2017 Diatom, Chardonnay “Katherine’s” Santa Maria Valley.
Another exploration into purity and place from Greg Brewer at Diatom Wines, it’s an old vine Chardonnay, no oak, no malo from a unique site in Santa Maria Valley! The 2017 Diatom Katherine’s defies expectations and delivers a wonderful experience and unbelievably is a finely textural driven Chardonnay. Not for everyone, for sure, but I am thrilled it exists and admire this courageous example of California Chardonnay! The Katherine’s, sourced from forty-eight-year-old, self-rooted vines in the north-west corner of Cambria’s Santa Maria Estate that allows for generous fruit and complex depth of flavors. The 2017 Katherine’s, according to Brewer, is from a parcel that is set on gravelly loam soils heavily influenced by the pronounced maritime influence of the nearby Pacific Ocean making it perfect for his Diatom label. Fermentation is done at very low temperatures in small stainless-steel tanks, with inhibited malo-lactic, he uses ultra short hose transit to ensure precision and focus, all in pursuit of creating a vibrant form that looks towards honing down to the very essence of the grape and terroir. Explaining Diatom can sometimes wander off into zen writings and poetry, it’s not an easy wine to understand for the novice, but it’s without a doubt a serious palate journey and this Katherine’s is brilliant in it’s severe detail, best to take this trip with simple and raw foods, especially things like saline fresh sashimi. The core of this Chardonnay is it’s fruit with it’s intense layers of crisp apple, a mix of tangy citrus with kefir lime, lemon zest and touch of grapefruit along with quinces, kumquat and a vein of tart peach, adding mineral tones, wet stones and a bosc pear butter sensation, which is more of a texture thing, rather than an overt flavor. This is a wine that will challenge you, not a wine that seeks to comfort you, but that said and as mentioned there is a surprising amount of mouth feel and the fruit is ripe and rewarding, it’s an intriguing and well crafted effort, best with a sense of purpose, meaning a meal and friends.
($32 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
More reviews of Diatom
2016 Guimaro, Camino Real, Ribeira Sacra DO, Galicia Spain.
Pedro Rodriguez’s Guimaro Camino Real from the Ribeiro Sacra D.O. is an old world, old school, old vine based red grown on the steep slopes above the Sil River in Spain’s historic and ancient Galicia wine region that has been around since Roman times. The Guímaro Camino Real is made From 6 hectare in Amandi planted primarily to 40 to 60 years old vine Mencía, along with other native Galician varieties. All of the grapes, according to the winery, were hand-harvested together and spontaneously fermented with 100% whole clusters in open-top oak vats with a 40 day maceration. Set on granite and sandy soils, the Camino plot is mostly bush vines in terraces at about 500 meters on these dramatic slate based hillsides. Half of this Mencia was raised in large foudre with the other half in used 225 & 500L French barrels for just about one year, and bottled without fining or filtration. Pedro Rodriguez, Guimaro’s owner, wine grower and winemaker is now one of the “Sacred Slopes” Ribeiro Sacra’s leading lights, he was mentored by the famed Raul Perez, and has an exceptional gift with Mencia, and I am left amazed that not more attention has been paid to them, as these are some of the most thrilling red wines in Spain. The 2016 Camino Real, a bottling that I have not had a chance to try yet, is a beautiful and soulful wine with subtle earthy tones and a racy/nervy edge, it reminds me of Lapierre Morgon (Cru Beaujolais) meets Alain Graillot Crozes-Hermitage, it has a juicy/natural feel and a hint of Northern Rhone character with vibrant fresh detail and peppery spices, it shows delicate floral notes and dark fruits with a mineral streak all in a medium bodied wine that came in at just 13% natural alcohol. There’s lots of intensity from start to finish on this one and it gains complexity and texture with air, in fact I loved it even more on day two when it picked up layers of wild plum, blueberry, cherry and briar laced black raspberry fruits, along with flinty stones, a hit of saline, game, minty herb, anise and dark walnut elements, all lifted by bright acidity. The air really allows pure terroir and an expressive personality to shine, Pedro is really getting everything right at Guimaro and this is a wine that excels in this vintage, also look for the Finca Meixemán (70 year old vines) and the Finca Capeliños (95+ year old vines) bottlings too, along with Guimaro’s basic Tinto, which is one of my favorite go to wines! Look for this Camino Real to get more interesting with bottle age, I’m glad I got a few to put away for 3 to 5 years, best from 2019 to 2026.
($38-45 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2015 Satyre Wines, Pinot Noir “Aristaeus” Russian River Valley.
Satyre Wines, Nicole Kosta and her partner winemaker Ted Weisser, sourced their richly flavored Aristaeus Pinot Noir from two vineyards from the Dutton Ranch in the western part of the Russian River Valley. These cool vineyard sites allow Satyre to retain natural vitality in the wine, while the sandy Goldridge loam soils drain really well, making the vines struggle which intensifies the bold red fruit flavors. This is an all American Pinot Noir, showing lots of up front fruit, smoky sweet French oak and a curvy body, but there’s more here than meets the eye here, and the complexity fights through the big cherry cola and black raspberry first impact adding layers of dried Provencal herbs, rose petals and a surprising lift from acidity that keeps things in check along with hints of anise and Asian spices. I think, like young Rochioli Pinots, there is a lot more to come in the future here, be patient if you are looking for subtly and I believe there is a rewarding future ahead for Satyre’s impressive and wonderfully generous Aristaeus Pinot Noir, best between 2020 and 2028, though that said there’s a lot to like now, especially with matching cuisine. This is a label to follow, as reviewed before their Rosé, uniquely barrel fermented and aged is really good, check them out!
($54 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2015 Bow & Arrow, Pinot Noir, Hughes Hollow Vineyard, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
The rather exotic Hughes Hollow Vineyard Pinot Noir from Bow & Arrow is amazing stuff, it at first is tight and iron laced that in a way reminds me of young Nebbiolo, but a few swirls brings an exciting array of classic Pinot aromas and flavors out and with further coaxing in the glass a powerful sensation that you are tasting something other worldly. Scott Frank, winemaker at Bow & Arrow, has done some thrilling wines from this unique north facing 30 year old site, and this 2015 is impressive. Hughes Hollow Vineyard, located in the South Salem hills, on Jory and Nekia soils at about 675 feet up, now farmed all organic was a place Frank wanted Gamay from, but had to take Pinot grapes as part of the deal, and mercy be, what deal it has turned out to be, especially as at first it wasn’t even given a name! This vineyard, fast becoming a favorite of mine in Bow & Arrow’s lineup, has it’s own personality, the vines here are own rooted and have been dry farmed from the beginning which adds to the intensity of form and with a vintage like 2015, ripe flavors, a savory bite and crisp acidity dominate. It bursts from the glass marked with the volcanic mineral and spice along with dried roses, tangy strawberries and minty herbs (stems?) before gathering it’s forces for a medium bodied, but powerful palate of black cherry, plum and briar laced raspberry along with cinnamon, black tea, earthy leather/porcini and lavendery incense. This is a gripping Pinot, with a firm structure with young Vougeot like tannins and the length is heavenly and long adding the vintage’s sweetness that offsets the rustic nature of this unpolished wine, this really sexy stuff, drink over the next 3 to 7 years.
($35 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2016 Domaine Agathe Bursin, Sylvaner “Lutzeltal” Alsace, France.
A beautiful and crystalline wine from Agathe Bursin, the 2016 Lutzeltal Sylvaner delivers a thrilling and complete performance that rivals any white made from this varietal and proves the talents of this Alsace producer, putting Bursin in the regions elite vignerons. In the past I’ve loved the Sylvaner wines of Domaine Weinbach, and they continue to be a standard barer for this grape in Alsace, but this Bursin is absolutely gorgeous and is one of the best I’ve tried, highlighting the quality of the vintage and of place. Bursin’s estate is in the town of Westhalten, near the famous Alsace wine center Colmar, set below the three hills of of the area which are a calcareous formation, these are Zinnkoepflé, Strangenberg and Bollenberg, that form a crown around the village. This is a serious terroir with a very warm climate and littered with fossilized anemones and oyster shells with sandstone soils that gives these wines there unique bold expressions. Agathe Bursin, the youthful viticultrice, is also experimenting with co-planted varietals, and looks to be about to explore the path that Marcel Deiss has gone down and her style is generous, but with refined elegance and a traditional feel, and this Sylvaner is very along those lines with it’s medium body and opulent fruit backed up by brisk focus and sharp detailing. The beautiful and lightly floral nose is vivid with intriguing white flowers, saline, mineral tones and orchard fruits that leads to a richly flavored palate that is both dry and decedent with a mix of citrus, peach, quinces and tangy mango fruits along with a chalky/stony element, a hint of lees and an array of minerals, spice and a touch of Summer herbs. This Sylvaner really impresses texturally and with it’s lovely charms, and it’s a grape that needs to be re-examined, especially when you find one as good as this! With it’s extract and subtle acidity, I’d expect this Bursin Lutzeltal Sylvaner to last a decade or more, but not drinking it now would be very hard indeed, this is pure pleasure and class in the glass and a great Summery white.
($24 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2015 Chateau Jas de Bressy, Chateauneuf du Pape Blanc, Rhone Valley, France.
Tasted in a blind tasting and was immediately impressed with the substance and richness of this Chateauneuf Blanc from Vignobles Mousset-Barrot under their Chateau Jas de Bressy label, it’s a blend of 50% Grenache Blanc and 50% Roussanne that was sur lie raised, with the grapes coming off 80 year old vines. This tiny parcel of white grapes makes for an opulent experience and is luxuriously full bodied in the glass with a hint of oiliness from the Roussanne. Catherine and Robert Barrot’s white Chateauneuf, made by their son in law Fred, comes from vines that sit in the last southern terrace of the appellation that is protected from the mistral and is one of the earliest ripening zones, they use direct pressing and the wine is fermented mostly in barrel, once and twice used barriques, with a bit done in concrete, raised on the lees with batonage for 9 months.The nose is leesy and honeyed with a bouquet of white flowers and stone fruits with a mouth filling and creamy palate of apricot, tangerine sorbet, clarified cream and butterscotch notes, adding hints of almond, white anise and lemon curd. While a big and round wine, it shows an almost tannic backbone that allows this wine to not seem too flat or flabby, finishing long and gloriously hedonistic. This would be a stunning white Chateauneuf du Pape to explore with lobster or langostino with butter or broth! Wow, I was thrilled with this Chateau Jas de Bressy’s performance in the glass, it’s a savvy and heady wine that is ready to deliver the goods, enjoy it in the short term especially.
($36 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2009 Sea Smoke, Pinot Noir “Southing” Sta. Rita Hills.
One of the modern masters in California Pinot, Sea Smoke is a cult label that has a rabid following and a long waiting list to get on the list to get their wines. Sea Smoke was one of the biggest hits in the early years of the Sta. Rita Hills AVA along with Brewer-Clifton and Melville and were one of the wines that inspired the screenplay that ended up being the feature film Sideways. Southing refers to the south-facing hillside bluffs found on Sea Smoke’s estate vineyard, and allows the perfect ripening conditions in this cool growing region. Sea Smoke is now all biodynamic and continues to be a leading star in the Sta. Rita Hills and this vintage 2009 was highly acclaimed when released, garnering many outstanding scores, now almost a decade old it continues to please and has reached a glorious place in time. 2009 was a heady year and flashy in it’s youth, now it’s refined and richly smooth adding grace and complexity to an already great wine, it’s a hedonistic Pinot Noir that will thrill the novice and enthusiast both. Surprisingly youthful and well balanced for a warm vintage this 2009 is in a good place and drinking great with layers of black cherry, plum and sweet vine picked raspberry fruits, warm toasty French oak, but not too much, with spice, snappy anise and tea notes, gaining a hint of subtle maturity with air and a touch of earthiness that adds a nice contrast to the wines forward nature. I was one of the first to join their mailing list and had every vintage of Sea Smoke until 2012 with this 2009 Southing being the last of my stash, it is an impressive last hurrah with silky elegance, a medium/full body and ultra rich density, but with a nice cut of acidity even still, and reminds me why I loved Kris Curren’s wines, drink if you have it, it’s in it’s prime.
($65-125 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2016 Morgan, Chardonnay, Double L Vineyard, Estate, Santa Lucia Highlands.
I think this latest Double L Chardonnay from Dan Lee and winemaker Sam Smith just might be the best white Morgan wine I’ve ever tried, it’s a gorgeous Chardonnay of remarkable class and complexity. Showing bright intensity and subtle richness, this 2016 Morgan Double L gains layers and depth with every sip and is very white Burgundy like in balance and poise, while still being true to sense of place with hints of tropical fruit and mouth filling texture. The Double L Vineyard was fully certified organic in 2002, although it has always been farmed using these methods since it’s original planting back in 1997, it sits near the northern tip of the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA with east facing terraces to get the best sun exposure, while still getting all that cooling influences as the vines receive brisk afternoon breezes from nearby Monterey Bay and acid retaining cold night time temps, perfect for Chardonnay. This vintage seems more refined and intriguing that prior releases in my experience and I think the approach here shows this vineyard it’s best potential, the 2016 was crafted with great care and precision with less new oak being employed, the ripe grapes were gently pressed whole cluster, which according to the Morgan team yields the highest quality juice. It was then barrel fermented in French oak, of which 15% was in new toasty barriques, while the rest in a combination of one & two year old casks with about 90% going through full malo-lactic fermentation and raised sur lie, which means there was lees stirring to promote glycerin and creamy smoothness. There’s a lot to love about the current lineup at Morgan, and I hear some of the 2017 stuff looks even better, so be sure to check in on Morgan soon, I have tasted with winemaker Sam Smith on more than a few occasions and have been thrilled by what he is doing there, and this wine looks like just the beginning of a new era of greatness. I recently sampled this Double L Chardonnay along with Morgan’s stylish 2017 Rose of Grenache and generous Double L Riesling, and while known for their Pinot Noir, this Double L Chardonnay was by far the star on the night and I couldn’t help myself going back for seconds and thirds of this beautiful wine. Starting with white flowers, citrus, mineral spice and orchard fruits the 2016 Morgan Double L adds rich detail and an array of apple, pear and white peach fruit along with lemony tones, hazelnut/brioche, a touch of wet stones, saline, delicate pineapple and just the right amount of vanilla, clarified cream and toast notes. This wine is nicely decedent, but still lifted and lively, it should drink wonderfully for another 3 to 5 years with ease, going great with many cuisine options from soft cheeses to lobster, and especially fresh caught fish in butter sauces.
($42 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2015 Domaine Jerome Chezeaux, Bourgogne Rouge, France.
One Burgundy’s under the radar stars, Jérome Chézeaux follows historic guidelines using ultra traditional methods in the cellar, he’s a genuine and studied “non-interventionist” employing natural indigenous yeasts after a cold maceration his fermentations last 2 to 3 weeks with about a 30% new oak regime. What sets Chezeaux apart is the purity and delicacy in his wines from vines in and around Nuits-Saint-George mainly, though he also has holdings in Vougeot and Vosne-Romanee as well. The basic cuvee, the Bourgogne Rouge is from parcels near the estate in Prémeaux-Prissey just south of Nuits-Saint-Georges, as well as Nuits-Saint-Georges itself, only Cote de Nuits fruit is used and the wine reflects the local terroir of these sites and of the clay, sand, gravels and limestone soils. This wine usually is fresh in detail, bright and with a slightly restrained character along with having a earthy/savory edge, but with the 2015 vintage there seems to be a deeper sense of fruit to be found with classic Burgundy charm and elegance. This is a killer value, starting with a touch of reduction that quickly fades into bing cherry, plum and briar laced raspberry fruits with a hint of loamy earth, minty herb, orange rind and soft floral tones, adding a bit of body with air, it got even better the next day picking up a slightly dark character, this ruby/garnet Pinot is seriously classy for the price.
($30 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2015 Domaine de Sulauze, Les Amis, Coteaux d’Aix en Provence Rouge, France.
Karina and Guillaume Lefere’s Domaine de Sulauze is an all organic estate focusing on natural styled wines from near Aix en Provence and their Les Amis is 100% Sereine (clone of Syrah) red that is all carbonic maceration wine. This Syrah was fermented in tank and shows a vigorous vitality and is low in natural alcohol at 12.5%. The Seleine clone Les Amis, is unique in Provence, it’s found also in Crozes-Hermitage and other parts of the Northern Rhone, (it) was raised in large foudres and aged for 9 months, made with care and attention to simplicity, the Lefevre’s wanted a fresh and pure wine to share with friends, hence the name. Bottled both in 750 and Magnums, the Domaine de Sulauze Les Amis Coteaux d’Aix en Provence Syrah is wonderfully expressive with none of the flaws or funkiness you sometimes find in natural wines. The 2015 Les Amis, tasted from Magnum, is vivid, bright and tangy juicy with an almost Morgon Cru Beaujolais start, but with Syrah tannin structure and a deep purple/garnet hue in the glass, highlighting it’s carbonic profile, it is best with a slight chill and free flowing, it’s a delicious and an easy wine to enjoy. Starting with a touch of dark jolly rancher candied fruit, light floral tones, crushed stones, leather and nervy herbal notes things get a bit more serious with air, helping fill out the medium bodied palate adding plum, blueberry, tart cherry and racy currant layers. A delicate violet and anise also come through as well as earth and wild lavender oil, but the pure and vibrant fruit stays in charge throughout, best with simple, though robust country cuisine, this Les Amis makes for an excellent companion at a BBQ and or a picnic. Domaine de Sulauze is best known for their Coteaux d’Aix en Provence, “Galinette Blanc” a savvy blend of 40% Grenache Blanc, 20% Uni Blanc, 20% Clairette and 20% Vermentino (Rolle), as well as their stylish Côteaux d’Aix en Provence, “Pomponette” Rosé crafted from 60% Grenache, 15% Cinsault, 10%Syrah, 10% Mourvèdre and 5% Vermentino (Rolle) that is one of my regional favorites. As their importer, Nadia Dmytriw of Floraison Selections notes, Guillaume and Karina Lefebvre came to the domaine in 2004 and immediately went to all organic methods and a few years later converted to biodynamic farming as well, adding a few interesting twists today the domaine is a winery, brewery and mixed use farm, even growing all natural grains for their beers. I’ve been a fan for a few vintages now, but I think the latest set of wines have been a step up and I’m really impressed with these 2015 and 2016 wines, especially this exciting and fun Les Amis Syrah, this is a Domaine and Vignerons to keep an eye on!
($22 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive