifully crafted Hilltop Cuvee Pinot, an upcoming release from Scott Caraccioli and his team at Caraccioli Cellars, best known for their awesome grower fizz, is a remarkable wine of gorgeous aromatic intensity and refinement with a dark fruit profile and exceptional balance. This special release** is from the upper most rows at their estate grown Escolle Vineyard, featuring a diverse selection of vines and clones that include 943 and a little 828 that heighten the energy and racy black fruits, making for a very distinct Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir that is fabulously expressive, but with sharp detailing and focus, the vintage was near perfect for Escolle and it really shows here with silky ripe flavors and vibrant lifting acidity. The nose seduced me, and I was already entranced even before this Pinot got to my palate, in fact I thought there might be some whole cluster, but I was wrong as this Hilltop is all de-stemmed fruit, though the bouquet is wildly intriguing with floral tones, spice and exotic dark fruited. Caraccioli says he has been using some bigger format barrels and that this one saw some Puncheon and while 50% new French oak was used this is absolutely joyously not oaky on the palate. Complex with layers of black cherry, wild plum, pomegranate and bramble berry fruits, Asian and baking spices, including shaved cinnamon stick, along with briar notes, mineral elements, earl grey and a hint of smoky Francois Freres wood all make this an irresistible Pinot Noir that certainly raises Caraccioli into the serious league of SLH producers. Attention to yields and meticulous sorting with micro lots, Caraccioli Cellars are getting the most out of Escolle and the passion of place shines through in the wines.

As mentioned Caraccioli Cellars are making some of America’s best Sparkling wines and have already become local legends with their grower producer methode champenoise wines, with both their Cuvee Brut and Brut Rosé being outstanding bubbly, and even more uniquely they are some of the only single vineyard Champagne style sparklers available in the country. Caraccioli’s site was planted in March of 2008 and the Escolle Vineyard is 124 acres of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, as they put it, grounded in the northern Santa Lucia Highlands on the regions sandy loamy soils. Caraccioli Cellars planted the vineyard with a variety of clone and root stock options, giving the winery and its customers for grapes a flexibility in style has led to Escolle making a quick impact here, with many talented local winemakers enjoying their fruit from here including Ian Brand, Jim Schultze of Windy Oaks and Russell Joyce, all making sublime Chardonnay from Escolle grapes. Caraccioli’s still wines seem to get better with each vintage and this one is very pretty Pinot Noir and their new 2017 Escolle Chardonnay is showing well also with a steely streak of minerallity and creamy texture. Learned from stars of the Santa Lucia Highlands, the Caraccioli’s put the utmost care into the tending of the vines and the farming here is so good that Escolle rivals the Cru sites, namely Rosella’s, Garys’, Soberanes, Sierra Mar, Double L as well as Tondre and surpassing Sleepy Hollow, out here for grape quality, this hands on, studied and hand crafted approach has paid off, especially with the 2017 vintage and in particular in this limited bottling. **Note: This was a preview sample, look for it this fall, thank you Scott Caraccioli for sharing this beauty.
($N/A) 94+ Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day August 12, 2019

2017 Alfredo Maestro Tejero Viticultor, Tempranillo “Vina Almate” Castilla y Leon, Spain -photo grapelive

2017 Alfredo Maestro Tejero Viticultor, Tempranillo “Vina Almate” Castilla y Leon, Spain.
One of the best deals in natural and pure Tempranillo, the Viña Almate by Alfredo Maestro Tejero, comes from Clay-Calcareous and Alluvial soils at an elevation between 700-1000 meters with vine ages ranging from 10-80 years. This 100% Tinto Fino (Tempranillo) cuvée is made from fruit sourced from various plots in Valtiendas (Segovia), as well as in Peñafiel (Valladolid) in the Castilla y León region, basically in the Ribera del Duero, but since his winemaking practices don’t adhere to the D.O., it’s considered a rebel wine. All the grapes, known locally as Tinto Fino, were hand-harvested, mostly by Alfredo himself, as he is pretty much a one man army, then they are whole-cluster crushed and fermented with native yeasts in steel vat with about 12-15 days of maceration. The resulting fresh and vibrant wine raised over winter in vat, without oak and bottled in February unfined, unfiltered, and with very low or no SO2, capturing the purest form possible. This 2017 is slightly reductive at first with a touch of earthy funk that blows off allowing pretty fruit and floral details to take over on the medium bodied palate showing blackberry, plum, mulberry and black cherry fruits, along with minty herb, leather, mineral tones, sandalwood, licorice and dried lavender. The natural tannin and acidity make this a succulent red wine, a touch drying on it’s own, but smooth with a range of cuisine options, it’s great with BBQ, picnics and a party quaff.

I love Alfredo’s wines, they are honest and charming offerings, much like he is himself, I am grateful to have done a few tastings with him and he gives off a warm of friendship, which is transmitted through his wines as well. His family came to the winemaking town Peñafiel, in the Ribera del Duero from the Basque Country, and according to his importer Jose Pastor, having grown up amongst the grapes vines, and always having a great interest in wine, it seemed he was destined to be a winemaker. Through the encouragement of his closest friends, he started making his own wine in 1998 and in that same year he planted his first vineyard -Almate- which he named after himself, not short of confidence, on the Rio Duraton near his home. From the beginning he farmed organically, but followed the winemaking guidebooks to the letter for a few years before following his own instincts in the cellar and going all natural, this gave his wines a new life and got the attention of the natural wine world. This Vina Amate, his highest production bottling, is a great way to discover the Alfredo Maestro wines, but he does some cool Garnacha too, as well as a couple single parcel Tempranillo(s), a lovely Garnacha Tintorera (Alicante Bouschet) Rosado, along with a wild white wine called Lovamor made from hundred plus year old parcels of Albillo, a rare native varietal, which in the latest vintage was “Orange Wine” style fermented on the skins for 7 days and aged in neutral chestnut wood barrel. All of which are delicious and exciting, and again this Vina Almate is a solid starting place to launch into these wines, giving good bang for the buck.
($15 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day August 11, 2019

2017 Envinate, Palo Blanco, Listan Blanco/Palomino, Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain -photo grapelive

2017 Envinate, Palo Blanco, Listan Blanco/Palomino, Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain.
This energy driven white, by Envinate, is sourced from a tiny 1.5ha vineyard of centenarian (hundred year old) cordon trenzado, which is the named for the braided vine system used on the windswept volcanic hillside, Listan Blanco, also known as Palomino (the Sherry grape) at 600m elevation, and is named for the area where it’s planted on the Island of Tenerife. This Canary Islands white shows the terroir intensity and is an earthy spice, bone dry wine with a crisp saltiness and electric form, it was fermented naturally, whole cluster pressed before racking off the skins into cement vat where it is done without malo-latic fermentation and raised in old large Friulian oval foudres for 10 months. While known in the natural wine world for their exciting Listan Nergo red wines, Envinate is gaining a reputation for their whites, especially their Taganan Blanco, which is made from a field blend mix of mostly Listan Blanco, Albillo Criollo, Marmajuelo, Gual, and Malvasia, but includes a few grapes no one can seem to identify, as well as this 100% Listan Blanco. As noted by me and other top critics, Envinate is a talented group of 4 friends, consisting of winemakers Roberto Santana, Alfonso Torrente, Laura Ramos, and José Martínez. This gang of 4, as they have become known, formed back in 2005 while studying enology at the University of Miguel Hernandez in Alicante and decided that they all would make wine together, regardless of where they ended up. Then after their graduation, they formed a winemaking consultancy, which evolved into Envínate, a project, now based on Tenerife, that focuses on exploring distinctive parcels mainly in the Atlantic regions of Spain, including most famously the Ribeira Sacra in Galicia and the Canary Islands, as well as one site influenced by the Mediterranean sea in the Alicante region along with a plot in Extremadura. I’ve been following Envínate for many vintages now and every time I try their wines I find something new and exciting in them, and the current releases are thrilling, quite honestly there is nothing quite like them!

The 2017 Palo Blanco is slightly funky on the nose at first, but that blows off quickly to reveal a vibrant and spicy dry white wine that gains class and stylistic charm in the glass with a glistening pale golden hue, it is a nervy and exciting wine that expresses its terroir and especially performs well with sea food and or soft cheeses. Brisk acidity and restrained fruits hides the depth at first, but as the Palo Blanco opens it fills out and adds a graceful texture with a core of citrus fruit and wet rock along with dried pineapple, ginger, pepper/flint, mouth watering saline as well as white peach, quince and a touch of waxy verbena. Palomino, rarely achieves what you find here, and this is incredibly unique, I can only think of examples like those of Sadie Family in South Africa and Laura Lorenzo in Galicia that make wines from this grape that is on this level. The collective aim, as they put at Envinate, is to make profoundly pure and authentic wines that express the terruño of each parcel in a clear and raw/authentic way, as this 2017 Palo Blanco transparently shows in every detail. To make this happen to their satisfaction, there are no chemicals used in any of the Envínate farmed or used vineyards, with every parcel picked by hand, all the grapes are foot-trodden old school style, and the wines are fermented exclusively with wild yeasts, with a varying proportion of whole grape clusters (for the reds) included. As for aging, as mentioned above, the wines are raised in old barrels and the absolute minimum amount of sulfur is used and only added at bottling, if needed. The results in the bottle are thrilling, there are some of the most exciting, slightly funky and honest wines being produced in Spain today. I tend to describe them as wild and remote as the regions from which they come, in particular these from the Canary Islands, which if you hadn’t noticed is an island chain off the coast of north Africa that were planted to vines during the Spanish colonial era in the new world with the Missionaries taking the same selection of vines to the western coast of the Americas from Chile all the way up to present day Sonoma in California starting in the 1500s. If you want to discover these wines, especially this rare white, you’ll have to work a bit, but it is worth it!
($45 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day August 10, 2019

2017 Salvo Foti – I Vigneri, Vinudilice, Etna Rosato, Sicily, Italy -photo grapelive

2017 Salvo Foti – I Vigneri, Vinudilice, Etna Rosato, Sicily, Italy.
The godfather of Sicily’s Mount Etna wines, Salvo Foti produces inspirational bottlings of Carricante and from the eastern slope of the volcano as well as renowned bottlings of Nerello Mascalese from the northern reaches of Etna. Salvo Foti is well known for his tremendous efforts to rediscover, champion and propagate the indigenous grapes of Mount Etna under the I Vigneri banner, a group of visionary growers committed to native grapes and holistic grown vines, in an effort to preserve the island’s ancient wine growing traditions. Over the years he has isolated some of the best grapevines of Carricante and Nerello Mascalese in order to continue to grow the volcano’s amazing viticultural legacy. For his Rosato, he uses a vineyard planted to mainly hundred year old Alicante (Grenache) vines, but of course there is mixed with some other red and white grape varietals, some unknown, with vines at 1300 meters above sea level surrounded by a holly oak forest, and from which this Rosé wine, called Vinudilice, is made. While not biodynamic in the biblical sense, Foti’s vines set on soils of broken or decomposed lava stone of varying depth mixed with sand, and farmed with no fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides of any kind.

Interestingly, Foti’s fermentations are done in open oak vats, with indigenous yeast and without the use of enzymes or temperature control, thankfully the nights by this time of year on the Volcano are surprisingly quite cold. There is very little sulfur ever used on the grapes or the must, if at all, with aging happening in mostly used wood or cement with racking and bottling, which is unfined and unfiltered, is done under lunar cycles. If not for the pinkish and salmon hue, I would swear this was a wonderful and textured white wine, it almost has the feel of a Cassis Blanc and a graceful complexity with a pure mineral sense as well as a lovely long finish. Layers of fleshy fruit caress the medium bodied, very dry, palate which includes peach, melon, orange citrus and just a hint of strawberry and sour cherry, along with dusty spices, saline, wet rock and touch of earthiness. Again, this is a wine of beauty and mouth feel with subtle floral and steely elements, it is incredibly stylish, without pretense and flexible, being able to go with many cuisine choices. This vintage is stunning and I only wish I had more, it is extremely rare, as are all of Salvo’s offerings, and don’t flinch at the price, it’s less than Domaine Tempier these days and just as thrilling!
($45 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day August 9, 2019

2015 Corison, Cabernet Sauvignon, Kronos Vineyard, Napa Valley -photo grapelive

2015 Corison, Cabernet Sauvignon, Kronos Vineyard, Napa Valley.
The Kronos Estate Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon by Cathy Corison, the Napa Valley icon who’s celebrating her birthday today August 9, is one of the great wines of the new world and this 2015 vintage is proof of that with incredible depth and sophistication of flavor. While I love Corison’s regular Napa bottling, there is no question the Kronos is something remarkably special, it pushes the bar higher for Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon with its concentration, which is hedonistic, but balanced by its inner energy, this is what a great wine should be, lush and textured with a full bodied palate, polished tannin structure and a still vibrant and vividly detailed, it never feels over blown or like chocolate syrup as many high end Napa Cabs can be, and the natural alcohol is lower than most, especially in the more serious echelon of wines from the Valley. Some of this is Cathy’s style showing its class and some of it is the organic and sustainable farming techniques used in the Kronos vineyard, which sits in the shadow of the Mayacamas just behind the Saint Helena winery a stones throw from the famous Hwy 29, in the heart of Napa Valley. The Kronos Vineyard, was named for one of the titans in Greek mythology, the sons of heaven and earth, and it lives up to its name, and Corison feels blessed to work with such a legendary site, this vineyard gives her an elevated platform from which to showcase her talents, as this wine clear presents. It was planted in 1971 on St. George rootstock, which is completely resistant to Phylloxera, and these mature gnarly, wise old ladies are now over 45 years old, it is thriving in its prime, but of course the yields are pitifully low at a meager 1.25 tons/acre. Corison, who was the first woman winemaker winery owner in Napa Valley, believes this vineyard offers her a chance to make a singular wine, a profound Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, that rivals the world’s best, she adds that the wines she has made from here, make Kronos one of the great Cabernet vineyards of the world. Certainly I would put it in there somewhere, and this vintage I am sure holds its own with a regal and powerful presence in the glass.

Cathy’s career started with her completing a master’s degree in Enology at UC Davis, after which she took a harvest internship at Freemark Abbey back in 1978. Her head winemaking began at Chappellet Vineyard and lasted for most the 1980’s, and she did a little moonlighting at times, consulting for the likes of Staglin, York Creek and Long Meadow Ranch. Her own label began in 1987 and she focused almost entirely on crafting world class Cabernet Sauvignon from vineyards along the Rutherford and St. Helena bench, where the gravelly loams soils produce distinct wines that are terroir driven. The 2015 Kronos delivers a rich and inky dark Cabernet Sauvignon with layers of classic blackberry, plum, succulent currant, kirsch and blueberry fruit along with a touch of spice, sweet cedar notes, a hint of violets, vanilla and with cinnamon and licorice. The mouth feel is impressive and this wine has a gripping personality that holds your attention on the lengthy finish and the aftertaste goes on for days. The tannins are ripe, as they tend to be in warm years, but as always in Corison’s wine they hold everything together and there is a brightness that makes this young and forceful Cabernet Sauvignon sing, and gives me a certainty of further greatness in the years ahead, without question this wine holds a treasure of rewards for those who have patience. This Kronos, like the famed Ridge Monte Bello, and the recently reviewed Diamond Creek Gravelly Meadow, looks set to be a contender for classic status in the cellar, it should age wonderfully and stay in its prime for decades. The bouquet shows fresh fruits, floral tones and a smoky wood note, and with air some loam, savory sage and tobacco leaf emerge adding complexity and with robust cuisine this wine shows off, it really benefits from decanting at this stage, allowing it to stretch its legs and the food melts the tannins.
Happy Birthday Cathy and thank you for making such monumental wines, this 2015 Kronos is gorgeous stuff, it grew on me and while I didn’t think I could like a 2015 vintage wine as much as I loved the 2014, but this wine won me over completely, and I’ve curious to see where it goes, I hope I get a chance to enjoy this wine again in 10 or 15 years.
($165 Est.) 97 Points, grapelive