2009 Paolo Scavino, Barolo “Carobric” Piedmonte, Italy. Paolo Scavino, run by Enrico, the late Paolo’s son, as well as his two daughters Enrica and Elisa, who are now stepping to become the new face of this famous Barolo producer that was founded back in 1921, and well known for their amazing examples of Barolo. Ever the perfectionist, Enrico continues to experiment with small lots and single parcel fermentation of his Nebbiolo to make the best wines possible from his great vineyard holdings in the Castiglione zone, where they have their famous Cru on Fiasco Hill, the renown Bric del Fiasc. Scavino also has prime spots in Cannubi, Rocche Annunziata, Bricco Ambrogio and most recently a piece of Verduno’s Cru Monviglero all which provide great material for their lineup. The winery is one of the most modern and clear in the region, though they use some small French barriques they have re-focused their winemaking to use less new oak and craft a more traditional Barolo.
These days Scavino vinifies in stainless steel tanks using native yeasts, all with temperature control and cool with about 12 days of maceration and a 25 day or so primary ferment before a 10 month spell in mostly neutral French oak, then rested another 12 months in large Slavonian casks before returning to stainless for another 10 months prior to bottling. The results are remarkably consistent and Scavino is always one of the elite wines of the vintage, they are wonderfully refined, but with a real sense of power and structure, even in warm vintages, like this 2009 Carobric Barolo, which slows fabulous detail, depth and vibrancy, it’s an absolute beauty with ripe silky tannin and lovely perfumed fruit. This Carobric comes from three of Scavino’s best terroirs, it’s mainly sourced from Rocche di Castiglione vineyard, in Falletto, as well as having smaller percentages of Cannubi and the estate Grand Cru Fiasco vineyard, all which highlight the house style and make for a elegant version of Barolo, but with classic form and balance.
Don’t be fooled by the finesse and smoothness on this 2009 edition of Carobric, it’s a sexy and full bodied Barolo that lacks for nothing and should continue to age well with gorgeous layers of damson plum, brandied cherry, cranberry and spiced raspberry along with dried roses, meatiness, cinnamon, minty herbs, anise and light balsamic notes with faint earth, mineral and sandalwood. This Barolo has plenty of stuffing with mouth filling density and pretty mouth feel, it’s a wine that is entering it’s prime at almost 10 years old, drink over the next 3 to 5 years, Scavino is always a treat in the glass and this rusty/ruby red Barolo is drinking wonderful right now. ($70 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
nv Vilmart & Cie. Cuvee Rubis, Premier Cru Brut Rosé Champagne, a Rilly la Montagne, France. When you think about luxurious Champagne, Vilmart comes to mind and should, these are some of the most beautiful and thrilling wines in the region, there’s no question in my mind Laurent Champs (at Vilmart) is one of the best producers of sparkling wine in the world, and tasting a wine like this Cuvee Rubis is proof. Vilmart & Cie., founded back in 1890, has always been a récoltant-manipulant, or a grower producer, making their Champagne exclusively from estate-owned vines, which is all grown using organic viticulture and exceptionally low yields.
Vilmart, since 1989, has been in the hands of Laurent Champs, the fifth generation of the family to head the estate and has truly brought this Champagne house to the highest level, right up there with the famous Krug! Like Krug and Dom. Vilmart makes age worthy vintage Champagne, but while the vintage stuff needs a few years under cork to show their best Champs’ non vintage offerings are gorgeous on release, showing opulence, vitality and depth. This is especially true with his latest disgorgement of Cuvee Rubis Brut Rosé with it’s bright red berry notes, creamy mousse and decedent body, it’s a stunning wine of class and exotic in character.
This Rubis, with mostly Pinot Noir is a blend of, or a Cépages of 90 % Pinot Noir and 10% Chardonnay made from an assemblage of vintages: 2013-2014, coming from two sites, vineyard/Villages with grapes sourced from estate plots in Rilly la Montagne 1er Cru and Villers Allerand 1er Cru, both outstanding Premier Crus, with the elevage in oak casks with no malos. This edition, beautifully pink/salmon/magenta in the glass, is one of the best I’ve tried with lovely perfume, vitality and a hedonistic vinous mouth feel as well as a gracious generous presence in the glass, while still having a tight focus and firm structure, this is a Brut Rosé Champagne that has the wow factor and far and away blows past expectations, this is beautiful, beautiful grower fizz! Layer upon layer of elegance with stunning form from start to finish, with seductive violets, cassis, strawberry, cherry and pink citrus leading the way on the wonderfully vivid palate along with hints of baking spice, mineral tones, brioche, along with a studied play, or tension between creamy toasty roundness and vibrancy, transparency and detail.
Vilmart promises a good time with every bottle and while stellar on their own, they happily will take center stage, but they are amazing food wines too, best to enjoy with matching cuisine, I can’t think of many better ways to celebrate life and friendship than with a bottle of Vilmart, in particular their Brut Rosé Champagne(s) like this one. ($75-80 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2017 Field Recordings, Chenin Blanc, Central Coast, California. Winemaker and nurseryman Andrew Jone’s Field Recordings wines are, according to him a catalog of single vineyard sites, and in some cases multi-site blends, that produce wines with a sense of place, soul and personality, with his keen eye for top vineyards and plants (vines) he has carved out a lovely niche to work from, and especially good is his Chenin Blanc from old vine plantings in the central coast.
The 2017 was picked from mainly Jurassic Park, an own rooted site that was originally planted back in 1978 very close to Los Olivos in the Santa Ynez Valley, just north of Santa Barbara, but also with Martin Ranch planted in 1981 and Shell Creek, that has vines that date back to 1972, so it is in many ways a real taste of California Chenin Blanc history in the glass! In fact, Jone’s first wine was his Jurassic Park Chenin and it remains very close to his heart, and with good reason, as it rivals most new generation versions of this grape as well as some of the state’s early Chenin heros like Daniel Gehrs and Chalone. With a nod to the Loire Valley, the spiritual home to Chenin and the areas like Vouvray, Saumur and Savennieres, this dry Chenin is bright, fresh and mineral with just 11.5% natural alcohol, made in a traditional fashion.
The 2017 Central Coast old vines Chenin Blanc by Field Recordings, known as their Vieilles Vignes Cuvee, is bright and wonderfully peachy with a lovely waxy texture with good acidity, subtle mineral tones and a crisply dry, but honeyed finish. This yellowy/gold pale Chenin adds melon, citrus and white flowers with air as well as gaining a touch of dried ginger, earth, verbena and wet stones in a finely tuned old vine wine that impresses for it’s finesse and expressive varietal character, better yet, it should age gracefully too. ($21 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
nv Equipo Navazos, Navazos Manzanilla Saca of June, 2016, En Rama, Dry Sherry, Sanlucar de Barrameda, Jerez-Xeres-Sherry, Spain. Equipo Navazos is almost single handedly making Sherry great again, they are sourcing and putting out some absolutely amazing bottings, if it ever was a time to re-discover this region and explore the many different style, it’s now! According to Sherry Notes, the Equipo Navazos started as a group of Spanish sherry lovers led by wine writer Jesús Barquín, a professor of criminology and Andalusian wine expert/ writer, and Eduardo Ojeda, the technical director of Grupo Estévez. It all began In 2005 when this private group found 65 butts of exceptionally fine 20+ year old Amontillado hidden away in the bodega Sánchez Ayala in Sanlúcar, they just knew they had to share their good fortune. They realized that it was a shame that so many brilliant sherry butts were lying around in large Sherry bodegas, often with low volumes that were commercially not interesting to be bottled separately, but too good to be part of a large-scale solera blend, and that is how they discovered their mission. Together with 30 or so friends and professionals, they selected one cask, bottled it and split the bottles titled La Bota de Amontillado / Navazos n°1, then later on it became their business and passion to share the love to the world and find Sherry enthusiasts that would rejoice in being able to get ultra small lot special Sherry that showed unique characteristics with exceptional quality.
A decade or so later Equipo Navazos is now a world class firm with a cult like following, and while staying true to their core mission of finding and releasing single Bota(s) they have also pushed the envelope of Sherry, putting out a dry white and doing a Sherry infused Cava Sparkling just to name a few intriguing extras. And while discovering Sherry, a Spanish region just north of Cadiz in Andalucia and part of the Jerez de la Frontera, can be rather daunting for the novice, Equipo Navazos is providing a stylish gateway into this world of weirdness and beauty, from sexy Pedro Ximenez (a grape varietal), known simply as PX, sweet stuff, to dry/oily old nutty goodies like Palo Cortado (a style) and Amontillado (a style), to crisply dry, salty and tangy Finos (a light dry fresh style) and like this Manzanilla (super brisk style) that is great with tapas and as a refreshing aperitif. Then there is aromatic styles and of course the classic Cream, a style loved by old English grandmothers (as my granny did) that is semi sweet and lush.
Explaining Sherry is extraordinary difficult, so I won’t bore you with it all, except to mention the basic concept, with this note on what we know as one of the most important factors, the creation of Flor yeast that gives most Sherries their core flavors. Primary to natural characteristics of biologically aged sherry (Fino and Manzanilla) is the Flor, this is a naturally occurring layer of yeast cells that lives on the surface of the wine, inside the barrels. It, the Flor, consumes sugars, alcohol and other components of the wine and adds nutty, saline and yeasty aromas, lucky too, it also blocks oxygen contact, resulting in a bone-dry and pale style of sherry.
Now, Manzanilla, is basically the same as Fino sherry, but produced and matured around the Sanlúcar de Barrameda zone, closer to the sea than Jerez, the spiritual home of all Sherry, and the only place where it is allowed to be made. Manzanilla, as wonderfully described by Sherry Notes (sherry notes.com), is made from the Palomino grape, grown on the sandy white chalky soils, also known as the Mission white grape, and biologically aged, entirely under a layer of (the) Flor yeast. The specific climatic conditions of this town, being closer the Atlantic Ocean are responsible for a higher humidity and cooler, more constant temperatures than those found in inland bodegas, which contributes to a higher yield of Flor. This thicker layer of Flor protects the wine even more from air and oxygen contact, resulting in a slightly lighter and zippy variety of Fino, containing virtually no glycerol, meaning it is not oily or thick on the palate, and combining dry, saline notes with a fresh, zesty liveliness. Manzanilla typically displays more coastal aromas than a Fino, like sea spray, salt or even iodine. In Spanish, Manzanilla, translates to chamomile, which is another aroma typically found in this type of Sherry.
The En Rama, on the label here, notes that it was an unfiltered or almost non filtered version which adds more character and purity in the wine, it especially is true in Equipo Navazos’ wonderful Manzanilla with it’s striking electric shock of fresh detail and sharp form showing the classic flavors, but in a lifted form with layers of all the mentioned nuances with dried citrus rind, salty stones, liquid pecans, bitter almond and a touch of persimmon, as well as the chamomile and a touch of verbena. This is a brilliant example of style and place with a heightened array of complexity from being made in such a tiny batch, and while I do adore Equipo Navazos’s more aged and oily rich stuff, this Manzanilla En Rama is just so addictive and eye poppingly dry it is perfect for crisp/grilled Sardines and or salty/briny Anchovies, plus it’s lovely just to sip on and with cheeses, olives and walnuts too. ($22-30 Est. 375ml-Half Bottle) 92 Points, grapelive
2015 Arnot-Roberts, Chardonnay, Trout Gulch Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains. Arnot-Roberts Wines is a two man team of schoolboy friends, Duncan Arnot Meyers and Nathan Lee Roberts, who since founding their label back in 2001, have become one of California’s hottest wineries making soulful old world inspired wines. In recent years Duncan and Nathan have teamed up with Richard Alfaro to get some old vine Trout Gulch Chardonnay grapes for a small lots bottling, and in 2015 there were 19 barrels made of this 13.5% natural alcohol, crisply white. Known for their high toned style and delicately detailed wines, Arnot-Robert’s winemaking methods are firmly traditional with generous use of whole clusters, natural fermentations, with a very limited use of new oak, which is only used in their Cabernet Sauvignons, and modest alcohol levels, and in this case making a very Chablis like version of Chardonnay that is surprisingly brisk given the warm year and concentration of flavors, in fact I would have never guessed it was over 12.5% such is the vibrancy and citrusy notes.
This Chardonnay was fermented in stainless steel, with native yeast when possible and then aged in neutral wood, all French oak, they add that they give a nod to the masters, Domaines Dauvissat and Raveneau, both Chablis legends. The winery adds, the Trout Gulch vineyard, which sits at close to 800 feet above sea level, near the tiny town of Aptos, 10 minutes south of Santa Cruz itself and about 4 miles from the ocean in the southern Santa Cruz Mountains AVA. The site was originally planted in 1980 to the old Wente clone Chardonnay, that is considered by many to be the best heritage version of Chardonnay in California.The soils here, in this cool climate site, are sandy loam with a touch of clay like dirt, with this unique hillside surrounded by tall redwoods, all carefully tended by Richard Alfaro, one of the best growers in the region.
Per Arnot-Roberts, Alfaro uses organic methods in this dry farmed site with 35 year old Old Wente clone Chardonnay vines and the grapes were picked at about 21 brix, hence the severely brisk nature of this wine, it was as mentioned above, whole cluster pressed, allowing native yeast fermentation in stainless steel vats, then raised for 10 months in that neutral French oak, which again is similar to Premier Cru Chablis, which gives this lovely Chard it’s Burgundy like personality and mineral driven presence in the glass. This vintage is lightly golden with a pale greenish hue and the medium bodied palate shows invigorating lemon, white peach and green apple, before adding Asian pear and fig fruits with air, along with loamy earth, wet river stones, a hint of clove, unsweetened honey and lime/white flowers blossoms. The Acidity and vivid detail keeps impressing even after half hour, this Chardonnay has a developed sense of maturity, extract and smooth textures, but still wonderfully vibrant with a fine tension and intensity, hinting to a long life ahead if you were still holding a bottle or so.
The 2015 will be a tough get at this point, but their 2016 and 2017 should be every bit as good, and it the case of the upcoming 2017, it could be even better, keep an eye out for it, and get on the Arnot-Roberts list. This stuff is fabulous, and soon they should be releasing their awesome Touriga Nacional Rosé, one of my favorite pinks in California, plus be sure to grab their Gamay and rare Trousseau if you can! Arnot-Roberts also thrills with their awesome selection of Syrah(s), Pinot Noir(s) and as noted their Cabernet Sauvignon(s) are not to be missed either, all of their wines, especially this Trout Gulch Chardonnay, are world class offerings that really highlight single terroirs. ($52 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2017 Martha Stoumen, Varietally Incorrect Zinfandel, King Andrews Vineyard, Suisun Valley. Martha Stoumen is quite the sensation these days, crafting European style country wines from selected vineyards in California with a nod the natural and organic culture, and she’s worked for some impressive wineries including Guisto Occhipinti’s COS estate on the island of Sicily before coming home and creating her own label. While known for her interesting Italian varietals like Nero d’Avola, she also enjoys working with California old vine classics like Carignane and Zinfandel, like this one from the King Andrews Vineyard, in the Suisun Valley, a 30 year-old vine parcel that is farmed without herbicides or pesticides per Martha who looks for holistic and sustainable vineyard sites and family run farms to partner with. She notes that, Roger King’s site has a lot of influence from the San Pablo Bay to the west with some thick morning fogs and high afternoon winds, which helps keep acidity in the grapes.
This wine , she adds was whole cluster fermented, with an extended cool soaking with a month long maceration that extracts pigments and complexity for this Zinfandel. It was then aged on lees in neutral barrels, of which was a total of 3, (with just 70 cases made) for seven months and bottle aged for an additional 5 months to settle before this latest release. Her final thoughts on this wine were that with the natural acidity and tannin, she thinks it should age well, although, as she puts it, it is also perfectly approachable now, and I tend to agree, its pleasant juicy character is wonderfully easy to enjoy as is. Stoumen goes for low sulfur and restrained natural alcohol in her wines with this Zin coming in at just about 13% making it less jammy and more vibrant without losing the grapes core flavors, even though as a nod to her style vs. the mainstream she calls this Zinfandel varietally incorrect as not to confuse the consumer or more importantly her fans, who expect a lighter more vibrant style wine.
This 2017 Zinfandel shows a briar and bramble berry fruit note with lots of vitality and a spicy edgy character which is appealing with sweet and sour raspberry, tree picked plum, strawberry as well as minty sage, lavender and herbal notes and a touch of salted savory black licorice. This bright garnet and ruby Zin is addictively delicious, it’s like an interesting Minervois or Corbieres, and joyously quaffable right away, I cannot see much reason to wait or see much potential in long aging, though I wouldn’t mind re-visiting it again in 3 to 5 years as a curiosity. Stoumen is one of many great new generation winemakers following their own path and making some very alternative wines from either little known grapes and or re-inventing of classic varietals in a new way, this are offerings that challenge perceptions and prejudices and I celebrate their bravery and am enjoying the diversity and choices, like these new releases from Stoumen, that are available to us. ($38 Est.) 92 points, grapelive
2016 I. Brand & Family Winery, Cabernet Franc, Bates Ranch Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains. Still buzzing after winning the San Francisco Chronicle Winemaker of the Year for 2018, Ian Brand’s small Monterey winery is the talk of the state and getting some much deserved attention and love, all coming at the perfect time for his new releases to take the stage, and while known for his Rhone style offerings, it’s his Bordeaux varietal bottlings that really are the stars of his new set of wines. Ian has put a big effort in highlighting some lesser known vineyards in the Monterey, San Benito, Santa Clara and other remote places, he is as I put it, a vineyard whisperer and a real soils geek, and his talents have brought sites like the Enz Vineyard and Besson Vineyard to world attention, and in recent years has turned his attention to Carmel Valley and the Santa Cruz Mountains, where his latest Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc come from.
Located in the southeastern end of the Santa Cruz Mountains, the Bates Ranch Cabernet Franc was planted back in 1978 and set on red Franciscan series, volcanic soils that gives this wine it’s unique flavors that Ian has wonderfully transmitted into the bottle using traditional fermentations and elevage in mostly used barrels. This rich new vein of great old vines offer something amazing and this new vintage of Bates Ranch Cab Franc is an absolute stunning example of this grape and expression of place, it might be one of the greatest single varietal versions of Cabernet Franc I’ve tried that marries old world elegance with pure California fruit character, and certainly the best in it’s price class.
In the past you had to search really hard to find a great Cabernet Franc in California with Pride and Ridge making serious examples, but in the last decade a whole new generation has taken this Loire and Bordeaux red grape to new heights in California, not forgetting some brilliant wines coming out of New York’s Finger Lakes and a few coming out of the Pacific Northwest. Ian Brand’s I. Brand & Family Winery Bates Ranch 2016 vintage Cabernet Franc is, as mentioned leans toward a Right Bank style Bordeaux, medium/full bodied and with ripe tannins with pretty layers of black and red fruits on the smooth, but wonderfully structured palate with an excellent sense of richness, depth and balance.
This mouth filling Cabernet Franc, that has a nose of light florals and sandalwood and a brilliant deep garnet/crimson hue, shows blackberry, bright cherry and firm currant fruits that is lifted by vital elements led by fresh acidity, mineral tones and subtle earthiness as well as being framed by perfectly judged French oak and spicy notes that include faint smoky vanilla, sage/anise and lingering dusty quality. As Brand learns this site he has been able to extract it’s own terroir personality and more complex details with a lower natural alcohol, closer to 13%, without losing its pleasure and impact in the glass, making this vintage an exceptional wine. This Cab Franc makes for a serious bottle of wine, a sublime effort that provides a glorious contrast to Ian’s more earthy/rustic Loire Valley or Chinon like Bayly Ranch – Paicines version, which I have reviewed as well, enjoy this graceful and special Bates Ranch Cab Franc over the next 5 to 10 years. ($42 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2015 Alfaro Family Vineyards, Chardonnay, Lindsay Paige Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains. The richly flavored and concentrated estate Lindsay Paige Chardonnay from Richard Alfaro is one of the best values in California Chardonnay currently available, it’s a refined and wonderful example of grape and place coming in at a balanced 13.5% natural alcohol and with lush mouth filling textures. This small lots cuvee is drinking exceptionally well at the moment with ripe golden fruits, creamy roundness, stony/earthy notes and spicy/sweet toasty oak shadings leading the way, it’s a wine that should continue to excel over the next 3 to 5 years, with a core of good acidity that is gracefully subtle to the taste, but holding things together with vigor. Alfaro does most ferments in a combination of stainless steel and French oak with the Lindsay Paige usually seeing about 40% new oak, making for a fuller expression of Chardonnay showing apple, pear and lemon curd fruits with layers of liquid mineral, hazelnut, brioche, clove spiciness and Tahitian vanilla.
This pale golden Chardonnay was in barrel about 8 months and has developed very nicely in bottle, gaining a beautiful creaminess while staying vivid in detail, it’s a really impressive white that goes gloriously with cuisine including soft cheeses, lobster and fatty fish dishes as well as poultry. The 2015 is one of Alfaro’s most opulent vintages, a tiny crop and intensely flavorful berries have made this edition a thrill, I can’t wait to try his latest 2017 release too, a vintage many people are saying is even better. Richard Alfaro also is one of the best growers in the south Santa Cruz Mountains and has an all star list of winery clients for his grapes that includes Big Basin, Arnot Roberts, Jamie Kutch and Ceritas to name a few, so if you’ve not discovered Richard’s own lineup yet, it is a great time to do so, and especially his Chardonnay from both his estate like this Lindsay Paige and the Trout Gulch old vine, both are terrific values and brilliant wines. ($30 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2016 Theopolis Vineyards, Petite Sirah, Estate, Yorkville Highlands, Mendocino County. Theodoa Lee’s flagship wine is her estate grown Theopolis Vineyard Petite Sirah from the remote and terraced site in the Yorkville Highlands, it’s a lavish and soulful expression this place and grape with an ultra dark purple/crimson color and full body. With the ex Roar and August West winemaker Ed Kutzman helping out here this winery is going from an under the radar adventure to a serious and stylish contender with some great press and wonderfully expressive wines, with this Petite Sirah being a wine of particular interest to the grape’s most rabid followers. This vineyard is producing some fantastic grapes, it’s unique combination of soils and weather make for something incredible both in Theodoa’s own wines and in the wines made by Paul Gordon of Halcon Vineyards, who’s version with lots of cluster are more like Cornas than those of the likes of Turley or Biale who make some of California’s best examples and of which I think is my all time favorite Petite Sirah.
That said, the Theopolis version is absolutely great as well, though more in what you’d expect from a premium California version with loads of chocolatey rich fruit, polished tannins and warm oak notes leading the way, but it also has plenty of complexity too. In fact this 2016 is much more intriguing than the past years with more aggressive nature with a vast array of spices and closer to the Halcon in finished form with layers of white pepper, anise and dried basil notes to give a touch of savory to the decedent fruits which come through with blackberry, blueberry, cherry and tangy currants as well as sweet new leather, tobacco/cigar wrap, dark coco and mint, a hint of sandalwood and dried violets. I like this 2016 a lot, its slightly more wild or feral than the 2015 and it is the better for it adding a thrilling dimension to an already good wine and making it great!
This vintage of Theopolis Petite Sirah was fermented in small bins, with manual punched downs, with a lengthy maceration and primary fermentation then it was raised in 25% new and 75% neutral French oak barrels for about 22 months, then as always, it was bottled unfined and unfiltered. The last sip revealed lingering sticky lavender oil, cassis and lively tannic grip that went on for ages, so best to enjoy with robust cuisine and or decant if you want to drink it young, best guess window now through 2028. ($39 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2013 Boony Doon Vineyard, Le Cigare Volant, 30th Anniversary, Rhone Style Red Blend, California. The 30th Anniversary edition of Randall Graham’s iconic Le Cigare Volant is a ripe and full bodied effort of sublime fruit, spice and depth, it’s a Grenache led Chateauneuf style red blend that perfectly celebrates Grahm’s milestone achievement. A regional cuvee rather than a single terroir the Le Cigare Volant marries a combination of selected sites from Santa Maria to Contra Costa County with the main Grenache component coming from Monterey County and the Rancho Solo Vineyard plus a tiny bit of Lodi’s Bechtold Vineyard, a hot spot for Cinsault, included and of which looks to be a bigger part of future Cigare Volant. The final break down was 55% Grenache, 25% Syrah, 16% Mourvèdre and 4% Cinsault which resulted in this wines opulent fruit and its lush texture with Grahm and his talented team really getting the most of the vintage’s best quality into the bottle and keeping it all balanced with subtle spice, earth and savory tones contrasting nicely with the deep black and red fruits.
Those that love modern Chateauneuf du Pape will adore this hedonistic vintage of Cigare Rouge, it’s 14.5% natural alcohol compares well with the current or more modern French versions, Randall expresses his love of Grenache dominant versions as the grape in good years provides the silken feel that is usually only reserved for Pinot Noir while also giving exotic notes, Grahm adding, he gets scents cool loamy earth with a suggestion of raspberries and Damson plums. “I do so love the largely Grenache vintages of Cigare!” such as this 2013 provides, while the Mourvedre and Syrah give a deeper mulberry color, leathery/game and a tannin structure to ensure a long life and a sense of power on the palate. Grahm also says a touch of Cinsaut provides a very particular fragrance of flowers and aromatic herbs, plus I think a bit of lift too. Grahm employs many techniques in his mad scientist style of winemaking in an every changing fashion and an exploration to produce unique and highly entertaining wines, from dried grapes to ripen stems, the addition of wood chips, which in his case is to keep the wines from being too wood driven vs. oak sweetened, along with a mix of de-stemming and whole cluster ferments and the use of alternative vessels to age his wines, somehow it all works and this wine especially shows he still has the magic after 30 vintages!
Randall tries hard to get his growers on board with organic and biodynamic farming as he is a believer in the benefits and energy that this has on his and all wines made with grapes that are grown with this holistic method, and while Cigare is not certified as such, there is a life and soul about this wine that reflects this. The 2013 is at first bright and racy with a heady mix of floral and earthy notes before a burst of dark fruits take over in the attack with layers of black cherry, boysenberry, currant and the mentioned plum and raspberry fruits with a touch of pomegranate and wild anise coming out just before you get to that meaty side of things with a hint of bacon and iron/sanguine along with a hint of smoke, camphor and vanilla. The texture is a surprise too with its satiny, almost creamy feel and the density which has a real impact, without getting flabby or fat.
This vintage of Le Cigare Volant Rouge is very sexy stuff, adding candied cherry, almost like pie filling and exotic spices with air, it thrills with Grenache charm, the Syrah, the Cinsault and the Mourvedre really act as a stage platform for the Grenache to take center stage and deliver a mind blowing performance, it reminds me of Domaine Charvin Chateauneuf du Pape 2007, and I find it crazy this wine doesn’t get more serious attention! Enjoy this is Cigare over the next 5 to 10 years, it certainly drinks gloriously now, but has the underlying stuffing to go a long time in the cellar, impressive for what some thought was a more difficult year, this is exceptional and a masterpiece of blending, get it while you can. ($45 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive