Category Archives: Wine Reviews

Grapelive: Wine of the Day January 8, 2021

2017 Sidewood Estate, Pinot Noir, Adelaide Hills, South Australia.
The Sidewood Estate, a certified sustainable winery that is widely known for cool climate Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and sparkling wines is the largest family owned winery in the Adelaide Hills region in South Australia and is a locals favorite, but not easily found here in the States, which might change if all of their wines are as great as this Pinot Noir, one of their entry level Signature bottlings I just sampled. This 2017 Sidewood Pinot is absolutely beautiful and excitingly delicious with racy and spicy partial whole bunches and stem inclusion thrills on the medium bodied palate that shows a silky tannin structure and a crisp detailing of flavors with dark fruit, textural opulence and a heightened aromatic profile making for a wine will impress Burgundy lovers as well as cool climate new world enthusiasts, I know I was. The bouquet just jumps from the glass in this ruby/garnet hued Pinot with seeped rose petals, herbs and cinnamon seducing the senses before an impeccable unfolding of pure and energetic fruit layers in the mouth with bursts of crushed raspberries, strawberry, pomegranate and tart plum that are wrapped around a core of classic black cherry along with an echo of the nose with floral tones, mineral, cinnamon and briar spices, a touch of orange tea and soft wood accents. The stems add a lot of character in this wine with an edgy crunch and lift, bringing out the wine’s personality and keeps it from fading from your attention, this is an exceptionally fun and intriguing Aussie Pinot, especially for the price and it is perfectly happy with a variety of foods and cuisine pairings ranging from poultry and pork to salmon and or a mix of sea foods. I must say, I took a flyer on this wine, and was quite blown away with just how much I liked it and how it just got better and better as it opened up. I’ve had plenty of Australian Pinots, so I wasn’t surprised by the quality as there are lots of wonderful examples of this grape from down under, though I mostly have enjoyed Yarra and Mornington versions and even Tassie stuff, but after this one I will explore more from Adelaide Hills! The Sidewood Estate does four series of wines including a range, as mentioned, Champagne method bubbly, an Estate or basic set, a signature collection, like this one and a limited small lot lineup that highlights either special barrel cuvees or unique single clone, like their 777 clone Pinot or single vineyard wines.

The vineyard and vinification team at Sidewood used hand tended and picked grapes from selected and special parcels at this 300 acre property in the Hahndorf area to make this Pinot Noir which was crafted using mostly traditional artisan methods and a gentle touch in the cellar with minimal intervention in the winemaking process to allow the natural terroir influences to shine through. They chilled the freshly picked Pinot grapes for 24 hours and slowly cool fermented with partial whole cluster in what I believe were stainless steel vats to promote freshness and vibrancy in the wine before being aged on the fine lees for 10 months in mostly used French oak barrels which impart a subtle toast and creamy mouth feel while not overtly over shadowing the bright intensity of the fruit. This wine will most definitely appeal to the whole cluster fanatics out there, like me, and its perfume, expressive personality and lingering flavors will seduce most everyone, this is quality stuff. In recent years there has been a new generation movement towards less oaky and less jammy wines throughout Australia and a more savvy wine drinker that appreciate wines that show more delicacy and more transparency, which clearly shows in wines like this with its touch of raw earthiness and nice acidity. The Sidewood label was founded in 2004, so it is not an old winery by Australian standards, but owners Owen and Cassandra Inglis have put a lot of effort to make this estate one of the best in the Adelaide Hills region. They make about 50,000 cases per vintage from all estate grown fruit, with their own vineyard team led by Mark Vella and Peter McIntyre that farm a selection of micro climates set on a complex combination of soils. They actually grow an amazing array of different grapes including some rarities in the country like Tempranillo for their Rosé, as well as Semillon along with a collection of classics like Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Shiraz (Syrah), Chardonnay and Pinot Noir all which are carefully handcrafted under the direction of Sidewood’s winemaker Darryl Catlin, who, as this wine shows, looks to be a talented professional. This nicely balanced Sidewood Pinot, that delivers a good contrast of ripe fruit and savory elements and which came in at about 13% alcohol has really inspired me to look into more of Oz’s wine regions and experience a more diverse selection of the country’s wines.
($32 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day January 7, 2021

2019 Martha Stoumen, Carignan, Venturi Vineyard, Mendocino County.
On a day when I was looking for normality and comfort, I reached for one of my new favorite California wines that recently has made my must have list, the Stoumen Carignan, which is absolutely enticing with a bright, but dark fruit freshness, low alcohol quaffability, spicy and crunchy personality. For my own personal drinking, without over thinking it or having to get too deep into wine geek mode I love wines like this, easy and full of natural purity with a lighter medium bodied palate, great to sip on and have with a casual meal, it is a wine that brings out smiles, laughter and eases the tension of the times we live in. Martha’s wines all show a raw sense of honesty and transparency with this latest 2019 Carignan delivering vibrant layers of crushed blackberry, tree picked plums, tart currant and Morello cherry fruits along with snappy briar notes, earth, dusty stones, cinnamon, sage (sort of like a California garrique) and dried lilac flowers. This red is distinctly weightless in feel, but still with a sense of structure and is soulfully rustic that reminds me of Corbieres, a region known for old vine Carignan in France’s Languedoc region, though Martha says she was more inspired to make a California wine that had the delight of a Cru Beaujolais, which I can also see clearly here. In the last few years we have seen some great examples of Carignan and or Carignan based reds, like this one, as well as those by Sandlands, Broc, Liocco, Sheldon, Ridge, Desire Lines Wine Co. and Pax, to name a few I highly recommend chasing down. Carignan, originally from the greater Mediterranean area and found in the mentioned Languedoc as well as in the Rhone Valley, eastern Spain, Sardinia and in the new world from Chile to Australia is a black grape that has long been here in California, where it is commonly found in old vine field blends, usually inter-planted with Zinfandel. The Stoumen Carignan is extremely flexible with food and provides endless charm to enjoy with almost any foods, but especially delicious with Spanish or Italian (hard) sheep cheeses, Pasta dishes as well as simple country fare and lightly spicy stuff.

Martha, herself maybe describing it best says of her old vine Carignan, that it has aromas of dried earth, chaparral, raspberry jam smeared on a stone and left to dry in the sun. Going on Martha adds that her Carignan maintains Venturi Vineyard’s distinct dusty tannin structure, but in a featherweight and savory way, in a style she adores. This wine comes from the Venturi Vineyard, which was originally planted just after WWII in 1948 on a particularly stony plot of land that is ancient River bed with gnarly head trained vines that are all organic and dry farmed with Stoumen herself helping hand tend her select parcels. This site, uniquely set inland and in Mendocino’s remote forested area gives warm ripeness and concentration, but the cool nights retain refreshing acidity, which Martha carefully nurtures to make a balanced, vivacious and vinous wine. With this wine Martha used all whole cluster in an open-top stainless steel tank, noting that she used a few bins of grapes were foot treaded to encourage the yeasts to get going and explains that to not extract to much harsh tannin a very gentle series of light punch downs. Stoumen employed 100% native yeast, as mentioned with mostly whole bunches for a long and cool fermentation with an extended maceration on the stems and skins to achieve her goals here, before it gets racked from a sealed tank (semi-carbonic) to neutral wood with the Carignan seeing an elevage of nine months in used French oak barrels. This wine, from these 70 year old vines, comes in at just 12% natural alcohol and saw extremely low sulphite, was bottled unfined and unfiltered, shows Stoumen’s attention to detail, her experience in old world winemaking, with stints in Sicily at COS and small estate vineyards in France that influenced her style and passion for wine, is part of a tidy collection of new releases from this small exciting winery that are drinking extremely well, I suggest checking them all out. Of these, I am fond of the Nero d’Avola, maybe Martha’s signature wine, the cool toned and re-imagined Zinfandel, the extended lees aged Negroamaro Rosato (Rosé) and this vivid Carignan, look for them.
($35 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day January 6, 2021

2019 Desire Lines Wine Co., Riesling, Cole Ranch Vineyard and AVA, Mendocino County.
The stunning dry mineral driven Riesling from Cody Rasmussen at Desire Lines Wine Co. is one of California’s best example of this grape, especially this 2019 vintage, which is beautifully bright, intense and expressively pure with an array of racy citrus, white blossoms, tangy apricot, wet stones, tart green apple skins, peach pit and a hint of pear butter on the brisk and zingy light bodied palate. Everything is alive in this fabulous golden pale hued Riesling, energized by its natural acidity and powered by its dry extract this wine will impress Riesling fans everywhere and its presence in the glass is both impactful and elegant, this is a wine of sublime form and balance that adds zest herbs, verbena, clove and ginger spices along with a fine aromatic sense with a light floral perfume and a flinty leesy note. Desire Lines wine Co. is a small husband and wife micro winery in Sonoma, own by winemaker Cody Rasmussen, assistant winemaker at Morgan Twain-Peterson’s awesome Bedrock Wine Company, and his wife Emily Rasmussen, focused on an awesome set of red wines with two of the state’s best Syrah(s), one from the fabled Shake Ridge Ranch in Amador County and the other from the Petaluma Gap’s Griffin’s Lair, as well as an old vine Carignan blend, a powerful Mourvedre and a unique Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon, plus this not to be overlooked Dry Riesling. I’ve been a fan for a few vintages now and I like what I see and taste, this is a label you want to pay attention to, these wines are exceptional hand crafted and small lot efforts that are wonderfully complex and have incredible depth, and it must be noted, they are outrageous values too, I highly recommend getting on their mailing list as soon as possible, these wines are blowing up with enthusiasts, while still being maybe surprisingly a bit under the radar. Rasmussen’s time working with Morgan and Chris at Bedrock certainly shows in the fundamental structures and style in the Desire Lines Wine Co. bottlings, which is high praise, but they do offer Cody to chance to explore his own path and there is sense of this in his wines, especially these latest releases, it is a great time to explore them.

Cody has been working this special Cole Ranch site since 2016 and is himself a huge Riesling fan and loves this place and the quality of this cool climate vineyard really shines through in this 2019, as it did with a 2018, which was one of my favs of the year. Situated in a narrow valley, as Rasmussen notes, in the mountains between Boonville and Ukiah, the Cole Ranch is a monopole and a single-vineyard AVA, one of only a couple of sites in California, it comes with combination of complex California series of soils which transmits its terroir signature into the wine. The Riesling vines here, as Cody adds, were planted back in 1973 on St. George rootstock and are old school head-trained and dry-farmed, that means these old vines provide excellent concentration, moderate alcohol with full flavor development, as this brilliantly detailed wine displays in force. This 2019 Cole Ranch Riesling is joyfully playful and easy to quaff, but is also very serious stuff that goes great with a range of cuisines, very much like the best dry Rieslings of Alsace and Germany and reminds me somewhat of more intriguing examples of Aussie versions, like Jim Barry’s Lodge Riesling, Henschke, Polish Hill and Rolf Binder from the Eden and Clare Valleys as well as G. D. Vajra’s Riesling from Piedmonte Italy, another of my all time favorite Rieslings grown outside of France and Germany. It’s an exciting time for Riesling worldwide, but in particular in California and Oregon, which have in recent years really turned up the quality, with the wines of Desire Lines, Tatomer, Brooks, Joyce, Reeve, Morgan, Bedrock (Cody’s boss), Trisaetum, Stony Hill, Smith Madrone, Casa Nuestra and Cobb, to name a few, taking dry Riesling to the next level. This wine offers big time bang for the buck, and while its tiny production makes it difficult time find, you will be rewarded for your dogged pursuit in getting some. The 2018 and 2019 are similar, so be sure to grab either if you see them and of course don’t forget to score the Desire Lines wines along with these. I really put my money where my mouth was and bought a bunch for myself and opened this beauty last night with take away Sushi, and it was close to perfection as it gets and brought a heavenly lightness and soul refreshment to a mind burdened by the ongoing darkness of these times for which I am grateful for.
($22 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day January 5, 2021

2019 Hundred Suns Wines, Syrah “Super Moon” Vidon Vineyard, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
Grant Coulter and Renée Saint-Amour’s Hundred Suns Wines, founded in 2015 and based in McMinnville, is a micro winery focused on Pinot Noir as you’d expect in the Willamette Valley, but they also produce some very interesting other wines including a fantastic Gamay, a Chablis like Chardonnay and even a Grenache and this Super Moon, which is lighter natural style whole cluster Syrah. This is a totally unique version of Syrah, a grape not known for its presence in the cool climate Willamette Valley and made in a gentle way as to allow for a transparent raw freshness of details that delivers a spicy, soft fruited, tangy, earthy and savory wine, but with an elegant quaffable personality. This wine was made from, what winemaker Grant Coulter, the Ex Beaux Freres man says, a warm Willamette Valley area, but in a more classically cool year that played a major role in how this delightful Super Moon Syrah turned out and making it a true reflection of time and place with vibrant layers of tangy pomegranate, juicy plum, crushed raspberry and dusty cherry fruits along with wild herbs, baked earth, leather, ground peppercorns, seeped flowers and fennel notes. The textural quality is more Pinot like than what you’d expect from a more tannic and meaty Syrah with a smooth structure behind the vibrancy of the fruit, the pulsating acidity and crunchy mineral tones, which are spotlighted by the whole bunches and the use of neutral barrels that didn’t impart any overt flavoring on the medium bodied palate. Grant and Renée believe this vintage has created a very singular wine and explain that a Super Moon is a rare and beautiful lunar event that occurs when the full moon coincides with the moon’s closest approach to Earth in its orbit, making the moon seem brighter and more close than usual. They add that Super Moon felt like an appropriate name for this wine, as its personality shows, that could only have come to being in this particular vintage.

The Hundred Suns Super Moon Syrah was sources from the Vidon Vineyard, which as mentioned is a warmer site for the Willamette Valley where Syrah can be grown and get ripe in most years, though it was right on the edge during this vintage. To achieve the goal for this wine It was fermented 100% whole cluster in a sealed tank, in a Beaujolais Cru style, for 12 days with native yeasts before Coulter opened the tank and then foot-stomped the Syrah clusters, with full stem inclusion one time before pressing it off to used or neutral French barrels for eight months. This unfined and unfiltered Super Moon Syrah came in at 12.8% natural alcohol, making for a subtle red wine that opens up nicely in the glass, but one that really needs some time and food to unfold and give its full potential. Hundred Suns has become one of my new favorites and I have been hugely impressed with the last three vintages and especially the latest set of Pinot Noir releases, including the awesome single vineyard 2018 Shea Vineyard Pinot Noir, the Sequitur Vineyard Pinot, from the legendary Beaux Freres founder Mike Etzel’s prized Ribbon Ridge estate and the stunning entry level Old Eight Cut Pinot, which is one of Oregon’s greatest values. The Vidon Vineyard, which was founded in 1999 by Don Hagge and Vicki Lewis, but is now owned and managed by Dru and Erin Allen, is planted to Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Viognier, Syrah, and Tempranillo, is in the Newberg area of the in the Chehalem Mountains AVA and set on complex series of soils witch is lead by the classic the red Jory mineral rich volcanic/basalt based soils. This Super Moon has a distinctive profile, that is interestingly like a Georgian Saperavi or a Mondeuse from the Savoie, the Alpine region of France close to the Swiss border, that is rather different than most Syrah(s) which are usually much darker and densely rich. With air this garnet ruby colored wine loses some of its edgy and taut angular sharpness, it certainly grew on me over a few hours, but again it benefits greatly with protein heavy cuisine and or hard cheeses.
($30 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day January 4, 2020

2018 Cameron Winery, Pinot Noir, Ribbon Ridge AVA, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
The incredibly dark 2018 Ribbon Ridge Pinot is a thrilling wine with gorgeous fruit and complexity with a silky mouth feel, but firmly layered with great balance and structure showing loads of black cherry, vine picked wild berries and crushed violets along with delicate smoky notes. This 2018 is exceptional from start to finish adding mineral elements and a stony/savory contrast to the beautifully pure Pinot fruit. This wine really makes an impact on the medium bodied palate and is an outrageous value, it drinks fabulous now and is very likely only going to get better with a few more years in bottle. The Ribbon Ridge, is very different from his Dundee Hills version, showing its terroir and darker fruit profile, which is provided by the appellation’s Marine Sedimentary soils. The grapes for this wine are sourced from two sites, the Foster Farms Vineyard and the Armstrong Vineyard, grown without irrigation as Paul believes it is crucial for concentration and full flavor development, with both vineyards farmed with sustainable methods and highlight the Ribbon Ridge AVA’s characteristics. John Paul explains, that fruit from Ribbon Ridge is always intense, deeply hued, perfumed with loads of sexy black fruit, making the wines, like this one, bold and with a gripping personality. I absolutely love this vintage, its power and elegance reminds me of some of my favorite Cote de Nuits, Burgundy fans will love this stuff, especially those that go for Vosne-Romanee.

The winemaking at Cameron is traditional Burgundy in style with John Paul crafting his wines with native yeasts used for primary fermentation(s) and long elevage(s), usually between 18 and 20 months (or more) in barrique, that are seasoned with a couple of fills. Paul is very particular about his oak and his choice of barrels, saying it is crucial to the quality of the final product to have the right selection of wood. Paul also notes, that for both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, he usually selects his favorite artisan barrels that from a cooper he discovered while in Burgundy, who lives in the village of Saint Romain in Burgundy. His barrel maker Claude Gillet, together with his children and several master coopers turn out some of the most distinct barriques Paul has ever seen and Claude and his son, Laurent, often visit Joh Paul to taste the wines in barrel and make their recommendations for choice of forest, toast level and all of the other minutia that go into making an oak barrel flatters Cameron’s style. As mentioned in prior reviews, Paul believes that barrels reach their perfection only after a couple vintages, so prefers to use used wood that has at least two or three fills which allows his wine to show their true depth and detail without overt oak influence. As this 2018 opens it sheds a slightly reductive (truffle) earthiness allowing the floral dimension to be a lovely focal point and the density of fruit to shine, it is a wine that benefits from matching cuisine and patience, a slow meal will bring out the best in this seductive Pinot. What a bargain, there are very few Pinots that reach this level of quality for the price, I highly recommend stocking up on these Cameron 2018s.
($30 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day January 3, 2021

2018 Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona, Rosso di Montalcino DOC, Tuscany, Italy.
Always a wine I search out for its pedigree and value, this Rosso di Montalcino (baby Brunello) comes from classic Sangiovese Grosso grapes with vines in some of this famous estate’s prime parcels, and this 2018 is lively and delicious with exceptional purity and rich detail. The 2018 may not be as fantastic as the other worldly 2016, but it is not far off and is much more flexible and quaffable in style with a bit more acidity and as it opens it gains another level making it very compelling with a nice and full range of flavors you expect from this producer. The palate starts brightly with very subtle floral notes, a hint of spice and toasted cedar on the nose and echoed in the mouth along with blackberry, plum, maceration cherries and earthy mulberry fruits that are accented by dried potpourri, candied orange rind, minty herb and anise. As this Ciacci Rosso gets going with time and air it reveals itself with splendid clarity gaining a touch of toffee and sweet pipe tobacco as well as delivering more textural presence making this wine much more interesting and really exciting with food. The dark garnet core and orange/ruby edged Rosso di Montalcino, which comes from organic grapes, has many charms and its medium/full body gives it some serious impact, especially for the price this vintage is a wine that over delivers and great for anytime drinking with without wallet draining guilt, it’s a Sangiovese lovers bargain.

This Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona Rosso di Montalcino was made, as per DOC rules, from 100% Sangiovese from the Brunello Castelnuovo dell’Abate zone set at elevations between 180-360 meters above sea level with mineral-rich marly soils witch is complex with some limestone and volcanic sub structures adding to the terroir influence with good sun exposure. The primary fermentation of the carefully sorted and all de-stemmed berries is in a combination of stainless steel and cement tanks with a gentle maceration or extraction before being rested in large Slavonian oak casks for about a year to soften the tannins and allows for immediate pleasure on release. The Ciacci Piccolomini winery is run by Paolo and Lucia Bianchini, brother and sister, who’s family inherited this highly regarded property in 1985, they took over from their late father Giuseppe in 2004 and they have not just continued the traditions here, but have raised the quality level to even greater heights, especially with their top Brunello di Montalcino bottlings that are some of the most prized in the region. Ciacci has mainly Sangiovese in their elite vineyards of course, but they also have plantings of Syrah, Cabernet, and Merlot that go into Bianchini’s other wines, including their Super Tuscan “Ateo” and their IGT Toscana Rosso, with those last two wines also being fabulous bangs for the buck, plus the 100% Syrah Fabius, which I hope to try. There is a lot to love from Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona and the coming soon 2016 Brunello(s) look to be legendary, so it is an awesome time to explore this lineup. I am big fan of these Ciacci wines and they really bring out a desire to re-visit Tuscany, especially the historic Montalcino area, as soon as possible!
($20 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day January 2, 2021

2018 Matt Connell Wines, Pinot Noir “Rendition” Artist Label Series, Central Otago, New Zealand.
The 2018 Rendition Central Otago Pinot Noir by Matt Connell is rich and layered wine that thrills the palate with a deep ruby color and slightly smoky nose that leads to an array of fleshy black cherry, plum, raspberry and blueberry fruits along with hint not orange tea, saline, sweet herbs and a polished, almost luxurious, silken mouth feel, making it very impressive and pleasing stuff. The label based on a piece by New Zealand’s version of Banksy, the street artist “Component” that Connell felt succinctly or abstractly captured the (purity) of elements that make up Central Otago’s intriguing and beautiful remote landscape. Central Otago, a wine region that is like no other in the world and an area well known for its unique Pinot Noir terroir, it is often considered the Burgundy of the Southern hemisphere. This is my first experience with Matt Connell’s wines and I am very impressed, this is an exciting, well structured and high quality effort that interesting details that reminds me of wines from the Sonoma Coast or Anderson Valley with its dark flavor profile and depth with moderate alcohol and slate driven Spatburgunder(s), like those made by August Kesseler and or recent vintages of Meyer-Nakel, both of which are fantastic Pinots. While the 2018 is now end of vintage, I see the 2019 has hit the market and I look forward to getting some of that too, such is my delight with this under the radar Kiwi Pinot and the reasonable price, you could do a lot worse than this well made and complex wine. The diverse and mineral rich soils of Central Otago give the wines here their personality and are influenced by the Southern Alps mountain range, which creates the exceptional cool climate conditions to produce great Pinot grapes.

There’s a lot to discover from New Zealand’s south island wine regions, especially here in Central Otago, a place of incredible rugged beauty and while mostly known world wide for the excellent Pinot Noirs found here there is an amazing subculture of other varietals that do well here from Gruner Veltliner to Gamay Noir as well as Riesling and Chardonnay. This Matt Connell Rendition Pinot was made using sustainable grapes grown in the Lowburn and Bendigo subzones using clean and minimal intervention, in other words Connell has a light touch, while allowing the wine to be opulent in flavor, but with a nice cut of natural acidity and without the overt use of new oak. The Matt Connell Wines label was established in time for Vintage 2016 and was instantly a hit with the locals and in his second vintage, 2017, Matt scored a trophy at the prestigious New Zealand International Wine Show for his Pinot Noir, though digging into his wines I see he makes what he calls a Viognier Rosé and a Single site Chardonnay from Lowburn, which also looks like worth a try too. Matt Connell, who has 20 years of winemaking in his background with some great winemakers helping him along the way from Sue Hodder at Wynns Coonawarra Estate and Adam Godley Campbell at Elk Cove vineyards in Oregon to Michele Richardson the Ex head winemaker at New Zealand’s Villa Maria and he now with his wife Beth, who is focused on winery business, have set their own path and produce a tight set of artisan wines, like this delicious Rendition Pinot, that display a sense of place. Limited availability in the States, this fruit forward and graceful Pinot also goes great with food and will age well, though very rewarding now. Connell’s efforts, have as noted, caught on with a nice medal haul in recent years with a Gold Medal on this 2018 and a Double Gold for the just released 2019 version, again, making me think I need to invest in a few bottles soon.
($30 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

Happy New Year from Grapelive – Wine of the Day January 1, 2021

n.v. Moussé Fils “L’Or d’Eugene Perpétuelle” Blanc de Noirs, Brut Champagne, France.
Happy New Year! The best way to finish off such a difficult and dark year is to celebrate life and small mercies, which I did with this gorgeous grower fizz by the sublimely talented Cedric Mousse, who’s Champagnes are under the radar masterpieces with incredible depth and terroir intensity, like his multi vintage L’Or d’Eugene Perpétuelle Blanc de Noirs. This deep Champagne Mousse Fils L’Or d’Eugene Perpétuelle Brut Blanc de Noirs, which was disgorged with low sugar (4 Grams per Liter) on 11/18/2019 and was crafted from a perpetual selection of reserve wine that started with 2003 that gives this bottling its fabulous range of flavors and complexity, it has a cepage of 80% Meunier and 20% Pinot Noir that gives a rich and structured palate. This L’Or d’Eugene Perpétuelle handed the evening with a flourish, going wonderful with everything I was doing, drinking great as a aperitif by the warm fire and still being a graceful partner with spicy curried shrimp over fettuccini pasta. This bubbly performed with serious quality and character with a rewarding layers of lemony citrus, apple and nectarine fruits along with hazelnut, clove, wet stones, leesy/yeasty brioche and an underlying mineral current in a dry and vivid Meunier driven medium bodied palate. With air and food the delicate aromatic detail comes alive, the refined mousse adding a sense of luxurious class with a compelling white flower element and the mouth feel takes this Champagne to the next level. The maturity that the reserve component brings adds to the thrill of this seductive and rewarding Blanc de Noirs that showcases Mousse’s skills in blending his cuvees, which all have their own personalities and are vibrantly soulful in the glass, these are some of the best Champagnes for the money you can find.

I’ve been following the Mousse Fils Champagnes for a few years now after being turned on them by importer Terry Theise and his team at one of his fabled grower producer trade tastings and these hand crafted efforts really impressed me, especially the Meunier based versions, like this one, and Cedric’s awesome Special Club Brut and 100% Meunier Brut Rosé (the first all Meunier Rosé being accepted in a Special Club bottling) along with the vintage dated Terre d’Illite Brut, which also an exceptional value. Mousse, who’s family goes back in 1750 in the region, was established as a Champagne house in 1923, which uses all organic grapes, is based in the Vallée de la Marne area with its unique soils that include a mineral rich schist subsoil under the classic clay. Mousse relies on Meunier, a grape that is now very much in fashion, even though Meunier (or Pinot Meunier if you like) has struggled until recently to be taken seriously in Champagne, but, as the winery notes, at Moussé the Pinot Meunier is celebrated. Cedric has 80% of his vines planted to Meunier with 16% Pinot Noir and just 4% of Chardonnay all of which are carefully farmed by hand using holistic viticulture methods that leads to a more expressive finished product here. Cedric, who’s modern cellars are powered by mainly solar panels, is trying to minimize the estate’s carbon footprint and make the production as environment friendly as possible and his wines are almost all exclusively stainless steel fermented and aged with extended lees contact for two years and see full malolactic conversion for opulence, while still being lively and laser focused. This limited offering, that saw 50% of latest vintage blended with 50% of the reserve selection with the original base, as noted, from 2003 to 2017 and is sourced from distinct parcels in Cuisles, Jonquery, Olizy and Châtillon-sur-Marne where Meunier really thrives.
($45 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day December 31, 2020

2018 Sandlands Vineyards, Zinfandel, Lodi Wine, California.
The latest set of wines from Tegan and Olivia Passalacqua at Sandlands Vineyards from the 2018 vintage are true reflections of time and place with the long cooler growing season giving fabulous depth and balance and out of the set of outstanding wines, one of my favorites is the Lodi Zinfandel with its spot on black raspberry led Zin flavors, spicy tones and textural excellence. Tegan farms and artisan crafts this Lodi Zin from a selection of grapes from his own Kirschenmann Vineyard, a historic site on the East Side of Lodi’s Mokelumne River AVA that was originally planted back in 1915 on silica rich, white sandy soils. It has become one of the most prized vineyards in the Lodi region and produces expressive and pure Zinfandel grapes that go into some big time delicious wines, like Turley’s version, which Tegan also makes alongside his own Sandlands, of which he made just seven barrels of in 2018. In recent years Lodi has seen a move away from ultra jammy and oaked up wines with a new focus on individual old vineyards and more transparency with some fantastic, maybe lighter styled wines coming from this Central Valley region, with Sandlands leading the way with their juicy fresh Lodi Zin and the delicately quaffable 100% Cinsault being excellent examples. The Lodi Zinfandel starts with bramble berry, crushed lilacs and a spicy briar note with refined and smooth tannins along with nice push of natural acidity as well as a lingering pepper, anise and framboise. The palate is dense or lush and at 14.4% it not thin by any means, but it certainly does feel hot or overly heavy, again this is as pure Zinfandel as it gets and its beautifully layered with very subtle oak, which seems like well seasoned used barrels.

Tegan Passalacqua started his own label to focus on unique old California vineyard sites and what he calls outliers or forgotten grapes, he makes a fine range of mostly red wines, though he does do a Napa Chardonnay and a few different Chenin Blancs, all his wines are hand crafted and made to show off the terroirs, which this one does with wonderful clarity. His collection of small lot wines include the ones mentioned above, plus a Contra Costa Carignane and Matrao (Mourvedre) as well as an old school Mission (Listan or Pais), a 100 year old vine Grenache and a gorgeous Cote-Rotie style Syrah from the Pisoni family’s Soberanes Vineyard. I first got hooked on Tegan’s wines when I tasted his awesome Carignane close to ten years ago and his new releases keep me a big fan and I love the exciting set that I was able to get, being on his mailing list is a must for California wine enthusiasts and Passalacqua’s efforts are incredibly reasonable price wise, but sadly they sell out almost as soon as the offers go out. The winemaking for these Sandlands Vineyards is gentle and my own perception leads me to think a lot of attention is paid to textural quality with each of the red wines displaying a sensation of pleasure that is impossible to resist. This purple/ruby hued Zin has plenty of fruit, but is superbly offset by the spicy and savory elements that add complexity and makes it very tasty with an array of cuisine choices. Tegan, who as noted many times, is the head winemaker and vineyard manager for the famous Turley Wine Cellars, is one of the most knowledgeable wine minds in California and loves these classic heavily sandy decomposed granite soils that give his wines their distinct personalities. There are so many thrilling California wines coming out from 2018 and 2019 vintages and these Sandlands, in particular, are well worth searching out!
($39+ Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day December 30, 2020

2018 BiNaume (Clarie Naudin/Jean-Yves Bizot) Le Gamay de l’Allie, Vin de France.
The BiNaume label is a small project started by Claire Naudin, of Burgundy’s Domaine Naudin-Ferrand and her husband Jean-Yves Bizot, of Domaine Bizot a highly regarded producer famous for exceptionally limited bottlings of Vosne-Romannee, and was formed after the terrible 2016 frosts in the region destroyed a huge percentage off Naudin’s crop. The Gamay came from the Allier area, when, thanks to her sales agent in Paris, who introduced Naudin to Florent Barichard from Les Terres d’Ocre, a domain located in Saint-Pourçain, part of the Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes region near the upper Loire Valley, who was kind enough to share some of his grapes. This collaboration has allowed three vintages now and I was intrigued by the story, which reminded me of the Jura’s Jean-Francois Ganevat’s own difficult harvests that led to him adding grape sources throughout France to make up for the loss of his production, and I acquired a bottle of this 2018 Le Gamay de l’Allie to try, a good decision as it turns out. The BiNaume 2018 Gamay is beautifully pure and stylish with loads of fresh detail making for a wine that will please those that love Cru Beaujolais with dark berry fruit, spice, mineral tones and delicate florals. The palate is crisp and finely structured showing black cherry, strawberry, plum and pomegranate fruits along with a touch of earth, sweet herbs, flinty crushed stones, walnut and a lingering sense of liquid violets on the light to medium bodied palate. I monitored this bottle over two days and it never lost its thrill, it is fun and delightful, gaining a richer texture and graceful length when allowed to full open.

Claire Naudin, located in à Magny lès Villers, who is known for her traditional leanings and more natural approach in the cellar hand-harvests some of Barichard’s Gamay which is set on granite based soils and employs a gentle regiment with some whole bunches and lees aging in neutral cuves beton (cement vats) to promote a soft mouth feel and to retain the Gamay’s brisk acidity. To make this wine more easy and quaffable, Naudin uses almost no additions of SO2 or sulphites during the winemaking process which gives this Gamay is expressive personality. After tasting this lovely Gamay, I am going to explore more of the BiNaume offerings as well as searching out Claire’s Domaine Naudin-Ferrand Burgundies. Interestingly Clair does a collection of wines from Chile under her Rouge Gorge label, giving her an off season bit of work in the Colchagua Valley. It should be noted that Naudin has experience with Gamay at home in the Cote d’Or, which goes into her Omayga Rouge Passetoutgrain, that is a classic blend of Gamay and Pinot Noir. This dark garnet and ruby Gamay went great with more holiday leftovers and is at its best with food, even better with a slight chill that brings out its vividly bright fruit, I thoroughly enjoyed this zesty Gamay and am planing on scoring a few more. Gamay, a once described as evil and maligned for generations, is really gaining traction in the States with an explosion of tasty versions both in California and Oregon, as well as getting some deserved attention in the old world and in New Zealand’s Central Otago, plus Australia, with some outstanding wines coming out of the Yarra Valley.
($35 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive