2016 Bow & Arrow, Air Guitar Red, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
This Bow & Arrow Air Guitar is an unique Loire Valley, think Anjou, inspired red blend bursts from the glass with carbonic/whole cluster juiciness and bright intensity, made with natural wine stylings it’s a cuvee of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon and 40% Cabernet Franc, and while it seems at first to playful and fruity like a Cru Beaujolais, it takes on a more serious cord with air gaining the Cabernet’s tannic grip and the spicy stems while filling out in the glass. This ruby/garnet Air Guitar is from organic sites, with the Cabernet Sauvignon from Borgo Pass Vineyard and the Cabernet Franc from the biodynamic Johan Vineyard, it highlights the vintage with ripe flavors and expressive charm, and all though I think Scott Frank’s other red blend, the Gamay and Pinot Noir Rhinestones is revolutionary and a next level wine for Oregon, this one too grabs my attention and the effort is to be admired with layers of fresh picked blackberry, racy cherry, plum and tangy currant fruit along with a hint of jolly rancher, cinnamon, black olive. light mineral, with a herbal stemmy nervy groove and a faint cask note from the used French oak punchon it was aged in. While the winery says the rocking good Air Guitar is a self deprecating poke at attempting French style wines in America, it is certainly not a failed attempt and I’m continually impressed by their wines, especially their Gamay and Pinot Noir offerings along with their Sauvignon Blanc(s) and their sensational Melon de Bourgogne, which is briny saline and muscadet like, this is a winery to follow, and as a bonus the prices are stupidly reasonable. This is fun stuff from Bow & Arrow, drink now or hold for up to 5 years, these 2015-2016 reds and 2016-2017 whites plus the Rose are the best yet from these guys, don’t miss them.
($24 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2014 Corison, Cabernet Sauvignon, St. Helena, Napa Valley.
Cathy Corison’s historic run continues with her 2014 Cabernets, and while the 2012 and 2013 versions were absolutely amazing wines, I must admit this 2014 St. Helena Napa Valley might be my all time favorite, it is a stunning wine without a single flaw I can detect. Winegrower Cathy Corison, the first woman winemaker/winery owner in Napa Valley, produces an artisan crafted, age-worthy Cabernet Sauvignon that is terroir driven in the same way you’d think of the top Pauillac Bordeaux(s), sourcing great benchland vineyards between Rutherford and St. Helena, as well as growing her estate grapes for her Kronos and Sunbasket with organic practices, these are wines of depth and energy that have very few rivals. It’s been a top producer since 1987, with the Corison Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon being sourced continuously from three benchland vineyards near the winery set on classic Bale gravelly loam with plenty of Rutherford dust, gravel and cobbles that allows for good drainage and aiding in ripening of grapes, Cathy works hard to achieve full ripeness without high sugars to promote lower natural alcohols and more life in these deeply flavored wines. Cathy’s winemaking is largely non-interventionist in style, she has always leaned toward the natural and her wines always show each vintage individually, she handles the grapes with extreme care and this Napa Cabernet saw a full 20 months of barrique aging, impressive for it’s purity and freshness this 2014 is just awakening in the bottle, but is remarkably balanced and joyful in it’s youth, though don’t be fooled this is a wine for the ages and is built to go 25 years at least with deep powerful fruit, solid tannins and vibrant acidity that explodes every detail on the palate. Layers of blackberry, marionberry, cassis/currant, plum and kirsch fruit core elements on the full bodied palate along with a surprising mineral note, sweet tobacco leaf, acacia/violet floral tones, a touch of smoky vanilla, sage, cedar and minty anise. Certainly less opulent and juicy than the 2013, I think this 2014 (which is like 1992 meets 2001) is even more captivating, complex and serious, it’s a thrilling Cabernet Sauvignon, this a wine that expresses the true greatness of Napa Valley, it’s honest and delivers a world class performance, it’s one of my top five Cabs of the vintage, maybe even in the top two so far with Ridge’s Monte Bello! This gorgeous black/purple and garnet stuff feels built and dense with an underlying grace, drink between 2021 to 2030, though it will be so hard to keep from opening it sooner, if you do, be sure to decant and have with robust simple cuisine.
($100 Est.) 97 Points, grapelive
2017 Lioco, Rosé of Carignan “Indica” Mendocino County.
One of California’s new generation of wineries, Lioco, owned by the Licklider family, the husband/wife duo Matt and Sara Licklider, they focus on natural style wines from cool climate sites, mostly extreme coastal ones in western Sonoma (Coast), Mendocino and the Santa Cruz Mountains. Matt has built up Lioco, especially in recent vintages, to a level that reminds me of Arnot-Roberts and Ceritas, his latest set of wines are very impressive with his Chardonnay, La Marisma, Santa Cruz Mountains being a huge stand out, it’s one of the best Chards I’ve tasted this year, but you’ll want to check out Lioco’s Pinot Noir, Saveria Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains, their Carignan “Sativa” Mendocino County and especially this intriguing Rosé. Lioco’s Indica Rosé of Carignan is a true natural Rosé, pick at about 19 brix and direct pressed with broken berries but still whole cluster in stainless steel tanks with a long cold ferment and extended malos, making for an intensely bone dry and refreshing pink wine from an old vine vineyard in the Talmage area in Mendocino. This site is rocky with a red clay underpinnings gives a burst of flavor to this wine, Licklider and winemaker Kai Kliegl really did a masterful job on this pink, it’s a mineral fresh dry Rosé, 100% old vine Carignan, from a vineyard that was planted back in the 1950’s, it comes in at only 11.9% and has plenty of driving acidity, but still appeals on the palate with tons of personality and character, it’s delicately pale salmon/pink and impresses for it’s cooly crisp details. Bright citrus, with unripe orange, watermelon, strawberry and tart cherry fruits on the brisk palate along with a steely mineral core as well as minty herb/sage, rosewater, chalky wet stones and apple skin. This flavorful and expressive Rosé is another top notch dry pink wine from California, perfect for our late blooming Summer, and Lioco is a winery to follow, without question these new releases are stunning!
($24 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2015 Sonnet, Pinot Noir, Tondre’s Grapefield, Santa Lucia Highlands.
Anthony Craig’s Sonnet Tondre Pinot may be the best yet from this vineyard in the Santa Lucia Highlands, it’s depth and delicacy is glorious and his long experience with this site and his input on planting has really paid off, this wine is everything you’d want in a classy Pinot Noir. Sonnet’s blocks are mostly Pommard clone set on the sandy loam making for a powerful, earthy and spicy expression and Craig has crafted a beauty from a concentrated vintage, it shows a gifted touch and the wine is very textural and lingering with a wonderful array of red fruits on the palate and sweet ripe tannins along with nice lift, it’s refined acidity giving an inner brightness and expressive tension. Racy black cherry, plum and strawberry fruits lead the way with hints of briar, tea spices, candied orange peel and soft oak notes, there’s so much to admire here it takes awhile to take it all in. It was great to catch up with the Sonnet wines and winemaker Anthony Craig, it was absolutely a thrill to see how good the current set of wines are drinking, especially this 2015 Tondre’s Grapefield with it’s layered fruit, pretty ruby/garnet hue, subtle floral perfume, length and wonderful mouth feel, it’s a special wine that deserves merit and praise, it’s elegant medium bodied form is a joy to behold in the glass, drink over the next 3 to 5 years.
($38 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2017 Reeve, Riesling “The Prism” Mendocino County.
The Reeve Riesling “The Prism” is ultra high acid example that bristles with electric shock like vibrancy and steely verve, this is one of the better versions of this varietal you are likely to find, it reminds me of the Rheinhessen’s Wittmann, which is saying a lot! Reeve, a new label by Noah and Kelly Dorrance, Missouri natives now based in Dry Creek, is a small winery, a follow up to Dorrance’s success with Banshee Wines with a focus on Sangiovese, but also crafting small lot wines like this wonderful Riesling, as well as a lineup of Pinot Noir(s) using the talents of Ross Cobb (Cobb Wines, Hirsch, Flowers, Williams Selyem) and Katy Wilson (LaRue, Kamen, Flowers) in the winemaking. Reeve works with only sustainable, organic or biodynamic vineyards and this vivid Prism Riesling shows the energy and purity that comes from great farming, and care in the cellar with extremely clear and clean layers of flavors, it shows lime, grapefruit, white peach and tangy quince along with a steely core of mineral, wild herb, spice and delicate citrus blossom in a wine of lightness and zest. The heightened acidity is eye popping and is very refreshing, but with time in the glass a more complex side starts to show up with verbena, kiwi, wet river rock, rosewater, faint tropical notes and lemongrass/bitter extract adding to the whole experience in this impressive and intense California Riesling. Enjoy with oysters, cured meats/melon and sushi, especially a creamy Toro or Uni, drink up, and be sure to check out all the Reeve offerings, I highly recommend their Anderson Valley Pinot Noir, and their Rose, even though it will be hard to find, and if you get up to Sonoma, you should check out the winery and tasting room.
($30 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2013 Chateau Pradeaux, Bandol Rouge, Provence, France.
Etienne Portalis, the fourteenth generation, winemaker at Pradeaux has made a brilliant and deep Bandol in the 2013 vintage, it is my pick for #Mourvedre day, it is a traditional and old school wine that is made with the blessing of the warm Mediterranean sun and his family’s old vines. The Chateau Pradeaux, founded back in 1752, is a Provence legend and the house style is natural and powerful with Etienne only using whole cluster with stems, these are wines that have firm structures from the raw/authentic skin tannins and wines that can age many decades, that said, this 2013 shows a beautiful freshness of detail and refinement after it’s extended time in large used cask. The 2013 is deep in color with a dark garnet hue around a blackish core with an earthy profile that opens to a full bodied and complex wine, which almost 100% Mourvedre with a tiny amount of other black grapes, it reveals layers of dusty blackberry, kirsch, plum and boysenberry fruits, peppery briar spice, leather, chalky stones, anise, bitter coco and a touch of floral lift with a mix of violet and lavender as well as a cedar/tobacco element. This 2013 is drinking with an impressive palate impact with plenty of dry grip and force, but turns generous with air with a ripe opulence allowing lots of pleasure and textural charm, it’s a serious example that will gain further with short to mid term cellaring. Imported by Rosenthal Wine Merchant, Chateau Pradeaux is without question, along with Domaine Tempier, is a standard barer of the region, and this 2013 is a beauty that will be perfect with rustic and simple country cuisine, it’s a big, bold and robust Bandol with a natural sex appeal and inner energy, drink over the next 10 to 15 years.
($45 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2017 Martha Stoumen, Nero d’Avola Rosato, Benson Ranch, Mendocino County.
Martha Stoumen, a new talent, is crafting some delightfully soulful wines that are inspired by some of the world’s greats, after getting her masters at UC Davis she searched out influential producers that had a commitment to tradition and their land, her travels led her to an amazing series of apprenticeships including Reinhard Löwenstein (Heymann-Löwenstein, Mosel), Jordan Fiorentini, who makes Epoch (formerly of Chalk Hill, California), Chris Brockway (Broc Cellars, California), Clive Dougall (Seresin, Marlborough), Didier Barral (Léon Barral, Faugères, France), and Giusto Occhipinti (COS, Sicily)! Stoumen’s dark colored Rosé of Nero d’Avola is a medium/full style dry version with a boat load of flavor, true to Italian Rosato(s) and with lots of energy and it’s pure excitement in the glass, great with food especially. The palate jumps with jolly rancher watermelon, sour cherry, a pink grapefruit tang and wild strawberry, along with a cider note and star anise, it’s a racy pink wine that shines with well judged balance and life. This is more robust and with serious dimension than you’d imagine, adding a striking mineral and wet rock elements to the mix along with a light rosewater and nectarine note. Wow, I gotta say this intriguing Rosé, and while not a delicate wine, it has a sense of purpose and class all it’s own, no doubt Stoumen is a rising star and this is a great gateway into her wines, I can’t wait to get this thrilling Nero d’Avola Rosato to the beach!
($33 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2016 Martha Stoumen, Nero d’Avola, Mendocino County.
Martha Stoumen is a new vigneron that you should check out, she’s already got an amazing CV and is one of California’s stars in the natural wine movement, though I find her wines well crafted and pragmatic without the usually natty clumsiness, there less dogma and more passion crafted. Stoumen is to California what Bow & Arrow is to Oregon. This ruby/garnet hued Nero d’Avola, inspired by her time at COS, where she worked with Giusto Occhipinti, famous for his natural wines, some of which are aged in amphora like the ancients made them and where his niece Arianna Occhipinti crafts her natural styled offerings too, in Vittoria on the southern side of Sicily where Frappato and Nero d’Avola are grown. Stoumen believes in organic/holistic vineyard management and leases and farms most of her vineyards where she can, otherwise she only buys grapes grown by generational farmers that understand their land and respect their total environment, something Martha admires and respects. Her Nero is bright and tangy with a garnet garnet hue in the glass and it shows a burst of wild cherry, plum and red peach on the palate, reminding me of the mentioned Occhipinti and with it’s light wood note it has almost a Jean Foillard Morgon class to it, this is highly entertaining low alcohol wine, at 12.4%, with a fine structure and a mineral tone adding an array of spices and chalky stones to the vivid/vibrant fruit core. This is a medium bodied, but full flavored wine that impresses from start to finish, it has tons of personality and charm, it captures the true Nero d’Avola varietal essences along with it’s California terroir, it is utterly delicious and thought provoking, it’s a wine to spend an evening with and is best enjoyed with rustic cuisine and romantic company. Layers of bitter coco, anise, cedar, earth, florals and tangy raspberry join the party with air, this Martha Stoumen Mendocino Nero d’Avola is seriously good and complexly layered, while staying fresh and playful throughout, drink now.
($35 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2015 Etienne Becheras, Crozes-Hermitage Rouge “Le Prieure d’Arras” Northern Rhone, France.
Etienne Becheras, a fifth generation vigneron, has a small estate domaine with parcels in both Crozes-Hermitage, where the family lives and in Saint-Joseph, which are all farmed organic and where he has spent the better part of his adult life rebuilding the vineyards and rescuing parcels so his domaine more resembles what it was in his grandfather’s era. I had had his beautiful and soulful Saint-Joseph a few times in the past, but earlier this year I got to meet the man himself at one of his importer’s, Rosenthal Wine Merchant, west coast stops and taste through the extended lineup, all which impressed me further, his 2015’s are absolutely gorgeous, especially this Crozes-Hermitage Rouge Le Prieure d’Arras, from his home grown Syrah vines. Becheras, an ex-Rugby player, is a big guy and you can tell he works hard on his steep slopes, he is a man of the earth and there is no pretense nor illusion of fame or wealth, he will just pursue his own passion and make wines that are traditional and pay homage to his ancestors, his life and that of his wines reflect this terroir. The 2015 Le Prieure d’Arras, 100% Syrah is pure Crozes-Hermitage, slightly rustic and authentic, but with alluring aromas of violets and sweet black fruits leading the way to a medium full palate of boysenberry, blueberry, damson plum and tangy currant fruits along with leather, minty licorice, peppercorns, greek olive, a hint of truffle and lingering kirsch. The ripe tannins make their presence known, though it’s youthful freshness keeps things vibrant and the fruit always things covered, with air this Crozes expands and adds flint and loamy earth as well as bitter lavender adding a nice contrast to the flow of blue and black fruit, this is a wine that you can’t seem to let go of, every sip grabs your attention and seduces with it’s depth, dark garnet/purple hue and natural power of attraction, it’s an amazing wine for the price. Etienne Becheras uses old school methods in the cellar, whole cluster, native yeasts and extended elevage in well seasoned used cask, there is nothing fancy employed, but it all works here and I highly recommend all of his wines, they are terroir driven and will reward cellaring in the short and mid term, drink this one over the next 5 to 7 years.
($28 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2011 Weingut Leitz, Riesling Trocken, Rüdesheimer Berg Schlossberg “Ehrenfels” Rheingau Germany.
The Leitz 2011 Trocken Schlossberg is really a (pre Leitz VDP labeling) Grosses Gewachs and it’s pedigree shows, this under the radar bottling is amazingly pure and terroir driven, racy and mineral focused, but with dense extract and leesy class that provides a Puligny like mouthfeel and textural beauty. The Grand Cru (Grosse Lage) Rudesheimer Berg Schlossberg is one of the world’s absolute best vineyards and it’s stunningly picturesque, it is one of my favorite places on earth, it’s a site of special serenity and energy rising above the Rhein River with it’s ancient castle “Ehrenfels” that gives it it’s name overlooking a narrows that used to be a place where (boat) tolls were paid to pass, but it’s the vines that are the real historic interest hanging on to the steep slate hillsides. Leitz’s plot and parcels here are arguably the best with direct southern exposure and with the most intense slopes, making for incredible intensity in the wines, and this gorgeous 2011 is really blossoming in the bottle and drinking amazing right now. My two extended visits to the Rheingau have had lengthy hikes up here, it’s almost perfectly between old town Rudesheim and Assmannshausen, and even in the rain it’s a must when visiting the region, and it’s right across the Rhein from where the Nahe meets up giving a view up the western part and vineyards past Bingen. Johannes Leitz, one of Germany’s best wine producers, loves purity of form, he prefers extra clear musts and cold/fresh ferments, and while the top crus get aging in stuckfass, he uses lots of glistening stainless steel vats, his wines are full of energy, charm and try to highlight each vineyard site, this is especially true in the Rudesheimer Berg Crus, each have their own personality and it’s almost impossible to pick a favorite between them, the Roseneck, Kaisersteinfels Terressen and (this) Schlossberg all offer a unique expression, like Puligny, Chassagne and Meursault do. The 2011 Leitz Rudesheimer Berg Schlossberg “Ehrenfels” Trocken, which was happily drunk with fresh sushi, really got my attention for it’s depth and richness while being so dynamic and vibrant with perfect pleasure and tension, it flowed across the palate with beautiful texture showing a lovely white flowers and rose petal perfume balanced up with a nice mouth watering salinity and flintiness with lime, green apple, lemon curd, white fig and almond notes along with steely mineral, brioche, peach pit, apricot flesh and river stones. With air the body gains and it rivals an aged Burgundy for impact and grace, without losing it’s Riesling quality and sense of place, it’s as mentioned an under the radar wine and vintage that I wish I had more of! Drink now and for the next 5 to 7 years, it is a white wine that even appeals to red wine drinkers, it’s something you should always keep a eye out for, especially since the newer vintages are labeled GG (Grosses Gewachs) an fetch a much higher price!
($39-55 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive (reviewed 5/18/18)
2017 Alfaro Family Vineyards, Rosé of Pinot Noir, Estate, Santa Cruz Mountains.
I recently tasted three brilliant California dry Summer Rosés that you should get on quickly, Lioco’s Rosé of Carignan, the Reeve Rosé of Pinot Noir, which I reviewed last week and Richard Alfaro’s Alfaro Family Vineyards Santa Cruz Mountains Rosé of Pinot Noir, always a favorite of mine and an awesome value. The Alfaro dry Rosé is well balanced and does have full Pinot flavors, while still being zippy, vibrant and cooly crisp, it’s just not overtly severe or stingingly acidic, great on it’s own for warm evening sipping pre dinner or beach/sunset quaffing. This 2017 is a pink Pinot with a depth of flavor and texture that is not all that common, the grapes were de-stemmed and placed in temp controlled tanks where the grapes’ own weight did the crushing, then after a very long 20 hours on their skins, the grapes were pressed and the juice was cold-fermented in a large stainless steel tank, which lasted about 4 weeks, with the wine then rested for 4 months in neutral oak, all of which goes a ways in explaining the wine’s completeness and mouth feel. It’s a serious Rosé from start to finish with a brightly vivid salmon/pink hue in the glass and a burst of distilled raspberry, watermelon, strawberry and zesty citrus, wet stones with lovely floral notes on the nose with lingering rosewater, mineral and a hint of spice on it’s steely frame, it comes in at just over 13% natural alcohol, which allows a fullness of expression and giving the impression of density, though still feeling light and refreshing on the palate. Complex and compelling all by itself, this Rosé certainly can match up with a variety of cuisine, from robust and spicy, perfect with BBQ and lighter fare as well including shell fish, poultry dishes and cured ham, stocking up while it lasts is a good idea, drink over the next 5 to 7 months, no need to wait.
($18 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2004 Weingut Kruger-Rumpf, Riesling Spatlese, Münsterer Dautenpflänzer, Nahe Germany.
Deep, golden and mature in character, the opulent and beautiful 2004 Münsterer DautenpflänzerSpatlese from Kruger-Rumpf is in a wonderful window, it may just be the peak period for this vintage with layers of apricot, quince jelly, candied pineapple, marmalade notes and vinous textural charm along with nice salinity, mineral, rose led florals and light earthy and petrol fume notes in a classic Nahe Riesling. In recent years I’ve been lucky enough to have been able to re-visit some 2004’s and they have really blossomed, losing the year’s awkward form, going from an almost an ugly duckling into a swan in bottle with age, this is especially true in some late releases by Schlossgut Diel and this Weingut Kruger-Rumpf Münsterer Dautenpflänzer Spatlese, both of which can still be found if you look, a well worth it exercise. The VDP Grosse Lage (Grand Cru) Münsterer Dautenpflänzer, a tiny parcel within Kapellenberg, is set on quartzite and loess-clay based soils, which in my humble opinion highlights fruit detail and brings out a yellow fruit profile along with crystal clear mineral intensity with this wine bringing out baked peach core on the palate with hints of honey, fig and liquid stone. Georg Rumpf is moving towards organic in most of the vines with his vineyards being farmed to sustainable practices with hand harvesting employed to ensure that only optimally ripe grapes are selected, there is intense attention to detail here, I was here at harvest in 2016 and saw the team in action as well as the vines, which are steep and well cared for, Rumpf goes for native (spontaneously with ambient yeast) on the cru trockens (dry) and fruity (off-dry and sweeter) Rieslings and his uses large old stuckfass (oak casks) with extended lees aging, this all adds to the wines purity, extract and concentrated depth. This such a steal, I highly recommend searching for a few bottles, drink now.
($40 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2015 Domaine de Gour de Chaule, Gigondas “Cuvee Tradition” Southern Rhone, France.
Vigneron Stéphanie Bonfils, following her mom’s absolute love of Grenache, continues to craft Domaine de Gour de Chaule’s Gigondas with that focus with 85% of the vineyards planted to Grenache, with about 10% dedicated to Syrah and Mourvedre, along with a tiny amount to Cinsault. This historic estate was started in 1900, but was not selling their own wine until the early 1970’s and not a serious domaine until Bonfils the elder got things rolling in the 1980’s, but since then has made a significant impact joining the greats of the region with traditional and authentic wines, joining the classics likes of Saint-Damien, Saint-Cosme, du Cayron, Grapillon d’Or, Montirius, Montmirail, Château du Trignon and La Bouissiere, as well as the new guys on the block L’Ourea and Kermit Lynch’s Les Pallieres. Similar to the more famous Chateauneuf du Pape, Gigondas is blessed with the sunny Mediterranean climate and clay and limestones soils, but they can be fresher and certainly less costly, with some having higher elevation vines that give a vibrant intensity to these heady full flavored Rhone reds. The average age of the Grenache vines planted within the Domaine de Gour de Chaule plots is 55 years old and Stéphanie uses whole cluster fermentations with cement cuves employed for both primary and malo (secondary) before being racked to used large foudres (oak cask) to rest, for about 18 months prior to bottling unfixed and unfiltered. This 2015 is brilliantly detailed, full bodied and shows the vintage’s depth and concentration perfectly, it delivers a warm rush of Grenache purity and character with sweet strawberry, boysenberry, kirsch and plum along with dusty stones (chalky), light floral notes, peppery spices, classic lavender (garrigue) and anise. This feels rich and textured in the mouth gaining earthy elements and while deeply fruit driven there is a spine of fine ripe tannins that gives a sense of structure that holds the weight in check, it never feels too heavy or dull, it’s a beautiful old school Gigondas that really impresses the palate. Imported by Rosenthal Wine Merchant, Domaine de Gour de Chaule Gigondas “Cuvee Tradition” is always a treat and a bell weather for the year and this 2015 an absolute must for Rhone fans, enjoy it for it’s youth now or put a few away for exceptional mid term drinking, as it will reward some patience, best from 2018 to 2026.
($32 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2008 J. Rochioli, Chardonnay, River Block, Estate, Russian River Valley.
An aging beauty with load a character and powerful intensity, in classic Rochioli style, this River Block 2008 impresses with a real palate impact, from their old vines and clones, this wine never fails to be massively appealing. A pure pleasure in the glass, reminding me of Chave Hermitage Blanc, the Rochioli River Block is rich and densely packed, this is no wall flower, showing sweet fruit, smoky oak and liquid mineral that explodes on the palate, in a wine which somehow remains fresh, detailed and heightened, revealing caramel apple, apricot, honeyed citrus/lemon curd, grilled pineapple along with butterscotch/creme brulee, it’s full bodied and thickly lush adding a bit of bright citrus tanginess, golden fig and vanilla cream. I can imagine this with lobster and or soft cheeses, it lingers on and on, it’s more Scarlett Johansson than Kate Blanchett in the glass, incredible for almost 10 years old. Deeply golden/yellow hued, though still crystal clear and perfumed, almost like a late harvest, but with a balanced vitality and a complexity flavors that offers a luxurious thrill ride, adding to the total experience and pleasure. Barrel fermented and aged in lots of toasty new oak, this Rochioli River Block is a full throttle style Chardonnay, but one that has aged well that you can’t help admire, and especially in an unheralded vintage like 2008. This Rochioli delivers everything you’d want and more, it’s a showy and flashy example of mature California Chard that rivals the best from Aubert and Peter Michael in this rich style. I love it’s overt nature and personality, if you have some of Rochioli’s single vineyard 2008 bottlings it’s a great time to drink them, in particular this one, it’s peaking right now and showing it’s best form, it’s great stuff, drink up.
($80 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2014 Parsonage Village Vineyard, Petit Verdot, Bixby Reserve, Estate, Carmel Valley.
One of the region’s most interesting wines and one of Carmel Valley’s best, the cuvee Bixby Reserve is a unique bold Bordeaux style red made mostly from Petit Vedot from Bill Parsons’ steep hillside estate just past the Carmel Valley Village. Bill along with his winemaker and son in law Frank Melicia, who also makes Alan Silvestri’s wines, have always gone for powerful ripe wines and this wine is oozing with black/purple fruit density and mouth coating tannins, highlighting it’s incredible palate impact, it’s an alien here in the valley where most of the wines are lighter and higher in natural acidity with the exception of Joyce’s estate Merlot and Cabernet bottlings, these are much less lean than Galante, Georis and the historic Durney ranch. Bill Parsons planted the seven-acre Parsonage Village Vineyard back in 1998 on a south-facing hillside, it’s is just about14 miles from the Pacific Ocean and about a mile east of the Village on the Carmel Valley Road. His vineyard is planted to 3.5 acres of Syrah, 2.0 acres of Cabernet Sauvignon, 1.0 acre of Merlot and 0.5 acre of Petit Verdot (all of which, goes into this wine!), with estate being the first to plant Syrah in Carmel Valley, and they produce tiny amounts of wine. I’ve been a fan and following Parsonage since their first vintage and have always been impressed and admired the level of quality and richness they possess, and while some of the wines get a bit oaky at times and feel more like modern Paso Robles stuff, the region is hugely grateful to the diversity of styles available and Pasonage is certainly a head turning winery, that all said this 2014 is the most refined and balanced version I can remember, it shows a lovely purity and mineral tones, plus it has absolutely integrated it’s new oak to perfection, it takes Parsonage to the next level. Only two barrels were made in 2014, it was crafted with about 75% Petit Verdot and 25% Cabernet Sauvignon using 1 new Taransaud and 1 new Seguin Moreau, (less than 50 cases released) and while it has hints of smoky vanilla it has ate up that oak in a polished way, revealing a deep floral perfume and with a full bodied personality with opulent blackberry, sweet creme de cassis, plum and blueberry along with crushed violets, briar spice, cigar wrapper/tobacco, anise, chalky stones and cedar, picking up the Cabernet Sauvignon character in this opaquely dark and lengthy wine. This Bixby Reserve is a thrilling and big shouldered red, coming in at 15% natural alcohol, much in the same vein as L’Aventure’s Estate Cuvee, another wine that has lots of Petit Verdot in it, it has an amazing finish that goes on and on picking up racy currants, kirsch and acacia blossoms. Again, even though this is no wallflower or shy wine, I was surprised at the mineral streak and the focused structure that hides the weight in this sexy wine, though I certainly recommend robust cuisine to cut through the gripping tannin, it should prove a worthy cellar selection as well, drink over the next 5 to 7 years.
($80 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2014 Hanzell, Chardonnay, Estate, Sonoma Valley.
One of California’s absolute legends, Hanzell Vineyards in Sonoma Valley, is a historic winery founded back in 1953 by Ambassador James D. Zellerbach on 200 acres near Sonoma Mountain where cool breezes and perfect soils make for exceptional Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, which has proven out over the 60 years with amazing long lived wines of remarkable class and quality. The greats of California, Chalone, Mount Eden-Martin Ray, Swan and Hanzell made their mark in the wine world in the 1970’s and early 80’s with Chateau Montelena joining the party with their fabled victory over the French in the judgement in Paris tasting, but since then it must be said that only Hanzell has stayed at top of their game and remain a Grand Cru force! This 2014, while still a baby, is amazingly detailed, vivid and mineral driven with hedonistic concentration and depth, I am always thrilled to try these wines and this one is without question a beauty in every regard showing a light perfume of white flowers and flowing across the palate with a lemony vitality before gaining a full width of flavors that includes apple, bosc pear, peach and a hint of smoky vanilla and wet stones. Pure and heighten by natural acidity this powerful Chardonnay is ready to withstand decades of age, wow, this gets more intense by the minute adding hazelnut, and more lemon zest to it’s steely frame, anyone who thinks Burgundy rules the world might wanna try this magnificent Hanzell Chardonnay, it’s outrageously good, and a stunning example of what California Chardonnay be, beyond the buttery/flabby stuff that appeals to cocktail class of Chardonnay drinkers. An estate blend The Hanzell 2014 Chardonnay, is sourced from thirty-two acres of Hanzell’s historic Ambassador’s 1953, Day, de Brye, Ramos and Zellerbach parcels, all set on mostly hillside rocky volcanic and clay-loamy soils, that are planted to Hanzell and Old Wente (heritage clones) mostly, along with Robert Young, Dijon 76, Dijon 95, Hyde and Prosser clones, with an average age of thirty-five years on the vines at between 500 to 830 feet of elevation. Hanzell, to preserve freshness, fermented 75% in stainless steel tank with 25% barrel ferment, they pressed after a two hour cold soak on the skins and after primary (25% lees aged with full malos in barrel, the rest non-malo) the wine was aged in small barrique for 12 months, it’s a winning formula for this estate and the wine is just stunning, brilliantly golden pale with extraordinary precision and lingering tanginess. This bottle, a prize for Arsenal beating Chelsea in the F.A. Cup a couple of years ago, thank you Kim, it’s tasted even better than I’d have imagined! Drink from 2020 to 2028.
($70 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2016 Weingut Spreitzer, Riesling Trocken, Osetricher Rosengarten, Grosses Gewächs, Rheingau Germany.
The Spreitzer cru Rosengarten, the unique prime cut ‘filet piece’ of the Lenchen, is a tiny clos parcel (rose garden), on lower elevation between the Rhein River and the Spreitzer’s home, (is) set on mostly loess-loam soils with red, iron-rich stones as well as a very minimal mix of slate and quartzite. This parcel is typically wonderfully expressive and full of ripe orchard fruits and open density (full bodied) with textural charm. Lucky enough I was able to check in on this 2016 while still in the vineyard, just before the harvest crews picked these amazingly beautiful grapes of these old vines, as well as most of Spreitzer’s vineyard blocks, it what was a fantastic evening experience with Andreas and his Land Rover! The Rosengarten site is warm and near the widest part of the Rhein River, creating an almost lake effect making it an early ripening parcel and the wines always show well even in their youth, as does this 2016 GG, it’s got the potential and stuffing to compete with the 2012 and even the 2015, which is still one of Spreitzer’s greatest ever wines, in my opinion, so that is also telling about just how great this vintage is! For the Grand Cru (GG’s) the Spreitzer brothers Andreas and Bernd use sponti (natural yeasts) and old stuckfass (large German oak ovals)in their ancient cellar along with employing a long fermentation, and extended lees aging to protect the juice from oxidation, they whole cluster press and then allow the must to clarify with gravity for about 24 hours, the Rieslings sit on their gross lees to gain a beautiful vinous character and they are filtered gently only once after being raised in the cask. The wines are very hedonistic and layered, expressing their true terroir and upper Rheingau personalities, in contrast to Rudesheimer Berg’s laser sharp and slate intensity, though no less serious are profound, especially in this case. This 2016 Rosengarten GG is amazingly open and wildly seductive with a rich/fruity and floral palate with incredible density and dry extract that rivals a Corton-Charlemagne! Beautiful yellow fruits, spicy liquid rock and a heightened perfume of distilled rose petals lead the way in this gorgeous golden hued and exotic dry Riesling by Spreitzer, this is without question a hyper GG, it’s really wine porn in the glass, that explodes with flavor and textural pleasure adding complexity with every sip with peach, apricot, key lime, golden fig, cool melon and tangy citrus fruits as well as leesy notes plus wet stone, mineral, a hint of honey and verbena/citron. This not shy, sexy and fleshy Riesling reminds me a bit of the von Winning Grand Crus with it’s Burgundy like depth and body, it’s a brilliant effort that is almost as concentrated as the powerhouse 2015’s from Weingut Spreitzer and should prove an exciting drinking experience for decades to come, this is a knockout Grosses Gewachs!
($45 Est.) 94+ Points, grapelive
nv R.H. Coutier, Tradition, Grand Cru Brut Tradition Champagne, Ambonnay, France.
The brilliant R. H. Coutier Grand Cru Brut Tradition, 70% Pinot Noir and 30 Chardonnay, coming from the Pinot leaning village of Ambonnay is an organic and grower Champagne that impresses for it’s depth and decadence, while being crystalline, pure and full of energy, it’s wonderfully dry on the palate and rich in character. The youthful Antoine Coutier and team are making some amazing all Grand Cru grower fizz these days, and these new release, especially this Brut Tradition, disgorged in July 2017, based on mostly on 2013 vintage, are great values, they rival some far more expensive offerings from this particular village and region, in fact it held up well against a to die for 2002 Bollinger R.D. tasted along side! The nose has plenty of yeasty charm and white flowers with a hint of wet stones and short bread biscuit, which leads to an opulent palate with it’s ultra fine mousse and vinous textural elegance, shows apple, lemon and doughy notes with a hint of chalk and hazelnut. Again the luxurious mouth feel gives a gorgeous pleasing sensation, though it gets a lift from it’s vital acidity and the micro bubbles, there is also a sense of Pinot Noir tension and structure that makes a serious impact and let’s you know you are drinking something remarkable. The unique and individual personality of this R. H. Coutier make it irresistible and it’s price make it a must have Champagne, this is top notch stuff, don’t miss, and be sure to search out their Brut Rose too!
($35 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2015 Chateau Valcombe, Ventoux Rouge “Les Hauts de Valcombe” Southern Rhone, France.
Sometimes you just need the warm comfort of a nice Grenache based Southern Rhone, with it’s full flavored and smooth tannin charm washing over your palate and light spicy character holding on the mouth coating finish adding complexity to it’s sweet fruits and earthy seduction, yup, that is what was needed and this Valcombe Ventoux Rouge delivered! The “Les Hauts de Valcombe” is a cuvee cepage/blend of 60% Grenache and 40% Syrah from exclusively north-facing vineyards, allowing for less sun to give an extra burst of freshness, even in a ripe year, and even with that much Syrah this wine feels remarkably graceful and Grenache(y) on the palate with a playful and fruity core. Valcombe, near the town of St. Pierre de Vassols, is all organic and this cuvee is all cement vat fermented and raised, it’s an old school traditional wine that displays a wonderful transparency and is terroir driven with the chalky marl soils showing through. With air some of the Syrah savoriness comes through, but the dense fruit always keeps the pleasure levels high, it’s an easy Rhone to love with racy raspberry, plum, boysenberry, sweet cherry and strawberry fruits along with hints of dusty stones, pepper, anise, leather and wild lavender. Chateau Valcombe’s owners Luc and Cendrine Guénard, who trained under Paul Jeune, former winemaking legend at Chateauneuf-du-Pape’s famed Domaine Monpertuis, who transformed this property, with vineyards on the lower slopes of Mont Ventoux, from it’s humble origins into a serious estate have continued in his footsteps, and in fact, in recent vintages even risen the quality here, this is a winery that almost always over delivers in the price to quality ratio, especially this bottling, which I adorn. Drink this dark garnet hued medium/full bodied and textural 2015 “Les Hauts de Valcombe” over the next 3 to 5 years, but there’s no need to wait as it is drinking beautiful and fresh right now, it’s a steal.
($16 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2015 Carl Von Schubert, Weingut Maximin Grünhaus, Riesling Trocken, Maximin Grünhauser Abtsberg, Grosses Gewächs, Mosel Germany.
Maximin Grünhaus(er) is the gold standard of Mosel, though technically speaking it’s on the Ruwer River, dry Riesling, and it’s long history make it one of the most intriguing wineries in the region if not all of Germany. From the estate’s notes, there is records showing that the area had Roman era cultivation, It appears that the Grünhaus estate was densely settled even in those ancient Roman times, with flat bricks in the foundations of the manor house, pottery remains, and roof and wall tiles suggest that a ‘Villa Rustica’ once stood on the site of the present Schloss (Castle), along with evidence that wine was produced on the estate back in these Roman times, with the discoveries of the remains of pottery, which produced amphorae for storing of the areas wine, along with Roman grape harvester knives as well as other significant artifacts on site, plus the first documentary evidence of Grünhaus, then called ‘Villa ad Valles’, which dates back to 6 February 966, and to the Emperor Otto 1, on heir of Charlemagne, then from the 7th century the Benedictine monastery of Saint Maximin in Trier had control of the estate until the end of the 18th century. In 1882 Carl Ferdinand Freiherr von Stumm-Halberg bought the Grünhaus estate including vineyards, a farm, as well as extensive woodland/forest area. He invested heavily in the property and transformed it into one of the most modern wineries of its time, with a turbine in the Ruwer River that provided electricity to power countless machines, including the hydraulic wine presses in the cuverie. They even had a small train (rail) system that ran on the vineyard routes, as well as a cable car that transported heavy equipment up the steep slopes of the vineyards. The von Stumm’s only son died early, so their daughter Ida received the estate as her dowry on the day of her wedding to Conrad von Schubert, where the Maximin Grunhaus got it’s more well known name and proprietors, now Carl, with the change of name to Von Schubert at the end of the nineteenth century, the label changed too and up until today the unmistakeable art nouveau label gracing the bottles has been used for all Rieslings from the estate. The legend of this property and it’s wines grew and in the 20th century it gained even more fame with it’s noble sweet wines being their most prized offerings. In fact when the legendary 1921 vintage was put up for auction in Trier, the top Grünhaus wine, a Fuder cask (1000 litres) of Herrenberg Trockenbeerenauslese (TBA) got the mind-blowing and staggeringly high price of 100,000 Goldmarks, setting a world record that remains unbroken even to this day, it represents what would be 2.5 million Euros in today’s money! But nowadays the Maximin Grunhaus is a place to find distinctive dry (Trocken) Riesling that are intensely mineral driven with a severe vitality and reserved elegance, but with extract and balance to last decades and decades, and this gorgeous 2015 Abtsberg is proof of that! The Maximin Grünhaus Maximin Grünhauser Abtsberg GG 2015 starts with a crystalline purity and austere focused details with subtle fruit essences, delicate earthy notes and flinty/stony charms showing layers white peaches, lemony citrus oil, wet shale, mineral steeliness and a faint floral tone. Overall this wine delivers a more subdued personality, in fact in is a very slow seduction in the glass, but after a few long minutes it’s underlying extract and depth shines through, it certainly is a wine of poised presence on the palate that feels lighter than it really is. Not your typical GG, this is a fine and dignified Riesling that impresses for it’s restrained brilliance and it’s sharp spotlight on it’s terroir, drink from 2019 to 2032.
($45 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2017 Reeve, Rosé of Pinot Noir, Vecino Vineyard, Potter Valley.
From a cool climate vineyard site, the Reeve Rosé of Pinot Noir is bursting with energy, it’s a dry cooly crisp pink to look for, in league with some of California’s most sought after Rosés! With Katy Wilson of LaRue and Ross Cobb of Cobb Wines consulting here for Noah Dorrance, Reeve is one of the hottest new labels in California, with a great set of individual wines from top terroirs, from Pinot Noir to Cabernet and Riesling to Sangiovese. I got to try a sampling of Noah’s current lineup and was left impressed, really impressed, with the Reeve Riesling and this Rosé being especially appealing and vivid. The 2017 Reeve Rosé of Pinot Noir from the biodynamic Vecino Vineyard in Potter Valley, one of my favorite dry pinks of the year so far, is full of zippy acid, mineral tones and brisk layers of tangy fresh delicate fruits with racy citrus, sour cherry, watermelon, distilled strawberry and rosewater along with a touch of herb and wet stones. This wine is wonderfully bright and light bodied, but with superb persistence and has brilliant high toned profile and with pure Pinot class in the glass. This will thrill Sancerre Rosé fans and all those that want lip-smacking dry intensity, like me, the quality here is obvious and Summer is calling, don’t miss this one and be sure to start following Reeve!
($30 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2017 Morgan Winery, Riesling, Double L Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands.
Morgan’s Dan Lee was an early adopter of organic farming in the Santa Lucia Highlands, and while most of the old Riesling vines on the bench were ripped out, he planted a block at his home ranch at Double L Vineyard and while under the radar, I have always rated his Riesling as one of Morgan’s best white wines. Monterey’s new love affair with dry style Riesling has created a renaissance for this grape in the region with a growing number of small wineries crafting quality offerings led by Joyce Vineyards, Stirm Wines, Leppe Cellars, Kozba Wines, Tudor Wines along with winemaker Sam Smith at Morgan, this younger generation is focused on intensity mineral driven and crisp version mostly, while the older Monterey Rieslings tended to be sweeter off dry or dessert cloying styles which were not nearly as interesting as what we are now seeing here now. The 2017 Morgan Riesling Double L Vineyard, which starts with a hint of sweetness like a German Kabinett level wine, made from all organic grapes, is a wonderfully expressive white with a tropical core of fruit and stylishly crisp and focused with exotic guava, mango, kiwi, passionfruit and a mix of lemony citrus flowing across the vibrant minerally palate along with a subtle textural feel in the mouth and a light floral tone adding a touch of wet stones, green apple and tangy peach flesh/pit which gives a refreshing bit along with the natural acidity. Smith says he used an old school whole cluster pressing over a 24 hour period, including some foot stomp crushing before a cool ferment, all stainless steel, and early bottling to preserve it verve and fresh/brisk intensity. This super pleasing and expressive Riesling will play well with a wide array of dishes, especially seafoods, but will also be a great choice while sitting by the pool, drink now.
($22 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2016 Lucien Crochet, Sancerre Blanc, Loire Valley, France.
Based in Bué, a few kilometers west of Sancerre, the famed Lucien Crochet estate makes some of the most interesting and authentic Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noirs in the region, the soils here are clay and limestone known locally as Oxfordian and Kimmeridgian era type which give the wines their character. The vineyards are on sloping hillsides of varying degree of severity and mostly face south-east to south to southwest giving the best exposure to the sun, with Lucien Crochet, since 1989 only using only organic supplements in the vineyards, which the Crochet’s believe allow more vitality and energy to show through in their brilliant wines. This 2016 Sancerre, sporting their new label design, is the main white of the winery and showcases all the pure best that this estate can do, with the grapes for this basic cuvée are sourced from the vines in Bué, Vinon and Crézancy, it’s fermented in stainless steel cuves to maximize vibrancy, and as with all the whites at the domaine, this wine is raised on the fine lies for a considerable period of time, usually a full year, to add texture and substance, which this beauty shows perfectly, giving it a lovely mouth feel while still being refreshingly bright and dynamic on the palate. The Sancerre Blanc starts with sour grass, white flowers and tons of mineral tones, chalk and a light stone fruit note before a vivid array of citrus flows in with a mix of lemon/lime, grapefruit, tangerine as well as gooseberry and peachy fruits, along with a steely verve, wet river rock and hints of snappy herbs. The textural side really shows with air and gives this wonderful Sauvignon Blanc it’s regal class in the glass and makes an round leesy impression that lingers on and on, this is a focused and pleasing white that expresses true terroir and old world charm, drink it over the next 2 to 5 years, if you are looking for a great Loire food wine with just that extra bit of class this light/medium bodied wine will fill your needs!
($33 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2016 Drew, Pinot Noir, Wendling Vineyard, Anderson Valley.
This Wendling Vineyard has really come into it’s own, especially when made by the talented Jason Drew at Drew Family Cellars and this 2016 Pinot Noir is an absolute beauty, it’s deeply colored and intensely flavored with an impressive array of black and blue fruits, this again just highlights the unbelievable level of quality that these recent vintages of Drew show, I honestly can’t think of a better set of wines being made in California! Wonderfully fresh and with lively acidity, which heightens the experience, even in it’s early stages of development this Wendling Pinot makes a stunning palate impact and it has an amazing mouth feel and length with big cat like velvet covered muscles ever present, subtlety showing a spring like tension and gives you notice that this is a very serious wine. Wendling sits in the most westerly section of the Anderson Valley at about 450 feet of elevation, it’s well drained soils and Pacific Ocean influenced cool climate allows for a longer growing season and full maturity in the grapes comes late and with lower natural alcohol (just 13.5% in this case), but with a darker profile and with Grand Cru class density and complexity, it’s not an old site at 10 years old, but it is proving to be an elite vineyard. Drew’s version has a mix of suitcase clones, rumored to be some DRC and La Tache, along with modern 667 and 115 Dijon(s) grown on a unique soil make up locally called Ornbaun, Wolfey and Bearwallow types with the Ornbaun series consisting of deep, well drained soils formed in material weathered from sandstone and mudstone as well Ornbaun soils are on hills and mountains that have slopes of 9 to 75 percent, Bearwallow is sandstone and shale and Wolfey is thermic shallow loam, which all allow an amazing of purity in the wine, as is the case here. Drew used no new oak here, going for native ferments with about 30% whole cluster in this vintage, achieving his goals of showcasing the natural form that comes through on the medium full palate that flows with black cherry, plum, huckleberry/blueberry and tart currant fruits, along with framing mineral notes, a mix of forest mushroom, cedar, bright spice including cinnamon, nutmeg and almost a paprika like bite (stems?) as well as a hint of flinty smoke and vanilla. The color is saturated with rich garnet and ruby hues and the nose, which is slow to unfold gains a floral attack as well as berry fruit plus a hint of savory/saline stoniness, this I cannot stress strongly enough is world class stuff with a unique personality and stunningly rich and textural (mouth feel) detail, it’s awe inspiring Pinot, this not a lineup to miss any of from Drew, I must also mention patience will be rewarded here as well, the potential in this Wendling will be worth waiting for, hiding a few of these bottles away for 5 to 10 years seems a good idea! There’s a lot of wow here, Drew is on fire, don’t miss out on his Syrah and Pinots, they are without question some of California’s best.
($60 Est.) 96 Points, grapelive
2016 Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey, Bourgogne Blanc, France.
The base PYCM white Burgundy for the 2016 vintage is a wine that drinks way above it’s price class or humble labeling with layers of classic Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey vividly brisk fruits, steely minerality and leesy notes, in fact it is not far off his Chassagne village bottling. Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey, one of Burgundy’s all star Chardonnay masters, is the eldest son of the famous Marc Colin (his dad’s place), where he worked as the winemaker from 1994 to 2005, before establishing his own domaine (with his negociant label in 2001) and recently a brand new winery, from family vineyards he inherited from his family, he has rapidly become a star in the Cote de Beaune and is now considered one of Burgundy’s top producers in league with Jean-Marc Roulot as well as his brother Bruno Colin. He prefers to use larger demi-muid barrels and eschew the use of battonnage, allowing for brighter acid and verve showing through, it makes each one of his bottlings a clear expression of its terroir and a study in mineral-driven white Burgundies. He has outstanding parcels in Saint-Aubin, Chassagne-Montrachet, Meursault, Puligny-Montrachet, and even Grand Crus Bienvenues-Bâtard-Montrachet, Bâtard-Montrachet, and Corton-Charlemagne, non of which he farms himself, he just decides pick dates, usually earlier than most others and his cellar work is exceptional, clean and precise to craft crystalline of highly sought after wines. This Bourgogne Blanc has surprising decadence and crunchy stoniness for the vintage, which is turning out much better than originally thought with this Chardonnay having lovely detail, focus and pleasing density showing loads of pear, meyer lemon and delicate peach with a hint of apple fruits, but as well defined as they are, they sit behind the veil of high tone acidity and with faint brioche, hazelnut, light wood smoke, wet river rock and spice all rounding out this medium bodied wine. This wine is a steal in the lineup along with his Saint-Aubin(s), it’s a wine to search out no question.
($34 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2016 Alfaro Family Vineyards, Pinot Noir, Rosella’s Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands.
In 2016 Richard Alfaro added grapes from the famed Rosella’s Vineyard, both Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and both wines are absolutely gorgeous, textural and lengthy in the same league as the other elite SLH producers, and it the same style you find in Pisoni’s Lucia Vineyards as well as Rosella’s owner’s, Gary Franscioni’s Roar wines, highlighting the pedigree of this Cru site in the Santa Lucia Highlands. Owners Gary and Rosella Franscioni planted the vineyard in 1996 using the Pisoni clone from La Tâche and the Dijon “777” mostly (now there are 7 different clones of Pinot) with family, Gary, Rosella, along with son’s Adam & Nick Franscioni run this site along with Mark Pisoni and his amazing crew doing the farming on the 50 acres of these wind swept sloping hillsides that are set on the classic Arroyo Seco sandy loam soils of the Santa Lucia Highlands bench. Alfaro went for a very showy and opulent wine, it was aged 10 months in 50% new French oak, and with only 140 cases produced, from de-stemmed grapes, and while still youthful and with dense structure it shows a wonderful regal mouth feel and is already deep and complex with lush dark fruits, sweet/smoky oak, subtle mineral tones and a underlying briar/spice that lifts this full bodied Pinot as well as having Rosella’s fine acidity and ripe tannins. There’s an energy and focus in these 2016 Alfaro’s, both the Rosella’s and the Garys’ (from the sister vineyard) right up with the best vintages ever from Richard’s winery, these two, and in particular this Rosella’s are luxurious wines of remarkable class and with lots of sex appeal, both outrageously good. Starting with bramble, rose petal, shaved vanilla and vine fruits leading to a vinous palate of black cherry, plum and wild blackberry fruits, along with an array of tangy currant, chalky stones, minty anise, cedar, cola bean, mocha and tea spices all in a round seamless Pinot Noir, it’s a big wine at 14.5%, but stays nicely balanced throughout, though not a wallflower it impresses for it’s impact in the glass and clean modern profile, and it should evolve and gain over the next 5 to 10 years in bottle. If you are a Pinot Noir or Chardonnay fan, you’ll want these new releases from Alfaro, and don’t miss their own estate offerings either, plus don’t forget Alfaro’s Gruner Veltliner and the Rose of Pinot Noir, these are awesome values and fun wines that sell out fast, don’t miss out, this under the radar winery is a real crowd pleaser.
($48 Est.) 94+ Points, grapelive
2015 Domaine de la Petite Mairie, Bourgueil Rouge “Butte de Tyron” Loire Valley, France.
A new domaine to me, Domaine de la Petite Mairie, is owned and managed by Corinne and James Petit, an enthusiastic couple who passionately care for their vines in the Bourgueil region of France’s Loire Valley, making studied and elegant versions of Cabernet Franc, like this little beauty. James Petit, who took over for the retiring Jean Gambier, is a traditionalist in the cellar, his fermentations (in stainless on this cuvee) and macerations last for about 15 to 18 days, with the wines raised in a mixture of old oak “foudres” and smaller oak barrels, no new oak used here, just two reds and a rosé are produced at the domaine and all the wine is made exclusively from Cabernet Franc. The wonderfully delicate 2015 Bourgueil is very fine, in fact so elegant it almost made me feel like I was drinking a Burgundy with it’s graceful and ripe tannins, bright flavors and subtle floral perfume, it’s only after the second sip that you get the terroir driven Franc character with light earthiness and faint bell pepper spiciness showing, with a medium bodied palate gaining complexity and depth in the glass. This ruby/garnet hued wine really entertains and while restrained, it makes for a great drinking Franc that can only be from one place on earth, and it’s joyous with simple country cuisine. Layers of vibrant plum, dusty cherry and tangy currant fruits, a touch of chalky stones, cedar, crushed violets, peppery elements and a vein of fennel. This wine is charm from the start and is a great value, imported by Rosenthal Wine Merchant, this cuvee “Butte de Tyron” is made just the US market, this is a winery to look for, especially this unfined and unfiltered bottling. This wine quietly impresses and should drink well for many years to come, the year’s ripe fruit and structure will certainly reward those that have patience, best from 2018 to 2028.
($26 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2016 Weingut Künstler, Alvarinho Trocken, Rheingau Germany.
The famous Hochheimer estate of Gunter Kunstler produces some of Germany’s finest Riesling wines, he leans toward the drier styles and is trying to go organic offering many Grand Cru (Grosses Gewachs) from the regions best sites, the estate is in between or close to both the Main and Rhein rivers, it is set on a mix of soils including clay, sand, loam and loess as well as marl (limestone) that makes this place unique. Gunter’s wines are powerful, but extremely elegant, pure and refined, he uses large stuckfass (German oak ovals) for his cru wines, though he also uses stainless as well, he prefers cask as opposed to steel, though each is used, the wood gives the ideal low-tech micro-oxygenation, and he goes for his musts settled by gravity and are pressed clear, the fermentation is done with cultured yeast, because it’s often still warm when grapes are harvested, to work sponti (native) would risk volatile acidity. The Kunstler’s have been making wine and farming grapes since 1648, but only started the Rheingau estate in 1965 with Gunter taking over in 1992, helping it get admitted to the VDP and rising it’s reputation to one of the region’s most prized wineries, his top Rieslings come from the village are Domdechaney (pronounced Dom-Dey-Sha-Nay), Kirchenstück and Hölle, though his also gets grapes from the famed Rudesheimer Berg Schlossberg, as well as Pinot Noir from Assmannshausen. But the wine I had recently was Kunstler’s rare Albarino, known here as his Alvarinho Trocken from the marl soils of Kostheimer St. Kiliansberg, it’s an awesome white wine that has it’s Galician-Portuguese soul shining through, though with a German style and character, it’s steely and cooly crisp with an expressive nature. This brilliant 2016 Weingut Künstler, Alvarinho Trocken has a fresh vibrancy, but has extract and substance with an underlying stony charm with vivid green apple, white flowers, minty herbs and layers of white peach and citrus intensity, wet chalk rock, saline and melon notes. Wonderfully textured for such an acid driven wine, it shows the varietals similar side to Riesling, but with less severity and restraint, this is lovely and delightful stuff, it can provide wonderful summer quaffing and it should prove magic with sea food, sadly it looks like an almost impossible get in the states, but I did see a few bottles online, if you happen upon this stuff buy it!
($45 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2016 Cameron Winery, Giulliano, Friuli Style White Blend, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
An absolutely killer white from John Paul at Cameron, one of the best new world alt-whites of the year so far for me, this Oregon white blend is a gorgeous Friuli inspired wine, made from Friulano, (Pinot) Auxerois, Pinot Bianco (Blanc) and Muscat, it’s a dry and wonderfully textural with subtle perfume, spice and mineral tones. This is a wine that performs way beyond the mix and make up of it’s ingredients, you would not be excited by the listed grapes maybe, but this white blend is a surprising success in the bottle, and you’ll not want to miss this new world Italian style offering. Sourced from Dundee Hills, with it’s Jory soils (volcanic) and grown in a sustainable way these grapes all add to the complexity here, it’s quite lush at 13.6%, but still lively, gripping and balanced, this is ultra impressive and expressive with layers of citrus, stone fruit and subtle tropical elements with just a faint jasmine/white flower bouquet. For those admirers of Dan Petroski’s Massican, Mathiasson, Wind Gap, Arnot-Roberts or Palmina, you shouldn’t miss this wine, John Paul, of Cameron Winery, known for his classic Pinot Noir(s), like Randall Grahm of Boony Doon Vineyard, who’s white wines are some of his best creations, doesn’t get enough attention for his whites, and this wine absolutely rocks for the price, as does John Paul’s Chardonnay, plus don’t miss his deeply colored skin contact Pinot Grigio! The mouth feel is lovely, but like a fine Muscadet it has a saline element that makes it a savvy choice for oysters, the Cameron Giuliano is all stainless steel fermented and aged, showing freshness of detail, leesy roundness, clean and clear flavors with a medium body. Bright orange/tangerine, wild peach, lemon/lime, melon and a kiss of apricot flesh shine on the vinous palate with a hint of honeysuckle, sweet and sour herbs, loamy notes, wet flint/stones and a steely charm that is lifted by the natural acidity in this generously mouth filling white, this is rocking good stuff.
($25 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2016 Malat, Gruner Veltliner, Crazy Creatures, Kremstal, Austria.
Michael Malat is a new star in the Wachau and his Gruner is a wine to check out, and I am diving into his playful entry level estate Crazy Creatures series Gruner Veltliner, which have a set of 4 different collector edition labels and come from his vines in the Kremstal DAC near his village of Palt. All of the state owned vines are farmed organic and with ultra sustainable methods to promote environmental health of the vineyard, plus both human and animal life, his Crazy Creatures Gruner is an all stainless steel ferment and aged example with clear persistence and purity, the vines are from two main plots in Part and Furth grown on the regions classic loess and loam as well as primary rock soils with all the grapes hand tended and picked. Malat does Cru (Gruner) versions from some unique sites including some with schist, sand and limestone, some are Erste Lage and very serious, as well as a Pinot Noir, which already has a following, much like Loimer. Malat’s wines are heavily influenced by the Danube and enjoy warm days and cool nights that produce a notable spicy character as well as a brisk intensity, while the Crazy Creatures captures that it is a lighter and refreshing style made to be enjoyed immediately upon release, it is dry, but generous on the tangy palate and looks to be a great bistro white as well as great with lunch and or lighter fare meals including sea foods and is an easy summer quaffer. Gruner Veltliner, a natural cross of non aromatic Traminer and St. Georgen, is Austria’s signature white varietal and it accounts for 30% of the total vineyard area in Austria, it’s most grown in and around Vienna, with the Wachau and Kremstal, Kamptal and the Weinvertel being a few of the main areas to look for on the labels. The 2016 Crazy Creatures Gruner is bright and zesty with classic lemon/lime, almond, pithy peach and white pepper in a crisp light form with a hint of herb, wet stones and faint apple. Nicely dry and brisk it gets a bit more textured with air, it is 12.5%, so there is some substance there under the juicy acidity, making it well balanced and easy to love, this is well made and fun, drink over the next 2 or 3 years.
($18 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2013 La Spinetta, Barolo, Campe, Piedmonte, Italy.
Giorgio Rivetti’s Campe Cru Barolo is from 50 plus year old vines at 280 meters of elevation set on the calcareous or marl soils of the region, he’s been crafting exotically styles Nebbiolo from this site since 2000, and every vintage shows it’s sense of place and makes for an intense version of Barolo. I was luck to meet Giorgio in 2002 and got to try his barrel sample of the inaugural 2000 (vintage) prior to bottling and release, and it was fantastic even then and has since even got better, not bad for a first try, and this 2013 reminds me very much of that experience, it’s unmistakably Barolo, terroir driven, but somehow truly a La Spinetta wine with an inner beauty and luxurious in the same way a Grand Cru Burgundy is, though with a powerful impact, the ripe vintage helps soften the tannic blow, without taking away it’s classic structure and form. Rivetti has kept the modern and sleek formula for this wine, it sees 100% new French barriques and is aged a full 24 months, then bottled unfined and unfiltered with another year of resting before release, it always seems to please and surprise for it’s delicacy, complexity and perfume, you know there’s new wood, but it doesn’t influence it’s over all character, with this 2013 you’ll be able to enjoy it much sooner than the 2010, while it still will age, it potentially will be just as good, as that is saying a lot, this is a gorgeous wine and one I hope to revisit at 5 year intervals for the next 25 years! The Campe shines in the glass with a bright ruby tint and the nose shows a mix of roses and violets, dusty cherry and hints of vanilla and cedar before a medium/full palate of youthful Nebbiolo purity with dark damson plum, more cherry, balsamic dipped strawberry and tart currant fruits, minty herb, a restrained game note, discreet smoky vanilla and anise along with kiss of framboise liqueur. Still an infant, though open and transparent, there’s much more concentration than 2011 or 2012, it is way more a normal classic version and way less tight than 2010 and not as fruity as 2009, in other words, it’s just about damn perfect! It’s always tough to chose between the Starderi Cru Barbaresco and this richly textured Campe, both wines have a deep personal meaning to me, and both are rocking in 2013, but while my heart leans towards Starderi, I think this Campe Barolo might be getting the edge, drink it from 2024-2036, it’s majestic and I think it is on par with top Burgundies like Rousseau’s or Dujac’s Clos de la Roche(s)!
($159 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2007 Chateau Pradeaux, Bandol, X, 10 ans d’élevage, Provence, France.
Done as a special project for an anniversary of Chateau Pradeaux being imported by Rosenthal Wine Merchant, this Bandol X is an amazing red from one of the regions great producers, it’s unique in it was raised in oak cask for a full 10 years, but it’s what shows up in the glass which is really special here, as this Mourvedre based Bandol Rouge is still fresh and vibrant, a wondrous wine of class and length. The Château Pradeaux, founded in 1752, is situated on the outskirts of the town of Saint Cyr-sur-Mer that lies directly on the Mediterranean Ocean between Toulon and Marseilles, there is almost no other place on earth vines would rather be, the view of the sea must be heavenly. The estate has been in the hands of the Portalis family since before the French Revolution, with Cyrille Portalis is the current head of the family’s winery and with his wife Magali and his sons that are now entrenched in the business and the cellar with both Edouard and Etienne, who was pouring the wines for me at Rosenthal’s trade tasting recently. While their lovely Chateaux Pradeaux Bandol Rosé is 50% Cinsault and 50% Mourvedre, the Rouge bottlings are between 95% and 100% old vine Mourvedre as this special X is, the winemaking is traditional with organic grapes, ferments with native yeasts in concrete tanks using whole cluster, and while the regular bottling gets 48 months in large cask, the X went a full ten years in the big French oak barrels. Grown on the regions southern exposures and slopes of clay and limestone soils, the Pradeaux X Badol Rouge is a magical terroir driven wine that shows a remarkably youthful bright garnet/ruby hue in the glass with a heightened perfume and subtle earthy tone with a hint of animal and dark fruit coming through on the bouquet. The palate is seamless with layer after layer unfolding, this is just stunning stuff right up there with First Growth Bordeaux in substance and style, it’s big tannins showing a refined velvety class, there’s a lot to admire here, the mouth feel is excellent and rewarding with blackberry, black cherry, dusty plums and strawberry fruits, a touch of leather, well resolved stemmy elements, salted black licorice, dried violets, lavender, graphite, minty basil, cedar and lingering kirsch. This outrageously good and transparent Bandol Rouge is a thrilling wine, that has retained vitality with lifting acidity, that remains true to it’s sense of place and history, it’s everything you’d expect and want, and while this is a rarity, don’t miss their regular Bandol Rouge and especially the Pradeaux Bandol Rosé.
($96 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2017 Sheldon Wines, Vermentino, Las Brisas Vineyard, Carneros.
Sheldon’s lively and refreshing Las Brisas Vermentino is a beautiful Summer wine, but also one of substance and stylish charm with a wonderful underlying extract and textural lushness with vibrant lemon/lime, peach and crisp apple fruits leading the way in this 69 case hand-crafted white. Dylan & Tobe Sheldon, whole cluster pressed this light/medium bodied wine and fermented it in stainless steel with no malo, the grapes were from a couple of separate picks with varied brix, from 18 to 25, which allows this Vermentino to have it’s dry brisk vividness, while also feeling ripe and with a serious mouth feel. This is really dynamic stuff in the glass and impressive, it reminds me of some of the better Italian examples from the Liguria region as well as Sardinia and the Tuscan coast, but this varietal is doing well in California, with Ryme Cellars also making some amazing versions as well, this is a grape to look for! Flexible and varied in style with less overt perfume, Vermentino has a real place in California, especially this example from Carneros, with the loam, sedimentary and clay soils giving nice (heightened) fruity flavors along with the cool sea breezes and cold nights keeping acidity, there is a lot sexy in this crisp white wine with a mix of citrus and stone fruits, light spice, minty tang, saline and mineral tones. Absolutely brilliant for mixed sea foods and perfect for your picnic basket, as well as quaffing along with a baguette and soft cheeses, with air there is a roundness that comes through, though it keeps an energy and pithy raciness throughout with hints of wet stones, peach pit, zesty herbs and lime adding to the bright complexity.
($25 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2015 Jo Landron, La Louvetrie, Muscadet Serve et Maine Sur Lie, Loire Valley, France.
The certified organic Domaine of Jo Landron uses biodynamic practices on his estate, with this cuvee coming from a higher plateau with a mix of soils that includes sandy clay with amphibolite stones of quartz with subsoils mostly of gneiss and treated with amazing care and passion, making for an unbelievable value in top quality white wine, it’s leesy depth and saline remind me more of a fine Premier Chablis than a humble Muscadet! Jo Landron’s Muscadet Sèvre et Maine Cuvee La Louvetrie 2015 is quite dense in textural feel, but lively and vibrant in a magical tension, it’s brilliant in mineral freshness and still ripe and with round glycerin, giving a polished, refined and balanced performance in the glass showing vivid lemon/lime, bitter apple, quince and salty wet stones with a light bouquet of white flowers, crushed sea shells, almond brioche and white peach. This clear Melon de Bourgogne and with a pale green/golden hue, adds a touch of sour herb and a steely core, it saw at least 6 months on the lees, hence the name (Sur Lie) is a refreshing and zingy white, but also with real extract and a serious nature, it will impress anyone for the price, no question and will be a wonderful oyster wine, as well as good for Summer sipping with soft French cheeses and picnics. Imported by Beaune Imports, Jo Landron is a winery to follow and joins Domaine de L’Ecu as one of the regions elite producers pursuing new heights of quality and respecting the land as well as going as natural as possible, making soulful artisan wines, drink this one over the next 2 to 3 years.
($15 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2014 Bonny Doon Vineyard, Pinot Noir, Sonoma Mountain Vineyard, Sonoma Mountain.
One of Randall’s secret series (or less known) of Pinot explorations, the 2014 Bonny Doon Vineyard Sonoma Mountain Pinot Noir comes from a site not far from Hanzell and Van Der Kamp, both of which made the area famous for powerful Pinot Noir and that were planted back in the 1950’s, and while Sonoma Mountain Vineyard came later it offers that same kind of pedigree and complexity, it’s a wine to search out, exclusively available through the tasting room. Pinot Noir is Randall Grahm’s great white whale, he has been trying to make wine that appeases his high expectations, and even though he has gone on to become one of the world’s most renown vintners and icon in California wine, especially with his Cigare Volant Rhone Ranger wines, he has always wanted to make a great Pinot Noir and has felt it was the one thing that got away. I personally have been thrilled with Grahm’s recent Pinots, especially his Enz Vineyard and this beautifully detailed, deeply layered and subtlety spicy Sonoma Mountain Vineyard, it’s an expressive and satiny wine that shows an opulent and vinous mouth feel, but reaches complex depths with velvety tannins that give an underlying grip and power. The nose is full of fruit and floral charm and the entry is wonderfully forward and lush, almost creamy on the palate, it slowly seduces and opens to a medium/full Pinot gaining extra elements with every sip, it goes from a simple pleasure to a seriously profound wine in stages, it demands your attention while a sly smile, it’s a wine that needs an evening to reveal all that is there with racy red plum, sweet raspberry and a core of black cherry along with mineral tones, dried lavender, rose oil, earl grey, dusty red pepper flakes, cedar, vanilla and minty anise. The acidity is lifting, but ultra smooth, the age has given this Pinot a seamless feel and polished class, it’s without a doubt a quality and refined effort, drink now.
($40 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2015 Saint Cosme, Saint-Joseph Rouge, Northern Rhone, France.
Ancient Syrah clones, steep granite slopes and from historic vines that were first developed by veterans of the Roman armies, Saint-Joseph is home to some of the world’s prettiest wines, included without question is Louis Barruol’s négociant Saint-Joseph Rouge, which is an insane value and gorgeous, made with 100% Sérine clone Syrah. (Sérine, the mentioned ancient and local variety of Syrah that is remarkably different than the more modern clones) Barruol uses a special site called the Malleval lieu-dit for his lovely Saint-Joseph, the microclimate of the vineyard is “very cold” which allows the fruit to maintain a bit more acidity, that intern gives extra lift while being fully ripe and with silky tannins. This wine is made from 70% destemmed grapes with 30% whole clusters, fermented with indigenous yeasts, and aged in 20% new 228-liter barrels.Don’t be fooled though, this is a very serious and meaty wine, especially in this riper year, though the sweet tannin and opulent texture allows for immediate hedonism and early drinking pleasure with layers of lush red and black fruits, subtle spice, floral tones and a sanguine streak. The nose has an array of raw meat, iodine, powered incense, kirsch notes, forest berries, plus hints of pipe tobacco, earth and dark flowers before replaying that theme on the palate adding damson plum, racy black raspberry, briar edginess (stems) and spicy lavender. In some ways this comes across as satiny as a Premier Cru Burgundy and it’s lifted acidity, while subtle in form adds to a more delicate feel, there is a bit more to come here in my opinion, but it’s highly desirable even now, though best with food obviously. Tight and with a touch of reductive funk that mutes the aromatics at this stage, things get much more open with decanting and this Syrah should prove a long lasting sleeper for the cellar as well as being a rewarding wine in the next 3 to 5 years.
($28 Est.) 92-94 Points, grapelive
2015 Le Temps des Copains by Frederic Niger (Domaine de L’Ecu), Syrah “Nobis” Vin de France, Love & Grapes Project, Rhone Red, France.
Made at Frederic Niger’s Domaine de L’Ecu in the Muscadet region of the Loire Valley, the Le Temps des Copains Love & Grapes Project “Nobis” is a 100% Syrah from southern Rhône that is fermented & aged in stainless steel tank and bottled with minimal sulfur, it’s the entry level offering, but it delivers expressive detail and drinks wonderfully with a lovely deep dark garnet hue and a fresh vibrant intensity. Not a big wine, on the lighter side, especially at first it seems zippy/juicy with a tart edge, but as it gets air it fills out to a medium bodied red that turns satiny and more polished with a riper tone, which goes perfectly with the vintage adding boysenberry, raspberry and plum to go with the initial cran/blueberry and tangy cherry along with light spices, loam and mineral elements as well as a hint of violets, currant and framboise, lingering with some saline, chalky stones and fennel. This fresh and pure Syrah is a wine that has a surprising grip and long aftertaste, but drinks easy enough to be a fun quaffer for BBQ’s and goes better with robust and rustic cuisine.
($18 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2016 Julian Cecillon, Syrah “Bel Horizon” Collines Rhodaniennes IGP, Northern Rhone, France.
As a fan of Cecillon, especially their Crozes-Hermitage and Saint-Joseph, it was fun to grab a few bottles of his entry level offerings, in particular this 2016 Bel Horizon Syrah, it’s a classic lighter version of his wines from grapes outside the main AOC, but within the recognized collection of plots that make up the IGP of Collines Rhodaniennes, which once were historic sites that date back to Roman times. Cave Julien Cecillon is a joint project of winemakers Julien Cécillon and Nancy Kerschen, an American winemaker, with both having combined experiences working for various international wineries including the famed Yves Cuilleron, along with others like Christophe Curtat, Fabrice Gripa, JC Cellars, Clos du Val, Saintsbury, Indevin and Saronsberg, they are a passionate team and their wines show it. The Bel Horizon cuvee is 100% Syrah, grown on granite soils, and comes off several scattered parcels of Syrah bordering on both St Joseph and Crozes Hermitage appellations, with most coming from old vines that are over 80 years old that had been previously classified in AOCs. They report that most of the reds get native ferments and maceration and crushing in open tanks (stainless steel and fiberglass) then getting a lengthy time with punch downs and pumpers before racking over to cask for malos while the elevage was in 90% in used barrels that on average were seasoned between 4 to 5 years, with the wine aged on the fine lees for about 10 months, interesting also they do a Gamay as well, sourced slightly north of their main vineyards. Medium bodied and lightly perfumed, this is seriously good stuff, it has layers of classic boysenberry, blueberry, plum and strawberry fruits, graphite, minty herb, cedar, kirsch and a whiff of bacon as well as subtle pepper and dusty stones. Imported by Balanced Wine Selections/Paris Wine Company, Cecillon is a label to check out, especially the Crozes-Hermitage and this Bel Horizon cuvee.
($24 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2017 Bow & Arrow, Rose, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
Scott Frank’s Bow & Arrow Dry Willamette Valley Rose is mostly Pinot Noir based with a touch of Gamay similar to what you might find in Touraine in the Loire Valley, where he gets most of his inspiration. That said, the Bow & Arrow Rose is at first a dead ringer for a Txakolina Rose with a faint, but distinct spritzy zesty quality and electric vibrancy, I am totally addicted to this wonderfully light and zippy pink wine! Picked to be Rose and whole cluster, direct press with a tiny amount of self captured CO2 this Willamette Valley Rose deliver a excellent performance and is thrilling from start to finish with it’s remarkably delicate palate of acid and mineral driven character featuring a heightened experience of tart cherry, strawberry, nectarine, lemon/lime and faint mouth watering unripe watermelon. This a vivid and tangy, super dry style pink that is an ultimate poolside quaffer and or picnic/porch pounder, I though will be savoring a few bottles at the beach this summer. Scott Franc, winemaker at Bow & Arrow, the Portland based natural wine producer is crafting some of Oregon’s best values and most interesting wines, sourcing from almost exclusively organic if not biodynamic sites, that includes Johan Vineyards, his wines as mentioned lean towards the Loire Valley for their influence rather than the more common Burgundy theme you find in the Willamette, be sure to check out their Sancerre and Pouilly-Fume styled Sauvignon Blancs, as well as their saline/stony Melon de Bourgogne (Muscadet like) for the wines and their Gamay based reds especially, with the Rhinestones in particular a wine not to miss, along with a fresh set of Pinot Noirs this is an awesome winery to discover. The Rose gains with air, adding a hint of snappy herbs and rosewater, it’s refreshing charms run deep and I only wish it was in a magnum, drink as much as you can find!
($16-20 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2017 Illahe Vineyards, Rose of Tempranillo, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
Illahe is an under the radar producer of wonderful Willamette Valley Pinots, but you should check out all of their offerings, they include this amazingly and shockingly dry Rose of Tempranillo, as well as Lagrein, a grape that makes some the most interesting and dark wines of the Alto Adige, a Viognier, Pinot Gris and Gruner Veltliner! Illahe, which means “Earth” or (our) “Place” in the native American Chinook language, is a mostly organic producer with a great sense of sustainable responsibility as well as being part of Oregon’s Deep Roots Coalition, they are based in Dallas, Oregon in the west Salem area of the Willamette Valley set on marine sediments atop ancient siletz rock, with these sedimentary Willakenzie, Bellpine, Wellsdale, Dupee, with patches of volcanic Jory soils giving these wines their soul, life force and character. There are so many intriguing things going on at this winery it could take a novel’s worth of text to relate it all to you, but I digress, I was talking about their pink stuff! The Rose of Tempranillo is whole cluster and direct press from all hand picked small lots and barrel fermented and aged like a white wine, but with just enough skin contact to achieve it’s golden/pink salmon hue and it comes in at a vibrantly fresh 12.5% natural alcohol, with it’s acid intensity it has a riveting personality and old world charm and zesty feel, it’s bursting with energy showing tart melon, wild peach, tart yellow and pink citrus as well as sour cherry fruits along with a racy spiciness, steely mineral, loam and wet flint notes with just enough used barrel influence to give a nice vinous quality. Isn’t she pretty in pink, drink this vivacious Rose of Tempranillo, which has an almost Provence Tibouren feel, over the coming year, it’s tasty brilliant stuff.
($17 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2016 Drew, Syrah, Valenti Ranch Vineyard, Mendocino Ridge.
Jason Drew in the last 3 or 4 vintages has arguably been crafting some of California’s absolute best wines, with both his Pinot Noir and Syrah lineup, these are just fantastic reds with amazing purity and intense detailing, it is seriously hard to find anything but near perfection in all of them, but I am always drawn to this Valenti Ranch Syrah, so it was with extreme excitement I got my first taste of this 2016 vintage, and of course it is a mind blowing experience in the glass! Valenti is planted to Chave (Hermitage) and Clone 1 selections and at about 1,300 to 1,400 feet on oceanic sedimentary and gravelly loam soils of the ultra cool climate Mendocino Ridge AVA that allows limits yields and gives classic Northern Rhone character along with deep California fruit and natural low alcohol. Jason co-ferment 5% Viognier, very Cote-Rotie like, with 25% whole cluster using 100% native yeast and guided a gentile fermentation and long maceration before raising the Valenti Syrah in barrels, 75% used French barrique along with 25% Hungarian oak, only gravity flow racked twice to clarify. Drew, since 2013, does all the farming at Valenti, which is now done to organic practices that seems to make this wine explode with energy and terroir personality, in the last couple of vintages it could be my favorite red wine under $50, and this 2016 is not far off if not even better for it’s heighten sensations and delicacy of a lighter vintage, though I do love the density and depth of the 2014 and 2015. If you are on Drew’s list and received this 2016 Valenti, give it another year in bottle at least, but dear God it has amazing potential and it is a sexy, sexy wine with layers of crushed violets, peppercorns, creme de cassis, wild plum, olive tapenade, minty/salty licorice and just the right amount of nervy stem notes. I can’t recommend Drew Family Cellars more highly, or highly enough, this is a must join list, and this 2016 Valenti Ranch Vineyard Mendocino Ridge Syrah is as good as it gets, just give it the time it needs, best from 2020-2028.
($48 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2013 Domaine Francois Lumpp, Givry Premier Cru “A Vigne Rouge” Red Burgundy, France.
This Domaine is getting a lot of buzz for value, and I was very excited to try this Givry, not to be confused with the more prestigious Gevrey-Chambertin, by Francois Lumpp, this area is in the Cote Chalonnaise, not far from the more famous Mercurey. There are a total of 240 acres of red and just 24 acres of white in the 27 climats within the Givry AOC (appellation) that are classified as Premier Cru vineyards, with wines designated Givry Premier Cru that show a vineyard name, or, as allowed, just Givry Premier Cru, in which case it is possible to blend wine from several Premier Cru vineyard sites within the AOC, with this Lumpp A Vigne Rouge cuvee being the former, it’s a single vineyard Premier Cru Givry. The region is known for both red and white with Pinot Noir and Chardonnay being the main grapes as you’d expect and even though it’s a lesser known place, Burgundy fans have long looked here for purity, character and especially value, and with this Francois Lumpp you can see why. Kermit Lynch now imports Lumpp, who was founded in 1991 and produce just about 4,000 cases annually, every wine François makes is from Givry, and interestedly from vineyards that he himself planted and nurtured–something that is exceedingly rare in Burgundy today, his vines are a massale selection of old bud wood grown on in this case a mix of Oxfordian Nantoux Limestone, Fine Marl, and Clay with A Vigne Rouge coming off 15 year old vines with Southern, Southwestern, and at 850 feet above sea level. Givry’s best premier cru sites, which is the case in most of the Côte d’Or (Burgundy) are situated on the mid to upper level slopes of the rolling hillsides, these form the base of Lumpp’s holdings (all of which are in fact Premier Cru plots, except one white Lieu-Dit). Lumpp uses stainless steel to ferment with gentile punch downs then the wine is raised in barriques, of which surprisingly are about 70% new each vintage, the Premier Crus get one year in barrel as this one did with only one racking to clarify before bottling. This 2013 is astonishingly fresh and deeply flavored with a rich dark garnet/ruby hue and a vivid grapey nose that leads to a textured palate that shines with blackberry, plum, bramble berry and cherry fruits along with a streak of mineral, earth and briar adding sweet woody notes along with hint of tobacco, tangy currant, minty herb and apple skin. The tannins are supple, but firmer than you’d expect of a wine of this vintage and there’s a lot of pop from vital acidity, while being rather lush and dense, certainly this Burgundy has ages to go and it’s a huge bargain, best with robust cuisine, and it must be said it has resolved almost all the oak making for real entertaining and stylish wine, drink almost guilt free, best from 2019 to 2026.
($39 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2014 Chesebro, Syrah, La Mariposa, Cedar Lane Vineyard, Arroyo Seco, Monterey County.
Mark and Will Chesebro’s single barrel Syrah with a touch of co-ferment Viognier, Cote-Rotie style La Mariposa was just released and was available as of 4/20/18 in their Carmel Valley tasting room, it is a seriously good cool climate Arroyo Seco example that you’ll want to get sooner v. later! Showing a rich body and full flavors, you be surprised by the extremely modest low alcohol, it comes in at just 12.5%, very Northern Rhone like, with air and swirls there’s even more surprises in the glass gaining intense layers of spice, earth, meaty notes and sweet floral tones as well as light kirsch, wild herbs and gripping peppercorns. The main profile leans towards boysenberry, plum and black raspberry fruit which is amplified by Italian green olive and racy spearmint, with a long refined finish that recounts all the mentioned elements. The grippy tannins are well managed by the medium/full density and while easy to enjoy it will show it’s complexity and best form with hearty cuisine, this is an impressive and showy effort from Chesebro, you not want to miss this limited bottling, the 24 cases will go fast, drink over the next 3 to 5 years. One of Monterey’s sleeper wineries, Chesebro offers a quality and value set of wines that offer an authentic well crafted sensibility and restraint, their zippy Vermentino and vivid Grenache Blanc are gems, plus the dusty dry Rose is one of my favorites, if you want to understand and taste Arroyo Seco’s terroir then this is your place to start, these are wines with a true and transparent character of place.
($32 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2015 Weingut Mueller-Catoir, Riesling Trocken, Haart Burgergarten “Im Breumel” Grosses Gewächs, Pfalz Germany.
The fabled estate of Mueller-Catoir, a family owned winery since 1774, going back nine generations in it’s long history is now run by Herr Philipp David Catoir, with Mosel native Martin Franzen, with experience as head of operations at the amazing Schlossgut Diel in the Nahe and well regarded Gut Nagelsforst in Baden, looking over winemaking responsibility, he inherited from Mueller-Catoir’s long time cellar master Hans-Günther Schwarz (one of Germany’s greats) in 2001. Grown on pure sandstone, the certified organic Haart Burgergarten VDP Grosse Lage vineyard is perfect site for a GG dry as well as classic Spatlese and Auslese, it gives a ton of power and concentration and that especially shows in the deep 2015 vintage, there is always a sense of liquid rock and a racy steely edge to this site, even in the sweeter wines, which gives them their distinction, though this is in particular true of the Grosses Gewachs. I am somewhat torn, like importer Terry Theise, I adore the sweet/fruity wines from Mueller-Catoir, he is so happy they make Spatlese from this Grand Cru vineyard, and it is a classic, but I am thrilled by the dry GG and can’t seem to get enough of it, when I can get it! As Terry notes, Müller-Catoir was an early adopter of reductive winemaking in Germany, and implements a gentle handling of the grapes, employing a long skin contact, with an exceptionally slow, light touch during pressing, as well as fermentations at warmer than traditional temperatures, though this one had a cold ferment and all in stainless steel vats as well as aging. The wine is only racked once and later than normal to allow purity of form while gaining from the extended lees aging in the Cru wines, there is always such a overwhelming sense of place and house in these wines and this one takes it to another level, this vintage is somewhere in the mystical experience realm with amazing clarity of form, crystalline mineral focus and a wondrous textural feel, this 2015 is more like what you image a Grand Cru Chablis should be. This 2015 Im Breumel GG highlights it’s mottled sandstone with a chalky profile and makes an impact on the palate with a sublime play between it’s dynamic energy and it’s vinous and level of natural glycerin with layers of stone fruit, tangy citrus and subdued tropical elements along with it’s pure Riesling lime, green apple and mango core as well as a hint of hazelnut, hibiscus tea, wet river rock, brine and vivid saline. With air you find a faint floral perfume, steely vitality giving way to an expanded density, complexity and lingering tart white peach, kiwi and verbena/citron. This is an absolute masterpiece of dry Riesling greatness from Mueller-Catoir, it’s a 20 year wine easy, I only wish I had more! I will appease myself by getting a few bottles of sleeper Spatlese from the same vineyard, while fruity it’s far drier in delivery than you’d imagine and at $30ish it’s a steal, though I hope I will be reunited with this GG in the future, and I can’t wait to try the 2016 soon.
($40-50 Est.) 96+ Points, grapelive
2014 Girolamo Russo, Etna Rosso DOC “Feudo” Sicily, Italy.
The winery, an organic tiny Etna producer, Girolamo Russo is one of Sicily’s newest stars led by Giuseppe Russo, a professionally trained and performing pianist, who since 2005 has been organically farming his family’s old vineyards, some of which are 100 years old, he works 15 hectares of vines on the cooler North side of Etna around the town of Passopisciaro, one of the most famous areas on the volcano. With mostly the Nerello Mascalese grape, the darling of Sicily these days, it’s a varietal that thrives on the volcanic soils, it makes for a fine tannin structured, silky medium bodied wine that leads to comparison with Burgundy (Pinot Noir) with it’s elegance and complexity, though with it’s exotic lava/ash spiciness it has it’s own terroir character that gives a unique appeal and style. All of Giuseppe’s cru wines are crafted the same way, with native/natural yeast, without fining or filtration, or temperature control at fermentation and employing a gentile 10-12 day maceration, with hand punch downs, with each of the small lots kept separate until blending into each of the wines. The Feudo cru is from 60 to 65 year old vines and allows for a 200 case lot, and it’s a field blend of more than 80% Nerello Mascalese with the rest mostly Nerello Cappuccio along with a few other local black grapes aged in oak cask, with this beautiful 2014 is perfectly balanced and satiny in feel, but don’t be fooled by the first impression, it’s supple mouth feel gives way to glorious complexity and depth with air and time in the glass, it’s a long wine that reveals true terroir and passion of place. Giuseppe Russo was keen to learn his craft and go his own route, so was influenced without extreme dogma by a variety of experiences with his neighbors, all great winemakers, including Frank Cornelissen, the intense natural winemaker, Passopisciaro’s Andrea Franchetti, who crafts bigger and more age worthy wines, as well as Marco de Grazia of the modern Tenuta delle Terre Nere, who’s wines were some of the first to gain international fame from Mount Etna, especially in America, his bottling of single vineyard wines and crus was certainly something that Giuseppe found profound and he followed in his own wines. The 2014 Feudo Girolamo Russo Etna Rosso, imported by Oliver McCrum Wines, is richly textured and with layers of red fruits, mineral intensity and vivid spices with a palate of dried flowers, flinty stones, dusty plums, raspberry and with a core of earthy cherry along with subtle red pepper, cedar and anise adding some lavender, chalk, fleshy strawberry/peach and a hint of candied red citrus. Beautifully detailed, clear in form and round this is a wonderful drinker and would easily hold it’s own against some serious wines, and it should age nicely for another 5 to 7 years, it’s a sexy and well made red, impressive for it’s restraint and grace.
($40-55 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2016 Le Temps des Copains by Frederic Niger, Astra, Vin de France.
This is a new project of Fred Niger of Domaine de l’Ecu, which is like what Gavenat of Cotes du Jura fame is also doing, Fred had long dreamt of collaborating with like-minded growers and the project was kicked into high gear in 2017, because Fred had a near total loss of estate fruit in two successive vintages (2016 & 2017) due to hail and frost in Muscadet in the Loire region. “Le Temps des Copains” means “time with friends” and the wines are a collaboration between Fred and fellow natural driven winegrowers with Niger making the wines at de L’Cru. With Astra being his joint venture with Gamay from Benoît Landron, who is also in Muscadet, but some how managed to get his fruit through the worst of the weather, it’s fermented in tank, then aged in amphora with no sulfur added. This 2016 Astra is bright and textured natural wine with a deep ruby/garnet hue in the glass making for a very attractive and intriguing wine that impresses on the palate with layers of dark fruit, including plum, black cherry, strawberry and a touch of framboise along with mineral tones, mixed spices, soft floral elements, a touch of earth and dusty stones. There is a lot of youthful energy, but it is rather elegant in form and the acidity is perfectly matched to the smooth mouth feel, while the tannins are satiny ripe, all which highlight the class and focus in this wine, it’s impressive and wonderfully drinkable with it’s lifted fruit.
($35 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2017 Waxwing Wine Cellars, Rosé of Pinot Noir, Delfina’s Vineyard, Arroyo Seco, Monterey County.
The tropical and expressive Waxwing Rosé by Scott Sisemore is a dry pink wine made from 100% Pinot Noir coming off Jeffrey Blair’s Delfina’s Vineyard in the Arroyo Seco AVA in Monterey County, it’s a unique and refreshing Rosé that will be a great Summer wine. Blair’s site is planted to Pommard clone and sits on a mix of silted earth and an alluvial mix of gravel, rock and sand, it may not produce a world class Pinot, but certainly makes for an interesting Rosé with a wonderful array of juicy bright flavors that include an exotic guava and peach note that reminds me on early Central Otago Kiwi Pinots in some ways along with tart cherry, strawberry, watermelon and citrus as well as hints of mineral, spice and light floral notes. Everything stays brisk and tangy with a hint of texture from the three month neutral French barrel aging, it was whole cluster pressed and fermented in stainless steel, it comes in at a vibrant 12.9% and never feels dull, even with the lees stirring it always crisp and focused, this is a fun Rosé to quaff this Spring and Summer, it joins a nice new set of Waxwing releases that include a tasty Lester Pinot and a deep Petaluma Gap Syrah, be sure to go direct to this small micro winery and check out these quality efforts!
($25 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2016 Via Giusti, Rosé of Pinot Noir, Quarttro Mani, Estate, Russian River Valley.
A under the radar estate in the Russian River Valley, Via Giusti has been around since 1875, and are a historic single vineyard farm producing wine and olive oil with a focus on Pinot Noir, it’s cool location being perfect for stylish expressions, and this Quattro Mani Estate Rosé is a vinous and vibrant example. The Italian heritage farm is run by the latest generation of the Giusti family, Kurt Giusti, who runs the winery and the family business, and he has Dylan Sheldon as a winemaker, who is known for making authentic and balanced wines that allow the place and varietal shine through without frivolous adornments or overly oaked. The Rosé, 100% Estate Pinot Noir was whole cluster and direct pressed with minimal lees aging in neutral French barriques to preserve freshness, but also to have a smooth and luxurious mouth feel, and it shows here with a full dose of glycol and mineral charm and wonderful length, while still being vibrant and crisp, it’s an impressive effort even after more than a year in bottle. The nose is pure Pinot with cherry, plum, cola and rosewater which leads to a similar set of flavors on the palate adding a strawberry/rhubarb infusion along with a touch of wet stone, minty herb, spice and cool melon notes. With air you get a hint caramel and kirsch. Drink this one up over the next half a year or so to catch it at it’s best, again this is a very complete and stylish effort to enjoy, especially with more substantial cuisine to lure out it’s texture and complexity. Be sure to check out the seriously minded estate Pinot Noir and their brightly fresh Vermentino as well, this is a winery to discover.
($32 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2014 Via Giusti, Pinot Noir, Giusti Ranch, Estate, Russian River Valley.
The seriously endowed and beautiful estate Via Giusti Pinot Noir flows seamlessly across the palate with a bold dark fruit character and sweet french oak notes that remind you of the better Russian River classics, including Willams Selyem, Martinelli and Rochioli with loads of joyous blackberry, cherry, plum and smoky French oak shadings, it’s brilliant and showy effort. Kurt Giusti, vintner, has deep roots in the Russian River and his family has been a fixture here since 1875, though very under the radar compared to the mentioned wines and a new label to discover, especially this enticing 2014 estate Pinot, a 300 case production wine made from vines on the ranch grown on the Goldridge and Franciscan sandy loam soils, Giusti’s impressive offering comes in at about 14.5% and was made from clones 115, 667 and the dark 777 and was aged 16 months with about 40% new French oak used. Kurt recent brought in winemaker Dylan Sheldon, a veteran who has elegant sensibilities, especially with his own label wines, it’s looking like a perfect match and while he didn’t start this one he helped finish this vintage, and going forward you can expect even further refinement and lift in these wines. A deep hue in the glass is sexy and the length here is extraordinary with lingering kirsch, vanilla and rose petals that add to the seduction found on the full and racy palate that includes black cherry, plum, huckleberry, cola bean, anise, sweet tobacco leaf, a hint of earthy loam, mineral and cinnamon(y) baking spices. There is a copious amount of vinous texture and while overt it has a bright intensity which delivers a focused experience and heightens the enjoyment in this wine that has blossomed in the bottle, it should age gracefully for another 5 to 10 years, even if it is delicious and an opulent Russian River Pinot right now.
($69 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2015 Cameron Winery, Pinot Noir “Arley’s Leap” Willamette Valley, Oregon.
John Paul is an Oregon legend and his wines just as legendary, especially his Pinots, like this one from A slightly younger vine planting within Abbey Ridge vineyard, that was planted in 1990, and Cameron Winery, part of the Deep Roots Coalition is sustainably farmed, non-irrigated and has been fanatically Burgundy influenced, since Paul started producing wine here in 1984. He uses mainly Dundee Hills fruit, the estate Clos Electrique and Abby Ridge, as well as a newer parcel in Ribbon Ridge, his Clos Electrique and his Abby Ridge bottlings are his top old vine cube’s, but his regular Willamette Valley, Dundee and Reserve offerings are stunning as well, with this Arley’s Leap being new to me, and one I was thrilled to get my hands on! The eponymous hero, on the label, was Bill and Julia Wayne’s old dog Arley, who survived a jump from a second story balcony when startled by a cat. Abbey Ridge is one of the highest vineyards in Dundee and is picked relatively late, it’s farmed pretty much all organic and allows for deep flavors and complexity, it’s significantly cooler and with it’s Jory soils, which are volcanic based there is a lot of natural acidity that helps with balance and gives these wines tremendous aging structure along with a slightly exotic character. 2015 is looking like an outstanding vintage in Oregon and John Paul took advantage of the year to craft an amazing set of wines, and in my opinion, this Arley’s Leap is a sleeper, in particular it’s a earthy dark beauty that is wonderfully expressive and intriguing. This 2015 shows the years ripe personality, at 13.9%, but thrills for it’s brilliant energy, tanginess, a porcini note, forest floor and rustic charm that resembles a fine Nuits-Saint-Georges! This stuff entrances with a heady mix of plum, black cherry, strawberry, dusty red spices, minty herbs, crushed violets and a touch of leather adding to the dense kirsch, currant and wilted rose petals, making for an amazing palate and bouquet, it’s very much sex in a bottle as only a great Pinot can be! Paul employs traditional Burgundian winemaking and subtle well integrated French oak, it’s as good as it gets, drink over the next decade, it will fascinating to see how this ages!
($46 Est.) 94-96 Points, grapelive
2017 Skylark Wine Company, Rosé of Grenache, Pink Belly, Mendocino County.
Skylark’s Pink Belly is always a favorite Rosé of mine, since the 2007 vintage (their first) I have always had it and it just gets better with each vintage, with this 2017 really setting a new standard for quality and thrill, even after such a lovely fresh vintage in 2016. Robert Perkins, winemaker and John Lancaster (wine director at Boulevard Restaurant in San Francisco) are the men behind the label and are two of the nicest people, and talented, as you could ever meet, craft small batch wines with a core focus on Rhone/Languedoc style offerings including this Tavel like 100% Grenache Pink Belly Rosé and their Corbieres influenced Red Belly which is a gorgeous Carignane, Grenache and Syrah blend that melds a fruit forward palate with earthy tannins and dusty spices perfectly. The Pink Belly almost jumps out of the glass with it’s delicately pale salmon/pinkish hue and floral tones, it’s vibrantly crisp with tart cherry, watermelon and racy citrus fruits, steely mineral, lavender, rosewater and a little bit of jolly rancher and bubble gum, which is not sweet and is balanced out by a touch of wet stone and brisk acidity, it lingers with strawberry essences. Perkin’s employed a whole cluster pressing here and fermented the Grenche lots separately then blend together after primary are done, the fruit comes from two Mendocino sites, one at Kurt Ashurst’s Grenache vineyard in Hopland, our first pink vineyard, but to meet the demand of this tasty wine, Skylark added fruit from Charlie Sawyer’s stellar Grenache site above Ukiah, where they get their main Grenache Noir grapes for their Red Belly. Everything makes it a great poolside quaffer or porch-pounder, in my case a beach at sunset pounder! This 2017 is more expressive and upfront, but still is very dry and refreshing, it should be great for the long warm days of Summer and still tasty until next winter’s chill, don’t miss this stuff!
($19 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2017 Arnot-Roberts, Rosé of Touriga Nacional, California.
Duncan Arnot Meyers and Nathan Lee Roberts, the minds behind California’s Arnot-Roberts winery, craft a bunch of awesome tiny production wines, everything from Pinot Noir, Syrah and Cabernet to Trousseau Noir and this unique Rosé, which is 100% Touriga Nacional, that Portuguese red varietal found in Port, from Lake County mostly with the bulk coming off the Luchsinger Vineyard usually, a site that was planted in 1999 on volcanic cobble over ancient riverbed stones at about 1,400’ in the Clear Lake AVA west of Kelseyville, where they also get some of their Trousseau. This has become a cult, must have, dry Rosé each year, much in the same way most of us in the wine business need Domaine Tempier Bandol Rosé, it’s a real wine geeks wine! Brilliantly cool on the nose with light red fruits, floral notes, mineral and spice notes leading the way to a delicately crisp palate of tangy cherry, strawberry, dusty red spices, steely/flinty wet rock, citrus brightness along with unripe watermelon and rosewater. This wonderfully dry and vivid Rosé is one of the most complete and pleasing pink wines in California, drink up and get while you can!
($28 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2016 Vincent Gaudry, Sancerre, La Constellation de Scorpion, Loire Valley, France.
This Sancerre from Vincent Gaudry was recently renamed to La Constellation de Scorpion, it’s the cuvée formerly known as “Esprit de Rudolf” it’s a certified Biodynamic single old vine parcel grown on flinty Silex soils which is barrel fermented & aged in French oak. Gaudry was the first Biodynamic producer in Sancerre, and this wine is crafted in the same way as the classic Dagueneau Pouilly-Fume’s are, it’s an intense Loire Valley mineral driven Sauvignon Blanc with is naturally imbued with density and volume on the palate. Gaudry has blocks that are massale selections with 90 year vines, he also does a basic stainless steel tank version plus an exceptional whole cluster Sancerre Rouge (Pinot Noir) that is mind-blowing, this is a label and winery to discover and follow, and is now imported by Floraison Selections. This Sancerre starts with a certainly austerity and a hint of volatile acidity with a faint polishy note before opening up on the richly textured palate gaining immensely with air, it becomes a highly rewarding wine that is both leesy and steely with round peachy fruit, sizzling lemon/lime and with notes of quince, gooseberry and white melon along with flinty smokiness and garden herbs. As this Gaudry cuvee La Constellation de Scorpion warms it fills out and gets even better, it is an impressive Sauvignon Blanc with it’s own personality, this is a wine that could not be from anywhere else! Given the style and quality, it’s remarkable that it’s not at a higher price point, as it compares well against Bouley and Cottat!
($33 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2014 Le P’Tit Paysan, Petite Sirah, Monterey County.
One of Monterey’s sleeper wines and best values, Ian Brand’s Le P’Tit Paysan Petite Sirah is an extremely pleasing full bodied red with lots of unique personality and balanced terroir driven character, which includes an inner energy (lift) and subtle refinement. This brilliantly purple/garnet hued Petite Sirah (Durif) was fermented with partial whole cluster, about 30%, getting a long cold soak for gentile extraction with lees aging in barrel, Brand using mostly neutral, used French barriques, for 11 months, and some bottle resting before release, allowing for a wine of graceful tannins and the utmost purity. This Petite comes off Pierce Ranch Vineyard in the San Antonio Valley, it’s a site that gives warm days and cool nights, perfect for getting even ripeness with lower sugar levels, in fact Brand had his blocks picked at a very lively 22 Brix or below, but still has textural density and lush mouth feel and length with an intriguing low natural alcohol. The area’s limestone, shale and decomposed granite soils add to the wines quality and gives a stony influence, which reminds me somewhat of a Northern Rhone Syrah, similar to the Halcon Vineyards Yorkville Highlands version, it’s one of few other recent examples of Petite Sirah that takes this stylistic path, which I am thrilled about! This Le P’Tit Paysan Petite Sirah, with 2% Counoise, is deeply colored and with a nose of dark floral tones, wild sage, black fruits and mineral charm before leading to it’s full bodied and structured palate of blackberry, racy currants, tree picked plum and sweet kirsch along with a touch of chalk and flint, minty anise, cedar and incense. While full and firm as you’d expect from this grape, this wine is evolving and gains a satiny vinous side, lingering with blueberry and violets, though stays focused and bright throughout, it also is wonderful with robust and rustic cuisines, plus it was beautiful with hard cheeses and cured meats, this is a hard to beat for the price offering from a talented winemaker, drink for the next 3 to 5 years.
($22 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2015 Domaine de L’Ecu, Folle Blanche “Marguerite” Vin de France, Loire Valley, France.
A unique estate 100% Folle Blanche, fermented and raised for 9 months in stainless steel tank on the lees with absolutely no sulfur additions, making for an intriguing, fresh and unique Loire Valley white from one of Muscadet’s best wineries, Fred Niger’s Domaine de L’Ecu. Folle Blanche, normally found in the Cognac region and used mostly as a fine brandy grape in both Armagnac, where is is regarded as the best for single varietal bottlings and in the blends of Cognac, with Colombard and Ugni Blanc. Interestingly, Fred uses his Folle Blanche in his (Cremant) Sparkling wine mainly as there is almost nobody that does a varietal Folle Blanche still wine anywhere, though my friend Bradley Gray, a wine PR professional, writer and a long time wine enthusiast, turned me on to some Louis Martini Folle Blanche in the nineties that was made from 100 year old vines and only available by request at the Martini tasting room on special times of the year when they were dumping end of vintage wines, it was a rare treat to taste that, though I fear now that particular vineyard is no more, if memory serves me. L’Ecu’s Folle Blanche Marguerite feels a bit skin contact like with a load of tanginess and a tide pool’s worth of briny seashore leading with it’s saline and oyster shell elements before revealing a light palate of racy green apple, lemon/lime and unripe tart peach, it’s a bright zesty unfiltered pale yellow (cloudy) white that is unique in a happily awkwardly/odd, but intriguing way. This is a very geeky wine that needs food to absorb it’s slightly sour tart profile, it’s severe on it’s own, it would be better with cuisine, I can see it going well with Chèvre and or intensely fresh small oysters and exotic sushi like Uni. This is not a crowd pleasure and will only appeal to the lovers of weirdness, but it’s well made and scratches an itch of a small niche of adventurers.
($28 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2016 Florian Roblin Vigneron, Pinot Noir/Gamay, Coteaux du Giennois Rouge “Champ Gibault” Loire Valley, France.
This appellation on the eastern edge of the Loire Valley northeast of Sancerre produces almost equal amounts of light-bodied red and white wines, with a small portion of dry rosé as well. The 2016 Champ Gibault Coteaux du Giennois Rouge is 80% Pinot Noir, 20% Gamay, that is native yeast ferment then aged in neutral wood as well as some raised in stainless steel tank, making for a very pretty and detailed wine. The Roblin Champ Gibault Coteaux du Giennois Rouge 2016 is pure and Pinot driven, it feels and tastes like a minerally Burgundy with just a hint of bright and Juicy Gamay, it’s delicate and natural with layers of floral and light red berry notes. The round of silky palate shows a textural array of cherry, raspberry and strawberry along with a touch of chalky stones, vibrant acidity in the form of lift and lightness, adding wilted rose petals, faint wood vanillin and snappy spices. This Wine impresses for it’s subtle and satiny personality, it has a lot of class and style, especially for the price, it’s lovely ruby/garnet hue is seductive in the glass and the Pinot structure, flavor profile and elegant form delivers a wonderful and expressive performance worthy of any wine enthusiast’s attention. Drink this graceful beauty over the next 3 to 5 years, it certainly is going to be great warm weather red to enjoy with picnics, Summer meals, but don’t sell this lighter red short, it will provide a wonderful experience even on more serious occasions.
($25 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2015 Anne-Sophie Dubois, Fleurie, Cru Beaujolais “Clepsydre” Cuvee, France.
One of the newest stars on the Beaujolais seen, Anne-Sophie Dubois makes deeply pure and flavorful expressions with this one from the Cru Fleurie that gives wonderful floral perfume and a vintage, in 2015 that is ripe and concentrated, but with elegant class and texturally beautiful. The Clepsydre, named after an ancient water clock, once used in old Egypt, because Anne-Sophie believes it needs time to fully develop and blossom, is grown on pink granite soils, from a 60+ year old plot of high density vines, which gives a stylish mineral streak and heightened aromatics, she destemmed this 100% Gamay, with native yeast, cold ferments and neutral cask (4-7 old barrels) aging for about 13 months, all unfined and unfiltered. This 2015 is hedonistically dark in color with a black/purple saturation in the glass and a clear bouquet of violets and red rose petals which leads to a full palate of black plum, sweet cherry, strawberry and lingering tangy currant with a hint of walnut, mure and star anise. This is a weightless sensation that hides the density of mouth feel and a burst of energetic natural acidity that brightens the whole wine, everything is gloriously seamless and it’s personality and charm is quite additive, Dubois, imported by Thomas Calder (Pruf Rock) and Sacred Thirst, has a lovely touch with Gamay and this Fleurie is almost to Dutraive quality! This is a winemaker to keep an eye on, and if you are a Gamay fan you’ll want to explore her wines, especially this one, it should go for a decade with ease, I love this stuff!
($28 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2016 Domaine Rimbert, Saint Chinian Rouge “Le Mas au Schiste” Languedoc, France.
Jean-Marie Rimbert, a “Carignaniste” for being a staunch supporter the Carignan in the Languedoc’s Saint Chinian region is one of the area’s most renown and a benchmark producer, crafting organic wines from the Berlou Cru, a highly regarded site due to its high elevation and it’s mineral intense brown schist soils that mark these terroir driven wines from steeply terraced vines. If there ever was an iconic producer, Rimbert is without a doubt one of them, his AOC bottlings can be profound experiences, plus he has a wonderful humble nature and wit, he also makes playful Vin de France wines that are gut busting funny and good, especially his Cousin Oscar, a 100% partially carbonic Cinsault that is named for a randy woman chasing relative, it’s become a cheap cult classic! Back to the top wines, the two that stand out are Rimbert’s Saint Chinian Rouge “Les Travers de Marceau” which is all tank raised and includes some chewy/dense Mourvedre along with a core of Carignan, Syrah, Grenache and Cinsault, plus this neutral wood aged “Le Mas au Schiste” it’s made from old vine Carignan, Syrah along with some Grenache, it showcases the soils and has a bit more textural feel from the 10 months in wood. This 2016 Rimbert Le Mas au Schiste is wonderfully ripe and deeply colored with a pretty purple/garnet hue in the glass with a mix of violets, earth, flinty/mineral and blue fruit leading the way on the nose and entry with layers of blueberry, plum, black cherry and marionberry on the medium full palate along with snappy herbs, chalky stones, pepper, cedar, acacia flowers, anise and a touch of rusticity. There’s so much to love here, and it’s clearly detailed with an inner brightness making it an entertaining and impressive Rhone like red, it is drinking superbly now and should go another 3 to 5 years easy, most likely even longer.
($24 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2016 Auguste Clape, Syrah, Le Vin des Amis, Vin de France, Rhone Red, France.
Clape’s enter level red, the Le Vin des Amis, is a baby version of his famed Cornas, lighter and more delicate, but with the house pedigree shinning through, it’s a value option and easier to open than the more pricier bottlings. The Le Vin des Amis comes from just outside the Cornas AOC and on a less slope, it’s got bit of granite, but mostly on galets (round river stones) with a touch of clay which allows a more generous fruit focus and softer tannin profile without being less serious or lovely, it is from 40 year old vines and it gets the same treatment as his Cotes du Rhone, also 100% Syrah, it’s whole cluster, native yeast ferment and raised for 6 months in cement vats. The 2015 was a bigger wine, but this 2016 is somewhat more seductive with an additive bright freshness and inner perfume, which makes up for the less concentrated year, it’s a pretty version no question with violets, blueberry and green spices (stemmy) to start with blackberry, tangy plum and earthy loam following before the medium bodied palate of the Le Vin des Amis gets revved up with classic flavors and an array of peppercorn, anise, mineral and kirsch adding to a whole with a nice dynamic lift of juicy acidity rather than grippy tannins. Usually you’d say this wine was a great value, but there are many amazing efforts that beat this one for quality and price, especially since there are plenty of 2015 Northern Rhones to get, but it’s always a fun wine and a wine to enjoy young, drink up.
($33 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2015 Yves Cuilleron, Saint-Joseph Rouge “Les Pierres Seches” Northern Rhone, France.
Founded back in 1920, the Cuilleron family domaine from the tiny hamlet of Verlieu in Chavanay is a Northern Rhone specialist and one of the great names in the region now with Yves Cuilleron making the wines having taking over from his uncle Antoine in 1987. Since which he has built a new facility and built up the vineyard holdings to an impressive 52 hectares that includes great parcels in Condrieu, Cote-Rotie, Saint-Peray as well other unique sites, and of course his specially, prized blocks in Saint-Joseph where he makes some of his best wines like this Les Pierres Seches Rouge. Yves style is refined, elegant and clean letting the terroir and grapes to speak in their own voice and allowing each vintage to show it’s distinct personality, and in 2015, a grand year in the Rhone, it is without question one to buy as much as you can, in particular the Cuilleron reds, again like this one, it’s outstanding and a great value. Tasted twice, once blind, the 100% Syrah, 2015 Cuilleron Saint-Joseph Les Pierres Seches is thrilling and very Cote-Rotie like with gorgeous perfume, loads of glycerin and beautifully defined Syrah purity, it starts with violets, game, blackberry and mineral notes on the nose and layers of boysenberry, damson plum, blueberry and cassis on the medium/full palate as well as an array of spices, flinty rock and subtle wood with minty herb, olive tapenade, peppercorns, garrigue, light cedar and a faint meatiness. The tannins are velveteen, but still firm and while the acidity is slightly lower in this vintage, there is plenty of vitality and energy here, it gains an opulent and textural mouth feel with each sip without dulling the excitement one bit, this is fantastic stuff. Cuilleron employs partial whole cluster, just enough to get a bit of tension, and allows lengthy ferments on the Cru (lieu-dit) wines before aging in mostly used French oak for 18 months, the wines see a light fining and all along the way gentile techniques are used to ensure clarity of form and elegance, which really shows in the quality across the range. This is a do not miss wine, and a killer deal, though you’ll also want to check out the old vine 2015 Saint-Joseph Rouge Cavanos ($36) as well as Cuilleron’s 100% Viognier 2016 Condrieu La Petite Cote ($52) and his Roussanne & Marsanne masterpiece, the 2016 Saint-Joseph Blanc Digue ($44) which I reviewed last month. Cuilleron’s lineup from bottom to top is wildly engaging and filled with stars, though this Les Pierres Seches way over delivers in the quality v. price ratio and it should go a decade and then some in bottle.
($28 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2016 Waxwing Wine Cellars, Pinot Noir, Lester Family Vineyards, Santa Cruz Mountains.
Scott Sisemore’s Waxwing Wine Cellars is a micro winery in Belmont, just south of San Francisco that produces small batch hand crafted wines from unique vineyards from the Santa Cruz Mountains to Mendocino County with a focus on Sonoma Coast with mostly Pinot Noir and Syrah wines. I’ve been a fan of Scott’s wines for many years now, and especially his Lester Family Vineyard Pinot, which his was nice enough to let me get a preview of, his wines are richly flavored and he uses mostly used French oak to allow a more pure focus to show through, they are forward in style and authentic in character with just a hint of rustic charm. The 2016 Lester Pinot is a surprisingly full and bold wine, it starts with a tight and firm feel, it takes some time to open up giving a very serious impression with a touch of Burgundy like reduction and grip before revealing it’s more vivacious personality and deep fruit core and lovely incense/floral tones. The nose starts with rose petal, graphite, loamy earth, cola and kirsch which leads nicely to it’s medium full palate of Pinot fruits with bing cherry, black plum and framboise layers along with interesting candied citrus, mineral elements, saline and a mix of vanilla/mocha, star anise, tea spices and cranberry. This single clone 115, two barrel Pinot Noir that is grown on the western Corralitos hillsides with a make up of sandy loam soils really turns on the style after about 25 minutes and getting plenty of air adding a dense and round textural mouth feel, it is wine that certainly prefers food to show it’s best, Sisemore helpfully added his own ideas, which include crispy skinned roast chicken, wild mushroom dishes and seared duck breast with cherry/berry reduction! Scott destemmed all the grapes and used Assmannshausen yeast to ferment along with a five day cold soak, all pretty mainstream techniques and used one year used French oak, it proved a ripe vintage coming in at a natural 14.5%, it rested in barrique 15 months, and should be released soon. This is one of the best of Scott’s Pinots and it should drink nicely for 5 to 7 years with ease, best from 2019 to 2026.
($45 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2015 Chateau de Saint Cosme, Cotes du Rhone “Les Deux Albion” Rhone Red, France.
From estate vines on the hillsides near Gigondas, the Les Deux Albion is beautiful Cotes du Rhone and one of the best Rhone reds under $20 you can find, especially in a great vintage like 2015, Louis Barruol crafted an absolutely stunning wine, from Syrah, Grenache, Carignan, Mourvèdre and Clairette all co-fermented whole cluster using some conical wood tank, but mostly concrete vats with a maceration and fermetation that lasted 6 weeks. The results are impressive and thrill for the simplicity of style and the amazing performance in the glass, it’s a deep purple/garnet, very opaque, in the glass with a sexy array of earthy/spicy charms and density of fruit, with the Syrah showing a dominate black and blue fruited lead here, though Grenache at these elevations can be incredibly dark fruited, but always with a strawberry streak, with the Mourvedre adding a touch of gamey/meaty elements along with structure, while Carignan gives a juicy kirsch burst, with the Clairette playing a minor role obviously as a white grape, but like Cote-Rotie it gives acidity and grabs intense pigment. The palate in full bodied, yet there’s elegance and inner energy too with layers of violets, iron/flinty, damson plum, boysenberry, blueberry, tangy lavender, saddle leather, basil leaf and salted black licorice, it has a grip of tannin, but it’s perfectly mated to the expressive fruit and almost every detail folds together in a joyous array of pleasures, seamless and lingering. Saint Cosme is legendary and while their Gigondas AOC and Cru versions are some of the world best wines, this is a sleeper wine that way over performs, it should never be missed or overlooked, it gives a wonderful performance and delivers a terroir driven character highlighting the clay hillsides (ancient alluvium), limestone marl and pebbles of it’s soils. Barruol always tinkers with the selection of varietals and winemaking per what the vintage brings in this Les Deux Albions, while always being true to the southern Rhone and bottled unfined and unfiltered. This vintage rocks, the wine changes from sip to sip adding pastille and cassis notes to the mix as well as delicate pepper and mineral quality in the background, intriguing and seductive, drink over the next 3 to 5 years.
($19 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2013 Bonny Doon Vineyard, Le Cigare Volant Réserve “en bonbonne” Rhone Style Red Blend, Central Coast.
Randall Grahm’s signature red is a blend of 55% Grenache Noir, 25% Syrah, 16% Mourvèdre, 4% Cinsault, it’s most from Monterey County, but with a touch of Contra Costa County for the Mourvedre for this lovely fresh 2013 vintage, it’s a worthy ode to Chateauneuf du Pape. What sets it apart is the glass demijohn (carboy) aging, or élevage en bonbonne, which I find gives the wine a more textural mouth feel without oaky markers interfering with the fruit, Randall uses this technique for this Reserve and his Reserve Blanc as well, he calls it the result of a fever dream and deep contemplation of the mysteries of redox chemistry, with thoughts of micro-oxygenation and the nature of the esoteric élevage “en bonbonne” -bâtonage magnetique! Regardless of inspiration, this Reserve is truly an iconic Rhone Ranger wine and while California by nature it does have an old world charm and energy with layers of deep fruit, spicy lift and subtle earthy tones. A sweet floral tone leads the way with savory elements leading to a full bodied Grenache fruity palate with blackberry, plum, strawberry and currant fruits along with dusty cinnamon, salted licorice, minty and peppery herbs as well as a touch of porcini, lavender, cedar and kirsch. Grahm and team aged this stylish red in glass carboys or en bonbonne, which adds to glycerin and dense minerally mouth feel, which has allowed this powerful wine to smooth out without the use of overt wood, it is a very distinct wine and should age well for another 5 to 7 years. A recent visit to Bonny Doon and a chat with their legendary leader, Randall Grahm, brought a wealth of knowledge, insight and a stunning array of new releases, I even had to come back a week later to fill out my own drinking collection, which included this wine along with a few new Syrah(s) and Pinot Noir(s) plus their perky Picpoul, one of my favorites.
($60 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2014 Bonny Doon Vineyard, Le Cigare Blanc, Beeswax Vineyard, Arroyo Seco, Monterey County.
The normal Le Cigare Blanc is a beauty with texture and vitality, a very Chateauneuf du Pape (white) blend of 66% Grenache Blanc, 34% Roussanne that goes through full malos and aged in French oak. Beeswax is an organic vineyard, and Randall has his blocks done to biodynamic practices with the cool marine nights helping develop a natural acidity and inner energy, while allowing for a rich and opulent wine of flavor and intensity of extract and form, everything worked really well in this 2014 making for an impressive and expressive white that fills the palate with lush and creamy layers that makes your mouth water for a decedent buttery dish to match it, Bonny Doon recommends lobster risotto and I would not argue at all, it would match perfectly with vinous glycerol (oily) character of this lovely white Rhone style wine. Bonny Doon’s team has been on fire with their white program, Randall (Grahm) I feel has not gotten enough credit for his whites, these are gorgeous wines that offer a real wonderful drinking experience with a serious impact, especially this one, for the price is a complex and thrilling wine. Brilliant with a pale yellowish/gold hue and a smooth profile and flavors of white peach, pear, lemon oil, almond and hints of honey, pithy/bitter melon, leesy notes, a touch of star anise, wet stones, tangerine and citrus blossom/white flowers that come through a bit on the nose, but have a lasting impression that lingers. This wine comes in at 13.5% alcohol, so while ripe and dense it has plenty of lift as well some saline quality and mineral focus that delivers a balanced feel, even though ripe, this is a lot of wine for the money, it should drink well for another 3 to 5 years too, it’s exceptional for the cost, don’t miss this one.
($28 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2015 Yves Cheron, Gigondas “Grand Montmirail” Vieilles Vignes, Rhone Red, France.
Grown on the decomposed limestone of the hillsides of the Dentelles de Montmirail which reach a height of 2,600 feet, the Yves Cheron old vine Gigondas 2015 is a blockbuster Rhone red with amazing depth and concentration, but also a very hedonistic wine that can be drunk now with great pleasure and stylistic charm. Gigondas has been a highly regarded wine region since at least Roman times, but because of the prestige of and grandeur of Chateauneuf du Pape it was held back and lumped into the greater Cotes du Rhone Villages until 1971 when it became it’s own recognized AOC, and it’s higher elevation gives the wines their own soul, they usually shows more vibrancy and intensity of form when done well, they must be between 50% to 100% Grenache with the allowed remainder being Syrah and Mourvedre mostly. Cheron’s Gigondas is a blend of about 60% Grenache, 30% Syrah and 10% Mourvèdre, all destemmed and fermented in temp-controlled stainless steel vats before being raised mainly in cement tank, with some Syrah lots seeing a bit of oak, including some new barriques, making for a big and explosively bold wine that shows a vibrant purity and rich detail. The palate is full and lavish with an array of black raspberry, cassis, plum and dark cherry fruit layers along with juniper berry, peppercorns, new leather, chalk dust and dried violets, and while super ultra dense and full bodied the heft is well controlled with an inner brightness, refined tannins and it’s sweet fruit balanced by savory elements all of which flows seamlessly and with a beautiful textural flair, especially impressive in it’s youth. This wine has so much bang for the buck, it’s impossible not to be seduced by it’s impressive character, it’s deep purple/garnet hue in the glass and the way it lingers on the finish, it also plays well with a range of cuisines, in particular grilled meats, wild mushroom dishes and even burgers. Maybe not as top notch as Chateau de Saint Cosme or Domaine d’Ourea, but pretty close and at the price is a great value, drink over the next few years.
($25 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2016 Joyce Vineyards, Pinot Noir, Submarine Canyon, Monterey County.
Russell Joyce’s regional Pinot Noir cuvee, the Submarine Canyon, is one of the best deals on Pinot around, especially this 2016 which shows impressive fruit, textural grace and lifting acidity in a pretty aromatic wine that is close to outstanding. A deep ruby/garnet in the glass and with a perfume of rose petals, spice, red fruits and mineral tones that leads to a medium weight, low/moderate alcohol, graceful satiny smooth tannins and lively palate that flows with racy cherry, raspberry, strawberry and tangy plum fruits with a mix of dusty spices including shaved cinnamon, Tahitian vanilla and faint pepper along with hints of chalk, minty herb and sweet tea. Coming from selected sites, with ancient glacial soils consisting of sand and shale loam, the Submarine Canyon delivers a wonderful cool marine influenced performance that reminds me of Melville and Radio Coteau in style and overall impression, though not in exact flavors of course, there is a lot to enjoy here and this is a lot of Pinot Noir for the price. The 2016 wines from Joyce are all stellar, it certainly looks to be on the next level for this Monterey County winery, in particular you’ll want to check out their Tondre Grapefield Syrah and the amazing Gabilan Pinot Noir while they are still available, but don’t over look this tasty little wine. Lingering and silky this is a wine that provides an appealing and pleasing drinking experience right now, but it has enough structure and complexity too age another 3 to 5 years with ease.
($25 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2015 Forge Cellars, Dry Riesling Classique, Finger Lakes, New York.
The Finger Lakes outpost of Rhone legend Louis Barruol, famed Gigondas producer, Forge Cellars is a new project focused on dry Riesling from vineyards around mostly Seneca and Cayuga lakes, with a mix of shale, gravely loam and clay with some limestone which gives the Finger Lakes it’s character and terroir influences. Along with his local partners Richard Rainey and Justin Boyette, Barruol’s Forge Cellars crafts limited release Riesling single site offerings as well as this 1,800 case production regional dry Riesling Classique cuvee with 85% from Seneca Lake and 15% from Cayuga Lake, which has only .4% RS and is as trocken as it gets! There is a lot of excitement about Finger Lakes Riesling, not only Barruol is jumping in here, with Paul Hobbs and Johannes Selbach (Selbach-Oster) also joining in here too, along with local hotshots like Ravines, Hermann J. Wiemer, Boundary Breaks and Dr. Konstantin Frank all which make wonderful wines. The Forge Cellars 2015 Dry Riesling Classique starts with an intense youthful expression of mouth waveringly dry and brisk fruit, a light petrol note, white roses and zesty citrus along with delicate layers of green apple, liquid shale, pithy peach pit, lemon oil, almond, marzipan, lime peel and verbena. It has a dusty dry mouth feel and tangy acidity that almost reminds me a bit of some Australian Rieslings like Gosset, Rolf Binder and Pewsey Vale, but with a smoky mineral and austere wet rock core and at 13% it does have a subtle density and gains a textural presence in the glass with air. I can’t wait to try the Cru offerings and will no questions enjoy more bottles of this one, it has a serve impact, but really grows on you and it will be a lovely Summer wine and great with a variety of cuisine, it’s a great value to enjoy now.
($18 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2016 Pedro Parra y Familia, Cinsault “Imaginador” Itata, Chile.
Pedro Parra is one of the world’s most sought after terroir specialists, literally he is Doctor Dirt, with a Ph.D on the subject, and with a masters in precision agriculture, he consults all over the globe and is currently working with some of France’s top winemakers as well as crafting his own naturally styled wines from his native Chile. The Concepcion born and raised Parra makes his wines from ancient vines in the Itata region, Chile’s first viticultural area established back in the 1,500’s when the Spanish missionaries arrived here and planted vineyards, mostly Pais (Listan Prieto) aka the Mission Grape, the 200 million-year-old Batholith terroir is home to 200 to 300 year old still producing vines, some of the oldest on the planet, and the granite soils give a striking mineral presence, with the cool costal breezes helping extend the growing season to add complexity and natural acidity. Along with the Mission Grape there is old vine Carignan, Muscat, Palomino and Cinsault, and like South Africa the Cinsault takes on a unique and complete character allowing for impressive solo efforts from this varietal which usually is a blending grape in it’s home regions of Provence and the Rhone where it is considered a bit too simple to go it alone in most cases, while Parra’s version is impressively expressive and deep. I’ve become a huge fan of Parra’s wines and especially enthusiastic about this Cinsault and this 2016 is my favorite to date, with it’s vibrancy and purity it really thrills in the glass, less raw and funky than the prior examples it delivers a wonderful performance with each sip getting better than the last, it shows a bright intensity and stylish charm that is beautiful in bouquet, medium bodied and with ripe fruit on the textured palate. It starts with vivid and lush cherry, dusty floral tones, flinty spices and light cedary notes before gaining a darker sense with plum and forest berry fruits coming through along with wild lavender, minty fennel and candied citrus that adds complexity and live to this lovely garnet/ruby Cinsault. A touch more mineral freshness, fuller fruit and with a bit more width than a southern Rhone version this Parra example manages a deep expression of place and leaves a thoughtful impression, it’s makes for an exceptional hand made wine, especially for the price, drink over the next 3 to 5 years.
($26 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2016 Mullineux, Old Vines White, Swartland, South Africa.
South Africa in recent years has seen an amazing change of generation and a rise in quality few could have guessed at, winemakers like Eben Sadie, Adi Badenhosrt and Andrea Mullineux, just to name a few, are now international super stars and remarkably some of their greatest wines are from white grapes, especially Chenin Blanc, with some wines eclipsing any wines from the Loire! Also too is a trend to make field blends, historic and or old vine vineyards which like early California site were planted to mixed varietals, both Sadie Family and Mullineux excelling in these wines, and while I’ve featured Sadie in recent years, this was my first chance to dig into Andrea’s offerings in a serious way and exploring her terroir/soil series was a thrill with her single varietal Syrah and Chenin on granite really impressing me, and while they are without question some of the most exciting wines from South Africa I’ve ever tried, I loved this old vine field blend white maybe best of all for it’s combination of complexity and value. Crafted from 62% Chenin Blanc, 15% Grenache Blanc, 11% Viognier, 8% Clairette Blanche and 4% Semillon Gris the 2016 Old Vine White from Mullineux (the husband and wife team of Chris and Andrea) starts with a sizzling tension and crisp focus only barley hinting at the rapture to come in the following minutes, it reveals slowly in an austere way it’s layers of tart peach, unripe apple, brisk lemony citrus and waxy unsweetened honey and dusty stones adding a straw note before opening to a medium bodied, textured and excitingly severe palate. With air more appears and this white gathers itself and seduces completely gaining white flowers, mineral/steely verve, clove/spice, wet river rock and melon, kiwi and almond oil. The wine is fermented using native yeasts and aged 11 months in French oak, about 20% of which are new, not that you notice at first, it’s only well into the bottle does the mouth feel turn richer and you pick up the wood and leesy side of things, the grapes, old vine Chenin along with the Mediterranean varieties come from vineyard parcels in different parts of the Swartland area with an amazing geological make up of soils including plots in the stony Shale and Schist of Kasteelberg, decomposed Granite in Paardeberg and the iron-rich hillsides west of Malmesbury, all of which shines through to make an outstanding world class white! This wine is the real deal to drink over the next 3 to 5 years, it is like if you took the best from Francois Chidane’s Montluis and Mas de Daumas Gassac Blanc along with a little bit of Laura Lorenzo’s Erea de Vila Ribeira Sacra Godello blend, all awesome wines on their own, such is the nature of Mullineux’s class, don’t miss a chance at this or any of their wines!
($35 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2016 Bedrock Wine Co., Heritage Red, Evangelho Vineyard, Contra Costa County.
Beautifully textured and ripely flavored the new Bedrock Evangelho Heritage is a refined Zin based red from own rooted vines that were planted in the 1890’s, it’s a juicy wine that has a sense of vintage influenced restraint and a it has a wonderfully long finish. The Contra Costa’s Evengelho family has been tending these vines since 1936, they are grown on the Delhi Sand (soils) of the San Joaquin River Delta, the sand helps give the vineyard it’s longevity and allows this site to keep producing beautiful and concentrated fruit, as highlighted by Morgan Twain-Peterson’s Bedrock Heritage Red. This version is close to 60% Zinfandel and 35% Mataro, with the remainder being a touch of Carignane, a little Palomino and maybe a few other varietals and comes in at 14.1%, which delivers an elegant performance on the palate with smooth layers of black raspberry, brambleberry, sweet plum and kirsch along with dark spring flowers, a subtle Mourvedre earthiness, grilled herbs, satiny tannins, anise and incense. There’s a surprising lift that keeps things exciting and provides this deeply purple/garnet hued and full bodied wine a grace and focus that makes it stand out. Twain-Peterson compares this to a southern Rhone red, and I certainly can see that, it reminds me a bit of Chateauneuf-du-Pape in style, but with it’s classic Zinfandel flavor profile, he raised this serious red in large French foudre after co-fermenting this wine by each block, it gains tremendously with air, dropping it’s simple hedonism for a more complex animal and revealing coveted detailing and mineral tones, it’s a wine to enjoy now with robust cuisine or aged another 5 to 10 years, it’s impressive by nature, especially if you give it time to show it’s full self, it’s a sleeper in Bedrock’s stellar lineup.
($35 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2013 Theresa Eccher, Etna Rosso DOC “ER” Sicily, Italy.
This blend of Nerello Mascalese (80%) and Nerello Cappuccio (20%) from Theresa Eccher winery, by Daniela Conta (Theresa’s granddaughter) and her husband Andrea Panozzo is a classic and easy drinking Mount Etna red that highlights the volcano terroir with lovely spice, dusty earth and mineral charms to go with a medium body of bright red fruits. This wine was traditionally made with fermentation in stainless steel tank, temperature controlled, and raised in mostly in tank as well, though some get a little of used cask using old vines. Uniquely, Theresa Eccher winery, named after a historical figure from Trentino, sources wine from around Italy, with Conta and Panozzo putting together an interesting lineup that ranges from dry to sweet, from vineyards and regions they find intriguing without any ties to the region themselves, as well as a Lambrusco, as far as I can tell they started with Sicily in the 2011 vintage. While I normally try to review small estate wines, I really enjoyed this fairly dark Etna Rosso with a non working dinner and decided to dig into the producer, and while not much info is out there, the quality in the bottle shines and at $42 on a restaurant list it wasn’t an outrageous gouging and well worth the pleasure in the glass, especially with the wonderful seafood spaghetti nero at La Belena in Carmel by the Sea. The 2013 Theresa Eccher Etna Rosso DOC “ER” is silken with pretty mouth feel and delicacy on the palate, liken a fine Pinot Noir, it goes great with a variety of cuisine choices, it starts with flinty spices, dried flowers and tangy plummy notes which leads to a palate that gains with every sip adding cherry, raspberry, red pepper, minty anise and a touch of stony earth. The acidity is lifting, but silky and the sense of floral grace lingers on the finish, making for a friendly Sicilian red that hints at the exotic nature of the place, drink now.
($22-26 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2015 Domaine Collotte, Marsannay, Cuvee Vieilles Vignes, Red Burgundy, France.
Exploring value priced Burgundy using ends in huge disappointment, but sometimes you find a jewel and the wines of Philippe Collotte are just that, especially his old vine Marsannay, where there are 5 parcels of 50+ year old vines that make up his excellent super-value Marsannay Cuvee Vieilles Vignes, it way over delivers for the price. For the US market, Weygant Metzler has special cuvees, with all ultra sorted de-stemmed fruit, he bottles everything unfiltered per his imports request, it makes for an expressive and mineral driven Pinot Noir of wonderful delicacy, but with solid fruit intensity which forms it’s perception of depth flavors. While starting with classic Burgundy subtly and brightness things gain a darker feel with air allowing layers of black cherry, strawberry and earthy vine picked berries to come through on the medium bodied palate, the mouth feel and length are quite impressive for a wine of this price. Rose petals, chalk dust and cedar notes along with a mixed spice note add to the whole here, there’s no question this will surprise a few people, the vintage with it’s concentrated ripe profile certainly helped and the old vines give a charm that with put a smile on many a face, it did mine! Drink this Marsannay over the next 3 to 5 years, it’s a no guilt Burgundy to get by the case!
($24 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2015 Vincent Gaudry Vigneron, Sancerre Rouge “Les Garennes” Loire Valley, France.
The first domaine to be certified biodynamic in Sancerre, back in 2004, the Saury-en-Vaux based Vincent Gaudry has been a unique leader in natural style wines in the area, he also has a 90 year old plot of vines that delivers outstanding terroir quality with expressive depth and character, this is a winemaker to watch, if you haven’t had his wines. Vincent Gaudry’s Sancerre Rouge is a single parcel old vine Pinot Noir, made 100 % whole cluster from a massale selection, from his domaine’s 9 hectares of vineyards grown on the region’s three main soils that includes Terres Blanches, a clay-limestone or marl, and classic Silex, flint and stony (chalky), plus Caillottes, a rubble-like limestone that comes from weathered Kimmeridgian. The 2015 organic whole cluster, low sulfur, Sancerre Rouge is ripe and expressive in a way you rarely find in Pinot Noir’s from the Loire, it’s wine with sexy layers and Premier Cru quality depth and elegance with an amazing sense of live and length, with the stems perfect mated to the fruit intensity, this wine is insanely seductive with hedonistic layers of fruit, spice and mineral focus. It starts with a hint of spritzy lift before exploding on the palate with a mix of rose oil, black cherry, pomegranate, sweet basil leaf, cinnamon, wild plum, racy stemmy notes, flinty spices and delicate wood shadings. Things keep pumping along nicely and air brings a refined nature to things, while not missing a step or taking away from the thrill ride it takes you on, gaining a touch of minty herb, cedar and tangy strawberry and lingering on with a touch of blood orange zest, violet pastel, wet chalk and tart currant. This will be a fascinating wine to follow over the next 5 to 10 years, even though it’s youthful charm and flamboyance is impossible to resist, it is asking a lot not to enjoy now. This producer is all new to me, imported by Floraison Selections, but the secret is out now, don’t wait to find this wine!
($62 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2016 Drew, Pinot Noir, Mid-Elevation, Mendocino Ridge.
For the third vintage in a row, Jason Drew just might be California’s best producer and wines are spectacular in delivery, substance and expressive with an amazing sense of controlled tension, these 2016’s are full of energy, precision and depth of fruit, without question they are some of my favorite wines (Syrah & Pinot), with this lovely value priced Mid Elevation an early star in the lineup. Mid-Elevation is an appellation blend of several sites in the Mendocino Ridge (85%) plus Anderson Valley (15%) that lie between 1,200-1,400 feet in elevation. Drew considers this zone their sweet spot within the coastal ridges for structured Pinot Noir(s) as they are closer to the fog-line which is typically at 900-1,000ft, allowing for opulent layers and brilliant acidity, it really makes the wine pop in the glass as this wine clearly shows. Five vineyards make up this cuvee, 50% Drew Estate, 12% Valenti Ranch, 12% Perli Vineyard, 12% Fashauer Vineyard and 15% Wendling Vineyard with a selection of Dijon and Heritage clones that include 667, 828, 115, Pommard, 943, Swan, and Rochioli, Jason then fermented with partial whole cluster, with 15% in this vintage, using native yeasts, then barrel aged in mostly used French oak (only 15% new) for about 11 months. Brilliant in detail and lift, the Mid-Elevation 2016 Pinot is bursting with flavor and dynamic transparency with a deep garnet/ruby hue in the glass showing a lovely floral tone and muted wood that leads to a medium weight palate of black cherry, tangy summer berries, pomegranate, purple plums, cran-apple and dark currant fruits along with a hint of orange/minty tea spices, pine pitch, mineral, light touches of wild mushrooms, cinnamon and flinty loam. This textured and youthful Pinot only previews the greatest of what we can look forward to in the single vineyard wines to come from Drew, this Mid-Elevation is a stupidly good value, it has complexity, beauty in fine and delicate focus, balanced brisk acidity and satiny tannins that form it’s structure, it shows a ripe and potent personality, but with a Burgundy like natural alcohol coming in at 13.4%, which belies it’s impact and presence in the glass. If you really want to taste California at it’s best, Drew is a must, the level of expression and class is off the charts, these are wines the rise above and are pure seduction, search them out! The 2016’s may not be as concentrated as 2013 or 2015, but they more than make up for that with their overall performance, they have a polish that allows early drinking, especially this one, but I see potential in mid term cellaring, drink between 2019-2026.
($32 Est.) 93+ Points, grapelive
2016 M. & C. Lapierre, Morgon, Cuvee S, Cru Beaujolais, France.
The M. & C. Lapierre 2016 Morgon Cru Beaujolais “S” is the lightly sulfured version, made from organic grapes and natural winemaking techniques, it just has a tiny dose of S02 at bottling to preserve it, as opposed to the Cuvee N that is exclusively imported by Kermit Lynch in ultra small qualities, while this one is more readily available and safer for shipping/cellaring, both are glorious expressions of Morgon, in fact after trying both there s little if any real world difference except that the N feels slightly more raw with a more earthy tone and a touch more citrusy note, while the S has a more forward clarity of fruit, though as noted the difference is almost not worth mentioning, it’s just as a long time admirer of Lapierre I was extremely curious as to how both were performing. Lapierre’s dad Marcel was a leader in organic and natural wines and Mathieu and his sister Camille have carried on his legendary example with exceptional care in the vines and in the cellar, these are wines that have always shown what well crafted natural wine can be, they are pure, elegant and clean wines with an authentic and soulful expression of terroir and heritage, while still not taking themselves too seriously, adding a playful art to each wine, these are wines you drink with a sense of awe and with much laughter and a huge smile on your face! This is absolutely Gamay perfection, made whole cluster from 60 years old vines and aged in well used Burgundy barrels, with no adornments, juicy, but wonderful in balance, beautifully perfumed and texture showing fine silky tannins and energy. The 2016 delivers a rich vein of bright cherry, fruity/juicy strawberry and wild black plum notes, a hint of cedar/walnut, sweet star anise, dried basil, mineral tones and violette. With air some savory tones, earth, spice and mineral add to the complex detail come through with delicious subtly, there’s no wonder why these are so sought after, I love it. This is a Gamay wonderland, not as concentrated as 2015, but joyously lively and almost crisply refreshing, drink now.
($28 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2014 Guillaume Gilles, Cornas, Northern Rhone, France.
One of the my favorite Syrah wines in the world, Guillaume Gilles Cornas, is a powerful and edgy red with wonderful depth and intensity, but with a certain polish and inner elegance that makes it stand out in a crowd of fine northern Rhone offerings. Guillaume Gilles, once a young vigneron resident in Cornas, is now one of the regions top talents, he trained under the famed Robert Michel and was Michel’s most loved protégé, not only did Robert Michel mentor the young Guillaume Gilles, he also leased his prime parcel in the Chaillot vineyard to him and provided his cave (with all its history and secrets!) when he retired in 2006. Gilles, like Thierry Allemand, it an ultra traditionalist in the cellar, he’s never even seen a destemmer! And he uses 100% whole cluster, only native yeasts, ferments in concrete vats and ages in old demi-muids, large used French oak casks, and bottles without fining or filtering. In Cornas, the best wines without question come from the old and best sites and Chaillot is just about the greatest parcel there is and Gilles hand tends his rows on the higher and steepest part, which tends to give the most concentration, tannin and an added dimension to the wines, his plot average 40 years old and while not certified his works in an organic way on the rocky granite, clay and limestone soils. It was great to finally meet Guillaume in person recently, when he was on a sales tour with Rosenthal Wine Merchants in San Francisco, and tasting his current lineup which included this 2014 Cornas, his top wine, as well as his rare Vin de France (100% Syrah) Les Peyrouses from vines just outside the legal Cornas zone on a flat galet (big round river stones) strewn site with sand and clay soils, it can also be labeled Cotes du Rhone, the same way A. Clape does. The 2014 vintage was not the region’s top years, but the Gilles Cornas is remarkably powerful and profound in the glass with an opaque purple/black/garnet hue and a vast array of terroir influences on the nose and palate with your senses getting a thrill of crushed violets, raw meat, peppercorns, mure and tapenade along with edgy black and blue fruits forming a core with firm tannins and a vivid stemmy nature. Gilles gives a long cool cuvaison to this wine, macerating up to 30 days and elevage (aging in cask) lasts 18 months, plus a year in bottle before shipping, he uses only a tiny amount of sulfur and the 2014 shows tremendous purity and vigor with a heightened lift of natural acidity, which adds a feel of energy and lightness to this brilliant wine, it just gets better with every sip adding blueberry, kirsch, lavender and salted black licorice to the layers on display here, wow, this is stellar and gripping stuff. I have been following this winery since the first US release and I am always impressed and intrigued by the wines, and considering the amount made and the quality, the Guillaume Gilles is a must have Syah, it delivers a performance that is world class, and while slightly austere there is a gorgeous subtle beauty that should unfold over time, even though it seems a bit hidden at the moment, amazing in detail and complexity, I can only imagine the greatness and flamboyance that the 2015 promises, but I would not pass up the chance to get this 2014, it’s simply awesome, drink over the next 5 to 15 years!
($70 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2016 Los Chuchaquis by Stirm Wine Co., Old Vine Mataro, San Benito County.
This wine is a part of a joint project lineup by Ryan Stirm, Andrew Paul Nelson and Jehan Hakimian that focuses on natural wines from interesting old vine sites. Chuchaqui is a Quechua word that literally means “without legs” and used colloquially in Ecuador to refer to someone who is “perpetually hungover”. The three initially connected through their joint love of Riesling and California’s historic vineyards, they brought the Chuchaqui dream of making their own idea of natural wine from California’s historic varieties to life in 2016. Inspired by some of the most successful European (think Occhipinti & Lapierre) and California natural wines, without the old hippy absolute dogma that led to dirty and funky wines that weren’t pleasant or stable, there is a clarity and action to detail here, though there has never, nor will there ever be, any commercial (industrial) yeast used at the winery, relying on native strains only and now new oak barrels, no additions or aggressive handling during production. Other than a minimal amount of S02 (sulfur) that was added to their Rosé, the wines are made without any sulfur and exclusively 100% organically grown grapes. To make this style of wine, and not end up with weirdness you need to have extreme cleanliness and top your barrels with a fanatic sense of purpose to make sure you don’t let volatile acidity run rampant and everything I’ve tried from Stirm shows to dedication and pride in hard work, especially in this old vine Mourvedre (Mataro) which shows wonderful purity and fresh form, it is joyous on the medium full palate and refined in texture and has juicy ripeness without harsh tannin and a long dry finish. The 2016 Chuchaqui Old Vine Mataro is vibrant, spicy and has a nice array of spice, mineral and earthy tones that you’d expect from this grape with layers of vivid black raspberry, plum and candied cherry fruit that come across at first as crisply focused, but gains density and firm structure with air which balances the up front expressiveness of this red, and even though it doesn’t quite get the full mouth feel or richness of a Bandol or some of the better and more complex Mourvedre offerings in the state, like Sandlasnds, Alban, Tablas Creek, Ian Brand, who’s Enz Vineyard version is one of my personal favorites as is Randall Grahm’s Old Telegram and or Ridge’s Lytton Springs single varietal bottling, to name a few I’ve loved recently as I really love this grape, while (This Chuchaqui) still being a fun and well made wine, and it really grew on me when it’s full presence come through in the glass. It’s dark garnet/purple color is exciting and when enjoyed with food it is allowed to deliver it’s best qualities which include hints of lavender, dusty stones, a touch of primary red peach and blood orange is the only hint at it’s naturalness as well as minty herb, anise, flinty/pepper and lingering cinnamon, cedar, dried flowers and tangy currant/mulberry. This wine shows lots of promise, it has a lot of admirable character and I’m excited to see where this label goes, I love Ryan’s own label Riesling, which is right up there with Tatomer and Joyce in a dry style, and I also liked their co-ferment nouveau field blend as well. Drink this old vine Mataro by Chuchaqui (Stirm Wine Co.) sooner v. later, it excels for it’s youthful charm and with no added sulfur you’ll need to be extra careful and keep it away from light and heat if you cellar it, best from 2018 to 2021, I think it has more than enough class, potential and style to surprise and hope to drink a few more bottles over the next few years.
($35 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2014 Domaine Bertrand et Axelle Machard de Gramont, Nuits-Saint-Georges, Lieu-Dit “Les Terraces de Vallerots” Red Burgundy, France.
Since taking over the family domaine in 2004 Axelle Machard de Gramont has converted to organic farming and gained a great reputation as a minimalist in the cellar making gorgeous and lively wines that seem softer in focus and more elegant, they highlight the delicacy of each terroir and make for wonderful drinking wines that offer classic profiles and are fantastic values, with this Lieu-Dit Vallerots being one of my favorites of her 2014 bottlings that I’ve tried. The vineyard, Axelle’s father Bertrand reterraced and planted in 2002 on a plot that had been abandoned since the late 1800s is now starting to realize it’s potential and this 2014 is a beauty with a complex array of pure Pinot Noir flavors and terroir influence, it’s a brightly lifted Burgundy that leans on pretty red cherry, wild plum and dusty raspberry, earthy beet root along with rose petals on the nose, plus an earthy seduction of mineral, spice and truffle notes before adding a darker element of racy currant and a faint touch leather on the silken palate. There’s plenty of density and richness of fruit in this textural Nuits-Saint-George, but it still remains remarkably light and energetic with nice acidity and almost haunting in length and detail, Axelle’s touch really is telling, especially as this wine opens and evolves with air and time, considering this from such young vines the finesse is even more impressive. Best to enjoy this tasty wine, imported by Paris Wine Company & Balanced Wine Selections, over the near future, maybe between 2019 and 2022.
($55 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2016 Eduardo Torres Acosta Viticultore, Versante Nord, Bianco Terre Siciliane IGT, Italy.
Eduardo Torres Acosta, the Spaniard, a native of the Canary Islands who now make Sicily home is one of the young winemakers to watch on the Island, after working with natural wine princess Arianna Occhipinti and currently head winemaker of Etna’s famed Azienda Passopisciaro, has been an instant hit with his Etna sourced red blend, mostly Nerello Mascalese, which he has been doing since the 2014 vintage, now has an amazing Uve Bianche (white Etna wine) made from six different parcel of old vines on the valance’s north side, hence the name Versante Nord, it’s a blend of Minella mainly with the rest including other local varieties Catarratto, Carricante, Coda di Volpe, Grecanico and Inzolia. Complex and brilliant in detail the spiced apply Vesante Nord Bianco was fermented spontaneously in concrete tank, with maceration on the skins for 5 days without temperature control, before resting in well seasoned botti (large oak cask) using organic and hand tended grapes from volcanic soils at high elevation to preserve cool acidities. The 2016 Eduardo Torres Acosta Bianco starts with it’s golden hue with an amber tint and that spiced apple, almost cidery before opening up to a medium bodied palate that includes an array of layered white and yellow fruits showing dried pineapple, quince, pear and zest lemon/lime along with a touch skin tannins, flinty/shate and mixed exotic spices, it picks up a hint of anise/fennel, crystalized ginger and a little oxidative mature element (backed apple and nuttiness) that is common with both nature wines and white on volcanic ash. This is wonderfully expressive and wildly alluring wine that is a touch rustic, but charming and it’s quality readily apparent, especially with air and it should prove a great wine to enjoy on a warm evening with friends, food and intelligent conversation. This white makes an excellent companion to Acosta’s marvelous Nerello based reds, be sure not to over look this producer when looking for Etna wines, and as a side note, the only reason these wines are not labeled Etna Rosso or Etna Bianco, is because Eduardo makes his wines at a facility outside the DOC, even though his grapes are all from classified zones.
($32 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2016 Peter Wetzer, Kékfrankos, Soproni, Hungary.
Sopron was once part of a greater region that included what is now Austria’s Burgenland home to fine Blaufrankisch, but part of Hungary since 1921, here the grape is known as Kékfrankos, this wild and remote area has a long Germanic tradition with many Swabian (Bavarian farmers mostly) settlers, who had a great influence in Sopron area. These early settlers were known as “Poncichter” (Bohnenzüchter in German) because they planted beans as cover crops, and for food, using the grape canopy to shade them from the long sunny days, this use of land led them to a more holistic approach to growing grapes and it still has spiritual connection to the small collection of new generation winemakers here, including Peter Wetzer, who is one of the best producers of stylish and natural Kékfrankos, he is a label to look for, I have been thrilled will each vintage I’ve had and this 2016 is just as impressive. Kékfrankos or Blaufrankisch in Austria and Lemberger in Germany is sometimes compared to Pinot Noir, but I find it more like the illicit love child of Cabernet Franc and Gamay who’s stepfather is from Burgundy! My two favorite versions are Georg Prieler’s Austrian example and Peter Wetzer’s from Soproni Hungary, both are excellent examples of varietal and terroir with the Austrian wine feeling denser/meatier and more powerful, while the lovely Wetzel seems more delicate perfumed and lighter in style. I was impressed with the vibrancy and textural grace in Wetzel’s new vintage, comes from the Kohlenberg and Harmler vineyards, where the soils are mixture of clay, red gravel, limestone, and loess, the vines age range is from 25-60 years old, this 2016 exceeds my hopes for such a wine with an inner dark flower bouquet and a light to medium bodied mouth feel that seems to gain dimension with your mood, making for an intriguing red. This natural and authentic Kékfrankos spent 18 months on the lees, it was native fermented in open top bins and barrel aged in used Hungarian oak, it’s all unfined and unfiltered as well to add to it’s terroir clarity. It’s a wine that adds a spicy, earthy tone and complexity on the palate with every sip, best with food, especially duck confit, there is layers of black cherry, red raspberry, a touch of bell pepper and mineral tones to revel in as well as a hint of cedar, licorice root, loam and a touch of leather. The winemaking is deft and clear, nothing overt, but still with an exciting presence in the glass, this is a lovely wine, pretty, fun and unique, to enjoy over the next 2 to 3 years.
($22 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2015 Arianna Occhipinti, Il Frappato, Terre Sicilianne IGT, Vittoria, Sicily Italy.
A lot has been said about Arianna Occhipinti, a leader in natural wines, and her wines, she is an old soul and a super human hard working winegrower in a young body, one thing is certain, Frappato has almost become a household name because of her and her wines, especially her signature bottling the Il Frappato, it a wine of wondrous earthy pleasures, seductive in form and delicate in nature it has the presence of a lighter Nebbiolo with brandied cherry and balsamic notes, but with the easy charm of a fine Cru Beaujolais highlighting Frappato’s strawberry and lingonberry core of fruit. Occhipinti is an old soul and has her heart deep in her region’s terroir and traditions, her soulful expressions are full of pride of place and laced with a rustic charm that is seductive in every sense, her 2015 is maybe her best to date with a serious, almost Burgundy like feel, energy and class while still remaining utterly spellbindingly true to her spot on earth, near Ragusa in the Vittoria zone, with it’s red, sandy soils above limestone. This is a wine that has really come of age, losing the absoluteness of youth and dogma to reach a classic dimension and a studied quality of complexity and completeness that may have just been missing in a few of her earlier examples, she and her uncle Giusto, who makes the famed COS, make great wines, but uniquely different in styles even though both are leaders on the island for that natural approach with COS using ampfora and much less wood in a nod to the ancient methods. Not that the ripe vintage lacks for fruity expression, it just allows a deeper vein of restraint and depth of dry flavors to excel in a wine that in prior years could be dismissed as simple or naive, while there’s no question of Occhipinti’s natural wine leanings, this wine takes beyond that niche pigeon hole into the world where a harsh spotlight looks for any flaw and where survival depends on consistency of clarity, well, now there will be no doubt of her talents, this 2015 is a gorgeous and compelling wine without any excuses to fall back on. Lightly floral and with an array of spice, earth and racy red fruits Arianna’s Il Frappato delivers an exceptional performance from start to finish on par with a Premier Cru Nuits-Saint-Georges or a serious Fleurie, the medium bodied palate is lively and full of verve with the mentioned core of dusty cherry, tangy plum, strawberry and Swedish lingonberry fruits along with chalky stone, saddle leather, dry extract, minty herbs, tarry licorice, red peach, candied citrus zest, lavender florals and dried porcini. The tannins are remarkably refined and the acidity is perfectly lifting without taking away from the beautiful textural mouthfeel, this native ferment and used barrel raised, low sulfur red is an intriguing and flexible wine for cuisine, especially lightly spicy seafood and simple country fare, drink over the next 3 to 5 years, Occhipinti continues to raise her game and you’ll want to rush to get this one, with her cult like following it will always be a hard get!
($39 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2016 Bow & Arrow, Melon, Johan Vineyard, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
This is a wine I’m always drawn to, it’s a brilliant and fresh white that delivers the varietal characteristics of a dusty dry Muscadet Sevre et Maine, but with it’s own unique added dimension, and this 2016 vintage even rises above expectations with heightened energy and mineral depth. Scott Frank is making some America’s best Loire Valley inspired wines, he naturally crafts expressive wines of great definition and distinction using primally all organic grapes and with no additions or employing anything but tiny amounts of sulfur, these are fun and pure wines that are easy to love with a certain old world and rustic charm, but deliver serious details and are exceptional values, especially his Gamay based wines and Cabernet Francs, though you not want to miss this Melon or his Sauvignon Blanc either. These 2016’s by Bow & Arrow have reached a new level of quality, easily exceeding the outstanding 2014 and 2015 wines with this Bow & Arrow Johan Vineyard Melon de Bourgogne, from biodynamic grown grapes, these vines are situated on the southern edge of the Van Duzer corridor, west of Salem, it gets cool sea breezes and wonderful exposure, set on marine sedimentary soils which help give this wine it’s freshness, nervy verve and stony character, this striking white starts with crisp brightness with a touch of straw, oyster shell, citrus flowers leading to a light to medium bodied palate of brisk green apple, mixed citrus and steely morning melon fruits as well as chalky wet rock, a hint of citron/herb, mouth watering saline and quinine tanginess. This wine gains a certain roundness with air, it possesses an intriguing impact, it’s somewhat Chablis like in it’s form and performance, it highlights Oregon’s potential for alternative white wines with Melon really coming of age, the finish here leans on lemony tones, kiwi and a hint of lees along with a white peach element that adds a bit more complexity to this savvy and fine white, it is an alluring wine that will make a lot of people happy, in particular with seafood and or goat cheeses. This is a crunchy vibrant Melon that should be enjoyed young in it’s refreshing brilliance and racy prime, even though it’s structure and acidity should allow graceful aging for at least 3 to 5 years, if you’ve not had Bow & Arrow, you should search out this Portland based winery!
($18-22 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
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