2016 Weingut Leitz, Sylvaner Trocken, Alte Reben, Rheingau Germany.
The mineral driven and richly flavored Leitz old vine Sylvaner is a brilliant white wine, coming off the famed Drachenstein (Dragon Stone) Premier Cru (Erste Lage) vineyard, which sits above part of the Grand Cru sites of Rudesheimer Berg in the Johannisberg zone of the Rheingau, and set on a vein of quartzite along with broken slate, it’s a wonderfully dry and textured offering from Johannes Leitz and his team. Fermented and aged in large neutral cask, the Leitz Drachenstein Alte Reben Sylvaner is labeled a Trocken QbA, but feels much more regal and profound in the glass, more like some the modern Feinherb offerings that have medium weight profiles and textural grace without showing much in the way of residual sugar, this is a vibrant and brisk wine that gains with air in the glass, it’s pale golden hue is beautiful and it’s details delicate and rounded, while still showing the vigor and sense of purpose you find in all of Leitz’s wines. Sylvaner (Silvaner, Gruner Silvaner or locally to Rudesheim Johannisberger) looks to have originally come from eastern Austria, it has been DNA revealed that is was a crossing between Traminer and Hunnic (a lesser local varietal of Austrian origins) and while still in parts of Austria it has found a more successful home in Alsace, France, it became very popular in Germany post WWII when it had a total of 30% of all vineyard area, but used for cheap fruity bland wines for mass production Liebfraumilch, though then got almost all ripped out, and now is making a small come back. It needs special vineyards and intense care to make wines of character and class, and here Leitz succeeds in a big way with this Sylvaner, it comes in at 11.0% natural alcohol and has a brisk dry palate with a nice saline quality showing 2016 inner brightness and freshness along with solid ripe flavors which includes green apple, stone fruit, lemon and melon fruits along with a touch of subtle creaminess (leesy?), plus hints of flinty shale, citrus blossom, wet stones, tangy kumquat sorbet, briny notes and with a core of crystalline steeliness. Less intense than Riesling with a less expressive nature and softer aromas, this Sylvaner holds it’s own in Leitz’s great set of 2016 wines, I was wonderful impressed with this Drachenstein Old Vine Sylvaner, it’s a wine that is brand new to me, and it’s a serious steal at the price! I really enjoyed it with lighter Asian cuisine and a mild curry dish, but it is an exceptionally flexible white that can match up well with lots of fare and should be great with seafood, like a fine Albarino is, as well as being a savvy summer sipper, drink now and for another 3 to 5 years.
($18 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2016 Pessoa da Vinha, Terroir Blend, Vinho Verde DOC, Portugal.
One of the best values in white wine that I’ve tried this year, this Pessoa Vinho Verde is a savvy blend of Alvarinho, Trajadura and Loureiro grapes, it’s a beautifully crisp and well made wine that way over performs in this price range. Coming off classic terroir in the acclaimed Monção and Melgaço zones, this Pessoa is all stainless steel tank fermented and raised preserving all the freshness and brightness, making this little white a fun and easy vibrant wine that while light and refreshing is not lacking in texture and has an extra degree of depth that you’d expect from a Vinho Verde. The 2016 Pessoa da Vinha Terroir Blend is brilliant and mineral driven, it has an essence of green apple, zippy citrus and round melon on the palate along with steely delicacy, saline and wet river stones along with hints of tropical elements, lemony herbs and a touch of verbena. I was thrilled by all the wines by Pessoa, the two reds are equally good and full of flavor, but with balance and vitality, even though I think this white delivers a beautiful surprise in quality and style. With air things get even better and more elegant with a lush, smooth mouth feel comes through giving a more serious impact overall, while maintaining it’s lively nature, if this was a California wine, you’d be happy to pay $20-25 for it! I know I’ll be drinking this wine when the weather turns warm and the days grow longer, it will be brilliant for outdoor dinning and especially picnics with fruit and cheese, but with enough substance to go with a good array of foods and cuisines, in particular fresh, briny seafood choices, drink now and often.
($10 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2016 Domaine de la Sarazinière, Mâcon-Bussières Blanc “Cuvee Claude Seigneuret” White Burgundy, France.
Philippe Trebignaud along with his son Guilhaume run the Domaine de la Sarazinière, a 6 hectare estate that consists of several single vineyard parcels in Bussières and Serrières, including a block of both Chardonnay and Gamay Noir that was planted in 1926 by the Domaine’s original founder Claude Seigneuret, with this wine (a special old vine cuvee) baring his name in an hommage. While not certified organic, Philippe and Guilhaume work with the conviction that it is the only way to work, with living soils, and holistic practices, similar to biodynamics, the estate is regularly plowed and not ever treated with pesticides and or any herbicides. At 13% natural alcohol this wine feels ripe, but incredibly mineral driven and vibrant with an intense steely and stony core and showing apple, pear and bright lemon fruits along with wet rock, clove and white flowers as well as a bit of peach and chalk. The delicate golden hue and snappy acidity add to the joyous performance and appearance of this poised white Burgundy, it’s a class act and gains depth with air giving a regal mouth feel to this well made and balanced Chardonnay from Domaine de la Saraziniere. Imported by Floraison Selections, this cuvee Claude Seigneuret Macon-Bussieres really delivers for the price, in a blind tasting it gave a good account for itself in a lineup of stars, including a good vintage of Ramonet Chassagne-Montrachet! There is a lot to love about this wine and winery, be sure to search it out, this 2016 is beautiful and impressive wine, especially for the price.
($26 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2017 Ameztoi, Rosé of Hondarribi Belza/Hondarribi Zuri “Rubentis” Getariako Txakolina DO, Spain.
Grown in the Basque region near Getaria in the Getariako Txakolina zone, Ameztoi’s zesty fresh Rosé is one of Spain’s best and most distinct dry pink wines, made from both white and red grapes, 50% Hondarribi Beltza (old vine red) and 50% Hondarribi Zuri (white) fermented without malolactic in tank preserving intense fresh detail and is bottled with a little residual carbonation to give it a light spritz. The free CO2 adds lift and brisk lightness to this wonderful summer wine, Amztoi also does a Champagne style Rosé sparkling version too that is much more full and yeasty, but this is their classic dry Rosé and it delivers a dynamic palate of sour cherry, watermelon, a hint of bubble gum and eye popping citrus along with a steely mineral force, adding a touch of rosewater, lavender and distilled strawberry essences. It’s almost insane that this 10.5% alcohol wine isn’t just bottled in magnum, it’s so refreshing and vivid, one bottle is never going to be enough! I love all of the Ameztoi wines, especially this Basque Rosé, but don’t miss the white either, it’s a like a lime refresher, both great with light cuisine and warm days of summer.
($19-22 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2016 Viticultores Envinate, Tinto “Benje” Ycoden Daute Isora, Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain.
The Benje Tinto from Envinate is mostly Listan Prieto (Pie Franco) aka The Mission Grape from almost wild untrained vines set on the volcanic soils of Tenerife’s Ycoden Daute Isora region, there is a tiny amount of Tintilla (Graciano) in the blend as well. The Benje Tinto is all destemmed and fermented in concrete vats and well as a few bins from selected parcels that are fermented in separate lots, 100% native yeasts and no sulfur added with only vegetable proteins used to clarify the wine, the wine is racked into small neutral barrels for malos and aging on it’s fine lees, the final blend is about 95% Listan Prieto, 5% Tintilla all of which is organically farmed by hand from old vines, 70-105 years old, that sit at about 1,000-1,200 meters above the Atlantic Ocean, off the west coast of the African mainland. Envinate (Wine Yourself) is a team effort between college friends, lead by Roberto Santana here on Tenerife, but joined by the talents of Laura Ramos, Jose Martinez and Alfonso Torrente, who all have vines around Spain that they collaborate in making small lots from under their group label, and in recent years these young winemakers have been hugely influential in promoting Spain’s new generation of wines, regions and styles, especially highlighting the quality of this historic Listan grape, both Prieto and Negro that was planted from Spain to the new world in the 1,500’s. The Benje Listan Prieto shows a wild plum, tart cherry and dusty raspberry fruit core which is backed up with a saline and savory edginess that is brought into focus with red pepper flakes, dried flowers, flinty/shale mineral infusion and brambly herbs/anise. This 2016 is wonderfully delicate and vital with low alcohol charms, at 12% it feels crisp and vibrant with glorious purity and lightness, much less reduced or earthy that prior vintages, this a lovely wine that gains intensity and perfume with air, while staying firmly brisk in delivery and just the right amount of rustic character, preserving the varietal promise and gripping terroir picking up hints of wild strawberry, sticky lavender and a stony element, absolutely joyous, especially good with a slight chill, drink now.
($30 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2016 Alberto Nanclares, Albarino, Rias Baixas DO, Galicia Spain.
The signature wine of the Nanclares y Prieto Viticultores, the Alberto Nanclares Albarino 2016 is brilliant and crystalline with verve and brisk detail, this is an excellent Rias Baixas wine of vitality and class, bravo Silvia Prieto and Alberto Nanclares for such a beautiful white. Absolutely pure Val do Salnés, a sub region of Rias Baixas, Albariño grown at sea level from Pergola trained vines between 30 and 60 years old, all organic, even using natural sea weed as compost, it’s a fresh and saline infused wine that was half raised in stainless and half in a used 2,000L French foudre, without malolactic, then raised on it’s less for about a year with just a tiny amount of sulfur, then bottled unfined and unfiltered making for a complex acid driven Albarino that sizzles with intensity and shows it’s cool Atlantic energy and saltiness with pride of place. The 2016 stuns with heightened lemon/lime, green apple, and tart white peach with stone leading the fruit along with hints of white flowers, sea breezes, grapefruit, tropical notes, bitter melon and sexy citron laced herbs, almond oil and verbena adding a leesy layer and vinous textural delight, while staying light, serious, yet playful on the zesty palate in much the same way as a great Chablis or Trocken Riesling (can) with that steely grip and wet rock character. Wow, this is super impressive, even for a winery I love so much, this is a stellar year for Nanclares and the region! Grown on granite and sand, this wine comes off a few Cru parcels that add refinement, terroir expression and age worthy concentration, Nanclares is one of Spain’s great white wine producers, and this 2016 Alberto Nanclares bottling shows why, this is as good as it gets for varietal and place, awesome, drink over the next 3 to 5 years, especially great now and with sardines, oysters and mussels or just a summer day or warm night.
($32 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2017 Casanova della Spinetta, Il Rosé di Casanova, Tuscany, Italy.
Giorgio Rivetti’s dry Tuscan Rosé from La Spinetta’s Casanova della Spinetta is one of Italy’s finest and most delicate pink wines, it’s certainly one of my favorites for it’s fresh and distinct crisp personality, crafted from low alcohol grapes, 50% Sangiovese (Chianti clones?) and 50% Prugnolo Gentile (Brunello clone Sangiovese) grown at 300 meters with southern (ripe) exposures which allows for pretty flavors and plenty of juicy acidity. There isn’t that many Tuscan Rosato wines in this league of class, in fact you’d imagine this as being more French in style with it’s burst of energy and dusty dry performance, sadly this Casanova della Spinetta Il Rosé di Casanova sells out fast, and the 2017 was a tiny crop, making it an almost one chance get this year. This and the Vermentino are beautiful and refreshing summer wines that deliver quality and value, as does the 100% Sangiovese Il Rosso di Casanova, all giving a wonderful depth of flavor and sense of place, easy to love and pure bargains made by one of Italy’s premier wineries. While known for his Barbaresco, Barolo and Barbera wines in Piedmonte, Rivetti’s Tuscan project continues to gain fans and international acclaim with vineyard holdings in and around Chianti. The 2017 is bright, intense and vivid with a pale pinkish hue in the glass and vigorous persistence on the palate with a vibrant tension and light body showing cool brisk layers of red fruits including tart cherry, currant, watermelon and strawberry as well as a hint of spicy tobacco leaf, a array of zesty citrus, wet stones along with rosewater and steely mineral notes. This Rosé is lively and brilliant for outdoor occasions, especial warm days by the pool or picnics, but can partner up with various cuisine options as it takes on a more serious persona with food and matching many levels of flavors, it goes especially well with simple summer time fare. With enough substance to hold for a year or two, there is no rush to drink this, but then again it will be hard to save any bottles when all is said and done, enjoy now and as often as you can!
($24 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2015 Domaine Lionnet, Cornas “Terre Brûlée” Northern Rhone, France.
One of my favorite wines and producers, Domaine Lionnet makes an incredible and authentic Cornas that never disappoints this Syrah geek, it’s always a nervy stemmy wine, but with gracious fruit and textures to balance everything out, I find these wines to have a raw sex appeal and with a dark earthy seduction, in terms of pure Syrah it rarely gets much better than this! Corinne Lionnet’s family has been here and wine growing since 1575, and countless generations, with her newly transplanted husband Ludovic Izerable, he come from the tiny university town of Grenoble up in the alps, making the wines, the two of them have run this winery now for about fifteen years after she took the estate over in 2003, this is a small label, they only produce two bottlings, mainly this Terre Brûlée Cornas, though they have added a Saint-Joseph Rouge called the Terre Neuve, but have not exported yet to my knowledge. Ludovic’s style is all about nature, with 100% whole cluster, 100% stems and all organic farming, he ferments native and uses long maceration (three weeks) in cement vats before malos in large cask, all well used, never new, with lengthy elevate/aging, there is never any additions or adjustments with just a tiny amount of sulfur. Each parcel for this Cornas is between 40 and 100 years old, they include four great Lieu-Dit sites, Chaillot, Combes, Brugeres and Mazards with each hand picked and fermented individually. Each of these Crus add to the whole and give this wine it’s special personality and chemistry, Domaine Lionnet’s attention to detail really shows in the bottle, these are electric and thrilling wines, which I was reminded of recently at Rosenthal’s Rhone and Bordeaux Tasting in San Francisco, where I got to meet Ludovic and Corinne and taste through a mini vertical of their glorious Cornas from 2012 to 2015, the just released version. Each vintage has it’s own charm and all are fantastic, but as I’ve sampled the 2012 through 2014 previously, I was focused on the 2015 which promises great rewards, though a bit taught at this point, it’s a star in progress. The 2012 is drinking great right now, and the 2013 is just getting itself together, while the 2014 is heavenly beautiful and more delicate than the rest, with this 2015 showing the full force of vintage and youth, it was the densest and exploding with fruit. A touch of air sets this 100% Syrah alive and releasing an inner perfume of violets, while a meaty wave flows underneath before reaching a climax of earth, spice and a core of black and blue fruit on the full bodied palate showing layers of boysenberry, cassis, blueberry, damson plum and kirsch along with vibrant peppercorns, dried basil, salted black licorice, bacon fat and truffle. This deep garnet hued Cornas lingers on and on recalling the violet and edgy stems for minutes in the aftertaste, this is a ridiculously great terroir driven wine with stellar potential in 3 to 5 years, if you love Jamet or Allemand you’ll want this wine, and at almost half their price this wine is a rockstar value.
($70 Est.) 95+ Points, grapelive
2016 Domaine Marc Roy, Gevrey-Chambertin “La Justice” Red Burgundy, France.
Domaine Marc Roy’s La Justice Lieu-Dit Gevrey is an absolute beauty with a graceful easy to drink structure and silky mouth feel highlighting Alexandrine Roy’s gifted touch, and considering the difficulty of the vintage, this is gorgeous Burgundy that isn’t far off what I have tasted from 2015. The basic Gevrey-Chambertin is lush and vibrant with racy red fruits, while this La Justice, from 40 year old vines set on iron influenced clay over limestone, goes into the black fruit realm and is deeper in complexity and length with lingering rose petal and violette. Alexandrine used all de-stemmed grapes here with native yeast, employing a very gentile winemaking style and it’s raised in traditional small barrique, about 30% new in this and most vintages, then bottled unfixed and unfiltered that all showcases her desire for graceful elegance, which is readily apparent in this absolutely beautiful pure Pinot Noir. This set of 2016 Burgundies from Alexandrine Roy at Domaine Marc Roy is a stunning lineup of wonderful terroir driven wines, they are all full of flavor depth and inner brightness with distinct detail and regal class, her stand outs include the Old Vines Gevrey, this sexy La Justice, plus the tiny production Clos Prieur as well as the utterly brilliant and more tannic signature Gevrey-Chambertin Cuvee Alexandrine, which should never be missed. This Domaine Marc Roy La Justice Gevrey-Chambertin starts with an earthy vine picked berries, flinty rock and a lovely floral tone that seduces the senses and leads to a medium bodied palate with divine blackberry, dark plum and a core of delicate sweet cherries along with a subtle array of spices, mineral, saline and a touch of warm smoky/sweet oak, adding a touch of strawberry, dusty stones and earl grey. The underlying satiny tannin and lifting acidity give a serious pop (energy) and while smooth and exceptional in texture this is a wine that should reward mid term aging, this La Justice is a study in quality Bourgogne Rouge, best from 2020-2030.
($90 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2016 G.D. Vajra, Dolcetto d’Alba DOC, Coste & Fossati, Piedmonte, Italy.
One of the truly great Dolcetto(s) the G.D. Vajra Coste & Fossati is a masterpiece in the glass, while still remaining a true country wine with this 2016 being a pure and vibrant expression of terroir and varietal showing a thrilling sense of fruit and freshness. It was great catching up with the hugely talented Giuseppe Vajra and tasting through his amazing set of wines at San Francisco’s Slow Wine 2018 Tasting, he is one of Italy’s most passionate and humble winemakers and I love his wines and admire his grace and kindness, I highly recommend his current releases, especially Vajra’s exceptional Bricco Delle Viole Barolo as well as this wonderful and full flavored old vine Dolcetto! The 2016 Coste & Fossati is brilliant with a dark purple/garnet hue and a mix of dark fruit, spice and pretty floral tones on the nose before unwinding with verve on the youthful palate showing juicy and earthy blackberry, plum and tangy cherry fruits as well as bright minty herbs, cedar and snappy spices along with mineral, forest floor and saline. In some ways it has a mini Barolo feel with the impression of tannin and structure and terroir character gains an element of chalky/loam, anise and leather, while keeping Dolcetto’s simple rustic pleasure and it’s vital refreshing acidity. This is a deeply impressive red from a classic vintage for the minor grapes of the region, in particular Dolcetto and Barbara, this is a lovely and authentic artisan wine from a Cru site and old vines that really delivers a stunning performance. Lingering violets, candied citrus and blueberry just highlights this wine’s lusty appeal and makes you want another glass (or bottle!) as soon as possible, something I personally plan on doing the first chance I get!
($26 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2015 Domaine Saint Damien, Gigondas, Vieilles Vignes, Rhone Red, France.
This is an old school comfort wine, it’s deep layers of Grenache based goodness caresses the palate along with an array of earth, spice and chalky stones, making it a joyous Rhone red from a historic area, it’s nearly perfect in it’s terroir and charms. Of course it has a touch of animal/funk, or barnyard as we say, which is this Domaine Saint Damien’s richly flavored Gigondas old vine’s only and main flaw, otherwise it’s gorgeously textured, full of life and extremely pretty on the palate. This is classic old world meets a great vintage, this wine has an eternal feel, ancient even, but new and vibrant, it’s a wine with an old soul showing a little bret on the nose, as well as floral tones and savory elements to go with an explosion of boysenberry, wild plum, dusty black cherry and currant/cassis fruit, it picks up black pepper, tangy lavender, backyard strawberry, crushed rock, leather, dried blood/iron, anise and framboise. This really gets interesting with air as it opens, though it never quite loses it’s slightly dirty nature, it’s a blend that is mostly Grenache, 80%, but with surprising 20% Mourvedre, which adds a meatiness and a good dose of structural tannins, it was aged exclusively in old foudres, as traditional as can be. While not as finessed as Saint Cosme or as beautiful as Domaine d’Ourea, that said, this is a top notch dense (full bodied) Gigondas that reminds me of wines from my youth and brilliant with robust country influenced cuisine, it should prove long lived too, even though I would drink it over the next 3 to 5 years with it’s expressive and impressive youthful sweet fruit.
($28 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive