2016 Rochioli, Pinot Noir, Estate, Russian River Valley.
This Estate is a blend of their many different vineyard sites, seventeen percent Little Hill, thirty-three percent Sweetwater, twenty percent West Block, twelve percent Big Hill, twelve percent East Block and six percent River Block. This full bodied wine possesses the typical Rochioli character and the Classic Russian River Valley charm. Aged in French oak for 15 months this 2016 isn’t as sweet/oak as the 2014 and 2015 wines were, in fact this beautifully detailed 2016 shows a beautiful balance and a certain level of restraint that is very appealing, though pure Rochioli through and through, it gives a sexy performance in the glass and should just get better still with more bottle age. The Estate Grown 2016 Pinot Noir starts with a sleek sweet smoky entry and flowery nose before popping on the palate with energy and bright detail, it’s mouth filling, but not heavy with pretty texture and lovely length showing pure Russian River fruit with black cherry, plum and spicy raspberry along with vanilla, blood orange, minty herb, tea notes and cola bean. It is vivid and vibrantly expressive Pinot Noir that lives up to it’s reputation and is wildly and riotously hedonistic, while still be well focused, after a day of being open it reveals a denser sensibility and rich, impressive still as the acidity holds and keeps things racy, it does not disappoint, best to hold for 3 or 5 years.
($62 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2016 Morgan Winery, Pinot Noir, Tondre Grapefield, Santa Lucia Highlands.
The single vineyard Morgan Pinots are incredibly textured and wonderfully expressive wines, these 2016’s especially, made by Sam Smith are gorgeous with lovely depth of character and generous on the palate, easy to love young, but with the stuffing and structure to age well for a decade with this Tondre Grapefield being my favorite at this stage, it’s gifted with racy flavors and a spicy intensity. Smith’s arrival has really given Morgan a kick up in quality and an added dimension to the complexity, the wines seem more finessed, less overt and with a great balance between open expressiveness and a drier feel on the palate, his whites are just as charming too, it’s great time to re-discover Dan Lee’s Morgan Winery, a Monterey classic, their latest set are maybe the best set I’ve tried from this label since Joe Davis’ days at Morgan. First of all, over the years I’ve been not enthusiastic about Tondre, so it is really saying something for me to like this one, I have been humbled and will have to eat a bit of crow here, as Morgan’s Tondre is the real deal, and this 2016 made from mix of clones including Pommard is damn good and very pretty with layers of dark fruit, chalky stoniness, herbs de provence and subtle oak shadings as well as an inner bouquet of liquid roses. The 2016 Tondre Grapefield starts with a sexy mix of smoky sweet oak, dark flowers, black cherry, brambly spices, minty herbs, mineral and a hint of forest floor earthiness, it’s a forward and opulent expression of Highlands that feels full and rounded, but with a lift of life with a fine cut of acidity and a touch of briar laced tension to keeps things interesting, it will be exciting to see how this one ages, it’s got a youthful fruitiness covering it’s natural tannin at this early stage of it’s journey, it will be one to watch/follow. As with all the limited or single vineyard wines, the grapes start with native yeast ferments and care sorting and de-stemming with cool macerations and gentile handling with a good dose of new French oak up to 50%, they usually see about 10 months to a year in barrel, all of which add up to a fine example of the region’s best qualities and character, right up there with Roar and Lucia!
($64 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2015 Cellars 33, Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast.
The Cellars 33 Pinot Sonoma Coast is a pretty example of California Pinot Noir with nice ripe flavors and smooth textures, only 175 cases were made, making it a small production value, it was crafted from two sites one off Westside Road in the Russian River Valley and Hummingbird Hill off Taylor Mountain, a cooler site that gets the Petaluma Gap breezes. Fresh, and medium bodied, John Fones make a treat in this 2016 vintage, this edition has blended from a barrel selection and only saw neutral French oak with modest alcohol, at 13.9%, it’s got a sweet cherry and plum palate with layers of spice, subtle floral tones and satiny textures. Opening up to round red fruits, this is one of the best editions of Cellars 33 to date and I really like the restraint and lovely softness to be found, it gathers some structure and depth with air, but it’s strength is it’s feeling of lightness. Cellars 33, based in San Francisco is a micro winery that turns out quality stuff, you’ll also want to check out their new Pinot Noir Rose, it’s a unique pink that gives full Pinot fruit expression and bright tangy detail, crafted from one of California’s most prized Santa Lucia Highlands Cru sites along with some Sonoma Coast fruit, this is the best yet for Fones Rose and will be a fun Spring bottle.
($30 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2016 Halcon Vineyards, Pinot Noir, Oppenlander Vineyard, Mendocino County.
The incredibly perfumed Oppenlander Pinot Noir from Paul Gordon’s Halcon Vineyards, crafted by winemaker Scott Shapely (Of Roar) is a true cool climate wine of delicacy and length, coming off the clay rich soils of the ultra west Mendocino County, this hillside vineyard is dry farmed and own rooted with clone 115 plus a bit of Pommard, it’s a gorgeous and youthful expression that will certainly gain with time in bottle. Brilliant ruby/garnet with vivid magenta edges the 2016 Oppenlander shows fresh details and a touch of sweet/smoky oak with an intense floral range throughout along with a light/medium palate of earthy dark fruits, spice and mineral tones, it’s has lots of vitality and inner brightness filling the mouth with black cherry, plum, blueberry, rosewater, cinnamon stick and snappy herbs plus a hint of mocha. This has a bit of Morey-St.-Denis about it, it’s almost crazy pretty, but with a racy/edginess from the 35% whole cluster, it’s also a wine of silken class with a low natural alcohol refinement, this stuff gets much better with air, filling out with a lovely textural personality and even more layering as well as gaining a savory side to compliment it’s beautiful fruit and flowers opening. Halcon Vineyards really is rocking right now, all these new releases offer immense quality and drinking pleasures, with this native ferment Pinot Noir being one of the best, it saw just 20% new French oak and needed no adjustments for acids or PH, allowing this 120 case production, unfined and unfiltered wine to show it’s more pure form, best to give it about a year more in bottle to develop, best from 2020-2026.
($38 Est.) 92+ Points, grapelive
2015 Theopolis Vineyards, Pinot Noir, Yorkville Highlands, Mendocino County.
The Theopolis Vineyards Yorkville Highlands Pinot Noir, which was over seen by the talented Ed Kurzman, who has made Freeman, August West and Roar wines, has plenty of stuffing and richness to impress with the vintage’s ripe concentration on display, but with smooth textures, soft tannins and a dense mouth feel, it’s easy to love and will be a wonderful early drinking Pinot. This cool climate wine has a poised feel, in fact it’s quite opulent and decedent with juicy red fruits and polished French oak on point with sweet raspberry, plum and black cherry fruits, wild flowers, vanilla, a hint of lavender and a touch of briar spiciness. While most known for their wildly good Petite Sirah, these Pinots are showing extremely well and should not be overlooked, Theodora Lee has really created a distinct set of wines and her winery is one to follow, each of this latest set of wines has a sense of grace and are full of California warm and up front flavors, immediately approachable and with a joyous hedonistic appeal. Only 110 cases were made of this ripe, 14.4% alcohol, native yeast ferment Pinot Noir, it is starting to hit it’s sweet spot, but should provide nice drinking pleasure for the next five plus years with ease.
($42 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2017 Ian Brand “Le P’tit Paysan” Rosé, Pierre’s Pirouette, Central Coast.
The new release of Pierre’s Pirouette Rosé from Ian Brand’s P’tit Paysan is a very Corbières, it reminds me of the Kermit Lynch imported Domaine de Fontsainte Gris de Gris a lot, it’s a bright dry pink that is vibrantly refreshing with a generous energetic palate of zesty fruits, spice and stoniness, this year saw a savvy Rhone varietal blend of 48% Grenache, 43% Mourvedre and 9% Cinsault making the cut here, and it’s wonderfully fresh, dry and very French in style. Brilliant in it’s delicacy and vitality with a pale kiss of pink the new P’tit Paysan Pierre’s Pirouette Rosé shines in the glass and thrills the palate with a classic brisk profile of pretty rose water, wet rocks and faint spices along with a core of sour cherry, racy citrus, strawberry and watermelon as well as a touch of seductive texture without any weight, it’s perfectly judged lingering with a touch of mouth watering acidity, chalk, dried Herbs de Provence and a Grenache (balanced fruitiness) heavy charm. There’s so much to like about this P’tit Paysan line from Ian Brand and team, these are exceptional values and serious wines, it’s hard to see another set of wines in this class for the price, they are enjoyable in every way and deliver total quality, complexity and playful fun, especially this wonderful pink wine that promises to be one of the bargains of the Summer.
($19 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2015 Cameron Winery, Pinot Gris “Rouge de Gris” Orange Style Wine, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
In an ode to Radikon, John Paul has crafted an American orange wine that gives a new twist on an ancient style of skin contact wine from the Willamette Valley. Made for centuries in Georgia, this fashion of skin contact white has been revived in western Europe, especially in the remote northeast of of Italy, near the Slovenian border, in Friuli where you find the savory weirdly dry wines made by local legends like Gravner, Skerk and the mentioned Stanko Radikon, who Paul tributes this wine to, after his death in September of 2016. Stanko’s wine were the ultimate pursuit of naturalness, they are unique and often brilliantly complex, to achieve his goals and without the use of chemical additions he looked to the ancient Georgian techniques of long skin contact and amphora, though Radikon also uses neutral cask as well, as does this Cameron, extended time on the skins in white wines leads to intense dry palates with wildly savory notes and a yellow/orange/pinkish hues, (Pinot Gris is very dark skinned and gives a bit more intensity and pigment during maceration) it is believed the skins add extra protection against spoilage and added antioxidant benefit. In recent years many natural wine producers around the world have been experimenting with orange wines, some adding refinement and sophisticated class to the category, wines by Elisabetta Foradori, especially her classy and very pretty “Fuoripista” (also made of Pinot Grigio) and Frederic Niger (of Domaine de L’Ecu) come to mind. Otherwise it is a style that mainstream wine drinkers avoid like the plague, brave is the new world winemaker that tries to craft such weirdness, and with that we’ll explore John Paul’s version. First thing you’ll notice is the deep ruby reddish color, it’s like a light Pinot Noir in hue in the glass and the flavors are more pretty than raw with a slight savory element, it’s dry and crisp with a nice textural mouth feel leaning on tart cherry, strawberry and with the impression of red apple as well red peach, a touch of nectarine fruits, a light dusting of spices, earthy notes, grilled/dried citrus, mineral and saline infused wet stones. Some orange wines, while interesting are not easy to love or often joyous to drink, but the Dundee Hills based Cameron’s medium bodied and ripely flavored Rouge de Gris is intriguing and very enjoyable, it can be used to great effect as an alternative to a serious Rose and will go well with a range of cuisine, and for those that have had and like Foradori’s skin contact Pinot Grigio from the Alto Adige, then this will be an exciting wine to try too.
($33 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2017 Bonny Doon Vineyard, Picpoul, Beeswax Vineyard, Arroyo Seco, Monterey County.
The latest Bonny Doon Picpoul, the 2017 vintage, is a beautiful white wine, where the 2016 was refreshingly zippy, this version has the added benefit of textural charm and depth without losing it’s focus or verve, it takes California Picpoul to the next level with it’s vibrant citrus and white orchard fruits, mineral tones and beautiful mouth feel. Picpoul only has a few champions in the new world with Tablas Creek in Paso Robles (maybe the first) and Gramercy Cellars in Washington State being the best I’ve seen so far, but Randall Grahm’s version is absolutely great, maybe the best out there, it has the energy and zip of it’s old world cousins of Picpoul de Pinet in the Languedoc, though taking on it’s California personality in it’s best possible way, taking on a denser sense without being heavy and a more defined fruity palate while still being wonderfully brisk and dry. Picpoul is a fabulous food wine, it goes fantastically well with our local sea food and produce, it’s grape that also plays a minor role in some Chateauneuf du Pape Blancs, adding acidity and life to those marvelous wines. Randall’s 2017 Bonny Doon Vineyard Picoul has a bit of that old world character in it, it starts with pretty white flowers, salty stones, before opening up on the light to medium bodied palate that delivers a seamless array of white peach, wet shale, lime, kiwi and smooth green melon as well as a hint of spring garden herbs. This is a brilliant wine, with a Mediterranean like charisma or sensibility, it joins a vital selection of thrilling dry Alt-White varietal wines from Monterey County, like Grenache Blanc, Roussanne, Riesling, Malvasia, Gruner Veltliner and Albarino, all of which are amazing values and offer distinct flavors that a give joyous Spring and Summer drinking experience. Bonny Doon’s white wines don’t get the the credit they deserve, they are serious bottlings and they deserve your attention, especially their amazing Le Cigare Blanc, in particular the Reserve, one of California’s great treasures, the 2014 is simply and utterly gorgeous, and this Picpoul, it’s a ridiculously good white wine that has a nice play between tension and lushness at a bargain price.
($18 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2017 Joyce Vineyards, Dry Riesling “Alluvial Fan” Monterey County.
One of Monterey’s most serious dry alternative whites, Russell Joyce’s Alluvial Fan Monterey County Dry Riesling is bursting with intensity, energy and vigor, I doubt many would guess where it’s from, it shows what careful farming and winemaking can do with this varietal in California, impressive for it’s exceptional mineral focus and savory tones, this 2017 is simply excellent and well made white wine that deserves your attention. Joyce recently showed off their 2017 Rose, 2017 Albarino and this vivid 2017 Dry Riesling, all of which I’ve tasted and rated outstanding, the vintage was looking good, but these certainly rise above the norm and look set to be stars this Spring and Summer, all are modern clean with vibrant brisk details without any hint of sweetness or opulence, these are austere wines that sizzle with acidity and stoniness, especially this Alluvial Fan Dry Riesling, which flows with precise and lean form, it’s crystalline and clear with loads of lime, sour peach, green melon and basil/herbal essences along with that bracing acid, mineral steely/racy grip and wet stones. This is pure and stingingly crisp Riesling, refreshing and full of lift, it’s got plenty of extract and picks up texture as it warms adding rosewater, a hint of bacon fat, saline/brine and white cherry notes, this is not your granny’s Riesling! Joyce’s whites including his Tondre Chardonnay give a nod to the classic old world versions, but are all California in personality and unique in style, the future of California whites is looking better and better, Joyce joins a new generation that are taking chances and making thrilling wines, this group includes Ian Brand (La Marea & Vocal), Tatomer, Arnot-Roberts, Scribe, Ryme, Stirm, Lepe, Wind Gap and others. Joyce’s Riesling is due out soon and so grab a dozen oysters and or spicy crab when you get it, it’s a mouth watering joy in the making.
($22 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2010 Chateau La Vieille Cure, Red Bordeaux, Fronsac, Grand Vin de Bordeaux, France.
Wonderfully open, this Merlot based Bordeaux really over delivers for the price, it’s a true classic in styling from a great vintage, if you can find any of this stuff you’ll be well served to grab it up, I was wonderfully impressed with it’s depth and complexity as well as it’s round mouth feel and dark character. Grown on the chalk and clay, La Vieille Cure is mostly Merlot with a touch each of Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, all the grapes are de-stemmed and maceration lasts about a month before fermenting in stainless, then raised in barrel where it finishes malos. Fronsac in a vintage like 2010 is way under valued and while not as desirable as Pomerol, it’s a great place and terroir for structured Merlot wines, this La Vieille Cure is a beautiful example, it’s not a blockbuster or flashy wine, but a well crafted Claret that shows solid layers of ripe dark fruit, mineral and possesses opulent textural charm with deep color and flavors, leading with a cedary and floral bouquet with a palate of blackberry, mulberry/currant, blueberry, tobacco leaf, kirsch, sage/herb and faint graphite/loaminess. This wine has a nice tannic core, but graceful, giving pure detail and length, adding minty anise and dusty plum notes to the whole, framed by well judged oak shadings, things get even better with air as it gains a full bodied impact. What’s not to like? This is why we still love a good Bordeaux, especially a wine like this Chateau La Vieille Cure, and I’ll be interested in the 2014 and 2015 versions too, as the release price is only $24, this 2010 is a savvy cellar choice, it has plenty of life left in the tank, best from 2020 to 2025 easy, I really should have got more.
($40 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2014 St. Innocent, Pinot Noir, Freedom Hill Vineyard, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
Mark Vlossak’s brilliant 2014 Freedom Hill Pinot is bursting with minty rose oil, bing cherry and mineral tones, this bright and gripping wine is absolutely everything you’d want from an Oregon Pinot, in fact it’s very Volnay like in the glass with racy fruits, earth, spice and intense detail, I already want more! Coming off the replanted northern block, exclusive to St. Innocent, this young vine Pinot shows the quality of it’s Coastal Range terroir with a mix of Wadenswil, Pommard and 777 clones on ancient sedimentary soils, it’s a very different site than let’s say the Jory soils of Dundee and the warm days add tannin to the skins while the cooler nights add to the vibrant acidity, all of which add up to a complex and firmly structured Pinot Noir and in this 2014 vintage it is the best of everything, making it a stunning example of Willamette Valley Pinot. To capture the pureness and vivid nature, Vlossak chose to used all de-stemmed grapes, fermented in cold lots in stainless steel then raised in 27% new French oak for 16 months, ending up with bright flavors and with vintage influenced heady 14.2% natural alcohol. Mark Vlossak founded St. Innocent in 1988, he is in the generation that brought Oregon to world attention along with Ken Wright, Mike Etzel (Beaux Freres) and John Paul of Cameron, his wines aged gracefully and are wonderful values when compared to the other wines at this level, especially in a vintage as good in Oregon as 2014 was! This 2014 Freedom Hill, with it’s ruby/garnet hue looks beautiful in the glass, delivers black cherry, plum and wild strawberry fruits on the medium bodied palate along with rose petals, mineral, subtle spearmint/tea spices, earthy loam and a touch of vanilla, everything is tightly wound, but well integrated with an exciting lightness of texture, this is a seriously good Pinot that has years of life and progression ahead of it, I see great potential in 5 to 7 years, though I just love it’s youthful thrill and intensity of form right now. Last year, I had the 2000 Freedom Hill and it was fantastically fresh and showed almost no decay or age at all, so while this vintage is from younger vines, the terroir quality is certainly there, I will be getting a few more bottles myself! Note: I got my sample from Vinopolis Wine Shop in Portland, they have a special $29/bt offer as of Feb 2018.
($38 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2015 Domaine Julien Cecillon, Saint-Joseph “Babylone” Rhone Valley, France.
Wonderfully expressive and pretty from the get go, this 2015 Cecillon Saint-Joseph shows Syrah in it’s purest form with terroir shinning throughout, it’s a lovely expression of vintage and place with detailed blue fruits and seductive floral and spices bursting from the glass in a deeply colored wine that oozes sex appeal. This is where the magic of the Northern Rhone happens, this Saint-Joseph gives and earthy impression before revealing sweet violets, plum, black cherry, blueberry and subtle cassis notes as well as minty anise, peppercorns, light oily olive, crunchy flinty stones and a faint hint of blood/game. Well made and medium bodied there is a warm ripeness to the palate and freshness of youth to enjoy in this new vintage of Cecillon, it’s an old school wine that takes it’s clues from the year, this is an impressive effort and I highly recommend it, it has everything you’d want from this region and a bit extra. There is an attractive focus and vitality here and with air things get better and better with more richness, length and robust nature with a touch of fig, boysenberry and leather adding to the complete picture, this is a wine that invites you to sip again and again, I think I’ll need a few more bottles! Look for a solid window of fabulous drinking here, I love that you can really dig into it right now too, best guess would be a 3 to 5 year wait, but it should go a decade with ease, very nice stuff.
($38 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2017 Ian Brand “La Marea” Albariño, Kristy Vineyard, Monterey County.
The La Marera Albariño, coming off a unique bench land vineyard that is set on the broken sediment of ancient sea beds with some shales, it’s a site that brings out an inner brightness and mineral intensity, but with an extra bit of hang time that allows full flavor development with low natural alcohol, and Ian Brand’s 2017 is near perfection with an added dimension that reminds me more of Pouilly-Fume than Galicia! The 2017 La Marea Albariño is bursting with vitality and old world (read Loire Valley Sauvignon Blanc) like charm to start with intense gooseberry, lemon/lime and dusty chalkiness, Brand gave a small amount of skin contact and used no malo, this I believe adds to it’s gripping personality, it also shows an earthy tone, as well as a righteous steely edginess, this is wonderfully complex for such a light and youthful wine, though with air in the glass things get back to the varietal character with white peach, green/bitter apple, sea breeze/briny and wet river rock and a mouth watering saline and citrus finish. This cooly crisp Albariño really goes it’s own way in this vintage, it makes for a nice counterweight to Joyce’s ultra brisk/clear version and Richard Alfaro’s leesy round style, with all three being exceptional examples of California Albariño, all would be admired by the best producers of the Rias Baixas, Albariño’s historic home. Monterey’s whites are getting their grove on in recent years, and there’s a lot to discover beyond Chardonnay, especially Albariño, along with the gorgeous white Rhone inspired offerings like Randall Grahm’s Le Cigare Blanc and his Bonny Doon Picpoul, both of which rock, as well as the dry Rieslings of the region, look for Joyce Vineyards and Stirm Wines. Brand is continuing to create a masterful lineup of wines and is one of the central coast’s top guns, his new P’tit Paysan Pierre’s Pirouette Rose is also a must have Summer wine and do not miss his amazing Cabernet Franc(s), Cabernet Sauvignon and old vine Mourvedre under his I. Brand & Family label, along with his sexy old vine La Marea Grenache, in particular the new 2015 Brosseau, all of which are great bottlings. This whole cluster pressed and cold fermented Albariño is an electrically charged white with verve and playfulness, it is seriously a thrill in the glass with it’s vitality and complexity, again with a start that will fool and seduce with that extra layer of Sancerre like character with a tiny hint of flinty, cat pee, wild herbs and pretty white flowers all making subtle appearances in this lovely and refreshing dry wine that begs for goat cheese(s) or fresh fish (both raw and delicately cooked), a great pairing for oysters and mussels as well, drink now and often.
($24 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2012 Fattoria Rodano, Chianti Classico DOCG, Castellina in Chianti, Tuscan Red, Italy.
Set on Castellina’s limestones soils, the Rodano Chianti Classico is believed to be 100% Sangiovese from their certified all organic vineyards, it is a pure old world red, crafted using all native yeasts and long maceration(s), up to 22 days with hand punch-downs then aged 15 months in large neutral Slovenian oak cask or Botte. The 2012 vintage was warm, with a resulting ripe flavor profile and a natural alcohol coming in at a heady 14.5%, but good for the typically acidic Sangiovese allowing for rich textures and a fruit forward profile, not as big as the 2013, a warmer year, and more pleasing than 2011 and the bad 2014. The ripe personality is balanced by this Sangiovese’s natural acidity and savory charms with layers of black cherry, plum and raspberry fruits, minty herbs, pipe tobacco, cedary wood spices and dried flowers as well as a touch of mulberry, mineral and chalky earth. There is a Tuscan warmth that flows through this pure Chianti that is unmistakable and beautiful, it makes you crave more and transports you there, this is a wine that casts a terroir spell that is impossible to resist, it is in a great place right now and is joyous with rustic cuisine, it craves simplicity and rewards your attention with a stellar performance in the glass, more bottles needed, drink now, not a long termer, but splendid now without question.
($24 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2013 Matarromera “Granza” Tinta de Toro, DO Toro, Spain.
A ripe and modern styled Toro made with all organic grapes, this Granza is 100% Tinta de Toro (Tempranillo) and marketing for those that want value and certified organic grapes, mainly for the US market it delivers on it’s promise if not overly inspiring, it’s a very quaffable dense red, not light mind you at 15%, it is inline with the region’s mainstream pretense. The Granza Toro delivers full flavors and richness without obvious oak, this is a near perfect organic choice for bistro drinking with a deep garnet/red hue and layers of blackberry, cherry and currant fruits with sweet tobacco, anise and a plummy mouth feel. The ripe and warm flavors are comforting and you don’t feel the heat of alcohol, it’s caressing texture helps and subtle earth and floral tones come through with air, though not great or intriguing, this wine is very nice, especially for the price, you don’t often find an organic wine in this price class that offers this much palate impact and opulent body, or one that shows such poise, refinement and clarity. Imported by Natural Merchants and sold through Mountain People’s Wine Distribution, this Matarromera Granza Toro is one of an array of solid organic value wines they bring in, it’s my favorite of the set I tried along with their Granza Verdejo ($12.99) a wine that will make you rethink buying that bland Pinot Grigio or Kiwi Sauv Blanc, while this Granza Toro is a much more interesting choice than most in it’s category, drink now.
($15 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2016 Vincent Paris, Syrah, VDP Collines Rhodaniennes, Northern Rhone, France.
The unbelievable price only makes me want a case or more of Vincent Paris’ Selection Vin de Pays des Collines Rhodaniennes Syrah, while you don’t want to miss his steep slope Cornas wines both the 30 and 60, this Baby Syrah certainly will entice you with it’s Northern Rhone purity and ease of use. This 100% Syrah, tank raised red comes from all young vine Crozes-Hermitage vines, it’s also all organic, Paris destems this bright and fresh cuvee to make sure it is wonderfully drinkable young. The vines are set on alluvial soils with large stones galets roulés, which retains extra heat to add to the ripening of the grapes, and even in a cool year makes for a pleasing wine, this one comes in at about 12.5% allowing full flavors to shines through. Delightfully bright and lighter in body this all stainless steel raised Syrah way over delivers for it’s cost, thanks Vinopolis Wine Shop in Portland Oregon for turning me on to this one, it compares well with the Chave Selection stuff and while not as edgy as Clape’s Vin des Amis it’s half the price! There is ripe flavors with boysenberry, plum and racy cherry fruits, light mineral tones and some cinnamon and peppery notes to start, gaining a bit more width and earthy tones with air, certainly impressive for such a bargain, it’s a wine that gives you a lot more than you expect for the price, drink now.
($14 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2016 Boon Doon Vineyard, Grenache “Clos de Gilroy” Central Coast.
Randall Grahm’s Syrah “Le Pousseur” ($26) and Grenache “Clos de Gilroy” ($20) are two of the best deals in California wine, especially their current releases, seriously delicious, detailed and well crafted these two wines rock and deserve your attention. In particular, this 2016 Clos de Gilroy is in a great place right now, it is wonderfully and exotically perfumed and complex in form with great balance and very Mediterranean in style with a warm ripe nature and pleasing Grenache purity. The Clos de Gilroy, unlike the name would suggest, comes from two sites within Monterey County, Alta Loma in Arroyo Seco mainly and Rancho Solo near Soledad, making for an opulent red wine that stands out for its deep floral bouquet and round palate, it, without question way over delivers for the price, Grahm and team absolutely killed it in 2016 for this wine. Quite dark for a modern Grenache with a lovely garnet/ruby core and hints of bright magenta this Clos de Gilroy has lots of fruits up front and clearly displayed with sweet raspberry, strawberry, plum and pomegranate filling the mouth with a touch of pepper, briar, cinnamon stick, chalky stones and kirsch that all add to the classy presentation found in this expressive Grenache. I have enjoyed this wine in the past, but this seems to have raised the game and might be a tough act to follow up on, Grenache is on the rise in California with wonderful offerings coming from almost every corner of the state, but you should not miss this one. This visit with Randall Grahm at his awesome tasting room in Davenport, just north of Santa Cruz, was great follow up to my visit last Spring, there is always something new to explore here, this time also I re-discovered Grahm’s staple Grenache and Syrah (2013 “Le Pousseur” and this 2016 “Clos de Gilroy”) both of which excelled and over performed, plus I got to taste the brilliant young vine 2015 Popelouchum Grenache (Rayas Clone), which I was thrilled to finally try as only a half barrel was made, as well as an amazing set current releases including the 2014 Bien Nacido X-Block Syrah, 2015 Old Telegram Mourvedre, 2012 Cigare Volante, 2010 Le Cirgare Blanc Reserve and the gorgeous 2017 Picpoul! Grahm’s whites and reds on equally brilliant, I would be hard pressed to pick a favorite, even though I think the 2014 Le Cigare Blanc Reserve is one of the best white wines made in California! The Bonny Doon Vineyard Clos de Gilroy is a medium/full bodied sexy Grenache that should not be missed or overlooked, again I was deeply moved and impressed with Randall’s wines, with this one drinking shockingly good.
($20 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2012 Cantine Fratelli Guidetti, Boca DOC, Piedmonte Italy.
Filippo Guidetti’s lovely and pure Boca DOC is made from 85% Nebbiolo and 15% Vespolina, it’s a detailed and classic Alta Langhe (Northern Piedmonte) red that is crafted in traditional fashion. Guidetti employs cool fermentations in wood vats before the wine is transferred to barrel for the malos and aging, there is a very all natural feel to his wines and the Nebbiolo really delivers a classic punch without being overly tannic or tartly rustic, it’s rather pretty and the Vespolina adds floral tones and delicate fruitiness, mid palate roundness to the whole. A wonderful expression of Boca and a wine that keeps changing in the glass, much the way you love in a good Burgundy, it starts with clear fruit and subtle rose petals leading with cherry, strawberry and wild plum along with hints of hosin, fig, menthol and anise, but gaining truffle, leather and earthy dimension with air allowing it’s Nebbiolo character to unfold and take control in this wine. Maybe not at the Level of Le Piane, one of the region’s most successful producers and maker of exceptional wines, but Guidetti’s are lovely efforts and this 2012 is a great value Boca and a real quality red. Imported by Balanced Selections Imports, Filippo Guidetti is a small authentic winegrower that crafts very transparent, generous and vital Nebbiolo wines, I’ve been pleased and impressed with his recent offerings, especially his 2010 and 2012 Boca DOC’s, I recommend getting to know this area and Guidetti, this 2012 is a great place to start, it is a wine that highlights traditional style and terroir and will drink openly and well for a decade, though solid and joyous right now too.
($29 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2014 Domaine Johann Michel, Cornas “Cuvee Jana” Rhone Valley, France.
The 2014 Johann Michel Cuvee Jana Cornas is a big and meaty wine with a forceful personality and real palate impact showing depth, purity of fruit and lots of earthy charm. The vintage was a touch difficult, but this 100% Syrah is not missing much, it’s got stuffing and purpose from start to finish with gripping tannins and bright acidity holding everything together, it’s chewy and dense showing blackberry, boysenberry, tangy currant and damson plum fruits with an array of herbs and spices along with leather, flinty stones, porcini and fig paste as well as snappy peppercorns and black licorice. Swirling reveals crushed violets, kirsch and a touch of smoke, and while rustic in character things are well put together, though robust and simple cuisine brings out the more pretty side of things here in a wine that certainly has an edgy quality. I would swear after a few minutes you can feel a stemmy note, making me think there was some whole cluster, and being new to this producer I would think there is a traditional approach in the cellar. It’s much less stemmy than Thierry Allemand, but not as exciting or beautiful as Domaine Lionnet, one of my personal favorites, still if you like earthy/raw Northern Rhone Syrah, this is one to search out! Imported by Balanced Selections, Johann Michel is a master at heavy bottle packaging, this Cuvee Jana certainly looks the part, this 2014 should prove useful for many years to come, nothing if not impressive.
($50 Est.) 92+ Points, grapelive
2017 Joyce Vineyards, Albariño, Cedar Lane Vineyard, Arroyo Seco, Monterey County.
The new release of Joyce Albariño is an electric shock of fresh intensity and vitality, this is an awesome crisp and zesty Summery white that has some serious crunchy minerals and extract, it saw a lengthy cool fermentation in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks, then raised on the lees in 50% stainless steel barrels & 50% seasoned well used small French oak barrels up until it was bottled. Vibrant and crystalline with mouth-watering saline infused stoniness this is a bravely brisk wine that refreshes the palate and thrills for it’s vigorous nature, perfect for the warm Spring and hot Summer ahead, Russell Joyce and team at Joyce Vineyards are making some marvelous wines, with three new bright and dry wines getting released, this beauty, plus a dry Rose, that I wrote up last week and their bone dry Riesling Alluvial Fan, all of which are irresistible and dynamically fresh. This 2017 Albariño is itself almost like a Trocken Riesling with laser like focus and youthful charm it shows unripe green apple, tart citrus, quartz rock, grey sea salt and snappy herbs, it’s a steely white that will play well with briny dishes and lighter cuisine, especially oysters, mussels in spicy wine broth and marinated octopus. This ultra clean, brisk low alcohol, acid driven and zippy white is one of the best yet of unexciting group of local Albariño offerings and well worth getting multiple bottles or cases, it gains gentile Lime/orange blossom, delicate florals, loam and white peach elements with air and subtle leesy notes, yummy stuff, drink now and over the next year or two.
($22 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2016 Cellars 33, Grenache Blanc, Clay Station Vineyard, Borden Ranch, Lodi.
The all organic, Bookish farmed, Grenache Blanc from John Fones at San Francisco’s Cellars 33 is a fresh, but medium/full bodied dry white wine that rocks the Southern Rhone style, it’s surprisingly fresh and lively considering it’s from Lodi, an area that gets its share of snobbery (prejudice), but can be brilliant at times. Fones made sure of retaining vitality and acidity by night picking and whole cluster pressing on site to keep from any lag time that might lead to oxidation. This is a ripe wine none the less, but not overly so at a respectable 13.7%, it was picked at about 23 Brix, so it’s in line with Chateauneuf du Pape Blanc and wines from northeastern Spain, where this wine gets its inspiration. Just 100 cases were made, 4 barrels, of the Cellars 33 Clay Station Grenache Blanc, with 4 months of aging in used French oak, which allows the vibrant orchard stone fruit and citrus fruit to shine through with just enough texture to lure Chardonnay fans away from their buttery cougar juice, okay well, maybe not, but this is a very nice white that has a solid feel and density without being too heavy, leaning on bosc pear, white peach and lemon/lime fruits with a hint of chalk dust, almond oil, spice and tangy herb. The palate gains detail and weight with air, though I prefer it quite cold and zippy to keep it as tart as I can, it picks up orange rind, apricot and dried honeycomb with a touch of wet river stones which adds a bit of complexity and inline with wines of this price point from the Rhone Valley and Languedoc, this is a good effort and very enjoyable, drink now.
($24 Est.) 89-90 Points, grapelive
2009 Ridge Vineyards, Cabernet Franc, Perrone, Monte Bello Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains.
The single block Cabernet Franc Perrone was planted at Ridge’s Monte Bello estate in 1972 and it has always been a small percentage of the blend when it is a compliment to the famed Monte Bello red, here it is solo and I was thrilled by what comes through in the glass, this is ripe and classy stuff, pure and with the power and grace of a fine Saint-Emilion! The 2009 Ridge Vineyards Perrone Cabernet Franc is wonderfully textured with a gorgeous full bodied and ripe mouth feel, it’s class and complexity are second only to the winery’s signature Monte Bello and this wine’s performance is nothing short of awesome, it’s layers unfold in utter brilliance, it’s very sexy and hedonistic stuff. With a dark garnet/red hue in the glass, only just less purple than Ridge’s Monte Bello and Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, the Perrone Cab Franc starts with lavish smoky oak, deep red fruits and an array of spice, cedar and rich cassis with sweet plum, currant, black cherry fruits, dried violets, sandalwood, a hint of green pepper, sage, earth and mineral notes. The effect of the American barrique is overt, with it’s creamy/smoky kiss of sweet vanilla, coconut oil and faint dill, like a great traditional Rioja, but without taking away from this beautiful and substantial wine, while the lush tannins hide the Perrone’s firm form, this wine has ages of life ahead, I only wish I had been able to get a few more bottles, as this is an extremely rare offering from Ridge, it is a wine that I begged for at their tasting room, throwing myself at their mercy, as I recommend anyone that goes to their tasting room(s) do, always ask about limited bottlings, like this one. With air things get even better, losing a bit of baby fat, adding a seductive delicacy and gaining an inner beauty and stunning length, at one point I just lost any words, I just had to admire every detail, it’s a remarkable American wine. Wow, Ridge never disappoints and I love this wine, it’s stellar now, though I suspect it will turn on the afterburners and get even better in another 5 to 7 years in bottle, with a projected peak between 2020 to 2028.
($55 Est.) 95+ Points, grapelive
2016 Samuel Louis Smith Wines, Syrah, Sandstone Terrace, Santa Cruz Mountains.
The long hang time and unique soils of the southern Santa Cruz Mountains, especially in the Corralitos area makes for a new hot spot for Syrah, it brings out the true cool climate character and lively focus and Sam Smith, winemaker at Morgan Winery, has now released a brilliant 2016 vintage Syrah from here. After moving here to take over the winemaker duties at Dan Lee’s Morgan, Smith has made a serious impact both with Morgan’s latest offerings and his own label Samuel Louis Smith Wines, where he is expressing his own creative forces, he came to Monterey from the Santa Barbara area where he helped many awesome wines realize their potential including some fantastic wines from Margerum, from what I’ve tasted so far are classy wines with lovely transparency, especially this brand new 2016 Sandstone Terrace Syrah, named for some of the underlying soil where this wine was grown. This Syrah is bursting with pretty layers of blue and black fruits, dark floral tones and an array of spice, mineral and subtle savory tones along with a low alcohol feel and inner brightness, while still offering a textural mouth feel and fullness. Smith used about a third whole cluster in this Syrah and aged it in 25% new Francois Freres (1 new barrique) along with a few used Ermitage barrels (only 97 cases, four barrels made) and it was bottled unfined and unfiltered, coming across on the detailed palate like a Saint-Joseph or baby Cote-Rotie, it’s 13.6% natural alcohol is perfect for the wine’s weight and purpose allowing a touch of heady perfume, ripe flavors and stylish lift (acidity) found in this well crafted red. The deep purple/black hue is sexy in the glass and with air this wine’s potential and complexity comes into view with damson plum, boysenberry, black olive, acacia flowers, peppercorns, sage, smoky vanilla and meaty notes cascading in a youthful fashion. Smith has a few library wines from his time in Santa Barbara, in particular his glorious Radian Sta. Rita Hills Pinot, it’s a do not miss small production wine, as well as his new releases like this Syrah, as well as his Albatross Ridge Pinot Noir from Garret Bowlus’ Carmel Valley estate, all of which merit your attention. Samuel Smith is great new addition to Monterey’s winemaker community and his talents are welcome in this new generation era here, it’s exciting times for Monterey’s youthful winemakers, and this is a label to follow.
($33 Est.) 93+ Points, grapelive
2015 Ian Brand “La Marea” Grenache, Brosseau Vineyard, Chalone AVA, Monterey County.
The just about to be released Brosseau Vineyard from Ian Brand, under his Spanish (varietal) inspired label La Marea is a gorgeous red with amazing sharp detail, focus and hedonistic charms showing deep fruit intensity in a well balanced and pure wine. This is one of the best Grenache bottlings in the state, it joins the likes of A Tribute to Grace (Angela Osborne), in allowing terroir and the grape to shine through, it has a reflection of place that marks it clearly with a nice chalky detail and a concentrated palate that translates the vintage in a ripe/opulent form without being sweet or heavy. The La Marea Brosseau Grenache opens with pretty floral tones, snappy spices and light mineral elements that lead to a medium/full body of densely packed layers of dark fruits including a mix of red berries and plum along with strawberry, pepper, minty herb, lavender, framboise, saline infused stones and anise. There is a nice lift that gives a lively and youthful brightness and the tannins are caressingly supple and mouth, everything folds together well, making for a textural gem, Brand has really crafted a beautiful wine here, it sits somewhere between a fine Gigondas and a more delicate example of Spanish Garnacha, especially those of the Gredos region, a high elevation area not far from Madrid, a new hot spot for Grenache. One of Monterey’s top young producers, Ian Brand is somewhat of a vineyard whisperer, he has a nose for unique and expressive sites and is a soil freak, his wines are transparent and thrill for their naked purity, he in particular has a gifted touch with Cabernet Franc, Mourvedre and Rhone varietals with Grenache leading the way, these are wines to discover now. This Brosseau is just one of a few not to miss new releases from Ian Brand that are going to be available soon, so keep an eye out for them, he also has an Albarino (La Marea) and an Enz Vineyard Mourvedre (I. Brand & Family) coming out that you’ll not want to miss.
($38 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2016 Sheldon Wines “The Red Hat” Old Vine Field Blend, Napa Valley.
Unbelievably textured and pretty, the Sheldon Wines “The Red Hat” a field blend of co-planted and co-fermented ancient Napa Valley bush vine Petite Sirah and Cabernet Sauvignon is a gorgeous medium weight red of delicate fruit, heady perfume and satiny texture, with a hint of wildness and no oak traces this is a striking wine of authentic charm. This wines stands arrogantly against perception, normality and expectations with it’s like an old soul, drinking way better than it’s age would suggest it should. Dylan and Tobe Sheldon have found a tiny home vineyard near Calistoga in Napa Valley that has wonderfully old vines that are farmed holistically and interplanted with an array of other plants, flowers and trees that help provide a natural balance in the vines, making for one of the most unique expressions of these two grapes I’ve tasted, it is truly silken and transparent with modest fruit, low alcohol (under 13%) and native ferment finesse/character with hints of wild minty herb/sage, lavender and crushed spring flowers going nicely with backyard strawberry, raspberry, tangy currant and mulberry layers. This wine dances on the palate with ballerina twirls and softness, while still giving a long finish. Sheldon, who craves balanced easy to drink wine, manages brilliantly to take two powerfully tannic varietals and transform them into graceful and tame creatures of pleasure! You can’t help but be seduced by their efforts here and admire this single barrel (24 cases made), bright ruby/garnet hued red, remarkable for it’s beauty in such a youthful wine, it should fill out a bit over the next 3 to 5 years, though I can’t at this point even think of waiting that long!
($36 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2016 Weingut Ingrid Groiss, Gemischter Satz, Braitenpuechtorff, Weinviertel Austria.
Ingrid Groiss’ signature white field blend, her Gemischter Satz, is made from 17 co-picked and fermented varietals that include Chardonnay, Frühroter Veltliner, Grauburgunder, Grauer Vöslauer, Grüner Veltliner, Hietl Rote, Müller Thurgau, Neuberger, Pinot Blanc, Riesling, Roter Veltliner, Rotgipfler, Sämling, Silberweisse, Welchriesling, Wiesse Vöslauer and Zierfandler! This 2016 is pretty and lacy white wine with a sense of energy and lightness, but still has intriguing complexity and a subtle opulence, showing the talents of Groiss, who has established herself as one of Austria’s stars. North of Vienna, Weinviertel is a historic region that is really making a modern comeback, as this old school style of wine, the Gemischter Satz, a co-picked, co-fermented single vineyard field blend that usually presents it’s self crisply dry with delicate floral tones. This vintage delivers brisk details with mixed citrus, melon, white peach and earthy quince fruits along with spices, chalk dust, minty herbs, lime blossom and wet river rock, highlighting the heady mix of grapes found in this thrilling wine. Getting this wine right, which is no easy task, Groiss proves her quality and with air you can see revealing elements of almost each varietal, this is such joyous quaffable stuff, a wonderful Summery white that is easy to enjoy as a light fare (cuisine) companion, it’s clear and vibrant nature makes it great with oysters and or picnic snacks.
($26-28 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2016 Famille Dutraive “Cap-Ô-Sud” Carignan, Vin de France, Languedoc, France.
A new project from Jean-Louis Dutraive and his three kids, the Cap-Ô-Sud is made from old vine Minervois grapes and fermented with carbonic maceration, making for a juicy fun red that reminds you of the famous Beaujolais from that is their claim to fame, but with a little less seriousness. Delightfully light and tangy the Cap-Ô-Sud, 100% Carignan, expresses it’s warm southern Languedoc-Roussillon terroir with fresh ripeness, but with the vintage’s mineral tones and acidity shinning through allowing a flow of distilled raspberry, zesty cranberry, tart cherry and mini strawberry fruits plus delicate floral notes, spicy elements and snappy lavender/herbal hints. This wine entertains and is very pretty in it’s lightness and quaffability never getting more than light to medium bodied and is best with a slight chill on it, great as a picnic wine or unheavy easy cuisine, it’s a dry, but fruity organic new style natural wine that offers lots of pleasure with it’s clean and vibrant presence. It is a quality wine no question, though not for people that are looking for earthy dark thick and sun baked reds more common to this region, you’ll have to be looking for this kind of wine to understand it or want it, it reminds me of the Vin de France bottlings from Ganevat. The Dutraive Cap-Ô-Sud Carignan is playful and should be enjoyed in it’s freshest form, drink now.
($30 Est.) 88 Points, grapelive
2016 Union Sacre, Riesling “Fraulein” Riven Rock Vineyard, San Luis Obispo County.
A tiny micro winery owned by Philip Muzzy and French winemaker Xavier Arnaudin, from the Rhone, Union Sacre Wines calls Santa Barbara and San Luis Obispo counties home, even though their Gewurz comes from Monterey, and are crafting some interesting and entertaining wines with this dry, but rather textural Riesling being a hit here. Their portfolio so far has the mentioned Gewürztraminer out of the Santa Lucia Highlands and a Cabernet Sauvignon grown in the Happy Canyon AVA in Santa Barbara County, plus this San Luis Obispo Riven Rock Riesling that feels a bit like an Alsatian meets Aussie showing nice focus and surprising mouth feel. This zesty, but generous 2016 Fraulein starts with bright and fresh intensity with soft floral tones, snappy citrus and tropical notes, gaining more savory elements as it gets going on the light palate with layers of lime, meyer lemon, rosewater, wet stones, chalk and verbena. This has enough acidity and verve to hold your attention and gives a firm focus before a more textural side appears, it certainly has it’s charms and joins a new wave of fine California dry Rieslings, starting with Tatomer as well as Joyce Vineyards, Stirm, Reeve, Tudor and Cobb. Riesling is seeing a remarkable come back in the state, it’s a varietal that was almost totally shunned in California until recent times, now there is a race to catch up to other American Rieslings, like those from Washington, Oregon and New York’s Finger Lakes, which is arguably the most interesting region for this grape. As a Riesling freak myself, I really enjoyed this one and will without a doubt drink a few bottles of Union Sacre this Spring, bravo guys!
($19 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2017 Joyce Vineyards, Rosé, Turbidity Current, Monterey County.
It’s that time of year, when we all crave long summer days again and want to sip Rosé, lucky we are having a warm spell here in northern California right now and the thought of a dry pink wine comes into consciousness. Blessed are we that it is in fact time for the first of the fresh Rosé wines to be released, and I got a preview of a few including the wonderfully refreshing Joyce Vineyards Turbidity Current 2017, which is just being bottled as I write this, with a few gorgeous Magnums getting waxed too! One of Monterey’s rising stars, Russell Joyce crafted his pretty and delicately pale Rosé with a zesty mix of Gamay and Grenache along with a tiny about of Mourvedre that Russell feels really adds to the whole in a big way, giving a tad more texture and complexity even in such small amounts, and I agree this vintage, the first with the few percentage points of Mourvedre has a savvy air to it with a fuller mouth feel without expanding the palate of taking away the crisp and tangy nature. The 2017, a unique dusty dry California Rosé, has lots of energy with that brisk Gamay acidity and the juicy/generous Grenache strawberry tones, it starts with a hint of rosewater, bumble gum, tangy spice, mineral, citrus, sour cherry and earthy/chalky wet stone. This is vibrantly dry and cooly focused, perfect for quaffing, the grapes were picked exclusively to be Rosé, harvested cold and with low brix (sugar), getting a gentile fermentation with a short maceration with only stainless being employed to preserve dynamic vivid purity. This bright Rosé is going to be a huge hit, it will be released very soon, so keep an eye out, and also check out Joyce’s dry Riesling too, both offering tons of quality and fun for the Spring and Summer, plus don’t forget to grab Joyce’s awesome set of 2016 Pinots, especially their Gabilan Pinot Noir, one of the best new offerings in California and their northern Rhone style Tondre Grapefield Syrah, in particular Russell’s 2016 version. This winery has reached the next level and has some seriously delicious wines out right now with a awesome array of offerings from Merlot to Albarino and Cabernet to Chardonnay too, along with the mentioned Rosé, Riesling, Pinots and Syrah, this is a winery that is on a roll and a label to watch.
($18 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2016 Halcon Vineyards, Esquisto, Rhone Style Red Blend, Yorkville Highlands.
The final 2016 blend of the Halcon Vineyards thrilling Esquisto was crafted from 70% Grenache, 20% Mourvedre and 10% Syrah, with about 30% whole-cluster, from estate fruit from Paul Gordon’s extremely high elevation, cool climate vineyard set on fractured shale, mica-schist and quartz-rich rock soils, a rare combination that mimics the Northern Rhone, making for an amazing unique expression and a truly wonderful wine. Winemaker Scott Shapely (Roar) used native yeast, with a few stems and utilized neutral French oak puncheons for the aging, with only 130 cases made of this pure and elegant, 14.2% natural alcohol, Rhone blend that shows a sweet attack, but with a nice savory/spicy tone. The latest Halcon GMS Esquisto grabs your attention with a seductive perfume, spices and earthy tones to go along with racy red fruits and a sexy purple/ruby color in the glass before widening on the medium/full palate with boysenberry, deep black cherry, plum and currant/blueberry fruits along with herbs de provence, crushed violets, pepper, flinty stones, iron/meaty elements, tarragon/minty basil and anise. This youthful and fresh wine gives off lots of energy and firm details, but the tannins are surprisingly supple and satiny, though certainly there and providing a spine for this Rhone style blend, it has the same gorgeous feel and class as wines twice it’s price and it’s high elevation freshness reminds me of the higher hillside style Gigondas. This wine looks set to expand and develop over the next 3 to 5 years in bottle, these new releases from Halcon are all beautiful and thrilling wines, and if their 2015’s put them firmly in the premier league, these 2016’s prove it wasn’t a fluke and it’s a winery to watch, and without a doubt you’ll want to get on their list, especially for their Syrah, Petite Sirah and their set of cool climate Pinots, as well as this one. The Esquisto 2016 really delivers, ripe and expressive, but with a graceful presence in the glass, with pure Grenache character coming through, it just gets better with every sip adding a touch of edgy stems and sweet liqueur making it even more alluring, while there is more to come, there is no penalty to open it young, best from 2019 to 2026.
($32 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2016 Weingut von Winning, Riesling Trocken, Deidesheimer Kalkofen, Grosses Gewächs, Pfalz Germany.
Weingut von Winning’s inspirational winegrower Stephan Attmann has adopted the single cane trellising, much like done in Burgundy, and Grosses Gewächs wines ferment in 500ML French barrels with native yeasts and no pumping as the winery is all gravity flow, with Von Winning practicing organic and sustainable viticulture to highlight each Grand Cru (GG) with this Kalkofen set on a combo of limestone, marl and loam, making it one of the more exotic and flamboyant of the top wines here. This was especially true in the 2011, 2012 and 2015 vintages, while this gorgeous 2016 is a bit more refined and vibrant, a near perfect expression of place and vintage. Von winning’s wine transcend varietal, this glorious dry white has elements of a fine Meursault or Batard-Montrachet in it’s soul, even though it’s all Riesling at is core with power, from it’s extract and acidity, depth and complexity add to the intriguing stylistic charms in this GG. My tasting notes are from two separate barrel samples tried about 5 months apart, the final finished bottling certainly will be more complex, deeper in flavor and fuller in texture, but without question this was a special and beautiful dry Riesling even in it’s youth and in this primary form, it shows fantastic detailing already and has potential of greatness. Von Winning’s Kalkofen GG starts with a slightly muted perfume of white flowers, citrusy fruit, chalky stones and leesy brioche with a touch of reduction like a white Burgundy before it’s medium/full palate gets rolling with brisk stone/orchard fruits, delicate spices, steely mineral tones and salty essences. A bit of sulfur blurs the picture, this is due to this being a cask sample I’m sure, luckily it blows off quickly allowing everything to come into bright and clear focus in seconds, there is lovely texture and length to admire here, again it feels surprisingly majestic, and as mentioned, in a Meursault sort of way, gaining depth with air adding green apple, lime, white peach, wet rock, rose water, tangy citronella, a hint of sweet oak and hazelnut. There’s a ton of underlying extract and brilliant acidity, which plays in a ying and yang way giving great focus and tension, this is a powerful wine that will only get better over time, this will be a wine to look for, it’s a fabulous expression of the Pfalz and Grosses Gewachs, with a touch of the exotic, but done in a wonderfully elegant way, it’s a Riesling to blow the minds of the Burgundy only crowd, impressive and with star quality impact, best from 2020-2030.
($59 Est.) 94-96 Points, grapelive
2014 Rochioli, Valdiguie, Russian River Valley.
One of my secret favorite wines, the wonderfully fruit forward Valdiguie by Rochioli is playful and expressive wine, the varietal once though to be Gamay is from southwest France and not related, though sometimes called Napa Gamay still is a light to medium bodied red that offers juicy red fruit flavors that in a vintage as 2014 can be almost candied and Zinfandel like. Racy sweet raspberries and dark flowers rush at you on the nose and palate with a hint of carbonic tropical fruit leading the way with black cherry, sweet and spicy red berry, a touch of cola and banana bread along with vanilla, wild herb and guava nectar. This vintage is ripe and bright with surprising length and flamboyant character, it is showy and has a personality that again reminds me a bit more of Zinfandel, but with a Pinot Noir size frame and acidity, add to that a dollop of smoky French oak and you capture the essence of this vintage. Prior releases seem a bit more subtle, but certainly this Rochioli Valdiguie doesn’t lack for anything, it might actually be a wine to hold on to for another few years, surprising in it’s substance and for it’s expressive style. Valdiguie had an early champion in J. Lohr, but has gained modern embrace by Cruse Wine Company and Broc Cellars, both of which are great examples, though a bit more natural and subtle than Rochioli. This Valdiquie is only available through the Rochioli tasting room on Westside Road, near Healdsburg, and sometimes on their website, best to check often to see what they are offering, especially if you are waiting to get on their full mailing list.
($28 Est.) 89-90 Points, grapelive
2016 Sheldon Wines “Springloaded Monkeypaw” Tempranillo, Luc’s Vineyard, Fountaingrove AVA, Sonoma County.
The wild and entertaining Sheldon Springloaded Monkeypaw is a carbonic Tempranillo that is done only in stainless steel tank and does not go through Malo (malolactic fermentation), only 24 cases, about one barrel’s worth, was produced from whole cluster grapes coming off Luc’s Vineyard in the newly formed Fountaingrove AVA. As weird as this wine is and it’s origins, it’s nearly impossible to resist, as are all of Dylan and wife Tobe Sheldon’s wines, these are wonderfully pleasing and drinkable wines with a natural/textured feel and expressive/fresh in style while showing a lighter side of small production hand crafted California wines, in the same mold as Broc Cellars, Arnot-Roberts and Cruse Wine Company. Dylan was into pursuing balance and delicacy before it was a marketing thing, and he continues to push the envelope in his wines and they are a study in finesse and authentic purity. The juicy/tasty Springloaded Monkeypaw 2016 is a fresh purple/garnet hued and fun red with a vein of of dark fruit, wild herbs and spices, a touch of earth and hints of mineral that shines with simple fruity layers of blackberry, tart cherry and racy currants that burst with vibrant force on the light bodied palate, this wine is full of energy, but smooth with a surprisingly easy to love character, much the same way you enjoy Beaujolais, Joven (young-no wood) Rioja and similar in style to Stolpman’s Carbonic Sangiovese. Sheldon’s geeky cool little Tempranillo is a light hearted red that is a perfect picnic wine, it’s refreshing and low in natural alcohol, great for a long afternoon with friends, drink now.
($36 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2012 Schlossgut Diel, Riesling Trocken, Dorsheimer Pittermannchen, Grosses Gewächs, Nahe Germany.
Just starting to allow a glimpse of maturity, the intense and remarkable Schlossgut Diel Pittermannchen GG ultra dry Riesling is an amazing wine in the same league as the best from Chablis, seriously this is a Riesling from Caroline Diel that rivals any of the Grand Cru bottlings from Dauvissat or Raveneau! Pure Riesling in varietal character and flavor, but this wine is anything but ordinary with muted stone/orchard fruit and a mouthful of liquid flint/shale with a zesty and steely core of acidity, extract and mineral force. The Cru Pittermännchen is Caroline’s slate soiled vineyard, her other Grosse Lage sites are led by quartzite (Burgberg) and gravel (the most famous Goldloch) and that shows in this wines flinty nature and it’s cerebral/profound intricate detailing, in particular this 2012 vintage which is loaded to the gills with energy and verve, but still shows off Caroline’s gifted touch and refinement, while still youthful it has everything coming good right now and it’s a gorgeous wine that deserves your full attention. Layered with a light golden hue this Pittermannchen GG starts with smoky stones, sea breezes (brine), white flowers and spices leading off before the palate fully unfolds into a powerful expression of great dry Riesling with a mix of taught and chalky citrus, stone fruits (white peach & apricot), fig, kumquat and quince, adding baking spices, white chamomile tea, rose oil, dried ginger, wet rock, lingering lime and nectarine. Air allows the texture to be appreciated and this wine turns of it’s inner grace and class, this wine has no flab or makes any apologies for it’s terroir driven character and slightly aloof personality, it’s a wine that doesn’t need any glitz to be understood for it’s regal almost austere presence. This wine is German precision to the max and should be that way, it’s a stunning example of Diel’s house style, nearly perfect in every way, those that have it will understand and be awestruck, absolutely 100% brilliant! In the cellar, Caroline uses native or Sponti ferments and she uses a combination of stuckfass, and larger German oak casks as well as cement tanks, everything is done to prevent any oxidation in the grapes and the sorting is extreme, only the best will do here. Diel has crafted some fabulous entry level wines in the 2016 vintage that you should be buying by the case, especially her Feinherb and Kabinett offering, but if you want a masterpiece look for her Grosses Gewachs with a few years of age like this one!
($69 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2016 Weingut Leitz, Riesling Spatlese, Rüdesheimer Berg Magdalenenkreuz, Rheingau Germany.
The Maggie Spatlese from Josi Leitz is a classic wine, traditional and terroir rich in it’s flavor and history, this Magdalenenkreuz Cru parcel of Rudesheimer Berg is where the steep slopes end and the rolling hills where a mix of mostly sandy loam along with slate, loess and clay begin, named for it’s location near “The cross of Mary Magdalene,” named after a red sandstone cross that can be found within the vines. This site gives a bit more body and opulance, it has a lovely early/loamy character as well which adds contrast to a fruity/semi sweet style as it does in this delicately pale/clear 2016 Spatlese, this is one of those great wines that people just need to enjoy as it is without prejudice of sweetness (sugar levels) as it has fine form, balance and never feels heavy. The 2016 is brightly focused and laser crisp and detailed with a nice generous fruitiness, perfect for spicy tuna rolls and or pan Asian cuisine with mixed citrus, green apple, loam, wet river stones, tart apricot, white cherry, crystallized ginger, a hint of Thai basil and a saline element. This is a vintage of vibrancy and lightness to start, but good extract lurks beneath and it should age with fantastic effect, being here during this harvest, I saw how glorious these grapes looked before picking, a brilliant golden hue and amazing energy with ripe flavors, but with lifting acidity in their veins. The weather was dismal and cold most of the year without much in the way of a break, it was looking almost disastrous until late August and September came to the rescue with warm sunshine giving the winemakers a chance at a remarkable year, with Leitz being one that took full advantage of nature’s amazing comeback and respite, with Johannes Leitz making some fantastic stuff, in particularly in the Kabinett and Spatlese range, like this one! This is a standard barer wine and a solid reference point to what you should expect of a modern Spatlese, it is extremely clear and transparent, it transmits everything in it’s purest form, Leitz is a little like Greg Brewer, winemaker at Brewer-Clifton and his own label Diatom, they both strive for the cleanest expression of grape and place, they have a zen like attitude and approach to their wines, it’s honest, it’s about the core essence and clarity of mission, it’s a type of wine that makes for a near perfect reference point. This is such a tasty wine, it’s certainly under valued for it’s lasting palate impact and impression and the quality in the glass, and while the GG’s at Leitz, imported by Schatzi Wines, that grab the headlines these days, it’s best not to forget or over look this beautiful traditional Spatlese Riesling, this is a wine to follow for the next decade at least.
($26 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2016 Weingut Knebel, Riesling QbA, Alte Reben, Mosel Germany.
The young Matthias Knebel is one of the new generation to focus on preserving traditional and historic sites bringing an organic sensibility to his wines along with a drier focus, he is using old vines and terraced vineyards to produce intense bottlings that are true terroir driven beauties, especially brilliant is Matthias’ Alte Reben (old vines) that comes from two Cru sites, certainly this is one of the best QbA’s I’ve ever had! It’s a dry drinking style Riesling that is heavily influenced by the slate soils and the ultra steep terraces of Winningen, where the Knebel family has been growing Riesling and winemaking since 1643, Matthias blended two sites, Hamm and Röttgen, which have a make up of red slate, grey slate, blue slate, quartzite and sandstone of the Mosel Terrassen. The young Knebel, one of the rising stars of Germany, uses 70% stainless steel and 30% neutral (well used) 500L oak casks to produce this beautiful Riesling, it is slightly too high in residual sugar at 12.7G/L to be labeled a Trocken, but only by a short hair! Deeply flavored and with an almost red wine like extract and mouth feel, the Alte Reben by Weingut Knebel shows a bright peach, lime and tangerine citrus, apricot, a hint of bacon fat and a creamy green crisp apple on the fine and graceful palate, making for a very serious Riesling and a wonderfully youthful expression of place, this is a lot of wine for the money, delivering liquid stone, lemon grass, lychee and rosewater to the whole picture, it has surprising length and elegance for such a new wine, I can’t wait to see what age will bring, because this stuff is damn enjoyable right now! Matthias has crafted a gorgeous and unique wine and his talent and terroir shine through with every sip, it’s fresh and lively, gaining with every breath of air new details, bringing a steely focus, a touch of wet rock and a lingering saline element that hides the tiny bit of sweetness, though the texture is almost luxurious. I’ve been following Knebel, imported by Schatzi Wines, for about 5 vintages, I loved his 2012’s, but this 2016 is next level good, and again this is just the QbA, wow, I can’t imagine how great the top level bottlings are going to be, sight unseen I bet they are fantastic. You can tell this is a generous Riesling, but at 11.5% you can be rest assured it is briskly dry and balanced, if you are a Riesling fan or an acid freak, you’ll want this wine, best from 2020-2028, but it will be hard not to cherish it much sooner.
($44-46 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2016 Sheldon Wines, Graciano, Luc’s Vineyard, Fountaingrove AVA, Sonoma County.
Seriously old school and remarkably vivid in palate impact the wonderful delicate Sheldon Graciano, maybe California’s most secret and rare wine, is a 12 case production red that is translucent ruby nectar in the glass, it’s a joyously light wine that has incredibly fine detail, energy and inner beauty. For years Dylan and Tobe Sheldon have been exploring Graciano, an ancient and obscure varietal, found in Rioja mostly, but it is also known as Tintilla and grown as far away as the Canary Islands and in the flaky white soils of the Sherry region in Jerez, and some experts believe it is related to the Jura’s Trousseau, regardless the Sheldon’s have made it their secret signature offering and it has a cult like following, it impresses not for it’s density, but for it’s intricacy. Only a half barrel’s worth was crafted from a tiny home vineyard, Luc’s in the new Fountaingrove AVA near Santa Rosa in Sonoma County, an area that was extremely affected by the recent fires, thankfully Luc’s was spared, the Sheldon’s also source Tempranillo from here too, making a Brut Rose sparkler and a no malo red from it, as well as a bit of Syrah that I have reviewed. The 2016 Graciano Luc’s vineyard is bright and with a hint of straw and earth to go along with delightfully crisp red fruits, spice and mineral notes, the Sheldon’s, husband Dylan and wife Tobe, ferment native and do a gentile basket press with only seasoned French oak barrels employed, with this wine that natural touch comes through with ripe fresh flavors, but with only 11.7% alcohol, again highlighting the delicate detailing here, it flows cooly across the palate with tangy red cherry, briar laced raspberry, strawberry and lifted cranberry/currant notes as well as cut hay, black licorice, minty herb, cinnamon and dried flowers. This vintage has the personality and acidity the winemaker finds irresistible and you can see why, this is awesomely fun and out of place in the new world, some Dylan especially revels in, making it one of the most interesting 7%er(s) in California joining Pax Male’s Wind Gap Trousseau Gris, Arnot-Roberts’ Trousseau Noir and even Randall Grahm’s Bonny Doon Basque-ette Case with also has Graciano in it!
($36 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2016 Daterra Viticultores (Laura Lorenzo) “Casas de Enriba” Vino Tinto, Valdeorras, Spain.
Coming from 20-25 year old vines in the Portomourisco region of Valdeorras, not far from the steep valleys of the Ribeiro Sacra, the new Laura Lorenzo Casas de Enriba is a blend of all hand farmed organic 80% Mencia, the native red varietal and 20% Godello, a local white grape grown on a mix of granite, gravel, clay, gneiss and quartz soils at about 550 meters up in this cool climate Galician site, it’s a glorious natural and balanced feeling wine (13.5%) with soulful character and rustic charms. Lorenzo is a remarkable winegrower and her wines are simply delicious and wonderfully expressive in terroir and impressive for layering and finesse that freely expresses in her latest offerings, especially this native ferment red, she destemmed all the grapes and added 20% Godello to add freshness to the warm vintage and it makes for an inspired medium weighted Mencia based wine that can easily remind you of the Syrah and Viognier relationship found in Cote-Rotie, and while personality wise this Casas de Enriba is more like a Cru Beaujolais (light and expressive) at first it picks up a more serious Rhone edged profile with air, making an end result a bottling that is between Dutraive’s Fleurie and Andre Perrets Saint-Joseph! The nose is sweetly perfumed with rose oil and violets, wild peppercorns, chanterelles, red fruits, mixed spice, mineral candied orange rind, a saline element and sweet and sour minty herbs that leads to a medium bodied palate of black cherry, plum and lingonberry fruits as well as loamy/flinty rock, bacon fat, star anise and pipe tobacco. This is fascinating stuff the has a wonderful silky mouth feel, but with earthy/leathery grip and energy that kinda makes you think of Nuits-Saint-Georges, it’s a wine that will certainly challenge and seduce those that want to take a path less traveled, it’s so far my favorite of Lorenzo’s 2016’s, which is saying something, because I love all of her wines!
($30 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2016 Domaine Serol, Gamay “Eclat de Granite” Cote Roannaise, Loire Valley, France.
Stephane Serol’s Gamay wines are some of the best and most interesting made from this varietal, and this 2016 Eclat de Granite is absolutely stunning, and while the Cote Roannaise is technically in the Loire Valley region it is sometimes called the lost Cru of Beaujolais with it’s intense granite and hillside terroir it’s more like Morgon that Touraine! This wine is done with natural and organic preparations, 100% Gamay (Saint Romain clone) from vines that average between 40 and 90 years old, set on acidic granite soils with high density plantings and a exceptionally low yielding crop, Serol ferments with native yeast about 60% whole cluster in vat with only cement aging for 6 months then bottled unfined and unfiltered. The 2016 is full of life and vitality, but with full flavors which lean towards dark fruits and with velvet laced tannins that are at once silky, but structured with a deep liquid stone element that is a thrill, this is serious stuff and a gorgeous wine that should continue to age well for another 5 to 7 years easy. This lightly spicy/stony Gamay pumps out the red and black fruits along with a iron/blood mineral earthy background with layers of blackberry, cherry, plum and lingonberry as well as dried peach/apricot, anise, flinty rock and a saline element.This is crisply dry and gets you salivating, best with simple cuisine to bring out the fullness of it’s personality, one of the most entertaining and unique Gamay wines out there, Serol, imported by Floraison Selections, is a must try wines, especially if you admire Cru Beaujolais, such as Lapierre and Foillard!
($28 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2016 Bow & Arrow Wines, Rhinestones, Johan Vineyard, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
The brilliant and edgy Rhinestones a Loire Valley inspired Pinot Noir and Gamay blend from Bow & Arrow Wines is one of the best Oregon wines that is under the radar, in fact it is one of the best new world wines for the money period! Scott Frank’s killing it with his latest releases at Portland’s Bow & Arrow Wines, especially this Touraine style Rhinestones cuvee that comes from the all organic/biodynamic vines and the marine sedimentary soils at Johan Vineyards, in the Van Duzer Corridor of the Willamette Valley, this wine has so much going on and still beautifully detailed. In Burgundy you have the earthy/feral Gamay and Pinot Noir blend, called Passetoutgrain, but while interesting it never seems to be taken too seriously, here though Frank reaches for the Loire for inspiration and the natural winemaking hot bed there to craft his Rhinestones, a wine that I’ve always loved, and this 2016 looks to be the best yet. It’s outrageously seductive and pretty with a stemmy/racy vitality and gorgeous purity, heightened by an exotic perfume and extraordinary length. Whole cluster and native ferment, the Rhinestones is an intriguing play between ripe fruitiness and savvy savoriness with a tangy, but juicy/generous Gamay palate and graceful Pinot Noir structure, it is nicely brisk and great slightly chilled, even though it fills out in the mouth with a medium body and a heavenly texture featuring black cherry, plum, mulberry and currant fruits along with sweet liquid roses, hints of lilac and walnut as well as dried basil, peppery spices, mineral, chalk, anise and cinnamon. The stems add grip and tension to this absolutely fantastic wine, judged on it’s own merits this stuff rocks and is truly profound, Bow & Arrow’s Gamay stand alone is pretty damn good, but this wine is on another level, it made me say the F-word followed by YEAH! The 2016 Rhinestones is 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Gamay, it’s a runaway success of sensual sensations and vibrancy, Bow & Arrow has just blown away all the doors, removes all prejudice about blending Pinot Noir and shows Gamay to be a great partner of remarkable character, do not miss this wine. This is one of America’s new wine geek(y) treasures, unique and with it’s own personality that will appeal in particular to those with a wilder mind, this latest Rhinestones is sensational.
($24 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2015 Maison Leroy, Bourgogne Rouge, France.
It’s rare treat to drink Leroy, any of Madame Lalou Bize-Leroy’s wines are treasures to cherish, and while we all dream of her vintage Musigny or other such legends, this new 2015 Bourgogne Rouge is still wonderfully exciting to taste, and it didn’t disappoint with beautiful detail, tart freshness and lovely lightness and Pinot Noir purity. Madame Lalou Bize-Leroy was one of the early leaders in Burgundy’s embrace of biodynamics and brought it to the attention of the top estates, including DRC, and her wines show an early charm and inner energy that is hard to resist. The Bourgogne Rouge 2015, a vintage to stock up on if you can, starts with subtle floral tones, damp earth and bright red fruits leading to a satiny palate, but one that shows vibrancy and pop, delivering a mix of racy cherry, cranberry, bramble berry, plum and apple skins as well as mineral, stone and faint smoky wood notes, gaining complexity and weight with air, though remaining tightly focused throughout, this is a pretty wine, certainly not a riotous or blockbuster, just a wine to humbly and gratefully enjoy. True to place and varietal, this is not overly ripe or endowed, it just has the right stuff, it seemed spicy, delicate and nicely edgy, but still refined and graceful, it lingers and holds your attention and should prove a worthy purchase for years to come, it should evolve and give lots more depth and pleasure in time, I wouldn’t mind having a few around in let’s say 6 to 10 years. A year to buy, no question, especially from a legendary Domaine like Leroy!
($60 Est.) 92+ Points, grapelive
2006 Weingut Kruger-Rumpf, Riesling Spatlese, Binger Scharlachberg, Rheinhessen Germany.
The library release of 2006 Scharlachberg Spatlese from Kruger-Rumpf is really showing well right now, it’s bursting with flavor and is very expressive, starting with a petrol/flinty note that quickly goes floral and into a refined opulent palate of secondary Riesling characteristics with a sweet and minerally charm, almost feeling like an exceptionally balanced Auslese without the honey edged cloyingness, but with a luxurious mouth feel and depth. These late releases from the Rumpf’s are incredible values that show terroir and maturity with graceful and seamless textural pleasures, this and their 2004 Dautenpflanzer (Nahe) Spatlese are without question class acts, I’ve tried them both now on more than a few occasions and they are really hitting the marks and finding themselves, proving to be lush and complex offerings, with the 2006 feeling sweeter and the 2004 being more subtle and delicate. Binger Scharlachberg located in Rheinhessen, across the Nahe from Kruger-Rumpf’s main holdings, is composed of quartz and red sandstone soils with a touch of slate that adds to the rich profile, but also has a striking crystalline sense that shines through, the Grosses Gewachs from this Grand Cru (Grosse Lage) site is also fantastic and otherworldly, one of the best in the Rheinhessen after the Morstein cru (famously done by Keller and Wittmann) and while still not as well known, it’s a glorious south facing vineyard that delivers very special wines, and the Kabinett and Spatlese from here are spectacular, as evidenced here in this 2006 Kruger-Rumpf. Binger Scharlachberg (Meaning Bingen’s Scaret Hill) is wonderful to view from across the river, it’s terraces looking ancient and profound in the sunlight, it was magical to see in person, I was there in harvest season of 2016, and it’s a place that has a personal impact, and this 2006 Spatlese is a gem with lavish detail and layers, it’s full and impressive with sweet apricot, honeyed lime, apple and creamy melon sorbet as well as steely notes, hints of apple butter, kumquat, quince, orange chiffon, lemon grass, light brine/sea salt, rosewater and wet rocks. It rocks with spicy/hot Asian cuisine and or smoked/cured meats, it’s a beautiful off dry white and pure Riesling, it is still youthful, but in a great spot right now, and you can’t beat the price! Rumpf favors sponti (native ferments) and aging in old stuckfass, which give his wines a soulful and authentic character, I think they display seductive textures and earthy tones. There is something scandalously good here in Georg Rumpf’s sweet/fruity Spatlese, it’s a style people seem to shy away from these days, it’s true old school, and it’s a shame, because this is glorious stuff, a German classic, and while people are being herded like sheep into only trocken/dry wines, these kind of wines aren’t getting the love and attention they certainly deserve!
($22-26 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2013 J. Rochioli, Chardonnay, River Block, Russian River Valley.
As my Chardonnay review week ends, it goes out with a bang, with this amazing and explosive Russian River Valley wine! Crazy concentrated, but finally opening up, the flamboyant River Block Chardonnay from Rochioli is a thrilling full bodied wine that starts off like a white Hermitage (Roussanne/Marsanne)! Seriously, I was amazed to see the River Block size right up to Chave, Chapoutier Le Meal and Guigal’s Ex-Voto Ermitage with hints of white flowers, smoke and bacon fat in this voluminous Chardonnay that goes on the fill out with rich fruit, sweet oak and lush textural sensuality leaning on baked apple, lemon curd, apricot, hazelnut, butterscotch, spicy clove and vanilla. There is a surprisingly nice cut of acidity that adds lift and vibrancy to what otherwise feels like a massive and dense wine from this famed Russian River producer, as a long time fan and still on their mailing list I find these wine gain so much with extra time in the bottle, certainly this 2013 is turning out much better than I had presumed would be the case for this awkward vintage. This is a lavish and opulent Chardonnay, and it does not try to hide that fact, but it still delivers a wonderful performance that showcases this winery’s pedigree and while a big Chard it’s has plenty life and grace to appease many a top Burgundy lover, but more like Batard than Chablis! Lingering pear tart and creme brûlée add to the hedonistic pleasures in this River Block, though I thoroughly enjoy the the vein of bright tangerine, stony notes and honeysuckle, this wine perks up just enough too not feel cloying, impressive in layers and detail from start to finish. I imagine this luxurious and exotic (with it’s Hermitage Blanc like intensity and almost oily mouth feel) Rochioli River Block to have a solid future, at least another 5 years to peak, not an easy get, but worth it if offered!
($80-100 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2001 Domaine Remi Jobard, Meursault “Les Genevrieres” Premier Cru White Burgundy, France.
Remi Jobard, who converted to organic and was certified in 2011, crafts unique expressions of Meursault, while he is going towards more mineral driven, brisk wines as is the trend, he goes further using large tight grained Austrian oak casks that enhance vitality and mineral tones. I was thrilled to try an older vintage of Remi’s wines, thanks to a Dutch friend that gets wines directly from the domaine, this 2001 was remarkably vivid, vibrant and dynamic with fresh acidity, steely mineralite and impressive depth and length, it highlights Genevrieres old vines and clay and limestone terroir to perfection, the wine is made up of mostly of vines that have at least 50 years of age, including one parcel that is over 70 years old. The son of Charles Jobard and nephew of Francis, who’s own son (Antoine) has taken over his winery, Remi ferments cooler and longer than most, sometimes even moving his barrels outside into the cold wintery weather, a two month process that he feels gives the wine a more lively feel and from what I tasted here, I agree, this is a fantastic example and exceptionally pure Chardonnay. The 2001 Remi Jobard Meursault Les Genevrieres is drinking gorgeously fresh with intense minerallity and delicate white flowers, lemon and hazelnut with fine chalk, saline and orchard fruits. Beautifully detailed and vibrant this seductive Meursault hides it’s extract and density in it’s energy and verve. This has expressive textural pleasure, but stays vivid and lifted even with air, adding fine detail and richness with hints of wet stone, golden fig, clove and comes back to citrus blossom elements, while the palate rounds out with apple/pear and delicate peach, though not overly fruity, everything is taught and vigorous, it’s a glorious surprise for a wine of this age and it shows no signs of fading at all, it might go another 10 to 15 years if cellared well, as this bottle was. For those that can’t find or afford Coche or Roulot, which are the best of the best, might want to check Remi’s wines out, they might be a bit shier, but well worth a look. This wine is one of the highlights of a week focusing on Chardonnay, it’s a stunning and pedigreed white Burgundy that put on an utterly beautiful and eye opening masterclass performance, I can’t wait to explore more of Remi’s wines!
($91-175 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2015 Alfaro Family Vineyards, Chardonnay, Trout Gulch Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains.
Richard Alfaro’s Trout Gulch Chardonnay never fails to excite and impress and with the concentration and mineral charm of 2015 just makes this wonderful wine that much the better with it’s subtlety of richness and brisk freshness, it’s a winner no question, and you can see why the guys at Arnot-Roberts, Jamie Kutch and John Raytek of Ceritas love this fruit source! Alfaro makes some of the best Chardonnay for the money in California, still an under the radar producer in the market place, but with a strong local following, his wines show graceful class and clarity along with generous layers of depth, these are honest and transparent offerings, and while own estate Lindsay Paige is a more dense bottling, this Trout Gulch, an old vineyard near Aptos, that he farms, is an elegant and lightly loamy/stony crisp Chardonnay that has lots of verve and charm. The Alfaro Family Vineyards 2015 Trout Gulch Chardonnay is beautiful pale golden in hue with a clean lightness and vibrant details starting with citrus blossom, wet rock, saline notes and orchard white fruits, it gains as it warms to the correct temperature in the glass adding a textural opulence to it’s medium/full palate that delivers apple/pear, peach and lemony fruits along with chalky stones, steely mineral and subtle round oak as well as sea shore, verbena and clove. As you sip the third or fourth sip here you start to get the whole picture and it’s pure art, the mouth feel is excellent, the acidity is poised (smooth) and the layers become seamless leaving you wanting more, at 13.5% it’s nearly perfect in terms of balance, it’s in no way heavy, but with wonderful impact and is very expressive with a hint of rustic earthiness to go with the energy and ripe fruit, this Chard, unfined and unfiltered, is drinking seriously well, only 4 barrels were made, so don’t wait to get a few.
($30-35 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2013 Ceritas, Chardonnay, Charles Heintz Vineyard, Sonoma Coast.
Ceritas, the husband and wife duo of John Raytek and Phoebe Bass are a tiny mailing list only winery crafting amazing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay from selected cool sites in California’s north coast and Santa Cruz Mountains, (Ceritas also does a tiny amount of Cabernet Sauvignon, though I’ve not been able to try it yet) with John Raytek (Formerly of cult producer Rhys) crafting these small lot wines. Ceritas, like Aubert, Failla and Arnot-Roberts, goes for terroir expression and makes lovely vineyard designated wines, and Raytek’s light touch in the cellar highlights delicacy and lively accents, this being especially true here in this beautiful and vivid Charles Heintz Vineyard 2013 Chardonnay, it’s really an impressive effort with crisp detail and lightness of layering, while still having personality and palate impact. The first impression is one of briskness, white flowers and mixed citrus with hints of marmalade and vital spices, mineral and wet river rocks, though it gains a bit of weight with air and texturally it flows with a certain Chardonnay purity and creaminess, it was masterfully judged, at 13.6%, and the sweetness of the French oak is subtle and adds to the whole experience. Fine apple, pear and white peach fruits along with a touch of hazelnut, key-lime, minty herb, vanilla and lemon zest round out the whole making for an energy filled and delightful wine that adds a hint of chalk and quince the longer it’s in the glass. Vigorous and thought provoking this Ceritas is a class act, I have without a doubt enjoyed their Chardonnay as much as any in California, and while this one stands out, I also really recommend their Richard Alfaro farmed Trout Gulch Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains bottling, it is a crisper and earthier style, in the more Burgundy paradigm, these are awesome wines.
($60 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2012 Guido Platinetti, Ghemme DOCG “Vigna Ronco al Maso” Alto Langhe, Piedmonte, Italy.
Andrea Fontana’s Guido Platinetti, named for his grandfather, has been crafting beautiful Nebbiolo for the last 25 years and continues his impressive run with his beautiful and wonderfully textured Ghemme DOCG grown in the northern part of Piedmonte that has been getting so much buzz for the quality and value of their Nebbiolo based reds in recent years, these are wines, especially Fontana’s Ghemme, that rival the more famous Barbaresco and Barolo. This 2012 really reminds me of mineral driven, pretty and textural Barbaresco with it’s lovely bright fruit, clear transparency and pedigreed length, this Platinetti Ghemme is performing with complexity and grace showing off ripe fruit, silken tannins and refined acidity giving a full range of red fruits, earthy spice and sexy floral tones, all brought out by the unique terroir of ancient glacial deposits with granite, quartz, clay and iron rich stones. A light and elegant touch with a minimalist approach in the cellar, Fontana makes pure and energy filled wines, and this one shows off red raspberry, damson plum and kirsch along with a touch of savory/stony elements, sweet currant and saline notes with lingering rose petal, anise and forest floor, gaining with air, this is a sultry vintage, subtle seduction from the mouth feel and ease of use completes this 2012, a vintage marked by classic profiles, but with less power and density than the 2010 or as fruity as either 2011 or 2013. Most everything I’ve tried from Guido Platinetti, imported by Balanced Wine Selections, has impressed and I really adore this one, which I rate as a superb value for Nebbiolo, it’s not a blockbuster or a cellar surprise, but it gives a lot for the money and a guilt free early drinking wine.
($30 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2015 Fattorie Romeo del Castello, Nerello Mascalese “Allegracore” Etna Rosso DOC, Sicily Italy.
The surprisingly tart and fresh Allegracore by Chiara Vigo at Fattorie Romeo del Castello feels like a youthful village Burgundy and has an inner energy that belies the warm vintage, it’s spicy cherry notes and volcanic mineral/flinty elements make for a lovely, vibrant and delicate wine of remarkable rustic charm and length. Influenced by Salvo Foti, which you can tell (and taste) in this Nerello Mascalese based wine (it certainly has a bit of Nerello Cappucino in there too), Chiara Vigo has captured a soulful expression of Mount Etna, and while her upper scale (level) cuvees offer deeper concentration, this Allegracore gives a damn good performance for the price, it’s layers gain dramatically with air, as does it’s finessed texture, while still giving a seductive lightness and earthy impression on the rounded palate. Pleasing and bright it has poached cherry, plum and red pepper flake covered strawberry at it’s heart along with wet shale, dried roses, minty anise and bitter herbs. Lingering briar laced raspberry, tangy lavender, blood orange and kirschwasser add to the mix as well as a hint of truffle, sandalwood and leather all appear in the light to medium bodied red that shines pale ruby in the glass. Native ferments, with a gentile 12 day maceration the Allegracore sees only stainless steel in it’s making and aging, which highlights the vivid purity and zestiness allowing the natural acidity to lift this entry level bottling, that also hides the ripeness, since it comes in at 14.5%, where as you’d almost never guess the alcohol was above 13%, impressive in it’s focus and elegance, it’s a wine to enjoy over the next 3 to 5 years. Fattorie Romeo del Castello is imported by Louis/Dressner, same as Arianna Occhipinti, and is never easy to locate, but well worth searching out
($28 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2014 Domaine du Grapillon D’Or 1806, Gigondas, Rhone Valley Red, France.
The Grapillon D’Or estate, owned and run by the Chauvet family, is a traditional and one of the old school properties of Gigondas, making wines of character and authentic charms, less modern and more raw like, though deeply flavored, I’ve long been a fan of this winery, which in most years tastes close to a fine Chateauneuf du Pape. This 2014 gives an amazingly detailed performance, giving another reason to celebrate old world Grenache, delivering loads of pepper, leathery/earthy notes as well as dusty stones adding to the dense dark fruited core. The 2014 Domaine Grapillon D’Or 1806 starts with a dark berry fruit, meatiness, chalky stone as well as cracked peppercorns, with a deep garnet/red color in the glass, fresh in attack from the slightly cool vintage. The palate is full with a framboise/kirsch note leading to a sweet and savory mouthful of boysenberry, wild plum, strawberry and pomegranate fruits along with salted black licorice, lavender, all spice/herbs and gravel with touches of saline, currant jam and grilled meat. Everything unfolds in a sensual manner, darkly spicy and seductive, with no hint of wood or adornment, this is transparent and shows terroir purity, and the balance of earth, spice and fruit is near perfect, even in a less than perfect year, it’s bright and tangy, but sweet feeling, this is a delicious Rhone red wine. This vigorous Gigondas easily provides everything you’d want and maybe a bit more, drink over the next few years, best from 2019 to 2025 and maybe longer. Grapillon, founded in 1806, as the label makes clear, uses 100% destemmed grapes, 80% Grenache and 20% Syrah, ferments in tank and ages mostly in used barrels with about 25% of the cuvee raised in cement vats, with all the grapes coming from older vine sites on a mix of clay, sand and limestone soils. This is grippy and thrilling stuff again from Domaine du Grapillon D’Or, and while people will be lined around the block for their 2015, an obvious must have from a great vintage, I will enjoy this 2014 which is highly entertaining, stylish and impressive with it’s vital focus, robust nature and layered Grenache(y) decadence and joyous pleasure.
($33 Est.) 93+ Points, grapelive
2015 Comando G Viticultores, Garnacha “La Bruja de Rozas” Vino de Pueblo, Valle del Tietar, Sierra de Gredos, Spain.
Comando G is the collaboration label of Fernando García & Dani Landi (Daniel Gomez Jimenez-Landi) and focused on the Vinos de Madrid area of Gredos, a high elevation region that is now one of Spain’s hot spots for terroir driven Garnacha (Grenache) grown at close to 850 meters on sandy granite soils that give wonderful delicacy and intensity to the wines, and the Garcia/Landi Comando G offerings are some of the best, they certainly have a cult like following, and this village “La Bruja de Rozas” is a charmer with wonderful layering and detail. The La Bruja (The Witch) de Rozas is finessed with an almost pale ruby/garnet hue, but deep in flavor and complexity, Garcia and Landi (who has his own label) craft their Comando G Garnacha’s using biodynamic or organic grapes all hand harvested, with native yeast ferments and lengthy 30-60 day macerations before aging in large neutral French foudres, allowing 9 months on this wine. I tasted this wine along side the 2012 Landi, and while you can see the similarities and class of both, the Landi was lighter and more nuanced with it’s age, but this 2015 La Bruja is a bit more expressive, richer and forward, though with potential to gain in the mid term and it’s a stunner for the price, it’s easy to see why these guys are in such demand. Brilliant balance, purity, lower alcohol than most Spanish Garnacha, and lift from the soils and acidity give this wine it’s energy and soul, it’s starts with a mix of floral tones, earthy, kirsch and zesty spices with a core of black plum, cherry, strawberry and loganberry as well as a good saline and stony character along with pepper, lavender, light herbal notes, lingering on with pomegranate liqueur, leather and dried violets. This wine gets better with every sip and it’s not to be completely seduced by it’s graceful texture, ripe tannins and subtlety, imported by European Cellars (Eric Solomon) as is Landi’s own wine, this is great wine to start your exploration of Mentrida and the Sierra de Gredos (Vinos de Madrid) in the greater Castilla y Leon area of central Spain. Drink this lovely red now, and be sure to look for 4 Monos by Javier Garcia (Fernando’s brother) and Laura Robles (Imported by Jose Pastor) as well as this one, both impress for the price!
($25 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2015 Domaine d’Ouréa, Gigondas, Rhone Valley, France.
Adrien Roustan’s Domaine d’Ourea 2015 Gigondas is about 90% Grenache and 10% Syrah that is from the highest part of the region, it’s all organic and native yeast fermented, mostly de-stemmed, in concrete vats, no oak is used here on his reds, with this Gigondas aged 18 months in the cement. This gorgeous Rhone red is bright and fresh from the high elevation, but vintage marked by it’s rich density and deep flavors, the Grenache liked the warm year most and shows tremendous purity and hedonism, this vintage is less black fruited than prior/cooler years releases, but still a thrill in the glass and the length here is amazing, this is a wine that will evolve and give even more complexity and pleasure in the years to come. The palate is brilliantly layered and while still showing a baby fat of sweet opulence with black raspberry, boysenberry, damson plum, candied cherry and racy currant fruits along with lavender, chalky stones, peppery spices, a bit of earth and strawberry liqueur. The textural feel is warm and round in the mouth, though there is still a subtle energy/vibrancy that lifts this full bodied Grenache based wine and gives it a rewarding structure and focus, this is a beauty and will only get better with time. I’m a huge fan of these wines from Roustan and Domaine d’Ourea, especially this Gigondas and his Vacqueyras, imported by Floraison Selections, they showcase terroir, elegance and give a certain realness that is refreshing, while being absolutely serious, they are nearly perfect and unique examples of potential greatness. Drink this awesome Gigondas over the next 5 to 10 years, it’s a sexy wine right now, but I think a bit of patience will pay off, best from 2020 to 2025+.
($38 Est.) 94+ Points, grapelive
2016 Halcon Vineyards, Pinot Noir, Bearwallow Vineyard, Anderson Valley.
Paul Gordon’s Halcon Vineyards is most known for their estate high elevation Syrah and Rhone style wines, but you’d be missing out if you didn’t give their latest set of Pinot Noir(s) a look, especially this new Bearwallow, made by the talented Scott Shapely (Roar & Flywheel) it comes from a brand new star vineyard, owned by Rhys’ Kevin Harvey in the western most hills of the Anderson Valley. This all biodynamic Vineyard is a densely planted site sitting on sandstone, shale, quartz and schist soils, it’s an extreme place for vines, but the promise here is amazing, with Gordon getting 100% Swan Clone for this bottling and Shapely using native yeasts, 35% whole cluster, it saw a four day cold soak and a two week maceration/primary ferment then to tank to settle, before aging in 20% new Francois Freres barrels (elegant French oak) finishing up into bottle without finning or filtration. This beautiful and bright, light ruby hued 150 case Halcon Bearwallow is wonderfully charming, delicate and surprisingly lengthy for such a youthful Pinot Noir and I sincerely marveled at it’s graceful expression and class in the glass with it’s pretty layering of fruit and mineral character, it lingers on and on with tangy raspberry, morello cherry, snappy spices and herbs along with that kiss of vanilla from the wood, it gains impact and mouth feel with air adding a touch of briar, pepper, lavender and sweet strawberry essences along with faint wilted roses. At 12.7% this light/medium bodied effort is stunningly fine effort and a wine that slowly seduces, then turns on the sex appeal in a rush of pleasure, it’s still early days, but I can imagine sublime and rewarding drinking over the mid term, I hope to re-visit this one again and again, after 3 to 5 years!
($42 Est.) 92-94 Points, grapelive
2015 Cameron Winery, Pinot Noir, Reserve, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
John Paul is one of the ultra traditional Burgundy winemakers in Oregon and part of the Deep Roots Coalition, using sustainable non irrigated vineyards, he joins Doug Tunnell of Brick House as well as others in the top old school echelon and his Pinots have a cult following, I was thrilled to get my hands on the Reserve bottling which I had never had a chance at trying before and it did not disappoint! The 2015 vintage shows a ripe intensity, but a stylishly earthy tone to start with forest floor and wild mushroom leading from sweet kirsch and underlying dark florals before the palate reveals a deep and dark profile with black cherry, loganberry and plum fruits along with anise, Asian spices, leather and cedary wood notes. This gets serious fast and pumps out the layers in a non stop flow, impressive and the mind reals to keep up, but it gains refinement and polish with air, wow is right, damn this stuff rocks. The slight reduction soon fades and wonderful complexity takes this Oregon Pinot to new heights, it’s volcanic Jory soils shines through allowing the delicious red fruits to shine and it’s inner spicy core to come through with a heady mix of chalky red pepper, wild chanterelles and currant jelly after a few minutes in the glass, Paul has judged the oak to perfection here, it adds a tiny highlight, textural lightness and offers just the right amount of smoky vanilla, this is an intellectual and forceful Pinot that certainly plays tribute to Burgundy with it’s Gevrey-Chambertin like feel, but is pure Dundee Hills in style, it is one of the best of the vintage for under $50 that I’ve tried from Oregon, big thank you to Vinopolis Wine Shop in Portland Oregon for turning me on to this one, if you are interested in Cameron, they have a great selection of John Paul’s wines. While a new generation of Oregon producers push this region forward, the older guys still have a huge part to play with the likes of Ken Wright, Doug Tunnell (Brick House), Mark Vlossak (St. Innocent), Mike Etzel (Beaux Freres) and others including John Paul of Cameron making some of the best wines of their careers in recent years! While this bottling looks to have sold out, Cameron’s single vineyard wines are even better!
($35 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2016 Domaine de L’Ecu, Pinot Noir “Ange” Vin de France, Loire Valley, France.
Fred Niger’s Ecu estate in the heart of the Muscadet region in the cool Loire Valley is now a leader in the Natural Wine world, this wines take this category beyond the hippy movement it so recently was, and his line of Amphora raised stuff is way past the next level, especially this Ange, an organic/biodynamic Pinot Noir that was ultra hand crafted with native yeasts, whole cluster and no sulfur added, with 10 months in the terra-cotta (Amphora) and bottled unfined and unfiltered. This cool climate, low alcohol, is under 12% and velvet like on the full flavored and perfumed palate with pure Pinot Noir class and clarity, there is no stinky funk to get through here, just gorgeous transparent layers of ruby/garnet hued awesomeness with dark cherry, blueberry, spiced cranberry and beautiful wild plum fruits as well as heady rose and lilac flowers, stemmy grip, red pepper, bramble, subtle clay/stones, cinnamon and candied orange rind, garden mint and kirschwasser. Ecu has been chemical free since 1972 and certified biodynamic by Demeter since 1998, they are a leader in crafting terroir driven Muscadet with their dry Melon de Bourgogne wines each taking up distinct soil taste profiles, while in recent years Niger has been pushing the envelope in natural wine bottlings, many like this one, going for ancient technique with amphora and longer skin contact, which in most cases allows for almost zero sulfur, these wines both from his estate and some in collaboration with friends from vineyards in different regions are simply mind blowing. This Ange, is as it’s name suggests an angelic wine of remarkable inner energy and beauty, quite honestly this wine blows away any Premier Cru Burgundy in it’s price class, with extra air the stemmy goodness starts to get intense with a Cornas like spicy/savory edgy side coming through to balance the sweet incense/rose oil or it’s alluring inner perfume! Wine snobs need not apply, but I hope people get to try this lovely wine, imported by Floraison Selections, this is my third experience with this Ange, and the Ecu estate Cabernet Franc version “Mephisto” and each time has left me even more impressed, mic dropped.
($52 ESt.) 95 Points, grapelive
2015 Domaine Bertrand et Axelle Machard de Gramont, Bourgogne Rouge “Les Grands Chaillots” Burgundy, France.
This pretty and elegant Lieu Dit Les Grands Chaillots, is from Nuits-Saint-Georges, shows the lovely touch of Axelle Machard de Gramont, a new star in the region, and highlights the vintage’s charms with wonderfully textured fruit that is ripe, but with good taught precision. This is a flavorful and thoughtful Pinot Noir that can inspire a new generation of wine lovers to Burgundy, it presents a clear vision, easy to understand on the palate with graceful texture and delicate earthiness, it’s exceptional in it’s price class. The first impression is one of opulence, and quality, especially for the price and level of this wine, gaining greatly with air in the glass there is a lot to admire with radiant red fruits, light spicy notes, classy wood shadings and mineral tones. Layers of cherry, plum and raspberry lead here on the round and medium full palate, again impressive for a Bourgogne AC bottling, with hints of cranberry, English toffee, rose petal, briar, cola bean and faint forest mushroom along with a nice cut of acidity which keeps this Pinot alive and vibrant from start to finish. I had been looking for Domaine Bertrand et Axelle Machard de Gramond high and low for a while, so I was thrilled to that Paris Wine Company-Balanced Wine Selections are bringing this into the USA, they have a solid selection of 2014 and 2015’s in stock and while I’ll hand on to the Premier Cru(s) for many more years before I open them, I couldn’t resist popping a bottle of this entry level cuvee to see what was in store, and though it is drinking beautifully, it has a long life ahead too. Machard de Gramont is working organic, and going to practicing biodynamic from what I gather, and the wine shows a fine form of ripeness and energy, with Axelle using native yeasts and mostly used oak to craft her lineup, everything highlights her drive and passion towards purity and the individual terroirs of her plots in Nuits-Saint-Georges. The natural expressiveness of these 2015 are going to make them very attractive young, but the concentration and complexity are likely set to be them even better with age, I am in the opinion that even this one will be even more rewarding with 3 to 5 years of bottle age and best between 2026 to 2032, I’m so happy I got a few bottles, this is a great bargain and exciting Pinot.
($32-38 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2016 Olivier Riviere, Rioja “Rayos Uva” Vino Tinto, Spain.
Rioja’s newest star is a French transplant, Olivier Riviere, born just south of Bordeaux in the Cognac region, he’s studied in Saint-Emilion and made wine at top estates in France, including stints at biodynamic producers like Elian da Ros, a unique wine/winery of which I first tried a few years ago, as well as Domaine Leroy, the famous Burgundy! After a deal to open his winery in the south of France in Fitou fell through Riviere went to Spain, first to help Telmo Rodriguez of Remelluri convert to biodynamic, and now is a rising talent in Rioja with many organic parcels spread throughout the zone. His wines have caught the attention of critics far and wide for the ease of use, value and transparency of fruit, these are not showboats, but finessed and pretty wines that reflects the old school and natural approach he employs here. The lovely and lightly earthy Rayos Uva Vino Tinto is a blend of classic Rioja varietals with mainly Tempranillo, but also Graciano and Garnacha from 15 to 20 year old vines grown on alluvial soils, with mostly sand, gravel and a bit of ancient clay in Rioja Baja, it is meant to be a village wine with little oak influence. The native ferment Rayos Uva sees a combination of stainless tank, old foudre and cement vats (for 6-8 moths), everything to express purity of form and delicacy and this 2016 is brilliantly fresh, vibrant and with elegant texture, it may be light when compared to most Rioja it surprises for it’s layers and length with sweet black cherry, truffle and mixed floral tones as well as dusty spices, raspberry, tart currant, anise and Turkish fig. This Rioja offers a solid value and gives an impressive palate performance, this is a lot of wine for the price, keep your eyes out for Oliviere Riviere, imported by European Cellars (Eric Solomon) as this is going to be a winemaker to follow!
($16 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2016 Nanclares y Prieto Viticultores, Albarino “Paraje Mina” Vino Branco, Rias Baixas, Galicia Spain.
What a crazy good wine this is from Silvia Prieto and Alberto Nanclares at Nanclares y Prieto Viticultores, it’s a single parcel Albarino (Parade Mina) cuvee that is half inox (stainless tank) and half used French oak from clear, no skins, juice ferments using native yeasts, aged 10 months, which in the case of this 2016 results in a vivid and steely wine that reminds me a lot of a Montee de Tonnerre Premier Cru Chablis! The nose is flinty with hints of almonds and briny sea shore with a touch of citrus before leading to a racy and saline palate of green apple, lemon/lime and wild peach fruits along with a touch of grilled fennel, minty herb, wet stones and melon rind. It’s greenish/golden pale hue hints to this saline and acid driven white that sizzles with pulsing energy, it’s brisk tone and dusty dryness hides this wine’s textural quality until air unleashes it’s mouth feel and more seductive nature allowing a bit more body to show through as well as length, with a touch of wood and lees that add subtle smoke, hazelnut and nutmeg. Wow, this is impressive Albarino, though certainly you’d much more generously rewarded to have this with cuisine, especially oysters, sardines, grilled octopus and or mussels. This is an exceptional regional expression that offers a vibrant thrill, Nanclares’ 2016 are wonderful wines and this one in particular is well worth searching out. Silvia and Alberto are making some exciting wines, imported by Jose Pastor Selections, Nanclares y Prieto is one of Rias Baixas’ best producers, these, salty/ocean influenced, are special wines, passionate, traditional and clearly focused that showcase pride of place(terroir), do not miss them.
($39 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2015 Joh. Jos. Prum, Riesling Auslese, Wehlener Sonnenhuhr, Mosel Germany. (375ml)
J.J. Prum, founded in 1911 (which is young for such a heralded winery in Germany) is one of the world’s great wineries as well as being a top Mosel or German estate with an amazing history and collection of fantastic wines, when I was starting in the wine business, one of my first magical epiphanies came from tasting a set of J. J. Prum wines from Kabinett to Auslese, it was a moment that changed my whole understanding of Riesling, sweetness and balance, these wines revealed terroir, they removed the sigma of sugar levels and gave me the insight, that not only can Riesling thrill the palate with sexy hedonism, but can be vigorous like a red wine wine with power/extract and structure. From then to now, I’ve always held this winery in high regard, if you want an elite Mosel you’d never go wrong with Joh. Jos. Prum, these are wines in an echelon that includes Willi Schaefer, Selbach-Oster and Dr Loosen, they are a traditional and classic producer most famous for their glorious higher must weight wines, and wines like this 2015 Wehlener Sonnenuhr Auslese, that while densely sweet is also remarkably focused and svelte (openly transparent) with amazing depth of character, most would consider a wine like this nectar of the gods! Brilliant and lightly golden in the glass with a smoky/flint bouquet that slowly unfolds, as this young (baby) starts to wake with air gains floral and spice notes along with clear stone fruits with a non botrytis seriousness. Understanding Auslese is still a confusing art, it is a fruity wine, though not strictly a dessert wine, in fact it is much more than that and can be matched with many cuisines and is one of the true pleasures of the wine world, these are wines that can be sipped alone, can be an aperitif with fruit and cheeses and brilliant with fiery Asian dishes as well as be enjoyed with savory foods from smoked meats to pate. This wonderful Joh. Jos. Prum Wehlener Sonnenuhr opens on the palate with intense liquid mineral, apricot, peach, dried ginger, rose oil, wet shale/rock, vibrant though ripe creamy citrus (mandarin orange) saline/brine, honeycomb and tropical essences all which form a textural nirvana of mouth feel and depth, while still remaining firm and not cloying at all, it’s that almost perfect scale of tension and release with it’s stony vitality, brisk acidity and sweet opulence. Wehlener Sonnenuhr is a rocky site of blue slate, which gives this beautiful wine it’s soul, it was crafted by Dr. Katharina Prum, who has been working along side her father Dr. Manfred Prum, who took this estate to it’s stunner heights after taking over in 1969, and were founding members of the VDP, they only make wines with residual sugar, usually fermented with wild/natural yeasts and aged in large German oak cask, all from old vine plots in four of Germany’s great vineyards, Wehlener Sonnenuhr, Graacher Himmelreich, Zeltinger Sonnenuhr and Bernkasteler Badstube. Imported by Rudi Wiest, J.J. Prum is a standard barer winery and a must try wine if you want to explore Germany’s traditional masterpieces, these are wines of enteral life and cellar with exceptional pureness and rewarding grace, and this 2015 is set for many decades of pleasure. Do. Not. Fear. (Sugar)
($40 Est. Half Bottle) 96 Points, grapelive
2012 Weingut von Winning, Riesling Trocken, Ruppertsberger Reiterpfad, Deidesheim, Pfalz Germany.
With all the great new releases from 2015 and 2016 vintages sometimes we forget to focus on wines that are on the shelves now and may have been forgotten, but that deserve your attention, like this gorgeous and layered 2012 von Winning dry Riesling that is drinking beautifully and with an almost white Burgundy like grace and purity, while unique in giving varietal and terroir character. This is from a Cru site set on sandy loam, red sandstone, limestone soils that is organic, the wine was formed from native yeast and gentile vinification, everything is gravity flow, so there is no pumping, everything on the dry wines at von Winning is done with elegance in mind and with an ode to white Burgundy with winegrower Stephan Attman and team crafting wines of individual beauty. This bottling is in almost every essence a GG, and is a Grosse Lage (Grand Cru) site, but this Reiterpfad Trocken is not so labeled, so while it is made the same way and has the pedigree, though without as much of French oak influence of the top cuvees, this wine is the real deal and sleeper in von Winning’s lineup, with this wonderful vintage driven 2012 wine. Coming out of it’s youthful shell, this Riesling still has electric like energy and power along with it’s more apparent depth and richness, it is gaining it’s true form and in the glass it is a thrilling wine with sexy layers of crisp fruit, mineral tones, delicately seductive floral notes and an impressive extract, width and textual expansion, this is a wine of palate impact and substance, but with glorious transparency. There is an array of lime, green apple, quince, lemon curd, apricot and creamy tangerine fruits, a dusting of chalk, wet stone, peach pit, sweet basil, faint spices and fine saline that all make this a stunner and a great wine for the price, and with air this wine gathers mouth feel hints of white rose petals, hazelnut and briny elements highlighting this wine’s vigorously dry and balanced vibrancy, absolutely everything you’d want and more rivaling many a Premier Cru Chablis and making for an exotic Riesling experience, and it’s a wine that will age another decade with ease.
($39 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2015 Bonny Doon Vineyard, Cigare Alternative “E” Rhone Red Blend, Central Coast.
Randall Grahm’s delicious and unique Alt-Cigare is an almost Bandol like blend of 77% Mourvedre from Del Barba (Ranch) Vineyard, an old vine site planted in 1910 on Contra Costa sandy soils, 16% Grenache from Alta Loma and Rancho Solo Vineyards, 5% Cinsault from Bechtold Vineyard as well as 2% of Coastview Vineyard Syrah, it’s generous and pure wine that delivers a wonderful pleasing drinking performance. Gracefully balanced, nicely ripe, but restrained in alcohol Bonny Doon’s Cigare Alternative “E” red blend at 13.3% gives layers of raspberry/boysenberry, black cherry, plum and brightly tangy currant fruits as well as mineral tones, delicate pepper and spicy notes. Very little if any oak is presented on the medium bodied palate, which adds to this wines purity of form, while still being opulent and roundly open in it’s textural mouth feel. Though less earthy or leathery than it’s French cousins in the Rhone or Provence, this wine still has easy reminders of southern France and it’s a youthful expression at this stage that should gain complexity over the next 3 to 5 years in bottle. It’s almost impossible not to love all of the latest releases from Bonny Doon Vineyard, and while many are intended for his wine club, many (like this one) are available at their tasting room in Davenport, making a visit there an absolute must if you are in the Santa Cruz area. This Mourvedre based red is a really fun wine that offers a very good return on the money, it’s not as deep or as intriguing as the top Le Cigare bottlings, but certainly it’s a lovely, forward and transparent wine that’s even more tasty with cuisine.
($26 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2016 Daterra Viticultores (Laura Lorenzo) “Portela do Vento” Vino Tinto, Ribeira Sacra, Spain.
From a vineyard in the Amandi, Val do Bibei, comes Laura Lorenzo’s Daterra Viticultores Portela do Vento Vino Tinto, grown on the Ribeira Sacra granite with sand soils, it’s an organic site with 20-60 year old vines, and is a blend of 90% Mencia and 10% Garanacha Tintorera (Alicante Bouschet) that is 20% whole cluster, it’s Lorenzo’s “Glou-Glou” (quaffer) easy to drink offering. With native yeast ferment in stainless, the Portela do Vento is aged 9 months in large used French oak cask, this cuvee is racy and vibrant with an almost Langhe Nebbiolo like intensity, while being fresh and medium bodied with this 2016 showing a bit more cut than the 2015 with lovely and spice red fruits, mineral charms and light perfume. The 2016 is different than the 2015 in that it is spicier and more racy, it stats with almost chili/peppery note along with vibrant red fruits, mineral tones and anise, the palate is textural and layered with soft tannins and good deal of acidity keeping things lifted and lighter in the mouth. Flavorful and fresh, this Portela do Vento shows plum, raspberry, cherry and blood orange fruits along with salted black licorice, a mix of floral elements, dusty earth, red pepper and a touch of wild herb. With air things getting going with an expanded array and deeper expressions with a more dark and opulent profile emerging while retaining it’s red fruited character, less Syrah like than most Mencia based wines, picking up on that Nebbiolo like reminder, though certainly this is a unique wine that stands on it’s own, it’s truly it’s own style, with every experience I fall more in love with Lorenzo’s wines and those of this region.
($30 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2015 Arnot-Roberts, Gruner Veltliner, Alfaro Family Vineyards, Santa Cruz Mountains.
This ultra cool two barrel Gruner from Duncan Meyers and Nathan Roberts at Arnot-Roberts comes from Richard Alfaro’s estate in the Santa Cruz Mountains near Corralitos, a cool climate Pacific Ocean influenced site, I had heard about, but had missed from the 2014 vintage, lucky enough I was able to get a bottle to sample from Alfaro (who also makes his own version), because Arnot-Roberts sold out this under 50 case production white almost instantly. Arnot-Roberts gets mostly Chardonnay from Alfaro’s Trout Gulch Vineyard, but couldn’t resist his small lot of a Gruner Veltliner when it came available, so too did Ted Glennon and Ian Brand for their Vocal Vineyards. This golden hued Gruner from Arnot-Roberts has the vintage’s concentrated character, but with wonderful vivid acidity and stylish almond oil bitterness that keeps things intensely fresh with green apple, lemon/lime, green melon (with a tangy rind), quince and kiwi fruits along with hints of hay/straw, wild fennel, dried basil and chalky wet stones as well as a leesy brioche and textual mouth feel, finishing with lingering spice, citrus flower and kumquat. Crisply dry and briskly vibrant, this is groovy GruVee that does it’s Austrian roots proud, I’m glad I waited a extra bit of time to try this as I feel it is now showing an extra dimension that might well have been lost when slightly younger, and while it’s racy and bracing throughout it does have impact, extract and presence on the palate filling out and gaining an intriguing depth and roundness without being flabby at all, impressive all the way. Arnot-Roberts, known for their cool climate Syrah(s) and almost Chablis inspired Chardonnay(s) also do an amazing Trousseau and Ribolla Gialla as well as their famous Rose of Turiga Nacional! Doubt there is any of this Gruner around, sadly, but in case you see it, get it!
($39-45 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2013 Thierry Richoux Vigneron, Irancy Rouge, Red Burgundy, France.
The Irancy region is in essence the red Chablis, once disregarded is seeing some amazing wines come forth, like this Thierry Richoux Irancy Ac, plus Domaine de Beru, as well as others, these are wines of delicacy and detail, and they are as pure as it gets for Pinot Noir. Located just southwest of the fan shell of Chablis, Irancy is also known for it’s cherry trees, set on Kimmeridgian marls, along with some clay, loose gravel and brown limestone the region is home to Pinot Noir, though close by Saint-Bris has Burgundy’s only Sauvignon Blanc zone, plus there is some César (a local red grape), thought to be French Barbera, of which 10% is allowed in the Irancy reds. Tierry Richoux’s Irancy is believed to be 100% Pinot grown organically on clay and limestone, his parcel is southwest facing and allows ripe fruit and refined tannin, he ferments in tank and ages his AC Irancy for a year in stainless and a year in barrique, mostly used for this cuvee, it delivers the transparency and precision you’d expect with superb mineralite and vibrant acidity, though wonderfully textured in form. The 2013 is intriguing and lacy with bright energy and lengthy persistence showing wild roses, tangy strawberry, flinty stones and tart cherry at it’s core along with a mix of spice, herb and racy framboise. Lovely, light to medium bodied elegance, while still complex and rewarding, this shiny ruby hued Pinot from Richoux is a real Burgundy steal that over delivers. Imported by The Source Imports, it offers serious layers of quality for the price, this vintage is showing really well, making for a very pleasing experience and a happy surprise for the somewhat ho hum vintage. Drink over the next 3 to 7 years, this Irancy by Richoux gains with air with dramatic effect, it becomes quite the center piece of attention, best with lighter fare and simple cuisine, I’m now a big fan and can’t wait for the 2014 and 2015 vintages! This is a wine that truly reminds you of why you love Burgundy, it seduces with subtle brilliance and with slow burning foreplay.
($32 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2016 Le Temps des Copains, Gamay “Sanctus” Love & Grapes Project, Vin de France, Loire Valley, France.
100% Gamay Noir, organic 18 year old vines, on gneiss soils from Benoît Landron of Domaine Landron-Chartier in the Coteaux d’Ancenis in the northern Loire, not far from Muscadet where Fred Niger of Domaine de L’Ecu is and where this unique wine is made as part of Fred’s Love & Grapes line of wines which are all partnership projects from organic growers across Europe with current offerings that include a white from Italy and a Syrah from the Rhone as well as this Gamay. Whole cluster fermented and macerated in amphora, with almost no sulfur, the Santus is one of the most unique (and expensive!) Gamay wines in the world. Utterly thrilling from start to finish, in a recent Cru Beaujolais tasting it completely blew away many famed versions, including Dutraive’s old vine Fleurie, with it’s charm, depth and energy it is clearly a special wine with sex appeal and remarkable character. Starting with pretty floral and mineral tones this dark fruited Gamay eases on to the palate with bright blueberry, morello cherry, tangy plum and dried citrus/red peachiness along with elements I would say come through as chalk/stone and baked tiles as well as an exciting array of spicy/sweet herb notes that includes cinnamon, star anise, roasted garden thyme and delicate pepper. Medium bodied, but with good density of mouth feel and serious impact, this Gamay is not stuff you’d soon forget, okay the price is a shocker, but it’s so cool I’d do it again, and I’d love to see how it ages. Imported by Floraison Selections, these Le Temps des Copains natural amphora aged collaboration wines from Fred Niger at Domaine de L’Ecu are worth searching out, plus L’Ecu’s Muscadet whites are some of the best of the region, plus don’t miss his own clay pot aged Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir offerings which are exceptional too! This Sanctus takes Gamay and Natural Wine to the next level.
($72 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2015 Nanclares y Prieto Viticultores “Penapedre” Vino Tinto, Ribeira Sacra, Galicia, Spain.
From an old vine vineyard in the Mino slope in the Ribeiro Sacra, the wonderfully layered 2015 Penapedre from Silvia Prieto and Alberto Nanclares of Viticultores Nanclares y Prieto, more famous for their gorgeous Rias Baixas Albarino(s) who have added a couple of Mencia based reds to their impressive portfolio, and they are really alluring efforts, especially this one. The Penapedre is a co-planted and fermented blend of mostly Mencia 60% along with 30% of Garnacha Tintorera (Alicante Bouschet) along with 10% of mixed black (and maybe a bit of Godello white?) grapes from a 100 year old all organically farmed parcel at a 60 degree angle/slope set on classic granite soils, this vineyard is hand tended and picked in small baskets, it faces south and southwest to get the most of the Galician sun, and allowing ripe flavors and refined tannins. The 2015, from a warm and lush vintage, comes in at 13% natural alcohol, it also allowed whole cluster ferments in a large 4,000L chestnut wood open top fermenter with traditional foot stomp crushing, native yeasts and low sulfur were used here with lees aging in a mix of five used French large cask of 300L and 400L sizes for about a year before racking to stainless tank, it was unfined and unfiltered. This old school Mencia based old vine field blend starts with lovely earthy charm, lightly perfumed with dark floral tones, truffle and spices to go with black fruits that all lead to a medium full palate of wild plum, blackberry, mulberry, zesty currant and black cherry fruits, as well as cracked green peppercorns, forest mushroom, roasted herbs, crushed violets, flinty mineral and gravel, anise and subtle/faint oak shadings. This vibrant and velvety red has a northern Rhone feel and style, but still uniquely it’s own wine and terroir with it’s juicy acidity that is more Pinot like in textural delicacy and grace, while remaining seductively exotic and feral, it’s beautiful Ribeiro Sacra, it joins recent exciting Mencia driven wines from the region like Guimaro and Laura Lorenzo’s Daterra Viticultores that have been shinning a spotlight on this historic area, these are amazing wines that really deliver chills and thrills, especially for those that either are looking for something new or are lovers of Burgundy, Cru Beaujolais and Northern Rhone wines. This wine will be hard to find, imported by Jose Pastor Selections, I am grateful to have got a few from Vinopolis Wine Shop in Portland Oregon as it is almost impossible to find in my own state of California, as Nanclares is a secret Somm favorite and almost none finds it’s way to retail outlets! Silvia Prieto, since joining Alberto, has got their red wine project rocking and is a talent to follow, plus do not miss their Nanclares Albarino, which are glorious and wonderful whites, think Premier Cru Chablis meets Emmerich Knoll Gruner!
($49 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2013 Cameron, Nebbiolo, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
The beautiful and detailed Cameron Nebbiolo is denominated “Willamette Valley” because the wine is a blend of fruit from Clos Electrique, planted in 1993 (Dundee Hills AVA) and Foster Farms (Ribbon Ridge AVA) planted in 2000, and like John Paul’s Pinot it is a class act, even from a vintage that was a bit off from the regions standards, this is quite thrilling stuff. Cameron’s 2013 Nebbiolo weighs in at 12.6% alcohol which gives this wine a delicacy and brightness that reminds me of a Boca (Upper Piedmonte) or a an ultra fresh Langhe Nebbiolo with an easy textural mouth feel and subtle complexity showing brisk and racy red fruits and lengthy creaminess to start with a bit of grip and mineral notes. In terms of American Nebbiolo, this is lovely and varietal correct, it joins Palmina (Steve Clifton, ex-Brewer-Clifton) as true to the grape wines, but still uniquely stylistically their own creations. As the Cameron Nebbiolo opens, the tannins fill out and the fruit gets more refined, this red changes and evolves wonderfully in the glass revealing black cherry, wild plum and tangy raspberry layers along with a touch of bitter herb, balsamic and menthol hints as well as anise, saline stones and light spices. Day two even gets better with this Nebbiolo allowing dried flowers, rose oil and soft wood notes to blend in with grace, while things remain vibrant and focused, not much bigger than Cameron’s Pinot Noir, this is an intriguing Willamette offering that delivers a top notch performance, again it is worth mentioning that the vintage was very uneven in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, so given that, this stuff is just that much more a note worthy example, and I’ll be very excited to see how the 2014 is in comparison. There is a lot of things to admire here, even now, but I can imagine there will be some rewards in aging this 2013 Cameron Nebbiolo a few more years. Oregon’s Willamette Valley is more than a one trick pony, there’s so many exciting things coming out now it’s head spinning, besides the great Pinot Noirs, you are finding wonderful Gamay, Gruner Veltliner, Pinot Blanc and Melon de Bourgogne, with John Paul of Cameron making this Nebbiolo and a Friuli inspired white blend as well. Cameron’s Pinots are legendary, this is a winery to follow, getting on his list is a great idea, the wines are not easy to find, but I was able to get a good sampling from Portland’s Vinopolis Wine Shop, including this Nebbiolo.
($40 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2016 Bow & Arrow, Gamay, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
Scott Frank’s Bow & Arrow Gamay is one of the best new world versions I’ve tried and I love the Loire inspiration of his wines in general, these are lively and energy filled offerings that include Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir(s), Cabernet Franc, Melon (de Bourgogne), this Gamay and the Rhinestones, a wonderful blend of Gamay and Pinot Noir, most from Oregon’s Willamette Valley. Frank’s Portland based winery is without a question is a must try Oregon label, and especially try his Gamay stuff, with this 2016 he has hit a new level of quality and detail, it would be easy to believe this was a Cru Beaujolais with it’s Brouilly like intensity and earthy layered fruit and acidity that kicks in on the palate, and even though he is more Loire influenced, this catches your attention and put in a stellar performance when put in a lineup that included Dutraive’s old vine Fleurie! For the price, the quality is remarkable, with some of the other Oregon Gamay Noir(s) being almost twice the price, it’s pretty electric magenta/purple color thrills in the glass along with it’s earthy tones and floral/fruity essences filling the bouquet before a sharply focused palate of blackberry, blueberry, tart plum and subtle jolly rancher blue raspberry, along with hints of leather, anise, peppery cinnamon and walnut. The body is lithe and the Bow & Arrow Gamay feels taught and crisp, but ripe tannins and texture come out with air making for impressive impact, this is a joyous semi carbonic (traditional method) example and holds it’s own in mineral driven varietal purity, plus it rocks with food, pulling extra depth, earthy charm and complexity when it counts, I love this vintage!
($22 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2015 Weingut Kruger-Rumpf, Riesling Spatlese, Munsterer Dautenpflanzer, Nahe Germany.
Georg Rumpf’s concentrated and richly flavored Munsterer Dautenpflanzer Spatlese reveals the glories of the vintage and while deep and sweet on the palate there is wonderful vitality and balance in this beautiful Riesling, it was brilliant with both fiery Thai chili noodles and a more subtle curry on Christmas eve, as well as going nicely with the Holiday fare. Georg’s wines are hitting a groove right now, especially his 2015 and 2016 offerings, both vintages entrance and intrigue with the warm vintage wines of 2015 showing the sex appeal and density you’d expect and the 2016’s giving a masterful performance in delicacy and detail, it’s hard to pick between them to be honest, but this alluring 2015 Riesling Spatlese from the loess, quartzite and clay soils of Kapellenberg’s Munsterer Dautenpflanzer is pure seduction in the glass. This Riesling’s opulent palate unfolds with orange blossom, sweet lime, hints of seashore, wet shale and a touch of honey along with a core of white and yellow stone fruits, mineral tones and lemony quince. Layers of peach, apple and apricot come through with air as does a bit of flinty, dried tangy ginger while the body fills out with a certainly creaminess, though energy (crisp acidity) still pumps away keeping this stuff focused, it’s not heavy or cloying at all. Rumpf tries to used native yeasts on the fruity/sweeter wines with longer lees aging, all which with the attention of handwork in the vineyard add up to quality and authentic wines, especially with his Cru bottlings like this one. It’s hard to find better values in the Nahe than Kruger-Rumpf, I love this one, and Georg’s exotic and stylish Scheurebe in the Spatlese, as well as the fantastic Abtei Trocken, a wine that comes from an ultra steep site across the river from Bingen that has soils that mirror those over on the Rhein side in Rudesheimer Berg, it’s my secret dry favorite in the lineup, even though the GG’s are stunning too. When you want a bit of RS and need an option, I’d consider Kruger-Rumpf, they are quilt free wines, and they age with style too. Drink this pretty and dense Munsterer Dautenpflanzer Spatlese now or a decade or more from now, either way it will prove rewarding.
($26-28 Est.) 92+ Points, grapelive
2016 Daterra Viticultores (Laura Lorenzo) “Camino de la Frontera” Vino Tinto, Arribes, Spain.
Grown along the Duero River across from Portugal Laura Lorenzo’s Daterra Camino de la Frontera is an old vine red blend that includes the rare local variety Juan Garcia (also known as Mouratón), co-planted and co-fermented with 70% Juan Garcia, 15% Tempranillo, 5% Bobal, 3% Rufete, 2% Mencia and 5% Bastardo from 100 to 130 year old vines close to Fermoselle. An area of Spain that is ancient and undiscovered, it’s remoteness seems to be it’s allure to Lorenzo, who is a vineyard whisperer and well regarded for bringing back wild, or lost historic vines and creating exciting wines. This a new wine for Lorenzo, and it’s a beauty with a wonderful mix of tangy fresh fruits and natural earthy elements with a lighter frame, though with firm tannins it is some what like a Nebbiolo in that way, while not tasting like anything I’ve ever tried making it gloriously new and riveting with every sip and aftertaste. The Camino de la Frontera follows Laura’s style allowing these ancient vines to speak in their own voices, with native yeast ferments in tank and with no manipulation and very low sulfur with the maceration(s) being extremely gentile, the wines are raised in well used French oak cask, usually 300L and 500L barrels. At 12.5% natural alcohol and with it’s medium body this delicately hued red is full of flavor, it starts with floral tones, moist earth, wild herbs and sour cherry, briar notes and racy red raspberry leading to a tart and velvety palate with plum, blueberry and cranberry fruits, along with grilled fennel/melted salty black licorice and zesty citrus rind, finishing with stony/gravelly elements, saddle leather, currant, heral tea spices and faint flower blossom. This wine gets more generous with food and time in the glass, bringing a riper profile forward and becomes more textural in mouth feel, Lorenzo is a huge talent and these wines already have an under ground following, imported by Jose Pastor Selections, even I have a terrible time finding them and I’ve been a fan since her wines even before she started her own label, in fact I had to buy bottles from Texas and New York, as they are almost nearly impossible to get in my home state of California! Laura specializes in Mencia and Godella based field blends from mostly old bush vines above the Sil River, on steep slopes of slate soil in the Ribeira Sacra, in the Galicia region of Spain, but she also does maybe the best Palomino I’ve tasted. You’ll need to be adventurous and search hard, but these wines by Laura Lorenzo’s Daterra Viticultores are fabulous and well worth the effort.
($30 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2016 Weingut Leitz, Riesling Kabinett, Rüdesheimer Berg Kaisersteinfels, Terrassen, Grosse Lage, Rheingau Germany.
What a thrilling wine, don’t let that word Kabinett on the label fool you, this drinks drier than you’d think, this is pure full on Grand Cru Riesling here from one of Germany’s great vineyard sites, Rudesheimer Berg Kaisersteinfels on the steep slatey slopes, in the historic Terrassen (terraced plots), above the Rhein and one that has a deep personal meaning to mean, both that I’ve been there a few times and that I was there for this 2016 harvest. This Leitz Grosses Lage drinks wonderfully intense, it can remind a bit of Condrieu (white flowers) meets Chablis (steely classic stoniness) with a powerful acid backbone, extract and mineral infusion, while still being openly generous, pretty and off dry hedonistic in profile without being overtly sweet, this wine leaves no doubt that Kabinett level maybe the greatest over all wines of the vintage in 2016, and Johannes Leitz’s team nailed this one! At 9.5%, this lightly floral and aromatic Kaisersteinfels Kabinett drinks within a whisper of the GG version, and will certainly age fantastic, this is a wine to get by the case or more, it has this vineyard’s magic and wow factor with brilliant details and flows with flinty spice, yellow orchard fruits, lime and a touch of creamy textural sensuality. Obviously Leitz knew all along this was a special and spectacular wine with pedigree and seductive charisma, it was bottled in GG fashion with heavy glass and under cork, a sly way of saying yes this is a Kabinett, but trust us you’ll be blown away with what’s in here, and I without a doubt was thrilled and impressed. It may just be the deal of the vintage with it’s layers of green apple, lime, kiwi, wild peach, apricot and tangerine fruits, crunchy stones, wet shale, kumquat sorbet, rosewater, liquid quartz and crystalized ginger spice. This mouth filling and razor sharply focused Riesling has the vitality and vigor that impresses red wine drinkers, but allows marvelous flexibility in cuisine options, it will perform with classic holiday fare, though will excel with Asian fusion dishes too, and I’d be in heaven with this and just a plate of speck (smoked/cured ham) in simplistic bliss. This Leitz Kaisersteinfels Kabinett joins Selbach-Oster’s Ur-Alte Reben Zeltinger Feinherb, Spreitzer’s Alte Reben Feinherb and Kruger-Rumpf’s Abtei Erste Lage Trocken as my favorite German Riesling 2016 deals! These are stunningly great wines all under $30, especially this one, do not miss! The 2015 Leitz GG’s Schlossberg and Kaisersteinfels were two of my wines of year last year, and this Kaisersteinfels Kabinett is not far off, this is exceptional stuff that has a multi decade life ahead of it, though you won’t be amiss to drink it anytime.
($22-25 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2015 Domaine d’Ouréa, Vacqueyras, Rhone Valley, France.
A blend from “Hautes Garrigues” and “Les Pendants” plots, Adrien Roustan’s beautiful Vacqueyras is a pure terroir wine with amazingly deep character that almost feels more like a Northern Rhone than a Southern Rhone with it’s vitality and freshness. Adrien’s wines are the kind of wines I could drink every day, I love this wine it has ripe fruit, but stylish life with layers of dark fruits, spice and subtle earthiness, it’s complex and intriguing, but with a simple, sensually pleasing unpretentiousness! Domaine d’Ouréa is practicing biodynamic and goes toward natural wines, though the young 29 year old Adrien Roustan studied in Burgundy, and his wines show a grace and elegance that stand out in a region re-finding it’s traditional roots and ancient soul, Roustan is a winemaker (Vigneron) to watch, his winery is on nine hectares of vines in Vacqueyras, but it’s his high-elevation Gigondas plots that were the inspiration for the domaine’s name, Ourea were the children of the Greek goddess Gaia, the Mother Earth. d’Ourea (the Ourea) became the gods of the mountains. The d’urea Vacqueyras is made from 60% Grenache, 30% Syrah, 10% Carignan all organic and native yeast fermented, de-stemmed, in concrete/cement vats, no oak is used here on the reds, with this aged 18 months in the cement. The soils here shine through, with sandstone, yellow clay/marl limestone giving the density and purity of fruit, this Domaine d’Ourea 2015 also showing the vintage’s opulence and rich warm flavors, making this feel more like a full blown Chateauneuf-du-Pape with briar laced olallieberry, damson plum, mure and violette on the lush palate, balanced by a nice cut of acidity and contrasting savory/stony tones with dusty chalk, saline, black licorice/fennel and classic garrigue, that gives a lavender oil sweet/tanginess. The year was showy and it comes through with less bright peppery notes than is normal, but a faint leather and feral earthy elements keeps this beautiful Vacqueyras from being cloying or slutty, this is such a joyous Rhone red, it’s almost without fault and should drink well for years to come, imported by Floraison Selections in California, this and d’Ourea’s Gigondas are wines to look for, these are amazing wines for the money.
($29 Est.) 93+ Points, grapelive
2014 Albatross Ridge, Pinot Noir “First Flight” Estate, Carmel Valley, Monterey County.
The late release of a the Albatross Ridge First Flight, from Garrett Bowlus, is a refined and extremely delicious on the creamy medium weight palate, this under 70 case cuvee is only going to be produced in exceptional vintage, making it one of the most sought after and limited Carmel Valley wines. This First Flight comes from the most extremely rocky parcel on the Albatross Ridge Estate, which is just 7 miles from the Pacific at about 1,200 feet up, with vines strewn with large Carmel Stone (chalk rocks) and is windswept making it wildly cool and difficult to get much in the way of yields, but this stress adds to the character and intensity of flavors here, which clearly has paid off in their 2014 wines, all of which are spectacular, especially this one and the Estate Reserve. The First Flight comes from rows of Pommard and 828 Clone and is crafted in traditional old school Burgundy fashion (native ferments) with about 50% new French barrique, it was unified and unfiltered with special care to bleed it off the lees to only have the clearest and purest essences go into bottles, this commitment to detail has really led to a brilliant wine that shows amazing delicacy and grace with ripe tannins, while still allowing the true energy (firm acid structure) and remoteness of site to shine through. The first impression of this new wine is one of remarkable lightness of form and extra lingering aftertaste with a beautiful ruby/garnet hue in there glass with subtle briar and baking spices lifting from the glass with round flavors of racy red cherry, raspberry, plum and pomegranate fruits as well as balanced sweet/smoky oak, minty herb, faint and alluring earthiness along with Turkish fig, flinty mineral and chalky elements. The finish is impressive with wonderful length, hanging on with creamy decadence and exotic liquid rose and a mix of currant paste and strawberry, this low alcohol cool climate Pinot Noir has plenty to admire and the mouth feel is excellent, it should gain more of an extrovert personality over time and it has potential to really really sexy, I hope to try it again in 5 years to see where it goes, I must say I still love the Estate Reserve a touch better at this stage, but it’s a close run thing, best from 2020 to 2026.
($115 Est.) 93-95 Points, grapelive
2014 K Vintners, Syrah “Motor City Kitty” Washington State.
The Charles Smith K Vintners “M*C*K Syrah is a rock and roll red that proves both powerful and wonderfully textural in feel with sharp detailing and extra length, and while tannic by nature there is a lot to love in this vintage with black raspberry, sweet currant and dark chocolate covered bacon bits! This lush Syrah perfectly illustrates the house style and the terroir, it’s bold frame is balance by perfectly reasonable 14% natural alcohol and inner acidity and an electric boost of energy matching it’s sweet fruited palate. Washington State is home to magical Syrah, with Cayuse, Betz and Gramercy Cellars (one of my personal favorites) being two of the higher profile examples, but many more are filling the scene with great wines like Reynvaan, Horsepower, Dunham Delmas, Waters, Mark Ryan, Trust, Syncline, Gorman, Rotie, Sleight of Hand, Amavi and Efeste all offering amazing quality. Charles Smith’s K Vintners reminds me of either Guigal or Jaboulet with his amazing array of bottlings from entry level wines to top single vineyard Crus, with lots of seriously good stuff in the middle, like this well rounded Motor City Kitty Syrah, which was fermented using native yeasts, with a long 43 days on the skins and aged 22 months in French puncheons, 30% new, from a Walla Walla vineyard planted to a Tablas Creek clone, 100% Syrah and grown on old river bed with large cobbles and well draining rocky soils. This 2014 maintained it’s natural acidity allowing a real fresh verve to stay in this alluring and richly flavored wine that shows ripe boysenberry, minty plum, blueberry compote, sweet black cherry and dense creme de cassis as well as subtle vanilla wood notes, hints of acacia flowers, graphite, bitter coco, anise and that candied bacon bits mentioned above. The evolution in the glass is graceful and more refined than I had imagined, there is plenty of life here and I think in many ways it will be even more rewarding in 3 to 5 years in bottle, it’s not exactly what I expected, but thrilling none the less with very impressive detail and a very worthy performance.
($49 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2016 Sheldon Wines, Syrah, Luc’s Vineyard, Fountaingrove, Sonoma County.
The wonderfully crisp and finessed Sheldon Syrah Luc’s Vineyard from the Fountaingrove AVA is unbelievably dreamy on the palate with a mind blowing low 12.2% natural alcohol, highlighting the graceful nature of this wine and Dylan Sheldon’s unwavering believe in delicacy and lightness, while still making a wine that has ripeness and layers. Starts with grapey crispy brightness with a deep purple/garnet hue and lifted blue fruits with precise form and detail with pretty plum, black raspberry, tart blueberry, cherry along with snappy spices led by cinnamon, sweet herbs and light cedary notes. At first you feel Syrah has been totally re-envisioned here, but patience brings a truer picture, this wine is hiding behind it’s youth, with air and time a fuller expression reveals itself in Sheldon’s Luc’s Vineyard Syrah and a denser mouth feel begins to take over on the palate, in fact on day two it gains width and length filling out completely adding peppery briar notes, structured tannin and lilac floral tones as well as creme de cassis and loganberry richness. With only 25 cases made this single barrel Syrah, from Dylan and Tobe Sheldon, this won’t be available for long, it comes from a small home vineyard in the Fountaingrove AVA in a cooler area of Sonoma County, sandwiched between Chalk Hill to the North, Sonoma Valley to the South and by the Russian River to the West, not far from the area devastated by the recent Sonoma fires near Santa Rosa. The Sheldon’s, who trained under Louis Barruol of Saint Cosme (famed Rhone producer) on their honeymoon, use native yeasts, some whole cluster and no new barrels have always strived for elegance and old school charms, they were in pursuit of balance before it was a marketing catch phrase! This 2016 dances gracefully and is joyously tangy fresh making it wonderful with food, this is a pure and easy to drink California wine, it is an anti jammy effort that will thrill those that like wines like Ryme, Wind Gap, Arnot-Roberts and Oregon’s Bow & Arrow. Sheldon has never shied away from the fun and wild, be sure to check out their Tempranillo Brut Rose and their Graciano, this micro winery has some cool offerings, it would be a great time to discover them and get on their list.
($35 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2015 Saint Cosme, Crozes-Hermitage, Northern Rhone, France.
The Louis Barruol Saint Cosme Crozes Hermitage is as terroir driven and pure as it get for Northern Rhone Syrah with exceptional detail and seductive laters of earthy spicy elements with leather, salty stone, violets and a heady mix of black, blue and red fruits on the medium weighted palate. While known and famous for his estate Grenache based wines of Gigondas, Barruol has a gifted talent for making great value Syrah wines, like this one especially, but also, it’s a little revealed fact that his basic Cotes du Rhone is 100% Syrah, and his Sant-Joseph and Cote-Rotie bottlings are awesome. This wine nails down the classic Northern Rhone profile with boysenberry, blueberry, damson plum and light cassis notes leading the way on the medium full bodied palate along with graphite/camphor, iron, anise, a touch of game/leather and faint cedar all lifted by peppercorns and ripe tannins. Saint Cosme makes some absolutely thrilling wines, and this one is really good and highlights the vintage’s richness and warm feel to perfection, while still being traditional and balanced in form and style. Look for this Crozes-Hermitage to gain and evolve over the next 3 to 5 years in bottle, though even drinking nicely right now, you can open this one without much quilt.
($27 Est.) 92+ Points, grapelive
2013 Cascina Ballarin di Viberti Luigi e Figli, Barolo “Tre Ciabot” Piedmonte, Italy.
This little known La Morra Barolo estate is run by the Viberti family, since 1928, and is in the hands of brothers Giorgio and Gianni, who farm their 7 hectares plots in La Morra, Novello and Monforte d’Alba to make this Tre Ciabot (three vineyards-three towns) cuvee, which is nestled in the Alba hillsides set on the “Blue Marl” limestone soils. The Viberti’s ferment in tank using traditional methods, from 100% Nebbiolo vines that are between 15 and 60 years old, then raised in mostly used oak cask, I believe French barriques, for 26 months along with a further 8 months resting in bottle before release. Imported by Vias Imports, Cascina Ballarin is new to me, and was shared at a recent tasting, Thanks Aaron, it was a bottle sourced at Cosco, and it really shined on the night, this ruby and brick red hued 2013 Barolo Tre Ciabot really over delivers for the price and is drinking wonderfully lush and polished with refined ripe tannins and mouth filling layers of dense fruit. Pure Nebbiolo character with tangy plum, raspberry, morello cherry and candied citrus as well as iodine, black licorice, earthy/savory elements, chalky stone and light cedar notes all come through on the full bodied palate, a while this wine doesn’t rise to legendary intrigue or elite status it is really good and easy to love, a steal for the price, no question and great for an introduction to Barolo. I would bet this will be a solid drinker for 5 to 10 years, though I doubt many would care to test it’s legs for the cellar as it is so tasty right now. Lingering incense, dried rose petal, kirsch and iron/blood notes add to the whole here in this solid effort from Cascina Ballarin, 2013 is a vintage to stock up on.
($25 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2016 Joyce Vineyards, Syrah, Tondre Grapefield, Santa Lucia Highlands.
The youth movement and generational change in Monterey wines has arrived with a flourish and you should take notice, these young guys are making some amazing wines and changing this region’s fortunes for small producers, this is especially true when you taste the wines of Ian Brand, I. Brand & Family Winery and Russell Joyce of Joyce Vineyards, who’s latest Syrah is one of the best wines of the year! Since around the 2004 vintage, Syrah has very quietly gained a reputation of quality in the Santa Lucia Highlands, the breakthrough wines came from Adam Lee (Siduri & Novy) with his work at Roar and with the Pisoni family offerings at Lucia Vineyards, but sadly these wines were considered a novelty and it took another decade before people started to realize just how great these wines were, but Syrah is now seriously on equal terms with Pinot Noir here! In recent years, Cattleya, Big Basin, Wrath, Roar, Pisoni, Sandlands and others have shown Syrah to be world class from the SLH, and Joyce’s 2016 Tondre Grapefield joins that list, and even better it does so at a ridiculously easy on the wallet price point! While Pinot Noir will certainly remain king of the Santa Lucia Highlands, Syrah will without pretense continue to prove itself worthy without as much fanfare, so it’s a great time to explore this regions expressions, in particular this Joyce Vineyards Tondre Grapefield version, and though 2015 was a fine effort, this new 2016 is a sexy old world style beast with seductive spicy and mineral tones that will easily be misread as Northern Rhone markers, in fact in an amazing lineup of great Syrah wines from around the world, this Joyce 2016 really stood out, I admit I was completely fooled into believing it was an Alain Graillot Crozes-Hermitage or a Andre Parret Saint-Joseph! The 2016 starts with a subtle/youthfully shy bouquet of crushed violets, dusty stones and stemmy spiciness along with a deep purple/black hue in the glass which leads to a medium full palate, with low natural alcohol that feels well below 14%, but with radiantly opulent blue and black fruits, expressing blackberry, boysenberry, blueberry, tangy plum and seductive cassis as well as tapenade, gravel, flinty peppercorns, faint earthy truffle, savory saline (which sets your salivation glands going) and dried minty licorice. Air gets things rocking and rolling adding depth of fruit and highlights this gorgeous wines potential, it will gain dramatically with mid term aging, it was native fermented with 30% or so whole cluster and aged in mostly well seasoned French barriques, of which light vanilla and cedar notes don’t impose on the wine, this is a wine that is pure, almost naked in it’s transparency, allowing it’s truest self and form to show. This is a stunningly brilliant effort from Joyce and team, it should be available soon to taste at their tasting room and on their website, be ready and do not miss it! I’ve been praiseful of what Russell Joyce has been doing and have reported on many of his wines this last year, but these 2016’s take it to a new plane of quality and pleasure, with his dry Riesling, Gabilan Pinot and this Syrah being my favorites, bravo guys, these are absolutely beautiful and truly rewarding wines, drink this Syrah from 2018 to 2025.
($25 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2016 Sheldon Wines, Old Vine Petite Sirah “I’ll get him in the Straightaway” Napa Valley.
Dylan and Tobe Sheldon’s tribute single barrel tribute to their friend, the late Ted Van Doorn, their “I’ll get him in the Straightaway” old vine Petite Sirah from a resurrected ancient prohibition era plot near Calistoga in Napa Valley, is a beautifully balanced deeply flavored. The dark purple/black with garnet edges Sheldon Petite Sirah is wonderfully balanced and textural for such a young grapey fresh wine, being only 13.6% helps with the overall graceful and easy drinking feel, it’s medium full bodied, mildly tannic with racy black and blue fruits, spices and peaked natural acidity, absolutely lovable and expressive throughout. Leaner versions of Petite Sirah (Durif) are making some headlines this year showing just how beautiful and vibrant this grape can be when not over done, Sheldon has always explored the lighter more delicate side of Peite Sirah while still being hedonistic, others to look for that made a great impression on me were Ian Brand’s Le P’ Tit Paysan Petite Sirah Monterey County, a stony/mineral driven version and Halcon Vineyards Yorkville Highlands Theopolis Vineyard Tierra Petite Sirah that shows an edgier Rhone/Cornas side, that might be the most exciting wine made from this grape I’ve ever tasted. This “I’ll get him in the Straightaway” Old Vine Petite Sirah flows with wild blackberry, sweet blueberry, currant jelly and concord grape fruits with hints of minty basil, pepper, incense, mineral, delicate liquid violet/acacia and kirsch. Look for a bolder/richer side to unfold with age, but still tons of fun right now, it has plenty of raw extract and density of fruit, the Sheldon’s used native yeast and raised this in a well seasoned French barrel allowing the vineyard and grape to express exceptional purity and detail, I can imagine this being a wonderful surprise in 10 to 15 years, if you could put a few bottles away, you almost can see it turning into a classy Bordeaux like wine with maturity, though I still like it’s fresh charms right now. Order this 25 case limited bottling direct from Sheldon Wines at www.sheldonwines.com and don’t miss their unique Graciano, Syrah and the Red Hat (a blend of Petite Sirah and Cabernet Sauvignon from the same old vine vineyard as this Petite Syrah) all of which are stylish micro batch and naturally made wines.
($35 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2015 Eduardo Torres Acosta, Nerello Mascalese “Versante Nord” IGT Terre Siciliane, Italy.
This is the second vintage I’ve had of Eduardo Torres Acosta, the Canary Islands native and now winemaker at top Etna estate Passopisciaro, who is crafting a tiny production Nerello Mascalese from parcels of older vines on the north slope of Mount Etna, averaging 40-50 years old on the volcanic soils that give these wines their pure terroir driven character. The 2015 Versante Nord, made up of at least 80% Nerello Mascalese, a grape that is often called the “volcano Burgundy” for it’s transparency and lighter ruby hue, along with other various local varietals, including a touch of Carricante (the white grape of Etna) is a earthy treat with just enough reductive funk and liquid shale aromas to make you balk a bit before the beautiful and delicate palate seduces you with silken tannins and layers of red fruits, spices, flinty stones, saline, licorice, kirsch and sweet new leather. Gaining exotic elements and density with air, which also allows the pungent start to blow off in this natural inspired red that flows with briar laced plum, cherry, raspberry and blood orange fruits, Eduardo Torres Acosta ferments with 10% whole cluster in cement vats using native yeasts with a two week on the skins maceration and then raises it in neutral large Slavonian barrel/cask for 16 months, still youthful now this should gain floral perfume and even more textural grace over the next 2 or 3 years, I can imagine this aging well. The Tenerife native has really taken to Sicily, and after working with Arianna Occhipinti, he is showing lots of potential with his Versante Nord Nerello Mascalese, it’s not a mainstream wine, but it certainly has intriguing charms and it really has grown on me, best to decant and or age it a bit longer, best from 2018 to 2024.
($30 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2014 Storm Wines, Pinot Noir, Vrede, Upper Hemel-en-Aarde Valley, South Africa.
After years at the famed Hamilton-Russell winery, Hannes Storm has struck out on his own with three tiny parcels of Pinot Noir and a little Chardonnay block, his first vintage from young vines in the Bokkeveld shale, clay and granite driven soils of Hemel-en-Aarde was the 2012, and it blew my mind and I couldn’t wait to try this newer releases, and his 2014 Vrede Pinot is exceptional and unbelievably Burgundy like! There is so much going on here, this stuff is killer with an attractive and seductive darkly earthy and sensual start with layers of dusty/stony red fruits, a mix of porcini/truffle, crushed rose petals and pomegranate leading the way with a beautiful natural and elegant mouth feel that is both lively and excitingly rich in texture and detail with tangy plum, black cherry and cranberry fruits forming a powerful core along with velvety ripe tannins and a heady mix of spice, herb and leathery notes, lingering on and on with hints of blueberry, strawberry and mineral. Given time and air the Storm Vrede Pinot Noir, from vines planted in 2008, opens even further and gains structure, density of fruit and more exotically sexy charms, wow, I can’t imagine how amazing this vineyard will be with even more age, because even now it’s awesome! Another thrilling wine from Hannes, who’s brother Ernst is making wine in Santa Barbara, and while flying under the radar is also a producer to search out, it’s a talented family, so while both are great, this South African Storm is really fantastic Pinot, imported by Broadbent Selections, and though not easy to find, is worth looking for. Seriously, while a bit more concentrated than some Premier Cru(s) in a blind tasting this wine would easily be picked out to be a Cotes de Nuits from a warmer/richer vintage, it’s somewhere between a fine Gevrey-Chambertin and a Morey-St.-Denis!
($40 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2015 Julia Bertram, Spatburgunder “Handwerk” Dernau, Ahr Germany.
A lovely and delicate wine, the 2015 Julia Bertram Spatburgunder Handwerk from Germany’s Ahr region, one of the world’s great Pinot Noir areas, is wonderfully vibrant and light on it’s feet with it’s terroir driven smoky slate character and subtle strawberry fruit, is not as intense as the famed Meyer-Nakel, where she interned in 2009, but without question an impressive wine! Julia’s story is pretty interesting too, going from the 64th German Wine Queen to maker of world class Pinot Noir in Dernau on the Ahr River, her family has made wine for generations, but she, who was born just in 1989 (talk about youthful ambition and calling), is focused on her own thing now concentrating on steep slope old vines on that intense slate. She’s all about lightness and grace, but with texture and length, and this 2015 Handwerk, sourced from various parcels is beautiful from start to finish, it at first feels impossibly dreamy, but gains layers by the minute with exotic spices, rosewater and always the mineralite that shines at this wines core. Julia’s first release was from the 2013 vintage after getting her ”Bachelor of Science” in viticulture and oenology at the University of Applied Sciences Geisenheim, she seems to be on course to be a superstar, her potential is more than promising! The entry level Handwerk is a great value and a gateway wine into the realm of top German Pinots, this wine dances on the palate with soft cherry, flinty/shale, sassafras, wild lavender, blood orange and tart cranberry elements. This wines charm is it’s subtle nature, but don’t be fooled this is a seriously good wine, great with salmon, roasted chicken and cured meats especially, drink from 2017 to 2024, and I can’t wait to try her denser and more barrel aged Cru (Single Vineyard) wines!
($27 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
1999 Weingut Selbach-Oster, Riesling Spatlese, Zeltinger Sonnenuhr, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer Germany.
A very complete mature Riesling from Johannes Selbach, the 1999 Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Spatlese is in a great place right now and was a treat to revisit, as I had once sold these as new back in the day and drank more than a few in the past, at almost 20 it is still laser focused and mineral driven goodness. Thanks Marc, for sharing this beauty on your birthday, cheers, it was a thrill to celebrate with this classic Spatlese from one of my favorite producers in the Mosel. The Zeltingen vineyard is one of the greatest sources for Riesling there is, and it’s intense Devonian blue slate gives exceptional purity, ripe yellow fruits and mixed mineral/stony tones and spicy notes, with Sonnenuhr being a sun catcher spot that gives these old vines the warm exposure they need to produce amazingly balanced and complex wines, also, without question this site offers incredible value, especially for those that want to age their Riesling! Drier that one would expect, this 1999 Zeltinger Sonnenuhr is still very generous with layers of orchard fruits and delicate honeyed sweetness with smoky/flinty wet shale, brine, rosewater and kumquat tanginess with lingering apricot and candied citrus. Gaining textural creaminess and baked peachy notes with air, but staying brilliantly fresh and steely vibrant throughout, as with all Selbach wines there is a grace and authentic pleasure to be found here and with the signs of age adds charm and regal character, I love these wines. Be sure to score the latest releases, the 2015 and 2016 vintages are good as it gets for Selbach-Oster, and don’t miss the Feinherb, Kabinett and Spatlese, while off dry, they are acid driven and well rounded with decades of life ahead of them.
($N/A 30-50 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2015 Val de Mer, Chablis, White Burgundy, France.
The Val de Mer label is a great value lineup of handcrafted wines made by Patrick Piuze, famous for his dynamic Chablis under his own label, at Domaine Moutard-Diligent a Chablis, and while mostly known for their Val de Mer Sparkling Wines this latest basic Chablis is a wine that punches way above it’s price class, making it a real winner for a vintage that has seen a hyper price jump. I tried this DNS Wines imported Val de Mer Chablis along with the no dosage Brut, both make for awesome party wines, they have old world charm and both are vibrant and expressive with mineral driven personalities. The Piuze Val de Mer Chablis AC gives Chardonnay and Kimmeridgian soil purity and highlights the regions terroir, as with all the vineyards he sources from, he tries to get organic or grapes grown “lutte raisonée” (organic within reason) and Patrick goes all native yeasts in his wines with this cuvee seeing only tank fermentation and aging, making it vivid, fresh and steely, but with some substance and density in textural mouth feel. Piuze, who has worked with (or for) Brocard, Olivier Leflaive and Verget over the last decade, partnered with Champagne house Moultard, who bought this winery in Chablis, in 2010 to expand his production, since his own wines sell out in an instant, so Val de Mer was born, and it’s been an immediate success, especially with Bistro(s) and Wine Bar(s) buyers looking for small production authentic Chablis and Sparkling values. In recent years Val de Mer and Kermit Lynch’s Savary have been the savvy choices in this sector, and I’m a huge fan of both options, with this 2015 Val de Mer being a standout. The nose is flinty and chalky with mineral tones, lemony notes, hints of white flowers and brine before a vivacious palate of steely green apple, melon, lemon/lime and crisp pear fruits, subtle earthy elements, oyster shell, dried unsweetened honey and a yeasty rich feel. Lifted by it’s natural acidity, this warm vintage Val de Mer Chablis delivers a full flavored, but balanced wine of graceful detail and is gratefully pleasing from start to finish, drink now, and be sure to watch out for the Cru versions and of course the bubbly!
($24 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2016 Weingut Leitz, Riesling Trocken Sekt, Dragon Stone, Sparkling Wine, Rheingau Germany.
A fun and vibrant sparkler, the Leitz Dragon Stone Sekt Riesling Trocken has has a smoky/flinty mineral start with soft mousse and a forward fruit and brioche personality on the palate. Coming from the Drachenstein, Dragon’s Stone, above the Rudesheimer Berg on the edge of the Niederwald forest, looking down on the Rhein, with it’s vein of quartzite and loose slate, the Leitz bubbly is easy to love, but with serious underpinnings and inspiring charms. These 2016 Rheingau and Nahe have a special meaning for me, as I was there during the harvest, in particular Leitz, I love the guys there, Johannes and his team took me and treated me better than family! I have walked the Drachenstein many times now, it’s a wonderful hike around the monument and in the shadow of nature preserve overlooking the Rhein and back down to Rudesheim itself, the views are stunning from up there, in my own experience magical, that all give this wine an extra bit of meaning and celebration. The mouth feel is racy, but polished with beautiful white flowers, crystalline wet stones, yellow peach, tangerine/lime, apple skin and toast/bread dough. It has a good energy, tight little bubbles, brisk in delivery, but gains a bit of width with air and is pure crisply dry, just a slight hint of SO2 hides the initial impact, though it does blow off quickly leaving a wonderfully expressive Riesling Sekt that is flavorful and classy. Drink this Leitz Dragon Stone Riesling Trocken Sekt (Brut style sparkling) 2016 vintage anytime, great as an aperitif or even better with cuisine, insanely good choice for crab cakes!
($26 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2016 Sadie Family Wines, Chenin Blanc/Palomino “Skerpioen” Old Vine Series, Swartland, South Africa.
A gorgeous white old vine field blend of Chenin Blanc and Palomino (the Sherry grape!) from Eben Sadie of Sadie Family Wines, probably the most exciting winemaker in South Africa right now, and who is getting lots of well deserve press, this was my first experience with his white(s), but I’ve been a huge fan of his reds, like Eben’s Columella (Syrah & Mourvedre), which are mind blowing in a way that remind you of old school Chateau Rayas, Chapoutier Le Meal Hermitage or pre 1995 Beaucastel without the Brettanomyces! Grown on extremely chalky Swartland soils at one of the coolest sites in the region which gives it’s driving acidity and mineral charms, seriously this natural/traditional white has the presence of a Grand Cru Chablis (meets Breze Saumur) in the glass, these bush vine, dry farmed, organic, were planted between 1958 and 1967 and the concentration and intensity shines here! This Paardeberg winery’s small handcrafted Skerpioen is glorious and vividly flavored with a tight vein of bright citrus, white peach and unripe green apple fruit, flinty/stony wet rock, steely dynamic elements along with unsweetened honeycomb/wax, lemon oil, delicate spices and bitter melon notes. Words fail here to explain the underlying energy, force and beauty that comes through on the briskly dry palate, this is stunning stuff, wow, this white has the x factor and then some, and it’s pale golden hue glistens with a sexy glow, it’s racy and classic in a way that makes the mouth water and get your salvation glands rocking, though it does fill out texturally on the palate in a very seductive way. Imported by Broadbent Selections, Sadie Family Wines are not cheap, but worth every penny, Raveneau and Joly fans both will be muttering to themselves when they try this stuff! Of the world’s great white blends, Mas de Daumas Blanc, Luis Rodriguez Ribeiro, Randall Grahm’s Le Cigare Blanc Reserve and Sadie Family standout this year! Best to allow a few more years on this Sadie Chenin led Skerpioen white, best from 2020-2036.
($50 Est.) 94-96 Points, grapelive
2016 Domaine d’Ouréa, Tire Bouchon, Vin de France, Rhone Red, France.
The deep and intriguing Adrien Roustan d’Ourea “Tire Bouchon” rouge is a unique Rhone blend of Grenache Noir, Carignane, Aramon, Oeillades & Syrah starts with loose tobacco leaf, stony notes and sweet floral tones along with an almost carbonic (Gamay) like directness of fruit. Adrien Roustan, a natural style vigneron, is a rising star in the Southern Rhone and his Domaine d’Ourea is based in Vacqueyras, he also has vines in Gigondas, and makes some of the most interesting versions of these I’ve tried in recent years, they are very dark and because of the high elevation they are fresher and almost more Syrah like in the glass, he is all organic, which adds to the energy/intensity found in these d’Ourea offerings. The Tire Bouchon (cork puller) Rouge is a serious quaffer, made of 50% Grenache (Noir), 20% Carignan(e), 10% Aramon, 10% Oeillades and 10% Syrah, from vines that are under conversion to biodynamic, and because it includes ancient and rare Aramon and Oeillades (grapes) it must be called a Vin de France, but don’t let that fool you, this is a killer value and a wine of wonderful expression and quality, balanced and complex with unexpected grace and length. Layers of blackberry, tangy currant compote, plum, morello cherry and juicy strawberry all unfold on the full bodied, but not heavy, palate with a lovely spicy contrast of savory peppercorns, chalky gravel, leathery elements, sticky lavender and inner brightness, in a very dark purple/garnet wine. With air a more grippy wine emerges here with boysenberry, blueberry and anise flowing into the mix, this stuff is every changing and fun with ripe tannin, texture and good acidity that cuts a fine lift to this red, the Grenache and Carignane give this wine it’s core and while happy now to allow the minor grapes to have their moment in the limelight, it’s their form that will rise in the next few years, I love it as it is young and vibrant, drink it up now! Note to self (and you) do not miss Domaine d’Ourea 2015 Vacqueyras and Gigondas, imported by Floraison Selections, they will be legendary/classics, awesome cellar bargains, stock up!
($16 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2011 Domaine Labet, Chardonnay, Cotes du Jura “Les Varrons” Vin Ouille, France.
A deep and pretty Chardonnay from Domaine Labet, this Cotes du Jura Les Varrons wine is a Vin Ouille, non flor, offering that is fresh and vivid with Burgundy like class with brilliant minerallite and Premier Cru density. Domaine Labet is a traditional house in the Jura, and while they do the oxidative style too, they excel in the topped up barrel style as this one shows clearly, this is a solid label to look for, imported by Charles Neal, and their Chardonnay is always a great choice, especially this version. Julien Labet, who is taking over the Domaine is exploring “natural wines” with his own label, but goes classical here and this 2011 Labet Les Varrons is performing with verve and panache, still vivid and delicately pale in the glass, opening to a medium full bodied Chardonnay with a steely edge, but with maturing flavors and understated richness with layers of bosc pear, golden delicious apple, kumquat, dried apricot, quince and lemon butter as well as wet stones, chalk and briny essences. This distinctly unique Chardonnay gains a bit of earth, spice and fleshy mouth feel with air along with hints of herb and floral tones in a wonderfully balanced wine with brisk intensity and pleasing texture. The single parcel Les Varrons Chardonnay is from 65+ year old vines set on Benthonien and Bajocien limestone with clay and eolien sediment, some of the most ancient in Europe, it is fermented using native yeasts and then raised on it’s fine lees in 225 French barrels, mostly well used, and as a side note Julien (Labet) studied at Domaine Ramonet in Chassagne-Montrachet and in South Africa at Hamilton-Russell, both makers of world class Chards! This 2011 has turned into a slightly exotic and stylish wine, somewhat of a thrill for me to pop the cork on as this wine was a bit of an afterthought, since I was at first after Julien’s own label red blend Metis (Trousseau, Pinot and Poulsard), though now I’m so glad I was able to drink this one, it’s a beauty right now and it will be an intriguing wine to follow further into the future.
($28 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2015 Domaine Vincent Paris, Cornas “30 Granit” Northern Rhone, France.
An earthy pure Syrah from Vincent Paris, the 30 stands for the degree of slope, giving lots of terroir, but with the ripe flavors of the vintage with a rich vein of black fruit and lovely detailing throughout making for a fine example of varietal and region. Hints of game, anise and spicy notes lead on the nose while the palate unfolds with damson plum, blackberry/boysenberry, tart currant, blueberry and cherry backed up with wild mushroom, flinty stones, tapenade, cedar, leather and sweet kirsch. Air brings a more dense feel in mouth and though young the tannins are rounded allowing a textural pleasure and generous length, this Syrah has good form and is performing really well. After a bit more time in the glass a pretty side comes through with subtle violets, mineral tones, salted black licorice and brambly raspberry. After 20 vintages now as a vigneron, Vincent Paris who started his winemaking career in 1997, nephew of Cornas legend Robert Michel, isn’t a newbie here, but is still considered a young star here in this ancient and traditional region of the Northern Rhone, and he is a co-president of the appellation, showing the respect of his peers. Grown on granite soils, the Vincent Paris Granit 30, comes from plots of organic Syrah vines that not only are on that 30% grade, but also average 30 years of age, Vincent goes to the extreme in limiting crop size with ultra tiny yields to get the concentration at his vineyard sites that sit at 300 meters above sea level that has perfect south facing which allows extra sun ripening. This cuvee is fermented two thirds in barrel and one third in stainless steel then raised in most used French oak for about a year, with only about 1,000 cases made, this producer is new to me, but I’ll tell you I’ll be getting more of his wine for my own use and will be following up with his other wines. With the price of Cornas rising, Vincent Paris is making some great values, and I believe very cellar worthy, drink is lovely 2015 over the next decade.
($36 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2016 Nanclares y Prieto, Albarino “Dandelion” Rias Baixas, Galicia Spain.
Beautiful pure and almost Kabinett/Feinherb Riesling like (intensity of form) with generous flavors in the mouth this gloriously delightful Albarino from Alberto Nanclares and Silvia Prieto is vivid, saline and textured with bright green apple, tangerine and peachy stone fruit on the crisp palate, with wet stones and light spices, it’s so well balanced you’d think it might be slightly off dry, but with brisk energy giving it a cat like taught muscle like focus! The unpretentious and humble Nanclares is one of Albarino’s great stars from the Cambados area of the Rias Baixas region in the Atlantic influenced Galica, his wines all from organic grapes show a leesy depth, while still being mineral driven and salty, with this Dandelion cuvee coming from 30 to 60 year old vines near Val do Salnés grown on sand and granite soils, right at sea level with locally historic pergola training. The Dandelion is fermented with native yeast, naturally, in stainless steel with no malo and aged a year on the fine lees, it is unfined and unfiltered allowing the complete capture of every nuance and terroir elements, and this 2016 is the best yet, that I’ve tried on this wine, it’s detail and varietal vitality is fantastic, especially for the price. This wine will be killer with crab this holiday season and is an amazing sea food cuisine partner, from oysters to grilled baby octopus as well as mackerel and sardines, it makes my mouth water just thinking about it! Drink it now and often, not easy to find, Silvia and Alberto have a cult following, I got my bottles from Vinopolis Wine Shop in Portland, Oregon, and it’s well worth the search as is their estate bottlings as well as is their super rare Mencia (Ribeiro Sacra) offerings, imported by Jose Pastor Selections, these are not to be missed wines from Galicia.
($22 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2015 Viticultores de Ribeira Sacra Y Envinate, Lousas, Vinas de Aldea Vinos Atlanticos, Ribeira Sarca, Galicia Spain.
The gang at Envinate has crafted a gorgeous wine here, after allowing for it to blow off it’s slight reductive funk, it turns beautiful with classic peppered violets and damson plum, and it’s vital medium body gives subtle pleasures and life, wow this 2015 is a seductive charmer, especially after plenty of air. Envinate, which means “wines yourself” is four friends that are from vastly different regions of Spain from the remote Canary Islands to Murcia, they are winemakers Roberto Santana, Alfonso Torrente, Laura Ramos, and José Martínez, all regional stars, if not superstars! Roberto Santana almost singlehandedly has made the wines of Tenerife mainstream and world renown with his volcanic and rustic offerings made from mostly mission grapes, especially Listan Prieto, but his partners have had almost the same successes from their areas too, and this 2015 Viticultores de Ribeiro Sacra y Envinate Lousas comes from vines overseen by Alfonso Torrente, and it’s one of the best Envinate I’ve tried! And this is their village level offering! It’s all Mencia (think Syrah meets Burgundy with a touch of Fleurie mixed in!),100% whole cluster, native fermented in bins and then raised in used mid size oak casks without racking, bottled with a tiny amount of SO2, unfined and unfiltered, it’s a beauty with lovely detail and lots of mineral spice. The grapes are hand tended from steep plots, these Sil River valley slopes look like the Rhein or Mosel and the soils are smoky slate and granite, which gives these Mencia wines their likeness to the Northern Rhone, in particular Cornas and St Joseph, as is so in this Envinate Lousas (Slate in Galician) Vina de Aldea, sourced from 60 year old organic vines. The contrast of sweet violets and red pepper and flinty notes really is really seductive and entrancing, I love this stuff, this and Pedro Rodriguez’s Guimaro are two of my favorite Ribeiro Sacra wines, drink over the next 3 to 5 years easy.
($38 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2013 Bodega Veronica Ortega, Mencia, ROC, Valtuille, Bierzo, Spain.
The carefully hand harvested ROC by Veronica Ortega is bright and fresh with an almost Dolcetto like bite and feel, but gains with air and becomes a bit more serious with time in the glass, turning into a lovely full flavored Mencia. Veronica, the Cadiz native, who has trained around the world including a stint at Burn Cottage in Central Otago with Ted Lemon and was mentor by the famed/legendary Raul Perez, uses 80-100 year old vines for her signature ROC bottling, with native yeast ferments and 14 months in French (mostly well seasoned) barriques, showcasing her Valtuille terroir in a less overt manner than some Bierzo, crafting a wine that highlights the mixed soils which include clay, sand and slate and at good elevation, which allows vitality and structure. She ferments in cement vats with normal punch downs with a 20 day maceration, with 50% whole cluster from organic grapes, making a wine with traditional character and with aging potential, it’s got a pop rock feel right now, but it looks set to get really rocking good over time! Interesting, Ortega’s ROC continues to remind me of Piedmonte, with a full Barbera like color and Alto Langhe Nebbiolo like feel on the firm/youthful palate! The ROC 2013 starts with earthy blackberry, tart cherry and tangy currents, it’s still primal on entry with a tight slightly closed feel before giving way to sweet raspberry, strawberry and plum fruits along with bitter citrus peel, light herbal notes, mineral tones, balsamic/iodyne and wild spices, finishing with some tannins and delicate wood shadings. Imported by Eric Solomon Selection, Veronica’s wines are not always easy to locate, though are starting to attract more attention, be on the look out for her latest releases!
($35 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2014 Piedrasassi, Syrah, Rim Rock Vineyard, Arroyo Grande Valley.
Sashi Moorman’s Rim Rock Syrah might just be his signature wine with it’s edgy stemmy intensity and deep layers of black fruits, this is one of California’s ultimate expressions of Syrah and it’s an alluring wine that will challenge your palate and make you re-think what this grape can do! Moorman, who oversaw most every vintage at Stolpman and has his hand in Raj Parr’s Sandhi as well as leading the effort for Oregon’s Evening Land Vineyards, is one of California’s star winemakers, it’s been a thrill to follow his career over the last decade and a half, he’s helped Syrah gain traction in the middle price range, especially with the great value offerings he has crafted at Stolpman over the years, and when we rewrite Syrah’s history in the state he will join the grape’s heros like John Alban, Adam Tolmach (Ojai), Randall Grahm (Boony Doon), Manfred Krankl (Sine Qua Non), Pax Maule (Pax & Windgap) Vanessa Wong (Peay) and others. While Syrah may never get to be the next big thing in the mainstream market, it has found a great niche and honestly for the money some of California’s great red wines are Syrah, wines like this Piedrasassi especially prove that! Also right now, you should search out Booker, Drew, Halcon, Cattleya, Lucia (Pisoni), Anthill Farms, Sheldon Wines, Melville, Radio-Coteau and Joyce Vineyards, who I just got a preview of, (Joyce Tondre 2016!) and you’ll not want to miss. This spicy Rim Rock Vineyard, a 150 case production handcrafted wine, shows racy peppercorns and olive tapenade that add contrast to the density of the opulent boysenberry, plum, blueberry and black cherry fruit, added mineral tones, cedar, earthy notes, cassis, crushed violets, tobacco leaf and anise. The mouth feel gains breadth with air, though only 13% natural alcohol, this is a brilliant wine and the whole cluster stem inclusion gives it a powerful Cornas, think Allemand or Clape, Northern Rhone feel and warm California ripeness (smooth, but firm tannins) giving palate impact, this is a wine that will reward the patient and looks to be a classic/legendary Syrah, drink from 2018 to 2028.
($55 Est.) 95+ Points, grapelive
2015 Ampeleia, Alicante Nero, IGT Costa Toscana, Italy.
Wildly sweet and sour this Alicante Nero (True Grenache or Alicante Bouschet?) from Elisabetta Foradori tastes like Cru Beaujolais meets Jura Trousseau/Poulsard with fresh and vibrant flavors and a light to medium body picking up substance and ripe character with air, while still having a charming old world earthy/savory core. This is part of Ampeleia’s ‘Monovarietali’ single varietal project, coming from a small plot of organic estate vines known as “Vigna della Pieve”, grown on Tuscany’s coastal sandy soils and strewn with pebbles at about 800 feet above sea level, and sees native ferments and aged only 6 months, in cement tank. This pretty Mediterranean red has bright flavors and is wonderful fresh and vibrant with layers of medium bodied fruit and ripe textural mouth feel shows sour plum, cranberry, brambly raspberry, mini backyard strawberries, minty herbs, a hint of leather, dusty stones and snappy anise. Turns a bit more lush with air and gives a warm impression, gaining in style and complexity with every minute in the glass, while all the while still being vivid, transparent and elegantly focused, this is lovely expressive wine that highlights the diversity and uniqueness of this sleepy little part of Tuscany. Interesting, the winery (and many places in Italy) often refer to Alicante as a form of Grenache, though it really is not the same grape, Alicante Bouschet was an old crossing of Petit Bouschet, which was a earlier crossing of Teinturier du Cher and Aramon, and Grenache Noir which has been cultivated in France since around 1866 and is now found around the world, though used mainly as a blending grape or found in heritage field blends. Alicante Bouschet is one of the few red grapes that actually has red juice and pulp, it has a thick skin and does well in almost any climate, it’s in Spain, in the western Galicia where it’s known as Garnacha Tintorara and blended with Mencia, it’s also in Alentejo Portugal as well as in old vine vineyards in California, where it is usually blended into Zinfandel blends, like Ridge Lytton Springs and I believe Bedrock and Bucklin’s Old Hill Ranch. In some ways Alicante reminds me of Cinsault or Trousseau, though usually darker in color, but this one has a Gamay like juiciness and a bit of tannin and floral notes that are like Petit Verdot too. Drink this lively fun wine now and often, it’s naturally delicious and is a great food wine.
($27 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2016 Le Temps des Copains, Fratis “Love & Grapes” Project, Syrah, Vin de France.
This 100% Syrah from Philippe Viret, in the Southern Rhone Valley, who practices Cosmoculture, an energy based belief system of organic farming beyond biodynamic that goes deep into the relationship between man and nature with the influence on every living thing that comes from unseen forces/energy on them, the universe’s mysterious effect and cycles are cherished/respected, while no added elements (except natural treatments in the vines) are used. This deep and earthy Syrah was fermented in tank, then aged in amphora (big ancient style clay terra-cotta pot) at Domaine de L’Ecu in Muscadet, Loire Valley, by Fred Niger, who also does his own line in amphorae, including a Cabernet Franc “Mesphisto” and Pinot Noir “Ange” crafted in a natural wine style with little of no manipulation or no added sulfur, or in this case extremely low sulfur. One of a set of collaborations under Fred’s new “Love & Grapes” project this Le Temps des Copains Fratis Syrah starts with a lovely deep garnet/red hue in the glass and a lightly perfumed bouquet with an underlying sensual earthy tones with hints of chalky loam, forest floor, olive skin/oil and pretty black and red fruits as well as peppercorns, bitter lavender oil and kirsch before on medium full palate of solid ripe fruit including black raspberry, loganberry, tangy blueberry, delicate cassis notes, sweet cherry/plum and anise. This wine is youthful, but refined in texture and layered, it’s unique and beautiful that looks set to aged well, it has serious form and it’s performance in the glass is more than impressive, I’m hooked!
($45 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2012 Weingut Dr. Loosen, Riesling Trocken, Grosses Gewachs Reserve, Wehlener Sonnenuhr, Alte Reben, Mosel Germany.
Ernst Loosen is an innovator and a traditionalist, he is a constant force in the wine world, leading the charge for Germany’s great wines, both sweet and dry, but he has in recent years been a champion for education, especially highlighting the Dry Rieslings of the Mosel, mostly in America, trying to rewire our brains to understand the glories of this varietal and it’s history. His cause is just and his work relentless, he is joined in this mission by other great winemakers including Johannes Leitz, Wilhelm Weil, Philipp Witmann and Caroline Diel just to name a few, they are focused on showing the world that dry Riesling deserve their place at the table. Dr. Loosen is taking it to another level and stepping up his game with a new series of Grand Cru wines, a set Dry Rieslings from unique old vine plots that are native yeast fermented in large oak cask and aged 24 months on the lees, without batonage, this Dr. Loosen GGR collection now comprising the three distinct terroirs and the three finest sites of the estate — Wehlener Sonnenuhr (blue slate soil), Ürziger Würzgarten (red volcanic sandstone) and Erdener Prälat (red slate). I sat down with a panel of Riesling experts not long ago, including the Herr Dr. Loosen, and tasted many Grosses Gewachs from top estates, including this 2012 Dr. Loosen Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Grosses Gewächs RESERVE Alte Reben, which I can tell is a very distinct wine, iconic even, I would compare it in some ways to Trimbach’s Clos St. Hune! The extended aging, 24 months in cask and 1 year in bottle, add to the refined nature of this 2012, which was a beautiful vintage and give this wine it’s soul, adding layers of texture and flavors, it’s extra Ruhe (rest in German) really delivers intensity and depth, while the natural acidity and slate driven mineral is not lost in the aging, in fact Loosen feels, surprisingly, that it is actually enhanced and my notes confirm this. Having been an early convert, I love these lees aged Rieslings, I’ve reviewed many gorgeous examples from von Winning and love the GG’s from Leitz, Spreitzer, Kruger-Rumpf, Diel and others. This 2012 Dr. Loosen Wehlener Sonnenuhr Riesling Grosses Gewächs RESERVE Alte Reben starts with rich details and vivid steely mineralite, gaining body and density of extract with air this is brilliant stuff and a worthy standard barer of this style of wine, it has got plenty to admire and structure to age with beautiful white flowers, brioche, wet rock, mixed herbs, flinty spices to go along with round green apple, apricot, melon/lime and kumquat fruits. This lengthy wine, finishing with smoky shale and sweet/tangy tangerine, is an excitingly vibrant dry Riesling that is pure class and is a no brainer for the Riesling enthusiast, it should prove to be a blue chip collectors item, rewarding anyone that wants a stellar wine to pull out of the cellar, drink anytime, though best guess on window would be from 2020 to 2030!
($60-75 Est.) 94-96 Points, grapelive
2015 Joyce Vineyards, Grenache, Ventana Vineyard, Arroyo Seco, Monterey County.
A wine that really delivers for the price, as do all of the new Joyce releases, this Ventana Vineyard Grenache 2015 from Russell Joyce is a full and deep Rhone style red that flows with lively pure Grenache fruit that fills out on the wide and ripe palate in a smooth and opulent fashion. Backed up with freshness, from natural acidity, mixed spices and light mineral tones this wine puts in a wonderful performance and is just coming out of it’s youthful shell, it reminds me of a Cotes Catalans (western Languedoc) or a Terra Alta Garnacha (north eastern Spain) with it’s rich texture, varietal focus, delicate floral elements and a dry port sexiness. Joyce’s new releases are an eye opening set of wines and show some the dynamism of the region and potential of this new generation of winemaking and winemakers in Monterey County, their new set of Pinots from the 2016 are gorgeous wines, especially the Gabilan, which looks to be legendary, certainly one of the best wines of the year, but their Cabernet, dry Riesling, steely Tondre Chardonnay, their Syrah and this Grenache should not be overlooked. In fact this Grenache followed that great Gabilan, and still it shined, it offers a full mouth of boysenberry, briar laced strawberry, cassis and morello cherry fruits gaining a nice plummy density without getting flabby or syrupy, lifted by pepper, cinnamon and subtle earthy/stoniness. Very polished and mildly tannic this should really continue to get better over the next 3 to 5 years in bottle, this dark seductive purple/garnet Joyce Ventana Vineyard Grenache gives a thrill for the buck, great also with flavorful cuisine and Holiday fare.
($25 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
nv Silwervis, Chenin Blanc “Smiley V2” Western Cape, South Africa.
Paardeberg mountain fruit forms the soul of Ryan Mostert’s, Silwervis winemaker, natural old vine non-vintage Chenin V2 Smiley, coming off 46 year old vines set on granite, with wines for this version were selected from four different vintages spanning 2013-2016. The wine is matured in a combination of seasoned oak, stainless steel and glass demijohn (like Randall Grahm’s Bonny Doon Reserve Le Cigare Blanc) with some of the lots being crafted similarly to what is found in the Jura (France) and the Sherry region of Jerez, Spain with some living under the flor! This wild Chenin, lightly clouded golden in color, is absolutely unique, without any additions of any kind, this really is a quirky white that shows purposely oxidative and maderized elements to go along with the your fresher components that kind of drives the palate crazy! It starts with a hint of leather, peach and stony elements with a touch of exotic Marsala before getting taught and vigorous on the palate with grilled citrus, quince, pear and white fig as well as light almond and wet rock. Light/medium in bodied with some dried fruit notes, this white is a great tapas wine with it’s subtle fino sherry and rainwater madeira meets Saumur character and I can imagine it with grilled sardines, salty small plates and especially sheep cheeses. This is cool earthy stuff that gains with air and food, it takes you on a walk of the wild side, and I can’t wait to try more of Ryan’s wines, drink this now.
($20 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2014 Domaine de l’Écu, Cabernet Franc Mephisto Vin de France, Loire Valley, France.
The wild Fred Niger amphora raised Cabernet Franc Mephisto Rouge is a thrill ride of deep red flavors that takes your palate on journey to some dark and mysterious places, be afraid, very afraid, there’s no undoing of the magic that happens here, I adore this amazing expression of Cab Franc, it has a tremendous presence and purity, kind of like Breton or Olga Raffault Chinon meets COS or Foradori! Wow… Geezus! This energy filled red is mind blowing, all biodynamic Loire Franc, is gripping with ripe tannic structure, vivid acidity and striking mineralite to go with ultra lengthy fruit dynamism that entrances your senses! All natural, almost no sulfur, and with native yeast ferments, macerated and aged in clay pots (okay, I mean Ampforae) Fred’s Mesphisto is one of the best so called “Natural Wines” I’ve tasted, it shows a complexity that is hard to translate in mere words, but easily understood by Loire fans. Beautiful earthy character along with heightened detail define this unique red, it’s deep garnet color is complimented by layers of mulberry, tangy dark currant, morello cherry, plum and black raspberry fruits, hints of bell pepper, violets, sandalwood, raw leather and warm terra-cotta (or were those imagined?) as well as forest mushrooms and granite/stony elements. The finish goes on and on, this wine gives many a Bordeaux and Burgundy wine a run for the money, celebrate to funky weirdness and marvel at the class in the glass. Imported by Floraison Selections, Oakland California, don’t forget Fred Niger’s regular line of beautiful Muscadet, they are some of the best out there. This wine is fascinating and has sensual charm, it should age with utter enthusiasm and grace, I was left spellbound!
($35 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2016 Weingut Carl Loewen, Riesling Trocken, Ritsch, Grosses Gewachs, Mosel Germany.
Christopher Loewen is on a roll, his 2015 and 2016 wines are spectacular and he and the Loewen winery just got named Winery (Winemaker) of the Year in Germany by Stuart Pigott, one of the world’s most renown Riesling reviewers! One wine in particular has gained world attention, his 1896 Feinherb from Germany’s oldest Riesling vines, but another wine that really moved me at a preview tasting earlier this was Christopher’s exciting Kitsch GG from another historic vineyard that they got recently and have made a stunning dry wine that looks set to be an under the radar classic! The Thornich Ritsch Grosses Gewachs “Grand Cru” is on Grey Slate and is on the 2nd steepest vineyard in all of Europe and it’s terroir and intensity shows clearly in this 2016, it’s a brilliant and mineral driven Riesling with brisk detail and vibrant flavors, wow, I really love this wine’s electric energy and briny/steely character. This is a GG that will gain monumentally with age, Loewen, who farms organic now and is remarkably gifted in the cellar, has crafted a beautiful wine of finesse and dimension that will thrill edgy Chablis fans and acid freaks a like, it blitzes the palate with tangy citrus and white flowers as well as white peach, unripe tart apple and white cherry fruits along with sweet and sour herbs, rosewater, wet stone, leaning on salty shale and lingering tangerine/lime. This wine is loaded with dry extract and shows vivid form gaining density with air adding some lemony tones and melon layers, this is X factor wine of legendary class, this will be a Riesling that will reward the patient, drink from 2022 to 2032. It’s been an eye opening and fantastic few years from Loewen and the future looks even more promising, a huge congrats to Christopher and team, his latest set of wines are fabulous, don’t miss his basic estate bottlings and Kabinett offerings, they are incredible values.
($52 Est.) 93-95 Points, grapelive
2015 Drew Family Cellars, Syrah, Ornbaun, Mendocino Ridge.
A blend of two vineyards, both on silty clay and loam soils, west of Anderson Valley, one Valenti Ranch at 1,350 feet up, planted to McDowell and Cote-Rotie Clones is just 6 miles from the Ocean and the other Perli Vineyard, which sits at 2,400 feet, is planted to Chave Selections (Hermitage Clones) with a few vines also planted to Grenache and Mourvedre (which also make tiny appearances in this wine) the Drew Ornbaun is 94% Syrah with 3% Grenache and 3% Mourvedre, with 20% whole cluster, crafted by Jason and Molly Drew at Drew Family Cellars is one of the best values in California wine! More Hermitage in style full and expanding, rather than an edgy Cornas, with rich detail and wonderful powerful intensity, with a palate that explodes with blueberry compote, currant jelly as well as damson plum, boysenberry, sweet violets and kirsch as well as stylish peppercorns, cedar, incense, new leather/game and black licorice. This sexy concentrated, but lively balanced 13.4 % alcohol dark purple/garnet hued Syrah is just spectacular in performance, with northern Rhone charm and vitality, as I’ve been saying, Jason Drew is making some of the best wines in the state and again his 2014 and 2015 Syrah and Pinots are mind-blowing in quality and are all thrilling to behold, without question these are some of my favorite wines of the year if not all time! This Ornbaun Syrah named after the local soils and influence by the cool climate, all Mendocino Ridge labeled wines must be from vines grown within 12 miles of the Pacific Ocean and be at least 1,200 feet above sea level, giving the riveting vigor and vivid flavors that make these wines stand out and shine. Drew’s wines are in the same league as Peay, Littorai, Radio-Coteau, Anthill Farms, Hirsch and Pax/Wind Gap, they should not be missed, especially his Morning Dew Ranch Pinot, it’s a Grand Cru class wine! I just love the Syrah bottlings from Drew and while they still under the radar compared to the Pinots, this native ferment, no new wood Drew Orbaum, can’t be beat for the money, drink this 2015 over the next 3 to 5 years, though I wouldn’t be surprised if the window stretches to a decade or more, it’s outstanding!
($30 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2015 Ingrid Groiss, Gruner Veltliner, Reserve, In Der Schablau, DAC Weinviertel, Austria.
Ingrid’s rich textured Gruner Reserve In Der Schablau 2015 is a gorgeous white wine that reveals another side of Austria’s signature varietal, grown on loess, sand and gravel soils in the town of Zeirsdorf within DAC Weinviertel north of Vienna, not far from Groiss’ hometown of Breitenwaida not far from the Czech Republic border. Brilliant in detail and energy this wonderful expression of Gruner Veltliner has a decedent mouth feel and an almost white Burgundy like class and grace, it’s shows a denser and riper side of Gruner that is sensual and seductively entertaining from start to finish, it’s more a Smaragd (a dry white that is at least 12.5%) with 13% alcohol it’s a deeper wine than you’d might expect. Groiss has gained a huge following in recent years and her wines impress for their natural balance and her passion for her terrior and it’s history which clearly shine through in these wines and if you’ve not discovered her wines yet, you should asap! With a hint of white flowers, saline, mineral and almond oil the 2015 Reserve In Der Schablau starts with crisp acidity, lemon/lime and quince before opening up and filling out on the wide palate, it was aged a full 10 months on the gross lees which adds to the dimension of this glorious Gruner, it gains with every second of time in the glass with it’s pale golden hue grabbing the light while light steely notes and spice provide a nice cut. There’s wild pear, hints of fig, clove as well in this white, which saw only stainless fermentation and aging after a gentile pressing of de-stemmed grapes using vineyard (native) yeasts and 8 hours of maceration on the skins that adds a touch of tannin and savory contrast to the opulent warm vintage fruit and the medium weight body. This is proving to be a great wine, coming from 50+ year old vines, and was a brilliant companion to my Thanksgiving feast, and for which I am very grateful, drink this lovely Gruner over the next 3 to 5 years.
($38 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2016 Jean-Louis Dutraive-Grand Cour, Fleurie, Cru Beaujolais, France.
The non domaine (estate) Fleurie is from a high elevation plot of old vines set on granite, crafted using semi-carbonic ferments and whole cluster and with very low SO2, aged in neutral cask and tank, just like all his glorious estate bottlings. Dutraive’s 2016 Fleurie is at first very shy and almost austere, very different from his Domaine de la Grand Cour versions which are highly perfumed and expressive, but given time it starts to unfold with graceful and earthy layers of pure Gamay fruit, spice and mineral tones. This unfiltered Cru Beaujolais has a slightly cloudy ruby hue in the glass, best if decanted at this stage to get the aromatics awake, as the subtle floral notes are still hidden behind a more savory and feral tone that leads to a refined medium weight energy filled palate that includes wild raspberry, liquid strawberry, morello cherry and plum of restrained fruit essences as well as minty herbs, pecan shell, delicate leather and flinty stones. The mouth feel gains textural pleasure with air, but at first you get bright and juicy acidity that settles down nicely in this youthful wine, I personally think I caught this bottle in an awkward stage and that it should blossom in a couple of years in bottle when the fruit should become more present and the bouquet which is dull now (and this could also be from the shipping as I didn’t give it much time after receiving it) looks to be more seductive, that is my hope anyway, best to hold this one at least another year. I’m a huge fan of Dutraive, and while this is a fine example it doesn’t match the estate Fleurie(s) which I find as compelling as many Grand Cru Burgundies!
($34 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2017 Caraccioli Cellars, Nouveau of Pinot Noir, Escolle Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands.
A great Thanksgiving wine, the new Pinot Nouveau from Scott Caraccioli, is bursting with fruity flavors and light spices, it’s a fun 100% estate grown single vineyard Nouveau that highlights the vintage’s potential and is a wonderful quaffer. A visit to Caraccioli’s Carmel tasting lounge proved very rewarding, getting a chance to sample this Pinot Nouveau and the latest set of bubbly, both of which are drinking luxurious and stylish, in particular the 2012 Brut Rose ($60 Est.) is a leesy beauty that Caraccioli should be very proud of, being the leader in méthode champenoise Monterey Sparkling Wine sits well with this winery! The 2017 Nouveau of Pinot Noir was carbonic fermented, with the tank layered with stacks of half whole cluster and half de-stemed whole berries, this takes the edge off on the palate allowing a more textured mouth feel and still giving that juicy pop you’d expect of a Nouveau, Caraccioli used all estate Escolle Vineyard 100% 777 Clone fruit, picked at 22 Brix, all of which adds up to quality in the glass and heightens the experience. The electric ruby hue leads the way before a hint of fresh picked roses, a subtle cotton candy and bubble gum note as well as a burst of maraschino cherry as well as pretty strawberry and raspberry fruits along with light cinnamon, rhubarb, apple skin and a cranberry tangy finish. With a faint sweet and sour flourish this is nicely balance version, a bit pricy yes, but forgiven somewhat for the very limited nature and uniqueness, get it while you can and drink it up quickly.
($30 Est.) 88 Points, grapelive
2013 Bonny Doon Vineyard, Pinot Noir, Spanish Springs Vineyard, San Luis Obispo.
Randall Grahm doesn’t get enough credit for his Pinot Noir(s) with all the wild and unique stuff he does with his Bonny Doon label, but wow, this 2013 Spanish Springs Vineyard San Luis Obispo Pinot is a gorgeous wine of seductive perfume and elegance, I honestly am blown away with this lovely stuff, this might be one of the best kept secrets in California! The floral attack here is amazing with layers of rose petal and violet notes are captivating and lead to a palate of silken fruits with black cherry, raspberry sand plum forming a decedent core around which light spice, mineral, sweet heirloom tomato, menthol and subtle wood (smoke) elements swirl in total harmony and the length is gracefully lingering. Opulent throughout, this 14.3% alcohol wine impresses for it’s sexy satiny form, but still vibrant and focused with clarity and detail that is very Chambolle-Musigny like in class and impression, though with California fruitiness, this wine is another great reason to visit Bonny Doon and or join their wine club, as this is usually only available that route, I myself grabbed it at the Davenport tasting room on a recent trek to Randall’s “Area 51” and thought it was too interesting to pass up. The 2013 Bonny Doon Pinot Noir Spanish Springs Vineyard picks up classic Pinot fruit and more structure with air and continues it’s stellar performance, this is dreamy stuff that looks to have at least another 5 to 7 years of stylistic pleasure in store, seriously well crafted juice.
($39 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2009 Chateau Falfas, Côtes de Bourg, Red Bordeaux, France.
An organic and bargain priced Bordeaux with a classic blend of about 60% Merlot, 25-30% Cabernet Sauvignon as well as some Cabernet Franc and Malbec, the Chateau Falfas Cotes de Bourg shows a classic finesse and has traditional old world styling. Pure and gaining rich detail with air this 2009 Falfas is a thriller, especially for the price, showing a deep red/garnet hue in the glass with a dense core of blackberry, mulberry, cherry and dusty plum fruits with hints of graphite, dried spices, tobacco leaf, earthy/loam, cedar with a touch of creme de cassis. Nice warm ripe tannins, full mouth feel and length, this is a Bordeaux that is over delivering at this stage, and this vintage highlights this Chateau(s) quality and it’s drinking wonderfully well right now. I can’t wait to sample the current releases, I would imagine 2010, 2012 and 2014 would be extremely pleasing as well. If you are looking for a solid Bordeaux on a budget then Falfas should do the trick, and if you find this 2009, buy it!
($20-26 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2014 Laura Lorenzo Daterra Viticultores, Azos da Vila, Vino Tinto, VdT Val do Bibei, Ribeira Sacra, Spain.
Grown on the steep hillsides of Val do Bibei in the Ribeira Sacra, a Galician wine region near the river Sil, the Laura Lorenzo Daterra Viticultores Azos da Villa is an amazing red wine that is a true old vine field blend that has the earthy spiciness of the Northern Rhone and the length and class of Burgundy! Lorenzo is one of the world’s newest great winegrowers and a talents, she and her wines are soulful and reflect passion of place, if you’ve not had her wines, you need to and soon! Reviving old vines and varietals, Laura’s heart is in the Granite, Gneiss, Clay, Slate and Schiste soils of her native Manzaneda and this Azos da Vila is her blood, she farms all organically, all by hand using plots of 80-120 year old vines, which she de-stemmed in 2014 and co-fermented with native yeasts and in open top French oak, then aged in a mix of barrique and 500L casks, all well seasoned (used Barrels) from a unique field blend of Mouraton, Mencia, Garnacha Tintorera (Alicante Bouschet), Marenzao, Gran Negro and a few other unknown varietals. Lorenzo’s hard work and attention to detail in the vines paid off in 2014, her first vintage, in a year that was incredibly difficult with a humid and cold season that required patience and intense efforts to get the best out of the vineyards, which she did! The Azos da Vila 2014 is fresh and natural, it starts with flinty mineral, porcini (earthy) elements and tangy dark berries along with an inner floral expression before leading to a medium full palate that shows tart blueberry, cranberry, black plum, pretty currant jam and kirsch as well as dusty stones, basil, dried lavender, anise and liquid violets. The mouth feel is textural and vital with supple/ripe tannins and vivid acidity, the alcohol is refined and balanced at 13% and with Lorenzo’s extremely low SO2 use this red has the best character of what we admire in natural wines, in the same league as the wines from Arianna Occhipinti, Elisabetta Foradori and Mathieu Lapierre. This is an exceptional wine, it will be hard to find, but worth the search, imported by Jose Pastor Selections, I had to get my two bottles from Texas! Look for her 2015’s which are a little easier to locate and her just released 2016, which I hear are even better. If you wanted to compare Laura Lorenzo to a California producer, I’d say it would be good to look at either Bedrock Wine Co. (Morgan Twain-Peterson MW’s Heritage old vine field blend bottlings) or Arnot-Roberts’ Trousseau, her Daterra wines are not to be missed and highlight Galicia’s potential on the world’s stage.
($40 Est.) 94+ Points, grapelive
2016 Domaine Serol, Rose of Gamay, Cabochard, Cote Roannaise, Loire Valley, France.
Stephane Serol of Domaine Robert Serol is the fifth generation at this winery in the Cote Roannaise, a unique area of the upper most part of the Loire Valley in the Monts de Madeleine hills, which is sometimes called the lost Cru of Beaujolais, since it is closer to Morgon than Sancerre and is a great spot for Gamay. Grown on a vein of granite, these old vines are planted to a special clone of Gamay known as Gamay St. Romain that has it’s own personality and character, it’s slightly less fruity and it picks up wonderful mineral tone in the wines, Stephane is converting to all organic and ferments each parcel separately using whole cluster and cement vats that allows these cool fermentations to bring out vibrancy and pure intensity. Serol’s Cabochard is a beautiful dry Rose is at first austere and with shy leesy subtlety before coming alive on the palate with vivid strawberry, cherry and red peach fruits, citrusy crisp detail, steely notes, chalky wet stones and a light spicy/herby tang. It’s perfect pink/orange hue making for an attractive wine in the glass that lingers with faint whiffs of lavender oil, distilled plum and rose water, this is a wine that gathers intrigue with air and even gains depth/texture when it warms in the glass making it great at the table with sturdy cuisine, it’s impressively focused and one of my favorite Rose offerings, especially this 2016 vintage which is performing awesomely right now. Domaine Serol imported by Floraison Selections (Oakland, CA) also make a sparkling version too that is great for the holidays, but be sure to explore this winery’s red Gamay(s) and this pretty dry pink.
($18 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2017 Poe Wines, Pinot Nouveau, Sans Soufre, California.
The Nouveau Pinot from Samantha Sheehan is made from Monterey County fruit, using a plot of vines planted to old Martini (Heritage) clone Pinot Noir, this hand harvested lot became a carbonic macerated beauty, whole cluster in sealed tank for seven weeks, it’s a new wine to celebrate harvest, with some proceeds going to fire relief efforts, because of the devastating blazes that engulfed parts of Napa and Sonoma. Sheehan was inspired to make world class Pinot Noir and Chardonnay after touring and tasting in Champagne and Burgundy, she created her own label Poe Wines in 2009, and in short order she has made some absolutely amazing wines, while still under the radar, this winery’s Pinot Noirs especially are thrilling examples of glorious purity and class, my favorites include her Manchester Ridge and Sonoma Mountain’s Van der Kamp Vineyard, both right up there with some of the state’s best cool climate style wines like Littorai, Radio-Coteau, Drew and Hirsch! The 2017 Pinot Nouveau starts with carbonic juicy notes with bubble gum, cotton candy and sweet strawberry fruits along with candied cherry which then quickly contrasted by sappy thyme, Italian green herbs, spice, straw/hay, saline, wet earth and dried nori. Fresh and fruity with a hint of tartness and savory elements that allows this fun wine to be a competent companion to holiday cuisine, drink up!
($22 Est.) 86-88 Points, grapelive
2016 Julien Sunier, Morgon, Cru Beaujolais, France.
Julien Sunier, born in Dijon and an ex-surfer, is now one of Beaujolais most prized winemakers focusing on old vines and biodynamic/organically farmed grapes mostly at higher elevation sites in Cru vineyards with his main wines being an over performing Regnie, a gorgeous Fleurie that isn’t far off Dutraive’s masterpiece, and this fantastically layered and brilliant Morgon. Sunier has parcels on sandy granite soils in “Py”, “Corcellette” and “Charmes” which are all old vine Gamay, he uses native ferments, whole cluster and basket press with long slow maceration and fermentations to achieve delicacy and textural hedonism. The beautiful and lively 2016 Julien Sunier Cru Morgon starts with a heady perfume and lengthy floral tones with violets, sappy herbs, cinnamon stick, mineral notes and a vibrant palate of blackberry, plum and mini garden strawberries as well as hints of walnut/pecan, anise, blood orange marmalade, dusty stones and kirschwasser. This medium bodied Gamay is thrilling, complex and wonderfully balanced highlighting it’s terroir and casting this varietal in it’s best light, Julien’s wines are as good and as elegant as anything you’d find in the region, he joins Foillard, Dutraive, Lapierre and others that make Cru Beaujolais that easily compete with the best of Burgundy. If you’ve not had Sunier’s wines now is the time to start, imported by Floraison Selections, these pretty garnet/ruby hued 2016’s are less fruity than the 2015’s, but absolutely stellar giving a heightened and sexy experience, they also should be fantastic cellar selections, drink now through 2024.
($32 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2014 Damilano, Langhe Arneis, Piedmonte, Italy.
This bright and vibrant Arneis by Damilano, who are more known for their Barolo, is a delight in the glass with a golden/straw pale hue and lightly floral bouquet, it’s a light bodied white with good detail and easy to quaff. Perfect after golf and a leisurely Italian lunch with a variety of antipasti the 2014 Damilano picks up flavor and has a nice cut of acidity to be a perfect companion with a food, with refreshing citrus, green apple and anise on the lean palate, it’s got energy and mineral tones that make this white and classy and simple pleasure. The 2014 vintage, not a great year by any means in Piedmonte, still charms and while not a thriller, this Damilano Langhe Arneis gives a darn good performance and is more interesting than most Sauvignon Blancs and Pinot Grigios in it’s menu price class, but I think if you have this year, you’ll want to drink it sooner v. later, I think it’s at it’s best right now. This wine is a solid example of Arneis, a rare local varietal that can produce outstanding whites, usually in and around Barolo and Roero zones. Drink the 2014 Damilano Langhe Arneis now, and while this is a worthy vintage for this wine, I also suggest getting the slightly better vintages of 2015 (riper) and the new 2016 which is looking to be much more exciting year in the region.
($15-18 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2012 Vieux Chateau Saint Andre, Montagne Saint-Emillon, Red Bordeaux, France.
Made by ex Petrus winemaker Jean-Claude Berrouet and son Jeff, who manages the family Berrouet estate in Montagne Saint-Emilion, this savvy pick is an all Merlot red Bordeaux that offers a lot of quality for the money. Delightfully fresh and deep in flavors, this outstanding buy, shows elegant cedary notes to go along with black cherry, mulberry and currant fruit with loamy/mineral tones that give this lush Merlot an earthy edge and sultry mouth feel, this wine is a class act from start to finish. Far from the normal modern over the top right bank it isn’t an over new oaked bore, while still clean and generous in style, this is a fine example of attention to detail from vines to bottle. The deep garnet hue and depth of flavor just gets better with air and time in the glass, this is why you should re-think that no Merlot bias, plus another reason to drink Bordeaux.
($36 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2005 Chateau d’Armailhac, Pauillac, Grand Cru Classe, Red Bordeaux, France.
The Baron Philip de Rothschild Chateau d’Armailhac 2005 is drinking beautifully, I was certain it was a 2001 vintage in a blind tasting, such was it’s refined tannin and lively nature, this is not an overly ripe ’05 that I’ve come to expect, this wine showed pure Pauillac class and velvet wrapped power giving a world class performance against an eclectic group of Bordeaux wines. The Cabernet is purring here with deep currant, blackberry, mulberry and plum fruits on the palate along with traditional loamy/baked clay and earthy tones following an elegant start of floral notes and hints of cedar, delicate smoky wood and cassis in a long finished wine that is almost as good as it’s more well known brother Mouton, in fact I almost like the d’Armailhac better in it’s fresh detail and less obvious smoky oak. One of my worst wines ever was the 2000 Chateau Mouton-Rothschild and while 1982 and 1986 were exceptional as one expects, I am not a Mouton fan, so this makes this d’Armailhac’s showing that much more impressive! (for me) With air this red Bordeaux really gets going and fills out, it is a blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 29% Merlot, and the rest Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot, and surprising as it seems from this vintage it says 13.3% alcohol! Depth comes into focus with time in the glass and touches of kirsch/cherry, blueberry, minty anise and mineral/graphite pop up in this medium full bodied Bordeaux, it’s tannic structure has really rounded and become silky, in fact this is sexy opulent stuff that makes an impact and it should go another decade and then some in the cellar, it is a thing of beauty and terroir purity with it’s lovely deep purply and garnet edged hue, funny it almost tastes more like it’s neighbor Pontet-Canet than Mouton! If you can find it at the wine-searcher price as of Nov. 2017, it is worth every penny, it’s the real deal. Thanks to Russell Joyce of Joyce Vineyards for sharing this wine us, I’m grateful for his kindness and because I may not have bought this bottle myself, though now I almost certainly will!
($70-90 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2013 Domaine du Pegau, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Cuvee Reserve, Rhone Red, France.
Laurence Feraud’s gorgeous traditionally crafted 2013 Reserve Chateauneuf is the real deal with wonderful layers of fruit, spice, earthiness and garrigue as well as a showy hedonistic personality that makes you really pay attention to every sip! This 2013 is getting good right now, well integrated with much less of an oaky feel and presence than in the past, it feels fantastic on the palate with beautiful detail and has impressive force and impact showing ripe boysenberry, plum jam, dusty raspberry, ground pepper, creme de cassis, dried lavender, hints of mission fig, crushed stones and saddle leather. This serious Chateauneuf may not be a hyped year, as the 2015 certainly will be, but damn this is thrilling stuff and looks to be a steal when comparing prices of top Chateauneuf-du-Pape offerings, it’s a lovely bottle that delivers everything you’d want from this region. The Pegau Reserve is a deep garnet/purple with a slight brick note on the edges and with air the nose develops floral, game and kirsch elements while the finish lingers with it’s weighty Grenache charms, plus a salted licorice and morello cherries, it’s mostly Grenache 80% as you can taste along with small amounts Syrah, Mourvedre and a mix of permitted varietals. Ms Feraud gets the most out of her old vine plots that are grown on the classic galets as well as sand, clay and chalky limestone, she used carefully sorted whole clusters with stems going for native and natural ferments in cement vats before aging the Cuvee Reserve 24 months in large cask, in well seasoned old neutral oak these days, with extra low sulfur and as little as possible acid added depending on vintage balance. Usually a sexy wine, this 2013 does not disappoint, enjoy this Chateauneuf over the next 5 to 10 years, best to decant and have with robust and rustically simple cuisine for the best experience, also check out Pegau’s Cote du Rhone and Vin de France reds, they are wildly enjoyable too.
($60 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2012 Chateau le Puy, Cuvee Emilien, Cotes de Francs, Red Bordeaux, France.
Jean-Pierre and son Pascal Amoreau’s Chateau le Puy Emilien Bordeaux is an all biodynamic red made up of about 85% Merlot, 7% Cabernet Franc, 6% Cabernet Sauvignon, 1% Malbec and 1% Carménère grown on a mix of clay, silex and limestone at an elevation of 350 feet above sea level, the second highest vineyards in all of Bordeaux, on the same plateau as the upper parts of both Saint-Emilion and Pomerol. This is a beautiful and stylish wine that delivers a stellar performance in the glass with graceful tannins, a full bodied and wonderful persistence and length, it’s hard to believe it can be this good while being so young, but it is and the Le Puy 2012 should only get better! The Merlot and limestone terroir are singing here with supple fruit, earth and warm terra-cotta notes leading the way, the start shows a hint of acacia, graphite and mulberry before turning generous and complex on the palate with blackberry, plum and rich cherry fruit as well as cedary spices, minty notes, tobacco, sandalwood and loam, finishing with a hint of creme de cassis, anise and cola bean. This fresh vintage has good intensity of attack, but with graceful roundness and while structured and with just the right amount of acidity in it’s veins, it is easy to enjoy now. There is a youthful fruity charm here, though underpinned with plenty of hidden force and with another 5 to 10 years this just might prove to be a classic. I’ve had the 2011 on many occasions and while not a renown year it starred with complexity and density, so I am certain there is a lot to come from this 2012, this is a unique Bordeaux expression that deserves your full attention. Drink this 2012 Chateau le Puy anytime, but I’d say the best window would be 2022-2030. I was grateful Vinopolis Wine Shop in Portland had it in stock for a blind Bordeaux tasting flight, and had it on special, a big thank you to the team there for getting this Rosenthal Selections (Importer) wine to me in time, it’s a jewel!
($40-50 Est.) 93+ Points, grapelive
2015 Domaine de L’Edu “Muse” Rose of Cabernet Sauvignon, Vin de France, Loire Valley, France.
Fred Niger’s Domaine de L’Ecu makes some of the finest Muscadet Sevre et Maine there is and he is also crafting some lots of seriously fun exotic wines including amphorae aged white and reds as well as this 100% Cabernet Sauvignon rose. This bright and acidity driven pink is 50% Saignee and 50% direct press giving this tank raised Rose a bit of ying and yang balance of ripe fruit and zesty intensity, it is a harmonious and mineral toned wine with a chalky and stony core showing delicate red berry, watermelon, rose water and sour cherry as well as a hint of caramel, distilled currant and tart spiciness. Domaine de L’Ecu’s Muse, with it’s very risqué label (click on image to make bigger), is a wonderful example of this regions class and age worthiness, as this 2015 is still amazingly youthful, vibrant and austere. I must confess, I almost always shun Rose made from Cabernet Sauvignon or Merlot as I usually find them dull, overly fruity or lean/green, so I was thrilled with this wine’s performance, not surprising really considering how good everything is from Domaine de L’Ecu! All organic and biodynamic, Domaine de L’Ecu has really turned up the quality since Fred took over the estate in 2012 and look to get even more interesting with some of his pet projects coming to the market, but don’t overlook his basic Melon de Bourgogne Muscadet Ecu Classic, it’s a amazing oyster companion and one of the best white wines under $20 you can find! Niger’s low sulfur, gentile cellar work and handwork in the vines shows up in the wine’s energy and natural feel, these are soulful terroir wines, I can’t wait to taste his new releases, imported by Floraison Selections, do not miss a chance to sample these exciting and racy Loire wines!
($20 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2016 Joyce Vineyards, Chardonnay, Tondre Grapefield, Santa Lucia Highlands.
The steely fresh new release Tondre Grapefield Chardonnay from Russell Joyce and team is a winner, maybe the best yet from this vineyard I’ve ever tasted with it’s crunchy mineral charms and vibrant/racy fruit this is pure class! As mentioned in many recent reviews here, Russell is one of the rising stars in California’s central coast and is one of a new generation in Monterey that is breaking the old mold and crafting a more seriously exciting and vibrant style of wines, going away from heavy extraction and flashy new oak and making beautifully detailed wines that showcase the unique terroirs of this region. This latest Tondre Chardonnay is the anti-Rombauer, and while I have lots of respect for the success of Rombauer’s famous “Cougar Juice”, this Joyce Tondre is much more thrilling with a Chablis like energy and verve, it’s not a fat and flabby butter bomber, though generous and stylish with a focused harmony and texture. The nose is stony and full of mineral tones, along with hints of white flowers, brine and lemon oil that is classic white Burgundy, I was taken aback at how good this wine started and even more intrigued by the whole performance with it’s vivid bosc pear, granny smith apple and zesty mayer lemon core fruits as well as Italian garden herbs, chalky wet rock, white peach, faint golden fig, a touch of saline, subtle wood, used French oak, a whiff of tropical essences and verbena/kumquat on the graceful finish. This wine stays invigorating even with air, and while the 2016 Joyce Tondre Grapefield, mostly coming from Dijon Clones, gains roundness as it warms in the glass it remains lithe and lean with a medium body and impressive intensity. If you are looking for a stellar post modern Chardonnay that reminds you of just how dynamic California Chardonnay can be, this is a wine to get, drink now through 2023.
($30 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2015 Domaine de la Touraize, Arbois, Trousseau Les Corvees, Jura, France.
Made by vigneron Andre Jean Morin, the Touraize 2015 Trousseau is a ripe vintage wine with an exciting earthy character and mineral intensity in a lighter ruby hued wine that unfolds into a medium weight red that leads with tangy fruit and savory undertones. Native ferments and 12 months in large cask allow the terroir to show through with excellent results, the south west facing slopes of Les Corvees make for a longer hang-time and keeps natural acidity in the grapes on the gravel and clay soils which gives this Trousseau it’s density and subtle fruitiness, this Domaine is fairly new to me, but impresses for it’s under the radar quality and reasonable pricing, this is a fun example of this region that is perfect for lighter cuisine and especially charcuterie. These are 40 year old vines with everything done by hand, this adds to the authentic nature that comes through on the palate, it starts with hints of flinty spice, brine and delicate floral notes along with it’s pale ruby color before gaining impact and delivering tart cherry, unripe plum, strawberry and cranberry fruits as well as a dusting of pepper, anise, nutmeg, celery seed, leather and iron/sanguine tones. More savory and rustic than fruity the Domaine de la Touraize Arbois Trousseau, imported by Balanced Wine Selections and offered by Alex Lallos email@example.com is a brand new vintage just coming into stock is a classic Jura old school wine to look for and be sure not to miss their sparkling Cremant du Jura Blanc de Blancs! This was pre sale sample bottle tasted with Alex Lallos.
($26 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2016 M. Lapierre, Julienas, Cru Beaujolais, France.
The new Julienas from Mathieu Lapierre is sourced from the lieu-dit Côte de Bessay (single vineyard plot) from 60 year old vines set on volcanic and schist soils and makes for a great addition to the Lapierre lineup with it’s bright and spicy character, it’s a tad more delicate than the Morgon Cru wines, as you’d expect, but it has a wonderful clarity and persistence on the palate. Lapierre is one of the stars of the natural wine movement and continues with pure and organic wines that inspire the world over, imported by Kermit Lynch, they are one of the elite producers of Gamay and Beaujolais wines along with Foillard, Breton, Thevenet, Dutraive, Julien Sunier and Jean-Paul Brun as well as many more. The 2016 Julienas by Mathieu & Camille Lapierre is a beautiful wine, and as with all of the wines by Lapierre it was native yeast fermented whole cluster at cold cellar temps with a maceration that usually lasts about two weeks to 20 days with very low sulfur (this is not a totally no sulfur cuvee) and aged about 9 months in used Burgundy barrels (ranging from 3 year to 13 year passage) along with no fining or filtering. What sets Lapierre apart is their attention to detail, passion and fanatical sorting of the gapes to ensure the highest quality in each and every wine, and this Julienas performs at the highest level, in fact it might be the best Julienas I’ve ever tasted! Brilliant and fresh with vibrant fruit and delicate spring flowers lead the way with a dark garnet/ruby hue in the glass and a wonderful expressive Gamay grapey palate with black raspberry, strawberry, blueberry, plum and cherry fruits as well as zesty cinnamon, pecan/cedar, saline, red peach, liquid violets and faint mineral tones. This wine is a class act and the light nature and quality give this wine a winning appeal and is attractive in every sense, it’s going to be a hard get at this point, but worth the search as are all of Lapierre’s wine, drink now and for 3 to 5 years, it’s a gorgeous clean and vivid holiday cuisine companion.
($28-32 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2014 Goodfellow Family Cellars, Pinot Noir, Bishop Creek Vineyard, Yamhill-Carlton, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
Delicately layered and spicy the 2014 Bishop Creek is a pretty effort, especially for a richer vintage in Oregon, made by Marcus Goodfellow, the ex-Evesham Woods and Westerly man is coming into his own as a talent, inspired by Doerner of Cristom and John Paul of Cameron, you can see the style showing through here. Bishop Creek, planted to Pommard and Wadenswil (old Swiss clone), now owned by Nicolas Meo of the famed Burgundy Domaine Meo-Camuzet for his American Nicolas-Jay winery, in the Willamette Valley’s Yamhill-Carlton, not far from Shea Vineyards, formed this wine with it’s distinct strawberry and racy red cherry core along with the mixed spice, mineral tones and light wood influence, it’s southern exposure and Willakenzie soils (dark rocky marine sediment) gives warm and grace, planted in 1988 the vines ripen without flamboyant extraction, allowing more finesse to show through and at 13.9% this medium weight wine offers fine detail, opulence and restrained almost earthy soulfulness. Hints of bitter herb, cedar and candied citrus rind add a tangy note to the whole and the finish echoes the red fruits in subtle fashion with a touch of wilted roses lingering on. I was turned on to this lovely wine by the gang at Vinopolis Wine Shop in Portland, and it came highly recommended, and it shines right now, though best to enjoy it with cuisine to match as it a tad shier than other 2014 Oregon Pinots (I’ve tried) and needs time and coaxing to reach it’s beautiful peak, best from 2018 to 2022.
($30-40 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2016 Julien Sunier, Wild Soul, Vin de France, Beaujolais, France.
This 100% Gamay is really a Beaujolais Village from Julien Sunier, he had a small crop in 20216 and went searching for organic old vine grapes and found a plot from an unclassified zone in Beaujolais Village and blended in some Cru Regnie to create this lovely and bright Wild Soul, and I can tell you it’s an underrated setl of a wine that you should search out, especially for holiday fare. At first this traditional Gamay seems simple and fresh, but it is a serious wine that takes Gamay to a Cru level with air, I think most people will look at the label and even take the first sip and not fully recognize how good and complex this wine is, Julien who is a major Gamay talent, along with Foillard, Lapierre, Dutraive and Clotaire Michal (one of my new favorites), uses whole cluster and native ferments with ultra low sulfur in crafting his beautiful wines is one of the region’s stars. This Wild Soul was whole cluster/semi carbonic fermented in glass fiber bin/tanks and aged in a big concrete egg on it’s fine lees with no added sulfur during vinification, with only a tiny dose at bottling making for an excitingly vibrant Gamay that has a classic juicy start with bright red fruits and pretty floral bouquet before deeper elements come on with time in the glass and a dark purple hue, it takes a bit to find it’s feet, but once fully awoke this wine starts singing with black currants, cranberry, strawberry and wild plum fruits storming across the palate along with subtle walnut oil, minty herbs, flinty spices, waxy crushed violets, anise and blood orange marmalade. This is fun and pleasing Gamay from Sunier, I highly recommend it, but if you want more seriousness and sensuality look for the brilliant Sunier Fleurie and Morgon Cru Beaujolais both of which take Gamay to the next level, this 2016 vintage cements Julien Sunier’s place in that elite set of winemakers, these are impressive and gorgeous wines not to be missed.
($26 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2014 Franchere, Syrah, Havlin Vineyard, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
Absolutely new to me, the Mike Hinds, a distant relative of the Franchere’s that were some of the first to explore the Willamette Valley, hence the label name) made Franchere Syrah is a slightly feral/wild and intriguing Syrah the sustainable Havlin Vineyard in the Van Duser quarter of the Willamette Valley, a cool climate site, especially for Syrah, it’s a native ferment low sulfur wine that was aged 15 months in purely neutral cask, all French. This wine smells more mature that it is, most likely the used barrels were the issue, but the palate is vital, intensely vivid and vibrant, at 12.9% it is light/medium in body with faint florals and bright focusing on tangy red fruits, spice and mineral notes giving way to a rustic old school element. I was happy with the charm and character of this Willamette Valley Syrah, which I doubt I’ve had before, most Oregon Syrah comes from the southern and north eastern ends of Oregon in the Del Rio area, Rogue or along the Columbia Gorge closer to Washington State. Starting with that a bit of old barrel earthy funk, the Franchere opens nicely and gives good account of itself overall and is way better after an hour open, plus much more entertaining with food, especially meat dishes including flank steak, Turkish lamb and or savory mushroom choices. Round boysenberry, plum and tangy currant fruits lead the way along with tart blueberry, anise, plus a mix of peppercorns baking spices and a soft tannic structure that makes for easy enjoyment, it lingers on with kirsch and dusty loam. I look forward to trying more from this winery which is more known for their natural/organic Pinot Noir bottlings. I was a tad bit worried by the nose of this bottle (which I’ve been told is an isolated thing maybe because I didn’t let it settle long enough after shipping as it has very low sulfur?), but the palate was perfectly fine, drinking well and the wine certainly showed better with air, there is promise here, but I’d suggest decanting and drink in it’s youth just to be sure.
($22 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2016 Weingut Carl Loewen, Riesling Feinherb, 1896 Longuicher Maximin Herrenberg, Mosel Germany.
The new vintage of Christopher Loewen Feinherb 1896 is a gorgeous wine, maybe not as concentrated or showy as the 2015, but maybe even more pretty in form and detail (both years are awesome, time will tell which one will be best, it’ll be close), it is one of Germany’s most talked about wines and this 2016 should continue to keep tongues wagging for decades to come, I am of the opinion that it is utterly spellbinding and glorious, my view aligns with Terry Theise Loewen’s famous importer and Stuart Pigott, one of Germany’s most experienced wine writers and I humbly echo their love and admiration for this one, the Loewen 1896 Feinherb Riesling, is special bottling from what are believed to be the oldest Riesling vines in Germany at Maximin Herrenberg, planted as the label says in 1896 on pure slate soils of the Mosel. 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, with his drier wines being stars of the vintage, including a new old vine Grosses Gewachs from a historic site at Ritsch, along with both the old vine Maximin Herrenberg 1896 bottlings, the already reviewed Trocken and this amazing Feinherb. Being a Feinherb, this unique wine has a bit more natural sugar than the Alte Reben Trocken, but still feels cleanly dry in style, though you do get a bigger mouth feel with this stunning Riesling, and you’ll want to consider this wine in it’s own little vacuum, much in the same way you must look at some of the single block wines of Johannes Selbach (Selbach-Oster), these are wines that are unique terroir expressions, these are not wines that need classification limits, in particular this one shows a historic sense of place and is a special tribute to the past and maybe the future. The 2016 1896 Feinherb shows striking mineral, flinty stony/spicy notes along with a lively fruity core of apricot, peach and lime citrus as well as subtle floral notes and saline/brine savory tones, gaining a creamy form, while flowing with intense vibrancy, acidity and steely energy, this is a Riesling that is youthful, but seems to have an old soul and class. Graceful in a shy way, with only a faint fruity/sweetness on the lean palate, at first it’s personality takes a little more time to unfold in contrast to the more flamboyant 2015 version and while there might be an expectation of this 2016 that would be unfair at this stage, this Riesling will slowly reveal itself, patience will be rewarded and certainly is needed, I’d say without a doubt in my mind this one will be a legendary wine in 10 years or so, and it should be amazing in another 4 to 6 in bottle. This wine even in a few minutes changes in the glass gathering up verbena, tangerine sorbet, wet river rock, white fig, a touch of Thai basil and rosewater, and the nose parks up with air too with white flowers, oyster shell, quince and crushed shale. I tasted this wine with the winemaker, Christopher Loewen back in June of 2017, it was a pre sale sample, and it was a wine that needed some reflection, I have gone over my notes many times now to find the right words, sadly they just don’t seem to do justice to it’s quality and character, so I’ll finish by saying this is fantastic stuff and it’s wine that will blossom into something that will be iconic, best from 2024 on! Also, while I have focused on Loewen’s dry Rieslings, the Kabinett and Spatlese are beauties too and are sexy value offerings, especially the Leiwener Laurentiuslay Spatlese, this is winery that is really worth searching out and these 2016’s are lovely wines that deserve your attention.
($87 Est.) 95+ Points, grapelive
2014 Workman Ayer, Syrah, De Facto Red, Santa Barbara County.
Michel Ayer’s latest set are deeper and more dense than his prior effects and this 2014 De Facto red has gained a bit more seriousness and has a bold palate impact, it’s a blend of 90% Syrah and 10% Grenache from select sites in Santa Barbara County and impresses for it’s rich character and length. Ayer crafted just about 90 cases of this stuff, using a bit of new Radoux French oak on the Syrah lots, he also co-fermented a tiny amount of Viognier in a third of the Syrah blend, while the Grenache was raised in well season wood to capture the fresh and fruity side of things, the vineyards used include parcels found in these areas 37% Ballard Canyon Syrah; 27% Los Alamos Syrah; 26% Santa Rita Hills Syrah & 10% Los Alamos Grenache (Thompson Vineyard). This is a sleek and modern California Syrah, it reminds me of Margerum in style, and it gains a bit of chewy density with air and well as revealing sweet and smoky oak nuances, but overall is very compelling and has attention grabbing textural pleasures with subtle spice and burnt embers adding to the loaded fruit which leans to blackberry, boysenberry, jammy plum, kirsch and blueberry compote as well as cassis, fig cake and gentile anise, minty dark chocolate and peppery lavender. The wood has worked well to smooth out the tannins and hide the acidity, though it still has a nice firm quality and it works well with robust cuisine, it’s purple/garnet opaqueness also lets you know this wine might be best with BBQ and fall weather food choices, it’s a step up from earlier wines in the Workman Ayer line and looks set to be a real crowd pleaser. I enjoyed this with pizza, but I would suggest it with Carne Asada street tacos or Korean BBQ pork/meat dishes!
($42 Est.) 90+ Points, grapelive
2015 Domaine Jamet, Syrah, Collines Rhodaniennes, Rhone Valley, France.
Domaine Jamet, now run by Corinne, Jean-Paul and Loic after the split with Jean-Luc who is now running his own Domaine with a equal portion of the original estate plots, continues to be a cult legend and highly prized Cote-Rotie house making amazingly soulful pure Syrahs that have depth and grace. After trying Jean-Luc’s version I was thrilled to get a chance to sample the true Domaine Collines Rhodaniennes example, especially since I also just tasted the glorious Domaine Jamet Cote-Rotie (in a blind tasting where I first thought it was Grand Cru Burgundy (Pinot) such was the grace and class shown by that fantastic bottle) which was mind-blowing. The 2015 Jamet entry level Syrah, imported by Skyliner Fine Wines and sold to me by Vinopolis Wine Shop in Portland Oregon is a dark beauty showing refined details and with a fan dance of seduction and moody charms. It gets off the line with tangy red and blue fruits, light reduction, herbs de provence, delicate floral tones, peppercorns and lavender oil with a slight note of graphite/camphor along with iron ore leading to the vital palate of tart currant, boysenberry, bright cherry, blueberry and tangy plum. Fun, vibrant and polished, this is made from all de-stemmed Syrah (sorted grapes) is light/medium bodied, fermented with native yeasts and hand crafted with a gentile touch and care to highlight it’s purity, it doesn’t have much in the way of oak, maybe it is cement or tank aged? regardless it is wonderfully pure, lively and heavenly to experience.
($33 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2015 Château des Rontets, Pouilly-Fuissé, Clos Varambon, White Burgundy, Maconnais, France.
This gorgeous Chardonnay is one of the great examples of this once lesser thought off region, where as old vine Maconnais Chardonnay is now some of the most sought after white Burgundy, and Château des Rontets is one of the best offering amazing wines that show wonderful detail, depth and stylish elegance, with even their base Clos Varambon bottling giving a performance worthy of a Chassagne or Puligny! Beautifully fresh and vital the 2015 Château des Rontets Pouilly-Fuissé Clos Varambon shows delightful apple/pear, citrus and white peach fruits, white flowers, clear mineralite and wet stones along with a light golden hue in the glass as well as a fine textured mouth feel with a sexy leesy and chalky character. Look for this to gain with age too, but it certainly won’t need it, it offers lots of quality and grace right now, this is what a good Chardonnay tastes like, pure and simple, this beauty imported by Floraison Selections, is worth searching out. Château des Rontets uses tiny Clos(s) each vineyard is walled and set on limestone soils, they are all organic, with winemakers/owners Claire Gazeau and Fabio Montrasi (husband and wife) focused on making terroir driven and transparent with gentile touch and non-interventionist methods in the cellar. This is glorious Pouilly-Fuissé and even in a warmer year it shows freshness and vibrancy, if you want a slightly more intense version their 2014’s are stunning wines though they might be harder to find now. If you are looking for a great bottle of white Burgundy and at a fair price this Pouilly-Fuissé by Château des Rontets is hard to beat! I love this stuff.
($33 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2015 Halcon Vineyards, Syrah, Alturas, Yorkville Highlands.
From tiny yields and intense berries the 40% whole cluster Alturas Syrah, co-fermented with a small batch of Viognier, is a vigorous and deeply flavored wine that at 13.5% alcohol feels denser and fuller than it is, with incredible layering and length. This a magical hand-crafted cool climate Cote-Rotie inspired Syrah that would make Bernard Levet (one of my favorite Northern Rhone producers) proud! And with this high elevation site, it is actually on par with Ampuis (the northern Rhone town closest to Cote-Rotie vineyards) temperature wise if not cooler. This is one of my new favorite must have wines, it’s a brilliant Syrah, hand-crafted by Scott Shapely, winemaker at Roar, it comes off schist and shale soils and gets a blast of cold Pacific breezes and low night time temps that helps with lively acids and flinty spiciness. This 2015 is concentrated and firm, it will reward the patient no question, Paul Gordon’s Halcon Vineyards Alturas is an amazing Syrah that delivers dark black fruits, salted licorice, grilled herbs, crushed stones and lovely liquid violets with a palate that is nervy/edgy and with exceptional length, lingering with gorgeous floral tones, blueberry compote, boysenberry, briar and cassis. If you still haven’t got on Halcon’s mailing list, try this wine and join up, you’ll not want to miss out, the price v. quality here is outrageously good and this wine rocks, as does their Tierra Petite Sirah (done Rhone style with lots of whole cluster) from an awesome single vineyard in Mendocino County, it might be the very best example of Durif I’ve ever had! Check them out, before they sell out of 2015’s.
($32 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2012 Joyce Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, Russell’s Vineyard, Estate, Carmel Valley.
An impressive Bordeaux like performance from Russell Joyce’s estate Cabernet Sauvignon 2012, recently tasted at Joyce Vineyards Carmel Valley tasting room, this library selection showing fine form and structure, gaining more fruit definition with air along with traditionally gripping/powerful tannins that seem to be integrating and allowing layers of detail to show through. Bright sweet dark fruits, light acacia flowers and earthy loam lead the way with mouth tingling intensity with blackberry, plum/mulberry, tangy currant and juicy cherry fruits flow across the medium full palate as well as spicy tobacco leaf and cedar notes add savory contrast. Faint green and graphite elements remind you of the Medoc, as does the firm mouth feel, this is a wine with a ripe core that keeps trying to take control, without quite getting there, the tense battle between the tannin and fruit looks to continue for a few more years without an ultimate winner, so best to enjoy this wine serious cuisine to bring out the best here, again similar to Chateau Pape Clement in Pessac Leognan and or maybe more like Chateau Montrose’s Saint-Estephe La Dame de Montrose the estate’s second label. Grown not far from the Carmel Valley Village this tiny hillside vineyard gets plenty of sun, but still feels cheerfully fresh with cool climate acidity, it certainly doesn’t get thickly opulent, it has a more austere presence in the glass to go with it’s opaque garnet/purple color, it’s an old school and slightly rustic Cabernet Sauvignon that delivers a well made value. The dusty, spicy and stoney character is a throwback to a different era, one that intrigues and beguiles as well does the lingering blueberry, minty herb, anise, smoky oak and violette, drink this one between 2018 and 2022. Joyce is making a stunning array of wines from dry Riesling, Syrah, Chardonnay and an awesome set of single vineyard Pinots to a powerful group of Cabernets, Mourvedre and Bordeaux blends from a variety of sites in Monterey County and San Benito County, this is a winery on the move and the passion and hark work show up clearly in these wines.
($44 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2013 Domaine Simon Bize, Sauvigny-Les-Beaune, Les Bourgeots, Red Burgundy, France.
Domaine Simon Bize, now run by Chisa Bize after the recent passing of Patrick Bize, is still a very much in demand estate offering wines that over deliver for the price and the terroir, imported by The Source Imports, these wines are desirable and alluring with earthy charms and impressive stuffing, especially the basic village Lieu-Dits, like this Les Bourgeots from the Cote de Beaune region of Savigny-Les-Beaune. Brilliant in hue and with a beautiful nose of earthy floral notes and red fruits which leads to a medium palate that is wonderfully textured and full flavored with complex layers and slightly rustic/brambly in profile with surprising grip and structure for wine that is not a Premier Cru or Grand Cru, it gains mouth feel with air and turns on the sex appeal with pretty plum, black cherry and framboise as well as damp earth, loamy/stones, saline and wild herbs and rose petals along with hints of graphite, anise, dusty spices and a touch of smoky vanilla/oak. This is really well rounded, focused and lovely, especially for the vintage, and digging further into the details finds that the Les Bourgeots, which tastes more like Pommard than Savigny, is set on stony soils over clay, this helps explain why this village lieu-dit has so much depth and richness, this is a red Burgundy that has a real and impressive impact, this is a wine that is everything we love about Burgundy, but interestingly it also shows how great and elegant Pinot Noir is getting in the new world, I mean if you love Burgundy and taste this wine you’ll be thrilled, and you’ll be equally impressed by wines like Cobb, Littorai, Peay, Hirsh and Wayfarer in the Sonoma Coast, Drew Family Cellars, Balo, Paxton, Anthill Farms, Halcon and The Princess & the Peasant in Mendocino County, as well as what you finding in cooler sites in Monterey with Lucia/Pisoni, Joyce and Albatross Ridge being just a few that should be taken seriously as well as Sandhi, Brewer-Clifton, La Voix, Melville and many others in the Sta Rita Hills. Not forgetting Oregon, a place where the Burgundians are investing in a huge way, the Willamette Valley is almost a little French colony! That said, if it wasn’t for such wines like this beautiful Simon Bize Savigny-Les-Beaune we’d have no reference points, this is a wine to savor and cherish, while the 2014 and 2015 look to be better years to have in the cellar, this 2013 is a sleeper and drinking wonderfully, best from 2017 to 2022.
($56 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2014 Chateau Tour Grise, Cuvée 253, Vin de France Rouge, Saumur, Loire Valley, France.
One of the first generation of biodynamic converts in the Loire along with the more well known Nicolas Joly and others, Philippe Gourdon founded his own domaine in 1990 and got biodynamic certified in 1998 after farming his own single plot in Saumur with hand cared for passion. It was with joyous expectation that I got to taste this last release of his Tour Grise Cuvée 253 Cabernet Franc a deep and authentic wine of glorious natural detail and complexity with earthy/rustic charm as well as purity of form and place, it is a glorious example of varietal and terroir in the same realm as the greats of the region. The Cuvée 253 is Gourdon’s single vineyard Cabernet Franc, he also does a Chenin Noir (Pineau d’Aunis) as well, it was native yeast fermented and has non sulfur added, unfined and unfiltered, even vegans will love this one as it was stated that it is made according to vegan principals, and aging is done just long enough to retain freshness, but to allowing rewarding long aging as well. Imported by Floraison Selections, the Cuvée 253 Tour Gise, all from Saumur AOC fruit, even though not labeled as such, from the La Tour Gise estate, which is only a total of 20 Hectares, starts with a deep garnet/red color in the glass with a bouquet of earthy violets, green spices, chalky stones and wild berry notes before a sturdy palate of blackberry, mulberry, cranberry and dusty cherry fruits with a hint of plum, sandalwood, cedar, bell pepper, flinty spice and saline infused black licorice. Lovely finesse and fine grained tannins show the ultra care and handcrafting that went into this beautiful Cabernet Franc, this is wonderfully dry and lightly grippy stuff with a medium weight body and vivid intensity, this is a thrilling wine that delivers an overkill for the price! Drink this one over the next 5 to 10 years, there isn’t any reason not to drink it young, but I think if cellared well it will go a long way, best to have with country inspired cuisine that is not fussy and that has robust flavors.
($26 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2016 Theopolis Vineyards, Pinot Noir, Santa Lucia Highlands.
A new wine from Theodora Lee and long time Roar winemaker and Santa Lucia Highlands specialist Ed Kurtzman, the 2016 Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot is a small batch wine, only 110 cases from select sites in the Highlands, and it’s a gem of a Pinot Noir with lush and youthful flavors that showcases the vintage perfectly. This ripe unfiltered and unfined Theopolis SLH Pinot is vibrant and vivid hiding it’s 14.6% alcohol and density very well, in fact this pretty wine, fermented in small bins with gentile handling and aged in 40% 1 year old French oak that gives a hint smoky sweetness and 60% in well seasoned neutral barrels, and it drinks beautiful. The sultry and soulful Theopolis Vineyard Pinot shines brightly in the glass with a ruby/claret hue and seductive red fruits, snappy spicy notes, subtle earthy elements and ultra smooth/luxurious textures, starting with raspberry, black cherry, wild strawberry and plum fruits, light floral notes, briar/bramble, loam, baking spices, a touch of mocha and liquid rose petals. There’s a lot to like here and this is a winery to watch, I love their Petite Sirah from Theodora’s own estate vineyard best, but the whole lineup is an outstanding set of wines. This wine should gain mouth feel and silkiness over the next year in bottle, but certainly it will be a Pinot you’ll want to enjoy especially in it’s youth, I like it’s juicy lift and open nature, it will be best between 2018 and 2022 and will be a good food wine, in particular ahi tuna tartare, cajun style blackened salmon and earthy mushroom dishes.
($45 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2016 Agathe Bursin, Riesling “Dirstelberg” Alsace, France.
Brilliantly dry and dusty crisp the pale golden/straw hued 2016 Agathe Bursin Dirstelberg Riesling sings a sirens song with a haunting and alluring beauty with lithe vibrancy, textured mouth feel and mineral charms. I have been trying to get my hands on Bursin’s wines for years, they have been difficult to find in the states, especially in California, I had heard good things and I was not disappointed, a big thank you to Vinopolis Wine Shop in Portland Oregon for having such a good range of her wines, I know I’ll be ordering more, the style is brisk and sharp with loads of inner energy and delicacy of form, but with good dry extract and depth of flavor. Impressively austere in an age of over the top fruitiness, Agathe’s Distelberg is very lifted and tangy fresh with clear and transparent focus and intensity, grown on pink sandstone this Riesling reminds me of trocken (dry) Muller-Catoir (Riesling) from the Pfalz (also on sandstone) over the border in Germany in some ways with it’s chalky/stony elements and it’s lean profile. The nose is still shy at this point with citrus, saline, loam and faint rose water start things here before a light bodied palate of lime, white peach, spring melon, unripe apple, earthy loam and verbena as well as wet rock, briny/salty oyster shell and lemongrass. Picks up a bit of tangerine, tart apricot and spicy chamomile with air, but stays racy with lots of verve from fine acidity that pumps from start to finish in this great value single vineyard wine. Agatha Bursin has been making wine since 2000 and is proving herself to be a huge talent, and is an exciting small producer in the Alsace region, she tends and farms by hand and uses organic methods as well as leaning towards biodynamic treatments in the vines, as far as I can tell she is a traditionally minded winemaker and cares deeply for terroir expression in her lovely wine(s). This 2016 Distelberg Riesling is a soulful and wonderful with food, I really enjoyed it with sushi, but it would great also with oysters, mussels and clams and or cheeses, cured meats or as a aperitif even, drink over the next 3 to 5 years.
($22 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2015 I. Brand & Family Winery, Cabernet Franc, Bates Ranch Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains.
Grown on the dust reds soils of Bates Ranch in the Santa Cruz Mountains Ian Brand’s latest release of Cabernet Franc reveals itself as a sexy California version of this varietal with layers of flavors that are neither Bordeaux or Loire in inner resemblance, but offers a bit of each to the whole in this beautiful wine from one of Monterey’s huge talents. The 2015 I. Brand & Family Winery Cabernet Franc Bates Ranch Vineyard Santa Cruz Mountains starts with a deep garnet/red hue in the glass with a bouquet that shines with crushed violets/lilacs, green peppercorns, incense and earthy/leather notes along with a kiss of sweet/smoky oak before a medium/firm palate of black cherry, plum, red vine picked berries and a touch of crabapple fruit as well as minty herb, faint bell pepper, straw, iron dust/stoniness and anise. Still youthfully sharp and focused with juicy acidity this forceful wine has hidden reserves of depth and power, but unfolds delicately and with almost St.-Emillon charm and grace, it’s sweet ripe natural offset by it’s intensity and ridged tannin that somehow doesn’t over shadow the supple textured mouth feel and poise! Bright and lingering with an alluring sense of being and place this Cab Franc is a perfect bookend for Ian Brand’s more Chinon like Bayly Ranch Paicines, San Benito version of the same grape, it is hard to favor one over the other, though stylistically this one is prettier at this early stage, certainly I would want both around and I myself will get a few of each to see how they age. Brand is something of a vineyard whisperer and pays serious attention to dirt, as in soils, and his understand winemaking allows for terroir to be the driving force behind his wines, I am in awe of his Cabernet Franc(s), his Monte Bello Road Cabernet Sauvignon and his almost sold out old vine Mourvedre. Also, he is making quite a name for himself in the geeky world of Grenache and his latest old vine Besson Vineyard is must for Grenache/Garnacha freaks! With tiny production numbers, well below a hundred cases of each version Ian’s Cab Francs are get now bottings and you’ll need to track them down, now available direct through their Carmel Valley tasting room (831-359-9834) they should prove rewarding to the patient, best from 2018 to 2025, maybe longer, I intend to find out.
($38 Est.) 92+ Points, grapelive
2014 Pandol, Pinot Noir, Sta. Rita Hills.
Wow, this is getting better each time I taste it, Jenny Pandol killed it in 2014 with her fabulous Rita’s Crown (made with clones 777 and 115) Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir that has gained so much in the last few months that it is way beyond my own high expectations, it’s sweet and stylish palate has filled out without losing any of it’s fantastic energy and vitality! Only 200 Cases were made of this stunning vintage and at 13.4% this might be the best balanced of her last few vintages, it is singing right now with dusty rose petals, vibrant red fruits and clear mineralite and complex layers, it’s silky texture is heavenly and it’s lifted lively acidity gives a thoughtful peakiness, while remaining satiny smooth. The bright ruby/garnet hue is enticing as are the aromatics of wilted roses, Asian spices and pretty cherry cola that lead you to a full flavored palate of black cherry, plum and wild raspberry fruits along with strawberry liqueur, nutmeg, sweet fig and light toasty oak shadings, as well as a burst of blood orange, earth and tea spices. Lingering blue and red fruits, anise and saline add to the complexity found here, this is gorgeous and amazingly delicate/textured stuff! After almost ten vintages, this talented winemaker looks to be calling it quits to start a new adventure in her life, I wish her well and want her to know she’ll be missed in the wine world, she started by making small lots of Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot, from top sites like the Schultze Family Vineyards (Windy Oaks Estate) and Alfaro Family Vineyards, before moving to Ventura and sourcing from Rita’s Crown, next to Sea Smoke, in the Sta. Rita Hills, as well as doing a Carneros bottling in between. Limited amounts of 2012 Carneros as well as 2013 Sta. Rita Hills are now being re-released too, both very good and drinking well right now. This 2014 is her (Jenny Pandol) ending on a high note, thank you Jenny for such beautiful and soulful wines, I suggest heading to her website at www.pandolwines.com and getting this one before it’s gone, it looks set to be a rewarding wine for years to come, best from 2018 to 2026. (Note: This wine was tasted and reviewed before it’s release here at grapelive.com, and this review 10/23/17 was from two recently sourced bottles, and needed an updated comment, as the wine has got so much better it deserved a new/fresh look)
($45 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2015 Francesco Brigatti, Vespolina “Maria” Colline Novaresi, Northern Piedmonte, Italy.
Vesplina is a rare native grape to the Northern Piedmonte and is usually found in field blends in the Ghemme, Bramaterra and Boca zones of the Colline Novaresi and usually a small part player in reds that feature Nebbiolo and Barbera. Vespolina is like Ruche without the heavenly floral intensity, it makes for an interesting solo grape wine that has a similar feel to Nebbiolo, but lighter and brighter, though in a vintage like 2013 and 2015 it can be a bit more ripe and dense, as this beautiful version by Francesco Brigatti, this is a stylish and natural wine that is absolutely pure and delicious. Grown on sandy soils over clay, Brigatti’s Vespolina shows fine detail and fruity richness, it’s certainly full in flavors without holes anywhere on the medium bodied palate that shows brandied cherries, plum, minty herbs, light stoniness and mineral as well as spicy raspberry, cinnamon stick, basil/anise and finishes crispy/peppery with lingering kirsch and potpourri. Brigatti, is a new star of the Alto Piedmonte (A region that is on fire right now with a stunning array of wines) and his wines, the ones I’ve tasted so far have been brilliant efforts, and this one is a steal, it’s a high quality red that thrills and stays focused and brisk, there’s no wood used at all here, this is as mentioned just a briskly pure Vespolina, stainless tank fermented and aged, 7 months, it picks up terroir/earthy notes with air, but keeps the tangy fruit pumping throughout, best with food and slightly rustic cuisine, drink over the next 2 to 3 years.
($18 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2013 Vincent Girardin, Bourgogne Rouge “Cuvee Saint-Vincent” France.
After creating his own top Burgundy negotiant company from scratch with great parcels and wines throughout the Cote d’Or including many Grand Crus, the Santenay born Vincent Girardin sold his company in 2012 and has gone into semi-retirement, but long time winemaker Eric Germain continues to produce gems for the Maison Vincent Girardin and the company keeps moving forward and remains a top value label for high quality Burgundy in all price ranges. I was a huge fan in the early years and was a happy customer until about the mid 2,000’s, so after a long spell it was nice to taste a new vintage and have it taste so lovely, elegant and fresh in detail. Imported by Vineyard Brands, Vincent Girardin excels in small lot wines, especially Cru white Burgundy, their old vine parcels in Corton and Batard-Montrachet are always stunning, but also their value priced reds are worth searching out, in particular the Cuvee Saint-Vincent Bourgogne Rouge offers a lot of style for the price and this 2013, a so-so vintage, is showing good form and is drinking very well. Light and spiced, the 2013 Vincent Girardin Saint-Vincent is what you think of when you think AC Burgundy, it shines in the glass with a translucent ruby/red hue in the glass and aromas of strawberry, crushed roses and peppery spices entice before a light/medium palate of tangy cherry, plum and briar laced raspberry fruits with subtle herb and mineral notes along with a hint of oak, earth and cranberry. Certainly this won’t thrill in depth or suddenly turn into a Premier or Grand Cru, but it does please and without a doubt it makes for a bargain in Pinot Noir, let alone Burgundy! Delicate and textured, it goes on and lingers on the finish with brightness and class, best slightly chilled and with food, it is not complicated or overly complex, but will be a fine and easy companion for another few years, perfect for newbies to the region and a super party wine.
($24 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2015 Bonny Doon Vineyard “Cunning” Carignane/Mourvedre, California.
Seriously good and old school in style Randall Grahm’s 2015 Cunning is a red wine that that reminds me of Maxime Magnon’s beautiful Corbieres, it’s slightly rustic in a charming way, less fruity than you’d expect from a California wine and with old vine concentration. The Bonny Doon Cunning is a blend of 76% Carignane from dry farmed old vines as thick as trees and 24% Mourvedre from the sandy soils of Contra Costa, it’s a deep red that delivers rich flavors as well as an earthy/spicy complexity that certainly reminds you of the Languedoc meets Bandol. Grahm and team has crafted a beauty here, it starts with a meaty/leathery tone, subtle dark florals and mulberry as well as a snap of briar before leading to a rather full bodied palate of loganberry, plum, baked cherry and blueberry fruits along with basil/anise, incense/dried flowers, provencal herbs and porcini. Very subtle wood/cedar and a touch of tannin grip add to the old world elements found in this sun kissed wine that has plenty of ripe inner sweet fruit to impress, for the price this wine really performs and competes well versus other top Carignane based California bottlings like Pax, Skylark, The Princess & the Peasant and Broc Cellars, all which take this grape to the next level. Bonny Doon is on fire right now, you really need to check out the latest releases, a recent visit to their tasting room in Davenport brought many thrilling surprises in Randall’s current lineup, be sure not to miss his Picpoul, Le Cigare Blanc, the X-Block Syrah and the Rioja like blend “A Basque-ette Case” red, a gorgeous Tempranillo, Grenache and Graciano blend, just to name a few of the rarities! The Cunning may end up a one of kind so get some while you can, call the Bonny Doon tasting room to get it, drink it over the next 3 to 5 years.
($26 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2015 Bodega Nanclares y Prieto, Minato da Rana, Tinto Rustico, Ribera Sacra, Spain.
Alberto Nanclares and Silvia Prieto, makers of some of the world’s best Albarino in Rias Baixas also makes some Mencia based wine as well, this wine from the Vino de Meso in the Ribeira Sacra (in Spain’s Galicia provence) near the Sil river and source their fruit from 100 year old vines, farmed all organic by Roberto Regal. The A Rana vineyard sits on the steep slopes of the Minho river, at 600 meters above sea level, on slate, alluvial and granite soils and is more influenced by the Atlantic making for an intriguing cool climate terroir wine, Nanclares and Prieto employ natural winemaking techniques with whole cluster, native ferments and very low sulfur to get a red that has a real sense of place, and the Minato da Rana is a blend of Mencia 60% along with about 30% Garnacha (Tintorera?) and 10% other interplanted local varietals. This old school red field blend is foot stomped in 600L open top cask with a one month cool maceration/fermentation and aged 8 months in French 500L barrels without racking, it’s not filtered and is unfined, making for an earthy and slightly funky (light reduction) red that quickly turns on the charm and after blowing off it reveals beautiful fresh details with similarities to Crozes-Hermitage, Cru Beaujolais and even Cote de Beaune, it’s dark with a pretty purple/ruby hue in the glass and lots of spice, florals and mineral on the nose with black fruit at the core. The high acidity and low natural alcohol (about 12.5%) gives this rare and sexy wine it’s lift and energy, even in a warm vintage like 2015, and the medium bodied Nanclares y Prieto Minato da Rana Tinto Rustico unfolds with ripe layers of wild plum, blackberry, earthy currant and tangy cranberry fruits along with flinty/graphite, minty roasted herbs, crushed violets, primary malo (creamy) mouth feel and lingering tart blood orange and peppery blueberry. With less than 50 cases for the world, you’ll need to get lucky to find this wine, I also had a really tough time to secure a bottle, but as long time fan of this winery it was worth the search and price to get it, just wish I was able to have more, it should get even better after another 2 to 3 years in bottle, but best over the next 5 to 7 years.
($60 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2015 Emmanuel Darnaud, Crozes-Hermitage “Les Trois Chenes” Rhone Red, France.
Made from his oldest plots of organic vines, the Emmanuel Darnaud Crozes-Heritage Les Trois Chenes is a pure and beautiful Syrah with lovely layers and a wonderful mix of dark fruits and earthy elements with a nice background of spices. This wine is an awesome value, grown on alluvial soils and round stones with a vine age between 25 to 60 years it shows great terroir character and markers, the 2015 is ripe and lengthy highlighting the warm vintage. This 100% Syrah shows brilliant details and while it has a slight reduction at first it opens wonderfully to an array of complex flavors, it starts with it’s very dark purple/garnet hue and delicate floral notes with hints of violets and camphor, truffle and leather before filling out on the palate with blackberry, blueberry, damson plum and kirsch/cherry fruits along with black licorice, sticky lavender, peppercorns and dusty porcini. Aged in neutral cask (demi muids) this harmonious 13.5% alcohol wine gathers energy, focus and weight with air in the glass, but stays vibrant and medium bodied with a lithe mouth feel. I am excited to try more of Darnaud’s wines, especially his Saint-Joseph, which I hear is outstanding as well, imported by Casa Bruno in Portland, Oregon Emmanuel Darnaud looks set to be a break through winemaker/producer, another big thank you goes out to Vinopolis Wine Shop, also in Portland, for turning me on to this fine example, it’s hard to imagine a better Northern Rhone Syrah for the price. This is a wine to enjoy in the next 3 to 5 years and a label to follow, this is a quality and impressive effort that deserves your attention, it’s also a Syrah that needs cuisine to perform at it’s best, while still being vibrant, flexible and supple in tannins.
($24 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2014 Ridge Vineyards, Syrah/Grenache/Mataro, Lytton Estate Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County.
From what I understand this is the first time Ridge blended all three of these grapes together, and what a great wine it is, wow, this wonderfully full and expressive Ridge Rhone style red is a stellar Chateauneuf-du-Pape like wine made of 47% Syrah, 27% Grenache & 26% Mataro (Mourvedre) from their Lytton Springs, Lytton estate Vineyard in Dry Creek Valley. This deep and inky purple/garnet red blend that is led by it’s Syrah richness and boysenberry, blackberry, blueberry and cassis/currant fruits as well as opulent/ripe density, light spicy notes, pretty floral tones, faint flinty/stones and mocha/vanilla. While there’s no mistaking this for anything other than Ridge and California, this wine has a depth and grace that is world class that gains with air, there’s pomegranate, sweet leather candied cherry, snappy herbs/anise/lavender and juicy dense plum and lingering length that thrills the palate. At 14.5% alcohol this is a serious wine, big and brawny in form, but smooth, refined tannin and supple in mouth feel without being heavy, it comes across very much in the same mold as famous modern Chateauneufs, especially like Pegau! This is a brilliant and stylish wine that should continue to impresses for years to come, I hope Ridge adds this cute, vintage allowing, to their permanent lineup and not just as a special for their wine club, as this one is, though I believe you can still get it if you ask (beg) at the tasting rooms. 2014 was a terrific year for Ridge, the wines are fantastic, in particular the offerings from their Lytton Springs vines, and people familiar with Ridge Vineyards will see the family character in this wine and the sense of place too, the deepness of fruit and perkiness of natural acidity make these wines really stand out. This is a great wine, drink from 2020 to 2028, it looks to be a rewarding and long aged wine, but one that is hard to resist now, and certainly there’s no penalty in enjoying SGM this now.
($40 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2015 Domaine Jerome Gradassi, Chateauneuf-du-Pape Rouge, Rhone Valley, France.
One of my new favorite producers, Jerome Gradassi, who has been much more famous for his Michelin-starred L’Isle Sonnante restaurant located in Avignon, but after taking over a parcel of ancient Grenache that was once his grandfathers he taught himself how to make wine, very much influenced by natural wine, and through trial an error. Jerome has certainly achieved his goals in making an exciting and pure wine from his rustic cellar. The Gradassi Chateauneuf is vivid, sweet and sour (sort of peachy) with polished tannins and inner energy, gaining weight with air, it’s 75% old vine Grenache and 25% Mourvedre all whole cluster, in this cuvee Rouge, while he also does a tiny amount of Blanc made from almost all Clairette, which I consider a unicorn wine and nearly impossible to get, this red is made by throwing the grapes through the basement window in whole bunches and fermented with native yeast all in cement tanks, then because of the tiny space, he uses buckets to move the must to press! This takes about a week to do and then the wine rested in neutral barrels for just under a year before bottling. Jerome’s winery is the smallest in the region and his wines, a total throwback, they are savory, bright and tangy fresh, completely different from the top domaines in Chateauneuf, maybe that is why I’m so fond of his wines, they offer a completely unique vision of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, but one that expresses the majestic terroir and personality of place and historic family traditions. While I was thrilled by the spicier, earthy 2014, this 2015 is more fruit driven, the vintage being much riper and legendary according to most critics, and it gives a broader impression on the palate with juicy pomegranate, bramble-berry, tart cherry and plum fruits along with basil, salted black licorice, terra-cotta slates, bitter lavender oil, floral notes and touches of pepper, caramel, wild/feral elements and garden picked strawberries. This Chateauneuf is best enjoyed young and fresh in my opinion and with food and friends, it’s Grenache character leads the way and flows in a smooth, thought zesty, fashion and it’s excessively forward without being jammy. Gradassi’s 8 acres of old vines set on the classic galet (round river stones) and sandy soils are producing charming wines and his handcrafted techniques without adding anything, except a tiny amount of sulfur, these micro bottlings are thrilling wines, less dense and extracted than his neighbors, give lots of pleasure in a less heavy way, look for Gradassi’s Chateauneuf(s) and cherish their old school style.
($48 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2014 I. Brand & Family Winery, Cabernet Sauvignon, Monte Bello Road, Santa Cruz Mountains.
Ian Brand’s newest release, the I. Brand & Family Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Monte Bello Road is one of the most exciting red wine wines of year, it’s a deep and lively Bordeaux like terroir influenced Cabernet that leaves an amazing palate impact. These mature vines, not far from Ridge’s Monte Bello estate deliver classic old school charm with gripping tannins and a cascade of black and red fruits with a throwback feel and style, I was thrilled with this unique expression of place and the Saint-Julien meets Margaux like flavors, think Chateau Leoville Las Cases! Brand has crafted a beauty here, one that clearly is on par with the more famous version across the road, which is saying a lot as Ridge Monte Bello is one of my all time favorites and one I splurge on, it’s one of the world’s greats, and Ian’s Monte Bello Road 2014 is certainly in the same league and for such a young and brash wine it has a deep core of class that is impossible to resist. The 2014 I. Brand & Family Winery Cabernet Sauvignon Monte Bello Road starts with pure currant fruit, earth, acacia flowers, a hint of briar and a dark garnet/purple hue in the glass which leads to a full bodied, but vibrant/fresh palate of blackberry, sweet plum, mulberry, cherry and subtle cassis, sage as well as dried tobacco leaf, warm clay, black olive and espresso bean, lingering further with liquid violets, anise, a faint smoky vanilla and minty blueberry. Look for this brilliant wine to age wonderfully and gain detail over the next decade, those that like Corison and of course Ridge or old Diamond Creek and Mount Eden Estate Cabs will love this wine, it has a rich and full mouth feel, but it’s this wine’s energy and life that makes it pop it retains just the right amount of acidity to spotlight every angle of this Cabernet Sauvignon in it’s best light and form. At 14.8% Alcohol this is not a shy wine by any means, but it’s balance is superb and it hides it’s weight and intensity well, this is not a heavy or overripe wine, it has transparency and dynamic focus throughout. Brand makes it clear this is a wine that doesn’t reflect a dogma of winemaker fashion, but a wine that is all about place and soil, this was not about what he wanted it to be in terms of style, it is rather the terroir and vintage that make it what it is. I think, regardless, he did a masterful job guiding this Cabernet to this performance level and look forward to revisit it in 12 to 15 years, this is absolutely sublime stuff. As mentioned in prior reviews, this is a winery to watch, and Ian Brand’s current lineup includes many gems, especially his old vine Grenache, Mourvedre and his two sexy Cabernet Francs as well as his crisp Albarino and his fun and easy to love Rhone blends under his P’Tit Paysan label, some of the best values around. I adore this 2014 for Cabernet Sauvignon, I think personally it might be the best vintage of my lifetime for California Cabs, I am excited to see how they cellar, they remind me of 1994 and 2002 structure-wise, but unique in their vivid nature, especially the mountain grown ones like this one. This very limited release Monte Bello Road Cabernet Sauvignon is a do not miss wine, it looks set to be a classic, patience will be highly rewarded, drink from 2022 to 2032!
($65 Est.) 95-97 Points, grapelive
2013 Domaine Jamet, Cote-Rotie, Rhone Red, France.
This wine was so beautiful and delicately layered I guessed it was pinot (Burgundy) in a blind tasting! Thank you to winemaker Sam Smith for that embarrassment and for his amazing kindness during harvest for sharing this with our tasting group, especially after processing 600 Tons of grapes this vintage for Morgan Winery here in Monterey, as well as doing tiny lots of his own wines. The 2013 Domaine Jamet, from old vine parcels in the the lieux-dits of Chavaroche, Fongeant, Côte-Baudin, Moutonnes, Landonne, Côte Rozier, Truchet, Bonnivières, Leyat, Le Plomb, Rochains, Lézardes, Tartaras, and La Gerine in the Cote Brune on the Schist soils that make for such expressive and age-worthy Syrah. Interesting Jean-Paul Jamet, now the sole owner after splitting the family holdings in half after the 2010 harvest, continues to vilify each parcel separate and makes them individually before blending into the finished wine with some lots getting the favored whole clusters, but less than what I had believed, close to 65-75%, unlike Bernard Levet, an old school Cote-Rotie producer I love that always goes the Full Monty on whole cluster and stems. Jamet, also ferments in stainless, everything is clear and precise and done with gravity flow with native yeasts and Jean-Paul rests (ages) the Syrah in barrels, using various sizes, for up to two years, mostly between 18 to 22 months, please note that in some cases he ages lots all in stainless too. The unfiltered and unfined Cote-Rotie 2013 is gorgeous and lingers on forever with exceptional class and grace, it’s an amazing wine and highlights purity and elegance with subtle underlying power and depth, it’s a thrill from start to finish, reminding me of Musigny and or Bonner Mares, hence my blind tasting fail! Beautiful faint violets, sweet smoky notes, brilliant mineral essences (flinty/iron) along with black, blue and red fruits lead the way with a fine dusting of mixed spices and spring herbs as well as a touch of game and savory/stones in this medium bodied beauty. Layers of black cherry, plum, currant, marionberry and black raspberry form the fruit core along with salty black licorice, embers, ultra fine cracked pepper and a touch of vanilla from the oak cask, some of which are new Burgundy 228L barrique as well as the bigger and more neutral Demi Muids. Everything is folded together in near perfection, this a gorgeous Syrah, I’m so grateful to have experienced such a gift of a wine, no wonder the world over get enough of this great Cote-Rotie!
($120+ Est.) 94+ Points, grapelive
2015 Luis A. Rodriguez Vazquez, Ribeiro Blanco “Os Pasas” Vina de Martin, Spain.
The brilliant and Chablis like Luis A. Rodriguez Vazquez Vina de Martin Os Pasas Ribeiro Blanco is a blend of Treixadura, Albarino, Torrontes, Lado grapes from 10-25 vines grown on granite and sandy soils in Spain’s Galicia Atlantic influenced region. Luis Rodriguez’s wines are gorgeous in detail and class, especially his exceptional value Os Pasas bottling which is mostly Treixadura (a small yielding local white grape that almost went extinct in this area) from steep terraced vineyards, it was fermented with native yeast in stainless and aged on it’s lees for just under a year, this being his freshest cuvee doesn’t usually see any oak. Luis Rodriguez, who started his winery in 1988, his one of the great hero of this region that sits just north of Portugal, just 45 miles inland from the sea, it is a cool climate that shows through in the wines, with vibrant acidity, steely charms and delicate flavors highlighted by low natural alcohol, even in a warm vintage like 2015 his wines almost never get past 12.5%, Luis uses his grandfather’s old cellar in Arnoia, he has helped save native grapes and has certainly lifted the quality and reputation of this exciting old region, after the area suffered in the middle and later part of the last century, he’s brought interest in independent estates and gained international acclaim for the wines of the Ribeiro, both white and red, as they are great too. The Vina de Martin Os Pasas Blanco starts with leesy/smoky notes that always remind me of white Burgundy with light matchstick, brioche, white flowers and orchard fruits in a pale crisply focused wine that delivers a fine palate of lemon/lime, white peach, bosc pear and green apple fruits along with a steely mineral streak and energy as well as flinty/chalky notes and bitter herb. With air the Os Pasas gains character and subtle richness with showcases the vintage and house style with wonderful textures and elegant mouth feel with hints of verbena, oyster shell and unsweetened honeycomb adding to the complexity of this dry and focused white. His barrel aged A Teixa and Escolma are Grand Cru quality wines that are sourced from older vines, they really are majestic whites, which are beyond world class, but I adore this Os Pasas, in particular it stands out for the price, where it truly, as mentioned, compares well against Premier Cru Chablis, drink this joyous beauty over the course of the next 3 to 5 years.
($35 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2014 Betz Family Winery, Bésoleil, Rhone Style Red Blend, Columbia Valley, Washington State.
Betz’s stunning Bésoleil Chateauneuf du Pape style Washington State red is absolutely regal in form and function with deep layers of red and black fruits, spice and texture. Impressively dense, but with bright intensity the Betz Bésoleil is a blend of Grenache 33%, Counoise 24%, Syrah 20%, 17% Cinsault and 6% of Mourvedre making for a complex wine with supple tannins and opulent ripeness. Sourced from great Yakima sites including mostly Olsen Vineyard, but also Upland, Boushey, and the famous Ceil du Cheval Vineyard, all which add to the quality found in this wine, this is exciting stuff that fills the palate and gives a fleshy mouth feel. Starting with a sweet fruit essences, spring flowers and a nice cut of spice and mineral lead to a rich and round palate of boysenberry, marionberry, kirsch, damson plum, anise and a kiss of chocolatey oak along with a hint of wild herb, pepper and subtle mineral, graphite and vanilla/espresso bean. Washington has long been a hot spot for Rhone varietals with wineries like Cayuse, Gramercy, Reynvaan and Betz all making heroic wines, Bob Betz a long time Rhone Ranger is also a MW, a Master of Wine, one of the very few winemakers that I know of, along with Morgan Twain-Peterson of Bedrock, to have earned that MW, along with Louis Skinner, Betz’s winemaker, craft a great selection of wines, mostly from top sites and with focus on Syrah. Gentile winemaking, with gravity flow and the use of only French oak with rigorous sorting certainly shows in the wine and the quality shines through from start to finish, and this Chateauneuf style Bésoleil 2014 has a powerful impact, it’s hedonistic, but with a good burst of acidity that adds charm and balance, it really wants robust cuisine to show it’s best. Drink this Southern Rhone inspired beauty over the next 3 to 5 years.
($48 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2015 Waxwing Wine Cellars, Pinot Noir, Lester Family Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains.
Scott Sisemore’s Lester Family Pinot is a boutique offering from his Waxwing Wine Cellars label, it’s a concentrated yet vibrantly fresh wine with racy acidity and tangy fruit, but gains weight with air turning into a fine example of this region. Waxwing is really making some great stuff, and I’ve long been a fan of Scott’s wines, I highly recommend joining his list and getting a chance at his limited offerings, especially his tiny production Pinot Noirs which he sources from sites in the Sonoma Coast and the Santa Cruz Mountains, from cool climate vineyards. This Lester Family Vineyard Waxwing Pinot, grown near Corratitos, is a mix of modern Dijon (667 & 115) clones, starts with tangy brightness, delicate floral tones and zesty red fruits before filling out on the palate with black cherry, tart plum/cranberry, vine picked raspberry and blood orange fruits along with a hint of toasty oak, mocha and snappy herb/spice. This two barrel cuvee (only 50 cases made) 13.5% Pinot was 50% foot stomped whole cluster and aged in 1yr French oak and was fermented with the Assmannshausen yeast in open top vats/bins. There’s a lot to admire now, but this medium bodied Pinot looks set to gain with more time in bottle, 2015 was a tiny crop and there’s a ton of energy in this vintage that should add to the thrill over time, look for a more satiny mouth feel and length to show up within another year or so. If you can’t wait I would suggest food and a soft decanting to get the best out of this very nice Pinot Noir. Waxwing’s Rose and Pet Nat Riesling are also fun wines, and Scott’s Syrah is also well worth the price, this boutique micro craft winery based in south San Francisco, or Belmont, is cool and deserves a look, check them out!
($47 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2015 Ayoub, Pinot Noir, Memoirs, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
Mo Ayoub’s wines are some of the most exciting and intriguing Pinots I’ve tasted from Oregon (in recent years) and now with Robert Brittan, ex Stag’s Leap and his own Brittan Vineyards is now consulting (winemaker) as well as providing fruit for the non estate wines there is a wonderful consistency and persistence in the recent wines, and while I loved the early efforts, these new releases are awesome, like this 2015 Memoirs, which is made from a select group of Willamette Valley sites. Absolutely beautiful with a graceful inner perfume, lavish texture and satiny red fruits, this Memoirs by Ayoub flows with black cherry, plum and mountain berry fruits, hints of violets/rose petals, black olive, red spices, sweet smoke, cola bean and candied citrus rinds. Round, open and vibrant this is seductive Oregon juice that delivers everything you’d want and then some with mineral tones, light earthiness and length. Dreamy, satiny/creamy and lingering, this Pinot has lots of tangy lift too, I think there’s a long rewarding life ahead. There’s charm and substance throughout and it’s polished nature and ripe opulence (textured mouth feel) will certainly make this one a crowd favorite, again a big thank you to Vinopolis Wine Shop in Portland for getting me this one!
($39 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2015 Cameron Winery, Pinot Noir, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
I adore the authentic and rustic nature of the Cameron wines and John Paul’s winemaking, which is a bit more raw than the modern examples, but enthralling and vital, these are gorgeous and earthy/sexy wines, and especially the serious value Dundee Hills 2015 bottling! This 2015 Cameron Dundee Hills Pinot starts with Burgundy like earthy reduction and expressive red fruits, spice, minty herb and subtle oak shading with layers of dusty cherry, raspberry, wild plum and tangy currant along with leather, smoke and mineral tones. Opening with air this well balanced, stylish and stupid good bargain gains rose petal, truffle and dried blueberry/cranberry, flint as well as red/tea spices and mineral elements. Native ferments and longer than normal elevage makes for a textured and long lasting wines, and this is a great vintage to put away. This could be a Gevrey-Chambertin if tasted blind! Coming off two of Cameron’s non irrigated (dry farmed) vineyards this red soil (Jory) influenced Pinot is pure heaven in the glass, I wish I had bought a effing case of this stuff, it is so wonderful I could easy not share this and make it my own secret treat! Thanks to Vinopolis Wine Shop in Portland for turning me on to this one. From declassified barrels of Clos Electrique and Abbey Ridge Vineyards, this offering 13.5% alcohol Dundee Pinot, lacks for nothing in terms of poise, ripeness, depth and mouth feel and the price is stunning for what you encounter in the glass and bottle, it only makes you wonder just how fantastic Paul’s top cures are in this vintage, I think it’s pretty safe to say they must be out of this world! Drink this one for the next 10 or 15 years!
($28 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2014 Chateau de Beaucastel, Chateauneuf-du-Pape Rouge, Rhone Valley, France.
One of the leading Rhone estates, and Chateauneuf icon Chateau de Beaucastel is one of the great domaines of the world, crafting noble and complex wines that show their commitment to terroir, tradition and organic viticulture with owners the Perrin family being four generations of caretakers of their land. The Perrin’s were leaders in the post phylloxera rebuilding in Chateauneuf-du-Pape in the early twentieth century helping put Chateauneuf on the map and helping lead the region into becoming France’s first AOC in 1929, they also helped bring in a rebirth after WWII, when Jacques Perrin took over the estate in 1953 he brought many innovations and refocused the vines being planted as well as using organic methods, he many sure all the allowed varietals were used, but singled out Mourvedre as the backbone in his reds, while also highlighting Roussanne in the whites. Now the domaine and company is run by the brothers Jean-Paul and Francois who have turned the Perrin labels into a global powerhouse, much in the same way Guigal did for their winery in Ampuis (Northern Rhone rivals). Now Jean-Paul’s Pierre, Marc and Thomas are involved and look to take Beaucastel to new heights, and let’s also not forget their family’s American partnership with the Haas family Tablas Creek that has become a California classic, with Tablas Creek not only making great California Rhone wines, but also being a gift to American wine by bringing their Beaucastel vine cuttings to America allowing California wineries to take their examples to the next level with wineries like Saxum, Bonny Doon and Alban all enjoying the fruits of this gift. Recently I had the opportunity to taste through some vintage Rouge library releases as well as the current 2014 Beaucastel Chateauneuf-du-Pape red which is showing beautifully, I am always stunned by the purity and sex charms of these wines and this is a classic vintage, even though it will be over shadowed by the 2015, which looks set be a legendary year for Chateauneuf, and like the overlooked 1999 vintage, it will be a secretly coveted wine and will reward the patient. The 2014 Chateau de Beaucastel Chateauneuf Rouge is a blend of 30% Mourvedre, 30% Grenache, 10% Syrah, 10% Counoise, 5% Cinsault along with 15% of the following grapes, Clairette, Picpoul, Bourboulenc, Picardan, Terret Noir, Muscardin and Roussanne, all of which add to the house style and complexity of flavors, while the deep and meaty Mourvedre gives this wine it’s soul and spine, it is not about the individual varietals as much as place that makes Beaucastel a special wine and this lovely 2014 is fresh, intense and full of character. Grown on the classic pebblely/stones soils with a mix of limestone, clay and sand, this terroir is clearly showcased in this wonderful example. Deeply colored with a black/garnet hue in the glass it shows a fine nose of red fruits, floral tones and earthy spices that leads to a full bodied palate of boysenberry, plum, sweet currant and racy raspberry along with kirsch, lavender, chalky stones, truffle, cracked pepper, game and new leather. This vintage has an inner vibrancy and good acidity, while still feeling lush, silken and fruit driven. Fermented in concrete and aged in large foudres this is made in a clean, but traditional way, allowing for a wine of stylish class, depth and refinement that grabs your attention and leaves a hedonistic pleasure that cannot help but seduce completely. Drink this underrated beauty of a year over the next 4 to 10 years, and if you are like me, after 12 to 18 years when I think this should be fantastic.
($86 Est.) 93+ Points, grapelive
2014 Bonny Doon, Sparkling Pinot “Donnier” Methode Traditionnelle, California.
Randall Grahm’s red Sparkling Pinot “Doonier” Methode Traditionnelle bubbly is a wonderfully dry blend of Pinot Noir 48% and Pinot Meunier 52% with a luxurious mousse and a cascade of flavors, it will be brilliant for Fall and for holiday cuisine as well as romantic celebrations! Red bubbly from Lambrusco to Sparkling Shiraz is a thrill, but Bonny Doon’s version takes it to the next level for California, it’s pretty in fruit, fresh in character with subtle mineral and earthy complexity and elegant in form and focus. Brisk and medium bodied the Bonny Doon Doonier Sparkling Pinot starts with it’s deep garnet hue and vibrant pinkish mousse and a nose of red fruits, floral tones and faint brioche, spice and feral savory note before a palate of crisp raspberry, black cherry, dried candied cranberry, tart red peach, blood orange and steely charm along with dusty stones, saline, red apple skin and Asian spices. Fun and geeky on one hand while still giving real pleasure and charming throughout with a touch of the wild lifting it beyond the norm, I love this stuff, Randall has found a new friend in Pinot Meunier with this bubbly as well as his pure 100% Meunier still wine being a lovely effort. A recent visit to Bonny Donn’s tasting room in Davenport showed that Randall Grahm is still the master of mind expanding wines, his newest lineup is remarkable, with his Cigare Volant range showing fantastic, especially the en Bonbonne aged Le Cigare Blanc Reserve, as well as his more weird offerings that deliver spine tingling entertainment. In recent years I’ve impressed with the energy and quality of Grahm’s wines, he has had an amazing re-birth of sorts, you’ll want to check out his Sparkling Pinot and be sure to have it around for the season ahead, but also visit his tasting room just north of Santa Cruz in Davenport, it’s the Area 51 of wine! Sometimes people in the wine business take themselves too seriously and overlook Bonny Doon, this is pretentious folly, while Grahm’s wines have a sense of humor they are authentic and seriously intriguing for those with an open mind!
($36 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
1985 Marques de Caceres, Rioja Gran Reserva, Spain.
Showing it’s age in a beautiful way this mature Gran Reserva Rioja from Marques de Caceres has peaked with beautiful detail, silky texture and marvelous length, this is everything you’d ever want in a cellared wine, best of all it’s available cellar direct from the importer! Marques de Caceres uses extended barrel aging in French oak, which tends to enhance the Bordeaux like quality, but without taking away the classic Rioja feel and flavors, it’s crafted from about 85% Tempranillo and the rest made up of Graciano and Garnacha that is all from the prized Rioja Alta zone and vines that have the best exposures and most age. The 1985 is gorgeous and lush with a slight browning of the edges the only thing that gives it’s 32 years of age away while the palate is still vital and fresh showing bright cherries, plum, sweet fig and fading blackberry as well as a smooth creamy mouth feel along with vanilla, dusty spices, dried flowers, Dutch pipe tobacco, delicate notes of leather and cola bean. There’s not anything that stands out as wrong here, this wine is pure class in the glass and it’s length is sexy and stylish, it’s more modern and polished than Lopez de Heredia, which is the standard barer in fine Rioja, and one of the world’s best and most authentic wines, this Gran Reserva by Marques de Caceres is more like La Rioja Alta is style, but a bit lighter and finessed, with all three unique and elite at the top of this region’s Gran Reserva bottlings. Tasted along side the 1986 (91Pts) and 1987 (92Pts) versions the 1985 shined brighter with a profile and complexity the other two didn’t quite match, though both showed well and were solid efforts, it was a thrilling experience to do this mini vertical, thanks to Vineyard Brands Imports for showing these off and for offering them, these are going out in a set, 6pks of 2 each. This 1985 really stood out and gave a great performance, it has lots of substance and delivers an impressive layered impact and should be fantastic with matching cuisine.
($125 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2015 Alfaro Family Vineyards, Pinot Noir, Lindsay Page Vineyard, Estate, Santa Cruz Mountains.
The 2015 vintage, extremely low yielding, is a full flavored effort from Richard Alfaro that seems to get better each time I try it, in fact it is now showing world class depth and concentration with a sweet palate of black and red fruits, but with a modest 13.5% natural alcohol highlighting the cool climate of the Pacific influenced cool climate of Corraltos in the South Santa Cruz Mountains. Much in demand as a farmer these days, Richard Alfaro continues to craft over performing wines under his Alfaro Family Vineyards, with star guys like Arnot-Roberts, Ceritas and Kutch all getting fruit from him. Besides his lovely and modern Pinots, Alfaro does exceptional Chardonnay, Gruner Veltliner and Albarino too, and these wines, along with his Syrah deserve attention, and best of all they are stupid good values! The 2015 Lindsay Paige Vineyard Pinot delivers intense fruit, vibrant acidity and ultra smooth mouth feel with density and a seductive palate of black cherry, wild blackberry, plum and smoky sweet toastiness as well as a bang of spice, earth and mineral, as a whole this is decedent/opulent stuff, but still elegant and balanced, it has an impact no question, similar in style to 1990’s Rochioli(s) which is no bad thing, this is a lot of wine for the money, drink over the next 3 to 5 years.
($42 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2014 Francois Carillon, Puligny-Montrachet, White Burgundy, France.
A very serious Puligny with a rich and full bodied character that showcases the vintage and a refinement of style coming out of Francois Carillon’s cellar, this wine is not the modern lean and nervy Puligny-Montrachet that we’ve seen in recent years from the likes of Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey or Jean-Marc Roulot, it’s more of a throwback to the denser wines of the late nineties. While I’ve grown fond of the steely verve of the new classics, this wine has an opulence that is hard to resist, while underlying acidity holds it together and it’s layering is seductive, and it makes an excellent contrast in a quality offering. The 2014 Francois Carillon Puligny-Montrachet village wine starts with a light golden hue and a nose of orchard fruit, citrus blossom and brioche on the nose before a concentrated palate of golden apples, bosc pear, lemon curd and Turkish fig along with subtle creme brûlée, wet stones, stone fruit fleshiness and mineral tones. This wine is creamy in texture with leesy roundness and exceptional length, this is a regal Chardonnay that reminds me more of Corton-Charlmagne than Puligny in many ways, but after it has time to open up it changes back into a fine and elegant example of white Burgundy gaining energy with every sip, making for a slightly backward wine, but one that has potential to develop over the next 3 to 5 years in bottle. The Carillon brothers Francois and Jacques split the family’s domaine and cellars in 2009, each deciding to do their own thing after centuries of being a classic generational domaine, dating back to 1611, though Carillon’s have been making wine in the region since at least 1520, they both are traditionalists in winemaking and even though Jacques is more the true winemaker, this Francois Carillon is well crafted and could be mistaken for a Premier Cru of even a Grand Cru. This ripe Puligny comes from the Carillon owned five hectares of vines in Puligny, it has a soft mouth feel which hides the inner vibrancy a little and a touch of smoky oak that adds to the impression of nobility and grace, this is a powerful wine in the glass and it demands your attention.
($62 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2015 Halcon Vineyards, Pinot Noir, Oppenlander Vineyard, Mendocino County.
Wonderfully pure and like a ballerina on the palate with beautiful detail, brightness and a heavenly perfume, the 2015 Halcon Vineyards Oppenlander is a gorgeous light footed wine with stellar length and a soulful palate! At 13.2% this cool climate Pinot feels Burgundy like and shows it’s terroir perfectly, Oppenlander is only 10 miles inland from the coastal hamlet of Mendocino and most be one of the coldest sites in California for Pinot, it joins Drew and The Princess & The Peasant as some of my new favorite wines from this region, joining top Anderson Valley producers like Copain, Baxter and Cliff Lede’s Fell label, just to named a few. Delicate and focused, winemaker Scott Shapley (of Roar) has done a masterful job of getting everything out of this wine and showcasing the best of this extreme vineyard, he used 35% whole cluster, which gives so much verve and nervy spices, while allowing lush fruit and floral notes to express themselves, this vintage was 2/3rds clone 115 and 1/3rd Pommard and it was native ferment, unfined and unfiltered, it shows amazing lift and satiny textures. Pretty rose petal, Again spices, gravelly stones, blood orange and sweet herbs add to the complexity of this layered and lithe/leanPinot that has a ripe core of cherry, strawberry, plum and lingonberry fruits with just of touch of cola bean and vanilla. Impressive, lively and everything you’d want from the region, Paul Gordon’s Halcon Vineyards Oppenlander Pinot Noir is just one of many stunning new releases from this winery, drink over the next 3 to 7 years.
($35 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2015 Drew Family Cellars, Pinot Noir “The Fog-Eater” Anderson Valley.
This reminds me of De Montille’s Volnay, but maybe even better, just fantastic Pinot Noir from Jason and Molly Drew at Drew Family Cellars, this 2015 Fog-Eater Anderson Valley is wonderful concentrated and packed with fabulous fruit, coming from top sites including Valenti Ranch, Balo, Fashauer and Joshua’s Vineyard. This vintage, low yielding and cool was fermented 100% native yeast with 20% whole cluster and raised in all neutral French oak barriques and was a studied blend of Rochioli, Pommard, 115, 667 and 777 clones grown on Oceanic Sedimentary and Alluvial gravel/loam soils, all of which make this gorgeous wine sexy as hell! 2014 and 2015 have been outstanding vintages for Drew and I can’t think of another Pinot and Syrah producer that has done better, these might be some of the greatest wines made in California to date, a huge success and Jason and Molly deserve massive credit for them, and if you think that is hype, just try them, these are awesome wines of class and stylistic charm that very few can match. The 2015 Fog-Eater is alive with flavors starting with crushed flowers, peppery spices, mineral tones and it’s beautiful garnet/ruby hue in the glass along with cinnamon, tea spices and tangy cranberry. This acid filled wine stays laser sharp and dynamic throughout, though very textured and silken, it’s a wine with a sweet ripeness, but with a harmonious mouth feel, at 13.6% it never strays into overkill, absolutely thrilling, drink over the next decade.
($45 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2015 Reyneke, Chenin Blanc, Stellenbosch, South Africa.
Bright and tight the all organic Reyneke Chenin Blanc is a biodynamic beauty with layered complexity and terroir character, from a single vineyard, with 50+ year old vines, grown in the Polkadraai Hills. Brilliant pale straw/gold in glass the 2015 has a mineral, citrus and lightly floral nose with a medium bodied palate of lemon/lime, kumquat, grilled grapefruit, white peach and faint honeycomb along with snappy herb and spice as well as a steely verve and wet river stones. With air a bit of yellow fruit comes through with a a waxy feel, but without question this wine is pure class and is exceptionally focused. A winemaker friend shared this stylish effort with me, since he is going to make he’s own version with this harvest and wanted to get a feel for this varietal, what a great pick to try, especially as the grapes he is considering are all biodynamic/organic too, and grown on ancient seabed. Less fruity and more old world in form, the 2015 Reyneke Chenin was whole cluster pressed and fermented in big French cask, mostly neutral and rested on it’s lees in barrel and then rested in tank before bottled, making for a wine that delivers a lot for the money, Reyneke is a winery to watch, every vintage seems to get better and better, I’ve really enjoyed their Syrah in the past too. Best to enjoy this 2015 Chenin over the next 2 to 3 years, though I’d expect it to do fine for 7 to 8 years too if I were honest, this is well crafted stuff, absolutely quality all the way.
($28 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2015 Foradori, Pinot Grigio, Fuoripista, Vigneti delle Dolomiti, Italy.
One of Italy’s most exciting winemakers, Elisabetta Foradori is one of the queens of the natural wine world mixing modern thought with ancient methods, along with biodynamics makes clear and beautiful wines mostly from her estate near Trentino of the Alto Adige in the Dolomites, or Italian Alps, though she has added a winery in the Tuscan Coast region, Ampeleia in recent years. Most famous for her Teraldego reds, Foradori’s whites have gained a cult like status with wine enthusiasts with her Manazoni and Nosiola from her Fontanasanta vineyard easily becoming some of Italy’s best wines with their skin contact and amphorae aging adding to the excitement and thrill in these complex wines, In 2014 Foradori added a skin contact Pinot Grigio, making her first single varietal from this grape, sourced from a near by biodynamic vineyard it is also her first colorful Orange Wine, you’ll note she even puts an orange wax capsule on it so you know what you are getting. The 2015, from a warm vintage is sweet fruited, but with savory/earthy tones and bright energy with a lovely pink/orange hue that some might confused with a Rose, until they taste it of course! Wonderfully deep and exotic with vibrant citrus, apple, cherry and baked peach fruits, along with saline, wet river stones, a hint of meatiness, leesy notes, dried white flowers, spices and flinty mineral. Grown in Campo Rotaliano by Marco Devigili on gravel, sand and alluvial soils, the Fuoripista, which means “another way or different path” with a view of nature was hand picked, native fermented on the skins as well as aged in clay pots (Spanish Amphorae) for 8 months, in similar fashion to ancient Georgian wines and more recently Giusto Occhipinti at COS. This brilliant and delicately nuanced wine has a dreamy texture and dry extract giving an almost tannic spine, this is a thinking persons wine and needs plenty of time to reveal itself and full personality, and while some orange wines can be funky and hard to love completely, this wine really pleases the palate and has impressive mouth feel and weight, but retaining a lightness and lift that intrigues and keeps your attention.
($40+ Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2014 Love & Squalor, Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley.
This beautiful and lushly textured Oregon Pinot has pretty detail and satiny mouth feel highlighting the vintage and terroir very well, and all this in a wine that costs under $25, I am thrilled with this Love & Squalor Pinot made by Portland Wine Company and certainly will be following this winery in the future. Winemaker Matt Berson’s tiny micro winery in Portland is making artful and fruit forward wines with great charm and personality, they are lively and vibrant too with balanced grace, the Willamette Valley Pinot especially. Berson has made wines around the world in places like New Zealand, Napa Valley, Germany and Argentina and he shows his travelled view well in his wines, he is gentile in cellar and this 2014 Willamette Valley Love & Squalor Pinot was aged 18 months in seasoned French barrique(s) allowing for lovely softness without losing it’s inner energy and without a shock of sweet toast, but with subtle oak shadings making this a pleasing medium bodied wine a joyous experience. Starting with floral notes and mineral tones the 2014 has a beautiful ruby/garnet color and a deep fruit core showing black cherry, plum and framboise as well as fig paste, nutmeg, dried violets, red spices, flinty gravel, faint saline, herbal tea and a touch of cola/sassafras. This Pinot is full of fruit and texture offering exciting layers, while still being easy to understand and enjoy, best to drink this fun and stylish wine over the next 2 to 5 years.
($24 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2016 Weingut Kruger-Rumpf, Riesling Kabinett, Munsterer Rheinberg, Nahe Garmany.
Georg Rumpf’s beautiful set of 2016 Rieslings has many stars, but this lovely Munsterer Rheinberg Kabinett really shines with it’s delicate fruitiness and wonderful mineralite that makes it taste and feel drier than the label would suggest, this is fantastically balanced and joyous in total, a brilliant effort. Less dense than the 2015’s these 2016’s are more classic and lifted in profile, each are excellent vintages to savor, it’s really tough to pick between them, maybe it’s best to stock up on both, but the inner brightness in these new 2016 releases is really thrill the palate and can be appreciated for their brisk vitality, this is especially true here in this Kabinett. Grown on steep slopes the face a perfect south-east on weathered quartzite and sandy loam, this Rheinberg is a picturesque site that overlooks, from the top of vineyard, the Nahe, and onto the Rheingau’s Ruedesheimer Berg and to the Rheinhessen across the rivers, this area not far from Bingen is stunning place to visit, and I feel blessed to have been there during the 2016 harvest season, which will always have a special place in my heart. Rumpf crafted this Riesling with “sponti” native ferments and with some lees aging that gives texture, while the sugar adds a light sweetness and creamy mouth feel, though acidity and extract holds everything together in harmony and elegance, this is a very fine Riesling that has layers of white flowers, salty stones, green apple, lime, white peach and spice. A hint of tropical notes adds to the whole, but vigorous citrus, including tangerine, plus a touch fleshy apricot, bitter herbs and earthy melon come through with air. Kabinett Riesling should be on your radar in for this vintage, these and Feinherbs are some of the best wines of the vintage and great values, especially wines like this one, which is a Riesling that will provide rewarding drinking for 5 to 10 years!
($20 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2016 Bonny Doon, Pinot Noir, Enz Vineyard, Cienega Valley.
The wine coming from this dry farmed old vine vineyard in Lime Kiln Valley on the eastern side of the Gabilan Mountains Range are bursting with natural energy and depth, this site is a special site set on decomposed granite and limestone soils makes for unique and richly flavored bottlings like this beauty of a Pinot Noir from Bonny Doon. Nicknamed “All’s Well that Enz Well” this young and fresh Pinot is gorgeous in detail and wonderfully textured with racy maraschino cherry, pretty floral tones, distilled raspberry and earthy wild plum and home garden mini strawberry fruits along with mineral essences, cinnamon, forest chanterelles, sticky lavender, sweet Thai basil and salty stones. Amazingly well put together already, the French barrels are ghosting into the background and the mouth feel is hedonistically pleasing with an almost creaminess, but it’s the vibrancy and intensity of fruit that charms and seduces here in this lovely wine. Lively acidity lifts this Pinot and holds the lush fruit in check, look for a more classic profile to slowly to emerge with time in the bottle, in fact you can already see elements that can be compared to Nuits Saint-Georges and while tannins are refined and silky there is a lot of potential here. Tasted with a full set of Randall Grahm’s current releases all of which shined, I needed a day of two to reflect on just how good this Enz Vineyard Pinot is, and while it is mainly a Bonny Doon Club wine you can get it at their Davenport tasting room, which I highly recommend you do, it’s great now, but should get even more complex and thrilling in the course of the next 5 to 10 years in bottle. Honestly, this might be one of the best reds by this winery, especially Pinot that they’ve done in recent years, and this vineyard is certainly one of the un-sung heroic sites in the central coast, mostly known for their 92 year old Mourvedre vines, of which I’ve fallen in love with in Ian Brand’s awesome version. Bonny Doon is making some of the best wines ever, there is no resting on his laurels with Randall Grahm and he is continuing his exploration of the un-traditional and weird with fantastic results, it’s a great time to rediscover this winery!
($38 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2016 Theopolis Vineyards, Rose of Petite Sirah, Estate Grown, Yorkville Highlands, Mendocino County.
More serious than refreshing this Rose of Petite Sirah is bursting with flavors and why brisk and dry it is filled with fruit and has a rich palate, it’s a decedent pink that is perfect for fall cuisine and warm afternoons. Theodora Lee’s Theopolis Vineyards makes and grows some of the state’s most exciting Petite Sirah, her vines have graced the bottle of Carlisle in the past and now are killing it in Paul Gordon’s Halcon Vineyards single vineyard bottling, grown on the steep hills high above the Anderson Valley in the Yorkville Highlands, it makes for a great site for this unique grape, and Lee’s Rose is bright and detailed with loads of character. Intense gemstone ruby/garnet in the glass, you know this is a not a shy style Rose, it delivers distilled raspberry, wild strawberry, dried rose petals, watermelon, tangy cherry and cranberry as well as mixed snappy herbs and spices lingering on with a dense fruity mouth feel. While not delicate or light, this wine will gain a whole new wave of pink fans that want a bit more substance without cloying sweetness and is brilliant with more robust dinners themes and foods, it was direct pressed and comes in at 13.2% alcohol, so it’s not flabby, and it aged in well seasoned French barriques for a short period, only 95 cases were made. It’s firm acidity adds to the lift and vibrancy, helping to cut the fruity and forward nature here, it reminds me of Tavel Rose from the Rhone Valley and many Italian Rosatos that have a bigger profile, it was a pleasure to sip this one poolside after a long and vigorous hike, and it grew on me with every sip, and reminded me that this is a winery to keep an eye on, Lee’s wines are quality efforts, especially her Petite Sirah.
($25 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2015 Domaine Clotaire Michel, Beaujolais-Villages, La Napoleon, France.
Wow, this is great stuff, one of my favorite under $20 bottles of the year so far, what a value, those that like Foillard or Lapierre will want to get moving quickly to score this fabulous Beaujolais-Village from rising star Cloture Michel, who has worked at some famous addresses and who makes all natural style wines from a unique terroir. After working at the top notch Languedoc estate Clos Marie, Cloture Michel then headed to Cornas to work five years with the legend Thierry Allemand, and now crafts Cru quality Gamays from plots, that like Fleurie, are set on pink granite, sand and quartz with some vines that are over a hundred years old. His parcels are in the south of Brouilly, near the small town of St. Etienne la Varenne, his vines face south and have lots of age to give maximum flavor. Michel’s 2015 La Napoleon is utterly fantastic with amazing and deep perfume, earthy spiciness and gorgeous dark fruits as well as vibrant inner energy and natural acidity, it’s a medium bodied effort with satiny class, but with subtle rustic charms, it highlights it’s terroir perfectly and shows off the vintage’s ripe and joyous force. How a 12% alcohol wine can show this much complexity and depth tells you something about the winemaker and the quality of the grapes in this beautiful wine, it has the same level of pleasure and grace found in Dutraive’s Domaine de la Grand Cour, which is saying a lot, trust me this is awesome stuff! The Domaine Clotaire Michel Beaujolais-Villages La Napoleon Cuvee 2015 starts with intense crushed violets, lilacs, incense and leathery/earthy tones along with racy black currants which leads to a vivid palate of plum, black cherry, strawberry and marionberry along with walnut oil, saline, black licorice as well as hints of mineral, zesty gauva, red peach and flinty stones. This all organic Gamay rocks, and at this price is stupid good, it was whole cluster fermented, native yeasts were used, everything done with gentile care, but in an old school way with an ancient vertical press using neutral cask and tank for elevage and the wine is unfined and unfiltered with extremely low sulfur. This was an impressive discovery, and another intriguing producer imported by Balanced Wine Selections, be sure to get this one while you can, it’s the real deal!
($19 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2013 Dos Lagos Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, Atlas Peak, Napa Valley.
Tom and Marcie Dinkel’s Dos Lagos Vineyards high on Atlas Peak is a tiny estate vineyard, farmed by famed vineyard manager Hector Lopez (ex-Caymus, Switchback Ridge and Padis) and handcrafted wines made by ex-Pride man Robert Foley, is always a pleasure to taste, and this 2013 is a huge and opulent Cabernet that perfectly translates vintage and place, this is pure mountain Napa in the glass with textural richness and incredibly deep and dark flavors. Grown on volcanic tuff, compressed ancient ash, this 100% Cabernet Sauvignon is filled with dense fruit, especially blackberry, plum, cherry and sweet currant in the form of creme de cassis as well as sweet scents of acacia, vanilla and toasty barrel, mocha and cola bean as well as ripe gripping tannin, spicy cigar wrapper, flinty mineral. A light dusting of coco, liquid violets, cedar and sage adds to the hedonism found in this massive wine, this full bodied effort is loaded and should give years of pleasure filled drinking, maybe decades, though with a vintage like 2013 you’ll want to enjoy them younger than the more cooly/firm structured 2014’s that should prove legendary as well, it would be tough to chose between them, and even though I find the vibrancy of 2014 hard to resist, these 2013 have fantastic luxurious presence and almost pornographic impact! I’ve been a fan of Dos Lagos Vineyards for almost a decade and this small winery never fails to impress and even at 15.5% this wine delivers a balanced feel, it’s extremely sexy and shows a remarkable intensity, while lavish and lush it has lots of life inside, showcasing it’s mountain terroir. Aged 23 months in 50% French oak, this wines natural tannin has been tamed and polished, but I was excited by the inner energy and vitality, something that is missing in some high-end Napa 2013 Cabernets, it also resists that dry port element that sometimes makes a warm vintage too much of a good thing, Dos Lagos Vineyards got this one nearly perfect. Dos Lagos recently added a couple of interesting white wines sourced from other sites, this includes a Chardonnay with an amazing story to tell and a Kent Jarman (Joie de Vivre, Kenefick Ranch, Joseph Kent and Coup de Foudre) made Calistoga Sauvignon Blanc. Dos Lagos Vineyards sells mostly direct, be sure to check them out and their estate Cabernet Sauvignon that compares well with the modern offerings from Cade, Plumpjack Reserve, Hourglass Estate and Caymus Special Selection.
($125 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2014 Albatross Ridge, Pinot Noir, Cuvee Vivienne, Estate Grown, Carmel Valley, Monterey County.
Another wonderful effort from Garrett Bowlus and his Albatross Ridge Vineyards Estate in Carmel Valley grown on the slopes just west of the Los Laureles Grade on chalky rocky soils, this Cuvee Vivianne is a bit softer and spicy than the majestic Reserve, but still beautiful in detail and such a great value, this is not a wine to miss. This vintage has really raised the game for the tiny Carmel Valley region in Monterey County and has firmly put Pinot Noir in pole position of red grapes in this area, with Albatross Ridge drawing even greater attention and scoring well in the national wine press, eclipsing the best scores ever from this place for these 2014 wines, with both of the Pinots and the Chardonnay making an impact. The Cuvee Vivianne is bursting with energy and immediately pushes out perfume, resiny notes, shaved cinnamon and kirsch before opening up to a very Burgundy like palate with black cherry, tangy plum, distilled strawberry and cranberry fruits along with dusty stones, saline, peppery notes and a kiss of smoky sweet French oak, lingering on with a touch of ripe raspberry, vanilla and herb as well as dried rose petal and a hint of snappy lavender. This medium bodied Pinot has a firm mouth feel and lift, but there’s still a pleasing creamy lushness that comes through with air in the glass and it’s hard to look away from the pretty ruby/garnet hue, this is just a few notches below the Reserve, which is not a bad thing or unfair, it’s just a touch more rustic, or raw, though very compelling and soulful, it took me a bit more time to reflect on this one, but in the end I was charmed and want more, drink this Albatross Ridge Cuvee Vivianne 2014 Pinot Noir over the next 3 to 5 years, it’s just now really hitting it’s stride and even more impressive than when I fist sampled it, tasted twice, it has gained form and depth in the six months since the last time I had it.
($45 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2014 Bonny Doon, Le Cigare Blanc Reserve, Beeswax Vineyard, Arroyo Seco.
Like chasing windmills, Randall Grahm has for years tried to bring white Rhone varietals to greater attention, and while the mainstream hasn’t brought Roussanne, Marsanne or Grenache Blanc to it’s bosom, his Le Cigare Blanc, about 60% Grenache Blanc & 40% Roussanne, is one of California’s great white wines, and especially this latest Reserve version from the 2014 vintage which absolutely rocks and is mind blowingly sexy! The 2014 Bonny Doon Le Cigare Blanc Reserve, made from organic Grenache Blanc and Roussanne is a unique and deep wine with fascinating layers that takes time to unwind and seduces in slow delicacy with beautiful and earthy charm showing white flowers, leesy richness, tree picked white stone fruits, a touch of tropical essence, earthy cheesy notes, snappy spices and almond butter. This gorgeous and lively wine has wondrous and magical detail with heavenly mouth feel, this wine has serious palate expression, just be sure it isn’t too cool (in the glass) and that you give it time to open, 20 minutes after being open it takes on an amazing inner perfume and depth revealing white violet, wet stones, lemon/lime and apricot along with a hint of peppery herbs and liquid mineral. The texture gains too with air, but stays lithe with a touch of Roussanne oily density which makes your eyes roll back in your head without being flabby, it’s lifted with a tangerine brightness, this is otherworldly good. Grahm employs extended lees elevage in carboys, glass vessels, that gets a bit of stirring during the extra aging of this wine, adding a fullness and complexity that put this wine in a class of it’s own, more than a decade ago I took notice of Tablas Creek’s Esprit Blanc and said this was the future of great California whites, well that may have falling on def ears, but certainly whether or not anyone is listening this 2014 Le Cigare Blanc Reserve is without question one of the best wines of the year! A recent visit to Area 51, I mean Davenport, just north of Santa Cruz on Highway 1, proved an eye opening experience, not just for UFO’s and piloting flying saucers, I tasted many unique wines at Bonny Doon’s fun and unpretentious tasting room, these included one of my personal favs, Grahm’s Picpoul, as well as a brilliant vintage 2009 X-Block Syrah, a earthy old world style Carignane & Mourvedre blend called Cunning and the thrilling Enz Vineyard dry farmed Pinot Noir, plus a fantastic late harvest Grenache Blanc known as Vinferno, you need to make this pilgrimage too, and do not miss Randall’s Chateauneuf du Pape Blanc like Le Cigare Blanc Reserve, it’s a stunning effort that will age gracefully for a decade.
($54 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2016 Weingut von Winning, Riesling Trocken, Diedesheimer Paradiesgarten, Erste Lage, Pfalz Germany.
Von Winning’s gloriously brisk Paradiesgarten Premier Cru dry Riesling is a killer wine, one of the top values of the year with intense layers of vibrant fruit, mineral tones, lifting acidity and powerful natural extract, making this a serious offering that is very close to Grosses Gewachs in style, substance and quality. Von Winning’s 2016 dry Riesling lineup is a stellar set of wines, following their mind blowing and exotic 2015’s, these 2016 are more elegant, structured and classic Pfalz, both vintages will certainly be legends and should not be missed, especially in the 2016 set I recommend this Diedesheimer Paradiesgarten 1er Cru, as well as the Grand Crus Kalkofen, Pechstein and the world’s most expensive Riesling vineyard Kirchenstuck in particular for collectors. Von Winning is really a unique treasure in the Pfalz, they are inspired by the best wines of Burgundy and with their dry and rich feel they do have that character, Stephan Attman and his team even farm their Riesling from historic plots in Forst, Deidesheim and Ruppertsberg like they do in the Cote d’Or, they practice organic farming and in the cellar they use plenty of oak and native ferments in 500ml French barrels, everything is gravity flow and the handling is extremely gentile and careful, the wine spends and extended period on it’s lees, which delivers amazing texture and mouth feel without losing the vitality you’d expect from Riesling. The Pfalz is a mostly limestone terroir, but this Paradiesgarten has loess, loam and red sandstone at it’s core which adds to the complexity and gives plenty of fresh yellow fruit on the palate, this 2016 version has a Premier Cru Chablis like soul with a steely essence and a dusting of saline, chalk dust and flinty spices, it’s tightly wound, but opens nicely with subtle brioche, expansion exceeds expectations in this vigorous wine revealing lemon/lime, kiwi, tangerine, salty brine, wet stones, tart apricot, verbena, green apple skin, liquid mineral, white flowers, thai basil, white cherry along with lingering peach, mango, rosewater and faint among oil. This is a crisp Riesling with dynamic energy and tangy fresh detail, it will go ages and has an inner grace and charm that thrills and seduces with every sip, it give perfect insight into the house style and is a gateway to von Winning’s top Cru Grosses Gewachs. Von Winning makes some of the world’s great white wines, of course Riesling as you’d assume, but don’t over look their Sauvignon Blanc, it’s a game changer for this varietal, over the last decade this estate has rocketed to the very top echelons of producers, if you haven’t had von Winning you are missing out! Imported by Riesling guru Terry Theise and Skurnik Wines, von Winning continues to amaze with every new vintage, I’m very grateful to von Winning’s Andreas Hutwohl for his patience and kindness for showing me his wines, the added insights and clarity of thought comes from his knowledge and passion, thanks my friend. The 2016 Paradiesgarten should be available now in most markets, be sure to get it while you can, it’s a do not miss wine, drink this beauty over the next decade, it’s an impressive terroir driven Riesling that kicks ass for the price!
($32 Est.) 93+ Points, grapelive
2012 J. Rochioli, Sauvignon Blanc, Old Vines, Russian River Valley.
This was the first time I got one of the rare original block old vine Sauvignon Blanc from Rochioli, which is sadly only available on their mailing list, usually when a bottle isn’t offered to public I don’t review it, but this was so noteworthy I couldn’t just not mention it and hopefully it might show up on the secondary market or winebid.com. While the Rochioli Estate Grown Sauvignon Blanc is a good one and more readily available, even to walk ins at their tasting room on Westside Road, not far from Healdsburg, this Old Vine bottling is a stunning white wine, you’ll notice it is done under the J. Rochioli label found on their single vineyard wines, it has wonderful depth and energy, and being that is has a few years on it, shows a fully mature character with less grapefruit and grassiness and more quince, mineral and peach with a well integrated density and oak shadings along with layers of lemon/lime, gooseberry, a leesy brioche, wet river rock, saline and tangy garden herbs. The acidity is still lifting and bright, but there is a real sense of texture forming here and it feels more like a flashy white Bordeaux than a Pouilly-Fume, though remains focus, balanced and elegant, this wine certainly impresses and is nothing short of lovely. I must admit, I’ve grown weary and bored with most California Sauvignon Blanc, especially the dull and generic volume offerings from Napa Valley and Sonoma, even from well known brands, so when I get a thrill from a California version I feel an obligation to bring it it to the attention of wine lovers, and no doubt this J. Rochioli Old Vine Sauvignon Blanc is a brilliant wine that gives riveting detail and pleasure on the palate, I just wish it was easier to get. If you are looking to get a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc that will blow your mind this one just might be your choice, it joins a short list of great California Sauvignon Blancs along with Shared Notes, Peter Michael, Ojai Vineyards, Spottswoode and my value favorite Stolpman, though of course there are ones not mentioned here that are intriguing, though I highly recommend looking beyond the likes of Cakebread and Duckhorn for the best in the state’s Sauvignon Blanc. This J. Rochioli highlights the importance of saving old vines and making wines that reflects history and terroir, it has that x factor and deserves attention and wider praise, it is a wonderful bottle of wine that is aging well, best now through 2024.
($55 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2013 Platinetti Guido, Nebbiolo, Colline Novaresi DOC, Piedmont, Italy.
This gorgeous and satisfying Nebbiolo from the hills of the Colline Novaresi in the northern Piedmonte, this has to be one of the real bright spots in Italy these days with so many small family wineries being discovered, like Platinetti who farm organically a tiny plot of vines and who make very traditional wines. While they do also made a Ghemme cru version too, this one really caught my attention for it’s deep color, which is helped by the addition of 10% Barbera, and the warm ripe layers of flavors of the 2013 vintage, it was given a short maceration and ferment in vat before being aged 10 months in big Slavonian cask, then held another year in bottling, which allows it to be thrilling right away and easy to love with detail and purity. The soils are mostly alluvial with graceful mineral elements showing through in this Nebbiolo, it’s medium full bodied highlights the year with rich density and sweet tannins, but at 13% this beauty shows fine form and good acidity, coming from mature 40 year vines it has plenty of character and class with subtle complexity. The pretty dried floral notes, black cherry and savory iron/stone/earth elements are followed by damson plum, porcini/leather, flinty spices, saline infused black licorice, candied orange rind, bay leaf, tangy currant, fig paste and minty wild lavender impress on the palate leaving a pleasing impact which certainly leaves a huge smile, fans of Barbaresco and Barolo might want to look north and search this wine out, imported by Sonoma’s Balanced Wine Selections, a small group that pinpoints on small quality producers in France, Italy and Spain. This Platinetti Guido is an expressive offering that reminds me a bit of Piane of Boca or Val del Prete of Roero, both great wines, showing just how good this Colline Novaresi Nebbiolo is and what a stupid good value it is, drink it over the next 5 to 7 years.
($22 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2013 Gerard Boulay, Sancerre, La Cote, Loire Valley, France.
Gerard Boulay is one of the elite Sancerre producers, they farm by hand and all organic in the historic village of Chavignol, where the domaine owns about 8 hectares with the youngest vines being 45 years old on “terre blanc” soils, most are closer to 70 years old and the Boulay family has been making wine in the area since the late 1,300’s. The wines here are full of vitality and have intense mineral elements, the soils, Kimmerridgian, are the same as found in Chablis, this is especially true of the famed Crus, in particular La Grande Cote, where Boulay has a tiny parcel that they in fact first produced as a single Cru in 2010. Boulay is all about ripe fruit and natural winemaking, no chemicals in the vineyards, always native yeasts and almost no sulfur added, he employs mostly ferments in wood cask and ages in large foudres and neutral large 300L barrels allowing leesy weight to these steely Sauvignon Blanc(s) they truly reflect their terroir, Boulay himself says “C’est la nature qui fait le vin” (Nature makes the wine). To accomplish his goals, great care is taken to ensure quality and transparency, everything maybe come down to nature as he says, but to get the job done, clean and highly sorted grapes are only allowed to be pressed and details show in his passion in the vines as well in the cellar. The 2013 vintage La Cote Sancerre is brilliant, complex and full of energy with layered flavors showing elegance, vigor and beauty throughout with sappy herbs, spice and yeasty notes adding pop to the lemon/lime, white flowers, gooseberry, subtle peach fruits, as well wet stone, chalk dust, lemon grass and brioche. Fine acidity and old world austerity define this amazing example of Cru Sancerre, it is brisk, crisp and feels almost saline, and as mentioned there is a dynamic steeliness and lingers with crushed flinty rocks in a lifted medium weighted white wine that certainly begs for matching cuisine, seriously it wants regional goat cheeses like chèvre, delicate sautéed white fish or even claims, oysters and dishes with fresh picked tangy herbs. I loved the 2012 even more, as it was a touch exotic and more expressive, but this 2013 has plenty of charm and power and is not far off, but be sure to look for 2015 and 2016 Boulay, as these vintages look set to be a cut above for the region, these are great wines and Sauvignon Blanc offerings that can age 10 to 15 years with ease.
($55 Est.) 92+ Points, grapelive
2014 La Marea, Grenache, Old Vine, Besson Vineyard, Central Coast. (By Ian Brand)
Ian Brand is a vineyard whisperer and finds wonderful old vine plots off the beaten path and he has a thing for central coast Grenache, so much so he created a Spanish inspired label just for his Grenache, or Garnacha single varietal wines as well as a single vineyard Albarino call La Marea, crafting tiny production offerings that should not be missed, like this beautiful 2014 Besson Old Vine Grenache. Benson sits just outside both San Benito and the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA’s in a no mans land that is technically in Gilroy I guess, on the Hecker Pass, it was planted back in 1910 and is dry farmed and all organic and has gained fame in the past with Randall Grahm’s Bonny Doon label, with his Clos de Gilroy certainly bringing this site to the public’s attention, but also now has the Grenache darling Angela Osborne of A Tribute to Grace crafting her own version of geniusly delicate Grenache from here, the New Zealander along with Ian both make outstanding wines, each with their own take. The La Marea is restrained and textured, but with gorgeous and pure fruitiness, this is wine of great detail and class, it reminds me a lot of Joan d’Anguera’s wonderful Altaroses Granatxa from Spain’s Montsant region. Ian Brand’s 2014 La Marea Old Vine Besson Vineyard delivers light floral tones, mineral, wild strawberry and sappy spices to start before filling out on the silken palate showing black cherry, tangy plum, pomegranate and vibrant boysenberry fruits along with dusty stones, pepper, sticky lavender/sage, minty black licorice all which highlight the terroir and the gravelly clay and loamy soils. Ian Brand is a winemaker to follow, his wines are intriguing throughout his lineup of wines, you’ll want to grab a few of these La Marea while they last, they are so tasty, but also be sure to check out his I. Brand & Family Mourvedre, one of the best wines of the year I’ve tasted, as well as his value priced Le P’Tit Paysan label, and especially his Petite Sirah and Chateauneuf-du-Pape blend, both awesome bargains. This medium weight 2014 Old Vine Grenache La Marea shows an elegant side of the grape, but still full flavored and vigorous in nature, it’s a pretty little thing to enjoy in it’s vibrant youthful best, it’s a serious effort with loads of charm that will surprise even the most hardened Gigondas fans!
($38 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2013 Theopolis Vineyards, Petite Sirah, Estate Grown, Yorkville Highlands.
Theodora Lee’s Theopolis Vineyards is one of the top sites for Petite Sirah in California, her vines hug steep terraces in the Yorkville Highlands and have received amazing critical acclaim since being established in 2003, with her success first coming from the wines made by Mike Officer at Carlisle, and more recently with Paul Gordon’s Halcon version, which I just reviewed. Lee’s beginning her own wine journey now and I was thrilled to taste some of her latest offerings from Theopolis, and her 2003 Petite is an impressive expression of varietal and place with deep intensity and full throttled flavors, it’s more of a studied classic version of California Petite Sirah than the more Rhone(ish) or Cornas like Halcon Vineyards from the same vineyard, this mostly due to the partial whole cluster in the Halcon, and some of it is from the aging in different oak, both are brilliant, but nicely different too, the Theopolis is richer in palate and shows a sweeter opulence. The Theopolis Vineyards Estate Petite Sirah is wonderfully opaque with a dark black/purple hue in the glass, full of dense fruit and power, it weighs in at 14.8%, but still feels remarkably balanced with it’s high elevation and cool climate acidity, it was aged 23 months in 100% French oak, with 25% new, which adds to the class and refinement in this serious wine that has that “wow” factor and impact. Theodora also has a Petite Sirah rose, a couple of sourced Pinot Noir(s) and an estate grown white made from the hybrid “Symphony” grape, a unique crossing of Muscat and Grenache Gris, all of which I will review soon as well, but her Petite Sirah is her flagship wine and the one you should search out, I recommend getting on her list to get these limited offerings. The 2013 Petite starts with decedent and thick black and blue fruits with layers of blackberry, blueberry, fig paste, sweet tree picked plum and cherry liqueur as well as dark chocolate, mixed spices,minty herb, cedar and crushed acacia/violets. Only 285 cases were made of this fruit loaded wine, it really demands your attention with every sip and should age another decade easy with it’s firm structure and healthy ripe tannins, best to enjoy this Petite Sirah with hard sleep’s cheese and or robust cuisine, including lamb or hearty mushroom dishes. Mendocino County is on fire right now, not just with their gorgeous Pinots, but with Syrah, Carignane and Petite Sirah with Mendocino Ridge and the Yorkville Highlands getting their moment in the sun, look for this Theopolis label as well as producers like Signal Ridge Vineyard, The Princess and the Peasant, Halcon Vineyards, Pax (Carignane), Baxter, Skylark Wine Company and especially Drew Family Cellars! These are some of the most exciting wines I’ve tasted from California in recent years with 2014 and 2015 being must haves from this region, bravo to Theodora on a great wine and a truly terroir driven vineyard.
($38 Est.) 93+ Points, grapelive
2015 Bernard Baudry, Chinon, Les Granges, Loire Valley, France.
The 2015 Baudry is ripe with fruity appeal to go with classic terroir charm showing dark fruits, bell pepper, earth and mineral freshness, this is a really lovely little Loire Valley Cabernet Franc that offers a lot of value and is a great way to explore Chinon Rouge for the first time. Bernard Baudry and son Matthieu farm all organic and craft small batches of Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc from Chinon, they hand pick every bunch of grapes, everything gets de-stemmed and everything is gravity fed, they ferment with native/natural yeasts and aged in a combination of wood and cement tanks and neutral cask/barrels depending on the plot/site, with this Les Granges being fermented and aged in exclusively cement, fermentation lasts about 15 days and the Cabernet Franc spends between 7 and 10 months in concrete vat before bottling, this example is fresh and vibrantly flavored with smooth tannins. The 2015 vintage shows the years warmth and this Les Granges is fairly impressive with density and rich layers, it almost feels creamy on the palate, certainly no wood was needed here, delivering blackberry, sweet cherry, plum and tart currant fruit along with minty herb, bell pepper, crushed violets, dusty stones, leather and a hint of licorice. With air this wine adds hints of iron, chalk, lavender oil and cranberry notes giving a sense of complexity, even though this little Chinon, which was grown on sand and gravel soils from vines planted in the mid eighties, is simply joyous and easy to love, much less serve or austere than can be the case, in fact this vintage is pure and opulent, drink now.
($24 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2015 Drew Family Cellars, Syrah, Valenti Ranch, Mendocino Ridge.
It’s hard to imagine anyone in California making a better set of wines in the last few vintages than Jason Drew at Drew Family Cellars, with his Pinot Noir and Syrah offerings being especially charming and thrilling wines, these are amazing wines that deserve your attention. Drew’s making wines with cool climate character and old world sensibilities with loads of mineral, spice and lower natural alcohols, but still showing fully ripe and detailed fruit. While his Pinots get all the headlines, Jason Drew’s Syrah is some of the best wine being made in California and the 2014 and 2015 vintages have taken them to that next level, they have classic Northern Rhone elements while still being true to their own terroir, these wines don’t just mimic the French, they take our own wine (California) to the equal plane, firmly showing our potential with Jason’s latest 2015 Valenti Ranch Mendocino Ridge Syrah reaching the rarified heights of top Cote-Rotie(s) delivering gorgeous layers of black and blue fruits along with a savory/earthy edge. This brilliant wine, 95% Syrah and 5% Viognier co-fermented with 50% whole cluster, all native yeast ferments all done in gentile cool fashion to allow super fresh flavors, while aged in large French cask with 50% in a new Puncheon, finishing up with 13.2% alcohol making for a brightly focused with a nice cut of acidity, but deeply complex and textured that will remind you of Cote-Rotie producers like Bernard Levet and Domaine Jamet and or Saint-Joseph’s Andre Perret! This seductive Syrah starts with a subtle perfume of violets, incense, creme de cassis, truffle and bacon fat, which leads to a medium weight (light footed) palate of loganberry, plum, blueberry and tangy black currant fruits along with a spicy core of peppercorns, cinnamon stick, dried lavender, flinty stones as well as hints of black olive, anise, kirsch, game and delicate wood notes. This Valenti Ranch is grown at about 1,350 feet above sea level on the Mendocino Ridge not far from the Anderson Valley, which is marine influence with cold ocean breezes, in fact this region is typically cooler on average than Ampuis, the French village near the famous Cote-Rotie, and this vineyard is planted to 50% Chave Selection Clone and Clone 1 Syrah, with maritime sedimentary soils all of which adds to the intensity and to the uniqueness of this beauty. This lively and alluring Syrah has satiny mouth feel, refined tannins that adds to the youthful hedonism and pleasure, but certainly there is even more to come in this wine’s future, it has the potential to aged decades, this is stunning juice!
($48 Est.) 94+ Points, grapelive
2015 Inspiration Vineyards, Inspiracio White, Sonoma County.
Jon Phillips’ Inspiration Vineyards latest white Rhone blend Inspiracio is a well crafted micro wine offering, it’s 50% Marsanne, 35% Roussanne and 15% Viognier gives a rich palate, but with finesse and crispness showing apple, citrus and stone fruit along with some mineral, stone and spice. The 2015 starts with a hint of white flowers, honeysuckle and bruised pear, lemon/lime, fennel and apricot before filling out on the palate with a subtle creamy/oily mouth feel as well as a touch of brioche and almond bitterness that balances the lushness in this white. Inspiration Vineyards makes a set of about a dozen wines, all in tiny amounts, just a few barrels of each, and all offering wonderful value and quality for the money, Phillips has a few vines himself, but also sources from many small plots throughout Sonoma County, focusing on old vines and cooler Russian River Valley sites, be sure to look for his Zinfandels, Rhone blends, Pinot Noir and his Dry Creek Cabernet Sauvignon, plus Phillips’ proprietary Zinspiration pink made from Zinfandel. All of these wines are available from their wine club and with some also being available while supplies last at their website, with the limited nature of these bottlings, I suggest getting on their mailing list so you know when they get released, I like the mentioned wines, as well as the Inspiration Vineyards Grenache, the Dry Creek Zin, the Russian River Pinot and the single varietal Viognier. The 2015 Inspiracio white is pretty, detailed and drinking mature, it’s a stylish example of a California Rhone, it’s generous, round and full bodied, but still focused and with lifting acidity, drink now.
($29 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2016 Weingut Donnhoff, Riesling Kabinett, Kreuznacher Krotenpfuhl, Nahe Germany.
Grown on a mix of Loess and Quartzite, the bright and crystal clear Donnhoff Kreuznacher Krotenpfuhl 2016 Kabinett Riesling shows wonderful vibrancy and refreshing form with a crisp minerally dry feel on the palate with only the faintest hint of sweetness giving a subtle generous expansion. There is a stunning almost raw sunlight gold hue and a lovely mix of white flowers, kumquat, lime and yellow peach that unfolds with the first sip along with saline, wet stones, verbena and apple skin. Vivid acidity matches the Kabinett’s natural sugar perfectly, and at 8.5% this lighter style Riesling is easy to quaff, but still with enough complexity to you savor every moment of this classic Nahe. These German 2016’s are such great wines, especially Donnhoff’s lineup, and it will be a vintage to stock up on, in particular I have found the Kabinett and Feinherb wines to be thrilling little Rieslings that offer lots of value and charming detail, drinking drier that you’d expect at this point and can be enjoyed right away. This wine really turned on the style with food, I had it with a light Asian curry noodle dish, but it also would go well with most anything cuisine you throw at it. Also from this vineyard look for the Premier Cru (Erste Lage) Trocken Kahlenberg, it’s a more powerful wine with a sizzlingly dry and gripping Riesling, both are sublime terroir laced offerings from Donnhoff that will be rewarding many years to come.
($25 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2014 Joyce Vineyards, Pinot Noir, Estate, Carmel Valley, Monterey County.
The Joyce Estate Pinot Noir Vineyard in Carmel Valley was planted back in 1990 and a tiny block of vines quite close to the Carmel Valley Village and is set on dusty/tuft laced with chock rock, it makes for an interesting expression of Pinot, very distinct from Russell Joyce’s other offerings, this especially true of his 2014 Estate, a later release avail only at their tasting room in Carmel Valley. The 2014 is tightly wound, briar laced and still remarkably youthful in mouth feel showing primal grapey freshness with plenty of grip, delivering a firm palate like a young Pommard with black cherry, dried currant, bramble berry, dusty gain tannins and plummy body, lifting acidity and a kiss of sweet oak. With delicate swirling in the glass a pretty spiciness, floral tones and earthy stones come through in this crunchy Pinot Noir with hints of lavender tea, shaved vanilla and tart vine picked forest berries. This wine slowly grew on me and I became charmed by it’s unique terroir character, and even though it’s not as satiny and beautiful as Joyce’s wonderfully textured 2016 releases, this wine impresses in it’s own right for it’s more masculine presence and it’s bright ruby/garnet hue, it is certainly a wine that will benefit from more time in bottle and it’s much more complex with cuisine. It’s not a big wine, but it is chewy and has a forceful nature and will appeal to those that enjoy a more rustic wine with pointy elbows, it would great with tartare, blacked salmon and or grilled pork sausages. There is more potential here, I am thinking another 3 to 5 years will reveal a completely different wine, it will be intriguing to see. One of Monterey’s brightest new stars, Russell Joyce’s current set are not to be missed, in particular and mention here on grapelive.com in prior reviews, the Joyce Gabilan 2016 Pinot is a stunner along with the 2015 Santa Lucia Highlands Syrah, two of my favorites, plus their Gamay/Grenache Rose and dry Riesling are joyous wines.
($45 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2013 La Spinetta, Barbera d’Asti Superiore DOCG “Bionzo” Piedmonte, Italy.
Giorgio Rivetti’s La Spinetta Bionzo Cru Barbera d’Asti is a beauty with rich detail, full flavors and a kiss of sweet toasty oak, it’s a luxurious Barbera with a deep garnet/purple hue in the glass and a medium/full palate, it’s wine to take very, very seriously, it shows soul, length and lingering complex fruit, earth and spice. This 2013 shows the richness of the vintage and the understanding of the winemaking to highlight it, it’s crafted as if it was a ripe year Premier Cru or Grand Cru Burgundy rather than a typical rustic Barbera, Rivetti and his team carefully sorted the grapes here and raised this impressive wine in new medium toast French barriques from Bionzo’s 45-55 year old vines that are grown at over 1, 200 feet on calcareous soils, this site faces south and really delivers brilliant vitality and layers, especially in a year like this one, this is a Barbera that packs a punch and shows refined tannins that holds everything together in a graceful form. The 2013 is all about deep fruit, but there is subtle and charming mineral tones, mixed spices, mouth feel and inner perfume, it starts with crushed violets, black currant, cherry and blackberry along with chalky stones, anise, cinnamon, vanilla, cedar and mure. There’s a creamy opulence to the texture that gives a sense of density, but also a nice cut of natural acidity that sets the individual elements off in this Bionzo Barbera d’Asti Superiore, this is certainly not a shy wine and it’s a Barbera that can sit at any table with the likes of a Burgundy, Bordeaux or one of it’s cousins like a Barolo or Barbaresco and provide a thrilling experience, especially with robust cuisine, drink this special wine over the next 5 to 10 years. I love Barbera is all it’s styles from peasant/rustic to Cru class and this lavish example is clearly a modern classic from La Spinetta that was one of the first wineries to take Barbara to the next level, I’ve been a huge fan of La Spinetta since the mid nineties when I discovered their Barbera Gallina and the un-oaked Ca’ di Pian, before I could afford their Barbaresco Crus!
($54 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2016 Weingut Donnhoff, Riesling Trocken, Roxheimer Hollenpfad, Nahe Germany.
The Hollenpfad Trocken is crazy good, and it is a real sleeper in Cornelius Donnhoff’s wonderful set of dry 2016 Rieslings, it should be a wine that catches your attention as it delivers GG quality and intensity that will even thrill the socks off Chablis fans, with it’s mineral driven palate and dynamic energy. Sizzling with youthful acidity and flinty crushed stones this 2016 Roxheimer Hollenpfad Trocken is beautifully detailed with brisk vibrancy showing delicate white flowers, layers of tangy and zesty citrus fruits, as well as stone fruit pit, green apple flesh and skin, a touch of yellow mango, verbena, saline infused wet rock and sea mist. Vigorous, dusty dry and electric, but with loads of crunch and extract that gives plenty of substance and depth, this is serious, slightly austere stuff from Donnhoff, maybe not as open or as concentrated as the 2015’s tend to feel, though maybe more pretty and seductive, both vintages are off the charts from Donnhoff! The Roxheimer Hellenpfad is a vineyard dominated by iron rich red sandstone, and Donnhoff uses a combination of stuck and stainless with sponti (native) ferments, employing all means to capture freshness and terroir character in each wine, they also reflect the dedication to quality and focus of Donnhoff, one of the world’s best wineries, let alone being a top German estate. Terry Theise, Donnhoff’s importer says this riveting Hollenpfad is the best yet from this vineyard, who I am to argue? This is great stuff with lingering lime, yellow peach, chamomile/herbs and subtle iodine/savory tones, look for this one to gain with 2 to 5 years in the bottle and it should go a decade and a half easy, sadly the only problem this wine has, is that it has such competition from it’s own stable mates in Donnhoff’s glorious lineup!
($40 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2015 Halcon Vineyards, Pinot Noir, Cerise Vineyard, Anderson Valley.
Paul Gordon’s Halcon Vineyards and winemaker Scott Shapely (Roar) have released an awesome set of wines from the small yielding 2015 vintage, and while known as a serious Syrah and cool climate Rhone inspired producer, these Pinots are fantastic, especially the 2015 Cerise, which is a gorgeous and stylish energy filled wine of class and length. Cerise Vineyard is a windswept hillside vineyard 1,200 feet above Boonville set on thin top soil over shale and schist, Halcon’s version is made up of 80% Wadenswil (Swiss Clone) and 20% Dijon Clone 115, all organically farmed, this site has produced great wines over the years since it was planted in 1995, with notable bottlings by Littorai and more recently Knez (Anthony Filiberti, Anthill Farms) before being taken over by Kosta Browne. Shapely used 20% new French oak here, allowing the vineyard and terroir to shine through, he also used native yeasts and 35% whole cluster, which gives a bit more grip and spice to balance the concentrated and perfumed fruit, but this cool site, even with dense ripeness still comes in at a very Burgundy like 12.8% alcohol, remarkable for a wine of such impact and mouth feel. The brilliant ruby/brickish garnet hue in the glass charms the eyes before a bouquet of mixed flowers, including intense rose petal and subtle violets, black walnut, framboise, liquid mineral and sweet herbs and Asian spices lead to a graceful palate of black cherry, tangy plum, huckleberry and racy/earthy currant fruits along with bright blood orange, minty tea, cinnamon stick and crunchy stones, plus a hint of saline and dried/dusty vanilla. This complex and compelling Pinot Noir has medium weight, California opulence, but with that striking mineralite that reminds me of a fine Morey-St.-Denis in the Fourrier Clos Solon Vieilles Vignes mode, and it just gets better the next day adding sharper detail and texture, highlighting it’s potential to age. These Halcon wines are intriguing and entertaining offering real value for the money, I highly recommend getting on their mailing list, don’t miss their Alturas Syrah, their signature estate wine, plus their mind blowing Tierra Petite Sirah, and certainly stock up on their Pinots, in particular, this Cerise, only 120 cases made!
($35 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2012 Revana Family Vineyard, Cabernet Sauvignon, Terroir Selection, Napa Valley.
Dr. Madaiah Revana’s Revana Family Vineyard has gone from a luxurious boutique wine to a long term staple elite winery with both his Napa estate and his Alexana Willamette Valley, Oregon offerings becoming serious world class wines, with his Thomas Rivers Brown made Cabernets being right up there with Napa’s top cult legends. Thomas Rivers Brown (Schrader) came on board in 2011, taking the reins here from Heidi Barrett of Screaming Eagle fame, and has taken Revana to the next level with 2012, 2013 and 2014 all looking to be classics. In the 2012 vintage, with an exceptional and large crop, Revana added a second wine, similar in concept to what is common in Bordeaux, this wine know now as “Terroir Selection” is a slightly more approachable version, though not lacking in quality and character, it is this wine I tried recently and will highlight here, it’s a beautiful full bodied wine with loads of dense opulent fruit, refined tannins and wonderful length, it may not be up to the Estate in total, but it is an impressive effort in it’s own right. Deep black/purple with garnet edges this 2012 Terroir Selection starts with acacia flower, smoky sweet oak shadings, along with blackberry, creme de cassis, black cherry and blueberry fruits at it’s core, plus cigar wrapper, violette, vanilla bean, mocha and lingers with anise, cedar and sweet currant. This ripe and lavish Cabernet Sauvignon screams Napa Valley and is clearly a post modern style wine, but you can see at it’s heart a wine that will continue to develop nicely for another decade, gaining refinement, elegance and charm. This wine shows a substance and richness that will thrill Napa fans and old school fans will admire the balance, complexity and structure as well, this wine has plenty of palate impact and will light up robust cuisine meals. As good as this one is drinking, be sure to look for the 2013, now on the market, and the 2014, which will be out soonish, as they look to be vintages to remember, keep your eyes peeled!
($90 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2016 Weingut Hexamer, Riesling Kabinett, Meddersheimer Altenberg, Nahe Germany.
Hexamer’s 2016 vintage is near perfection for his house style, bright, vigorous and wonderfully flavorful, especially charming are the Spatlese and in particular the Kabinett level wines, with this Meddersheimer Altenberg, grown on the estate owned steep south-east facing slopes, set on red slate, sandstone and quartzite, being a great little wine. Brilliant in it’s golden sunny hue and drinking with a juicy, but feeling nearly dry and spicy verve showing racy yellow fruits, crushed stones and liquid white roses as well as a light creaminess the only hint at RS, this stainless steel aged Kabinett Riesling from Harald Hexamer is lively and refreshing, it’s a classy and traditionally minded wine that goes to the next level in it’s price category offering a lot of value for the money. On first sip this Meddersheimer Altenberg Kabinett Riesling almost transports you to Condrieu with it’s pretty floral (mixed white flowers) perfume and mineral intensity, the layers of apricot, tangerine, apple, lime and melon sorbet seduces in the mouth and the underlying acidity adds a nice cut along with the wet stones, hints of saline/briny elements and a cooly crisp finish that lingers with just the right amount of sweetness and white plum/nectarine. This fleshy slightly off dry Riesling is more impressive than first impressions would suggest, native ferments, whole cluster pressed and aged only in clean stainless tank, this clear and transparent Riesling is full of detail and wonderful with food, in my case is was fabulous with a spicy tuna Poke Lab bowl, but it is a super summer (Indian summer and fall) sipper and or with cured meats and picnic fare. Hexamer’s last couple of vintages have been fantastic and this is a winery to keep in mind for easy quaffing and subtle seriousness, also look for Harald’s QbA Quartzit Riesling and his volcanoc soil influenced Porphyr Riesling Feinherb, both of which deliver huge bang for the buck.
($25 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2014 Cattleya, Syrah, Soberanes Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands.
The brilliantly executed 2014 Soberanes Syrah by Bibiana Gonzalez Rave (winemaker at Wayfarer and co-star of Shared Notes with her husband Jeff Pisoni) continues her hot streak, she is making some of the most seriously compelling wines in California and who’s star continues to rise, especially with this gorgeous Cattleya offering from the Pisoni owned vineyard in the Santa Lucia Highlands. Bibiana’s experience at Ogier in Cote-Rotie certainly shows, she has captured the soul of the varietal and terroir in a near perfect wine that looks set for a long beautiful life, it shows clearly the real potential of Syrah in the Santa Lucia Highlands, a grape that since about 2004 has just about eclipsed the dense Pinot Noirs of the region, with wines in particular grown by the Franscioni and Pisoni families. Soberanes Vineyard has reached Grand Cru level quality, joining the famed Pisoni Estate Vineyard (Susan’s Hill) and the Garys’ Vineyard, especially with Syrah, but also coming along nicely with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Syrah thrives in the cool here and the long growing season allows extra dimensions of flavor, depth and complexity, it is a different expression no question, when compared to the zestier nervy Mendocino, of which I love too, especially Drew, Halcon and others, or the fine examples from the Sonoma Coast (Peay & Pax), Mount Veeder (Lagier-Meredith) and Ballard Canyon/Santa Barbara County/Edna Valley (Alban, Samsara, Stolpman, Piedrasassi and Andrew Murray). Here there is opulence, texture (mouth feel) and rich detail, and Cattleya’s 2014 is one of best yet, with wines such as this, Syrah’s future here looks fantastic, without question this has California ripeness and generous body, but still shows the class and finesse found in top French offerings, giving rise to comparisons to Guigal’s famous La La’s! The 2014 Cattleya Soberness Vineyard Syrah, all Alban clone, grown on granite/quartz laced soils on the higher and breezy Santa Lucia Highlands bench, starts with glorious deep purple/blue and garnet hues in the glass with stunning violets, creme de cassis and light toasty oak leads to a soulful palate of powerful layers of blackberry, boysenberry, currant and blueberry compote, plum and black cherry fruits along with a touch of charcoal embers, smoke, peppercorns, sticky lavender/sage, dusty coco, shaved vanilla, chalky stones, tapenade and a delicate touch of feral/briar savory earth. The 2014 is a full bodied Syrah that is still light on it’s feet and not heavy, it’s sweet tannins are firm, but lavish, with perky acidity allowing the inner beauty of this wine to shine through, but without question this wine enjoys air and decanting should be required for another 3 to 5 years at least, this is absolutely a classic that has a lot more in store for the patient. While not an inexpensive wine, once you taste it you’ll be glad you splurged, it’s worth the price and effort to get this wine.
($67 Est.) 95-97 Points, grapelive
2016 Weingut Kruger-Rumpf, Riesling Trocken, Dautenpflanzer, Grosses Gewachs, Nahe Germany.
This gorgeous blisteringly dry Riesling from Georg Rumpf at Kruger-Rumpf is one you’ll want to give it some time to develop, it is a powerful and complex wine made from very old vines (ancient Nahe Clone 365 Finkenaurer) in the steep amphitheater of the Grand Cu Munsterer Dautenpflanzer on a mix of Loess and Quartzite. The wonderfully detailed Dautenpflanzer GG is thrilling, showing a tension filled palate with remarkable depth and inner beauty, less concentrated than 2011 or 2015, this stunning 2016 has a bright liquid sunshine burst of acidity and shimmering mineral core, this might proof legendary, this wine has such an impact and intensity you can’t take yours eyes off of it’s light/pale golden hue in the glass and your attention to it’s extract in the mouth. With air this dry Riesling opens to reveal tart apricot, zest lime citrus, green apple and tangerine fruits with subtle tropical events, spiced white flowers, white tea, wet stone and steely charm, think Emmerich Knoll Loibner meets Francois Raveneau Montee de Tonnerre! Absolutely brilliant and stylish throughout the Kruger-Rumpf Dautenpflanzer is certainly one of the great white wines of the world and this 2016 vintage, while severe and slightly austere now, looks set to blossom into a classic and has elegant layers and faint floral perfume, which gets exotic and intoxicating when isolated in your mind, it’s pure, focused and lovingly crafted, pressed whole cluster with about 6 hours of skin contact, ferments are natural/native and it’s raised for a short time in neutral stuckfass (old ovals of oak) before finishing it’s aging in stainless tank to preserve freshness, while still having a leesy mouth feel and expansion. Lingering ferrous notes, saline, light herb, jasmine and peach flesh make this crisp GG very seductive and hint at it’s glorious and rewarding future, best to allow this Dautenpflanzer a period of time, about 5 to 7 years, in bottle to gather all of it’s potential and grace, but oh man, you’ll want this stuff in your cellar!
($48 Est.) 96 Points, grapelive
n.v. Domaine Remy Nodin, Saint-Peray, Extra Brut Marsanne Sparkling Wine, Rhone, France.
This is the first Northern Rhone bubbly I’ve ever tasted, and wow, it is a thrilling 100% Marsanne Extra Brut that shows brilliant detail and leesy class from Remy Nodin, think of this as a grower producer that crafts this sparkling wine from a single estate vineyard. I would have never guessed this was from Saint-Peray, nor that is was Marsanne, I was completely stumped when I tasted this wonderful Extra Brut in a blind tasting, it shows a luxurious and fine creamy mousse, but with wonderful vitality, vigor and tension with apple, waxy pear and light peach notes along with serious mineral elements, as well as wet stones, brioche and crisp lemony citrus. Again this methode champenoise offers refined balance, vibrancy and subtle richness in a complex and pleasing sparkling wine that is not only fun and unique it drinks with verve and is a great food wine. This Extra Brut, with just 5g/L of residual sugar is seriously dry and brisk, it comes from a family farmed plot in their estate lieu-dit La Beylesse and was aged 21 months on it’s lees, which shows in the lovely toastiness found here, this is an exciting and racy bottle to look for!
($25 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2014 Jean-Luc Jamet, Syrah, Valine, Vin de Pays des Collines Rhodaniennes IGP, Northern Rhone, France.
The baby Jamet is a lovely and fresh Syrah from vines just outside the Cote-Rotie AOC on the same continuous hill as the famed Côte Brune on the brown schist that delivers wonderful detail and purity. Not as edgy as the original Domaine Jamet Cote-Rotie, but still an awesome little wine with layers of blueberry, crushed violets, boysenberry, mineral tones, peppercorns, black currants and plummy mouth feel as well as earth, truffle, black olive and dried herbs. Vibrant, tight and with a touch of funk, let this Syrah Valine open and magic bursts out of the glass with floral perfume and racy black fruit, lingering with cinnamon, lavender and savory notes, this is very tasty stuff. Jean-Lux split with his brother Jean-Paul, who took over the historic Domaine Jamet, in 2013 and began making his own wine under his own label, but from the same vines, which they divided equally, and this looks to be the only wine imported so far, but it will be well worth searching this one out, especially for the price. This Valine by Jean-Luc Jamet is certainly impressive and will make a lot of Cote-Rotie fans, and in particular Jamet fans, very happy with it’s traditional character, quality and it’s ease of use. Drink this 2014 now and as often as you can, but don’t wait, it won’t last long, I got this from Portland’s very savvy Vinopolis Wine Shop!
($26 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2015 Chateau de Saint Cosme, Gigondas, Rhone Red, France.
Louis Barruol’s 2015 Gigondas is a gorgeous full bodied red, made up of 70% Grenache, 14% Syrah, 15% Mourvedre and 1% Cinsault and fermented whole cluster from old vines grown on yellow marl (limestone) and miocene sand and aged in a mix of oak casks and concrete tanks including 15% new French barrels and one to four time used with 35% of the blend only seeing the cement. This vintage is a thrilling and deeply compelling wine with amazingly seductive texture, dark fruit and mineral spice showing fantastic depth and detail with perfume, density, life and length highlighting the elevation and unique Tortonian soil and steep slopes under the Dentelles de Montmirail range. Beautiful violets, cassis, black raspberry, plum and strawberry fill the palate with opulent layers lifted by peppery spice, lavender oil, flinty/chalky stones, saline, black licorice, light cedar and mocha notes. Saint Cosme is one of the best wineries in the world and this Gigondas one of the great wines of the world and without a doubt one of the most savvy values in the wine world, it really is hard to imagine a better wine under $40! This plush Grenache based Gigondas is the real deal and should not be missed in any year, but this 2015 is otherworldly and a special wine that should age gracefully for another decade or more, it gains complexity with air taking on a serious edge with some earthy tones in the background, but wow is it good now, it’s a wine that screams Rhone and terroir from start to finish, I will need more of this and so will you!
($35 Est.) 94+ Points, grapelive
2014 Bodega Veronica Ortega “Quite” Mencia, Valtuille, Bierzo, Spain.
The 2014 Quite Mencia by the talented Veronica Ortega is deeply hued and textured with earthy richness as well as having beautiful delicate floral tones making for a savvy and terroir driven wine. Seeing Ortega’s CV is pretty impressive, she has been mentored by the legendary Raul Perez and her wines seem connected at the hip with his, but the list of places she’s put in time at is also mind-blowing, Veronica has made wine at Burn Cottage in New Zealand with Littorai’s Ted Lemon as well as Domaine de la Romanee-Conti and Comte Armand in Burgundy, Alvaro Palacios and Daphne Glorian in the Priorat, plus Domaine Combier in Crozes-Hermitage and with Niepoort in Oporto! This pedigree while so young is absolutely amazing, especially for a girl from sleepy Cadiz, not far from Spain’s Sherry region, now she is carving out her own niche in Bierzo, settled in Valtuille de Abajo where she farms 80 year old Mencia vines for her own Bodega Veronica Ortega ROC and Quite labels. These organic wines are simply gorgeous offerings, with this 2014 Quite Mencia coming from sandy plots with clay and slate soils, it is different from her top cuvee ROC, because she wanted a more flowery and lighter version that highlighted the nature of some of the individual plots, she uses native yeasts and tank ferments here and ages a short time, about 8 months, in both neutral oak cask as well as big 800L amphorae. This Quite Mencia 2014 is performing wonderfully right now, it has a tiny amount of other native varietals co-fermented in including white grapes Godello, Valenciana and Palomino Fino as well as red Alicante Bouchet and the rare Merenzao, adding to the detail and complexity, it starts with light violets, black olive and flinty mineral along with black currant and faint cinnamon in a medium bodied red that lingers with black cherry, saline, minty licorice, porcini/earthy notes and bramble berry. This is a stylish cuvee that reminds me a little of Foradori’s Teroldego and Andre Perret’s Saint-Joseph, this is really a killer wine, imported by Eric Solomon’s European Cellars, it’s a sleeper and a great value, Veronica Ortega is a winemaker to follow!
($25 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2014 Alfaro Family Vineyards, Syrah, Ryan Spencer Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains.
The 2014 Alfaro Ryan Spencer Syrah is amazingly youthful and fresh considering it spent over 20 months in barrel, in fact it’s downright grapey with a full mouth feel and vibrant acidity, this might be a wine to wait another 3 to 5 years on! If you have this one and feel the need to open now, be sure to have seriously robust cuisine and decant to get the best out of it, but certainly there’s a lot to like here, especially the deep fruit core and concentration. The tightly wound nature gives this wine a very un-evolved/primary character at first with concord grape puree notes, spring flowers and loganberry leading the way, but given time and air more complexity and length comes through. Surprisingly the wood is subtle with just a hint of mocha, cherry cola and cedar, it stays way in the background perfectly framing the layers of blueberry compote, wild plum, raspberry fruit along with sweet tannins, a faint peppery spice, dried currants, violette and kirsch in an opulent full bodied, but vibrant wine. Richard Alfaro’s 2014’s have all been glorious wines and there’s likely much more to come here in his Syrah, it has real potential and looks set for a long life, it’s well balanced coming in at 14% alcohol, it manages to feel ripe and sexy/round, but still bursting with verve and energy, it reminds me of Guigal’s basic Cote-Rotie from the late nineties or early 2000’s. A more silky refined wine came out in 18 hours after opening, so again, I suggest putting a few bottles away, best from 2019 to 2024, in the meantime do not miss Alfaro’s awesome estate Chardonnays and Pinot Noirs, as well as his thrilling Albarino and Gruner Veltliner!
($35 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2016 Schlossgut Diel, Riesling Feinherb, Von der Nahe, Nahe Germany.
The beautifully detailed Schlossgut Diel Von der Nahe Riesling is crisply dry feeling, but with a hint of generous fruitiness and fleshiness that gives a juicy openness to this lightly sweet wine. Following the house style, this special cuvee made exclusively for Terry Theise and the US market, is classy and well crafted highlighting Caroline Diel’s talent and sensibilities, this wine was not an after thought or enter level in anyway, this is a brilliant wine with complex layers, inner energy, mineral driven and elegant in fruit. This category of Riesling, between the serve Trockens and lush Kabinett, these Feinherb Riesling have a more serious concentration than QbA’s of the past and are amazingly refreshing and food friendly. The Diel is one of my favorites, along with Leitz’s Dragonstone, but other Feinherbs to check out include Loewen, A.J. Adam and Spreitzer, all of which taste dry and have loads of individual qualities, intensity and flare, this is exciting times for Riesling and these Feinherbs are not to be missed! This Schlossgut Diel Von der Nahe shines in glass with tangy focus, it’s gifted with liquid mineral and spice to go with the zesty tangerine, lime, white peach and bitter melon with just a touch of dried pineapple, verbena, chamomile tea, wet flinty/shale stones and unripe apricot. This has a sweet and sour tone, but amazingly refined and perfectly balances all the natural elements together in sublime fashion. If you’ve never had Diel, this is a great way to start, the 2016 is bright, dynamic and should age well for a decade, wow, what a great value.
($20 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2012 Spring, Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast.
Natural and garagista winemaker Mark Bunter’s lovely and vibrant 2012 Spring Sonoma Coast is a very limited, four barrel cuvee, offering that delivers a lot for the money, it’s a wine with intriguing earthy tones and with a savory edge to go with delightfully soft red fruits. Bunter’s family owns a small vineyard in Combsville, Napa Valley, and he makes his wines there, but since he lives in Carmel Valley, he has his Bunter Spring tasting room there in Carmel Valley Village, he goes in for organic grapes as much as possible and he employs real old school natural winemaking, with no additions and ultra low or no sulfur and native ferments, as well as using mostly neutral/seasoned barrels. Of his latest set, I really like the no sulfur Bunter “Natur” Syrah 2014 that comes from his family’s estate organic vines as well as this polished 2012 Spring Pinot Noir Sonoma Coast, which comes in at 13.6% alcohol, making for a wine that has unfolded into a mature and elegant wine that might be at it’s best right now. A nice ruby/garnet hue in the glass, this 2012 Spring Pinot starts with liquid mineral, dried roses, saline and racy cherry fruit along with a hint of tea spices, candied orange peel, poached plum and autumn leafy/wild mushroom notes. A lingering kirsch, peppery cinnamon and a subtle vanilla shading add to whole in this medium weight Pinot Noir, and as low sulfur wine it was surprisingly good if not better with 2 or 3 days of air, this is a fun wine with nice acidity, that feels soft and plush in the mouth, but with crisp detail and loamy/umami.
($25 Est.) 88-90 Points, grapelive
2013 Drew, Syrah, Perli Vineyard, Mendocino Ridge.
Drew’s 2014’s are some of the best wines in California, both Syrah and Pinot, so it was fun to go back a vintage and see what was different of if they’ve made gains with a another year or so in bottle, and I can tell you, without a question they have greatly improved and filled out, especially drinking great is Jason and Molly Drew’s Perli Vineyard Mendocino Ridge Syrah. Set on a steep slope of shale, sandstone, sandy loam and rhyolite soils at 2,200 feet up on Mendocino Ridge, the Perli shows a Cote-Rotie or Saint-Joseph like cool climate prettiness and complexity, Drew co-fermented about 5% Viognier in this single vineyard Syrah as well as employing native yeast and just 30% whole cluster, making for a floral and spicy wine with medium weight. The tannins feel quite firm still, but there is much to love here with crushed violets and lilac along with vivid peppercorns and loads of kirsch and tangy plum to start before a core of blueberry and boysenberry fruit, as well as cinnamon, pepper, black olive, minty anise, cedar and warm stones. This Syrah shows good vigor and intensity gaining presence with air in the glass and the purple/black/garnet color highlights the seriousness on display, very impressive with each added minute and brilliant with cuisine, in fact with an hour open and food it really turned on the charm adding lavender, iron/meaty elements and cassis to the mix of layers. I’m thrilled with everything on offer here and in case you’ve not discovered Drew’s wines, you need to asap, in particular get every single 2014 you can find and look for the 2015’s that are also looking good, and of which I will be reviewing soon. I’m glad I got this 2013 Perli, it will be drinking great for many years to come, and it’s a wonderful value, best from 2018 to 2024.
($38 Est.) 93+ Points, grapelive
2015 Ken Wright Cellars, Pinot Noir, Guadalupe Vineyard, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
A classic Dundee vineyard founded back in 1989 the Guadalupe Vineyard is planted to Wadenswil “Swiss Clone” and Dijon 115 on Willakenzie and siltstone soils makes for a pure expression of Oregon Pinot Noir, especially when done by Pinot legend Ken Wright, and this 2015 vintage is just as good as you’d imagine in such a wonderful year, full of flavor, depth and structure. Pretty floral tones lead the way with just a faint trace of sweet/smoky oak and lots of intense dark Pinot fruit, this is a dense wine with Premier Cru presence and charm in the glass with black cherry, ripe currant, racy/thick raspberry and tree picked plum as well as hints of iron/mineral, red peach and anise tea, dusty Asian spices, cola bean and liquid roses. Wonderfully judged with fine detail and form the 2015 Ken Wright Cellars Guadalupe Pinot has supple rich mouth feel with ultra plush tannins, muted acidity, youthful fruity roundness and lots of length making for one of best early drinking Ken Wright wines I can remember, though once it loses it’s baby fat flamboyance I’m certain it will be even more rewarding, with air a more delicate earthy side can be detected in the background with faint red spice savory elements giving a peep show of complexity. Of the three 2015’s I tasted with Ken Wright earlier this summer, it was hard to pick a winner, though the Shea, normally a favorite was maybe just a touch too ripe, while Ken’s Savoya was a blockbuster, close to perfection and a cellar selection, but this Guadalupe is not far off and really grew on me after the fact. Oregon has had a set of fantastic vintages back to back to back with 2014, 2015 and 2016, be sure to grab the 2014’s before they disappear and while the 2015’s are showy, they look set to be classics and savvy choices for your mid term collection, with this Ken Wright Guadalupe 2015, I think a ten to fifteen year window is not a stretch, best from 2019 to 2026.
($59 Est.) 93+ Points, grapelive
2014 Piedrasassi, Syrah & Mourvedre, Harrison Clarke Vineyard, Ballard Canyon.
Sashi Moorman’s deeply hued and brooding Harrison Clarke Vineyard red, his first Mourvedre based red under his own Piedrasassi label is a unique and wonderfully textured wine that has a Crozes-Hermitage meets Bandol like feel and powerful intensity. The warm clay and limestone of the terroir allows ripe tannins and lush character to the de-stemmed Mourvedre to the earthy/spicy Syrah in this new bottling from Piedrasassi, it delivers an opulent fruit core, but with savory contrasts with a light iron/meaty edge showing dark cherry, blackberry, blueberry and damson plum fruits with snappy anise, camphor/embers, mineral notes and peppery cedar along with tobacco and loam. This wine builds up excitement in the glass and lingers with crushed violets, cassis and chalky saline rich stones. This is a big and full bodied effort that will certainly gain detail and finesse with a few more years in bottle, though not as edgy/racy as Sashi’s pure whole cluster Syrah wines, like his gorgeous Rim Rock, but it’s one that should reward the patient Rhone/Bandol lovers, I also want to note it offers plenty of thrills for the price, especially as there were only 180 cases made. This wine has oodles of potential and is loaded with density and vigor, this 2014 is quite remarkable, with tremendous presence and mouth feel, it’s a wine to search out, drink from 2018 to 2028.
($36 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2016 Weingut Goldatzel, Riesling Spatlese Trocken, Geisenheimer Kläuserweg, Rheingau Germany.
One of the surprises in the Terry Theise lineup at Skurnik’s SF tasting was the thoughtful and austere laser sharp Riesling offering from Johannes Gross, these are a subtle set of wines that need a few tastes to truly appraise their inner beauty and beautiful form. It was a pleasure to taste with Johannes and fully experience his wines, I was thrilled especially with his dry wines that showed an electric sense of excitement with elegant structures and vibrant fruit, in particular I was personally intrigued by Goldatzel’s Geisenheimer Trockens, these were some of the best I’ve tried from this part of the Rheingau and reminded me somewhat of Kunstler, which is high praise! The 2016 Geisenheimer Kläuserweg Spatlese Trocken is a brilliant effort with a wonderful sense of terroir, fine detail and nervy tension showing a light perfume, saline and a never ending force of citrus along with spice and lovely cool mineral tones. Working without a strict dogma Gross uses mostly organic practices and ferments in most cases with native yeasts, but always allowing an approach for each wine, being flexible to change to it’s own needs, which seems practical for this small estate winery to craft unique individual wines. The Geisenheim site is close to the Rhein and sits on loam, marl and clay, and this wine highlights it’s place nicely with traces of earthiness and crystalline transparency, with this 2016 giving fresh verve and layers of lemon/lime, tangy peach/stone fruit, green apple and lingering chalky wet stone. There’s solid extract and the must weight delivers a sense of body and depth in this zesty young dry Riesling, but as mentioned, you’ll want to give this wine time to reveal it’s true nature, it’s a slow and teasing seduction, give it time and reap the rewards, impressive.
($28 Est.) 92+ Points, grapelive
2015 Halcon Vineyards, Esquisto, Rhone Style Blend, Yorkville Highlands.
Halcon’s Chateauneuf du Pape inspired red Esquisto 2015 is extremely tightly wound, with staggering concentration and power, but still reveals gorgeous layering and pretty details, this beauty needs time to fully unfold and express itself, it is seething beneath surface with explosive fruit, spice and provincial herbs. This year worked out to be about 60% Grenache, 35% Mourvedre, both co-fermented and 5% Syrah blended in closer to bottling, making for California version of Rhone wine that has a nod to old school Chateau de Beaucastel or Vieux Telegraphe, though maybe with it’s more cool climate character it is more similar to Domaine Gramenon or the Gigondas wines of either Saint-Cosme or Domaine du Grand Montmirail, the Halcon Esquisto’s 30% whole cluster gives plenty of intensity of wild herbs, peppery spice and exotic tones of dark fruit. Scott Shapley, who also works with Roar, has done a fantastic job guiding these latest releases, as well as continuing to make nervy and exciting wines from selected stony terroir driven Mendocino and Anderson Valley sites, along with their original consultant, Copain’s Wells Gutherie, who gets Syrah fruit from Halcon’s estate vineyard. The 2015 was a tiny crop do to poor set and shatter, only 1.27 tons were picked for 3 acres, making for only 80 cases for this Halcon Esquisto to be available, so don’t wait long to find this wine! Vibrant and edgy with a deep purple/black and garnet edged color the Esquisto starts with a mix of violets, lavender, peppercorns, flinty/rocky spice and black currants before reluctantly releasing it’s grip to show blueberry, black plum, loganberry and fresh briar laced vine picked boysenberry fruits with a whisper of dusty pepper, iron/mineral, a touch of tangy sage, celery seed and anise. Aged in neutral French Puncheons this dark fruited wine has ripe tannins, crisp acidity and feels a bit lighter than it’s 14.5% alcohol would suggest, it will certainly fill out with time in the bottle, if you want to open this wine now, a decanter is a must, as is rustic or robust cuisine, I, in fact, found this wonderful wine much better after a full 24 hours after opening, as suggested by Halcon’s Paul Gordon, confirming my impression that this is going to be a legendary wine in 5 to 10 years! The Grenache really comes alive with air and delightful creme de cassis, cinnamon, strawberry compote and kirsch lingers on and on, this is absolutely thrilling stuff.
($32 Est.) 92-94 Points, grapelive
2015 Frederic Esmonin, Gevrey-Chambertin, Vieilles Vignes “Les Jouises” Red Burgundy, France.
What a beauty, clear and concentrated with lovely detail, perfume and length the 2015 Frederic Esmonin Les Jouises Gevrey is a classy red Burgundy and a glorious bargain! The 2015 vintage is one where Esmonin excelled, I was able to taste these wines with Frederic Esmonin earlier this year at Atherton Wine Imports at SF’s famed Jardiniere and found them to be wonderfully open, round and elegant, these are going to be wines that drink well right away and wines that should age with grace into the medium long term future and with real rewards for the patient! The old vine Les Jouises is brilliant and ruby/red in the glass with crushed violets/rose petal, kirsch and light smokiness leading the way before a satiny medium weighted palate that explores black cherry, racy currant, plum and forest berry along with bright spices, mineral tones, dusty loam and near perfect oak shadings with hints of earth, candied citrus, polished ripe/sweet tannins. Youthfully fruited and with subtle acidity at this stage, this is a Gevrey-Chambertin you’ll want to re-visit in 3 to 5 years and again in 10-15 years, one of the best in the set for value, but if you are looking for a bit more serious offerings both of the Grand Crus I tried were exceptional with Esmonin’s Mazy-Chambertin getting my personal nod for the cellar. There’s not much of these wines available, but certainly they will be worth the effort to get some, especially this stylish and textured Vieilles Vines Les Jouises.
($47 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2016 Weingut A. J. Adam, Riesling Feinherb, Im Pfarrgarten, Mosel Germany.
Andreas Adam (having worked at Heymann-Löwenstein, after studying at Geisenheim) is a rising star in the middle Mosel not far from Piesport and with cru plots in Dhron, he and his sisters Barbara and Elisabeth form a youthful team crafting beautiful natural style wines using native fermentations and without additions of any kind, their latest set of 2016 continue their hot streak with delicate and finessed dry style Rieslings, though their Kabinett and Spatlese are pure joys too. Beyond the majesty Dhron and Goldtropfchen Trockens which are GG class wines, I love the value packed slightly off dry Feinherb Im Pfarrgarten, which is a absolute beauty with wonderful racy acidity and subtle generous mouth feel and classic terroir driven layers highlighting the slate soils character with flinty spice, mixed citrus and stone fruit. Perfectly balanced, the A.J. Adam Riesling Feinherb Im Pfarrgarten (the garden of the rectory) is grown on a flat parcel within the Grand Cru Dhron Hofberg of 50 years old vines that dig into blue slate (Devonian) with some clay and quartzite, it was fermented and raised in stainless showcasing it’s fresh zesty quality, it’s wonderfully easy to drink with about 10% alcohol making it a superb summer quaffer. Brilliantly light and ultra pale golden/green hued with a bouquet of lime flowers, mineral and citron/verbena lead to a brisk palate of lime, peach, passionfruit, green apple and tangy grapefruit along with wet shale, loam and minty herbs while the hint of sweetness gives texture and tropical essences rather than anything approaching cloying. This lovely Riesling finishes more crisp and snappy than you’d imagine, mouth watering and almost dusty, it lingers with a trace of rose petal, apricot and lemongrass. These 2016’s dance on the palate, they are expressive and riveting, this is a winery to follow!
($22 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
n.v. Weingut Brundlmayer, Sekt Brut Rose, Langenlois, Austria.
Vincent Brundlmayer’s Brut Rose, a methode champenoise grower fizz, is one of the great dry sparkling wines of the world with wonderful depth and class, and this latest disgorgment is one of the best yet and gorgeous in detail and a thrill in the glass/flute! The Weingut Brundlmayer Sekt Brut Rose is a Blanc de Noirs with a bit of color crafted of mostly Pinot Noir, but with Zweigelt and St. Laurent, local varietals included in the base wine from mainly the 2013 and 2012 vintages with extended lees/yeast in the bottles. This Rose bubbly has a delicate salmon hue and a racy, but fine luxurious mousse that gives a heavenly mouth feel and vibrancy on the palate with wonderful structure and length showcasing a bright, brisk array of citrus, rosewater, tart cherry, strawberry, saline and apple skin. This lacy and intriguing Brut Rose also fills out with brioche, mineral notes, wet/chalky stones and lingers with creamy kirsch, yeasty tones and light berry essences all in harmony, grace and complexity. This is a real Champagne rival and while not cheap, it delivers plenty of quality and well worth it’s price, great for special occasions and fantastic with cuisine, bubbly fans will not want to miss this one, as well as the racy Extra Brut by Brundlmayer, both stellar bottles. I also tasted Vincent’s new 2016 Gruner Veltliners and dry Rieslings at Skurnik’s Portfolio SF Tasting and found them wonderfully exciting young wines with lots to love and admire, in fact everything I’ve tasted from Brundlmayer has impressed and been absolutely excellent!
($48 Est.) 93+ Points, grapelive
2016 Weingut Selbach-Oster, Riesling Feinherb “Ur” Alte Reben, Zeltinger Sonnenuhr, Mosel Germany.
One of the best in Selbach’s gorgeous set of fresh 2016 wines is the lovely and deeply blue Devonian slate influenced old vine Riesling Feinherb “Ur” Alte Reben that is bursting with intensity and open/transparent Mosel charm. Picked at Spatlese must weight and fermented nearly dry this white has real presence and lushness in the glass and on the palate, but with serious mineralite from the iron rich slate soil to balance the off dry sweetness which feels less sugary and more creamy. This wine is youthfully vibrant and forceful coming from a steep slope above the Mosel and from ungrafted vines that average over 80 years old with some well over 100 years hence the name “Ur” Alte Reben (extremely old) which deliver the depth and complexity found in this wonderful Riesling. Johannes Selbach employed native or “sponti” yeast fermentation and raised this beauty in cask, and allowed some sweetness to remain to soften the vital acidity and give wonderful mouth feel, and even in a barrel sample this wine demands your full attention, this is going to be spectacular stuff on release and for dozens of years to come. Brisk and cooly crisp to start this Feinherb extremely old vine Riesling, it is an opulent wine, but with Chablis like verve, starts with saline infused white flowers, green apple, tangerine, melon/lime sorbet, mango and fleshy peach along with hints of brine, liquid mineral, flinty spice and wet river stones. There’s a seductive brilliant tangy edginess that rages against the lavish pleasing sweet textures with ripe just tree picked apricot and stone/pit vying with tart citrus rind, I can’t wait to see what happens in a decade, this looks to be the stuff of legends! Without question Selbach-Oster made world class Spatlese and Auslese in 2016 with focused hedonism and class, but if you want a drier style this one will more than satisfy that itch with the added benefit of really being fun to drink anytime, this is one of the sleepers of the vintage, don’t miss this one.
($33 Est.) 94+ Points, grapelive
2014 Weingut von Winning, Sauvignon Blanc “500” Pfalz Germany.
This wine asks serious questions, it grabs your attention and blows your mind, it just might be the greatest Sauvignon Blanc on earth… Yes, the impressive von Winning Pfalz Sauvignon Blanc “500” is that good. I did some soul searching, because I was asking myself while tasting this wine, is this a 100 Point wine? It’s damn close, and I thought further about what is a perfect Sauvignon Blanc, it was a difficult inner conversation to answer, but in the end I am convinced this wine has that potential and it should be on your radar! It’s not the first time I’ve mentioned or talked about the intense and expressive von Winning’s Sauvignon Blanc, even though I’m not a huge fan of this grape, except for small list of awesome versions like Terlano’s Quarz, Shared Notes by Bibiana Gonzalez Rave and Jeff Pisoni, Gerard Boulay and of course vintage Dagueneau, which all are glorious. Also von Winning’s 500 (named 500 after the size of oak cask used to aged this wine) asks about the role of wood, as it certainly carries it’s influence in the wine’s profile, in the end I found it adds to the character and depth here without taking anything away, regardless of your feelings about oak, in this wine it proves a necessary evil and makes the whole wine better, no question. The 2014 von Winning 500 Sauvignon Blanc is wondrous and majestic in the glass, I come to von Winning for their fantastic dry Riesling, especially their Crus, especially their Grosses Gewachs, but I’m continuously fascinated by this wine, it has incredible presence on the palate with gorgeous leesy richness, it shows a complex array of citrus, stone fruit and gooseberry as well as chalky wet stones, sweet brioche, fine spice and mineral tones, it’s highlighted with tropical notes and subtle orange blossoms with a core of lemon/lime, kumquat, white peach and a touch of creme brûlée in a dry, vinous and vigorous wine. This Sauvignon Blanc is a masterpiece of detail, graceful power and stunning layering, while in the end I could bring myself to put 100 Points down at this time, but that might be terribly unjust, I am very open to re-reviewing that decision in the future! This wine was farmed organic on the sandstone soils of the Pfalz, from vines around Deidesheim and fermented and raised in hogsheads (500L barrels) with hand crafted care on it’s lees, it’s aged an addition year, which explains the texture and depth of mouth feel, while staying full of energy and focused, this is a remarkable and charming wine, and as mentioned, look for it to age well, 10 to 20 years I think, it might be the world’s most desirable and sexy Sauvignon Blanc being made, put it on your bucket list!
($78 Est.) 98 Points, grapelive
2015 Viticultores Emilio Ramirez y Envinate, Listan Prieto, Benje Tinto, Vinos Atlanticos, Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain.
Envinate’s Benje Tinto from the Santiago del Teide region of Tenerife on the volcanic soils of the Canary Islands is a lovely medium weight red, made with 98% Listan Prieto, one of the old mission grapes, and 2% Tintilla with a vine age of 70 to 120 years. These old vines are farmed all organic at almost 2,800 feet up on these volcanic slopes giving an almost cool or temperate climate feel and low alcohol 12.5% in this vintage with the Envinate crew, Laura Ramos, Jose Martínez, Roberto Santana and Alfonso Torrente using natural and traditional wine practices, with no added SO2. Each parcel is vinified in separate lots, some in concrete vats and some in open top bins with a 10-30 day maceration and aged in neutral barriques for 8 months. This 2015 is very expressive with a tiny amount of natty funk and pretty delicate red fruits, vibrant spices and dried flowers all wrapped in a slatey/iron rich mineralness plus salted licorice. This is a wonderful earthy/savory wine with lots to be excited about and it has a terroir purity and silken tannins that starts with a light ruby hue, rosewater, wild plum, raspberry, flinty notes, briny elements, red peppercorns and sage/fennel that makes for a serious food wine that has a racy streak, but feels wonderfully graceful and focused. Imported by Jose Pastor Selections, the Envinate wines are some of the most interesting wines from Spain, highlighting unique areas of Spain and native varietals including the Canary Islands, a Spanish islands group off the coast of western Africa, as well as Galicia, Alicante and Extremadura. I love these wines, and this one offers verve and insight for a more than reasonable price, don’t miss these authentic and well crafted old world wines!
($23 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2013 Bodegas y Vinedos Akilia, Mencia, Villa de San Lorenzo, Ponferrada León (Bierzo) Spain.
This wonderfully textured and earthy Akilia Villa de San Lorenzo is a delicate and pretty Mencia based red from plots in the Bierzo zone is from vines that are between 75-112 years old grown on mixed soils that include slate, quartzite, sandy and clay loams, fermented in a combination of cement and neutral French cask with native yeasts. With hints of spice, meat and iron this ripe, but savory Akilia is a pure expression of grape and place, in a fun and stylish terroir driven, medium weight, low alcohol (12.5%) and fresh wine. The 2013 Villa de San Lorenzo starts with subtle fruit and floral, which is not as striking as Mencia can be, especially from the Ribeira Sacra, but still beautifully elegant and impressive with a mix of blue and red berry fruits and peppery spices on the smooth palate with wild plum, blueberry, cranberry and black cherry as well as leather, sous bois, anise, bell pepper and stony/flinty elements. Mencia is a grape that makes for a complex wine that has markers that remind you of Northern Rhone and Loire in many ways, it also falls somewhere between Pinot Noir and Syrah in weight and acidity, it’s a sexy cool climate varietal that is really fast becoming a star on the world stage! Marisol and Mario Rovira Roldan’s Akilia is a winery to follow and look for, these hand crafted wines are certainly a great value and offer distinct quality, with this 2013 drinking very lovely right now!
($22 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2015 Halcon Vineyards, Petite Sirah, Tierra, Yorkville Highlands.
Wow, wow, wow, what a fantastic Petite Sirah, this is a wine that can totally re-define a grape, Halcon Vineyards 2015 Tierra Petite Sirah from the Theopolis Vineyard in the Yorkville Highlands is a spectacular and expressive red with intense flavors and spiciness. Paul Gordon’s Halcon Vineyards, along with winemaker Scott Shapley (Roar) are making some of California’s most exciting cool climate wines, with daily average temps that come in around the same as or slightly cooler than France’s Cote-Rotie, focusing mostly on Rhone style wines, but also a set of Pinot Noir(s) and this Petite Sirah. Petite Sirah (Durif) has long been a mystery varietal, it was a happy accident in the southwest of France, it somehow came to California and was once thought to be a clone Syrah and took on the name Petite Sirah, and even that might have been a mistake too, but as a California grape it has found a new lease of life as both a blending grape and as a single varietal wine, it was created by pollen germinating of Peloursin Noir (Petite Sirah’s parent plant) by some near by Syrah vines at Francois Durif’s nursery, hence the name. For the best and most complete research into Petite Sirah/Durif in California please read Patrick Comisky’s “American Rhone” book, a great read and reference. In recent years Petite Sirah has seen some unique forms emerge with an array of stylistic wines showing up, look for Jaffurs Thompson Vineyard, Ridge’s York Creek and Lytton versions, Relic, Biale, Turley, Ian Brand’s stoney P’Tit Paysan and especially this Halcon Tierra. Halcon’s 2015 Tierra comes from 100% Petite Sirah grown on steep terraces, it was done in natural and pure Rhone style with 50% whole cluster and aged in neural French puncheons, unfined and unfiltered with only about 150 cases made, making it a deep colored and complex wine with fine acidity and gripping tannins with a medium full body very much in the style of an old school Cornas! It starts with a vibrant black/purple and garnet edged hue in the glass and a bouquet of marionberry, red pepper, shaved cinnamon, crushed violets and lavender oil which leads to a vigorous spicy palate of black plum, blueberry, racy currant along with the mentioned marionberry, peppery notes, red chili flakes, bitter coco, cedar, sage/garrigue/fennel and liquid mineral. While similar to Northern Rhone offerings, this Petite Sirah has it’s own character, lingering with black and blue fruits, floral tones and chalky stoniness. This is special stuff, nervy and detailed, but with ripe/sweet tannins and wonderful mouth feel, it’s concentrated per the vintage, though balanced without heaviness, at 14.5% this Halcon Tierra is in totally harmony and extremely well focused. I want more, and if you love Petite Sirah and or Rhone wines you’ll freak for this one and I highly recommend getting on Halcon’s list asap! Be sure to get a few bottles of this wine, it is stunning now, but I am excited to see how it will age, I think it will be a thrill with another 3 to 5 years of cellar time and it might last 15 to 20 years!
($30 Est.) 94+ Points, grapelive
2016 Chesebro, Grenache Rose, Arroyo Seco, Monterey County.
The mineral laced and leesy Grenache Rose from Mark Chesebro is a refreshing pink with bright citrus, watermelon, sour cherry, lavender and salty stones making for a stylish and food friendly wine. The delicate salmon/pink hue hints at the crisp and cool vitality, this new vintage has a dry French feel, it’s very much like fine Cotes de Provence with more austere class, subtle tones and wet rock rather than overt fruitiness. Chesebro makes mostly Rhone influenced wines with Grenache being one of his main varietals, both Noir and Blanc, as well as doing some Vermentino, Roussanne, plus a few red Cotes du Rhone style blends. With air this Grenache Rose fills out to be a medium bodied with a touch of roundness and depth, but with vibrant acidity that gives brisk energy. Chesebro’s latest set of Arroyo Seco offerings are wonderfully textured and detailed wines, especially thrilling is their Grenache Blanc and this late release Rose made from 100% Grenache. The value factor is something also to consider for the quality in the bottle, these are hand crafted estate wines that all come at very fair prices, so if you’ve not tasted Chesebro this would be a great time to check them out. The Chesebro Grenache Rose is one of the summer wines I always look forward to, and this 2016 vintage is one of the best to date, it’s now available at their Carmel Valley tasting room and should be out wholesale and online very soon.
($17 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2015 Georg Breuer, Spatburgunder “GB Rouge” Rheingau, Germany.
Theresa Breuer’s delightful and easy to drink Pinot Noir is a fresh and lighter style Spatburgunder which rises above the average, but is still uncomplicated and straight forward with pure cherry, strawberry and spicy red berry fruited wine with earthy tones and delicate mineralite. This light to medium weighted GB Rouge is a joy in the glass, especially this riper 2015 version, and while not as complex and structured as Becker or Meyer-Nakel, there is a lot to admire here, in particular the price, as the quality and style do impress here. Breuer has converted to almost all organic and biodynamic and the wines, especially the Rieslings, show a natural character, energy and earthy charm and while they’ve crafted brilliant wines for generations, this latest set from Theresa and her cellar master Markus Lunden look set to raise the bar for this small Rudesheim estate. Having visited Georg Breuer and walking the Rudesheimer Berg Crus twice since 2009, it was great to finally meet up with Therese Breuer in person this Spring in San Francisco at the Skurnik portfolio tasting and hear her thoughts on her wines and vintages, I love her down to earth and easy personality and her 2015 Crus are stunning wines, dry and powerful Rieslings that will certainly be legendary classics. The 2015 GB Rouge Pinot Noir starts with rose petal, a hint of leather and kirsch along with brambly raspberry, wild plum and touches of loam, flinty/stones, peppery notes and sweet herbs, it’s vibrant and a wonderful food wine that gains a silky texture in the mouth and with air and lingers with slate/shale, cranberry and lavender. Not a VDP member, Breuer’s (Grand) Crus don’t say Grosses Gewachs, but certainly they are in everything but name, be sure to look for her amazing and concentrated 2015 Rauenthal Nonnenberg (Monopole) Trocken, the Rudesheimer Berg Schlossberg and the Rudesheimer Berg Roseneck Rieslings. For tasty values also search out Breuer’s Estate and GB offerings which include a nice Rose, some really good dry style Rieslings and this fun Pinot Noir to drink now.
($27 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2014 Suertes del Marques, 7 Fuentes Tinto, Vino de Villa, Valle de la Orotava, Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain.
One of my favorite wines, this volcanic terroir red delivers a vibrant delicacy with a hint of reductive funk, salty stones and intense black licorice to go along with pretty red berry, dried flowers and light mineral tones. Jonatan Garcia Lima’s Sureties del Marques, imported by Eric Solomon/European Cellars (Southern Wine and Spirits side) these days, has brought the Canary Islands clearly into view of the wine world’s critics with most all of his wines scoring over 90 Points! The 7 Fuentes is their “village” wine, named after the seven main parcels of the Valle de la Orotava (wine region) on Tenerife, it’s a blend of mostly old vine Listan Negro along with tiny amounts of Tintilla (also known as Graciano, Bastardo or Trousseau) with some whole cluster, native yeast fermentation, in small stainless and with about 60% raised in cement and 40% in neutral French demi-muids of 500L. Jonatan Garcia has Luis Seabra making the wines these days at Sureties del Marques taking over from the talented Roberto Santana of Envinate (who made this vintage), who also single handedly brought Listan Negro (one of the original Mission grapes) to fame, making wines that compare well with the great Nerello Mascalese wines of Mount Etna in the elite group of volcanic terroir beauties. The Listan Negro is grown on the clay and basalt in low climbing vines, with Suretes del Marques using organic practices, on the slopes of Mont Teide, Tenerife’s active volcano and Spain’s highest peak at 12,000 feet! The Atlantic and volcanic influences play a huge part in the flavors here with a flinty/briny racy character with this wonderfully graceful 2014 7 Fuentes, it shows a hint of Nuits-St-Georges like class, with cherry and rose petal tones, as well as bramble, leather, candied orange rind tanginess and a touch of red pepper, lingering with strawberry, lavender, shale and cranberry. It’s light ruby hue with a touch of amber shows the care of Santana and his gentle touch with this Listan Negro based cuvee, this is so cool and such a great value it’s hard to resist, it offers style and elegance along with a huge thrill of it’s pure terroir expression! If you are desperate to understand this wine, think Crozes-Hermitage meets Mount Etna, but in a lighter more saline (dry) crisp wine, drink up!
($22 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2011 Raul Perez, Prieto Picudo, Vino de la Tierra de Castilla Y Leon, Spain.
The rare Prieto Picudo is an odd varietal with high acid, high tannin and slightly oval shaped with a pointy tip, it’s native and almost only found here in Tierra de Leon, the name means beaked, hence the name, Raul Perez’s is from a high elevation old vine site on sandy clay soils with river rocks, making for a unique wine that has an almost Nebbiolo or Ramisco like flavor profile. This extraordinary red, from vines planted in 1900 in the village of Pajares de los Oteros at about 900 feet above sea level, was fermented whole cluster in chestnut wood vats with a cool 60 day maceration and then raised for about 60 months in French barriques, this long elevage adding to the wine’s refinement and mature character. The 2011 Prieto Picudo, from 111 year old vines when harvested, is a brilliant ruby/dark red color with herb and floral notes on the nose with mineral tones as well as a slight earthy/spice and kirsch note before opening to a medium full palate of racy red fruits including brambly forest berry, cherry, plum and mulberry plus dried flowers, peppercorns, grilled fennel and light cedar. The texture is fantastic and mouth filling with satiny feel, this is mind-blowing stuff with great depth and layers of pleasure, but with firm tannins and glowing vibrancy making this wine really pop, lingering distilled strawberry, salty stones, sweet tobacco leaf and baking spice. This is one of the coolest wines I’ve tried this year, again it reminds me somewhat of Lessona DOC, Nebbiolo based reds that spend 4 to 5 years in cask, of the upper Piedmonte area. The fruit is ripe and polished, this is very much a classic Perez wine, it was great to taste it with the winemaker himself, you could see just how thrilled he was with this Prieto Picudo and his passion was thick in the air, and I think this wine has potential to age another decade, I hope to get a chance to see how it evolves. Wow.
($56 Est.) 96 Points, grapelive
2014 Alexana, Chardonnay, Terroir Series, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
This pretty and ripe Oregon Chardonnay by Dr. Revana’s Alexana winery/label in the Willamette Valley shows classic apple/pear and lemony fruits, light hazelnut, mineral tones and subtle wood, offering texture and value for the money. This 2014 showcases the wonderful year for full round flavors and vibrancy of acidity, putting this white wine somewhere between California and Burgundy in style will forward fruit, but with graceful elegance and inner energy, it’s medium body giving nice mouth feel and it’s contrasting stoniness and saline elements balance out the fruity character. The Alexana Chardonnay Terroir Series starts with white flowers, wet river rocks, light citrusy brightness and an extremely delicate pale golden hue in the glass before filling out on the palate with the mentioned apple, bosc pear, lemon curd, golden fig and white peach fruits that seamlessly flow in satiny layers along with a hint of French oak, chalk dust and spicy shale. This wine cuts a detailed line, without heavy weight, while being a Chardonnay of substance that should perform well over the next 2 or 3 years, though there is no reason to wait to enjoy this wine. Not a complicated or an overly complex wine, but it has style and drinks above it’s price class!
($26 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2011 J. Rochioli, Pinot Noir, West Block, Russian River Valley.
Picked out of the cellar on a whim to share with my brother and nephew, the 2011 Rochioli West Block proved majestic and perfectly performed with deep fruit and cool vintage class, while seriously lavish and rich, it shows brilliant detail, acidity and wonderful persistence, I was gratefully surprised at the level of purity and grace. I’ve always been a fan of West Block first planted in 1969 and with a parcel recently re-planted in 2008, with it’s heritage selection of clones, it always delivers a dark ruby/garnet hue with a hint of brick and a medium/full palate with ripe black cherry, fresh picked plum, cola bean, wild berry, apple skin, baking spices and a touch of earth with this 2011 adding a bit of cranberry and violet/rose petal tones. I was thrilled from the first sip to the last, it stayed remarkably focused and structured from the moment the cork was popped to that last drop that came out of the bottle, most people avoid 2011, but this wine is everything you’d want or expect from Rochioli, impressive, it goes beyond expectations and excels in this vintage, I really hope I have another one tucked away! This 2011 West Block has plenty of life to go, I might suggest another 3 to 5 years be added to the window here, best from 2018 to 2024, I imagine this will be showing up on Winebid, and with the lack of love for this year being what it is, this might be undervalued, it is a dark horse or sleeper, it will be a rewarding capture.
($80-110 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2012 Morlet Family Vineyards, Pinot Noir, Coteaux Nobles, Sonoma Coast.
Luc Morlet’s fine and elegant Coteaux Nobles Pinot Noir 2012 is showing signs of quick maturity that might mean you’ll want to start drink it up, but certainly it is a quality effort that gives a gorgeous textured palate and long finish. The ex Peter Michael star Morlet is best known for his wonderful Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon based wines from estate vines in Knights Valley as well as Beckstoffer and selected coastal cool climate sites, along with a white Bordeaux blend that is truly spectacular, but he also does a lovely set of Pinot Noir, like this one. The opulent and richly flavored 2012 may not be a great choice for longtime cellaring, just my experience and opinion, but it is drinking with aplomb right now showing pretty floral tones, ripe red fruits, spice and fully integrated French barrique as well as subtle leafy earth and mineral notes. This soft and round Pinot coats the palate in silky creaminess with layers of kirsch/cherry, raspberry and strawberry fruit, a light dusting of shaved vanilla, cinnamon and dried violets. With air it just gets more satiny and it’s medium bodied more refined and lingering with hints of plum, fig and anise, and while decedent and luxurious it does turn a touch stewed or poached, which is a bit worrisome for those that were thinking of holding this more than another 2 to 3 years. There’s a lot to admire now and it gives rich detail and mouth feel, it also excels with cuisine where it partners well with even more vibrant and robust food choices, including blackened salmon or beef dishes, drink now, best to pop these corks sooner versus later.
($90 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2012 von Hovel, Riesling Kabinett Trocken, Saar Germany.
Since taking over this historic estate in 2010 Max von Kunow has taken von Hovel into a new era with organic farming and a tweaking of the lineup and winemaking with the fruits of those efforts taking form in the 2012 wines, though really taking it to the next level with the monumental 2015 vintage. Though always a winery to follow, it’s recent years look like some of best, I can see a huge difference even with these 2012 offerings, and in particular this brisk and savory toned Kabinett Trocken that saw some skin contact and more gentle fermentation. With it’s greenish light golden hue this Riesling shows plenty of vigor and extract, making it seem almost powerful in intent, certainly it has the class and complexity to be on level with an Erste Lage, or Premier Cru, it’s forceful presence in the glass does make you notice it and it’s an exceptional value if you can find it. That said the 2015 and 2016 should prove even better and the future here looks amazing, highlighting the Saar’s soulful and even earthy elements rather than the vivid slate influences of the middle Mosel not far away, providing a wonderful contrast in terroir characteristics. This 2012 von Hovel Kabinett Trocken estate Riesling (black label) starts with a vibrant array of citrus, spices, white flowers, earthy stones and a zesty steely core leaning on lime, verbena, tart melon and subtle mango. This 2012 is still sizzling with crisp acidity making it feel remarkably youthful, I bet we’ll need a decade to see further evolution and secondary development here, but for the near term it is just a joyful and positive refresher that will go with oysters, smoked/cured meats and perfect for lively summer sipping. It’s charm is it’s inner energy rather than beauty, it gains more complex layers with air, while staying firm and focused, it’s more appealing to those inclined towards austere style wines, while it’s a study in dry extract, it’s not exotic or showy, lingering with it’s racy tangerine, faint rosewater and citron. Herr von Kunow certainly believes the Saar will be the next big thing in Riesling, even claiming that it can produce the world’s greatest Riesling, it’s going to be fascinating to see his progress with von Hovel, so far the results are impressive.
($22 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2015 Shared Notes, Sauvignon Blanc “Les Pierres qui decident” Russian River Valley.
This might be a contender for American white wine of the year! I’ll go on record, I’m usually not a huge Sauvignon Blanc fan, especially ones from the new world, yes, I’m admitting I’m very hard on and snobby about Sauvignon Blanc, preferring Sancerre or Pouilly-Fume, Alto Adige and even the Pfalz, in particular Von Winning’s 500 Sauvignon Blanc, but Jeff Pisoni & Bibiana González Rave’s Shared Notes “Les Pierres qui decident” is something quite extraordinary, it’s wine inspired by the great wines of Didier Dagueneau and crafted to near perfection, it’s a wine that has it all and more. This epic white wine shines with vibrancy, depth and gorgeous detail with bright mineral focus, leesy texture along with stunning purity by two of California’s best young winemakers, the husband and wife have teamed up with this label, hence the name, Shared Notes, making a set of Sauvignon Blanc based wines that don’t compete with their day job wines with Jeff making his family wines at Pisoni and Lucia Vineyards while Bibiana is making Pahlmeyer’s Wayfarer wines. This 2015 Les Pierres qui decident starts with a classic notes of orange blossom, mineral spice, melon, cat piss (gooseberry) and persimmon before lemon/lime, white peach, kumquat and a touch of brioche in a steely medium full palate that while rich and hedonistic stays brisk/crisp throughout with subtle sur lie and wood notes. This is a thrilling Sauvignon Blanc, with amazing lift and succulent mouth feel, absolutely worth every penny, I’d love to put this wine in a blind tasting with my favorites and see where it ranks, I’d almost bet it would finish top, it has style, class and wonderful sex appeal, it’s in league with the mentioned Dagueneau, Terlano’s Quarz and the top cuvees of Gerard Boulay! This wine proves the San Francisco Chronicle got it right when it named Bibiana González Rave winemaker of the year, and if you still need any more evidence just try her own Cattleya (label) wines, especially her Soberanes Syrah, while Jeff Pisoni is no slouch either, just look at his Pisoni Estate Pinot, this is a power couple to state the obvious. For me, in the world of Sauvignon Blanc, there have been two great surprises, Von Winning’s 500 Sauvignon Blanc from the Pfalz in Germany and this Shared Notes Russian River Valley Les Pierres qui decident Sauvignon Blanc, both of which look to challenge for my top ten white wines of the year! Do not miss this wine…
($65 Est.) 97 Points, grapelive
2014 Domaine Charles Audion, Bourgogne Rouge, France.
This bright ruby/garnet colored Burgundy is wonderfully sweet fruited and juicy fresh with nice detail, life and almost surprising length, making this Charles Audion Bourgogne Rouge a very delightful class act. Mostly known for their Marsannay, Domaine Audion is now run by Charles’ son Cyril is continuing to produce quality and fair priced red, white and rosé bottilings that highlight the regions terroir earthiness and mineralite, but with generous fruit, this is showcased certainly even here in their basic Burgundy. The sandy and clay with limestone gives the wine it’s presence, and mineral driven profile according to Cyril Audion, who only has vines in Marsannay lieu-dit and cru sites that are well known and historically acclaimed, and even this basic cuvee Bourgogne AC comes from de-classified Marsannay lots. Pretty rosewater, candied bing cherry, wild plum and Asian spices burst from the glass along with raspberry, strawberry and cranberry fruits on the round open palate before an acidic lift of citrus rind as well as hints of cinnamon, nutmeg, loamy stones, saline, anise tea and chanterelle. Not overly complex honestly, but a solid and more than competent Burgundy and I really enjoyed this Audion, it is a fine example of the vintage to drink now and a great gateway wine to glimpse into the Domaine’s wines and of Marsannay itself. Imported by Martine’s Wines, Charles Audion is a winery to start following more seriously, I remember being impressed with their 2008, 2010 and 2012’s, but these 2014’s seem to take it to the next level, drink this enter level Burgundy over the next 3 to 5 years.
($30 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
n.v. Maison Louis de Grenelle, Saumur Brut Rose, “Corail” Sparkling Wine, Loire Valley, France.
This is a brilliant organic Brut 100% Cabernet Franc from the Saumur region of France’s Loire Valley flows with a luxurious mousse and bright detail showing fresh strawberry, light cherry and brioche as well as a mineral steeliness. This non vintage Brut Saumur from Louis de Grenelle, an estate founded back in 1859, imported by Jon David Headrick and European Cellars (Eric Solomon) is wonderfully delicate, elegant and very stylish, it’s an exceptional value for the price that you’ll want to score by the case, all bubbles fans should search this well crafted methode champenoise. Each sip brings new pleasures in this Cabernet Franc Brut Rose, leading with light citrus and spice notes, dry fruitiness, chalky stones and faint floral elements with distilled rose petals. This sparkling wine is a sleeper offering high quality for the price and will prove a savvy choice for bistros and wine bars and great for party or everyday bubbly, it’s a crisp and cool way to celebrate any occasion or event. Cremant and or Prosecco fans will be impressed with this one, I know I was thrilled and I will be putting money where my mouth is and grab a case of this stuff!
($17 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2016 Alma de Cattleya, Rosé of Pinot Noir, Sonoma County.
From Bibiana Gonzalez Rave-Pisoni’s second label Alma de Cattleya this pretty Rosé of Pinot Noir, crafted from cool climate Sonoma sites it’s a crisp and vibrant Rosé with bright strawberry, sour cherry and watermelon fruits, chalky stones, floral tones bursting from the glass. Bibiana’s main label Cattleya, named after the Orchid, the national flower of her native Colombia is one of California’s most exciting newer wineries with an exceptional lineup up of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and my favorite her Syrah, with this second line of value wines under the Alma de Cattleya label originally only for the Colombian market, but now available on a limited basis here in California. Bibiana González Rave-Pisoni, married to Jeff Pisoni of Pisoni Estate, Lucia Vineyards and Fort Ross, has made wine around the world, her CV is extremely impressive with stints in Bordeaux, Alsace and with Ogier in Cote-Rotie as well as being the head winemaker at Pahlmeyer’s Wayfarer today, her wines show a remarkable class and clarity. I love the 2016 vintage for Pinot Noir Rosé, and this one joins a few top picks including Brooks Winery, Stoller, Alfaro Family and Pisoni’s Lucy to name a few of the years best. This 2016 Bibiana González Rave Alma de Cattleya Rosé is all Pinot Noir, it’s surprisingly lithe and focused considering the 14.1% alcohol, though it does gain texture and ripe detail with air which gives it a certainly charm and flexibility with cuisine. Lingering rosewater, spice and citrus give this savvy Rosé a nice cut and finish, be sure to search this pink wine out and do not miss the fantastic Cattleya Soberanes (Alban Clone) Syrah, it’s one of the top Rhone inspired wines in California!
($20 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2015 Clos Cibonne, Tibouren Cuvee Speciale des Vignettes, Cru Classe, Cotes de Provence Rosé, France.
One of the most interesting wines in France, the Clos Cibonne Tibouren is a light Vin Gris (Rosé) made from a pale red grape that is extremely rare these days, Clos Cibonne is the only estate that is allowed to use Tibouren (varietal) on it’s labels do to it’s history and is one of only 18 Cru Classes in the Cotes du Provence. Clos Cibonne dates back to 1797 and still is is the hands of the Roux family descendants, with many re-vitalizations along the way, with Andre Roux making the historic decision in 1930 to ditch the post phylloxera Mourvedre and Grenache (brought in from Spain in the late 1,800’s) and to re-interoduce the native Tibouren grape being the one heroic moment that was the game changer here, though recent upgrades to the cellar and intriguing winemaking have elevated this estate to it’s current glory. The Cuvee Speciale des Vignettes Rosé is crafted from the oldest estate vines, about 60 years old on average, grown on schist soils, fermented in stainless with a light maceration then aged in 100 year old foudre(s) for a year on it’s lees under fleurette (Flor like fino sherry) which is unique and gives this Rosé it’s signaler style and character. The wine feels silky and earthy with a hint of cheesiness and truffle, it’s delicate orange/pink/salmon hue belies it’s depth and complexity, this is glorious old world wine with an inner vibrancy, but with wood aged silken textures, showing spicy mineral notes to go with subtle fruit essences that leans towards dried cherries, wild strawberry, quince paste, red peach and blood orange with hints of wilded rose, lavender, wet river stones, saline/iodine, faint nutty elements and damp/dankness. The tasting profile is refined, regardless of the wording and wonderfully seductive, even with it’s leathery wrapping, this is a Rosé by Clos Cibonne that fills the palate with cool crispness, but still rich in mouth feel and length making this a fascinating wine, and it can age for years!
($36 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2013 Domaine Drouhin-Laroze, Bonnes Mares, Grand Cru Red Burgundy, France.
This small estate in the heart of Gevrey-Chambertin has some great vineyard holdings in top Crus, including Clos de Beze, Musigny and this wine, which comes from a small parcel at Bonnes-Mares, it was founded back in 1850 and is still family run by Philippe and Christine Drouhin the 5th generation, with their kids ready to become the 6th soon. I’ve tasted a few of the amazing 2014’s at a trade tasting recently, but I must mention that this 2013 Bonnes Mares really lived up to this vineyard’s reputation of being wondrous and was a huge thrill, Domaine Drouhin-Laroze really delivered in a non-hyped vintage and it shows awesome Grand Cru class, this is a gorgeous and exotic Pinot Noir, in fact it over delivers for the price when compared to other Bonnes Mares, especially considering the year. While young and tight at first glance, with air this Drouhin-Laroze Bonnes Mares Grand Cru opens up to reveal dark violets, a rich tapestry of spice and mineral and deep extract with a palate of black cherry, dusty currant, wild plum and forest berries fruit as well as sweet leather, earth, anise, smoke, chanterelles, cinnamon and rose oil. This wine was absolutely adored by all those that drank it, it was enjoyed on a night of fantastic wines, including a ’47 Bordeaux, vintage Bandol and a 1998 Chateauneuf-du-Pape, and it maybe took wine of the night! Brilliant detail, life and balance highlight this Burgundy, but it’s sexy nature and powerful richness seduced completely, Drouhin-Laroze’s Bonnes Mares (in the Chambolle-Musigny section) comes from calcareous pebbles, clay and ferruginous red soil and is aged in low to medium toast barrique, about 80% new. Bonnes Mares is known in Burgundy as the “Alien” because of it’s totally unique intensity and flavor profile with a generous array of weighty fruitiness, but with dynamic focus, vibrancy and length, it was named after a Roman artifact found here portraying a trinity of Roman goddesses, which was a tribute to good harvests, which this wine showcases! While the 2014 version will be a treasure, this 2013 is a stunner that will surprise with hedonistic pleasures, with a potential to age well for another decade with ease.
($156 Est.) 94+ Points, grapelive
2015 Domaine Weinbach, Riesling, Schlossberg Grand Cru, Kaysersberg, Alsace, France.
The wonderfully dry and stylishly delicate Domaine Weinbach Grand Cru Schlossberg Riesling gains a rich palate with air, but remains beautifully detailed, crisply focused and feels heavenly light in the mouth. This beauty will evolve and fill out over the next few years in bottle, it surprises for it’s youthful elegance in such a warm and seemingly concentrated vintage, terroir class really shines through here, Ghislain Berthiot, enologist, and by Celestino Soares, vineyard manager, have done a masterful job of guiding this wine to this stage, starting with biodynamic farming and careful and studied winemaking from selected sites with in Schlossberg, the region’s first Grand Cru vineyard, the grapes are hand harvested, whole cluster pressed, with 24 hour must soaks, native yeast fermentations and the use of large oval neutral casks, making for soulful and gloriously pure wines as this one certainly is. The granite soil of Schlossberg’s hills shows through with it’s flinty mineralite and laser like focus and graceful lines, with seductive apricot, verbena/lemon, kumquat, white plum and juicy lime fruits as well as wet river rock, peach and chamomile tea, subtle leesy notes, bright almond, tangy herbs and pretty floral elements with lingering rosewater and zest tangerine. Look for this pale gold hued dry Riesling to gain a bit of curvy weight, though not flab in time, this should age with stellar results. Even though it’s great now, this is a wine that will reward patience, it will have a long window of fantastic drinking, best from 2020 to 2029. Domaine Weinbach and Faller family continue to craft masterpieces from their Clos des Capuchins estate which was originally found way back in 1612 by local monks, now led by Catherine and her son Theo, after a few tragedies for the family, including the loss of Catherine’s mother Colette and sister and winemaker Laurence in recent years, the future looks good for this world class Domaine, don’t miss these awesome 2015’s!
($46 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2015 Roar, Chardonnay, Soberanes Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands.
Gary Franscioni’s Roar label has been quietly flying under the radar in recent years, with wonderful wines being crafted by the talented Scott Shapley, their winemaker, because the wines have been so good they sell out almost immediately to their mailing or the lucky restaurant or wine merchant without much fanfare. So it was great to catch up with a new release from Roar, as a fan of Shapely’s efforts past and an early admirer of Roar, in fact the first vintage 2001, and I was not let down at all with this 2015 Soberness Chardonnay, it’s a full bodied concentrated white with vivid detail and lavish textures. Soberanes Vineyard is an awesome young vineyard in the Santa Lucia Highlands run by Mark Pisoni and crew, the Chardonnay block is planted to Old Wente clone, while the Syrah block is Alban clone and the Pinot Noir is the original Pisoni clone grown above the lower bench on a vein of quartz and granite soils with a dusting of gravel and loam not far from Garys’ Vineyard. The 2015 vintage was intense and with a smaller than normal crop adding to the richness of this Soberanes Chardonnay with honeysuckle, honeyed pear, kiwi and smoky vanilla leading the way with expressive force before filling out on the palate with apple, lemon curd, hazelnut, wet stones, sweet fennel and layered creaminess without being cloying or flabby much in the same way as Corton-Charlemagne, Pahlmeyer or Luc Morlet wines do so well. This is without a doubt a flamboyant and impressive wine, but it still charms with a burst of orange zest and vibrant pineapple that allows the refined acidity to shine through, best with soft/stinky cheeses, fatty fish, buttered lobster and or creamy pasta with prawns with it’s regal nature, drink from 2018 to 2026.
($48 Est.) 93-94 Points, grapelive
2003 Schloss Johannisberger, Riesling Spatlese, Grunlack, Rheingau Germany.
The fast maturing and ripe 2003 Schloss Johannisberger Grunlack (Green Lacquer) showed remarkable form and hedonistic pleasure, and even though I worry it won’t age much more or get better, it was a joy to drink recently with almost creamy texture, balanced sweet fruit stone fruit and just enough vibrancy to keep the thrill alive. There might be some bottle variation with this wine, as I must admit I had a bottle about 6 months ago that was much darker amber and it had lost it’s way, but this bottle from the same set, that was bought on winebid.com, was perfect and stylish from start to finish with classic detail, sexy fruit and texture and with solid length. While 2003 was blistering hot and a massively low acid year, some parts of Germany fared better, but over all it is not a vintage to look for if you want a crisp and classic version of Rheingau Riesling, though Leitz’s Rudesheimer Berg Crus were exceptional given the conditions. The summer’s scorching heat brutalized Europe in 2003, making simple fruity wines that lacked complexity or finesse, making this one a bit of a shock really as it somehow has managed a window of magic showing layers of mineral, spice and earthy charm to go with the opulence of sweet peach, nectarine, baked apple and dried mango fruits, it even brightened mid palate with some citrus, loamy notes, white anise tea, a touch of shale, almond paste and saline elements before a honeyed richness fills the palate lingering non with candied orange, golden fig, lime sorbet and rosewater. Schloss Johannisberg, Germany’s oldest Riesling producer it’s a historic winery which puts a lot of weight on cellar master Gerd Ritter’s shoulders, makes traditional and age worthy Rieslings from vines grown on mixed soils with less slate and more loam in the commune of Geisenheim. The golden and amber edged and slightly tropical 2003 Schloss Johannisberger Grunlack Spatlese is almost Auslese like in weight and feel, but not frighteningly cloying, but drink sooner versus later, it is a great and fun way to try mature Riesling without too much expense.
($40 Est.) 91+ Points, grapelive
2014 Capiaux, Pinot Noir, Widdoes Vineyard, Russian River Valley.
Sean Capiaux’s 2014’s are some of his best wines to date, the ex-Peter Michael man has crafted a great set of wines that seem more energy filled and elegant than I remember, even though I’ve been a long time fan, these really impressed me with their class and length, especially his Widdoes Vineyard, which is a stunning example of Russian River Valley Pinot. The fine tuned Widdoes 2014 shows a beautiful and heighten perfume of morning rose and subtle violet with hints of spice, frambois and light smoky vanilla leading to a dark fruited palate that shows a finessed touch with black cherry, plum and strawberry along with cinnamon, sweet tea and a bit of mission fig and saline. This wine is richly flavored, but still vibrant and not at all heavy, look for Chapeaux’s 2014 Widdoes to age with grace and gain in detail, Sean uses cool maceration in stainless, with severe sorting and mostly de-stemmed grapes, employing native fermentations and less new oak in this cuvee, about a third new, and aged between 10-15 months in French barrique, before resting in bottle, unfined and unfiltered. This ruby and bing cherry hued Pinot Noir is a open and generous wine that pleases from start to finish with silky tannins, ripe fruit layers and lifting juicy acidity, all highlighting a near perfect vintage in the region, it’s the cat’s meow even now, though I believe it should improve with a couple of years in the cellar, best from 2019 to 2026.
($45 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2013 La Spinetta, Barbaresco, Valeirano, Vursu, Piedmonte, Italy.
The youthful and compact Valeriano Cru Barbaresco from Giorgio Rivetti looks set for a marvelous future, and while I usually rave on and on about his Starderi Cru, which is most often my personal favorite, this Valeirano 2013 certainly has all the charms and it’s highly seductive in it’s gorgeous layering and striking length. This modern Barbaresco saw 20 plus months in new French medium toast Barriques, it’s a non filtered and unfined cuvee from a granite rich site known as the Tresio vineyard, which gives it’s floral and mineral toned nature, it’s full bodied and with ripe tannins, but should age with graceful vitality and substance. This wine has a great track record for cellaring with style and this warm vintage 2013 has classic Nebbiolo intensity and character, I was expecting a lot and ended up even more impressed than I could have imagined, I found an inner beauty and delicacy that belies the forces of nature and youth, as well as the new oak, this is a smashing wine of class and presence, and it will only get better from here! This 2013 La Spinetta is forceful on the palate with firm framing, but with a sexy opulence and an attention grabbing nervy lift, it’s without a doubt pure Nebbiolo at it’s best with brandied cherry, damson plum, raspberry and tangy currant fruitiness along with flinty stones, vanilla, saline infused licorice, cola bean, minty basil and a hint of bacon. The mix of spring flowers and rose petal are so far quite subtle, but there and add to the polished and lavish flavors, while the mouth feel expands with air allowing a glimpse into the future of this Barbaresco that looks to become a full bodied effort once everything is in place. It will, in my opinion, turn out to be of the same class as a modern Grand Cru Burgundy, in a way it reminds me of a Corton with it’s deep red fruits and garnet/ruby hue in the glass, great stuff to put away for 10 to 15 years!
($150 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2016 Strub, Silvaner, Feinherb, Rheinhessen Germany.
The barely off dry Silvaner by Sebastian Strub is a jewel of a white wine that drinks beautifully, it’s vibrantly bright with a steely frame and lightly fruity showing wonderful mineralite. This flexible and vital Rheinhessen Silvanner is a steal and shows the grape’s charm in Germany, where it is growing in plantings and gaining a solid following from drinkers and wine growers, once almost only found in Alsace and here in the Rheinhessen and Franken, where it has it’s own Grand Cu and Premier Cru sites, Silvaner is now found all over Germany and even in California, it’s a remarkable come back from this varietal that has seen some dramatic ups and downs. Even with it’s touch of RS, this wine should be considered dry and delicate on the palate, it’s in no way a sweet wine and makes for a great alternative to the sea of Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc. Strub farms parcels of Niersteiner, with some great sites in Hipping and Pettenthal that are a mix of red slate and limestone soils, their Rieslings from 2016 are wonderful examples with the Hipping Feinherb ‘Thal standing out along with this Silvaner, as well as the new Pinot Noir Rose and their Gruner Veltliner. The Strub Silvanner starts with light lime blossom, saline and green apple with a chalky/stony essence and lemongrass before widening a touch on the vital palate with steely lemon/lime, white peach and subtle verbena and wet shale. This light and refreshing white is stylish in a bistro quaffer kind of way and is a super summer sipper, great on it’s own and very nice with lighter fare and sea foods, especially clams in wine broth, drink it now and often!
($16 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2009 Francesco Brigatti, Motziflon, Colline Novaresi Nebbiolo, Alta Langhe, Piedmonte, Italy.
Wow, It is always great to discover a new producer of great wines, and Francesco Brigatti is that, from the Alta Langhe hamlet of Suno, close to the Ghemme region, making organic old school Nebbiolo and Barbera based wines. This northern part of Piedmonte is getting a lot of attention these days, especially during warmer vintages, as the area is now easily capable of making wines the class or depth of the more famous Barolo and Barbaresco Crus, and most are significant values! Wines from Le Piane, like their awesome Boca DOC Nebbiolo, Monsecco’s Ghemme and Antoniolo’s Gattinara DOCG lead the way here, but I was thrilled by Brigatti’s 2009 Colline Novaresi Nebbiolo, which has a tiny amount of other native grapes, such as Vespolina blended in, as these wines usually historically field blends. Brigatti, who employs traditional hand crafted practices, uses native fermentations, long gentile macerations and ages in used large oak casks to make his wines, they show his soulful approach in the care and detail, this 2009 Motziflon delivers deep Nebbiolo charm with brandied cherries, rose oil and earthy leather and spices, it’s ripe, but with great life and vigor. This Alto Piedmonte red is grown on ancient glacial moraine with mineral saltiness at about 800 feet, giving pure Nebbiolo grip and vibrancy, but with refined tannins of the warm year allowing richness to shine of the medium full palate with snappy red currants, briar laced raspberry, damson plum and racy cherry/kirsch along with tobacco leaf, porcini, salted black licorice, orange rind and with subtle meat/iron and contrasting savory notes, finishing with joyous and lingering violette. Delicate ruby in color, with orange tinted edges, this Brigatti Motziflon Colline Novaresi Nebbiolo is simply glorious and should drink well for many years to come, imported by Balanced Wine Selections in Colorado, this is a producer to search out, can’t wait to try his 2010!
($28 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2015 Morgan, Syrah “G17” Santa Lucia Highlands.
Morgan seems revitalized with the latest set of releases, the whites from 2016, the Albarino and Riesling are especially lovely dry wines, but I really loved the G17 Syrah, it’s a full bodied effort that still showcases it’s cool climate nature. While known for Chardonnay and Pinot, in particular their Double L Estate wines, their Rhone inspired offerings are stylish and interesting wines and are solid values with this G17 leading the way with rich black fruits, pepper spice and olive notes. I have been saying since the 2004 vintage, that Syrah is the unsung hero of the SLH, I really think Syrah has reached the quality of the regions Pinot Noir, in some cases and some years it is even better, just try the Pisoni’s Lucia, Cattleya and Roar Syrahs, as well as Big Basin’s or even Joyce’s Tondre to see just how good they are! Morgan’s 2015 starts with a hint of smoke, minty spice, blueberry and crushed violets leading to a rich and round palate, delivering boysenberry, wild plum, black cherry and blueberry fruits along with tapenade, anise, earthy loam, tobacco leaf, cedar, vanilla and framboise. The vintage was concentrated and ripe, allowing for smooth tannin and opulent mouth feel, while maintaining good energy and focus. If you are thinking about exploring central coast Syrah, this one is a solid gateway into these wines, it’s polished, elegant and nicely juicy in style, drink now.
($22 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive