2013 Casanova di Neri, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, Tuscany, Italy.
The classic di Neri white label Brunello 2013 is exactly what I had been led to believe the vintage was, ripe and structured, easy to love now, but with serious age worthy potential that makes this vintage something special, especially for Americans that like to drink the wines in their youth. This is a rich and full bodied Brunello, showing a pretty dark garnet hue, that flows across the palate with finessed grace, but with an underlying power and a velvet grip showing ripe fruit, mixed spices, minty herbs and light cedar notes adding focused Sangiovese (Grosso) details and subtle acidity. Layers of blackberry, plum and pouched cherries lead the fruit in the mouth and while the aromatics are still evolving there is a sensation of dried flowers and incense beneath the youthful personality which bodes well for it’s future and it’s inner beauty. With air the sweetness of fruit gives way to savory tones with the addition of pipe tobacco, a hint of balsamic or hoisin, anise and minty herbs, but overall the Casanova di Neri Brunello stays generous, without too much wood, and mouth filling with purity of place and grape, it’s very lovely and impressive stuff. 2013 is a vintage that has serious, structure and stuff, but can be enjoyed in it’s youth, I can imagine a 20 year drinking window here.
($68 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2017 Weingut Leitz, Riesling QbA “Dragon Stone” Rheingau Germany.
The Leitz Dragon Stone is one of my favorite drinking wines of all time, it never fails to put a smile on my face and way over delivers for the price, it comes off the VDP Erste Lage Drachenstein Cru, a high parcel above the Rudesheimer Berg that backs up against the Niederwald forest and is set on slate and quartzite along with loose top soils. Ultra clean and generous in style the unclassified Dragon Stone is off dry, but with more weight than a Kabinett, and while a QbA it feels more like a drier Spatlese or modern Feinherb with some residual sugar that pleases the palate, but doesn’t present itself as overt sweetness as this site tends to drink drier in style. It’s a wonderfully expressive example of fruit forward Riesling, but with a balancing zesty personality showing some chunky mineral tones, good acidity and tangy extract. This all tank raised Riesling is vivid and full of energy and personality with racy yellow fruits, peach and papaya, zesty citrus, wet shale/stones and musk melon. This 2017 is a beautiful wine with Leitz precision and clarity of form, it’s comes in at 9.5% natural alcohol, making it easy to quaff with your favorite Thai or other Asian dishes, I honestly can’t get enough of this stuff, Johannes Leitz never disappoints and this Dragon Stone Riesling is always a standard barer in it’s price class, it’s an easy go to wine.
($17 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2016 Chateau de Saint Cosme, Cotes-du-Rhone Rouge “Les Deux Albions” Rhone Valley, France.
Louis Barruol uniquely with the Chateau version Cotes du Rhone Les Deux Albians uses multi vineyard sites to gain complexity, but still co-ferments all the grapes (together) which includes mainly Syrah, but with good does of Grenache, Carignan, Mourvèdre and Clairette. This 2016 is gripping stuff, deep and earthy highlighting it’s 100% whole cluster fermentation and Syrah based power, especially in such a vintage, this is very serious stuff, this is not your grandpa’s Cotes du Rhone, in fact it would be hard not to think of this as a full blown Chateauneuf or Crozes-Hermitage. This wine comes from parcels of vines that are set on hardened clay hillsides of ancient alluvium, along with limestone marl and rocky pebbles with southern exposures mostly, but with enough elevation and the Mistral that gives acidity, so this inky dark wine has fantastic structure and solid tannins. The Les Deux Albions is raised in a combination of unique wooden vats with a truncated cone shape and concrete tanks, this serves this wine well allowing the terroir and old school character to excel, it’s a brilliant Rhone and a killer value. Dark meaty and leathery notes lead the way along with a bouquet of melted salty black licorice, crushed violets that leads to a bold palate of boysenberry, black plums, peppercorns, dried aromatic herbs, lavender oil, cedar and lingering blueberry all of which unfold in lively and vigorous layers, it’s a full bodied red that just gets better and better with each and every sip.
($24 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2016 Halcon Vineyards, Petite Sirah “Tierra” Theopolis Vineyard, Yorkville Highlands.
The very sexy, almost Northern Rhone style, cooler climate Halcon Petite Sirah comes from the Theopolis Vineyard, a high elevation site that was planted in 2003, it’s a vineyard that is just hitting it’s groove, and really getting into that perfectly mature stage. This 2016 was picked October 11th, Theopolis Vineyard continues to demonstrate that it is on the edge of ripening for Petite Sirah, but ultimately a seriously rewarding site for this grape, being more than rather late to make a drier and fresher style version of this grape, the long hang-time gave complexity of flavors and nicely ripe fruit. As in 2015 Halcon’s winemaking team went for 50% whole-cluster and aged the Petite Sirah in neutral French oak puncheons, and this is really the secret of success here, making a wine of fresh detail, stem inclusion tension and lifted aromatics, this is special stuff. Paul Gordon deserves a lot of credit it crafting this wine in this unique style that will remind those drinking this gorgeous wine of a fine Cornas, it is total class and thrilling in the glass, this Tierra is also bottled unfined and unfiltered for authentic purity. This deep purple and garnet hued Petite comes in at a finely balanced 14.1% natural alcohol, in fact it feels slightly lower, though the palate does expand with time and air, filling out and adding dimension over an hour of opening. Just about 150 cases of the Halcon Tierra was made and if you want to taste one of California’s absolute best and exotic Petite Sirah(s) you better get on it quickly, as it has way of disappearing fast. The 2016 Tierra feels a touch lighter on it’s feet than the 2015, but overall very similar with vine picked blackberry, dusty currant, plum and tangy blueberry fruits, a stemmy briar bite, a mix of spices, dried herbs, anise and some subtle floral notes, mineral and youthful/gripping, but sweet tannins. This wine is full and complete with potential to get even better over the next 3 to 5 years, what a great set of wines Halcon has put out, especially their estate Syrah of course, but their Pinot Noir offerings and this Tierra Petite are also exceptional, these are wonderful values too, get on Halcon’s list.
($32 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2015 Domaine de Sulauze “Jambonnette” Vin de France, Provence, France.
Made mostly for the annual farm pig roast the Domaine de Sulauze Vin de France Rouge Jambonnette is non conforming to the rules blend of estate grapes, all organic and with no sulfur added, it’s a special cuvee of 50% Syrah, 30% Mourvèdre, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s pressed after a 3 week maceration and racked to cask then aged for 9 months in old wood barrels, before bottling, it makes for a full bodied and juicy country red that delivers ripe and earthy fruit, with rustic charm, a touch of stems? and mild tannins, it’s meant to be drunk young and fresh, great for Fall and of course pork dishes. The no sulfur added Jambonnette 2015 is vibrant still and openly earthy with hints of truffle, bacon fat and saddle leather to go with a bit of (stemmy) herbal notes (sage and anise) adding savory tones to the fruit core found here, the main profile is plummy with macerated cherry, strawberry, racy red currants and vine picked berries adding touches of mineral, chalky stones and sandalwood. Best to enjoy this intriguing red with robust cuisine as to hide some of the rougher edges, but honestly I love the vigor and unique quality here, Domaine de Sulauze is a wonderful all organic estate in Provence and Karina and Guillaume Lefevre are proving to be a force to be reckoned with in the region.
($18 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2014 Lasseter Family Winery “Chemin de Fer” Estate Rhone Red Blend, Sonoma Valley.
This 100% organic estate grown Rhone style red blend from Lasseter is a modern California version of Chateauneuf-du-Pape crafted from 65% Grenache, 21% Mourvedre and about 14% Syrah. The Chemin de Fer displays an oozing density and dark fruit character, but with harmonious balance and structure, it’s hedonistic, but not flabby or syrupy, it’s a beautiful and distinct wine that grabs your attention and wows the palate. Lasseter has put out a superb set of wines, a Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc, a Provence like Rosé and four red blends, this is a winery that leans toward all time traditions and refuse to do single varietal bottlings, with this Rhone style red being maybe their signature wine, though they make three high end Bordeaux based reds, one a Malbec based, one a “Right Bank” Merlot based, but with under 50% being Melot with Malbec, Franc and Cab Sauv and one more Pauillac like with 82% Monte Rosso Cabernet Sauvignon and a touch of Merlot and Franc, all luscious and Sonoma flavored. This Chemin de Fer Rhone Blend and the Amoureux Malbec ($65) really stood out as the most unique, with my nod going to this Grenache based wine by razor thin margins. The beautiful mouth feel and hedonistic in taste this 2014 Chemin de Fer really makes this wine stand out and leads to layers of boysenberry, blueberry compote, sweet kirsch, black plum and creme de cassis along with hints of lilacs, dried aromatic herbs, cinnamon, a mix of racy spices, toasty vanilla and sticky lavender. This wine is heady and opulent without being cloying or heavy, it gains greatly with food, it’s a charmer with robust cuisine and or with hard cheeses. Drink this impressive Lasseter Rhone Blend over the next 3 to 5 years, I hear it drinks well with your favorite Pixar film as well.
($52 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2016 Filipa Pato “Nossa Calcario” Bical, Bairrada, Portugal.
This gorgeous Portuguese white wine from Filipa Pato, known for her red Baga based wines is made from the Bairrada native varietal Bical grown on the this regions unique terroir, with it’s maritime cool climate and limestone/sand and clay soils. The region also has Portugal’s highest wine classification, Denominação de Origem Controlada (DOC) and the local Bical grape, planted primarily here in the Bairrada region can produce high acid wines and it can often be found in sparkling wine production, but Pato’s is a stunning version of a still wine with a wonderful textural mouth feel and white Burgundy like complexity. I’ve bee a fan of Filipa’s wines for quite awhile, enjoying her Baga reds and her sparkling Baga/Bical, though I had never tasted this Nossa before and I must say I’m thrilled with this impressive white, it reveals a beautiful mix of citrus, stone fruits and delicate floral tones in a fleshy and pleasing wine. The palate is medium full with lovely expansion and layers white peach, pear, lemon, golden fig and faint tropical essences along with a delightful mineral charm, wet stones, musk melon and leesy notes. Pato, who uses biodynamic practices in her home area of Beiras, get these Bical grapes from a chalk clay slope from a site she considers a Grand Cru above the village of Oís do Bairro (Filipa’s hometown) and she ferments naturally and ages this wine in well used French oak barrels, which adds the perfect rich detail to this crisply fresh grape, it certainly gives you the impression that it is as serious as a Premier Cru Chablis, it’s steely, but generous, striking a near perfect balance. Portugal, known for reds, is home to some amazing whites, they are well worth discovering, besides this beauty from Filipa Pato, you should look for Pessoa’s Vinho Verde, Regueiro’s Trajadura and Alvarinho from the Minho region and Deu la Deu’s all Alvarinho from the Moncao e Melgaço zone, as well as any of the Niepoort range of whites, and besides Bical, Alvarinho and Trajadura look for Arinto and or Loureiro (grapes) based wines. This Filipa Pato Nossa Calcario 100% Bical should continue to develop and gain depth over the next 3 to 5 years in bottle, but waiting on it is not needed as it delivers a brilliant performance right now.
($35 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2016 Deltas Freres, Cotes-du-Rhone Rouge “Saint-Esprit” Rhone Valley, France.
The Delas Côtes-du-Rhône Saint Esprit is made from a blend of Syrah mostly and with just under half being Grenache grapes, it usually consists of 60% Syrah and 40% Grenache Noir, as does this 2016, and of which come from a small village in the Ardèche region. The vineyard have a warm Mediterranean climate set on site with southern exposure on steep granite hillsides provides the best growing conditions for these vines, giving ripe flavors and still retaining good acidity. All the grapes are de-stemmed and fermentation and maceration take place in closed vats for approximately 15 days. Daily pump-overs ensure good extraction, then the wine ages in tank for about 8 months before bottling. The 2016 vintage was great in the Rhone and this Delas Saint Esprit Rouge is opaque/dark and juicy with fine tannins and a spicy kick to go with the opulent fruit. There’s a lot to love here, boyseberry, raspberry, kirsch, pomegranate and tangy plum fruits cascade across the medium full palate and lingering cassis and violets just add to the joyous ease that mark this unbelievably good value Cotes du Rhone. I’ve been a fan for almost 20 years, this and Delas’ Cotes du Ventoux have always over delivered for the price, but this 2016 is one of best I’ve had and should not be missed. Drink now, this is one of the most clean and polished cheap Cotes du Rhone reds you’ll find.
($10-12 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2015 Kelley Fox Wines, Pinot Noir, Momtazi Vineyard, McMinnville, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
The biodynamic Momtazi vineyard 2015 vintage Pinot Noir from Kelley Fox is one of my favorite Oregon Pinots of all time! Joining the greats from Beaux Freres, 1994 and 2008, and some of John Paul’s Cameron, Ken Wright, Doug Tunnell’s Brick House, Bergstom and St. Innocent, especially their Freedom Hill(s) this stuff is seriously great with stunning layers and intense whole cluster expressiveness, and while still a baby, it is remarkably poised and perfumed, if you like stems this is your jam. Vivid and filled with electric shock detailing this wine is a thrill on the palate and the finish lasts forever, this is not a Pinot Noir to be missed. Kelley Fox started her own label in 2007, after beginning her career winemaking at Eyrie, the long time Oregon Pinot (and that influence shows very clearly in the wines she produces under her own name), followed by a 10-year stint (2005 to 2015) as winemaker at Scott Paul. She launched her own winery in 2007 and now produces around 2,000 cases a year of lithe, mineral-driven and strikingly pure Pinots from two of the Willamette Valley’s most highly regarded and meticulously farmed vineyards, Maresh and Momtazi. Native yeasts are used for all of the wines, and anywhere from a third to three-quarters whole clusters have been used since the beginning, but as of the 2015 vintage Fox (used 100%) and will be using all whole bunches going forward whenever possible. This Momtazi reminds me a little of Philippe Pacalet’s Nuits-Saint-Georges, but maybe even better in all areas, this is an unreal almost out of body experience in the glass with amazing purity of fruit, and even with all the stems it shows transparent terroir and elegance, it’s first impression is exotic, sexy and with a nervy tension of herbs and spices, but with a few hours of air a true sense of class and place take control delivering an almost perfect performance. The palate of black cherry, pomegranate and briar laced vine picked berries is full and dense while still having an exciting vibrancy of acidity adding strawberry compote, candied orange peel, aromatic and bitter herbs, roses, light earthy tones, mineral, tangy cinnamon and refined and subtle framing of French oak notes. This is wildly fascinating Pinot Noir that can be enjoyed now, but oh man the potential rewards for 5 to 10 years in bottle are massive, I adore this now, but I am locking a bottle away to re-visit in 7 or so years. I have just got my hands on the 2016, which I’m told is even better, so I can’t wait to try that one too, but that is going to be a tough act to follow as this is mind blowing.
($49 Est.) 97 Points, grapelive
2017 Domaine de Sulauze, Rosé “Pomponette” Coteaux d’Aix en Provence, France.
Karina and Guillaume Lefevre’s Domaine de Sulauze in Provence makes some beautiful wines and one of their best is their Pomponette Rosé Coteaux d’Aix en Provence which is crafted from about 60% Grenache, 15% Cinsault, 10% Syrah, 10% Mourvèdre and 5% Vermentino (or Rolle). Made via direct press, the Pomonette is made in the vineyard to be Rosé, it’s a non saignee dry pink with a vibrant personality, but with vivid and round flavors that expand on the palate and give a rich mouth feel and the layers unfold with an elegant seamless sensation and a depth of character. This 2017 is best vintage yet for this Pomonette Rosé, it’s intense and nervy with great detailing and the finish is just amazing, I seriously think this is on par with Domaine Tempier and certainly better than 90% of whats out there! Bright and zingy with loads of mineral and with a pretty pale orange/pinkish hue in the glass the Domaine de Sulauze Pomponette Rosé, imported by Floraison Selections, bristles with verve showing a kiss of ruby grapefruit, orange rind along with tart strawberry, sour cherry and faint watermelon fruits as well as bitter herb, spice, chalky and wet stones a trace of floral tones. This cooly crisp Rosé gains depth and texture with air, this is serious stuff, complex and complete in a way few Rosé wines ever achieve, drink this beauty over the next year or so, great with an array of foods and cuisines, it holds up to more robust dishes with ease.
($21 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive