2015 Domaine Weinbach, Riesling, Schlossberg Grand Cru, Kaysersberg, Alsace, France.
The wonderfully dry and stylishly delicate Domaine Weinbach Grand Cru Schlossberg Riesling gains a rich palate with air, but remains beautifully detailed, crisply focused and feels heavenly light in the mouth. This beauty will evolve and fill out over the next few years in bottle, it surprises for it’s youthful elegance in such a warm and seemingly concentrated vintage, terroir class really shines through here, Ghislain Berthiot, enologist, and by Celestino Soares, vineyard manager, have done a masterful job of guiding this wine to this stage, starting with biodynamic farming and careful and studied winemaking from selected sites with in Schlossberg, the region’s first Grand Cru vineyard, the grapes are hand harvested, whole cluster pressed, with 24 hour must soaks, native yeast fermentations and the use of large oval neutral casks, making for soulful and gloriously pure wines as this one certainly is. The granite soil of Schlossberg’s hills shows through with it’s flinty mineralite and laser like focus and graceful lines, with seductive apricot, verbena/lemon, kumquat, white plum and juicy lime fruits as well as wet river rock, peach and chamomile tea, subtle leesy notes, bright almond, tangy herbs and pretty floral elements with lingering rosewater and zest tangerine. Look for this pale gold hued dry Riesling to gain a bit of curvy weight, though not flab in time, this should age with stellar results. Even though it’s great now, this is a wine that will reward patience, it will have a long window of fantastic drinking, best from 2020 to 2029. Domaine Weinbach and Faller family continue to craft masterpieces from their Clos des Capuchins estate which was originally found way back in 1612 by local monks, now led by Catherine and her son Theo, after a few tragedies for the family, including the loss of Catherine’s mother Colette and sister and winemaker Laurence in recent years, the future looks good for this world class Domaine, don’t miss these awesome 2015’s!
($46 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2015 Roar, Chardonnay, Soberanes Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands.
Gary Franscioni’s Roar label has been quietly flying under the radar in recent years, with wonderful wines being crafted by the talented Scott Shapley, their winemaker, because the wines have been so good they sell out almost immediately to their mailing or the lucky restaurant or wine merchant without much fanfare. So it was great to catch up with a new release from Roar, as a fan of Shapely’s efforts past and an early admirer of Roar, in fact the first vintage 2001, and I was not let down at all with this 2015 Soberness Chardonnay, it’s a full bodied concentrated white with vivid detail and lavish textures. Soberanes Vineyard is an awesome young vineyard in the Santa Lucia Highlands run by Mark Pisoni and crew, the Chardonnay block is planted to Old Wente clone, while the Syrah block is Alban clone and the Pinot Noir is the original Pisoni clone grown above the lower bench on a vein of quartz and granite soils with a dusting of gravel and loam not far from Garys’ Vineyard. The 2015 vintage was intense and with a smaller than normal crop adding to the richness of this Soberanes Chardonnay with honeysuckle, honeyed pear, kiwi and smoky vanilla leading the way with expressive force before filling out on the palate with apple, lemon curd, hazelnut, wet stones, sweet fennel and layered creaminess without being cloying or flabby much in the same way as Corton-Charlemagne, Pahlmeyer or Luc Morlet wines do so well. This is without a doubt a flamboyant and impressive wine, but it still charms with a burst of orange zest and vibrant pineapple that allows the refined acidity to shine through, best with soft/stinky cheeses, fatty fish, buttered lobster and or creamy pasta with prawns with it’s regal nature, drink from 2018 to 2026.
($48 Est.) 93-94 Points, grapelive
2003 Schloss Johannisberger, Riesling Spatlese, Grunlack, Rheingau Germany.
The fast maturing and ripe 2003 Schloss Johannisberger Grunlack (Green Lacquer) showed remarkable form and hedonistic pleasure, and even though I worry it won’t age much more or get better, it was a joy to drink recently with almost creamy texture, balanced sweet fruit stone fruit and just enough vibrancy to keep the thrill alive. There might be some bottle variation with this wine, as I must admit I had a bottle about 6 months ago that was much darker amber and it had lost it’s way, but this bottle from the same set, that was bought on winebid.com, was perfect and stylish from start to finish with classic detail, sexy fruit and texture and with solid length. While 2003 was blistering hot and a massively low acid year, some parts of Germany fared better, but over all it is not a vintage to look for if you want a crisp and classic version of Rheingau Riesling, though Leitz’s Rudesheimer Berg Crus were exceptional given the conditions. The summer’s scorching heat brutalized Europe in 2003, making simple fruity wines that lacked complexity or finesse, making this one a bit of a shock really as it somehow has managed a window of magic showing layers of mineral, spice and earthy charm to go with the opulence of sweet peach, nectarine, baked apple and dried mango fruits, it even brightened mid palate with some citrus, loamy notes, white anise tea, a touch of shale, almond paste and saline elements before a honeyed richness fills the palate lingering non with candied orange, golden fig, lime sorbet and rosewater. Schloss Johannisberg, Germany’s oldest Riesling producer it’s a historic winery which puts a lot of weight on cellar master Gerd Ritter’s shoulders, makes traditional and age worthy Rieslings from vines grown on mixed soils with less slate and more loam in the commune of Geisenheim. The golden and amber edged and slightly tropical 2003 Schloss Johannisberger Grunlack Spatlese is almost Auslese like in weight and feel, but not frighteningly cloying, but drink sooner versus later, it is a great and fun way to try mature Riesling without too much expense.
($40 Est.) 91+ Points, grapelive
2014 Capiaux, Pinot Noir, Widdoes Vineyard, Russian River Valley.
Sean Capiaux’s 2014’s are some of his best wines to date, the ex-Peter Michael man has crafted a great set of wines that seem more energy filled and elegant than I remember, even though I’ve been a long time fan, these really impressed me with their class and length, especially his Widdoes Vineyard, which is a stunning example of Russian River Valley Pinot. The fine tuned Widdoes 2014 shows a beautiful and heighten perfume of morning rose and subtle violet with hints of spice, frambois and light smoky vanilla leading to a dark fruited palate that shows a finessed touch with black cherry, plum and strawberry along with cinnamon, sweet tea and a bit of mission fig and saline. This wine is richly flavored, but still vibrant and not at all heavy, look for Chapeaux’s 2014 Widdoes to age with grace and gain in detail, Sean uses cool maceration in stainless, with severe sorting and mostly de-stemmed grapes, employing native fermentations and less new oak in this cuvee, about a third new, and aged between 10-15 months in French barrique, before resting in bottle, unfined and unfiltered. This ruby and bing cherry hued Pinot Noir is a open and generous wine that pleases from start to finish with silky tannins, ripe fruit layers and lifting juicy acidity, all highlighting a near perfect vintage in the region, it’s the cat’s meow even now, though I believe it should improve with a couple of years in the cellar, best from 2019 to 2026.
($45 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2013 La Spinetta, Barbaresco, Valeirano, Vursu, Piedmonte, Italy.
The youthful and compact Valeriano Cru Barbaresco from Giorgio Rivetti looks set for a marvelous future, and while I usually rave on and on about his Starderi Cru, which is most often my personal favorite, this Valeirano 2013 certainly has all the charms and it’s highly seductive in it’s gorgeous layering and striking length. This modern Barbaresco saw 20 plus months in new French medium toast Barriques, it’s a non filtered and unfined cuvee from a granite rich site known as the Tresio vineyard, which gives it’s floral and mineral toned nature, it’s full bodied and with ripe tannins, but should age with graceful vitality and substance. This wine has a great track record for cellaring with style and this warm vintage 2013 has classic Nebbiolo intensity and character, I was expecting a lot and ended up even more impressed than I could have imagined, I found an inner beauty and delicacy that belies the forces of nature and youth, as well as the new oak, this is a smashing wine of class and presence, and it will only get better from here! This 2013 La Spinetta is forceful on the palate with firm framing, but with a sexy opulence and an attention grabbing nervy lift, it’s without a doubt pure Nebbiolo at it’s best with brandied cherry, damson plum, raspberry and tangy currant fruitiness along with flinty stones, vanilla, saline infused licorice, cola bean, minty basil and a hint of bacon. The mix of spring flowers and rose petal are so far quite subtle, but there and add to the polished and lavish flavors, while the mouth feel expands with air allowing a glimpse into the future of this Barbaresco that looks to become a full bodied effort once everything is in place. It will, in my opinion, turn out to be of the same class as a modern Grand Cru Burgundy, in a way it reminds me of a Corton with it’s deep red fruits and garnet/ruby hue in the glass, great stuff to put away for 10 to 15 years!
($150 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2016 Strub, Silvaner, Feinherb, Rheinhessen Germany.
The barely off dry Silvaner by Sebastian Strub is a jewel of a white wine that drinks beautifully, it’s vibrantly bright with a steely frame and lightly fruity showing wonderful mineralite. This flexible and vital Rheinhessen Silvanner is a steal and shows the grape’s charm in Germany, where it is growing in plantings and gaining a solid following from drinkers and wine growers, once almost only found in Alsace and here in the Rheinhessen and Franken, where it has it’s own Grand Cu and Premier Cru sites, Silvaner is now found all over Germany and even in California, it’s a remarkable come back from this varietal that has seen some dramatic ups and downs. Even with it’s touch of RS, this wine should be considered dry and delicate on the palate, it’s in no way a sweet wine and makes for a great alternative to the sea of Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc. Strub farms parcels of Niersteiner, with some great sites in Hipping and Pettenthal that are a mix of red slate and limestone soils, their Rieslings from 2016 are wonderful examples with the Hipping Feinherb ‘Thal standing out along with this Silvaner, as well as the new Pinot Noir Rose and their Gruner Veltliner. The Strub Silvanner starts with light lime blossom, saline and green apple with a chalky/stony essence and lemongrass before widening a touch on the vital palate with steely lemon/lime, white peach and subtle verbena and wet shale. This light and refreshing white is stylish in a bistro quaffer kind of way and is a super summer sipper, great on it’s own and very nice with lighter fare and sea foods, especially clams in wine broth, drink it now and often!
($16 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2009 Francesco Brigatti, Motziflon, Colline Novaresi Nebbiolo, Alta Langhe, Piedmonte, Italy.
Wow, It is always great to discover a new producer of great wines, and Francesco Brigatti is that, from the Alta Langhe hamlet of Suno, close to the Ghemme region, making organic old school Nebbiolo and Barbera based wines. This northern part of Piedmonte is getting a lot of attention these days, especially during warmer vintages, as the area is now easily capable of making wines the class or depth of the more famous Barolo and Barbaresco Crus, and most are significant values! Wines from Le Piane, like their awesome Boca DOC Nebbiolo, Monsecco’s Ghemme and Antoniolo’s Gattinara DOCG lead the way here, but I was thrilled by Brigatti’s 2009 Colline Novaresi Nebbiolo, which has a tiny amount of other native grapes, such as Vespolina blended in, as these wines usually historically field blends. Brigatti, who employs traditional hand crafted practices, uses native fermentations, long gentile macerations and ages in used large oak casks to make his wines, they show his soulful approach in the care and detail, this 2009 Motziflon delivers deep Nebbiolo charm with brandied cherries, rose oil and earthy leather and spices, it’s ripe, but with great life and vigor. This Alto Piedmonte red is grown on ancient glacial moraine with mineral saltiness at about 800 feet, giving pure Nebbiolo grip and vibrancy, but with refined tannins of the warm year allowing richness to shine of the medium full palate with snappy red currants, briar laced raspberry, damson plum and racy cherry/kirsch along with tobacco leaf, porcini, salted black licorice, orange rind and with subtle meat/iron and contrasting savory notes, finishing with joyous and lingering violette. Delicate ruby in color, with orange tinted edges, this Brigatti Motziflon Colline Novaresi Nebbiolo is simply glorious and should drink well for many years to come, imported by Balanced Wine Selections in Colorado, this is a producer to search out, can’t wait to try his 2010!
($28 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2015 Morgan, Syrah “G17” Santa Lucia Highlands.
Morgan seems revitalized with the latest set of releases, the whites from 2016, the Albarino and Riesling are especially lovely dry wines, but I really loved the G17 Syrah, it’s a full bodied effort that still showcases it’s cool climate nature. While known for Chardonnay and Pinot, in particular their Double L Estate wines, their Rhone inspired offerings are stylish and interesting wines and are solid values with this G17 leading the way with rich black fruits, pepper spice and olive notes. I have been saying since the 2004 vintage, that Syrah is the unsung hero of the SLH, I really think Syrah has reached the quality of the regions Pinot Noir, in some cases and some years it is even better, just try the Pisoni’s Lucia, Cattleya and Roar Syrahs, as well as Big Basin’s or even Joyce’s Tondre to see just how good they are! Morgan’s 2015 starts with a hint of smoke, minty spice, blueberry and crushed violets leading to a rich and round palate, delivering boysenberry, wild plum, black cherry and blueberry fruits along with tapenade, anise, earthy loam, tobacco leaf, cedar, vanilla and framboise. The vintage was concentrated and ripe, allowing for smooth tannin and opulent mouth feel, while maintaining good energy and focus. If you are thinking about exploring central coast Syrah, this one is a solid gateway into these wines, it’s polished, elegant and nicely juicy in style, drink now.
($22 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2016 Weingut Kunstler, Riesling Kabinett Trocken, Hochheimer Holle, Rheingau Germany.
Gunter Kunstler is one of the greats of dry Riesling and his new Holle Kabinett Trocken, which is really more of a Grosses Gewachs than a Kabinett in the real world, is a lovely delicate vintage, but with fantastic detail and steely character. The 2016 Hochheimer Holle Kabinett Trocken Riesling is brightly brilliant with loads of lime, green melon, subtle mango, white peach and tangerine fruits, as well as liquid mineral, almond oil, wet rock, saline, plus a touch of white licorice and basil. More than flavors or words this wine is about feel and class in the glass with it’s electric vibrancy and refined nature, the Kunstler Holle Kabinett Trocken just feels right, start to finish, and it’s still a baby, look for this beautiful Riesling to fill out over the next couple of years and drink well into the next decade. Grown as organically as possible, the Holle is a humid site and needs lots of care and excels when done with the care that Gunter employs in the cellar, the deep clay and sediments with a bit limestone show through clearly in this vintage, making for a terroir driven white that reminds me of a Premier Cru Chablis in style with it’s pure and soulful expression of place and vitality. Air really allows this Riesling to shine with lingering white cherry, unripe apricot, chalky/stone, rosewater and a faint creamy/leesy note adds to the complexity of this wine that has an icy beauty about it, this really gives you a huge insight into Gunter’s precise clarity of mission, it’s a stunner and because it’s labeled Kabinett Trocken (because of a quirk in the VDP system) it will be flying under the radar, so I encourage you to think of this as a GG at a great price!
($36 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2015 Joyce Vineyards, Syrah, Tondre Grapefield, Santa Lucia Highlands.
The quaffable and elegantly framed 2015 Joyce Vineyards Syrah Tondre Grapefield is a lush and spicy red that has satiny texture and lingering length with a light feeling medium cool climate palate. Russell Joyce and crew used about 20% whole cluster and a 4 to 5 day cold soak maceration is this beauty with native yeasts and raised using only neutral French oak, aged on the lees for 13 months then bottled unfined and unfiltered, making this a lovely and pure wine, maybe one of best wines I’ve tasted from this vineyard in the Santa Lucia Highlands, grown on gravel, loam, sand and granite. The nose is pretty and lightly perfumed with crushed violets, peppery sage and minty herb along with mure liqueur and blueberry tart leading to a dense, but energy filled mouth with boysenberry, kirsch, savory salty anise, stones and cured meat as well as faint cedar, damson plum, lavender and cinnamon. Gains a bit of weight with air, without heaviness, and finishes long and ripe, the warm vintage adds to the refined tannins, at 14.2% it is not shy, but it shows a more delicate nature than the number and year would suggest, this is a wonderful effort from Joyce and this wine delivers a lot for the money, and according to winemaker Russell Joyce the 2016 looks even better! There’s an excitement growing around this winery and the current lineup is impressive, especially the Pinots and the dry Riesling, but don’t overlook this stylish Syrah, available at their beautiful new tasting room in the Carmel Valley Village.
($24 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive