2014 Banshee, Cabernet Franc, Algeria Vineyard, Russian River Valley.
This is a single vineyard expression of unique qualities that makes it a very intriguing wine of place, it doesn’t show pure varietal character or classic flavors, but it is so good you have to drop your own expectations and just enjoy it for it’s own style! A 100% Cabernet Franc from Algeria Vineyard in the Russian River that shows bright blueberry, lavender and dried roses to start, leading to more of same on the medium/full palate that is neither Loire or Bordeaux, but maybe a very different terroir altogether with black cherry, cinnamon, bramble berry, raspberry/framboise, cedar as well as earthy spiced plum. The vibrant flavors are sexy and seductive and with air there is enough loamy notes and traces of savory herbs to keep everything interesting, this is really fun stuff from Banshee. Tasted at their downtown Healdsburg tasting room with classic rock n’ roll vinyl playing in the background and spot on customer service, along with Zalto glasses made for a fantastic tasting experience, and with Ross Cobb and Katy Wilson overseeing much of the winemaking and blending many of the wines you have something very special going on here, especially the rare single vineyard and unique blends they have available at the tasting room. The Algeria Vineyard Cabernet Franc is lovely and tasty stuff, but also be sure to look for the Morning Light and Marine Layer Pinots as well as the new 2014 Heintz Chardonnay all of which were stunning on the day, if you are a fan of LaRue and Cobb, you’ll love these latest Banshee offerings.
($40 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2013 Domaine du Prieure, Bourgogne Rouge, France.
Jean-Michel Maurice’s basic Bourgogne is from a plot in Savigny les Beaune and it’s carefully crafted to be an easy drinking beautiful Pinot Noir with pretty detail and soft tannins. Maurice fermented in small open top vats and then employed long cool ferments to ensure freshness and clear flavors, it spent about a year in used oak, this 2013 is light and floral with an elegant lengthy finish to go with classic Cote de Beaune red fruits and briar/spiciness. This Domaine du Prieure is an excellent value, and while Jean-Michel’s to Savigny-les-Beaune bottling are more structured, rich and forceful this little Bourgogne over delivers in it’s price class, in fact it really is a stylish Burgundy with impressive cherry, raspberry and plum layers, hints of anise, tea spice and mineral notes shine through in the glass, lively with gentile acidity, as well as having sweet rose petal, chalky earth and cedar on the nose. With it’s light to medium body and graceful form this Pinot Noir has a nice dreamy quality, though it picks up depth with air and adds complexity and traces of tangy black currant, it’s a pleasing wine that will not break the bank, for those looking for pure silky Burgundy on a budget should search this one out, drink over the next 2 to 3 years.
($22 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2015 Domaine Amido, Rosé Tavel “Les Amandines” Rhone Valley, France.
The 2015 Tavel from Domaine Amido is a deeply hued and flavor filled pink that delivers rich detail and refreshing vibrancy with some dense texture and tangy spiciness. The fruit is bright, but almost medium-bodied with lush watermelon, wild strawberry, distilled raspberry and red citrus with hints of pomegranate and rosewater as well as mineral tones and peppery lavender. This is expressive stuff from Amido and very true to the classic Tavel Rosé style with more concentration than the Provence wines, but what it lacks in delicacy it makes up for in hedonistic pleasure and flamboyance, this is superbly seductive and will get great with late summer and fall weather, warm nights and sunsets. Flexible with many cuisine options make this Grenache based pink a joy for grilling outdoors and a great pick for brunch. Domaine Amido, imported by San Francisco’s own Charles Neal, is a small family run estate, it is now in the hands of the late Christian Amido’s daughter Nathalie and grand-daughter Amandine, for which the Tavel is named, and her husband winemaker Antoine Berhaud, they have build a strong following for their Lirac and Cotes du Rhone which are lovely and value priced. The Tavel was made up of about 65% Grenache, 20% Cinsault, 10% Syrah and 5% Clairette, it was soaked for 36 hours, hence the color, fermented from the bleed off, slowly and with low temps to preserve fresh detail, it’s a tasty treat on a hot day. The soils are schist, clay and have galets much like Chateauneuf-du-Pape making for very expressive wines and intense fruit, be sure to look for Domaine Amido’s saignee Tavel Rosé.
($17 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2012 Chateau du Hureau, Saumur-Champigny Rouge “Tuffe” Loire Valley, France.
This is a heck of a wine for $16! The Chateau du Hureau Saumur-Champigny is a beautiful terroir inspired dark hued Cabernet Franc with layers of perfumed floral tones and soft spicy notes to go along with classic plum, black raspberry, cherry and cranberry fruits. Hints of cinnamon, crushed violets, mineral and bell pepper complete the picture of the Chateau du Hureau “Tuffe” cuvee, it comes from many small plots both with young and old vines grown on the local ancient limestone, a white chalky soil that gives the wine it’s name and character. The 2012 vintage is full of juicy almost Pinot Noir/Burgundy like class with fine satiny tannins and good acidity, with it’s light/medium body making it beautiful to drink right now, really showing well and hitting all the key points this detailed Franc is such a bargain, you should certainly check it out. What this wine may lack in intensity and or power, it more than makes up for with grace, sex appeal and pleasure, there is a lovely finish with tangy blue fruits and lingering earthiness that drives home it’s compelling nature and purity. Imported on the west coast by Charles Neal, this historic Chateau on the Loire River is showing impressive form and has a savvy smooth style, drink over the next 3 to 5 years, this Hureau Tuffe is absolutely spot on.
($16 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2014 Domaine Pinson, Chablis, White Burgundy, France.
The 2014 Pinson Chablis AC is brilliant and shinning with vibrancy and racy style with some rustic austerity and laser like sharp detail. This Chardonnay is like drinking steely liquid rock! The 2014 Pinson gleams cool and with a hint of greenish intensity in the glass with flinty mineral spice, light green apple, wet shale, chalk and forceful lemony citrus with subtle white flowers, lime and clove. This zesty and tangy crisp Chablis is severely dry, earthy and brisk, almost dusty with lovely terroir purity and class, it may lack for outright fruit character and depth, but this lean white is vivid and expressive in it’s own way with refreshing vitality and it turns on the charm with cuisine, raw fish, oysters, mussels and soft cheeses especially. I enjoyed it with gusto just sipping on the warm evening I was presented with, this is a fine and focused effort, I don’t know why Pinson kind of gets forgotten at times, these Chablis are beautiful and classic, and though the Premier Crus offer more density and richness, this basic Chablis is hard to pass up, it does what it’s supposed to do and more.
($26 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
1978 Ridge Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon “Monte Bello” Santa Cruz Mountains.
A huge thank you going out to Ridge, they again produced an amazing lineup of wines to taste with seriously awesome customer service and humble grace, it is a true pleasure to go to Ridge and taste their wines, especially as I did yesterday, visit Lytton Springs on a warm Monday in the summer and find this gorgeous 1978 Monte Bello available to sample! This historic wine from Ridge’s cellar is still lively and full of flavor with only a hint of decay, surprising since it was a drought year and the vines were really under a lot of stress, that’s why this wine was almost all Cabernet Sauvignon at 94% with 6% Merlot, this 1978 now has similar qualities to the 1970 Chateau Latour, it really shows class and vitality with a mix of dark fruits, cedar spice, loamy earth and pipe tobacco. The vintage Monte Bello, tasted along side the 2003 and 2013 held it’s own in complexity and certainly in length and detail, there is something special about old Monte Bello, they give pleasure on a scale you’d normally see in Grand Cru Burgundy, it’s emotional and sensual and this 1978 is seductive and beautiful well on it’s way to 40 years old! The nose takes time, we tasted from a fresh un-decanted bottle, but once open it gives a sexy mix of floral notes, dried violets, roses and acacia, tea spice, sandalwood and lightly stewy plums leading to a medium/full palate that still shows a bit of nervy tannin at first before allowing a silky texture coat the mouth, subtle mineral tones, sweet cherries and savory currant to go along with fading blackberry and almost strawberry. This maybe could have been a wine to drink about 10 years ago, but it really shinned in the glass and didn’t disappoint in any way, it could survive another 5 or 7 years, but a decade more and I think it might lose it’s charm, so if you are holding this, I’d say drink it up you luck dog! The 1978 Monte Bello was big in it’s early years, and at 13.6% it was one of the most powerful, highlighting the drought years, but age has graced it with stunning balance and finesse without losing it’s sense of history or place, lingering blueberry, sage and anise add to the joy. What a glorious and fantastic treat, I’m grateful to Ridge’s Lytton team for this rare experience!
($350 Est.) 94+ Points, grapelive
2014 Anthill Farms, Pinot Noir, Tina Marie Vineyard, Russian River Valley.
The latest Anthill Pinot from the cool climate Green Valley’s Tina Marie Vineyard, part of the greater Russian River Valley AVA, is a bright and focused wine with beautiful light garnet and ruby hues in the glass and vivid fruit throughout, this is very pure Pinot Noir with style and substance with potential to get even better. There’s a lot to admire here with soft silky textures lifted with nice acidity and fine tannins that compliment the rich cherry, raspberry, plum and cranberry fruit layers. Subtle wood spice, cinnamon, dried roses, violets and blueberry skin add to the complexity, be sure to give this young wine time to unveil it’s true and full nature as it takes a few minutes at this stage to start going with shy and youthful character and some tart edges that really smooth out with air. Again, Anthony Filiberti and the gang at Anthill Farms have put together an amazing set of wines in the 2014 vintage, these very hard to get offerings are outstanding and well worth the time, energy and money to search out, so far my favorites have been this Tina Marie and the Baker Ranch Anderson Valley Pinot Noirs, but all of them will impress. The Tina Marie is like an expressive Cote de Beaune leading with tangy red fruits, bramble and rustic charm, subtle mineral, earthy loam and oak all well judged behind the outgoing Russian River fruit, and at about 13% it is a poised and elegant example of high end Pinot. While not overtly sexy or flamboyant, this Tina Marie is still a thrill and should get more exotic and seductive with another few years in bottle, be patient and be rewarded, this is lovely stuff.
($57 Est.) 92+ Points, grapelive
2014 Chalone Vineyard, Chenin Blanc, Estate Grown Heritage Vines, Chalone, Monterey County.
Chalone’s 2014 Heritage Vines Chenin is a true classic and a stunning dry white wine, it is intensely mineral driven, steely and chalky with tight citrus, white peach and a faint trace of dried honey. Without question this is one of the top Chenin Blancs in the new world, I bet this beauty with age 30 years! This wine is a throw back to some of the 1970’s Chalone wines that really put Monterey on the wine world map, this place oozes history and it has a real sense of terroir. The 2014 Chalone Chenin was crafted from old vines on ancient seabed soils by Chalone winemaker Robert Cook, it’s masterpiece of elegance and vivid detail. The unique limestone, granite and clay soils, cool nights, elevation in the Gavilan range near the Pinnacles and shear remoteness really show up in the details of Chalone’s wines, especially true in their limited production whites like this Chenin and in their Pinot Blanc, the rare offerings are worth searching out, I’ve been lucky in the past to try older vintages of them and they can be mind-blowing even at 15 or 20 years old, as is their Chardonnay, which has real similarities to Burgundy when aged. Chalone’s Chenin Blanc comes from a plot originally planted in 1919, just after WW1, it is old school head trained and is very small yielding which adds to the extract and vitality, it takes a bit of time to flesh out on the palate, but is serious stuff with lime, lemon, wet river stones, rosewater, quince and hints of tropical notes to go along with that core of white peach and crisp mineral essence. Look for beeswax, verbena and honeyed pear over the the next decade to unfold, but it’s thrilling and expressively vigorous now, it would be gorgeous with oysters, chèvre, white fish and or mussels in it’s youth. It was fermented in 60% neutral French barrels and 40% in stainless tank, then aged about 6 months in cask before bottling, it has hidden richness and is vibrantly fresh, this is simply rocking good dry Chenin!
($28 Est.) 92+ Points, grapelive
2012 Clusel-Roch, Cote Rôtie “Classique” Rhone, France.
After having some of the 2011 recently, the 2012 Closel-Roch seems leaner, lighter and more tart, but that being said, it is a fine effort with deep garnet/purple color and very pleasing, especially with air and food. The Domaine Clusel-Roch Cote Rotie is all organic and comes from the Cote Brun, an area with schist and dark mica soils, these wines are rustic for the region and while usually almost 100% Syrah, there is an inter planting of about 4% Viognier which is co-fermented and thrown in as well with native yeasts and lots of stems, everything here is holistic in approach and the wines tend to take time to show well. The 2012 is meaty to start, though not big, with layers of bacon, earthy notes, blueberry, tart plum, cherry/kirsch and boysenberry leading the way, taught on the palate, with extra moments in the glass there is mineral and floral dimension with flinty stones, violets and spicing lavender, all of this is backed up with peppercorns and black olive along with light cedar, cinnamon and cassis/currant. This vintage is a bit tight, lighter in body and racy still with stem tannin and a touch of greeness, though I think it will fill out some and drink better, more complex and complete in a few years, so if you have the 2009 or 2011 versions, drink them now, and this 2012 in maybe 3 to 5 years time, it will never be a blockbuster, but there is plenty of beauty inside to surprise and reward the patient Rhone enthusiast. I love the wines of Clusel-Roch, these are soulful terroir wines and have old world charm, from their Galets Gamay to their top Cote Rotie and Condrieu these are lovely offerings.
($60+ Est.) 91-93 Points, grapelive
2013 Lagier Meredith, Malbec, Mount Veeder, Napa Valley.
Steve Lagier and Carole Meredith’s mountain Malbec is a lovely rich wine with deep fruit, brambly spices and a lingering finish, it is neither a copy of a Cahors or an Argentine style wine, it is a red that they have made their own, and certainly one of the best and most compelling examples of this grape to be found in California. I would say this Malbec has more of a Bordeaux quality about it, almost Cabernet like in style with blackberry, dark currants (cassis notes), cherry and sweet plum along with cedar, briar, lavender spice and cigar wrapper leading on the full palate, and while this is a big mouthful of wine it doesn’t feel heavy, it reminds me a little of Ridge Monte Bello in it’s character and finesse, this is wonderfully crafted stuff. I adore this current set of wines from Lagier Meredith, and usually I would love the Syrah best, but this vintage I might just go for the Malbec! The Tribidrag a.k.a Zinfandel too really stands out, this is a winery to check out in a big way, these beautiful and textured mountain wines from up high on Mount Veeder offer a lot and are unique, especially this tasty and gripping Malbec. The tannins are firm, but refined giving plenty of structure and control without being aggressive and there’s enough acidity to lift the dense fruit, air and time in the glass reveals violets, white pepper, hints of vanilla and blueberry, this wine and the Lagier Meredith Mondeuse are very interesting Napa reds that deserve a little searching out, drink this 2013 Malbec over the next 3 to 5 years, it is an impressive wine!
($48 Est.) 93+ Points, grapelive