2017 Diatom, Chardonnay, Machado Vineyard, Sta. Rita Hills. Ultra transparent and intensely bright in flavors the 2017 Diatom Machado reveals floral aromatics, wet rock and loads of lemon/lime before gaining textural depth and a mix of apple, peach and pear fruits along with a steely note. This inox style Chardonnay by Greg Brewer is richer than you’d expect from a zero oak non malo example and while in has dynamic energy and zesty focus it delivers a wonderful all round performance, though certainly not a wine to serve the Rombauer lovers. With air you find a tangy quince element and just a touch of tropical essences along with balancing tart phenolic bite all in a dry and crisp wine. In a recent blind tasting of Chardonnays, this Diatom Machado did remarkably well even against some tidy White Burgs, including some notable Chablis and it really comes alive with cuisine too. These Diatom wines age well as I also discovered a few weeks ago when a winemaker friend who is also a fan of Brewer’s wines opened a lovely 2008 that was surprisingly fresh in form and impressive in detail, these are thought provoking wines, not for everyone, but serious stuff.
This Diatom is a single vineyard Chard from a 15 acre parcel on the Machado family land that is located adjacent to famous Sta. Rita Hills Clos Pepe Vineyard and immediately behind the Kessler-Haak vineyard. This site is marked by a gorgeous rolling terrain with sandy clay loam soils that allow a warm ripe feel to the fruit and exceptional concentration, while still having the marine influence and cooling effect that gives brilliant natural acidity. There are a few blocks used here that are planted to the unique Sweeney Canyon clone Chardonnay, which gives a touch of an almost Riesling like taste and lime note. Brewer’s zen like precision on his Diatom starts with great vineyard management and a fermentation that takes place at very low temperatures in small stainless steel tanks, with his special cultured yeast selections coupled with inhibited malo-lactic, meaning no flabbiness, and short hose transit ensure vitality and focus. I can’t wait to try the new 2018’s from Diatom, which could be absolutely legendary considering the greatest of the harvest on the Central Coast, but that said I really enjoyed this 2017 Machado, so don’t pass it up, especially with Toro (fish dishes) and or Sushi! ($42 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2017 Sandlands, Trousseau, Sonoma County. The impossibly pale and delicate Sandlands Trousseau starts slow in the glass, feeling more like a soft Pinot Noir at first before air and time bring out a more intriguing and complex wine with spicy layers of red fruits, mineral tones and light wood notes. Sandlands is the personal project of Tegan and Olivia Passalacqua, apart from Tegan’s day job as Turley Cellars winemaker, with a line-up encompasses the forgotten classic California varieties. He uses vineyards that primarily grown in decomposed granite (sand), hence the name, from regions and vineyards that have been farmed for many generations but have remained, as he puts it, the outliers of California viticulture. Primarily these sites are head-trained, dry-farmed and own rooted, the vineyards Passalacqua works with, as he adds, harkens back to California’s roots of exploration, wonder, and especially in his case, hard work. The Sandlands Trousseau is planted at 1400 feet just 3 miles from the Pacific Ocean, on a section of the Bohan Vineyard that sits on gravelly loam soils that were derived from sandstone and shale. This cool area promotes long hang times and low alcohol, making this wine remarkably fresh, but with underlying concentration and complexity at just 12.4% natural alcohol. Tegan, a Napa Valley native, who, as mentioned in a few prior reviews, got his start in the wine industry working in winery labs in Napa, but he has also traveled the world to make wine, having worked in the cellars of Craggy Range in New Zealand with Doug Wisor, with Eben Sadie of Sadie Family Wines in the Swartland region of South Africa, who was just in the states and visited Tegan and his vines, and with Alain and Maxime Graillot in the Northern Rhone Valley of France, one of the world’s most iconic Syrah producers.
Trousseau, is still a mystery grape, found and revered mostly in the remote Jura region in France, but confusingly and maybe not correctly is said to be related to Graciano, though Tegan says it is not related. Graciano though, interestingly can be found in Spain’s varied regions from Sherry-Jerez to the Canary Islands, where it is known as Tintilla as well as being a Rioja grape where it is called Graciano, as well as being in Portugal too, and there it goes by Bastardo! In California Trousseau, which Tegan has told me, was originally called Chause Noir, and maybe Graciosa (that may have led to the confusion?) can now be found throughout the state from Sonoma Valley to Santa Barbara, as well as Lodi. Trousseau came to California a long time ago and was inter-planted in many heritage sites, but had a break through moment about a decade ago when Arnot-Roberts first produced a thrilling single varietal (Trousseau) version from unique volcanic soils in Lake County. The Sandlands 2017 is a fine effort with a smooth texture that flows across the palate with fresh squeezed raspberry, tangy plum and tart juicy cherry fruits along with rose petals, blood orange rind, wild herbs, a touch of smoky vanilla, pepper and cedar. There’s a lot to admire in this wine, especially if you like lighter bodied reds, but that said it takes time to develop in the glass and certainly it impresses most with matching cuisine, and should be enjoyed over the next 3 to 5 years. Sandlands makes some really lovely wines, in particular look for their Chenin Blanc, Carignane, Syrah and Mataro (Mourvedre) along with this one, their red field blend and their super rare Pais, made from the mission grape also known as Listan Prieto. ($28 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2016 Bodegas Basilio Izquierdo – Hidalgo, Viura, Tradicion H, White Rioja D.O. Spain. The Bodega Basilio, which was previously called Bodegas Aguila Real and had reached a certain cult status for making one of the most expensive red wines in Rioja also in partnership with famous Sherry house Hilalgo makes a 100% Viura Rioja Blanco, a very unique white wine. Basilio Izquierdo was the head winemaker at CVNE for 32 years, so you know the man has talent, he makes a red, white and rosado, the quantities are tiny and rarely seen out of Spain and his own label founded in 2007 is based out of his micro winery in Laguardia (La Rioja), where this white was made. This rare bottling was done as a customer request and little is known about it, except that this Viura was aged in three Manzanilla casks brought from Hidalgo in Sanlúcar de Barrameda in the Sherry region and that Basilio managed to develop a veil of flor for three months, so it is crazy stuff and not like any white Rioja I’ve ever tried. Viura is fairly concentrated and can be as intense as Sancerre, with Sauvignon Blanc like characteristics, which married to a dusty dry, brisk, nutty and saline layer, adds a Sherry like dimension.
This Tradicion H, I can guess the H stands for Hidalgo, famous for their zippy La Gitana Manzanilla, this not a wine that is not easily explained and or appreciated to the mainstream wine drinker, but it is invigorating and lively and gives a brisk and complex performance in the glass with less oxidative character than you’d find in a traditional Sherry, making more easy to enjoy for the less adventurous and it’s great with Tapas and salty snacks, while also with enough depth to handle more robust cuisine. There is layers of lemon/lime, gooseberry, salted rock, almond oil, dried pineapple, kumquat and quince along with a hint of orange blossom, verbena balsam and ginger/peach tea. Also, once open and warming in the glass you get wet chalk, herb and grapefruit rind. This is zingy stuff, combining texture and savory elements and as mentioned totally unique, it’s kind of kinky, like Jura meets Muscadet with a Spanish twist, it’s an aperitif style white to enjoy with salty or briny starters and or cured ham and hard sleep cheeses. This lightly gold tinted white by Basilio Izquierdo is an intriguing exercise that might not be made again, though I admit, it is much better than I thought it would be and without question well crafted, drink it over the next 3 to 5 years. ($30 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2017 Joyce Wine Company, Syrah, Gabilan, Monterey County. While making a name for himself in recent years for his outstanding Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays, Russell Joyce is one of Monterey’s young guns changing the perception and bringing national attention to the region, and his under the radar Syrah bottlings are absolutely brilliant wines, especially his new deeply colored and powerfully packed Gabilan release. This was was first experience with this version after having many of Joyce’s Tondre Grapefield Santa Lucia Highlands Syrahs in recent years, and I love them as you can see by following my reviews, but this Gabilan is something special indeed and its stunning performance, even in its youth is riveting and highlights this unique terroir, those that have had the glorious wines of Bradley Brown of Big Basin, who has sourced fruit from here for years, will recognize it clearly in this wine. The Gabilan Range above the Salinas Valley, across the Valley from the hIghlands, is closer in soils to Chalone and its elevation allows a refreshing of the vines with a dramatic day to night temperature change and cooling breezes from the Pacific Ocean, there is wonderful concentration and ripe tannin, but with tons of energy and balance too, which is from the Diatomaceous earth here. These vines set on crumbly/chalky fossilized rock, with a thin layer of dirt with limestone, sand and granite are well drained, but hold water deep down making the vines go deep and helping them make grapes of intense flavor, all which Joyce captured to near perfection on the 2017 Gabilan Syrah. Joyce’s Syrah(s) are wines to discover, they are not far off those of the mentioned Big Basin, Pax and Drew, along with those of Roar, Morgan and Pisoni some of my absolute favorite wines, plus they are priced right, they are great values.
Russell, and team at Joyce, have been fine tuning their wine and approach in recent years have produced an amazing set of offerings in 2017 and 2018, with this one really standing out, along with his sublime set of dry white wines made from Albarino, Chenin Blanc,Chardonnay and Riesling, and of course his stellar lineup of Pinots. Now using most neutral, well seasoned French barriques and indigenous yeasts, Joyce has found a sweet spot, which Russell freely admits was inspired by his experience with wines he admired from other winemakers, including the wines from Greg Brewer and Chad Melville, to name a few. With this slightly exotic Gabilan Syrah Joyce employed about 40% whole cluster, which really makes this wine pop on the palate with a spicy intensity and tension that gives this wine, made from Alban clone, originally source from Cote-Rotie, a Northern Rhone degree of character, while having pure California density. There’s exceptional definition, dimension of fruit and a firm structure holding things together here, it flows with blackberry coulis, boysenberry, tree picked black plum, blueberry preserves and punchy kirsch/cherry along with a crunchy mineral sense, cracked peppercorns, minty/basil (stems?), crushed violets, light cedary notes, anise and lingering creme de cassis. The tannins melt in the mouth with a warm silkiness and the subtle acidity allows a full bodied textural feel, this Gabilan is totally absorbing and should age well, its opaque purple/black and garnet hue thrills in the glass, making for complete experience, and one that can be enhanced with cuisine. Joyce is getting a lot of attention and it’s well deserved, the wines are very impressive and deliver and awesome quality to cost ratio, in particular the Syrah efforts like this one, don’t miss it! ($40 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2017 Cave Dog, Godello, Sonoma Valley. The surprisingly exotic and lush Godello from Cave Dog fills the palate with peach stone fruit, kumquat, white currant and apple butter along with a creamy texture, impressive for a wine without malo, this is fun stuff that would enjoy a pairing with swordfish, fatty halibut as well as roast poultry dishes or decedent triple cream cheeses. Cave Dog is the latest from Michael Havens, creator of Havens Wine Cellars, which was the first winery in California to do Albarino, which he founded and ran from 1984 to 2008, is known as a champion of Merlot and Cabernet Franc in the Napa Valley. A desire to return to this tradition has led him back to a vineyard he knows well and a wine style, that is more Bordeaux in feel, he reveres as well as returning to Spanish whites, like this unique Godello. Much has changed in the Napa Valley and in Michael’s life, but Cave Dog continues his focus on graceful, elegant expressions of these varieties, and it is good to have him back on the scene after a few years in obscurity, where he pretty much checked out, though he did help Morgan Twain-Peterson at Bedrock with his Abrente white made from Albarino. In fact, Morgan Twain-Peterson and Michael Havens produced the first U.S. Godello in 2012, under the Abrente label. After teaching English at UC Davis in the 1980’s, and early in his winemaking career, Havens decided to take advantage of southern Napa’s cooler climate regions like Combsville and Carneros to showcase their restraint and balance, as he notes was a maverick move, in those days of bigger is better, that lead him to produce one of the valley’s earliest single-varietal Merlots and the first Carneros Syrah. A few years later, he would also pioneer, as mentioned, the first Albariño grown and bottled in the United States, sparking interest that has led to the cultivation of over 300 acres of the grape in California today. As the winery also notes, Michael has also served as a head winemaker and consultant to many different producers, from family wineries like Truchard Vineyards in Carneos, to industry titans such as Foster’s Wine Group. His experience has allowed him to work with nearly every grape varietal grown in California, giving him plenty of opportunities to experiment and too focus his attention on certain grapes that appeal to him, such as Godello, which is almost unknown outside its native Galicia in the cool northwest of Spain on the Atlantic coast, close to Portugal.
The Cave Dog label, the re-booting of Micheal Havens as a vintner, got kicked off with the 2014 vintage without much fanfare, but it looks like an intriguing set of wines, and having now registered both Albariño, first and now with Godello with TTB, Haven’s is as he puts it the premier Galician white wine guy in California. Haven adds, that In 2008, he worked the vintage with Ricardo Perez at Descendientes de J. Palacios, in Bierzo, northwestern Spain and through that experience he discovered some fascinating white wines, made from the Godello grape in nearby Valdeorras, Galicia, which inspired his future efforts. Haunted by Godello, he visited Rafael Palacios, Ricardo’s uncle, who makes what many think is the best white wine in Spain, As Sortes made from Godello, and got Rafael o supply him with pedigreed budwood from his famous Godello vineyards. The Godello grapes tends to make a little richer wine than the Albariño, but still with a lively mouthfeel that keeps it fresh. For Havens’ Cave Dog version its cool fermentation and aging on the lees in neutral white barrels has added complexity, texture and subtle aromatics, while blocking malo-lactic keeps the primary fruit front and center making wine that feels great and smooth on the palate, but retains vibrant acidity. Haven’s Godello, a grape that is often compared to white Burgundy and has considerable density is more Chablis like with mineral tones and loads of energy. While this ripe 2017 is as light or fresh as I am used to from versions from Spain, this is well worth checking out. I am a fan of Michael Havens and even visited his old winery on Hoffman Road in Napa, it’s where I fell in love with Albarino and I got to know his Cabernet Franc and Merlot blend, which I adored, it was one of my secret favorite wines as it was classy and beautiful, plus it was a lot less expressive than Cheval Blanc! I’m glad he is back making wine, though I am sad it took me this long to find his stuff, though this project is under the radar. ($25 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2016 Eduardo Torres Acosta Viticulore, Nerello Mascalese, Versante Nord, Terre Siciliane IGT Rosso, Mount Etna, Sicily, Italy. I’ve really loved these Mount Etna sourced wines from Eduardo Torres Acosta since his first vintage was imported here a couple of years ago, and this Nerello based 2016 from two parcels, both north facing on the volcano is lovely, fresh and exotically spiced, showing this grape in its most flattering light, like Burgundy in class with sense of weightlessness, but with depth, complexity and lingering succulence. The parcels, Pietramarina and Verzella, are located between 550 and 700 meters on soft soils consisting of lava ash from various eruptions on Mount Etna, with Acosta’s vines being between 45-50 years old and they are a field blend mix of close to 80% Nerello Mascalese and 20% other native varieties, including the white Carricante. The Versante Nord red is made via spontaneous fermentation (indigenous yeast), with about 10% whole cluster and It was fermented in cement tanks with somewhere about two weeks on the skins, then the wine is aged 16 months in a neutral Slavonian oak botte (a larger cask). The finished product is a joy in the glass with brandied cherries, spiced raspberry and tree picked plums leading the fruits here in this ruby red and garnet colored wine, adding mineral notes, herbs, flinty red pepper and macerated rose petals along with a earthy hint of reduction. The medium weighted palate is ripe in sweet (smooth) tannin and lifted with pop of energy from the natural acidity with air allowing everything to unfold in stylish fashion. These Etna Rossos are in many ways like Pinot, not flavor wise, but in their silkiness and vibrancy, plus their flexibility with food, especially as you can slightly chill them too and serve with squid ink pasta and briny sauce and or spicy grilled octopus, plus more conventional cuisine.
Eduardo Torres Acosta, a young winemaker from the Canary Islands, first began working with vines in Tenerife where his father (a local postman) had a small plot of land. In 2012 Eduardo moved to Sicily, where he interned at Azienda Arianna Occhipinti, you may have heard of her, one of the natural wine world biggest stars. Soon thereafter he got a job as the enologist at Azienda Passopisciaro, for a few vintages, who are one of the pioneers of Etna’s new wave of producers. Though soon his own label took off, needing more of his full attention. Being imported by natural wine specialist Louis/Dressner has paid off in the states, they have done a great job to put his wines on some great wine lists and Acosta has caught the eye of more than a few influential Somms, making his wines a tough get. Louis/Dressner adds, even despite Eduardo’s “outsider” status, since he wasn’t born on Sicily, he has managed to rent several fine parcels on Etna from the suspicious locals. Up until the 2017 vintage, according to his importer Louis/Dressner, the grapes were harvested and then trucked to Arianna Occhipinti’s estate in Vittoria. Since the winemaking facility is not on Etna, where the grapes are grown, the wines Acosta have made were not allowed DOC status and must carry only the IGT Terre Siciliane designation on the labels, in case there was any confusion. Eduardo was able to convert a small Etna garage into a winery, so this may well change with the release of the 2018’s. Acosta is a name to watch and his wines, a white, this Versante Nord red and a single parcel Nerello Mascalese are all worth searching out. ($35 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2014 Chateau Pradeaux, Bandol Rouge, Provence, France. In a rare cooler style vintage the 2014 Pradeaux Bandol impresses for its restraint, delicacy and elegance, making for a lovely wine with pretty layers and subtly, rather than the usual Mourvedre power. Showing a sense of refinement, but definitely not a light wine this stuff has plenty of stuffing and complexity to satisfy on the medium/full palate with an underlying, velvet covered, tannic structure. Beautifully deep in color with a purple/garnet hue in the glass this 2014 turns on the charm right from the get go with crushed flowers, bright red fruits, snappy spices and a touch of earth before filling out and taking on a darker profile when open with black cherry, plum and mulberry fruits along with touch of cedar, anise, dusty pepper, lavender and even a classic leather note well in the background. This is a wine of purity and terroir, taking its clues from its limestone influenced Provence soils. Bandol, one of the great wines of France, often age decades and are great with robust and protein rich cuisine, going great with lamb and mushroom dishes and or hard sheep cheeses. This 2014 really starts rocking with food and air and it drinks as gracefully as a fine Medoc Bordeaux, though best to decant an hour before serving.
The Château Pradeaux, run by Cyrille Portalis along with his two sons Edouard and current winemaker Etienne, is situated on the outskirts of the town of Saint Cyr-sur-Mer that lies directly on the gorgeous azur (Blue) Mediterranean between Toulon and Marseilles. The estate has been in the hands of the Portalis family since before the French Revolution and the wines themselves transmit that long history and tradition and Pradeaux has been farmed to organic principles for many years. The estate is all about Mourvedre and this classic cuvée is 95% Mourvèdre and 5% Grenache, all whole cluster and with indigenous yeasts the wines then get a long élevage in large oak foudres, in fact they can last as long as four years. The concentration comes from the old vine fruit with the grapes only coming from vines at least 25 years of age, with most much older. The wines of Château Pradeaux are authentic, bold and sometimes rustic, but this 2014 is easy to enjoy in its youth, a rare joy in a Bandol, also look for their fabulous Rosé, which is composed of Cinsault as well as the obvious Mourvèdre. Chateau Pradeaux remains a great value in a region that has seen huge price jumps in the last 10 to 15 years, and this wine is well worth searching out. ($45 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2018 Weingut Selbach-Oster, Riesling Feinherb, Zeltinger Schlossberg “Alte Reben” Mosel Germany. The whole collection of 2018 vintage wines from Selbach are masterpieces of purity and terroir, these are some of the best barrel samples I’ve ever tried and these wines are going to be a legendary set of Rieslings, and one that might get overlooked by traditionalists, but deserves your attention is Johannes Selbach’s old vine Zeltinger Schlossberg Feinherb, it is a do not miss! There is a lot of excitement at Selbach for their 2018 wines, which look to include their first true GG’s, though they might be labeled as Three Stars, the first being their awesome Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Trocken, it should be on your watch list, along with this 2018 Schlossberg Feinherb, with it’s off dry richness (though not sweet) proving very sexy in the glass. All of Selbach Oster’s Zeltingen vineyards – Himmelreich, Schlossberg and Sonnenuhr are all set on steep slopes and set on pure blue Devonian slate soils above the Mosel with great souther exposures allowing deep concentration and mineral complexity. When you look for the best in the region, Selbach-Oster joins Loosen, J.J. Prum, Monchhof, Molitor, Maximin Grunhaus and the impressive Loewen, and while Selbach is known for his classic Kabinett, one of the absolute best wines for the money in the world, his opulent Spatlese and his dense and regal Auslese, his drier style wines have always intrigued, usually selected from singular parcels, they are not wines that have been slaves to dogma or technical regulations and too be honest, most of the time their are better for having a little extra residual sugar in the must with this wine showing that extra RS in the form of graceful textural rather than any perception of sweetness. This Zeltinger Feinherb, and find you this is just a barrel sample, is gorgeous with incredible extract, it’s wonderfully detailed Riesling with forward layers of beautiful stone fruits and candied citrus along with hints of apricot, yellow peach, tangerine, quince, flint rock, saline, chamomile, white flowers and crystallized ginger. With air you get classic green apple, lime and creaminess of mouth feel, though a touch of savory wet stones and a touch of lemongrass add contrast to this tasty stuff. The natural acidity and steely mineral tones certainly keeps the energy high and the balance of form is masterful, under the hood is plenty of depth that leads me to believe that this will be a fantastic wine to lose in the cellar for a decade, it will reward both the patient and those that demand instant hedonistic pleasure!
Selbach Oster, with a long storied history in the Mosel, dating back to the 1600s, is run by Johannes Selbach and his wife Barbara, with the increasing help of son Sebastian and daughter Hannah, they, as importer Terry Theise says, manage their vineyards and winery with passion and respect for the estate’s long held traditions. Never one to stand still, Johannes added Christian Vogt in the cellars, he was the winemaker at Kartauserhof for many years, giving even more talent to this winery. Theise adds that, Johannes, like his late father Hans, has continued the use of traditional oak fuder in his cellar, bringing in new large casks every few years. The vinification is carried out in a combination of fuder and stainless steel, with low intervention in an hands-off manner with no fining, and predominantly the wines are done with wild yeasts or Sponti. I have always loved these wines, especially the Kabinett offerings, with the recent vintages 2015, 2016 and 2017 all performing great in the bottle, but these 2018’s are next level and Riesling lovers will want to pre-order as many as possible, in particular the value priced bottlings, like the Zeltinger Himmelreich Halbtrocken, the regular Mosel Kabinett, the Sonnenuhr Kabinett and the Saar negotiant offerings, along with the more serious Graacher, Wehlener and Zeltinger cru stuff, like this one. I was thrilled to catch up with Johannes at a recent tasting and hear about the 2018 vintage, a vintage that Terry Theise is super excited by as he confided to me as well, the wines all were outstanding and in his own humble way seemed really proud of this set, and interestingly in this vintage he guided me towards his Schlossberg wines, my favorite vineyard of his, in contrast to his usually pushing me to give more time and thought to Sonnenuhr! I concede that he was right about that, though for whatever reason I am drawn to Schlossberg and in this vintage I am overjoyed by the quality of this very special vineyard, with the Spatlese as well as this one being in particular explosive with a glorious expressive personality which shines through. Also, I would be amiss without mentioning Selbach’s fabulous and smoky/stony dry Pinot Blanc, one of the best examples of this grape I’ve ever had. (Note: Tasted from Barrel Sample, the finished wine should be released later this fall or winter) ($42 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2017 Caraccioli Cellars, Pinot Noir, Hilltop Cuvee, Escolle Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands. The beautifully crafted Hilltop Cuvee Pinot, an upcoming release from Scott Caraccioli and his team at Caraccioli Cellars, best known for their awesome grower fizz, is a remarkable wine of gorgeous aromatic intensity and refinement with a dark fruit profile and exceptional balance. This special release** is from the upper most rows at their estate grown Escolle Vineyard, featuring a diverse selection of vines and clones that include 943 and a little 828 that heighten the energy and racy black fruits, making for a very distinct Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir that is fabulously expressive, but with sharp detailing and focus, the vintage was near perfect for Escolle and it really shows here with silky ripe flavors and vibrant lifting acidity. The nose seduced me, and I was already entranced even before this Pinot got to my palate, in fact I thought there might be some whole cluster, but I was wrong as this Hilltop is all de-stemmed fruit, though the bouquet is wildly intriguing with floral tones, spice and exotic dark fruited. Caraccioli says he has been using some bigger format barrels and that this one saw some Puncheon and while 50% new French oak was used this is absolutely joyously not oaky on the palate. Complex with layers of black cherry, wild plum, pomegranate and bramble berry fruits, Asian and baking spices, including shaved cinnamon stick, along with briar notes, mineral elements, earl grey and a hint of smoky Francois Freres wood all make this an irresistible Pinot Noir that certainly raises Caraccioli into the serious league of SLH producers. Attention to yields and meticulous sorting with micro lots, Caraccioli Cellars are getting the most out of Escolle and the passion of place shines through in the wines.
As mentioned Caraccioli Cellars are making some of America’s best Sparkling wines and have already become local legends with their grower producer methode champenoise wines, with both their Cuvee Brut and Brut Rosé being outstanding bubbly, and even more uniquely they are some of the only single vineyard Champagne style sparklers available in the country. Caraccioli’s site was planted in March of 2008 and the Escolle Vineyard is 124 acres of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, as they put it, grounded in the northern Santa Lucia Highlands on the regions sandy loamy soils. Caraccioli Cellars planted the vineyard with a variety of clone and root stock options, giving the winery and its customers for grapes a flexibility in style has led to Escolle making a quick impact here, with many talented local winemakers enjoying their fruit from here including Ian Brand, Jim Schultze of Windy Oaks and Russell Joyce, all making sublime Chardonnay from Escolle grapes. Caraccioli’s still wines seem to get better with each vintage and this one is very pretty Pinot Noir and their new 2017 Escolle Chardonnay is showing well also with a steely streak of minerallity and creamy texture. Learned from stars of the Santa Lucia Highlands, the Caraccioli’s put the utmost care into the tending of the vines and the farming here is so good that Escolle rivals the Cru sites, namely Rosella’s, Garys’, Soberanes, Sierra Mar, Double L as well as Tondre and surpassing Sleepy Hollow, out here for grape quality, this hands on, studied and hand crafted approach has paid off, especially with the 2017 vintage and in particular in this limited bottling. **Note: This was a preview sample, look for it this fall, thank you Scott Caraccioli for sharing this beauty. ($N/A) 94+ Points, grapelive
2017 Alfredo Maestro Tejero Viticultor, Tempranillo “Vina Almate” Castilla y Leon, Spain. One of the best deals in natural and pure Tempranillo, the Viña Almate by Alfredo Maestro Tejero, comes from Clay-Calcareous and Alluvial soils at an elevation between 700-1000 meters with vine ages ranging from 10-80 years. This 100% Tinto Fino (Tempranillo) cuvée is made from fruit sourced from various plots in Valtiendas (Segovia), as well as in Peñafiel (Valladolid) in the Castilla y León region, basically in the Ribera del Duero, but since his winemaking practices don’t adhere to the D.O., it’s considered a rebel wine. All the grapes, known locally as Tinto Fino, were hand-harvested, mostly by Alfredo himself, as he is pretty much a one man army, then they are whole-cluster crushed and fermented with native yeasts in steel vat with about 12-15 days of maceration. The resulting fresh and vibrant wine raised over winter in vat, without oak and bottled in February unfined, unfiltered, and with very low or no SO2, capturing the purest form possible. This 2017 is slightly reductive at first with a touch of earthy funk that blows off allowing pretty fruit and floral details to take over on the medium bodied palate showing blackberry, plum, mulberry and black cherry fruits, along with minty herb, leather, mineral tones, sandalwood, licorice and dried lavender. The natural tannin and acidity make this a succulent red wine, a touch drying on it’s own, but smooth with a range of cuisine options, it’s great with BBQ, picnics and a party quaff.
I love Alfredo’s wines, they are honest and charming offerings, much like he is himself, I am grateful to have done a few tastings with him and he gives off a warm of friendship, which is transmitted through his wines as well. His family came to the winemaking town Peñafiel, in the Ribera del Duero from the Basque Country, and according to his importer Jose Pastor, having grown up amongst the grapes vines, and always having a great interest in wine, it seemed he was destined to be a winemaker. Through the encouragement of his closest friends, he started making his own wine in 1998 and in that same year he planted his first vineyard -Almate- which he named after himself, not short of confidence, on the Rio Duraton near his home. From the beginning he farmed organically, but followed the winemaking guidebooks to the letter for a few years before following his own instincts in the cellar and going all natural, this gave his wines a new life and got the attention of the natural wine world. This Vina Amate, his highest production bottling, is a great way to discover the Alfredo Maestro wines, but he does some cool Garnacha too, as well as a couple single parcel Tempranillo(s), a lovely Garnacha Tintorera (Alicante Bouschet) Rosado, along with a wild white wine called Lovamor made from hundred plus year old parcels of Albillo, a rare native varietal, which in the latest vintage was “Orange Wine” style fermented on the skins for 7 days and aged in neutral chestnut wood barrel. All of which are delicious and exciting, and again this Vina Almate is a solid starting place to launch into these wines, giving good bang for the buck. ($15 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive