Monthly Archives: February 2020

Grapelive: Wine of the Day February 29, 2020

2018 Schlossgut Diel, Riesling Feinherb, Von der Nahe, Nahe Germany -photo grapelive

2018 Schlossgut Diel, Riesling Feinherb, Von der Nahe, Nahe Germany.
It is with great joy and admiration that I send my congratulations to winemaker Caroline Diel, who was just named Winemaker of the Year, by Falstaff, in Germany, I truly cannot agree more, this is truly deserved for an incredible vigneron and a remarkable person. I love her wines and visiting her cellar during the 2016 harvest was a wonderful experience as well as being able to get an up close view of her vineyard sites, which are breathtaking in their steepness and their historic majestic presence, this winery in Germany’s Nahe region is really one of the world’s greats. Caroline, who even had a stint at the fabled Domaine de la Romanee-Conti, since taking the reins at Schlossgut Diel has proved herself to be a force to be reckoned with, taking the estate’s offerings to the next level, she makes some of finest dry wines in all of Europe with her stunning Grosses Gewachs being stars, but she also crafts the best sparkling wine I’ve ever had, yes, even better than vintage Krug! Plus she does a fantastic Pinot Noir and even her more basic bottlings, like this gorgeous dryish Feinherb Von der Nahe, a special cuvee made for Terry Theise and the American market, are total class and insane values. If you’ve not discovered Schlossgut Diel, it is past time you do so, Caroline is absolutely killing it and these last 3 or 4 vintages have been simply awesome. Diel, who took over the estate in 2012 after joining the cellar team in 2006 also had internships at renowned spots while at school including Château Pichon-Lalande in Bordeaux and prestigious German vineyards such as Robert Weil, Toni Jost and Dr. Deinhard/Von Winning, adding experience, as the winery notes during her wine-growing studies at the famous Geisenheim University in the Rheingau.

The Von der Nahe is a dry style, but not classified as a trocken, having just enough residual sugar to allow for a more generous nature, giving it a flexible purpose making it great with food and sublime in freshness it shows classic Nahe flavors, a crystalline mineral focus and delicate floral aromatics. As has been noted before, Armin Diel, Caroline’s father, has been a champion of German Riesling around the world, promoting Schlossgut Diel, and was one of the pioneers of dry Rieslings, which are crafted with incredible precision in large oak barrels, plus some concrete and in this case mostly in stainless steel tanks, with a nod to tradition and focus on purity. Diel has a complex variety of soils to work with from slate to gravel, as well as areas of sandstone and quartz, all providing the detailing on these terroir wines. The Von der Nahe Riesling comes from estate vines with these vineyards being on steep, south-facing slopes, which gives it its ripe expression with high proportions of slate that delivers a flinty spiciness. The 2018 vintage wine was spontaneously fermented with indigenous yeasts in traditional (large oak) barrels with extended lees aging in stainless steel tanks, allowing a slightly richer character to develop, while preserving exceptional clarity. White peach, green apple and mixed citrus fruits lead the way along with snappy ginger, verbena, rosewater and salty wet stones show in this lovely almost entry level wine, it is quality and elegance all the way, enjoy it for the next 3 to 5 years with anything you feel like eating with it, it goes great with everything from smoked ham to spicy tuna sushi. Bravo Caroline and Schlossgut Diel! I can’t wait to visit the winery again, in the meantime I’ll be sipping on this wine, plus their offer hand crafted brilliant bottlings, including the Kabinett wines that should not be overlooked either!
($29 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day February 28, 2020

2017 Tablas Creek Vineyard, Esprit Blanc de Tablas, Adelaida District, Paso Robles -photo grapelive

2017 Tablas Creek Vineyard, Esprit Blanc de Tablas, Adelaida District, Paso Robles.
One of California’s great white whites and certainly the class of the field when it comes to mostly Roussanne, the Tablas Creek Vineyard Esprit Blanc de Tablas is an amazing Chateauneuf du Pape Blanc Rhone style wine with rich density and an energetic lively tension that makes it a thrill on the palate. With a brisk intensity and slightly lower natural alcohol, this vintage has really found that perfect groove of balance and impact, at only 13% it doesn’t fall into a heady or heavy performance, instead keeping a restraint poise that really impresses and refreshes with every sip. The Esprit Blanc, made from 68% Roussanne, 17% Grenache Blanc, 7% Picpoul, 4% Clairette Blanche and 4% of the the incredibly rare Picardan, all from cuttings sourced at Chateau de Beaucastel and the Perrin Family, who partner with the Haas family at Tablas Creek, is gorgeously layered with Roussanne’s notable mouth filling and oily smooth texture and phenolic extract with tangerine, apricot, melon and bosc pear fruits along with chalky crushed wet stones, jasmine, bitter almond, clove spices, mineral tones and a delicate hint of lingering butterscotch. That said, there’s a bright vein of lemon, like a ray of California sunshine, as well as mouth watering saline element that helps curb the impression of weight, making this pale gold wine excellent with many food choices and will allow this wine to age with a graceful arc. We in California are truly blessed with climate and terroir with this wine doing its best to highlight this, its flavor and balance comes from Paso’s limestone soils and the cooling influence from the Templeton Gap

The top series, or Cru, of wines at Tablas, the Esprit line is selected from the top 15%-20% of the estate grown lots each vintage, and as the winery notes is aged in 1200-gallon foudres, large French casks for an extended period to allow the wines to integrate and deepen, this Esprit Blanc has especially gained from this careful selection of grapes and the old world treatment in the cellar. The Winery also notes that this is the first vintage to incorporate two new varieties to the final Esprit Blanc blend, adding that the Picardan brings an elegance and Clairette Blanche gives a fresh crispness, clarity and is gently citrusy. With time in the glass even more complexity comes through with subtle wild fennel, brioche (leesy notes), honey and a touch of the wood, all delivering an extra dimension and harmony to this wonderful wine. I always imagine having crab cakes and lobster roll with this wine, but it goes sublimely with roast chicken, swordfish steaks, wild mushroom pasta dishes and an array of soft cheeses. This is an elite example of a white Rhone and sets a high standard, as do all of Tablas’ sensational lineup, it is always a treat to sample these wines, be sure to take advantage of the opportunity to try them, in particular I suggest this one if you like Roussanne, and are looking for an alternative to a fine Chardonnay, but don’t miss their 100% Picpoul and Vermentino bottlings either, both are delightfully vivid and absolutely must haves for warm days! I have always admired these wines from Tablas, was well as of course the Perrin’s Beaucastel classics, but in recent years I have gained a true appreciation for the contribution the Haas and Perrin families have made to California’s wine history, for which we should all be grateful for.
($45 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day February 27, 2020

2016 Marjan Simčič, Pinot Noir “Opoka” Slovenia -photo grapelive

2016 Marjan Simčič, Pinot Noir “Opoka” Goriska Brda, Slovenia.
With vineyards that cross between the Collio region of Italy and the Brda zone of Slovenia, the Marjan Simčič winery has a slight identity crisis within the wine world, are they Italian or Slovenian and the answer doesn’t make it any easier, but the wines are beautiful and the quality and passion shine through in the glass, especially in this lovely and surprising Pinot Noir that shows incredible lightness, but with depth and length that rival some more prestigious regions. Marjan Simčič, mostly known for their skin contact whites that have a long tradition in the region of northeastern Italy, actually make some spectacular normal macerated wines, like this Pinot Noir and their Sauvignon Blanc, which was a huge hit at this years Slow Wine Tasting in San Francisco, plus a delicate and finessed version of Brda Ribolla. The Marjan Simčič Pinot Noir from their Opoka cru vineyard site shows warm ripe fruit, from a vintage that is credited with many fine offerings from all over Italy, floral perfume, light earthy and minerally tones, a dusting of spices, faint orange tea notes and cedary wood with layers of black cherry, tart plum, mulberry/currant and mini garden strawberry fruits that stand out on the medium bodied palate. There an exceptional textural quality here that belies the wines origins and reminds me of satiny Chambolle-Musigny wines, this stuff is pure ruby colored class and there’s a underpinning of fresh acidity that keeps everything in crisp form and allows the individual details to be excitingly revealed with each sip, this is a stunning effort and is not a wine that gets lost in a crowd.

I discovered the Marjan Simčič wines a few years ago at another Slow Wine tasting, and sadly they didn’t have an importer, so I wasn’t able to follow up on them, now imported, though limited in scope, I hope to keep a better track of these great wines, I certainly will be following his Pinot Noir a lot more closely, this is outstanding stuff. Marjan Simčič,’s favorite saying is that there is truth in wine. (meaning transparency and terroir that shows in his wines and his love of place.) He adds that his wine tells the story of the magical Brda region in Slovenia, where the family lives and is from, noting that he feels connected strongly to this land. He tries to tell that story (of year and place) in every glass of his wines, which this 2016 Pinot does well, it holds your attention and draws you in, my seduction was complete, I was vastly impressed as you might gather. This Pinot comes from an eastern facing plot at Opoka set on a special combination of soils including marl, slate and sandstone, which explains the intriguing flavors and Simčič fermented it with carefully select yeasts in large conical oak after a two week maceration before a gentle pressing to barrel where the wine rested 27 months, all French barrique with about 30% new oak used then bottled unfined and unfiltered. Now that Wine Warehouse imports Simčič, I plan to enjoy a lot more of these wines. This Pinot, from near the village of Ceglo, will be top of my repeat list and I can’t wait to match it with food, where I am sure it will turn out to be mind blowing!
($50-60 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day February 26, 2020

2018 Troon Vineyard, Vermentino, Kubli Bench, Applegate Valley AVA, Oregon -photo grapelive

2018 Troon Vineyard, Vermentino, Kubli Bench, Applegate Valley AVA, Oregon.
West coast Vermentino is all the rage right now with this Mediterranean grape seeing a real rise in popularity with many wineries producing great examples, including Tablas Creek in Paso Robles, Chesebro and Bonny Doon in Monterey’s Arroyo Seco to name a few, but this Troon Vineyard from Oregon has really done an amazing job with theirs from the southern Oregon region of Applegate Valley. The coastal climate conditions suit this varietal and Troon’s is a lovely fresh wine with brisk and crystal clear details and a sublime textural quality, that rivals some of the world’s best versions of Vermentino, like those from Corsica, which are some of the most pure examples you can find, especially the wines of Yves Leccia, Abbatucci and Clos Canarelli, which have elevated Vermentino to very regal territory. Vermentino’s home range goes all along the Mediterranean coast of France and Italy with top wines coming from, as mentioned, Corsica, Sardinia, Tuscany as well as in areas near Provence, the Rhone, where it is one of the legal Chateauneuf du Pape grapes and parts of the Languedoc and beyond where it is sometimes called Rolle as well as in Piedmonte where it is known as Favorita, as it was once favored by an intriguing countess! Troon’s version, an all biodynamic bottling is wonderfully posed in the glass with a lovely minerally personality and vibrantly focused with fresh citrus blossom, liquid stones, tangerine and peach notes, adding a leesy mouth feel and sense of vinous depth without being any but electric and steely dry.

Troon’s winegrower Craig Camp says Vermentino has proven to be ideally suited to the soils and climate of the Applegate Valley, near Grant’s Pass in this unique growing region, adding that the warm, dry summers and the granitic soils give a deeply favored and complex style of wine that he compares to the Sardinia examples, while I see the similarities with the granite intense Corsica terroir. The Vermentno at Troon is a mainstay and in fact they do a few different versions, including an orange skin contact one, much like a Vermentino done by Sonoma’s Ryme Cellars, another outstanding one to look for, also a Vermentino specialist that is exploring this flexible grape that offers richness and good natural acidity. Vermentino is awesome with a vast selection of cuisine and can be an alternative to everything from Sancerre to Gruner Veltliner and or Muscadet to Verdejo. The latest new world Vermentinos are very much an exciting bunch of thrilling whites that deserve your attention, especially this Troon Vineyard with its 12 months on the lees and riveting flavors and refreshing zesty charms. Randall Grahm of California’s Bonny Doon told me a few years ago he saw Vermentino as a potential hero of the future with a warming planet, as it can retain so much lively acidity and is adaptable to a variety of locations and soils, and his is a beauty too, he even has done a sparkling Vermentino. Troon is a world class organic and sustainable estate with an exciting set of wines, some based on Rhone grapes and some others from more exotic stuff like Malbec and Tannat, these are wines to check out, in particular this light gold and crisp Vermentino that is fabulous with sea foods and soft cheeses.
($25 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day February 25, 2020

2016 Fattoria di Fèlsina, Fontalloro IGT Rosso, Castelnuovo Berardenga, Tuscany, Italy -photo grapelive

2016 Fattoria di Fèlsina, Fontalloro IGT Rosso, Castelnuovo Berardenga, Tuscany, Italy.
The wines of Fèlsina have always moved me and I find them as compelling as Bordeaux and or Burgundy, the Castelnuovo Berardenga based estate in the southeastern most Chianti Classico zone has long been one of the great names in Tuscany. Their Chianti Classico Riserva Rancia is one of the most prized and cellar worthy in the region, it rivals many a top Brunello, and Fèlsina also produces one of the most iconic of all Sangiovese wines, the Fontalloro, which is labeled as a simple IGT Rosso, or Vino di Tavola, much the same way as Montevertine’s Le Pergole Torte is, another pure and outstanding Sangiovese wine. Felsina were early foregoers of blending in the other local varietals and especially the white grapes that were so commonly added, instead really focusing on the Sangiovese and only making their Chianti lineup with the single varietal, and they have never been temped to add Merlot and or Cabernet Sauvignon, which has become legal and is widely used in the final blends, even though they do have a single site Cabernet Sauvignon on the estate, preferring the absolute purity of the transmission that their Sangiovese delivers. The Fontalloro, especially this powerful, concentrated and complex 2016 version, performs with a sense of elegance that is hard to describe in written words, it is a wine that needs to be experienced to understand its profound impact on the senses and the palate, it reminds me of Chateau Margaux in that way, it is not as showy as some of its contemporaries, but unforgettable, beautiful, and almost without a fault. I really, really am impressed with this 2016 edition, tasted at this year’s Slow Wine, of Fontalloro, it is one of the best I’ve tried from Felsina since the majestic 1997 and is everything you’d ask for in such a wine, and while not a cheap bottle, it is one of the wine world’s sublime values, honestly there are 100’s of boring and generic wines that sell for twice the price.

The ripe and structured year gave all the best elements to this Fontalloro to be one of the legends and the Felsina team didn’t disappoint, making a wine for the ages and while exceptional even now, like I always say, a great wine is a great wine regardless when you open the bottle, this one will be one that will be a certain treasured time capsule wine that should be incredibly long lived, going two or three decades with ease. The layers unfold with gorgeous life and dimension with a firm, but welcome tannic force that holds back the massive fruit and shows the wine’s terrific poise in the glass with classic Sangiovese details including blackberry, plum, cherry and strawberry fruits, a light sense of French oak, delicate florals, minty herb, sweet and spicy tobacco, a trace of sandalwood, balsamic notes, mineral and well judged acidity that lifts this full bodied wine and keeps things in near perfect check. The Fontalloro, 100% Sangiovese, coming from old vines in three top vineyards, Poggio al Sole vineyard, within Chianti Classico, and the Casalino and Arcidossino vineyards, within the Chianti Colli Senesi, they straddle the border between “Classico” and “Colli Senesi” at almost 400 meters of elevation that has a good high to low temp range that promotes quality and complexity. This area, which is known for its unique profile and terroir influence is set between forested areas and rolling hills of chalky soils that are calcareous in Chianti Classico and predominantly loamy and sandy in the Sensi. The vines, which are now farmed with biodynamic practices, according to the estate, are in excess of fifty years of age that gives the wine its mature and deep character, and the Fontalloro, which sees a traditional fermentation is then aged in small French oak barrels, plenty of which were new, for between fifteen to eighteen months prior to bottling, it is a serious wine and one of Italy’s absolute best.
($65 Est.) 98 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day February 24, 2020

2018 Cameron Winery, Pinot Blanc “Giovanni” Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon -photo grapelive

2018 Cameron Winery, Pinot Blanc “Giovanni” Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
The beautiful and taut Pinot Blanc from John Paul at Cameron Winery in the Dundee Hills AVA of Oregon’s Willamette Valley is influenced and inspired by the winemakers love of the wines of northern Italy, especially the Friuli region and in this case a little bit of the Dolomites with this Giovanni, it shows beautiful crisp details and mineral charm. In recent years I have fallen in love with Cameron’s Pinot Blanc or Bianco and have also come to the opinion that Pinot Blanc is one of the best grape expressions in Oregon, in particular for whites in wines such as this, as well as in the stylish versions crafted by Ken Wright and the talented Kelley Fox, which come from the coastal range side of the Willamette Valley on marine sedimentary soils, while this one comes from the red hills of Dundee on the class volcanic Jory soils, that gives this one it’s unique individual character. This 2018 shows fine acidity, ripe flavors and a pleasure in its textural excellence, core of white fruit and contrasting stone pit bitter element along with a touch of racy spice, this Cameron Giovanni Pinot Blanc delivers smooth layers of apple driven fruits, brisk citrus, peach flesh as well as a touch of honey, herbs and white flowers.

Cameron, known for their incredible Burgundy style Pinot Noirs, some of Oregon’s greatest ever wines, also has this Italian side to his lineup, or as John Paul calls the Cameronis, and as mentioned the wines of Friuli and Alto Adige offer a model that works exquisitely with much of Cameron’s fruit. The Pinot Bianco or “Giovanni” as Paul calls it, is fermented in cool stainless steel tanks, which the winery notes, typically is from 3 different lots of estate grown grapes that are from non irrigated vines with appropriately chosen cultures of aromatic yeasts, and bottled early after a short 6 to 8 months in its exuberant youth, to preserve vitality, usually in the early Spring, after harvest. Cameron also does a fabulous Nebbiolo too, it will certainly surprise Barolo and Barbaresco drinkers with its purity and classic Langhe personality, along with his serious of whites and his Ramato style, or orange wine, Pinot Gris, plus the Friuli style Fruliano blend that gets Friulano, Pinot Bianc, Pinot Grigio and Auxerrois with a small bit of Moscato in the finished wine, it is another savvy effort to chase down if you can. I had the Giovanni Pinot Blanc with oysters on the half shell and a exotic mignonette that included some raw ginger and this lovely wine managed to soak it up no problem and be rich enough to go with a lobster tail and shellfish fettuccine with poise and grace, this wine rocks and the price is unbelievable for the quality in the glass!
($18 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day February 23, 2020

2016 Weingut Korrell, Riesling Trocken, Nahe Germany -photo grapelive

2016 Weingut Korrell, Riesling Trocken, Nahe Germany.
The Korrell estate in the Nahe has been one of beautiful additions to my lineup of fine Riesling producers and I have been impressed by all the wines I have had so far as they get introduced to the United States, and I really enjoy this 2016 Trocken, which I missed in my first exploration into these wines, with its crisp detail, tangy fresh stone fruits and vitality of form. Martin Korrell, the sixth generation of the Korrell family, is the talent behind this ambitious and innovative estate, he has a wonderful palate of diverse soils to work with here, not far from the likes of Donnhoff, Schlossgut Diel, Hexamer, Gut Hermannsberg, Kruger-Rumpf and Schäfer-Fröhlich. There is volcanic, slate, quartz and gravel in the Nahe, plus Korrell has their prized single vineyard monopole Paradies cru vineyard which is set on mineral intense clay and fossilized limestone, that gives Korrell’s flagship Riesling a fantastic textural richness and depth that reminds me of some of the great Pfalz GG’s. The Korrell family, as mentioned here a few times, has Spanish roots, has a long winegrowing tradition going back 250 years or more, with their Nahe farming property dating back to 1832, though really fine tuning the focus to exclusively wine production in 1967 when Wilfried Korrell convertied it all vines.

This 2016 is brightly fruited with layers of white peach, grapefruit, tart apricot, quince, melon and green apple fruits all of which are in a transparent loop on the medium bodied palate with plenty zing from natural acidity and mouth watering saline, this is classy dry Riesling that is accented by hints of orange blossom, minty herb, clove, dried spicy ginger, crushed stones and intense liquid mineral. There’s a light smoky and petrol note and a touch of reduction, letting you know you are drinking Riesling, but overall there is an open and easy feel to the Korrell Trocken that invites joyous abandon and it can be easily enjoyed as a refreshing sipper and or with a more serious meal, this stuff will not let you down. The texture comes through as it warms in the glass and the steely edgy quality here fades to allow the fruit to flow makes this Nahe Trocken a fine Riesling to go with crab dishes, like the crab salad sliders I had with it, plus it can go with oysters and mildly spicy cuisine, in particular, some Thai curry. I also recent had the Korrell Sekt Rosé, a fine and entertaining Pinot Noir based sparkler, though not yet in the United States, but fingers crossed we get more of these wines, though for now I recommend getting some of this dry Riesling and their awesome GG like Von Den Grossen Lagen, all from VPD Grand Cru sites, names you’d know.
($24 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day February 22, 2020

2015 Giacomo Borgogno & Figli, Langhe Nebbiolo “No Name” Piedmonte, Italy -photo grapelive

2015 Giacomo Borgogno & Figli, Langhe Nebbiolo “No Name” Piedmonte, Italy.
Another one of the stars of the recent Slow Wine Tasting in San Francisco was the Borgogno No Name (Nebbiolo), which really is a de-classified Barolo that saw the same winemaking and treatment as their Cru offerings, and in fact this No Name 2015 was an equal to their presigous Cannubi bottling on the day and is really a gorgeous wine with incredible depth, power and purity. The historic Borgogno & Figli label and winery has been restored to the highest level of respect and quality under the ownership of Andrea Farinetti, who has a string of intriguing wineries and projects throughout Italy and who is dedicated to native varietals and traditions within the regions. He has in recent years added the rare Piedmonte white grape Timorasso to Borgogno’s vineyards in the Colli Tortonesi zone, and the 2018 Derthona Timorasso is a beauty with lovely texture and mineral notes, certainly worth searching out for an alternative Italian white, but of course Borgogno is mostly known for their classic Nebbiolo in Barolo form and this No Name bottling is exceptional. The No Name, I believe, comes from a time when Borgogno were tardy getting in some registration forms to label one of their Barolo Riservas and were not allowed to label it as such, so in playful ironic payback they just called it No Name, and since then have made a Barolo bottling with that label, since it became an instant legend, though current versions are not renamed Risevas, but more a special barrel selection, from what info I could pry out of the winery. This No Name is packed with intensity and layered with black raspberry, macerated strawberry, cherry and damson plum fruits with balsamic accents, earth, anise, a touch of dried rose petals, mineral, grilled orange and pretty cedary notes, this is impressive and full bodied Nebbiolo with a gripping structure, while feeling rich and satiny on the palate with everything that make Nebbiolo regal showing up here.

The No Name Langhe Nebbiolo comes from vineyards located in the Langhe area in the villages around Barolo set on the classic Marl limestone and clay soils with all the estates vines being certified organic and is crafted with the idea of being a more early drinking example of Nebbiolo, but with real Barolo presence in the glass, which this 2015 delivers, in a rich and warm vintage, making for a killer value and an exciting wine that you’d be able to pop the cork on anytime the mood grabbed you without the guilt of opening a true Barolo that would be better with another decade in the cellar, that said, this one can and should age exceptionally well too! Borgogno, which is one of Piedmonte’s oldest and most revered Barolo properties, founded back in 1761 uses traditional winemaking in their No Name, with a fermentation and long maceration of about 2 weeks in temperature controlled tanks and with what the winery says was a submerged cap maceration with a variable duration between 10 and 20 days, to allow the gentle extraction of structure and depth of flavors, allowing for a generous exploration of the grape and place. As mentioned, the No Name gets the full Barolo treatment and was aged in Slavonia oak barrels for at least three years and aging in bottle for at least two years before release, which is just about to happen in the US market. Borgogno has some incredible plots in some of Barolo’s most admired Crus including Liste, Fossati and the mentioned Cannubi, one of the world’s best vineyards, and this wine is a great way to discover and explore the winery’s quality, it’s terroir and house style. The No Name Langhe Nebbiolo, especially in this ripe year, offers remarkable value and a vinous noble drinking experience, while still having less pretense and it will be fabulous with rustic cuisine and with friends, definitely a wine worth every penny.
($45 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day February 21, 2020

2018 G.D. Vajra, Langhe Riesling “Petracine” Piedmonte, Italy -photo grapelive

2018 G.D. Vajra, Langhe Riesling “Petracine” Piedmonte, Italy.
One of my absolute favorite whites, the G.D. Vajra dry Riesling, comes from high elevation plots near Barolo in Vajra’s cru sites Fossati and Bricco Bertone on marl, sand, stones and clay soils. This 2018 is one of the best and aromatic versions I’ve tried of Vajra’s Riesling Pétracine which is due to be released soon and it is produced only with the oldest vines. These Vajra parcels are the oldest known plantings of Riesling in Piemonte, going in the ground from a special Rheingau clone believed to have been from Alsace’s famous Marcel Deiss own cuttings back in 1985. It is a stunning Riesling, one of the most exciting outside of Alsace and Germany sourced from sites that are on hillsides near a forested area with east/south-east exposures at 420-480 meters above sea level, where it stays very cool, helping retain loads of natural acidity while allowing for ripe complexity. Its name Pétracine comes from an ancient synonym of Riesling, meaning ‘the roots [into] the stone’ that explains why the grape, usually found in slate and or sandstones is known historically for doing well in rocky soils. This is exceptionally cool stuff from Giuseppe Vajra, who is best known for his cru Barolo, the Bricco Delle Viole and his unique Kye Freisa, made from of Piedmonte’s rare and almost forgotten red grapes, but he also does a solid lineup of Barbera, Dolcetto and Nebbiolo varietal wines that are insane value offerings. Sadly I missed the Vajra family at the San Francisco Slow Wine Tasting, they are some of the nicest people in the wine world, but I did get a preview of the Riesling and got a taste of Vajra’s latest Barolo cru Coste di Rose, which is outrageously good and perfumed, both are not to be missed.

The brightly fresh, peachy and vivid 2018 Vajra Langhe Riesling has a warm sunny pale golden hue and shows a beautiful zesty tension on the delicately medium bodied palate with an array of citrus and stone fruits leading the way, it gains layers and vinous generosity with every sip, but stays taught and impeccably focused throughout. There is a fascinating dimension of wet stones, tropical notes, spiced crystalized ginger and tangy quince that really adds class and pop to the Riesling’s profile along with hints of rosewater, lemon verbena and lingering jasmine blossoms, making for gigantic turn on and with its brisk steeliness and lively acidity it certainly plays well with briny/saline shellfish, from mussels to claims, as well as oysters and crab dishes. Giuseppe Vajra is making some amazing wines, each with their own signature style and terroir showing up the bottle, like this Riesling which was hand harvested to be sure all the grapes and clusters came into the cellar intact then gently pressed and cold soaked or settled for approximately 20 days before fermentation to help drop out any green phenolics and the wine was aged exclusively on the fine lees for about 8 months in stainless steel. The Vajra’s led the way with Riesling in the Langhe and while almost 20 other producers now grow and make own expressions, Vajra’s remains a step ahead and this wine is pretty close to what you could call an Italian Grosses Gewachs or an Alsace Grand Cru bottling, it is a guilty pleasure that I always cherish! I can’t wait for this 2018 to reach America
($45 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day February 20, 2020

2017 Folded Hills Vineyards, August Red, Santa Ynez Valley -photo grapelive

2017 Folded Hills Vineyards, August Red, Santa Ynez Valley.
One of the surprises and a new find for me at the Slow Wine tasting in San Francisco was Andrew and Kim Busch’s estate grown Folded Hills Vineyards from the Santa Ynez Valley, just north of Santa Barbara, where they focus on Grenache. The selections I tasted were fresh and pure with a lighter touch and with wonderful flavors, with their 100% whole cluster and carbonic Grenache and this August Red being my favorites, these are stylish examples of California Rhones and very exciting, since they are flying way under the radar, but with an amazing team in the vines and in the cellar with Kiwi, A Tribute to Grace, winemaker Angela Osborne using her talents in crafting these small lot wines and Stolpman’s Ruben Solorzano doing his usual magic in the vineyards. The August Red is delightful with racy red fruits leading the way before a darker and richer side comes through with air, much in the same way I find a fine Gigondas does with light earthy notes, spice and delicate floral notes all showing up here as well with layers of boysenberry, strawberry, tangy red beet root, blueberry and kirsch fruits along with shaved cinnamon, peppercorns, lavender and anise. The August Red has a more heighten presence in the glass, a deeper color, from the Syrah and it is that percentage of Syrah that gives an extra sense of textural quality to this excellent wine, in fact I think the Syrah lifts the Grenache and allows it to really take center stage.

Set on 15 planted acres in the coastal mountains, the vineyards at Folded Hills have their own micro-climate which is less wind-exposed than the Santa Rita Hills and not as warm as Ballard Canyon, leading to these vibrant wines that produced in a very natural way with a sense of place and purpose. Ruben farms Folded Hills using organic methods, with everything done in concert with the Ranch going ons, additionally, they prune, plant and harvest according to the lunar calendar to respect the natural rhythms of the vines. Angela, who has made a name for herself by making ultra transparent wines, especially with her favored Grenache, uses indigenous yeasts and is careful to promote a lighter frame with refined tannins, which shows here, the August Red, which is a blend of 67% Grenache and 33% Syrah that comes in at 13.9% natural alcohol. The Busch’s are sitting on a beautiful place and the wines are a thrill, I only only see them getting more and more interesting in the years to come, the clarity of form in the wines, especially the carbonic Grenache and this August show they have a serious commitment and I look forward to seeing what comes next! I will be buying a few of the 2018 whole cluster carbonic Grenache to just quaff about with, it is zesty refreshing and easy to enjoy, while this more impactful August Red will need a matching meal to give its best performance, it should develop nicely over the next 3 to 5 years.
($43 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive