2012 Alfaro Family Vineyards, Gruner Veltliner “La Playita Vineyard” Santa Cruz Mountains.
Only 70 cases were crafted from the 2012 vintage of this rare Gruner Veltliner, a grape more commonly found in Austria’s Wachau region near the Danube, west of Vienna, and the first release of this wine from Alfaro’s estate. The La Playita block of Gruner are young vines, but this premiere release shows massive potential and the 2012 is a fun and exciting white that delivers racy acidity, complex flavors and should sell out very quickly. The green/yellow hue is rather intense for such a vibrant white, but gives a inviting sunny appearance and leads to a zesty palate of lime, peach pit, bitter almond oil and verbena which begs for oysters no question, this white sizzles and is briskly crisp like a fine Muscadet. As a huge fan of Austrian wine, I was thrilled to try this wine and harbored some big expectations, and I’m happy to report this little white lived up and even surprised me with it’s compelling nature. The GruVe (Groovy) opens with air and gains a mineral chalky element and a tangerine note while still very bright and tangy. I’m sure as these vines gain age there will be more complexity and refinement in the future, but I really dig the energy in this release and will have to get a few more while there are still some left, serve plenty chilled and like I mentioned it should partner Oysters or be a great summer sipper on hot longs days.
($30 Est.) 92+ Points, grapelive
2008 Gianfranco Bovio, Barolo “Arborina” DOCG, Piedmonte, Italy.
Bovio’s traditional and cellar worthy Barolo wines always seem to start hard, tight and solid, but behind these high walls you can glimpse a bright future for those with the time and patience to wait, especially this complex and compelling 2008 Barolo Arborina with it’s inner perfume and classic Nebbiolo intensity. The nose takes a lot of coaxing at the moment, but once open it reveals dried roses, fennel, cinnamon and red fruits leading to a taught firm palate of plum, cherry and strawberry fruits, mineral essence, melted licorice, light animal notes and truffle earthiness. The tannin and acidity holds the fruit back and decanting helps immensely the best results are a few years into the future no question, even a rack of lamb is only going to budge this wine so far, so patience will be of a great reward here. The 2000 vintage Bovio Baroli, which I have sampled recently are drinking lovely, so given that I’d say the potential here is high and if you love classic aged Nebbiolo then grab some of these wines and forget about them until 2018 or 2020! Regardless, this is a very well crafted wine that surly prove outstanding given a chance.
($60 Est.) 91+ Points, grapelive
2012 Alfaro Family Vineyards, Rose of Pinot Noir, Estate Santa Cruz Mountains.
This year’s Alfaro Rose is vibrantly intense in both color and flavors in an explosion of pink with loads of tangy strawberry, plum, watermelon and red peach in a fleshy expression of Pinot Noir Rose. This wine bursts on the palate with vivid flavors and zesty mineral and spice notes, it is lavish and round on the palate filling out with soft cherry and red citrus on the finish. There is good drive in this serious pink wine and it could stand up to BBQ and hardy food fare as well as being a wonderful summer day sipper, and it is really easy to love from start to finish, plus it is totally unique, unlike much of what is out these days with an added layer of dimension and flexibility of use. I’m glad a got a few bottles of this wine and I may need to get a few more, it is fun and sexy Rose no question.
($20 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2011 Yves Cuilleron, Marsanne “Les Vignes d’ a Cote” Rhone White, France.
Another very nice effort from Yves Cuilleron and his Les Vignes d’ a Cote line of wines, which are steals, especially his 2011 lineup, like this pretty and interesting Marsanne. Yves make ultra fine wines that show classic terroir and style, from the Northern Rhone where his Syrah and Viognier wines from Condrieu and St. Joseph, plus other sites are stuff of legends, but his entry level wines are fun and of the highest quality, again like this 2011 Marsanne which is a baby white Hermitage or St. Peray. This vintage shows good fresh juicy fruits, but has surprising density and length too with apple butter, pear and stone fruit, mineral spice, butterscotch and tangy citrus with crushed stone and fig notes. This is a wine to drink young, read now and over the next year or so. If you are looking to understand Rhone wines there is no better place to start than Yves Cuilleron’s Les Vignes d’ a Cote wines, and for the third time this little Marsanne is a great choice in white, with lovely balance, texture and ease of use.
($20 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2010 Alfaro Family Vineyards, Syrah “Ryan Spencer Vineyard” Estate, Santa Cruz Mountains.
Richard Alfaro’s cool climate Syrah wines are always a tasty treat with loads of ripe berry, mocha and red pepper spice and the 2010 Ryan Spencer shows those characteristics in a round giving wine, that while still very youthful and a bit shy in certain areas, delivers graceful flavors and has a nice soft framework. Look for this wine develop aromatics and more complexity over the next few years in bottle, but if you enjoy a more robust and chocolate-like textures pop this wine sooner. The toasty sweet/smoky wood needs a bit more time to fold into this pretty Syrah from Alfaro’s estate vines in the Santa Cruz Mountains near the hamlet of Corralitos, but overall things are looking good on this new release with raspberry, kirsch/liqueur, boysenberry and blueberry fruit, light mineral notes, pepper and cayenne spicy/savory notes and dark chocolate. The French wood aging has given super refined tannins and warm comfort and shows from nose to finish, though after air the wine’s inner core gains the edge and the fruit shines through and an earthy/lavender element emerges. This wine will attract a lot of new fans to Syrah, though sadly there is never much of this wine available, drink from 2014-2018.
($35 Est.) 90+ Points, grapelive
2011 Domaine La Bastide Saint Dominique, red Chateauneuf du Pape “Secrets de Pignan” Rhone Valley, France.
La Bastide is modern, clean and focused on freshness with a lineup of fine Rhone wines that are all fermented in stainless steel that highlight the pure character of each wine, and while I sometimes enjoy a bit of funk and awkwardness in my Chateauneuf these wines are without question top notch and deliciously decadent and are masterfully crafted. The 2011 vintage is not getting the hype that 2009 and 2010 got in the southern Rhone, but that is just fine by me as there will be lots of great wine available, and it will not need too much cellar time to show it’s best, the year has nice acidity, forward fruit and a bit less alcohol by and large, and while slightly less ripe overall these wines can be much more pleasing, especially the latest offerings from La Bastide Saint Dominique, and this 2011 Secrets de Pignan is a stunner with everything you’d ever want from a Chateauneuf du Pape. The Grenache purity of this wine is joyous with hedonistic red fruits, mineral, spice and sweet herbs flowing throughout and lingering on forever on the finish. Floral essences, lavender and pomegranate notes go nicely with the plum and strawberry fruit along with creme de cassis, pepper and anise, plus a touch of sea salt and crushed stones. Still youthful and zesty at times this wine is drinking great now, though should develop nicely for another 5 to 7 years easy, best from 2014-2020.
($57 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2008 Mastro Janni, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, Tuscany Italy.
Coming from the southern zone of Montalcino near an ancient volcano, Mastro Janni makes one of the finest and elegant wines of the region that shows plenty of sunny fruit, but with good acidity and spiciness, these are Brunelli of subtle detail, grace and finesse. The soon to be released 2008 is a lovely wine of pure class and character, and looks set to be a winner for this vintage, which was not without some serious difficulties, though Mastrojanni seems to have avoided any flaws or compromises with this deep and complex Brunello. The nose has floral notes, peppery spices, sweet herbs and mocha to go with mixed berry and plum fruit leading to a giving palate of blackberry and cherry fruit with subtle hints of licorice, cigar tobacco leaf, mineral, red spice and mint tea. This wine gains with air revealing touches of strawberry, balsamic and cedar. The balance is graceful with plenty of lift and lingering fruit on the lengthy finish, best to cellar for about 3-5 years, which should allow everything to fill out and come together completely. (Tasted from pre sale sample)
($65-75 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
Grapelive Extra: The Sonoma International Film Festival 2013
“Cannubi – A Vineyard Kissed by God” Makes World Premiere at the 16th Annual Sonoma International Film Festival
By Bradley Gray
Passion. That’s the one element that attracts us to the great wines of the world. Our passion is shared over great meals, with friends and family, and in adventurous travels to fantastic wine regions. This passion is reignited each time we pop, dissect, romance and sip every bottle we encounter.
Our planet is dotted with great wines from every corner of the map. We discover them through ratings from critics, suggestions from wine retailers or dinners with friends. We assimilate our impressions by reading, researching and enjoying — one sip at a time.
It was a rare treat to discover the film “Cannubi – A Vineyard Kissed by God” at the 16th Annual Sonoma International Film Festival. The Cannubi vineyard is the gem of Barolo, and this short film gives one a true sense of place and romance. “Cannubi – A Vineyard Kissed by God” beautifully illustrates the history of the land, the magic of the vines, the passion of the producers and the enjoyment of the enthusiasts. No good story is complete without controversy, and Cannubi (and this film) has plenty of that, too, as neighboring vineyards are also trying to cash in on the coveted designation, “Cannubi.”
“Cannubi – A Vineyard Kissed by God” was written, directed and filmed by James Orr, who was present at the screening to introduce the film. Orr has achieved Hollywood acclaim as the writer/director/producer of such films as Mr. Destiny, Father of the Bride, Sister Act 2, Three Men and a Baby, Man of the House and others. He has been a collector of world-class wines for three decades.
The film was narrated and produced by James Suckling, one of the most influential wine critics in the world, spending 29 years as an editor for Wine Spectator. He estimates that he has tasted around 150,000 wines in his career.
Cannubi is the central and most-coveted vineyard in Barolo. Adjacent vineyards include Cannubi Boschi, Cannubi San Lorenzo, Cannubi Muscatel and Cannubi Valletta. These neighboring vineyards make up an additional 60 acres, and they all want a piece of the original Cannubi, or at least the price that it commands.
In the film, Suckling takes us on a romantic journey through this magical Cannubi vineyard. Two-dozen producers create wines from this miniscule 35-acre plot, and (as mentioned above) there are plenty of others who want in on it. We learn of Cannubi’s struggle for identity, we meet the winemakers and experience passionate tensions between producers. We often hear that great wines are all about place, and this vineyard was the first in Barolo, dating back to the early 1,700s. The title suggests some intervention from God, and nearly every Cannubi producer interviewed makes reference to God or the heavens.
Grapelive’s Bradley Gray spent some time with James Orr at the 16th Annual Sonoma International Film Festival, and got some additional insight on this magical wine film.
Bradley Gray: How did the film come about?
James Orr: We initially went there to make a promotional film for some Barolo producers, promoting Barolo wines, etcetera. When we got there, we found this whole situation going on with Cannubi and the surrounding vineyards, so we thought we should do this story too, as it’s a really engaging story of what’s going on in the wine world.
BG: There are merits on both sides of the controversy. How do you see it being resolved?
JO: You are right! There are merits on both sides of the story. I think it’s ultimately going to be resolved in Italian High Court, but it’s complicated in many ways, because (as one of the producer in the movie said), all of the wines from this area, including the surrounding Cannubis, are good wines, even if they don’t have the single Cannubi designation. Historically, Cannubi has always been the heart of the Cannubi vineyards. There are more people interested in keeping it that way rather than not keeping it that way.
BG: It was clearly illustrated in the film that this is a small piece of land, and everybody wants a piece of it, but they can’t all have a piece. Do you feel this argument is being driven by price and salability? Is it all about money? Or is there passion and history involved?
JO: It’s about money to some degree. The price difference between a Cannubi single-designate and a Cannubi Boschi or any of the other Cannubi designates is significant. A bottle of designate, say Damilano Cannubi may cost $80-125, depending on where in the world you get it. A Cannubi Boschi may be $75 at the high end. A Boschi is not quite as desired within the community, because these are people who know Barolos, love Barolos. The collectors really go for the single-vineyard designates, and they are willing to pay a little bit more. I’d estimate that this is 75% about money and 25% about passion.
BG: In the film, you and James Suckling brought together all of the Cannubi producers for a dinner. James Suckling comments that it was a tense beginning, that the mood was chilly, and he even said; “What a disaster!” Can you elaborate on this?
JO: These are all great wine producers in their own right, and they probably would have never gotten together for a dinner like this if it weren’t for James and for us doing this movie. So James took advantage of that, and invited them all. It wasn’t that easy to get them all together for one night. It took some seducing, but we did get them all there. In the beginning, it wasn’t going well at all! It wasn’t very warm. With the wine, they became what they are – brothers, sisters, the Cannubi! By the end of the evening, there was nothing but warmth in the room.
BG: The climax of the film was a toast given by James Suckling. Was that moment truly as magical as it came across in the film?
JO: Here’s an interesting sidebar. He initially did that toast in Italian, and yes, it was magical. But it was a fairly long speech in Italian that was going to require a lot of subtitles. So, I asked him to do it again in English, and that’s what we used for the movie. I felt that it was better to see it than to be distracted by reading along with subtitles.
BG: Did you have any preconceived notions about Cannubi that changed during the making of this film?
JO: Yeah, in fact I did! I was certainly aware of Cannubi before, but in doing the movie and tasting so many Cannubis from so many different producers – I now have an enormous regard for Cannubi and Cannubi wines than I didn’t have before. For me, as a collector and a lover of Italian wine for years, I always thought Barolos to be elegant, feminine and kind of the Burgundy of Italy. But on top of all of that, they were powerful!
“Cannubi – A Vineyard Kissed by God” made its world premiere at the Sonoma International Film Festival, which was quite fitting. In the heart of California wine country, the festival showcases not only great films, but also the finest wines from the Sonoma Valley. If you like wine and film, this is one festival not to miss!
This film is really Cannubi 101. It would have taken months of reading, tasting, chatting and researching to learn what one absorbs by thoroughly enjoying a half-hour movie.
This movie has been carefully created to suit television, and Orr and Suckling are optimistic that Food Channel or Discovery Channel may pick it up. If you can wait a month (estimated May or June), you can download it from www.JamesSuckling.com.
“Cannubi – A Vineyard Kissed by God” is delightful, but there is a downside that will cost you about $100 — you won’t be able to resist that Cannubi on your favorite wine shop’s shelf! Treat yourself and enjoy it while watching “Cannubi – A Vineyard Kissed by God.” You’ll be glad you did.
Bradley Gray Grapelive Guest Columnist
Bradley Gray is a freelance journalist based in Sonoma, California. His weekly wine columns have appeared in The Sonoma Valley Sun and Marin Scope Newspapers. He was the Sonoma Valley Regional Correspondent for Appellation America. In addition, his work has appeared in The Wine Spectator, Grapevine Magazine, Vogue, Grapelive.com, Quilter’s Newsletter Magazine, Sonoma Magazine, Vintage Guitar Magazine, Dot.Direct Magazine, FineLife Magazine, The Sonoma Index-Tribune, Weekender Magazine, Leeds Guide Weekly (U.K.), Patchwork Tsushin Magazine (Japan) and others. He may be reached at email@example.com
2005 Domaine Huet, Vouvray Moelleux “Le Mont” Premiere Trie Loire Valley, France.
Huet’s Moelleux Chenin Blanc wines are legendary and the 2005 does not disappoint with loads of honeycomb, candied apple and peach notes flowing on the richly textured palate. Not overly sweet and with touches of saline, mineral and spice the 2005 seems nicely mature with a slight nutty quality showing at this stage and though it should age another 10 years, it seems to be almost at it’s best now. The Vouvray Moelleux style is very underrated and increasingly rare these days, which is a real shame as it is a great wine, especially from a top estate like Domaine Huet, these are lovely and complex wines that cellar well and go with lots of foods, and the sweetness is refreshing not cloying and with that touch of oxidation these wines are unique and very pleasing, and are some of the best Chenin Blanc wines, which can be compared to Auslese (Germany Riesling) though I don’t find the heavy sweetness in Moelleux and while I adore Riesling young and old a tad more, these Moelleux are wonderful expressions and deserve much more consideration and attention. The 2005 Le Mont Moelleux finishes with hints of truffle, hazelnut and fig while the soft acidity still adds life and a citrus lift to the profile, this is a very fine effort and a real treat to sample.
($55 Est.) 93+ Points, grapelive
2011 Puzelat-Bonhomme, Pinot Noir Touraine AC, Loire Valley, France.
Puzelat’s earthy, natural and wild Pinot is fun, lively and unique with dried currants, plum and mixed berry fruits while zesty acidity, tangy herbs and earthy funk add complexity. This Touraine terroir gives an interesting character and twist to Pinot Noir and Puzelat’s light touch allows the sense of place to shine through and there is some intriguing spice and mineral essence as well in this most fruity of wines. The natural winemaking and rustic notes are signature details for Puzelat’s wines and there are devoted followers of his creations and I am fast becoming a fan of these artisan wines from the Loire Valley.
($25 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive