2017 Cave Yves Cuilleron, Syrah “Les Vignes d’à Côté” Vin de France, Northern Rhone, France. One of the Northern Rhone’s top guns, Yves Cuilleron is making some of the best wine of his career, with the last three vintages all being outstanding, so it was really cool to get an early sample of his 2017 Syrah, which is gloriously pure and delicious, to see what this vintage will look like in comparison, and while his 2015 and 2016 were absolutely awesome, this 2017 looks just as good f not better! Cave Yves Cuilleron, once known as just the Family Cuilleron was founded back in 1920, and Yves’ grandfather was the first in the region to actually bottle wine commercially for sales, prior it was almost all sold in bulk or casks, back in 1947, Yves himself assumed full ownership and direction of the domaine in 1987, taking over from his uncle, and since that time has built an entirely new facility in the area of Chavanay.
While most known for his Condrieu and Cote-Rotie he also makes a stellar collection of Saint-Joseph, Cornas and Crozes-Hermitage as well as a line of varietal wines including this 100% Syrah from granite and alluvial soils near his village, Chavanay, near the border with the Crozes zone, in the Collines Rhodaniennes, in a steep parcel of vines. The Les Vignes d’a Cote is a special cuvee that saw all de-stemmed grapes, it was fermented in cuve and aged in a combination of stainless and small neutral barriques to allow for expressive detail and freshness, it’s a great starter wine to get to know the Northern Rhone and is always an outstanding value.
This 2017 Les Vignes d’a Cote is striking and with exceptional varietal character, showing a deep purple/garnet color in the glass and with a beautiful perfume of crushed violets, primary black and blue fruits, spices and camphor notes that not only come through on the nose, but transfer to the palate as well, there is ripe blueberry, plum and black cherry fruits as well as subtle creme de cassis, black olive, fresh ground peppercorns, faint cedar and anise. The mouth feel is richer and more substantial than you’d expect from this bottling, highlighting what looks like a great vintage in the making, and the Cuilleron elegance and finesse is on full display, this is a case worthy, if not more, wine to enjoy over the next couple of years while you cellar your Cote-Rorie, Saint-Joseph and or Crozes-Hermitage! ($18 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2016 Scar of the Sea, Pinot Noir, Seven Leagues, Santa Maria Valley. Scar of the Sea wines is a small production wine and cider label, that developed between long-time friends and colleagues, Mikey Giugni and Michael Brughelli. These guys believe the most important part of their wines and their cider is where they are grown, and how the location, climate, and soils matter. These are wines and ciders that are crafted with minimal manipulation, all with the purpose of making easy to drink and transparent in style, and as they put it, all the vineyards and orchards are influenced by the closeness to sea, with maritime soils, and climates, producing Pacific Ocean infused wines and ciders that are unique to the Central Coast of California. I have had a few of their wines in recent years, each shows good delicacy and gracious cool climate fruit, and this 2016 is one of the best I’ve tried from Mikey Guigni and Michael Brughelli, it’s open and generous on the palate and with beautiful balance and length, very impressive stuff.
This pair loves surfing and the outdoors, with Michael and Mikey noting that they met while Mikey was in his final years of college at Cal Poly, becoming thick as thieves, based on their shared interest and fascination in wine and the ocean. Getting started, Michael worked as a winemaker at Kenneth Volk Vineyards, learning about the Central Coast terroir and Giugni went on a winemaking and maybe a bit of surfing adventure to the southern hemisphere that included a stint at Pipers Bridge Winery on Australia’s remote island of Tasmania, where he also learned to make ciders. That trip left a deep impression and helped spark the creation of Scar of the Sea, interestingly the name came from a sign on an old gate that Mikey saw on his trip, though he didn’t know the real translation actually was Star of the Sea since it was written in ancient old English!
This 2016 Seven Leagues Pinot Noir by Scar of the Sea comes from selected picks at both Bien Nacido and Solomon Hills Vineyard, all fermented with native yeast with this cuvee getting about 25% whole cluster and raised in close to 20% new French oak barrels with 14 months of elevage. Clearly a lot of the grapes for this gorgeous Pinot were from old vine plots from the famed Bien Nacido Vineyard that was first planted to Pinot Noir back in 1973, making it one of the oldest vineyards in the region, as the wine here has lovely complexity and concentration, the part that comes from the Solomon Hills, which is the western most vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley appellation, and the coolest of all vineyards in this growing region adds striking precision, deep color and vibrant acidity keeping things wonderfully focused. The nose has lovely rose petals and primary red fruits along with a hint of earth, spice and subtle wood notes before the attack unfolds with an opulent assault in the mouth delivering a vivid array Pinot flavors in a medium weighted wine that shows black cherry, raspberry, plum and background of pomegranate and cranberry fruits along with a faint hint of heirloom tomato, chalk, vanilla and orange tea. All this is wrapped up in a satiny body with a pretty garnet/ruby hue, making for stylish and well crafted Pinot Noir, it is really drinking fabulous right now, it should age well as well, this is a winery to watch and this wine is one that shouldn’t be missed. ($46 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2014 Westrey, Chardonnay, Oracle Vineyard, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon. Westrey Wine Company, a small producer of Burgundy style Pinot Noir and Chardonnay was founded back in 1993, at about the same time as many of the second wave of top winemakers got to Oregon, they are from that same core group with Mike Etzel of Beaux Freres, Mark Vlossack of St. Innocent and John Paul of Cameron to name just a few, and they were one very few that saw the potential in Willamette Valley Chardonnay. Westrey represents the collaborative winemaking efforts of Amy Wesselman and David Autrey, and have been a team for a long time in the region, Amy and David source fruit from some of Oregon’s premier vineyards, including their own estate plantings in the Red Hills of Dundee.
The Oracle Vineyard, where is old school Chardonnay comes from is an old vine site on the Jory (red volcanic) soils in the Dundee Hills AVA which was originally planted in 1977, and in this 2014 vintage, a wonderful year for Oregon, they got perfectly balanced fruit from these elderly vines. Working old school and using traditional Burgundian methods, Amy and David under still under the radar outside of Oregon, but craft beautiful wines that deserve a greater audience, and in particular this intriguing Chardonnay.
The layered and opulent 2014 Oracle Chard starts with a nose that flirts with perfume and toasty leesy elements with a deep golden hue in the glass showing white flowers, lemon curd, brioche and peach tart before leading to a medium/full palate of apple, pear, apricot, spicy clove, wet rock, butterscotch and white anise, which reminds me a bit of Corton-Charlemagne! Gains a bit of weight with air and textural impact, but even as this smooth Chard moves into maturity it stays bright and focused, this Westrey has lots of class and glorious complexity, it is one of the finest Oregon Chards for the price, and is highly impressive. This is a wine that could age another 3 to 5 years, but it’s drinking top notch right now. ($29 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2016 Domaine Yves Boyer-Martenot, Meursault “Les Chaumes” White Burgundy, France. One of my favorite wines of the vintage, for far, from Burgundy is Vincent Boyer’s Meursault Les Chaumes 2016, it’s a beautiful and layered Chardonnay that in many ways reminds me a bit more of a Grand Cru Corton-Charlemagne than a Meursault, such is the density, complexity and its impressive presence in the glass. I was thrilled to meet Vincent Boyer and spend an evening tasting Burgundy, trying to pick his brain and enjoying the remarkable quality and regal personality of his wines.
Boyer, who is visiting from his home in Meursault, enjoying time with friends and checking out the winemaking in the Monterey region, joined our tasting group to do a blind tasting of Burgundy wines, which included a few of his own thrown into the mix, and of the whites, his really stood out, being head and shoulders above the competition on the night, and I my opinion, especially his 2016 Les Chaumes. It was a star studded night with Sam Smith of Morgan Winery and his own Samuel Louis Smith Wines label and Russell Joyce of Joyce Wine Company, who had hosted Vincent at his winery in Salinas, where they sampled some wines from Monterey that impressed the talented Burgundian.
Vincent’s Domaine Yves Boyer-Martenot, is mostly known for their great whites, that include a brilliant selection of Meursault and Puligny-Montrachets, but also have a set of reds as well, from Volnay and Pommard. This famous estate made its name after World War II, when André Boyer inherited the Domaine from his mother Lucie, who up until then had been heroically running the winery entirely by herself, in 1945 André married Juliette Devèze, who was born and raised in the adjoining village of Puligny Montrachet, and had a son Yves, who continued his families tradition, taking over the Domaine and it was at this point when it became Boyer-Martenot, as he married Marie Cécile Martenot, the daughter of a winemaker in Meursault. Vincent Boyer their son is now the owner and winemaker of the Domaine, and his efforts has brought the real and current fame to this property that has a elite collection of vines in the chalky soils of the Cote de Beaune.
The estate practices sustainable farming, avoiding pesticides and herbicides, and Boyer uses indigenous yeasts for his fermentations. All grape harvesting is exclusively done by hand, with extreme care and selection. Grapes are whole cluster pressed then fermented naturally in temperature-controlled, stainless steel tanks with aging in a mix of older and new French oak barrels (no more than 30% new wood) for about 12 months. According to their importer, the Meursault from Boyer-Martenot today is more expressive than ever, something I would agree with completely from my recent experience.
Vincent’s philosophy, according to him, of less-is-more in the cellar means what you experience in each bottle is exactly what each unique vineyard and each perfect grape has to give. The hard working and soil focused Vincent, along with his sister Sylvie who helps him run the estate, has become a treasure of his region, while most Meursault winemakers blend, sites and grapes from different zones within the region, Boyer vinifies and bottles many of his wines from his villages vineyards separately, to highlight unique and individual terroirs and sites, like this Les Chaumes. Through his efforts at this estate, these single-vineyard Meursault wines have found their own singular voices, which was amazingly clear in our tasting, showing just how varied and captivating great Meursault(s) can be, even from less known plots.
The beautiful and seductive, richly flavored 2016 Les Chaumes comes From the lieu dit ‘Les Chaumes’, which sits directly above the 1er Cru Perrieres and adjacent to Narvaux, with sustainable farmed 35+ year old vines set on clay-limestone soils, and as mention Vincent allowed primary to go with indigenous yeast in tank and used just 10% new oak on this very expressive and full bodied wine without fining or filtration. With layers upon layer this Meursault Les Chaumes starts with a lovely white flowers perfume and with a hint of stony notes as well as delicate toasty elements along with golden/yellow fruits that include apple, apricot, racy citrus and with an array of mineral, clove spice, light hazelnut and white fig. The textural opulence is on par with much more heralded Premier Crus and or Grand Cru wines, making this wine that much more awesome in the glass, while still being gorgeously proportioned and finely balanced with lovely lively acidity adding plenty of pop and adding to the overall feeling of focus and substance in this stellar white Burgundy. I can imagine it getting more interesting with time in the bottle, but honestly it’s fabulous even right now. ($60 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2000 Domane Mugneret-Gibourg, Vosne-Romanee, Red Burgundy, France. It’s always a joy to have a bottle of Vosne-Romanee presented to you to taste and especially such an iconic label such as Mugneret-Gilbourg, a wine that shamefully I don’t often get around to having much, but a domaine I always keep an eye out for, in particular this village wine that is a classic. While 2000 may not be a remarkable Burgundy vintage, though this bottle is drinking well, and the winery itself has only more recently, since the 2005 become one of the grand estates in the region, where it is now right up there with the fabled Domaine Romanee-Conti, Armand Rousseau and Mugnier!
Georges Mugneret himself and then those of his talented daughters Marie-Christine and Marie-Andrée following Georges’ death in 1988, always had a solid reputation for the wines here, but as noted, they have in the last 15 years have really raised their game and these wine carry a significant prestige. The village Vosne, from 70 plus year old vines is highly sought after for it’s quality and value in this elite echelon of Burgundy, and I found the 2000 at this point in a near perfect place for the vintage and the slightly rustic character it displays full of old school charm, it’s earthy seductive with hint of maturity that adds to the soulful expression, it has reached a point where the sharp edges have melted away and there is a serious silken mouth feel with just a hint of rawness and delicate tannins. As noted by others that are more experienced than myself, it would seem that
The Mugneret sisters show particular skill in their use of new oak, as I only taste a enough to known it’s there, of which the percentage increases from the basic Bourgogne to the ultra concentrated Grands Crus, will this Vosne seeing maybe 25% new, yet it is seamlessly integrated into the wine, as I’m sure it is will all their bottlings. Because of the strict selection at harvest, and the gentle racking of their wines fining and filtration are unnecessary, allowing as much purity of place and grapes to shine through. This 2000 takes a few minutes to wake up, but once open and flowing the medium weight palate gathers itself and delivers a fine performance with a slightly stewy note and autumn leaves element blowing off quickly to allow pretty rose petals, plum and mulberry. In the minutes that follow as your attention gets reset there is a darker/dusty cherry core that emerges and some pretty violet florals come out, along with a touch of smoke, mineral tones, black tea, baking spices and a faint leathery note.
This is not a blockbuster of a wine, but a nicely aging Burgundy of a fine filament quality. Besides this Vosne-Romanee, be sure to look for their old vine Nuits-St.-Georges, it is a sleeper in their lineup, but always keep an eye out for this one, especially in better years, it’s a rewarding prize, since they are very difficult to find. It was a pleasure to try what is considered one of the very best Vosne village wines out there, it is as mentioned a really lovely wine, though I don’t see it getting better at this stage, and it makes me want more Mugneret-Gilbourg, especially younger vintages like 2008, 2010, 2012 and 2015 that should be mind blowing! ($125-200 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
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