New Reviews

New Reviews

2016 Castello di Verduno, Langhe Nebbiolo, Piemonte, Italy.
The bright and menthol laced Castello di Verduno Langhe Nebbiolo opens nicely to reveal tangy cherry (cherry drop) and plum fruits along with fresh mineral and vibrant acidity with hints of dried lavender, anise and blood orange. This fresh style Nebbiolo doesn’t scream baby Barolo, but you can see the family resemblance and this Piedmont red is easy to enjoy, best to enjoy with food though with it’s acid and tannin. Air brings out more fruit and a nice chalky detail with hints of raspberry and spicy elements with more perfume showing up too adding some rose petal to the overall joyous nature here. Maybe it’s unfair to expect a little more, especially at the price, but this Barolo producer has been picked to be a breakout star in the next few vintages, so it is too easy to fall to those expectations, though this wine is perfectly respectable and drinks very well. Mario Andrion, winemaker at Castello di Verduno is making some great wines and the family Burlotto has great holdings in most of the best Nebbiolo zones including of course Barolo and Barbaresco, with the grapes for this wine being grown in a vineyard located in the Verduno, Boscatto area, plus a selection of Nebbiolo that comes from Faset and Rabaja-bass in the Barbaresco zone. The Langhe Nebbiolo is a 100% tank raised wine with a cool 11 day maceration and a 9 months aging in stainless steel, they add a short period of bottle time before release, but everything is done to make for a fresh expression of varietal, and that is clearly evident in the results. Drink this pure Nebbiolo over the next 3 to 5 years, it’s well worth looking for, it has a lot of personality and subtle charms, and if you are in search of a more serious wine check out their Barolo or Barbaresco bottlings.
($22 Eat.) 90 Points, grapelive

2015 Arterberry Maresh, Pinot Noir, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
The Arterberry Maresh 2015 Dundee Hills Pinot is classic in style and with wonderful purity showing a deep color and the region’s exotic red spiciness to go along with the vintage’s ripe and opulent character. Winemaker and vigneron Jim Maresh is one of the newer stars on the Oregon wine scene crafting wines in the Dundee Hills AVA of the Willamette Valley. According to the winery, Jim Maresh has selected sites of predominantly old-vine, own-rooted and non-irrigated Pinot Noir (as well as Chardonnay) vines, which are farmed for the Arterberry Maresh wines along with a little bit of estate wine made from his own Maresh Vineyard as well, all set on southern facing hillsides with the regions signature Jory (Volcanic) soils. The area is result of thousands of years of volcanic uplift, flood and and erosion, which has given the Dundee Hills a beautiful landscape with lovely forests and iron rich red dirt, which adds to the unique character of the wines. In 2008, Martha Maresh and Steve Mikami began construction on the Powell Hill Winery. Named after the original pioneer family who farmed the land, the winery now sits at the highest point of Maresh Vineyard with an amazing view to the Cascades, and it was completed in time for the 2011 vintage. Jim founded his label in 2005 and has been getting a lot of buzz for his minimalist and light touch, he uses 100% de-stemmed fruit fermented in 1¼ ton lots, this style in the winery allows the intrinsic character of the wine to blossom with purity and life. According to Maresh the passive temperature management ensures spontaneous fermentation proceeds and it is monitored and guided by sensory analysis, gentle extraction techniques and low peak temperatures. Immediately upon reaching dryness, the lots are gently pressed in a half-ton wood bladder press and settle 2-4 weeks before being transferred to 5%-10% new French Oak barrels for 14-18 months. This 2015 delivers elegant layers of black cherry, plum and dark currant fruits on a medium/full palate that has silken mouth feel and lots of length, but with a studied sense of inner brightness with good acidity and mixed spices including red pepper, mineral notes, aromatic herbs, cedar, delicate oak notes and cinnamon. It gains detail and structure with air, as well as revealing floral elements both in the nose and the finish, lovely stuff and a great value in quality for well balanced Oregon Pinot Noir, drink over the next 3 to 5 years.
($24-30 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2016 Weingut Von Schubert-Maximin Grunhauser, Riesling Feinherb, Monopol, Mosel, Germany.
It’s impossible not to love this beautiful dry style Riesling from Maximin Grunhaus, it is bursting with energy and slate driven terroir with Ruwer character and exceptional purity. This stuff is such a great value with a light/medium palate of mineral intensity showing lime, green apple, tart apricot, grapefruit and lemongrass along with salty wet stone, flinty spices and a delicate floral perfume. Riesling Monopol is a unique cuvée, which is close to dry and comes from mostly old vines belonging to the Von Schubert family at Maximin Grunhaus, with a bulk coming from their famed Herrenberg Cru, a site benefits from deep soils with good water retention, over a base of red Devonian slate and the Abtsberg, where the subsoil is blue Devonian slate and the hillside runs south-east to south-west, achieving a gradient of up to a staggering 70% slope above the Ruwer river. Crisp with just a hint of generous residual sugar the Maximin Grunhauser Monopol delivers a fine performance in the glass with it’s pale and bright golden/green hue and goes wonderfully with Asian cuisine as well as more traditional fare gaining a touch of earth and verbena with certain foods, it’s great to enjoy now, but can be aged for many years.
($22 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2016 Waxwing Wine Cellars, Syrah, Flocchini Vineyard, Petaluma Gap AVA, Sonoma County.
Another small batch beauty from Scott Sisemore of Waxwing Wine Cellars, the Petaluma Gap Flocchini Vineyard Syrah shows an open-knit ripe character with opulent California fruit purity and a nicely balanced lower alcohol style. Sisemore has been sourcing from this site for about five vintages now, with promising results and this 2016 is the best effort to date, the Flocchini family had traditionally run dairy cows on the property, but planted a portion of their property to grapes in 2002, including some blocks of Syrah with clones that include Noir and 877. Once part of the greater Sonoma Coast appellation , the Flocchini is now part of the new Petaluma Gap AVA (growing region) which is fast becoming known for producing balanced, delicious cool climate Syrah as well as a classic area for rich and deeply flavored Pinot Noir. The vineyard is located along Old Lakeville Road southeast of the old town of Petaluma, and the section Scott takes is on a gentle west facing slope above the Petaluma River with great afternoon sun exposure and cool breezes making for a longer growing season that helps with concentration and complex flavors. The dark and almost opaque Flocchini Syrah by Waxwing shows dense layers of fruit with blackberry, raspberry, plum and thick cherry compote along with black fig, wild flowers, sweet oak notes and light spices, it’s beautifully textured and rich in body with refined tannins that makes for a serious and forward wine to be enjoyed even now and for the next five years.
($32 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2015 Domaine Maurice Schoech, Riesling, Sonnenberg, Vin d’Alsace, France.
I have tried a few older vintages of Schoech and have always admired the brightness and purity in the wines, but this 2015 seems a step up in terms of quality and depth of flavors, this Sonnenberg Riesling is beautiful, mineral driven and crisply focused dry wine that is electric in the glass. The Domaine Maurice Schoech is run by Maurice’s sons Jean-Léon and Sebastien Schoech and the modern family estate was founded in 1971 on the edge of the village of Ammerschwihr, though their roots go back as far as 1650 in the region and they have many ancient records and artifacts from their history on display at their cellar. The Riesling Sonnenberg is sourced from a collection of old-vine parcels that are planted to massale selections of regional Riesling clones on a south-facing granite slope in the Sonnenberg lieu-dit making for an intense and ripe dry wine of precision with sharp detailing and a real kick of vibrant acidity, it feels at first light and lithe, but gains presence in the glass, though always svelte and not showy with any flab at all, it keeps it’s laser focus throughout, impressive and crafted with studied finesse. Schoech also makes a Grand Cru field blend, like Marcel Deiss as well as doing one of the of best Pinot Auxerrois bottlings I’ve ever had, this is a winery to check out. This 2015 Sonnenberg Riesling was whole berry pressed and fermented with native yeasts, aged on the lees and raised in stainless steel vats for 12 months without fining and with low sulfur. Schoech is converting to all organic and about half of their holdings have been certified, and all their vines are hand harvested and worked with great attention to the environment and their wines have great and vivid energy. Layers of lime, crisp white rose, flinty wet stones and peach lead the way here along with a steely core of citrus and stone fruits as well as a touch of chamomile, kumquat and lemongrass. This pretty Vin d’Alsace Riesling is zippy and refreshing and subtle in style, but rewards the palate and slowly seduces, showing it’s charms especially well with cuisine, it also should age well too, drink it over the coming decade.
($25 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2016 Saint-Cosme, Saint-Joseph Rouge, Northern Rhone, France.
The 2016’s from Saint-Cosme are vigorous and meaty wines that will certainly be considered classics with deep layers and tons of character, I was especially impressed with the negotiant Saint-Joseph bottling which has a powerful profile and thrilling fruit, this is not a vintage to go light on for the Northern Rhone! Starting with tight red fruits and gamey nose this 100% Syrah slowly unveils allowing it’s Saint-Joseph elegance to come out from hiding with pretty crushed violets, cedar and minty herbs lifting from the glass after a good deal of swirling, the camphor and graphite fade into the background letting some more dark fruits emerge as well. Layered and rich, while still being firm, this Saint-Cosme Saint-Joseph Rouge flows more completely with air, it delivers a full palate of damson plum, blueberry, marionberry and kirsch as well as the earthy leather/meaty tone mentioned at the top, along with hints of wild lavender, anise, flinty stones and youthful ripe tannin. According to winemaker Louis Barruol, their Saint Cosme Saint-Joseph is produced from 100% Sérine clone, it’s an ancient and local variety of the Syrah grape, that has unique and different characteristics from newer Syrah selections. Noting that it is more oval in shape, with loose bunches that has lots of space that allows more air though and around the clusters, Barruol adds he thinks this results in a more aromatic wine. The Saint-Joseph is sourced from parcels in the climat Malleval (zone) in the northern part of the region closer to Condrieu. The wine is made from 70% de-stemmed grapes with 30% whole clusters, it’s then fermented with indigenous yeasts, and raised in 20% new 228-liter French oak barrels. All of which adds up to a serious Northern Rhone Syrah, maybe slightly less pretty than the 2014 and 2015 vintages, it has potential to be more age worthy and while earthy, almost more Crozes like, it should gain it’s aromatic heights in a few more years in bottle, best to enjoy this with more robust cuisine in the meantime.
($30 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2017 Domaine Rimbert, Saint-Chinian Rouge “Les Travers de Marceau” Languedoc Sud de France.
Jean-Marie Rimbert aka the Carignan-Man or Carignaniste is one of the herbs of the Carignan grape and one of the Languedoc’s top winegrowers, his winemaking style leaning towards lightness and purity of varietal expression and terroir focused with no flashy oak, especially in this Saint-Chinian Rouge Les Travers de Marceau which is 100% organic and 100% tank raised using a cuvee blend of mostly, of course, Carignan along with Syrah, Grenache, Cinsault and Mourvedre. Filled to the brim with purple/black fruits of which the hue in the glass matches perfectly and with a heady mix of spice, herb, dried flowers, iron and licorice. The expression of wild plum, blueberry, boysenberry, loganberry and candied cherry is impossible not to fall for here, this is really juicy and joyous country wine that gains some complexity, rustic charm and crunchy mineral notes with air, it’s an exceptional value. This is delightful stuff, dark and spicy in the glass with great fruit presence on the palate, it’s a wine that plays well with varied cuisines and easily goes with the change of seasons, drink over the next couple of years, but especially now.
($19 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2017 Samuel Louis Smith, Pinot Noir, Albatross Ridge Vineyard, Monterey County.
Sam Smith is one of Monterey’s new stars, coming from the Santa Barbara area and having made wines at Margerum he now crafts the wines and is the head winemaker at Morgan Winery where he has really raised the game at this longtime area classic, as well as producing a fine set of wines under his own label. Monterey’s new generation of winemakers are taking it to the next level and certainly Smith is a great addition to this group, he joins Jeff Pisoni of Pisoni Estate and Lucia Vineyards, Scott Shapely of Roar, Ian Brand, I. Brand & Family Winery and Russell Joyce of Joyce Wine Company, just to name a few of the local talents, that have pushed the region to new heights. The 2017 vintage is another level all together for this area, the early tastings I’ve done have revealed amazing quality and Sam’s upcoming releases are outstanding, especially this terrific Carmel Valley grown Albatross Ridge Vineyard Pinot Noir, it looks set to be one of the best wines of vintage! I’ve tasted almost every Carmel Valley wine over the years, being a native to the area, and I gotta say this 2017 Albatross Ridge, while still an infant and young, shows a depth and complexity that is almost beyond all my expectations, it’s going to blow some minds! This vineyard, owned by the Bowlus Family, set on an ancient seabed, these south facing hillsides only six miles from the Pacific only gets tiny yields, most often less than a ton an acre, is an extreme site wind swept and with rocky chalky soils that is a challenge to farm, but can produce brilliant fruit in the right vintage as Sam’s 2017 proves. Smith took a brave decision to push the envelope with the winemaking, closing to employ about 30% whole cluster, which can prove tricky here, but was rewarded with much greater complexity, texture and heightened aromatics as well as really making the fruit pop. The one third new oak adds a level of luxury that balances the stem tension and savory tones as well as the cool climate acidity without over shadowing the delicate nature of the flavors that are a hallmark of this vineyard. I was lucky enough to sit down with Sam and taste this upcoming release along with his 2017 Sandstone Terrace Santa Cruz Mountains Syrah, both these wines absolutely rock and will be must have Monterey Bay influenced offerings and while I enjoyed his 2016 bottlings these are huge leaps up in quality and style, especially this 2017 Albatross Ridge Pinot. Gorgeous in detail and form with sexy mouth feel and energy it delivers tons of terroir personality and purity showing beautiful fruit layers of black cherry, tart plum, wild strawberry and a hint of grenadine as well as a hint of blueberry, plus a sense of dark roses, a burst of blood orange, tea spice, subtle oak toast with a faint vanilla, cinnamon and chalk notes coming in focus with air. Can’t wait to see how this wine progresses in bottle, seriously awesome stuff even in it’s youthful stage it has massive potential, I think Pinot fans will want to get on Sam’s mailing list ASAP! Drink this from 2020 to 2028, if you can be patient, if not there is no reason I can fault to enjoy it upon release, which looks like to be around Christmas time, don’t miss it.
($44 Est.) 94-96 Points, grapelive

2015 Thierry Germain-Domaine des Roches Neuves, Saumur-Champigny, La Marginale, Loire Valley Red, France.
Intensely concentrated and mineral toned, the gorgeous Thierry Germain La Marginale Saumur-Champgny 2015 coats the palate with dark fruits and a perfect about of pure Cabernet Franc bell pepper, spice and earthiness. Impressive mouth feel, bigger than you’d expect with thick layers of black currant, cherry, plum and vine picked red berries this Saumur-Champigny is a stunner, wonderfully open and warm on the full bodied palate. Germain’s story is a unique one, he relocated to the Loire from Bordeaux in the early 1990s, and soon fell under the spell and influence of his spiritual father, the late Charly Foucault of the famous Clos Rougeard. Thierry would ultimately convert his entire domaine to biodynamic viticulture following the leading lights of the region. Imported by Kermit Lynch, Thierry Germain is one of the leaders in the Loire’s organic movement and his Domaine Des Roches Neuves, with vineyards that are planted in the Saumur (Blanc) for Chenin and Saumur-Champigny (Rouge) Cabernet Franc, has gained world renowned acclaim and is one of the poster child(s) example(s) of success in biodynamic wine growing in France, like Nicolas Joly, but more especially for his reds, like this one. According to Kermit Lynch, Thierry harvests on the relatively early side to preserve fresh, vibrant fruit, even though I always find his wines ripe and perfumed, his goal is to produce Cabernet Franc with purity, finesse, and drinkability, while avoiding rusticity, vegetal or weedy character, and harsh/rough tannins, and with this 2015 La Marginale, mission accomplished. This beautifully deep and dark garnet hued wine comes of a tiny parcel of 45 year old vines set on clay and Turonien Supérieur limestone, it’s only made in great vintages, is crafted from 100% de-stemmed fruit and fermented in foudre (large oak cask) with light pumpovers and then aged in a wide range of oak, most all used, from barrique to huge cask for almost two years. The layers include blackberry, red currant, black cherry and dark plum fruits, minty herb, violets, sandalwood/cedar, tobacco, a light bell pepper tone and chalky stones. Everything feels warm and round in the mouth and almost luxurious, but there is a nice purity of terroir that shines through with a touch of savory integrity. I love the rich textural presence here, this cuvee is something special, it can age for another decade, but is very compelling now.
($35 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2017 Julien Sunier, Fleurie, Cru Beaujolais, France.
Wonderfully expressive the 2017 Julien Sunier Fleurie is a beauty with tons of terroir and varietal character showing the soil and heightened perfume you find in this distinct Cru, this is a vintage of amazing purity and delicate details with bright acidity and dark fruits, much more interesting than some of the awkward 2016 versions, this is a year to get Sunier! The surfing fanatic and Dijon-born Julien Sunier started his wine adventure by working in the famed Christophe Roumier’s vineyards and cellar near Chambolle-Musigny in Burgundy, before riding waves and making wine from New Zealand to California before finding a home in France’s Beaujolais region. Seemingly influenced by a new generation of winemakers in the region, Sunier’s wines have a similar appeal to those of Lapierre, Foillard, Dutraive and others that are working in natural/organic methods with almost no intervention or additions using most ancient parcels of Gamay, he uses carbonic maceration and ages in used ex-Burgundy barrels. Julien spent five years managing a large negociant in Beaujolais, he spent time with growers in all of the 10 Cru Beaujolais villages getting an real appreciation for these amazing sites. He credits this work with providing him with insights, passion of place and an invaluable understanding of the various micro-climates and micro terroirs throughout the region. The 2017 Fleurie by Sunier is crafted using indigenous yeast fermentation(s) in concrete vats, whole cluster/carbonic, at low temperatures then slowly pressed after the must is dry using an old Burgundy press, after which the wine was raised in 300L Futs (neutral French oak casks) for just less than year. The Sunier Fleurie comes from a high elevation parcel on a steep slope that was planted back in the 1960’s set on the Cru Fleurie zone’s signature pink granite soils which gives the wine it’s deep perfume and sharp details as well as it’s mineral tones, with this 2017 really highlighting this site’s unique character. Bright and fresh this Fleurie pushes out juicy blackberry, cherry, plum, strawberry fruits and liquid floral elements with a nice bite of acidity, herbal notes and a stony flinty chalky sense. Lovely Gamay from start to finish, lingering with a hint of violetette, walnut and racy currant, this light to medium bodied wine offers more than expected and is remarkably pleasing, Sunier’s 2017’s are very alluring offerings, especially this one, drink over the next 3 to 5 years.
($38 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2004 Bodega Lopez de Heredia, Vina Tondonia, Rioja Reserva, Spain.
Unbelievably dreamy, refined and old world at it’s best the 2004 Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Reserva is silky and lightly earthy with mature elegance, it gave a Margaux like performance recently. I only wish I had more now, though I hear the 2005 is even better still! One of the great wines of Europe, this Rioja has a nice play between it’s old school rustic nature and extended aging polish with ultra fine tannins showing layers of black cherry, mulberry, currant, mission fig, caramel and sandalwood as well as a hint of leather, cedar and chanterelles. Warm and almost creamy with a whisper of tannins on the medium/full palate the 2004 is ripe and lush in feel, but still with an underlying bullet proof structure that will see this go on another decade without much overall change. Interestingly this wine comes across subdued and passive when tasted on it’s own, but absolutely magical when explored with cuisine, it has that same sense of purpose and charm that you find with an older Burgundy or Bordeaux, it really gains in style and turns on the personality with food, becoming more lively and expressive. Vina Tondonia was founded in 1877, with 141 years of winemaking over four generations of the López de Heredia family crafting majestic and age worthy wines here, especially these long wood raised Tempranillo based Reservas, plus their long oak aged white made from Viura and Malvasia, which somehow even after 6 to 10 years in cask seem intensely fresh. The 2004 Vina Tondonia Reserva is made from Tempranillo (75%), Garnacho (Garnacha/Grenache) (15%), Graciano and Mazuelo (10%), all from their estate vineyards and was aged in oak for 6 years with racking twice a year then rested in bottle for almost another 7 years before release. The 2004 is really in a good place, picking up dried flowers, kirsch and vanilla that linger along with the glycerin textural nature that leaves an opulent aftertaste, again as mentioned have with food to get things rolling here, I imagine it would be great with duck breast, a lamb shank, prime rib as well as hard cheeses and hearty/thick stews.
($33 Est.) 92+ Points, grapelive

2015 Evening Land Vineyards, Pinot Noir, Seven Springs Estate, Eola-Amity Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
The wonderfully textured and elegant Seven Springs Pinot Noir by Evening Land stands out for it’s mouth feel and delicacy of flavors, it shows far more subtly than I would have expected, it’s a wine that grows on you over time, you pick up more and more with each sip and every minute. After about half an hour I seriously got a huge smile coming back to this 2015 Seven Springs, it truly elevated it’s presence in the glass to a level and character of a Premier Cru Gevrey-Chambertin, reminding me of Gerard Raphet quite a bit with it’s dark fruits, mineral notes and Burgundy like silky sexiness. Evening Land under Raj Parr and Sashi Moorman has seen this winery smooth out it’s style, making less flashy wines and pushing for more graceful wines and focusing on terroir, they are joined by Ben DiCristina, who is doing the day to day winemaking, with himself coming from a background at Sine Qua Non, like Maggie Harrison of Oregon’s Antica Terra and Oregon’s J. K. Carriere, a little known label making great Willamette Pinots. The historic Seven Springs vineyard was planted by Oregon wine pioneer Al MacDonald back in 1984, it sits on an east-facing slope, protected from the heat in the Van Duzer gap, set on the distinct iron-rich and rocky, volcanic soils of the Eola-Amity Hills, it’s a Cru site that shows it’s pedigree in this Pinot perfectly. As the winery puts it, this wine is vineyard made, it’s built around a core of own-rooted, old vine Pommard and Wädenswil clones that give a classic Oregon profile here along with that nod to the Cote de Nuits with a background of earthy and savory elements. Beautiful and lengthy this 2015 enjoys a slow wake up call unfolding in it’s own time to reveal layers of blackberry, plum and a sold core of black cherry along with an inner perfume, not overt, of rose petals as well as a mix of red spices, bitter herb, tea, wild mushrooms, anise and a touch of smoky oak, all delivered with a satiny seamless ease. This is a wine to take your time with, be seduced over a long meal with friends, it’s got a lot of pleasure to offer, especially with cuisine and it drinks with more maturity than I would have expected from it’s age, which is not unwelcome at all, it’s a bonus! I think there is more to come over the next 3 to 5 years too, best from 2020 to 2025.
($33-45 Est.) 93+ Points, grapelive

2017 Joyce Wine Company, Pinot Noir, Gabilan, Monterey County.
One of the best wines coming out of Monterey County, the Joyce Gabilan Pinot is an exotic and gorgeous offering coming from a special site that is nick-named the “Danny’s Vineyard” it is farmed by the Franscioni brothers, called by the family as such in honor of their late father, it’s located on the higher east side of the Salinas Valley, subjected to the strong marine influence cooling from of the Monterey Bay. Set on decomposed granite and limestone soils, similar to Chalone, and getting great exposure making for a generous and ripe Pinot, but with lifting vitality, allowing for more whole cluster which adds to the wonderful complexity. This 2017 Gabilan shows warm red fruits, spice and nervy tension that comes from the partial stem inclusion, this medium/full bodied Pinot is textured, lively and perfumed holding it’s own against some elite company in the top end of California Pinot Noir. Russell Joyce and his team have been kicking at the door of the big time in recent years and will this set of 2017 wines they have arrived in the top echelon of producers joining the likes of Morgan, Pisoni (Lucia) and Roar at the pinnacle of the small producers making small lots of Pinot Noir in Monterey. Even better still is the quality to price ration, especially with their single vineyard Pinot bottlings, like this Gabilan, this is a wine that will happily surprise serious Pinot fans. The detailing here is fantastic, it’s a wine of clarity and personality with textural and focused palate that has refined silkiness, mineral tones and a lively punch of acidity. With layers of black raspberry, plum, pomegranate fruit aiding to a core of cherry and strawberry as well as sweet rose petals, savory herbs, tea spices and delicate wood notes. The bright ruby and garnet color hints at the dreamy quality to come and the exciting array of flavors mouth and lingering aftertaste are seducing. Joyce used mostly used French oak aging here and 40% whole cluster fermentation, employing gentile extraction and just under a year in barrel before bottling to keep things pure and fresh, this Gabilan is utterly compelling, impressive and distinct, it’s not to be missed, drink over the next 3 to 5 years.
($45 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

2015 Avaler Wines, Cabernet Sauvignon, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County.
Avaler is collaboration between two friends, Dylan Sheldon of Sheldon Wines and Jon Phillips of Inspiration Vineyards and is a label focused on small lot value wines like this Dry Creek Cabernet Sauvignon that shows lots of vintage ripe flavors and richness. The Avaler Cabernet Sauvignon comes from the Gallaway Vineyard in Dry Creek Valley Ava and was fermented in open-top fermenters and aged for about two years in a combination of mostly used casks with some limited new European oak and a touch of new French barriques that adds a touch of class and a creamy, smoky sweet toastiness. While the 2014 was a bit lighter in frame and darker in profile, this 2015 reveals a fuller character, though with the same 14.3% natural alcohol, and is loaded with Sonoma style red fruits and gives an opulent mouth feel with thick sweet tannin, glycerin and a full body lushness. This wine offers an exceptional value and purity of varietal, it’s 100% Cabernet Sauvignon and delivers on it’s promise of quality and depth that starts with it’s deep color in the glass and inviting bouquet of floral tones, cassis and vanilla bean, it shows layers of blackberry, plum, raspberry, currant jelly and cherry fruits along with a touch of sage, anise, pipe tobacco, cedar and mocha. There is a lot to admire here, especially given the modest price, and the hand-crafted winemaking, it’s packed with expressive fruit and is pretty and generous on the palate with a long refined finish, it is mouth filling, pleasing and picks up even more with robust cuisine, in particular grilled meats, steak and wild mushroom dishes. Easy to love young, this Avaler Cabernet is a fun Fall offering, but has the grip and structure to age a 3 to 5 years with ease, in fact I might want to hide a bottle or two for a while longer, as it has the potential to reward some patience.
($25 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2016 Halcon Vineyards, Syrah, Alturas, Halcon Estate Vineyard,Yorkville Highlands.
Paul Gordon’s Halcon Vineyards Alturas Syrah has become one of the state’s best wines and is one of the great values in California wine, it’s a gorgeous example of cool climate Syrah and this 2016 version is exceptional with classic Cote-Rotie style. According to Gordon, the Halcón Syrah was picked October 8th, with an average of just 1.3 tons per acre harvested, these tiny yields help explain this wine’s concentration and depth. The Alturas, like Cote-Rotie, includes about 4% co-fermented Viognier in this vintage, with the Syrah coming from various parcels of the Halcón vineyard, which is planted to predominately the Chave (Hermitage clone) selection. As with all the Halcón Vineyards wines, there was no inoculation for primary nor secondary fermentation, using all native yeasts, Paul adds “We slightly increased the level of whole-cluster to 50% (compared to 40% in 2015) and used 20% new oak in the form of a single 500L French puncheon” with the winery making only 250 cases of this beautiful wine that were unfined and unfiltered, coming in at 13.5% natural alcohol, making for a dark and intriguing wine that has fine balance. The ’16 Alturas is really a continuation of the style that was wonderfully executed by the talented Scott Shapely, their consulting winemaker, who also does Roar. Gordon noted he was struck how close their Yorkville Highlands weather was to the (very classical) ’16 Cote Rotie year, though a low yielding year for Halcon due to a cold May. The Alturas starts with a mix of blue fruits, violets, cassis and stemmy spiciness with a lovely purple/black core color that reflects a deep garnet around the edges in the glass. The body fills out on the palate getting very full in the mouth, there is a sense of impact and opulence that is very seductive, though everything stays focused and this 2016 has plenty of energy to keep it fresh. The impressive depth of layers includes blackberries, boysenberry, plum and currant fruits along with additional elements of peppercorns, licorice, a hint of wild herbs as well as a hint of caramel, kirsch and mineral notes. Even with the high level of whole cluster and stems, this vintage is wine of sublime elegance and length and makes for a good contrast to their Elevación, their new 100% Syrah, 100% whole cluster cuvee, both of which are very sexy wines, they both look forward to long term rewarding drinking, a good decade at least.
($32 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2016 Brick House Vineyards, Gamay Noir, Ribbon Ridge, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
The true Gamay Noir by Brick House is a rare and beautiful treat, Doug Tunnell has been making this since 1995 and has been a champion of the grape ever since, crafting it in a non carbonic traditional fermentation that gives it a more subtle and Pinot like character. This is textural and delicately fruited Brick House Gamay comes from their Ribbon Ridge estate vines set on the marine sedimentary soils of the region, and even in a ripe vintage as this 2016 certainly is, this wine shows wonderful vibrancy, highlighting the grape’s great natural acidity. The brilliantly garnet hue with hint of purple and bright edges in the glass is visually pleasing, but it’s fine medium bodied palate that really shines with layers of earthy dark fruits, spice and hints of crushed flowers, minty herbs and walnut/cedar notes. Brick House, founded in 1990, is all biodynamic and certified as such, and the vineyards are alive with bio-diversity that Tunnell believes sets his wines apart, especially his amazing Pinot Noir(s) which are legendary and Oregon classics, but one shouldn’t over look his Chardonnay, one of the best in the Willamette Valley and of course his unique Gamay. This 2016 Brick House Gamay Noir Ribbon Ridge estate shows deep black cherry, cranberry, plum and a hint of blueberry fruits along with a touch of cinnamon, anise after air in the glass adding these details to the first impression mentioned above, it’s a satiny wine that flows with seamless precision in the mouth and lingers on finish in graceful elegance. This is lovely stuff that drinks beautifully right now, it’s hard to say if you should age it further to be honest, but it should go at least 3 to 5 years with no problem, it has elements that remind me a little bit of some of the greats from Morgon like Foillard even though this is a more singular and distinct wine of place. It’s a very individual expression with Tunnell’s signature written all over it, it’s always hard to get, but worth the search, drink up!
($28 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2015 Malat, Pinot Noir, Estate, Kremstal, Austria.
While known for his exciting Gruners, Michael Marat’s pet project is his Pinot Noir, which he farms organically from a 25 years vineyard site near the Gottweiger Berg (Cru) on a mix of sand, loess and Danube gravel soils, it’s all dry farmed and hand tended. Pinot Noir found it’s way to Austria as early as the 12th century with Cistercian monks first planting in the Thermenregion and it slowly spread throughout the country. Malat ferments his 100% estate Pinot in stainless steel vats using native yeast and then racks to large neutral oak casks for malos and aging, it sees about a year in the wood before bottling, allowing for a fruit forward and easy to love style to show through. This 2015 is satiny smooth with a touch of spice and smoke to go with a core of creamy cherry, plum and red berry fruits in a medium bodied wine that excels for it’s lush and easy form, while having enough complexity and energy to keep your full attention adding hints of earth, wild mushroom and a mix of mineral and baking spices.
($26 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2016 Kelley Fox Wines, Pinot Noir “Ahurani” Momtazi Vineyard, McMinnville, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
One of Oregon’s talented new generation of winemakers Kelley Fox has released her latest Ahurani Pinot Noir from the biodynamic vines at Momtazi Vineyard in the McMinnville AVA, it’s a beauty, and In 2016 (as in 2015) Fox used 100% whole cluster, and it’s produced from blocks on the top of the tallest hill of the vineyard. This block selection cuvee is remarkably fresh and vivid in a vintage that some found warm and even over ripe in places, it highlights both place, the all organic and bio vineyard and the elevation that keeps it’s cool climate acidity, with Kelley employing only used French Burgundy barriques to express the purity of fruit, and at 13% it’s as refined and bright as you’d want, wonderfully balanced. Fox, after long stints at Eyrie and Scott Paul wines, started her own winery with the 2007 vintage and has gained a stellar reputation ever since and is one of the region’s rising stars with absolutely star quality wines with this offering of Ahurani being an exceptional value in her lineup, this is a list to get on, no question! The ripe and warm year really allows the use of whole bunch and stems here and it shows that the total harmony found here in this gorgeously detailed Pinot, Fox’s wonderful touch and judgement are also on full display too, as there is the perfect amount of tension and stemmy thrill to go with the graceful and silky fruit, this is a wine that grabs your attention and seduces you with purity of flavor, texture, subtle perfume and dreamy length. The palate is surprisingly complex and mouth filling considering the restrained natural alcohol and this Ahurani retains an energy and acidity profile that is fresh and vibrant that provides an excellent stage to show the vivid layers of black cherry, pomegranate, wild plum and strawberry fruits, liquid mineral, a touch of earth, sweet/minty Thai basil/herbs, peppery cinnamon and a heady mix of floral elements and woodsy chanterelles. Air and time in the glass allows this youthful Pinot Noir to gain an even more intriguing and engaging charm, it’s color seems to become even more translucent and glowing with a bright ruby and garnet core adding a touch of rose petal, a cut of orange tea and lingers with a nice play of spice and sexy blue fruits on the aftertaste. This 2016 is easy to love even now, but I can really imagine things developing further over the next 2 or 3 years in bottle. I am absolutely blown away with this latest set of Kelley Fox wines, this not a label to miss, especially her Pinot Blanc and this Ahurani Pinot Noir!
($35 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2015 Big Basin Vineyards, Pinot Noir, Alfaro Family Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains.
Bradley Brown’s Big Basin is one of the stars of the Santa Cruz Mountains, specializing in estate Rhone style wines, in particular his Rattlesnake Rock Syrah, one of the state’s best Syrah wines, but he also does a collection of Pinot Noir(s) and one of the most interesting is his Alfaro Family Vineyard. Richard Alfaro’s vines produces full flavored grapes with low brix, his cool site in Corralitos is one of the prime spots in the southern zone of Santa Cruz Mountains set on a hillside set on sandy loams, it’s a place highly influenced my the Monterey Bay with chilling fog and a long growing season that allows for beautiful deep color and fruit, but with Burgundy like acidity and low natural alcohols. The Big Basin 2015 Alfaro Vineyard Pinot is a bold and nervy version with ripe fruit and intense stem inclusion spiciness, it was made with 100% whole cluster, a long cold soak, with it being hand punched, and using only indigenous yeasts. Barrel aged for 18 months in French oak barrels employing a minimalistic approach with natural malos in cask and only a tiny amount of sulphur was added once they were finished and the wine was bottled unfined and unfiltered, which is very old school and gives the wine a purity of form and a lot of youthful and stemmy punch. This has layers of deep Pinot fruit with heightened sensations throughout with the ripeness of vintage being muted by the intensity of the nervy spice and the whole cluster complexity with a full and gripping palate of black cherry, briar laced raspberry, blood orange, plum and cranberry fruits along with peppered liquid roses, minty/herb tea, cola bean, bitter lavender, a hint of loam, stony/earth and a touch of sweet smoky oak. Impressive and with riveting impact this is a wine that will thrill the fans of Henri Gouges (Nuits-Saint-Georges) and or those that want kinky stem infused character, it’s less a beautiful or pretty Pinot Noir, but rather a unique and intriguing example, though it should develop into a more joyous and rewarding wine after a few years in bottle. This is is wine that gives you a lot to think about and while not for the faint of heart it’s got a ton of personality and I should note it really excels with cuisine giving a glimpse of it’s future self and inner sex appeal, drink this one in 5 to 7 years for best results, it just could be magical at that point.
($60 Est.) 92-94 Points, grapelive

2016 Hundred Suns, Pinot Noir “Old Eight Cut” Willamette Valley, Oregon.
Grant Coulter, who has made wines at Beaux Freres since 2007, and Renée Saint-Amour’s Hundred Suns Wines (a reference to the growing season that lasts a hundred days between flowering and harvest) is an exciting new winery in the Willamette Valley. Coulter, who’s from Monterey California, made wines and worked harvests from California to Australia and finished his degree in enology at Fresno State before setting off to work in Oregon with Eric Hamacher at his Carlton Winemakers Studio. He’s talents were rewarded and he worked his way up from intern to head winemaker at Beaux Freres between 2007 and 2013, before starting Hundred Suns Wines with Saint-Amour, who herself has worked for the Carlton Winemakers Studio as well, with Grant currently being winemaker and director of the estate vineyards at Flaneur Wines. These wines are crafted in small lots with minimal winemaker guidance, the grapes once harvested, their fruit is sorted with a high percentage of whole cluster used. They believe that through the use of stems we can amplify the purity of their fruit or to, in their words, weave complex aromatics into the final cuvées. They use only natural or native yeasts and microbes to complete the (fermentation) cycle without added enzymes, additives or nutrients. Wines are aged in mostly seasoned used French oak, as well as very small amounts of new barriques and or uniquely terracotta amphora vessels.This cellar selection includes diverse vineyards from the Willamette Valley including the renowned Shea Vineyard in the Carlton-Yamhill County with these grapes being in a block on marine sediment and sandstone with a single clone, 777, the biodynamic Sequitur Vineyard owned by Mike Etzel of the famed Beaux Freres Vineyard in the Ribbon Ridge AVA at an elevation of 425 Feet with great exposures that face South East on marine sedimentary (Willakenzie series) soils planed to clones that include Chalone, 943 and Rochioli, and the dry farmed and organic Bednarik Vineyard in the Coast Range set on marine sedimentary soils with Pommard clone. According to Grant all of the wines for this cuvée were fermented using native yeasts with the final barrel selection for this blend was about 35% whole cluster, which gives this wine an open fruit presence and a nervy stems influence, and it was aged for 10 months in oak barrels with 90% being neutral French oak and about 10% of new wood that were from the remote Jura region of France. The “Old Eight Cut” cuvee is a gorgeous, expressive and exotic wine that starts out like Mathieu Lapierre’s Cru Morgon! It’s wildly intriguing and I the whole cluster teamed with the vintage’s ripe nature combines to give a semi-carbonic almost juicy Gamay like start before gaining it’s Pinot Noir core with air in the glass, bursting with energy and overt dark fruit along with dynamic spices and sexy stem influence, mineral tones and bright floral notes. This (One) Hundred Suns Pinot shows medium bodied palate reveals black berry, racy currant, plum and black cherry fruits, minty herbs, violets, rose oil, cedar and a dusting of pepper, cinnamon, cayenne and tea spices that all thrill in the mouth and lingers on the finish, this is awesome and exciting wine, very different from the style at Beaux Freres, but with the same level of quality in the glass. I got to briefly meet Grant at BFV back in 2008 near harvest and was told then he was a rising talent from the guys there and that stuck with me, so I’m happy to report those rumors were true then and now and this is a winery to keep an eye on and one you’ll want to join their mailing list, especially to get this wine, no question, it’s a great value that should drink well for 5 to 10 years.
($30 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2015 Isole e Olena, Chianti Classico DOCG, Tuscany, Italy.
A deep and rich Chianti Classico by Isole e Olena that delivers a smooth and ripe palate showing layers of black and red fruits, a sense of vintage warm, fine tannins and an almost chocolate/lush textural mouth feel, this wine impresses for it’s impact and substance. Paolo De Marchi’s all estate grown Chianti Classico is flashy style giving the vintage a luxurious expression and a modern clean elegance. This is Chianti usually a blend of about 80% Sangiovese, 15% Canaiolo, 5% Syrah and shows a pure Tuscan focus in character in it’s profile, even though it is really dark in color and exotic in the glass with a crimson/garnet color. The Sangiovese drives the wine with blackberries, cherry, plum and anise as well as hints of sweet tobacco, minty herb, cedar and vanilla, it feels and flows seamlessly and has excellent length adding spice, dried flowers and mocha notes. This Isole e Olena drinks bigger and broader than expected, it even comes across like a more expensive wine, maybe a Super Tuscan, it certainly doesn’t shy away from it’s opulence, but it does offer a surprising degree of balance, and while subtle, the acidity gives a sense of energy that helps provide a platform for the complexity to shine through and keeps the full body from being overt or flabby. This wine with it’s power deserves a robust meal to compliment it’s distinct presence, it should provide wonderful drinking pleasure for many years to come, drink from 2018 to 2025.
($30 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

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