2014 Sheldon, Cabernet Sauvignon, D’ Allaird Vineyard, Sonoma Valley.
This great young Cabernet is a very vivid and fresh style, almost like a Loire Valley wine in nose and vibrancy, but with classic dark fruits on the palate, this wine comes in at a refreshingly low 13.4% alcohol and with a medium/full mouth feel. Dylan Sheldon has been crafting this unique Sonoma Valley Cabernet for a few vintages now from old vines at D’ Allaird Vineyard a semi high tall stalk pergola grown site that allows for wonderful ripe juiciness in the grapes with brown seeds and soft tannins that allows for native fermentations and whole cluster pressing. If you enjoy Bordeaux or Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet like Bates Ranch or some lighter vintages at Ridge Monte Bello you’ll be thrilled with this wine, it really gains intrigue with every sip after an initial shy and zesty start. The 2014 Sheldon D’ Allaird Sonoma Valley Cabernet is a two barrel micro production offering that starts with light floral notes, mineral spice and sage/herb elements, similar to a Chinon from the Loire Valley, within minutes true Cabernet fruit and expressiveness shines through with ripe/sweet tannin infused blackberry, tangy currant and kirsch notes along with almost no oak influence, but with hints of pepper, cinnamon, black licorice and lavender. The finish is crisp, though lingers on and on, this is a lively and seductive youthful wine that is impressive and an almost anti-Napa Cabernet that is great with less heavy cuisine, this Sonoma Valley Cabernet Sauvignon follows it’s on path with plenty of California openness, but with a cut of energy and focus. Drink this Sheldon D’ Allaird Cabernet Sauvignon over the next 3 to 5 years, and be sure to check out Sheldon other new releases and current wines such as there Petite Sirah/Cabernet Sauvignon field blend The Red Hat as well as their geeky cool Graciano.
($40 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2016 Georis Winery, Rose of Cabernet Franc “Les Abeilles” Monterey County.
Damien Georis’ latest set of Georis Winery is a serious lineup of Bordeaux style reds, including a powerful Merlot, that certainly has an old world feel and austere firmness which holds lots of charm and class as well as a fun set of whites including a fresh Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio, but I must say I was really thrilled by the Les Abeilles Rose of Cabernet Franc that is dry, crisp and mineral driven that reminds me an Anjou Rose from the Loire Valley. The Belgian and ex-Bordeaux man has brought lot to Georis over the last 10 years and the quality has benefited from his talent, he is one of Carmel Valley’s leading winemakers as well as one of the young stars of Monterey County like Jeff Pisoni and Ian Brand, his own label Madeleine is also worth checking out, he has a special gift for Cabernet Franc, but also does a fine Cabernet Sauvignon and lovely Pinot Blanc. It’s time to re-discover all these wines from Georis and Madeleine, in particular this beautiful and delicate 2016 Les Abeilles Rose that delivers refreshing vitality and vibrant flavors leading with tart cherry, wet stones, steel/mineral, watermelon, spring herbs, a hint of earth and zesty citrus making it a fun and lean pink that will give a huge amount of perkiness and pleasure in a classic old world style. Drink this wine spring and summer cuisine, paella, oysters and mussels and picnic fare, though it will also be joyous on it’s on as a cool quaffer!
($29 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2015 Lucia Vineyards, Pinot Noir, Garys’ Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands.
The Pisoni family’s Lucia Vineyards latest set of wines are fantastic and textured wines with classic density, concentration and length, in particular the new 2015 Soberanes Chardonnay, which shows it’s Wente clone intensity and wonderful class with heavenly richness and Peter Michael like mouth feel, and the especially expressive Lucia Garys’ Vineyard 2015 Pinot Noir, which I will review here. Jeff Pisoni, winemaker of the Pisoni Estate wines and Lucia Vineyards, continues his hot streak with these 2015 wines, and while the vintage was short on crop size the wines offer heightened flavors and depth, these are wines that always seem to be a step higher with each year and showcase the Grand Cru class of the estate vines at the Pisoni Vineyard, Garys’ Vineyard and, the remarkable and youngest of the sites, Soberanes Vineyard. The slightly cool Garys’ Vineyard, that sits between Rosella’s and the higher Soberanes, gives Pisoni like dark flavors, but with good acidity and overall harmony, the sandy/loamy soils and cool breezing marine influenced climate of the Santa Lucia Highlands bench gives the Garys’ it’s unique terroir character. The 2015 Lucia Garys’ Pinot starts with lavish and opulent fruit, thick/lush mouth feel, exotic spices and briar along with lightly smoky sweet French oak framing this wonderful wine that has layers of rose petal, red currant, juicy plum and a core of decedent cherry and ripe black raspberry as well as hints of vanilla, blood orange liqueur, anise. This silken 2015 is a fuller bodied wine that the 2014, but it doesn’t go to far, it’s just closer in style to the famed Pisoni Estate, which most fans of this winery will find massively appealing and sexy, best get yours as quick as you can as the 2015’s will be extremely limited with the tiny crop and while it’s awesome right now, it has the potential to gain with age and should prove to be an exceptional vintage for the cellar!
($60 Est.) 94+ Points, grapelive
2009 Palmina, Nebbiolo “Sisquoc” Santa Maria Valley.
The wonderful Langhe inspired Palmina Sisquoc Nebbiolo is a thrill ride of true Barolo like character and is one of the finest Italian style red wines in California, this is spectacular and invigorating stuff with impressive depth and length. Steve Clifton has been on a mission to craft old school Italian wines in the Santa Barbara region since the late nineties and his passion for Nebbiolo started with early plantings of this grape at Stolpman and the Rancho Sisquoc Vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley, a cool climate, coastal influenced area north of Santa Barbara, which was planted in 1998. Clifton has adopted the classic or riserva style with his Nebbiolo with extended large cask aging and bottle aging before release to allow the wine to more fully unwind and develop, with the 2009 being the current offering, and his patience has been rewarded, especially this gorgeous and complex 2009 Sisquoc, which shows beautiful detail, refined tannins and mature evolution that certainly reminds one of Piedmonte. Catching up with Steve Clifton, formerly of Brewer-Clifton, one of California’s highly acclaimed Pinot Noir and Chardonnay producer and pioneer of the Sta. Rita Hills AVA and owner/winemaker of Palmina, was as always an education and amazing tasting experience, he showed off two fantastic wines from his Palmina cellar that blew me away, a wonderfully solid and fresh 2000 Pinot Grigio, yes, Pinot Grigio! And a stunning 1998 Stolpman Vineyard Nebbiolo that rivals Barolo or Barbaresco of the same vintage! These wines have aged beyond any expectations and really give you an idea how just how serious they are, something that is good the remember and not take for granted, and the new releases look set to be wines that can sit side by side with their Italian cousins in your cellar, Palmina is for real, in particular you’ll be extremely pleased to have this Michet clone 2009 Rancho Sisquoc Nebbiolo. The latest Palmina Sisquoc, grown on sandy loam and clay rich soil, shows intense density that is lifted by natural acidity and those silken, but firm tannins with bright raspberry, tangy plum and cherry fruits along with dried roses, dusty/stony notes, cedar spice and savory/saline infused licorice as well as grilled red citrus, amaro and mission fig. Three and half years in big cask helped tamed this broad shouldered red, to be in perspective, I tried this wine against Cerreto Asili Barbaresco and Bruno Giacosa Falletto Barolo at the Pebble Beach Food & Food Grand Tasting and it fitted in nicely against these, in fact it showed awesomely well, there was almost no gap between in terms of quality, that was a huge performance! This impressive Nebbiolo will surprise a lot of people and should only get more interesting over time and should drink well for another decade plus, Palmina should be on your radar if not already, Clifton has gone through a re-birth of sorts and been freed up to show his own style path since leaving Brewer-Clifton, and his latest set of Palmina and his new La Voix label are authentic/natural, exciting and intriguing wines, look out for them.
($60 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2014 Sheldon, Graciano, California.
If you are looking for an ultra intriguing rare wine that is so cool you’ll think it was from the Cotes du Jura, then you’ll want to experience the Sheldon Wines Graciano, the rare Rioja varietal that is believed in some quarters to be related to Trousseau that is also found in Jerez and more famously known as Tintilla in the Canary Islands! The 2014 Sheldon Graciano is mostly from the limestone soils, below sea level in Ripkin Vineyard near Lodi and with one barrel in the blend coming from Luc’s Vineyard in Sonoma that is set on volcanic soils with loose loam and gravel making for a pale low alcohol red with vibrant spicy flavors and old world leathery earthiness. This unfiltered and slightly cloudy ruby colored red is similar to Arnot-Roberts’ Trousseau, with seductive lightness it comes in at 12.5% alcohol, showing strawberry, rhubarb, cinnamon stick, peppery raspberry and plum as well as a touch of bitter/minty anise, a hint of cedar and chalky stones. A deeper sense of fruit comes through with air, but this is balanced by a forceful savory game/leather accent, finishing with a nice burst of acidity, silken tannin with lingering tart cherry, red peach/blood orange and rose petals. This wine will certainly challenge your palate with it’s delicacy, nervy light to medium body and all the old work funkiness present in the 4 barrel, of which only about 100 cases were made, Graciano, those that like Wind Gap, Broc, Ryme and Cruse wines will love this stuff. I’ve loved this juice for years, and it sells out fast, so I’m thrilled to get some, it’s a real geeky pleasure. Dylan and Tobe Sheldon put out some fun wines from their micro winery, this are very limited offerings so it’s best to get on their list, be sure not to miss this one as well as their The Red Hat Petite Sirah/Cabernet Napa Valley field blend, their new Sonoma Valley wild pergola trained lighter style Cabernet Sauvignon that has a Anjou Rouge quality to it, sold through retail and restaurants as well as www.sheldonwines.com and their value priced Lindsay Blair Hillside Syrah sold through the www.LBWineco.com these are tiny production hand crafted wines with native yeasts and no new oak made to be enjoyed young.
($36 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2014 Corra, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley.
The latest Corra by Celia Welch is simply glorious in detail and depth with remarkable freshness and Bordeaux like intensity and vigor, it is one of California’s top wines and has been since it’s debut in 2004, especially true with this 2014 and it’s compelling black fruits, beautiful layers and heady perfume. The Corra 2014 is a cuvee crafted from 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from selected vineyards including Pritchard Hill, Rutherford and Oakville all of which adds to the complexity found in Celia’s signature wine, this vintage really excels in delivering everything you’d want in a fine Cabernet Sauvignon showing dense richness, without being syrupy or heavy, highlighting her graceful touch, this is winemaking at it’s best. Maybe best known in recent years for her Scarecrow Cabernet Sauvignon, Celia Welch has been one of California’s most sought after talents and has a stellar record on making critically acclaimed wines with many 95-100 scores over the years, I’ve been a fan for ages and have admired the Corra Cabernets since her first offering, her wines display beautiful elements and a completeness that rivals any and from anywhere, and this 2014 should prove legendary, even in a vintage that hasn’t received much hype, it’s fantastic from start to finish. The dazzlingly seductive Corra 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon starts with a brightness of focus, heightened bouquet and expressive fruit lifted by the slightly cooler year in Napa Valley and the mountain grown Pitchard Hill grapes that give spice, earthy tones, tanninic substance and vibrancy, while the Oakville and Rutherford plots add aromatics, palate filling body, dusty plum notes along with classic Napa opulence and ripe styling. The layers keep coming at you with seamless precision, gorgeous blackberry, creme de cassis, acacia/violet floral notes, light mocha/vanilla, sweet tobacco, cedar, subtle licorice and lovely framing oak that doesn’t interfere with the pureness of character. This wine is amazingly easy to love for such a baby and many will want to drink this Cabernet Sauvignon now with it’s approachable modern hedonism, but patience, without question, will be greatly rewarded, much like Ridge’s Monte Bello, it’s generous nature is hiding a seriously powerful, structured and lengthy wine that will only get better with age.
($150 Est.) 96-98 Points, grapelive
2016 Brooks, Rose of Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley.
The new and recently released Books Pinot Noir Rose is brilliantly fresh with wonderful vibrancy and vigor making for a super dry and brisk pink that will be a thrilling summer wine. All of the latest set of Brooks wines I tasted at this year’s Pebble Beach Food & Wine event showed the wineries authentic character with vivid acidity and earthy tones that showcases their Oregon terroir as well as highlight the restrained down to earth style of the winemaking, each wine has it’s own subtle personality especially the various Rieslings and Pinot Noir bottlings, but there is no question the wines are just getting better and better with each vintage, in particular the 2014 Pinots, with the 2014 Rastaban standing out for it’s elegance and layers of complexity, utterly spellbinding. The 2016 Brooks Rose of Pinot Noir Willamette Valley starts with a mineral/steely tone with sour cherry, rosewater, watermelon, mixed citrus and zesty herbs along with a hint of pure pinot fruit and lingering strawberry essence. This tangy fresh Rose is full of life and energy, but has a nice austere form and feels vital with a lithe and learn lightness that gives this beauty it’s sizzle and refreshment, in the last few vintages this Brooks Rose has become a focal point for Oregon dry Rose with it’s bone/dusty dry style that has seemed to really caught on and I love this stuff! Drink this bright/zesty pale pink/salmon hued 2016 over the next year, and I suggest looking at all the interesting Rieslings on offer as well as their array of Pinot, especially any of the 2014 and 2015 vintages.
($20 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2014 Avaler, Cabernet Sauvignon, Dry Creek Valley.
This new Avaler 2014 Dry Creek Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is a deeply flavored small production wine crafted by Jon Phillips of Inspiration Vineyards and Dylan Sheldon of Sheldon Wines that delivers full flavors at a reasonable price, it shows the quality of vintage to near perfection with slightly cool year character and gorgeous opulence offering wonderful balance of vitality and richness. This wine’s release is timely with everything that is happening in the world of Cabernet Sauvignon, recently there has been a huge consolidation of top Napa Valley and Sonoma County vineyards with the potential of taking thousands of tons of fruit away from small independent wineries and boutique producers, in fact they say the average price for Napa Cabernet is heading to about $68 per bottle and parts of Sonoma not far behind, so it’s great to find a hand crafted Sonoma Cabernet with depth and true varietal layers for $25! The 2014 Avaler Cabernet Sauvignon Dry Creek Valley, 14.4% alcohol, is a 250 case cuvee that shows vibrant youthful blackberry, cherry, dark currant/cassis, raspberry and plum fruits, light floral tones, sweet tannins and with an array of tobacco, sage, coconut/vanilla and traces of licorice and liqueur. For those that love Ridge or wines from Alexander Valley will be thrilled with this Avaler Cabernet, as it is not as extracted as most Napa Valley wines, but with very stylish details and a medium/full body as well as having plenty of hedonistic charm and firm structure that makes it a Cabernet that will be flexible with cuisine and showcases the winemaker’s desire to have restraint and grace even in their macho Cabernet. It’s not hard to love this Cab, it gives lots of pleasure for the price, it’s especially joyful with grilled flank steak, prime rib and hard cheeses and is mostly ready to go as is, but should see some gains with age, drink from 2017 to 2025. www.avalerwines.com
($25 Est.) 91-93 Points, grapelive
2015 I. Brand & Family, Mourvedre Old Vine “Enz Vineyard” Lime Kiln Valley, San Benito County.
Ian Brand has made a gorgeous old world style wine from the little known Lime Kiln Valley from old vine Mourvedre that rivals many a Bandol, while Brand may not be a household name yet, he is one of Monterey’s most talented winemakers, crafting his Le P’Tit Paysan and La Marea wines as well as his signature I. Brand & Family offerings. His Enz Vineyard Old Vine Mourvedre is deeply colored with a dark garnet/purple hue that starts with a bouquet of flowers, spice and earth with intriguing violets and bramble berry leading to a palate of rich fruit, leather, peppercorns, loam and seductive meatiness. Layers of dusty boysenberry, wild plum, tart currant and baked cherry flow seamlessly in a dense mouth feel that is held together with ripe tannins and the savory raciness making for a serious wine that reminds me somewhat of Bedrock’s Heritage or Bonny Doon’s mid nineties Old Telegram and a bit like a Cornas too, though with the old school charm of a classic Bandol without the stinky brett, this is impressive stuff that is what is now commonly called “The New California” it’s a wine that reflects the best of what it’s own terroir is as well as paying homage to it’s historical cousins of the old world in a balanced fashion. This rich and full bodied old vine Mourvedre, with lingering kirsch, chalky stones, sticky lavender, minty anise and shaved cinnamon stick, certainly delivers the goods, and made me look up where the hell Lime Kiln Valley was, a touch humbled, I discovered it was in the greater Cienega Valley and has been it’s own AVA since 1982 with the Enz Vineyard first being planted back in 1895! The I. Brand & Family Old Vine Mourvedre “Enz Vineyard” Lime Kiln Valley is from head trained vines that was planted in 1922 grown on limestone, dolomite and covered by sandy loam and gravel along with a micro climate that sees a good diurnal temperature change allowing for very intense and focused fruit with color, flavor and complexity along with a nice lift of natural acidity, this means Brand can use partial whole cluster that adds loads of distinction and edginess, without question this is one of coolest and best finds of the year from the Central Coast! A recent stop at Brand’s tasting room in Carmel Valley Village proved a great experience and one of exciting new discoveries, in particular this Mourvedre that should enjoy a long life, as well as a Chinon like Cabernet Franc, a lovely fruit driven Grenache under his La Marea label and the brisk and energy filled Le P’Tit Paysan “Pierre’s Pirouette” Dry Rose of Mourvedre, Grenache & Cinsault that is a must have pink!
($42 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2015 Bow & Arrow, Melon, Johan Vineyard, Willamette Valley.
Inspired by the Loire Valley’s Muscadet Sevre et Maine the natural and stylish biodynamic Melon de Bourgogne by Bow & Arrow delivers brisk and bright salty flavors with a touch of new world richness, but remains faithful to the French version with driving acidity and steeliness making for a vibrant example of this varietal. Scott Frank’s Portland based micro winery has gained a great reputation for unique and interesting wines taking Bow & Arrow in it’s own direction, away from the only Burgundy influenced path that most of the Willamette Valley follows and is enjoying success with most of the wines paying homage to France’s Loire Valley and especially the Touraine and Muscadet regions with some stellar Gamay, Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc wines as well as this pretty, very dry and slightly raw Melon de Bourgeonne. Bow & Arrow’s Johan Melon starts with an austere nose of saline, ether, crushed earthy stones, straw bale and zesty citrus leading to a pithy palate of lemon/lime, unripe melon and a core of stone fruit, making it a superb seafood companion. Frank’s touch is brilliant here, as with Johan’s fruit giving loads of energy and character, it opens to fleshy peach and kiwi along with some bitter herb and spice offering a fruity vs savory balance along with a hint of brioche/lees that allows for mouth feel and substance, this white impresses for it’s zip and restraint while still giving texture and layers. The vintage shines through in all of the Bow & Arrow wines, these are wonderful efforts, don’t miss them, in particular the Gamay/Pinot Rhinestones blend, the Gamay and the straight Pinot Noirs, all of which are standouts. Bow & Arrow’s Melon is a fun and refreshing white that will compliment oysters, claims, mussels as well as raw milk cheeses and is a great alternative to the sea of less exciting whites out there.
($24 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive