2014 St. Innocent, Pinot Noir, Freedom Hill Vineyard, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
Mark Vlossak’s brilliant 2014 Freedom Hill Pinot is bursting with minty rose oil, bing cherry and mineral tones, this bright and gripping wine is absolutely everything you’d want from an Oregon Pinot, in fact it’s very Volnay like in the glass with racy fruits, earth, spice and intense detail, I already want more! Coming off the replanted northern block, exclusive to St. Innocent, this young vine Pinot shows the quality of it’s Coastal Range terroir with a mix of Wadenswil, Pommard and 777 clones on ancient sedimentary soils, it’s a very different site than let’s say the Jory soils of Dundee and the warm days add tannin to the skins while the cooler nights add to the vibrant acidity, all of which add up to a complex and firmly structured Pinot Noir and in this 2014 vintage it is the best of everything, making it a stunning example of Willamette Valley Pinot. To capture the pureness and vivid nature, Vlossak chose to used all de-stemmed grapes, fermented in cold lots in stainless steel then raised in 27% new French oak for 16 months, ending up with bright flavors and with vintage influenced heady 14.2% natural alcohol. Mark Vlossak founded St. Innocent in 1988, he is in the generation that brought Oregon to world attention along with Ken Wright, Mike Etzel (Beaux Freres) and John Paul of Cameron, his wines aged gracefully and are wonderful values when compared to the other wines at this level, especially in a vintage as good in Oregon as 2014 was! This 2014 Freedom Hill, with it’s ruby/garnet hue looks beautiful in the glass, delivers black cherry, plum and wild strawberry fruits on the medium bodied palate along with rose petals, mineral, subtle spearmint/tea spices, earthy loam and a touch of vanilla, everything is tightly wound, but well integrated with an exciting lightness of texture, this is a seriously good Pinot that has years of life and progression ahead of it, I see great potential in 5 to 7 years, though I just love it’s youthful thrill and intensity of form right now. Last year, I had the 2000 Freedom Hill and it was fantastically fresh and showed almost no decay or age at all, so while this vintage is from younger vines, the terroir quality is certainly there, I will be getting a few more bottles myself! Note: I got my sample from Vinopolis Wine Shop in Portland, they have a special $29/bt offer as of Feb 2018.
($38 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2015 Domaine Julien Cecillon, Saint-Joseph “Babylone” Rhone Valley, France.
Wonderfully expressive and pretty from the get go, this 2015 Cecillon Saint-Joseph shows Syrah in it’s purest form with terroir shinning throughout, it’s a lovely expression of vintage and place with detailed blue fruits and seductive floral and spices bursting from the glass in a deeply colored wine that oozes sex appeal. This is where the magic of the Northern Rhone happens, this Saint-Joseph gives and earthy impression before revealing sweet violets, plum, black cherry, blueberry and subtle cassis notes as well as minty anise, peppercorns, light oily olive, crunchy flinty stones and a faint hint of blood/game. Well made and medium bodied there is a warm ripeness to the palate and freshness of youth to enjoy in this new vintage of Cecillon, it’s an old school wine that takes it’s clues from the year, this is an impressive effort and I highly recommend it, it has everything you’d want from this region and a bit extra. There is an attractive focus and vitality here and with air things get better and better with more richness, length and robust nature with a touch of fig, boysenberry and leather adding to the complete picture, this is a wine that invites you to sip again and again, I think I’ll need a few more bottles! Look for a solid window of fabulous drinking here, I love that you can really dig into it right now too, best guess would be a 3 to 5 year wait, but it should go a decade with ease, very nice stuff.
($38 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2017 Ian Brand “La Marea” Albariño, Kristy Vineyard, Monterey County.
The La Marera Albariño, coming off a unique bench land vineyard that is set on the broken sediment of ancient sea beds with some shales, it’s a site that brings out an inner brightness and mineral intensity, but with an extra bit of hang time that allows full flavor development with low natural alcohol, and Ian Brand’s 2017 is near perfection with an added dimension that reminds me more of Pouilly-Fume than Galicia! The 2017 La Marea Albariño is bursting with vitality and old world (read Loire Valley Sauvignon Blanc) like charm to start with intense gooseberry, lemon/lime and dusty chalkiness, Brand gave a small amount of skin contact and used no malo, this I believe adds to it’s gripping personality, it also shows an earthy tone, as well as a righteous steely edginess, this is wonderfully complex for such a light and youthful wine, though with air in the glass things get back to the varietal character with white peach, green/bitter apple, sea breeze/briny and wet river rock and a mouth watering saline and citrus finish. This cooly crisp Albariño really goes it’s own way in this vintage, it makes for a nice counterweight to Joyce’s ultra brisk/clear version and Richard Alfaro’s leesy round style, with all three being exceptional examples of California Albariño, all would be admired by the best producers of the Rias Baixas, Albariño’s historic home. Monterey’s whites are getting their grove on in recent years, and there’s a lot to discover beyond Chardonnay, especially Albariño, along with the gorgeous white Rhone inspired offerings like Randall Grahm’s Le Cigare Blanc and his Bonny Doon Picpoul, both of which rock, as well as the dry Rieslings of the region, look for Joyce Vineyards and Stirm Wines. Brand is continuing to create a masterful lineup of wines and is one of the central coast’s top guns, his new P’tit Paysan Pierre’s Pirouette Rose is also a must have Summer wine and do not miss his amazing Cabernet Franc(s), Cabernet Sauvignon and old vine Mourvedre under his I. Brand & Family label, along with his sexy old vine La Marea Grenache, in particular the new 2015 Brosseau, all of which are great bottlings. This whole cluster pressed and cold fermented Albariño is an electrically charged white with verve and playfulness, it is seriously a thrill in the glass with it’s vitality and complexity, again with a start that will fool and seduce with that extra layer of Sancerre like character with a tiny hint of flinty, cat pee, wild herbs and pretty white flowers all making subtle appearances in this lovely and refreshing dry wine that begs for goat cheese(s) or fresh fish (both raw and delicately cooked), a great pairing for oysters and mussels as well, drink now and often.
($24 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2012 Fattoria Rodano, Chianti Classico DOCG, Castellina in Chianti, Tuscan Red, Italy.
Set on Castellina’s limestones soils, the Rodano Chianti Classico is believed to be 100% Sangiovese from their certified all organic vineyards, it is a pure old world red, crafted using all native yeasts and long maceration(s), up to 22 days with hand punch-downs then aged 15 months in large neutral Slovenian oak cask or Botte. The 2012 vintage was warm, with a resulting ripe flavor profile and a natural alcohol coming in at a heady 14.5%, but good for the typically acidic Sangiovese allowing for rich textures and a fruit forward profile, not as big as the 2013, a warmer year, and more pleasing than 2011 and the bad 2014. The ripe personality is balanced by this Sangiovese’s natural acidity and savory charms with layers of black cherry, plum and raspberry fruits, minty herbs, pipe tobacco, cedary wood spices and dried flowers as well as a touch of mulberry, mineral and chalky earth. There is a Tuscan warmth that flows through this pure Chianti that is unmistakable and beautiful, it makes you crave more and transports you there, this is a wine that casts a terroir spell that is impossible to resist, it is in a great place right now and is joyous with rustic cuisine, it craves simplicity and rewards your attention with a stellar performance in the glass, more bottles needed, drink now, not a long termer, but splendid now without question.
($24 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2013 Matarromera “Granza” Tinta de Toro, DO Toro, Spain.
A ripe and modern styled Toro made with all organic grapes, this Granza is 100% Tinta de Toro (Tempranillo) and marketing for those that want value and certified organic grapes, mainly for the US market it delivers on it’s promise if not overly inspiring, it’s a very quaffable dense red, not light mind you at 15%, it is inline with the region’s mainstream pretense. The Granza Toro delivers full flavors and richness without obvious oak, this is a near perfect organic choice for bistro drinking with a deep garnet/red hue and layers of blackberry, cherry and currant fruits with sweet tobacco, anise and a plummy mouth feel. The ripe and warm flavors are comforting and you don’t feel the heat of alcohol, it’s caressing texture helps and subtle earth and floral tones come through with air, though not great or intriguing, this wine is very nice, especially for the price, you don’t often find an organic wine in this price class that offers this much palate impact and opulent body, or one that shows such poise, refinement and clarity. Imported by Natural Merchants and sold through Mountain People’s Wine Distribution, this Matarromera Granza Toro is one of an array of solid organic value wines they bring in, it’s my favorite of the set I tried along with their Granza Verdejo ($12.99) a wine that will make you rethink buying that bland Pinot Grigio or Kiwi Sauv Blanc, while this Granza Toro is a much more interesting choice than most in it’s category, drink now.
($15 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2016 Vincent Paris, Syrah, VDP Collines Rhodaniennes, Northern Rhone, France.
The unbelievable price only makes me want a case or more of Vincent Paris’ Selection Vin de Pays des Collines Rhodaniennes Syrah, while you don’t want to miss his steep slope Cornas wines both the 30 and 60, this Baby Syrah certainly will entice you with it’s Northern Rhone purity and ease of use. This 100% Syrah, tank raised red comes from all young vine Crozes-Hermitage vines, it’s also all organic, Paris destems this bright and fresh cuvee to make sure it is wonderfully drinkable young. The vines are set on alluvial soils with large stones galets roulés, which retains extra heat to add to the ripening of the grapes, and even in a cool year makes for a pleasing wine, this one comes in at about 12.5% allowing full flavors to shines through. Delightfully bright and lighter in body this all stainless steel raised Syrah way over delivers for it’s cost, thanks Vinopolis Wine Shop in Portland Oregon for turning me on to this one, it compares well with the Chave Selection stuff and while not as edgy as Clape’s Vin des Amis it’s half the price! There is ripe flavors with boysenberry, plum and racy cherry fruits, light mineral tones and some cinnamon and peppery notes to start, gaining a bit more width and earthy tones with air, certainly impressive for such a bargain, it’s a wine that gives you a lot more than you expect for the price, drink now.
($14 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2016 Boon Doon Vineyard, Grenache “Clos de Gilroy” Central Coast.
Randall Grahm’s Syrah “Le Pousseur” ($26) and Grenache “Clos de Gilroy” ($20) are two of the best deals in California wine, especially their current releases, seriously delicious, detailed and well crafted these two wines rock and deserve your attention. In particular, this 2016 Clos de Gilroy is in a great place right now, it is wonderfully and exotically perfumed and complex in form with great balance and very Mediterranean in style with a warm ripe nature and pleasing Grenache purity. The Clos de Gilroy, unlike the name would suggest, comes from two sites within Monterey County, Alta Loma in Arroyo Seco mainly and Rancho Solo near Soledad, making for an opulent red wine that stands out for its deep floral bouquet and round palate, it, without question way over delivers for the price, Grahm and team absolutely killed it in 2016 for this wine. Quite dark for a modern Grenache with a lovely garnet/ruby core and hints of bright magenta this Clos de Gilroy has lots of fruits up front and clearly displayed with sweet raspberry, strawberry, plum and pomegranate filling the mouth with a touch of pepper, briar, cinnamon stick, chalky stones and kirsch that all add to the classy presentation found in this expressive Grenache. I have enjoyed this wine in the past, but this seems to have raised the game and might be a tough act to follow up on, Grenache is on the rise in California with wonderful offerings coming from almost every corner of the state, but you should not miss this one. This visit with Randall Grahm at his awesome tasting room in Davenport, just north of Santa Cruz, was great follow up to my visit last Spring, there is always something new to explore here, this time also I re-discovered Grahm’s staple Grenache and Syrah (2013 “Le Pousseur” and this 2016 “Clos de Gilroy”) both of which excelled and over performed, plus I got to taste the brilliant young vine 2015 Popelouchum Grenache (Rayas Clone), which I was thrilled to finally try as only a half barrel was made, as well as an amazing set current releases including the 2014 Bien Nacido X-Block Syrah, 2015 Old Telegram Mourvedre, 2012 Cigare Volante, 2010 Le Cirgare Blanc Reserve and the gorgeous 2017 Picpoul! Grahm’s whites and reds on equally brilliant, I would be hard pressed to pick a favorite, even though I think the 2014 Le Cigare Blanc Reserve is one of the best white wines made in California! The Bonny Doon Vineyard Clos de Gilroy is a medium/full bodied sexy Grenache that should not be missed or overlooked, again I was deeply moved and impressed with Randall’s wines, with this one drinking shockingly good.
($20 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2012 Cantine Fratelli Guidetti, Boca DOC, Piedmonte Italy.
Filippo Guidetti’s lovely and pure Boca DOC is made from 85% Nebbiolo and 15% Vespolina, it’s a detailed and classic Alta Langhe (Northern Piedmonte) red that is crafted in traditional fashion. Guidetti employs cool fermentations in wood vats before the wine is transferred to barrel for the malos and aging, there is a very all natural feel to his wines and the Nebbiolo really delivers a classic punch without being overly tannic or tartly rustic, it’s rather pretty and the Vespolina adds floral tones and delicate fruitiness, mid palate roundness to the whole. A wonderful expression of Boca and a wine that keeps changing in the glass, much the way you love in a good Burgundy, it starts with clear fruit and subtle rose petals leading with cherry, strawberry and wild plum along with hints of hosin, fig, menthol and anise, but gaining truffle, leather and earthy dimension with air allowing it’s Nebbiolo character to unfold and take control in this wine. Maybe not at the Level of Le Piane, one of the region’s most successful producers and maker of exceptional wines, but Guidetti’s are lovely efforts and this 2012 is a great value Boca and a real quality red. Imported by Balanced Selections Imports, Filippo Guidetti is a small authentic winegrower that crafts very transparent, generous and vital Nebbiolo wines, I’ve been pleased and impressed with his recent offerings, especially his 2010 and 2012 Boca DOC’s, I recommend getting to know this area and Guidetti, this 2012 is a great place to start, it is a wine that highlights traditional style and terroir and will drink openly and well for a decade, though solid and joyous right now too.
($29 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2014 Domaine Johann Michel, Cornas “Cuvee Jana” Rhone Valley, France.
The 2014 Johann Michel Cuvee Jana Cornas is a big and meaty wine with a forceful personality and real palate impact showing depth, purity of fruit and lots of earthy charm. The vintage was a touch difficult, but this 100% Syrah is not missing much, it’s got stuffing and purpose from start to finish with gripping tannins and bright acidity holding everything together, it’s chewy and dense showing blackberry, boysenberry, tangy currant and damson plum fruits with an array of herbs and spices along with leather, flinty stones, porcini and fig paste as well as snappy peppercorns and black licorice. Swirling reveals crushed violets, kirsch and a touch of smoke, and while rustic in character things are well put together, though robust and simple cuisine brings out the more pretty side of things here in a wine that certainly has an edgy quality. I would swear after a few minutes you can feel a stemmy note, making me think there was some whole cluster, and being new to this producer I would think there is a traditional approach in the cellar. It’s much less stemmy than Thierry Allemand, but not as exciting or beautiful as Domaine Lionnet, one of my personal favorites, still if you like earthy/raw Northern Rhone Syrah, this is one to search out! Imported by Balanced Selections, Johann Michel is a master at heavy bottle packaging, this Cuvee Jana certainly looks the part, this 2014 should prove useful for many years to come, nothing if not impressive.
($50 Est.) 92+ Points, grapelive
2017 Joyce Vineyards, Albariño, Cedar Lane Vineyard, Arroyo Seco, Monterey County.
The new release of Joyce Albariño is an electric shock of fresh intensity and vitality, this is an awesome crisp and zesty Summery white that has some serious crunchy minerals and extract, it saw a lengthy cool fermentation in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks, then raised on the lees in 50% stainless steel barrels & 50% seasoned well used small French oak barrels up until it was bottled. Vibrant and crystalline with mouth-watering saline infused stoniness this is a bravely brisk wine that refreshes the palate and thrills for it’s vigorous nature, perfect for the warm Spring and hot Summer ahead, Russell Joyce and team at Joyce Vineyards are making some marvelous wines, with three new bright and dry wines getting released, this beauty, plus a dry Rose, that I wrote up last week and their bone dry Riesling Alluvial Fan, all of which are irresistible and dynamically fresh. This 2017 Albariño is itself almost like a Trocken Riesling with laser like focus and youthful charm it shows unripe green apple, tart citrus, quartz rock, grey sea salt and snappy herbs, it’s a steely white that will play well with briny dishes and lighter cuisine, especially oysters, mussels in spicy wine broth and marinated octopus. This ultra clean, brisk low alcohol, acid driven and zippy white is one of the best yet of unexciting group of local Albariño offerings and well worth getting multiple bottles or cases, it gains gentile Lime/orange blossom, delicate florals, loam and white peach elements with air and subtle leesy notes, yummy stuff, drink now and over the next year or two.
($22 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive