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