Monthly Archives: December 2017

Grapelive: Wine of the Day December 22, 2017

2014 Albatross Ridge, Pinot Noir “First Flight” Estate, Carmel Valley, Monterey County.
The late release of a the Albatross Ridge First Flight, from Garrett Bowlus, is a refined and extremely delicious on the creamy medium weight palate, this under 70 case cuvee is only going to be produced in exceptional vintage, making it one of the most sought after and limited Carmel Valley wines. This First Flight comes from the most extremely rocky parcel on the Albatross Ridge Estate, which is just 7 miles from the Pacific at about 1,200 feet up, with vines strewn with large Carmel Stone (chalk rocks) and is windswept making it wildly cool and difficult to get much in the way of yields, but this stress adds to the character and intensity of flavors here, which clearly has paid off in their 2014 wines, all of which are spectacular, especially this one and the Estate Reserve. The First Flight comes from rows of Pommard and 828 Clone and is crafted in traditional old school Burgundy fashion (native ferments) with about 50% new French barrique, it was unified and unfiltered with special care to bleed it off the lees to only have the clearest and purest essences go into bottles, this commitment to detail has really led to a brilliant wine that shows amazing delicacy and grace with ripe tannins, while still allowing the true energy (firm acid structure) and remoteness of site to shine through. The first impression of this new wine is one of remarkable lightness of form and extra lingering aftertaste with a beautiful ruby/garnet hue in there glass with subtle briar and baking spices lifting from the glass with round flavors of racy red cherry, raspberry, plum and pomegranate fruits as well as balanced sweet/smoky oak, minty herb, faint and alluring earthiness along with Turkish fig, flinty mineral and chalky elements. The finish is impressive with wonderful length, hanging on with creamy decadence and exotic liquid rose and a mix of currant paste and strawberry, this low alcohol cool climate Pinot Noir has plenty to admire and the mouth feel is excellent, it should gain more of an extrovert personality over time and it has potential to really really sexy, I hope to try it again in 5 years to see where it goes, I must say I still love the Estate Reserve a touch better at this stage, but it’s a close run thing, best from 2020 to 2026.
($115 Est.) 93-95 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day December 21, 2017

2014 K Vintners, Syrah “Motor City Kitty” Washington State.
The Charles Smith K Vintners “M*C*K Syrah is a rock and roll red that proves both powerful and wonderfully textural in feel with sharp detailing and extra length, and while tannic by nature there is a lot to love in this vintage with black raspberry, sweet currant and dark chocolate covered bacon bits! This lush Syrah perfectly illustrates the house style and the terroir, it’s bold frame is balance by perfectly reasonable 14% natural alcohol and inner acidity and an electric boost of energy matching it’s sweet fruited palate. Washington State is home to magical Syrah, with Cayuse, Betz and Gramercy Cellars (one of my personal favorites) being two of the higher profile examples, but many more are filling the scene with great wines like Reynvaan, Horsepower, Dunham Delmas, Waters, Mark Ryan, Trust, Syncline, Gorman, Rotie, Sleight of Hand, Amavi and Efeste all offering amazing quality. Charles Smith’s K Vintners reminds me of either Guigal or Jaboulet with his amazing array of bottlings from entry level wines to top single vineyard Crus, with lots of seriously good stuff in the middle, like this well rounded Motor City Kitty Syrah, which was fermented using native yeasts, with a long 43 days on the skins and aged 22 months in French puncheons, 30% new, from a Walla Walla vineyard planted to a Tablas Creek clone, 100% Syrah and grown on old river bed with large cobbles and well draining rocky soils. This 2014 maintained it’s natural acidity allowing a real fresh verve to stay in this alluring and richly flavored wine that shows ripe boysenberry, minty plum, blueberry compote, sweet black cherry and dense creme de cassis as well as subtle vanilla wood notes, hints of acacia flowers, graphite, bitter coco, anise and that candied bacon bits mentioned above. The evolution in the glass is graceful and more refined than I had imagined, there is plenty of life here and I think in many ways it will be even more rewarding in 3 to 5 years in bottle, it’s not exactly what I expected, but thrilling none the less with very impressive detail and a very worthy performance.
($49 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day December 20, 2017

2016 Sheldon Wines, Syrah, Luc’s Vineyard, Fountaingrove, Sonoma County.
The wonderfully crisp and finessed Sheldon Syrah Luc’s Vineyard from the Fountaingrove AVA is unbelievably dreamy on the palate with a mind blowing low 12.2% natural alcohol, highlighting the graceful nature of this wine and Dylan Sheldon’s unwavering believe in delicacy and lightness, while still making a wine that has ripeness and layers. Starts with grapey crispy brightness with a deep purple/garnet hue and lifted blue fruits with precise form and detail with pretty plum, black raspberry, tart blueberry, cherry along with snappy spices led by cinnamon, sweet herbs and light cedary notes. At first you feel Syrah has been totally re-envisioned here, but patience brings a truer picture, this wine is hiding behind it’s youth, with air and time a fuller expression reveals itself in Sheldon’s Luc’s Vineyard Syrah and a denser mouth feel begins to take over on the palate, in fact on day two it gains width and length filling out completely adding peppery briar notes, structured tannin and lilac floral tones as well as creme de cassis and loganberry richness. With only 25 cases made this single barrel Syrah, from Dylan and Tobe Sheldon, this won’t be available for long, it comes from a small home vineyard in the Fountaingrove AVA in a cooler area of Sonoma County, sandwiched between Chalk Hill to the North, Sonoma Valley to the South and by the Russian River to the West, not far from the area devastated by the recent Sonoma fires near Santa Rosa. The Sheldon’s, who trained under Louis Barruol of Saint Cosme (famed Rhone producer) on their honeymoon, use native yeasts, some whole cluster and no new barrels have always strived for elegance and old school charms, they were in pursuit of balance before it was a marketing catch phrase! This 2016 dances gracefully and is joyously tangy fresh making it wonderful with food, this is a pure and easy to drink California wine, it is an anti jammy effort that will thrill those that like wines like Ryme, Wind Gap, Arnot-Roberts and Oregon’s Bow & Arrow. Sheldon has never shied away from the fun and wild, be sure to check out their Tempranillo Brut Rose and their Graciano, this micro winery has some cool offerings, it would be a great time to discover them and get on their list.
($35 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day December 19, 2017

2015 Saint Cosme, Crozes-Hermitage, Northern Rhone, France.
The Louis Barruol Saint Cosme Crozes Hermitage is as terroir driven and pure as it get for Northern Rhone Syrah with exceptional detail and seductive laters of earthy spicy elements with leather, salty stone, violets and a heady mix of black, blue and red fruits on the medium weighted palate. While known and famous for his estate Grenache based wines of Gigondas, Barruol has a gifted talent for making great value Syrah wines, like this one especially, but also, it’s a little revealed fact that his basic Cotes du Rhone is 100% Syrah, and his Sant-Joseph and Cote-Rotie bottlings are awesome. This wine nails down the classic Northern Rhone profile with boysenberry, blueberry, damson plum and light cassis notes leading the way on the medium full bodied palate along with graphite/camphor, iron, anise, a touch of game/leather and faint cedar all lifted by peppercorns and ripe tannins. Saint Cosme makes some absolutely thrilling wines, and this one is really good and highlights the vintage’s richness and warm feel to perfection, while still being traditional and balanced in form and style. Look for this Crozes-Hermitage to gain and evolve over the next 3 to 5 years in bottle, though even drinking nicely right now, you can open this one without much quilt.
($27 Est.) 92+ Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day December 18, 2017

2013 Cascina Ballarin di Viberti Luigi e Figli, Barolo “Tre Ciabot” Piedmonte, Italy.
This little known La Morra Barolo estate is run by the Viberti family, since 1928, and is in the hands of brothers Giorgio and Gianni, who farm their 7 hectares plots in La Morra, Novello and Monforte d’Alba to make this Tre Ciabot (three vineyards-three towns) cuvee, which is nestled in the Alba hillsides set on the “Blue Marl” limestone soils. The Viberti’s ferment in tank using traditional methods, from 100% Nebbiolo vines that are between 15 and 60 years old, then raised in mostly used oak cask, I believe French barriques, for 26 months along with a further 8 months resting in bottle before release. Imported by Vias Imports, Cascina Ballarin is new to me, and was shared at a recent tasting, Thanks Aaron, it was a bottle sourced at Cosco, and it really shined on the night, this ruby and brick red hued 2013 Barolo Tre Ciabot really over delivers for the price and is drinking wonderfully lush and polished with refined ripe tannins and mouth filling layers of dense fruit. Pure Nebbiolo character with tangy plum, raspberry, morello cherry and candied citrus as well as iodine, black licorice, earthy/savory elements, chalky stone and light cedar notes all come through on the full bodied palate, a while this wine doesn’t rise to legendary intrigue or elite status it is really good and easy to love, a steal for the price, no question and great for an introduction to Barolo. I would bet this will be a solid drinker for 5 to 10 years, though I doubt many would care to test it’s legs for the cellar as it is so tasty right now. Lingering incense, dried rose petal, kirsch and iron/blood notes add to the whole here in this solid effort from Cascina Ballarin, 2013 is a vintage to stock up on.
($25 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day December 17, 2017

2016 Joyce Vineyards, Syrah, Tondre Grapefield, Santa Lucia Highlands.
The youth movement and generational change in Monterey wines has arrived with a flourish and you should take notice, these young guys are making some amazing wines and changing this region’s fortunes for small producers, this is especially true when you taste the wines of Ian Brand, I. Brand & Family Winery and Russell Joyce of Joyce Vineyards, who’s latest Syrah is one of the best wines of the year! Since around the 2004 vintage, Syrah has very quietly gained a reputation of quality in the Santa Lucia Highlands, the breakthrough wines came from Adam Lee (Siduri & Novy) with his work at Roar and with the Pisoni family offerings at Lucia Vineyards, but sadly these wines were considered a novelty and it took another decade before people started to realize just how great these wines were, but Syrah is now seriously on equal terms with Pinot Noir here! In recent years, Cattleya, Big Basin, Wrath, Roar, Pisoni, Sandlands and others have shown Syrah to be world class from the SLH, and Joyce’s 2016 Tondre Grapefield joins that list, and even better it does so at a ridiculously easy on the wallet price point! While Pinot Noir will certainly remain king of the Santa Lucia Highlands, Syrah will without pretense continue to prove itself worthy without as much fanfare, so it’s a great time to explore this regions expressions, in particular this Joyce Vineyards Tondre Grapefield version, and though 2015 was a fine effort, this new 2016 is a sexy old world style beast with seductive spicy and mineral tones that will easily be misread as Northern Rhone markers, in fact in an amazing lineup of great Syrah wines from around the world, this Joyce 2016 really stood out, I admit I was completely fooled into believing it was an Alain Graillot Crozes-Hermitage or a Andre Parret Saint-Joseph! The 2016 starts with a subtle/youthfully shy bouquet of crushed violets, dusty stones and stemmy spiciness along with a deep purple/black hue in the glass which leads to a medium full palate, with low natural alcohol that feels well below 14%, but with radiantly opulent blue and black fruits, expressing blackberry, boysenberry, blueberry, tangy plum and seductive cassis as well as tapenade, gravel, flinty peppercorns, faint earthy truffle, savory saline (which sets your salivation glands going) and dried minty licorice. Air gets things rocking and rolling adding depth of fruit and highlights this gorgeous wines potential, it will gain dramatically with mid term aging, it was native fermented with 30% or so whole cluster and aged in mostly well seasoned French barriques, of which light vanilla and cedar notes don’t impose on the wine, this is a wine that is pure, almost naked in it’s transparency, allowing it’s truest self and form to show. This is a stunningly brilliant effort from Joyce and team, it should be available soon to taste at their tasting room and on their website, be ready and do not miss it! I’ve been praiseful of what Russell Joyce has been doing and have reported on many of his wines this last year, but these 2016’s take it to a new plane of quality and pleasure, with his dry Riesling, Gabilan Pinot and this Syrah being my favorites, bravo guys, these are absolutely beautiful and truly rewarding wines, drink this Syrah from 2018 to 2025.
($25 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day December 16, 2017

2016 Sheldon Wines, Old Vine Petite Sirah “I’ll get him in the Straightaway” Napa Valley.
Dylan and Tobe Sheldon’s tribute single barrel tribute to their friend, the late Ted Van Doorn, their “I’ll get him in the Straightaway” old vine Petite Sirah from a resurrected ancient prohibition era plot near Calistoga in Napa Valley, is a beautifully balanced deeply flavored. The dark purple/black with garnet edges Sheldon Petite Sirah is wonderfully balanced and textural for such a young grapey fresh wine, being only 13.6% helps with the overall graceful and easy drinking feel, it’s medium full bodied, mildly tannic with racy black and blue fruits, spices and peaked natural acidity, absolutely lovable and expressive throughout. Leaner versions of Petite Sirah (Durif) are making some headlines this year showing just how beautiful and vibrant this grape can be when not over done, Sheldon has always explored the lighter more delicate side of Peite Sirah while still being hedonistic, others to look for that made a great impression on me were Ian Brand’s Le P’ Tit Paysan Petite Sirah Monterey County, a stony/mineral driven version and Halcon Vineyards Yorkville Highlands Theopolis Vineyard Tierra Petite Sirah that shows an edgier Rhone/Cornas side, that might be the most exciting wine made from this grape I’ve ever tasted. This “I’ll get him in the Straightaway” Old Vine Petite Sirah flows with wild blackberry, sweet blueberry, currant jelly and concord grape fruits with hints of minty basil, pepper, incense, mineral, delicate liquid violet/acacia and kirsch. Look for a bolder/richer side to unfold with age, but still tons of fun right now, it has plenty of raw extract and density of fruit, the Sheldon’s used native yeast and raised this in a well seasoned French barrel allowing the vineyard and grape to express exceptional purity and detail, I can imagine this being a wonderful surprise in 10 to 15 years, if you could put a few bottles away, you almost can see it turning into a classy Bordeaux like wine with maturity, though I still like it’s fresh charms right now. Order this 25 case limited bottling direct from Sheldon Wines at and don’t miss their unique Graciano, Syrah and the Red Hat (a blend of Petite Sirah and Cabernet Sauvignon from the same old vine vineyard as this Petite Syrah) all of which are stylish micro batch and naturally made wines.
($35 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day December 15, 2017

2015 Eduardo Torres Acosta, Nerello Mascalese “Versante Nord” IGT Terre Siciliane, Italy.
This is the second vintage I’ve had of Eduardo Torres Acosta, the Canary Islands native and now winemaker at top Etna estate Passopisciaro, who is crafting a tiny production Nerello Mascalese from parcels of older vines on the north slope of Mount Etna, averaging 40-50 years old on the volcanic soils that give these wines their pure terroir driven character. The 2015 Versante Nord, made up of at least 80% Nerello Mascalese, a light to medium bodied grape that is often called the “volcano Burgundy” for it’s transparency and lighter ruby hue, along with other various local varietals, including a touch of Carricante (the white grape of Etna) is a earthy treat with just enough reductive funk and liquid shale aromas to make you balk a bit before the beautiful and delicate palate seduces you with silken tannins and layers of red fruits, spices, flinty stones, saline, licorice, kirsch and sweet new leather. Gaining exotic elements and density with air, which also allows the pungent start to blow off in this natural inspired red that flows with briar laced plum, cherry, raspberry and blood orange fruits, Eduardo Torres Acosta ferments with 10% whole cluster in cement vats using native yeasts with a two week on the skins maceration and then raises it in neutral large Slavonian barrel/cask for 16 months, still youthful now this should gain floral perfume and even more textural grace over the next 2 or 3 years, I can imagine this aging well. The Tenerife native has really taken to Sicily, and after working with Arianna Occhipinti, he is showing lots of potential with his Versante Nord Nerello Mascalese, it’s not a mainstream wine, but it certainly has intriguing charms and it really has grown on me, best to decant and or age it a bit longer, best from 2018 to 2024.
($30 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day December 14, 2017

2014 Storm Wines, Pinot Noir, Vrede, Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, South Africa.
After years at the famed Hamilton-Russell winery, Hannes Storm has struck out on his own with three tiny parcels of Pinot Noir and a little Chardonnay block, his first vintage from young vines in the Bokkeveld shale, clay and granite driven soils of Hemel-en-Aarde was the 2012, and it blew my mind and I couldn’t wait to try this newer releases, and his 2014 Vrede Pinot is exceptional and unbelievably Burgundy like! There is so much going on here, this stuff is killer with an attractive and seductive darkly earthy and sensual start with layers of dusty/stony red fruits, a mix of porcini/truffle, crushed rose petals and pomegranate leading the way with a beautiful natural and elegant mouth feel that is both lively and excitingly rich in texture and detail with tangy plum, black cherry and cranberry fruits forming a powerful core along with velvety ripe tannins and a heady mix of spice, herb and leathery notes, lingering on and on with hints of blueberry, strawberry and mineral. Given time and air the Storm Vrede Pinot Noir, from vines planted in 2008, opens even further and gains structure, density of fruit and more exotically sexy charms, wow, I can’t imagine how amazing this vineyard will be with even more age, because even now it’s awesome! Another thrilling wine from Hannes, who’s brother Ernst is making wine in Santa Barbara, and while flying under the radar is also a producer to search out, it’s a talented family, so while both are great, this South African Storm is really fantastic Pinot, imported by Broadbent Selections, and though not easy to find, is worth looking for. Seriously, while a bit more concentrated than some Premier Cru(s) in a blind tasting this wine would easily be picked out to be a Cotes de Nuits from a warmer/richer vintage, it’s somewhere between a fine Gevrey-Chambertin and a Morey-St.-Denis!
($40 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day December 13, 2017

2015 Julia Bertram, Spatburgunder “Handwerk” Dernau, Ahr Germany.
A lovely and delicate wine, the 2015 Julia Bertram Spatburgunder Handwerk from Germany’s Ahr region, one of the world’s great Pinot Noir areas, is wonderfully vibrant and light on it’s feet with it’s terroir driven smoky slate character and subtle strawberry fruit, is not as intense as the famed Meyer-Nakel, where she interned in 2009, but without question an impressive wine! Julia’s story is pretty interesting too, going from the 64th German Wine Queen to maker of world class Pinot Noir in Dernau on the Ahr River, her family has made wine for generations, but she, who was born just in 1989 (talk about youthful ambition and calling), is focused on her own thing now concentrating on steep slope old vines on that intense slate. She’s all about lightness and grace, but with texture and length, and this 2015 Handwerk, sourced from various parcels is beautiful from start to finish, it at first feels impossibly dreamy, but gains layers by the minute with exotic spices, rosewater and always the mineralite that shines at this wines core. Julia’s first release was from the 2013 vintage after getting her ”Bachelor of Science” in viticulture and oenology at the University of Applied Sciences Geisenheim, she seems to be on course to be a superstar, her potential is more than promising! The entry level Handwerk is a great value and a gateway wine into the realm of top German Pinots, this wine dances on the palate with soft cherry, flinty/shale, sassafras, wild lavender, blood orange and tart cranberry elements. This wines charm is it’s subtle nature, but don’t be fooled this is a seriously good wine, great with salmon, roasted chicken and cured meats especially, drink from 2017 to 2024, and I can’t wait to try her denser and more barrel aged Cru (Single Vineyard) wines!
($27 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive