2014 Sheldon, Grenache Blanc, Sonoma Coast.
The latest Grenache Blanc from Dylan and Tobe Sheldon is a wildly expressive white with exotic tropical notes and plenty of verve, it is without question one of the most interesting and balanced versions they’ve made to date from their cool climate sites. Grenache Blanc, usually found in the southern Rhone Valley and most famously in Chateauneuf du Pape whites has found a home in California, but it is more happy happy in the warmer areas best suited to the varietal, it’s natural home in California seems to be west side Paso Robles, though there are good plantings in Santa Barbara County and Monterey County as well as southern Oregon and eastern Washington State. That didn’t stop the Sheldon’s from finding cooler Sonoma sites that have managed to produce fine grapes for their micro bottlings and the 2014 is wonderfully flavorful and seductive, fermented on native yeasts and with lower natural alcohol. Sheldon Wines latest handcrafted Grenache Blanc starts with citrus and bruised pear with mineral and spice notes leading to an explosion on the palate of white peach, lemon/lime, wet stones, saline/tangy brine and pina colada! Yes pineapple and coconut burst from the glass, but while this is not true to form, it is not off putting and adds to the pleasure in this vibrant white, quickly apricot and tangerine take center stage and linger on the finish, and with food the wine tames and gains vigor, this stuff is awesome with Moroccan dishes and rocks with spicy seafood and shellfish stews. I have tried this beautiful white twice now and love it, it shows bright acidity and freshness which keeps things in focus while enchanting mouth feel and exciting layers reveal themselves like a sexy fan dancer! Drink now, it’s too much fun to wait and be sure to check out the other great new offerings from Sheldon, especially the 2014 Syrah, the Red Hat old vine Petite Sirah and 2014 Vinolocity Grenache Noir.
($35 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2013 Littorai, Pinot Noir, Mays Canyon, Sonoma Coast.
The 2013 vintage in California is really turning out fantastic, especially for Pinot Noir with many wines surpassing 2012 with ease and in particular Ted Lemon’s Littorai Pinots are gorgeous! I’ve been lucky enough to have tasted the 2013 Mays Canyon twice and it is a stunner, it shows the finesse and detail Lemon’s wines are known for, but it also has the depth and texture of the year marked into it’s being. This Littorai Mays Canyon and Ted Lemon’s other project Burn Cottage in Central Otago New Zealand both are thrilling Pinot Noir wines that moved me this year, Lemon is making some of the finest wines in the world right now, these are hard to find and get, but certainly they are must get wines for Pinot lovers, they are so good, you just might forget about Burgundy all together, at least for a short time! The 2013 Littorai Mays Canyon Pinot Noir starts with delicate rose petal and violets perfume along with hints of smoke, cedar and red berries leading to a satiny palate of black cherry, plum and tangy vine picked raspberry along with briar, spice, stones, vanilla and sappy herbs. With air a creamy density fills the mouth, but it is matched by oft tannins and acidity that adds verve and focus, this wine gets more and more impressive by the minute with a flow of ripe fruit, savory elements and near perfect oak shadings. The aftertaste leans on kirsch, cinnamon, anise, a touch of earth and red currant, making for a beautiful and stylish wine that has years more to go in bottle, huge potential development and rewards in 5 to 7 years even though it is drinking great already, best from 2018 to 2024.
($70 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2013 Le Piane, Maggiorina, Vino Rosso, Boca, Piedmonte, Italy.
The Le Piane Maggiorina Rosso is a traditional field blend that contains about 40% Nebbiolo, 40% Croatina, 5% Vespolina
plus 15% 9 other old grape varieties and also white grapes grown in Piedmonte’s far north on unique volcanic and gravel soils at quite high elevation. The resulting wine is a fresh Nebbiolo influenced red that is vibrant and vigorous with a subtle perfume and bright acids showing nice tart cherry, wild plum and strawberry fruits along with zesty citrus, rose oil, briar and shale mineral tones. This wine was a conferment of all the grapes and done in all stainless steel vats, no wood is used making for a lighter style table wine with plenty of character and verve, best served with meals and medium weighted cuisine, this is a classic bistro style Italian red that goes easy with food and allows terroir charms to shine through. Le Piane’s Boca Le Piane is much more serious with intense Nebbiolo and needs cellaring for a decade before full enjoyment, where as the Maggiorina can be popped young and is easy to quaff, Le Piane is one of Italy’s best kept secrets. The Maggiorina grows on me overtime I try it and while 2013 wasn’t as ripe or full as some vintages, it certainly springs to life in the glass, at 12.5% it is not a heavy wine and will not impress for density or depth, but it drinks nicely and is a good value, drink now and over the next 2 to 3 years.
($20 Est.) 88-90 Points, grapelive
2012 Krutz Family Cellars “Magnolia” Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley.
The Krutz brothers from Mississippi form a trio that make up the Krutz Family artisan winery based in Santa Rosa focusing on most Napa Valley grapes, and especially Cabernet Sauvignon. Patrick began the journey to winemaker after working at the famed Cheese Shop with Kent Torrey and meet local winemakers in Carmel by the Sea and the Monterey area before following other artisan winemaking friends north to Sonoma County where he set up the winery and drafted his brothers Cole and Bryan into the new family business. Patrick with talent and his southern charm has developed many long term relationship with growers and special vineyards including the famous Stagecoach Vineyard, owned by the Krupp brothers high up in the eastern hills of Napa Valley between Howell Mountain and Pitchard Hill on red volcanic soils, this site forms the base of their top Cabernet. The 2012 Magnolia Cabernet is a forward and lush Cabernet made in an approachable new world style and offers a terrific value in handcrafted Napa wine. The Magnolia series is huge hit for the Krutz brothers, they make a lovely Sonoma Chardonnay, a Napa Zinfandel and this Cabernet Sauvignon from sites in Napa Valley, Magnolia is their entry level offerings, but these are serious wines that deserve attention and are well made, solid and wonderfully pleasing. The 2011 Magnolia Cabernet from a difficult vintage was a killer wine, and while more tannic and fuller the 2012 is tasting great too with very deep garnet/purple color, lush blackberry, cassis and plum fruit leading on the ripe and dense palate along with stylish sweet oak notes, cedar, tobacco, mocha and lingering black currant. This wine impresses for it’s price no question, but it would still be worthy at $50, this a wine to search out if you want a full flavored Cabernet on a budget, it perfectly expresses varietal character and terroir, drink over the next 3 to 5 years, this is a big wine for the buck.
($25 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2012 Alfaro Family Vineyards, Pinot Noir, Garys’ Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands.
The 2012 Garys’ Pinot thrills with bold fruit, luxurious textures and depth, Richard Alfaro has done very nice job here crafting a hedonistic and lavish wine that still has energy and verve. With most of the Garys’ I’ve tried from 2012 you saw alcohols closer to 15% or more, Alfaro’s comes in at 14.5%, and while this is not a lighter version, it does show fine focus and life, but don’t kid yourself this is no wallflower, the Garys’ is as sexy and lush as ever. The 2012 Alfaro Santa Cruz Mountains Estate offerings might offer more delicacy and interest, you would not want to miss this vintage of Garys’ with it’s flamboyant dark core of black and red fruits that gives a full bodied Grand Cru class density and rich intensity. I must admit I adore this bottling, I have always been a fan of this vineyard and in particular Alfaro’s rare version, I think the 2012 might be the best yet, though I have high hopes for 2013 too, as 2013 in both the Santa Lucia Highlands, and Alfaro’s home vineyards in the Santa Cruz Mountains had a great vintage, which I’ve rated a notch higher overall. The Alfaro Garys’ Pinot compares well against the Roar, Lucia by Pisoni and other top Santa Lucia Highlands producers and offers a great or better value price wise, so I highly recommend searching this one out, especially if you are a Garys’ fan. The 2012 Alfaro Garys’ Vineyard starts with classic deep hues, very forward fruit, light floral tones, sweet smoky oak framing along with silken tannins and an alluring creamy mouth feel with blackberry, plum, black cherry as well as mixed baking spices, cedar and briar notes. Lingering kirsch, dried currants, mocha/vanilla and raspberry add to the complexity to this flavorful and loaded Pinot which should drink impressively for another decade, Garys’ Vineyard wines have surprising age worthiness and are very rewarding, even though they please immediately, best from 2015 to 2022.
($45 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2013 Alberto Nanclares, Albariño “Soverribas” La Vina del Mochuelo, Rias Baixas, Spain.
Another mind-blowing Albariño from Nanclares, the Soverribas has amazing clarity and delicacy with steely mineral intensity, leesy extract and beautiful detailing. These 2013 Albariños from Alberto Nanclares are a revelation, without question they are highly impressive white wines that should get lots of attention, these rival the best wines in Europe, especially this 2013 Soverribas with it’s pure crystalline elements and gorgeous brilliance. The regular Albariño felt maybe a touch richer and forward, the glorious Soverribas La Vina del Mochuelo is much more graceful, elegant and dreamy showing off it’s sea influence and granite soils with hints of brine and saline along with pretty mineral and wet stones. These vines are about 30 years old, farmed old school, organic and with very small yields that showcases the heightened energy and concentration. The balance and focus are truly special, the fruit is so clear and lifted by the acidity. I am reminded of Donnhoff’s GG Rieslings and or a great Chablis, think Les Clos, that is how good this Albariño is. The 2013 Nanclares Soverribas Albariño starts with tart green apple, lemon/lime, white peach, a hint of apricot along with chalky/oyster shell, shale and hazelnut, all forming in lovely fashion into a very pleasing wine with wonderful textures and subtle depth. The Soverribas drinks well now and is a remarkably complete as a young wine, it certainly expresses it self best with seafood, but it worked well with my Christmas dinner, and while not overt and showy this is serious stuff from Nanclares. Drink this exquisite Albariño over the next 5 to 7 years, this and all the Nanclares offerings are thrilling, worth every penny and should be considered elite examples of this varietal, do not miss!
($36 Est.) 96 Points, grapelive
2010 Monasterio de Corias, 10 Meses Barrica, Vino de Calidad de Cangas, Spain.
This earthy and natural red from Asturias was a beautiful choice for Christmas eve dinner with friends, humble and unpretentious with an almost Barbera d’Asti like character, bright in acidity and with a dark garnet/ruby color, it is one of my favorites from northwestern Spain. Juan Redondo, the winegrower at Monasterio de Corias uses native yeasts, ferments in stainless and in some cases like this wine ages for short periods in French oak, here for example only 10 months to keep the delicacy and vitality. The grapes are all local, this cuvee breaks down with 45% Albarin Negro, 25% Mencía, 20% Carrasquín, 10% Verdejo Negro with the Albarin Negro giving a light Syrah impression and the Mencia giving the bell pepper almost Cabernet Franc feel, while the others add spice, fruit and complex details in this lighter style red, it comes in at 12.5% and has mild, silky tannins. The herb and dried flowers lead the nose with a sense of flinty/shale from the broken slate soils comes through as well, the mouth gets a lightly fruit dose of plum, cherry, beet and cranberry along with wild mushroom, gamey notes and all-spice with just of touch of cedar. This stylish, funky and almost raw red really drinks well with cuisine, it needs food to blossom and as mentioned it goes along a path that reminds me of Barbera, though you can also see a bit of Cru Beaujolais too. I’m a big fan of this winery and terroir, I may prefer the Joven, no oak offerings a little more, but this was a wonderful way to spend an evening, drink the Monasterio de Corias 10 Meses Barrica now, no cellaring needed!
($23 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2013 Alberto Nanclares, Albariño, Rias Baixas, Spain.
The 2013 Nanclares Albariño is absolutely beguiling and majestic, it, as I said about the 2012 is utterly profound wine and the single most glorious expression of the varietal I’ve ever tasted. The Albariño in the glass makes for a totally humbling experience, it is truly amazing the quality found here and Alberto Nanclares is genius, to really imagine this wine or relate to it I would say you need to compare it to a mix of Donnhoff Trocken, Raveneau Chablis and maybe Emmerich Knoll Steiner Gruner Veltliner just to grasp to the idea, but of course it is much more that that even, it is the perfect reflection of it’s own terroir and one that will leave you in complete awe. Alberto Nanclares and Silvia Prieto at Bodega Alberto Nanclares have crafted what I think is my wine of the year, and are certainly a producer to search out, my meager words do not do these wines justice! The 2013 Nanclares Albariño starts with a light and brilliant golden hue with mineral intensity jumping from the glass, the nose is austere with a hint of citrus flower, clove and salty elements leading to a palate bristling with acidity, extract and feline muscle with layers of lemon/lime, wet river stones, unripe apricot, peach and kumquat as well as steely liquid mineral, faint hazetnut/almond notes, apple skin, tangerine and fine chalk. Wow, this is powerful and graceful stuff with vibrant energy and leesy complexity, focused detail, sublime balance and at 12.5% alcohol it is easy to enjoy and just plain gorgeous to drink, it reminds of a story I heard during the 1990’s when I first ever tasted an estate bottled Albariño, I was told that between 80 and 90% of all good Albariño stays in Spain and that very little escapes to the export market, and after tasting the last two vintages of Nanclares Albariño I can understand why this was true then and true today, except now we are lucky enough to have some available thanks to importer Jose Pastor and his Jose Pastor Selections Vinos & Gourmet! Drink this enchanting white over the next 3 to 5 years, though without a doubt this should age well for another 10 years no question. Nanclares Albariño is like being let in on a great heartwarming secret leaving a cat’s grin smile and blissful inner peace, it’s pure seduction in the bottle, don’t miss out!
($32 Est.) 94+ Points, grapelive
2013 Phelps Creek, Pinot Noir, Cuvee Alexandrine, Columbia Gorge, Oregon.
Burgundian vigneron Alexandrine Roy of Domaine Marc Roy crafts the beautiful Phelps Creek wines, and these are well worth searching out, the 2012 version of this Pinot Noir is one of my favorite Oregon wines ever! So, it was always going to be difficult to follow up with an even better wine, especially in a fickle vintage as 2013 turned out to be in Oregon, but I think the 2013 has the potential to surprise, it just will need more time in bottle to really show what is has and to perform, but that said, those real hard core Burgundy lovers will adore this effort with it’s natural restraint, freshness and delicacy. The 2013 Phelps Creek Cuvee Alexandrine is bright and austere, and feels very Cote de Beaune with brambly red fruits, loads of mineral, zippy acidity and a lighter profile, it doesn’t at this stage have the hedonistic pleasure and depth of the 2012, but is a very solid effort with fine detail and verve. The 2012 was really sexy, while the 2013 remains more mysterious, it is a wine for old world traditionalists, and it is going to be really interesting to see how they both turn out in bottle down the road, it intrigues me, even if I highly recommend finding as much of the 2012 as possible while you can. The 2013 Cuvee Alexandrine starts with dusty red berries, rosewater, sappy herbs, steely/stony elements and forrest floor leading to a vibrant palate that offers an array of cherry, tart plum, dried currant, briar notes and earthy fig along with anise/peach tea, orange zest, raw cedar and a hint of baking spice. This lighter 2013 has some tannins that should fade into silk with time and lively acidity, both of which hide the extract at the moment, look for deeper expression after a year in bottle, you’ll need patience to find the treasure here, but the rewards are not out of reach. I really admire this Phelps Creek Vineyards wines and look forward to the future releases, as well as Alexandrine’s Domaine Marc Roy’s gorgeous set of 2014 Gevrey-Chambertin’s due out in early 2016! Drink the 2013 Phelps Creek Cuvee Alexandrine Pinot Noir Columbia Gorge from 2017 to 2026, but without question go out and find the 2012 now!
($45 Est.) 90-92 Points, grapelive
2014 COS, Nero d’Avola, Nero di Lupo, Terre Siciliane IGP Rosso, Sicily, Italy.
Giusto Occhipinti’s COS Nero di Lupo 2014 is an amazingly pure expression of Nero d’Avola from the Vittoria region of Sicily, it is a natural old world wine that delivers delicacy, freshness and style. Giusto’s winemaking has refined over the years and I believe 2014 is the first year without the use of wood at all, he uses organic farming, native yeast fermentations and aging in cement as here with the Nero di Lupo and amphora, with his Pithos bottlings seeing all amphora, both white and red. The results are wonderfully vibrant wines with loads of character and mineral charms, lower natural alcohols, as with this Nero di Lupo which comes in at 12.5% giving more a Beaujolais like feel rather than a Shiraz, and they show a brilliant clarity. The 2014 COS Nero di Lupo starts with mixed berries, wild herbs, pepper, light floral notes and red earth leading to a vibrant palate of fine texture, light tannins and lifting acidity that highlights plum, huckleberry, black cherry and tart red currant fruits as well as traces of dusty stones, anise, strawberry/rhubarb, tangy orange rind, red peach and earthy blueberry. The latest COS is absolutely impeccable and delightfully light to medium weighted, drink over the next 3 to 5 years, along with his niece Arianna Occhipinti, Giusto is redefining the expectations and varietal profiles of Frappato and Nero d’Avola, these are glorious and impressive wines well worth searching out!
($32 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive