Grapelive: Wine of the Day October 23, 2017

2014 Pandol, Pinot Noir, Sta. Rita Hills.
Wow, this is getting better each time I taste it, Jenny Pandol killed it in 2014 with her fabulous Rita’s Crown (made with clones 777 and 115) Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir that has gained so much in the last few months that it is way beyond my own high expectations, it’s sweet and stylish palate has filled out without losing any of it’s fantastic energy and vitality! Only 200 Cases were made of this stunning vintage and at 13.4% this might be the best balanced of her last few vintages, it is singing right now with dusty rose petals, vibrant red fruits and clear mineralite and complex layers, it’s silky texture is heavenly and it’s lifted lively acidity gives a thoughtful peakiness, while remaining satiny smooth. The bright ruby/garnet hue is enticing as are the aromatics of wilted roses, Asian spices and pretty cherry cola that lead you to a full flavored palate of black cherry, plum and wild raspberry fruits along with strawberry liqueur, nutmeg, sweet fig and light toasty oak shadings, as well as a burst of blood orange, earth and tea spices. Lingering blue and red fruits, anise and saline add to the complexity found here, this is gorgeous and amazingly delicate/textured stuff! After almost ten vintages, this talented winemaker looks to be calling it quits to start a new adventure in her life, I wish her well and want her to know she’ll be missed in the wine world, she started by making small lots of Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot, from top sites like the Schultze Family Vineyards (Windy Oaks Estate) and Alfaro Family Vineyards, before moving to Ventura and sourcing from Rita’s Crown, next to Sea Smoke, in the Sta. Rita Hills, as well as doing a Carneros bottling in between. Limited amounts of 2012 Carneros as well as 2013 Sta. Rita Hills are now being re-released too, both very good and drinking well right now. This 2014 is her (Jenny Pandol) ending on a high note, thank you Jenny for such beautiful and soulful wines, I suggest heading to her website at and getting this one before it’s gone, it looks set to be a rewarding wine for years to come, best from 2018 to 2026. (Note: This wine was tasted and reviewed before it’s release here at, and this review 10/23/17 was from two recently sourced bottles, and needed an updated comment, as the wine has got so much better it deserved a new/fresh look)
($45 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day October 22, 2017

2015 Francesco Brigatti, Vespolina “Maria” Colline Novaresi, Northern Piedmonte, Italy.
Vesplina is a rare native grape to the Northern Piedmonte and is usually found in field blends in the Ghemme, Bramaterra and Boca zones of the Colline Novaresi and usually a small part player in reds that feature Nebbiolo and Barbera. Vespolina is like Ruche without the heavenly floral intensity, it makes for an interesting solo grape wine that has a similar feel to Nebbiolo, but lighter and brighter, though in a vintage like 2013 and 2015 it can be a bit more ripe and dense, as this beautiful version by Francesco Brigatti, this is a stylish and natural wine that is absolutely pure and delicious. Grown on sandy soils over clay, Brigatti’s Vespolina shows fine detail and fruity richness, it’s certainly full in flavors without holes anywhere on the medium bodied palate that shows brandied cherries, plum, minty herbs, light stoniness and mineral as well as spicy raspberry, cinnamon stick, basil/anise and finishes crispy/peppery with lingering kirsch and potpourri. Brigatti, is a new star of the Alto Piedmonte (A region that is on fire right now with a stunning array of wines) and his wines, the ones I’ve tasted so far have been brilliant efforts, and this one is a steal, it’s a high quality red that thrills and stays focused and brisk, there’s no wood used at all here, this is as mentioned just a briskly pure Vespolina, stainless tank fermented and aged, 7 months, it picks up terroir/earthy notes with air, but keeps the tangy fruit pumping throughout, best with food and slightly rustic cuisine, drink over the next 2 to 3 years.
($18 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day October 21, 2017

2013 Vincent Girardin, Bourgogne Rouge “Cuvee Saint-Vincent” France.
After creating his own top Burgundy negotiant company from scratch with great parcels and wines throughout the Cote d’Or including many Grand Crus, the Santenay born Vincent Girardin sold his company in 2012 and has gone into semi-retirement, but long time winemaker Eric Germain continues to produce gems for the Maison Vincent Girardin and the company keeps moving forward and remains a top value label for high quality Burgundy in all price ranges. I was a huge fan in the early years and was a happy customer until about the mid 2,000’s, so after a long spell it was nice to taste a new vintage and have it taste so lovely, elegant and fresh in detail. Imported by Vineyard Brands, Vincent Girardin excels in small lot wines, especially Cru white Burgundy, their old vine parcels in Corton and Batard-Montrachet are always stunning, but also their value priced reds are worth searching out, in particular the Cuvee Saint-Vincent Bourgogne Rouge offers a lot of style for the price and this 2013, a so-so vintage, is showing good form and is drinking very well. Light and spiced, the 2013 Vincent Girardin Saint-Vincent is what you think of when you think AC Burgundy, it shines in the glass with a translucent ruby/red hue in the glass and aromas of strawberry, crushed roses and peppery spices entice before a light/medium palate of tangy cherry, plum and briar laced raspberry fruits with subtle herb and mineral notes along with a hint of oak, earth and cranberry. Certainly this won’t thrill in depth or suddenly turn into a Premier or Grand Cru, but it does please and without a doubt it makes for a bargain in Pinot Noir, let alone Burgundy! Delicate and textured, it goes on and lingers on the finish with brightness and class, best slightly chilled and with food, it is not complicated or overly complex, but will be a fine and easy companion for another few years, perfect for newbies to the region and a super party wine.
($24 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day October 20, 2017

2015 Bonny Doon Vineyard “Cunning” Carignane/Mourvedre, California.
Seriously good and old school in style Randall Grahm’s 2015 Cunning is a red wine that that reminds me of Maxime Magnon’s beautiful Corbieres, it’s slightly rustic in a charming way, less fruity than you’d expect from a California wine and with old vine concentration. The Bonny Doon Cunning is a blend of 76% Carignane from dry farmed old vines as thick as trees and 24% Mourvedre from the sandy soils of Contra Costa, it’s a deep red that delivers rich flavors as well as an earthy/spicy complexity that certainly reminds you of the Languedoc meets Bandol. Grahm and team has crafted a beauty here, it starts with a meaty/leathery tone, subtle dark florals and mulberry as well as a snap of briar before leading to a rather full bodied palate of loganberry, plum, baked cherry and blueberry fruits along with basil/anise, incense/dried flowers, provencal herbs and porcini. Very subtle wood/cedar and a touch of tannin grip add to the old world elements found in this sun kissed wine that has plenty of ripe inner sweet fruit to impress, for the price this wine really performs and competes well versus other top Carignane based California bottlings like Pax, Skylark, The Princess & the Peasant and Broc Cellars, all which take this grape to the next level. Bonny Doon is on fire right now, you really need to check out the latest releases, a recent visit to their tasting room in Davenport brought many thrilling surprises in Randall’s current lineup, be sure not to miss his Picpoul, Le Cigare Blanc, the X-Block Syrah and the Rioja like blend “A Basque-ette Case” red, a gorgeous Tempranillo, Grenache and Graciano blend, just to name a few of the rarities! The Cunning may end up a one of kind so get some while you can, call the Bonny Doon tasting room to get it, drink it over the next 3 to 5 years.
($26 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day October 19, 2017

2015 Bodega Nanclares y Prieto, Minato da Rana, Tinto Rustico, Ribera Sacra, Spain.
Alberto Nanclares and Silvia Prieto, makers of some of the world’s best Albarino in Rias Baixas also makes some Mencia based wine as well, this wine from the Vino de Meso in the Ribeira Sacra (in Spain’s Galicia provence) near the Sil river and source their fruit from 100 year old vines, farmed all organic by Roberto Regal. The A Rana vineyard sits on the steep slopes of the Minho river, at 600 meters above sea level, on slate, alluvial and granite soils and is more influenced by the Atlantic making for an intriguing cool climate terroir wine, Nanclares and Prieto employ natural winemaking techniques with whole cluster, native ferments and very low sulfur to get a red that has a real sense of place, and the Minato da Rana is a blend of Mencia 60% along with about 30% Garnacha (Tintorera?) and 10% other interplanted local varietals. This old school red field blend is foot stomped in 600L open top cask with a one month cool maceration/fermentation and aged 8 months in French 500L barrels without racking, it’s not filtered and is unfined, making for an earthy and slightly funky (light reduction) red that quickly turns on the charm and after blowing off it reveals beautiful fresh details with similarities to Crozes-Hermitage, Cru Beaujolais and even Cote de Beaune, it’s dark with a pretty purple/ruby hue in the glass and lots of spice, florals and mineral on the nose with black fruit at the core. The high acidity and low natural alcohol (about 12.5%) gives this rare and sexy wine it’s lift and energy, even in a warm vintage like 2015, and the medium bodied Nanclares y Prieto Minato da Rana Tinto Rustico unfolds with ripe layers of wild plum, blackberry, earthy currant and tangy cranberry fruits along with flinty/graphite, minty roasted herbs, crushed violets, primary malo (creamy) mouth feel and lingering tart blood orange and peppery blueberry. With less than 50 cases for the world, you’ll need to get lucky to find this wine, I also had a really tough time to secure a bottle, but as long time fan of this winery it was worth the search and price to get it, just wish I was able to have more, it should get even better after another 2 to 3 years in bottle, but best over the next 5 to 7 years.
($60 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day October 18, 2017

2015 Emmanuel Darnaud, Crozes-Hermitage “Les Trois Chenes” Rhone Red, France.
Made from his oldest plots of organic vines, the Emmanuel Darnaud Crozes-Heritage Les Trois Chenes is a pure and beautiful Syrah with lovely layers and a wonderful mix of dark fruits and earthy elements with a nice background of spices. This wine is an awesome value, grown on alluvial soils and round stones with a vine age between 25 to 60 years it shows great terroir character and markers, the 2015 is ripe and lengthy highlighting the warm vintage. This 100% Syrah shows brilliant details and while it has a slight reduction at first it opens wonderfully to an array of complex flavors, it starts with it’s very dark purple/garnet hue and delicate floral notes with hints of violets and camphor, truffle and leather before filling out on the palate with blackberry, blueberry, damson plum and kirsch/cherry fruits along with black licorice, sticky lavender, peppercorns and dusty porcini. Aged in neutral cask (demi muids) this harmonious 13.5% alcohol wine gathers energy, focus and weight with air in the glass, but stays vibrant and medium bodied with a lithe mouth feel. I am excited to try more of Darnaud’s wines, especially his Saint-Joseph, which I hear is outstanding as well, imported by Casa Bruno in Portland, Oregon Emmanuel Darnaud looks set to be a break through winemaker/producer, another big thank you goes out to Vinopolis Wine Shop, also in Portland, for turning me on to this fine example, it’s hard to imagine a better Northern Rhone Syrah for the price. This is a wine to enjoy in the next 3 to 5 years and a label to follow, this is a quality and impressive effort that deserves your attention, it’s also a Syrah that needs cuisine to perform at it’s best, while still being vibrant, flexible and supple in tannins.
($24 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day October 17, 2017

2014 Ridge Vineyards, Syrah/Grenache/Mataro, Lytton Estate Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County.
From what I understand this is the first time Ridge blended all three of these grapes together, and what a great wine it is, wow, this wonderfully full and expressive Ridge Rhone style red is a stellar Chateauneuf-du-Pape like wine made of 47% Syrah, 27% Grenache & 26% Mataro (Mourvedre) from their Lytton Springs, Lytton estate Vineyard in Dry Creek Valley. This deep and inky purple/garnet red blend that is led by it’s Syrah richness and boysenberry, blackberry, blueberry and cassis/currant fruits as well as opulent/ripe density, light spicy notes, pretty floral tones, faint flinty/stones and mocha/vanilla. While there’s no mistaking this for anything other than Ridge and California, this wine has a depth and grace that is world class that gains with air, there’s pomegranate, sweet leather candied cherry, snappy herbs/anise/lavender and juicy dense plum and lingering length that thrills the palate. At 14.5% alcohol this is a serious wine, big and brawny in form, but smooth, refined tannin and supple in mouth feel without being heavy, it comes across very much in the same mold as famous modern Chateauneufs, especially like Pegau! This is a brilliant and stylish wine that should continue to impresses for years to come, I hope Ridge adds this cute, vintage allowing, to their permanent lineup and not just as a special for their wine club, as this one is, though I believe you can still get it if you ask (beg) at the tasting rooms. 2014 was a terrific year for Ridge, the wines are fantastic, in particular the offerings from their Lytton Springs vines, and people familiar with Ridge Vineyards will see the family character in this wine and the sense of place too, the deepness of fruit and perkiness of natural acidity make these wines really stand out. This is a great wine, drink from 2020 to 2028, it looks to be a rewarding and long aged wine, but one that is hard to resist now, and certainly there’s no penalty in enjoying SGM this now.
($40 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day October 16, 2017

2015 Domaine Jerome Gradassi, Chateauneuf-du-Pape Rouge, Rhone Valley, France.
One of my new favorite producers, Jerome Gradassi, who has been much more famous for his Michelin-starred L’Isle Sonnante restaurant located in Avignon, but after taking over a parcel of ancient Grenache that was once his grandfathers he taught himself how to make wine, very much influenced by natural wine, and through trial an error. Jerome has certainly achieved his goals in making an exciting and pure wine from his rustic cellar. The Gradassi Chateauneuf is vivid, sweet and sour (sort of peachy) with polished tannins and inner energy, gaining weight with air, it’s 75% old vine Grenache and 25% Mourvedre all whole cluster, in this cuvee Rouge, while he also does a tiny amount of Blanc made from almost all Clairette, which I consider a unicorn wine and nearly impossible to get, this red is made by throwing the grapes through the basement window in whole bunches and fermented with native yeast all in cement tanks, then because of the tiny space, he uses buckets to move the must to press! This takes about a week to do and then the wine rested in neutral barrels for just under a year before bottling. Jerome’s winery is the smallest in the region and his wines, a total throwback, they are savory, bright and tangy fresh, completely different from the top domaines in Chateauneuf, maybe that is why I’m so fond of his wines, they offer a completely unique vision of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, but one that expresses the majestic terroir and personality of place and historic family traditions. While I was thrilled by the spicier, earthy 2014, this 2015 is more fruit driven, the vintage being much riper and legendary according to most critics, and it gives a broader impression on the palate with juicy pomegranate, bramble-berry, tart cherry and plum fruits along with basil, salted black licorice, terra-cotta slates, bitter lavender oil, floral notes and touches of pepper, caramel, wild/feral elements and garden picked strawberries. This Chateauneuf is best enjoyed young and fresh in my opinion and with food and friends, it’s Grenache character leads the way and flows in a smooth, thought zesty, fashion and it’s excessively forward without being jammy. Gradassi’s 8 acres of old vines set on the classic galet (round river stones) and sandy soils are producing charming wines and his handcrafted techniques without adding anything, except a tiny amount of sulfur, these micro bottlings are thrilling wines, less dense and extracted than his neighbors, give lots of pleasure in a less heavy way, look for Gradassi’s Chateauneuf(s) and cherish their old school style.
($48 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day October 15, 2017

2014 I. Brand & Family Winery, Cabernet Sauvignon, Monte Bello Road, Santa Cruz Mountains.
Ian Brand’s newest release, the I. Brand & Family Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Monte Bello Road is one of the most exciting red wine wines of year, it’s a deep and lively Bordeaux like terroir influenced Cabernet that leaves an amazing palate impact. These mature vines, not far from Ridge’s Monte Bello estate deliver classic old school charm with gripping tannins and a cascade of black and red fruits with a throwback feel and style, I was thrilled with this unique expression of place and the Saint-Julien meets Margaux like flavors, think Chateau Leoville Las Cases! Brand has crafted a beauty here, one that clearly is on par with the more famous version across the road, which is saying a lot as Ridge Monte Bello is one of my all time favorites and one I splurge on, it’s one of the world’s greats, and Ian’s Monte Bello Road 2014 is certainly in the same league and for such a young and brash wine it has a deep core of class that is impossible to resist. The 2014 I. Brand & Family Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Monte Bello Road starts with pure currant fruit, earth, acacia flowers, a hint of briar and a dark garnet/purple hue in the glass which leads to a full bodied, but vibrant/fresh palate of blackberry, sweet plum, mulberry, cherry and subtle cassis, sage as well as dried tobacco leaf, warm clay, black olive and espresso bean, lingering further with liquid violets, anise, a faint smoky vanilla and minty blueberry. Look for this brilliant wine to age wonderfully and gain detail over the next decade, those that like Corison and of course Ridge or old Diamond Creek and Mount Eden Estate Cabs will love this wine, it has a rich and full mouth feel, but it’s this wine’s energy and life that makes it pop it retains just the right amount of acidity to spotlight every angle of this Cabernet Sauvignon in it’s best light and form. At 14.8% Alcohol this is not a shy wine by any means, but it’s balance is superb and it hides it’s weight and intensity well, this is not a heavy or overripe wine, it has transparency and dynamic focus throughout. Brand makes it clear this is a wine that doesn’t reflect a dogma of winemaker fashion, but a wine that is all about place and soil, this was not about what he wanted it to be in terms of style, it is rather the terroir and vintage that make it what it is. I think, regardless, he did a masterful job guiding this Cabernet to this performance level and look forward to revisit it in 12 to 15 years, this is absolutely sublime stuff. As mentioned in prior reviews, this is a winery to watch, and Ian Brand’s current lineup includes many gems, especially his old vine Grenache, Mourvedre and his two sexy Cabernet Francs as well as his crisp Albarino and his fun and easy to love Rhone blends under his P’Tit Paysan label, some of the best values around. I adore this 2014 for Cabernet Sauvignon, I think personally it might be the best vintage of my lifetime for California Cabs, I am excited to see how they cellar, they remind me of 1994 and 2002 structure-wise, but unique in their vivid nature, especially the mountain grown ones like this one. This very limited release Monte Bello Road Cabernet Sauvignon is a do not miss wine, it looks set to be a classic, patience will be highly rewarded, drink from 2022 to 2032!
($65 Est.) 95-97 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day October 14, 2017

2013 Domaine Jamet, Cote-Rotie, Rhone Red, France.
This wine was so beautiful and delicately layered I guessed it was pinot (Burgundy) in a blind tasting! Thank you to winemaker Sam Smith for that embarrassment and for his amazing kindness during harvest for sharing this with our tasting group, especially after processing 600 Tons of grapes this vintage for Morgan Winery here in Monterey, as well as doing tiny lots of his own wines. The 2013 Domaine Jamet, from old vine parcels in the the lieux-dits of Chavaroche, Fongeant, Côte-Baudin, Moutonnes, Landonne, Côte Rozier, Truchet, Bonnivières, Leyat, Le Plomb, Rochains, Lézardes, Tartaras, and La Gerine in the Cote Brune on the Schist soils that make for such expressive and age-worthy Syrah. Interesting Jean-Paul Jamet, now the sole owner after splitting the family holdings in half after the 2010 harvest, continues to vilify each parcel separate and makes them individually before blending into the finished wine with some lots getting the favored whole clusters, but less than what I had believed, close to 65-75%, unlike Bernard Levet, an old school Cote-Rotie producer I love that always goes the Full Monty on whole cluster and stems. Jamet, also ferments in stainless, everything is clear and precise and done with gravity flow with native yeasts and Jean-Paul rests (ages) the Syrah in barrels, using various sizes, for up to two years, mostly between 18 to 22 months, please note that in some cases he ages lots all in stainless too. The unfiltered and unfined Cote-Rotie 2013 is gorgeous and lingers on forever with exceptional class and grace, it’s an amazing wine and highlights purity and elegance with subtle underlying power and depth, it’s a thrill from start to finish, reminding me of Musigny and or Bonner Mares, hence my blind tasting fail! Beautiful faint violets, sweet smoky notes, brilliant mineral essences (flinty/iron) along with black, blue and red fruits lead the way with a fine dusting of mixed spices and spring herbs as well as a touch of game and savory/stones in this medium bodied beauty. Layers of black cherry, plum, currant, marionberry and black raspberry form the fruit core along with salty black licorice, embers, ultra fine cracked pepper and a touch of vanilla from the oak cask, some of which are new Burgundy 228L barrique as well as the bigger and more neutral Demi Muids. Everything is folded together in near perfection, this a gorgeous Syrah, I’m so grateful to have experienced such a gift of a wine, no wonder the world over get enough of this great Cote-Rotie!
($120+ Est.) 94+ Points, grapelive