Grapelive Wine Reviews
2015 Bodega Chacra, Pinot Noir, Cincuenta y Cinco, Rio Negro, Patagonia, Argentina.
I vastly underestimated this beautiful wine, tasting it blind I admit I was a confused at first, it almost had a Grenache like juicy/feel until it got unwound in the glass. It started slowly, but really opened up nicely with complex partial whole cluster and stems giving spice and floral tones, medium weight, 40% aged in 1 time used French oak, 60% aged in cement tank/vat allowing fruit to shine. Very impressive. Seriously good and unique. 2015 still young, should gain over 3-5 years, certainly looks like a winner. This Bodega Chacra is a bright ruby red hued Pinot Noir that delivers red currant, plum, briar/spices, cinnamon as well as a core of dark/earthy cherry, as well as hints of lavender, rosewater, loamy notes and faint framboise. Piero Incisa della Rocchetta has made a name for himself in the remote Patagonia, crafting intriguing Pinot Noir from biodynamic vines, with this one coming from vines planted in 1955 grown on mainly composed of clay, pebbles, sand, sediments and limestone soils of these glacial planes and ancient river valley. Incisa della Rocchetta, from the family that owns the famed Tenuta San Guido in Tuscany and makes Sassicaia, one of Itlay’s great wines, now lives in New York when he isn’t at Chacra making mostly natural Pinot Noir as well as a tiny amount of old vine Merlot, he created Bodega Chacra after finding this estate in 2004. He, along with Hans Vinding-Diers, the Danish winemaker at nearby Bodega Noemía, first made wine from Treinta y Dos Vineyard, an organic vineyard that dates back to 1932, before adding the Cincuenta y Cinco in 2006, with both site on their own rootstock, since they have not had phylloxera, making for small berried grapes and densely concentrated fruit, allowing him to use a very gentile touch and still have a wonderful depth of flavors. After having many vintages, I continue to marvel at these wines, they are surprisingly clear for unfined and unfiltered wines, with this 2015 Cincuenta y Cinco being one of the most striking and enticing effort to date, drink from 2018 to 2028, a big thank you to Morgan winemaker Sam Smith for sharing this rare gem.
($55 Est.) 93+ Points, grapelive
2016 Donnhoff, Riesling Trocken, Hermannshohle, Grosses Gewachs, Nahe Germany.
The barrel sample of Donnhoff’s majestic Hermannshohle GG gives a great insight into this wonderful dry Riesling and the vintage, which may not grab the headlines like the 2015 did, but still looks to be a monumental effort, this slatey historic site has produced a great wine that will certainly be one of the wines of the year! I was amazed by the 2016 Hermannshole, as tasted with Cornelius Donnhoff, it is a powerful and thrilling white wine that already has a prodigious palate impact and intense purity of form, and from years of tasting cask samples from Donnhoff, I have absolute faith the bottled version will be even better! Donnhoff uses spontaneous fermentations and a mix of stuckfass (oval oak cask) doppelstuck (bigger 2,400L cask) and stainless to capture vintage and terroir of each vineyard, this is clearly showcased in their Grand Crus, which rank up there with the greatest wines in the world, in particular this Hermannshohle GG which shows an elegant grace and underlying power that makes you take notice, there’s no question, when you taste this wine, you know immediately you are tasting something remarkable and special. Of course this is not new news to anyone who has had Donnhoff, one of the planet’s best wineries, but there is a lot to like about the 2016 lineup across the board dry and sweet (fruity) with a varied array of offerings that come from a mix of soil types, like the pebblely/loamy Premier Cru Kahlenberg Trocken, the volcanic influenced Grand Cru Felsenberg Trocken, the clay and grey slate monopole Oberhauser Brucke Spatlese to this pure slate driven Hermannshohle! The 2016 Donnhoff Hermanshohle GG starts with subtle white flowers, loads of flinty spicy mineral and stone leading to a brisk youthful palate of steely citrus, peach and green apple with a core of lime, white currant, a hint of gooseberry and citron that highlights the extract, and while tight, focused and compact now, it looks set to be a classic. Lingering melon, faint mango, saline and wet stone adds to the complexity of detail in a wine of true potential. I hope I get a chance to re-visit this beauty in 10 years, in the meantime don’t miss Donnhoff’s basic Estate wines and the Krotenpfuhl Kabinett, both of which are stellar values. This Hermannshohle GG should be in your cellar when released this fall, it has a rewarding future, I’d put it in the same league as Roulot Meursault and Raveneau Les Clos quality wise, drink from 2022-2035.
($84 Est.) 96 Points, grapelive
2016 Casanova della Spinetta, Il Rose di Casanova, Tuscany, Italy.
One of my most favorite summer wines, Giorgio Rivetti’s La Spinetta Rose from Tuscany, the Casanova della Spinetta Il Rose di Casanova is a crisp blend of Sangiovese and Prugnolo Gentile (Brunello & Vino Nobile clone) comes from a high elevation vineyard site with cool nights, but warm southern exposure, it makes this dry pink wine a serious offering that rivals Bandol and Provence in style and quality. Delicate in color with a light palish pink/orange hue, but vigorous and vibrant in detail with lovely flavors of tart cherry, plum water, watermelon, red and pink citrus as well as steely mineralite and faint lavender spiciness. This Il Rose di Casanova is a class act, it follows a more French form with it’s lighter/drier brisk character than the more full bodied Rosato that are more common in Italy, where they tend to go for riper flavors and dark colors in their pinks, this Rose is wonderfully refreshing and a gorgeous package overall. Though a great food companion, La Spinetta’s lovely pink is just as thrilling and easy to love on it’s own, perfect for the hot days of summer and fall, especially this 2016 release, which seems a nearly perfect vintage for Rose. Rivetti continues to really impress with his estate in Tuscany, and while his La Spinetta Barbaresco and Barolo are his jewels, don’t miss out on these Casanova della Spinetta wines, in particular this Il Rose di Casanova, and the Il Nero di Casanova 100% Sangiovese Toscana Rosso IGT. This Rose sells out fast and is very limited, so best be fast off the mark and get as many bottles as you can, it joins a select group of international pinks to celebrate summer with!
($18 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2016 Weingut Carl Loewen, Riesling Trocken, Maximin 1896 Herrenberg Alte Reben, Erste Lage, Mosel Germany.
The follow up to his amazing 2015’s looks set to almost equal them with these 2016’s, proving the quality of the vines here and the rising talent of Christopher Loewen, who’s new set of offerings are brilliant Rieslings, especially his gorgeous dry styles including this Maximin 1896 Herrenberg Alte Reben Trocken Premier Cru (Erste Lage) that has the class and elegance of a Raveneau, but with the slate driven terroir of the Mosel. This wine is a thrilling and vital Riesling with stunning detail, it’s a shimmering pale wine with crisp layers of intensity, showing white peach, unripe apricot, green apple, lime, tangy mango and white cherry fruits. There’s so mush energy here, it’s bursting at the seams, and there liquid mineral steely frame set up the fruit and salty/briny essences along with flinty wet stones, dusty tea spices, light rosewater and lingering verbena and tangerine. I’ll mention again that the 2015’s were richer, more concentrated and exotic, but these 2016’s have more restraint, a slightly lighter bodied and delicacy without giving up much in the way of power and over all substance, plus I am convince after tasting the 2016’s they will age well and continue to impress well into the future. Loewen is now a bonafide star and his wines should not be missed, others of his 2016’s you shouldn’t miss include the Ritsch Grosses Gewachs, the ultra sexy 1896 Longuicher Maximin Herrenberg Feinherb, coming from Germany’s oldest Riesling vines, plus his wonderfully classic Kabinett and Leiwener Laurentiuslay Spatlese! Imported by Terry Theise/Skurnik Wines, Weingut Carl Loewen has joined the Mosel’s elite, do not miss the 2015 and 2016 Rieslings from this address, and in particular this beautiful mouth wateringly dry old vines Maximin Herrenberg 1896 Erste Lage!
($48 Est.) 94+ Points, grapelive
2012 Ciacci Piccolomini, Brunello di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy.
A lovely vintage for Brunello, this 2012 Ciacci Piccolomini shows all the joys of the year, not overtly ripe and with fresh, long and elegant detail this is a beautifully made effort. Good even now, especially with decanting, this wine looks set to be a classic, as it gives rich fruit, spice and mineral with layers of black cherry, plum, raspberry, currant and mulberry along with fresh cut flowers, graphite/flint and cigar wrapper. Look for the medium/full 2012 Ciacci Piccolomini Brunello to gain weight and expression in 5 to 10 years in bottle, this will be a really rewarding wine in the near future as well and for the price it’s a bargain, but also don’t miss the ripe and juicy 2015 Ciacci Piccolomini Rosso di Montalcino, which is a full bodied, flamboyant “Baby” Brunello, which at $25 is a downright steal! Though the style and structure of the Brunello is hard to fault as a more serious wine, it’s livelier acidity and firmer tannins make it a more classic offering, it’s difficult to imagine it not being a stellar choice in a few years time, even though it might be a touch muted and subtle in it’s youth, I’d say it will rise in score a couple of points in 3 or 4 years. That said, I love this vintage for it’s refinement and the touches of almost Bordeaux like qualities. Lingering anise, dried violets, sweet oak notes and strawberry add to the overall depth of the experience. The latest Ciacci wines are brilliant, imported by Indigenous Selections and Skurnik Wines, are well worth searching out, they continue to impress and deliver Tuscan goodness.
($60 Est.) 92-94 Points, grapelive
2016 Weingut Selbach-Oster, Riesling Spatlese, Zeltinger Schlossberg, Mosel Germany.
The latest set of wines from Johannes Selbach are as pure and classic as you can get, lovely and complex offerings that show each site’s unique sense of place a few of the most intriguing and serious of these 2016’s include the Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Ur-Alte Reben (Ultra Old Vines) Feinherb, the Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Spatlese Trocken (Dry), the single block Zeltinger Schlossberg “Schmitt” (Auslese) and especially this wonderfully expressive Zeltinger Schlossberg. I adore this wine, year after year I’m always drawn to this bottling, and the 2016 shines for it’s total pleasure, inner beauty and lush density, it has an open and generous nature, but still gives complex detail and terroir elements with slate driven character. Above the Mosel these vines and soils this is an area that gets good sun and Riesling excels here, and while some might be concerned with the must weight being Spatlese (sugar level) and natural sweetness here, but they need to open their minds and take in the wine as a whole, while yes there is a creamy mouth feel and lingering sweetness, there is also a bright array of flinty/shale spice, juicy acidity, gorgeous fruit and a saline infusion that provides balance. The nose is vivid with yellow and white flowers, crushed stones, light tropical essences, stone fruit and citron leading to a lush palate of white peach, apricot, apple and lime sorbet along with hints of pineapple, verbena, chamomile, wet shale and brine with lingering orchard fruit. This is sexy stuff, less exotic and thick than the 2007, 2005, 2011 and 2015, but with plenty of charm, subtle depth, power and potential. In what might be a sleeper vintage, Selbach-Oster has crafted a great lineup of classically styled Rieslings!
($28 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2007 Schlossgut Diel, Riesling Spatlese, Dorsheim Burgberg, Nahe Germany.
Caroline Diel took the helm of Schlossgut Diel’s winemaking in 2006, in what was already a top winery in the Nahe and a pioneer in dry wines, but since then, she has taken Schlossgut Diel to the next level with the wines showing beautiful delicacy, terroir and length, these are wines that rival the best in the world, especially her Pinot Noir and of course her majestic Rieslings. Just re-released from the Diel keller and tasted at the Skurnik Wines West San Francisco Tasting, the 2007 Schlossgut Diel Spatlese Dorsheim Burgberg, one of Caroline’s first wines at the helm, is a gorgeous and generous Riesling that shows elegance, mineral and complexity with it’s maturity just beginning to come into focus. It was great to see Sylvain Taurisson, Caroline’s French husband and Schlossgut Diel’s charming advocate, in San Francisco, and tasting the latest and up-coming 2016 Rieslings, especially after seeing the vineyards there at harvest 2016 and watching grapes coming into the winery during my visit. While 2016 was in dire shape in the first part of that summer, everything came good in August and September in an almost miracle of nature and the wines are clear, dynamic and intriguing, certainly not as exotic or concentrated as 2015, but they are beautiful, this is going to be a classic vintage and they will get deeper and more interesting in the years to come, both trockens and sweet styles, they look to be rewarding and sleeper cellar wines. In Diel’s 2016 wines be sure to look for the Dorsheim Trocken, Goldloch Grosses Gewachs and for great value snap up Caroline’s lovely Kabinett offerings! But, going back in time, this 2007 Schlossgut Diel Burgberg is drinking fantastic, it perfectly captures the vintage and Caroline’s style, it was a full bodied year and exotically ripe, but while deep and round, it still vibrant and has balanced stony/savory elements to keep the open fruitiness in check, and while a true Spatlese, there is not a rush of sugar or cloying heaviness. This is an exceptional Riesling from a unique Grand Cru site that is notable for it’s quartzite influenced soils, it has a pure crystalline character with a saline and liquid mineralite lift with opulent apricot, vigorous lime, green apple, pineapple/passion fruit and tangerine fruits along with flinty spice, honeyed golden fig, white flowers, white plum, wet river rocks, salty brine and verbena/lemongrass. There is without a doubt a class and grace in Caroline’s wines, and while Diel is most famous for their drier wines, you should never miss a chance to try her Kabinett, Spatlese and Auslese, they are amazing wines, and this 2007 is just stunning, this one will go another couple of decades!
($69 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2016 Arnot-Roberts, Rose, California.
One of the most interesting pink wines in California, the Arnot-Roberts Rose is also one of the most sought after wines in the state year after year, it’s a crisply dry and delicate wine with a refined pale hue that reminds me a bit of Domaine Tempier’s Bandol Rose! The 2016 is more elegant, livelier and succulent in profile than the more concentrated 2015 version, making it one of the best efforts to date from Duncan Meyers and Nathan Roberts, it is said to have a tiny amount of Tempranillo and Grenache (from the Russian River Valley) in this years wine, hence the California designation, but it’s the Portuguese varietal Touriga Nacional (Lake County & Amador) that is the main grape that makes this pink tick, native fermentation and gentile whole cluster pressed add to the fresh/clean character. Bright with lots of verve, the 2016 Arnot-Roberts Rose shows sour cherry, strawberry, watermelon and grapefruit notes as well as spice, mineral tones and hints of salty stones, lavender, peach and rosewater in a brisk/lean form. This is a tangy refreshing wine with lingering mouth watering flavors and is well deserving of it’s hype and reputation, this is lovely summery stuff, thanks to Soif Wine Bar & Merchant in Santa Cruz for the taste and the take home bottle of this rare wine.
($27 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2015 Bodegas y Vinedos Raul Perez, Mencia, Ultreia Saint Jacques, Bierzo Tinto, Spain.
It was a great honor to meet and taste with Raul Perez, one of Spain’s most heroic and influential winemakers, also known as the godfather of Mencia, at the Skurnik Wines West Portfolio tasting in San Francisco, it was an amazing event and collection with a fantastic array of producers and wines. Raul Perez’s lineup was mind-blowing and lived up to my huge expectations in every way, and I was wildly thrilled with each and every one of these offerings, especially this new Ultra Saint Jacques Bierzo Tinto that delivers wonderful depth and complexity at a price that makes it a bargain by any standards. Perez has mentored many rising stars, including Pedro Rodriguez, one of my all time favorites, at Guimaro and still has Veronica Ortega, who’s wines I recently discovered, working with him. Made from mainly from Mencia, but with some inter planted Bastardo (thought to be Trousseau) and Garnacha Tintorera (Alicante Bouschet) coming off vines that average about 75 years old, this dark and ripe vintage shows an almost northern Rhone like character and has a earthy/savory/spicy edge like an lighter Cornas. This Bierzo Ultreia Saint Jacques Tinto was fermented with native yeasts, about 80% whole cluster in large oak cask with long macerations lasting between 2 and 5 months and then aged in mixed vessels including some cement, as well as 225L and 500L oak, unfined and unfiltered. It’s pretty in detail with violet/floral tones, peppercorn and a medium body that flows with sweet tannins, vibrant, but smooth acidity and flinty mineral elements as well as a core of loganberry, plum, candied cherry and tart currant fruits as well as salted black licorice, lavender, pipe tobacco, shale stones, earthy charms and a hint of cinnamon. This 2015 is lovely stuff that drinks very well right now and should prove pleasing for 3 to 5 years, for this price you’ll want a case!
($20 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2015 The Princess & The Peasant, Pinot Noir, Signal Ridge Vineyard, Mendocino Ridge.
Another impressive wine by the hugely talented Stephanie Rivin, the wonderfully complex and vivid 2015 Pinot Noir is filling with vintage influenced density of fruit and cool climate energy and vitality, making for a highly seductive and thrilling wine. The Princess & The Peasant Signal Ridge Vineyard is a beautiful dark ruby hue in the glass and is followed up by an exciting nose of wild flowers, flinty mineral and a melange of far east spices and blue fruit before opening up to a medium bodied palate of black cherry, plum and cranberry/red apple skin fruits as well as shaved cinnamon stick, minty herb, tangy currant, mission fig and dried roses. It is framed by subtle oak sweetness, good acidity and silken textures that feel lavish in the mouth, but not heavy or taking away from the enticing life force in this alluring Pinot Noir. Stephanie Rivin’s The Princess & The Peasant Pinot Noir plus her Carignane, and all those wines at Signal Ridge Vineyard are rewarding finds, especially this one, it is on a similar level to Anthill Farms Anderson Valley Pinot Noir and the glorious Drew Family Gatekeeper Pinot Noir, as well as reminding me a bit of St. Innocent’s Oregon Pinots, drink this lovely wine over the next 3 to 5 years if not longer!
($35 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2014 David Duband, Nuits-Saint-Georges, Les Pruliers, Premier Cru Red Burgundy, France.
The absolutely spectacular David Duband NSG Les Pruliers is every bit as good as a Grand Cru twice, three or almost four times the price and proves once again that some of these Nuits-Saint-Georges Crus are stupidly underrated and in most cases under valued, asking the question, will they ever get Grand Cru status? Duband who recently took over some fantastic plots has crafted a gorgeous lineup of 2014 reds, with this Les Pruliers leading the way, even over the fine Echezeaux Grand Cru, plus bargain hunters will not want to miss David’s basic cubes either, these are exceptional and striking Burgundies with phenomenal layers, detail and dreamy length, they have a beautiful lightness, even though they show the vintages strengths of richness and texture. The Pruliers shows it’s terroir class and has earthy depths with stunning mineral, purity of fruit and subtle perfume, think Gouges meets Rousseau! Layers of briar, spices, rose petals, chalky/dusty stones, cured meat, anise and kirsch back up a core of Pinot fruit with black cherry, forest berry, plum and cranberry as well as firm tea notes, iron, saline, liquid violets and lingering strawberry/blueberry. This is young vibrant and powerful Burgundy, though refined and elegant, it has huge potential and will be a treasure in the cellar, while rewarding even now, best to be patient and let this stuff develop over the next decade. David Duband, imported by The Source, is a producer to discover, in particular don’t miss these 2014’s, on reflection, I am surprised these are still available!
($99 Est.) 96 Points, grapelive
2013 Windy Oaks Estate, Pinot Noir, Proprietor’s Reserve, Schultze Family Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains.
Opening up nicely, the Windy Oaks 2013 Proprietor’s Reserve, is becoming an elegant and beautiful Pinot Noir full of flavor and class with graceful detail and enchanting layers, this is one of my favorites in the lineup from this tiny Corralitos based winery that specializes in Burgundy style Pinot Noir. I’ve been a fan of Jim Schultze’s wines since the 1999 vintage, a wine that captured my heart with it’s remarkable Chambolle-Musigny like character, and this 2013 version reminds why I so admire these wines, while denser in fruit and richer on the palate, it has those Cote de Nuits qualities, but also now the vines have age on them shows it’s own sense of place and terroir. From the original 1.5 acre Bay Block, the 2013 Proprietor’s Reserve captures the cool climate and Monterey Bay influence with vibrant energy, with the clonal material not giving deep pigment, but instead allowing wonderful class and texture as well as a balanced mixture of floral perfume and savory/earthy tones with a touch of pure saline. This 2013 starts with wilted rose petal, crushed distilled violets, blueberry and kirschwasser along with a hint of smoky sweet oak and a faint trace of bacon before setting course on a medium bodied palate of bing cherry, raspberry, wild plum and red peach fruits. There’s a touch of underbrush, cinnamon, briar and cola bean in the background and the lingering finish adds a framboise and strawberry element to the core fruits as well as a bit of tea and orange zest, all seamlessly forming a gorgeous complete wine that both thrills and calms you at the same time. While the 2014 feel more generous and drink extremely well, this 2013 looks to slowly eclipse them, this brilliant wine could even get better still, be patient, best from 2018 to 2024.
($65 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2015 Hiyu Wine Farm, Arco Iris Red, Columbia Gorge, Oregon.
This wildly adventurous natural wine project from Oregon’s Columbia Gorge, Hiyu Wine Farm offers a glimpse of the future of permaculture and holistic winemaking without historic dogma and modern traditions with a set of well crafted, but totally unique wines, including this all organic/natural 85% Pinot Noir and 15% Pinot Gris (with long skin contact) red Arco Iris. Using biodynamic practices and building a sustainable farm, with full cycle plants throughout the Hiyu Wine Farm wants to reduce all forms of waste while getting the most intensity of flavors from the grapes (especially) and the first public releases show wonderful promise, even though they don’t resemble any mainstream wines at all. One of the whites is a Jura meets Alsace solera with a amber/gold hue and slight sherry like notes, but with an orange wine like profile, it will never please the Chardonnay or Sauvignon Blanc crowd, but is clearly made with hyper attention to detail and skill, as it is not a stinky funky mess and can be enjoyed for it’s style, balance and texture, but it’s their red Arco Iris that thrills with it’s dense red berry and savory tones, it’s dry and mineral laced, but with generous richness, fruit intensity and length. The 2015 Arco Iris Columbia Gorge Red by Hiyu Wine Farm is freakishly expensive and won’t be a wine to experiment on just for kicks, though maybe it takes natural wine in America to a new place, it’s more than a hippy exercise in counter culture, it’s first and foremost a beautiful and intriguing wine of graceful detail and harmonious texture, it leads with crushed rose petal, a light dusting of mixed spices before a medium bodied palate of black cherry, plum and marionberry as well as a touch of leather, minty lavender, fennel, blood orange and dried guava. This is a ripe and fleshy wine that catches your attention for it’s disregard for the norms without being overtly militant or stupidly blind to expectations. The Hiyu Wine Farm wines are impressive and entertaining, hopefully the time is right for their success and that they find their niche, it will be a better world with such wines, even though they price will scare many away, including myself sadly, that said, I will revisit them and follow their progress, in particular this Pinot Noir/Pinot Gris co-ferment cuvee that sort of reminds me of Foradori, La Stoppa or Gravner in ways.
($106 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2008 Domaine Trimbach, Riesling “Clos Ste Hune” Alsace, France.
Lithe and sexy, the 2008 Clos Ste Hune feels younger and more textured than the 2007, and shows wonderful mineral definition, inner energy and length, truly one of the world’s great wines, especially this vintage with it’s life and classic terror details. With less petrol/diesel the 2008 shines with white fruit intensity, charm and subtle rosewater/perfume, it drives with vigorous acidity, but fills out remarkably on the palate with Grand Cru expansion, showing unripe apricot, peach, lemon/lime, green apple, quince and tangerine layers as well as saline, wet river stones, intriguing earthy/loam and verbena. The mouth feel is gorgeous, you get the same pleasure here as you get from a great Meursault or Grand Cru Chablis, it’s a wine that shows fantastic flexibility and class, it’s presence is undeniable, joyous and has the impact you’d expect from a red wine! The Clos Ste Hune, one of the most unique monopoles in Alsace if not the planet, lovingly crafted by Trimbach, imported by Esprit du Vin and the Taub Family, is one of those wine experiences you search out and are sure not to miss when the chance comes your way, I was so blessed to get this opportunity, big thank you to Terri Penquite of EDV for showing the full lineup of Trimach including this very special wine, but also their impressive Reserve Pinot Gris, Riesling and the alluringly exotic Ribeaupierre Gewürztraminer. Trimbach’s drier style and long cellar life is clearly on display in the current set of wines, in particular this amazing 2008 Clos Ste Hune is like history in the glass. With air it gathers richness, almost leesy creaminess that you find in a white Burgundy, absolutely graceful and regal, wow, super impressive, this is a 20 plus year wine easy, best to age another 12 years if you are lucky enough to have it.
($269 Est.) 96 Points, grapelive
2015 Clemens Busch, Riesling Kabinett, Punderich, Mosel Germany.
This lightly sweet (fruity) Riesling Kabinett is a brilliant and lovely generous wine from Clemens and Rita Busch at Weingut Clemens Busch in the middle Mosel, a newer generation producer that focuses on estate grown, biodynamic and natural wines from steep plots in the Marienburg lieu-dit. Right on the river and serve, this vineyard area is historic and classic Mosel with mixed slate soils and wonderful exposure allowing for stunning mineralite and rich density, texture and pleasure in feel and taste, most of Busch’s wines are dry, he uses native yeasts whenever possible, no additions, ferments are in huge old German 1,000L oak cask and he only utilizes a tiny dose of sulfur. This is a producer to watch along with Carl Loewen and Knebel in the Mosel, these wineries have raised their game in recent years and are making some fantastic Rieslings. The 2015 vintage Punderich Kabinett from Clemens Busch starts with mild honey, ginger and sea salt followed by a blast of flinty mineral, mango, green apple, white peach and lime sorbet. The mouth feel is medium lush, almost creamy, but with vital acidity and intensity, a hint of an exotic fruit, spice, white cherry and subtle white flowers come through in the background. This is an excellent terroir driven Riesling and a smooth enter into the house style, I also tasted the fabulous GG Falkenlay 2013, a Grand Cru dry Riesling that is full of power and presence in the glass, also a Feinherb “Vom Roten Schiefer” (Red Slate) 2013 which at about $35 is an outstanding dry feeling and expressive Riesling. These are detailed and focused wines that merit praise and attention, you should search them out if you are a Riesling fiend, like me, but also they are wonderful crowd pleasers as well, elegant and open, superb with summer fare and Asian cuisines, especially this pretty Kabinett!
($28 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2016 Brianne Day, Pinot Noir, Vin de Days Rouge, Oregon.
The new Vin de Days Pinot Noir by Brianne Day is entertaining and slightly feral in character with an essence of Nouveau meets natural wine, but drinks with a beautiful fruit clarity that was missing in last years version, I confess to liking this Vin de Days very much and her (Brianne’s) new Alsace inspired Edelswicker white blend as well. While her single vineyard Pinots remain her top offerings, she does an impressive array of non-conformist wines as well, and she has certainly got the attention of the Oregon wine enthusiasts, especially those that want something a bit different, like Brianne’s southern Oregon red blends like her Cabernet Franc, Tennat and Kot (Malbec) cuvee as well as her Cote-Rotie style Syrah and Viognier. The 2016 Vin de Days Rouge starts with semi-carbonic notes of juicy berry fruit, tropical notes and liquid roses along with a vein of earthy spices and candied orange before setting course to traditional Pinot Noir notes of black cherry, plum and raspberry. There’s a bit of Christmas cake, cinnamon and forest floor in the background, but it really is all about the vibrancy and brightness off youth that appeals, nothing too serious to contemplate, just fun and a touch wild, it reminds me of Moulin A Vent meets Arianna Occhipinti’s Tami Frappato. Sourced from selected sites in the Chehalem Mountains and made for immediate consumption this edition of Vin de Days Rouge hints at the potential of the vintage, which I hear is going to be a highly respected year for Oregon, especially Willamette Valley wines, Day has found a niche and is making some unique, playful, serious and thrilling wines, this one is the gateway to her style, enjoy over the coming year or so.
($27 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2014 Anthill Farms, Syrah, Sonoma Coast.
The Anthill Farms team Webster Marquez, Anthony Filiberti and David Low make some California’s most authentic Pinot Noir, focusing on terroir and vintage to showcase each wine, they met while working at Williams Selyem, and have grown from 200 cases in 2009 to just under 2,000 cases in recent years, with most all their wines being sold out to their mailing list. They also make one of California’s best deals in varietal Syrah and the 2014 version from Sonoma Coast cool climate sites is a beauty, while known mostly for their Pinot Noir and super rare Chardonnay, Anthill Farms Syrah is always one of my favorite wines by this talented trio. Anthony Filiberti, who now is head winemaker at Hirsch Vineyards, and former front man at Knez, another Pinot focused winery that was exclusively Anderson Valley, has found some amazing fruit sources for this Syrah and most sites they work with for grapes practice organic and or biodynamic farming, also there is an old school/traditional mindset, to craft minimalistic and pure wines. This is especially true in the Syrah, used wood, native yeasts and some whole cluster allow the Syrah to show it’s northern Rhone heritage with dark berry fruit, brambly and peppery spices as well as earthy notes, game, anise and crushed violets all playing a part in this well judged and executed wine. Lean and Cornas like the Anthill Farms Sonoma Coast leads with the floral, pepper and graphite elements, but quickly fills in on the palate with boysenberry, black cherry, blueberry and subtle cassis, herbs, gravel and tapenade. While fruit driven and medium full, it stays fresh, vibrant and lifting with enough acidity, silken tannin and savoriness to be complex and balanced throughout, I love this vintage. I suggest searching this wine out, it usually is one of the easiest to find of the lineup and the best priced, while I would also look for any of the Pinots, in particular the Peters Vineyard and the Anderson Valley cuvee, drink the Syrah over the next 5 to 10 years and without much guilt often, even now!
($26 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2015 I. Brand & Family Winery, Cabernet Franc, Bagly Ranch, Paicines.
Ian Brand’s latest release is a killer Chinon like Cabernet Franc, showing the vintage’s concentration, but with lovely varietal character and absolutely gorgeous length and detail, this is a stunning California wine! Tasted with Ian at his tasting room in Carmel Valley, while he was spinning some soulful vinyl and regaling a few music and wine lovers just made the whole experience that more intriguing and fun. The 2015 Cabernet Franc Bagly Ranch Vineyard starts with lush red berry, framboise notes, spice and floral tones, this dark garnet hued young red really fills the palate with layers of dense fruit, with a core of raspberry, plum, black cherry and mulberry as well as a hint of classic bell pepper, crushed violets, fennel and mineral. A small yield adds to the lavish mouth feel and full bodied texture and the subtle wood really brings out the Loire styling in this fabulous wine. If you’ve not discovered Monterey’s Ian Brand yet, you need to try his wines, from his P’Tit Paysan Rhone Blend Style wines to his La Marea varietal wines, like his outstanding Albarino and Old Vine Grenache, but for that bit more exclusive enthusiast, you need to taste the I. Brand & Family line, with this Cabernet Franc and the Mourvedre leading the way, these are truly great offerings! Drink this Bagly Cab Franc over the next 3 to 10 years, though I love it’s youthful expression right now, it should gain with bottle age, it’s kick ass stuff.
($40 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2016 Francois Crochet, Sancerre Rose, Loire Valley, France.
The delicately detailed, minerally fresh and utterly charming Crochet Sancerre Rose of Pinot Noir is a great and stylish summer wine, perfect for #nationalroseday and anytime. With the 2015 vintage in Sancerre offering power, concentration and exotic flavors, the 2016 vintage brings back the more subtle, lighter and elegant profile, it’s a lovely vintage to enjoy in it’s youth, it’s class and pleasing, and this wine highlights that classic nature and revels in it with vivid and pure flavors that give the terroir in full, but without being dull in anyway. Focused fruit, stony/earth and dusty spices shine in the Francois Crochet rose, it’s Pinot character in view from start to finish with sour cherry, strawberry, rosewater, minty herb, wet stone and liquid mineral all coming through in this brisk, vibrant and graceful dusty dry pink wine. The Sancerre Blanc 2016 is also a very easy to love effort from Francois Crochet, but the 2015 Francois Crochet Les Exils Sancerre Blanc takes things to a much higher level with racy acidity, deep, dense and thrillingly Sauvignon Blanc vitality, this is a producer to search out for soil expressive wines of refined class and distinction. I know I can make use for this Rose this summer and well into the fall, look for it!
($30 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2016 Tatomer, Rose of Pinot Noir, Edna Valley.
Graham Tatomer’s outstanding and dry Rose of Pinot Noir, the wine formerly known as “Spatburgunder Rose” is a flavorful summer wine of crisp intensity and charm, it fits in nice with his latest set of releases that are some of his best wines to date. The Rose is bright with tangy fruit essences including distilled strawberry, sour cherry, pink grapefruit/citrus, watermelon and a hint of guava in a steely, mineral driven frame with brisk acidity and stony elements. With a few swirls, a light rosewater, minty/lavender and red peach comes through as well and it drinks with some flair and verve, it’s an easy pink to love and has enough body and structure to be a fine companion with cuisine. Tatomer’s 2016 Gruner Veltliner Meeresboden is also a new wine from this winery to get on to as soon as possible, it’s loaded with energy and vitality with mouth-watering dusty dry vigor, ultra refreshing, vivid and vibrant with laser like focus and Austrian inspiration showing very clearly, Graham’s experience shines in this wine, least we forget he worked at Knoll and in the Wachau! Gruner has taken hold here in California and in Oregon with some fantastic wines on offer, with Tatomer leading the way, but you’ll certainly want to check out Johan Vineyards in the Willamette Valley and a trio from the Santa Cruz Mountains, Alfaro Family Vineyards, Vocal and (even) Arnot-Roberts! Back to this lovely Tatomer Rose, be sure to find it, it sells out fast, it really impresses on the palate and is simply a tasty treat for these warm days, drink over the next year.
($26 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2013 Feraud-Brunel, Cotes du Rhone Villages, Rhone Valley, France.
This partnership Cotes du Rhone rouge between top Chateauneuf-du-Pape producers Laurence Féraud of Domaine du Pégau and André Brunel of Domaine Les Cailloux is a way to deliver great value regional offerings from sites outside of the famed Chateauneuf from organic vines and crafted in the same style as their more famous bottlings, making for stylish and forward Grenache based wines. Especially intriguing is this 2013 Cotes du Rhone Villages, crafted from old vine Grenache at Brunel’s cellar unfined and unfiltered, it’s worthy of it’s “Baby Cailloux/Pegau” nickname with it’s beautiful rich detail and earthy charms, ripe with flavor and lovely spice and floral tones. Their oenologist, Philippe Cambie one of the Rhone’s highest regarded guru(s) has helped this great team put out some fantastic bargains like this one, it shows a deep garnet hue in the glass and has a pretty bouquet of dark flowers, dusty spices and liqueur notes that leads to a medium/full palate of boysenberry, plum, pomegranate, brandied cherry/kirsch, wild lavender, peppercorns, minty/salted black licorice and refined tannin. This wine gains weight and mouth feel with air and has impressive overall presence and length, this Feraud-Brunel Cotes du Rhone Villages Rouge is a wonderful expression of terroir, old world charm and a wine that begs to be quaffed often, it’s hard to fault in any way shape or form, I hope to drink many more bottles myself, enjoy this beauty over the next couple of years.
($15-19 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2015 Bedrock Wine Co. Zinfandel, Old Vine, California.
The richly loaded and vigorous Bedrock Old Vine Zinfandel 2015 is deep in layers and detail with a full body and warm vintage concentration as well as spice, mineral and satiny texture making for a thrilling and hedonistic wine. Harmony and structure highlight this vintage and this 2015 drinks wonderfully with flair, style and with impressive length, Bedrock has crafted a brilliant set of wines in 2015, especially this blend of vineyards and terroirs that make up this wine, but you’ll also want to try to get the rare Heritage bottlings, in particular you want to find the Bedrock Vineyard, Pagani Ranch and Papera Ranch all of which take Zinfandel field blends to a level of greatness that will blow your mind! I am convinced these wines will age extremely well and may just go down as legendary expressions of California wine, and they follow a similar path as the Ridge Zins have and continue to follow, but with their own uniqueness of place, I can only hope to re-visit these Bedrock wines in 10 to 15 years, their potential looks amazing. The 2015 Old Vine Zinfandel starts with a bouquet of dried rose petals/violets, lavender, black fruit, graphite/dust, briar spice and light cedar which also reflects on the lush dense palate along with boysenberry, raspberry, plum and kirsch as well as a hint of mocha, bramble/pepper/sage and cola bean. This is a pleasing Zinfandel that lingers on the finish and leaves a sweet fruit impression, ripe and succulent in feel, but with complex savory tones in the background in this young wine, it should develop nicely with refinement and depth. Drink whenever you get the urge, it can be an excellent Zin as is and for 5 to 10 years, it’s exciting stuff at a great price.
($25 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
nv Diebolt-Vallois, Blanc de Blancs Brut Champagne, a Cramant, France.
The Diebolt-Vallois Blanc de Blancs Brut is a fine all Chardonnay bubbly that shines in the glass and is lush and lavishly rich in the glass with a pure and expansive palate, but with an elegant velvety mousse and polished refinement, this is wonderfully crafted grower fizz that offers a lot of quality for the money. The decedent a Cramant delivers smooth and vibrant layers of green apple, lemon and creamy brioche as well as mineral notes, white flowers, lifting acidity, wet stone, exotic tropical expression and hazelnut with easy to love forwardness, while remaining vigorous and crisp, this is not as nervy as an extra brut, but still a thrill with a luxurious mouth feel and plenty of energy. Imported by Martine’s Wines, Champagne Diebolt-Vallois in the Cote de Blancs was founded back in 1959, but is now crafted by Arnaud Diebolt and family on the chalky soils that make this bubbly so divine, these are classy efforts that deserve attention. I can see much more of this sparkling wine in my future, it’s a lovely way to celebrate friends and life as well as a solid choice for meals, drink this beauty often, great for people like me on a budget, but loves a real Champagne from time to time!
($42 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2014 Domaine Gresser, Riesling “Kritt” Andlau, Alsace, France.
The beautiful and blisteringly dry/crisp Remy Gresser Kritt Riesling has an almost Aussie style lime and verbena intensity along with cool steely mineral, it’s a wonderful example of biodynamic Riesling, place and tradition. Domaine Gresser is a small family winery, imported by Martine’s Wines, that has been making wines in the Bas-Rhin, Andlau, Alsace region since 1520 and the estate vines are grown on a mix of limestone, granite, deep clay, gravel and schist with a focus in the cellar on dry style wines from Cru sites. The Kritt Riesling comes from primarily gravelly soils which are well drained and allow for wonderfully bright flavors and subtle density, with this 2014 showing vibrant lime, green apple, mango, white roses, briny notes, dried ginger/pineapple and tangy verbena along with stone fruit, wet river rock, liquid mineral tones and wild herbs and a hint white cherry. Light bodied and super fresh the Domaine Gresser Kritt Riesling is full of electric energy and vivid detail, though turns on the charm and gathers a bit of substance with air and is especially elegant when pair with cuisine allowing it’s full personality and complexity to shine, best with mildly spicy dishes, sea foods, even cheeses and cured meats. I hadn’t tasted this estate in a few years and I was thrilled with this offering, I need to keep an eye on them and I suggest you do as well, also be sure to check out Gresser’s Grand Crus along with this Kritt Riesling, which is a near perfect summer wine.
($30 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2016 Gilles Robin, Crozes-Hermitage Rouge “Papillon” a Leonie et Lucie, Rhone Valley, France.
A brilliantly pure Syrah from Gilles Robin, the Papillon cuvee Crozes-Hermitage is a fresh, un-oaked and destemmed wine that delivers a medium/full bodied dark fruited and hued example of northern Rhone charmer! If you want absolute clarity of what a shear and transparent Syrah should be, you should get yourself this wine, it defines, simply and with some class what this grape is and what terroir does. I have enjoyed many vintages of Robin’s wines and in particular this cuvee Papillon and have always admired their feminine, authentic and vigorous style, and this 2016 is showing wonderfully well and it’s bright youthfulness a welcome detail, this is a wine to enjoy now. Gilles Robin has more serious Hermitage, Saint-Joseph and higher end Crozes too, all of which deserve far greater attention, but it is his Papillon that always catches my eye and taste buds, it’s a superb value as well as a tasty spicy treat. Gilles Robin took over the vines in 1996 and they practice organic farming, these wines, imported by Martine’s Wines, are always impressive, if not exotic or blockbusters, they are good standard bearers for solid quality, I’m lucky enough to have tasted with Gilles Robin on more than a few occasions over the years, so it’s always a pleasure to taste his latest releases, and this 2016, with it’s juicy acidity, is a beauty. This vintage, which follows a much hyped year, is remarkably expressive and exciting with crushed violets, flinty/peppercorns, blue fruits and a savory mix of earth, bitter herbs/bay leaf and anise with a core of boysenberry, black cherry, currant/cassis and damson plum fruits. This wine has a lighter/brisk feel about it, without taking away from it’s complete joyous whole and can be very stylish with robust cuisine and even served as a slightly chilled red quaffer, this is the little Syrah that could, drink over the next year or so.
($24 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2014 Hirsch Vineyards, Pinot Noir, San Andreas Fault, Sonoma Coast.
The lush and remarkably generous Hirsch 2014 San Andreas Fault Pinot Noir is loaded with layers of opulent and open fruit, while remaining pure, vibrant and sublimely harmonious with heightened array of flavors, complexity and class, this maybe the best young Hirsch that I’ve tasted! This vintage was one of the last done by Ross Cobb, of his namesake Cobb Wines, who, I’m a huge fan and have been for last 12 or so years and I admire his past and present efforts, especially this gorgeous Pinot he did for Jasmine Hirsch and family. In the future we’ll see the talented Anthony Filiberti, of Anthill Farms, crafting the wines here, so there will be no drop off or stylistic change here and the future looks very bright indeed for Hirsch, one of the pioneers of the real west of the west Sonoma Coast, a remote cool climate region that is sadly lumped into the vast AVA that has so many micro-climates and terroirs it has become a bone of contention and unrest within the more western colder sites that feel they are better suited for delicate, lower alcohol, Burgundy styled Pinot Noirs. Hirsch is one of California’s great Crus and this 2014 is an amazingly lovely wine and it should age wonderfully with it’s fantastic structure and core of deep fruit, while forward, it has plenty to offer the patient, rewards will follow no question. The 2014 starts with lots of racy red fruit, heady wilted rose petals and dusty spices which leads to a beautiful silken palate of surprising density with black cherry, plum, briar laced raspberry and dried currant as well as hints of violets, blood orange tea, cinnamon/vanilla and saline notes. Seriously hedonistic, but with balancing acidity, focus and satiny refined charm, making this a stunning Pinot Noir that takes on a freshness with air and an underlying stone/mineral that reminds you that it pays homage to the Cote d’Or, it reminds me of 2005 vintage Burgs in many ways, especially Domaine de Montille’s Nuits-St.-Georges Premier Cru Grandes Vignes and the Clos des Porrets by Henri Gouges! This is a very special wine, if you want to get to the true nature of a great California Pinot Noir this would be a place to look, drink over the next 5 to 15 years.
($64 Est.) 94-96 Points, grapelive
2015 Domaine de la Bergerie-Yves Guegniard, Anjou Rouge “La Cerisaie” Loire Valley, France.
A wonderfully textured Cabernet Franc with ripe density of fruit and varietal purity, this wine by Yves Guegniard at Domaine de la Bergerie is a steal, it’s hard to imagine how such a lovely wine could cost just $15! Over the last few vintages I’ve been hugely impressed with these offerings from Bergerie, imported by Martine’s Wines, especially their Cabernet Franc, but also Loire fans should really check out their Cremant d’Loire sparkling wine and their lighter and fresh Chenin Blanc, both in the same price range. Beautiful ruby/garnet hue in the glass leads to dark flowers, a mix of mineral, spice and minty elements lead to fairly rich, warm vintage, palate of blackberry, mulberry, racy cherry and dusty currant fruits in almost full bodied and serious wine that gives terroir character and focus with hints of sweet tobacco leaf, bell pepper and loamy/stones. A bright light of quality flows through this well structured Cabernet Franc that has presence and mouth feel, but remains refined and harmonious, this is a wine that shows vitality and length with a satiny opulence, it can be enjoyed even with a slight chill for great summer drinking and can be flexible enough for robust cuisine as well, drink over the next 3 to 5 years with ease, super now too.
($15 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2015 Alfaro Family Vineyards, Chardonnay, Mary Katherine Vineyard, Estate, Santa Cruz Mountains.
From a single block of organic vines, planted to special clones including the Kongsgaard clone, the Alfaro Family Vineyards Estate Mary Katherine Vineyard is maybe the best deal in elite Chardonnay in California, and this 2015, which was a tiny crop with amazing concentration and vibrant acidity making for a gorgeous and sexy wine with an exotic elements that delivers Burgundy like class, but with California flavor and terroir. Seriously a thrilling Chardonnay, grown on deep gravelly/loamy soil of Alfaro’s main estate near Corralitos, the CCOF certified organic vineyard Mary Katherine 2015 was a five barrel cuvee with just 118 cases made, aged nine months in 40% new French oak that really has remarkable character and style, it has the decadence of a Peter Michael or Mount Eden, the verve of a Hanzell and the mineral and hazelnut that pays homage to the great white Burgs, like Corton-Charlemagne, Meursault and or a divine richer Puligny! Since the 2013 vintage I’ve been hard pressed to find a better wine for the money in California, than this Mary Katherine Chardonnay, followed closely by Richard Alfaro’s Lovely Lindsay Page and Trout Gulch Chards, these are fantastic white that deserve attention, especially these 2014 and 2015 wines that are absolutely stunning! Brilliantly hued with a golden pale color and with a complex bouquet of citrus blossom, honeysuckle, mineral tones and ripe fig leading to a racy full palate of apple, lemon curd, bosc pear and tropical fruits as well as a unique orange chiffon layer along with wet stones, hazelnut, brioche/doughy notes, very subtle smoked vanilla. Beautiful detail and impressive mouth feel mark this vivid Chardonnay, it’s opulent texture and length are right up there with the ultra elite wines, and for someone that usually drinks Riesling, like me, this wine puts chardonnay from California right up in my must have more of this stuff column, with it’s lively vitality and elegance, it’s certainly less brisk than Chablis and lavishly sleek, but still bursting with energy, highlighting it’s cool climate core, drink over the next 3 to 5 years.
($30 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2013 Domaine Weinbach, Riesling “Cuvee Theo” Le Clos des Capucins, Alsace, France.
Weinbach’s brilliant Cuvee Theo Riesling is a thrilling dry estate wine that highlights this ancient terroir with layers of crisp detail and pretty flavors, it is vibrant and lengthy making for a lovely white of refined class and flair. The lightness and grace gives way to a medium bodied wine with some air with white flowers, lime, peach and tangerine leading the way on the palate along with unique hints of golden fig, mineral tones, wet stone and quince. This Domaine is based at the 9th century Abbey and the Clos is 5 Hectares, and the holdings also include top sites in the region with some impressive vines in the Grand Crus Schlossberg, Altenbourg and Furstentum, as well as other plots that make up the base for the basic Vins d’Alsace offerings making for a total of 30 Hectares. Domaine Weinbach, run by Catherine Faller, is an all organic estate and has been biodynamic since 1998 with Ghislain Berthiot making the wines, since the death of Cathrine’s sister Laurence Faller and Catherine’s son Theo Leiber-Faller taking care of the vineyards. The Estate wines are aged in old large cask and have a mostly dry essence, like this Cuvee Theo Riesling, though they also do off dry and ultra luxurious Grand Crus and Vendanges Tardive that take the sweetness to about Auslese levels. All these wines impress and this 2013 Cuvee Theo really delivers the goods, I adore this wine, thank you Lee Lightfoot for sharing this wine with our tasting group, and have long been a fan of this Domaine, it’s great to see they have overcome the tragic loss of Laurence, plus the loss of Catherine’s mother Colette, recently as well. This Alsace star will drink nicely for many years to come with it’s sultry substance and vivid acidity, even from a less than perfect vintage this is a class act, and it reminds me to cherish more of these regions wines!
($36 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2014 Silice Viticultores, Mencia, Ribeira Sacra, Spain.
This 2014 Silice Viticultores red from Fredi Torries, Carlos and Juan Rodriguez in the Ribeira Sacra, is an all organic/biodynamic low sulfur blend of Mencia mostly (80%), but with some Merenzao, Albarello and Garnacha Tintorera (Alicante Bouschet) plus a few white grapes, making it new natural wine darling. I was thrilled to try it, as I’ve been trying to get my hands on it for months, a huge thank you to importer Sacred Thirst for getting me a bottle to sample for this review, after it was referred to me by winemakers in Galicia, and I was not disappointed, it’s a gorgeous wine of amazing energy and charms which I liken to a unique combo of Fleurie (Gamay) and St. Joseph (northern Rhone Syrah) with sublime sharp detail and very vintage correct. I really was reminded of Jean-Louis Dutraive’s Domaine de la Grand Cour Fleurie as I sipped my first sip with it’s eye-popping acidity and deep perfume, I also saw some Jean-Francois Ganevat and Lapierre too, plus a bit of Andre Perret Saint-Joseph too, but all this is just way to explain it’s quality and styling, not to take away from it’s own terroir character and the Ribeira-Sacra’s glorious long history as a region, which goes back to Roman times, if not longer and is one of the most exciting wine areas in the world. This 2014, a cool and difficult vintage, does have a bright Beaujolais like lean/lighter feel on the palate, but with a beautiful deep purple/blue hue in the glass, it comes in at about 12.5% alcohol, which is pretty normal for this place, it also shows a lovely crushed violets and lilacs nose as well as a striking mineral element with a sexy spicy background with blueberry, tangy currant, lingonberry and black cherry fruits in a tight frame and band of flavors with pepper, walnut oil, lavender/rosemary/anise and dusty flinty stones. This fresh Mencia blend was native yeast fermented using partial whole cluster from grapes that came from old recovered vines above the dramatic steep slopes of the Sil river on a mix of granite, shale, quartz and loose sandy soils, it’s a pure and vivacious wine that was aged in used French foudres, for 9 months in the smaller cask before racking off and raised another 5 months in bottle before release. This is a beautiful new generation Spanish wine with heavenly class and delicacy, for fans of natural wines this is a wine to search out, and it will appeal to the fans of the Jura, Beaujolais, northern Rhone and even those that follow the wines of Arianna Occhipinti, this really offers a stunning value as well, drink over the next two or three years, and be sure to check out the up-coming 2015, which should be even more exotic and generous considering the warmer year! As a side note, I’d love to see Mencia in coastal California regions or Oregon’s south, I bet it would be fantastic!
($24 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2015 Domaine Giacometti “Sempre Cuntentu” Vin de France Rouge, Corsica, France.
A very cheeky fun red from the wild and remote island of Corsica, the Patrimonio based Domaine Giacometti, a rising star of the region that makes finely crafted old school wines, showing their humorous side with this weirdly labeled (artist label) Sciaccarellu wine. Giacometti produces a tasty set of blended wines that feature Grenache and Niellucciu (Island Sangiovese) as well, but I loved the fresh natural character of this unique 100% Sciaccarellu Sempre Cuntentu Vin de France Rouge that comes from a sandy patch of granite based soils in this rugged isolated region on Corsica’s northside near Bastia. Imported by Kermit Lynch, who has almost single handedly secured the top estates and who has brought the Island more fame than Napoleon! The Domaine Giacometti wines are still solid values and not as widely known as producers like Abbatucci, Leccia, Arena and Clos Canarelli, but that is good news for fans of the island’s wines that are more budget friendly. The 2015 Domaine Giacometti Vin de France “Sempre Cuntentu” Sciaccarellu (an Etruscan import in the long ago past originally from Tuscany where it is known as Mammolo and once featured in Chianti and Vino Nobile though has fallen out of favor and almost never used there.) is native yeast fermented in stainless and aged on it’s lees for 9 months without the use of oak, it shows bright detail and should be served slightly chilled to highlight it’s delicacy and verve in the same way you would with a Beaujolais and other lighter framed reds that are good summer quaffers and perfect for less heavy dishes or seafood. This all organic Sciaccarellu has tangy strawberry, briar laced raspberry and juicy plum fruits with zesty red citrus, mixed floral notes, flinty mineral and spicy elements as well as crisp tart cherry/currant and anise/minty/herbs all wrapped up in a lean almost medium weight wine, that should be enjoyed young. This 2015 has a warm vintage quality about it, but stays brisk and vibrant, though I bet the 2016 will be even better, look for these soulful Giacometti wines, they offer lots of earthy charm.
($20 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2013 La Colombera, Timorasso “Derthona” Colli Tortonesi, Piedmonte, Italy.
Saved from becoming extinct the rare Timorasso grape, largely do to the efforts of Walter Massa, is thick skinned native varietal that was more used in grappa production that still wines has turned out to be a new darling of the wine world making long lived and highly sought after wines, especially like this La Colombera “Dorthona” from northern Piedmonte in the Colli Tortonesi. The 2013 La Colombera Timorasso Derthona is richly textured with only a hint of oxidation with a feel and likeness to white Hermitage or Roussanne with a medium palate that is almost oily in texture, but still vibrant and crisp with a bullet proof structure, it shows white flowers, lemon, burnt peach, melon and tangerine along with wet shale, hazelnut/almond, anise and orange zest. This intriguing, interesting and entertaining white wine, from a grape that was almost lost to the world back in the eighties, shows unique flavors and will be a thrill to wine enthusiasts in the same way the leesy aged Muscadet or Savagnin from the Jura can be. Pier Carlo Semino, now maybe one of 20 producers that make Timorasso, is in the same league league as Walter Massa, the grapes savior, and should be considered a must try rising star producer in the region, imported by Indigenous Selections. The Derthona was fermented on the skins in stainless at very cool temperature, gently racked off the skins, then aged on it’s lees for 9 months with batonage (light stirring) with no oak being used in this bright greenish/golden hued Timorasso, this is very cool stuff that should drink very nicely for another 5 to 10 years, drink with goat cheeses, pork dishes and or fleshy fish.
($25 Et.) 92 Points, grapelive
2014 Andrew Murray Vineyards, Surah, Roasted Slope, Santa Barbara County.
Andrew Murray’s Roasted Slope is a modern California classic, it was one of the first affordable cult Syrahs in the late1990’s, and the 2014 marks it return after an extended break, while Murray found the right vineyards to make it the way he wanted with the co-fermentation of Viognier, as it’s a homage to Cote-Rotie (translated means Roasted Slope) and it’s a gorgeous deep wine. The 2014 Roasted Slope is from 3 blocks of Syrah and a tiny amount of Viognier from a site on Alisos Canyon Road, it’s a 28 Barrel cuvee, that allows for good availability and value for such a top flight offering, and Andrew Murray is back at his Rhone Ranger best with this new set of wines, especially this classy effort that blends the rich decadence of Guigal with impressive mouth feel and a bit of Bernard Levet raw/spicy character with a solid cool climate/northern Rhone quality, but still firmly highlighting California ripe/density and Santa Barbara terroir. Lovely violets, creme de cassis, peppercorns leading the way on the nose and with a very dark purple/black and garnet hue in the glass give a beautiful prelude to a medium/full palate that expands in the mouth, gaining in texture, while retaining vibrancy and vitality showing blackberry, boysenberry, blueberry and wild plum fruits along with dusty mix of cinnamon, lavender, minty/anise, black olives, burnt embers and light cedar notes. This a seductive wine with an opulent impact delivered with luxurious elegance and purity, it lingers with superb length and sex appeal, the aftertaste goes on for a long time with a touch of earth, kirsch and a kiss of vanilla. Andrew Murray also has a really exciting and tangy/juicy/dry Cinsault Rose and a new Cinsault Rouge that I look forward to trying, as well as a great collection of single vineyard Syrah bottlings, including a Stolpman, Thompson and Watch Hill that should get your attention too, plus don’t miss his Esperance Rhone White and Red Blends and the entry level Tous les Jours Syrah, one of the best priced reds in the state! I love these wines, if you are a fan of Bedrock or Arnot-Roberts, I think you’ll love these as well, this 2014 Andrew Murray Roasted Slope Syrah is the real deal, drink it over the next 5 to 10 years!
($39 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2015 Guimaro, Godello “Cepas Viejas” Ribeira Sacra, Galicia, Spain.
Pedro Rodriguez’s gorgeous old vine Godello grown in the Amandi district on steep slopes of sand, slate and granite in the heart of the Ribeira Sacra’s white zone, grown all organic from vines that average close to 60 years old above the Sil river. Pictures of this region are spectacular and remind me of what you’d see on the Rhein or Mosel, more than what most people would expect of Spain and the cool Atlantic climate gives wonderful acidity and vibrant flavors, in fact Guimaro’s Godello has Riesling like mineral infused intensity, but with Chablis like body and flinty detail, I love this stuff and I’m thrilled by what is coming out of Galicia these days, I think it is maybe one of the most exciting wine region these days with stunning Mencia reds and various beautiful whites, including Albarino from Rias Baixas, classy blended whites from the Ribeiro and the Godellos of the Ribeira Sarca and Valdeorras. Producers like Laura Lorenzo (Daterra), Nanclares, Luis Rodriguez. Raul Perez, Veronica Ortega, Carlos Rodrigeuz (Silice) and Guimaro are certainly world class producers that are crafting rocking wines! Guimaro’s 2015 Cepas Viejas is ripe, at 13.5%, with lush layers showing the warmer than usual vintage character, but still full of energy and vivid focus with steely tones and lift showing green apple, mixed citrus and tangy peach fruits with wet shale, leesy (brioche/hazelnut) notes, white flowers, dusty spices and golden fig. This Godello caresses the palate and flows seamlessly, it was made using native yeasts, maceration lasted for 2 days on the skins and it was aged in used burgundy barrels for about 4 months before a light fining and bottling to preserve freshness, while still having richness and structure to age for a decade at least. This impressive white really turns on the charm, it gives white Burgundy style class and pleasure with it’s own terroir uniqueness that makes it even more intriguing, be sure to look for it!
($26 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2015 Alfredo Maestro, Tempranillo, Vina Almate, Penafiel, Vdt Castilla y Léon, Spain.
Alfredo Maestro’s Vina Almate Tinto Fino (Tempranillo) is from organic vines near Madrid in Penafiel grown on river stones, clay and alluvial soils in this warm continental climate area not too far away from Ribera del Duero. Maestro is a leader in natural wine and loves the old vines found near his hometown, he uses all organic farming, no added sulphur in most of his wines and uses almost no new oak to present wines and his region in the purist form, and his wonderful entry level Vina Almate is fresh and juicy with lovely deep color and subtle earthy tones along with an almost Beaujolais like vibrancy, and it’s great with a slight chill too, showing dark berry, plum, cherry and strawberry compote along with spicy tobacco leaf, lavender/anise, peppered violet and saline/stony loam. This ripe and tangy unfiltered Vina Almate 2015 cuvee was fermented with native yeasts, with 80% whole cluster, which adds to the spice and structure while allowing for ripe and smooth tannins, and aged a short time in tank and neutral French cask. Alfredo Maestro wines are imported by Jose Pastor Selections and are widely available, though limited, so look for them, I’ve been a huge fan over the last 5 to 7 years and the wines are just getting better and better with each new vintage, in particular these 2015’s! The authentic and raw detail are welcome in this pleasing Tempranillo adding a earthy/savory element to this fruity warm vintage wine, if you want a true “natural” wine at a great price, you should check out all of Alfredo Maestro’s wines, especially this fun Vina Almate, drink now, it’s great everyday stuff and super with tapas and BBQ!
($18 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2015 Ryme Cellars, Vermentino “Hers” Las Brisas Vineyard, Carneros.
The Ryme Hers Vermentino is bright tangy and lightly saline infused, in other words it’s a fresh and mouth-watering white with racy leaness and subtle concentration. Megan and Ryan Glaab’s Ryme Cellars (a blending of both their first names) is a tiny micro production winery focusing on hand-crafted small lot wines that reflect terroir and varietals, but with a twist and unique style with a homage to the ancient ways and old world, while being at the same time proud young California winemakers that want to express themselves and the native fruit. Between this husband and wife winemaking team they have put time in at some of the best wineries in the state including Pax, Peay and Windgap (where they make their wines) as well as legendary places including Marcassin and Sine Qua Non!, plus a stint at Australia’s Torbreck Their wines include Cabernet Franc, Aglianico, Cabernet Sauvignon, Ribolla Gialla and a pair of “His” and “Hers” Vermentinos, with “His” being a long skin macerated “Orange” style wine and this “Hers” being a whole cluster pressed and clear style white, age in stainless and neutral cask with partial malo, with a delicate pale green/gold hue and vibrant acidity. I love this gripping 2015 Ryme Cellars Hers Vermentino, Las Brisas Vineyard, a cool climate site with deep clay soils on San Pablo Bay, it has an almost Riesling like intensity and a forcefully dry and brisk palate that is slightly dusty and even a touch savory with white peach, lemon/lime, gooseberry and hint of mango fruits, traces of herb, dried citrus rind and spring jasmine along with a vigorous energy/intensity, salty wet stones and loamy/mineral. This wine gains some depth with air and can go with a array of cuisine, but can also be enjoyed as a crisp summer quaffer, it’s a very interesting wine that highlights vintage and place well and should drink nicely for another 2 or 3 years easy.
($25 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2014 Domaine Joseph Roty, Gevrey-Chambertin, Red Burgundy, France.
The Roty 2014 Gevrey is a highly attractive and earthy seductive Pinot Noir with vitality an vigor in a medium bodied wine that has deep fruit layers along with particularly interesting detail and natural finesse. This dark ruby hued Burgundy has plenty to like and admire with loads of character and flavors, starting with a nose that mixes dried flowers, iron/mineral notes and spicy red fruits that leads to a rich palate of black cherry, plum/currant and marionberry fruits with loamy/earth/leather, allspice, meaty elements and mure. This wine is finely balanced and lengthy with a youthful rawness that should gain in class and elegance with time in the bottle, this Roty has a solid structure with firm/dusty grained tannins and fresh acidity that are matched with impressive depth of fruit, though it can be enjoyed even now, patience will be rewarded in my opinion. Those looking for a great example of old school, old world Burgundy charm at a modest price, considering the rise of costs of well crafted wine from this region that has been hard hit by hail and tiny crops in recent years, this is a producer, imported by Atherton Wine Imports (on west coast) is one to search out, along with Drouhin-Laroze and Frederic Esmonin. This Cote de Nuits red gives Burgundy fans their terroir fix with vivid clarity and in a certain style, I imagine this would be cherished by those that prefer less polished wines or authentic wines and the Francophile! This Domaine Joseph Roty 2014 Gevrey-Chambertin AC Bourgogne Rouge will be best from 2020 to 2030, and be sure to check out the less expensive Roty Marsannay Rouge and the more powerful single Cru bottlings!
($68 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2016 Joyce Vineyards, Rose “Turbidity Current” Monterey County.
Russell Joyce’s latest set of wines are highly entertaining and charming with good fruit, balance and energy, especially good are his Pinot Noirs, his vivid Riesling and this wildly fresh Rose. The 2016 Rose is made from Gamay Noir and Grenache and with light maceration giving a bright and vibrant pink/ruby hue in the glass with lifted detail and succulent zesty juiciness. The core is citrus driven with zingy grapefruit, sour cherry, strawberry, fleshy peach and watermelon along with hints of mineral, snappy herb and rosewater. Light and crisp, but with open flavors that are brisk and lingering, this Joyce vineyards Turbidity Current Rose is wonderfully fun and will be a summer day treat.
($25. Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2014 Sheldon Wines “The Red Hat” Field Blend Napa Valley.
The Sheldon’s brilliant and elegant red field blend The Red Hat is truly lovely stuff with graceful texture and layers of spice, earth and refined black fruits, this wine, a 60 case, 2.5 barrels, 12.8% cuvee of Cabernet Sauvignon and Petite Sirah is medium full with supple tannins and wonderful mouth feel. I was thrilled to find this in the cellar, drinking with family, especially after reviewing the up coming 2015 already, I guess I didn’t get to it earlier, which may have been a reward in it’s self as it is really showing well right now! This wine is from old vines, head trained in an almost feral site that is part of a holistic orchard in many ways with organic practices and many inter planting of other crops and trees, it’s co-picked and co-fermented with native yeasts and mostly whole berries and low sulphur, in a very natural way. The nose is perfumed with violets, acacia and peppercorns with light cassis notes leading to a polished palate of blackberry, tangy currants, plum and tart blueberry as well as pepper, black olives, minty anise, kirsch, savory tobacco leaf and subtle leather notes, lingering with mineral, lavender and briar/cedar notes. No new oak, only well seasoned casks allow remarkable purity to shine through, The Red Hat 2014 is a special wine that is getting better in the bottle, it is unique, a California wine first and foremost, but with an old world style with it’s lower alcohol and leaner structure, this micro winery’s hand-crafted small lot The Red Hat is in the same league as offerings from Wind Gap, Arnot-Roberts and Broc Cellars, all modern lighter fashioned wines by a new generation of inspiring winemakers.
($48 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2014 La Voix, Pinot Noir “Rebel Rebel” Quinta del Mar Vineyard, San Luis Obispo County.
Steve Clifton’s solo project the La Voix Winery is his first gig since splitting with Brewer-Clifton, one of the Sta. Rita Hills top Pinot Noir and Chardonnay producers that he co-founded with Greg Brewer back in the mid 1990’s, and is showcasing his own path in winemaking with a set of small lot hand-crafted wines. I got up with Clifton at the Pebble Beach Food & Wine fest and got to taste through his latest releases both from his Italian inspired Palmina label and these beautiful and natural La Voix wines, which included a lovely Chardonnay, a Bordeaux blend from a high elevation site in the Santa Ynez Valley and this stylish Rebel Rebel Pinot Noir. The Rebel Rebel is named after David Bowie’s classic song, that was the first cover that a young rocker Steve Clifton recorded! Clifton was a musician and performer for years before he got into wine seriously and this Pinot Noir reflects this song (as a Rebel) in it’s character since it is the first wine he has made from outside Santa Barbara County as well as being a wine that is completely different to the Brewer-Clifton stuff of the past and present, maybe more a true mirror of his own personality, less zen purity and more Rock n Roll is how I might think about it. The 2014 Rebel Rebel has ripe fruit, lots of spice, earth and racy texture with intriguing lush layers and amaro notes along with a flamboyant core of deep red cherry, plum and wild raspberry fruits, plus cinnamon/exotic spice, dried flowers, loamy/stony elements and a touch of sweet oak. Made using native yeasts, in open-top fermenters with an extended maceration with about 10% whole cluster, then aged for a year in French wood with only about 10% new, the La Voix is a highly attractive Pinot Noir that was crafted from selected clones 50% each 115 and 777, modern Dijon, that give this wine it’s dark color and vibrancy as well as it’s rich mouth feel and impressive length. I’ve always admired the Brewer-Clifton wines over the years, as well as Steve’s own efforts with Palmina, and it’s great to see his rocking it into the future with these La Voix offerings, drink the Rebel Rebel Pinot over the next 5 to 7 years.
($45 Est.) 93+ Points, grapelive
2015 Rhys, Pinot Noir, Anderson Valley.
The new Rhys Anderson Valley 2015 Pinot is a dark and lively young wine that shows the vintage’s concentration and impressive mouth feel, but with nice cool climate vibrancy and definition, this is an exceptional wine for the price, though you’ll need to get on their mailing list to get this one, otherwise look for it on restaurant lists. I was thrilled with the latest set of Rhys releases, I was in particularly drawn to their new wines from Anderson Valley, with this cuvee being a standout and an excellent starting point to get into their style, but I also must say that each Rhys wine showed fantastically well, other highlights were the single vineyard Bearwallow Vineyard, Anderson Valley 2013, their home or signature Alpine Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains 2013 and the Horseshoe Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains 2012. Rhys in recent years has become a top Pinot house in California with a fanatical fan base that beg, cheat and steal to get these wines, they are darkly rich, textured and lengthy wine that show luxurious and lavish layers, Rhys is in the same league as Pisoni, Seasmoke, Pahlmeyer’s Wayerer, Littorai, Rochioli and Peter Michael. Why I picked the entry level Anderson Valley to focus on? Well, I seriously enjoyed it just as much as the top end stuff and though it’s youthful charm and energy gave it an exciting edge and it was a touch brighter and more floral in it’s delivery with vivid pure fruit and less chewy, sometimes a touch less is more, and that was my opinion, even though the single vineyard wines will most certainly live up to their famed potential, and I must note that 2013 is a vintage that needs time to show their best, if you have them be patient! The 2015 Rhys Anderson Valley Pinot starts with a mix of red and blue fruits, earthy spice and lovely rose petal notes that leads to a fine palate of medium weight and gorgeous mouth feel with a core of black cherry, wild berries, racy currants and plum fruits as well as a hint of smoke, blood orange, tea spices, vanilla/cinnamon and brambly herbs. In the glass this is as Pinot as it gets with vigorous detail and lingers with a mix of blueberry and strawberry leaving a pretty fruit and mineral impression on the finish, it’s a wine that can be enjoyed right away and in the future, drink from 2018 to 2026.
($45 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2013 Mail Road, Pinot Noir, Mt. Carmel Vineyard “Blocks 3, 5” Sta. Rita Hills.
As winemaker at Screaming Eagle’s sister winery Jonata and making the Hilt wines Matt Dees has made a name for himself and his new Mail Road wines are gorgeous, especially the Mt. Carmel Pinots and in particular this 2013 Mail Road Mt. Carmel Vineyard Blocks 3 & 5 Pinot Noir, which comes from organic, own-rooted, heritage clone site in Sta. Rita Hills made famous by Greg Brewer and Steve Clifton at Brewer-Clifton in the late 1990’s and later by Raj Parr and Sashi Moorman at Sandhi Wines. Mail Road is a project owned by Mt. Carmel owner Ronald Piazza and Michael Palmer who brought in the ex-Staglin trained man Dees to craft small lots of ultra premium Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from this Cru, and after tasting the wines I am sure these will be highly sought after wines, these are not cheap wines certainly, but they show a remarkable sense of purity and inner energy that remind me of the early Brewer-Clifton classics from this amazing vineyard with glorious detail and class. Interesting Matt Dees, known as a naturalist or non conformist in his winemaking style, took a more modern Burgundy route with his set of Mail Road wines and this Mail Road Blocks 3 & 5 Pinot was 100% de-stemmed, cool fermented with seems like native yeasts and aged in French oak, with about 40% new, for almost year in the barrel. I must say the oak is well integrated and even subtle with just a hint of toastiness and vanilla sweetness in the background, you get elegant layers of silken red fruits, spice and floral tones that impresses for texture and length in a medium bodied Pinot. With air the wine gains weight, presence and intrigue, this stuff is stunning when unwound in the glass, showing a darker and more dense side, but still vibrant and focused with black cherry, plum and dark berry fruits along with hints of coco, violets, rose liqueur, mineral notes and chalky and dusty elements, finishing with lovely saline, light anise, tangy and vibrant red peach/currant/strawberry. A cut of acidity helps lift this wine and it’s refined/satin tannins providing a solid core that leads me to believe this Mail Road Blocks 3 & 5 Pinot will age with potential to improve even further, this can be considered an outstanding wine to cherish over the next decade, it delivers the Wow factor!
($105 Est.) 94+ Points, grapelive
2015 Stolpman Vineyards, La Cuadrilla, Ballard Canyon.
Stolpman Vineyard’s vineyard manager Ruben Solorzano and vineyard crew selected the individual vines for this red blend of mostly Syrah 68% with 20% Grenache and 12% Sangiovese in the 2015 vintage, it changes with each season/year, the La Cuadrilla is a special wine of high quality and value with the profits going to Stolpman’s full time vineyard workers. The winemaking is classic old world in style, the grapes are fermented with native yeasts in concrete vats and aged in neutral cask resulting in a deeply flavored wine with great fruit intensity, spice and pure harmony, in particular this 2015 is a very serious offering showing the vintage’s concentration from smaller than normal yields which adds to the depth and rich mouth feel. Layers of blueberry, boysenberry, currant and plum fruits lead the way along with crushed violets, framboise, peppery notes and subtle earthy/savory tones, this 2015 La Cuadrilla opens beautifully on the palate with unique intrigue and graceful texture, it’s more round and less edgy than prior releases, though still energetic and entertaining throughout, lingering on and on with velvety tannins, juicy/freshness and an aftertaste burst of cherry, sweet tobacco, lavender and a mineral element. The lush density is quite alluring and forward, but this La Cuadrilla, that comes in 13.9%, is finely balanced, it should drink with aplomb for many years, it’s one a California’s best kept secrets and a fun wine to enjoy in the near future. I love this stuff, bravo Stolpman!
($22 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2012 Jaffurs, Syrah, Santa Barbara County.
I’ve long been a fan of Craig Jaffurs and especially his Syrah wines, so it was wonderful to taste his wine again on a recent trip to Santa Barbara, he and partner winemaker Dan Green are crafting small lot wines, mostly Rhone varietals, though they do make a fantastic Petite Sirah and a lovely Pinot Noir as well. The 2012 Santa Barbara Syrah came from six selected sites, Tierra Alta, Ballard Canyon, Verna’s, Los Alamos, Thompson, Los Alamos, Larner, Ballard Canyon, Bien Nacido, Santa Maria and Kimsey, Ballard Canyon with some Petite Sirah, Mourvedre, Grenache and a touch Viognier in the blend, which all add up to a fascinating and complex Syrah that delivers a full bodied and textured mouth feel and deep flavors. This Jaffurs Santa Barbara County Syrah was de-stemmed, but fermented in whole berry form and aged in used barrels, both French and America wood was used, it’s a dark wine with a brilliant garnet/purple hue in the glass with a cascade of black/blue/red fruits on the palate including damson plum, boysenberry, sweet cherries and racy currant/blueberry as well as hints of perfumy violets, smoky/embers, minty anise and white pepper. The extra few years of age have really allowed the tannins to melt in the mouth with a silken feel, while still holding everything together nicely, the balance for such a bigger style wine is impressive, at 14.5% it’s quite bold and rich with serious presence, it’s a wine that punches way above it’s price and shows expressive length and detail, length and hedonistic charm. Interesting exotic spice, lavender oil, creme de cassis, a trace of tapenade, kirsch and earthy/game make for an intriguing background and the lingering finish on this pretty and stylish Syrah, it was awesome with food, especially my porcini and duck ravioli! Tasted from half bottle, this 2012 Jaffurs Syrah Santa Barbara County should continue to provide heady and polished drinking pleasure for years to come, though it’s in a sublime place even right now, best from 2017 to 2024, it’s a class act in the bottle.
($28 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2016 Silvestri, Rose of Pinot Noir, Carmel Valley Estate, Monterey County.
A new release from famous academy award winning music composer Alan Silvestri’s Carmel Valley estate winery, the 2016 Silvestri Estate Rose is a bright and fresh pink with a fine depth of flavor, nice mineral tones and crisp dryness. This succulent Rose offers brisk driving energy, but with a solid Pinot fruit core of sour cherry, mixed citrus, juicy watermelon, a hint of blueberry and distilled strawberry along with chalky stones, a light dusting of spices, rosewater and a touch of tangy minty herbs. The Big Sur Fire sent smoke all through Carmel Valley and caused some vineyards a total loss of crop with only a very few grapes not effected, luckily Silvestri survived the worst, and this lightly macerated Rose of Pinot Noir is free of any trace of smoke taint. Silvestri estate’s current set of wines are all top notch with their Syrah, Pinot Noir and Barbera 2014’s really standing out for style and quality, but I always love the Rose, it’s a local favorite and sells out fast, it’s only available through their wine list or through the Silvestri tasting room on 7th Street in downtown Carmel by the Sea.
($28 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2015 Samsara, Grenache, Santa Barbara County.
Chad Melville’s Samsara 2015 Santa Barbara County Grenache is a bright, fresh and pure in varietal character and has a very natural feel and intensity, it’s absolutely delicious with fruit, earth and spice. This 2015 Grenache joins a lovely set of Syrah, single vineyard Grenache and Pinots made by winemaker Chad Melville, who also is the director of winemaking and general manager of Melville Winery in the Sta. Rita Hills, his family’s pioneering estate that has become one of California’s great family run properties. His Samsara wines differ in that they are much more limited and are true reflections of his own style, made with native yeasts, partial whole cluster and very minimal intervention from grapes grown to his belief in organic/sustainable principles. On a recent visit to the Samsara tasting room in Los Olivos, I enjoyed a sampling of the current releases, which include extended aged Syrah from Turner Vineyard, a long lees aged Rose of Grenache that is so good it reminds me of Clos Cibonne Cotes de Provence Rose, as well as this new 2015 Grenache that really needed to be in my collection! The 2015 Santa Barbara County Grenache Noir starts with delicate floral notes, wild spices, mineral and racy red fruits with a vibrant medium bodied palate of loganberry, plum, pomegranate and tangy strawberry fruits along with dusty peppercorns, cinnamon stick, cedar, framboise, lavender, briar and minty/salted black licorice. I really like it’s youthful zesty freshness, it is a thrilling Grenache that can be enjoyed right now with soft ripe tannins allowing it’s charm to shine through, and I suggest drinking this beauty from 2018 to 2024. Grenache is on a roll these days, especially in California with many tiny producers specializing in this grape, but it is seeing renewed attention in places like Spain, Sardinia (Cannonau) as well as in the Rhone and Languedoc regions of France, so it’s a great time to explore Grenache!
($40 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2014 Alfaro Family Vineyards, Cremant de Corralitos Pinot Noir Brut Sparkling Wine, Santa Cruz Mountains.
The vintage grower fizz from Richard Alfaro’s Alfaro Family Vineyards is a racy and stylish Methode Champenoise bubbly made from estate Pinot Noir vines that really delivers stunning detail and complexity, you’ll want this stuff no doubt. This food friendly sparkler has great intensity and vivid flavors that reminds me of Paul Bara Champagne or Gaston Chiquet Special Club bottlings, it is especially divine with smoked salmon, poached white fish and lighter cuisine, though it’s dry/brisk focus can cut through lots of substance. The bright nature is dynamic and fresh giving a lean and lythe feel, but air allows good palate expansion and opens to pure mineral infused layers with lemon, green apple, white cherry, strawberry and peach fruits along with hints of spice, stones, dried golden fig, loam, rose petal and brioche. Alfaro said he wanted more of a refreshing/youthful sparkling wine like you get with a top Cremant d’ Alsace, and that was achieved clearly and with dry vibrancy, it’s less leesy than most Champagne(s), but gains richness in the glass in elegant fashion and is an impressive effort. This very limited release joins some very expressive California Methode Champenoise sparkling wines that are crafted in grower producer character that deserves praise and attention, this is a luxurious and intriguing vintage Brut, get it while you can.
($50 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2016 Big Sur Vineyards, Rose, Arroyo Seco, Monterey County.
One of Carmel Valley’s recent additions, Big Sur Vineyards is a boutique family owned label with a fun and quality set of wines that are charming and fairly priced, Lenora Carey, the owner, has enlisted winemaker at I. Brand Family Winery Ryan Kobza to craft her wines, which helps show the pedigree and style. Carey suffered a huge loss last year, just as she got the tasting room open in the Carmel Valley Village, her property and small vineyard in Big Sur was destroyed by the raging fires that devastated region, though she has now got started on re-planting, and there is a lot of excitement for when those vines when they come of age in a few years. Of the current set there are a few real stand outs, Big Sur Vineyards BSV Red a Cal-Rhone cuvee of Grenache, Syrah & Petite Sirah, a gorgeous crisply dry Viognier and this seriously delectable Rose of Grenache & Cinsault, all which are attractive wines that offer value and reflects the varied terroirs of Monterey County. The 2016 Big Sur Vineyards Rose of Grenache and Cinsault comes from the rocky loam and ancient seabed soils of Arroyo Seco that adds to the dry brisk nature of this Southern France style pink that is dusty/crisp with stony/mineral tones showing a delicately pale hue and lean/bright citrus laced fruit character with grapefruit, tart cherry, strawberry, watermelon, rosewater and snappy/bitter provencal herbs. This is a wonderfully refreshing Rose that opens to a wet rock/shale and spice, but with a succulent openness, this is very Summer friendly wine to drink over the next year. Big Sur Vineyards is an under the radar winery making some solid small production stuff, check them out.
($16 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2015 The Princess & The Peasant, Carignan, Poor Ranch Vineyard, Mendocino County.
The Poor Ranch Carignan 2015 by Stephanie Rivin, winemaker of Signal Ridge Vineyard, under her Princess & Peasant label is made from 74 year old vines and shows rich detail and ripe juiciness making for an interesting and flavorful wine of joyous California fruit as well as playing homage to the wines of Corbieres. The vintage gave unique concentration and sweet tannins, the tiny berries old these old vines made for a high skin to juicy ratio which adds to the dark nature of this Carignan, while a talented touch in the crafting of this red allows it to be forward and lush, while also delivering balance and graceful depth. Rivin’s Carignan joins a host of other great Carignan based wines that have come out in recent years like Broc Cellars, Pax and Skylark as well as classics like Ridge, and Carignan or Carignane is a grape that has seen a world wide revival, especially in it’s historical sweet spot of Corbieres in France’s Languedoc with the wines of Maxim Magnon and Domaine de Fontsainte standing out in particular! The Princess & The Peasant Poor Ranch Carignan starts with a touch of floral/spicy incense and black fruit and prunes leading to a lively palate of fresh crushed blackberry, sweet black cherry, tangy currant and pomegranate fruits along with mineral/flint, earth, minty notes and wild briar spices. At 13.4% this is not a flabby wine, but medium full on the palate with a silky round mouth feel, while still vibrant and fresh, best to serve slightly chilled so it highlights it’s dry/crisp acidity and especially with hard cheeses, BBQ and Asian/Spicy dishes. Drink this unfined and unfiltered Carignan over the next 2 or 3 years, I love it’s youthful expression, openness and vitality, I highly recommend this wine as well The Princess & The Peasant Pinot Noir, all these new releases from Mendocino’s Signal Ridge Vineyard are seriously fun offerings.
($22 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2015 Domaine Paul Autard, Cotes du Rhone, Rhone Red Wine, France.
The Autard Cotes du Rhone Rouge is a baby Chateauneuf du Pape blend of 70% Grenache, 20% Syrah and 10% Mourvedre that really over delivers for the price with deep and spicy flavors! There’s a lot of lovely details and tasty layers of fruit, mineral tones, peppery notes and wonderful texture as well as perfect vintage characteristics, especially great in such a great year in the Rhone. This full bodied effort has deep layers, focus and lingering lushness, but with nice savory elements to keep things in balance! The ripe satiny tannins help in giving this Rhone it’s balance and lifting it’s open charms, the Paul Autard Cotes du Rhone shows brandied cherry, raspberry, plum and boysenberry fruits along with dried flowers, peppercorns, dusty/chalky stones, iron, anise and garrigue/lavender. While forward and sweet fruited, this Cotes du Rhone has old world harmony and style and is certainly a good bottle that will please any crowd as well as be really fun with any meal, be sure to serve at cellar temperature to make the flavors pop and taste refreshing. The Grenache is extremely expressive and juicy putting the Syrah and Mourvedre firmly in the back seat, though they add to the complexity overall and might show up at a later date, but that is not a fault and drinking this wine young is pleasure.
($16 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2015 Inspiration Vineyards, Zinfandel, Dry Creek Valley.
Don’t miss this small production jazzy Zin from Jon Phillips at Inspiration Vineyards from east facing slopes of Dry Creek Valley near Healdsburg, it’s juicy raspberry and peppery/spicy are classic Zinfandel in character with a nice medium/full body. Not an over the top kind of wine, this wine impresses with texture and bright red fruits making this a good solid wine for anytime drinking, but with ripe and exciting flavors which lean on racy plum, cherry and the core of brambly raspberry, lavender, minty herb and light cedar notes. You can see this being a perfect BBQ wine and great with grilled meats, also it will go great with Italian cuisine and burgers, it certainly gave me all I could ask for and performed well over two days being open with a wide selection of foods. I am thrilled with the latest set of wine from Inspiration Vineyards, they offer plenty to admire and are very enjoyable with layered complexity, subtle if any oak and easy to quaff.
($25 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2013 Corison, Cabernet Sauvignon, Kronos Vineyard, Napa Valley.
Cathy Corison’s 2013 Cabernets are both blockbuster examples of pure Napa Valley fruit from a stellar vintage that stands out for powerfully dense and opulent wines that has amazing classic aging ability, but with gorgeous openness and ripe tannin, especially the latest Kronos, a monopole estate vineyard near Saint Helena on Hwy 29 that is a historic old vine site. The 2012 was a brilliant and strikingly focused wine, but this 2013 really shows the year in it’s texture, density and length, while remaining faithful to Corison’s signature style and graceful touch with structured detail and balance, this wine joins the very best of Napa, maybe cracking the top five, in my opinion, without question this Kronos Cabernet looks like a bargain compared to the wines it performs against, many of which sell for three times as much! Corison’s Kronos and Celia Welch’s Corra both deliver, in particular these 2013’s, the best bang for the buck in the this super elite class of wines. The 2013 Corison Kronos Cabernet Sauvignon starts with it’s inky purple/black and garnet color and bouquet of acacia bloom, spiced violets, creme de cassis, cinnamon/vanilla and cedar that leads to a full bodied palate that is wonderfully seamless with polished/ripe/sweet tannin and mouth filling richness and intensity of black fruits with blackberry, plum, racy currant, blueberry and cherry compote as well as light graphite, sage/lavender, pipe tobacco, dusty/stone. The finish is sublimely lingering with bramble/briar berries, framboise, dried roses/incense and black licorice. This is wildly good wine, a celebration of vintage and terroir with stunning concentration, it’s a testament to the place, the winemaking and attention to excellence in the vineyard, this is pretty close to perfection! Every time I taste Cathy Corison’s wines I am left with a new sense of wonder and excitement, and these 2013’s are not wines to miss out on, with the Kronos looking set to have a very long life ahead of it, it without question will reward the patient as well as the hedonistic lovers of youthful wines, best from 2020 to 2035.
($175 Est.) 97 Points, grapelive
2014 Albatross Ridge, Pinot Noir, Estate Reserve, Carmel Valley, Monterey County.
Garrett Bowlus, winemaker and grower, and his dad Brad Bowlus can be proud of an amazing achievement with their 2014 wines from their vineyard above Carmel Valley, they have taken the regions Pinot Noir to unknown levels of quality and charm, especially the 2014 Estate Reserve, which reminds me of Domaine de Montille Volnay! Recently Wine Enthusiast scored the Albatross Ridge lineup 94-95 Points, without question the highest ratings from a national publication of a Carmel Valley wine ever, that I can remember anyway, but I’m pretty sure it’s true. As a long time fan of my hometown wines, I certainly agree they deserve the praise and accolades and I admire each of these 2014’s very much, the Chardonnay was highly impressive and stylish and you can see why there is interest from other winemakers to get these grapes, Copain being a winery that makes a single vineyard bottling of these vines, but for me it’s the Pinot Noir that gets my heart racing with both the Cuvee Vivianne, which had been my favorite in earlier vintages, and the glorious Estate Reserve, that raises to new heights and has swept me up in this years seductiveness. The potential in the 2014 Estate Reserve looks really intriguing, and even now there is something very special about it, the texture is lovely and the dimension of fruit is exceptional with delightful freshness, ripe character and sweetly smooth tannins, an inner beauty that is often lacking in Carmel Valley wines, that tend to have a bitter edge and austere qualities, but not here in Albatross Ridge’s wonderfully expressive and generous top wine. This Pinot shows pretty floral intensity and silken layers of opulent red fruits as well as subtle mineral tones and spicy notes with flavors that burst on to the palate with vivid detail, there’s bright cherry, racy currant, juicy plum and lush raspberry fruits, crushed/dried violets, rose oil and cinnamon stick. With air a round mouth feel expands and gives this wine a full presence while nice peppery zest and dusty/sones add a light savory counterbalance, but finishes with pure fruit and subtle smoky oak shadings. I can’t wait to see how this Pinot develops over the next 3 to 5 years, this is seriously alluring stuff from a cool breezy site at an elevation of almost 1,200 feet and vines digging into chalky Carmel stone soils with loose sandy loam, formerly ancient seabed, giving this wine it’s Burgundy like allure.
($60 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2016 Ridge Vineyards, Lytton Estate Rose, Dry Creek Valley.
The Ridge Rose is a blend of Grenache and Mataro (Mourvedre) and feels like a fresh and lighter style Bandol Rose with refreshing acidity, mineral/steely character and dry/crisp fruit. This vintage is the most refined and vivid I’ve tried, and the first with this much Mourvedre in the blend as well as having slightly lower alcohol at 12+% that adds to the refreshing nature of this well crafted pink and makes it oh so easy to quaff! Only available through their wine club and by begging at their tasting room, this rare treat is one to go out of your way to get and I always feel lucky to get any. This Lytton Estate Rose and Ridge’s 50th Anniversary Geyserville 2015 Zin were just released, which gives you an extra excuse to get up to Ridge’s Lytton Springs winery and tasting room, though I’m sure there are some bottles hiding at Monte Bello too, both are worth the trip on their own, but Ridge’s 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon Santa Cruz Mountains and their Lytton Estate Grenache/Mataro are two of the best wines for the money in California and should not be missed, absolutely world class stuff, and I always grab their Carignane when I can as well. The Lytton Estate Rose offers a nice depth of fruit and citrusy brightness with a faint earthy/stony elements and layers of tart cherry, watermelon, grapefruit, flower water and wild fennel. More subtle than would be expected this lovely wine should be bottled in magnums, one 750ml just doesn’t seem quite enough, it certainly is a compelling pink and was especially good as a revitalizer on a recent warm afternoon on a visit to beautiful Santa Barbara, a perfect travel companion!
($28 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2016 Stolpman Vineyards, Rose of Grenache, Ballard Canyon.
I finally got down to Stolpman’s tasting room in Los Olivos, and I’m very glad I did, this is a must visit place on any planned trip to the Santa Barbara wine region with a great range of fun and intriguing wines that are all serious and unique. Two of my favorite wines each vintage at Stolpman are the La Cuadrilla, a blend blend of mostly Syrah, but with touches of Sangiovese and Petite Sirah, and this Stolpman’s wonderful dry Rose of Grenache, but you must never miss their gorgeous set of Syrahs! Hats off to the current team at Stolpman, Peter & Jessica Stolpman, Ruben Solorzano (one of the best vineyard managers in California!) and winemaker Kyle Knapp, who has crafted a great set of new wines and who has kept the successful style that was wine consultant Sashi Moorman’s influence and guidance or signature impact on Stolpman since day one, this estate is certainly a heroic American achievement, and we should honor the vision of founder Tom Stolpman that helped create the AVA of Ballard Canyon, in Santa Barbara County’s Santa Ynez Valley, as well as being a champion of sustainable viticulture and care of vineyard workers. The 2016 Stolpman Rose is a bright and briskly refreshing pink with zesty detail and mineral tones starting with a zing of citrus, sour cherry, watermelon, rosewater, chalky wet stones, strawberry and a spicy garrigue/herb note. Gains a light raspberry element with air, but stays tangy vibrant throughout and is a lovely Tavel like Rose that delivers cool crisp summer quaffing pleasure! This pretty in pink Grenache Rose along with the new 2015 La Cuadrilla Stolpman Estate red blend ($22 Est. 92 Points), made from Ruben’s selected vines is another super vintage, and it’s always a wine I feel good about buying as the proceeds go directly to the vineyard workers, were certainly my top two value picks here, but as mentioned you’ll want to pick up the Stolpman Syrah 2014’s, especially the Hilltops! In case you’re like me and like to geek out, ask for Stolpman’s Combe Trousseau and the Carbonic Sangiovese “Love You Bunches” as well as their powerful Roussanne L’ Avion!
($21 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2016 Aperture Cellars, Sauvignon Blanc, Alexander Valley.
My California #SauvignonBlancDay pick is the fine, vibrant and decedent Aperture Sauvignon Blanc, which includes Sauvignon Musqué clone that adds pop and aromatics to this white Bordeaux style wine that was crafted by the talented Jesse Katz, who is known for his critically acclaimed Devil’s Proof single plot Malbec and sexy Alexander Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Aperture Cellars has recently blown up and is certainly one of the top wineries based in Alexander Valley and Jesse Katz, who has made wines at famous european addresses like Chateau Mouton-Rothschild, Argiano, Sassicaia and Domaine Leflaive as well as California favorites including Screaming Eagle, Hourglass and Lancaster Estate! The 2016 Aperture white is a study in beautiful and vivid details it was aged in a mix of new and used French oak similar to wines like Haut-Brion Blanc and Chateau La Louviere Blanc, but without the lemony/waxy Semillon influence, while giving an added texture and elegance not too often found in California Sauvignon Blanc making this Aperture a huge step up from wines like Duckhorn and Cakebread, more along the lines of Spottswoode, Vineyard 29, Crocker-Starr and Selene. The Aperture Sauvignon Blanc starts with orange/citrus blossom, tangy lemon/lime, honeydew melon and delicate tropical fruit as well as very faint sorbet, vanilla and kiwi in a dry/crisp medium bodied wine that feels zesty and lively, but with good expansion on the palate and length, it’s well made and refreshingly tasty, it’s a value for it’s quality that will drink well for at least 3-5 years, Happy Sauvignon Blanc Day!
($35 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2014 Purple Hands, Pinot Noir, Freedom Hill Vineyard, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
The Cody Wright Purple Hands Freedom Hill Pinot is a wonderfully complex and beautiful wine that showcases the purity of terroir and highlights the best of this vintage with it’s rich detail and layered silky texture. Cody, Ken Wright’s son, has stepped out of his famous father’s shadow and is crafting wines that are clearly in his own style and his 2014’s are a stunning bunch of wines that really put him into the Oregon spotlight. Freedom Hill is one of my favorite sites, it’s west of Salem near the southwest corner of the Eola-Amity AVA in the foothills of the coastal range set on Bellpine loam of ancient marine sediment, it’s a Wright Family farmed Cru planted with old clone Pommard and Wadenswil, this great cool climate terroir always shows an expressive character with firm tannins and a darker fruit profile with amazing aging potential that reminds me of Vosne-Romanee in many ways. The 2014 Purple Hands Freedom Hill Pinot Noir shines in the glass with a vivid garnet/ruby hue and brambly/spicy nose that unfolds with dark berries, violets, mineral, rose oil and peppery notes leading to a ripe and full plummy palate of black cherry, currant jelly, Asian/Indian spices, black raspberry, earthy tones, lively pomegranate as well as candied orange rind, light smoky hints and a trace of briar, vanilla and lingering strawberry. Cody Wright used native ferments, gentle punch downs in small open top vessels then aged in surprisingly subtle French oak, it seems as if he allowed some whole cluster, which if so has added to the vitality and spicy, almost stemmy like kick in this gorgeous and exotic Pinot Noir. The mouth feel is lush and satiny, but with firm structure underpinning this youthful wine, it’s a stand out and thrilling release from Purple Hands that impresses from start to finish, drink from 2018 to 2029.
($48 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2015 Alfaro Family Vineyards, Chardonnay, Lindsay Paige Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains.
One of the premier Chardonnays of the region, the Alfaro Family Lindsay Paige Estate Chardonnay is always a top wine in the Santa Cruz Mountains and the latest release by Richard Alfaro is a gorgeous and intriguing effort that offers layers of complexity and brilliance, graced with pure rich California cool climate fruit and elegant Burgundy like detail. Alfaro’s 2015 Lindsay Paige Chardonnay from the gravel and deep loam soils and sloping hillsides of this estate near Corralitos, south of Aptos and the city Santa Cruz, is clearly influenced by the nearby Pacific Ocean, but has a concentrated density that is a reflection of this vintage and is a true nature’s gift and should prove to be a classic. Aged just under a year in French oak, of which a touch more than 30% new the new Lindsay Paige Vineyard Chardonnay gives classic Puligny/Chassagne mineral tones, hazelnut and lush brioche notes along with smoky spice, white flowers leads to a full bodied palate of lavish texture, showing a core of golden apple, bosc pear, zesty lemon curd and tropical fruits along with wet stones, honeyed melon/kiwi, creamy vanilla finishing with tangy clove, fig and bright peach flesh. The acidity is vibrant and lifting to the ripe fruit, but subtle in it’s presence, in this beautiful, seamless and youthful white that allows the flavors to really pop and shine. This year looks set to be a wine, with it’s focus, balance and structure, that can age extremely well, though you’d not need to do so, and this 2015 Alfaro Lindsay Paige Chard will be great with cuisine, especially lobster and or buttered shrimp/prawns, as well as soft cheeses, sea bass and roast poultry. This vintage is seductive in every way, weighty in feel, but with a near perfect 13.5% alcohol that highlights it’s best features, and continues it’s track record of quality, class and value, it’s a compelling Chardonnay that deserves serious praise, Richard Alfaro’s single vineyard series Chardonnay and Pinots are a wonderful set wines that should not be missed.
($30 Est.) 94+ Points, grapelive
2013 Signal Ridge Vineyard, Brut Sparkling Rose “Tiny Pink Bubbles” Anderson Valley.
The method traditional Tiny Pink Bubbles by Signal Ridge Vineyard is a luxurious and pure Brut Rose that has loads of pleasure and character in a grower producer (Champagne) style and it’s dry crispness makes it vital and food friendly. A pale salmon/orange hue and with a fine and vibrant mousse adds to the class in this serious, but without pretense, being a stylish and fun bubbly that delivers layers of bright citrus, mineral, strawberry and brioche notes along with hints of ginger/spice along with a opulent mouth feel, while still being vigorously fresh. Stephanie Rivin and winemaking/growing team at Signal Ridge have done a masterful job with this beautiful Brut Rose, as might be expected considering her husband Dan Rivin crafts arguably one of very best California sparkling wines under his Lichen Estate label! Signal Ridge does a fantastic set of wines and is a winery to watch, don’t miss The Princess & Peasant Pinot Noir and Carignan, as well as their Zinfandel, Chardonnay and this tasty Brut Rose Sparkler. These wines show exciting flavors and restrained alcohol with natural elements and are wonderful values, you get a lot for your money with Signal Ridge Vineyard, these Mendocino offerings are worth tracking down.
($25 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2013 Samsara, Syrah, Turner Vineyard, Sta. Rita Hills.
The latest set of Chad Melville’s Samsara wines are truly glorious, including a great lineup of Pinot Noirs, Grenache and especially the Syrahs, including the five barrel single vineyard Turner Vineyard, which I just tasted at Samsara’s tasting room in Los Olivos on a short visit to Santa Barbara. Turner is set on local botella clay in the cooler northern part of the Sta. Rita Hills that helps make this Syrah taste like a northern Rhone wine with all the same complexity and character you’d find in a Saint-Joseph by Clape or Perret. Melville went for 50% whole cluster in this 2013 Samsara Turner and native yeast fermentation which adds up to stylish spiciness, pure aromatics and lovely expressive fruit, it was raised for 24 months in neutral, well used French barrels, and an additional year in bottle, unfined and unfiltered, which has allowed the tannins integrate is a wonderfully positive fashion. The 2013 vintage is really turning out to be a spectacular year for the Santa Barbara and Sta. Rita Hills after first looking a bit tough and edgy, a bit of time has proved a huge benefit for these wines allowing body/texture and fruit to come into focus and gain detail, this really is showing here in Samsara’s Turner Syrah with gorgeous mouth feel adding to the intensity of this wine. The nose is classic cool climate Syrah in this 2013 Samsara Turner Vineyard Syrah with black olives, fresh peppercorns, violets and black/blue fruits leading the way to a vital and vigorous palate of blackberry, boysenberry, damson plum and blueberry fruits along with a hint of creme de cassis, tapenade, meaty/bacon, camphor/embers, peppery sticky lavender and dusty earth in a very dark, black/purple with electric garnet edges, hued wine. Nice lift and pop highlight the freshness here, it’s structure is taught, though refining in a bold and forceful way, this Syrah is certainly evolving and unwinding, but still compelling, riveting and racy. This is just thrilling stuff, the excitement grows with every sip, it should age wonderfully as well, drink over the next decade!
($46 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2014 Sheldon, Cabernet Sauvignon, D’ Allaird Vineyard, Sonoma Valley.
This great young Cabernet is a very vivid and fresh style, almost like a Loire Valley wine in nose and vibrancy, but with classic dark fruits on the palate, this wine comes in at a refreshingly low 13.4% alcohol and with a medium/full mouth feel. Dylan Sheldon has been crafting this unique Sonoma Valley Cabernet for a few vintages now from old vines at D’ Allaird Vineyard a semi high tall stalk pergola grown site that allows for wonderful ripe juiciness in the grapes with brown seeds and soft tannins that allows for native fermentations and whole cluster pressing. If you enjoy Bordeaux or Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet like Bates Ranch or some lighter vintages at Ridge Monte Bello you’ll be thrilled with this wine, it really gains intrigue with every sip after an initial shy and zesty start. The 2014 Sheldon D’ Allaird Sonoma Valley Cabernet is a two barrel micro production offering that starts with light floral notes, mineral spice and sage/herb elements, similar to a Chinon from the Loire Valley, within minutes true Cabernet fruit and expressiveness shines through with ripe/sweet tannin infused blackberry, tangy currant and kirsch notes along with almost no oak influence, but with hints of pepper, cinnamon, black licorice and lavender. The finish is crisp, though lingers on and on, this is a lively and seductive youthful wine that is impressive and an almost anti-Napa Cabernet that is great with less heavy cuisine, this Sonoma Valley Cabernet Sauvignon follows it’s on path with plenty of California openness, but with a cut of energy and focus. Drink this Sheldon D’ Allaird Cabernet Sauvignon over the next 3 to 5 years, and be sure to check out Sheldon other new releases and current wines such as there Petite Sirah/Cabernet Sauvignon field blend The Red Hat as well as their geeky cool Graciano.
($40 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2016 Georis Winery, Rose of Cabernet Franc “Les Abeilles” Monterey County.
Damien Georis’ latest set of Georis Winery is a serious lineup of Bordeaux style reds, including a powerful Merlot, that certainly has an old world feel and austere firmness which holds lots of charm and class as well as a fun set of whites including a fresh Chardonnay and Pinot Grigio, but I must say I was really thrilled by the Les Abeilles Rose of Cabernet Franc that is dry, crisp and mineral driven that reminds me an Anjou Rose from the Loire Valley. The Belgian and ex-Bordeaux man has brought lot to Georis over the last 10 years and the quality has benefited from his talent, he is one of Carmel Valley’s leading winemakers as well as one of the young stars of Monterey County like Jeff Pisoni and Ian Brand, his own label Madeleine is also worth checking out, he has a special gift for Cabernet Franc, but also does a fine Cabernet Sauvignon and lovely Pinot Blanc. It’s time to re-discover all these wines from Georis and Madeleine, in particular this beautiful and delicate 2016 Les Abeilles Rose that delivers refreshing vitality and vibrant flavors leading with tart cherry, wet stones, steel/mineral, watermelon, spring herbs, a hint of earth and zesty citrus making it a fun and lean pink that will give a huge amount of perkiness and pleasure in a classic old world style. Drink this wine spring and summer cuisine, paella, oysters and mussels and picnic fare, though it will also be joyous on it’s on as a cool quaffer!
($29 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2015 Lucia Vineyards, Pinot Noir, Garys’ Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands.
The Pisoni family’s Lucia Vineyards latest set of wines are fantastic and textured wines with classic density, concentration and length, in particular the new 2015 Soberanes Chardonnay, which shows it’s Wente clone intensity and wonderful class with heavenly richness and Peter Michael like mouth feel, and the especially expressive Lucia Garys’ Vineyard 2015 Pinot Noir, which I will review here. Jeff Pisoni, winemaker of the Pisoni Estate wines and Lucia Vineyards, continues his hot streak with these 2015 wines, and while the vintage was short on crop size the wines offer heightened flavors and depth, these are wines that always seem to be a step higher with each year and showcase the Grand Cru class of the estate vines at the Pisoni Vineyard, Garys’ Vineyard and, the remarkable and youngest of the sites, Soberanes Vineyard. The slightly cool Garys’ Vineyard, that sits between Rosella’s and the higher Soberanes, gives Pisoni like dark flavors, but with good acidity and overall harmony, the sandy/loamy soils and cool breezing marine influenced climate of the Santa Lucia Highlands bench gives the Garys’ it’s unique terroir character. The 2015 Lucia Garys’ Pinot starts with lavish and opulent fruit, thick/lush mouth feel, exotic spices and briar along with lightly smoky sweet French oak framing this wonderful wine that has layers of rose petal, red currant, juicy plum and a core of decedent cherry and ripe black raspberry as well as hints of vanilla, blood orange liqueur, anise. This silken 2015 is a fuller bodied wine that the 2014, but it doesn’t go to far, it’s just closer in style to the famed Pisoni Estate, which most fans of this winery will find massively appealing and sexy, best get yours as quick as you can as the 2015’s will be extremely limited with the tiny crop and while it’s awesome right now, it has the potential to gain with age and should prove to be an exceptional vintage for the cellar!
($60 Est.) 94+ Points, grapelive
2009 Palmina, Nebbiolo “Sisquoc” Santa Maria Valley.
The wonderful Langhe inspired Palmina Sisquoc Nebbiolo is a thrill ride of true Barolo like character and is one of the finest Italian style red wines in California, this is spectacular and invigorating stuff with impressive depth and length. Steve Clifton has been on a mission to craft old school Italian wines in the Santa Barbara region since the late nineties and his passion for Nebbiolo started with early plantings of this grape at Stolpman and the Rancho Sisquoc Vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley, a cool climate, coastal influenced area north of Santa Barbara, which was planted in 1998. Clifton has adopted the classic or riserva style with his Nebbiolo with extended large cask aging and bottle aging before release to allow the wine to more fully unwind and develop, with the 2009 being the current offering, and his patience has been rewarded, especially this gorgeous and complex 2009 Sisquoc, which shows beautiful detail, refined tannins and mature evolution that certainly reminds one of Piedmonte. Catching up with Steve Clifton, formerly of Brewer-Clifton, one of California’s highly acclaimed Pinot Noir and Chardonnay producer and pioneer of the Sta. Rita Hills AVA and owner/winemaker of Palmina, was as always an education and amazing tasting experience, he showed off two fantastic wines from his Palmina cellar that blew me away, a wonderfully solid and fresh 2000 Pinot Grigio, yes, Pinot Grigio! And a stunning 1998 Stolpman Vineyard Nebbiolo that rivals Barolo or Barbaresco of the same vintage! These wines have aged beyond any expectations and really give you an idea how just how serious they are, something that is good the remember and not take for granted, and the new releases look set to be wines that can sit side by side with their Italian cousins in your cellar, Palmina is for real, in particular you’ll be extremely pleased to have this Michet clone 2009 Rancho Sisquoc Nebbiolo. The latest Palmina Sisquoc, grown on sandy loam and clay rich soil, shows intense density that is lifted by natural acidity and those silken, but firm tannins with bright raspberry, tangy plum and cherry fruits along with dried roses, dusty/stony notes, cedar spice and savory/saline infused licorice as well as grilled red citrus, amaro and mission fig. Three and half years in big cask helped tamed this broad shouldered red, to be in perspective, I tried this wine against Cerreto Asili Barbaresco and Bruno Giacosa Falletto Barolo at the Pebble Beach Food & Food Grand Tasting and it fitted in nicely against these, in fact it showed awesomely well, there was almost no gap between in terms of quality, that was a huge performance! This impressive Nebbiolo will surprise a lot of people and should only get more interesting over time and should drink well for another decade plus, Palmina should be on your radar if not already, Clifton has gone through a re-birth of sorts and been freed up to show his own style path since leaving Brewer-Clifton, and his latest set of Palmina and his new La Voix label are authentic/natural, exciting and intriguing wines, look out for them.
($60 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2014 Sheldon, Graciano, California.
If you are looking for an ultra intriguing rare wine that is so cool you’ll think it was from the Cotes du Jura, then you’ll want to experience the Sheldon Wines Graciano, the rare Rioja varietal that is believed in some quarters to be related to Trousseau that is also found in Jerez and more famously known as Tintilla in the Canary Islands! The 2014 Sheldon Graciano is mostly from the limestone soils, below sea level in Ripkin Vineyard near Lodi and with one barrel in the blend coming from Luc’s Vineyard in Sonoma that is set on volcanic soils with loose loam and gravel making for a pale low alcohol red with vibrant spicy flavors and old world leathery earthiness. This unfiltered and slightly cloudy ruby colored red is similar to Arnot-Roberts’ Trousseau, with seductive lightness it comes in at 12.5% alcohol, showing strawberry, rhubarb, cinnamon stick, peppery raspberry and plum as well as a touch of bitter/minty anise, a hint of cedar and chalky stones. A deeper sense of fruit comes through with air, but this is balanced by a forceful savory game/leather accent, finishing with a nice burst of acidity, silken tannin with lingering tart cherry, red peach/blood orange and rose petals. This wine will certainly challenge your palate with it’s delicacy, nervy light to medium body and all the old work funkiness present in the 4 barrel, of which only about 100 cases were made, Graciano, those that like Wind Gap, Broc, Ryme and Cruse wines will love this stuff. I’ve loved this juice for years, and it sells out fast, so I’m thrilled to get some, it’s a real geeky pleasure. Dylan and Tobe Sheldon put out some fun wines from their micro winery, this are very limited offerings so it’s best to get on their list, be sure not to miss this one as well as their The Red Hat Petite Sirah/Cabernet Napa Valley field blend, their new Sonoma Valley wild pergola trained lighter style Cabernet Sauvignon that has a Anjou Rouge quality to it, sold through retail and restaurants as well as www.sheldonwines.com and their value priced Lindsay Blair Hillside Syrah sold through the www.LBWineco.com these are tiny production hand crafted wines with native yeasts and no new oak made to be enjoyed young.
($36 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2014 Corra, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley.
The latest Corra by Celia Welch is simply glorious in detail and depth with remarkable freshness and Bordeaux like intensity and vigor, it is one of California’s top wines and has been since it’s debut in 2004, especially true with this 2014 and it’s compelling black fruits, beautiful layers and heady perfume. The Corra 2014 is a cuvee crafted from 100% Cabernet Sauvignon from selected vineyards including Pritchard Hill, Rutherford and Oakville all of which adds to the complexity found in Celia’s signature wine, this vintage really excels in delivering everything you’d want in a fine Cabernet Sauvignon showing dense richness, without being syrupy or heavy, highlighting her graceful touch, this is winemaking at it’s best. Maybe best known in recent years for her Scarecrow Cabernet Sauvignon, Celia Welch has been one of California’s most sought after talents and has a stellar record on making critically acclaimed wines with many 95-100 scores over the years, I’ve been a fan for ages and have admired the Corra Cabernets since her first offering, her wines display beautiful elements and a completeness that rivals any and from anywhere, and this 2014 should prove legendary, even in a vintage that hasn’t received much hype, it’s fantastic from start to finish. The dazzlingly seductive Corra 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon starts with a brightness of focus, heightened bouquet and expressive fruit lifted by the slightly cooler year in Napa Valley and the mountain grown Pitchard Hill grapes that give spice, earthy tones, tanninic substance and vibrancy, while the Oakville and Rutherford plots add aromatics, palate filling body, dusty plum notes along with classic Napa opulence and ripe styling. The layers keep coming at you with seamless precision, gorgeous blackberry, creme de cassis, acacia/violet floral notes, light mocha/vanilla, sweet tobacco, cedar, subtle licorice and lovely framing oak that doesn’t interfere with the pureness of character. This wine is amazingly easy to love for such a baby and many will want to drink this Cabernet Sauvignon now with it’s approachable modern hedonism, but patience, without question, will be greatly rewarded, much like Ridge’s Monte Bello, it’s generous nature is hiding a seriously powerful, structured and lengthy wine that will only get better with age.
($150 Est.) 96-98 Points, grapelive
2016 Brooks, Rose of Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley.
The new and recently released Books Pinot Noir Rose is brilliantly fresh with wonderful vibrancy and vigor making for a super dry and brisk pink that will be a thrilling summer wine. All of the latest set of Brooks wines I tasted at this year’s Pebble Beach Food & Wine event showed the wineries authentic character with vivid acidity and earthy tones that showcases their Oregon terroir as well as highlight the restrained down to earth style of the winemaking, each wine has it’s own subtle personality especially the various Rieslings and Pinot Noir bottlings, but there is no question the wines are just getting better and better with each vintage, in particular the 2014 Pinots, with the 2014 Rastaban standing out for it’s elegance and layers of complexity, utterly spellbinding. The 2016 Brooks Rose of Pinot Noir Willamette Valley starts with a mineral/steely tone with sour cherry, rosewater, watermelon, mixed citrus and zesty herbs along with a hint of pure pinot fruit and lingering strawberry essence. This tangy fresh Rose is full of life and energy, but has a nice austere form and feels vital with a lithe and learn lightness that gives this beauty it’s sizzle and refreshment, in the last few vintages this Brooks Rose has become a focal point for Oregon dry Rose with it’s bone/dusty dry style that has seemed to really caught on and I love this stuff! Drink this bright/zesty pale pink/salmon hued 2016 over the next year, and I suggest looking at all the interesting Rieslings on offer as well as their array of Pinot, especially any of the 2014 and 2015 vintages.
($20 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2015 I. Brand & Family, Mourvedre Old Vine “Enz Vineyard” Lime Kiln Valley, San Benito County.
Ian Brand has made a gorgeous old world style wine from the little known Lime Kiln Valley from old vine Mourvedre that rivals many a Bandol, while Brand may not be a household name yet, he is one of Monterey’s most talented winemakers, crafting his Le P’Tit Paysan and La Marea wines as well as his signature I. Brand & Family offerings. His Enz Vineyard Old Vine Mourvedre is deeply colored with a dark garnet/purple hue that starts with a bouquet of flowers, spice and earth with intriguing violets and bramble berry leading to a palate of rich fruit, leather, peppercorns, loam and seductive meatiness. Layers of dusty boysenberry, wild plum, tart currant and baked cherry flow seamlessly in a dense mouth feel that is held together with ripe tannins and the savory raciness making for a serious wine that reminds me somewhat of Bedrock’s Heritage or Bonny Doon’s mid nineties Old Telegram and a bit like a Cornas too, though with the old school charm of a classic Bandol without the stinky brett, this is impressive stuff that is what is now commonly called “The New California” it’s a wine that reflects the best of what it’s own terroir is as well as paying homage to it’s historical cousins of the old world in a balanced fashion. This rich and full bodied old vine Mourvedre, with lingering kirsch, chalky stones, sticky lavender, minty anise and shaved cinnamon stick, certainly delivers the goods, and made me look up where the hell Lime Kiln Valley was, a touch humbled, I discovered it was in the greater Cienega Valley and has been it’s own AVA since 1982 with the Enz Vineyard first being planted back in 1895! The I. Brand & Family Old Vine Mourvedre “Enz Vineyard” Lime Kiln Valley is from head trained vines that was planted in 1922 grown on limestone, dolomite and covered by sandy loam and gravel along with a micro climate that sees a good diurnal temperature change allowing for very intense and focused fruit with color, flavor and complexity along with a nice lift of natural acidity, this means Brand can use partial whole cluster that adds loads of distinction and edginess, without question this is one of coolest and best finds of the year from the Central Coast! A recent stop at Brand’s tasting room in Carmel Valley Village proved a great experience and one of exciting new discoveries, in particular this Mourvedre that should enjoy a long life, as well as a Chinon like Cabernet Franc, a lovely fruit driven Grenache under his La Marea label and the brisk and energy filled Le P’Tit Paysan “Pierre’s Pirouette” Dry Rose of Mourvedre, Grenache & Cinsault that is a must have pink!
($42 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2014 Avaler, Cabernet Sauvignon, Dry Creek Valley.
This new Avaler 2014 Dry Creek Valley Cabernet Sauvignon is a deeply flavored small production wine crafted by Jon Phillips of Inspiration Vineyards and Dylan Sheldon of Sheldon Wines that delivers full flavors at a reasonable price, it shows the quality of vintage to near perfection with slightly cool year character and gorgeous opulence offering wonderful balance of vitality and richness. This wine’s release is timely with everything that is happening in the world of Cabernet Sauvignon, recently there has been a huge consolidation of top Napa Valley and Sonoma County vineyards with the potential of taking thousands of tons of fruit away from small independent wineries and boutique producers, in fact they say the average price for Napa Cabernet is heading to about $68 per bottle and parts of Sonoma not far behind, so it’s great to find a hand crafted Sonoma Cabernet with depth and true varietal layers for $25! The 2014 Avaler Cabernet Sauvignon Dry Creek Valley, 14.4% alcohol, is a 250 case cuvee that shows vibrant youthful blackberry, cherry, dark currant/cassis, raspberry and plum fruits, light floral tones, sweet tannins and with an array of tobacco, sage, coconut/vanilla and traces of licorice and liqueur. For those that love Ridge or wines from Alexander Valley will be thrilled with this Avaler Cabernet, as it is not as extracted as most Napa Valley wines, but with very stylish details and a medium/full body as well as having plenty of hedonistic charm and firm structure that makes it a Cabernet that will be flexible with cuisine and showcases the winemaker’s desire to have restraint and grace even in their macho Cabernet. It’s not hard to love this Cab, it gives lots of pleasure for the price, it’s especially joyful with grilled flank steak, prime rib and hard cheeses and is mostly ready to go as is, but should see some gains with age, drink from 2017 to 2025.
($25 Est.) 91-93 Points, grapelive
2015 Avaler, Chardonnay, Russian River Valley.
This stylish golden medium weight Chardonnay shines with classic Russian River & Olivet Lane character and textures, crafted to be a wonderful value that delivers substance and beautiful bright flavors. This small production and handcrafted wine is a lovely example of what Chardonnay can be in California showing delightful fruit, richness of detail and mineral highlights without being sweet or buttery heavy, while not as steely or austere as Chablis, it has a quality mouth feel and drinks with rare brilliance and life. Avaler is two friends that brought together a few ideas and want to translate pure Californian terroir the wines and make them available at extremely fair prices, a mission that Jon Phillips of Inspiration Vineyards and Dylan Sheldon of micro craft winery Sheldon Wines seem to have achieved with some flair with this Chardonnay as well as a sleek Rhone blend and a deep Dry Creek Cabernet Sauvignon. The Avaler Russian River Chardonnay reminds me a bit of Merry Edwards and or Rochioli, but with less overt wood, with honeysuckle, white citrus blossom, dependent apple, lemon and fig fruit as well as clove spices, smoky vanilla and lingering peach. The palate is succulent and the cooler climate acidity adds a dynamic freshness, at 13.7% this isn’t a lightweight or lean wine, though very well focused and balance, it walks that racy tightrope with aplomb. There’s a lot to enjoy in these wines, especially here in Phillip’s and Sheldon’s fine Chardonnay, I highly recommend exploring this Avaler label, I think you agree they offer more than most high production wines in this price class, drink them as you get them, they are almost guilt free wines for anytime you feel like a nicer bottle during the week or with friends. The Avaler Chardonnay will surprise many, including those that are stuck on Cougar Juice or the like as well as more old school fans, this will make 90% of the people very happy, me included, this wine certainly can be enjoyed alone, but is very happy with grilled chicken, lobster or crab cakes and soft stinky cheeses.
($25 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2015 Bow & Arrow, Melon, Johan Vineyard, Willamette Valley.
Inspired by the Loire Valley’s Muscadet Sevre et Maine the natural and stylish biodynamic Melon de Bourgogne by Bow & Arrow delivers brisk and bright salty flavors with a touch of new world richness, but remains faithful to the French version with driving acidity and steeliness making for a vibrant example of this varietal. Scott Frank’s Portland based micro winery has gained a great reputation for unique and interesting wines taking Bow & Arrow in it’s own direction, away from the only Burgundy influenced path that most of the Willamette Valley follows and is enjoying success with most of the wines paying homage to France’s Loire Valley and especially the Touraine and Muscadet regions with some stellar Gamay, Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc wines as well as this pretty, very dry and slightly raw Melon de Bourgeonne. Bow & Arrow’s Johan Melon starts with an austere nose of saline, ether, crushed earthy stones, straw bale and zesty citrus leading to a pithy palate of lemon/lime, unripe melon and a core of stone fruit, making it a superb seafood companion. Frank’s touch is brilliant here, as with Johan’s fruit giving loads of energy and character, it opens to fleshy peach and kiwi along with some bitter herb and spice offering a fruity vs savory balance along with a hint of brioche/lees that allows for mouth feel and substance, this white impresses for it’s zip and restraint while still giving texture and layers. The vintage shines through in all of the Bow & Arrow wines, these are wonderful efforts, don’t miss them, in particular the Gamay/Pinot Rhinestones blend, the Gamay and the straight Pinot Noirs, all of which are standouts. Bow & Arrow’s Melon is a fun and refreshing white that will compliment oysters, claims, mussels as well as raw milk cheeses and is a great alternative to the sea of less exciting whites out there.
($24 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2015 Domaine de Beaurenard, Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc, Rhone Valley, France.
The famed and historic Paul Coulon winery Domaine de Beauregard dates back to 1695 with brothers Daniel and Frederic Coulon now running this old Chateauneuf-du-Pape house along with the next generation Daniel’s son Victor now playing a bigger role and who I met recently at a trade tasting in Carmel, who was pouring the latest of his family’s wonderful wines. Beaurenard crafts two Chateauneuf whites and two Chateauneuf reds along with a distinct Rasteau Rouge and a great value Cotes du Rhone that always over delivers in quality, these are very intriguing and expressive wines on par with names like Vieux Telegraphe and even Beaucastel! The Beaurenard (The Beautiful Fox) estate with only 4 hectares of white varietals has been a top producers of Chateauneuf Blanc, and been making it at a top level since at least 1929, using a selection of about 30% Clairette, 20% Grenache Blanc, 25% Bourboulenc, 22% Roussanne and a tiny amount of both Picpoul and Picardan that makes up to 3% of the final blend. This 2015 is bright and vibrant at first with succulent and tangy apricot/peach, tangerine/citrus, unripe green apple with hints of jasmine, clove/spice and wet stones that all makes for an elegant a classy white with a mineral essence and a seamlessly flowing palate that expands to a medium body with sublime lightly leesy mouth feel. The warm vintage, contrary to perceived ideas, picked at perfect ripeness with good acidity still in the grapes is lively/fresh and the cool fermentations and no malolactic as well as short vat and barrel time before bottling really keeps this lovely Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc thrillingly vivid and refreshing. This complex and easy to love Domaine de Beaurenard Blanc gives a lot of joyous pleasure and is a great alternative to Chardonnay or White Burgundy offering enough grace and richness to impress any wine lover, drink from 2018 to 2022.
($45 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2015 Weingut Wittmann, Riesling Trocken, Rheinhessen, Germany.
Phillip Wittmann’s entry level dry Riesling is a pithy fresh wine that delivers crisp detail and pure flavors, while it lacks to thrilling concentration of the GG’s this lovely little wine gives a gateway insight into Wittmann’s style, vintage markers and terroir. Having tasted with Phillip Wittmann last year and tasting his signature Morstein I had a good base in which to taste this Rheinhessen Trocken that starts with driving citrus, loamy notes and white cherry before opening on the palate with more yellow fruits and mineral elements in a vibrant and juicy acid burst. The 2015 is still rather austere and tight, a bit surprising, but still charming and a solid value for a wine from a great vintage and pedigree, best to have with cuisine where it shine more clearly, especially with cured meats, oysters or light to medium spicy dishes, it is really vital and refreshing in a lighter frame than the more impressive and deep Grosses Gewachs and single vineyard Trockens. Wittmann began organic conversion in the 1980’s, got 100% organic in the early 1990’s and went full biodynamic in 2004, their adoption of Rudolf Steiner’s philosophy and farming has lifted Wittmann to new highs and the wines show amazing energy and class, making Philip one of superstars of Germany who has lifted the region’s reputation as well. The Rheinhessen has small pockets of terroir that is as good as it gets, and there is no doubt Weingut Wittmann is the leading light. The soils here are more limestone and clay giving the Wittmann wines their unique expressions, in fact Morstein always has a Chablis like steely quality and is a vineyard that was first mentioned way back in 1282, there is a stunning history here, Wittmann’s other top sites include areas of iron rich red volcanic and sandy loam and a bit of loess which adds to the complexity of each Cru, with the basic Trocken getting a bit of each in most vintages. This zesty Riesling Trocken has brisk mouth feel and vigor along with faint white flowers, tropical tones, peachy notes and spices finishing dusty dry and lingering rosewater, mango and biting bitterness. I can see myself enjoying a few bottles of this one on hot summer days, also look for Wittmann’s very rare Trocken Rose of St. Laurent and Pinot Noir, one of Germany’s most geeky fun wines!
($22.50 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2015 Alfaro Family Vineyards, Pinot Noir “Trout Gulch Vineyard” Santa Cruz Mountains.
The brilliantly garnet/ruby hued 2015 Alfaro Family Vineyards Trout Gulch Pinot Noir is a full flavored and concentrated wine with wonderful lavish fruit, but with multi-layered complexity showing subtle earthiness and exotic spices. Since Richard Alfaro took over the lease to Trout Gulch and starting farming this small beautiful vineyard, above Aptos, in the Santa Cruz Mountains has become a top spot for Chardonnay and Pinot Noir with his crew getting the best out of these grapes, which are mostly heritage clones I believe, set on heavy loam, gravel and clay like soils set against some coastal redwoods and a marine climate. 2015 vintage started with a small set of fruit, almost 60% down on 2014, but the year turned out with some spectacular fruit, tiny clusters and dark firm berries that gave intense richness and this Trout Gulch Pinot shows youthful density and structure, but with amazing purity with refined tannins and vibrant acidity providing a glorious framework to show off a palate of black cherry, plum, raspberry and blood orange fruits along with delicate rose petal, tangy tea spices, cinnamon, light earthy/mineral/stony elements, a bit of saline and lush polished wood notes. This is a sexy and seductive Pinot Noir (13.5% Alcohol) that saw about 40% or so new French oak, it really grabs your attention and delivers excellent quality and balance for the money, it should be available soon, but the Alfaro wine club will take the lions share as the yields were so low, so get your requests in early, but don’t miss out on the almost sold out 2014 either, which is also drinking great. Alfaro offers a few very limited edition Pinots from other vineyards, apart from the estate bottlings, these include Garys’ Vineyard, Lester Vineyard and this Trout Gulch Vineyard. The Alfaro estate wines are some of California’s best values and Richard’s winemaking and winegrowing talents are clearly showcased in his wines, his Lindsay Paige Estate Pinot Noir and Ryan Spencer Estate Syrah have been long time favorites of mine and now the Trout Gulch in recent years being added to my must have list of wines, especially these 2014 and 2015 vintages. Drink this Alfaro Trout Gulch Vineyard 2015 over the next 5 to 10 years, it’s a detailed and joyous wine that should develop nicely and age extremely well.
($38 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2015 Inspiration Vineyards, Grenache, Sonoma Valley.
Jon Phillips’ Inspiration Vineyards is a small boutique winery in Santa Rosa that is producing a strong lineup of hand-crafted wines, including this wonderful Sonoma Valley Grenache from Ceja Family Farms vines. Along with production manager Dylan Sheldon, of one of my long time favorites Sheldon Wines, Inspiration Vineyards makes elegant styled small lot wines from selected vineyard sites throughout Sonoma County, each wine is carefully done to highlight each terroir and delicate details, Phillips wants to offer easy to love wines that are full of flavor and value. The 2015 Grenache is highly successful in delivering the goods with a medium/full bodied and vibrantly expressive fruit along with concentrated depth and spicy lingering finish, this ripe and subtlety flamboyant Grenache shows off the vintage with forward nature, rich texture and silky refined tannins, while still being graceful and restrained in alcohol heat. The vines are set on a cooler site which helps with fresh acidity, but allowing the Grenache to express itself with juicy raspberry, sweet currant, dark loganberry, strawberry and pomegranate fruits as well as light peppery notes, mineral tones and tangy lavender. The color is deep red with bright ruby edges and the bouquet is grapey youthful with mixed floral elements with a touch of earthy charm that leads to the palate with a smooth transition making for a seamless and fun Grenache that is a bit lighter in styling, but exceptionally pure in varietal character and certainly it will thrill those that like old world wines, it gives that same sort of pleasure that you find in some Aussie Grenache or Spanish Garnacha. In Sonoma there is a cult of Grenache, somewhat underground, but thriving with wines like Bucklin, Mathis, Unti and Ridge Lytton Estate just to name a few good ones to check out along with this beauty from Inspiration Vineyards.
($29 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2015 Chappellet, Chenin Blanc “Molly Chappellet” Napa Valley.
The Chappellet old vine Chenin is a dry and dusty Savennieres style wine that thrills the Loire Valley fans and is one of the great wine geeks white of Napa Valley, even in a warm and small vintage like 2015 the Chappellet Chenin Blanc delivers steely crisp vitality and lovely balance. With subtle richness and flair this 2015 offers vine flowers, earthy lemon/lime, white peach and unsweet honeycomb as well as light herb and spice with palate that expands to almost a medium body with air, while remaining brisk and taught. There are a bunch of exciting new Chenins in California these days with Littorai being one of the most sought after, but there is Broc and Pax as well that deserve your attention, though classics like Casa Nuestra in Saint Helena, Chalone in Monterey County and of course this wonderful Chappellet offering. Lovely and bright with hints of mineral, leafy notes, earthy tones and stone fruit detail this is a stylish Chenin that can be enjoyed with a vast array of food choices. Chappellet’s current lineup is full of winners, including this Chenin Blanc, but also their 2014 Don Chappellet Signature Cabernet Sauvignon, just released, is a wonderful Napa Valley expression, pure and full bodied with a dazzling palate, right up there with the 2013! If you’ve not had Chappellet or not lately, you’ll want to sample this latest set, drink this Chenin anytime and while great fresh it will age too, as it does have loads of concentration and lifting acidity, best now through 2023.
($38 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2015 Sheldon Wines “The Red Hat” Red Field Blend, Napa Valley.
The upcoming release of The Red Hat is a stylish and old world inspired charmer with deep fruit and snappy spice, this concentrated and robust wine is from an inter-planted single vineyard of Petite Sirah and Cabernet Sauvignon grown with organic/holistic methods near the Mayacamas range not far from Calistoga. This 2015 The Red Hat from winemakers Dylan & Tobe Sheldon of Sheldon Wines, a tiny micro-winery in Santa Rosa, is a special single barrel wine, which should be released in the late Summer, as they like the tannins to soften and allow time for the fruit to open up, but it certainly is showing wonderfully now with gorgeous detail and an inner intensity of floral perfume, dense black fruits, earthy notes, wild briar/bramble and peppercorns giving this basket pressed California field blend a northern Rhone feel. 2015 was a great vintage, but the fruit set was very low, basically 50% less than normal for this vineyard, and serve hand selection and farming to get the very best from the grapes made for maybe the best yet from this unique wine, and I’m grateful for the chance to preview it, frankly I really enjoyed just drinking this one, it has many layers and facets to admire that take time to unfold in a slow seductive dance on the palate. The Cabernet reveals itself with blackberry, acacia flowers and subtle cassis, while the Petite Sirah adds a thick frame, plummy mouth feel and vibrant black pepper, but the varietal nature kind of takes a backseat to the vineyard/terroir effect, plus the gentle and hands off winemaking and use of neutral oak in this unfined/unfiltered wine. This very dark purple with garnet edges red leads with a sweet floral bouquet and faint earthy spices before a full bodied palate of mentioned blackberry along with tangy currant, concord grape, juicy plum, blueberry and huckleberry fruits as well as that vivid pepper, lavender, camphor, incense, kirsch and minty anise. There’s some tannin here, which makes itself known, but is graceful in it’s framing of this wine and at 13.5% The Red Hat is impressively showy, though refined, elegant even and balanced, again it takes it’s cues from the old world with a natural beauty that really gets the heart racing. With only 24 cases made, this will be wine to get on pre-order as I think it will likely only be available direct from Sheldon Wines, best to get your requests in early, it should age and develop nicely as well, best to hide a few bottles away, though as seriously good as it is now that might prove hard, drink from 2018 to 2024.
($48 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2016 Armas de Guerra, Mencia Rosado, Bierzo, Spain.
One of the most rare and unique Rose wines of the season is from Spain’s Galicia region of Bierzo, it’s a Mencia Rosado from Armas de Guerra, a label that is new to me and imported by Ole Imports and Chambers and Chambers (in California) and I learned Vinos Guerra is the oldest winery in Bierzo, dating back to 1879, and is famous for their Vermouth. The 2016 Rosado Mencia by Armas de Guerra is made from vines planted in 1963, over 50 years old, and is an all organic wine that is from free run juice and cool fermented in stainless steel, it is a very refreshing style pink wine that is invigoratingly dry and crisp with mineral and spice notes backing up a bright red currant and strawberry essence with crispy citrus, watermelon and sour cherry. This is the first Mencia Rose I’ve tried, and I will be on the look out for more, Bierzo’s location and soils add to the richness/ripe flavors, though Armas de Guerra’s Rosado is vibrant and zesty throughout with subtle fruitiness and savory/stone elements with lingering peppery spice, tangy herbs and faint rosewater. Oh by the way, for those that need extra confidence in such things, the Armas de Guerra wines are totally vegan as well as made completely without oak, and the price is right for such an enjoyable pale and light Rose.
($14 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2016 Bonny Doon Vineyard, Picpoul “Beeswax Vineyard” Arroyo Seco, Monterey County.
Randall Grahm’s racy crisp Picpoul from Arroyo Seco is a smashing good little white wine with lots of class and character showing stony/mineral expressiveness and vibrant fruit, this is really tasty treat. Picpoul, best known for the single varietal Picpoul de Pinet a classic dry summer fresh wine of the Rhone Valley, is also one of the Chateauneuf-du-Pape grapes, first thought to have come or brought to California by Tablas Creek in Paso Robles from cuttings from Chateau de Beaucastel, Randall uses it in his Rhone style Le Cigare as well, a wine that pays homage to the wines of Chateauneuf-du-Pape. As a single varietal, in this wine, the Bonny Doon Picpoul delivers bright detail and vitality with zesty citrus, round white peach, light tropical notes and wet chalk with a core of lime and honeydew melon along with white flowers and spice. This light to medium bodied white is refreshing and entertaining, in my opinion it offers a lot of flavor and energy for the money, much more enjoyable than the sea of dull and flat Sauvignon Blancs or the cloyingly sweet Pinot Grigios that seem to be taking up majority of shelf space in the alternative white wine section of most wine shops in California these days. This is fun stuff, Bonny Doon has been re-energized in recent years and Randall continues to challenge our palates and minds with some thrilling wines, besides this one, you should search out his set of pink wines, including his extended car-boy aged Le Cigare Vin Gris Reserve, which is a thrilling and engaging Rose, and his Grenache “The Wine Formally known as Clos de Gilroy” Monterey County, in particular the 2015, a killer wine under $20. Certainly if you want something different, Bonny Doon Vineyard, is a great option and this 2016 Picpoul Beeswax Vineyard is impressive, with air it gains and a subtle richness, a superb summer choice and a wine that will go righteously with seafood, especially south of France inspired bouillabaisse and or picnic fare, drink now.
($22 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2013 Calera, Pinot Noir, Jensen Vineyard, Mt. Harlan.
The gorgeous Jensen Vineyard by Josh Jensen is one of California’s best wines and his Calera Wine Co. offers an amazing lineup across the board, but especially thrilling are his hillside Mt. Harlan Pinots, which is certainly a Grand Cru class site and a singularly unique terroir. Josh Jensen, Oxford grad and California winemaking legend, was clearly influenced by his time at Domaine Dujac and Burgundy itself and it’s limestone based soils, which he found at Mt. Harlan in the hills not far from Hollister in San Benito County, a place more known for western boots, sprawling ranches, farms, Coors long necks and chewing tobacco than Musigny or Clos de la Roche! While inland, Mt. Harlan still feels the cooling influence of the Pacific and the nights get cold allowing these vines time to recover from the days warm and generate structural acidity making for wines that have fantastic aging potential, Jensen also crafts his wines to develop over time with lots of stems, whole cluster and deft use of wood as well as extremely gentle handling. The 2013 Calera Jensen, his top Cru along with Selleck, is glorious from start to finish with a seductive inner perfume and delicate spiciness with a medium/full palate of divine texture and a long lasting finish that is mind-blowingly sublime and remarkable, lingering on and on for many minutes. This 2013 is lively and vinous with lively intensity and deep layers with many facets of flavors unfolding, the color is dark garnet and ruby, as usually the case with Calera Mt. Harlan Pinots, while the bouquet subtlety lifts from the glass with English rose, liquid violets, racy spices and mineral tones that easily transitions to the mouth along with black cherry, dusty plum, earthy red berries and faint leafy notes as well as stony loam, sweet and silky tannins with a nice cut of elegant acidity that lifts and gives a sense of dreamy lightness. This wine is both regal and authentic with an athletic vitality, but endlessly graceful, it doesn’t get much better than this, drink over the next 10 to 15 years, WOW!
($99 Est.) 96+ Points, grapelive
2016 Alfaro Family Vineyards, Albarino, Ryan Spencer Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains.
The absolutely brilliant 2016 Albarino, which is due to be released this Summer, is an exciting and riveting mineral crisp dry white from Richard Alfaro that shines with thrilling aromatics and energy. Alfaro Family Vineyards is located near Corralitos in the south Santa Cruz Mountains not far from Aptos and very close to the Pacific, making for a cool climate terroir set on sandy loam and gravel soils, making it a natural and happy home for Albarino, a Galician grape that likes the salty sea air and chilly nights with a bit of fog. The 2016 Alfaro Ryan Spencer Albarino is beautifully expressive with a bouquet of white flowers and citrus blossom and a lean brisk palate with just a hint of lees and a light/medium vigorous body showing fresh cut green apple, bright tangerine, salted peach and tangy lemon/lime fruits along with a steely frame as well as a touch of chalk, wet stone, tropical notes and spicy bitter herb. This wine is a stunning example of new world Albarino that pays homage to it’s old world Rias Baixas cousins with fresh detail and vitality, Richard Alfaro really nailed this one and the vintage is the best yet, it reminds me of Nanclares y Prieto Albarino, one of my favorite wines from Spain. While Alfaro is known for his wonderful Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, he also has Syrah, Rose, a Cremant Sparkler and a set of Gruner Veltliner(s) making for an excellent and unique lineup of wines that you do not want to overlook, also you’ll want to visit their tasting room or join their wine club to get in on some of the more limited bottlings. This Albarino is a must have for white wine lovers, especially if you want a refreshing and vibrant wine, it has lots of racy acidity, complexity and lingers with unripe melon and key lime sorbet, as these vines get some age on them they really get more vivid and interesting giving this wine lots of character and seductive charm.
($25 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2012 Volker Eisele, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley.
The new Volker Eisele releases are lovely wines with deep layers and purity, especially this 2012 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon that really offers classic Napa flavors at a fair price, which is hard to find in these days of $125 and sometimes very average at best wines, this Cabernet shows plenty of personality and character that outshines many offering that are seriously twice or three times the price. The Volker Eisele lineup includes “Gemini” a Sauvignon Blanc/Semillon white Bordeaux style white, this Cabernet and “Terzetto” the top Bordeaux style red blend, all of which are well worth checking out for their quality and pedigree. I’ve been a fan of Volker Eisele Cabernet since the late 90’s and they have never let me down, and it’s great that they are still a small family fun winery, always a plus in these times. The 2012 vintage is just now starting to show it’s true nature with expressive fruit starting to open up and over take the vintage’s forceful tannins, allowing the balance and harmony to shine through, even though this is a year to cellar for a bit longer and certainly the best can age for another 2 decades with ease, and while this Volker Eisele Cabernet can go another 10 years, it can be enjoyed even now. The 2012 Volker Eisele Family Estate Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley starts with a dark garnet/purple color in the glass and a bouquet of acacia/violet floral notes along with dark berries, graphite and smoky vanilla leading to a full bodied palate of blackberry, creme de cassis, black cherry and mulberry fruits that unfold in dense layers as well as hints of briar, sage, sweet tobacco, cedar and licorice. This is mouth filling Cabernet and is quite firm and tightly wound with impressive length when given a chance to expand, swirling and air really gets things going and heightens the experience, but I’d advise drinking this beautiful red with robust cuisine, in particular meats and hard cheeses. Delicacy will come here in the years to come, background mineral and lingering currants reminds me a bit of a warm vintage (like 2003, 2009 and 2005) Margaux, though of course it is first and foremost a Napa Valley Cabernet and a proud Californian, best from 2020-2030.
($53 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2015 Lindsay Blair, Hillside Syrah, Sonoma Valley.
A joint effort from Jon Phillips of Inspiration Vineyards and head winemaker Dylan Sheldon for Lindsay Blair, the 2015 Hillside Syrah comes mostly from a tiny plot at Gould Vineyard in Sonoma Valley not far from Kenwood, originally for a new wine brand and meant to sell for $38, this beautiful 5 barrel hand-crafted wine offers gorgeous seamless layers and detailed fruit, looks set to become an amazing one off value. The fruit from the Gould Vineyard was picked and fermented separately in an effort to focus on lean and delicate qualities and was blended with a touch of richer and riper Russian River Valley Syrah to fill out the palate on this very elegant and harmonious red, with a final alcohol of 13.5% and soft tannins along with lifting acidity and focus. The 2015 Lindsay Blair Hillside Syrah starts with dark spring flowers/violets and black/blue fruits and light spices leading to a medium/full palate of concord grape, blueberry, boysenberry and black raspberry fruits along with a plummy mouth-feel and lush textures as well as pepper, anise, sticky lavender, kirsch, light smokiness, earthy tones and sage. This is a remarkable wine, succulent and authentic with admirable length and delicacy at a fantastic price, this looks like one of the best buys I’ve seen this year. You’ll be able to get this Syrah direct at www.lbwineco.com soon!
($20 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2015 Cantina Terlan, Terlaner Classico, Alto Adige, Italy.
The Terlano (Terlan) Classico is a white blend cuvee of 60% Pinot Blanc, 30% Chardonnay and 10% Sauvignon Blanc coming from the highest elevation sites above the town of Terlano, near Bolzano, in the Alto Adige, which is high in the Dolomites (the southern limestone Alps) in Italy’s far north near the border with Austria, an area that is known as Sud Tirol. The Terlan Classico 2015 is grown on porphyry rocky and mineral soils and shines with cool climate acidity and a long lived structure, a warm vintage helps bring a ripe lushness to this bright and dynamic white. This traditional wine has everything you’d want and a bit more with exceptional class and layered textures showing bright citrus and stone fruits and flinty mineral spice with a medium body giving wonderful feel. The palate is full of energy showing lemon/lime, summer melon, green apple, wet river rocks, hints of clove, chalky/salt and a faint trace of honeyed tones in a steely crisp frame, this pale golden white offers lots of stylish detail, focus and flair, impressive and alluring from start to finish with lingering white flowers, white peach and touch of tangy grapefruit. It is always amazing how expressive the Sauvignon is, even in such a minor role it gives aromatics and heighten’s the whole experience. This white is delightful now, but it certainly can age a decade or more, maybe gaining a few more points along the way!
($32 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2016 Holman Ranch Vineyards & Winery, Chardonnay, Estate Grown, Carmel Valley.
Winemaker Greg Vita’s brilliant 2016 Holman Ranch Estate Grown Chardonnay is wonderfully sleek, steely and crisp with clear green apple, lemon/citrus, apricot and orange blossom in a medium bodied wine that should be enjoyed young. Having recently moved back to the Carmel area, it’s been awesome seeing the passion in the winemakers and quality of my hometown’s wines, finally it looks like the region is being taken seriously. Holman Ranch has put a lot of effort in recent years to raise their game and get these vines up to speed and as they age they are beginning to show some good potential and longtime Carmel Valley veteran winemaker Vita is very excited about where they are going saying he thinks after the 2014 vintage things have turned the corner, the ex-Spring Mountain man who consults for many wineries in the state also has made Galante since the beginning, a Carmel Valley favorite, and knows Carmel Valley’s unique growing conditions well. Vita is confident that Pinot Noir will end up being Carmel Valley’s star red in the long term future, which you can see in Albatross Ridge and Pelio Vineyard (another vineyard that Greg Vita consults for) that has been successful in Figge and Pelerin offerings. Holman Ranch and their up scale Jarman label just had a release party in Carmel Valley and they showed off some very nice wines, especially their new stainless steel whole cluster Rose of Pinot Noir which sells for about $26 (90 Points) and this lovely and stony Estate Chardonnay that was fermented in stainless steel and raised in neutral French cask for just a few months to preserve it’s refreshing vibrancy and mineral character. There is subtle honeysuckle, clove, saline, wet chalk, white fig and light tropical notes that adds complexity, but it’s brisk lively dryness that gives this Chardonnay it’s charm and pleasure, this is impressive stuff to drink right away.
($27 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2015 Waxwing, Syrah, Halcon Vineyards, Yorkville Highlands.
Scott Sisemore’s ripe and opulent 2015 Waxwing Halcon Vineyards Syrah from Mendocino County’s Yorkville Highlands is one of the best wines to date from his small hand crafted winery. This is a full bodied and exciting effort that shows the region’s exceptional potential for this grape, and while Drew and Copain has shown that Syrah in Mendocino can be world class, these 2014 and 2015 wines are on the next level, certainly Waxwing’s is a gorgeous example, which I can highly recommend. The 2015 Halcon Syrah by Waxwing shows brilliant detail and succulent deep fruit along with a touch of sexy earthiness, bramble spice and flinty/graphite to go along with pretty floral elements and cassis that add complexity to it’s lavish core palate of boysenberry, marionberry, black currant jam and plummy fruits along with anise, peppered lavender, lingering liquid violets, blueberry, briar notes and smoky embers. Hints of French barrel add a sense of class and quality without being intrusive in this bigger framed Syrah, which comes in at about 15% alcohol, though fine acidity and velvet like tannins give wonderful mouth feel and harmony, making this wine more polished and Guigal Cote-Rotie like in a flamboyant frame rather than a racy/edgy stemmy Cornas. Sisemore is making some alluring wines, all in very small lots, no more than a couple of barrels of each, and it’s good time to get into his Waxwing wines, especially his Pinot, Dry Rose and this very dark purple/blue inky and garnet hued Syrah.
($47 Est.) 93+ Points, grapelive
2016 Alfaro Family Vineyards, Rose of Pinot Noir, Santa Cruz Mountains.
One of the very best Rose wines of the vintage so far is Richard Alfaro’s dry and full flavored Rose of Pinot Noir 2016, this year’s pink from Alfaro Family Vineyards is a thrill ride of juicy Jolly Rancher watermelon, distilled strawberry, raspberry/peach and tart cherry along with a burst of red citrus and steely mineral tones. This salmon/electric pink Rose lingers with rosewater, wet stones and hints of spice, it was fermented in stainless steel and then aged for about 3 months in well seasoned French oak before being bottled. This zesty fresh Rose is vibrant and vivid, but still ripe and textured, it comes in at 13% and certainly has a presence on the palate making almost it irresistible and excitingly pleasing as a summer sipper, great with or without food. Alfaro makes some of the best wines for the money in California specializing in Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from his own estate and the Trout Gulch Vineyard, which has gained an almost cult like following with wineries like Cerritas, Arnot-Roberts and Kutch buying fruit from this site near Aptos, but don’t miss Alfaro’s Albarino, Gruner Veltliner, Syrah and in particular this awesome Rose of Pinot Noir! You should check out these wines and visit the winery in the hills near Corralitos in the south side of the Santa Cruz Mountains a stones throw from the Monterey Bay, plus their wine club rates right up there with Ridge in offering top value, quality and variety.
($16.50 Est.) 92+ Points, grapelive
2015 Vina Godeval, Godello “Cepas Vellas” Valdeorras, Spain.
The Vina Godeval Godella Cepas Vellas is from high elevation vines in Galicia’s Valdeorras region where there is a huge difference in daytime and nighttime temperatures allowing good ripe grapes with piercing acidity, Godello is a varietal that delivers a wine of great texture and class, certainly on par with fine white Burgundy. Godveval is known for rich and detailed wines that have similar qualities to Premier Cru Chablis with loads of mineral character and lush mouth feel and bright citrusy acidity that gives structure and class. 2015 was a warm year and the vintage markers shine through in Godeval’s Cepas Vellas with lavish flair and layers of creamy apple, lemon curd and stone fruits that gives a full and fleshy palate with flinty spices, wet stones and leesy notes. Fermented in stainless steel and aged on the lees, the Godeval Godello Cepas Vellas comes from 50 years old vines that are grown on granite, schist and almost a shale like soil that allows vibrant intensity and inner energy. The Godeval Godello offers a great starting point to understanding this grape and place, a stepping stone to the more serious wines like Laura Lorenzo’s Daterra or A Coroa to name a couple to also look for.
($22 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2012 La Spinetta, Barbaresco “Vigneto Bordini” Piedmonte, Italy.
Over the last 6 months I’ve tried the La Spinetta Vigneto Bordini 2012 three times, each time the experience gets better and more pleasing, to the point where it is really starting to show it’s true personality and perform in beautiful fashion. There’s no question the 2012 is lighter and more vibrantly fresh than the 2010 and even the 2011, it has a more delicate nature and softer tannins making it a lot more open, but with less concentration and power. I would expect even better things will come in the short term with this very pretty Nebbiolo, it certainly is a wine that will be enjoyable in the near term and should be a wine to drink in the 3 to 5 years. A bit of tropical fruit and exotic spices add to the intrigue in La Spinetta’s Vigneto Bordini Barbaresco that delivers wilted roses, bing cherry, wild plum and raspberry as well as light earthy notes, tangy guava jelly, mineral tones, star anise and cedary spice. The medium weight frame and juicy character highlight the Bordini’s forward nature, but with air this wine settles down into a more classic style Nebbiolo that gains a fuller presence and pedigree as you’d expect from Giorgio Rivetti, this is a very solid and focused red that is at it’s best with robust cuisine. This ruby hued wine with bright orange edges will surprise a few, and it is well priced, think of it is a Cru Starderi light, which it feels like, and that is not a bad thing!
($63 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2015 4 Monos, Vino de la Sierra de Gredos Tinto, Vinos de Madrid, Spain.
4 Monos Viticultores is a group of four friends, “Four Monkeys” from just outside Madrid in Cadalso de los Vidrios, comprised of winemaker Javier Garcia (also the head winemaker at Méntrida icon Bodegas Jiménez-Landi), co-winemaker Laura Robles, wine-lover David Velasco, and vineyard holder David Moreno, making organic wines from high elevation vineyards in the Sierra de Gredos mountain range. The 4 Monos 2015 Vino de la Sierra de Gredos Tinto Vinos de Madrid is beautiful and textured red that is vibrant with lifting acidity made from old bush vines made up of 85% Garnacha, 8% Carinena (Carignane) and 7% Morenillo (a very rare varietal that is almost extinct found mainly in Terra Alta) fermented in built in cement vats with cool macerated grapes, 50% whole clusters, native/wild yeast ferments and aged for about 9 months in neutral/used barrels of various sizes. This wine, from a unique terroir and granite based soils, is very expressive with a nice perfume, spices and red/black fruits that flows in a seamless Tinto with lavender, crushed rose petals, peppercorns, flinty mineral notes and a fruit core of raspberry, pomegranate, kirsch/candied cherry and black plums along with light notes of star anise, chalky stones and a hint of wild sage. This ripe and medium bodied Garnacha has the beauty and style of a fine Gigondas, but comes across finessed, with great detail and delicacy, imported by Jose Pastor Selections, this is what the “New Spain” is all about, lovely stuff, drink now.
($26 Est.) 92+ Points, grapelive
2016 Red Car, Rose of Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast & Mendocino Ridge.
The Red Car wines have all raised their quality levels with the 2014 Pinots really showing well, but don’t forget their wonderful pink Pinot, which is dynamically fresh and flavorful. The 2016 Rose of Pinot Noir uses specially picked lots of early picked grapes from the Sonoma Coast and from a special plot up in Mendocino Ridge, which gives this wine it’s vital energy and lively character, while the Sonoma coast fruit adds the class and juicy fruit purity. This 2016 is so fresh with zesty citrus, sour cherry, strawberry and watermelon fruits along with a steely brisk frame and rosewater, snappy herb/spice. This clear and crisp Rose of Pinot Noir makes for a light and dreamy wine that gains a bit of depth with air, but stays tart and tangy making for a vibrant and refreshing summer wine, perfect and stylish for warm days and evenings and tasty with an array of foods and or outside sipping, even more fun in magnum of course if you can find them. Red Car really impresses with a selection of pretty wines that are much more charming and have more subtlety than has been the case in the past, keep an eye out for them, especially the Heaven & Earth Pinot Noir.
($26 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2015 Banshee, Cabernet Franc “Alegria Vineyard” Russian River Valley.
The Banshee Wines limited release Cabernet Franc from the Algeria Vineyard in the Russian River is a wonderful and very impressive red that has plenty of dark and vibrant fruit that has hints of varietal character, but is also a pure California expression with a bit of exotic spices, lush ripeness and gorgeous mouth feel. Rumor has it, this Algeria Cab Franc has about 5-7% Sangiovese in the mix, as Algeria is, as I understand it, a traditional old school field blend style vineyard with lots of unique varietals and old vines inter-planted, regardless of it’s true blend, this is a seriously tasty wine with fresh detail and lovely layers of flavors. Banshee is really offering great quality wines, and these 2015’s are the best yet, especially the latest Pinot(s), but don’t miss their Chards and even their Carignan, as well as this Cabernet Franc all of which are worth searching for. The 2015 is bursting with black cherry, raspberry, loganberry and juicy plum fruits along with sexy and racy spices with touches of cinnamon, cedar, pepper, sweet tobacco leaf/cigar wrapper and lavender oil. Light mineral tones and vivid acidity add class to this open knit red and lingering earth, lilac and mure make for a complex and stylish wine that has loads of charisma!
($40 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2014 Vocal, Gruner Veltliner “Alfaro Vineyard” Santa Cruz Mountains.
The Vocal Gruner by Ian Brand and Ted Glennon is remarkably dusty dry white with a brisk nature and vigorous intensity, this is an expressive wine that shows verve and bright layers. Coming from Richard Alfaro’s vineyard near Corralitos in the Santa Cruz Mountains, not far away from the Pacific Ocean and Aptos south of Santa Cruz itself, this hillside spot has great exposure, long days and cool marine influence, which seems to be a perfect match for the Gruner Veltliner, the signature white grape of Austria. The Vocal 2014 Gruner Veltliner Alfaro Vineyard starts with crisp apple, lemon/lime and white peach along with a bitter almond, faint herb and chalky stony notes in a light/medium bodied wine that feels taught and focused throughout, though gains in mouth feel with air and warmth and lingers with a touch of straw/lees, orange blossom, saline and kumquat. The first impression is one of steely dry shock, but quickly the palate unfolds with varietal pureness and zesty flavors that make this a really refreshing white best served with cuisine, it will be especially good with oysters, clams and mussels much the same way a Muscadet does!
($35 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2014 Pence, Syrah “Sebastiano” Sta. Rita Hills.
The new Pence winery, founded in 2010, is a wonderful surprise, these beautiful and soulful wines are hand-crafted by Sashi Moorman, of Stolpman, Piedrasassi, Sandhi and Evening Land from selected sites in Santa Barbara County and the Sta. Rita Hills. The latest set, which includes a fun and lively Gamay, two pretty and lengthy Pinot Noir(s) and a distinct Chardonnay, as well as this gorgeous and spicy Syrah from the John Sebastiano Vineyard. The 2014 Pence Sebastiano Syrah is opulent and rich, not as stem driven as Sashi’s other wines, but with nice cool climate character, showing blackberry, boysenberry, wild plum and blueberry fruits in a very dark purple/garnet hued wine that also delivers dense texture and a background of mineral, crushed gravel, savory elements, anise, black olives and pepper. As it opens, this Syrah gives sweet violets, faint cedar and lingering kirsch, making for a fine and alluring wine of expressive layers, depth and refined details with a good lift of acidity and polished tannins that hold things together. There is a lot to admire here and the Pence label is without question is one to watch, especially this Syrah and the fine Pinot Noir(s) that are drinking very sexy right now!
($68 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2012 E. Pira & Figli-Chiara Boschis, Barolo, Cannubi, Piedmonte, Italy.
Chiara Boschis has crafted some beauties in 2012 and this Cannubi is a classic, and one that won’t need ages in the cellar to enjoy, it already shows great detail, charm and open fruit that makes this a wine huge winner for those that want to drink and not cellar a great wine! While easy to love young, this Barolo has serious stuffing and substance with love terroir and pure Nebbiolo character. The Cannubi is grown on sandy loam, grey marl and clay soils that allow the grapes to fully express themselves and in 2012 you get ripe flavors, bright acidity and velvet covered tannins, everything played into Chiara’s very talented hands and this Barolo highlights her feminine touch, this poised and lengthy Cannubi is a thrill and earthy/seductive with very sexy mouth feel and layers. The nose is alluring with dried rose petals, anise, lavender and amaro along with earthy red fruits leading to a refined and medium/full palate of damson plum, black cherry, tangy currant and wild forest berries along with tea spices, game/bacon, flinty mineral tones, cedar and subtle crème de violette. This Cannubi, from one of the world’s most prized vineyards, is performing well now and should gain over the next 5 to 10 years, but you’ll not be disappointed in it anytime you open it, best from 2020-2030, not too far off the fantastic 2010, it’s a winner!
($99-125 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2015 Avaler “R Own Cuvee” Red Blend, Sonoma County.
Avaler is a new label, and if this R Own Cuvee is anything to go by, you’ll want to follow, it is a new collaboration between two friends, Dylan Sheldon of Sheldon Wines and Jon Phillips of Inspiration Vineyards, both long time veterans of the California wine scene. The Avaler is a small production hand-crafted project that will offer limited offerings from unique all Sonoma County vineyard sites at an extremely fair price, especially considering the quality and nature of these wines, in particular this Rhone style red blend, the “R Own Cuvee” which is an intriguing wine made of 60% Syrah, 30% Grenache Noir and 10% Viognier. Six barrels were made of this Avaler R Own Cuvee, the Syrah and Grenache were fermented separately, in open top, then pressed to French oak, for 16 months, 20% new, with the Viognier not co-fermented, but done in stainless and blended in later, this Gigondas meets Cote-Rotie inspired red comes from selected vineyards with the Syrah coming from Branley Vineyard in the Russian River Valley, the Grenache is grown at vines in Ceja Farms of Sonoma Valley, a site that Sheldon has used for his own wines that makes for really expressive Grenache, plus biodynamicly farmed Viognier from Canihan Vineyards also in Sonoma Valley. The nose is bright and deeply dark fruited with mixed florals, spice and mineral tones leading the way and a full and plush palate of richly flavored boysenberry, plum, blueberry and pomegranate fruits along with jasmine, lavender, peppercorn, cherry cola, sweet baking spices and lingering raspberry/frambroise. This open and forward red impresses and is lovely in mouth feel with subtle earthy charms, satiny tannins, nice acidity and plenty of style and pop, at 14.4% it is a sexy, well endowed ripe wine that gives a lot of opulent pleasure, drink over the next 3 to 5 years.
($25 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2016 Andrew Murray Vineyards, Esperance Rose, Curtis Vineyard, Santa Ynez Valley.
Andrew Murray’s unique and juicy 100% Cinsault Rose 2016 is a really an expressive pink that is bursting with dry and crisp flavor, a bit less fruity than last year, but with deeper intensity. Known for his signature Rhone influence and especially his Syrah, like his awesome value “Tous les Jours” plus the more serious and gorgeous Cote-Rotie like “Roasted Slope” as well as this limited production hand-crafted Esperance Rose, which is refreshing and focused. The 2016 seems more vivid and vibrant than 2015 with a beautiful bright pale salmon/pink hue in the glass and certainly a more interesting bouquet of exotic fruits, floral notes and saline/mineral steely charm that leads to a fine brisk palate of ruby grapefruit, tropical/guava, sour cherry and rosewater as well as wet stones, distilled strawberry, fennel and peppercorns. The Andrew Murray Esperance Rose gains complexity of detail with every sip and is intriguing in style, there is plenty to admire here and will be a joy over the next 6 months to a year, and I personally plan to quaff a few bottles myself, it looks to be a very food friendly wine and I think it would be great with lighter fare, in particular Sushi and Paella, plus picnic and BBQ as well.
($22 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2013 Albatross Ridge, Chardonnay, Estate, Carmel Valley, Monterey County.
The brilliantly clear and elegant Estate Chardonnay by Albatross Ridge shows crisp detail and subtle richness highlighting the cool marine influence and chalky/rocky of the hillside soils. Garrett Bowlus is emerging as one of Monterey’s best young winemakers crafting exciting and delicately natured wines from his Albatross Ridge Estate near the Los Laureles Grade in Carmel Valley, especially his Pinot Noirs, which are gorgeous and full of energy, but you don’t want to overlook his Chardonnay either. This 2013 Estate Chardonnay is medium bodied, but full of flavor and layers with a distinct wet stone core and a loam/chalky element along with classic apple, pear and lemon curd as well as clove spice, vanilla/butterscotch and golden fig. The main take away here is that it never feels heavy or dull in style or feel and that is has a less fruity/creamy presence and more of a Chablis briskness and a cool gravelly almost savory side. Best to enjoy this fresh and lively Chardonnay with seafood cuisine and or creamy expressive cheeses, drink over the next year or so.
($45 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2016 Waxwing, Rosé of Pinot Noir “Blair Vineyard” Arroyo Seco, Monterey County.
Scott Sisemore’s Waxwing Wines just released an impressive set of new wines and it looks like this small handcrafted selection of offerings look like the best yet from Waxwing, especially noteworthy is the delicately pale orange/pink hued 2016 Waxwing Rosé of Pinot Noir from Blair Vineyard in Arroyo Seco. Sisemore tweaked his Rosé this year and it is really a serious effort, with the 2016 vintage he fermented whole cluster (pressed in stainless steel) then stirred the lees (weekly) vigorously (batonage) in neutral French Barrel for 3 months to add viscosity and mouth feel to this bright and vibrant Rosé. The 2016 Waxwing Rosé is all from Pommard clone 4 and there is a bit of Burgundy or Marsannay style going on here, it is dry and crisp, but with excellent mouth feel and texture showing ruby grapefruit, summer watermelon, sour cherry and strawberry fruits along with steely mineral, chalky stones, rosewater, bitter herb and orange zest. The cool nights and ocean influence add to bright acidity and vitality in this intriguing Rosé, the alluvial soils which are gravelly, sandy and silty which adds to the earthy notes and saline elements, giving a unique almost terroir driven character, making for a classy pink. There was only 2 barrels made and Waxwing has about 40 cases available, mostly sold through their website, and be sure to check out Waxwing’s new A la Volee Sparkling Riesling from Tondre Grapefield in the Santa Lucia Highlands as well as his Syrah and Pinot Noir.
($20 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2016 Sheldon Wines, Tempranillo, Springloaded Monkeypaw, Luc’s Vineyard, Sonoma Coast.
The latest from Sheldon Wines is a wildly geeky wine that is both a joy to drink and a total mind freak, it’s a carbonic Tempranillo that is wonderfully fruity, but vibrant and serious, the best way to describe it is to say it’s like a Fleurie meets unoaked Rioja! The 2016 Sheldon Springloaded Monkeypaw, a tribute to a close friend of the winemaker’s Dylan & Tobe Sheldon, Chris Wright, who sadly passed away last year at 41, it’s also where the name comes from, as Springloaded Monkeypaw was a song that Dylan and Chris wrote one crazy late night and recorded on old flip phones. (all proceeds go to cancer research) The Tempranillo was fermented whole cluster, carbonic and aged without ML (malolactic) in stainless, kind of brave type of Nouveau style hybrid. While fruity, the crisp acidic edge keeps things vigorous and fresh, it gets off to a beautiful start with a lovely lilac and wild flower perfume that is quite heady along with blueberry compote, candied black cherry, boysenberry/strawberry jam, cinnamon spice and sweet and savory minty/salty licorice. This deeply colored red is purple/blued edged ruby and opens to a medium bodied wine with a lot of inner energy and light mineral tones and very low alcohol at 11.7% that adds to the lighter lively feel, though it does have a nice layered mouth feel in this intriguing and expressive Tempranillo. Only 24 cases were made of this stuff, it’s definitely a wine geek wine and not cheap, but still it’s really fun in a Cru Beaujolais way, available only through Sheldon Wines, drink on the quicker side, like now!
($41 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2011 Donatella Cinelli Colombini, Brunello di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy.
The 2011 Donatella Cinelli Colombini Brunello is a really charming wine, full and lavish with pure Sangiovese character, and it’s drinking great right now. A warm vintage and with ripe flavors makes for a pleasing experience and the Colombini is plush and showing wonderful style and density with racy red fruits, sweet spices, mineral tones and sexy mouth feel. Donatella Cinelli Colombini is a small high-end estate in the heart of Montalcino, with the Brunello coming from their Casato Prime Donne estate grown in 6 small plots around the old castello, the Brunello DOCG is aged 2 years in oak cask and 3 years in bottle before release. While 2011 isn’t regarded as a great vintage, it drinks wonderfully and certainly this Colombini will surprise many with it’s quality and flair, I wouldn’t pass up a chance to enjoy this beautiful Brunello. The 2011 Donatella Cinelli Colombini Brunello di Montalcino DOCG starts with pretty details including a light floral note, a hint of smoky wood, dark berries and a mineral element leading to a round palate of sweet cherry, black licorice, tangy currant, wild plum, cedar along with tobacco leaf, baking spices plus a touch savory earthiness. Quite lengthy and lingering this deeply colored garnet/ruby Brunello offers a clear and modern feel, nicely impressive, drink from 2017 to 2021.
($74 Est.) 93+ Points, grapelive
2015 Ridge Vineyards, Geyserville Proprietary Red “50th Vintage” Alexander Valley.
Ridge’s 50th Vintage of Geyserville is an absolute killer wine, one of the best young Geyserville(s) I’ve ever had and it should only get better with age, due out soon it is a not to miss wine! The new Geyserville is a blend of mostly old vine Zinfandel along with parts Carignane, Petite Sirah and a bit of Alicante Bouschet and is aged in mainly seasoned American oak with a ripe, but not over ripe 14.5% alcohol making the 2015 Ridge Vineyards Geyserville Zin blend a rich and deep wine with lush and vibrant flavors. The 50th Vintage (Ridge Geyserville) starts with a bramble red berry and cassis note along with light floral tones, earth/loam and cedary spice in a garnet/purple hued wine, opening in the mouth to a dense and lively palate that flows with black raspberry, plum, olallieberry and currant compote fruits along with briar, anise, cinnamon and dried vanilla. There is a sense of flair and lavish elements, but there is a brilliant focus and even though this is a full bodied and hedonistic wine, the tannins provide structure and balance, this is an impressive Geyserville and it really stands out as an exceptional Zinfandel and world class wine. Drinking this remarkable Geyserville will be a pleasure from day one, but will last 20 plus years, it’s a classic from Ridge, you’ll want this no question.
($40 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2015 Domaine Frederic Esmonin, Pernand-Vergelesses “Les Boutieres” Red Burgundy, France.
It was a wonderful experience to see Frederic Esmonin (at the Atherton Wine Imports tasting in San Francisco Feb. 27, 2017) and taste his latest wines, the 2015 vintage across the board was a fantastic set of wines from this Domaine, they will be very limited as the crop was tiny in comparison to a normal vintages, so I suggest you get your orders in quick for these lovely wines! The 2015 Esmonin Red Burgundies are fine efforts, some of the best young wines I’ve ever tasted from this winery, from the very top cuvees to some of the most basic cuvees, you can’t go wrong here, especially the 2015 Frederic Esmonin Pernard-Vergelesses “Les Boutieres” which offers great depth and substance with beautiful Pinot fruit and terroir detail all at a truly remarkable price. Other great wines in the Esmonin lineup include his Gevrey-Chambertin(s) and in particular his Grand Cru(s) Mazy-Chambertin and Ruchottes-Chambertin all of which are very serious wines that are gorgeous in flavors and textures. The “Les Boutieres” Pernand-Vergelesses 2015 is lightly perfumed with dark fruits, crushed violets/rose and opens to a medium bodied wine of layered classic flavors of black cherry, plum and tangy currant with mineral notes, cinnamon, cedar, faint sweet smoke, earthy loam and licorice. This wine danced on the palate with vibrancy and life along with fine satiny tannins and subtle juicy acidity, this is a little jewel and a seductive Burgundy, it will drink nicely on day one and certainly over the next decade, don’t miss this one!
($30 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2015 Piero Benevelli, Langhe Freisa “Alla Mia Gioia” Piedmonte, Italy.
Freisa is a very interesting and rare grape, similar to Schiava and or Trousseau with wonderful delicacy and bright flavors and like Ruche was a varietal that almost was lost, which is now making a come back in Piedmonte with a few exceptional examples available, like G.D. Vajra and now this one from Massimo Benevelli. The Langhe Freisa is all stainless steel fermented and aged, it’s fresh and easy, but has terroir character, it was grown on sandy/limestone on 25 year old vines, and with a warm year that adds a bit more flair and substance. While not as monumental as the Vajra, the Benevelli Freisa is a great value offering and delivers great purity and is very delightful with excellent freshness, almost zingy, but ripe and fruity in detail showing classic strawberry, tart cherry and plum fruits along with subtle mineral, faint rose petal, anise and frambroise notes. Lovely light to medium body, silky textures help this ruby/red hued Freisa perform with joyous harmony and elegance, it is a seriously fun wine that will please the senses and it’s graceful nature make it a great choice with lighter fare, especially nice with cured meats and melon, cheeses and wild mushroom dishes, as well as poultry and pork. Best when served a bit cooler than more hearty reds Benevelli’s lovely Freisa, imported by Kermit Lynch, deserves praise for it’s quality and style, it highlights the vintage, the place and grape to near perfection, drink now and often. Benevelli makes a surperb set of wines, be sure to check out the Dolcetto and in particular their stellar and value priced Barolo Ravera di Monforte Cru, with the 2012 being a top choice.
($18 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2015 Tenuta delle Terre Nere, Etna Bianco, Calderara Sottana, Sicily, Italy.
The wonderfully brilliant and deep Carricante “Calderara” from Terre Nere is an absolute thrill with gorgeous detail, spice and earthy/mineral layers with exotic fruit and beautiful texture. This Etna Bianco comes from a single plot of vines that were planted in 1956 on the lava based soils which gives a slightly smoky and flinty edge to this wine. The palate is full and mouth feeling without being heavy, showing bright lemon/lime, dried ginger, pineapple and apricot/peach fleshiness along with delicate white flowers, passionfruit and earthy melon. Medium weight and lively throughout this Terre Nere performs exceptionally well from start to finish with sublime focus, the balance between lush and vibrant is spot on and while not cheap it delivers world class style and substance. I think this Tenuta delle Terre Nere Calderara Sottana is the best white I’ve ever had from this winery and I highly recommend it to the volcano freaks out there, and to all that love intriguing whites, drink this fascinating Etna Bianco from 2017 to 2022.
($42 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2012 Paolo Conterno, Barolo “Riva del Bric” Piedmonte, Italy.
These 2012 Barolo wines didn’t get much hype and now we are hearing about how good the 2013 vintage is, but they are really lovely wines and this Paolo Conterno 2012 Riva del Bric is a beauty that can be drunk young and fresh, though it has enough structure and class to age well too, it’s a pure and joyous Nebbiolo and a solid value. While the 2013 certainly has a bigger form and earthy depth with heightened tannins, this 2012 feels more delicate in comparison, but really fills out nicely on the palate and has more juicy/fruity openness with decedent red fruits, smooth/satiny mouth feel and lingering detail. The Paolo Conterno founded in 1888 in Monforte d’Alba above the famed Ginestra Cru, one of Barolo’s best sites set on calcareous and clay soils with near perfect slope and exposure, they are clear and persistent wines with an old school feel, the two main wines include an old vine top Ginestra, as well as this sub site Riva del Bric that comes from a small parcel in the Ginestra Cru, which usually considered their basic or entry level Barolo, though always a wine worth searching for especially in fine years. The 2012 Riva del Bric starts with a mix of dried and fresh rose petals, amaro/herb, balsamic dipped strawberry, dark cherries, plum and brisk currant along with saline, anise, backing spices, earthy/stony notes and kirsch/liqueur. This is pretty stuff, if you are looking for a solid under $50 Barolo this one would not be a bad choice, maybe just behind the 2012 offerings from Giovanni Rosso, Oddero and G.V. Varja, but within a point or two and it does not disappoint, drink over the next 3 to 5 years.
($49 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2016 Matthiasson, Rosé, California.
The new Matthiasson Rosé is a crisp, refreshing and delicate pink that delivers a subtle flow of fruit, spice and mineral notes with brisk flavors and a very dry profile, very much in keeping with Steve Matthiasson’s elegant style. With air this lovely Roségains depth and intrigue with vibrant grapefruit, strawberry, spiced/sour cherry and watermelon as well as bitter herb, pepper and wet stones. Matthiasson crafted an interesting pink for the 2016 vintage from a range of varietals including about 46% Grenache, mostly from McDowell Valley in Mendocino, 27% Syrah from plots in the Napa Valley and Dunnigan Hills, 14% Mourvedre coming also from Dunnigan Hills, 7% Sauvignon Blanc from Ryan’s Vineyard in Napa Valley and 6% Counoise, all which add complexity here, also the low alcohol at 11.3% helps add to the refreshing nature in this wonderful California Rosé. This bright and tangy wine is a fine example and expression that is lighter in fruitiness and all the better for it, it’s a great celebration of Spring and Summer, don’t wait though, as this Rosé has a serious following that buy it up like candy, it sells out fast! The Matthiasson wines are beautiful and unique offering a great alternative to the mainstream, especially this Rosé, drink now.
($26 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2014 Raptor Ridge, Pinot Noir, Shea Vineyard, Yamhill-Carlton, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
Well worth your attention are these 2014 Raptor Ridge Pinots, especially good and well crafted is the 2014 Raptor Ridge Shea Vineyard Pinot Noir with it’s lush textures, pleasing dark fruits and lavish length. This latest set of wines are all interesting and elegantly balanced showing pure varietal character and terroir nuances, Scott Shull has created a lovely lineup here and his whites are also nice examples too, with his Pinot Gris and Gruner Veltliner 2015’s deserving of praise and his 2012 Estate and Reserve bottlings of Pinot Noir, which are late releases are showing extremely well and offer a bit of mature class, but I adore these 2014 wines with the “Barrel Select” and this Shea really deliver delectable flavors and layers of complexities. The 2014 Raptor Ridge Shea Vineyard Pinot Noir unveils itself slowly with black cherry, raspberry and plum fruits as well as a lavish mouth feel along with mineral notes, cinnamon, rose petals, dusty loam and a lengthy creaminess. Subtle wood notes, saline, lavender, tart currant and lingering earthy fruits add to the whole picture in this wine, it opens nicely with air and is beautifully dark garnet/ruby in the glass, though I’m sure it will only get better with another couple of years in bottle, as there is faint hints in the background of extra dimensions that should fully engage with time. This has plenty of substance and vibrancy to lift this to the next level, just give it time to come together, best from 2019 to 2024.
($40 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2015 Telmo Rodriguez, Rioja “LZ” Vinedos de Lanciego, Spain.
One of Spain’s most influential and talented winemakers, Telmo Rodriguez, who makes his family’s wine at Remelluri, also has his own cellars in Rioja where he crafts a wonderful collection of wines, including this fresh young LZ Rioja. Made from purchased grapes, the LZ comes from old bush vines of Tempranillo, Graciano and Garnacha grown on clay and calcareous hillside soils of the Rioja Alavesa farmed traditionally then fermented with native yeast in cement vats. This youthful red shows beautiful purity and style with juicy fresh black raspberry, cherry and currant fruit and dusty spices and loamy earth as well as black licorice, peppercorns, light floral notes and cinnamon. This vibrant Rioja highlights the vintage and terroir giving loads of flavor and life with a medium body in a easy to drink form, great for an array of foods and tapas this 2015 LZ by Telmo Rodriguez is an amazing value and unique Rioja expression. This red/garnet hued wine with ruby edges is a great entry to Telmo’s wines, he has vast experience including winemaking in Bordeaux, Burgundy and in the Rhone with the famed Jean-Louis Chave, as well as crafting a mind-boggling range of small production and handcrafted Spanish offerings from almost every region and every grape! Drink up, this Telmo Rodriguez Rioja LZ 2015 is lovely stuff to enjoy in it’s youth, I’m a huge fan of Telmo’s wines from this one to his Remelluri, these are wines to cherish and celebrate!
($16 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2016 Chateau de Roquefort, Rose “Corail” Cotes de Provence, France.
The new Chateau de Roquefort Cotes de Provence Rose Corail is a brilliant and refreshing pink with a depth of flavor that over delivers in this price range with a brisk dry character and mineral driven charm. Grown on chalky soils with some silex giving additional complexity and vitality to the Chateau de Roquefort Rose, which is a cuvee of Grenache, Syrah, Cinsault, Carignan and Vermentino crafted to be a pure and crisp wine. The lovely 2016 Chateau de Roquefort Rose Cotes de Provence starts with vibrant grapefruit, vivid sour cherry, watermelon, strawberry and rosewater along with liquid mineral, pepper spice and hints of crushed stones and wild garrigue. Delightfully lifting, but with nice layering, it’s a really well made Rose that out performs it’s price, keep an eye out for this very fun wine.
($16 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2015 Akutain, Rioja Cosecha, Spain.
The Akutain Cosecha Rioja is beautifully fresh and lively with impressive purity and style, it’s mostly Tempranillo with a small amount of Garnacha that was fermented and aged in fiberglass vats using native yeasts and comes from high elevation vines. Juan Peñagaricano (Akutain) is the winemaker and grower here, he is a traditionalist Rioja old school producer, heavily influenced by the grand Bodegas of Cvne and La Rioja Alta, though he is tiny by comparison and handcrafts only a small amount of wine from three estate plots in Rioja Alta near Haro on clay-calcareous hillsides planted to mainly Tempranillo about 85% and Garnacha 14% and with maybe 1% Viura. The Akutain Crianza and Reserva(s) are ultra traditional with American oak aging, very impressive and deep, but I adore the vibrant no oak Cosecha 2015 for it’s direct fruit, vibrancy and pure form, it’s a vivid terroir driven beauty to enjoy young and often! Bright ruby and with light earthy tones the Akutain Cosecha offers crushed blackberries, tart currants, cherry and dusty plum fruits with light mineral notes and spices with hints of chalk/stone, anise and lilacs. This is easy to love Rioja that has a bit of a Cotes du Rhone like feel, but certainly speaks of it’s Tempranillo character with a medium body and soft tannins. Imported by Jose Pastor Selections, Akutain is a label to look for delivering lots of value and old world charm, especially this 2015 Akutain Cosecha which will be great with a slight chill and with tapas, or summer picnics or BBQ parties as well as with almost anything you prepare on a Tuesday night, drink now.
($16 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2013 Domaine Bernard Levet, Cote-Rotie “La Chavaroche” Rhone, France.
The gorgeous, spicy and perfumed 2013 La Chavaroche Cote-Rotie is a sexy and seductive Syrah from the granite and schist terroir of the Cote Brune and has to be one of the wines of the vintage from Cote-Rotie with it’s stylish delicacy and amazing length. This brilliant red delivers classic crushed violets, white pepper, creme de cassis and beautiful layers of boysenberry, blueberry compote and distilled plum essence along with light earthy truffle, peppercorn, chalky and flinty stones, lavender, bitter herb/amaro, mineral, cedar and black licorice. Lingering kirsch, dried flowers and baking spices add to the joyous complexity and the textural harmony is stunning in this beauty with an almost dreamy seamless mouth feel in a medium bodied and alive wine of real class and hedonistic elegance with refined tannins and subtle acidity. Lavet uses at least 50% whole cluster and stems, they gently ferment in epoxy lined cement vats without punch downs and the wine is raised in mostly large neutral cask for about a year then transferred to a combination of demi-muids and barrique of which about 15% is new, everything is done to showcase the purity of fruit, sense of place and sex appeal, and this 2013 is a wonderful example and expression in a slightly lighter format. This sublime Cote-Rotie offers a thrill right now, but should go another 6 to 8 years without issue, in fact it should gain a bit, even though I love the lift it shows, so there is a lovely window to drink this Levet Chavaroche, don’t let it pass you by!
($60 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2015 Montesecondo, Chianti Classico, Tuscany, Italy.
Silvio Messana’s biodynamic Montesecondo Chianti Classico is one of my favorite wines and this 2015 is one of the best vintages I’ve tasted yet from this small estate in San Casciano in the northern zone of Chianti Classico near Florence. The Montesecondo Chianti Classico is a blend of local varietals, mostly Sangiovese along with small amounts of Canaiolo and Colorino, it’s aged in neutral cask allowing this wine to show it’s pure and authentic character. The 2015 is rich and full bodied highlighting the warm and serious vintage that Tuscany enjoyed, this is a vintage to start thinking about and checking out and this Montesecondo Chianti Classico is a beautiful and fresh example with gorgeous detail, lovely layers and charm. Messana’s Chianti Classico 2015 has a very stylish and pretty garnet/ruby color and starts with spicy dried flowers, red berry and mineral notes leading to a ripe palate of black raspberry, cherry, wild plum and candied blood orange fruits along with sweet tobacco leaf, peppery spices, cedar and lingering tangy currant. This wine dances in the mouth with vitality and life, but has a satiny tannin feel with lush texture, as well as having a light earthy element, without question this a fantastic terroir impression which shines a focused spotlight on Tuscany and this brilliant estate, this is a wine you are going to want. The Montesecondo 2015’s, imported by Louis/Dressner, are all great, the regular 100% Sangiovese IGT Rosso aged in only stainless tank is seductively delicate and easy to love and the Amphora raised TIN is an exotic and joyous red, but it’s this Montesecondo Chianti Classico 2015 that really offers absolutely best of value and intrigue for the price, drink over the next 3 to 5 years, it’s a total winner in every way!
($25 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2016 Caraccioli Cellars, Rose of Pinot Noir, Escolle Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands.
The “Limited Production” Rose of Pinot Noir from Caraccioli is a crisp refreshing pink wine that has a cool and clear Pinot Noir character with vivid detail and vibrant flavors. Caraccioli Cellars are Monterey’s only Champagne style bubbly craft producer and boutique winery with a focus on Pinot Noir from the Santa Lucia Highlands, they also have a cozy little tasting lounge in downtown Carmel-by-the-Sea that is a favorite with locals and tourists alike, and a place I love to visit and sip their beautiful sparkling wines, especially their vintage Brut Rose. The 2016 Caraccioli Cellars Rose of Pinot Noir is a stylish dry blush wine that comes from estate grown grapes coming off Escolle Vineyard, a set of vines next to the Sleepy Hollow 2 site in the heart of the northern and cooler part of the Highlands bench, it was planted in 2008 with clones that were suited to sparkling wines, but with a few blocks that make a luxurious and delicate still wine Pinot Noir as well. The 2016 Rose of Pinot Noir was just released and will sell out fast, it shows a bright and refreshing nature with vivid tart cherry, watermelon, liquid mineral, wet stones along with grapefruit/citrus, light herb, strawberry and a faint rose petal and lavender water. Caraccioli has done a very nice job on this Rose, it’s fun and vital as well as perfect for warm evenings and the Summer days ahead, it’s lingering fruity/juiciness make it a good choice for many food choices, it’s great with less spicy Asian fare and particularly with cured meat and lighter sea foods. Caraccioli Cellars continues to impress and improve with every new vintage with their richly opulent and decedent handcrafted Cuvee Brut and Brut Rose, plus their still wines, including this Rose of Pinot Noir.
($25 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2004 Peay Vineyards, Syrah “Les Titans” Sonoma Coast.
At 12 years old the 2004 Peay Les Titans Syrah is a fantastic wine, absolutely gorgeous, richly detailed and with layers of pure northern Rhone flavors and classic varietal character. Nick Peay, Andy Peay and Venessa Wong’s 2004 Les Titan is a beauty with seamless joy delivering crushed violets, boysenberry, plum and creme de cassis as well as hints of black olive, kirsch, lavender, camphor, minty herbs, anise and earthy tones. There’s a lovely rich body and seductive mouth feel to go with it’s deep purple/black and garnet hue in the glass, this is truly a sexy and seductive mature Syrah that thrills from start to finish, if you are lucky enough to have this wine it is at a great place and drinking with amazing grace and charm! A big grateful thank you to my friend Fred Daniels for this wonderful gift, he’s a long time fan of Peay and has been on their mailing list since the beginning, sharing more than a few bottles with me, but this 2004 Peay Vineyards Syrah Les Titans might be one of the best I’ve ever had, time has given this wine an added dimension and allowed it to show everything to near perfection. Lingering loam, mineral and black fruits stay a very long time and I adore the vitality, vigor and the Cote-Rotie like elegance, wow this is stunning.
($55 Est.) 96 Points, grapelive
2016 Skylark, Rosé of Grenache “Pink Belly” Mendocino County.
One of California’s best French style dry Rosé wines year after year, Skylark’s Pink Belly by Robert Perkins and John Lancaster is a beautiful and brightly flavored pink. This 2016 Skylark Pink Belly is a pure Grenache, it’s brilliant and mineral driven with juicy crisp watermelon, sour cherry, citrus, rosewater and flinty spice. Perkins has crafted a really lovely and focused quaffer that is bursting with energy and refreshing briskness along with nice subtle fruit that is ripe and tart with faint chalky detail that lingers with touches of lavender, pepper, grenadine and anise. This is a fine dry Rosé that you can’t seem to get enough of, it’s so tasty and vibrant you want another bottle to follow, it’s a sublime Summer wine and a great picnic choice. This Tavel like pink is great example of Rhone style Rosé, other top Grenache Rosés include Stolpman, Samsara, Banshee and A Tribute to Grace just to name a few, but you should certainly search these wines out as well as this awesome Skylark Pink Belly. Skylark is a winery to watch, their Red Belly Carignane, Grenache and Syrah red Rhone blend is also a great value to check out and makes for a nice companion to this Pink Belly.
($18 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2015 Albatross Ridge, Petillant Naturel, Rose of Pinot Noir Sparkling Wine, Estate Grown, Carmel Valley.
The 2015 Pet Nat from Garrett Bowlus, at Albatross Ridge, is a fairly deep colored sparkling Pinot Noir that is savory crisp and extremely dry in style with a frothy mousse, it is an impressive and interesting wine that gives a few thrills and goes wonderfully with food. The vintage was rich and this sparkler highlights this density, but without any sweetness or heavy ripeness, it stays expensive and vibrant throughout with tart black cherry, zesty watermelon, bitter red citrus, strawberry and loads of chalky/loamy stoniness as well as spice and mineral elements. A bit foamy to start, when you pop the crown cap, the Albatross Ridge Pet Nat is lively and raw, but gains poise and Pinot fruit pureness with air, more red wine like than a true Rose bubbly, it is unique in flavors and certainly there are not many California sparkling wines like this one, there are a handful that I know of, like Ryme’s Crackling Carignane, Cruse Wines Valdiguie Pet Nat, Broc Cellars Cabernet Franc Pet Nat and Stolpman’s Combe Pet Nat from Trousseau that are all worth searching out and enjoying. Garrett Bowlus is making some of Carmel Valley’s best wines, especially his exceptional estate Pinot Noirs and lovely opulent Chardonnays from his vineyards on the hillside about 10 miles out Carmel Valley Road. The 2016 version of Albatross Ridge Petillant Naturel should be available soon, and I can’t wait, it will be a limited release and most will be sold through their Carmel-by-the-Sea Tasting Room on Mission St, downtown and on the mailing list. The 2015 should be enjoyed young and fresh, drink it now and pick up a few of the 2016 soon, this is really fun stuff from a seriously good winery that should be on your radar.
($38 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2015 Arianna Occhipinti, Nero d’Avola e Frappato, SP68 Rosso, Terre Siciliane, Italy.
The latest from Arianna Occhipinti is her Nero d’Avola and Frappato blend, the SP68 Rosso Terre Siciliane from her estate near Vittoria, it’s everything her fans and world was expecting and a little bit more, showing an earthy harmony, silky layers of medium weight fruit and her classic natural highlights. The 2015 is a richly detailed wine with admirable poise and vibrancy delivering a delectable selection of wild fruits, minty spices and savory/rustic charms unleashing a mix of dried flowers, raspberry, lingonberry, tart cherry and zesty currant and strawberry along with a hint of balsamic, lavender oil and loamy stones. Light and bright on the palate, this is an expressive vintage that adds a bit more complexity and fine quality to already very desirable wine, impressive in style and substance, you’ll want to have this edition of Arianna’s SP68. This is fun stuff and will be great with lots of cuisine options and even great on it’s own with a slight chill to keep it fresh, like a good Cru Beaujolais, this is a great Summer red, and while still delicately lighter in focus, it has the warm vintage sexiness. Occhipinti is a star and this new SP68 will seduce, drink this over the next 2 or 3 years, this is a wine without pretense with old world character and will never bore you.
($28 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2012 ROC Veronica Ortega, Mencia, Valtuille, Bierzo DO, Spain.
Beautifully integrated and vivid, the Veronica Ortega Bierzo 2012 is a rich and smooth example of Mencia with deep layers and silky tannins. The ROC wines are imported by Eric Solomon Selections European Cellars and are very limited in the United States, but are worth searching out for their depth and elegance, these are expressive and lovely wines that feel fuller on the palate than the more spicy/earthy Ribeira Sacra versions of this Galician varietal. Veronica, born and raised in Cadiz, near the Sherry region, had not had a family experience in wine, but has emerged into a real winemaking talent and a sought after producer, her CV is amazingly impressive for someone so young, she’s worked at top Burgundy domaines, including Domaine de la Romanee-Conti, like Caroline Diel of Schlossgut Diel, as well as Comte Armand, plus tours in Portugal and the Rhone as well as even a turn at Burn Cottage in Central Otago, New Zealand, with Ted Lemon of Littorai fame, and on her return to Spain she worked alongside the famed Raul Perez, the Mencia master, and fell in love with Bierzo. Her own project started in 2010, she works 80 year Mencia vines in Bierzo, all organic, in the hamlet of Valtuille de Abajo on sandy limestone soils, she works everything by hand, fermenting with some whole cluster, long macerations up to 25 days, and aging in 2 and 3 year old French barrels. The 2012 is maturing with satiny grace and shows Veronica’s gentle touch with blackberry, tangy currents, wild plum and bing cherry fruits, it’s quite dark in color with purple/garnet hues and it’s texture is divine, it keeps fresh with vital acidity and it has subtle cinnamon and peppery spices, mineral tones, earth and light wood notes. This is a refined example of Bierzo with lots of polish and poise and makes a nice contrast to the more edgy more Atlantic and granite influenced Ribeira Sacra versions like Laura Lorenzo and Guimaro, which I love too. Veronica’s wines are getting headlines and she has joined the Bierzo elites like her mentor Perez and Alvro Palacios, this is a winery to start following, no question, and this 2012 is a great place to start.
($48 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2016 Banshee, Rose, Mendocino County.
The new vintage of Banshee Rose is a new cepage of Grenache mostly, with a little Pinot Noir and a touch of Syrah, and it is a bright and vibrant dry/crisp pink with tangy/juicy grapefruit, watermelon, tart cherry and light strawberry fruits along with wet stones, mineral and faint peppery spices. This lovely and vivid Rose is a big step up from the Pinot only Roses from Banshee in the past few vintages, and while Banshee made more of this 2016, the demand is extremely high and it should sell out just as fast, so do not wait to get it. The vivid refreshing nature of Banshee’s new pink delivers everything you’d want from a Rose and gives plenty of zing and energy and lingers with rosewater and unripe peach making for a super Summer sipper and a serious quaffer for the coming warm days, great on it’s own, but will certainly be very enjoyable with a range of cuisine. The grapes are sourced from mainly old vine Mendocino vines and a touch of Anderson Valley, and Banshee has a all star team of winemakers including Ross Cobb and Katy Wilson that helps out with vineyards and blending, and they nailed it with this new Rose, this is a label on the raise, the basic Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines are great values, but be sure to look for their other bottlings, especially their 2014 and 2015 Pinot Noir(s) from single vineyards and special cuvees, especially the Morning Light 2015 Pinot Noir from fruit from the Seaview Fort Ross AVA in the western Sonoma Coast. There is so much to discover here at Banshee, and their tasting room in Healdsburg is a great space to visit and this Rose a great way to start the experience.
($20 Est.) 90+ Points, grapelive
2014 Ridge Vineyards, Syrah-Grenache-Mataro, Lytton Estate Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley.
The California Rhone style Lytton Estate bottling for 2014 is a blend of 47% Syrah, 27% Grenache and 26% Mourvedre (Known as Mataro by old-timers in California) and it’s a wonderful wine of layers, depth and complexity with sexy fruit, spice and earthy savory tones. All the 2014 Ridge seem flowing with energy and deep flavors, perfectly ripe and forward, but with plenty of vitality and charm, especially good, I mean great, is their Lytton Estate Vineyard Syrah-Grenache-Mataro 2014 with it’s range of red, blue and black fruits, wild herbs, peppery spices and lovely concentration, it has a rich mouth feel and vibrant freshness with just a faint trace of cedar/vanilla from the light oak shading. The 2014 Syrah-Grenache-Mataro starts with dried violets, camphor/embers, sage/pepper, wild plum and blackberry leading to a lavish palate of loganberry, kirsch, cassis and tangy blueberry fruits along with subtle sandalwood, grenadine, new leather, loam, sticky lavender and anise elements. At 14.5% this is a full bodied wine, but it doesn’t feel heavy or porty, in fact it’s very well judged and is a very expressive wine with fine tannic substance and poise, it should age with grace and flair, I tasted this alongside Ridge’s 2006 Syrah, which was showing extremely well, even from Coravin, and at just over 10 years old it was just starting to open completely, so it would be wise to stash a few bottles away of this 2014 Rhone blend. Lytton Springs is certainly one of my all time favorite places to visit in wine country, there is always something magical to taste at Ridge and the staff are always a pleasure and gracious, plus the view of the old vines out front never gets old anytime of year. Most all of Lytton has been converted to organic practices and variety of wines made here continues to amaze me, the old blocks of Zinfandel, along with some Petite Sirah, Carignane and Alicante Bouschet lead the way, but I do love this Syrah, Grenache and Mourvedre, even though it requires either a visit to their tasting room or the joining of Ridge’s awesome wine club. Drink this gorgeous red over the next 5 to 10 years!
($36 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2015 Podere Scopetone, Rosso di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy.
Tasted at the Marc de Grazia Growers tasting in San Francisco, this 2015 Rosso di Montalcino by Scopetone, which will be released in May 2017, was one of the sleepers of the show, a beautiful Sangiovese expression with rich detail and wonderful layers, this is going to be a vintage to jump on from Montalcino, especially these Rossos! The Marc de Grazia tasting featured Barolo, Brunello and Mount Etna, including some 2012 Brunello offerings, that yes deserve the hype they are getting for their pure flavors, elegance and substance and Scopetone’s is a gorgeous wine that will sell for about $70 retail, but their 2015 Rosso was almost as thrilling and offers a great value. The 2015 vintage was near perfect and warm in Tuscany and the ripe fruit fills the palate and the lush tannins allow for a beautifully textured wine with sublime mouth feel and length while still having juicy acidity and energy. The Scopetone 2015 Rosso di Montalcino starts with earthy red berries, cedary spices, dried and fresh flowers with a rose/violets note and dark currant, black cherry and strawberry on the palate as well as licorice, cigar box and iron/mineral elements. This is an excellent young and vibrant pure Sangiovese with a nice deep garnet/red hue in the glass that delivers graceful fruitiness and Tuscan charm with enough earthy/savory edginess to keep these balanced, it will be a stylish cuisine companion especially with robust and or rustic home fare. After a difficult 2014 vintage, Tuscany and especially Montalcino and Chianti look like big winners in 2015 across the board with even the basic wines over performing, be sure to not miss out!
($30 Est.) 93+ Points, grapelive
2016 A Tribute to Grace, Rose of Grenache, Santa Barbara Highlands Vineyard, Santa Barbara County.
Kiwi Angela Osborne’s A Tribute to Grace, named for the New Zealander’s Granny, is a winery to watch, she focuses exclusively on Grenache and shows the grape in a lighter more transparent style, similar to Sheldon Wines who’s wines also follow a less extracted style. Angela’s gorgeous Rose 2016 comes from biodynamic blocks of Clone 2 Grenache at the Santa Barbara Highlands Vineyard and this outstanding new pink is just lovely as lovely can be with lots of vitality, energy and bright crisp flavors of ultra pure Grenache, it is Tavel inspired in my mind with refreshing mineral tones, light floral notes and layers of whispering fruit, it starts with bitter melon, tangy cherry and rosewater with a core of delectable strawberry and brisk citrus. There’s a touch of pepper, sappy herb and pomegranate water that adds to the beautiful nature of this fine Rose, if you want a special pink this season, you’d better rush to get your 2016 A Tribute to Grace, as it will go fast, Angela has a fanatic almost cult like following and her wines are hard to get, be sure to look for this Rose and also her silky/sexy 2015 Santa Barbara County Grenache, which is a dreamy red, Osborne has done very impressive work in the last few vintages, but these have certainly raised her game!
($22 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2014 Salem Wine Co. Pinot Noir, Eola-Amity Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
A beautiful medium weight Pinot Noir with a bright spicy character and lush texture from Evening Land’s Sashi Moorman & Raj Parr, the 2014 Salem Wine Co. Pinot is a total winner, especially for the price! Focused and vibrant showing black berry, bramble spice, iron/mineral and a core of cherry fruit burst from the glass with subtle floral and sweet herb notes adding a light tangy perfume to this well made Oregon wine. The body and mouth feel are excellent and highlight the nature of the vintage and substance of place, while the wine does have Sashi’s signature flair, it shows a sense of terroir and delivers everything with intense verve, but finishes with length and grace. Layers of black and red fruit, earth and satiny tannins keep you entertained and the lift of juicy acidity and peppery snap of spiciness keeps the experience dynamic and fresh. This ruby/garnet hued Pinot Noir should prove a fine companion to a wide range of food choices and should drink well for 5 to 7 years, it’s quite impressive and offers a great value for the money, I loved the Gamay Noir and Rose too, this is definitely a label to follow!
($30 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2016 Stoller Family Estate, Rose of Pinot Noir, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
The new Stoller Rose is crisp and lively with fresh detail and vigorous depth of flavors with bright sour cherry, strawberry and summer melon leading the way in a fine example of dry pink Pinot Noir. Stoller is all certified green and organic minded and my last visit there was spectacular, this is a beautiful winery to visit with stunning vistas and well educated staff and stylish surroundings. The Stoller Estate Pinots are really impressive wines here and I’m sure the 2014 and 2015 will prove to be very special bottlings, but be sure to grab some of the Rose of Pinot Noir, it’s always a treat and rather limited. This 2016 is vivid and refreshing with it’s core of chalky/flinty red fruits, mineral spice, hint of rose petal and whisper of wild lavender adding to the juicy Pinotness of this great summer wine. This Stoller Rose seems to offer a touch more character or depth than most of what I’ve already tasted from Oregon so far of this 2016 vintage, it’s a flexible little wine that should easily seduce you with it’s charm and it’s ease of use, it can be enjoyed as a warm day quaffer or with a range of cuisine. The finish is tangy vibrant and lingers nicely, this is a very poised pink to thrill now, drink over the coming year, well done Stoller, I want more already!
($20 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2010 Fonterenza, Brunello di Montalcino, Tuscany Italy.
One of the purest, clear and elegant Brunello out there, the 2010 Fonterenza is really showing fantastic with wonderful depth of character, vintage power and natural balance, it reminds me of Soldera or a young Biondi Santi! Sisters Margarita and Francesca Padovani hand craft Campi di Fonterenza, and while they are a very young winery, having only started production of Brunello in 2004, after having taking over the family estate in 1997, they have a great reputation for quality and style. Margarita planted the first plots in 1999 and they are totally biodynamic, something rather unique in Montalcino, but becoming more and more common as the quality becomes more apparent. The Brunello di Montalcino 2010 is basically a Riserva since it was only just released after 5 full years of aging, 100% Sangiovese Grosso and made in minimalist fashion with no flashy new oak or turbo charging, this is low intervention traditional wine at it’s finest. Francesca and Margarita’s latest Brunello starts with black currant, lilac floral tones, spicy notes and mineral with earthy elements adding Burgundy like charm to the graceful fruit. There is plenty of grip and underlying verve here with fine grain tannin forming a straight and firm spinal backbone as well as a lifting acidity which is life giving and will help this amazing Brunello live for a couple of decades, but it is the fruit that seduces here and the gorgeous detail and layers of terroir influenced flavors that fill the palate and linger on the exceptional finish. The mouth feel is full and has great impact with wild plum, red berries, minty herb, anise, cigar wrapper, bitter coco, loamy stones, mulberry and hints of iron, cedar and balsamic dipped sweet strawberries. This is seriously glorious Brunello with just enough rustic authentic edges to keep it grounded and exciting, this is impressive and alluring wine that you’d want for a special occasion, this spectacular Brunello from Fonterenza is a must have, and don’t miss their poised and deep Rosso di Montalcino either, it over delivers in it’s price class. Drink this Campi di Fonterenza Brunello di Montalcino 2010 from 2018 to 2032.
($99 Est.) 96 Points, grapelive
2015 Bow & Arrow, Pinot Noir/Gamay “Rhinestones” Willamette Valley, Oregon.
Scott Frank’s Rhinestones 2015 maybe the best under $25 wine I’ve ever tasted from Oregon, in fact the 2015 is so good, I almost prefer it to some over $50 Pinot Noir offerings, this is serious stuff that really delivers the quality and depth you’d not maybe expect from this fun blend. Sourced from organic/biodynamic vineyards, mostly Johan Vineyards, and picked a bit early Bow & Arrow gets detailed ripeness, but with zesty freshness of acidity and the fruit is very gently handed with partial whole cluster and a traditional Loire Valley style low oak winemaking employed. Like Passetoutgrains in Burgundy or Cheverny in the Loire this blend has long been an interesting marriage of varietals with the Pinot Noir giving beauty, depth and earthy charms while the Gamay gives color, vibrancy and fruitiness. This wine goes even further with this vintage taking to a new level, this Rhinestones will change all perception on what can be achieved with this blend of grapes and it should be honored as one of the great terroir wines of it’s generation, and it redefines Oregon’s paradigm! The 2015 Rhinestones by Bow & Arrow starts with a nose of dark roses, spice, truffle and blue fruits leading to a vivid palate of black cherry, blueberry, plum and tart currant fruits along with walnut/cedar, peppery stones, sage/mint/anise, cinnamon and iron/mineral tones finishing long and lingering with strawberry, earthy beet root and lavender. The texture is amazing and the mouth feel is exceptional considering how alive and bright this brilliant medium weight wine is, it is a satiny stunner with glorious vitality and grace, don’t over think the grapes or label, this wine is the new Oregon and it deserves your open mind and attention, drink this over the next 5 to 10, what a truly fantastic effort! I’m a huge fan of Frank’s wines, but this is by far the best best vintage of Rhinestones, also look for their straight Gamay Noir, Melon (Think bone dry leesy Muscadet) and Sauvignon Blanc, these Loire inspired wines are lovely Oregon surprises that will thrill and seduce the senses.
($24 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2015 Domaine Christian Moreau, Chablis 1er Cru Vaillon, White Burgundy, France.
Most of the 2015 Moreau Premier Cru and Grand Cru were preview samples, but finished bottle examples included the Chablis AC and this brilliant 2015 Vaillon Premier Cru, which I tasted at Wildman’s 2015 Burgundy Preview Tasting in San Francisco recently, The Moreau Vaillon 2015 is wonderfully dynamic and classic with steely crisp detail, vibrant acidity and sublime balance with zingy lime, green apple and lemony citrus layers along with flinty/stones, hints of golden fig and clove spices. White flowers, mineral tones and chalky notes add to the complexity in this vividly fresh Chardonnay and while it has an energy and lightness about it, it does fill out with some body with air, which I imagine is the tiny crop of the vintage and concentration showing through, even though it remains gloriously clear and vigorous. This was a great surprise in the lineup, this Vaillon punches way above it’s weight class and delivers a stunning performance, it’s an impressive effort, this beauty and their Grand Cru Valmur really stood out as stars of the vintage for Domaine Christian Moreau. 2015 Chablis are going to be rare offerings, because of hail and tragic conditions, plus with 2016’s almost complete wipe out due to frost, it’s going to be hard to get much great stuff at fair prices, but Moreau has these wines and they should be on your search list, especially this Vaillon 1er Cru! This pretty and vital Chablis will drink superb young and fresh, but there is plenty of reason to believe it will age gracefully too, best from 2017 to 2027+, don’t blink or it will be gone!
($45-50 Est.) 92-94 Points, grapelive
2015 Olivier Leflaive, Auxey-Duresses Blanc, Burgundy, France.
Olivier Leflaive’s beautiful Auxey-Duresses white is a stylish and rich white Burgundy with clear and persistent layers of fruit delivered with mineral charm and class. This was a surprise in the lineup of new wines from this Domaine, it was the equal of many a Chassagne and Puligny that were 3 or 4 times the price and should be on your lists as a bargain in this vintage as there won’t be that many considering the tiny crops and high quality on offer. At Wildman’s Burgundy preview in San Francisco, these Olivier Leflaive and Christian Moreau (Chablis) really stood out for exceptional quality throughout, and while Olivier Leflaive has always a solid performer, these 2015 certainly have raised the game here, these are the best wines I’ve ever tasted tasted from Olivier Leflaive by far, white Burgundy fans will be thrilled by them. The 2015 Auxey-Duresses is exciting from start to finish with pretty white flowers, lessy brioche and steely verve leading the way along with crisp apple, pear and white peach fruits to go with wet stones, spice, lemon curd and hazelnut. This wine is full of energy, but gathers depth, roundness and mouth feel with air making for an impressive terroir driven Chardonnay. About a year on the lees and about 20% new wood add to the texture and decadence found in this concentrated wine, this is graceful and vivid stuff to enjoy for at least 3 to 5 years.
($48 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2014 Drew Family Cellars, Pinot Noir, The Fog-Eater, Anderson Valley.
Another magical Pinot, from Drew in the 2014 vintage, The Fog-Eater Anderson Valley shows a vivacious character and deep fruit intensity making it almost irresistible and highly entertaining from start to finish. This set of 2014 wines from Drew are nothing short of gorgeous and this 2014 Drew The Fog-Eater defines California terroir and beauty with seductive charms, it starts with lively brightness and subtle perfume with vivid cherry, plum and wild raspberry fruits to lead off along with chalky stones, light mineral tones, tangy blueberry and stylish rose petal and minty herb. The flow is seamless on the palate and silken in mouth feel finishing with hints of mixed baking spices, fig and lingering grapey extract, that highlights it’s youthfulness. This pure Anderson Valley Pinot delivers in every way it’s potential and promise, do not miss this vintage of Drew wines these are sublime examples and some of the best wines of the vintage! While I loved the Gatekeeper, I might just like The Fog-Eater more on the second tasting, they both rock, and don’t forget about the Morning Dew Ranch bottling either, bravo Jason and Molly Drew on crafting such an exciting set of wines, drink these Drew 2014 Pinots from 2017 to 2026.
($45 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2014 Forman, Cabernet Sauvignon “Chateau la Grande Roche” Napa Valley.
Ric Forman’s second label wine, Chateau la Grande Roche, is a winner in 2014 and is all estate fruit from just below Howell Mountain in Napa Valley, with glorious richness, fresh detail and wonderful layers it’s a Cabernet Sauvignon styled in Bordeaux fashion and a great value for top quality juice. 2014 was a slightly cooler year and the wines are vivid and bright, but with lush ripe tannins and superb balance, there is a chance we’ll all be thinking 2014 is right up there with 2013 given time in bottle, I certainly have loved what I’ve tasted so far, in fact I think Caymus’ 2014 is far better than 2013, though I might be looking for something in my Cabernet that is different than most, but this Forman Chateau la Grande Roche is great stuff. Deeply hued with a core of garnet/purple this is serious in the glass and the nose is alive with crushed violets, sandalwood, graphite and creme de cassis leading to a vibrant and dense palate of classic Napa flavors with blackberry, blueberry, currant and black cherry fruits, lilac/acacia, sweet tobacco, smoke, mineral notes and a mix of licorice, liqueur and vanilla. This full-bodied effort has some life force and is gripping, but unfolds with star quality and length, this is really a fine effort from Ric Forman, you’ll want to have some of this Cabernet Sauvignon around, don’t miss this one, drink over the next 3 to 10 years.
($40 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2013 Prieler, Blaufränkisch “Johanneshole” Burgenland, Austria.
Prieler’s 2013 Johanneshole is a stunning example of Blaufrankisch with deep fruit intensity and mineral character with the vintage’s powerful extract and vibrancy on full display. Prieler crafts some of the most stylish wines in Austria and certainly are one of Burgenland’s top producers with a selection of gorgeous Pinot Blanc, Chardonnay and one of the best Rose offerings in Europe! They also are widely known for their rich and earthy Blaufrankisch that will remind you of Nuits-St.-George and Crozes-Hermitage, these dark and brooding wines are lovely expressions of terroir and of this unique varietal that has in recent times become Austria’s signature red grape. Prieler does two single site crus, Marienthal and Goldberg, plus a blend of both, as well as this single site Johanneshole, which is the most forward and open of the set of Blaufrankisch, which I in fact almost always like just as much of not even better than the top crus, this is an entry wine that way over delivers. Georg Prieler only makes 8, 000 cases per vintage, each wine is handcrafted and with a selection lovingly imported by Terry Theise to the United States, I’ve been a big fan of Georg’s wines and this 2013 is one of the best I can remember, it has everything you’d want, it’s lively, with energy and verve, and it challenges the senses. The soils here are varied with limestone, slate, schist and pepples and the Prieler Blaufrankisch always translates it’s terroir, will the Johanneshole you get a medium weighted very dark wine with a garnet and purple hue in the glass that has a subtle floral perfume and loads of spices and herbs leading to a poised and finessed palate of huckleberry, dried clay, lavender, mineral/iron tones, saddle leather, black olives, cracked peppercorns, forest berries and raw meaty/earth. Everything comes together with supple tannins and fresh acidity with pleasing silken texture and impressive length, this Blaufrankisch is really starting to hit it’s stride now, but should gain with another 3 to 5 years. Prieler’s beautiful 2013 Johanneshole is a great introduction to Austria’s Blaufrankisch and this mysterious region, be sure to look for this one and keep an eye out for Georg’s amazing Rose and Pinot Blanc!
($27 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2014 Domaine de Montille, Bourgogne Rouge, France.
Etienne de Montille’s stylish and open-knit base red Burgundy really delivers in quality and class for an entry level wine and is hard to resist even now. The 2014 Domaine de Montille Pinot Noir shows pretty detail and a light to medium bodied with satiny red fruits, sweet/succulent floral tones and has plenty of mineral and spice, like most of the Domaine wines this one comes from select plots in the Cote de Beaune and farmed in most cases all organic. Etienne and his sister Alix craft each wine with extreme care and passion, they focus on making a wine that can age, so most vintages, you’d want to hold many years before enjoying them, but lucky for us the 2014’s are bursting with round and open flavors allowing youthful drinking pleasures and less patience is required, even though it will certainly gain with another 3 to 5 years in the cellar. I opened a bottle of this pure and delightful de Montille in February 2017, and while it starts a bit tight, it proved a big hit at the table, let’s just say it got a lot of happy attention and no one was disappointed, and it was up against some serious wines. Bright and focused the 2014 de Montille Bourgogne Rouge leads with a hint of smoke, flinty/graphite, wilted roses and dusty plum with a very appealing ruby and light catching garnet hue in the glass, leading to a sweet palate of silken red cherries along with tangy currant, cranberry, strawberry and raspberry fruits as well as chalky stones, minty herb, fresh earth and peppery spices. This is a Pinot Noir that gives what is expected and a little bit more with a serious and sensual sense of poise and polish, but not completely tame with subtle tannins and vigor, impressive to be sure, enjoy over the next 3 to 10 years.
($40 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2015 Hirsch, Gruner Veltliner “Kammern” Kamptal Austria.
The Hirsch 2015 Gruners are an exceptional set of offerings from this Kamptal estate not far from the majestic Danube, west of Vienna, especially his Lamm Cru and this Kammern. Johannes Hirsch does all organic/biodynamic farming, using native yeasts and prefers slow cold fermentations with slightly later releases allowing the wines to develop more fully. The rocky loess and loam soils mostly are old vines facing south to take advantage of the exposure, Hirsch only works Riesling and Gruner, this intense focus and passion shows through in his wines, I have reviewed his Lamm Gruner previous and his Rieslings are stunning as well, but I needed to include the Kammern, which is a delightful and character filled Gruner Veltliner with expressive mineral charm and energy driven palate, this is wine that should not be over looked. The 2015 in Austria is proving to be a wonderful year, especially for the whites in the Wachau, with glorious stuff coming from Kremstal and Kamptal, in fact most all of Austria did great in 2015, like 2013 this is a vintage to stock up on! The Hirsch Kammern Gruner starts with white flowers, crystalline wet stones, almond paste and mixed stone fruit and citrus with lemon/lime, wild tart pear, verbena and melon as well as chalky earth, white pepper and tangy herb. This bright and zingy white is refreshing and taught, but also gives a bit more texturally than most wines in it’s class and has a lovely sense of depth and subtle richness of detail, it’s vibrant and elegant with nice poise and tension. Enjoy this well made Gruner over the next year or two, it gives the same thrill as a 1er Chablis, imported by Terry Theise, and at this price you’ll want a bunch around this Spring and Summer, this is, again, a stylish, brilliant and impressive terroir wine, do not miss.
($26 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2014 Weingut Spreitzer, Riesling Feinberb, Hattenheimer Engelmannsberg, Rheingau Germany.
While I say you’ll not want to miss any of the Spreitzer 2015’s, sometimes a wine slips past that you might not have noticed at first, but really shines when you catch it by surprise, or catches you, as was the case with Weingut Spreitzer’s Engelmannsberg Feinherb 2014 that I tasted recently at the Slanted Door. The 2015 version is richer and gorgeous in every way, tasted at the winery last October, it’s a fantastic wine, but this 2014 has blossomed too in bottle, leaving it’s wall flower first impression behind it is showing a subtle elegance and grace with a very dry profile, it’s a classy little Riesling and a fine value. With earthy roses, liquid mineral, green apple, mango and peach leading the way this Spreitzer Hattenheimer Engelmannsberg from the upper Rheingau is pure, lively and rewarding with cuisine especially, showing light layers of flavor, crisp acidity and pretty detail. With food and air a nice lime essence shines through along with a crushed quartz/stone, verbena texture and spiced rosewater, this is charming and entertaining off dry stuff that just has the faintest of fleshy sweetness in it’s stylish delicacy and light baring. This is certainly a wine that needs your full attention to pick up it’s complexities and poise, it’s not overt or a show stopper, but it is a graceful and vital Riesling that has improved greatly since my last time tasting it, drink now, best from 2017 to 2025.
($20 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2015 Dolores Cabrera Fernandez, La Araucaria Tinto, Valle de la Orotava, Tenerife, Canary Islands Spain.
Here’s an exciting new producer from one of the most wild wine regions on earth, the Canary Islands, it’s an old vine red made from Listan Negro, one of the historic mission grapes, grown on the windswept volcanic hillsides of Tenerife, an Island closer to Africa than Spain. Not until about 10 years ago did anyone take these wines seriously, but now that have truly found their niche and are highly sought after, with even a handful of producers reaching cult status like Suertes del Marques, Envinate, Fronton de Oro and Crater. One of the winemaking superstars from here, Roberto Santana, helps guide long time grower Dolores Cabrera Fernandez in her efforts, and it is a wine well worth searching out, imported by Jose Pastor Selections, it shows wonderful elegance and texture with exotic spices and a lighter medium bodied grace. This charming Listan Negro starts with delicate floral notes, red pepper spice, flinty/stony mineral and blueberry before layers of plum, fig, chalk dust and lavender unfold on the palate along with a certain salty character and earthy rustic element. This is not any other wine region and the wines are always unique, in some ways you see a similar quality to that of Mount Etna on Sicily, if you had to compare, but in many ways it would be unfair to do so, these are really soulful terroir wines in their own right. I was really impressed by this La Araucaria, and this is a wine I’ll be following in the future, this graceful and naturally pretty with lingering tangy/dusty fruits, pepper flakes and dried violets, I love it.
($24 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2014 Brick House, Pinot Noir “Select” Ribbon Ridge, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
Doug Tunnell’s entry level all estate Select Pinot from the near perfect 2014 vintage is a lovely and pretty wine, easy to admire for it’s silky texture, open knit style and elegant delicacy. From hand picked barrels from various blocks the Select gives a hedonistic insight into the vintage and the Brick House vines, all organic and biodynamic, Tunnell has a wonderful selection of heritage clones and newer dijon clones to work with and has put together a joyous and complex wine that dances on the palate with with lacy red fruits, spice, earth and mineral tones. While the higher end cuvees will no doubt give more forceful intensity and be classic Pinot Noirs for the cellar, this Select 2014 will be a graceful medium weight wine to enjoy now with bing cherry, loamy earth, plum, mixed floral notes and subtle oak shadings making for a dreamy offering, this poised and detailed Oregon Pinot is an outstanding value. The nose lifts from the glass with wilted rose petals, faint violets, flinty/pepper spice, cinnamon and wild plum leading to the soft and round palate of cherry, raspberry, blueberry, tangy red currant and earthy strawberry fruits that while on the light side linger on and on, this is very classy stuff. This will entice and thrill most Pinot Noir lovers, with subtle savory elements adding further appeal, including hints of saline, iron and cedar that integrate nicely, drink this beauty over the next 3 to 5 years easy, though I wouldn’t be surprised to see it go 10 or 15 years without any problem, a superb effort from a top producer and a real bargain!
($40 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2014 Uccelliera, Rosso di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy.
The Uccelliera Rosso is a surprising hit from a tough vintage, this baby Brunello is a richly textured, ripe and medium/full bodied Sangiovese that has classic character and detailed flavors. While 2014 won’t go down as a great vintage in Tuscany, there have been some remarkable successes, so as long as you are diligent you’ll be be able to find some real gems, like this Uccelliera Rosso di Montalcino. Uccelliera makes one of the top Brunello(s) especially at the price, and their Rosso is never far behind in quality and value, this Sangiovese Grosso (Brunello Clone) delivers layers of deep red fruits, earth, spice and is clean and silken in the mouth. The 2014 Uccelliera Rosso di Montalcino starts with dried flowers, truffle, cedar and crushed red berries leading to a palate formed of juicy raspberry, black cherry, strawberry and plum fruits as well as tobacco leaf, loamy earth, leather and minty anise. Pure and round in feel, there is plenty of acidity to keep things energized and a touch of bitter tannins, better to enjoy this stylish red with food to get the most of this bottling. It lingers with succulent tangy currants and a hint of menthol, but it’s not tart or thin, this is really a fine example of careful winemaking and makes for a really charming Tuscan expression, drink from 2017 to 2020.
($30 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2015 Patrick Coulbois, Pouilly Fume “Les Cocques” Loire Valley, France.
The 2015 Coulbois Les Cocques Pouilly Fume is a brilliant terroir driven and charming expression of Sauvignon Blanc, coming from a warmer vintage it has none of the sometimes green or grassy notes, it is a richer wine than the last few vintages, which also have been good, but this is just that more interesting and has a more flamboyant flair. Seductively juicy with fleshy peach, lemon/lime, summer melon and sweet grapefruit fruits along with wet stones, wild herbs, a touch of floral notes and crisp minerals. This vintage could almost be called a baby Dagueneau, it’s a serious effort and it certainly will impress Sauvignon Blanc fans with it’s vigor and zesty core, this Patrick Coulbois, imported by Charles Neal, should be on your summer sipping radar! The ripe year helps give the mouth feel a sense of body and depth, while tangy citrus (acidity) keeps things vibrant, it’s a wine that is really friendly for almost any occasion, parties, picnics and just a warm evening quaffer with fruit and cheese. This bright refresher brings back my enthusiasm for Sauvignon Blanc, this and Von Winning’s 2015 from the Pfalz in Germany, are two of my favorite wines this year, be sure to look out for them
($24 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2015 Mas de Daumas Gassac, Saint-Guilhem-le-Desert Blanc, Languedoc, France.
Samuel Guibert’s Gassac Blanc 2015 is one of the best I’ve tasted, it’s an iconic wine full of character, terroir and gorgeous detail with lush opulence and surprising vitality and grace. This vintage of the Mas de Maumas Grand Vin Blanc is formed of Petit Manseng, Viognier, Chenin Blanc and Chardonnay mostly along with a about 15% of 17 other varietals that add zesty snap and interesting background elements to the main thrust of the core grapes. The Blanc is fermented and aged in stainless steel tanks to keep it vibrant and fresh and I noticed they did leave the wine on the skins for almost a week, which has added a sense of tannin or vigor which really lifts this full bodied wine and allows a powerful mouth feel and poise, this is impressive stuff, no wood needed on this at all. A pale golden hue greats you in the glass and a bright nose of stone fruit, mineral and honeysuckle lifts subtlety in a refrained perfume leading to a vivid and succulent palate of peach, tangerine, lemon/lime and wild apricot along with salty stones, ginger spice, steely liquid mineral as well as dried pineapple, grilled grapefruit, hints of honey, almond/hazelnut and fleshy melon. This focused and textured white is exotic and flamboyant, but thankfully not cloying or chunky, expressing the warm of the vintage without dull sweetness, this is beautifully judged stuff with verve and stylistic flair. If you want to blow your white Burgundy loving friends minds there are three wines you must introduce them to, Luis Rodriguez’s Ribeiro Blanco from Galicia Spain, the Sadie Family white blends from South Africa and this amazing Mas de Daumas Blanc!
($48 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2015 Domaine Robert Serol, Cote Roannaise “Oudan” Loire Valley, France.
Once thought of as the lost Cru of Beaujolais, Cote Roannaise is in it’s own unique terroir and completely isolated from it’s own region which is technically the Loire and it shares more with the upper Rhone if you were to be honest, but it is home to some of the finest and most intriguing Gamay wines in France, and Domaine Serol is one of the best, especially this single south facing plot Oudan. The Cru Beaujolais, Fleurie or Morgon say, in 2015 were super charged and fruity expressions from this warm vintage, where the higher elevation and cooler Cote Roannaise was better suited to make the most of what nature provided and the wines are less candied and more finessed, but still with deep richness and amazing texture. Usually warm vintages prove to be good for the high acid Gamay, though they can lose a bit of complexity, not the case here with Domaine Robert Serol in 2015 where Stephane has crafted a fantastic Gamay collection from individual parcels, in particular this Oudan shines, it takes on a granite influenced, almost Rhonish personality. Stephane and Carine Serol’s estate is now certified Ecocert organic and their Gamay is a rare clone called Gamay Saint Romain, which I’m sure contributes to the wines color, profile and details which are expressive and charming, but with a remoteness and poise that make them highly entertaining in a way you would normally feel about a Saint-Joseph or a Cote de Nuits Bourgogne, these are wines full of passion and energy, though somehow subtle and restrained, they seduce on a emotional level. The 2015 Oudan is dark with a purple/garnet core and ruby edges, it starts with crushed violets, cool stones, mineral and blue fruits with vibrant flavors, wonderful textural mouth feel and exotic spices, it expresses wild plum, strawberry, black cherry, sweet and tangy currant jelly and earthy blueberry fruits along with anise, flint dust, saline, lavender oil and light cedar/walnut shadings. This partial whole cluster Gamay shows joyous plush depth, satiny tannin and stylish length, this Serol Oudan rocks, Cote Roannaise is to France what the Ribeira Sacra is to Spain, maybe the best yet from this estate, drink from 2017 to 2024, don’t miss this one!
($23 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2013 Le Miccine, Chianti Classico Riserva, Tuscany Italy.
The 2013 Le Miccine Riserva is a seamless and stylish Sangiovese with dense richness of the vintage, but still vibrant and wonderfully detailed, not all oaked up or international, like some of the more modern contemporaries, it’s a full bodied wine that delivers terroir, personality and class. From selected blocks of sloping vines and using six different Sangiovese clones, the Riseva from Le Miccine is fermented with gentile extraction and aged in both big cask and smaller barrels, most all used French. The Riesrva is deeply colored and intense in the glass with lovely pure aromatics starting with dried violets, cedar, red berries and mineral notes leading to a thickly layered palate of precise flavors, it shows blackberry, mulberry, plum, black cherry and tangy currant fruits along with spicy/earthy/savory elements including nutmeg, forest truffle, allspice, sweet tobacco leaf, lavender, loamy stones as well as light wood notes. The depth and finish are gorgeous here, the fruit is ripe and lush, without being heavy, the mouth feel is seductive as is the silkiness of the tannins, most of this is from careful craftsmanship and serve selection from winemaking talent Paula Papini Cook, but also it reflects the warm vintage that blessed this part of Tuscany, especially the cooler hills around Gaiole where Le Miccine is in Chianti Classico. There’s an inner energy and verve which is just sublime that really drives this charming wine that heightens the pleasure, truly beautiful stuff this. This is a Classico estate to get really excited about, if you’ve not had these wines yet, you need to check them out, Le Miccine is all organic and sits in it’s own hillside micro climate, and Papini Cook’s efforts so far have been brilliant, she crafts tiny amounts of this all estate Chianti Classico Riserva, as well as the Chianti Classico, which is a field blend of Sangiovese, Colorino and Malvasia Nera, it’s also a stunner and a great value, plus a rare 100% single plot Merlot, like Castello di Ama, which is from old vines, I tasted the first vintage of this one a few years back and it was highly impressive. Le Miccine also has a small amount of Vermentino, but I’ve not been able to get this yet in the States, though I believe there will be a limited release in the future and maybe even a Rose, but regardless, Le Miccine is a rising star and the 2013 Riserva is a fantastic wine, lingering with kirsch, strawberry and minty anise it deserves your attention as well as serious Tuscan cuisine, drink over the next 5 to 10 years.
($34 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2012 Francesco Rinaldi & Figli, Barolo, Piedmonte, Italy.
The Rinaldi normale Barolo 2012 is a stylish and pure Nebbiolo of fine detail and character that reflects both the house and terroir, it’s dusty/chalky Alba markers showing through and with lively vintage character, this is a very solid effort. Having tasted with Paulo Rinaldi and her winemaker Fabio Allessandria, you get the feeling they are trying to build up the quality and give the wines a bit more substance, while retaining the traditional ways, and after tasting a mini vertical of 2010, 2011 and 2012 you can see some of the effect, even though 2010 was a fantastic vintage, especially their Cannubi Cru, which was their best effort to date in my opinion, the 2012’s look set to reach the next next level with overall appeal and depth, I was really impressed with the basic Barolo here, it is a little beauty. The 2012 Barolo starts with classic aromas of damp earth, minty herb, red berry and dried roses with vivid ruby/orange hue in the glass with a dark garnet core, it’s a medium/full bodied wine with a satiny backbone, juicy acidity and a mix of black cherry, plum and strawberry fruits along with salted black licorice, tar, blood orange marmalade and hints of cedar and guava. The texture is bright, but smooth for a young wine, making it attractive and pleasing to drink now even, though it should gain depth and complexity with another year or so in bottle. What is compelling about these 2012’s across the board is that these are Nebbiolo offerings that are forward and expressive, but still have plenty of vigor to age, unlike the 2010’s which really should be cellared another 5 to 10 years. The 2012 Francesco Rinaldi & Figli regular Barolo is a good drinking wine with enough going to to joyous entertain, especially with robust and rustic cuisine, best from 2018 to 2022.
($49 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2015 Domaine Armand Rousseau, Clos de la Roche, Grand Cru Red Burgundy, France.
This 2015 Clos de la Roche from Rousseau might even be better than the 2010, a wine I thought was near perfection, it was by far the best 2015 Red Burgundy sample on display at Wildman’s epic 2015 preview tasting in San Francisco (February 6, 2017) and was my personal favorite. And not that I was in any doubt about it, Master Somms Fred Dame and Jim Rollston without hesitation or prompting agreed, it was a spectacular wine, and will be one of the most collectable trophies of the vintage. While the Armand Rousseau flagship Chambertin didn’t show much, in fact it was rather primal/dull, the 2015 Clos de la Roche was vibrantly expressive, concentrated and heavenly long with appealing silken red and black fruits, beautiful inner perfume and vitality, of course in the short pour it was hard to get it all, and for the fact it was a barrel sample, there will be some variation from the finished bottling, but don’t let that give you pause, this is one of the greats and looks set to be a classic Grand Cru. Clos de la Roche in the northern part of Morey-St.-Denis is one of the greatest Burgundy vineyards, I in truth believe it it to be the best of all, excepting of course Romanee-Conti and La Tache, though in most vintages I’ve tasted the Clos de la Roche is prettier, sexier and more delicate than even those, I would also favor it just above Musigny and Bonnes Mares, though it would be seriously close depending on year and producer, it is a special terroir and Rousseau’s is gorgeous. Tiny crops throughout Burgundy in 2015, a warm vintage, means prices will be exceptionally high, nose bleed stuff, though this one was always going to be out of sight for most wine lovers, and I would not normally write about such a rarity, but it certainly is worth every penny for the magic it will bring. The 2015 Domaine Armand Rousseau Clos de la Roche starts with smoky violets, rose petal, blackberry, cherry and wild plum, slight mineral and earth along with youthful acidity, fine satiny tannins and lingering strawberry/blueberry. On the finish you pick up a hint of oak, stones and sweet kirsch, this is ravishing Pinot Noir, beautiful, exotic and detailed, rather delicate at this stage, it will blossom into a blockbuster with age, there is nothing to fault here, I hope and dream I get a chance to re-visit this masterpiece in say 12 to 18 years somehow, somewhere, wow.
($350-450 Est. Barrel Sample) 97-98 Points, grapelive
2015 Valentin Jakob Schiess, Aspermont, AOC Graubunden Jenins, Switzerland.
The wildly intriguing Aspermont by V.J. Schiess is a Swiss Pinot Noir done in a Ripasso style, similar to what you see in Valpolicella with the fresh wine going through the Amarone pomace (used crushed grapes), here Schiess runs his very late picked Pinot Noir over the pressed dried Gamaret grapes. Gamaret is a hybrid grape created by crossing Gamay and Reichensteiner, itself a early ripening white grape related to Muller Thurgau, it was developed especially for French Switzerland in the early 70’s, and Schiess makes one of his top bottling from it, and while I didn’t try it, I did get a chance to taste this rare and unique Pinot Noir. I took my first sip blind to the fact that this was in fact 100% Pinot Noir, run over the pomace of the Amarone style Gamaret, and at first you get a real spicy/sweet note with dried roses, cinnamon, blueberry and framboise, but once on the palate you get the Pinot Noir fruit coming through with dense black cherry, sugar plum and strawberry, as well as hints of fig, mocha, snappy spices and raspberry tea. The texture is rich, satiny and seductive, made more interesting in the fact that this dark and opulent wine saw no wood, it was raised in stainless steel, it’s depth and silky layers is all from the fruit, it is not sweet or raisiny and at 13.5% it is finely balanced and detailed with stylish length and elegance. You can understand it, if you think outside the box, and especially if you’ve had Valtellina Nebbiolo and or well made Valpolicella Ripasso, and without thinking too much, you can just enjoy the pleasure and hedonistic allure it offers, as far as I know V.J. Schiess is not imported yet or widely available, though I did see a few websites offering it, so sadly it will not be an easy get, but it is a very cool wine.
(€24 Plus Shipping-$42 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2014 Domaine Didier Dagueneau, Blanc Fume de Pouilly, Loire Valley, France.
Louis-Benjamin’s wines are living up to the legend of his dad, in fact these 2014’s are without a doubt equal to any young Dagueneau that I’ve tasted in the last 15 vintages, and while I have a particular fondness for Pur Sang, this Blanc Fume de Pouilly is a really impressive Sauvignon Blanc. Stunning purity and full of mineral the 2014 Dagueneau Blanc Fume de Pouilly (Pouilly-Fume) has a sublime earthy core with layers of lemon/lime, white peach, dried mango and green melon along with wet stones, chalk and brine. This vivid and gripping white fills out on the palate with lees notes and textural feel, but still dynamic, vibrant and vigorous, this is a masterclass in Sauvignon Blanc. As with all Dagueneau, the best is yet to come, another 5 to 7 years should produce even better things here, though I must say Louis-Benjamin has crafted this Blanc fume de Pouilly in such a way that it shows it’s elegance and intrigue even now, it’s lovely in it’s charm and fresh detail, where you most certainly would not want to open Pur Sang or Silex for 5 to 10 years, this one can be really enjoyed in it’s youth. The 2014’s are classic Dagueneau with a subtle character and an almost dreamy nature to them, they are hard to resist, they are great reminders too, that there is great Sauvignon Blanc out there, least we forget.
($76 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2014 Domaine Andre Bonhomme, Vire Clesse, Vieilles Vignes, White Burgundy, France.
The new Bonhomme Vire Clesse is a rich and concentrated Chardonnay with vivid mineral tones, vitality and expressive fruit, this stylish Maconnaise is a gorgeous wine with lots to admire. In the last few years this Domaine has really turned out some nice wines, but this 2014 old vine Vire Clesse really turns it up a notch, especially with so much high/over priced mediocre stuff coming in from Burgundy, this is a great value, with impressive quality and depth that will surprise and thrill enthusiasts of the region. Importer Charles Neal has a gem here, you should check this and Domaine Andre Bonhomme’s basic Macon out, both outstanding for the price, but certainly the Vire Clesse is the stunner and the stand out here with lovely terroir influenced chalky/stony detail and vintage characteristics. This pale gold/yellow white starts with a mix of white flowers, tropical essence and saline infused citrus before opening up on the decedent palate with apple, pear, lemon curd, key lime, dried pineapple and wet stone as well as hazelnut, brown butter, brioche and peach flesh. This leesy and opulent white Burgundy is very seductive and textural showing wonderful mouth feel and body, but with a steely frame and vibrancy keeping everything in order, this is finely tuned and well crafted stuff, drink over the next 3 to 5 years, it doesn’t get much better for the price!
($26 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2015 Francesco Rinaldi & Figli, Gavi, Piedmont Italy.
With perfectly ripe Cortese grapes bursting with vibrant flavors this sunny fresh Gavi from Francesco Rinaldi is a lovely Italian white that be perfect for Spring and Summer fare, it has a nice ripe density, but still lively and zesty on the palate. While it’s all about the Barolo here at Rinaldi, this Gavi shines in a very beautiful lineup on new releases from Paola Rinaldi and family, her 2012 Barolo offerings are maybe the best to date, while it’s hard not to love the 2010 with it’s power and depth, these 2012’s are lovely Nebbiolos. The Gavi, the only white of Rinaldi on offer is bright and golden with a warm vintage richness, but with classic Cortese snap in it’s step with vital acidity and chalky stoniness, it shows vivid lemon/lime, white flowers, mineral tones, wet river rocks and hints of almond, lemon grass, melon and peach flesh and pit with a touch of exotic spice and herb. This light to medium bodied white is performing outstanding right now and is easy to enjoy, it will be a fine quaffer in the warm months to come, but will also be a solid companion to seafood and or soft cheese plates as well as white meat dishes. Gavi sometimes gets forgotten, but this Rinaldi 2015 is a wine to remind you of how fun and joyous they can be, drink over the next year or so, very stylish indeed.
($24 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2014 Le Miccine, Chianti Classico, Tuscany, Italy.
The latest Le Miccine Chianti Classico, even in a severe vintage, turns in a masterful performance, Paula Papini Cook is fulfilling her talents with this elegant and stylish Sangiovese blend from the hills near Gaiole at this old Tuscan estate. The 2014 was a cool year with high acids and you had to have great touch and bravery to make outstanding wines in Chianti and the Le Miccine shines with graceful fruit, a nice deep garnet color and remarkable depth, it’s a vibrant cuvee of mostly Sangiovese, but with some Malvasia Nera and Colorino as well that add to the complexity of this lovely example of Gallo Nero terroir. Paula Papini Cook has converted Le Miccine to all organic and she uses stainless steel to do her ferments with this wine also seeing a short time in large neutral French casks, this is a wonderful clear, focused and pure wine that has layers of vivid fruit and a certain crispness of detail and freshness that make it a joy with cuisine. Her Riserva is from the 2013 vintage and is a much more full bodied effort, I’ll be reviewing that shortly, but I would say it looks set to be the benchmark wine from the vintage, it’s a stunning classic, while this Classico is more delicate, medium bodied and very lively, both are gorgeous offerings, I’m thrilled to be re-united with Le Miccine, as they have become available in California through San francisco’s Sienna Imports. I first tried Papini Cook’s 2010 and 2011 wines, her first releases, when at 24 she took over this ancient estate, and I feel head over heals for them, since then she’s joined the elite in the region, even scoring 95 Points from Decanter for her Chianti Classico 2013 and high praise from around the world for her artisan wines. The 2014 normale Chianti Classico is bright and tangy with light floral notes, dried herb, red berries and mineral elements leading the way with a hint of violets, tobacco leaf and anise in the background with a core of plum, black cherry, brambleberry, mulberry and blood orange fruits. A touch of cedar, strawberry, pepper and earthiness comes with air in the glass and while easy to enjoy there is plenty of energy and it shows a nice firm tannic spine, still this is a flexible honest Chianti and it should appeal to a wide audience and go with a good array of foods, in fact with it’s mild alcohol you could even serve it slightly chilled Beaujolais style with picnic and or BBQ. These new Le Miccine’s are classy and intriguing wines, I’ll be putting a few in my cellar and drinking them over the next 3 to 5 years, especially this lighter and pretty Classico, in my mind’s eye this is near to what I imagine to be the perfect Chianti!
($24 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2007 Domaine de Beudon, Constellation “Les Vignes Dans Le Ciel” Valais, Switzerland.
The holy grail of alpine natural wine, Domaine de Beudon was the first to convert to all biodynamic in Switzerland and Jacky Granges’ wine are highly sought after for their purity and unique style, grown on a ridiculously steep perch in Valais that either requires goat climbing abilities or a rustic/scary mini cable car ride to get to. It’s totally crazy stuff, the white wines are pressed on site and transferred in juice form from the vineyard and the reds are brought down in tanks by cables as there is no way to bring the grapes down and keep them fresh! I have only just recently had my first chance to taste Domaine de Beudon, even better I had not even known about it all, coming very late to this wine, so it was completely without expectations, and I was at first unsure of my thoughts, but the wine really grew on me and kept changing in the glass, getting more compelling by the minute, in the end I was hooked and convinced of it’s beauty. The Constellation Les Vignes Dans Le Ciel 2007, is a blend of Pinot Noir mostly with Gamay and a hybrid grape Diolinor, which is a varietal that was a crossing of Pinot Noir and a local grape, it is grown on granite, gneiss and limestone, it is aged entirely in stainless steel and was naturally fermented without filtration or additions of sulfur, it was rested in tank on it’s lees for an extend time and in bottle, the pale ruby hued 2007 is the current release. The palate is light and spicy to start, gaining a bit of weight and density with air, but it remains delightfully fresh and delicate throughout with subtle rose petal notes, pepper, minty herbs and bright cherry and raspberry fruits as well as mineral tones, dusty/chalky stones, earth and tangy red currants. The tannins have had good time to soften, but it still has a vibrant feel and firmness and it lingers with flinty spice, cinnamon, plum and anise. You have to love the absolute passion behind this wine and commitment, it’s a delicate old world charmer with satiny layers and while it takes a while to understand, it intrigues, pleases and seduces, drink from 2017 to 2024.
($56 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2009 Cascina Val del Prete, Barbera d’Alba Superiore “Carolina” Piedmonte, Italy.
A warm and round Barbera of hedonistic pleasures and texture, poured from magnum, it is drinking gorgeously and with lots of character and verve, this Cascina Val del Prete Carolina Barbera d’Alba is everything you could ask for and more! The clay and chalky soils of Roero, very close to Barolo, is where most of the focus is for Cascina Val del Prete and this wonderful Babera is a top expression of terroir and varietal, these wines also age fantastically well, my friend Peter Steiner, wine director at Sens Restaurant in San Francisco, has on many occasions pulled old bottles of this wine from his cellar with surprisingly glorious results. The 2009 shows rich layers of red fruits, spicy notes and opulent ripe tannins, highlighting the warm vintage, but still shows plenty of vigor and juicy acidity, there’s a lot to admire here with it’s full bodied expressive fruit, mineral notes and vibrant array of flavors. The palate feel dense with red plum, cherry and raspberry upfront leading the way along with tangy currant, fennel, dusty stones, cedar and baking spices. The color is deep with ruby red edges and soft dried flowers rise from the glass with coaxing, but joyous silken fruit is what this wine is all about and it keeps pumping out and lingers on the long finish. Barbera has truly come of age and Cascina Val del Prete is one of the best, also look for Vajra, Giovanni Rosso, La Spinetta and Oddero for some of your must try Barbera Superiore choices. The current vintage, 2012 Cascina Val del Prete is also a great bottle, be sure to re-discover Barbera soon!
($39 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2014 Auguste Clape, Cornas “Renaissance” Rhone Red, France.
From younger vines the Renaissance cute is a slightly below the flagship Cornas at Clape, but this 2014 I think is almost as good, in fact because it was a more difficult year than let’s say 2013 and with the extra attention and the delicacy of the vintage the 2014 Renaissance Cornas might be drinking it’s best ever versus the top cuvee. This 2014 is classic northern Rhone Syrah, pure and earthy with layers of spice, game, blue fruits, floral notes and sappy herbs. The Clape parcels are some of the finest in the region, mature vines on slopes of granite, three generations of Clape’s, Auguste, who was the first to bottle his own wine in Cornas, along with his son Pierre-Marie and grandson Olivier, run this tiny cellar and estate, the vinification is old school, all whole cluster with stems, native ferments in cement cuves and extended elevage in old large foudres. Everything is by hand and long hours of hard work in the vines to allow extra hang time so the stem inclusion is ripe and not green(y) tannic, the 2014’s were (are) a bit less chewy than the 2013 and 2010’s were (are) and show wonderful finesse and poise, while still having the rustic character and charm of classic Clape(s) Cornas, I personally adore 2014 Northern Rhones, the lightness and perfumes are heavenly and more feline in style and this Domaine A. Clape Cornas Renaissance is gloriously alive and intense with a palate of blueberry, boysenberry, damson plum and kirsch along with background complexities that include violets, cinnamon, celery seed, saline, black licorice, flinty/embers, olive paste, leather/meat, iron and lingering cassis. There’s plenty of body and richness to fill out in the mouth, as well as a cut of acidity and firm tannin holding this beautiful and purple/garnet Syrah in place, this is serious stuff and wildly pleasing for us Syrah enthusiasts, there’s no doubt that Clape is one of the best producers and deserve great credit, though I’d have most likely rated it a few points higher if not for the slightly pricy nature of this bottling, especially with the exchange rate in our favor at the moment, but it’s really good. Best from 2018 to 2026.
($90 Est.) 92+ Points, grapelive
2012 Damijan Podversic, Ribolla Gialla, Friuli, Italy.
One of the most seductive whites in Italy is Damijan’s Ribolla Gialla, and this 2012 is showing wonderful beauty, life and detail, it was one of my top picks at the recent Slow wine show in San Francisco, it’s an orange wine yes, but not hipster funky at, it is gorgeous in feel, stylish, elegant, seamlessly layers and vibrant throughout. The skin contact with Ribolla leaves a radiant golden hue and the tangy/savory element act like soft tannins helping to balance and structure the wine, and this Damijan is one of the best I’ve tasted with a palate of tangerine, crisp golden apple, hints of apricot, lemon/lime and yellow peach fruits along with bright mineral tones, bitter herb, jasmine tea and wet stones. The texture is lovely and while there is a endless play of extremely subtle sweet and sour, it’s depth of satiny layers seduces completely. This wine, like the wines from Gravner, Foradori and COS, are what makes giddy about ancient method skin contact whites, they are not severe or funky, they are easy and joyous to drink on their own and are wonderful with cuisine. Damijan’s other two blended wines show a bit more density and edginess, making them very interesting, but maybe slightly less pretty and delicate when compared to this vibrant Ribolla Gialla. This mysterious corner of northeast Italy is ripe for a major breakthrough and begs for discovery, Damijan, an all organic estate in Friuli, is one of must try wines from the region, this 2012 Ribolla Gialla is drinking proof of the potential, it’s full of terroir and quality, drink over the next 3 to 5 years.
($45 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2013 Bonaccorsi, Pinot Noir, Melville Vineyard, Sta. Rita Hills.
It was really fun to taste through the current offerings from Bonaccorsi and seeing Jenne Bonaccorsi, her story and that of her late husband Michael Bonaccorsi is one of triumph and tragic heartbreak to honor, hope and inspiration, with some wonderful wine along the way. If you don’t know the history of Bonaccorsi, I’ll give you a brief recap, Mike Bonaccorsi was one of the first Master Sommeliers to seriously make wine in the United States, he was the wine director at LA’s famed Spago at the time the Sta. Rita Hills region was getting it’s breakthrough and he fell in love with the Pinot Noirs from there, so in the late nineties he and Jenne Lee Bonaccorsi, who was also at Spago and a food and wine lover, started Bonaccorsi Wine Company with their first vintage in 1999, and their wine was an instant hit. Sadly, Mike died in 2004 during harvest time, but many growers and winemakers joined together to help Jenne make that vintage and support her, and she has continued ever since. I’ve been lucky enough to have tried almost every vintage of the Bonaccorsi, and the style has remained faithful and terroir driven, and these latest wines are all lovely examples, especially the 2012 Fiddlestix and this beautiful and deep 2013 Melville Pinot Noir. Jenne, one of the few Korean-American winemakers, has a gift for wines that slowly evolve and show graceful texture and mouth feel, the Melville 2013 is just starting to show it’s full potential, made from a special block at Melville grown on the sandy coastal soil it is mostly clone 115 and with a bit of Mount Eden clone, Jenne prefers these instead of the modern Dijon, as the 115 and Eden give plenty of color and character here with the long and cool growing season, she ages the wine about 20 months in French oak, as she and Mike were inspired by Burgundy, with longer elevage, less new wood and concentrated fruit. The 2013 vintage shows pure Melville character with blackberry, mulberry, black cherry and plum, it carries it’s dark flavor profile extremely well with hints of fig, spice, crushed roses and stony notes. As it unfolds in the glass it comes to life with good energy, density and wonderful length, it feels big and broadly flavored, at 13.8% it is not heavy though, lingering with kirsch, earth/loam, anise and mocha, this is really silky, but still firmly structured, it should age another 3 to 5 years before reaching it’s true peak, a serious Pinot Noir no question, impressive artisan stuff again from Bonaccorsi, bravo.
($45 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2015 Weingut Hirsch, Gruner Veltliner “Lamm” Kamptal, Austria.
Johannes Hirsch’s Lamm Gruner is truly majestic, it’s a dense, dry and powerful Gruner Veltliner that is comparable to a Grosses Gewachs, it’s a gorgeous single Grand Cru trocken white with tremendous class and pedigree, Lamm has to be considered one of the greatest vineyards in Austria, and this wine shows why! Hirsch, a winery imported by Terry Theise, has converted to all biodynamic and is Respekt certified, has been flying under the radar for many years making high quality wines, but not getting huge love or attention, this is about to change, as Johannes’ 2015 are set to blow up! This was a shocking revelation, these Hirsch Grunners and Rieslings were stunningly gorgeous, in fact they were some of the best examples I’ve ever tasted from Austria ever! Right up there with Knoll, Brundlmayer, Pichler and Hirtzberger, this is a winery to watch for, especially the single vineyard Gruner and Riesling, in particular the delicate and overwhelming pretty Hirsch Gaisberg Riesling and this mind blowing Hirsch Lamm Gruner Veltliner! This 2015 Lamm is richly and heavenly textured with silky finesse and vital energy, hiding it’s powerful engine under a velvet cushion with stunning concentration and the purest minerality with layers of lemon/lime, minty almond oil, white anise, white plum and crushed stones. The vineyard Lamm is set on a core of loess and mica with a sandy/brown rocky top soil which in years like 2015 give weight and depth, without sweetness or high alcohols, meaning you can have a masterpiece like this one is, this white is sexy thrilling as can be, it is certainly living up to it’s potential so far. This wine when open, transmits joyous harmony, pleasure throughout and subtly sprinkles in earth, spice and even a sweet/meatiness, it’s beautiful detailed and nervy or cat like in a smooth leopard kind of way, this is greatness in the glass, it was a seriously awesome experience to meet up with Johannes and taste his latest set of wines, and it took a few weeks to find the right words about just how good they really are, I still am not sure how to express it fully, drink this Gruner Cru over the next 5 to 10 years, and be sure to check out all of the Hirsch 2015’s!
($55 Est.) 94+ Points, grapelive
2012 Vietti, Barolo, Lazzarito, Piedmonte, Italy.
Luca Currado’s Barolo Cru Lazzarito 2012 is an absolutely gorgeous showstopper, a classic Nebbiolo with deep complexity, power and unbelievable graceful length. It was great to see Luca and get a few minutes to hear about this vintage, which is turning out to be a fantastic Barolo year, and both of his wines at Slow Wine San Francisco were magnificent showing opulent fruit layers and wonderful balance with vibrant acidity, polished tannins and satiny textures. The Lazzarito though really has it all and it’s verve and dimension put this at the highest level, it comes from a single vineyard with high density planting of Nebbiolo, about 40 years old, set on Serralunga d’Alba’s calcareous-clay soil, this Grand Cru site produces ripe and flamboyant fruit, especially in the hands Currado and team at Vietti, making for their most sleek example, aged in both French barriques for 7 months, and then into big Slovenian oak cask for another 25 months. The Lazzarito is unfiltered and pure with layers of fruit, spice and mineral starting with a ruby/garnet/brick red hue in the glass and a mixed perfume of wild flowers, rose petals, sweet herbs, exotic spice and light tar notes with poached red berries before and fine and energy filled palate of damson plum, black raspberry, tangy cherry and fig fruits along with truffle, salted licorice, minty/cedar and loamy stones. Hints of liqueur, tea spice, iron, red citrus and vanilla add to the whole picture that in unfolding in this young and vigorous beauty, this wine has serious structure to back up it’s succulent forward style, at 14.6% this is a big full bodied wine, best to cellar this Barolo for another 5 to 10 years, even though it is not shy in showing off it’s greatness even now, these 2012’s from Vietti are very seductive, poised and impressive, stunning world class stuff!
($150+ Est.) 96 Points, grapelive
2015 G.D. Vajra, Riesling Langhe “Petracine” Piedmonte, Italy.
The Giuseppe Vajra Riesling is one of my all time favorite wines, as any of you would know if you have followed me, either here on the grapelive.com website or my Twitter account, and I was one of the first in line to get into the Slow Wine 2017 San Francisco show just to sure I got to taste this rare beauty! Vajra has unique Riesling clones, Alsace, German and the local Petracine, this might explain the fantastic character and amazing vitality in this wine. While there were many gorgeous reds to be tried, especially Vietti’s set of Barolo, Chiara Boschis Mosconi Barolo and Vajra’s own Bricco delle Viole Barolo, the talk this year at Slow Wine was of the rise of Italian white wines, from Verdicchio to Ribolla Gialla, there was a sea of fine regional examples, but for me the top was this seductive and vibrant Vajra Petracine Langhe Riesling, no question. The 2015 is scheduled to arrive in a month or so, and it was a thrill to be one of the first in California to taste it, as well as so soon after reviewing the prior release, with it’s profile still clear in my mind, the 2014 is from a cooler and more difficult year, but has a more delicate and elegant side, while the warmer vintage 2015 is full of power, extract and raw intensity, though still with eye popping acidity and mineral charm! Giuseppe Vajra is one of Italy’s top young talents and his wines are pure and pleasing, clear and well defined with lovely textures and length, there is much to admire in his lineup. The 2015 Vajra Riesling starts with white flowers, brine, mineral tones and a burst of vivid citrus with white and yellow fruits leading the way along with a lean/dry crispness, though you can feel the spine and substance in the background much the same way as a German Grosses Gewachs Trocken. The palate details lime, tart apple, white peach and zesty/freshy tropical fruits as well as minty notes, saline, stones and verbena, this is mouth watering stuff, racy and compelling, this will age beautifully, time should allow for more complexity and depth to develop along with more opulence and body, though I love it now too, drink this wonderful Riesling from 2017 to 2028.
($45 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2013 Serafina Cellars, Barbera, Amador County.
The Serafina Barbera from the Sierra Foothills is a juicy richly textured and fruit driven wine with layers of black and red fruits along with some soft spice and cedary wood. Paul Scotto, head of winemaking for the family business, Scotto Cellars overseeing winemaking for about 40 labels, as well as the Cider Brothers small batch craft fruit ciders and a new dry Mead (honey wine) project, but he makes the Serafina as his own project from top sites in the foothills, this is his own personal artisan line of small production wines. Paul, a UC Davis grad, does mostly Zinfandel, but also has a crisp Pinot Grigio and this Barbera, he focuses on Italian based varietals, as well as a few Rhones, and while Zin is from Croatia, the heritage in California has Italian roots as does he, being a 5th generation winemaker, plus there is the Primitivo clone. The Barbera is bright with a garnet/ruby hue, the long hang time allows for a more low acid plush mouth feel with plum, raspberry and black cherry fruits filling out the palate with ultra fine tannins, subtle spice, mineral/earth notes and a touch of oak, finishing with dried flowers, vanilla, anise, currant and briar. Barbera from the hills of California’s gold country does not taste like the classic Piedmonte versions, but this one is a really fun, open knit and stylish wine, Scotto sourced the Barbera from the famed Fiddletown, where some of the vines date back to the late 1800’s, along with a dash of Primitivo (Zin) which always shows through and works nicely here. There is a sweetness of fruit that makes this wine sing, and the neutral French barrels don’t over do what the vines gave, this velvety all California red is ready to enjoy now and is especially good with rustic/simple cuisine, it is crowd pleaser to drink over the next 2 to 3 years.
($25 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
Crozes-Hermitage “Equinoxe” Rhone Red, France.
A pure and beautifully purple Syrah that is an almost quilt free everyday red that delivers outstanding varietal character and terroir in an easy to enjoy form. Maxine Graillot, son of the famed Alain Graillot, has branched out on his own with a wonderful set of wines under his Equis label, making slightly lighter and fresher wines than his dad, but with very similar quality and style, these are non pretentious Crozes-Hermitage 100% Syrah bottlings that kill it for the price! With prices of Saint-Joseph and Cornas soaring these days, if you are looking for values in the northern Rhone, Crozes is your place, especially any of the Graillot family offerings, but also Domaine Combier by Laurent Combier is a winery to check out. The 2015 vintage Maxime Graillot Equis Equinoxe is richly hued and deep with full bodied mouth feel, it flows smoothly with ripe tannins and subtle earthy charm, delivering layers of boysenberry, damson plum, blueberry and black cherry fruit along with hints of camphor/embers, minty herb, liquid violets, white pepper and dusty stones. This is a gracious and dense Syrah, but not heavy, it comes in at 13% alcohol, which just about perfect for the style, allowing for joyous quaffing. Delicately perfumed and vibrant, the balance is exactly what you’d want, it finishes with savory notes, lavender spice and juicy sweet and spicy fruit, not overly serious, but lovely and poised. Drink this one now and often while you can, best from 2017 to 2022, I really dig this Equinoxe 2015, I see lots more in my near future, impressive from Graillot the younger!
($22 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2014 Weingut Karl-Johann Molitor, Pinot Noir Trocken, Assmannshauser Hollenberg, Rheingau Germany.
Based in the upper Rheingau in the town of Hattenheim, the family estate of Karl-Johann Molitor is an old school winery, small, hard working with no pretensions and their wines are simple hand crafted examples of the region, these are the wines you see in the wine fairs and local bistros, offering solid value and ease of use, that said, the Assmannshauser Hollenberg Spatburgunder is a really lovely and pretty wine from one of the greatest Pinot Noir vineyards you’ll ever find. You would have to search your entire life to find a red Burgundy of this class at this price, I doubt it exists to be honest, above the town of Assmannshausen on the northern bank of the Rhine the steeply sloped south facing slate hillside of Hollenberg sits, it is a glorious vineyard to see in person, on my two visits there I was left in awe of it’s beauty and majestic terroir, this is a special place. Interestingly, it is not as hailed as it should be, this is because not all the growers and producers work in harmony and there seems to be none of that German structure in place ensuring it’s promotion and quality throughout, but there are some amazing wines that come from here, one of the best Pinot Noirs I’ve ever had was August Kesseler’s Hollenberg and Johannes Leitz’s new Hollenberg is very exciting as well. So it was fun to find this Assmannshauser Hollenberg dry Pinot Noir from Karl-Johann Molitor, and happily surprised that their 2014 vintage is showing so well, it is bright and spicy with plenty of fruit detail, structure and graceful textures featuring a nose of floral tones, flinty spice, mineral and blue fruits. The palate reveals itself with black cherry, blueberry, wild plum and sweet strawberry fruits, a touch of briar, liquid violets, salty stones, plus a hint of smoke and marmalade. Lingers with rosewater, juicy raspberry and tart currant, and while light and easy overall, you can’t beat the price, delicacy and pedigree, it’s a fine gateway into the world of German Pinots.
($16 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2015 Selbach, Riesling Kabinett, Piesporter Michelsberg, Mosel Germany.
This bistro style, light Kabinett from Johannes Selbach is a real solid value and a lovely drinking mineral/crisp Riesling of fine class and character. This label is the negociant label, instead of the estate label of Selbach-Oster, and while it is from contracted vineyard/wine it still has the clear focus and detail you’d expect from this great producer, and it shows plenty of vintage marking and terroir, this is very enjoyable, slightly off dry stuff, perfect for your mid-week low alcohol needs and great with cheeses, smoked meats and Asian foods, especially Chinese with a touch of spicy heat. This refreshing Riesling delivers crisp apple, white peach, subtle tropical notes along with lemon/lime, minty white tea, mango and steely liquid mineral. Golden pale in the glass the 2015 Selbach Piesporter Michelsberg is a light and vibrant wine, but has enough sweetness to feel creamy and decedent on the palate without being really sweet, it has enough stony elements, juicy acidity and tang to be well balanced, it’s a quilt free quaffer and with enough substance to impress. At 8.5% alcohol and with a delightful finish of tangerine, flinty spice and rosewater this is a perfect picnic wine and will be a great summer party wine, it drinks fun and lively now, so stock up, it doesn’t get much better for the price. The Selbach Piesporter Michelberg Kabinett Riesling is a perfect everyday wine and a great way to start your journey into Mosel Riesling if you’ve never had one and are curious, this is a classic style entry level Mosel, drink now through 2020.
($16 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2015 Domaine d’E Croce-Yves Leccia, YL, Ile de Beaute Rouge, Corsica.
Yves Leccia is one of the most celebrated vignerons on Corsica and his wines from the Patrimonio near the bay of Saint-Florent are some of the purist examples on the Island, especially this gorgeous YL Rouge, a blend of 80% Grenache and 20% Niellucciu (Sangiovese) grown on the clay, limestone and schist soils of his Domaine d’E Croce estate. None of Leccia’s wines see wood at all, this blend from 20-40 year old vines, all organic and handmade in the truest sense was fermented and raised using only stainless steel cuves, all the grapes are carefully sorted and de-stemmed. You’d think this would result in a basic and simple wine, but the YL Rouge by Yves Leccia shows a remarkable terroir character and is gloriously complex with layers of ripe fruits, spice, savory tones and mineral notes with solid tannins and lively acidity, this is beautiful and earthy wine that pleases the senses with lovely texture, finesse and stylistic charm. The 2015 YL starts with a flinty/smoke note along with liquid wild flowers, pepper and blue fruit before leading to a full bodied palate of sweet currants, blueberry, boysenberry, black cherry and plum accented by bacon, lavender, chalk/crushed stones, porcini and anise. It starts earthy and vibrant, then opens wide and delivers a flow of rich/dense fruit and a long finish that combines the floral essences, framboise as well as a hint of fig and meaty bacon, this is wine that captures it’s sense of place perfectly, but also reminds me of old school Burgundy and Rhone reds at times, I’ll be grabbing a few bottles of this Leccia myself, I love this dark Corsican red, drink over the next 3 to 5 years.
($26 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2015 Thierry Germain, Saumur Champigny “Les Roches” Loire Valley, France.
The beautiful and detailed all biodynamic/organic 2015 Les Roches by Thierry Germain takes a few moments to unveil itself, like an exotic fan dancer, but then wow, this gorgeous chalky and perfumed 100% Cabernet Franc really shows it’s class and energy, it’s absolutely stunning. The Thierry Germain Saumur Champigny Les Roches comes from mostly 30 to 40 year old vines set on clay, chalk, sand and limestone, it was 100% de-stemmed, native yeast fermented in stainless and raised in old foudres and stainless steel on the fine lees for just a few months without added sulfur. This pure and natural Saumur Champigny is medium bodied and delicate with layers of graceful flavors and intriguing class, the nose brings earth, violets, mineral notes and a hint of bell pepper and mixed spices leading to a refined palate of blackberry, creme de violet, tart currants, black cherry and earthy mulberry fruits with cinnamon, truffle, chalky dust, lavender oil and sweet basil. This charming Cabernet Franc speaks to the soul and heart, it gives remarkable terroir expression and is a great value, at 13% alcohol it is perfectly balanced and wonderfully open knit with ripe opulence and dreamy texture, imported now by Kermit Lynch, drink over the next 3 to 5 years, though I suspect it can easily go well longer. Cab Franc lovers will not want to miss this vintage of Thierry Germain, and especially this seductive and classic Les Roches Saumur Champigny which really over delivers, it’s brilliant starting point to explore his wines and the region.
($24 Est.) 93+ Points, grapelive
2008 I Favati, Taurasi “Terzotratto” Campania, Italy.
When they talk of Aglianico being the Barolo of the south, this is what they mean, a picture perfect example and a gorgeous, complex and authentic wine from Giancarlo Favati, of I Favati, who I got to meet briefly this week, and taste through his wines. It was a pleasure to meet Giancarlo and his wife and marketing director Rosanna, while they are on a visit to San Francisco, their winemaker Carmine Valentino, who wasn’t on this trip, must also be mentioned and praised here, as his efforts are truly glorious and capture the soul and essence of this volcanic influenced terroir. Most of their vines cling to the hillsides of Cesinale in the Irpinia zone of the Campania region, but they have a small plot in Taurasi, the DOCG Taurasi has only been in production since 2003, it is a work in progress, and it is aged 4 years before release, I found their 2008 Terzotratto Taurasi DOCG very much to my liking with it’s intense layers of fruit, earth, spice, mineral and game all coming together nicely, at this stage it’s a stunner. The other wines that impressed were their mineral driven whites, especially the vibrant Greco di Tufo and smoky/flinty Fiano di Avellino, as well as an extended skin contact Fiano di Avellino “Pietramara” white label 2011, very impressive stuff, along with their currant release Aglianico, the 2010 Irpinia Campi Taurasini “Cretarossa” which is a wonderful wine and a great value at $26. The 2008 I Favati Taurasi Terzotratto, aged in small French barrels is rich and dense with velvet coated tannic structure showing a deep garnet color and a lovely mix of dried flowers, iron/chalk, kirsch and anise to start before an unfolding firm palate of poached cherry, tangy plum and dusty red berry fruits along with sweet tobacco leaf, game/blood (meaty notes) and minty saline, crushed stone and a hint of cedar. This full bodied Aglianico is pure, focused and detailed wine, balancing ripe fruit with the more earthy/savory elements to perfection, while I enjoyed and admired all of the I Favati reds, this one, the 2008, really stole my heart and attention, the 2004 had a wild Rioja Gran Reserva character from the use of some new American oak, while the 2007 had a beautiful silky texture it leaned toward the stewed fruit side of things, so for my taste, the 2008 was the best example of terroir and vitality, this though is a winery to check out, they offer an intriguing lineup of wines, imported by Vinity Wine Company. This beautiful Terzotratto Taurasi 2008 is drinking fantastic, and it is looking at a long life ahead, drink now through 2026.
($52 Est.) 93+ Points, grapelive
2015 Wetzer, Kekfrankos, Sopron Hungary.
Peter Wetzer’s beautifully delicate and flavorful Kekfrankos is a new Hungarian treasure, and for those not familiar with Kekfrankos, it’s the same grape as Blaufrankisch found just to the west in Austria. Lots of eastern Austria was part of Hungary until as recently as 1921, so there are many of the same grapes and terroirs, plus there were many German settlers in this area especially that brought their farming style with them. Peter’s Kekfrankos is a mostly natural style wine, he works hard to farm his vines as to keep them as organic as possible and his cellar work is minimalist allowing native ferments and raising his wine on the lees in used Hungarian cask. With it’s simple and stylish label and red wax capsule, the Wetzer Kekfrankos reminds me of Lapierre Morgon in many ways, it is ripe and pure with vibrancy, fresh detail and silky tannins. Kekfrankos or Blaufrankisch is less acid driven than Gamay or Pinot Noir, but close and it can have flavors that are like Loire Cabernet Franc at times, Wetzer’s is medium weight, fruit forward and loaded with blueberry, bright cherry, tree picked plum and earthy mulberry fruit along with mixed spices, loamy/mineral plus hints of cedar, anise and chalk. A subtle sweet and sour herb notes adds to the whole, and this impressive red highlights it’s sense of place, allowing the soils, which are iron rich in parts, along with limestone, loess and gravel, to shine through on the poised and vital palate. It takes a bit of coaxing and air, but a light perfume of wild flowers and dried rose petal emerges as does a underflow of tangy currant as well as peppery notes. This is lovely stuff, it is always amazing to discover the mysteries of Eastern European wines and regions, I had not had the Wetzer before, I guess he has a following in parts of Europe and in the UK, he doesn’t make a lot of wine, so you’ll need to search for it, imported by Blue Danube Wine Company.
($24 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2013 Workman Ayer, De Facto Red, Central Coast.
Michel Ayer’s Workman Ayer “de Facto” Red Rhone style blend is a ripe and decedent wine with a deep color and shaded with smoky/sweet French oak that comes across serious, but flirty/sexy on the palate, it is enjoyable and full bodied like the wines of Guigal and Jean-Luc Colombo, very late 90’s early 2000’s. Ayer’s sourced this 80% Syrah, 10% Grenache and 10% Mourvedre from three main sites in the Santa Barbara area, and the breakdown goes like this, 30% Los Alamos Syrah, 25% Ballard Canyon Syrah, 25% Santa Ynez Valley Syrah,10% Los Alamos Grenache and10% Los Alamos Mourvedre, there were a couple of different pick days as well then the wine was blended after fermentations, it was aged in 40% new oak for just under 2 years. Only 100 cases were bottled of the 2013 Workman Ayer, so it’s quite limited and is available through their website and a few wine stores and restaurants, it is very fairly priced considering the small production and quality in the bottle, it’s a sleek and modern artisan wine, rather big at 14.5%, but not over the top with a lot to admire, it’s hedonistic, rich/thick/chewy, spicy and structured. The nose is a mix of cassis liqueur, smoky/sweet wood and liquid violets, but with air the oak tames itself and more earthy/spicy and savory elements appear, the palate is full with black raspberry, boysenberry and blueberry pie filling along with mocha/bitter coco, fig sauce, anise, chalk dust and a hint peppery hot cinnamon, plus dried vanilla. This is a ripe/opulent and forward Syrah led blend with mostly supple tannins, but it does have some impressive muscle and just enough acidity to keeps this lively, this is a fun and easy to enjoy young wine, great with mushroom dishes, grilled meat street tacos, BBQ and or Turkish lamb, drink now.
($38 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2014 Domaine de la Tour du Bon, Mourvedre, En-Sol, IGP Méditeranée, France.
What an astonishing wine, a gloriously pure Mourvedre from Domaine de la Tour du Bon’s Agnès Henry, this is certainly the wine to lift it out of the shadows cast by the more famous Domaine(s) Tempier and Terrebrune also imported by Kermit Lynch, it’s an old vine Bandol, 100% Mourvedre that was raised in amphora. Agnès was inspired by the wines of Guisto Occhipinti at COS and especially Elisabetta Foradori, who’s amphora wines are legendary and nuanced in such a way that you never get the funky/odd flavors that one sometimes find in natural or ancient method wines, but wines that are clear and vibrant with delicate detail and transparency. Henry’s estate in the hills to the northwest is perched up above the beautiful Mediterranean in it’s own micro climate with glorious sun filled days, but with cooling influencing breezes and nights that allow for good acidity and balance in the grapes, she farms all organic and ferments with indigenous yeasts with this En-Sol fermenting in clay/terracotta before being racked off into stainless tank for a few months before bottling, no fining or filtering was done, though I will be interested in how much skin contact and whether the grapes were all de-stemmed, as I would suspect as the wine is wonderfully round and charming even this young. This brilliant effort gives Bandol a new look and it’s gorgeous to the core, hopefully Henry will keep pursuing this niche and path, there is amazing potential in her style and her terroir is excellent with red soils, clay, limestone and sandstone allowing a vivid array of flavors. The 2014 En-Sol by Domaine de la Tour du Bon starts very similar to the COS Pithos with loamy notes along with red berries and mixed floral tones, bright and pretty, but then it starts to reveal it’s terroir and varietal purity with it’s forceful and tannic backbone, though there is a remarkable grace and velvety/silken coating to the tannins allowing the inner fruit core to shine in all it’s glory with black cherry, wild raspberry and loganberry layers along with lavender, mineral spice and chalky stones as well as lightly bitter anise, dusty plum, pepper, sweet pipe tobacco and rosewater. This Medium/full bodied and dark garnet/ruby red wine opens wide with air, it is ever changing and complex, while showing a subtle elegance and tangy/linging length, time and food is what is needed here for maximum joy, though it is good and magical on it’s own, I can’t even guess on aging potential, but safely can say best from 2018 to 2024, this wine is super or as I would say hyper-limited, but well worth searching out, but even if you cannot find it or afford it, be sure to check out all the Domaine de la Tour du Bon Bandol offerings, in particular Ms Henry’s stunning Bandol Rose and single vineyard Saint Ferreol Bandol Rouge!
($75 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2015 Domaine Auguste Clape, Vin de France Rouge “Le Vin des Amis” Rhone, France.
The beautiful and old school 100% Syrah Clape Le Vin des Amis comes from near Cornas and is from 40+ year old vines set on galets or river stones, so it doesn’t have quite the intensity of the pure granite sites, but that said, this is a pure and deeply colored joy of a wine that is one of the great secrets in the wine world! Auguste the patriarch , Pierre-Marie the main man and winemaker and now Olivier the grandson at the famed and historic Domaine A. Clape, which was founded back some 250 years ago, are three generations working together to make some of the world’s most sought after wines, in fact Auguste, the former mayor of Cornas, was the first to bottle his own estate made wine in Cornas, paving the way for the following generations and now Cornas is now thought of in the same way Hermitage, Saint-Joseph and Cote-Rotie were and are. Clape does five wines, the top being their Cornas, as well as a second Cornas, the Renaissance, the all Marsanne Saint Peray Blanc, a 100% Syrah Cotes-du-Rhone and this Le Vin des Amis that comes from a tiny 1 hectare site, it is a spicy, earthy and fresh red that has terroir character of the region as is a great way to start exploring the Clape lineup. The 2015 Clape Le Vin des Amis is ripe and round on the palate with a deep garnet and purple hue that starts with a mix of crushed violets, lavender oil, black and green olives, peppercorns and tart currants. There is a hint of game/meat, iron, leather, but in the mouth you get blueberry, boysenberry and a touch of cassis. This little Syrah was fermented in cement and raised six months in the concrete vat or cuves then another six months in old foudres, 1,200L French oak casks, the grapes were native yeast fermented and mostly all whole cluster that gives that stemmy green spice, with a touch of celery to the background and a cinnamon/baking spice note. The Le Vin des Amis is a wonderful example of Syrah and place, I love this vintage, maybe my favorite since 2010, it lingers with hints of black salted licorice, blackberry and a mineral/stony/earthy essence that is both humble and darkly sexy, drink over the next 3 to 5 years.
($30 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2012 Fekete Bela, Juhfark, Somlo, Hungary.
At 92 years old, and celebrating his 57th harvest, “Uncle Bela” Fekete Bela is the grand old man of the volcano, hand crafting white wines from this basalt and mineral rich soils in the Fehervari (Cru) zone of the Somlo region of Hungary. Bela only does whites, Furmint, Harslevelu, Olaszrizling and this rare, only found in Hungary, Juhfark which is a gorgeous mineral driven terroir influenced white with bright detail and a brisk dry fresh/fleshy character that is slightly unexpected from a wine that is aged two years in cask before bottling and resting another year in bottle before release, but such is the greatest of Fekete Bela wines, they are lovely/lively and with depth and balance, achieved by listening to his vines and applying his vast experience and passion into making them glorious wine. He dry farms his grapes and uses no chemicals, all of his wines are naturally fermented with absolutely no additions in the cellar, in fact local traditions and winemaking here in the mound of an ancient volcano date back to 1093, though less commercial winemaking most likely was taking place here long before that, and tradition, in fact law was very strict concerning production and quality, back in 1752 it was written into the local law that no addition of even water was allowed, punishable by public lashings! So “Uncle Bela” is very careful to keep yields up in the vineyards to allow for careful harvests that gives more acidity to his grapes and less sugars, this seems very different to modern thought, but his wines are brilliant and stylish with layers of crisp flavors that are enhanced, not burdened by the extended time in 1200L Hungarian oak casks, similar to the Rieslings of Germany that are raised in Stuckfass. The 2012 Juhfark, looks set to be the second to last harvest for the rumored to be retiring Bela, is a beauty, more vibrant than the 2011 I last tasted, and with wonderful precision as well as subtle density and extract, it was left on the lees without batonage and the finesse shows here, allowing a rich mouth feel, but vital and vigorous.The nose is Riesling like, but showing it’s volcanic spiciness along with fresh citrus, tropical notes and tangy stone fruits, this iron/steel white feels light to medium bodied and is amazingly dynamic for it’s age, very youthful, as well as having a hint of chalk/stones, bitter herbs, white cherry, kiwi/mango, a hint of almond, delicate florals and tart lemon/lime. This is a white wine of inner energy and class, unique and with a tense of history and place, imported by Blue Danube Wine Company, the wines of Fekete Bela should be cherished while we can, drink this Juhfark over the next 3 to 5 years.
($25 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2013 J. McClelland Cellars, Petit Verdot, Napa Valley.
The beautifully purple black and garnet/ruby Petit Verdot by the recently launched J. McClelland Cellars, a new Napa Winery project by the Scotto Family who have brought two of Napa Valley’s cherished sons together to make an interesting series of limited production hand crafted wines. Old timer and Napa guru John McClelland, with a career spanning 57 years has been the prssident or GM at wineries like Geyer Peak, Alderbrook and even Almaden has joined the Scotto’s along with Napa’s Mitch Cosentino, a long time Napa favorite and native son winemaker, these two along with the talents of Paul Scotto, director of winemaking for the Scotto family and producer himself of small lot wines from old vines in the Sierra Foothills are making some really cool stuff, including this Petit Verdot and even a Calistoga sourced Charbono, all the wines are under 600 cases. The Oak Knoll District J. McClelland Cellars Petit Verdot, 90% Petit Verdot with 10 % Malbec from the opulent 2013 vintage is a rich and forward Napa wine with ripe details and sweet/smoky oak giving a decadence and clean modern density on the palate with blackberry, cherry, blueberry and currant compote fruit along with natural peppery/briar spice, floral tones, vanilla and lingering violet liqueur. This is what I remember about Mitch Cosentino’s style, lots of sweet fruit and backed up with dry spiciness, this wine tastes like if you took St. Emilion, a Mendoza Malbec and a Napa Cabernet all mixed into one wine, it shows refined, but firm tannin in a full bodied pleasing red wine, I’d say it falls a bit flat on the mid palate as sometimes the case with both Malbec and Petit Verdot in California, though over all it gives a solid experience and performance, best with cheeses and or grilled meats or duck breast. Petit Verdot, one of the Bordeaux varietals, as is Malbec are not easy grapes to grow, and it almost never is used as a single grape wine, it usually is added in small amounts to add color, floral notes and spice, but here it works pretty well, drink over the next 2 to 3 years.
($40 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2014 Domaine Antoine Jobard, Bourgogne Blanc, France.
Seriously seductive and gorgeous even now, without decanting, straight from bottle and un-chilled cellar temp. this Jobard Bourgogne Blanc 2014 leap from the glass with grace and poised intensity with white flowers, hazelnut and bright mineral detail, this is wonderful Chardonnay. Coming off four single blocks Herbeaux, En l’Ormeau, La Monatine, and Sous la Velle of organic 20 year old vines on classic clay and limestone around Meursault the Domaine Antoine Jobard Bougogne Blanc is a vibrant and stylish example of finely crafted wine, aged sur lie in barrel with beautiful acidity to match the rich leesy texture. These 2014 basic White Burgundies from Roulot and Jobard are stunning and offer tremendous value and quality, especially when you consider their pedigree and wow factor, in particular I found the Jobard a thrilling wine that maybe a bit better at this stage, if you were ever interested in what the fuss was about hand crafted white Burgundy and wanted to sample a prime expression of terroir driven Chardonnay, then you’d find all your answers in a wine such as this, Antoine has it nailed in 2014! The Jobard Bourgogne Blanc has a brilliant pale yellow/golden hue, that most certainly catch even Donald Trump’s fancy, leading to a decedent and vivid palate of crisp stony, almost Chablis like vitality with white peach, apple and lime unfolding brightly and with tangy and lengthy lemon curd, golden fig, spicy liquid mineral/steely element and mouth filling brioche/lessy note. Gaining richness throughout, but staying lively and with savory tones and saline there is a underlying brisk nature that keeps everything lifted and focused, this is poised and energy filled Chardonnay at it’s best, drink over the next 3 to 7 years, impressive to the point of obsession!
($48 Est.) 92+ Points, grapelive
2014 Domaine Duroche, Gevrey-Chambertin “Les Clos” Red Burgundy, France.
The Duroche Gevrey Les Clos is a stylish and deep red Burgundy with classic Cote de Nuits dark fruit character and even as young as it is shows remarkably well with palate density and complex vitality. This was an impressive find for Beaune Imports and one of the stars of their Fall portfolio tasting in San Francisco, I had never tried Domaine Duroche prior to this and I’ll be sure keep an eye out for them now, from what I have read, the estate has mostly holdings within Gevrey-Chambertin with a number of Village, Premier Cru and a few Chambertin Grand Cus, including a slice of Lavaut St. Jacques and Beze with the wines now being made by 5th generation winemaker Pierre Duroche, who recently took over from his father Gilles after the 2008 vintage. Pierre’s wines have, as I discovered, a sense of intensity and depth that put them in that elite group of Burgundy that demand your attention and move you with emotion, these are special wines of great class and grace, I would put them somewhere between Mortet and Armand Rousseau, which is high praise and a statement to the quality I tasted here. I tried the 2014 Gevrey-Chambertin (basic) along with Pierre’s gorgeous, but tight 2014 Lavaux St. Jacques Premier Cru Gevrey and of which I might write more about later, as well as this Village Les Clos Gevrey-Chambertin that was showing somewhat more open and expressive on the day with floral notes, spicy black fruit and subtle earthy tones. The poise and restrained tension gives the impression of controlled power and while satiny on the palate there is a good structure and grip to found in Duroche’s Gevrey-Chambertin Les Clos, it was all de-stemmed, native yeast fermented and saw about 20% new oak, pretty standard in artisan Burgundy, but the terroir and nature of place really shines in this wine and it makes an instant impact, this is serious stuff. The palate flows in velvety layers, even with the youthful acidity and tannins with black cherry, currant, tangy plum and bright raspberry fruits form the core here along with mineral and subtle earth, tea and baking spices, light wood notes, dried violets, rosewater and touch of game. Drink this lovely Burgundy from 2018 to 2030, this is a Domaine to start following, Pierre’s wines put to shame lots of wines that cost twice the price!
($57 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2014 Meo-Camuzet Freres & Soeurs, Fixin, Bourgogne Rouge, France.
An average to very good, but not great entry level red Burgundy from one of my favorite producers Meo-Camuzet, this open knit and bright Fixin gives just enough to make it desirable, though I must admit I usually have higher expectations than I really have for the less expensive Meo’s. I always just to buy a few bottles of the Meo Bourgogne, the Meo Marsannay, which is most often my choice, and the the Meo Fixin, this 2014 (and all the Meo’s) saw a pretty good price jump and a tight allocation, so I was lucky to get a basic Bourgogne and sadly no Marsannay or Fixin, but luck shined and a friend got some and shared a bottle to check out the vintage, so I got a chance to taste and see it over more than a few minutes. The Meo-Camuzet Fixin is from non estate vines and shows ripe and pure fruit, clear and vibrant with a slight edgy and earthy side, but is far less reductive at this stage than the last 2 or 3 vintages, allowing a good first impression, even though it falls a bit flat on the finish, best to give this set of 2014’s another 2 to 3 years to fill out. I can certainly see the promise of the vintage here with dark fruits, mineral tones and floral/spiciness, and being a big Meo fan I can happily drink this Fixin and enjoy it for what it is, though at this price there are other much more interesting wines out there, though maybe if I get the chance to re-visit this Fixin in 5 years time I’d find a beauty, tough to say. Pretty rose petal, baking spices, cedar and red berry fruit lead the way, leading to a core of black cherry, tart currant and forest floor with hint of grilled orange, tea, cola and anise. This light to medium bodied Pinot Noir teases with you, but never really gets to the next level leaving you with a smile, though not a big huge grin. Well made though, with silky form and vivid youthful acidity, hopefully it will gain with some time in bottle and shine in a few years, we will see, I think Burgundy collectors should invest in the Domaine offerings in the Premier Cru and Grand Cru level for this vintage, the rewards look to be bigger, even though the prices are terrifying outrageous, with the vintages and meager crops in Burgundy there is sadly not many super bargains to be had. Again, not trying to be overly critical, as this is a nice little wine that I would happily drink, but I certainly would go for Meo’s Oregon wine, the Nicolas-Jay, first given the choice, as it is far more exciting, complex and deep, especially the 2014, which I re-tasted on the same day with this Fixin.
($50-60 Est.) 87-90 Points, grapelive
2004 Weingut Mathern, Riesling Spatlese, Niederhauser Hermannshole, Nahe Germany.
Wow, what a treat this 2004 Spatlese by Mathern is, this vintage never gets old tasting and almost always over performs considering the never hyped growing conditions or media buzz, and recently I have tried some spectacular from this year, including Kruger-Rumpf and now this one, from a winery I have almost no experience with, even though it has been part of the Terry Theise portfolio and I missed when I visited the Nahe in October. Mother shares some of greatest vineyard space as the famed Donnhoff, and this Mathern Spatlese comes from Niederhauser Hermannshole, yes that Hermannshole, that wondrous site on the Nahe that everyone should speak of in the same sacred way they do about Le Montrachet or Corton-Charlemagne, this is a holy site for white wine in the same way. Okay, Mathern is not Donnhoff and comparing would not be right or fair, but this is a lovely mature Riesling of pedigree and class, showing a grey slate influenced palate and true/pure terroir character, it’s a classic old school Spatlese with exotic tropical flair and lively form that makes for a compelling example of off dry, don’t fear the sweetness, Riesling with just the right amount of sexy mouth feel and low toned acidity to charm and almost thrill you. Why have Spatlese and Auslese become dirty words in modern times is beyond me, they are gifts from God or nature if you like and joyous to experience, people need to get over it, and that is coming from a dry Riesling freak, especially when it comes to aged Riesling, you’ll be so rewarded if you stash away Spatlese and Auslese, and for what pleasure you receive they are some of the greatest bargains in the wine world… Enough preaching, either you get it or you are too stupid to convince, sort of like do you see beauty in the world or just dollar signs, and it’s okay if you are not into Riesling dry or sweet, that’s fine, but these are still some of the best wines in the world. The Mathern 2004 is very expressive and bursts from the glass instantly with floral and the mentioned tropical essences leading the way with a hint of honey and flinty spice, it’s slightly orange tinged golden hue makes you think thick and dense, while the palate feels alive and bright getting fresher with every sip. Pretty rose petal, honeydew and baked apricot unfold in this Spatlese with touches of white fig, a cherry note and wet stones as well as salted caramel, mango and lychee. This is simply a lovely and refined semi sweet wine that can be enjoyed purely on it’s own, easy to understand and with graceful richness/lush textures, but stylish enough to be not cloy, finishing with clarity of purpose and with enough brightness to hold your interest, drink now.
($35 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2015 Arnot-Roberts, Pinot Noir, Clary Ranch, Sonoma Coast.
The six barrel cuvee of 2015 Clary Ranch Pinot by Arnot-Roberts is a beauty, sometimes we forget to talk about how good the Arnot-Roberts Pinot Noir and Chardonnay are, when there is their fabulous Syrah, Trousseau and the RPM Gamay Noir around, but this last tasting with Duncan Meyers and Nathan Roberts left me mind-blown with their haunting and gorgeous Pinots. The two new releases from the tiny 2015 vintage look set to be unicorn wines and classics, both this wine, the Clary Ranch Sonoma Coast and the Peter Martin Ray Vineyard old vine Santa Cruz Mountains are fantastic terroir expressions of Pinot Noir with layers you expect from Burgundy and with elegant finessed detail, especially since they are such young wines, they are wonderfully expressive and exceptionally pleasing. Duncan Meyers also poured a special library wine from Magnum, of course it’s not available sadly, but it truly left me dumbstruck, it was a 2012 Arnot-Roberts Coastlands Vineyard Pinot Noir, seriously one of the best California Pinot Noirs I’ve ever had! And these 2015 wines are not far off and should be almost as good with a few years in bottle, in particular the Peter Martin Ray, which is more intense and nervy, needs time to develop, though it was pretty spectacular already, and this more delicate Clary Ranch should gain as well with 2 to 5 years in bottle. The 2015 Clary Ranch Pinot by Arnot-Roberts starts with loam, mineral and rose petal on the nose with a impression of blue fruits, it’s hue glows bright ruby with a garnet core before a vibrant palate of tangy cherry, wild plum and dusty raspberry fruits along with hints of earthy spices, briar elements, blood orange tea, a hint of smoke and soft oak shadings. Where this wine shines is in it’s energy and it’s mouth feel, refined acidity and silky length of flavors. The native yeast fermentations and careful sorting gives ripe/richness, but with remarkably low natural alcohol at 12% making for a lively and fresh style of Pinot that lacks for nothing in complexity and depth, lingering with strawberry, cinnamon/anise, stones and floral notes. These Pinots by Arnot-Roberts are lovely artisan wines that have reached the next level, these are serious offerings to be cherished, wonderfully pure and transparent, showing a sense of place and reserved style, patience too will be rewarded, drink from 2020-2028.
($82 Est.) 94+ Points, grapelive
2015 Weingut Spreitzer, Riesling Spatlese, Winkeler Jesuitengarten, Rheingau Germany.
Another wine I tried on my visit to Spreitzer, and the Rheingau in October of 2016, was this amazing Spatlese from the thrilling 2015 vintage, the Jesuitengarten Spatlese from a Grosses Lage and historic vineyard in the Winkeler district is a wonderfully textured and lavish white, that while sweet it has tremendous vitality and balance with a forceful and flamboyant personality. This is not a wine to fear it’s sweetness at all, it pleases and seduces complexly with a lush creaminess of texture and is lifted by extract and energy making it a great expression of upper Rheingau Riesling and a stand out for the classic Spatlese category, even without the slate impact you’d see from the Mosel, this wine shows leesy intensity and richness of detail with heighten perfume, elegant form and lingering fruity essences. The Spreitzer 2015’s should not be missed, especially the Trockens, including the amazing GG’s, but also the Kabinett, Feinherb and the Spatlese, like the signature “303” (Speitzer’s most prized sweet offering) as well as this more delicately nuanced example. Grown on sandy loam, loess and gravel the Jesuitengarten also gets unique conditions from the near by Rhein, here is where it is at it’s widest point and it creates a lake effect almost here and so the climate allows for early ripening and complete development of flavors, there is a special terroir element here, and to this spectacular former Church vineyard, that is now a prized Spreitzer monopole, their fermentations are now mostly native and in a combination of stainless and German 1200L oak casks “stuckfass” which adds to the depth, gracefulness and layering of the Spreitzer Rieslings. A sleeper in the great set of offerings from one of the regions oldest wineries, founded back in 1641, the 2015 Jesuitengarten Spatlese is a profound monument to this style of wine with a deep fruincet core and lacy acidity showing apple, lemon/lime, sweet peach/apricot fleshiness and exotic tropical notes along with an inner rosewater and jasmine perfume that you can taste and feel, not just smell, along with a fine density that never feels heavy, this is a Riesling that carries it’s sugar with pride without being cloying or vulgar, this is remarkable and posed wine that begs for another 15 to 20 years in bottle, it will certainly become legendary in time, but still thrills even now and should not be missed. Layers of mineral, wet stones, subtle brioche and spice add to the overall focus here with a touch of hedonistic sexiness of vintage making it’s presence know, but in a refined and stylishly less overt way, best to enjoy this fabulous Riesling with Asian fusion cuisine, or smoked speck, something briny/savory or almost anything with big flavors that will not clash with the complexity and sweetness in the wine. I could not hide a huge smile when Andreas Spreitzer poured this one for me at the Spreitzer tasting, and Andreas gave me a knowing smile in return, enough said, this is special Riesling that should not be overlooked!
($32 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2015 Weingut Ingrid Gross, Gemischter Satz, Braitenpuechtorff, Weinviertel Austria.
The signature wine of Ingrid Groiss is her amazing Gemischter Satz field blend white made from Chardonnay, Frühroter Veltliner, Grauburgunder, Grauer Vöslauer, Grüner Veltliner, Hietl Rote, Müller Thurgau, Neuberger, Pinot Blanc, Riesling, Roter Veltliner, Rotgipfler, Sämling, Silberweisse, Welchriesling, Wiesse Vöslauer, Zierfandler, all from a single parcel planted by her grandmother in Braitenpuechtorff, north of Vienna in Austria’s Weinviertel region not far from the Czech border. At the hands of this talented young winemaker, these 50 year old vines produce one of the world’s great traditional white wines, totally unique and totally terroir driven with depth and lively mineral character, Ingrid Groiss’ Gemischter Satz is an awesome wine and tremendous value! The 2015 has a special quality to it lead by the Gruner and Riesling profiles, and it has moments that remind you of Albarino, Riesling from the Pfalz or Foradori’s Manzoni, but honestly this beautiful and crisp white offers up an array of complexity and detail like no other wine, it’s steely, dry, salty and fresh, though deep and textured with layers of citrus (lime & tangerine), stone fruit (tart apricot and pit) and is saline infused, along with crushed rock, tangy peach, pear and melon, liquid almonds and dusty white cherries. Hints of tangerine and white flowers and tarragon add to the bright fresh kick in this wondrous Groiss 2015, it’s the almost perfect Summer wine, dry, brisk and gripping it can be enjoying even now in the Winter with pasta and shellfish, seafood stews or cured meats. This vibrant pale golden hued Gemischter Satz, with 17 different varietals, is fine and focused terroir driven stuff, delicious and tempting, drink over the next 2 to 5 years, look for this and Groiss’ Gruner Veltliner and Riesling too, and especially any of her 2013 and 2015 vintage wines!
($26 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2014 Bodegas Nanclares y Prieto, Minato da Rana, Tinto Rustico Vino de Mesa, Galicia Spain.
The Nanclares red, a wonderful field blend of mosty Mencia 60%, but with 30% Garnacha and 10% other native grapes from a single south facing vineyard of 100+ year old vines on the Minho river in the Ribeira Sacra. The vines tended by Roberto Regal are all organic and is a cooler site set on granite and loose rocky alluvial soils at 600 meters above sea level, these steep slopes have been producing some of Europe’s most intriguing red wines since Roman times and is a place very much influenced by the near by Atlantic, and I’ve wanted to try this limited cuvee since I noticed Silvia Prieto and Alberto Nanclares foot stopping red grapes on social media! You see Nanclares is in Rias Baixas and they make some of the world finest Albarino, so finding out they were crafting this 46 case production red was a thrill to discover after falling in love with their gorgeous Albarino(s) a few years back, Farm Wine and Jose Pastor Selections import their wines, but obviously there is very little to go around, I am grateful to Alex Finberg of Farm Wines for sending me a bottle from New York, as all the California allocation (18 bottles!) had been spoken for, it made for a fantastic New Year’s present, as the wine more that lived up to my huge expectations. The 2014 vintage was difficult, making what Prieto and Nanclares lovingly crafted even more rewarding and it shows in this aromatic, earthy and spicy red, it has a beautiful open palate of crushed violets blue fruits, flinty/iron mineral spice, cinnamon stick, cracked peppercorn and stylish minty/anise herb notes to go with vibrant acidity, silky tannins and dreamy texture. Plum, wild berry, tangy cherry and tart currant fruits unfold in the mouth kept in check by savory tones, saline/brine and stony details with lingering sticky lavender, earth and hints of olive. This is really great wine, and I cannot wait for the up coming 2015 version, hopefully there will be a little more to get, it was made in a traditional old school natural style with native ferments in neutral cask and raised after a month long maceration in a solo French used 500L barrel, with low sulfur and without racking, this pretty and dark unfined and unfiltered red should age well too, but so good now! While this Nanclares y Prieto Mencia based Minato da Rana Ribeira Sacra will be a tough get, don’t miss their amazing Albarino, these kinds of wines show why Galicia is with no doubt one of the most exciting growing regions on the planet, especially in recent vintages!
($60 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
nv Jacques Lassaigne, Le Cotet, Extra Brut, Blanc de Blancs Champagne, France.
Beautifully crafted and vibrant, the Le Cotet Blanc de Blanc Extra Brut from Jacques Lassaigne is a lovely and finely tuned Champagne with a brilliantly smooth mousse and crisp detail. This saline and chalky all Chardonnay cuvee comes from a single old vine parcel planted in the 60’s and on very thin tuft soil in the area of Montgueux in Champagne’s southern end, part of this blend saw neutral oak barrel aging to allow more complexity and slight oxidation while the rest is raised in tank, both on the lees and with loads of acidity. This is vigorous, brisk and vital Extra Brut, dry and distinct, but with surprising depth, richness and length with citrus, white flowers, apple and hints of hazelnut, brioche and mineral tones as well as flashes of dried honeycomb, creamy lemon curd and wet river stones. This exceptional bubbly is pure and energetic offering plenty of layers for the grower producer terroir lover, but will also turn heads of the fans of the novice of Champagne drinkers, plus this Le Cotet is a fabulous cuisine partner gaining lush mouth feel with food and exotic tropical notes when warming in the glass. Lassaigne’s Champagne is classy stuff and is in the same league of characters as Benoit Dehu, Prevost, Agrapart and Boulard, this is unique bubbly that deserves plenty of attention. Certainly one of the best and most interesting all Chardonnay wines I tried this fall, the Lassaigne Le Cotet is worth checking out!
($82 Est.) 93+ Points, grapelive
2012 Bernardo Estevez, Ribeiro Blanco “Issue” Galicia, Spain.
A brilliant, remarkably pure and stylish white that shows lessy richness and concentration, but has bright focus and intriguing delicacy of layering with mineral laced beauty throughout. This wine is brand new to me, but I’ll be watching for more from this talented producer for sure! Imported by Jose Pastor Selections, Bernardo Estevez is all biodynamic and hand crafts his wines from native varietals, the Issue is a field blend of Lado, Treixadura, Godello, Albarino and Caino Blanco y Silveirina grapes fermented naturally with indigenous yeasts and very low sulfur in true artisan fashion. The result here with Bernardo’s 2012 Issue Ribeiro Blanco is a wonderfully textured wine with vitality of energy, focus and gorgeous mouth feel on par with top white Burgundies in class, but true to it’s own terroir, similar to the fine examples made by Luis Rodriguez from the same region. In this past year, I must say Galicia, especially Rias Baixas, Ribeiro and the Ribeira Sarca, is the most exciting wine region on earth right now for both whites and reds with amazing Mencia(s) that can rival the best from both the northern Rhone and or Burgundy at a fraction of the price, plus whites like this one from Estevez, taking on Chablis, Alsace, Austria and or Germany for minerality and dynamic power! The 2012 Bernardo Estevez Issue shines with bright citrus, stone fruits and wet stones leading the way with a lovely intensity, but with graceful density, this wine charms with seductive ease showing peach, green melon, hazelnut, brioche/lees, flinty shale spiciness and creamy lime. This medium full white oozes class and opulence while retaining a crisp vigor and chalky poise. Lengthy with hints of brine and loam as well as pear and white flowers, this wine is well worth it’s not so cheap price, it’s stunning in form, performance and detail, drinking it is a thrill ride, enjoy this over the next 5 to 7 years, this is a name to watch for!
($55 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2013 Ridge Vineyards, Prmitivo, Lytton Estate, Dry Creek Valley.
The Ridge 2013 Lytton Estate Primitive is a dense and full bodied effort that while is impressive for it’s concentration and fullness it lacks for the more subtle complexity at this stage, I really should have left this one in the cellar. The second day being open things started to change and it’s real personality began to shine through with more spice and savory tones balancing out the deep fruity character and sweet oak influence, that all said, this Zinfandel made from the Italian Primitive clone is a cool wine and the addition of 11% Petite Sirah really adds an almost black/purple hue to the dark color in this expressive wine. Ridge has 5 Acres of Primitivo clone Zinfandel planted at Lytton that came from the Puglia region of Italy, they are collecting various clonal versions of Zinfandel as part of a special project to study the grape, they even have a block planted to the Tribidrag clone, Zinfandel’s true historical parent from Croatia, I can’t wait for the vines to gain enough age to allow for a single Tribidrag bottling! The Ridge 2013 Primitivo is still tight and powerful at first sip, with loads of black fruit, sweet cedar, vanilla and dill laced oak shadings and firm tannins, but with time things start to gain width and poise, though that intense Petite Sirah has a big say in the style of this wine with grip, a solid spine and mocha notes staying strong throughout, those that enjoy a bigger Zin will love this right away, those that like the classic Ridge Zins will want to hold off opening this for another 5 to 7 years in my best guess to get all that is indeed trapped in this bottle. I really got more excited on day two when a dusty plum, briar spices, tangy raspberry and loads of black licorice emerged on the palate and the oak and sweetness toned down. This is not my favorite from Ridge, but it still is very impressive and it just maybe bring rewards down the road, it is also a wonderful way to celebrate the new year and hope for the future, it was much more charming with food and would be especially good with robust cuisine and or BBQ! These 2013’s have been edgy and a bit more tannic than the gorgeous 2014’s, but I believe they will blossom with bottle age, potentially ending up in a much better place. Only 42 barrels were made of this and it was hand crafted with native yeasts from a vintage where they did a harsh thinning of the crop, gentle maceration was needed, as there was plenty of color and tannin to be had with the Petite Sirah! I bought a few bottles at the Lytton tasting room, you’ll need to ask (beg) to get it, as it was a wine club offering and not on Ridge’s normal release list, and as always the Ridge staff and experience is one of best in wine country, there is always something to learn and great things to taste, plus the view at Lytton Springs always makes me happy.
($36 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2015 Weingut Spreitzer, Riesling Trocken, Rosengarten, Grosses Gewachs, Rheingau Germany.
Spreitzer’s gorgeous Oestricher-Lenchen Grand Cru Rosengarten 2015 is already performing beautifully in the glass and is at this stage showing more expressive detail, perfume and elegance than the other GG’s in Speitzer’s very impressive 2015 Riesling lineup from the upper Rheingau. I could almost see Rosengarten in the fading light of a beautiful day visiting with Andi (Andreas) Speitzer from his tasting room, but earlier when we drove by it you could see how special this block is and this wine reflects that, the site is not far from the Rhein, which is like a lake in effect here and the mixed soils, mostly loess/loam/clay allow heady floral notes, deep fruit essences and a delicacy that seduces, especially in a great vintage such as this 2015. The beautiful Spreitzer Rosengarten GG takes this old winery to new heights, in recent vintages the wines have really taken on dynamic personalities and charm, but 2015 sees a huge jump in presence in the glass, I was always a fan and I admire Andreas and his brother Bernd very much, they are warm and energetic personalities with a hard work ethic and great sense of humor, especially Andreas, who tirelessly, during harvest drove me and walked me around his vines and cellar always with a huge smile, a beer and lots of jokes! The rich and dry Rosengarten Grosses Gewachs 2015 starts with yellow rose petal, fresh lemons, white cherries, peach and apple flesh before a full and decedent palate that shows lush density, but also vigorous acidity, saline/savory tones and wonderful length in a broad shouldered and leesy Riesling that has a hint of wood that in some ways reminds me a bit of Von Winning wines, though this white is less flamboyant in style. I must say the three GG’s at Spreitzer, the Wisselbrunnen, the St. Nikolas and this Rosengarten are all fantastic young wines that will cellar well and be legendary for Spreitzer, and even though at this stage I love the Rosengarten best of all, I can easily imagine I will find the others to catch it up in 5 or 10 years! The secondary tastes and layers that emerge from the delightful 2015 Rosengarten Grand Cru build slowly and completely seduce you with rosewater, mango, lime and compelling mineral and briny liquid stones rounding out the program. What stands out in my memory is the exotic floral detail, orange/tangerine notes and faint earthiness that accent this beauty, while brisk and crisp and mouth-wateringly dry, there is a sexy opulent mouth feel, showing the talents and focus of the winemaking, bravo Spreitzer, drink this modern classic over the next 10 to 15 years, best from 2018 to 2030. I think it is wonderfully fitting I end the year 2016 with a Riesling, for me it has been the year of Riesling, especially from the 2015 vintage and from Germany, it has been without question the breakthrough grape of the year!
($47 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2015 Arnot-Roberts, Syrah, Sonoma Coast.
Joe Roberts and Duncan Meyers are making great authentic/terroir wines and the 2014 and 2015 releases have been nothing short of spectacular from Arnot-Roberts, and especially their Syrah offerings, like this 2015 Sonoma Coast Syrah, which is detailed, vivid, textured and northern Rhone in style. Everyone is terrified to say something along the lines of Syrah is finally taking it’s place at the top of the food chain, or the it’s time it took a turn in the spot light, because of the past curse of “The Next Big Thing” that has never happened in the American wine market place, even though Syrah is quietly very successful and is a great wine in California, in particular you should try Syrah from Alban, Pax/Windgap, Lucia by Pisoni, Lagier-Meredith, Samsara, Piedrasassi, Bedrock, Kongsgaard, Stolpman, Peay, Big Basin, Epoch, Booker, Cattleya, Rudius, Sheldon, Andrew Murray and Roar to name just a tiny few of stunning wines, along with this Arnot-Roberts that craft awesome Syrah, and in fact are great values and some of the State’s best very best wines! The truth is Syrah, at every price price point, comes out as good or way better than Cabernet or Pinot in quality and value terms, so it has always been hard to understand way the mainstream wine buyer doesn’t take it, Syrah, to heart or as seriously as it deserves! This latest Arnot-Roberts Sonoma Coast Syrah is a deep and spicy example with crushed violets, minty anise, creme de cassis, wild plum, kirsch, black olive, white pepper and blackberry leading the way with hints of bitter coco, saline, camphor/embers, crushed stones and light cedar notes. This pure and lively Syrah dances on the palate with vigor, racy acidity and good depth, complexity and length in a medium full bodied wine that has refined tannins, but richness and structure to age a decade or more. This is one of the more concentrated versions yet of this wine, a blend of cool climate Sonoma Coast sites, native ferments and partial whole cluster from a vintage that had tiny yields, this is a special and very limited artisan Syrah, drink over the next 5 to 10 years, very impressive stuff. This latest tasting with Arnot-Roberts was mind-blowing, along with this Syrah and their Trousseau which are always my favorites, Duncan poured what maybe the best Pinot Noir I’ve tasted all year, it turned out to be a 2012 Arnot-Roberts Coastlands Vineyard, Sonoma Coast, with grapes he got from Ross and Daniel Cobb, sadly there is none available, but it does show the remarkable talents of these guys, I seriously would easily give that wine 100 Points! Look for these killer wines, this 2015 Syrah is a thrilling wine and will get even better over the next year or so in bottle.
($40 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2015 COS, Frappato, Terre Siciliane, Italy.
The bright and textured 2015 COS Frappato is a joyous red from Giusto Occhipinti and team, it is one of best yet in terms of clarity, pure character and stylish form. COS Frappato 2015 shows it’s terroir and roots in near perfection, it was from mainly in the Vittoria zone with the vines set into the classic clay, tufa and sandy soils, the grapes were hand harvested, native fermented on the skins and it was raised in mostly glazed cement vats, making for a wine of medium weight, lively and wonderfully fresh. The vintage gives a bit of extra pop and density which plays well in this wine, 100% Frappato with layers of red berry fruits, wild herbs, chalky/stony notes and mineral tones all melding together with nice acidity and satiny tannins. Light floral perfume, brilliant ruby color and a hint of earthy charm lead you off the line before a palate of tart plum, strawberry, raspberry, sour cherry and lingonberry fruits as well as lavender, anise and peach tea spice. This COS 2015 Frappato at first sip is simple and refreshing with lots of zesty tang, but after a minute the complexity and an array of flavors comes to life, there is certainly a slow burn reaction and it blossoms in the glass and really is a sexy and compelling wine, drink this interesting red over the next 3 to 5 years.
($32 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2015 Weingut Kruger-Rumpf, Riesling Trocken, Munsterer Kapellenberg, Erste Lage, Nahe Germany.
The seductive and vibrant dry Munsterer Kapellenberg Erste Lage (VDP Premier Cru) 2015 from Kuger-Rumpf is one of beauties I got to taste with Georg and Stefan Rumpf at the winery in October, and though I don’t think it was imported as of yet, I thought it was too good not to mention. This gorgeous Riesling was a sleeper in the lineup and as is good as the Grosses Gewachs at this stage, it is a flamboyant and powerful wine with about 13% alcohol, it has body and is briskly dry showing wonderful texture, extract and mineral with vivid yellow, white and tropical fruits. Georg Rumpf was kind enough to show me around his vines and wines during a busy day of harvest in the fall of 2016, and I was honored to eat lunch with the family and crew at the Rumpf house in Bingen, after tasting an amazing array of 2015 wines, as mentioned before I lucked out that I was visiting Kruger-Rumpf the day after Robert Parker’s Stephan Reinhardt had been there and almost all of the wines he tasted I got to sample as well! Along with 2001, 2006 and 2010 selections was this 2015 Munsterer Kapellenberg 1er Cru Trocken, and it really stood out, Georg’s 2015 are stunning, all of which deserve mention and attention, so even though I’ve chosen this wine in particular, be sure to search out his latest set of wines including his fantastic Scheurebe and the glorious Dautenplanzer(s) dry and sweet! Kruger-Rumpf made some great wines in the difficult 2014 vintage, many of which are still available and drinking great young, but Georg really hit a home run with these 2015’s are the wines reached new heights for this artisan winery in the Nahe, and the new labels look great as well. The pretty golden hued 2015 Munsterer Kapellenberg grown on a mix of grey slate, loam, quartz and sandy soils is steely and saline rich, but with heady rose petal perfume along with a rush of mixed citrus, tart apple, pineapple, summer melon, fleshy peach/apricot and mango fruits as well as oyster shell, tea spices and liquid stones. With air a density fills the palate and it has an almost tannic character, but remains pure, focused and juicy with plenty of elegant charm and poise, this is stylish dry Riesling. The Kruger-Rumpf wines are all compelling, I admire each and everyone from dry to sweet, and as I have mentioned, do not over look the Kabinett, Spatlese and Auslese wines from Kruger-Rumpf, they are truly must have wines along with these glorious dry Trockens, especially if you want to cellar some, they are also great values, considering too, they age 20 to 30 years, getting better with each year and or decade! Thanks again to Georg and his family for such a great visit, I can’t wait to return, and if you can’t find the Munsterer Kapellenberg in the states, look for the Estate Trocken and especially the Dorsheim Trocken!
($28 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2012 Alfaro Family Vineyards, Pinot Noir, Lindsay Paige Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains.
I don’t know how I missed this one in my cellar, but I’m sure glad it was there on Christmas, it was a gorgeous and thrilling wine to follow up on the Christmas meal, it had to impress, since it was coming after a stunning Vajra Riesling and a slightly dried out 1986 Chave Hermitage, and it did beautifully! Thank you Richard Alfaro, you saved Christmas with this estate Lindsay Paige Vineyard Pinot, it certainly made my night. The Alfaro estate in Corralitos, not far from Santa Cruz and Aptos, is a gem in the hills focusing on Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, though they also do a great set of Gruner Veltliner, Albarino and Syrah, taking advantage of the closeness of the cool Pacific Ocean and good exposures the wines here show a vitality and brilliance, especially this Lindsay Paige Pinot Noir, which is showing fantastic right now, but should go for 10 or more years with ease. At a click under 14% and a deep ruby hue this wine has blossomed in the bottle with silky fine tannins and mouth feel as well as exceptional purity of fruit, it’s a very classy Pinot with dark cherry, plum, dense raspberry and pretty cedary/spicy oak shadings, light mineral tones, cinnamon and tangy fennel along with lingering strawberry and currant. In some ways it feels Oregon like and has layered complexity, graceful acidity, subtle floral notes and earthy tones in the background, this 2012 Alfaro Family Vineyards Pinot Noir Lindsay Paige really hit the spot, and even though I’m already a die hard fan of Richard’s artisan wines, this knocked my socks off, and it reminds me I need to get more of his wines!
($40 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2013 Nobili, Valtellina Superiore “Sassella” Lombardy, Italy.
A wonderful experience these Nobili Valtellina’s, a great and generous sharing from a friend who bought them at the winery and carried them home to show a few friends, they are beautiful expressions of mountain Nebbiolo! Tasting through the lineup of these quality offerings from Nobili, including this pretty and intriguing Sassella, plus their mineral driven Inferno and the Amarone style Sforzato Montescale, all of these are lovely, natural and earthy with wondrous layers of flavor. I think both the Inferno and Sforzato are great wines, though might need more time, like Barolo, to develop all their detail, but young, the Sassella is just more open and pleasing with a mixed floral perfume, subtle truffle, leather and savory tones going fantastic with delicate plum, cherry and vine picked briar berry fruits. The Sassella is made from all estate grapes grown in the Sondrio area of Sassella, known locally as Chiavennasca, the Nebbiolo grapes are native/natural fermented over 20 days and raised in barrel, mostly used French oak for three years. With harvest happening in November, these long hang times add to the full and complex array on the palate with dried roses, liquid violets, red berry and wild anise in this medium bodied wine. A nice acidity, stony elements and saline also give focus and lift in Nobili’s Sassella, what a treat to taste these beauties. Clear and pure in character the Nobili Sassella Valtellina Superiore 2013 is gorgeous with cuisine and should age for another 5 to 10 years, though I adore it now!
($30 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2014 Beaux Freres, Pinot Noir, Zena Crown Vineyard, Eola/Amity, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
The Zena Crown, single vineyard series, from Beaux Freres is a wonderful example of year and place captured in bottle with glorious silky texture, light earthy/loam and deep fruit at it’s core. Usually a component part of the main base wine at Beaux Freres, the Zena Crown, was too good to be blended in, much like the Shea Vineyard has been in top vintages over the years for Beaux Freres, so was raised and bottled on it’s own. The vineyard has 48 distinct blocks and is at a pretty good slope with a beautiful surrounding of a conifer forest, it’s terroir is uniquely Eola/Amity with southly exposure, cool nights and has a loam/stony and Jory soil structure, which is excellent for Pinot Noir here in Oregon’s prime region. The volcanic iron and mineral plays itself subtlety into this fruit driven vintage with nice mixed spice and flinty notes that set off the blackberry, dark cherry and tangy plum fruits in Beaux Freres 2014 Zena Crown, along with hints of sweet leather, anise, cinnamon, peppered lavender oil and smoke adding detail to this seamless and beautiful Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, this is classy stuff from Mike Etzel and team. Brilliant ruby with an unfiltered/unfined opaque core this Zena Crown is one of the best yet from Beaux Freres non estate wines, it’s a more elegant wine than blockbuster at this stage, but should prove even better with 10 years of age, like a Burgundy (Gevrey-Chambertin especially) in many ways with a satiny core, but with hidden depth and charms, this is a wine of magical potential, impressive and well crafted, it gives just a few clues to it’s future greatness with lingering violets, rose petal, tangy currant and mild cedar/vanilla wood framing. The pieces all fit nicely together in Zena Crown, this Pinot is expressive and medium bodied with vibrant layers, it is a superb offering, just slightly under the estate wines that should go 20 years easy, and while maybe with a touch less glamour or flamboyance this wine is very seductive.
($75 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2015 Weingut Leitz, Riesling Trocken, Rudesheimer Berg Kaisersteinfels, Terrassen, Grosses Gewachs, Rheingau Germany.
My wine of the year is Johannes Leitz’s gorgeous and powerful Kaisersteinfels Terrassen Grosses Gewachs dry Riesling from the top of the Rudesheimer Berg, this wondrous wine I believe is the first ever Grand Cru Trocken from this site and is a pure masterpiece in the bottle. Drinking this wine in the vineyard was a magical experience, taking in the beauty and historical landscape while sipping on near perfection is a special moment and this Riesling is more than worthy of my complete admiration, it holds your attention like few wines can and the intensity of terroir cannot be questioned. This Leitz Kaisersteinfels in is league with the great white wines of the world, and it’s glorious liquid stone and steely mineral complexity shines brilliantly, it’s a wine that stands easily with the top Grand Cru whites from Chablis, in fact it reminds me of a Valmur with it’s brisk and flinty natural and laser like focus. The 2015 vintage sees Leitz raising his game to the next level, Johannes’ wines have always stood out in the region and his pursuit of quality is relentless, but these 2015’s are legendary wines throughout his lineup, from top to bottom. The Glorious Rudesheimer Berg Kaisersteinfels Terrassen Grosses Gewachs was just coming out of it’s austere youthful shell when I sampled it, but you knew the second it hits the palate that something remarkable has happened, it is a wine for the ages and certainly needs a bit more time in bottle to fulfill it’s massive potential, though it’s greatness and grace is plain to see already, it comes at you in a rush of vibrant citrus, green apple, white peach and spicy tropical fruits along with wet shale, liquid mineral and saline. The acidity is eye popping and the extract coats the mouth with high velocity, but with leopard like muscle, graceful and sleek, this is a wine that makes your head spin! The slate driven soils with veins of quartz and wonderful south exposure of the terraces give ripeness, but the cool nights and great airflow up here allow a slow and steady process with a later pick date and heathy grapes without noble rot, and while the Spatlese from Kaisersteinfels is amazing, this Trocken Grand Cru is jaw dropping spectacular and stunning. With air and patience the 2015 Kaisersteinfels shows savory tones, a hint of leesy richness and a dreamy background of mango, white tea, honeydew, rosewater, kiwi and tangy lime. I waiting a long time to relate my thoughts on this one, in reflection there is transparency and clarity, this is utterly amazing stuff. Bravo everyone at Leitz, especially Johannes for making such a fantastic wine, It is truly my WINE OF THE YEAR!
($56 Est.) 98 Points, grapelive
2015 Nacho Gonzalez-La Perdida, A Mallada, Valdeorras, Spain.
One of the coolest wines I’ve tried all year and a very unique amphora raised red from Spain, the La Perdida A Mallada from Nacho Gonzalez is a blend of Garnacha Tintorera (Alicante Bouschet) and Sumoll grown near Laruoco in Spain’s Galicia Valdeorras region. Gonzalez loves his terra-cotta pots and his wines are totally unique and ancient throw backs with a modern touch, everything is organic and natural from start to finish, these unfined/unfiltered wines offer a sense of Orange wine like savory elements, but remain poised, pure and beautiful in flavor, texture and length, especially his reds like this A Mallada, but his Godello clay pot raised white is also a fascinating wine as well, along with his Mencia Naranjita that I was able to taste at a special introduction event this last November with importer Jose Pastor Selections and Farm Wines in San Francisco. The 2015 A Mallada is spicy, floral and has layers of tangy/sweet red fruits as well as mineral notes, stony elements and silken mouth feel, it gets more interesting with every sip, this wine is a alive with character and is ever changing on the palate with dried roses, violets, saline and a lovely mix of cherry, raspberry and poached plum fruits along with cinnamon, anise, pepper and sticky lavender oil. There is a chalky cool streak that gives hint to the vessel used in making this intriguing red, but it is much more subtle than wood as a flavor, though the wild herb, slightly bitter stone fruit pit and game note mark the skin contact, but this is well integrated into the wine, which has ripe tannins and mild acidity that gives balance. More pretty than intense, the Nacho Gonzalez La Perdida A Mallada tinto is a really wonderful example of well crafted artisan Amphora wine, I was awed by all his wine, but this A Mallada really stood out on the day, and I can say with all honesty, you will never find this combination of winemaking and these varietals together anywhere else! Nacho’s wines are just being released into the United States and are extremely limited offerings, so they’ll be a tough get, but I highly recommend searching them out, I can’t wait to re-visit them if I get a chance.
($42 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2015 Jean-Louis Dutraive-Domaine de la Grand Cour, Fleurie Cru Beaujolais, Le Clos, Cuvee Vieilles Vignes, France.
The 2015 Dutraive Le Clos old vine Gamay is as close to perfection as you can get, but with a flamboyant and exotic flair that will scare the hell out of some people! This gorgeous and richly flavored Fleurie is much more like Scarlett Johansson than 60’s icon Twiggy, with amazing textures and an eye popping 14.5% alcohol this is a blockbuster Cru Beaujolais that will seduce every inch of you! Jean-Louis Dutraive’s all natural and biodynamic, Jules Chauvet inspired Domaine de la Grand Cour is one of the great wines of the world and this 2015 Cuvee Vieilles Le Clos is like The Guigal La La Cote-Rotie of Beaujolais with sweet ripe opulence, hedonistically sexy mouth feel and with mineral/flinty spices true to it’s pink quartz and granite schist soils. Native yeast fermented with partial carbonic and no obvious wood this wine is just wondrous in style and detail with delicate floral tones, densely packed pure Gamay character with creamy red raspberry, tart cherry, wild strawberry, tangy plum and guava jelly as well as basil/minty herb, shale/stony elements, saline rich anise along with mixed spice and candied citrus, dried violet with lingering red peach and black currant. Wow, this is something wildly special and complex, but oddly comforting and easy to love, there is the dreamy textures and succulent fruit, though subtle savory tones, liquid mineral and juicy acidity keep things remarkably balanced and focused. While sultry and darkly beautiful now this expressive Fleurie will be admired as a classic for years if not decades to come, fantastic stuff from the master Jean-Louis Dutraive, do not miss this wine if you are lucky enough to see or find it!
($36 Est.) 94+ Points, grapelive
2013 Ridge Vineyards, Carignane, Buchignani Ranch, Sonoma County.
The hillside old vine Carignane Buchignani Ranch from Ridge is a lovely and juicy deeply purple wine that smacks of old school Italian style California red with a hint of rustic charm and flowing with fruit and spicy goodness. The Ridge Vineyards Carignane Buchignani Ranch is a limited club and tasting room bottling, only 46 barrels were made in 2013, it was native yeast fermented, in small lots, with very low sulphur and aged in used barrels mostly, all American seasoned oak, and is one of the wines I also ask about when visiting Ridge at Lytton Springs and has become a particular obsession. While not as complex as the top Zin blends, this very dark and vibrant Carignane is impressive just the same and offers an intriguing array of layers with vivid loganberry, black raspberry, minty blueberry and tree picked plum fruits along with mineral notes, wild flowers, cedar, wild herbs, earthy/stony elements, peppery/flinty spices and a touch of cinnamon and dusty vanilla. This palate is round and full bodied, but there is lots of lift from natural acidity and the tannins are ripe and succulent though with just enough bite to let you know this red has a spine of structure. Ridge’s 2013 Carignane Buchignani Ranch is a great example of varietal and stylish, not over done, winemaking, and it goes great with many cuisine choices, it has enough up front fruit to handle BBQ, spicy Asian fare and just about anything else, I love this stuff! It’s great to see Carignan, the historic grape of Corbieres, getting it’s place back in California and being made into serious wine as the primary grape, you should also look for Carignan(e) wines by Pax, Signal Ridge Vineyard, Ryme Cellars, Broc and Hobo Wine Company’s Folk Machine Parts & Labor red, all of which show this grape in a brilliant way. Be sure to either join Ridge’s wine club to get this wine and other limited offerings, or beg for a few bottles at the tasting room, like I do!
($36 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2014 Domaine Roulot, Bourgogne Blanc, France.
The new 2014 Roulot basic white Burgundy is a brilliant and stylish wine with real depth of character and steely mineral intensity, it is easy to love and admire. Jean-Marc Roulot makes some of the greatest wines in the region and his Meursault(s) is legendary, but not many know that this basic Bourgogne Blanc is all from Meursault and from organic 30 to 40 year old Chardonnay vines set on the classic clay and limestone soil, it certainly makes this cuvee a sweet deal, especially in a stunning vintage like 2014! Made in the same way as all the top Cru wines the Roulot Bourgogne Blanc is fermented in wood vats and is raised in barrel for about a year, with up to 20% new oak, then rested in stainless tank for seven months before bottling. Roulot’s style is vital and brisk with good strong acidity and vibrant detail, but his wine do see lots of lees contact and some batonage to add richness and mouth feel and this 2014 Bourgogne shows the fine balance and grace these wines have with lovely crisp mineral, white flowers, hints of brioche, but with saline chalkiness and cool freshness. The wine is vivid and bullet proof, I enjoyed in over the course of three days and it never lost it’s energy or tension, while still being wonderfully generous in substance, this is very impressive Chardonnay that shows layers of classic apple, lemon, white peach, hazelnut and lime blossom as well as light wood notes, savory flinty wet stones and a touch of melon and golden fig. While there is potential for aging here, this is an almost quilt free wine to open young and enjoy the pure Meursault goodness that flows into the glass, okay, it’s not cheap, but conceding what you get these days for $50 in Burgundy, and the wines pedigree, this is a steal!
($50 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2015 Weingut Nigl, Gruner Veltliner, Senftenberger Piri, Kremstal Auistria.
The warm vintage shines through here without taking anything away from the electric energy and bright mineral character in Nigl’s lovely and stony Gruner Senftenberger from Kremstal not far from the Danube west of Vienna. These slopes provide for some of the best values in dry white wines in Europe as well as some of the most intriguing, I have always been a big fan of Nigl and usually opt for the basic light entry level offering, but this Senftenberger is so good and almost exotic in nature that I could not resist. After an amazing year in 2013, Austria had a slight slump with the 2014 vintage with wines that just didn’t reach the expected highs, but wow, you got to love the juicy and forward qualities of these 2015’s that have an extra depth and density that really sets them apart. This 2015 Nigl Senftenberger starts with vibrant citrus and white flowers, tropical notes, salty stones and a hint of minty Asian herbs as well and a touch of almond oil. This vital and vigorous white unloads a forceful rush of flavors on the palate with nice intensity and medium body, a bit richer and less severe than the sublime 2013’s, but more pleasing and generous in profile with white peach, lemon/lime, a hint of quince and mango with tangy crispness and subtle tart finish that is mouth filling, but mouth wateringly dry and refreshing. This steely Gruner is really impressive and should be explored with cuisine, drink this over the next 3 to 5 years, though there is no reason to wait!
($30 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2013 Bernard Baudry, Chinon Rouge, La Croix Boissee, Loire Valley, France.
This Baudry Cabernet Franc is not showy or flamboyant, but amazingly pure and shines with an inner gorgeousness of detail, terroir and depth, this Chinon is for Loire Cabernet Franc lovers, it’s a stunning example of varietal and place, it just knocked my socks off completely. The 2013 La Croix Boissee Chinon by Baudry is surprisingly from younger vines, all organic from a hillside plot of Cabernet Franc on clay, limestone and sand, all southern facing for the best exposure, it was fermented in wood tanks with 24 months in 1 to 3 year old barrels. This unfiltered Cab Franc is very dark in the glass with deep garnet hues and opaque at the core, it starts with an earthy nose of loamy notes and subtle violet perfume with dusty red and black fruit with a medium bodied vibrant palate of black cherry, wild plum, tangy raspberry and cranberry fruits as well as tar, anise, chalk and mineral. The tannin is ripe and silky, but drying and a touch tart, so be sure to have with food, this beauty will stay mostly hidden without cuisine to bring out it’s full charm, seductiveness and personality, this Cabernet Franc from Baudry as the same kind of impact as a young Barbaresco or Roero Nebbiolo gives, this is serious stuff, focused and high strung now, but should entertain for years to come. The lightness of the finish, which lingers with lavender, cedar, bell pepper and kirsch, suggesting there is most to come in a few years time in bottle, the acidity is still strong and needs to full resolve, but with food everything changes for the better here, that’s when the magic happens and this wine hits it’s best notes, without question a stellar effort and classy Chinon.
($44 Est.) 92+ Points, grapelive
2015 Stolpman Vineyards, Para Maria de Los Tecolotes, Santa Barbara County.
Stolpman’s vineyard manager Ruben Solorzano has a en eye for great vines and grapes, this Para Maria, a mostly Syrah and Petit Verdot blend is sourced from vineyard sites he knows outside of the Stolpman estate and is a tribute to Ruben’s wife Maria, who also oversees and takes care of the crew at harvest. This wine, a collaboration between the Stolpman and Solorzano families, is a beauty with an exotic and sexy nature, highlighting the full and expressive vintage that was 2015, it was about 93% Santa Barbara Syrah and 7% Paso Robles Petit Verdot, it is similar in character and style to the La Cuadrilla, but unique as well with plenty of plummy fruit, mixed spices and ripe tannins. The 2015 Para Maria starts with hints of violets, camphor/embers, cracked peppercorns, sticky lavender and racy red fruits before turning darker on the palate with dense boysenberry, tangy black currant, plum and sweet cherry fruits along with red pepper flakes, zesty cinnamon, anise seed, Thai basil and bitter chocolate as well as blueberry and earthy notes. Opulent, deep and lively throughout, this Para Maria is an extremely fun and interesting wine, it has the authentic charms of Stolpman and influence of Sashi Moorman, Stolpman’s winemaker, though with it’s own thrust of flavors and soulfulness. Enjoy this wine with friends and food over the next 3 to 5 years, best with simple and rustic cuisine, grilled meats and or mushroom dishes. You have to admire people making great wine from their heart and that give back to the people that help make all the magic happen, bravo Pete Stolpman and especially Ruben Solorzano, this is wonderful stuff!
($23 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2014 Anthill Farms, Pinot Noir, Peters Vineyard, Sonoma Coast.
Another wonderful and stylish Pinot from Anthill Farms, the latest 2014 Peters Vineyard, is really showing well right now with bright fruit intensity and charm along with mineral tones and vibrant spiciness. This is pure class from the Anthill Farms gang and highlights this cool climate and terroir driven site that is planted to an interesting mix of clones including Pommard and 777, near Sebastopol these 30+ year old vines always ripen late and have a wonderful marine/ocean cool influence. This unfiltered, brilliant ruby Pinot Noir intrigues from the start with a lightly perfumed nose of wilted rose petal, wild fennel and tangy red berries before an entry of vine picked raspberry, vivid cherry, pomegranate and tart plum fruit as well as tea spices, blood orange zest, red peach flesh, saline and dusty stones, finishing with a touch of cedar, cinnamon and dried vanilla. This wine fills out on the satiny palate to a beautiful medium bodied Pinot Noir, seamless and lingering with delicacy, detail and complexity. These 2014’s are sexy wines that look to surpass 2012 and 2013 with time, they just seem and feel so good, it’s hard to imagine that you could do much better, but Anthill Farms always deliver, check out all of these well crafted artisan wines, and without question get this Peters in particular, drink from 2017 to 2026.
($56 Est.) 93+ Points, grapelive
2013 Dunn Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley.
Wow, what an awesome wine, this 2013 Dunn Napa Cabernet is close to perfection and is a throw back to the early 1990’s in style, I would say it is a lot like 1992 or 1994, a pure classic in every detail! The Dunn Napa is a blend of valley floor fruit and Howell Mountain grapes, and this 2013 is missing nothing in terms of structure and style with Dunn’s estate Howell Mountain bottlings, it will be interesting to see these two side by side, but for the price of the Napa, which is far below it’s main rivals, this wine stands out as a killer deal, this and Cathy Corison’s 2013 are tremendous wines and maybe the best values in Napa Valley for the vintage! The 2013 Dunn Vineyards Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley ha that particular great wine feel and presence in the glass, it is a wine you can certainly stash away in the cellar for 25 years, but a wine that gives you it’s pleasures even in it’s youthful stages, in fact I was blown away at just how gorgeously it was drinking right now, sampling from an non-decanted bottle it was magical and opulent in form, even with Dunn’s legendary structural tannins, Randy and his son Mike can really be proud of this one. Dunn, also known for not allowing for alcohol intrusion, has this vintage at 13.9% on the label, making for it’s polished and balanced feel, but don’t let that fool you either, this is a powerful and full bodied Cabernet with plenty of depth and force. The 2013’s are a less edgy than 2012 with wonderful mouth feel, layers upon layers of fruit and haunting length with seamless textures, and this Dunn Napa delivers this with stunning verve and grace, it shows blackberry, rich currant/cassis, liquid violets/acacia flowers, minty/licorice, peppery/sweet tobacco leaf, hints of smoke, mineral, earth and cedar. With air you get black plum, wild sage, vanilla and blueberry as well, this well crafted Cabernet Sauvignon is firm and muscular at it’s core, but even it’s coating of fine tannin allows beautiful fruit detail and hedonistic lavish side to show through, this is everything you’d ever want and more, drink from 2018 to 2032.
($90 Est.) 97 Points, grapelive
2015 Nanclares y Prieto, Albarino “Dandelion” Rias Baixas, Spain.
The Alberto Nanclares and Silvia Prieto Dandelion Albarino is their village wine from multiple plots of vines around Cambados in the Rias Baixas, it’s beautiful and vigorous briskly dry Albarino that is a great introduction into the house style at Nanclares. This 2015 is wonderfully detailed and vital with lots of saline, stones and mineral character, but with expressive citrus, stone fruit and cool melon making for a vibrant and expressive example of varietal and terroir, it was wild yeast fermented from old school pergola trained vines between 30 and 60 years old, unfined and unfiltered raised on it’s lees for a year, and saw no malolactic fermentation and no oak. The granite and sandy soils and Atlantic sea breezes influence this organic beauty making it ultra traditional and acid driven, but with a gorgeous leesy character and fine craftsmanship shinning through, this small production artisan Albarino has the form and tension of a trocken Riesling, though with a pure Galician flair, this is a wine of the Ocean and pairs perfectly with seafood, white fish, posters, mussels, claims and more. The slightly golden opaque 2015 Dandelion bursts from the glass with bright mixed citrus fruit and flowers, a hint of rose petal, mini orange peel and bitter herbs, white peach, crisp melon, grapefruit, lemon/lime, beach shells, wet stones, chalky savory brine plus doughy brioche all race at you on the nose and palate in this delicately detailed and light bodied wine. This vintage of Dandelion is incredibly impressive and savvy Albarino, especially for the price, without question Nanclares is one of best finds in Rias Baixas, I absolutely love this stuff!
($24 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2010 Chateau Bel-Air, Pomerol, Red Bordeaux, France.
The vintage shows through here without question, a great year makes this lovely Pomerol a terrific value and wonderfully textured wine from Chateau Bel-Air. This dark and full bodied Pomerol hits all the right notes and does so with class, vitality and verve showing beautiful detail and complexity in a forceful, but elegantly pure Merlot, this is really seductive stuff in the glass, holding it’s own against far more expensive labels with ease and poise. The rich layers of fruit, mineral tones and sweet tannin give decadence and refined structure, highlighting Merlot’s promise in a world that sometimes lacks the respect of this often maligned varietal. Chateau Bel-Air has captured in the bottle the right bank’s charm and beauty in this 2010, it shows terroir, with subtle loamy/earth, plummy dense mouth feel and stylish silken length with a wine that has the potential to age another 10 to 15 years, but is pretty darn good right now too. The lead off here is dark floral tones a hint of smoky cedar and black cherry fruit with blackberry, plum, dark kirsch liqueur along with a touch of mint, dried clay, a touch of cigar wrapper and vanilla. This fine Bordeaux delivers well beyond it’s price and is wonderful with food choices that range from duck breast, lamb, roast pork, wild mushroom dishes to prime rib, and or any comforting winter fare really, and it can also be enjoyed with cheeses or on it’s own. This is the kind of wine that brings you back to Bordeaux, and certainly makes you wonder why you don’t drink more Merlot, drink this Chateau Bel-Air Pomerol from 2016 to 2028.
($35 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2015 Envinate, Garnacha Tintorera, Albahra, Vinos Mediterraneos, Almansa Spain.
I only just reviewed the 2014 vintage a short time ago, but this 2015 was so impressive and expressive I just had to include it in this months lineup of wine of the day! This Envinate 2015 Albahra Tinto is made from organic head-trained Alicante Bouschet (known as Garnacha Tintorera in Spain) that are about 30 years old, grown at about 800 meters near the town of Albacete in the Almansa region. Almansa is very Mediterranean influenced with sea breezes, hot days and cool nights, especially at this elevation, located between the cities of Valencia and Alicante. The soils here are chalky with ancient clay and calcareous in nature giving this juicy fresh red a hint of mineralite and bright acidity with soft refined tannin, the grapes are Fermented 50% whole cluster in concrete using native yeast and then raised in cement vats for 8 months with very little added sulfur. Envinate is the team of winemaker friends that wanted to work together after college, and though they now are talents in their own rights, they continue to craft artisan small lot wines under the Envintage label, this group includes Laura Ramos, Jose Martinez, Roberto Santana and Alfonso Torrente and they make wine from the Canary Islands all the way to the Ribeira Sacra. This 2015 Albahra Garnacha Tintonrera is dark, fruity and spicy with a zesty vibrant snap to it, it purely expresses the form of Alicante Bouschet, one of the few red grapes that actually has red juice itself inside the berry, it is a hybrid varietal that was created from the crossing of Grenache Noir and Petit Bouschet and is found in Spain, as well as in parts of Italy and California, it makes for a rich and spicy wine with zingy acids, like in this Envinate. This fun and flexible red has a garnet/purple hue and starts with peppery black fruits, a mix of dried and fresh picked flowers with loganberry, dusty plum and racy/tangy currants leading the way on the medium weighted palate, this is a red that doesn’t mind a slight chill on it and goes with many foods, mussels in spicy tomato broth, pastas and paella especially, as well as picnic and BBQ fare. This vintage gives some extra throughout, it is rather exotic in style with a riper, but not heavier feel with subtle anise, poached cherries, cinnamon stick and even some guava jelly and crushed raspberries. Less earthy than the 2014 version, the 2015 is my favorite vintage of this wine, imported by Jose Pastor Selections, this and all of the Envinate wines are worth exploring, great stuff!
($20 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2012 Chateau Pontet-Canet, Pauillac Grand Cru Classe Bordeaux, France.
The Tesseron’s Chateau Pontet-Canet is truly amongst the best wines of the world and unique, since they took over this estate in 1975 the family has led the quality of this Pauillac to it’s greatest heights, and it has always been a wine I’ve admired for it’s sense of place, power and presence. For me the Pontet-Canet 2000 and 2001 might just be the wines of the vintage and were some of my greatest young Bordeaux experiences, especially the 2001, which for me rivaled any of the first growths, and while I love Angelus 2000, the Pontet-Canet blows away the 2000 wines of Mouton and Lafite from the same area! Now, it is harder for me the justify the purchase of Pontet-Canet with the current prices, though when I do splurge this one is near the top of my list, along with Ridge’s Monte Bello and Meo-Camuzet Vosne-Romanee, that said, this 2012 is a remarkable value considering the prices of 2009 and 2010 versions, as the level of quality here in the 2012 is almost to that standard! When you judge this wine against Joseph Phelps Insignia, Opus One, Harlan Estate, Lafite, Latour and or Mouton then this wine from Pontet-Canet really does stands out for the price, and this 2012 offers up everything you’d ever want from a Bordeaux and more with layers of opulence, richness and terroir detail. The Tesseron’s have gone all biodyaminc, are using cement vats or concrete amphorae with clay/dirt that comes from the estate and use less new wood than their neighbors to achieve a pureness and a style that allows their wines to stand out, and it does. The make follows the planted vines, there is about 62% Cabernet Sauvignon, 32% Merlot, 4% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot in the blend, though Cabernet Sauvignon is the main thrust and focus and it obviously takes center stage in this wine much in the same way as Chateau Latour, which Chateau Pontet-Canet most resembles in my opinion, though with slightly less smoky oak influence. The 2012 Pontet-Canet is deeply purple with a black core and garnet edges, opaque and dense in the glass, it needs decanting at this stage and I recently tasted from thee separate bottles, all of which performed beyond my expectations, it shows wonderfully integrated black and red fruits, firm, but fine tannin and glorious length and flair. The palate is thick, but divinely graceful with earthy complexity and pumps out blackberry, dark currant, plum and black cherry fruits as well as loamy earth notes, mineral tones, licorice, sweet tobacco leaf and black olive along with a haunting crushed violet and cinnamon spice. There is some bitter coco, smoky vanilla and cedary wood shading, but they really add to the overall pleasure and don’t intrude on the balance and form of this Bordeaux, this is elegant, poised and beautifully crafted stuff, racy, sexy and soulful, it brings back my love of Bordeaux in a rush of hedonism, this full bodied and expressive Pontet-Canet should go for 25 years or more with ease, though can be enjoyed young, best from 2018 to 2032.
($160+) Est.) 94+ Points, grapelive
2015 Alfredo Maestro, Garnacha “El Rey del Glam” Spain.
Coming from two select plots of organic vines near his home in Penafel, Alfredo Maestro’s El Rey del Glam 2015 is a wonderful and easy to love Grenache done in a fresh Carbonic juicy style. Set in the Castilla region not from from Madrid, these vines, one block from Navarredondilla and the block in Penafiel get long warm days and cool nights, making for decedent ripe flavors, but with enough acidity to keep these fresh, and Maestro in this wine is looking for fun and lighter refreshment. The soils here are perfect for this wine with veins of granite, clay rich and with a calcareous backbone giving the wines perfume, spice and mineral tones to go with the density of the fruit from the heat of the summers here, which also favors Garnacha, like it does in the southern Rhone. The 2015 El Rey del Glam is flamboyant and fruity, as it’s label suggests! Got to love Alfredo’s playfulness with this succulent Garnacha, it shows red raspberry, pomegranate and fresh picked strawberry fruits as well with the carbonic candied cherry in the background along with a light dusting of cinnamon, pepper, gravelly stones and flinty earthiness. With air, best to serve this almost Beaujolais like red a touch chilled, it opens open on the nose with floral detail and hints of licorice and tangy currant. This all natural, stainless tank raised, native yeast fermented Garnacha saw no SO2 (sulfur) added and is made for early and often drinking, it is the most complex and impressive vintage to date of the El Rey del Glam, and is wonderfully enjoyable. Drink now!
($22 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2015 Francois Chidaine, Montlouis Sur Loire, Clos du Breuil, Loire Valley, France.
The latest Chidaine Chenins are wonderfully open, opulent and vibrant expressions of place and varietal, from the warm 2015 vintage these wines show a richness without losing their vibrancy and vitality, especially charming and compelling is the Montlouis sur Loire Clos du Breuil. Chidaine, certified biodynamic is a follower of Nicolas Joly, but with a more hedonistic style, his wines always seem to have a bit more raciness and body, in particular this Clos du Breuil always feels luxurious, textured and exotic, though vigorous with energy and mineral tones. Grown on Silex and clay soils, the Clos du Breuil is from vines between 40 and 80 years old, it was hand harvested and native yeast fermented and then raised in a combination of stainless vats and neutral (used) demi-muid French oak cask, it’s a Sec or Dry style that is given to gracefully layers and subtle aromatics. This 2015 really does it all with stunning length and detail, it shines bright, golden in the glass with light white flowers, citrus notes, peach and flinty/chalky stones leading the way with a touch of tropical notes and good density without being heavy, there is none of the honey and hay character you can find in Montlouis wines here, this Clos du Breuil focused, succulent and pure with delicate steely liquid mineral and a hint of quince and key lime. These 2015 Chidaines are lovely and impressive wines, some of the best I can remember with this Clos du Breuil Montlouis leading the way, drink over the next 5 to 10 years.
($32 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2015 Weingut Joh. Jos. Christoffel Erben, Riesling Spatlese, Urziger Wurzgarten, Mosel Germany.
From steep slate slopes above the Mosel, the Urziger Wurzgarten is one of the world’s greatest vineyards, and Robert Eymael is one of Germany’s best winemakers, and his crafts these J. J. Christoffel wines from ungrafted 100 year old Riesling vines, if there ever was a doubt about terroir these wines remove it, there is no question the places marks these wines. The glorious and exotic 2015 Christoffel Spatlese Urziger Wurzgarten is mind-blowing in it’s complex delicacy and dreamy layers, this is another wine that goes beyond it’s must weight and sugar, this is a true classic and inspirational Riesling with gorgeous detail and heavenly transparency with layers of refined fruit, spice, savory/saline elements, subtle density and graceful length that put this Mosel in league with Willi Shafer, Selbach-Oster and the top crus of Loosen. I’ve long been a fan of the J. J. Christoffel wines and of Eymael, who also has the famed Monchhof winery, these are some of the most exciting Rieslings every vintage, but with 2015, you get an even more special vintage and wine, especially this one in particular, as it has extra depth in every area and plays to an inner beauty and lightness that sets it apart. The Wurzgarten is dramatic in location with intensely steep slope face perfectly to catch the sun and reflection off the Mosel and it has that spicy slate base, but with bright red iron rich volcanic top soil that gives the wines a burst of exotic spice and tropical flavors. The Joh. Jos. Christoffel Erben by Eymael 2015 Spatlese Urzier Wurzgarten shines gold in the glass and is wonderfully perfumed with rose petals and gardenia as well as middle eastern and Asian spices along with a steely mineral core that lifts the palate that shows fine and brisk acidity, but also a smooth almost satiny mouth feel, this what you get from the sugar rather than aggressive sweetness, along with dreamy lime blossom, green apple, white peach, tangy apricot and pineapple fruits. The finish is full and lively with amazing clarity and persistence, it’s hard to imagine a better young Riesling with this much verve and character and it’s poise, balance and texture are remarkable with just the perfect amount of hedonistic creamy sweetness, this wine is stunningly seductive and really sexy, drink it over the next 15 to 20 years, it’s amazing now, but has even more potential holding in reserve, best not to miss this one!
($35 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
nv Benoit Marguet, Shaman 13, Rose Extra Brut Grand Cru Champagne, France.
Benoît Bonnerave is making some fantastic Champagne from his family holdings, mostly in Ambonnay, but with some parcels in Avize and Bouzy, he took over in 2009 and has gone down the natural and all biodynamic route with a claimed no sulfur winemaking. The family has had an up and down time in the region, at one time they went completely out of business selling to Henriot, before slowing building up again and mostly recently they had to sell off a huge chunk of vineyards to Krug to make ends meet, but Benoit looks to have things running smoothly and his wines are getting the attention they deserve, especially exciting is his Shaman lineup and in particular this Shaman Rose. The Shaman 13 Extra Brut Rose Grand Cru is all from the 2013 vintage and is made up of mostly Chardonnay with a little Pinot Noir for color, it is rich and lavish in mouth feel and decedent in style, but with riveting form and energy, it has almost zero sugar and still it feels full bodied and lavish with loads of brioche, steely mineral, hazelnut, light strawberry, citrus and bright cherry layers. The fine mousse and remarkable length bring out bread dough and beautiful delicate floral details in this Champagne, this is extremely stylish bubbly for the price. These Shaman Marguet Champagnes really show a finessed touch and offer really fine character and while I was stunned by this Rose Shaman 13, the Shaman 12 Extra Brut is also a lovely Champagne full of flavor and elegance, both are ultra compelling and worth looking out for.
($60 Est.) 93+ Points, grapelive
1993 Ridge Vineyards, Monte Bello, Santa Cruz Mountains.
At 23 years old the 1993 Ridge Monte Bello is shockingly fresh and youthful, after having this wine a few times in the late nineties and that last time about 10 years ago, it was amazing where this wine is today, I think it must be the best wine from the vintage and maybe the most underrated or overlooked of the Monte Bello, squeezed between the fantastic vintages 1991, 1992 and the ultra glorious 1994, but it certainly has gorgeous sibling years to compare to, and over time I think it has, if not equaled them. 1993 was an odd year, in Napa the pigments were not quite right for the Cabernet and many thought the wines were not as deep or complex, but honestly I found them wonderfully true to varietal and lovely, Caymus didn’t even do a Special Select that year and put all their best juice into their regular Napa bottling, which I drank many of happily, even without the deepest color these wines were solid. That said, Ridge high above Cupertino in the Santa Cruz Mountains did not suffer from any such issues, but back then if Napa had problems the whole vintage was down graded, no matter where you were in the state, so some of these 1993 wines never got the credit they deserved, and that certainly is true of this beautiful 1993 Ridge Monte Bello, ten years ago I tasted it along side 1994 and 1995 with winemaker Eric Baugher, and while the 1994 is and was a masterpiece one of California’s all time legends, the 1993 was very very close to it! Today, or yesterday Dec 5, 2016, tasting it at Ridge from Coravin, it was true stunning in every way with vibrant detail and length, showing purity and class, the deep garnet hued 1993 was 86% Cabernet, 7% Merlot and 7% Petit Verdot and was 12.9% Alcohol, it has a real Haut-Brion feel about it with layered elegance and medium/full density showing blackberry, dusty plum, cassis and red cherry fruits, hints of smoke, dark floral notes, cedar and loamy earth as well as mineral tones, tobacco leaf, sage and black licorice lingering with vanilla, blueberry and briar spice. I was blown away at how young it still tasted, vivid and with firm, but supple tannin, this was really an exceptional bottle for sure, but anyone that has this wine still cellared away is going to want to drink it, it is stellar right now, though it should, if like this particular bottle, last another 10 to 15 years easy! It is always a pleasure to taste at Ridge, and to time travel, I’m grateful to everyone at Ridge for a magical winter Monday experience.
($185+ Est.) 96 Points, grapelive
2015 Weingut Kruger-Rumpf, Riesling Kabinett, Munsterer Rheinberg, Nahe Germany.
The delicately sweet Kuger-Rumpf Munsterer Rheinberg Kabinett is pure and classic Riesling, but with the lovely markings of this great vintage that shows in complexity and charm throughout this pretty wine, and throughout the whole Kruger-Rumpf lineup. Sitting at Kruger-Rumpf with Stefan Rumpf in October of 2016, while Georg, his son, rushed around the cellar overseeing grapes coming into the winery and taking a moment to play with his infant daughter, I got to take my time and admire the whole range of wines here and got to see the transition behind father and son with my own eyes and with my palate as I sampled wines and enjoyed their company. The Kruger-Rumpf winery located in Bingen, where the Nahe flows into the Rhein, is one of my favorites and I have long been a fan of the authentic and traditional wines here, and I love where the style and focus of the current releases, especially these 2015 Rieslings, which look set the rise the bar for what we expect from Kruger-Rumpf. The 2015 Munsterer Rheinberg Kabinett is a very serious example of terroir drive, mineral loaded Riesling that has a light semi-sweet body that makes for a wonderfully pleasing wine and balanced with elements that hide the sugar level, but allows for a generous fruity character that goes great with various cuisine choices. This Munsterer Rheinberg from very steep slopes and with veins of quartzite and sandy loam shows a forward personality, but has a core of energy and intensity that really gets your heart pumping, and this wine wears it’s origins on it’s sleeve with a bright golden pale hue in the glass and sexy yellow fruits in the mouth with layers of green apple, peach, lemon/lime and yellow roses starting you off along with saline rich stones, steely mineral and exotic tropical notes. With a bit of time in the glass it opens and expands with refined creamy detail without losing it’s vitality and verve, this is a sleeper in the Georg Rumpf’s lineup and well worth searching out, for those that need more intensely dry should look for Rumpf’s Binger Trocken, it’s a killer value as well, but for flexibility and grace this Munsterer Rheinberg Kabinett is the real deal! I love this vibrant and refreshing Riesling, it will only get better too, drink from 2017 to 2028.
($20 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2013 Luciano Sandrone, Nebbiolo d’Alba, Valmaggiore, Piedmonte Italy.
This polished and modern Nebbiolo has the Sandrone touch and textured mouth feel showing Barolo like character and elegant refinement with some flair. Not your cheapest example of Langhe Nebbiolo, that’s for sure, but certainly a pleasing wine of stylish charm, solid density and length. The Valmaggiore is from a vineyard in Vezza d’Alba, which is in the Roero zone, and is formed by the continued sandy, loamy and marl based soils of Alba as found in Barolo, it was native yeast fermented in small lots, only hand sorted de-stemmed grapes, using stainless steel open top vats with soft maceration and gentile extraction then aged in used large 500L French oak cask for 12 months before being rested in bottle for another 9 months. And even though I might go for Vajra’s Albe Barolo, Davide Rosso’s Giovanni Rosso Barolo and Oddero’s Barolo first in this price range, I really did enjoy this wine and it’s presence in the glass and would certainly recommend it for those looking to explore the Roero wines and for those that want a wine that shows it’s best younger than most, it’s also a great gateway wine to Sandrone’s top crus and with all the classic qualities that make Nebbiolo such a special grape. There’s no question the Sandrone is all about quality and finesse and this lovely 2013 Valmaggiore Nebbiolo d’Alba drinks with the grace, vibrancy and depth of a premier cru Burgundy with pretty details, light perfume, delicate mineral tone and a long persistent finish in a smooth/savvy medium bodied and satiny wine. The 2013 Sandrone Valmaggiore starts with hints of dried violets, rose oil, vanilla, porcini, leather and wild anise as well as poached plum, kirsch, raspberry and earthy tar notes along with flashes of bitter coco and balsamic dipped strawberries. I would not kick this out of my cellar, there is lots to admire here and if I’m honest there are many more true Barolo or Barbaresco that don’t deliver this kind of class for far more dollars, so in many ways it’s price could be considered a value, and I do appreciate the passion and craft behind it’s making, it’s a solid and lovely Nebbiolo, drink from 2016 to 2021.
($50 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2014 Brown Estate, Zinfandel, Napa Valley.
Located in the remote eastern hills of Napa Valley in the Chiles Valley, Brown Estate is one of the best Zinfandel producers in the state and this 2014 is a gorgeous wine that should win over a whole new legion of fans, it might be my favorite since the 1997! David Brown and his family have now 20 years under their belts making top Zinfandel and a tiny amount of Cabernet Sauvignon, and Brown deserves serious celebration and credit for the triumph of passion, hard work and love of place, Brown’s success is a reflection of all that is great in California and should be cherished, they are great people, making great wines. The 2014 Zinfandel, Brown Estate, starts with beautiful purity of fruit, spice and floral notes with loads of dense raspberry, plum and juicy currant fruit, sweet/ripe smooth tannin and bright briar, Asian spice and anise with a mineral streak and a hint of cedary vanilla laced oak. This richly flavored Zin has impressive mouth feel, lavishness, but is refined, not heavy or flabby, it’s lively and well crafted with focus, drive and balance allowing poised detail and distinct character the shine through, this is wonderful Zin. This Brown 2014 reminds me of a fine Chateauneuf du Pape in style and pleasure, though true California Zinfandel in nature. Brown joins Turley, Bedrock, Ridge and Biale at the height of California Zinfandel and this 2014 looks to go down as legendary, I think most people will absolutely love this vintage and drink it up now or young, but I think it has a voice that lasts and it, like classic Ridge, should age beautifully, getting more interesting and complex over the next decade. Bravo to Brown for 20 years plus of great Zin and to the future, drink this 2014 Estate Zinfandel from 2017 to 2028.
($40 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2013 Monteprloso, A Quo, Toscana Rosso, Italy.
Fabio Chiarelotto’s Montepeloso, located on the Tuscan Coast near the famed Tua Rita, has become one of the most interesting and enchanting wineries in the region with biodynamic and terroir driven wines. This area has reached critical mass with an amazing selection of wines and winemakers, it all started with Sassicaia and then Ornellaia, but with Tua Rita, Le Macchiole, Aia Vecchia and others this is one of the most prestige areas in Italy, and Montepeloso is right up there with the best. Having met Fabio a few years back, you could see the intensity of his vision and his passion for wine and crafting the best possible expression of place, and his wines certainly have their own style and charm, especially in his base entry level wine the A Quo, which delivers rich detail and texture with delicacy, earthiness and unique character. The A Quo is a blend of Montepulciano and Cabernet Sauvignon mostly along with small amounts of Sangiovese, Marselan (A cross between Grenache & Cabernet Sauvignon) and Alicante Bouschet. The A Quo 2013 is a wonderful and refined red with blueberry, briar spiciness and subtle earthy tones showing plum, wild raspberry, mulberry and currant fruits as well as hints of leather, tobacco leaf, mild cedar, a mix of baking spices and anise. The grapes are expressive and the impact on the palate impressive with good ripe tannin, polished acidity and good length, grown on ancient clay and silex soils the wine, aged 4 months in used French oak, shows the warm of the region along with the Maremma coastal influence that gives the wines it’s terroir and quality. The Wines from Grosseto to Bolgheri on the Tyrrhenian Sea are some of the world’s best, they mix ancient Etruscan grapes with classic French varietals as well as others to create unique and iconic labels, with Montepeloso joining that elite set. Drink this warm vintage 2013 A Quo IGT Tocana Rosso over the next 3 to 5 years, and also look out for Chiarelotto’s top wines like his Gabbro and Nardo, these are incredible wines.
($25 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive