2017 Drew Family Cellars, Syrah, Valenti Ranch Vineyard, Mendocino Ridge.
If you are a reader of my website and been following my reviews in recent years, you’ll no doubt have heard me bang on about how great these Drew wines are, and I will again here and repeat as I have for many vintages that Jason Drew is one of the top winemakers of his generation and is making some of state’s absolute best wines, especially his estate Pinot Noir, but I must say his Syrah is not far off. This new Valenti is a dark and spicy wine that takes cool climate California Syrah elevated heights of quality, style and seduction, it compares well against some of the most sought after Rhones including whole cluster magicians like Jamet, Allemand and Levet. This edition shows blackberry, boysenberry, dark plum, cherry and earthy currant fruits along with torches of black olive, cracked pepper, dried basil, lavender, blueberry compote, minty anise, a faint bacon element and hint of cedar plank. This vintage is warmly ripe and the tannins well integrated with nice energy and at around 13% it is extremely well balanced, but with sensual textures and density of form. Drew used about 75% whole cluster on this 2017 Valenti Ranch Syrah and fermented it with 100% native yeasts before aging in all well seasoned French oak for close to a year.
Grown at good height (elevation) on Oceanic Sedimentary soils within 6 miles of the Pacific Ocean the Valenti is farmed by Drew himself and is planted to a selection of Syrah clones including Clone 1 and Chave Hermitage clones. Drew has been working with this vineyard for 13 years now and took over the farming lease in 2013, continuing to farm it sustainably to the organic standards. He brought in the exciting suitcase Chave Selection which he put in one of the Syrah blocks. According to Drew, this windswept east facing ridge at 1,300 -1400 feet produces a distinctive cool climate Syrah, adding that the constant maritime winds coupled with thin marginal soils lends itself to naturally lower yields, which helps with the concentration and depth of flavor here. All of which makes for a glorious small production Syrah, at only 100 cases, that showcases the terroir and Jason’s gifted touch both in the vines and in the cellar. This is special stuff, don’t miss Drew’s latest wines, in particular this purple/garnet Valenti Syrah and his Morning Dew Ranch Pinot, they are spectacular world class offerings.
($50 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2018 Pax Wines, Valdiguié, Quail Run Vineyard, Suisun Valley.
The deeply hued Pax 2018 Valdiguie with it’s intense purple/magenta color and whole cluster pop on the palate is an all American rival to Cru Beaujolais with layers of tangy black fruits, spice, fresh cut flowers, exotic ftropical elements, racy stems (herbal notes) and juicy acidity is wonderfully poundable! Pax, besides making some of America’s great Syrah wines also does a fun selection of wondrous weird goodies including this ultra fun Valdiguie and a light skin contact Trousseau Gris, plus a fine Chenin Blanc as well as seriously sexy Carignane. This 2018 is a great mix of ripe fruity/grapey flavors along with zingy savory tones that give a balanced contrast in a low alcohol, 12.2% red that enjoys a slight chill, it is perfect for smashing at the beach or a picnic or as I had by a warm fire pit as the dipped below the horizon. This is what the French call a Glou-Glou wine, nothing to over think, it is a wine to share and laugh with and impossible not to smile contented with, its licorice, crushed lilac and snappy peppercorns making it a nice choice with an array of easy simple foods. Just released, you’d better hustle to get some, it looks to be an under the radar hit, it certainly will sell out within days.
Pax’s latest and joyously quaffable Valdiguié was 100% Carbonic Maceration, fermented in stainless steel then aged in concrete for about four months before bottling and the wine was made without any additions of SO2 at any point in the winemaking process. Valdiguié, known for it’s dark color and low alcohol, was once referred to as Napa Gamay in California because of its similarities in flavor and appearance to the famous Gamay Noir grape variety from the Beaujolais region of France, while Valdiguié is in fact from the South West of France where it is called Gros Auxerrois. In fact until very recently and with DNA testing there were quite a few wineries that labeled their old vine Valdiguie as Gamay, including the famous Rochioli Vineyards, and I bought those then and still buy their version today. When it was discovered that it was not Gamay, Valdiguie almost got a death sentence, being ripped out all over, but a few brave souls including Jerry Lohr of J. Lohr kept faith with Valdiguie and championed the grape in Monterey County, and now it has become a huge underdog success story with many young hot shots making super tasting examples, Pax of course is one of the most sought after, but there is Cruse Wine Company that also do a Pet-Nat version, Bric Cellars, Field Recordings, who make a tasty Rosé from it and Martha Stoumen too, along with the mentioned Rochioli.
($26 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2015 Weingut Turk, Riesling Kremser Weinberge, Kremstal DAC, Austria.
A new winery to me, and one that really impressed, especially for the price, Weingut Turk, in the Kremstal region of Austria, boasts 300 years of winemaking history. Their importer ’s rep Alex Lallos, who’s a Riesling freak like me, calls Turk who are based in the tiny hamlet of Stratzing, an honest, authentic producer of wines built on a foundation of terroir and soulful character, which after tasting this 2015, agree with. This Turk Riesling Kremser Weinberge is a dry and textural wine with purity of fruit, stony in personality and with vigorous persistence displaying intense stone fruit aromas, hints of white flowers, bitter herbs and almonds with a core presence of tree picked tangy apricot as well as steely crisp lemon/lime citrus fruits adding hints of loam, mineral elements, creamy verbena, chamomile and saline infused wet rock. This crystal-clear trocken Kremstal Riesling has plenty of natural extract, acidity and zest, but has a wonderful smooth, vintage marked, smooth roundness and palate impact that really impresses.
From west of Vienna on the Danube River, the Weingut Turk has steep sloping vineyard sites mainly on the region’s classic loess soil over clay and limestone, and while known as a less showy winery with a workman’s like sensibility and subtlety this 2015 shines in the glass and in the mouth with a seriousness of form that I find irresistible and charming. The house style is typically unbaked, stainless steel, but with riper fruit giving more body, like this wine which has 13 % natural alcohol, it’s more in the Smaragd vein. Turk is also well admired for their Gruners and I look forward to tasting those too, and interestingly they in rare vintages do an eiswein, which is non too common these days in this part of Austria. In fact, winemaker Franz Türk, not too long ago, in 2010, at the International Wine Challenge for Austria, had the phenomenal success of winning three of the country’s most prestigious trophies for Best Austrian Dry White Wine, Best Grüner Veltliner and Best Austrian Eiswein! Imported by Balanced Wine Selections, thanks to their local rep Alex Lallos again for letting me try it, he can be contacted about purchase at email@example.com, I can’t wait to try Turk’s other bottings!
($22 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2017 Domaine M. & C. Lapierre, Morgon, Cru Beaujolais (Cuvee N), France.
The beautiful and wonderfully exuberant 2017 Morgon “Cuvee N” Sans Soufre by Lapierre is gorgeous in the glass with its deep garnet/purple color, expressive fruit, floral tones and spicy notes that lead the way to the lively palate that is bursting with the winery’s signature energy deep flavors. Camille and Mathieu’s no sulphur estate Cru Morgon shows a fresher profile than the lightly sulphured with what feels a bit more juicy and less restrained in character, everything seems to shine brighter and finish seems longer, it is vivid and joyously quaffable. There is loads of strawberry, wild plum, black raspberry fruit along with whole cluster exotic elements including the heightened fruit, snappy/stemmy cinnamon and peppery notes, perfume as well as mineral, earth, walnut husk, fennel and zippy acidity. Air brings a touch more of a savory presence, but also allows for more textural pleasure gaining in mouth feel, this vintage is impressive for it’s purity, vitality and it is lovely with many food options.
Continuing their father’s traditions and faithful following of Jules Chauvet’s natural wine practices Camille and Mathieu Lapierre make one of the world’s best Gamay wines, and this 2017 vintage is a gorgeous example with a divine purity of fruit, crunchy mineral tones from its granite terroir and a pretty layered texture. Domaine Lapierre is arguably one of, if not the top quality natural wine producer and an inspiration to thousands around the world including famed importer Kermit Lynch, one of the late Marcel Lapierre’s early admirers, and while the domaine was always organic the sister and brother team of Mathieu and Camille have converted to biodynamic. Marcel Lapierre took over the family domaine from his father in 1973, and according to Kermit, he was already on the road to becoming a legend, but In 1981, his path would be forever changed by Jules Chauvet, a man whom many now call his spiritual godfather (and the godfather of natural wine). Chauvet was a winemaker, a researcher, a chemist, and a viticultural prophet, in much the same way Nicholas Joly was with biodynamics in the Loire Valley. It was he who, upon the advent of chemical fertilizers and pesticides in the 1950s, first spoke out for “natural wine,” harkening back to the traditional methods of the Beaujolais, and winning followers throughout the Burgundy and Beaujolais regions. Chauvet heavily influenced the Lapierre family and their wines as well as later generations such as neighbors like Foillard, Thevenet, Breton and more recently Julien Sunier, just to name a few.
The latest Morgon Cru Beaujolais from Lapierre comes from 45 plus year old vines set on the zones decomposed granite soils, it was picked at the latest possible moment, again Kermit notes that Lapierre tries to obtain the ripest fruit, which is a trademark of the estate style, while still having intensity of form, vigor and acid driven energy. All of which shows here in their 2017 vintage of cuvee N, the non sulfur bottling sold exclusively through Kermit Lynch and is a natural wine icon. Kermit once told me he was nervous about shipping no sulfur wines, but he was convinced by Marcel, plus in my opinion Gamay is the perfect grape for this style and the results, especially with this one prove the point. They employ whole cluster fermentation, as Kermit puts it, à l’ancienne with only native yeasts, mostly in conical wood tanks, with careful low temperature maintenance and the Lapierres age their wines on fine lees for at least nine months in oak, which are a combination of ex-Burgundy barrels, and neutral foudres and fûts ranging from three to thirteen years old. This 2017 Lapierre Morgon is one of my favorites to date, maybe not as monumental as the 2009, but I still rank this one right up there and it should age nicely too, even though it is holy cow crushable right now!
($38 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2016 Domaine Alain Graillot, Crozes-Hermitage Rouge, Northern Rhone, France.
One of the world’s most iconic Syrah wines and one of the greatest values in serious Northern Rhone offerings the Alain Graillot Crozes-Hermitage Rouge is always treat regardless of vintage, but with a vintage like 2015 or this 2016 the wine becomes that much better. Graillot farms and makes his wines from 50 acres of 30-year-old Crozes-Hermitage vines, in the La Chene Verts (village) zone, on the flat alluvial plain between the Rhône and Isère rivers, in well-draining soils of sand, gravel, and stones that includes some granite, and he also owns a few tiny parcels in Saint-Joseph from where he makes a lighter style Syrah that is more suited for early drinking than his signature Crozes bottlings. working all organically in the vineyard, Graillot employs 100% whole-cluster grapes bunches that are fermented in concrete vats with indigenous yeast and ages his wines in used barrels that he mostly purchases from a few top estates in Burgundy, making a structured and stem intense wine that always over delivers for the price, rivaling even the elite Cote-Rotie, Cornas and Hermitage stars.
The stellar 2016 is extremely age worthy, yet wonderfully enjoyable and entertaining even now with a medium/full bodied palate and fresh detailing with complex layers of crushed violets, stony earth, boysenberry, currant/cassis, black cherry, waxy blue fruits, damson plum, camphor, herbal notes, iron (mineral tones) and salted black licorice. There is so much to love in this 2016 Crozes-Hermitage right now with its youthful intensity and clear detailing it will be hard not to drink it sooner v. later, but it should age for a very long time and getting more developed with a couple more years, this is a classic vintage for Graillot. With some air this Syrah adds a few extra elements with more textural quality, it gains black fig, savory tones and a hint of meatiness. The finish echos the core of fruit and with food Graillot’s standard bearer Crozes Rouge impresses even more lingering on and on, making this a brilliant bottle.
($40 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2017 Waxwing, Cabernet Sauvignon, Star Lane Vineyard, Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara County.
The brilliantly dark garnet/purple Star Lane Cabernet Sauvignon pumps out some serious fruit, while still being restrained and well balanced with opulently ripe black fruits, acacia flowers, a dusting of tannins, being a youthful wine that feels somewhat reassuring and there is a sensation of spice, herbs and energy with a touch of French oak sweetness. In recent years Scott Sisemore at Waxwing Wine cellars has been crafting some excellent wines with his Pinot Noir and Syrah bottlings especially, but to spread his wings, no pun intended, he has started doing some other grapes including Riesling and now very excitingly Cabernet Sauvignon. Last year Sisemore got some Dierberg Syrah that was fabulous, so the news that he was able to source their (Dierberg) Star Lane Cabernet Sauvignon from the Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara AVA, I was thrilled. Scott has a wine school, UC Davis friend that works for the Dierberg/Star Lane and was excited that along with the Syrah grapes that he could get some of the Cab to explore Bordeaux varietals for the first time, and judging by this one, he will be doing it again.
Happy Canyon is a unique part of the Santa Ynez Valley that suits the Bordeaux grapes and in more modern times there has been some amazing wines done in this region and there has been quite a bit of interest from top winemakers, in fact Star Lane had Paul Hobbs consult early on and then there is Screaming Eagle’s sister winery Jonata with the talented Matt Dees making some mind blowing stuff near by there, in neighboring Ballard Canyon to the west, while Star Lane makes their own version of note along with a classy effort from Broc Cellars and new comers Conway Family Wines, Union Sacre and Gorham Vineyards making Cabs that have received notable press, to name just a few.
Scott fermented the 2017 Happy Canyon Star Lane Cabernet Sauvignon using 100% de-stemmed grapes that were extremely and meticulously sorted and with a seven day cold soak to extract color and intensity of flavors in a open top upright puncheon. The primary fermentation lasted just over two weeks with hand punch downs of the cap three times a day before being racked to a single, once used French barrique, where it went through malos and was raised for fourteen months. Sisemore did a gentile filtration prior to bottling, with a total of 24 cases made in total and a finished alcohol of 14.6%, but it feels significantly less, even though there is a full bodied impact on the palate. Blackberry, cherry, cassis, bitter coco, tobacco, sage and anise all collide in the mouth and linger on the finish.
This Waxwing Cabernet is well presented in a lovely bit of packaging with a short burgundy wax capsule and its classic Bordeaux sloped shoulder bottle and what shows up in the glass is just as impressive and stylish, this should improve in the bottle if cellared for the next 3 to 5 years, though the vintage’s smooth nature makes it appealing even now. Waxwing is a tiny boutique winery that does a tight and quality collection of between 5 and 10 wines per vintage, no more than a couple barrels of each, and mostly available direct and on his mailing list.
($60 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2018 Morgan Winery, Rosé of Grenache, Arroyo Seco AVA, Monterey County.
Dan Lee’s Morgan Winery is continuing to rise to new levels and while most people know about their quality Chardonnay and Pinot Noir wines, you should not miss their Rhone style offerings that includes their Cote du Crows red blend, their latest Syrah bottlings and especially this new vintage of Rosé of Grenache, which is their best version to date. Morgan’s head winemaker, Sam Smith, has some great hands on experience in the Rhone, including a stint at Francois Villard and has helped craft some savvy Rhone inspired stuff, both under his own label and at Margerum Wine Company in Santa Barbara County, so it’s not surprising to see Morgan’s Rhones big elevation in quality and expressive detail. With that all in mind, I got a chance to try the 2018 Morgan Rosé which is due to be released soon and I was thrilled by the energy and mineral tones that drives this fun briskly dry pink wine, this vintage, maybe one of the all time great years for the region, shines through here with exceptional purity, ripe flavors and vigorous intensity. This wine clearly is a great bellwether to give insight on what is likely a string of absolutely stunning wines to come from this Monterey winery, following their awesome set of 2017s, this is exciting times for Morgan.
The 2018 Morgan Winery Rosé of Grenache, coming from Arroyo Seco, which was whole cluster direct press, foot treaded and cool fermented in stainless, it saw about 4 house of skin contact. It was raised for 5 months in neutral French oak & stainless steel that highlights the bright acidity with a delicate suggestion of texture, it started life with the idea of making a Provence inspired crisply dry wine. With its gorgeous faint pale hue in the glass, it looks the part, and the palate really pops with vivid and vibrant fruit adding a subtle tangy/savory element to balance things out. This very expressive Rosé is refreshingly zippy with layers of tart cherry, plum water, strawberry, pink grapefruit and watermelon as well as wet stones, rose water, a hint of sage, saline and the mentioned steely mineral core. I can’t wait to sip on this stuff, I can easily imagine enjoying this with a great array of cuisine, especially steamed mussels in a spicy broth and street fish tacos and it will be an easy choice to bring along on to BBQ’s and beach days. If you get excited for Rosé season, be sure to check out the 2018 pinks from Monterey and in particular this upcoming Morgan, it is a great time to explore the region and all of Morgan’s latest releases, including the Estate Double L Chard, Pinot, Syrah and Dry Riesling, as well as their Monterey County series wines, like this one.
($24 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2017 Sandlands, Red Table Wine, Contra Costa County.
The Sandlands 2017 Contra Costa County Red Table Wine crafted by Tegan Passalacqua, is an intriguing blend of mature vines of 65% Carignane and 35% Mataro from Contra Costa. This dark colored, pure and fruit forward wine highlights the intensity and concentration of Contra Costa County and its old vines, it’s a region that inspired Passalacqua from day one and a source of a few of his top offerings. Tegan adds, It is a growing region that has not been changed since prohibition, with its head-trained, dry- farmed vineyards scattered throughout the deep blow sands and planted to three main (grape) varieties, Zinfandel, Carignane and Mataro. He chose the last two to make a wine that he believes is a good representation of Contra Costa County wine. Beautifully detailed and full bodied the Sandlands Red shows its Carignane personality with juicy black and blue fruits along with a underlying backbone from the Mourvedre (Mataro) which gives a structure and a background of dusty tannin, savory notes and a faint meatiness. There are textural layers of brambly blackberry, concord, plum and kirsch along with saline, anise, sandalwood and lilac. The vineyard was planted in the 1920s in what is classified as Dehli blow sand, which is decomposed granite that has been deposited by wind and water and makes for a wine that reminds me somewhat of Morgan Twain-Peterson’s outstanding Bedrock Heritage from Contra Coast, but with a little more freshness, at only 12.9% natural alcohol it feels smooth, lively and quaffable.
Sandlands is the personal project of Tegan and Olivia Passalacqua. Tegan, a Napa Valley native, got his start in the wine industry working in winery labs in Napa, as well as stints in the cellars of Craggy Range in New Zealand with influential winemaker Doug Wisor, with Eben Sadie, one of the world greatest winemakers, in the Swartland region of South Africa, and with Alain and Maxime Graillot in the Northern Rhone Valley of France, who are iconic Syrah producers. Passalacqua, for the past eleven years, has worked for Larry Turley at Turley Wine Cellars, producing some of California’s most sought after old vine Zinfandel(s), working his way up from harvest intern to head winemaker and vineyard manager. The line-up encompasses the forgotten classic California varieties, like Chenin Blanc, Pais, the Mission grape, Trousseau, Mataro (Mourvedre) as well as Syrah to name a few, all primarily grown in decomposed granite (sand, hence the name), from regions and vineyards that have been farmed for many generations but, as Tegan puts it, have remained the outliers of California viticulture. He is focused primarily head-trained, dry-farmed and own rooted vines, with the vineyards Sandlands harkening back to California’s roots of exploration, wonder, and hard work. As a fan of Passalacqua’s body of work, I suggest getting on his list for his rare selection of wines and highly recommend this Carignane/Mataro, but don’t miss a chance to try his Chenin(s), the Soberanes Syrah, Enz Vineyard Mataro and of course his Turley stuff.
($28 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2016 I. Brand & Family Winery, Grenache, Brosseau Vineyard, Chalone AVA, Monterey County.
Ian Brand’s newest wine, his Brosseau Vineyard Grenache from the white tuff chalky dirt of Chalone, is a pale garnet and ruby hued wine that looks like and easy in the glass, but with surprising grip and a forceful personalty has layers of racy red fruits, spice and mineral notes. This wine is more like the finessed and authentic Garnachas of Spain’s Sierra de Gredos than of the wines of the southern Rhone with Dani Landi and the guys at Comando G coming to mind. So don’t let the color and the seductive nose with pretty floral tones and delicate earthiness fool you, there is a real sense of power and depth here too and a kick in the pants hit of stems too, it is a savory and complex wine that just happens to have a generous Grenache(y) fruit filled and playful palate, and it is highly drinkable and joyous.
The red lipstick wax capsuled 2016 Brosseau Grenache starts with wilted roses, minty herb, earth and vine pick red berries, but opens up on the palate to reveal pomegranate, tangy plum, herbal balsamic dipped strawberry, light wood notes, mocha, anise and peppery spices. It really is a nice play between ripe fruit sweetness and a savory bite with a medium body that feels almost creamy with heady glycerin, but with a nice streak of mineral and stony elements, it’s a wine that can be drunk like a Pinot, but has a touch more of an exotic nature, which is super fun.
The organically farmed Brosseau Vineyard is located on the famed Chalone Bench in Monterey County, where the granite of the Gabilan Mountains mixed with the remnants of an old volcano and a large limestone deposit. Planted around 2009 to clone 362 and an Alban selection, this small block will be one of our most exciting sources to watch. Chalone is one of the trademark terroirs of California, and we look forward to a time when it is better known for varieties more suited to its climate, like Grenache. Fermented with 50% whole cluster and native yeasts. Aged 22 months on lees in used puncheons and one once-used barrique. This is a winery to follow and this wine is one of many new releases to check out, and I think this Brosseau Grenache will shine for many years to come.
($42 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2017 Pax, Syrah, North Coast.
The once in a while rarity, Pax’s North Coast Syrah is a multi-regional blend of sites, or as Pax puts it, this 100% Syrah is a blend of all of his favorite vineyards done with 100% whole cluster, 100% carbonic fermentation(s) in concrete and with partial concrete aging with a small part of the blend raised in neutral French oak, all together for 10 months. In 2017, Pax didn’t feel all the single vineyard sites merited separate bottlings, so this resulting wine is far more pedigreed than the label would suggest. This makes for a vibrant and complex wine with surprising depth for the price, showing tangy youthful grapey character at this stage, it should really develop into a more serious effort over the next year or two in bottle and age well for at least 10 years gaining throughout, though highly enjoyable and quaffable right now. In fact it is so fun and crunchy it reminds me somewhat of a Dutraive Fleurie or Lapierre Morgon in style, but with a pure Syrah profile with black raspberry, blueberry, sugar plums, zesty currant and candied cherry fruits along with cracked pepper, frisky acidity, mineral notes, camphor, dried basil, anisette, cut flowers and cinnamon.
The textural quality builds with air, but the stems add bite and energy highlighting the fresh details, it is much more brambly than the longer elevage Pax Syrahs, like the single vineyard and or Sonoma Hillsides versions, less polished and less opulent, but with the classic cool climate personality of a none AOC Northern Rhone Syrah, similar to Clape’s Le Vin des Amis or the Domaine Jamet Syrah Vin de Pays des Collines Rhodaniennes. On day two being open the 2017 Pax North Coast Syrah does flesh out a lot and it adds some deeper fruit intensity and earthiness which leads to a more hedonistic presence on the palate, but still with its vigorous form holding on making for a very impressive performance. Pax has just released this for his Spring offering, and you shouldn’t miss it, it joins his other Glou Glou style no sulfur added wines, the Trousseau Gris with it’s slightly pinkish hue and his dark colored, but light and low alcohol Valdiguié. After a troubled winter with floods, Pax’s Spring is looking uo his latest set of wines are wonderfully crafted and exciting, check them out while they last.
($30 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2016 Cameron Winery, Pinot Noir, Clos Electrique, Estate, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
The monopole “Clos Electrique” Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir has to be one of Oregon’s most iconic wines and John Paul, Cameron’s winemaker, has made an epic version in 2016, I mean god help the French if this wine ever got into a blind tasting versus some of the top Grand Cru Burgundies, because this stuff will blown their minds! The original Pinot Noir clones at this special Dundee Hills site were planted on their own roots in 1984 and over the years, Cameron has added new vines that were grafted onto American root stock. This vintage is heavenly deep in color with dark garnet red hues and core of opaqueness this stuff looks the part and tastes even better with stunning range of fruit, earth, spice and mineral tones on the concentrated medium full palate. As warm, ripe and dense as the year was, Cameron’s Clos Electrique, named after the vineyard’s ring of electric fencing to keep marauding deer out of the grapes, has a sublime sense of balance, and refined low natural alcohol at a surprising 13.2%, but with a powerful mouth feel and unbelievable length, this is ultra serious stuff that rivals Dujac, Men-Camuzet and Rousseau!
This wine bursts from the glass with a slight touch of reductive funk before revealing intense sensational fruit led by blackberry, racy plum, black cherry and tart currants along with hints of truffle, anise, red spices, which I feel is the underlying Jory soils expressing themselves, as well as a touch of smoky wood, earthy fig, orange zest, leather and violets. The addition of tart garden grown strawberries and bitter coco only add to the gorgeous complexity while the textural side of things gains in a dance between regal opulence and vigorous grip in a play of sensual heightened tension and release, something all great wines seem to deliver.
The Dundee Hills AVA grown Clos Electrique Rouge, as this Pinot is known as by the winery, consists of at least 15 different clones of Pinot Noir selections that were planted by Paul on a mere 2 acres (less than 1 hectare) of land. The yields at Clos Electrique are always very small averaging between 1 and 2 tons of fruit per acre (that is less than 25 hl/hectar) of which makes it rare and concentrated in style, with Paul adding that his Clos Electrique is typically gnarly and intense, (it is) changing constantly in the glass and has fooled many wine-lovers into declaring it to be an old world wine, which I can attest to myself.
The winemaking at Cameron is old school and traditional Burgundian with all of the wines are fermented with the indigenous yeasts in open top tanks, John Paul jokingly adds, in which beautiful women immerse their nude bodies in the warm must to keep things exciting in the cellar. (maybe not true?) Then resulting wines are raised for nearly 2 years in French oak barrels, which vary from new to completely neutral, never heavy handed in their use and then bottled without filtration. To ensure real terroir, Clos Electrique is farmed organically and without irrigation, Cameron use only elemental sulfur during the growing season to prevent growth of powdery mildew and use copper hydroxide and leaf removal in the vicinity of grape clusters to inhibit botrytis. While Insect pests are kept at bay by cultivation of predatory insects with an integrated cover crop. This site is thought of as one of the warm zones, but John Paul’s wines are full of energy and remarkably fresh and age worthy, and this cuvee is one of the Willamette Valley greatest wines, it is a bucket list Pinot, no question.
($59-79 Est.) 96 Points, grapelive
2017 Weingut Kruger-Rumpf, Riesling Trocken, Abtei, VDP Erste Lage, Nahe Germany.
The bright and precise Abtei Trocken shines with a delicate and generous nature, it shows a crystalline mineral driven character and peachy fruits, vibrant crisp detail and a lingering charm in the glass. Very pale greenish gold in the glass and full of energy the 2017 Abtei bursts to life on the palate with that peach, key lime, green apple and tangerine fruits along with flinty wet stones, minty zest, citron/verbena and a saline mouth watering note, this is a wine of refined form and dry extract, making for a Riesling that can be drunk young and one that should age nicely. I always appreciate the class and lacy style of Georg’s wines, especially in his drier wines, they are easy to love and have subtle power and underlying vigor, while his sweeter wines always show impeccable balance, this is a winery that doesn’t always get the credit it deserves and always gives exceptional value for the quality in the bottle. The Abtei Erstes Gewachs was all spontanous fermentation (native yeast) fermented and aged in over 30 years old Stückfässern (German oak large cask) on the lees for close to 9 months before bottling, coming in at 12.5% natural alcohol. The vines here, all hand tended, are between 50 and 80 years old, which shows in this Riesling’s concentration and vitality, and ever since I walked this vineyard with Georg, in 2016, I have been a huge fan.
Georg Rumpf’s latest set of wines are some of the best yet from this estate near the confluence of the Nahe and Rhein Rivers and the town of Bingen, which sits across the Rhein from the historic Rudesheim. The 2017 Abtei maybe the best kept secret in Rumpf’s portfolio and comes from the closest parcel of vines to the winery, and a site that is extremely difficult to work, especially to their organic leaning practices, it always shows amazing energy and terroir elements that are similar to the famous Schlossberg Grand Cru on the other side of the Rhein as it shares the same soils and exposures. The Kruger-Rumpf estate is located in Münster-Sarmsheim, a small village (close to Bingen) on the western side of the Nahe River, in the most northern section of this region, which has a bit more warmth than the southern middle zone of the Nahe, which gives the Kruger-Rumpf’s wines their concentration and sunny warmth. The Bingerbrücker “Abtei” im Ruppertsberg 1er Cru is set on phyllite, which is mica slate, again as mentioned on a south facing very steep hillside. Abtei, which means abbey, once belonged to the abbey at Bingen, home to Hildegard vom Bingen, the matron of the city, and is the most northern vineyard in the Nahe. If you want a wine Kruger-Rumpf wines to look for besides this one, be sure to check out their Dautenpfanzer GG Riesling, the Binger Scharlachberg GG Riesling, the Münsterer Pittersberg Spatlese and their gorgeous Scheurebe!
($28 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2016 Domaine Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey, Bourgogne Blanc, France.
The latest basic Bourgogne Blanc from the talented Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey is a beauty and shows vivid form and detail, it gives a performance way beyond its price class or label. Always a killer value the 2016 version displays vibrant citrus, leaning on lemony notes along with classic apple and pear fruits as well as mineral, golden fig, clove and hazelnut on the brisk palate. This wine while lovely and textured has a stony austerity and is not showy and is more for those that love a lean style and focused Chardonnay.
One of the world’s great white wine producers, Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey has build a serious cult following and his laser sharp white Burgundies ooze class, vibrancy and precision, and his wines can in the lesser crus and appellation series offerings are fantastic values, while his top crus are the stuff of legends. Pierre-Yves Colin Morey, aka PYCM, is the eldest son of the famed Marc Colin, and after working as the winemaker at his father’s domaine from 1994 to 2005, he established his own domaine from family vineyards that he had inherited from his family. PYCM would go on to become a star in the Cote de Beaune and is now considered one of Burgundy’s top producers, and his wife Caroline Morey with his help and her own family connections is now a rising star too.
Colin-Morey’s choice, according to his importer Skurnik Wines, to use larger demi-muid barrels and eschew the use of battonnage, makes each one of his bottlings a clear expression of its terroir and a study in mineral-driven Chardonnay, of which I find to be a proven truth as well, these are laser sharp Chards that have helped define what we expect from the region
One of Burgundy’s ultimate values, the PYCM Bourgogne Blanc has an exceptional pedigree coming exclusively from 40 plus year old parcels, all grown to organic or at least sustainable practices in Saint-Aubin, 65% in 2016 and 35% from Puligny-Montrachet. Pierre-Yves as per normal with his Chardonnays, fermented and aged his Bougogne Blanc in 350L barrels using only indigenous yeasts, he employed just 10% new oak on this vintage and bottled as usual without fining and unfiltered.
This 2016 Bourgogne Blanc is showing well and while almost impossible to find without the help of wine-searcher it remains a wine to look for price and substance, and be sure to search out the non Premier Cru St. Aubin stuff, and especially the Premier Cru En Remilly for exceptional value in white Burgundy!
($40 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2016 Passopisciaro “Passorosso” Etna Rosso DOC, Sicily, Italy.
The beautifully detailed and flavored 2016 Passopisciaro Passorosso, which is a medium bodied Nerello Mascalese from the north side of Mount Etna has the class, complexity and style that certainly would impress the most ardent Cote d’Or fan and rivals Italian offerings from the major and or more famous regions. This vintage impresses on the palate with layers of black cherry, plum, strawberry and blood orange fruits along with it’s volcanic soul of red pepper, iron/flinty minerals, saline, tart acidity and delicate smoke and flowers. The textural richness and length is admirable, without any flab to be found, this is a precise and focused wine that really makes an impact in the glass, showing a mysterious combination of seductive fruity intensity, savory tones and the inviting bright ruby/garnet color.
Passopisciaro, which was founded by Tuscan vintner Andrea Franchetti after he visited Sicily in 2000, he was keenly interested and intrigued by the seemingly lost and abandoned vineyards on the northern side of Mount Etna with their unique characteristics of high-elevation terraces on the mineral infused and complex black lava soils. The climate on the north side of the volcano is surprisingly cool and varies greatly in day and night temperatures, this helps add the vital acidity to keep these wines from the ancient local Nerello Mascalese grape fresh and almost dare we say Burgundian in style, this has made Etna one of the world’s hottest spots for wine in the last 15 years.
Through the years Franchetti has come to understand the beguiling Nerello Mascalese, at first he found it too light and crisp for his taste, but over the years he’s found it’s sweet spot and his has embraced the old feudal system of the contrada wines, that single out special and historic terroirs, it is like single vineyard or crus for this part of the region and he now does five conttrada Nerello based red wines, plus this multi plot Passorosso Etna Rosso DOC, which can only be made if the wine is grown and made within the DOC. Nerello is his main focus with Passopisciaro, which has become one of the most sought after wines on Sicily.
The Passopisciaro Passorosso is made with stainless steel temperature-controlled fermentation(s) from all organic and biodynamic grown grapes using selected yeasts to avoid any volatile acidity and then raised in neutral French oak casts for 18 months. The vines for this Passorosso were planted between 1913 and 1943, so there’s plenty of vine age and the wine is always concentrated and full of old vine character, this is especially true of this latest 2016 release, which is 100% Nerello Mascalese that came at a near perfect ripeness at 14% natural alcohol and very expressive in detail and impressive in its depth of flavors and length. This is quality stuff and a great place to start if you haven’t explored the wines of Mount Etna in any meaningful way, this region has lots to love, and this wine clearly expresses this, and it should drink well for many years to come.
($32 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2017 Envinate, Albahra Tinto, Vinos Mediterraneos, Almansa, Spain.
The latest Enivinate Albahra Tinto is beautiful and is one of the best values in Spain, it shows a delicious array of earthy dark fruit, spice, stones and wild herb notes adding an incense/floral note and lingering kirsch with air, it maybe a warm Mediterranean wine, but it has a Cru Beaujolais sense to it and remains vigorous and fresh throughout. Layers of wild plum, watermelon candy, black cherry and tangy huckleberry fruit unfold with grilled fennel, sage, warm tiles and lilacs all with a nice punch of natural acidity, making for a sweet and savory highlighted red that is highly entertaining and quaffable. The slightly raw and earthy edginess just adds to the feeling of pleasure in this fun, yet serious offering from Spain’s Almansa region. Envinate is one of Spain’s most adventurous and unique winery, founded by the gang of four, Roberto Santana, Alfonso Torrente, Laura Ramos, and Jose Martínez, four friends who met while studying winegrowing at the University of Miguel Hernández in Alicante. Their focus is on Atlantic terroirs, dividing time between the volcano soils of Tenerife in the Canary Islands and the slate steep slopes of the Ribeira Sacra in Spain’s Galicia region, along with a single vineyard in the Estremadura and this single parcel one from Almansa.
Made from mostly the Garnacha Tintorera (Alicante Bouschet) grape with a small amount of the rare local varietal Moravia Agria, the Envinate Albahra is the one wine from this winery that is Mediterranean influenced from the Albacete zone of Almansa region, which is at southern tip of Castilla-La Mancha. I’m a huge fan of this winery and especially the Roberto Santana led Canary Islands reds made from the Mission grapes, Listan Negro and Listen Prieto as well as the Mencia based wines of the Ribeira Sacra, but that said this Garnacha Tintorera based wine is a killer value and a impressive effort as well. The 2017 comes from 30-50 year old head trained-bush vines set on harden clay and sand over limestone soils with all the grapes being organic and hand-harvested, with each of the lots vinified separately by individual parcel. The Garnacha Tintorera (aka Alicante Bouschet, which is a dark red skinned varietal with deep red-juice) is from a 3- parcel vineyard on clay/calcareous soils, is gently foot-trodden in a large vat with 30-50% whole cluster with stem inclusion, with about 6-10 days of skin maceration, then fermented and raised on fine lees in concrete tank for 8 month. The Moravia Agria, a high acid grape, comes from a small plot in Manchuela on sandy solis, it is completely destemmed and sees a 7 day maceration before being pressed and raised on fine lees in 228L used French barriques for 8 months, all without battonage (stirring). After which, the finished wine is then blended and bottled unfined and unfiltered with very little SO2 addition. This is tasty stuff again from Envinate, who are getting better and better with each vintage.
($18 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2016 Domaine Jérôme Gradassi, Chateauneuf du Pape Rouge, Rhone Valley, France.
Domaine Jerome Gradassi’s 2016 Chateauneuf Rouge is a gorgeous and textured wine with perfect vintage definition and depth. This is third or fourth vintage of Domaine Jérôme Gradassi Chateauneuf du Pape Rouge I’ve been able to try and I’m just as excited by this as if it was still the first time, Gradassi has become one of my favorite wineries in the Rhone and I’m thrilled with his new 2016 version, from an outstanding vintage. Jérôme Gradassi Chateauneuf handcrafts his old vine Chateauneuf-du-Pape from an ancient parcel Grenache that was once his grandfathers. Gradassi, Chef and Restauranteur, is much more famous for his Michelin-starred L’Isle Sonnante restaurant located in Avignon, which he sold in 2003, taught himself how to make wine rustic cellar after tasting over his family’s estate in 2004, and I’m thrilled with his recent offerings, which lean heavily on refined natural wine making techniques with only native yeasts and 100% whole cluster fermentation(s), which are done in cement vats. As the cellar is so small and fermentation tanks so old, there are no openings other than the tops of the tanks, hence after 4 weeks, Gradassi removes the fermented juice and macerated berries by hand with a bucket and a rope, as noted by his importer, it’s a painstaking process that can take up to a week. The must is then pressed and transferred into older barrels (4 to 10 years) and aged for 10 months without racking. All of which makes this a thrilling Chateauneuf that deserves your attention, it impresses in mouth feel presence and lingers on and on, it does so without any added frivolous endowments.
This 2016 Rouge flows regally across the full bodied palate with superb layering with glorious mouth feel, but with great detailing and life as well, it delivers blackberry, boysenberry, sweet plums, strawberry and pomegranate fruits along with hints of velvety mocha, kirsch, black licorice, dried lavender, mineral tones, violets/floral elements and a touch of a earthy/leathery meatiness. The main Chateauneuf Rouge is a cuvee of about 75% to 80% Grenache and between 20 to 25% Mourvedre, depending on the year, with the stems, as well as 4 week maceration and hand punch downs makes for a rustic and spicy wine, but good ripe berries and 10 months in very old barrel/cask help smooth the tannins and it is remarkably fresh and vibrant. The process in the cellar is meticulous, and all hard hand worked, with the whole bunches put into underground concrete tanks, rumored to be from an upstairs window, and slowly fermented without the addition of yeast, acid or sugar, and with very little sulfur being employed. The grapes, all organically farmed are from 12 beautiful acres in Chateauneuf-du-Pape planted with about 75% Grenache and 25% Mourvedre. His property is divided into 6 parcels, all set on sandy soils over clay and limestone, located in the Lieut-dit of Palastor, Bois Dauphin, and Cabriere, all in the northern sector of the AOC where, at 400 feet, it is slightly cooler giving the wines a bit more elegance, perfume and more lift, which shows here in this 2016.
($50 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2016 Jolie-Laide, Syrah, North Coast.
The exceptional 2016 North Coast Syrah by Jolie-Laide shows pretty northern Rhone detailing with crushed violets and bright blue fruits leading the way on the medium bodied palate. Scott Schultz, former wine director under Chef Thomas Keller at Napa Valley’s famed Bouchon, makes Jolie-Laide, one of California’s new wave of natural inspired wines is a one-man operation based in a Sebastopol, he crafts only around 500 cases of wine a year. He named his winery Jolie-Laide, which translates loosely to “Pretty-Ugly” borrowing this French term of endearment, that is used to describe something that is unconventionally beautiful that perfectly describes Schultz’s fun offerings, especially this North Coast Syrah. Scott also works with Pax Mahle, Megan and Ryan Glaab at Ryme Cellars, and as well as formerly helping the guys out at Arnot-Roberts, all of which fits nicely with his own winemaking philosophy and do handcrafted small lots from mostly organic and or sustainable vineyard sites. Schultz is a minimalist in the cellar with a light touch, known for his juicy and quaffable wines and low SO2, as well as championing lesser used varietals like Gamay, Melon, Trousseau Gris, Trousseau Noir and Valdiguie.
This 2016 Jolie-Laide North Coast Syrah is a blend of two Yorkville Highlands vineyard sites, the rugged high elevation Halcon Vineyard, owned by Paul Gordon, one of California’s most dramatic sites that produces some off the state’s best Syrah, planted to Hermitage clone and the almost equally compelling Hawks Butte Vineyard which sits at 1200 ft. elevation with rocky, south facing slopes. According to Schultz he crushed the grapes by foot and fermented 100% whole cluster, with nothing more than gentle punchdowns throughout. He then pressed to old, neutral French oak barriques for just less than a year to preserve vibrancy and to highlight the fresh details in this lovely Syrah. This 2016 is layered and sharply focused with boysenberry, marionberry, plum and black cherry fruits along with fig paste, leather, black olive, peppercorns as well as crushed violet, light cassis, anise and embers. I was highly impressed with the texture, length and vitality in this Jolie-Laide North Coast Syrah, even after leaving the bottle open, without a cork all night, it thrilled the palate and never lost a beat, I only wish I had more as this small production wine is a tough get. Hopefully, I’ll be able to get the 2017 vintage Syrah, which is all Halcon Vineyard, which is the current release, and I’ll be checking out their other wines as well.
($30 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2007 Château Haut-Bergey, Pessac-Leognan, Red Bordeaux, France.
This vintage, 2007, is totally under the radar in Bordeaux and while it is never going to be a classic or collectable year for the region there are some fantastic wines and values, including Château Haut-Bergey’s lovely 2007, Cabernet Sauvignon based red from Pessac-Leognan. The 2007 Haut-Bergey’s nose comes across far more mature than the wine is and certainly the fresh palate is much more thrilling than I would have expected, it makes for a great drinking Bordeaux with classic layers of mulberry, currant, cherry and blackberry fruits with touch of graphite, acacia flower, wild plum, tobacco leaf, loamy earth and light cedar notes. This wine gains in personality and charm with air, it finishes with a gorgeous texture and length, making for a wine that way over delivers for the price, even if it will not get too much better with more cellaring. Château Haut-Bergey is located in the heart of the village of Léognan, mecca of Graves which is home to some famous neighboring properties such as Haut-Smith-Laffite, La Louviere, Haut-Brion, La Mission and one of my favorites Château Haut-Bailly, it’s great terroir no question and Haut-Bergey is a great value.
Founded in the 1500’s, Haut-Bergey fell in quality and the vineyards were left in disrepair in the mid 1800’s, maybe at the worst possible time in history and though new owners tried to rescue the Château and vines in 1850, the wines were not worthy to be part of the great 1855 classification and so until 1991 the wines never reached much fame. Now run by Paul Garcin, helped by his team and François Prouteau, the winemaker, the estate is all organic and the biodynamic farming adds to the energy in the wines. Château Haut-Bergey’s red wine is crafted of mostly Cabernet Sauvignon, but with a good dose of Merlot, and some parts of Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot and Malbec grown on the region’s mix of rounded pebbles, broken stone along with clay, limestone and shelly sand. The rise in recent times has made Château Haut-Bergey very attractive for those seeking quality at bargain prices, these wines are exceptional deals especially in less hyped years, as 2007. Apart from the slightly stewy nose, there nothing to complain about and with food this wine really comes alive and adds dimension finding a little bit of grip and filling out to a medium full wine. If you find this wine and want a savvy Bordeaux experience, I recommend buying a few bottles to drink over the next 3 to 5 years.
($28 Est.) 90+ Points, grapelive
2017 Weinhaus Peter Lauer, Saar Riesling Feinherb, Barrel X, Mosel Germany.
One of the most exciting producers along the Saar River is Peter Lauer and one of the best values in this part of the Mosel region is his Barrel X Riesling Feinherb, especially in vintages this great, such as this exceptional 2017. This Barrel X is fruity and generous on the palate, but drinks wonderful crisp and drier than you’d expect with radiant yellow fruits, crunchy mineral tones and plenty of mouth watering salinity and stony elements. Adding heightened aromatics and a nice mouth feel Peter Lauer’s little Riesling is quite seductive and transparent with lime, green apple, peach, tangerine and rose hip tea notes in the glass. 2017 is ripe, dense and expressive, but still has reserves of lively acidity and the wine is very energetic and nervy that allows for balance and dynamic tension, which if we are honest is what we are all looking for in Riesling, and the Barrel X delivers it perfectly and at a great price.
Florian Lauer, head of Weinhaus Peter Lauer and famous for their the Kupp Fass 18 Grosses Gewachs, is currently one of the greatest winemakers in the Saar, and his drier wines are in stark contrast to his famous Saar neighbors Egon Müller and Hanno Zilliken. At Lauer, notes their importer Vom Boden the focus here is on the dry-tasting Rieslings, as opposed to the higher residual sugar wines of the mentioned more traditional Egon Mueller and Zillken. Florian who employs natural-yeast fermentations, Vom Boden adds, that Lauer’s wines find their own balance, and they tend to be more textural, deeper and more masculine in style than others in the region. They have a natural vigor and a sense of balance that can be described as singular, while displaying all of the hallmarks of the Saar, purity, precision, rigor, mineral.
In Lauer’s lineup, this Barrel X is the appellation-level or regional expression, it is Lauer’s Platonic ideal of what a Saar Riesling should be. Trying to make it easier to get an idea of what Florian is trying to do with this one, If we were in Burgundy this would be the equivalent of a Bourgogne Blanc and it is sourced from multiple vineyards in three different villages of the Saar. This is always a thrilling off-dry and steely version, lightly sweet, not overtly complicated , impossible to resist and a gateway wine to his more impressive Grand Crus.
Maybe not as complex or as seriously severe as his GG bottlings, this is a stupidly good Riesling to drink any place or time, it is remarkably flexible and can be sipped and quaffed on it’s own by the pool or great for a warm afternoon picnic or BBQ, as well as with a range of cuisine choices. This 2017 Peter Lauer Barrel X Fienherb is pure and vibrant adding wet stones and quince to its profile with air and shimmers in the glass with a greenish, pale golden hue, this is a fun and soulful Riesling of fine quality and value, drink now through 2026.
($25 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2016 Antichi Vigneti di Cantalupo, Nebbiolo, Agamium, Colline Noravesi DOC, Alto Piedmonte, Italy.
The smooth and structured Agamium from Alberto Arlunno at Antichi Vigneti di Cantalupo is all from the Ghemme zone, but labeled Colline Novaresi DOC, which is known as Alto Piedmonte, a once remote and rustic area that is now one of Italy’s major hot spots for Nebbiolo with well draining rocky soils and old vines. The terroir here was formed in ancient times as the great Monte Rosa glacier receded leaving morainic rock, alluvial deposits with the vineyards being rich in easily fragmented pebbles providing the vines with a quantity of minerals. The vineyards are planted mostly to Spanna, local name for Nebbiolo, 80% in fact, but with also Vespalina and Uva Rara, which makes up a minority of the blends and adds aromatics, color and a light fruity note to the very structured and complex Nebbiolo.
Arlunno uses stainless tanks to ferment and he ages mostly in large Slovenian oak casks and a small amount of French barrels, usually reserved for the top Ghemme offerings, and not in this fresher style wine. The 2016 Agamium by Antichi Vigneti di Cantalupo is delicately perfumed, lightly spicy and with exceptional purity of form with layers of classic Nebbiolo flavors including cherry, damson plum, strawberry and tangy currant along with faint tar, cedar, mineral tones and black licorice as well as the rose petal essences you find on the nose. There is good bright acidity, silken tannins, which highlights a vintage that should not be missed in the whole Piedmonte region for Nebbiolo in particular, and subtle earthy/savory elements that come trough on the background of this very pretty Colline Novaresi wine. This is absolutely a producer to check out and follow, and this wine is a beauty and top value, it can be enjoyed now and has enough stuffing to go 5 more years with ease.
($19 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2017 Kelley Fox Wines, Pinot Noir “Mirabai” Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
The sultry and snappy whole cluster 2017 Mirabai Pinot from the talented Kelley Fox, who was until recently the winemaker at Scott Paul Wines is completely focused on her own label and these 2017’s are lovely wines, with this one in particular being wonderfully expressive with bright fruits and with stemmy and earthy tones. Fox’s Mirabai is 50% whole cluster, native yeast fermented and aged in only neutral French oak coming off the Maresh Vineyard in the Dundee Hills AVA, which she acutely notes is, classically rose petal perfumed saying that the new Mirabai 2017 is an utterly transparent, light red with youthful, fuschia highlights at the edges and is far deeper in flavor than its color might suggest. The 2017 is less ripe in weight, but maybe even more complex than the 2015 and 2016 versions, and the normal yields at Maresh Kelley was able to employ various older block into this Mirabai including Block 1/Red Barn (planted in 1970), the Long Rows (1970) the Old Block (1970), Block 8 (1978), Block 10/Star of Bethlehem Flower Block and Block 7 (1991) all of which adds to the excitement of flavors and depth in this vintage.
This 2017 shines and thrills the palate with tons of energy and a cascade of red fruits that range from brilliant bing cherry, wild plum, raspberry, strawberry to forceful pomegranate and blood orange along with zippy spices including cinnamon, mineral notes, leather/porcini, light cedar, tea notes and volcanic rock elements that reflect the Jory soils and terroir, adding the briar, red pepper, dried cinnamon and minty herbs. Fox adds, the own-rooted and non-irrigated Maresh Vineyard, which was first planted to Pommard and Wädenswil clones in 1970 by Jim and Loie Maresh, at the urging of Dick Erath, on Worden Hill Road above Dundee, and it is situated on a mostly south-facing slope between 500 and 700 feet above sea level, these old vines planted in Jory soil produce Pinot noir with the most seductive texture. I love this 2017 Mirabai, one of the best values in Kelley Fox’s lineup, which is named after the 16th century Indian poet, seer and saint who was known for his beautiful and wild-hearted nature, that reflects the style of this wine too and at 12.5% natural alcohol is lively and brilliantly focused, it should be good ager too, drink now through 2027.
($35 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2018 Le P’Tit Paysan, Rosé “Pierre’s Pirouette” Central Coast.
The Ian Brand made Le P’Tit Paysan, Rosé, which is Bandol inspired is a dry beauty in the glass with striking crisp detail and energy with brisk grapefruit, strawberry, sour cherry and watermelon fruits, wet stone, mineral notes, rosewater and savory white pepper spice. this vintage of Pierre’s Pirouette is exquisitely crafted using 61% Mourvédre, 34% Grenache and 5% Cinsault, which helps explain the structure and intensity found here on the palate of this ultra pale pinkish wine. This is the perfect wine for Opening Day, I mean Rosé season, but it will be equally good with baseball season, Go Giants! 2018 is going to be a legendary vintage for the central coast, it’s is already showing a purity, class and depth that is absolutely stunning and all with heightened perfume and vibrancy.
Brand’s steely fresh Le P’Tit Paysan, Rosé “Pierre’s Pirouette” according to the winery, is crafted from some Grenache from the granitic alluvium of Arroyo Seco, which adds the bright tang, plus more Grenache, some Mourvédre, and Cinsault comes from the calcium rich Aguajito Shale bluffs above the Arroyo Seco River, with the meat of this wine, more powerful Mourvédre from the calcareous alluvium around the San Benito Arroyo. The grapes were picked below 22 brix, with bright natural acidity with each each lot seeing on average of about just 6 hours of skin contact. This 2018 Le P’Tit Paysan Dry Rosé was fermented in several lots at cold temperatures for fresh detail, bright aromatics, brisk acidity, elegant minerality and it delivers a diverse set of flavors. Ian used only stainless steel fermentation and aging along with an arrested secondary fermentation, with zero malos and it was sterile filtered.
This is a wine that begs for a beach and warm sunsets, but can offer enough seriousness to go with a vast array of cuisine choices, and I can’t wait to enjoy it with mussels in a spicy broth! Ian Brand’s latest releases are simply awesome and each wine shows a distinct personality and while his Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon, Grenache and Mourvèdre grab the headlines, you’ll want to stock up on his latest “Pierre’s Pirouette” Rosé, especially this vintage. If you want some cool, chalky and crisp Rosé this season be sure to find this wine it’s one of the state’s best, along with Bedrock’s Ode to Lulu, Arnot-Roberts’ Touriga Rosé, Tablas Creek’s set of pinks, Bonny Doon’s Cigare Vin Gris, Poe’s Meunier based Rosé and others, this Brand Rosé is tasty stuff!
($19 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2013 Domaine Vincent Paris, Cornas “Granit 30” Northern Rhone, France.
Vincent Paris, a native of Cornas, started his label in 1997 and since then has become a rising star in the Northern Rhone and his vines (some of which are 100 years old) came from his grandfather, and also rents vines from his uncle, the legendary Cornas vigneron Robert Michel with top cru parcels in great terroir. The biodynamically farmed vines, which are located ialong the southeast facing Cornas slope make for powerful and complex wines and Paris is making some amazing offerings that include his Granit 30, like this one, and Granit 60, that take their names from the slope and grade in the vineyards and average vine age(s), respectively.
2013 is a vintage that needed a few extra years to show its best, and this one especially has gained in all areas with that time, it fills the palate with black fruits, spice, earth and light floral tones with boysenberry, blueberry, damson plum, kirsch and currants along with minty herbs, camphor/graphite, anise, crushed violets, loam and stones, adding hints of cedar and game with air. This is a sturdy effort, slightly rustic in nature, but with pretty detail and substance with a vivid purple/garnet hue in the glass, it is a Cornas of style and serious impact that way out performs the price. I have been following the Paris wines for a few vintages and especially this bottling, they are fabulous wines across the range and I can’t wait to try the 2016’s and 2017’s once they get a few more years on them, and I highly recommend searching them out.
The tightly wound and seductively layered 2013 Vincent Paris “Granit 30” Cornas comes from Vincent’s youngest vines on the lowest part of the slope of decomposed granite on the lieu-dits of St. Pierre and Patou in the Mazards zone. These plots deliver ripe flavors, medium tannins and savory tones, helped by being planted at about 300 meter elevation. Vincent uses up to 15% stems depending on vintage, to add complexity and structure, while allowing the wine to be beautifully polished and easy to drink in its youth. This deep and brooding 100% Syrah was fermented in a combination of stainless and wood at low temperatures and will only native yeasts, then the Granit 30 is aged 12 months in barrel, before bottling, all unfined and unfiltered. Vincent Paris does a couple of super rare wines too, his “Cornas” grown Blanc, his 100 year old vine Cornas, a wine on par with Allemand and Clape, as well his Saint-Joseph Rouge that is stunningly pure. This winery is rocking it right now and this Granit 30 should not be missed, look for any vintage from 2012 to 2017, which is supposed to be insanely good, but this sleeper year 2013 is very impressive and would be a savvy score if you can find it.
($30-40 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2016 Pax, Carignan, Testa Vineyard, Mendocino County.
The joyously tasty all carbonic Pax Carignan comes of the old Testa Vineyard in Mendocino County, from vines that were originally planted back in 1912 by Gaetano and Maria Testa on a slight rise that is covered in deep Yakayo Series sandy-loam soil. This soil was derived from sedimentary rock, and this is some of the fluffiest and lightest soils Pax has ever seen, with the vines all dry-farmed and organic, which limits the yields and adds to the layering of flavors and the concentration that ends up in the wine. Maria the Testa’s great granddaughter and her husband Rusty, are the 4th generation to run the property and do so with great care and respect for the land and the family traditions. Pax expresses the site by using the old vine 100% Carignan, that as mentioned is 100% carbonic maceration and using 100% whole-cluster, as well as employing only native yeasts. He (Pax Mahle) ages the Testa Carignan in neutral French Oak puncheons, and this beautifully detailed vintage came in at just 11.9% natural alcohol making for a bright and crunchy wine that is easy to quaff.
This 2016 is forward and juicy with a deep fruit profile that leans on blueberry, plum and currant, but is balanced nicely by the stems, that adds a tangy, savory background that really balances everything to perfection with hints of sage, basil and anise along with fresh vibrant acids, a mineral note and crushed violets. This medium bodied Carignan is pure joy in the glass and impresses the senses with it’s vivid purple/garnet color and burst of fruit, spice and crisp lines. Pax Wines, which was founded back in 2000, are Rhone specialists and while known for his world class Syrah bottlings, Pax has also created a gorgeous line of alternative offerings including a fun Gamay, Chenin Blanc, Trousseau Gris, and this gem of a Carignan, all of which are mostly sold direct, as they are made in such limited quantities. Pax, who’s recovering from the floods that swamped his winery in Sebastopol, is one of California’s best and most influential winemakers and his latest wines are stylish and impeccably made, don’t miss a chance to help him out and be rewarded with some great wines!
($26 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2016 Weingut Korrell Johanneshof, Riesling Eiswein, Paradies, Bad Kreuznach, Nahe Germany.
Korrell is one of the Nahe’s latest break out stars and every wine I’ve tried from Martin Korrell has been absolutely stunning, including this Eiswein. Crafted from old vines at their estate monopole Paradies Vineyard in Bad Kreuznach, from those grapes that hang out until the first freeze and were individual berry picked off the vine. Concentrated in sugars, but still bristling with natural acidity the gorgeous and opulent 2016 Korrell Eiswein Paradies goes on and on in mouth. Even with the residual sugar levels off the carts, this wine stays incredibly balanced and doesn’t drink as sweet as you’d imagine, making for a heavenly experience from its perfumed nose to its lingering tropical fruits.
This is entrancing stuff with layers of lychee, candied pineapple, apricot jelly, honeycomb, lime blossom, white roses, chamomile, a hint of spearmint, mineral spice and cool wet stone. A rare and exotic, this Korrell Eiswein is treat beyond words, and while the Mosel is better known for sweet wines, I have found the Nahe in some vintages are more than equal, in fact I still think a contender for the greatest wine I ever tasted was one of Donnhoff’s version of Eiiswein from just up the river! While Tokaji and Sauternes grab sweet wine headlines, I honestly believe the Germans have them beat with TBA’s and Eiswein, because of the racy acidity that still remains in these Riesling beauties.
Korrell used specially selected yeasts as there is no chance to do Sponti on the ultra concentrated Paradies Eiswein, it needs extra special attention to detail, Korrell adds, It is pressed in a special small press for sweet wines with low quantity, read tiny production, but not wooden because they don’t want too much air contact, to keep and preserve the exotic fruit aromas as much as possible as well as fresh details. Tasted from 375ml, half bottle, the 2016 Korrell Paradies Eiswein is an amazing product, and sadly isn’t listed in the United States as of yet, though their Trocken(s) should be available later this spring or early summer, so remember this one for if and when you get to Germany.
($n/a) 94 Points, grapelive
2017 Drew Family Cellars, Pinot Noir, Morning Dew Ranch, Anderson Valley.
The new Drew Morning Dew Pinot is an amazing wine, I cannot recommend their wines more highly and this 2017 vintage looks to be one of the best all around yet, this one highlights the year, the sense of place and proves to be a wine of substance and delicacy. Without question Jason Drew is making some of the great wines in California these days and over the last few vintages his Pinots are almost unrivaled, especially his Mendocino Ridge and cooler Anderson Valley sites, not just his estate offerings, but those from Wendling and this Bert William’s Morning Dew Ranch are absolutely stunning as well. These Drew wines are complex, translucent and full of vitality with pure and precise detail paying exceptional attention to the vineyard as well as showing an x factor in the glass. It was with massive expectations I counted the minutes to get the latest releases from Drew that included the Valenti Syrah, the Wendling Pinot and of course the Morning Dew Ranch bottling, that was missing from the last vintage and for which I was most excited to getting.
The Morning Dew Ranch, the retirement project from the iconic Bert Williams the founding winemaker of the famous Williams Selyem Winery, sits in the deep end of Anderson Valley, located on a south west facing hillside up at about between 600 and 800 feet in elevation on Franciscan Series soils, which are are well-drained, slowly permeable marine sediment and a mix of rock including schist, sandstone, basalt and shales on mountains and uplands of the coastal ranges. Williams planted his vineyard, and Drew uses both a Rochioli clone and a 828- La Tache selection, with Jason choosing two separate blocks on the hillside.
In this 2017 vintage Drew went with about 15% whole clusters along with only native yeasts during fermentation, with gorgeous results, the resulting Morning Dew Pinot is bright and with a garnet and ruby hue in the glass, and even with the heat spike near Labor Day, the balance is impeccable and the natural alcohol came in at a refined 13% with yields kept tight at just 2 tons per acre adds to the concentrated mouth feel and depth of dark fruit on the medium bodied palate. Jason also went with 11 months in barrel only racking by gravity twice before bottling, and he used most well season French oak here with just 20% new in the final blend of this thrilling new Morning Dew Ranch. This is just awesome stuff to enjoy for the 15 to 20 years, I am so glad I got more than one bottle, as I want to re-visit this in 10 years, its potential seems off the charts.
The invigorating youthful nature hides an underlying class and dimension that will certainly prevail in the coming years, that said with air it is impossible to deny the greatness here, the nose alone seduces the senses with floral intensity and exotic red fruits leading the way to the satiny mouth with black cherry, plum, pomegranate and wild vine huckleberry fruits forming a core profile along with light toasty mocha and cola bean elements, cinnamon, brambly/briar spices, mineral tones, framboise, earl grey and a sensation of candied citrus and racy currant that helps add a slight tangy to the generous ripeness here. The youthful creaminess ebbs away with air and this wine gains a serious structural quality that is backward, but hints to the glorious future in store for Drew’s 2017 Morning Dew Ranch, reminding me of great Volnay wines, though to be honest, this is a California wine through and through and even the Burgundy guys would be hard pressed to make a wine of this kind of intrigue, beauty and incredible refinement.
This was my first 2017 from Drew, I can hardly contain myself thinking about the rest of his lineup, if you are not on their list, you need to be.
($55 Est.) 97 Points, grapelive
2014 Chateau Haut-Ségottes, Saint Emilion Grand Cru, Red Bordeaux, France.
A highly entertaining wine and sleeper in this ho hum vintage, the Chateau Haut-Ségottes shows a classic and decedent array of dark fruit, loamy earth, bramble and a subtle chalkiness with layers of blackberry, plum, black cherry and mulberry fruit along with hints of cedar, anise, a faint green pepper and floral tones. There is a lot to like here and it’s Cabernet Franc based flavor profile adds to the intrigue and keeps this refined Bordeaux from being much the same to an ever growing list of generic offerings from the Saint-Emilion area that these days, while well made, all seem a touch overly ripe, over oaked and lacking of individual charm. This deep garnet hued 2014 Haut-Ségottes gets better and better in the glass adding a touch of currant and mineral along with bit of black olive, which add to the complexity here in a medium full bodied wine that is much more old school in style that most of its contemporaries and frankly make it more interesting.
The Chateau Haut Ségottes is owned and operated by Danielle Meunier and her team and is well admired for the estate’s right bank wines that are Merlot and Cabernet Franc based. In 1972 Madame Meunier took the reins of production, becoming as her importers notes a “vigneronne extraordinaire”, she is the fourth generation of her family to oversee this nine hectare estate situated in the heart of the Saint Emilion appellation, and Mme. Meunier’s great-grandfather purchased the estate around 1860 and had earned gold medals for his wine as early as 1912 at the Concours Agricole in Paris. Sitting right next to the fabled Chaval Blanc and the highly regarded Plateau de Corbin, Chateau Haut Ségottes obviously sits on amazing terroir with it’s underpinning of limestone and clay soils with vines that are planted to about 60% Merlot, 35% Cabernet Franc and close to 5% Cabernet Sauvignon which form the base of this Chateau’s wines. Noted for her obsessive attention to detail and care in both her vineyards and in the cave (cellar) the wines are beautiful reflective of this with transparency and ultra clean and soil based personality.
The wonderfully pure and lightly spicy 2014 Chateau Haut-Ségottes, is a rich, without heaviness, in fact it is pretty and compelling now for a wine that, while youthful, seems comfortable to be opened now, as it is drinking well with its lovely dark fruits shining intensely. The primary fermentation takes place in cuve, before being racked to barrel, 20% new oak and is bottled unfiltered. Although the majority of the vineyards are planted to Merlot (see above), the final cuvée bottled as Chateau Haut-Segottes is a Cabernet Franc dominated blend, usually about 65% Franc, that sees 18 months in barrel. There is no question the 2015 and 2016 will have a more flamboyant nature given the vintages’ greatness and density, but it would be ashamed to overlook a fine effort like this one, especially in the form it is in right now, this 2014 Haut-Ségottes is really good.
($48 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2017 Nanclares y Prieto, Albariño “Tempus Vivendi Rosina” Rias Baixas, Galicia, Spain.
Nanclares y Prieto, led by Alberto Nanclares and joined by the youthful talents of Silvia Prieto, has fast become the go to Albariño estate in Spain’s Rias Baixas with their handcrafted biodynamic/organic wines. Based in the Cambados zone, Nanclares’ estate wines are unique Atlantic influenced Albariños grown at sea level on a mix of sand, clay and granite soils that allow these wines to display a deep saline quality as well as a striking mineral core, these are as authentic and as pure as it gets, and in some cases rival classic Chablis and Mosel Rieslings in personality and expression, especially in vintages such as this 2017. The Nanclares y Prieto Tempus Vivendi comes from 6 parcels in the parroquias (or parishes) of Vilalonga, Noalla and Dorrón close to the municipality of Sanxenxo along the Atlantic coast in the famed sub zone of Val do Salnés from historic and traditional Pergola trained and grown vines that range from 25 to 40 years old.
This bright, but richly flavored 2017 Tempus Vivendi was pressed whole cluster and fermented in steel tank, allowing native yeasts and non malolactic conversion, to preserve its natural freshness and retain high acidity. While crisp and zippy, this Albariño was raised on the lees over winter, which adds wonderful texture and mouth feel and was bottled with very low levels of SO2, and was neither clarified or filtered. The nose has white flowers, salty stones, citrus and orchard fruits along with a brioche note all of which transfers to the palate inshore detail as well as lovely apple, peach and key lime fruits. This zesty wine is crunchy and stony with wet rock and energetic vitality, but is ripely generous and complex, making it joyous with a wide variety of cuisine options, but of course it is ultra special with sea food dishes from paella to steamed mussels, plus briny oysters and or sardines.
This bottling is a tribute to Alberto’s great passion for sailing and the wines true soulful connection to the sea, I love these wines and almost every vintage is a treat, especially the regular estate version along with this Tempus Vivendi and the tasty little Dandelion cuvee, and while limited and mostly hard to find they are well worth the extra effort it takes to get a few bottles, drink up.
($24 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2015 Domaine Paul Jaboulet Aine, Crozes-Hermitage Rouge, Domaine de Thalabert, Northern Rhone, France.
This Jaboulet Crozes-HermitagevDomaine de Thalabert 2015 with it’s concentration, ripe flavors and refined tannins is a lovely and impressive effort, not without grip or intensity, displays a meaty soul and terroir driven personality with layers of boysenberry, damson plum, blueberry, creme de cassis, fig paste, light cedar notes, mocha and tar like elements with hints of black licorice, leather, bacon fat and embers. Caroline Frey and team have done a masterful job, making a purple/garnet hued wine that gathers itself with air adding a hint of sweet toasty oak, with about 20% new barrels were used and crushed violets and candied black cherry in a sultry, seductive and a full bodied effort. Still in throws of youth, this Domaine de Thalabert will need plenty of cellar time to fully evolve, but the potential is clear as day to see in the bottle, curiosity got the best of me, rather than common sense, as I should have cellared this beauty another decade at least.
The Domaine de Thalabert Crozes-Hermitage site was the first vineyard purchased by Jaboulet and is considered one of the benchmark vineyard sites in the Appellation as well as being the oldest, it now sports 60 to 80 year old vines, biodynamically grown on pebbly terraces that are glacial in origin, with the bedrock close to the topsoil. These small, round pebbles store heat during the day and release it at night, providing optimum and regular maturity, a bit like Chateauneuf du Pape and why these wines tend to be bigger and denser than most, especially in vintages like this 2015, making for a stunningly powerful and rich Syrah that rivals some Hermitage and or Cote-Rotie(s)!
Caroline Frey’s ultra exceptional Domaine de Thalabert Crozes-Hermitage 2015 is a beguiling pure Syrah with fruit that came from one this zones most prestigious spots. Jaboulet is one of the iconic estates in the Northern Rhone, most famous for their La Chappelle Hermitage Rouge from the spiritual home high up on Hermitage Hill overlooking the Rhone River, and the Frey family, who took over this legendary domaine 10 years ago have proved to be great stewards of these holdings. Domaine Paul Jaboulet Aine, according to the winery, was founded in 1834, a full 100 years before the introduction of the A.O.C. system, by Antoine Jaboulet, who began to transform a sleepy region into one of the most important quality winegrowing terroirs in the world. Since that time, Paul Jaboulet Aîné has become the benchmark in the Northern Rhône, with the mentioned illustrious and iconic Hermitage ‘La Chapelle’ being responsible for some of the greatest wines ever produced.
And now with Caroline Frey crafting the wines, this label is as popular as ever with her top wines being as highly praised and sought after as any in France. For those that cannot afford the La Chapelle, like me, it is great to be able to drink Frey’s wines, and this Crozes-Hermitage “Domaine de Thalabert” is a great one to invest in without too much guilt, so be sure to look for it and be as patient as possible, plus in case you don’t find, as great as this 2015 is, I understand the 2016 and 2017 should be as good if not better!
($39 Est.) 94-96 Points, grapelive
2017 Weingut Von Winning, Riesling Trocken, Estate, Pfalz, Germany.
It’s terribly hard not to love these 2017 vintage Rieslings from Germany, and especially these Von Winnings that hail from the Pfalz region, these are wines that show terroir, beautiful aromatics and a Burgundy like elegance and textural quality. This 2017 Estate Trocken is bright with cool mineral intensity and stony in character, but with a feeling of extract and density that is quite riveting for a wine in this price class with layers of tangerine, green apple, lime zest, chamomile, lemongrass, crystallized ginger and chalky and saline infused wet stones. This vintage builds as it opens, expanding to give a real impact on the palate, while staying laser like sharp in detail and acid driven, it’s wonderfully expressive and impressive and stunning with cuisine. Von Winning is committed to organic farming and train their vines much the same way as they do in the Cote D’Or, preferring native yeasts and lees aging in oak casks along with stainless in the basic wines, again there is a nod to Burgundy with their inspiration. If you are looking to explore the Pfalz, there are two wineries that you must not miss, Mueller-Catoir and Von Winning and both have produced exceptional 2017’s that look likely to become legends.
Fast becoming one of Germany’s finest estates, Weingut Von Winning has an amazing lineup of wines and are known for their incredible GG’s, which are lush Burgundy style and quality dry Rieslings as well as making some of the world’s absolute best Sauvignon Blancs! Beyond the top wines here there is a lot of value too, in particular, this estate Trocken Riesling which delivers intensely dry crisp detail and complexity for an insanely low price. Famous importer and Riesling guru, Terry Theise says Pfalz Rieslings are spice-bombs of ginger and pineapple, yet none of that is incompatible with great class and refinement in the top wines, whether dry or not-dry, of which I agree completely, and as much as I wish I could be drinking Von Winning’s Grosses Gewachs, like Kirchenstück, Ungeheuer and Pechstein to name a few, I can more afford their Paradiesgarten Erste Lage and or this basic Trocken, especially this 2017 version which is a class act with a bone dry focus, but with, as mentioned, surprising depth and length gaining hints of rosewater, earthy gooseberry, tropical essences and apricot in the glass, this is a fantastic year for German wines and this one has potential to age 10 to 15 years, though it is already pretty easy to love!
($22 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2016 Saint-Cosme, Saint-Joseph Rouge, Northern Rhone, France.
Louis Barruol’s negociant Saint-Joseph Rouge comes from, as he puts it, one of the most underrated areas of the Rhone Valley, being a great area with steep slopes and ancient granite soils making for usually perfumed and tension filled wines of elegance and vitality. The exceptional vintage 2016, which as per normal is from old 100% Serine clone (ancient local variety of Syrah) and Barruol employed 30% whole cluster fermentation to add complexity and a dynamic quality that can sometime be missing from non-estate grown versions. The wine was aged twelve months in oak with it being 20% in new casks, 40% in casks used once and 40% in casks used for two or three times prior, which is more or less what was used for his medium level AOC wines, like his Crozes-Hermitage and basic Gigondas.
Where as the Crozes-Hermitage was, at this point at least, much more perfumed and racy with a powerful sense of violets, this 2016 Saint-Joseph is more meaty and shows an earthier character, less floral in it’s youth and richer on the palate with layers of blackberry. plum, boysenberry, currant and kirsch fruit along with a hint of leather, tobacco and camphor, as well as a delicate spicy edge that should become more pronounced with age as the baby fat settles and the stems raise the aromatics. Tight and dense, things look to refine and it should reveal a more elegant character with age, best to give this one a few years more before opening. Still, that said, it is hard to find a better bottle of Saint-Joseph for the price than this, even now, so I’d stock up on this one, and if you missed it, don’t panic as rumors have it the 2017 is just as good and is coming out soon.
($26 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2017 Anthony Road Winery, Riesling, Semi-Dry, Fingers Lakes, New York State.
The lightly sweet Riesling, Semi-Dry, by Anthony Road is a nicely balanced and generous wine with terroir driven character, and it is very impressive for the price leading with the white flowers, peachy fruit and lightly smoky/flinty with a crunch of mineral tones. This vintage feels fresh on the light to medium palate with a nice zip to it and a lingering finish with the sugar given more of a sensation of texture instead of syrupy, with real racy and brisk acidity. A ripe selections of peach, apricot, green apple and citrus fruits stand out on the palate in this fun Finger Lakes Riesling, making it a wine to look for when you are in the region. Not much of this stuff gets out of the New York State market, so, it will be a hard get unless you go there, but it is good enough to make you think of a trip to this exciting area.
The shale soils of Lake Seneca in New York’s Finger Lakes are the Riesling hot spot these days with some amazing examples finally getting the praise they they so deserve, and I was thrilled with a recent tasting of some of this regions examples, and in particular this new to me winery, Anthony Road that does a fine selection of dry and off dry styles. The owners, John and Ann Martini moved to this property back in 1973, which is a peaceful farm right on the shores overlooking Lake Seneca, and were talked into planting a vineyard and over the years it has grown to about 30 acres and after trying a few varietals it focused on Riesling. For many years Anthony Road were led in their winemaking by the German ex-pat Johannes Reinhardt, who eventually left to pursue his own wines, but before training his replacement, Peter Becraft, who is making the wines and running the cellar here to great effect, along with his assistant Lynne Fahey as well as Brien Gardner, who heads the vineyard management overseen by the Martini family.
Anthony Road just got a huge boost when Riesling guru and head reviewer on all things Riesling for James Suckling, Stuart Pigott gave their last dry Riesling 95 Points, and serving notice this was a winery to watch, lucking for me I was able to get a bottle prior to Stuart’s rating of their wines. This 2017 Semi-Dry is more like a modern Feinherb, not quite as sweet and a Spatlese and richer in texture than a Kabinett, at about 17 grams of RS (sugar), but with about 9.36 of acid per litter this 12.5% Riesling is still vibrant, pretty zingy and with a serious palate impact, it’s all estate grown and pretty limited, with just over 500 cases made.
Now while the Riesling is what the world is taking notice of, it isn’t all this winery does, in fact they make an array of wines from Gewürztraminer to Merlot, as well as a Rose of Cabernet and a Pinot Gris, all of which are very popular with the visitors to the area and the Anthony Road farm, but of which I haven’t tried yet. Anthony Road joins Hermann J. Wiemer, Ravines, Red Newt, Boundary Breaks and the Forge in getting serious attention for dry and off dry Riesling, so if you haven’t get into these wines yet, I highly recommend checking them out, these are wonderful terroir driven wines, many of which, like this Anthony Road are also killer values in mineral focused American Riesling.
($17 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2017 Hundred Suns, Pinot Noir, Old Eight Cut, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
Hundred Suns Wines, a reference to the growing season that lasts a hundred days between flowering and harvest, is one of the best finds in Oregon and produce a thrilling set of Willamette Valley Pinots, including this brilliant Old Eight Cut 2017, from a vintage that winemaker across the region are over the moon with. The Hundred Suns label is the personal winery of ex-Beaux Freres man Grant Coulter and Renée Saint-Amour who was on the team at the Carlton Winemakers Studio, these two are crafting some amazing stuff, and I loved their 2016 version of this Old Eight Cut, so it was great to just get my latest couple of wines from Grant, who’s also from Monterey, my hometown, and Renée, which included their top wine from the Sequitur Vineyard and this Old Eight Cut that is a barrel selection from a combination of vineyards from the Willamette Valley including the renowned Shea Vineyard in the Carlton-Yamhill County. They employ a minimalistic approach to their winemaking at Hundred Suns and with a gentle hand, they fermented the 2017 Old Eight Cut using about 30% whole cluster with native yeasts, aged on gross lees for 11 months, in mostly used French oak, then it was gently racked to tank and gravity fed into bottle.
This pretty ruby/garnet hued 2017 is full of purity and is very expressive, Grant was excited for me to try it and I can see why, it’s a gorgeous and lively Pinot Noir that has a youthful, almost semi carbonic, fruit intensity, showing waxy blue fruits, spice, earth, a hint of dark walnut as well as an exciting burst of fresh acidity, adding a polished core of cherry, plum and tart black currants. With air things get more traditional and a subtle floral perfume comes through and a touch of stems, with a herbal/tea note helping cut the fruit impact on the medium bodied palate, but overall the texture is satiny and refined in this wonderful Pinot Noir. This Hundred Suns Old Eight Cut 2017 has a unique personality, it feels like a Foillard Morgon Cote de Py first out of the bottle, then slowly and steadily gains a more Pinot like profile, people familiar with Philippe Pacalet’s Burgundies will definitely see a familiar transformation in the glass.
Grant and Renée add, that this Willamette Valley cellar selection stitches together pieces from each of our single vineyards into a focused blend of each unique and divergent site, as well as highlighting the 2017 vintage, which started cool then gained steam for a classic Oregon finish, making for fresher and more vibrant wines than 2015 and 2016. Along with Shea, in Yamhill Carlton, which is a single clone 777 block on the sedimentary soils that cover a deep layer sandstone, they also sourced from Mike Etzel’s Ribbon Ridge Sequitur Vineyard, which might be the most prized site in the Valley these days, with its biodynamic farmed mix of Chalone, 943 and Pommard clones on classic Willakenzie series soils (Marine Sediment) as well as the Coast Range site, Bednarik Vineyard that is all Pommard clone, and again on the Marine Sedimentary soils. This combo gives this wine its complexity and intriguing personality, with this vintage showing the cooler vintage to perfection with more precision and tight detailing on display here. I can’t wait to see how this wine ages, it is fun and playful now, but it has a ton of potential for the future, I’m hooked on these wines, and this one is a great value.
($28 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2017 Weingut Carl Loewen, Riesling Trocken, Maximin Klosterlay, Mosel Germany.
The Maximin Klosterlay, a Erste Lage site, from the village of Detzem, where is gorgeous Riesling hails from, was the first site acquired by the Loewen Family in 1805, with the estate now currently run by Christopher Loewen, who is one of German’s hottest winemaking talents, and his father Karl-Josef. As Loewen’s American importer, Terry Theise notes, in the late 1980s and 1990s, Karl-Josef was always looking for old vineyards and grew the Loewen by purchasing steep old vineyards that were very low yielding and intense site that no one wanted to work anymore. Now the holdings are spread over 4 villages that include Leiwen, Longuich, Detzem and Thörnich, with over 50% of the holdings being ungrafted, original clone, very old vines that range from 60-120 years old and as mentioned on ultra steep slopes.
Loewen is practicing organic farming and Christopher is crafting highly detailed wines in the cellar with ferments are completely natural without any addition of enzymes or nutrition, Loewen whole cluster presses, but the pomace is never moved. Loewen notes “when you move the solids, you break stems, which leads to phenolic (bitter) flavors”. So the juice is “browned” or oxidized pre-fermentation and the single vineyard wines, which are block picked and go directly into Fuder barrels (around 1000L) which average 25 years old, where they are fermented with native yeasts and aged. This Maximin Klosterlay is made from 45 year-old vines in the central part of the vineyard and was fermented all the way to 11 g/l of residual sugar, and 12% natural alcohol. Christopher’s wines are never inoculated and without temperature control being used or needed, because the cellar temperature is only about 11 C degrees.
The premier cru Maximin Klosterlay, which is all grey slate terroir driven, has made for some outrageously stunning Kabinett(s), but now with Christopher at the helm is Trocken, and this 2017 is so good, you’d be forgiven for not thinking you were drinking a top GG, such is the presence in the glass here, this is serious stuff. The nose starts with that slate smoky intensity before allowing rosewater and chamomile to show that leads to a layered, but crunchy mineral laced palate with salty stones, ginger spice and lovely range of yellow fruits, with apple, apricot, lime, kiwi and quinces. This is brisk and powerful Riesling with plenty of pure extract, ripe golden hues, flavors and vivid acidity, this is a wine that will appeal to Riesling freaks, like me, but also those that love flinty wines, like Premier Cru Chablis and or Cru Sancerre as well. Air brings out texture and adds some peach, cheesy/leesy notes and earthy tones, making for a wine of stylish complexity and a remarkable value for the price, this Riesling is sleeper in Loewen’s latest set of awesomeness, and while I love his Herrenberg 1896 wines, coming from German’s oldest Riesling ungrafted vines, this Klosterlay Trocken is exceptional.
Weingut Carl Loewen is a tiny winery, but these latest vintages, 2014, 2015, 2016 and this 2017 are some of my favorite wines, and Riesling guru and famous importer Terry Theise put them as winery of the vintage for their 2017 collection, adding, Carl Loewen is the estate with whom he was most profoundly impressed. They not only ascended to a hitherto undreamt-of level of quality, they seemed to have the Midas-touch, as wine-after-wine-after-wine was almost eerily perfect, gorgeously balanced, and poised not with any great assertiveness but instead with a serene gentle perfect-pitch of the purest harmony. For him, the Loewen wines, along with Donnhoff and Selbach-Oster are must haves, and I totally agree, especially this Maximin Klosterlay Trocken, the price is stupid low for the quality and class you get, drink over the next 5 to 10 years.
($26 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2018 Joyce Wine Company, Dry Riesling “Alluvial Fan” Monterey County.
The lovely and bright new Alluvial Fan Dry Riesling from Joyce Wine Company is more flamboyant in fruit and mouth feel than the previous vintage with this 2018 adding a bit more of a textural element and has a slight touch of residual sugar, making more like a modern Feinherb, but still technically dry and crunchy. This was done on purpose as the last vintage came across a touch too severe and Joyce wanted a little less zip and more class (balance) on the palate. Russell Joyce, winemaker, who is a big Riesling geek himself admires the wines of Gunter Kuntsler from the Rheingau, and Schlossgut Diel’s Caroline Diel from the Nahe, among others, wanted to make his Riesling standout and be exciting in the glass.
This new vintage certainly feels more expressive and exotic on the palate, he chose to ferment in stainless steel to preserve ultra fresh detail, but he also aged some in neutral cask along with some in stainless barrels to build some mouth feel and make this high acid wine more generous in nature, all which was successful in the final makeup here, much the same way he was with his Albarino in this vintage. Again while technically dry in style, much less sweet than a Kabinett, the tiny bit of sugar allows for this Riesling to have that hint of creaminess you can find in Alsace examples.
The profile here, has real Riesling core, and while retaining some of the bitter citrus, green melon and unripe (green) apple of the 2017 adds a whole new level of complexity and dimension with layers of kiwi, peach, tropical fruits (passionfruit/papaya) and key lime fruit along with wet stone, chalk and racy herbs. I look forward to following this 2018 Alluvial Fan Dry Riesling over the next 6 months to a year in bottle too see how it develops, but I love the way it tastes now, it will be a fun food wine, especially with spicy shrimp dishes, sushi as well as cheeses and cured meats.
Joyce who is more known for his line of Monterey County Pinot Noir(s) as well as his Tondre Grapefield Syrah and Carmel Valley estate grown Bordeaux varietals (Cabernet Sauvignon and Petrus Clone Merlot) has a good touch with his whites, you should not miss his Old Vine Chenin Blanc, his Escolle Vineyard Santa Lucia Highlands Chardonnay, the mentioned Albarino and this Dry Riesling, they are all tasty efforts that are real quality wines that deliver much more than is expected, especially these 2018’s, which is one of the best vintages locally (Monterey and Central Coast) I’ve ever seen. This 2018 is available by request now and will be publicly released on March 24, 2019, don’t miss it.
($24 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2017 Domaine de L’Ecu, Muse, Rosé of Cabernet Sauvignon, Vin de France, Loire Valley, France.
Fred Niger’s Domaine de L’Ecu, one of Muscadet’s top estates, Rosé “Muse” is a unique Loire pink made from all organic Cabernet Sauvignon that is 50% Saignee and 50% direct whole cluster pressed and aged in tank, making for a crisply dry Rosé, but with a more ripe profile and complexity of flavors from this cool Atlantic influenced terroir. While L’Ecu crafts traditional Melon de Bourgogne Muscadet’s, Niger is a committed Natural Wine producer, as his importer puts it, most notably, he pushes the envelope beyond traditional Muscadet and Melon de Bourgogne with his stunning non AOC line of VDF wines, impressive not in the least because they have no added sulfur and yet ring with a purity, vibrancy and clarity that defies what one thinks is possible with natural wines.
The Domaine de L’Ecu estate, certified biodynamic by Demeter in 1998, is one of France’s most innovative wineries and Fred Niger, who trained with the estate long time and pioneering previous owner, Guy Bossard, who made single terroir wines based on soil types and who like Nicholas Joly took his partnership with nature very seriously and spiritually, with Fred continuing it after taking over in 2012, produces Muscadets that have remarkable depth, precision, as well as ageability.
Beyond Muscadet, Niger makes a wide range of thrilling stuff including amphora raised Cabernet Franc, Pinot Noir, Melon & Gamay and other things, as well as a fine sparkler, a rare Folle Blanche and of course this fun Rosé.
The 2017 Muse Rosé is dusty dry and eye poppingly zippy, but has lots of flavor with ripe details and tangy intensity showing vibrant sour cherries, watermelon, strawberry and grapefruit like citrusy notes adding mineral, wet stone, saline and herbal essences. The nose opens up and gives hints of rosewater and orange marmalade and the finish here is briskly tart and refreshing, allowing this Rosé to go with a lot of food options and it should age well too, it imagine. This is one of my favorite L’Ecu wines not a traditional white along with their amazing and beautiful whole cluster, amphora raised Pinot Noir “Ange” which is absolutely outrageous and maybe my favorite “Natural Wine” to date!
($19.50 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2016 Weingut Willi Schaefer, Riesling Kabinett, Graacher Himmelreich, Mosel Germany.
After a wet and cold spring and early summer 2016 turned out to be a kind of a miracle vintage in most of Germany, and Schaefer’s Graacher Himmelreich Kabinett is a gorgeous wine that truly captures that miracle in the bottle! This beautifully balanced and traditional off dry Mosel Riesling delivers a classic performance in the glass with bright fruit detail, smoky/flinty/stony notes and a perfect play between the sugar and acidity. While I love the drier styles now available from the Mosel, like Carl Loewen’s recent vintages, Grunhaus, Knebel and the Loosen GG’s it is impossible not to love the traditionalists like Selbach-Oster, Markus Molitor, J.J. Prum and these awesome Willi Schaefer offerings.
One of the most iconic producers in the world, Weingut Willi Schaefer, now made by Willi’s son Christoph, is one of the very top producers in the Mosel, if you want high quality traditional Riesling this is the estate to search out, and it is hard to imagine a better introduction to German Riesling than their Graacher Himmelreich Kabinett, it’s terroir expression and purity is legendary! This wineries vineyards all lie in the Mosel’s Wehlener Sonnenuhr and Graach with the wines coming off either of the Graach zones Domprobst and Himmelreich crus are set on the steep slopes of Devonian slate, which gives these wines their crystalline transparency, intensity and mineral focused character. As mentioned, these are handcrafted old school Rieslings that are informed by their must weight and gracefulness of their residual sugars that give these wines their textures, while still having structural acidity and freshness, these are wines that drink well from day one, but are made to age decades.
The 2016 Graacher Himmelreich Kabinett is full of fruit with crisp green apple, tangy apricot, key lime and a touch of tangerine sorbet that is balanced by the saline infused wet shale, spicy dried ginger, verbena and mineral tones. Air allows a perfume of white flowers/citrus blossom and rosewater to come through and while steely, it gains a creamy moth feel that makes a significant impact on the palate, this is a lovely vintage for Schaefer and this Riesling is perfect for low alcohol cuisine, like Thai, spicy Chinese, Indian and with smoked or cured meats. At only 7.5% natural alcohol this Graacher Himmelreich Kabinett is easy to sip and quaff, but is a serious wine that deserves your full attention, it has a generous nature and is seductively complex without being fussy, drink this fabulous Riesling for the next 10 to 15 years. As these wines are hard to find, you’ll need to work hard to get this, but happily I hear the just released 2017 is even better, and I’m getting a few soon!
($33 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2017 I. Brand & Family Winery, Old Vine Mourvèdre, Enz Vineyard, Lime Kiln Valley, San Benito County.
Fast becoming a cult like and followed wine, the Ian Brand made Enz Vineyard Old Vine Mourvèdre is a new California classic with dark and earthy flavors, firm tannic grip and layers of black and red fruit, spice and mineral tones. Ian is very involved in the farming here and has developed a strong bond with these gnarly and historic vines, crafting a wine from here that is singular and unique. This 2017 is highly enjoyable, even being so young, carried by perfectly ripe fruit that is lifted by natural acidity and structural tannin, it shows blackberry, wild plum, mulberry and baked cherry fruit on the medium/full palate as well as hints of stemmy elements, sage, basil and anise along with a faint trace of violets, warm stone, incense and lavender. To capture this unique sites true character, Ian fermented his Mourvèdre with native yeasts, using 50% whole cluster, very traditionally in a concrete tank, and he lees aged it in a combination of French barrels, only 20% new, and one large puncheon, for a total of 11 months.
Brand believes his grapes come from the best block on the vineyard, and he considers it among the best, if not the best, Mourvèdre plantings on the continent! The Enz Vineyard in the Lime Kiln AVA of San Benito County was planted in 1922 on a north facing 5-10 degree slope, set on calcareous and granitic loam soils gets warm/hot days and cool nights that make for top notch Mourvedre, a grape that was originally from Spain, but maybe best known in France’s Provence as in the great wines of Bandol, like those of Domaine Tempier as well as in Chateauneuf-du-Pape where it is found in some elite wines like Beaucastel and Vieux Telegraph. Brand notes, the vineyard was originally planted to support a hotel around a vigorous lime kiln business in the late 1800s, but had become very little known since WWII, as this region was never a wine hotspot. The Enz Mourvèdre budwood was sourced from the original 1860s planting(s) in the Lime Kiln Valley, supposedly brought over by a vigneron when he emigrated from France. These vines, according to Ian, are thought to represent a distinctly different genetic clone than that other Mourvèdre found within the state.
Mourvèdre, especially made from old vines, is one of California’s great values and a special treat for powerful and age worthy reds and there are some amazing wines out there made from this grape, which is known as Monastrell in it’s birth place country of Spain and was nicknamed Mataro here in California early in the last century. If you are looking to explore this grape, I suggest you peach out Ridge Vineyards, Dirty & Rowdy, Bonny Doon’s Old Telegram, Sandlands, Tablas Creek as well as Ian Brand’s awesome Enz Vineyard version, it’s a wine that delivers an exceptional performance without grandiose pretense, and this 2017 while generous in its youth it should really get better over time, be sure to hide a few bottles (in the cellar) for 5 to 10 years for exciting rewards.
($42 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2016 Saint Cosme, Cote-Rotie, Northern Rhone, France.
The gorgeous and stylish Saint-Cosme 2016 Cote-Rotie is a luxurious vintage and opulent version with a textural grace and inner force that reminds you this is a wine that needs to be taken seriously. Barruol is a huge fan of the ancient local clone of Syrah and his Cote-Rotie is 100% Serine (Syrah) grown on pure Schist in the Le Plomb, Besset, la Viaillère and Neve Lieu-Dit vineyards. This vintage is spectular for the Northern Rhone, especially Cote-Rotie offering both ripe flavors and lifting acidity, these are powerful and dense wines, but with excellent balance, finesse and length. Saint-Cosme’s spent twelve months aging, with 40% in new casks and the remaining 60% in casks used one time which seems pretty lavish at first, but when the wine opens it all folds together to near perfection. Helping absorb the new oak is the vintage’s fullness and nice acidity with Barruol using 100% whole cluster fermentation, which is why this wine excites the palate and has intriguing complexity and a background of savory spices to go with that thick black and blue fruit.
This 2016 Louis Barruol Saint Cosme Cote-Rotie has everything you’d expect and want, especially for the price this is outrageously good stuff, maybe a sleeper in a vintage full of great wines from the region, but one that should not be missed, and a wine that will only get better with time. While known for his famed Gigondas in the Southern Rhone, Barruol has a gift for these Northern Rhone Syrah based wines and this Cote-Rotie is prove positive of that remarkable talent with it showing classic detail, restraint and heavenly length in a medium bodied beauty that is full of black fruit, spice, cured meat and toasty oak notes, like a baby Guigal La La. Layers of boysenberry, damson plum, black cherry and blueberry fruit forms a core here along with a touch of graphite, creme de cassis, peppercorns, elegant violets, mineral tones, vanilla and anise, that all come together in a seamless and magnificent symphony of flavors. Things should get even better and more interesting over the next 5 to 10 years, even better is news that in case you missed this 2016 the 2017 looks to be as good if not even better, if you’ve not discovered Saint Cosme’s negociant wines, now is the perfect time, especially his Crozes-Hermitage, Saint-Joseph and Cote-Rotie bottlings.
($55 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2015 Chateau Le Puy, Emilien, Red Bordeaux, Francs Cotes de Bordeaux, France.
Chateau Le Puy, an estate made terroir driven and natural/organic wine is crafted by Jean-Pierre Amoreau and his son, Pascal, who oversee the vineyards and the cellar here. The Chateau’s vineyards are situated on the same plateau as Saint Emilion and Pomerol and sits on the second highest point in the Gironde at 110 meters above sea level (approximately 350 feet) with clay, silex and limestone soils. Their vines, mostly as expected are Merlot, at 85%o f the area, but also planted to a number of other red varieties, including Cabernet Sauvignon (6%), Cabernet Franc (7%) along with a touch of Malbec and Carmenère along with a plot of Semillon for the Chateau’s white wine. Both of the Grand Vin reds, the Barthelemy and this Emilien are blends that include a breakdown of all the estate red grapes in roughly the same percentage as grown on the estate. The Chateau Le Puy, 100% certified biodynamic, Emilien is from 50 year old vines, all hand tended and harvested without any chemicals, only holistic/natural treatments and the wine is fermented using only native yeasts and with no SO2 during the ferments.
The beautifully detailed and medium bodied 2015 Emilien feels ripe and complex on the palate and it’s quite dark and intense with a good sense of place transmitted in the profile. Raised for 24 months in mostly used barrels and bottled unfined and unfiltered the Emilien is much less flashy and generic than most Saint-Emilion or Pomerols, which are tasting very similar and over polished, while this wine has it’s own style and character, and while mostly Merlot, it has impact that is more structured than you’d expect. Layers of mulberry, black cherry, plum and currant fruit is accented by mineral, chalky stone, dark flowers, cedar and light herbal notes adding a hint of cigar wrap and loamy earth and mure.
The 2015 is more forward and generous than 2011, 2012 and 2014, but still with good acidity and balance, showing the warmer vintage in its best light, allowing the more concentration and density to show, as well as the higher elevation that delivers the vitality in this pure and focused Bordeaux. While there is going to be fast and furious, almost panicked buying of 2016 Bordeaux, wines like this Le Puy shows there’s a lot to admire from these 2015’s and they will end up stunning values as well as sleepers in the cellar, this one should drink exceptionally well for the next decade plus.
($50 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2014 Tofanelli Family Vineyard, Grenache, Napa Valley.
Vincent Tofanelli, known for his Zin and Charbono grown on his estate vineyard also does a great Grenache and this 2014 is packed with dense fruit and layered with rich detail, though still shaded by the barrel influence it shows huge potential and it reminds me somewhat of Ridge’s Lytton Grenache. Tofanelli’s reputation goes back quite a ways, but his grapes found their way into the famed Turley Cellars wines in the nineties and suddenly their were legions of fans for the rare Charbono and Zinfandel from the Tofanelli Vineyard. The Tofanelli Family Vineyard is near the town of Casitoga in the warmer north valley, the estate mostly as mentioned known for Zin also grows a tiny amount of Semillon, Sauvignon Musqué, Petite Sirah, Charbono, Mondeuse Noir and Cinsault and this Grenache Noir from some old and gnarled vines hearken back to another era.
Tofanelli, who’s hands are featured on the Orin Swift Papillon label, is an old school grower using methods that were once prevalent throughout the Napa Valley including farming with no irrigation, as the winey says, not even a drip line to be seen, and with an organic philosophy, they never use pesticides and never have, completely committed to the nature of the place. Guided by his Italian roots and heritage, Tofanelli says his goal as winemaker is to bring a little restraint to the ‘table’ – to give you wines that not only taste good now but will complement your meals and age gracefully, a while he captures highly concentrated and ripe Napa flavors in his wines he is influenced by the old world, even though this youthful Grenache is deep and very fruit forward, but not overly so.
The 2014 Tofanelli Grenache, of which there was only 85 cases made, was grown on Bale Series gravelly loam, with head trained vines and all from estate grapes was 80% Grenache, 10% Estate Petite Sirah/Peloursin, 8% Charbono, 1.5% Estate Mondeuse Noir and about 0.5% Cinsault in the final blend and was close to 50% whole cluster with a 4 day cold soak and was punched down twice a day until it was racked into 100% used French barrels for 18 months before bottling. I would have thought it had a small percentage of new oak from its profile, though as noted its depth, density and richness is still in a baby fat stage and I imagine it growing into a beauty given proper cellaring, though Zin fans will find it compelling now and there’s a lot to love here as it is.
This opulent Grenache based (California/Rhone hybrid style) red, which came in at 14.6% natural alcohol, shows a dark garnet/crimson hue in the glass and the full bodied palate delivers raspberry jam, plum, strawberry, sweet black cherry and pomegranate fruit, black licorice, cedar, mocha and a mix of spices along with light floral tones, backed earth and lingering cassis. If you can’t wait, like me, it is best to have this Tofanelli Grenache with robust cuisine, hard cheeses and or BBQ, and I look forward to re-visiting this one in about 5 or so years.
($40 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2011 Domaine William Fevre, Chablis Grand Cru, Bougros, White Burgundy, France.
There are wines that always light up the faces around a table of wine lovers, Grand Cru Chablis is one of them, especially those made by Raveneau, Dauvissat and William Fevre, like this beautiful 2011 from the Bougros cru. One of the seven Grand Cru sites, Bougros, is one that sometimes flies under the radar, with Les Clos and Valmur usually getting more attention, but it can outperform those legends in certain vintages and William Fevre’s is one of the best and most elegant versions. Set within the fabled amphitheater above the village of Chablis and on the Jurassic era soils of this unique Burgundy terroir, Bougros is laced with tiny oyster fossils, marl and Kimmeridgean limestone that gives these wines their amazing mineral and stony essence. Bougros sits to the northwest, just below Les Preuses and is the bookend to Les Clos to the southeast, it’s mostly southern exposure allows near perfect ripening, and make Bougros one of the richer wines of the region, while retaining vital acidity, these are racy wines that fill out on the palate, and I’ve noticed, can do well even in more difficult or less heralded vintages, and that is certainly the case here with this 2011.
The wonderfully rounded 2011 Bougros Grand Cru by Domaine William Fevre is a remarkably textural white with a a creamy mouth feel, but don’t let that form your opinion that this doesn’t have the classic flinty hallmarks, because it does and has plenty verve and vitality that makes this wine standout. It starts with hints of white flowers and citrus before that chalky intensity takes over with subtle fruit layers of lemon, green apple, a hint of honeyed peach along with steely notes as well as a faint trace of wood, wet rock and a crisp saline finish. The palate expands with air, becoming a truly regal and noble Chardonnay in the glass, this 2011 Bougros is poised and impressive from start to finish, it is a glorious treat and kind of a sleeper in the marketplace, where is offers a great value in its class and should drink well for another 3 to 5 years at least.
($70 Est.) 93+ Points, grapelive
2012 Bonny Doon Vineyard, Le Cigare Volant, Rhone Style Red Blend, California.
The gorgeous drinking 2012 Le Cigare Volant is dark Rhone style blend that leans heavily on Mourvedre , as do many of the later versions of Randal Grahm’s Chateauneuf-du-Pape inspired Cigare. This vintage, coming all from mostly central coast fruit sources ended up being 39% Mourvèdre, 33 % Grenache, 26% Syrah and 2% Cinsault, with a vast array of vineyards including 33% Del Barba, 18% Bien Nacido, 17% Alta Loma, 11% Ventana, 7% Rancho Solo, 6% Enea, 5% Alamo Creek, 2% Woock and 1% Spanish Springs. The mainly 100 year old vine sourced Mourvedre, along with the Bien Nacido Syrah really give a dark and blue fruited personality in this 2012 Le Cigare Volant, while the Grenache adds a juicy silken quality that is impossible to resist, especially here in this vintage. The winemaking, which is led by the quality of the grapes, which Randall tries to get organically, is clean, gentile and inspired with native yeasts and some whole cluster fermentation with a combination of tank and barrels used in the aging process that can include the addition of oak chips, which at first seems odd, but is more about not having too much French oak influence, rather than more.
I recently got a set, a vertical collection of the Boony Doon Le Cigare Volant and have been exploring this iconic California wine, trying without prejudice to see where it sits in the rejuvenated California Rhone sector that is busting at the seams with amazing producers and wine choices. So far I must say, Randall’s efforts have been impressive and the Cigare has more than held its own against serious competition, where it lacks is not its quality and performance, but that it is not a single terroir expression and in the market place, where it is commonly snubbed and misunderstood. That said, it drinks well and consistently out performs more expensive offerings, with this 2012 starting to reach its potential, while still youthfully fresh giving vinous mouth feel and layering.
The 2012 Le Cigare Volant red starts with a slight hint of reduction that reminds me a bit of a Burgundy, but quickly opens to a cascade of blue and black fruits, brambly spices and delivers a textural hedonism on the full bodied palate. This is a wine that has many facets, with the complex lift and spice of stems, but one that flows seamlessly and has an opulent sense without being heavy, it is a wonderfully focused and balanced wine. The details include a subtle floral note and mocha note to go along with a core of flavors, blackberry, boysenberry, creme de cassis, candied cherry, plum and pomegranate that unfold in a polished fashion along with a touch of briar, raw meat, smoke, grilled fennel, orange rind and light vanilla. This lengthy and polished wine has a charm all its own and should drink well for another 5 to 10 years, best enjoyed with more robust cuisine.
($45 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2018 La Marea, Albariño, Kristy Vineyard, Monterey County.
Ian Brand’s La Marea Albariño is one of the most serious wines of his portfolio and a real sleeper in his set of wines, especially in the last two vintages where it has seen a unique skin contact portion in the final blend and a touch of lees that makes it come across more Loire Valley like, picking up almost Sancerre or Pouilly-Fume like character that is out of this world, while retaining Albarino’s natural appeal, charm and personality. Layers of citrus lead the way with lemon/lime, green melon, unripe/bitter apple, gooseberry-sort of “hello kitty” and racy peach fruits combine with saline, wet rock, a touch of herb and almond oil. All of which make this dry white wonderfully mouth watering and tartly fresh, it is as mentioned quite serious and fantastic with sea food, one of Albarino’s classic hallmarks making it a great version of this Galician grape, who’s spiritual home is in the Rías Baixas region of Spain.
The Kristy Vineyard, with vines grown on the western bench above the Salinas River is set on broken sediment of the region’s ancient sea beds that influences the local soils, and it is kept cool being that it is fully exposed to constant blast of winds off the Monterey Bay. Kristy, as Brand notes, is special because Albariño in the vineyard reaches full phenological ripeness, allowing for full flavor development and complexity, at low potential alcohol and it bristles with bright natural acidity. Ian picked this Kristy Albarino under 22 brix with vigorous acid intensity. Then he used 2/3’s whole cluster pressed as well as 1/3 destemmed, which was left on skins for two days, again adding complexity, depth and phenolics, including a touch of tannin. The skin contact portion of the blend was inoculated with a ‘pied de cuvée’ yeast culture harvested and allowed to start in the vine rows at the Kristy Vineyard and brought back to the cellar. Like Ian’s Rosé, the Albarino was cold fermented in stainless steel to preserve minerality, aromatics and freshness, as well as having the secondary fermentation is arrested, in other words, no malo, then it was aged on its lees four months to add a sense of textural form while staying severely crisp.
Albariño has become the new white grape darling in Monterey and it’s showing great potential here, especially Ian’s version which rivals some the better Rias Baixas estates, including some of favorites like Nanclares and Do Ferreiro. Ian Brand who is getting a lot of attention for his wines makes three distinct series of offerings, the Le P’Tit Paysan line of value wines that includes his fabulous dry Rosé, a Chateauneuf style blend, a Viognier, a stylish Cabernet and a gripping Petite Sirah, along with his signature line of I. Brand & Family wines with a pair of Cab Francs, the Old Vine Mourvedre, one of the best in California, the killer Monte Bello Road Cabernet Sauvignon and a new 100% Grenache bottling from Brosseau Vineyard as well as this La Marea line that highlights the state’s Spanish grapes and or influence, with this impressive Albarino offering being my favorite.
($24 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2015 Pax, Grenache-Syrah “The Vicar” North Coast, California.
The Vicar is Pax’s Grenache driven nod to the rustic wines of the southern Rhone Valley. It’s a sexy and seductive blend of excellent vineyard sites coming from the Russian River Valey and Mendocino County. It’s 60% Alder Springs Vineyard Grenache, 35% Castelli-Knight Ranch Grenache and 5% Castelli-Knight Ranch Syrah, and all these vineyards are sustainably or organically farmed. Pax went 100% Whole-Cluster with spicy and savor stemmy notes adding complexity. Again with the Southern Rhone in mind this Vicar is aged in a combination of concrete vat/tank & 500L neutral French Oak Puncheons for 18 months, with absolutely new wood. This 2015 came in at 13.7% natural alcohol, making for a wine that feels more high elevation Gigondas rather than the high alcohol and riper modern Chateauneuf-du-Pape, and the slightly higher tone gives a more balanced impression, while still having the Grenache density and hedonism.
This 2015 Pax Vicar with its co-fermented bit of Syrah, as Pax notes, helps give a dark spicy dark element, but really this wine is all about the wild side of Grenache. This vintage of the Vicar shows rich textural layers of red raspberry, plum and pomegranate along with a tangy/juicy kirsch note on the medium/full palate as well as a dark floral perfume, a touch of cedar, minty herb, lavender, faint roasted coffee bean and anise. Even though a warm year and ripe fruit, there is a remarkable sense of elegance and balance in the Vicar, and as much as I love Pax’s awesome Syrah wines, this wine has stolen my heart, Grenache freaks do not want to miss this one. At this moment Pax still some of this Vicar available, and also check out his carbonic Carignan from the Testa Vineyard, it’s so quaffable and fun, plus Pax’s stylish Chenin Blanc, so it’s a good time to check out this winery.
($40 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2011 Paolo Bea, Pagliaro, Montefalco Sagrantino DOCG, Montefalco, Umbria, Italy.
The Paolo Bea wines are some of the most iconic in all of Italy, especially his natural expressions of Sagrantino, like this Pagliaro, from vines in Montefalco region, the estate has long had a presence in this beautiful hill top town in Umbria, and there’s a document that shows he Bea family has been here in this locality as early as 1500. Still a true working farm, Bea’s estate grows grapes, vegetables and olives for oil, with Paulo, now close to retirement, and his two sons, Giuseppe, who farms the vineyards, and Giampiero, who assists in the vinification and is responsible for all commercial aspects of the winery, do everything with a respect for nature and traditions.
The vines here, as noted by Rosenthal, their importer, consists of 5 hectares, including Sagrantino, which is the predominant grape, covering 60% of the vineyard surface with the remaining 40% is planted to Sangiovese and Montepulciano, along with a small parcel planted to several white varieties. The vineyards are cultivated organically, all grapes are harvested manually, while in the cellar only native yeasts are used, with stainless ferments, with aging in old casks, and all wines are bottled without fining or filtration.
Bea’s stunning top wine, the Sagrantino di Montefalco Secco Pagliaro is crafted using only the fabled local grape of Montefalco (100% Sagrantino) and comes from the legendary Bea vines at the Pagliaro vineyard, which is situated at 1300 feet in altitude that ripens the highly tanninc Sagrantino to perfection making for stunning and age worthy wines of depth, power and complexity. The Pagliaro sees between 40 and 50 days on the skins and goes through primary, then is aged for one year in stainless steel, another two years in large Slavonian oak barrels and, finally, spends one more year in bottle before release.
The 2011 is earthy, dusty and raw, with layers of red fruits, spice, sweet herbs, dried flowers, light cedar and salted black licorice, showing plum, raspberry, currant and kirsch on the full bodied palate and lingers with saliva inducing tannins. This vintage is warm in character and delivers mouth filling density and while gripping it opens up nicely, fleshes out and is drinking beautifully, especially with rustic food choices, it is really a thrilling example of this grape and region.
($80 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2017 I Vigneri di Salvo Foti, Etna Rosso DOC, Sicily, Italy.
Known as the godfather of Mount Etna, Salvo Foti from Catania, is one of Italy’s most iconic vignerons, and who’s group I Vigneri is the keeper of traditions and committed to holistic grape growing, mostly with native varietals, on this majestic volcano, a focal point of Sicily and it’s wines. Foti crafts a tiny amount for his own label while being the Island’s hottest consultant and mentor, making wines for the likes of Gulfi, Benati and Biondi to name drop a few of his past and current clients, mostly using the indigenous Nerello Mascalese and Nerello Cappuccio black grapes along with a smattering of Alicante (Grenache) and some almost unknown local grapes that have been here so long there isn’t any recorded names or enough vines to care about DNA testing! The farming is almost 100% organic and holistic with some elements of biodynamic principles, such as the ancient reverence to the lunar cycle.
The project called I Vigneri (that Foti started) takes its name from an association that existed in the Etna region way back in 1435, the historic Maestranzi dei Vigneri, which was a group group of vineyard workers that greatly influenced the wine culture of the Mount Etna and the success of the wines in those times. Today, I Vigneri is a partnership between Salvo Foti, other vine experts and local grape growers who bring their long experience, among these unique vines, to their work, both in the vineyard and the cellars, with the expressed purpose to make wines that show the inartistic soul of the place and highlight the harmony between man and nature, these are soulful and authentic wines with the spirits of the past and present being clearly transmitted into the bottle.
The Foti Etna Rosso comes from the northern side of the volcano, at almost 2,300 feet in elevation these are among the highest altitude vineyards in all of Europe, it has a completely different climate, much cooler in winter and with a huge change in day to night temperature with soils that are broken or decomposed lava stone of varying depth mixed with sand. According to Foti many of the vines have been rehabilitated old vineyards or terraced contradas, with some vines over 100 years-old, planted in high density at 10,000 plants per hectare in the old school head trained or albarello(goblet) system, the only system Salvo considers for producing great fruit under the special climatic conditions of Etna. These sites require lots of manual labor and the use of mules and horses, as no tractors can be employed here, but it is all worth it when you taste the wines, especially those of Foti, which have the magic and emotional taste response usually reserved for elite Burgundy wines.
The 2017 Salvo Foti Etna Rosso, surprisingly dark and generous, is wonderfully forward and almost juicy with racy cherry and wild plum fruits, mild tannins, beautifully silken on the medium bodied palate with an under current of red spices, mineral tones and floral notes adding fennel, flint and lingonberry as this Nerello Mascalese based red opens. There is a joyous youthful expressiveness now, but with time a fine structural side looks to be ready to take over, in the same way as a Nuits-Saint-Georges can do, plus a touch of the exotic presents itself with incense and Asian spice lingering on and on here, this is absolutely seductive.
($38 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2013 Paolo Conterno, Barolo DOCG “Riva del Bric” Piedmonte, Italy.
There is a lot to get excited about with the 2013 Barolo vintage, and this beautiful and forward example from Paolo Conterno is certainly an easy wine to love showcasing the years warmth, its generous ripe fruit, classical texture and solid structure make it plain to see why it is a vintage to stock up on. These are wines that can be cellared for a long time, but also can be enjoyed in their youth, and this Riva del Bric Barolo in particular proving the point very well. The 2013 Paolo Conterno Riva del Bric comes from slightly younger vines, but in the best exposures of the glorious Ginestra Cru, making the Riva Del Bric one of the best values to be found in Barolo, especially so in a year like 2013. It shows depth and detail with Nebbiolo purity giving black cherry, damson plum and strawberry fruits, a hint of violets, earth tones, a whiff of volatile acidity, anise/fennel and spicy cedar. This is full bodied stuff and while opulent, still has old school charm and terroir.
The grapes were hand harvested well into October and saw almost three weeks of maceration, with primary fermentation in tank before aging for close to 36 months in large French Oak casks. The resulting wine sits nicely between modern and ultra traditional given hints of both, kind of like the best of both worlds.
One of Piedmonte’s most famous names, Conterno lends itself to many historic estates and figures in the region, one being the firm of Paolo Conterno, which was founded back in 1886, when Paolo Conterno founded the Casa della Ginestra, dedicated to the production of Nebbiolo, Barbera and Dolcetto wines. Today the company is managed by Giorgio Conterno who continues the family tradition of making exceptional wines, especially his Barolo offerings. The Paolo Conterno wines are formed by the legendary Cru of Ginestra in the Monforte d’Alba zone, it is one the finest vineyards in the entire Barolo appellation. Its relatively high elevation of 300-350 meters above sea level combine with the dense, clay-heavy Helvetian soil to create masterpiece wines with dark colors, brooding tannins and incredible aromatics.
The wines of this estate have always been admired, but took a dramatic upturn when one of Domenico Clerico’s most talented, as importer Marc de Grazia notes, disciples, Massimo Conterno (no relation), moved to the cellar at Paolo Conterno in 2004 to give Giorgio Conterno a hand in winemaking, raising the game and putting this label into elite company.
While less in need of cellaring like the monumental 2010, the 2013 offers the same thrilling profile, being more explosive in nature than the lighter and less expressive, but fruity and drinkable 2011 and 2012’s, it reminds a little of 1997 and 2007 in style. This Riva del Bric is confident and compelling in the glass, you will not be disappointed in it’s performance, it should drink impressively for another decade if not longer and for the price it is an excellent choice to open now, guilt free. This garnet hued Nebbiolo is sturdy stuff and is best with robust cuisine and decanting should be employed to get it open, an hour makes a world of difference.
($45 Est.) 92+ Points, grapelive
2015 Ca’ Del Baio, Barbaresco DOCG “Autinbej” Piedmonte, Italy.
Giulio Grasso’s Ca’ del Baio, which was founded back in the early 1920’s, but didn’t start making wine under their own label until 2004, having previously sold grapes to the coop, Produttori del Barbaresco, is an eco friendly small family winery in Treiso, in the Langhe hills near the border of Neive and close to Barbaresco itself, making a range of fine Barbaresco as well as Langhe Nebbiolo, Chardonnay, Riesling, Moscato d’Asti, Barbera and Dolcetto. For me, just getting started with the wines of Ca’ del Baio, I chose the Autinbej, the newest member of Cà del Baio’s family of Barbarescos, which is a tribute to Giulio Grasso’s late father, Ernesto, who often used the Piemontese word “Autinbej” to describe the best vineyard exposures that make up this cuvee. All the Barbaresco vines are between 25 and 40 years old and grown on the region’s classic gray marl, limestone, and sandy soils and with vines from both west and east facing slopes giving warmth and balance in this ripe vintage.
The 2015 Autinbej was traditionally crafted and fermented with maceration on the skins from 9 to 15 days in stainless steel tanks at controlled temperatures to preserve aromatics and fresh detail. The Grasso’s try to use only native yeasts and low sulfur in their wines, along with the sustainable vineyard practices are looking to make as a natural expression as possible. In the case of this Autinbej, it’s a blend of different crus, while there are single crus too like Pora, Vallegrande and Asili, plus a Reserve. The resulting Barbaresco matured for 24 months in large Slavonian oak barrels (boti) followed by bottle aging for at least four months before its release, and while like most Nebbiolo based wines in the region it can and will age extremely well and effortlessly for a long time, but this one, especially in this vintage with it’s heady flavors and smooth tannins can be drunk young.
This is a winery on the rise, in 2016 Giulio received a great honor, he was named “Viticulturist of the Year” by the very prestigious Gambero Rosso Italian Wine Guide, and while under the radar in the USA, there is a lot of buzz around Ca’ del Baio, but happily the wines are truly a bargain, at least for now! The 2014 vintage was a cool difficult year, though Barbaresco did remarkably well, but 2015 is a big and opulent vintage of hedonism and power with Grasso’s Autinbej reaching 15% natural alcohol, though still finely balanced and graceful, as a Barbaresco should be.
There is a lot to love here with this Nebbiolo showing a raw sex appeal in the glass with a cascade of flavors and sensations including rose petals, minty herbs, strawberry preserves, damson plum and kirsch along with black licorice, mineral, cedar, coco and hint of orange rind. The palate is chewy and youthful, but air allows this ruby/garnet and dark brick hued Barbaresco unwind and flow seamlessly in the mouth, this is impressive stuff, especially with matching cuisine and robust food choices. If this one is anything to go by then I’m going to be thrilled by the single cru bottlings and the Asili Reserva, as well as the basic Langhe Nebbiolo, if you haven’t heard of Ca’ del Baio, you should search some out soon.
($28 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2015 Laurent Herlin, Bourgueil Rouge, Illuminations, Loire Valley, France.
The 2015 Illuminations Bourgueil by Laurent Herlin is a unique Cab Franc with lots of interesting fruit and spiciness showing an almost Chinato like herbal frill and a juicy palate of strawberry, cherry and vine picked red berries. Takes a few minutes in the glass to fully open to reveal more familiar Franc elements with some briar, bell pepper and racy currant coming through in this garnet/crimson red wine. A touch of earthy/funk, stemmy like bramble and earth shows up as well, along with wild flowers and chalky too in a subtle way that adds complexity to this medium bodied, easy drinking Loire Valley Cab Franc, with everything folding in nicely to make for a playful version of this grape.
As mentioned recently in my review of this estate’s sparkler, Laurent Herlin is new to most Americans, the Herlin wines from France’s Loire Valley are all natural bottlings that mostly are Cabernet Franc based , using grapes from in and around the classic area of Bourgueil. All farmed now according to biodynamic principals and with vines on a mix of sand, gravel, silicieous clay, limestone and tuffeau soils. The Illuminations, 100% Cab Franc, one of Herlin’s Bourgueil offerings, is native yeast fermented without any sulfur additions and aged for 12 months in only (neutral) old oak barrels. Laurent Herlin, who has been working without chemical inputs since 2009 is working to Demeter standards, and is a welcome new face to our (USA) natural wine scene with his serious and soulful, but fun wines. This 2015 Illuminations drinks well and could get better with another 2 or 3 years in bottle, I will enjoy seeing where it goes and don’t forget Herlin’s Cintre Sparkler, which is a lovely Pet-Nat.
($30 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2016 Sylvain Dittiere, Saumur-Champigny Rouge, La Porte Saint Jean, Loire Valley, France.
One of the Loire’s rising natural stars, Sylvain Dittiere, works his 4 hectares all organic, and as his importer notes, comes armed with formal schooling and a remarkable “un-training” from some of the best natural winemakers in France, such as Marc Tempé in Alsace, Gérard Gauby in the Roussillon, Thierry Germain and Antoine Foucault in Saumur, of Clos Rougeard fame. Sylvain Dittière struck out on his own in 2010, at the ripe age of 25, when he acquired a 2.5 ha parcel of Cabernet Franc in Saumur-Champigny that had already been farmed organically and a gem of “jurassic” cellar that was carved out of the rock. This environment enables him to work without temperature controlled tanks or or vats and it is all fed by gravity flow for ultra gentile handing of the grapes and wine.
I have been a fan and follower of Dittiere’s wines, especially this bottling since his 2013 vintage, this La Porte Saint Jean Saumur-Champigny, 100% Cabernet Franc, is a Loire classic in the making, with subtle earthy and gamey tones and amazing depth of flavor and complex layers of fruit, texture and savory notes. This 2016 is deep with a touch of reduction and leathery notes, maybe from a bit of brett (Brettanomyces)?, though the fruit comes through to cover it making for a classic, old school style Cab Franc. Layers of currant, black cherry, plum and earthy blackberry fruits come through forcefully on the medium/full palate along with hints of spicy herbs, loam, cedar, dusty chalky elements and mineral notes. With air everything comes together in this young Cabernet Franc and the structural tannins smooth out allowing this Saumur-Champigny to show it’s best qualities, this is a beautifully authentic and well crafted wine of old world class.
($33 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2017 Saint Cosme, Cotes-du-Rhone Rouge, Rhone Valley, France.
Louis Barruol’s famed Gigondas estate, Chateau de Saint Cosme is the most ancient estate in the region, located on the site of an old Gallo-Roman villa, which very probably already had vines of its own. The estate’s existence in 1416 has been clearly attested by a document mentioning the granting decree by Jean de Chalon, Prince of Orange, with the Barruol family ancestors taking it over in 1570 and making it one of the great wine producers in the Rhone, with Louis Barruol himself taking it to the top tier of the wine world. Making primarily cru Gigondas, Barruol also makes a wide range of region wines, both north and south and has shown a wonderful touch with Syrah, doing fabulous Cote-Rotie, Crozes-Hermitage and Saint-Joseph as well as this 100% Syrah Cotes-du-Rhone.
Saint Cosme’s Cotes-duRhone, grown on a mix of soils, including red clay, pebbles and limestone sands all hillside vines is partial whole cluster and all tank raised. Always a wine of value and purity it gives a ton of character, personality and never disappoints in any vintage, and this one is an exceptional year. In 2017, low yields produced wines with lots of intensity and depth with hedonistic density, but with vibrant fresh detail, with what Barruol notes, adds crunchiness and salinity to this beautiful red wine.
This 2017, which is an amazing follow up to the great 2015 and 2016 versions that I loved, delivers boysenberry, sweet blueberry and plum fruit as well as savory spices, a touch of meat, black licorice and a inner perfume of violets and lavender. Rounded tannins give structure, making this wine perform at a higher level than one would expect and this vintage in particular will age well, maybe a decade or more, impressive for the price!
($15 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2014 Sylvain Dittiere “La Porte Saint Jean Six Roses” Méthode Champenoise Sparkling Rosé, Loire Valley, France.
Domaine Sylvain Dittiere, founded in 2010, is an all natural/organic estate in Saumur-Champigny focused on Cabernet Franc wines, and after being mentored by two legends, Thierry Germain and Antoine Foucault of the fabled Clos Rougeard, Sylvain has gained quite a reputation and has a cult like following. Apart from his earthy and dense Cabernet Franc reds, comes his delicate and intriguing sparkling wine. Imported by Floraison Selections, Sylvain Dittiere is a star, I love his Cabernet Franc, especially his Saumur-Champigny Rouge, La Porte Saint Jean.
The Dittiere Six Roses Sparkling Rosé, which is crafted using the Champagne method, and is aged 2 years before disgorgement. Dittiere blended Chenin, Sauvignon Blanc & Cab Franc from the 2014 vintage for the base wine and uniquely macerated it with rose petals. This bubbly, could hardly bring anymore of a sensual image to mind, especially if you let your mind wander, it would seem to be pure seduction in a bottle. A lot of thought and work went into this gorgeous dry Rosé méthode champenoise sparkler, that was disgorged in 2017, and it offers a ton of quality for the price, it is really drinking well right now.
This is pretty stuff with a fine and yeasty mousse and lightly perfumed with hints of rose oil, impressive for it’s balance and depth of flavors, it’s far from a gimmicky thing, it shows wonderful finesse and class showing bright intensity and crisply dry bubbly. The palate has a mix of citrus, stone and red fruits with a lemon burst, strawberry, sour cherry and hint of peach with a brioche/leesy note adding elegance along with a touch of mineral, spice and wet stone. While Sylvain’s reds are raw, masculine and earthy, his Sparkling Rosé is lacy, seductive and brilliantly feminine, drink this anytime and anywhere, it’s wonderful as an aperitif and surprisingly good with sushi and lighter cuisine.
($27 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2015 I. Brand & Family Winery, Cabernet Sauvignon, Monte Bello Road Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains.
Ian Brand’s 2015 Monte Bello Road Cabernet Sauvignon, Santa Cruz mountains, is what you get when you respect great terroir and follow a traditional path of winemaking, it captures the essence of place perfectly with a subtlety that is almost lost in the modern world of Cabernet Sauvignon, Brand’s effort is more along the lines of the famous neighboring winery to this vineyard, Ridge Vineyards, as well as Mount Eden, Corison and Phillip Togni, which should tell you just how good his effort is! After working a few vintages with this vineyard and its farming, Brand has fine tuned everything and makes for a wine that has purity of fruit, richness of palate and graceful balance, he was able to get wonderful ripeness, density and length with low natural alcohol, in fact at around 13% and the hillside fruit’s power you get an almost perfect Margaux like quality, as I noted with his last vintage of monte Bello Road, and it reminds me of the early nineties in style, making for a stylish, age worthy and energetic Cabernet Sauvignon.
Grown at close the 2,000 ft on red Franciscan series soils with limestone the Ian Brand Monte Bello Road Cabernet Sauvignon comes from vines that were planted mostly in the nineties at Fellom Ranch with a warm eastern exposure allowing for warm daytime temperatures with a large diurnal change from day to night, which aids in retaining acidity. This area is prime Cabernet country and is an outstanding individual place for these grapes, as Ridge has proven for many decades. This unique hillside terroir rivals any in the world, not just the state for complex and depth, this is great dirt for Cabernet Sauvignon and Ian has crushed it with this 2015.
The beautifully detailed, deep opaque garnet/purplel I. Brand & Family Monte Bello Road Cabernet Sauvignon really puts on the charm right out of the gate with acacia flowers, dark berries and whiff of cedar before leading to a youthful firm medium full palate of structured form and poise with layers of black currant, plum, blackberry and kirsch, along with hints of sandalwood, licorice, sweet tobacco leaf, summer sage and faint vanilla and spicy note. Made with an exceptionally deft touch, this 2015, from a warm vintage shows a fresh vigor and lightness that is gorgeous in the glass, and while stunning even now, I think it promises much more in the future, I look forward to try this Cab again, in 5 to 7 years, and while the 2014 seems amped up and more dense, I think the 2015 has the stuffing to go 15 to 20 years.
Ian and his team have been getting lots of critical acclaim, and especially the recent Winemaker of the Year award from the San Francisco Chronicle, all which are well deserved for this small hardworking family winery. Being close to his facility and able to run into him often has been great to get an insight into his passion and dedication, for which I’m grateful, it has helped me see where there regions, of Monterey, San Benito, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz Mountains, are going with this great set of young winemaking talents that are pushing these areas forward with a new vitality and driven focus. Ian Brand, a vineyard whisperer, has discovered a few old vine sites and guided them into stardom, including the site where this wine comes from, but also the Besson Vineyard for Grenache, Bayly Ranch for Cabernet Franc and the Enz Vineyard for old vine Mourvèdre. All of which are must have wines, released under his signature line, they are do not miss limited production offerings, that showcase authentic character and place, they are California history in the bottle.
($65 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2016 Barruol-Lynch, Crozes-Hermitage Rouge “Tenay” Northern Rhone, France.
The two barrel Tenay cuvee, both from the lieu-dit of the same name, Crozes-Hermitage by Barruol-Lynch is a polished effort with distinct wood presence in this 2016 and loads of ripe fruit, making it a bit unique, it is almost Aussie like at first, but does unwind nicely gaining the classic granite based soil character with air, though lacking the aromatics of vintage at this early stage. After having the Saint-Cosme Crozes recently, I must admit to be somewhat disappointed by this version of which I had so much hope for, though that said it is a well made and offers a lot of Syrah for the money and it has pleasing depth of black and blue fruit that shows detailed flavors and mouth filling hedonism. There is also the expectation of evolution over the next three or so years in bottle.
The Barruol Lynch project may seem strange, considering they, Kermit Lynch the famed importer and Louis Barruol the owner winemaker at his Chateau de Saint-Cosme, are in almost every sense competitors, but such is the respect for each other the two have, it not only works, it thrives and they have found a complete separate niche into which to join forces. Over the last five or so vintages the range has expanded beyond the original Cotes-du-Rhone into this series of wines work for both parties, that includes a set of Cote-Rotie, a Saint-Joseph and three Crozes-Hermitage-Hermitage(s), with this Tenay being one. Kermit Lynch, the American importer and wine crazy pioneer, who owes the Gigondas domaine of Les Pallieres and who brings in the famous Vieux Telegraph wines of Chateauneuf-du-Pape, is very much involved in creating each cuvee, sometime hand picking barrels or helping in blending trials. This under the radar lineup deserves attention and it is worth searching them out, in particular the Cote-Rotie bottlings, I especially like the Neve and La Viaillere, both stellar values and beautiful wines.
The 2016 Tenay, coming from 30 to 50 year old vines, as mentioned set on pure granite soils, was all hand picked and carefully sorted, and with the Barruol-Lynch practice of using only about 10% whole cluster and only used barrels, with this 2016 getting about a 3 week maceration and cement tank fermentation. The evevage lasted close to 15 months in the 1 and 2 times used barrels and it was bottled unfined and unfiltered, which may explain the more sweet and toasty oak presence at this point.
The profile stays dark on the rich palate and it is lovely deep in color in the glass showing a bright garnet edge and an opaque purple core, very traditional 100% Syrah in look and feel, it just is missing the classic violets on the nose, keeping it from being a true great, though I could be eating my words in a few years, I hope it’s potential is realized as it does have a ton of class and length. The layered fruit includes blackberry, boysenberry, plum and a mix of kirsch and cassis elements, along with vanilla, smoke and cedar notes as well as subtle spice, fig paste, mineral and anise. Ultra refined and with seductive density there is plenty of pleasure on offer here, I’d hold it for a few years more to allow it to mature, best from 2021 to 2028, and be sure to have with robust cuisine, especially if you open it sooner.
($35 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2015 Domaine Roger Sabon, Chateauneuf-du-Pape Rouge Reserve, Rhone Valley, France.
The powerful and ripe vintage, 2015 Reserve Chateauneuf from roger Sabon, is full of intensity and earthy/meaty depth with tar, melted black licorice and dark berry fruits all grabbing your immediate attention on its full bodied palate before the more subtle of complexities show up. Made from a field blend and barrel selection of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre and Cinsault this cuvee shows a lot more of the leather and gamey (I usually associate with a high percentage of Mourvedre) side of Chateauneuf at first, though the plummy Grenache and Syrah florals do come through with air in this tightly wound red.
As importer Eric Solomon notes, the Sabon family is an ancient and well-regarded name in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, first mentioned in documents dating all the way back to 1540, with the family, under Seraphin Sabon, first bottled their own wine in the appellation under the family’s name in 1921, just before Chateauneuf became France’s first AOC in 1929, and his son Roger founded his own Domaine Roger Sabon in 1952, just before Chateauneuf-du-Pape rocketed to fame after the historic 1959 vintage. Currently run by Roger’s sons Denis and Gilbert, the Domaine’s wines are made by the talented Didier Negron, who has returned the wines to a more traditional place, doing away with the new small French barriques in favor of cement vat ferments and aging in more neutral foudres and some, as with this cuvee Reserve, demi-muids in the elevage of the reds.
Sabon owns 18 hectares in Chateauneuf with most of their holdings located in the northeastern part of the zone, where the soils are sandier with a high concentration of limestone, which powerful and ripe Grenache loves, though they also own a few parcels in the legendary Le Crau zone, like Vieux Telegraph, which famous for its red clay under a deep layer of galets, the iconic round river stones that Chateauneuf-du-Pape is known for. Actual grape, or Cepage, breakdowns details are sketchy at Domaine Sabon, as the Sabons are shy about divulging any information about any given wine, though they admit their Grenache plots have some vines over a hundred years old and some of their Syrah is at least 50 years old, and besides those and the Mourvedre, they also have Cinsault, Terret Noire, Counoise, Vaccarèse, Muscardin, Roussanne, Clairette, Bourboulenc and Grenache Blanc vines, and this Reserve includes some of the Cinsault that adds a fresh vein the cuts into the density.
This 2015 Reserve gets prettier and more polished with every minute of air, unfolding layers of boysenberry, damson plum, kirsch and creme de cassis, but also allowing a savory side to contrast with the loaded fruit with tobacco leaf, peppercorns, garrigue and charcoal embers. At 14.5% alcohol, on the label, this wine is no wimp, but has a finessed and mineral quality to it, it is a serious version with an elegant streak to it as well, look for it to drink well for at least another decade. I can only imagine how great the 2016 edition will be, which should eclipse this brilliant effort and looks to be a classic vintage in the Rhone.
($53 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2011 Domaine Guiberteau, Saumur Blanc, Clos des Carmes, Monopole Breze, Loire Valley, France.
The remarkable fresh and vibrant 2011 Clos des Carmes Monopole Breze is full of life with ton of reduction to start before opening up to it’s pure Chenin character with gritty flint rock, matchstick and steely mineral coming through on the nose, very reminiscent of an old school Puligny-Montrachet with lemon and pear fruits showing in the background. This is a wine to take your time with, it will not work to a timetable, give it air and enjoy the ride, it is a white wine that behaves more like a firm red wine in the glass, it’s quite extraordinary to say the least, and you’ll need food to get the soul of this glorious Chenin Blanc to reveal itself, at least some soft creamy cheeses.
Romain Guiberteau, who works all organic, is like the Raveneau or Roulot of Saumur, handcrafting intense and lively wines, especially his whites, which are mostly all non malo and vivid with brisk acidity, making him one of the hottest winemakers in the Loire. Breze is like the Batard-Montrachet of the Loire, and especially Saumur, which is a region in the spotlight, and Romain’s version from Clos des Carmes is a special walled vineyard which is planted to a massal selection of Chenin Blanc clones. It was Romain’s grandfather who acquired this historic parcel on the hill of Brézé back in 1955, and it is, as importer Becky Wasserman notes, one of the three clos of Brézé classified as “Très Grands Vins de Saumur” by Maurice Edmond Saillant, the renowned Loire expert.
The 2011 Clos des Carmes, which is set on a south-facing site set on clay and silted soils was whole-cluster pressed and barrel fermented using only indigenous yeasts without malos, as mentioned, and aged on its lees for 18 months, the French oak used was not new, mostly 1 and 2 year old casks. This vibrant and slow evolving cuvee is only from the absolute best vines and barrels, anything not living up to Romain’s high standards gets declssified. These 2011 Clos des Carmes Saumur Blanc by Guiberteau adds preserved citrus, wild peach and golden fig fruits, wet stone, a touch of herb and light toast in the glass and its ultra clear pale hue shines, making it seem much younger to the senses than the case. The only problem with these uber geeky Guiberteau(s) is the price, which makes exploring them less attractive when compared to white Burgundy even, but certainly Chenin fans will pony up for these wonderfully hand made unique, intriguing and rare wines.
($79 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2017 Domaine Rimbert, Saint Chinian Rouge “Les Travers de Marceau” Languedoc, France.
One of my favorite Languedoc wines, the Domaine Rimbert Carignan based Les Travers de Marceau is a beautiful and fresh Rhone like offering that satisfies the senses with purity of terroir driven fruit and a playful character as well as serious complex array of mineral and spice. Jean-Marie Rimbert, self proclaimed defender of the Languedoc’s native Carignan grape, is a benchmark grower for the region, he is a “Carignanista” and his Saint Chinian Rouge Les Travers de Marceau is a delightfully pure and fresh red. This cuvee is mostly Carignan, but with some Syrah, Grenache, Cinsault and Mourvèdre to add complexity and depth. Jean-Marie ferments this Les Travers de Marceau with native yeasts, almost no sulfur with primary and secondary done in tank with no oak.
Rimbert’s importer, Floraison Selections, notes, with his low yields (30hl/ha max, often less), intimate knowledge of his individual parcels, and delicate extractions (punchdowns), he brings out undeniable delicacy, nuance, elegance as well as ageability in these wines. Both his AOC and VDF bottlings alike brim with energy and fresh detail, especially this Les Travers de Marceau.
The 2016 was absolutely delicious, so I was full of expectations of this 2017, and lucky for me and the world it is just as good with lovely ripe fruit and wonderful purity along with a clean intensity of form, it is lively and vivid with black and blue fruits leading the way.
This dark fruited and spicy 2017 Saint Chinian Rouge by Rimbert flows with easy to love and drink flavors, it shows blackberry, plum and juicy sweet currant fruits along with a touch of pepper, mineral and floral tones as well as a touch of anise, earth and lavender. This Languedoc red has the personality and naked focus to go great with many cuisine options and is a wonderful drinking old world wine with a sense of place, and its brightness makes it good with a BBQ or picnic quaffing. This dark purple/garnet wine is medium weighted and has plenty of class, it is a nice value too, especially those that like old vine Carignan, drink this over the next 2 or 3 years.
($19 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
1996 Château Ducru-Beaucaillou, Second Growth, Saint-Julien, Red Bordeaux, France.
After holding this bottle for almost a decade, I just couldn’t wait any longer to pop the cork on this Ducru-Beaucaillou 1996, and I found it was in a lovely place and drinking fabulous with a distinct core of beautiful dark fruits that is fresh, but having the pretty maturity that age brings with tannins holding firm still, but allowing graceful textures and complete enjoyment. After Château Léoville Poyferré, which has become since 2001 one of my secret favorite Bordeaux(s), Château Ducru-Beaucaillou is one of the best Saint-Julien producers and has a long proven track record that while has a few blights along the way is pretty reliable for stylish and refined wines.
The estate, owned since 1941, by the Borie family, who purchased the historic Château Ducru-Beaucaillou and vineyards during the early part of WWII, with the wines having been produced here of enough quality to be classified as one of fifteen Deuxièmes Crus (Second Growths) in the original Bordeaux Wine Official Classification of 1855. The origins of Château Ducru-Beaucaillou dates back to 1720 to be precise, before Bertrand Ducru bought the estate and added his name to it, It owes its original name to the “beaux et gros cailloux” – the beautiful stones, referring to the gravelly soils of the outer Medoc. Château Ducru-Beaucaillou is now run by Bruno Borie, who’s family also owns two other premier estates, Château Grand-Puy-Lacoste and Château Haut-Batailley, both in the Pauillac region, all of which are Cabernet Sauvignon dominated, with Ducru-Beaucaillou being 70% Cabernet Sauvignon and 30% Merlot, with their vines being close to 60 years old on average.
The Grand Vin of Château Ducru-Beaucaillou, according to the winery, is aged for 18 months in 50% to 80% new oak barrels according to the richness of the vintage, and I would guess this deeply colored1996 had the lower range of new wood as it doesn’t show any remnants of the new oak, being fined with egg whites and only lightly filtered before its bottling. All is done with the purpose to allow the more delicate natural to shine through here, while allowing the Cabernet Sauvignon to make its presence felt on the palate. This 1996 vintage, now in 2019, is a study in purity and is everything we want in a left bank wine, showing finessed layers of blackberry, plum and cherry fruit along with hints of creme de cassis, loamy earth, cedar as well as dried flowers, loose tobacco leaf, anise and a touch of leather. The Merlot has added a smooth density and mouth feel, it’s presence working perfectly to fill out the wine, playing second fiddle to the Cabernet Sauvignon is no shame in a wine this elegant and well crafted, it’s very impressive and should drink well for another half a dozen years.
($175-349 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2017 Bodega Cooperativa Cristo del Humilladero, Garnacha, “Granito del Cadalso” by Dani Landi & Fernando Garcia, Sierra de Gredos, Vinos de Madrid, Spain.
The Granito de Cadalso is made at the local co-op, Bodega Cooperativa Cristo del Humilladero, which was founded by the vineyard owners and growers back in 1956, it is a historic town cellars in the Sierra de Gredos region, in the high plateau above Madrid, this area is one of the world’s hotspots for delicate Garnacha. The owner of the Co-Op is wine enthusiast Ricardo Moreno, who is a a partner in the now famous Comando G winery, with winemaker Fernando Garcia, which is literally a couple does down the street as well as friends with the talented Daniel Gómez Jiménez Landi, aka Dani Landi, who was maybe the first of this new generation to gain world wide acclaim for the Gredos zone, and Moreno unlisted these two stars to make a few wines to help up the image of the Co-op, an approach that has already paid dividends with critical acclaim and a new distribution deal with Landi and Comando G’s importer, Eric Solomon of European Cellars.
Having had both Comando G and Landi wines, along with my favorites, Alfredo Maestro and 4 Monos, I have been a huge fan of this area for more than a few vintages, so I was excited to finally get a bottle from the Bodega Cooperativa Cristo del Humilladero, which is from mostly organic vines, some of which are between 20 and 70 years old set on sandy, granite soils, hence the name, at about 1,000 feet above sea level with a hybrid continental climate, but with cool night temperatures that really helps these wines retain freshness and vitality in what is pretty arid conditions. Part of the reason the co-op is doing these series is the keep this farmers in cash, so they don’t sell up and convert the land to condos or housing tracks which has threatened about 80% of the vineyard area and putting the regions traditional history at risk.
The 2017 Granite del Cadalso, a beautifully pure and soulful example, was fermented and aged in concrete with a 15-20 day maceration with regular remontage, and it shows all the lovely layers that have set this region apart, giving fresh detail that highlights this vintage as well as the terroir with a medium full palate of red and black fruits, spice and stony elements. The main palate shows macerated cherry, raspberry, strawberry and tangy plum, adding hints of black currant jelly, anise, chalky, but silky tannins, lavender and fresh cut herbs. This non oaked Garnacha is a wonderful gateway wine to this region and a classy and authentic effort, easy to love and stylish enough to surprise a few palates.
($20 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2010 Le Vieux Donjon, Chateauneuf-du-Pape Rouge, Rhone Valley, France.
I started follow this estate in the late nineties and have always been a fan of their traditional style, though in some vintages they can come off as quite rustic and meaty, but always seem to come around with air and food with impressive depth and dark fruits. Le Vieux Donjon was actually formed more recent than perceived, coming together in 1979, with the marriage of two wine growing families, when Lucien and Marie José Michel tied the knot, and those generational holdings they both had were combined to form the modern Le Vieux Donjon estate, that currently covers fourteen hectares of vineyards in prime locations. The Michel’s vineyards, which are farmed all organic, are primarily in the North and Northwest of the AOC, but they also have small plots in the Southwest and East set on mainly limestone and reddish clay, and are studded with the famous galets roulé, the round, rust-colored river stones which were left behind after the retreat of the ancient Alpine glaciers which once covered the region.
In more recent vintages the style has evolved, especially as the years have gotten warmer and riper along with a much cleaner approach in the cellar, and while some wish for the old bretty days, like the old Beaucastel were as well, the wines have not lost their soulful expression, and in fact are the best I’ve tasted, especially since the 2007 vintage, and this 2010 is absolutely stunning today, and at almost nine years old, still shows youthful freshness, detail and a gorgeous dark purple/garnet color, it will certainly continue it’s greatness for another decade easily. Fermented in concrete, then aged in foudre (for at least 16 months) the Le Vieux Donjon Chateauneuf-du-Pape Rouge is always a blend of about 75% Grenache, 10% each Mourvèdre and Syrah along with about 5% Cinsault, and though weighty and above 14.5% natural alcohol it always remains skillfully balanced with a sense of vibrancy, tension and a nice mineral tone.
There is a lot of buzz around Le Vieux Donjon right now, as the ex-Robert Parker reviewer Jeb Dunnuck hailed the 2016 version the greatest vintage ever by the estate, giving it 98 Points and saying it might be his wine of the vintage! So it was fascinating when this 2010 Le Vieux Donjon showed up in a blind tasting this last week, Feb. 2019, to see what a bit of age looks like and for me personally to re-connect with this wine after missing a few years of it, and it certainly lived up to the hype and was just barely edged out for best of the night honors, by an insanely perfumed and deep Saint-Joseph, though not by much!
My first impression of this 2010 was that it must be heavier in Syrah and or Mourvèdre as it had a much dark presence in the glass than one would expect of a Grenache based version, and that transitioned to the palate as well with black violets, dark meaty tones and tar notes coming through along with layers of boysenberry, plum, black cherry and briar laced vine picked raspberry fruit, adding hints of black licorice, warm stones, light cedar and savory herbs (garrigue/sage/lavender), plus a touch of pepper. The body is still surprisingly lithe and not as dense in mouth feel. That said though, age has brought some over all silkiness to the tannins, it opens in time to a medium fullness that is hedonistic, without ever being excessive, or flabby, it is a beauty right now, making me think it’s in its prime, the perfect drinking window seems to be open on this Le Vieux Donjon, if you have it, lucky you, as it is close to perfection. A big thank you to Lee Lightfoot for pulling this out of his personal cellar and sharing it.
($70-80 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2014 Domaine Jérôme Gradassi, Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc, Rhone Valley, France.
As mentioned in my earlier reviews, Jerome Gradassi Chateauneuf is one of the most exciting new producers of this historic region I’ve tried in years, and his wines are an amazing value in tiny production handcrafted old vine Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Gradassi is much more famous for his Michelin-starred L’Isle Sonnante restaurant located in Avignon (which he sold in 2003), but after taking over a parcel of ancient Grenache that was once his grandfathers, plus plots of Mourvedre and a little bit of Clairette vines, he has taught himself how to make wine, with promising results. Gradassi has been very much influenced by the area’s legacy of hard work and tradition, and through trial an error, Jérôme has gone down the natural winemaking path in his very rustic cellar which had included ancient concrete vats which sit below ground level so grapes had to be shoveled down through a window, though I think now he is using the old Domaine du Remparts facility to make his wines.
The exceptionally rare Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc, by Gradassi is mostly all Clairette Rose (a natural mutation of the Clairette Blanc clone with a pinkish tint, with maybe a tiny percentage of Grenache Blanc though not necessarily, it’s an ultra limited bottling and somewhat a unicorn wine, and almost impossible to get, so I consider myself lucky beyond belief to have got a few bottles of this 2014 version from Martine’s Wines, Gradassi’s importer out west. Only about Only 420 bottles were made of this all stainless steel fermented and aged Blanc, and from what I gather it was whole cluster pressed and kept cold, with indigenous yeasts, all from organic grapes in Gradassi’s northern site in Chateauneuf. The vines sit on clay and sandy soils over limestone and are at about 400 feet of elevation, which allows for more natural acidity and aromatics, especially in this Blanc.
These 2014 Gradassi Clairette Rose (or Gris) is one of the most unique Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc(s) you’ll find, it’s slightly oxidative, not unlike Marsanne with peach and apple notes along with hints of tropical fruit, quince and lemon/lime aa well as adding dried herbs, white flowers and wet stones with a pale golden/yellowish hue in the glass. I really enjoyed this quick maturing white and hope to again get some of the new vintages if it comes available, which is not always a guarantee as so little is made, but Gradassi’s red is available and it’s even better, so I console myself in that, and I have a few bottles of the glorious 2016 vintage in my collection.
($52 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2018 Joyce Wine Company, Rosé, Gamay/Grenache “Turbidity Current” Monterey County.
Joyce’s 2018 Turbidity Current Roséis a dry and bright version, crafted this year from 63% Grenache and 37% Gamay from Monterey County vines and highlights the nature of the vintage, which is one of the best in recent memory, allowing good fruit dimension and substance, but with fresh detail and tangy acidity. The Gamay really adds pop, while the Grenache gives finesse and presence in the glass, making for a unique California Rosé experience with brisk youthful detail, tart cherry fruit and mineral charm.
Russell Joyce and his team are thrilled with their 2018 vintage wines, and what I have tasted I can see why, this might be the best vintage for Monterey in my lifetime, certainly in the last decade, the fruit detail is impressive and the balance in even such an early stage is amazing, in both reds and whites, these are going to be incredible wines, and to get an insight into them, you can start with Joyce’s latest Albarino, their Dry Riesling and this lovely pink wine. All these are now available at their tasting room and remarkably drinkable already, and should only get better in the coming months.
The crisp 2018 Turbidity Current Rosé starts with zippy citrus and the mentioned sour red cherry, plum water and crushed raspberry fruit along with rose oil, spring herb, steely tones and a touch of wet stone, all of which makes for a lovely sipping wine that will be great for the warm days to come. There’s a lot to get excited about at Joyce right now and coming in the future, their 2017 single vineyard Pinots are stunning wines, as is Joyce’s Syrah(s), which are sometimes overlooked and should not be, their old vine Chenin Blanc is a savvy white that is not a wine to miss, and it is a good time to discover all these. This Rosé, will it’s near play between fruit and acidity with it’s delicious lightness and tension will most definitely enjoy its time with the local cuisine and the beach!
($22 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2016 Domaine de Gouye, Saint-Joseph Rouge, Vieilles Vignes, Northern Rhone, France.
The old school and traditional Domaine de Gouye, which was established as an estate winery back in 1933, is run by Philippe Debos a low key third generation vigneron from the tiny village of Saint-Jean de Muzols that makes some of the most glorious Syrah (and only Syrah) from his 30 acre parcel of Saint-Joesph vines that you will ever taste, especially this gorgeously perfumed 2016 old vine. The horse and plowed vines and sustainable farming on these wind swept granite hillsides provide the raw material for greatness, and thanks to Sam Smith, head winemaker at Monterey’s Morgan Winery, who did a stint in the Northern Rhone with Francois Villard, and who knows his stuff when it comes to cool climate Syrah, for sharing this special bottle with me, as I had never had this producer before, I really thought I was trying a prestigious Cote-Rotie, you know the type, that unicorn kind of thing, so good was this bottle.
According to Debos’ importer, North Berkey imports, Philippe Desbos selects fruit from his oldest Syrah vines, some as old as 100 years, for this special cuvée, all hand harvested and carefully sorted preserving the whole bunches. The estate’s same non-interventionist approach in their ancient cellar applies, all the fruit is crushed gently by foot, 100% whole cluster, and after a long maceration and primary fermentation with no added sulfur, Debos uses his one hundred and thirty year old vertical press, with the wine then aged in neutral barrels for a year or so. Philippe adds, at Domaine de Gouye, winemaking follows time-tested tradition not because it’s romantic but because it’s the most efficient, and the results speak for themselves, this 2016 Old Vines Saint-Joesph is incredible and sexy with exotic violets, spice and seductive delicacy of form with layers of black and blue fruits.
Tasting it blind, as mentioned had me convinced I was experiencing one of Cote-Rotie’s rarest bottlings, Jamet, Lavet, Rostaing, Villard and others came to mind, so beautiful was the bouquet and the length, it was amazing to find out this was a Saint-Joseph and a wine that is truly affordable!
The palate on Debos’ Vieilles Vignes 2016 is heighten by the stems and natural freshness of the vintage showing fabulous detail and purity with Blackberry, boysenberry, blueberry, damson plum and currant fruits adding subtle kirsch and creme de cassis along with crunchy mineral, peppercorns, liquid violets, anise and a faint hint of camphor and leather/earthiness. The tannins are remarkably refined, though structured and the wine stays spot on throughout, this is outrageously good stuff, and a winery that is now firmly on my radar, if you want a deal, find this bottling, and drink it over the next 3 to 5 years, it is stunning Syrah and a brilliant effort. The nose alone is worth the price and the texture just adds to the pleasure, this Domaine de Gouye Old Vine St. Joe really leaves a dramatic impression and an impact on the senses while still being authentic and terroir driven, wow, yup I want more.
($40-45 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2017 Envínate, Vidueño de Santiago del Teide, Ycoden-Daute-Isora DO, Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain.
Founded by wine college students in 2005, Envínate (which means “Wine Yourself”) is the brainchild of four friends and winemakers from very diverse regions in Spain including Roberto Santana of Tenerife, Canary Islands, Alfonso Torrente of the Ribeira Sacra in Galicia, Laura Ramos of Murcia and José Martínez who is from Almansa. Santana has been thrust into the spotlight and is the unofficial leader with the main bodega in the Canary Islands, the winery’s main area of focus, where they craft intriguing wines from the volcanic soils on these remote islands off the coast of northern Africa, and where in recent years they has brought world attention to local grapes such as Listan Blanco, Listan Negro and Listan Prieto, also known as the Mission grapes.
The Vidueño de Santiago del Teide, grown in the Ycoden-Daute-Isora DO, and according to the winery is sourced from a tiny parcel of old-vine, untrained pie franc Listan Blanco and Listan Prieto. Thought to be about 50/50 red and white grapes it is a lighter and fresher style than the rest of the lineup. This co-planted parcel is all hand-harvested, destemmed and then this natural wine is macerated for 15 days in an open vat, then transferred to three well used neutral small French barriques, where it aged for 8 months on fine lees without battonage (stirring) or with any added sulfur, it is also unfined and unfiltered, again there’s no added SO2 even at bottling.
This latest version of Vidueño is seductive for it’s smoky strawberry notes, high tones and mineral focus, it is a very high elevation volcano wine that shows a finessed presence in the glass with delicacy, vivid flavors and smooth tannins, it’s Envinate’s Glou Glou offering, meaning it’s extremely easy and quaffable. Bright red pepper, warm rock, dried rose petals lead the way before this light ruby wine takes off on the medium bodied palate with strawberry, pomegranate and cranberry fruits forming a spicy core with vivid volcanic intensity pumping through, though a touch earthy the Vidueño gains a nice textural feel, this is never going to be a main stream crowd pleaser, but it’s ultra cool and I love it. Considering it is half white grapes, it has some grip and dusty dry tang, this is vivacious juice from Envínate with a touch of leathery earth, bright acidity and a saline note that straddles a savory nervousness, but stays wonderfully playful, it’s especially good with food and gets even better with air and with a slight chill.
($37 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2017 Alfredo Maestro, Tinto Fino (Tempranillo) “Viña Almate” Peñafiel, Valladolid, VdT Castilla y León, Spain.
Alfredo Maestro Tejero, a rebel winemaker who’s family came to Peñafiel, not far from Madrid in Valladolid, from the Basque Country, is now one of Spain’s most well known natural winemakers. After growing up with vines, it seemed always in the cards that Alfredo would become a winemaker and in 1998 he started making wines from local old vine vineyards, mostly neglected, but 100% organically farmed, and after self teaching himself to make wine traditionally, he converted to 100% natural in 2003, and in the cellar he adds zero to his wines, no additives whatsoever, including sulfur.
The Viña Almate, named after the man himself (the first two letters of his three names) is his highest production wine, his regional cuvee is all hand crafted with whole-cluster fermentation with native yeasts in stainless steel with a 12-15 day maceration, then raised over winter in vat and bottled before the Spring, all unfined, unfiltered. This 100% Tinto Fino (Tempranillo) cuvée is made from fruit sourced from various plots in Valtiendas (Segovia), as well as in Peñafiel (Valladolid) from vines set on mainly clay-calcareous driven Alluvial soils of the region, coming from vines up to 80 years old at between 700 and 1,000 meters, that gives the wine its freshness and structure.
Alfredo’s 2017 Vina Almate is a deep ruby/garnet in color and while earthy and fresh has a dark sense violets and a ripe palate showing black cherry, plum and vine picked wild berry fruits that have a bramble and briar character with a light dusting of dried herbs and spices with hints of tobacco leaf, anise and grilled orange peel. This young Tempranillo is transparent and highly quaffable turning silken and a touch creamy with air, making it wonderfully enjoyable and fun in the glass, perfect for sipping and bistro dinning. Unlike the smoky inky Ribera del Douro or American oak marked old school Rioja, this is a naked version of this grape and it serves a clever natural niche with its purity and lightness of form, drink it up, not need to wait.
($18 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2017 Laurent Herlin, Method Ancestral “Cintre” Rosé of Cabernet Franc, Loire Valley Sparkling Wine, France.
New to America, the Herlin wines from the Loire are all natural bottlings that mostly are Cabernet Franc based from in and around the classic area of Bourgueil with it’s mix of sand, gravel, Silicieous Clay, Limestone and Tuffeau soils, they work all organic and without any chemical additions either in the vines or in the cellar. Laurent Herlin has been working without any chemical inputs since 2009, and has gone the natural wine route making clean, focused and dry versions of highly quaffable wines. Recently picked up and imported to the West Coast by long time natural wine specialist and natural wine evangelist Nadia Dmytriw at Floraison Selections, her company that hand picks a great group of top French natural wine producers, that includes Pierre Gonon in the Northern Rhone, Domaine d’Ourea of Vacqueyras, Domaine Serol of Cote Roannaise, Chateau des Rontets of Pouilly-Fuisse (Burgundy) as well as an awesome set from the Loire Valley like the famous Domaine de L’Ecu, Sylvain Dittiere, Vincent Gaudry as well Laurent Herlin.
The 2017 Pétillant Naturel style sparkling Cabernet Franc Rosé “Cintre” is a vividly dry bubbly crafted completely method ancestral with absolute 0 RS (residual sugar) and low natural alcohol with almost no sulfur, except what happens in the process itself, making for a stingingly brisk and expensive Rose sparkler. The fresh and crystal clear palate is minerally and citrusy, but opens to reveal a layer of sophistication and stylish notes with hints of tart cherry, a wisp of strawberry, rosewater, bitter melon, herbs and a hint of light brioche. Ripe enough as to not has any greeness, but still with electric laced acidity, this Laurent Herlin Cintre is a lovely and fun refreshing version of a Loire Valley favorite with a bit of elegance and grace, with is not always the case with the foamy mousse Pet-Nats. This would be great anytime and anywhere, super as an aperitif or with brunch, it stand up to most dishes and would be awesome for picnics and beach parties. This bone dry Cintre Rosé bubbles is tasty, drinking wonderfully right now, I will have to stock up for warm Spring days, and I suggest searching out this exciting producer, I am looking forward to exploring more of his wines, especially his classic Bourgueil offering, as well as his Glou Glou Carbonic Cab Franc too.
($24 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2017 Arianna Occhipinti, SP68 Rosso, Terre Siciliane, Sicily, Italy.
There is always great expectations when I get the latest Occhipinti, and this new SP68 Rosso does not disappoint, it has all the seductive earthy qualities and beautiful fruit expression that Arianna is famous for, it is a pure and charming effort. The hard working and humble Arianna Occhipinti, who made her first (home) vintage at the age of 21, is the epitome of grit and determination, her success is or was almost unimaginable in the region of her birth and gives her an almost mystical aura. Her wines are some of the most sought after in the natural and organic wine world, she has made Frappato an almost household name, pretty amazing for such a young person to have achieved. Arianna was mentored by the icons and legends of natural wines, Elena Pantaleoni of La Stoppa in Emilia-Romagna and Elisabetta Foradori of Alto Adige fame, both heroic women winemakers. That said, her wines are not just natural wines or is their appeal for a limited group, they are fresh, energetic and made with passion and down to earth charm that has won (her) fans from almost every corner of the greater wine world. I personally have found her wine from my little California hometown to the tiny little Swedish village of Vaxjo, across the world away! Considering how little wine she makes and the enthusiasm of her fans, it seems remarkable, such is her following.
As Arianna, in almost poetic terms, tells it, everything begun fifteen years ago in the ”Fossa di Lupo” area. In the Vittoria region of southern Sicily, and for Occhipinti, a magical place where the land in the evening becomes reddish and is brushed by the Ibleian winds, it’s here where a little known country road, number 68, hence where her line of SP68 wines gets their name. It’s a county lane like many others, but with a special past, and present for her, its route travels by the small piece of land where she got her start, though fas far back as three thousand years ago it connected Gela to Kamarina, it travelled- as it still does – through the Cerasuolo di Vittoria, becoming the Strada del Vino, this is one of most important winegrowing zones in Sicily, from Caltagirone continuing to Catania and Lentini. Historical for the locals as it was the path of trade and life in this area. There, again as she sees it, squeezed between heaven and earth was the place that gave her the chance to show her talents to the world and she took off like a rocket, and while once regarded as the princess of natural wine, though now she has developed far beyond that niche and limited box, and her wines treasured far and wide, especially her signature “Il Frappato” bottling, though I always adore her SP68 Rosso a mini version of Cerasuolo di Vittoria made from both Frappato and Nero d’Avola.
The Occhipinti SP68, an IGT not a DOC, is labeled Terre Siciliane and is a cuvee of 70% Frappato and 30% Nero d’Avola that is grown on the red sand and chalk driven soils over, what Arianna calls, sub Apennine limestone rock. The vines used are at least 15 years old and densely planted and the grapes are all organic, as you’d expect, and the winemaking is careful, pragmatic, precise and minimalist without any chemical intervention in the vineyard or in the cellar. Occhipinti employs a gentile touch with only indigenous yeasts and a about 15 days on the skins with everything done here in concrete, with aging again in cement vat for 8 months before bottling unfined and unfiltered with virtually no added SO2, all to preserve purity, rawness and translucent flavors.
This wine, and her others have inspired dozens, hundreds and maybe thousands of winemakers from all over the globe, and her wines can now be found in most chic wine bars and speciality wine merchants, in fact her impact has seen her become a superstar with sommeliers, wine critics, hipster wine influencers and even elite collectors, but it is also remarkable that she has such a following from her peers and the regular everyday wine buyers that continues to surprise the wine community and industry. I must admit to being a big fan and have been for many years, Occhipinti’s wine occupies a special place in my heart, I am always filled with joy and expectation when I drink them, they are not blockbusters, but rather soulful, playful and most of all truthful wines that elicit a sense of seriousness without an over thinking drama about them, there is a feeling of peace and pleasure in them I find wonderfully compelling.
The the pale blue/crimson hued 2017 is fresh, showing a hint of reduction and earthy tones at first before opening up to its pretty fruit and spice showing its core Frappato driven character with sweet strawberry, plum, cranberry and unique lingonberry note as well as wild herbs, basil, pepper, anise, saline and brandied cherries. The mouth feel is smooth and easy, its medium weight (like Pinot Noir) is both refreshing and substantial giving a sense of completeness, complex and sensual charm in a lighter framed and racy wine. Air just opens the bouquet further with florals and mineral sensations, and while less sharp than Gamay, it is stylistically similar and can be enjoyed with a slight chill and it will, like Pinot go with lots of cuisine options, enjoy this new SP68 over the next 2 to 3 years, it’s vivid, easy and lovely. Occhipinti is a star, and her wines a reflection of her place and person, it is hard not to, after sipping her wine, book a flight to Sicily, especially this SP68. This new release is a gateway view to the vintage, which looks to be an impressive one for this part of the island and I look forward to tasting her other bottlings.
($30 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2017 Cruse Wine Company, Monkey Jacket, North Coast.
A unique inter-regional blend of black grapes, Cruse Wine Co.’s 2017 Monkey Jacket red blend is a cuvee of Valdiguié, Carignan and Tannat, a truly eccentric wine that intrigues with a play of darkness and light with a juicy center holding the two sides together, it is a fun and mysterious red that has some exotic spicy tones, fruit, spice, hints of earth and supple tastiness.
The Cruse Monkey Jacket has a feel that reminds me of the Southwest of France, like Fronton with it’s Negrette like feel and juicy/earth/spice combo, and it makes for an interesting quaffer. Cruse is more known for his super sparkling wine in both traditional method and his Pet-Nats, but this latest vintage of red wine releases have impressed, especially his Carignan and Valdiquie bottlings, along with this one that combines both Carignan and Valdiquie as well as having the rare Tannat grape added to the mix.
The lighter ruby/garnet color and freshness helps curb some of the earthy/savory funkiness that provides the complex background and its more medium weight and lower alcohol make it easy to drink, it benefits also from a slight chill as a Beaujolais does. Plum, wild cherry, strawberry and blueberry fruits lead on the vibrant palate before that groove of pepper, minty herb, truffle/earthy and game comes out along with a hint of dried flowers and touch of cayenne.
($25 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2017 Samuel Louis Smith, Chardonnay, Spear Vineyard, Sta. Rita Hills.
Sam Smith’s gorgeous Spear Chardonnay is a revelation in California Chardonnay for this vintage, it rides the line between restraint and opulence to perfection with an exotic nose, smooth layers as well as lifted vibrancy, striking detail and precision.
Smith who is from the Santa Barbara area, and having worked there, knows where great grapes are in the region, and this brilliant wine shows this knowledge in its full scope as well as his judgement and talents in the cellar. He is Morgan Winery’s head winemaker, and in recent vintages raised the game there, making some of the best Pinots and Chards ever made by this famous Monterey label. Sam Smith’s own label, Samuel Louis Smith wines is all about handcrafted quality, all very small batch stuff mostly from single (Cru) sites in the Central Coast, from Santa Barbara County to the Santa Cruz Mountains, focused on Pinot Noir, Syrah and Chardonnay(s) like this one. I’ve been lucky enough to have had a few vintages of Smith’s wines, each one I’ve tried has impressed me with balance, texture and depth, especially his 2017’s, which are some of the most interesting and seductive I’ve tried from this year.
Spear is a vineyard in the northwestern zone of Sea. Rita Hills, it is really an under the radar site that is coming into its own, I have had a few Chardonnays from this north facing hillside and clay soil site in recent years, again all of which, while diverse in styles showed huge potential, including Sam’s here as well as Greg Brewer’s Diatom and the estate wines crafted at Spear. According to Spear, these are amongst the highest elevation plantings in the famed appellation. Peaking at 900’ above sea level, there are currently 34 acres in production representing six different grape varietals on a multitude of diverse clonal, rootstock, orientation, elevation and soil combinations. With the Chardonnay plots being planted to clones: 4, 95, 96, Wente & Mount Eden, all farmed certified organic with, as the grower puts it, viticultural practices obviate the use of inorganic fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides. Spear is owned by Ofer Shepher, who also owns the famous Gnesa Vineyard, and he has truly been inspired by the Santa Rita Hills and is dedicated to growing the best grapes in the region and as he puts it, have wines (made from his grapes) taste like where it came from, and Sam’s Spear certainly does that!
The Samuel Louis Smith 2017 Spear Vineyard Chardonnay is on the level of some of the best in the state, this vintage has the qualities you’d find in wines like Rhys, Ceritas, Arnot-Roberts, Brewer-Clifton, Sandhi and Littorai to name a few, it shows fantastic definition and length, this is great stuff and a superb value, the quality to price ratio is exceptional, it is a wine that reflects the best in California Chardonnay, while having the finesse that Burgundy fans would appreciate. Smith, who credits the place for the quality here with soils of both sedimentary clay loam and white beach sand make it a rarity in the appellation, used native yeasts, starting in stainless, but finishing both primary and partial malos (85%) in barrel, 55% second fill Francois Freres barriques with a nine month elevage, finishing with a refreshing 12.5% natural alcohol, then bottled unfined and unfiltered. The result is glorious with bright citrus, honeysuckle and a touch of tropical fruit, with the clay soils allowing an impression of density without being heavy, it shows serious palate impact with classic peach, apple and pear fruit at it’s core and a touch of mineral, smoky/toast, butterscotch and wet stones. Already drinking well, this pale golden wine should age nicely too, though I can hardly imagine a reason to wait, and it should provide lots of joy with sea food and or poultry, in particular fleshy white fish, crab, lobster and shellfish or soft cheeses.
($37 Est.) 94+ Points, grapelive
2017 Bow & Arrow, Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
Crafted from selected vineyard sites, mostly organic or biodynamic the Bow & Arrow Willamette Valley Pinot Noir is always a bright and delicious natural expression with fresh fruit detail and mineral charms. Scott Frank, owner and winemaker at Portland’s Loire Valley inspired Bow & Arrow is making some stylish wines and his 2016 and 2017 offerings are some of his best yet, this is a winery to discover for value and for the authentic character of each wine, especially Frank’s Gamay based wines, but his series of Pinot Noir(s) are not to be overlooked, especially this regional blend that way out performs for the price.
Frank wants to make humble wines and since moving here from New York in 2001, he has explored the Willamette looking for unique vineyards and varietals to make wine from in his place in Portland, with Loire Valley grape varieties like Melon, Chenin Blanc, and Gamay that were planted in the Willamette Valley decades ago, being of special interest to him, along with Pinot Noir, some of which he uses in a signature blend with Gamay called Rhinestones as well as Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon that he blends in a small amount into a Franc based wine like they do in Anjou (Air Guitar) plus a Sauvignon Blanc that he does in a Pouilly-Fume style, aged in used French Oak.
Bow & Arrow goes for mostly neutral wood, native ferments and ultra low SO2, all to make as Frank puts it, humble country wines that are easy to drink and easy on the wallet, but these are also serious and can be exceptional. Scott got his winemaking stripes at the legendary Cameron Winery under the guidance of Joh Paul, who helped Frank really get a feel for the region and the underlying soils that make this area so special.
This Willamette Valley 2017 Pinot is super tangy juicy with loads of wild strawberry, cranberry and tart cherry fruits along with brisk orange rind, red apple skin and cinnamon spice, it is vibrant and almost electric on the lighter framed palate, it is very lifted and crunchy adding tea notes, chalk dust and floral tones with air. Best with a slight chill and certainly with food, this 2017 should fill out over time, but will not ever be as ripe and lush as the 2015 and 2016 vintages, though it is much more in line with what Scott is after in this little wine, as he is looking to craft a Glou Glou wine with this bottling. Mission complete with this easy quaffer, as it delivers eye popping energy and zest, very much in the modern natural wine mode, and it’s a fun picnic and or bistro wine that plays easily with Spring and Summer cuisine, fans of light reds with gripping acidity will love this edition, drink over the next 2 to 3 years.
($20 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
1983 La Rioja Alta, Rioja Gran Reserva 904, Haro, Spain.
One of Spain’s most iconic producers, Bodega La Rioja Alta was founded by top growers in the high elevation La Rioja Alta zone back in 1890 to craft high quality red wines for export, as Bordeaux and most of France was trying to recover from the devastating phylloxera plague, and since then has become one of the wine world’s most prolific wine estates. As the winery notes, in 1904, La Rioja Alta absorbed Bodegas Ardanza, and gained access to some of the finest and historic vineyards in the Rioja Alta district, and this luxury 904 bottling commemorates this important milestone, and it’s a wine that can easily be compared to the great wines of the world, especially in great years, such as the one I got to taste recently, these are wines of amazing pedigree, class and longevity, rivaling top Chateaux of the Medoc.
The 904, is usually mainly Tempranillo (90%) from the villages of Briñas, Labastida and Villalba along with some old vine Graciano, the wine is fermented in stainless steel with careful selections and cool temperatures then moved to used American oak barrels for natural malos, which can take almost a hundred days, this elevage is very lengthy and includes racking every six months, lasting around 4 years in cask before the final blend is chosen. They bottle the top cuvees unfitted and without fining, allowing them to sure sublime purity, and this gorgeous 1983 is an excellent example of this! La Rioja Alta coppers their own barrels, tailoring the wood to their needs, much like Gaja, the famous Piedmont Barbaresco producer does. La Rioja Alta is a large winery with some 50,000 barrels in their caves, but the attention to detail and quality of each wine shows their passion and commitment to quality.
Getting to dig into history in the bottle is a wonderful treat, a huge thank to Michelle Ross of Pisoni Vineyards for bringing this bottle to share with us at our tasting group’s blind Spanish red tasting (January 2019) it was a quite a treat and experience, and it must be said this bottle was in near perfect condition, a truly stunning wine. I’m grateful to get to report here on this glorious Rioja, it showed remarkably freshness and detail, still vibrant and full of life with luxurious layers of perfectly mature flavors showing black cherry, mulberry, fig paste, reduced plum and currant jam fruits along with a hint of earthy forest/wild mushrooms, plus floral notes both dried and freshly cut, cedar, vanilla, coconut and a light dusting of spices and herbs adding cured ham, anise and sweet pipe tobacco. The textures are opulent and refined, the mouth feel is exceptional with a medium weight dreamy palate, this 1983 is just rocking right now, though still has structure and could go another for decade maybe, though I think it is in its best form right now, it is absolute brilliant.
While is not easy to find these older wines, the current releases of this 904 are awesome and at around $65 a bottle, they are ridiculously well priced for collectors and those looking for serious cellar options that you can drink even in their youth, also, you should not miss their regular Reservas, in particular look for the Vina Ardanza, it’s an insane value.
($150-200) 96 Points, grapelive
2018 Small Lot Collection by Russell Joyce, Gamay Noir, San Benito County, California.
Winemaker Russell Joyce of Monterey’s Joyce Wine Company has branched out to explore with an exciting new personal project and label focusing on interesting vineyard, varietal and or unique blends and has bottled his initial debut with a stylish 2018 single vineyard Gamay Noir that will be released early this Spring of 2019 and it’s a killer wine. Inspired by the wines of Lapierre, Foillard, Sunier, Dutraive and others making thrilling Cru Beaujolais Russell has been searching for a few years to find a true Gamay Noir vineyard to source from that offered distinct and classic flavors, and he found it in a small parcel of vines in San Benito County, though he is keeping a secret as to its exact location, with good reason as this might be the best California version I’ve tasted, right up their or better than wines like Pax, Raj Parr, Arnot-Roberts as well as with those great examples by Oregon Gamay heros like Brick House and Bow & Arrow!
Russell went for a natural approach with 100% whole cluster and full on carbonic maceration in a sealed stainless tank with native yeasts before raising in just 4 months in neutral French oak barrels, with only the tiniest of a dose of sulfur, to allow for purity, freshness and transparency. This 2018, which I tried from tank, cask and now bottle (tasted four times) is going to rock those lucky few that get it, as only 200 six pack cases were made of this inaugural vintage. This Gamay shines in the glass with a beautiful ruby/garnet hue and bursts on the palate with varietal force showing sweet plum, juicy red berry and candied cherry/strawberry fruits with just a hint of jolly rancher and cotton candy along with some nervy stemmy/herbs, spice, with air it gains a hint of chalk and mineral without any trace of wood, this is wildly impressive first time effort with this grape in a red wine, though Russell does use some Gamay in his Joyce Rosé and has for a few vintages, and the packaging is gorgeous in a nod to the great wines of Morgon with a simple label and a small bright red wax capsule.
This ultra vivid small lot Gamay will be highly allocated, but if you are interested in getting some, you can beg to be put on the list if you visit the Joyce Vineyards tasting room in Carmel Valley or by emailing Russell at firstname.lastname@example.org, there is a strict limit of up to 6 bottles for those on their mailing list as supplies or pre-arrivals last. Joyce is riding high right now with a fantastic selection of current releases, especially his 2017 single vineyard Pinot Noirs and his 2017 Tondre Syrah, a dry and lush Chenin Blanc from Massa Estate, the former historic Durney Vineyard in Carmel Valley, along with a set of refined neutral oak aged Chardonnays, with his new Escolle Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands version drinking fantastic too. Gamay freaks, like me, are going to want this flamboyantly intriguing, vibrant and clean example, it should be fantastic on release and has all the right stuff and fruit core to age, and it should develop a more savory/earthy character with another few years in bottle if you had the patience to do so, which I doubt as this stuff is so damn good and quaffable even right now.
($38 Est.) 92+ Points, grapelive
2014 J. Bookwalter, Merlot, Book Club Select, Columbia Valley AVA, Washington State.
One of Washington State’s top producers, J. Bookwalter is known for their Cabernet Sauvignon, but like Leonetti do a fabulous Merlot, and with its striking deep color and ripe richness, these wines are hard to resist, especially their Wine Club release Book Club Select from the renown Dionysus Vineyard, which is a site of special character, as the winery notes, it has been long chosen for its perfume and refined tannins.
Bookwalter was founded back in 1982 by Jerry Bookwalter, with a long background in agriculture, who had moved to the area, Eastern Washington, back in 1976, and from 1976 through 1982, Jerry helped manage the plantings of three iconic vineyards – Sagemoor, Bacchus and Dionysus, as well as later became vineyard manager of the famed Conner Lee Vineyard which remains the largest source of grapes for J. Bookwalter wines. These vineyards helped put Washington on the map and have been the source of great fruit for many other celebrated wineries.
J. Bookwalter is now run by John Bookwalter, who is the tenth generation to be involved in the family farming business and has taken the Bookwalter label to new heights in recent years, having hired world-renowned consulting winemakers Zelma Long and Claude Gros to raised the quality and the profile of this outstanding label and in he was able to bring on the celebrated Caleb Foster, who is recognized as one of the top winemakers in the United States, who since 2014 has lifted the winery to new heights.
The Dionysus Vineyard is located together on the dramatic banks of the mighty Columbia River on the southwest facing hillsides where ice age floods exposed the various ideal gravel beds, and on this steep gravelly hillside it makes for intense and powerful Merlot, but with Pomerol like finesse even though it is opulent and new world dense. Foster has been making wine in the region since 1992 and has an amazing understanding and touch with the grapes grown here, with this 2014 Merlot being one of his first start to finish wines for Bookwalter, and his talents, clearly showing here, have really paid off for the winery.
This 2014 feels remarkably fresh in the glass and it takes a few minutes to unfold with sweet blackberries leading the way along with espresso bean and bitter coco before opening up on the expansive, but tightly wound palate, giving black cherry, anise, incense, cedary wood notes and lingering creme de cassis. Air time leads to more complexity and roundness adding earthy mulberry and smoke, and even at about 14.8% natural alcohol it somehow stays lively, never getting bogged down or feeling hot, and the tannin structure is more in line with a Cabernet Sauvignon based wine, it’s impressive and needs robust cuisine to compliment its depth and fullness of flavors. I can imagine this wine aging 10 to 15 years easily without losing a thing, though the window is starting now even, but I suggest decanting and or a hearty meal to allow this Merlot to show it’s best.
($45 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2015 Workman/Ayer, Viognier “Abroachment” Lodi, California.
The crisp, but ripe 100% Viognier “Abroachment” by Workman/Ayer comes from a really exceptional vineyard site and was crafted using only stainless steel and it was all non malo-lactic allowing for a less thick and sweet version of this aromatic grape. With a little age now, this 112 case production Viognier is showing it’s full potential and is in its prime drinking window with nice maturity showing and a pretty texture. Led by Michel Ayer, who oversees the winemaking, continues to impress with this boutique micro winery, the Workman family, his partners, have a long and broad history in the northern California wine business, while the Ayer family has deep roots in agriculture both in Iowa and in California.
These two families have come together to produce small lots of Rhone inspired wines from some California’s finest vineyards, mostly in the Santa Barbara area, but a few from old vines in Lodi under their Workman/Ayer label. Not a shy wine at all, time has allowed things to evolve nicely allowing loads of honeysuckle and apricot jelly to shine through along with hints of orange, peach and melon fruits as well as fig, clove and dried ginger notes. The 2015 Abroachment is a Viognier that fans of this grape in California will adore with plenty of up front perfume and fruit, it is not going to take you Condrieu, but it’s pretty fun!
($20 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2016 Bodega Lanzaga (Telmo Rodriguez) “LZ” Rioja DO, Spain.
One of Spain’s best winemakers, Telmo Rodriguez, who In 1998, returned to Rioja, after making wine in the Rhone at Jean-Louis Chave, and Bordeaux, more experienced and loaded with enthusiasm, wanting to explore a new era of Rioja wine. Besides crafting his family’s famous Remelluri estate, he is producing a signature line of wines made in his ancient cellar from purchased grapes within the region, which includes his Bodegas Lanzaga lineup, made from all organic vines. Telmo’s entry level bodegas Lanzaga bottling, which is the unoaked LZ , made as a Joven, is produced with a blend of old vine sites of head-pruned Tempranillo, Garnacha and Graciano in the Alavesa zone, and from the village of Lanciego. It is a star value offering with a Cotes-du-Rhone like feel, and though it’s a pure Rioja, but one with Telmo’s unique personality and charm showing through.
The LZ, according to Telmo, who is very much a student and admirer of the regions history, is a tribute to the village grape growers of the 1920’s, who fashioned fresh wines like this. it’s a wine fermented in small concrete tanks with selected grapes from, as mentioned, local organic vineyards in the village of Lanziego. With LZ, Rodriguez and his team want to keep alive that memory through this wine. The vines for this little red are located at an altitude of 500 to 700 meters, and set on two types of soils, both of continental origin from the tertiary era, with sandstone and marls (limestone/clay) which gives this wine its vitality, Telmo, to express the true terroir here used native yeasts and raised this LZ with just 6-7 months of aging in concrete tanks.
This 2016 is very dark in the glass with black and blue fruit notes and a mix of floral tones, mineral and spice on the nose that leads to a medium full vigorous palate that again reminds of the Rhone, similar to Vacqueyras, gaining pepper and anise with air, as well as layers of kirsch, racy currant and lavender. The texture is stylish, far more becoming than the price would suggest and the length is even more impressive, this is absolutely delicious stuff, both as a bistro sipper and or with rustic cuisine. Telmo is one one of the world’s most iconic winemakers, known for taking his own path, and while he makes some Grand Cru class stuff, you should not mis his basic LZ, it’s a tasty treat and an insane bargain, I can see a few more cases of this in my own future.
($16 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2013 4 Monos Viticultores, Garnacha “La Danza del Viento” Sierra de Gredos, Vinos de Madrid DO, Spain.
Maybe the boldest expression from these guys and girl at 4 Monos, gang of monkeys, Javier Garcia (also the head winemaker at Méntrida icon Bodegas Jiménez-Landi), co-winemaker Laura Robles, wine-lover David Velasco, and vineyard holder David Moreno. One of the most limited wines from 4 Monos is their Danza del Viento Molino Quemado, it iis from a single parcel named “El Canto de las Brujas” a west-facing plot of 75+ year old Garnacha in the village of San Martín de Valdeiglesias that was planted on rocky granitic soils with gneiss and some pink granite similar to Fleurie in Beaujolais.
The 4 Monos employ old school techniques and focus on natural winemaking with very little sulfur and mostly neutral oak casks, they specialize in old-vine Garnacha, with this one being 100% Garnacha. The grapes used for the Danza del Viento-Molino Quemado were 80% whole-cluster with stems and 100% whole berry cold macerated and 100% wild yeast fermented with a long 50 days maceration on the skins, then it was raised in used 300 and 500 liter barrels for 13 months.
The color of Pinot, the La Danza del Viento 2013 with it’s light garnet/ruby hue is tightly wound and takes a bit of time to unfold in the glass with earthy, lightly funky with a touch of VA, notes on the nose giving way to macerated cherry, strawberry and tangy plum on the light, but structured palate, it takes on a elegant delicacy and intrigue that seduces completely, adding a touch of leather, minty herb and dusty tannins, as well as a rich satiny texture, that certainly remind you this is a natural old world wine, but that only add to the whole thrilling experience, this is wildly amusing wine. Dried herbs, chalky stones and sweet flowers come through with extended air in this pretty wine that delivers on its potential and promise.
4 Monos, along with Comando G, Alfredro Maestro and Jimenez-Landi are leading lights in this area above Madrid, helping made lovely Garnacha from the Sierra de Gredos some of the most interesting and sought after wines in Spain, and after a few vintages I highly recommend discovering them. These wines, from Gredos, are revolutionary and have won fans around the world, don’t miss them.
($42 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2011 J. Rochioli, Pinot Noir, River Block, Estate, Russian River Valley.
The remarkably fresh 2011 River Block estate grown Pinot from Rochioli, is at a great point right now, just now beginning to show a brick orange hue on the edges, while the palate has retained a youthful flourish and vivid floral perfume. The fruit is sweet and polished, framed by smoky wood and a deep rose petal aroma with some Grand Cru intensity that even now brings a touch of bacon fat and it still has some muscle, in fact it reminds me little of a Ann Gross Richebourg and a Elio Altare Barolo! Which in a way makes sense as both those wine are a touch oaky and the 2011 vintage was unusually cool throughout, highlighting brisk acidity, which has preserved this Rochioli River Block well, it’s a wonderfully drinking wine, with impressive mouth feel, that has intense palate impact and stunning length.
One of California’s top Crus, the Estate River Block Vineyard is set close to the Russian River, hence the name and benefits from a slightly cooler effect and while still warm for Pinot this spot has a stellar track record for great wines and this one starts out with it’s pedigree showing with lush textures, bright focus and expansive layers of dark fruits, and while it fades off a bit with air, it is drinking at its best right now. The color is vivid and shines in the glass with a dark garnet hue and it pumps out black cherry, plum and dark berry fruits along with the toasty wood, an array of brown spices, light mineral tones and dried violets, adding black tea and anise. The vintage markers still holding here, with some racy acidity helping curb the density of this wine, this is a year that goes up and down and is an out of character year for most producers in the region, but Rochioli’s River Block still possesses its historic personality and opulence with a serious presence. If you have 2011 Rochioli Pinots, it’s time to bust them and be sure to have a matching meal to experience them at their very best.
($100 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2015 Château de Béru, Chablis “Côte aux Prêtres” White Burgundy, France.
One of the top natural wine producers in Burgundy the historic Chateau de Beru, which was originally founded over 400 years ago, is now run by the irrepressible and talented Athénaïs de Beru, a rising star in the region, and who shakes off tradition to craft many wildly unique bottlings, while still focusing on classic Chablis that showcase terroir. Working the vines using biodynamic certified methods and working in the cellar with pragmatic natural techniques Athénaïs has seduced the wine world with her stylish bottlings, and especially with this Chablis “Côte aux Prêtres” that saw added zero sulfur. Beru’s vines are in very stony plots with its terroir being formed during the Kimmeridgian era and is mainly composed of crushed limestone, hardened clay and marine fossils, from which Chablis gets its driving mineral steeliness and chalky flavors retaining intense acidity.
The 2015 Château de Béru Chablis Côte aux Prêtres, 100% Chardonnay comes from about 40 year old organic vines and is fermented using native yeasts and saw full Malos, raised in a combination of neutral French oak and stainless steel, with the elevate lasting a full 18 months before being bottled unfined and unfiltered, again without the addition of sulfur.
The warm vintage 2015 starts nutty and mineral rich with a saline and phenolic austerity, but the palate sweetens somewhat and while slightly more Jura like than Chablis, this is a compelling wine with mixed stone fruit, citrus and granny smith apple fruits along with liquid mineral, almond oil, wet rock and leesy notes. Drink this sooner v. later I think to keep the freshness of flavors and energy. It’s a unique Chablis, not your average version, but after an hour it comes into it’s own, opening nicely and gaining in detail and length.
Athénaïs Beru does lots of fun things, some wild for this region, she makes a Syrah, an Orange wine, a wonderfully flavorful Irancy Rouge, one of my favorites, made from whole-cluster 100% Pinot Noir (without the legal Cesar), as well as an Amphora aged Chardonnay and even a Vermentino and Carignan, but it’s the Chablis offerings that is the beating heart of this estate, with their the monopole, lieu-dit (like this one)and Premier Crus being highly sought after.
($55 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2016 Domaine la Garrigue, Côtes du Rhône “Cuvée Romaine” Southern Rhone, France.
The Domaine La Garrigue, founded back in 1850, is run by the same same that started it, now overseen by the brothers Bernard, Maxime and Pierre, who are the fifth generation at this historic Rhone estate in Vacqueyras. This family run winery now has the talented Virginie Combe, a member of the 6th generation, is in charge of the winemaking with guidance from the famous Philippe Cambie, who is one of region’s most sought after consultant. Domaine La Garrigue, named for the aromatic shrub that is ever present in the area around Gigondas and Vacqueyras, is largest domaine in the appellation covering 83 hectares, and they farm mostly Grenache, but also have Mourvedre, Cinsault, Syrah, Grenache Blanc and Clairette vines on the three primary terroirs of Vacqueyras zone. The average age of their vines is about 50 years old, but also have some vines well over a century old on a mix of soils that have marl, of clay and limestone in stony parcels on rugged slopes at the foot of the Dentelles de Montmirail.
Deeply colored and flavored the 2016 Domaine la Garrigue is a dark purple/garnet in the glass, it gives off a heady perfume and has a dense palate of fresh boysenberry, plum and sweet cherries adding layers of spice, earth and creme de cassis along with black licorice, this is a very serious wine that not only delivers rich fruit detail, but has plenty of savory substance to back it up. Even with this thick glycerin mouth feel and it’s medium/full body, there is a freshness and vibrancy that keeps everything thrilling from start to finish, it’s impossible not to love this stuff.
The Cuvee Romaine is exclusively made from the US importer Eric Solomon (European Cellars) and is crafted from Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre, and is in fact a declassified Vacqueyras, made whole cluster and raised in 100% concrete vats. From sustainable plots, this blend was from mainly areas that had more clay over limestone with a gravel top soil, which brings out the expressive fruit and it was aged for just about 8 months, all from vines that are over 40 years old. It 2016 it had mainly Grenache and a touch higher percentage of Mourvedre and a small amount of Syrah and it shows incredible complexity and depth for a wine of this price, rivaling wine easily three or four times the price!
($15 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2015 St. Innocent, Pinot Noir, Temperance Hill Vineyard, Eola-Amity Hills AVA, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
Mark Vlossak, one Oregon’s legendary Pinot masters, is still putting out outstanding wines, and his single vineyard bottling are some of the greatest values in North American Pinot Noir, especially his Freedom Hill and (this) Temperance Hill offerings. Vlossak’s 2015 Temperance Hill Vineyard is from mostly old vine plots, with the East Block coming from vines planted back in 1984, while the Pumphouse Block is from 1995, with the young R parcel is the only outliner being from a planting in 2004, all which are set on weathered basalt soils, only about 1o miles northwest of Salem on a hilltop that is much cooler than most of the surrounding sites in this area.
This 2015 Temperance Hill from St. Innocent, which was 100% de-stemmed, was fermented in a combination of stainless and French oak fermentors with native yeast without SO2 and then raised in about 20% new French oak for 16 months, bottled unfined and all by gravity feed with no pumping, all to make a seriously pure and vivid example of Pinot Noir. Mission accomplished, as this is wonderfully fleshy and layer, with ripe fruit density, but sublimely fresh and vibrant with tons of energy showing a deep sense of place, allowing a heady perfume, spice and acidity to come through behind the core mix of black and red fruits. The palate seduces with dark roses, black cherry, plum and vine picked wild berries along with hints of Asian spices, dusty stones, light mineral tones, cedar and briar notes.
This Pinot is still youthful, as with most St. Innocent, it’s solid, it will gain with time in bottle, and it should age for another decade without much change, meaning no fall off, at all, so if you open this exceptional wine soon, decanting will allow a fuller opening, and be sure to plan an evening around it with a meal. Cuisine brings out so much more intensity, intrigue and elegance in this vintage and focuses the beautiful details and structure, this is fantastic stuff that gains with every minute of air and every bite of food allowing the tannins to melt into silk, while still holding it’s nerve. Drink this beautifully made Pinot Noir over the next 5 to 10 years, it is going to be rewarding over the long haul, even though it is close to sublime even now.
($45 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2016 Saint Cosme, Côtes-du-Rhône Rouge, Rhone Valley, France.
One of my all time favorite go to wines for any occasion is Louis Barruol’s 100% Syrah Côtes-du-Rhône, it’s a Southern Rhone negociant bottling that uniquely favors Syrah over Grenache, but that is seriously quaffable and offers a depth that way over performs for the price. I loved the up scale version Deux Albion, but at this price, this wine is serious good and authentic in style with a touch of garrigue, anise, leather and is loaded with pure fruit, obviously from a great vintage in the Rhone, it will continue to please for many years, though I find it nearly perfect now and guiltless.
Barruol’s Saint Cosme Côtes-du-Rhône, comes from Vinsobres and the Villafranchian terraces of the Gard department, with limestone, sand, red clay and pebbly soils, it was partial whole cluster and partial de-stemmed which was fermented and raised in tank. The 2016 vintage, coming after a great 2015 is from smaller yields, ripe fruit, but with a touch more fresh acidity that should actually help make it stand out and age a little longer, if fact I love it right now. Barruol notes also, that he had have seen two vintages of such a high standard in succession (and I hear 2017 is just as good!). The 2016 may even prove to be better over time because yields were lower, as mentioned above, than in 2015. he adds, and it’s worth repeating many times that the Côtes-du-Rhône wine zones, especially Saint Cosme’s, are an extraordinary winemaking playground, and great for those who like quality at a value price. As the region combines old vines, magnificent terroirs, fairly low yields and an outstanding climate, as is perfectly clear here in (his) Saint Cosme Côtes-du-Rhône Rouge.
This 2016 version starts with a nose of spice, herbs, wild flowers, red berry and cassis before entering the medium/full palate with layers of boysenberry, sweet plum and kirsch along with garrigue, a hint of stems, peppercorns, melted salty, black licorice and lingering with tangy blueberry and a mix of lavender and violets, adding a touch of dusty/earth, embers and framboise. There is a ripe sense of tannin and grip that begs for food, but it’s wonderfully easy and hedonistic, it’s hard to imagine a better deal on such a tasty wine, drink this over the next year or two, and keep an eye out for the 2017 which just now available. This Cotes du Rhone, while all Syrah still has a feel of the warm southern Rhone and reflects the Mediterranean sun and influence, it’s impossible to sip on this wine without a huge grin ear to ear.
($15 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2016 Eden Rift, Chardonnay, Terraces Estate, Cienega Valley AVA, California.
Just down the road from the famous Calera and Mount Halan, Eden Rift is a new premium estate winery in the Cienega Valley, near the town of Hollister with unique terroir and soil conditions with this estate series Chardonnay coming from a terraced vineyard site that faces east on rocky calcareous soils. This property was one of California’s first wine estates, being founded and planted back in 1849 and has been cultivating wine grapes continuously ever since. Eden Rift is a new name for this estate, it was known as Pietra Santa until a new family purchased the property a few years back, sitting on the famous San Andreas Fault, it’s in a remote area, feeling a cool breeze from the pacific and located under the shadow of the Gavilan Mountain Range, which helps this warm terroir keep a sense of balance in the wines.
This winery has the potential to be something great and I really enjoyed this 2016 Terraces Estate Series Chardonnay, and I cannot wait to try the 2017 and 2018 vintages as they are looking like sublime years in terms of quality a major step up from the drought affected years of 2013 to 2016, I have the feeling after trying a few wines from Eden Rift the future looks extremely promising. That said, in a blind tasting of bUrgundy wines, this 2016 Terraces was a ringer that I had down as maybe an old vine Sant Veran or something close with a nice sense of balance, they made it from their Block T and it sits at about 1,500 feet up, this elevation helps this Chardonnay not get over heated or flabby and has an extended hang time for good flavor development. It was mostly native yeast ferment, coming at about 80% Indigenous and with about 20% using Montrachet yeasts, which add a reductive note, and it was all barrel fermented with 100% malo and 25% new, all French oak.
The winemaking team whole cluster pressed the Terraces Chardonnay and the let it settle cold for 24 hours before racking to barrel where it spent about 15 months aging sur lie before bottling in January of 2018. It’s medium/full is weight and has lots of extract and acidity to remain vibrant showing peach, apple and pear fruits at its core along with some lemon, honeysuckle and golden fig adding complexity along with a hint of clove and vanilla spiciness all in a polished fashion, not too oaky or buttery, but rather generous in mouth feel. With air this lightly golden/yellow Chardonnay adds hint of mandarin orange, honey/bee’s wax and nice chalky note, it was composed of four barrels only with two clones, 42% Chardonnay clone 4 and the rest clone 76 and came in at 14.2% alcohol that is really the only tell tale hint that it was from the new world, otherwise this is very traditional in style with a subtle richness, and it’s drinking quite impressively right now, and while a touch pricy, it is quality stuff and with only 100 cases out there it is worth a look.
($54 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2015 Wind Gap, by Pax Mahle, Syrah, Sonoma Coast.
The Wind Gap Sonoma Coast, is sourced from top sites, and in 2015 proprietor Pax Mahle (of Wind Gap and Pax Wines) did not bottle his Armaugh, Majik or Walker-Vine Hill vineyard designates, because of tiny yields in this drought vintage. The little fruit he was able to harvest off those sites ended up going into this, the appellation-level Syrah, under his Wind Gap label. Those conditions and Pax’s talent in the cellar all led to a purple/opaque, pefumed and full-bodied effort with classic Pax character, making for a much more serious version of this wine, which is not usually this deep or dense, it’s a sleeper wine that will be coveted by the Pax faithful and Syrah fans.
Pax himself adds, the palate shows the fruit of Nellessen immediately with subtle black pepper and silky concentrated fruit. It isn’t until later that you get the firm black fruit tannin and intense iron and game from the Armagh Vineyard and the smoky incense sexuality of the Majik Vineyard. With Wind Gap now fading away, with most wines now being put under the main Pax label, there are lots of retail outlets giving huge discounts, and I got this for the cost of an average Cotes du Rhone! Making it an even better value than its already reasonable release price, I suggest people search out these deals too! The other thing I’ll mention, if this is the entry level wine, be sure to get on to Pax’s upper level offerings, especially the upcoming 2015 Syrahs, like his Griffin’s Lair!
The fruit is outspoken here on this 2015 with ripe opulence and deep flavors, explosive on the palate with sweet plum, boysenberry, blueberry compote and juicy black cherry fruits along with loads of mouth filling texture, wild flowers, faint peppery notes and lingering creme de cassis and baking spices. With Pax’s reputation for gorgeous and balanced Syrah, I came to this one with high expectations, and I was not left wanting. At only 13.2% natural alcohol, this is really lovely stuff, vivid to the core and a wine that has years of life left, drink over the next 3 to 5 years or longer.
($24-36 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2015 Domaine Caroline Morey, Santenay Rouge “Le Chainey” Cote de Beaune, France.
The historic Morey family has many famous names and domaines, almost too many to list, but Caroline Morey is one to search out, she’s the daughter of Jean-Marc Morey who retired in 2014 and gifted her a few prized vineyards and parcels to start her own label. It must also be noted Caroline is married to Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey, one of Burgundy’s hottest winemakers and she shares many methods and with a shared approach to winemaking. So it’s going to be interesting to see where her wines get to quality wise, but if they follow what I found in the bottle here with her Santenay Le Chainey Rouge, then she is certainly going to be a star in her own right.
The 2015 is slightly reductive at first, but is utterly charming, lighter in form than expected from the vintage, gaining personality and grace every minute with air showing rose petal delicacy, a hint of smoke and layers of tangy red cherry, strawberry and tart red currant fruits along with a mix of tea spices, bramble and blood orange note all wrapped up in a lovely medium weight body and smooth palate with silken textures and mild acidity.
Her heirloom vineyards, throughout Chassagne and Santenay, give her an advantage of great fruit sources, usually especially challenging for a start up domaine in Burgundy, so she has hit the ground running and has some wonderful premier releases out that show considerable quality, precision and terroir focus. In the cellar Caroline echos her husband’s ethos with indigenous yeasts ferments and barrel aging in bigger barrels with the use of 350L casks, also in not stirring the lees to keep things more intensely vibrant, while still delivering textural richness, in particular in her white, but the reds are lovely too, as this one shows.
Caroline Morey is an all Cote de Beaune winery as she vinifies about 60% white wine and 40% red wine all from appellations in Santenay, Chassagne-Montrachet and Beaune, with her winemaking operations, along with Pierre Yves, who I assume is helping in crafting these wines, all done at a new purpose-built facility just on the outskirts of Chassagne. Coming from vines located in the southern sector of Santenay quite high on the slope adjoining 1er Cru Grand Clos Rousseau, the Santenay Le Chainey is 100% de-stemmed and the wine is aged in mostly used French oak with about 30% new barrels in 2015, which is pretty classic stuff, making for a pretty Pinot Noir with a lighter profile, but with ripe vintage character, it’s a wine that grows on you, no question.
($45 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2017 Julien Sunier, Morgon, Cru Beaujolais, France.
Natural wine star, Julien Sunier, who got his start working in the cellar at Christophe Roumier after which he made surf and winemaking pilgrimages to California and New Zealand before starting his domaine in Beaujolais, back in 2008, getting grapes from old-vine, hilltop parcels in the Cru villages of Fleurie, Morgon and Régnié. The Dijon born Sunier has shown a remarkable flair in his recent vintages, raising his talents to the level of many top estates here like Lapierre, Foillard, Thevenet and Dutraive, with a passion for organic viticulture and non intervention gentile winemaking that highlights each terroir and vintage, these are soulful expressions and racy wines.
This latest release of Sunier Morgan is at first bright, but takes on a dark profile with black violets, blackberry, tangy currant, sweet strawberry and plum fruit along with a touch of stemmy spice, wild herb, anise and dark wood notes all with that carbonic opulence, but with a chewy structure and a medium weight body. The 2017 vintage, is for me, the best yet from Sunier and his flagship wine is his Morgon with it’s three lieu-dit blend from Cote de Py, Corcellette and Charms, all ancient vine sites made famous especially by Jean Foillard, set on these granite soils. Sunier employed all natural carbonic fermentation using Indigenous yeast in concrete vats at low temperatures to keep intensity of the fruit and fresh detail before using his ancient Burgundy vertical press, racking to well used barrels or Futs where the Gamey is raised for 9 months before bottling, as per normal, unfined and unfiltered with exceptionally low sulfur.
While some reviewers have raised concerns for this vintage which was hit hard by hail, I have found the wines lively and minerally with a gripping sense of force, less earthy and feral as the 2016, but not as hedonistic and fruity as 2015, and I adore what I’ve tasted, again especially from Sunier, who must have really been careful in the vineyard and selective in the cellar, for me they are impressive in depth and personality. This fruit driven and floral wine takes on a more serious nature with air adding mineral tones, umami (savory) elements and length, it’s a seductively charming Gamay that lacks for nothing and has a true sense of place. Drink this is a wine that should get better over the next 2 to 3 years in bottle and have a window of a decade at least.
($38 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2017 Domaine de la Bergerie, Anjou Rouge “La Cerisaie” by Yves Guegniard, Loire Valley, France.
Yves Guegniard’s Domaine de la Bergerie, a Loire Valley estate, lies on the terroirs of Anjou, at the eastern end of the Armorican massive. It sits on the schist bedrock of Anjou, and Bergerie’s vineyard site is about 36 hectares, benefiting from a mix of varied soils and from the mildness of the oceanic climate that allows a fresh style and an array of varietals from classic Cabernet Franc and Chenin Blanc to the rare local Grolleau, Plus as is the case in Anjou they have a small percentage of Cabernet Sauvignon as well, they craft Reds, Whites, Rosé and a lovely Sparkling Crémant de Loire. These value priced wines offer tons of personality, refinement and pleasure that, in a lighter and transparent way, highlight the region’s unique terroir. I’ve been following this Domaine for a few years now, and I adore all the wines from this estate, the are just pure examples and are quality offering with nice packaging, especially good is their Brut Crémant de Loire with it’s polished form, lively mousse and regal brioche notes, as well as this killer bargain Anjou Rouge, it’s a clean juicy wine without rough edges or harsh chewy tannin, focused more on expressive youthful fruit.
Yves along with his daughter Anne crafted this bright and quaffable Anjou Rouge from about 80% Cabernet Franc and 20% Cabernet Sauvignon, it is fresh in style and drinks easily with clean and vibrant detail, pretty floral tones and less aggressive green or bell pepper notes showing crushed violets, cinnamon stick, mineral and stony elements with a core of blackberry, plum and cherry fruits with that hint of tell tale Loire Valley Cabernet Franc grilled bell pepper, as well as a lingering racy currant and anise. The grapes were vinified de-stemmed and separate by varietal with about a 15 day maceration and primary ferment before being raised in tank or cuve for about 9 months, all to allow crisp detail and a sense of place to show through. This dark garnet hued La Cerisaie is styled in a way that allows early enjoyment, but with substance, it’s medium body and complexity makes for a wine that way over performs for the asking price, it’s great as Bistro or house red and it’s remarkably flexible in the same way a Cotes du Rhone or Beaujolais Villages are. This is a drink now Cab Franc from Domaine de la Bergerie, with soft tannins, it can be served with a slight chill for warm days or stand up to more robust cuisine too, it should age nicely as well, when it loses some of its fruit and gains a touch of earthiness, though best over the next 3 to 5 years.
($18 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2017 Cave Yves Cuilleron, Syrah “Les Vignes d’à Côté” Vin de France, Northern Rhone, France.
One of the Northern Rhone’s top guns, Yves Cuilleron is making some of the best wine of his career, with the last three vintages all being outstanding, so it was really cool to get an early sample of his 2017 Syrah, which is gloriously pure and delicious, to see what this vintage will look like in comparison, and while his 2015 and 2016 were absolutely awesome, this 2017 looks just as good f not better! Cave Yves Cuilleron, once known as just the Family Cuilleron was founded back in 1920, and Yves’ grandfather was the first in the region to actually bottle wine commercially for sales, prior it was almost all sold in bulk or casks, back in 1947, Yves himself assumed full ownership and direction of the domaine in 1987, taking over from his uncle, and since that time has built an entirely new facility in the area of Chavanay.
While most known for his Condrieu and Cote-Rotie he also makes a stellar collection of Saint-Joseph, Cornas and Crozes-Hermitage as well as a line of varietal wines including this 100% Syrah from granite and alluvial soils near his village, Chavanay, near the border with the Crozes zone, in the Collines Rhodaniennes, in a steep parcel of vines. The Les Vignes d’a Cote is a special cuvee that saw all de-stemmed grapes, it was fermented in cuve and aged in a combination of stainless and small neutral barriques to allow for expressive detail and freshness, it’s a great starter wine to get to know the Northern Rhone and is always an outstanding value.
This 2017 Les Vignes d’a Cote is striking and with exceptional varietal character, showing a deep purple/garnet color in the glass and with a beautiful perfume of crushed violets, primary black and blue fruits, spices and camphor notes that not only come through on the nose, but transfer to the palate as well, there is ripe blueberry, plum and black cherry fruits as well as subtle creme de cassis, black olive, fresh ground peppercorns, faint cedar and anise. The mouth feel is richer and more substantial than you’d expect from this bottling, highlighting what looks like a great vintage in the making, and the Cuilleron elegance and finesse is on full display, this is a case worthy, if not more, wine to enjoy over the next couple of years while you cellar your Cote-Rorie, Saint-Joseph and or Crozes-Hermitage!
($18 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2016 Scar of the Sea, Pinot Noir, Seven Leagues, Santa Maria Valley.
Scar of the Sea wines is a small production wine and cider label, that developed between long-time friends and colleagues, Mikey Giugni and Michael Brughelli. These guys believe the most important part of their wines and their cider is where they are grown, and how the location, climate, and soils matter. These are wines and ciders that are crafted with minimal manipulation, all with the purpose of making easy to drink and transparent in style, and as they put it, all the vineyards and orchards are influenced by the closeness to sea, with maritime soils, and climates, producing Pacific Ocean infused wines and ciders that are unique to the Central Coast of California. I have had a few of their wines in recent years, each shows good delicacy and gracious cool climate fruit, and this 2016 is one of the best I’ve tried from Mikey Guigni and Michael Brughelli, it’s open and generous on the palate and with beautiful balance and length, very impressive stuff.
This pair loves surfing and the outdoors, with Michael and Mikey noting that they met while Mikey was in his final years of college at Cal Poly, becoming thick as thieves, based on their shared interest and fascination in wine and the ocean. Getting started, Michael worked as a winemaker at Kenneth Volk Vineyards, learning about the Central Coast terroir and Giugni went on a winemaking and maybe a bit of surfing adventure to the southern hemisphere that included a stint at Pipers Bridge Winery on Australia’s remote island of Tasmania, where he also learned to make ciders. That trip left a deep impression and helped spark the creation of Scar of the Sea, interestingly the name came from a sign on an old gate that Mikey saw on his trip, though he didn’t know the real translation actually was Star of the Sea since it was written in ancient old English!
This 2016 Seven Leagues Pinot Noir by Scar of the Sea comes from selected picks at both Bien Nacido and Solomon Hills Vineyard, all fermented with native yeast with this cuvee getting about 25% whole cluster and raised in close to 20% new French oak barrels with 14 months of elevage. Clearly a lot of the grapes for this gorgeous Pinot were from old vine plots from the famed Bien Nacido Vineyard that was first planted to Pinot Noir back in 1973, making it one of the oldest vineyards in the region, as the wine here has lovely complexity and concentration, the part that comes from the Solomon Hills, which is the western most vineyard in the Santa Maria Valley appellation, and the coolest of all vineyards in this growing region adds striking precision, deep color and vibrant acidity keeping things wonderfully focused. The nose has lovely rose petals and primary red fruits along with a hint of earth, spice and subtle wood notes before the attack unfolds with an opulent assault in the mouth delivering a vivid array Pinot flavors in a medium weighted wine that shows black cherry, raspberry, plum and background of pomegranate and cranberry fruits along with a faint hint of heirloom tomato, chalk, vanilla and orange tea. All this is wrapped up in a satiny body with a pretty garnet/ruby hue, making for stylish and well crafted Pinot Noir, it is really drinking fabulous right now, it should age well as well, this is a winery to watch and this wine is one that shouldn’t be missed.
($46 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2014 Westrey, Chardonnay, Oracle Vineyard, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
Westrey Wine Company, a small producer of Burgundy style Pinot Noir and Chardonnay was founded back in 1993, at about the same time as many of the second wave of top winemakers got to Oregon, they are from that same core group with Mike Etzel of Beaux Freres, Mark Vlossack of St. Innocent and John Paul of Cameron to name just a few, and they were one very few that saw the potential in Willamette Valley Chardonnay. Westrey represents the collaborative winemaking efforts of Amy Wesselman and David Autrey, and have been a team for a long time in the region, Amy and David source fruit from some of Oregon’s premier vineyards, including their own estate plantings in the Red Hills of Dundee.
The Oracle Vineyard, where is old school Chardonnay comes from is an old vine site on the Jory (red volcanic) soils in the Dundee Hills AVA which was originally planted in 1977, and in this 2014 vintage, a wonderful year for Oregon, they got perfectly balanced fruit from these elderly vines. Working old school and using traditional Burgundian methods, Amy and David under still under the radar outside of Oregon, but craft beautiful wines that deserve a greater audience, and in particular this intriguing Chardonnay.
The layered and opulent 2014 Oracle Chard starts with a nose that flirts with perfume and toasty leesy elements with a deep golden hue in the glass showing white flowers, lemon curd, brioche and peach tart before leading to a medium/full palate of apple, pear, apricot, spicy clove, wet rock, butterscotch and white anise, which reminds me a bit of Corton-Charlemagne! Gains a bit of weight with air and textural impact, but even as this smooth Chard moves into maturity it stays bright and focused, this Westrey has lots of class and glorious complexity, it is one of the finest Oregon Chards for the price, and is highly impressive. This is a wine that could age another 3 to 5 years, but it’s drinking top notch right now.
($29 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2016 Domaine Yves Boyer-Martenot, Meursault “Les Chaumes” White Burgundy, France.
One of my favorite wines of the vintage, for far, from Burgundy is Vincent Boyer’s Meursault Les Chaumes 2016, it’s a beautiful and layered Chardonnay that in many ways reminds me a bit more of a Grand Cru Corton-Charlemagne than a Meursault, such is the density, complexity and its impressive presence in the glass. I was thrilled to meet Vincent Boyer and spend an evening tasting Burgundy, trying to pick his brain and enjoying the remarkable quality and regal personality of his wines.
Boyer, who is visiting from his home in Meursault, enjoying time with friends and checking out the winemaking in the Monterey region, joined our tasting group to do a blind tasting of Burgundy wines, which included a few of his own thrown into the mix, and of the whites, his really stood out, being head and shoulders above the competition on the night, and I my opinion, especially his 2016 Les Chaumes. It was a star studded night with Sam Smith of Morgan Winery and his own Samuel Louis Smith Wines label and Russell Joyce of Joyce Wine Company, who had hosted Vincent at his winery in Salinas, where they sampled some wines from Monterey that impressed the talented Burgundian.
Vincent’s Domaine Yves Boyer-Martenot, is mostly known for their great whites, that include a brilliant selection of Meursault and Puligny-Montrachets, but also have a set of reds as well, from Volnay and Pommard. This famous estate made its name after World War II, when André Boyer inherited the Domaine from his mother Lucie, who up until then had been heroically running the winery entirely by herself, in 1945 André married Juliette Devèze, who was born and raised in the adjoining village of Puligny Montrachet, and had a son Yves, who continued his families tradition, taking over the Domaine and it was at this point when it became Boyer-Martenot, as he married Marie Cécile Martenot, the daughter of a winemaker in Meursault. Vincent Boyer their son is now the owner and winemaker of the Domaine, and his efforts has brought the real and current fame to this property that has a elite collection of vines in the chalky soils of the Cote de Beaune.
The estate practices sustainable farming, avoiding pesticides and herbicides, and Boyer uses indigenous yeasts for his fermentations. All grape harvesting is exclusively done by hand, with extreme care and selection. Grapes are whole cluster pressed then fermented naturally in temperature-controlled, stainless steel tanks with aging in a mix of older and new French oak barrels (no more than 30% new wood) for about 12 months. According to their importer, the Meursault from Boyer-Martenot today is more expressive than ever, something I would agree with completely from my recent experience.
Vincent’s philosophy, according to him, of less-is-more in the cellar means what you experience in each bottle is exactly what each unique vineyard and each perfect grape has to give. The hard working and soil focused Vincent, along with his sister Sylvie who helps him run the estate, has become a treasure of his region, while most Meursault winemakers blend, sites and grapes from different zones within the region, Boyer vinifies and bottles many of his wines from his villages vineyards separately, to highlight unique and individual terroirs and sites, like this Les Chaumes. Through his efforts at this estate, these single-vineyard Meursault wines have found their own singular voices, which was amazingly clear in our tasting, showing just how varied and captivating great Meursault(s) can be, even from less known plots.
The beautiful and seductive, richly flavored 2016 Les Chaumes comes From the lieu dit ‘Les Chaumes’, which sits directly above the 1er Cru Perrieres and adjacent to Narvaux, with sustainable farmed 35+ year old vines set on clay-limestone soils, and as mention Vincent allowed primary to go with indigenous yeast in tank and used just 10% new oak on this very expressive and full bodied wine without fining or filtration. With layers upon layer this Meursault Les Chaumes starts with a lovely white flowers perfume and with a hint of stony notes as well as delicate toasty elements along with golden/yellow fruits that include apple, apricot, racy citrus and with an array of mineral, clove spice, light hazelnut and white fig. The textural opulence is on par with much more heralded Premier Crus and or Grand Cru wines, making this wine that much more awesome in the glass, while still being gorgeously proportioned and finely balanced with lovely lively acidity adding plenty of pop and adding to the overall feeling of focus and substance in this stellar white Burgundy. I can imagine it getting more interesting with time in the bottle, but honestly it’s fabulous even right now.
($60 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2000 Domane Mugneret-Gibourg, Vosne-Romanee, Red Burgundy, France.
It’s always a joy to have a bottle of Vosne-Romanee presented to you to taste and especially such an iconic label such as Mugneret-Gilbourg, a wine that shamefully I don’t often get around to having much, but a domaine I always keep an eye out for, in particular this village wine that is a classic. While 2000 may not be a remarkable Burgundy vintage, though this bottle is drinking well, and the winery itself has only more recently, since the 2005 become one of the grand estates in the region, where it is now right up there with the fabled Domaine Romanee-Conti, Armand Rousseau and Mugnier!
Georges Mugneret himself and then those of his talented daughters Marie-Christine and Marie-Andrée following Georges’ death in 1988, always had a solid reputation for the wines here, but as noted, they have in the last 15 years have really raised their game and these wine carry a significant prestige. The village Vosne, from 70 plus year old vines is highly sought after for it’s quality and value in this elite echelon of Burgundy, and I found the 2000 at this point in a near perfect place for the vintage and the slightly rustic character it displays full of old school charm, it’s earthy seductive with hint of maturity that adds to the soulful expression, it has reached a point where the sharp edges have melted away and there is a serious silken mouth feel with just a hint of rawness and delicate tannins. As noted by others that are more experienced than myself, it would seem that
The Mugneret sisters show particular skill in their use of new oak, as I only taste a enough to known it’s there, of which the percentage increases from the basic Bourgogne to the ultra concentrated Grands Crus, will this Vosne seeing maybe 25% new, yet it is seamlessly integrated into the wine, as I’m sure it is will all their bottlings. Because of the strict selection at harvest, and the gentle racking of their wines fining and filtration are unnecessary, allowing as much purity of place and grapes to shine through. This 2000 takes a few minutes to wake up, but once open and flowing the medium weight palate gathers itself and delivers a fine performance with a slightly stewy note and autumn leaves element blowing off quickly to allow pretty rose petals, plum and mulberry. In the minutes that follow as your attention gets reset there is a darker/dusty cherry core that emerges and some pretty violet florals come out, along with a touch of smoke, mineral tones, black tea, baking spices and a faint leathery note.
This is not a blockbuster of a wine, but a nicely aging Burgundy of a fine filament quality. Besides this Vosne-Romanee, be sure to look for their old vine Nuits-St.-Georges, it is a sleeper in their lineup, but always keep an eye out for this one, especially in better years, it’s a rewarding prize, since they are very difficult to find. It was a pleasure to try what is considered one of the very best Vosne village wines out there, it is as mentioned a really lovely wine, though I don’t see it getting better at this stage, and it makes me want more Mugneret-Gilbourg, especially younger vintages like 2008, 2010, 2012 and 2015 that should be mind blowing!
($125-200 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2009 Paolo Scavino, Barolo “Carobric” Piedmonte, Italy.
Paolo Scavino, run by Enrico, the late Paolo’s son, as well as his two daughters Enrica and Elisa, who are now stepping to become the new face of this famous Barolo producer that was founded back in 1921, and well known for their amazing examples of Barolo. Ever the perfectionist, Enrico continues to experiment with small lots and single parcel fermentation of his Nebbiolo to make the best wines possible from his great vineyard holdings in the Castiglione zone, where they have their famous Cru on Fiasco Hill, the renown Bric del Fiasc. Scavino also has prime spots in Cannubi, Rocche Annunziata, Bricco Ambrogio and most recently a piece of Verduno’s Cru Monviglero all which provide great material for their lineup. The winery is one of the most modern and clear in the region, though they use some small French barriques they have re-focused their winemaking to use less new oak and craft a more traditional Barolo.
These days Scavino vinifies in stainless steel tanks using native yeasts, all with temperature control and cool with about 12 days of maceration and a 25 day or so primary ferment before a 10 month spell in mostly neutral French oak, then rested another 12 months in large Slavonian casks before returning to stainless for another 10 months prior to bottling. The results are remarkably consistent and Scavino is always one of the elite wines of the vintage, they are wonderfully refined, but with a real sense of power and structure, even in warm vintages, like this 2009 Carobric Barolo, which slows fabulous detail, depth and vibrancy, it’s an absolute beauty with ripe silky tannin and lovely perfumed fruit. This Carobric comes from three of Scavino’s best terroirs, it’s mainly sourced from Rocche di Castiglione vineyard, in Falletto, as well as having smaller percentages of Cannubi and the estate Grand Cru Fiasco vineyard, all which highlight the house style and make for a elegant version of Barolo, but with classic form and balance.
Don’t be fooled by the finesse and smoothness on this 2009 edition of Carobric, it’s a sexy and full bodied Barolo that lacks for nothing and should continue to age well with gorgeous layers of damson plum, brandied cherry, cranberry and spiced raspberry along with dried roses, meatiness, cinnamon, minty herbs, anise and light balsamic notes with faint earth, mineral and sandalwood. This Barolo has plenty of stuffing with mouth filling density and pretty mouth feel, it’s a wine that is entering it’s prime at almost 10 years old, drink over the next 3 to 5 years, Scavino is always a treat in the glass and this rusty/ruby red Barolo is drinking wonderful right now.
($70 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
nv Vilmart & Cie. Cuvee Rubis, Premier Cru Brut Rosé Champagne, a Rilly la Montagne, France.
When you think about luxurious Champagne, Vilmart comes to mind and should, these are some of the most beautiful and thrilling wines in the region, there’s no question in my mind Laurent Champs (at Vilmart) is one of the best producers of sparkling wine in the world, and tasting a wine like this Cuvee Rubis is proof. Vilmart & Cie., founded back in 1890, has always been a récoltant-manipulant, or a grower producer, making their Champagne exclusively from estate-owned vines, which is all grown using organic viticulture and exceptionally low yields.
Vilmart, since 1989, has been in the hands of Laurent Champs, the fifth generation of the family to head the estate and has truly brought this Champagne house to the highest level, right up there with the famous Krug! Like Krug and Dom. Vilmart makes age worthy vintage Champagne, but while the vintage stuff needs a few years under cork to show their best Champs’ non vintage offerings are gorgeous on release, showing opulence, vitality and depth. This is especially true with his latest disgorgement of Cuvee Rubis Brut Rosé with it’s bright red berry notes, creamy mousse and decedent body, it’s a stunning wine of class and exotic in character.
This Rubis, with mostly Pinot Noir is a blend of, or a Cépages of 90 % Pinot Noir and 10% Chardonnay made from an assemblage of vintages: 2013-2014, coming from two sites, vineyard/Villages with grapes sourced from estate plots in Rilly la Montagne 1er Cru and Villers Allerand 1er Cru, both outstanding Premier Crus, with the elevage in oak casks with no malos. This edition, beautifully pink/salmon/magenta in the glass, is one of the best I’ve tried with lovely perfume, vitality and a hedonistic vinous mouth feel as well as a gracious generous presence in the glass, while still having a tight focus and firm structure, this is a Brut Rosé Champagne that has the wow factor and far and away blows past expectations, this is beautiful, beautiful grower fizz! Layer upon layer of elegance with stunning form from start to finish, with seductive violets, cassis, strawberry, cherry and pink citrus leading the way on the wonderfully vivid palate along with hints of baking spice, mineral tones, brioche, along with a studied play, or tension between creamy toasty roundness and vibrancy, transparency and detail.
Vilmart promises a good time with every bottle and while stellar on
their own, they happily will take center stage, but they are amazing
food wines too, best to enjoy with matching cuisine, I can’t think of
many better ways to celebrate life and friendship than with a bottle of
Vilmart, in particular their Brut Rosé Champagne(s) like this one.
($75-80 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2017 Field Recordings, Chenin Blanc, Central Coast, California.
Winemaker and nurseryman Andrew Jone’s Field Recordings wines are, according to him a catalog of single vineyard sites, and in some cases multi-site blends, that produce wines with a sense of place, soul and personality, with his keen eye for top vineyards and plants (vines) he has carved out a lovely niche to work from, and especially good is his Chenin Blanc from old vine plantings in the central coast.
The 2017 was picked from mainly Jurassic Park, an own rooted site that was originally planted back in 1978 very close to Los Olivos in the Santa Ynez Valley, just north of Santa Barbara, but also with Martin Ranch planted in 1981 and Shell Creek, that has vines that date back to 1972, so it is in many ways a real taste of California Chenin Blanc history in the glass! In fact, Jone’s first wine was his Jurassic Park Chenin and it remains very close to his heart, and with good reason, as it rivals most new generation versions of this grape as well as some of the state’s early Chenin heros like Daniel Gehrs and Chalone. With a nod to the Loire Valley, the spiritual home to Chenin and the areas like Vouvray, Saumur and Savennieres, this dry Chenin is bright, fresh and mineral with just 11.5% natural alcohol, made in a traditional fashion.
The 2017 Central Coast old vines Chenin Blanc by Field Recordings, known as their Vieilles Vignes Cuvee, is bright and wonderfully peachy with a lovely waxy texture with good acidity, subtle mineral tones and a crisply dry, but honeyed finish. This yellowy/gold pale Chenin adds melon, citrus and white flowers with air as well as gaining a touch of dried ginger, earth, verbena and wet stones in a finely tuned old vine wine that impresses for it’s finesse and expressive varietal character, better yet, it should age gracefully too.
($21 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive PublishedGrapelive: Wine of the Day January 14, 2019 is now live.
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nv Equipo Navazos, Navazos Manzanilla Saca of June, 2016, En Rama, Dry Sherry, Sanlucar de Barrameda, Jerez-Xeres-Sherry, Spain.
Equipo Navazos is almost single handedly making Sherry great again, they are sourcing and putting out some absolutely amazing bottings, if it ever was a time to re-discover this region and explore the many different style, it’s now! According to Sherry Notes, the Equipo Navazos started as a group of Spanish sherry lovers led by wine writer Jesús Barquín, a professor of criminology and Andalusian wine expert/ writer, and Eduardo Ojeda, the technical director of Grupo Estévez. It all began In 2005 when this private group found 65 butts of exceptionally fine 20+ year old Amontillado hidden away in the bodega Sánchez Ayala in Sanlúcar, they just knew they had to share their good fortune. They realized that it was a shame that so many brilliant sherry butts were lying around in large Sherry bodegas, often with low volumes that were commercially not interesting to be bottled separately, but too good to be part of a large-scale solera blend, and that is how they discovered their mission. Together with 30 or so friends and professionals, they selected one cask, bottled it and split the bottles titled La Bota de Amontillado / Navazos n°1, then later on it became their business and passion to share the love to the world and find Sherry enthusiasts that would rejoice in being able to get ultra small lot special Sherry that showed unique characteristics with exceptional quality.
A decade or so later Equipo Navazos is now a world class firm with a cult like following, and while staying true to their core mission of finding and releasing single Bota(s) they have also pushed the envelope of Sherry, putting out a dry white and doing a Sherry infused Cava Sparkling just to name a few intriguing extras.
And while discovering Sherry, a Spanish region just north of Cadiz in Andalucia and part of the Jerez de la Frontera, can be rather daunting for the novice, Equipo Navazos is providing a stylish gateway into this world of weirdness and beauty, from sexy Pedro Ximenez (a grape varietal), known simply as PX, sweet stuff, to dry/oily old nutty goodies like Palo Cortado (a style) and Amontillado (a style), to crisply dry, salty and tangy Finos (a light dry fresh style) and like this Manzanilla (super brisk style) that is great with tapas and as a refreshing aperitif. Then there is aromatic styles and of course the classic Cream, a style loved by old English grandmothers (as my granny did) that is semi sweet and lush.
Explaining Sherry is extraordinary difficult, so I won’t bore you with it all, except to mention the basic concept, with this note on what we know as one of the most important factors, the creation of Flor yeast that gives most Sherries their core flavors. Primary to natural characteristics of biologically aged sherry (Fino and Manzanilla) is the Flor, this is a naturally occurring layer of yeast cells that lives on the surface of the wine, inside the barrels. It, the Flor, consumes sugars, alcohol and other components of the wine and adds nutty, saline and yeasty aromas, lucky too, it also blocks oxygen contact, resulting in a bone-dry and pale style of sherry.
Now, Manzanilla, is basically the same as Fino sherry, but produced and matured around the Sanlúcar de Barrameda zone, closer to the sea than Jerez, the spiritual home of all Sherry, and the only place where it is allowed to be made. Manzanilla, as wonderfully described by Sherry Notes (sherry notes.com), is made from the Palomino grape, grown on the sandy white chalky soils, also known as the Mission white grape, and biologically aged, entirely under a layer of (the) Flor yeast. The specific climatic conditions of this town, being closer the Atlantic Ocean are responsible for a higher humidity and cooler, more constant temperatures than those found in inland bodegas, which contributes to a higher yield of Flor. This thicker layer of Flor protects the wine even more from air and oxygen contact, resulting in a slightly lighter and zippy variety of Fino, containing virtually no glycerol, meaning it is not oily or thick on the palate, and combining dry, saline notes with a fresh, zesty liveliness. Manzanilla typically displays more coastal aromas than a Fino, like sea spray, salt or even iodine. In Spanish, Manzanilla, translates to chamomile, which is another aroma typically found in this type of Sherry.
The En Rama, on the label here, notes that it was an unfiltered or almost non filtered version which adds more character and purity in the wine, it especially is true in Equipo Navazos’ wonderful Manzanilla with it’s striking electric shock of fresh detail and sharp form showing the classic flavors, but in a lifted form with layers of all the mentioned nuances with dried citrus rind, salty stones, liquid pecans, bitter almond and a touch of persimmon, as well as the chamomile and a touch of verbena. This is a brilliant example of style and place with a heightened array of complexity from being made in such a tiny batch, and while I do adore Equipo Navazos’s more aged and oily rich stuff, this Manzanilla En Rama is just so addictive and eye poppingly dry it is perfect for crisp/grilled Sardines and or salty/briny Anchovies, plus it’s lovely just to sip on and with cheeses, olives and walnuts too.
($22-30 Est. 375ml-Half Bottle) 92 Points, grapelive PublishedGrapelive: Wine of the Day January 13, 2019 is now live.
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2015 Arnot-Roberts, Chardonnay, Trout Gulch Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains.
Arnot-Roberts Wines is a two man team of schoolboy friends, Duncan Arnot Meyers and Nathan Lee Roberts, who since founding their label back in 2001, have become one of California’s hottest wineries making soulful old world inspired wines. In recent years Duncan and Nathan have teamed up with Richard Alfaro to get some old vine Trout Gulch Chardonnay grapes for a small lots bottling, and in 2015 there were 19 barrels made of this 13.5% natural alcohol, crisply white. Known for their high toned style and delicately detailed wines, Arnot-Robert’s winemaking methods are firmly traditional with generous use of whole clusters, natural fermentations, with a very limited use of new oak, which is only used in their Cabernet Sauvignons, and modest alcohol levels, and in this case making a very Chablis like version of Chardonnay that is surprisingly brisk given the warm year and concentration of flavors, in fact I would have never guessed it was over 12.5% such is the vibrancy and citrusy notes.
This Chardonnay was fermented in stainless steel, with native yeast when possible and then aged in neutral wood, all French oak, they add that they give a nod to the masters, Domaines Dauvissat and Raveneau, both Chablis legends. The winery adds, the Trout Gulch vineyard, which sits at close to 800 feet above sea level, near the tiny town of Aptos, 10 minutes south of Santa Cruz itself and about 4 miles from the ocean in the southern Santa Cruz Mountains AVA. The site was originally planted in 1980 to the old Wente clone Chardonnay, that is considered by many to be the best heritage version of Chardonnay in California.The soils here, in this cool climate site, are sandy loam with a touch of clay like dirt, with this unique hillside surrounded by tall redwoods, all carefully tended by Richard Alfaro, one of the best growers in the region.
Per Arnot-Roberts, Alfaro uses organic methods in this dry farmed site with 35 year old Old Wente clone Chardonnay vines and the grapes were picked at about 21 brix, hence the severely brisk nature of this wine, it was as mentioned above, whole cluster pressed, allowing native yeast fermentation in stainless steel vats, then raised for 10 months in that neutral French oak, which again is similar to Premier Cru Chablis, which gives this lovely Chard it’s Burgundy like personality and mineral driven presence in the glass. This vintage is lightly golden with a pale greenish hue and the medium bodied palate shows invigorating lemon, white peach and green apple, before adding Asian pear and fig fruits with air, along with loamy earth, wet river stones, a hint of clove, unsweetened honey and lime/white flowers blossoms. The Acidity and vivid detail keeps impressing even after half hour, this Chardonnay has a developed sense of maturity, extract and smooth textures, but still wonderfully vibrant with a fine tension and intensity, hinting to a long life ahead if you were still holding a bottle or so.
The 2015 will be a tough get at this point, but their 2016 and 2017 should be every bit as good, and it the case of the upcoming 2017, it could be even better, keep an eye out for it, and get on the Arnot-Roberts list. This stuff is fabulous, and soon they should be releasing their awesome Touriga Nacional Rosé, one of my favorite pinks in California, plus be sure to grab their Gamay and rare Trousseau if you can! Arnot-Roberts also thrills with their awesome selection of Syrah(s), Pinot Noir(s) and as noted their Cabernet Sauvignon(s) are not to be missed either, all of their wines, especially this Trout Gulch Chardonnay, are world class offerings that really highlight single terroirs.
($52 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2017 Martha Stoumen, Varietally Incorrect Zinfandel, King Andrews Vineyard, Suisun Valley.
Martha Stoumen is quite the sensation these days, crafting European style country wines from selected vineyards in California with a nod the natural and organic culture, and she’s worked for some impressive wineries including Guisto Occhipinti’s COS estate on the island of Sicily before coming home and creating her own label. While known for her interesting Italian varietals like Nero d’Avola, she also enjoys working with California old vine classics like Carignane and Zinfandel, like this one from the King Andrews Vineyard, in the Suisun Valley, a 30 year-old vine parcel that is farmed without herbicides or pesticides per Martha who looks for holistic and sustainable vineyard sites and family run farms to partner with. She notes that, Roger King’s site has a lot of influence from the San Pablo Bay to the west with some thick morning fogs and high afternoon winds, which helps keep acidity in the grapes.
This wine , she adds was whole cluster fermented, with an extended cool soaking with a month long maceration that extracts pigments and complexity for this Zinfandel. It was then aged on lees in neutral barrels, of which was a total of 3, (with just 70 cases made) for seven months and bottle aged for an additional 5 months to settle before this latest release. Her final thoughts on this wine were that with the natural acidity and tannin, she thinks it should age well, although, as she puts it, it is also perfectly approachable now, and I tend to agree, its pleasant juicy character is wonderfully easy to enjoy as is. Stoumen goes for low sulfur and restrained natural alcohol in her wines with this Zin coming in at just about 13% making it less jammy and more vibrant without losing the grapes core flavors, even though as a nod to her style vs. the mainstream she calls this Zinfandel varietally incorrect as not to confuse the consumer or more importantly her fans, who expect a lighter more vibrant style wine.
This 2017 Zinfandel shows a briar and bramble berry fruit note with lots of vitality and a spicy edgy character which is appealing with sweet and sour raspberry, tree picked plum, strawberry as well as minty sage, lavender and herbal notes and a touch of salted savory black licorice. This bright garnet and ruby Zin is addictively delicious, it’s like an interesting Minervois or Corbieres, and joyously quaffable right away, I cannot see much reason to wait or see much potential in long aging, though I wouldn’t mind re-visiting it again in 3 to 5 years as a curiosity. Stoumen is one of many great new generation winemakers following their own path and making some very alternative wines from either little known grapes and or re-inventing of classic varietals in a new way, this are offerings that challenge perceptions and prejudices and I celebrate their bravery and am enjoying the diversity and choices, like these new releases from Stoumen, that are available to us.
($38 Est.) 92 points, grapelive
2016 I. Brand & Family Winery, Cabernet Franc, Bates Ranch Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains.
Still buzzing after winning the San Francisco Chronicle Winemaker of the Year for 2018, Ian Brand’s small Monterey winery is the talk of the state and getting some much deserved attention and love, all coming at the perfect time for his new releases to take the stage, and while known for his Rhone style offerings, it’s his Bordeaux varietal bottlings that really are the stars of his new set of wines. Ian has put a big effort in highlighting some lesser known vineyards in the Monterey, San Benito, Santa Clara and other remote places, he is as I put it, a vineyard whisperer and a real soils geek, and his talents have brought sites like the Enz Vineyard and Besson Vineyard to world attention, and in recent years has turned his attention to Carmel Valley and the Santa Cruz Mountains, where his latest Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc come from.
Located in the southeastern end of the Santa Cruz Mountains, the Bates Ranch Cabernet Franc was planted back in 1978 and set on red Franciscan series, volcanic soils that gives this wine it’s unique flavors that Ian has wonderfully transmitted into the bottle using traditional fermentations and elevage in mostly used barrels. This rich new vein of great old vines offer something amazing and this new vintage of Bates Ranch Cab Franc is an absolute stunning example of this grape and expression of place, it might be one of the greatest single varietal versions of Cabernet Franc I’ve tried that marries old world elegance with pure California fruit character, and certainly the best in it’s price class.
In the past you had to search really hard to find a great Cabernet Franc in California with Pride and Ridge making serious examples, but in the last decade a whole new generation has taken this Loire and Bordeaux red grape to new heights in California, not forgetting some brilliant wines coming out of New York’s Finger Lakes and a few coming out of the Pacific Northwest. Ian Brand’s I. Brand & Family Winery Bates Ranch 2016 vintage Cabernet Franc is, as mentioned leans toward a Right Bank style Bordeaux, medium/full bodied and with ripe tannins with pretty layers of black and red fruits on the smooth, but wonderfully structured palate with an excellent sense of richness, depth and balance.
This mouth filling Cabernet Franc, that has a nose of light florals and sandalwood and a brilliant deep garnet/crimson hue, shows blackberry, bright cherry and firm currant fruits that is lifted by vital elements led by fresh acidity, mineral tones and subtle earthiness as well as being framed by perfectly judged French oak and spicy notes that include faint smoky vanilla, sage/anise and lingering dusty quality. As Brand learns this site he has been able to extract it’s own terroir personality and more complex details with a lower natural alcohol, closer to 13%, without losing its pleasure and impact in the glass, making this vintage an exceptional wine. This Cab Franc makes for a serious bottle of wine, a sublime effort that provides a glorious contrast to Ian’s more earthy/rustic Loire Valley or Chinon like Bayly Ranch – Paicines version, which I have reviewed as well, enjoy this graceful and special Bates Ranch Cab Franc over the next 5 to 10 years.
($42 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2015 Alfaro Family Vineyards, Chardonnay, Lindsay Paige Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains.
The richly flavored and concentrated estate Lindsay Paige Chardonnay from Richard Alfaro is one of the best values in California Chardonnay currently available, it’s a refined and wonderful example of grape and place coming in at a balanced 13.5% natural alcohol and with lush mouth filling textures. This small lots cuvee is drinking exceptionally well at the moment with ripe golden fruits, creamy roundness, stony/earthy notes and spicy/sweet toasty oak shadings leading the way, it’s a wine that should continue to excel over the next 3 to 5 years, with a core of good acidity that is gracefully subtle to the taste, but holding things together with vigor. Alfaro does most ferments in a combination of stainless steel and French oak with the Lindsay Paige usually seeing about 40% new oak, making for a fuller expression of Chardonnay showing apple, pear and lemon curd fruits with layers of liquid mineral, hazelnut, brioche, clove spiciness and Tahitian vanilla.
This pale golden Chardonnay was in barrel about 8 months and has developed very nicely in bottle, gaining a beautiful creaminess while staying vivid in detail, it’s a really impressive white that goes gloriously with cuisine including soft cheeses, lobster and fatty fish dishes as well as poultry. The 2015 is one of Alfaro’s most opulent vintages, a tiny crop and intensely flavorful berries have made this edition a thrill, I can’t wait to try his latest 2017 release too, a vintage many people are saying is even better. Richard Alfaro also is one of the best growers in the south Santa Cruz Mountains and has an all star list of winery clients for his grapes that includes Big Basin, Arnot Roberts, Jamie Kutch and Ceritas to name a few, so if you’ve not discovered Richard’s own lineup yet, it is a great time to do so, and especially his Chardonnay from both his estate like this Lindsay Paige and the Trout Gulch old vine, both are terrific values and brilliant wines.
($30 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2016 Theopolis Vineyards, Petite Sirah, Estate, Yorkville Highlands, Mendocino County.
Theodoa Lee’s flagship wine is her estate grown Theopolis Vineyard Petite Sirah from the remote and terraced site in the Yorkville Highlands, it’s a lavish and soulful expression this place and grape with an ultra dark purple/crimson color and full body. With the ex Roar and August West winemaker Ed Kutzman helping out here this winery is going from an under the radar adventure to a serious and stylish contender with some great press and wonderfully expressive wines, with this Petite Sirah being a wine of particular interest to the grape’s most rabid followers. This vineyard is producing some fantastic grapes, it’s unique combination of soils and weather make for something incredible both in Theodoa’s own wines and in the wines made by Paul Gordon of Halcon Vineyards, who’s version with lots of cluster are more like Cornas than those of the likes of Turley or Biale who make some of California’s best examples and of which I think is my all time favorite Petite Sirah.
That said, the Theopolis version is absolutely great as well, though more in what you’d expect from a premium California version with loads of chocolatey rich fruit, polished tannins and warm oak notes leading the way, but it also has plenty of complexity too. In fact this 2016 is much more intriguing than the past years with more aggressive nature with a vast array of spices and closer to the Halcon in finished form with layers of white pepper, anise and dried basil notes to give a touch of savory to the decedent fruits which come through with blackberry, blueberry, cherry and tangy currants as well as sweet new leather, tobacco/cigar wrap, dark coco and mint, a hint of sandalwood and dried violets. I like this 2016 a lot, its slightly more wild or feral than the 2015 and it is the better for it adding a thrilling dimension to an already good wine and making it great!
This vintage of Theopolis Petite Sirah was fermented in small bins, with manual punched downs, with a lengthy maceration and primary fermentation then it was raised in 25% new and 75% neutral French oak barrels for about 22 months, then as always, it was bottled unfined and unfiltered. The last sip revealed lingering sticky lavender oil, cassis and lively tannic grip that went on for ages, so best to enjoy with robust cuisine and or decant if you want to drink it young, best guess window now through 2028.
($39 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2013 Boony Doon Vineyard, Le Cigare Volant, 30th Anniversary, Rhone Style Red Blend, California.
The 30th Anniversary edition of Randall Graham’s iconic Le Cigare Volant is a ripe and full bodied effort of sublime fruit, spice and depth, it’s a Grenache led Chateauneuf style red blend that perfectly celebrates Grahm’s milestone achievement. A regional cuvee rather than a single terroir the Le Cigare Volant marries a combination of selected sites from Santa Maria to Contra Costa County with the main Grenache component coming from Monterey County and the Rancho Solo Vineyard plus a tiny bit of Lodi’s Bechtold Vineyard, a hot spot for Cinsault, included and of which looks to be a bigger part of future Cigare Volant. The final break down was 55% Grenache, 25% Syrah, 16% Mourvèdre and 4% Cinsault which resulted in this wines opulent fruit and its lush texture with Grahm and his talented team really getting the most of the vintage’s best quality into the bottle and keeping it all balanced with subtle spice, earth and savory tones contrasting nicely with the deep black and red fruits.
Those that love modern Chateauneuf du Pape will adore this hedonistic vintage of Cigare Rouge, it’s 14.5% natural alcohol compares well with the current or more modern French versions, Randall expresses his love of Grenache dominant versions as the grape in good years provides the silken feel that is usually only reserved for Pinot Noir while also giving exotic notes, Grahm adding, he gets scents cool loamy earth with a suggestion of raspberries and Damson plums. “I do so love the largely Grenache vintages of Cigare!” such as this 2013 provides, while the Mourvedre and Syrah give a deeper mulberry color, leathery/game and a tannin structure to ensure a long life and a sense of power on the palate. Grahm also says a touch of Cinsaut provides a very particular fragrance of flowers and aromatic herbs, plus I think a bit of lift too. Grahm employs many techniques in his mad scientist style of winemaking in an every changing fashion and an exploration to produce unique and highly entertaining wines, from dried grapes to ripen stems, the addition of wood chips, which in his case is to keep the wines from being too wood driven vs. oak sweetened, along with a mix of de-stemming and whole cluster ferments and the use of alternative vessels to age his wines, somehow it all works and this wine especially shows he still has the magic after 30 vintages!
Randall tries hard to get his growers on board with organic and biodynamic farming as he is a believer in the benefits and energy that this has on his and all wines made with grapes that are grown with this holistic method, and while Cigare is not certified as such, there is a life and soul about this wine that reflects this. The 2013 is at first bright and racy with a heady mix of floral and earthy notes before a burst of dark fruits take over in the attack with layers of black cherry, boysenberry, currant and the mentioned plum and raspberry fruits with a touch of pomegranate and wild anise coming out just before you get to that meaty side of things with a hint of bacon and iron/sanguine along with a hint of smoke, camphor and vanilla. The texture is a surprise too with its satiny, almost creamy feel and the density which has a real impact, without getting flabby or fat. This vintage of Le Cigare Volant Rouge is very sexy stuff, adding candied cherry, almost like pie filling and exotic spices with air, it thrills with Grenache charm, the Syrah, the Cinsault and the Mourvedre really act as a stage platform for the Grenache to take center stage and deliver a mind blowing performance, it reminds me of Domaine Charvin Chateauneuf du Pape 2007, and I find it crazy this wine doesn’t get more serious attention! Enjoy this is Cigare over the next 5 to 10 years, it certainly drinks gloriously now, but has the underlying stuffing to go a long time in the cellar, impressive for what some thought was a more difficult year, this is exceptional and a masterpiece of blending, get it while you can.
($45 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2015 Weingut Reichsrat Von Buhl, Riesling Trocken, Forster, Pfalz, Germany.
The historic Reichsrat Von Buhl which was originally founded in 1849 is one of Germany’s most famous family estates is now owned by Achim Niederberger who has assembled an amazing team to keep this winery at the highest level of quality in the region and country. Von Buhl’s collection if cru vineyards rivals any estate in Europe, including the best vineyard sites in Deidesheim and Forst, such as Forster Kirchenstück, Pechstein, Jesuitengarten, Freundstück and the Deidesheim sites Leinhöhle, Herrgottsacker, Kiesleberg and Paradiesgarten, where some of Germany’s best and greatest Riesling come from. Niederberger hired and put Matthieu Kaufmann in charge of the cellar and winemaking in 2013 and the results have been impressive with these 2015 wines being some of the most spectacular dry style wines I’ve ever had from Von Buhl and the region with his Rieslings having outstanding structures, concentration and complexity picking up on the limestone, sand, basalt and clay soils making stunning Rieslings that are terroir driven with vivid purity, intensity of form and are wildly expressive in character. This 2015 Forster bottling is from their all organic vines all within Grosse Lage (Grand Cru) parcels, this dry Riesling is their baby Grosses Gewachs cuvee with the grapes coming exclusively from the Ungeheuer, Pechstein und Jesuitengarten sites that gives this wine its class and depth, its an outrageously good wine and value with a penetrating personality and steely core with vibrant citrus, stone fruit, saline infused crushed rock, liquid mineral and a sultry earth charm. Its a Riesling in every sense, but has the vitality, crispness and elegance of a Premier Cru Chablis making this traditionally crafted and exciting white an absolute standout in its price class and one of my favorite of the vintage, which was a riper year, for its impeccable balance, laser focus and thrilling details. With time in the glass a beautiful perfume lifts with rosewater and peony seducing the senses, while nectarine, salted lime, green apple and tart citrus lead the line in the mouth along with a brisk feel of extract, acidity and touch of bitter bite that makes for a sharp clarity in this fine Forster Trocken. Added elements of chalk, chamomile, kumquat and white cherry highlight the complex of this Von Buhl dry Riesling, it is both refreshing and transparent and also serious and stoic without apology, it should gain with time in the cellar, but still spine tingling good now.
($24 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
n.v. Sean Thackrey “Pleiades XXVI Old Vines” Red Blend, California.
The aging rock star looking Sean Thackrey, a self taught winemaker, is a counter culture legend in the wine world who sources grapes only from hillside old vine vineyards, mostly in the Sonoma and Napa regions using unconventional methods and ancient techniques to make is famous hand crafted wines. Along with luminaries like Alice Waters and Kermit Lynch, Sean Thackrey has been deeply linked to the shaping of the Bay Area food & wine scene and has for about 3 or more decades, starting his own label back in 1980. This release of Pleiades Old Vine red from Sean Thackrey is more fruit forward than most prior versions, and certainly with less funky menthol and oxidative notes than I remember, but still giving its unique weirdness and pleasures that have become expected from this iconic red blend from the man from Bolinas. As noted by Thackrey, this twenty-sixth edition of Pleiades and it includes Sangiovese, Pinot Noir, Viognier, Zinfandel and Syrah, to name but a few of the grapes blended in this non-vintage, non-traditional and old school wine that purposely goes against the mainstream appealing to the eccentric and the adventurous wine drinkers. Thackrey’s signature wine is his Orion which is an old vine field blend from a single parcel in Napa Valley and mostly Syrah, this is a wine that every wine lover needs to put on their bucket list, while this Pleiades is everyday table wine, usually lighter and more rustic in style. That said, this batch is more round and smooth than most releases and it shows layers of full flavors that cascade across the medium/full palate with racy plum, brandied cherries, spiced raspberry and fig fruits along with a touch of oak, mocha, lavender and a mix of earthy tones, spices, pipe tobacco and dried Italian herbs. This XXVI is pretty ripe and feels low acid in the mouth, though structure seems nicely balanced if not opulent and lush, best to enjoy this one with food and I may not recommend additional cellaring, it looks ready to go, drink now through 2022.
($24 Est.) 88 Points, grapelive
n.v. Filipa Pato “3B” Rosé Extra Bruto, Sparkling Wine, Bairrada DO, Portugal.
The Pato wines have become synonymous with Baga, the traditional indigenous red grape varietal of Bairrada, it’s led by Filipa Pato, who started her own project in 2001 after working for the family estate in this coastal Portuguese region. She now works a total of 12 hectares of vineyards, only using native grapes, scattered in various plots throughout the Bairrada appellation. Filipa is a new star in the natural wine world utilizing biodynamic farming practices and minimal-intervention winemaking, she and her husband, the famous Belgian sommelier and restaurateur William Wouters, produce, as they put it, vinhos autênticos sem maquilagem, ‘Authentic Wines Without Makeup’. While known for her reds, Pato does an incredible white made from 100% Bical, the best local white grape, from the ‘grand cru’ village of Oís do Bairro (Filipa’s hometown) that has the class and structure of a exceptional white Burgundy, as well as crafting this grower fizz, that is seriously fun stuff. The 3B Extra Bruto is an aromatic traditional-method sparkling Rosé that comes from 30 year old vines that grow in the sandy soil over a mix of clay and limestone in the Beiras sub zone of Bairrada and it’s a blend of Baga 70% and Bical 30% that were carefully hand harvested and gently pressed with some cask ferments with indigenous yeasts, along with extended lees aging in stainless steel as well. This Atlantic influenced bubbly is wonderfully bright and flavorful with expressive layers and a fine Champagne style mousse showing a bit of toasty/leesy brioche, vibrant and vivid cherry, strawberry and tart berry fruit with a hint of mineral, earth and ruby citrus. Not always easy to find and done in small batches makes it a challenge to year round, but the US market does get a good amount and the price is stupid good for the quality, so searching a bit is rewarding, not just this one, which is a no brainer, but her reds (Bairrada Tinto) and the mentioned white (Bairrada Branco) are must try wines, both her FP and Nossa Calcario series are stylish and intriguing offerings.
($18 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2017 Desparada, Rosé of Sangiovese, Barbera, & Nebbiolo “Arclight” California.
The wildly amusing Arclight Rosé from Vailia From at Desparada is a serious wine with intense flavors, ripe layers and extremely vigorous, but full bodied, almost mind blowing in fact with real textural hedonism in a way that makes this wine unique in style, beyond any expectations of what Rosé is! Italian themed this powerful pink comes in at 14.9% natural alcohol, made from saignee, a bleed off of her Nebbiolo, Barbera and Sangiovese with plenty of vitality of acidity and raw tannin. It somehow achieves a balance you can never imagine from it’s elements, it’s a Rosé that drinks like a red wine with gripping detail, big mouth feel and palate impact. From is working with some fermentation(s) in amphora and an array of neutral wood and some new French oak with a focus on Bordeaux and Italian style wines along with a unique combination of both, plus this very geeky pink. A richness and light leesy (textural grace) character comes through here, while it stays ultra dry and crisp too, it has a core of force that stuns you, though allows an impressive delicacy to flows throughout with layers of tart cherry, ruby grapefruit, orange peel, strawberry and red peach fruits along with hints of watermelon, lavender water and dried herbs leading the way. The Desparada Arclight Rosé is wine that really gets serious with time in the glass, you almost must forget its pale pinkish and salmon color and enjoy this wine without preconceived expectations, it really grew on me and it stands up to a wide array of cuisine, it proved a great food companion and is also a great winter Rosé to warm you and plays well with robust flavors.
($34 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2017 Cameron Winery, Giuliano Bianco, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
John Paul, legendary Pinot Noir winemaker at Oregon’s famed Cameron Winery in Dundee, is a northern Italy junkie and loves the wines of Piedmont and the Friuli, which has inspired him to craft wines influenced by these regions they include a skin contact “orange wine” made from Pinot Gris, a Barolo like Nebbiolo and this wonderful and complex Friuli like white blend called Giuliano that is made from estate grown Auxerrois, Friuliano, Muscat (Moscato), Pinot Blanc and Pinot Gris. This thrilling aromatic white is brisk, sultry, and has a saline rich vitality with a dry/crisp body, but with a glorious array of flavors, glycerin and expansion, especially when it warms slightly and with air. The Giuliano Bianco comes from Cameron’s two estate vineyards, Clos Electrique and Abbey Ridge that also has mineral rich volcanic soils that add a vibrant savory/spicy tone to the profile making for a very interesting wine that is perfect for briny sea foods, creamy pasta dishes and lighter cuisine choices. Those that have been following my articles with know that in the last few years I have really dug deep into the Cameron wines and I have a great admiration for John Paul’s extended lineup of offerings and while his Pinots and Chards are his most famous, I am impressed with this Italian style wines, and this wine is extremely lovely and serious with studied details, texture, mineral and exciting energy! This vintage has a ton of personality and zippy freshness showing flowing layers of bright citrus, lemon/lime, orchard white fruits, nectarine and unripe apple fruits as well as zesty mint sprigs, a touch of wax, chamomile, verbena, spicy wet stones and jasmine all in a tight frame and with a lighter body that has surprising mouth feel, expressive palate impact and presence in the glass. There are a lot of great white blends in the new world, but I must say this one by Cameron is one of the better ones, and most unique, it takes the best qualities of each of the grapes and allows them to shine in a way that they cannot to do on their own in most cases, I highly recommend this Giuliano Bianco, it tastes great now and just might be even more interesting with some age too.
($29 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2017 Joyce Wine Company, Pinot Noir, Albatross Ridge Vineyard, Carmel Valley, Monterey County.
These 2017 Joyce wines are something to behold, each a great expression of place and elegance, especially Russell Joyce’s single vineyard series Pinot Noirs, in particular is the recently released Albatross Ridge, with it’s mix of sweet floral notes, mineral essence, dusty stones and ultra pretty feminine charms, which delivers a graceful and delicate performance with a streak of red fruit excitement that reminds me of a great Volnay! When tasted in his lineup together, you’d be forgiven to maybe not notice the beauty in this bottling when compared to the most fruit forward and the more (partial) whole cluster flamboyance of the Gabilan and Tondre, but when tried alone the real presence in this Joyce 2017 Albatross Ridge Pinot comes through and the layers reveal themselves in more complex detail with mind blowing results, I have to admit I was fooled by this wine’s shy personality until I was able to focus on it by itself and measure it’s true sense, tasted twice, it’s an absolutely gorgeous wine of textural pleasure that gets better and better with each sip (as well as time in bottle), and a majestic example of place. The Albatross Ridge Vineyard, owned by the Bowlus family, who have their own Albatross Ridge Wines label, is a unique terroir about 7 miles from the ocean in Carmel Valley, just below and west of Talbott’s famed Diamond-T Vineyard on a breezy hillside strewn with chalky rocks, it’s a special spot for Chardonnay and Pinot with exceptionally low yielding vines that are barley above a ton per acre, giving grapes with a stony transmission of flavors, delicacy, hidden concentration and fine acidity of which makes for classic Burgundy like restraint and finesse, and in a wonderful vintage like 2017 was, winemakers were gifted nature’s gloriousness in the bottle, with Joyce taking the Albatross Ridge Vineyard to new heights, in his own style. I have been thrilled with what I’ve experienced from this vintage and place, with Sam Smith’s (under his Samuel Louis Smith label) 30% whole cluster version also captivating me with it’s own personality, which is more bold, whereas Joyce’s is a slower developing Pinot, making it a longer seduction, but every bit as delicious in the end. Joyce went for 100% de-stemming here and neutral French oak with about 12 months in barrel before bottling to accent the vineyards most purest form and allowing the grapes to showcase a profile of racy red cherries, wild plum and spiced raspberry along with dusty earth, wet chalk and a touch of cinnamon, earl grey, dried vanilla and rosewater in a seamless satiny medium weighted palate that gains heavenly with time in the glass, greatly impressive when allowed to fully open. This is a wine that is beautiful now, but will be much better in a few more years and will like take on a heighten perfume and more expansion in the mouth, decanting really brings out its floral array and pair cuisine brings out a more serious character in this wine that will keep your attention. Youthful, fresh and bright this garnet/ruby hued Pinot glistens like a dark crimson gemstone in the glass, it’s a sleeper now, but will reward those that have patience and I see it having a cult like following soon enough, you don’t want to miss this stuff. As the Monterey region redefines itself with this new generation, it’s wines like this that highlight its best features, its a stunning achievement in understated class, quality and believe in the path less travelled. It is time the world takes notice, this region, marked by the deep cold water of the Monterey Bay and the Pacific Ocean marine layering, is on fire with thrilling wines!
($45 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2008 Arcadian, Syrah, Sleepy Hollow Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands.
Joe Davis was one of the first to realize the potential of Syrah in the Santa Lucia Highlands and crafted wonderful versions from the then owned Talbott Sleepy Hollow Vineyard, which sadly now does not exist as the Syrah block was ripped out during a transition period at Talbott making this wine maybe the very last of it’s kind. Davis, one of the Highlands pioneers when he worked as a winemaker at Monterey’s Morgan Winery under Dan Lee, created his own label Arcadian in the early nineties, focused on Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah all from the SLH, before moving south to the Santa Barbara and Santa Maria region and adding wines from there to his lineup. Davis was one of the first to utilize Gary Pisoni’s fruit and one of first to use Garys’ Vineyard too, so his wines were previews of the future when they came out, in fact as Talbott became more and more mainstream, his Arcadian versions of Sleepy Hollow became the best wines from this famed site on the western end of the SLH with it’s sandy loams and marine influenced climate. The Aracadian wines are made in classic or traditional style, Joe adds, his fermentation(s) occurs in small open-topped wooden vats, then the grapes are pigeaged (foot treaded) 3 to 5 times daily to further extract color, tannin and richness and then they are pressed when sugar levels reach 1 to 2. The wine completes malos (secondary fermentation) in barrel, with elevage in a combination of new and older French oak, and bottled without fining and filtration. Davis also loves to cellar age his wines for many years before release, so while this Syrah is from the 2008 vintage, it is his current release! At a decade old this Sleepy Hollow Syrah from Arcadian has now a full sense of purpose and maturity, though still vivid and vibrantly alive with layers of earthy fruits, dried flowers, mocha and savory spices, it shows black cherry, blueberry, loganberry and a bit of stewed plum, which allowing for its age is right where it should be, but in fact with air it regroups its youth and expressive best adding boysenberry, cracked pepper, tarragon, lavender oil and a hint of violets along with some fig paste, leather, sassafras, pipe tobacco and barrel notes, not unlike old school Cote-Rotie wines. After almost an hour of air thing hit a perfect spot with this red and its tannins turn to silk and the mouth feel is more like a smooth Pinot Noir becoming a very elegant and polished example of central coast Syrah and a very likable wine. I personally don’t think there is too much more to come here, but it seems to be in a great place now, it could age another few years, Davis has done himself proud here, enjoy it now, this can be had through the Arcadian website. It’s fun to look back and look forward to what Monterey has been and where it is going, and with Syrah from the Santa Lucia Highlands, while Joe Davis was one of the early leaders here, we now have a great many of stunning versions like those from Jeff Pisoni at Pisoni Vineyards, his wife Bibiana who makes her Cattleya, Roar, Big Basin who made a version from KW Ranch, Wrath too, Morgan’s Double L Estate Vineyard by Sam Smith who is revitalizing Dan Lee’s Morgan, and especially Russell Joyce’s SLH Syrah from the Tondre Grapefield to name a few! it’s great to taste history in the glass, better yet when it is a dark garnet and purple, and clearly see the future ahead, which is looking great and very exciting.
($35 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2014 Scott Paul Wines, Pinot Noir, La Paulee Cuvee, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
Originally made for a special La Paulee celebration, this Scott Paul is now available at $18, which is less than half price through multiple outlets, the original winery price was $39, and this Kelley Fox made 2014 version is a steal with a generous and elegant focus and easy to love personality that is much more sedate than Kelley’s own lineup which seem much more thrilling, but not as easy as this polished and silky La Paulee Cuvee from Scott Paul. The 2014 La Paulee is very silky and flows seamlessly across the medium bodied palate with loads of red cherry, plum and cranberry fruits, light spices, subtle toasty oak and a nice streak of mineral, ripe tannin and sweet floral tones which is a rose petal array in the nose. The dark crimson and ruby hue is very pretty in the glass and this Pinot Noir never puts a foot wrong, it’s very lovely from start to finish and with lots of admirable quality in the glass. Fox at Scott Paul, as the winery puts it, is a bottling that was selection of superior lots from our blocks of Maresh and Nysa Vineyards in the Dundee Hills and Ribbon Ridge and Azana Vineyards on the Chehalem Mountains that was aged in all neutral French oak barrels. Still fresh and focused, it will drink very nicely for another 3 to 5 years with graceful ease, and at this price it is more than worth it, stocking up is not a bad idea. Scott Paul is now crafted by Ian Burch, since Fox has left to concentrate on her own label, and he was mentored by famed Dominique Lafon when he was at Seven Springs, so there is a lot of excitement for the upcoming wines, so keep an eye out for this winery.
($18-39 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2015 Ceritas, Chardonnay, Trout Gulch Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains.
John Raytek, winemaker and his wife Phoebe’s Ceritas is one of the most celebrated modern Chardonnay producers in California and their 2015 Trout Gulch Vineyard from the south Santa Cruz Mountains is one of the most sought after in his impressive lineup, it is a wonderfully textured and mineral driven wine with purity of fruit and terroir influenced character, it is a serious Chardonnay that proves why this is one of the hottest lists to get on. Raytek didn’t appear out of nowhere, he was part of the team at Rhys, he adds he is a self-described old world vigneron, who cultivates wines in the vineyard first, by implementing a traditional (old school) winemaking approach in the winery, always considering the grapes’ experience on the vines as a guide to their treatment in the cellar. He also notes, that winemaking techniques continuously reinforce his belief that often, it is more important to know what not to do, than what to do when it comes to his wines, and so far he’s done little wrong. While known as a Chardonnay specialist, he also does some great Pinot Noir and awesome Pinot Noir, especially the Ceritas bottlings from the Sonoma Coast. Phoebe meanwhile is the farmer of the couple and oversees the vineyard sites to get the best out of their plots, parcels and grapes from the selected growers they use on these limited production wines. The cooly brisk, but textured 2015 came from tiny yields at Trout Gulch where it gave the Ceritas Chardonnay wonderfully layered fruit and a very Burgundy like restrained low alcohol, coming in at a remarkable 12.5%, while still having an impressive concentrated palate and complex detailing. Ceritas’ southern most vineyard, Trout Gulch is located a mere 3.5 miles from the ocean, sitting at about 750 feet above sea level near the hamlet of Aptos, just south of the city of Santa Cruz very much influenced by the deep Monterey Bay and the bitterly cold Pacific Ocean, in the southern Santa Cruz Mountains, just northwest of Corralitos. This unique vineyard site was planted back in 1980, with a selection of old Wente clone Chardonnay and Mount Eden Pinot Noir vines and is carefully tended to by winemaker/vigneron Richard Alfaro of Alfaro Family Vineyard, who also makes a version under his own label, as does all-stars Jamie Kutch and Arnot Roberts, all which has brought considerable fame and attention to this out the way spot. With oceanic sandy soils and a touch of hardened clay with exceptional draining helps send the vines deep into ancient seabed marine derived sub-soils that add to taste of chalk and mineral in the wines. Trout Gulch is cut out of a coastal redwood forest which allows temperatures here to stay cooler than the surrounding area, giving a special micro-climate that expresses itself in the wines, especially in Raytek’s examples, like this one with it’s crisp pear, apple and citrus fruits, wet stone and bitter melon in a Chardonnay that has a generous mouth feel, but with a tight steely frame with delicate wood notes and lime blossom perfume, gaining a sensation of honeycomb, clarified cream and clove spices when it get air in the glass. This 2015 is elegant, though expressive and has a touch of chalk and saline which again reminds me of Burgundy, as does the hint of hazelnut and precise and lifting acidity. Ceritas is almost all mailing list only and very limited, but the extra effort and searching is rewarded when you get a bottle or two!
($60-65 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2016 Domaine Barat, Chablis, Vaillons Premier Cru, White Burgundy, France.
The fortunes of the Chablis region have been hit with hail and frost in recent years, so finding an exceptionally good bottle at a fair price seems difficult these days, but this Domaine Barat Premier Cru Vaillons hits the spot with a core of mineral intensity and crisp detail, while still having a sense of richness and texture, it’s a huge upgrade over their Chablis AC which is flabby in comparison. This Cru is set on south facing slopes with ancient Kimmeridgian limestone soils and Portlandian marls that formed millions of years ago in the Jurassic era, which give this wine it’s driving terroir character and mineral focused personality with a steely/flinty briskness and vibrant green apple, pear and zesty citrus fruits in a finely tuned white wine that opens to an elegant mouth feel, while never losing its energy. The Vaillons comes from 50-60 year old vines and the native yeast fermentation takes place on the lees in temperature controlled vats in this all stainless steel Chablis, all the grapes are hand harvested and gently pressed on this classy white and only a light fining takes place after an extended lees aging in tank, before bottling to keep it clear and vividly fresh. Barat is a steady producer, very traditional and while not thrilling always puts out a solid lineup with this Premier Cru Vaillons my favorite, especially for the price, drink over the next 2 or 3 years, it’s an impressive and transparent Chardonnay for those that like a stony crisp version.
($32 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2017 Niepoort, Baga, Lagar de Baixo, Bairrada D.O.C., Portugal.
The exceptionally pure and almost Cru Beaujolais (think Fleurie) like Baga Lagar de Baixo by Dirk Nierpoort, best known for his Port wines, is a wonderfully fresh dry red wine of delicate detail and brisk intensity, from mostly old vines in the Bairrada region. This light ruby hued Lagar de Baixo is from estate vineyards with a vine age of almost 50 years, these head trained vines are grown on sandy soils over calcareous clay which allows good fruit density, but with really low natural alcohol, in this case well under 12% making it a lovely bright quaffer. Mostly carbonic maceration with stainless steel with cool and a quick fermentation with a longer elevage in tank and neutral large casks all to keep its vivid flavors and fresh crispness with tangy red fruits, light earthy notes, floral tones in a light to medium bodied wine that highlights the terroir and the character of this grape, which is gloriously intriguing. This 2017 is so bright and pure it pops in the glass, something like Gamay or a lighter Mencia in feel with red cherry, juicy plum and tart raspberry fruits along with zippy detail, delicate floral elements, mineral and spices all of which make you want to put a slight chill on this one and enjoy it outdoors, picnics and paellas sound just about right and or with lighter meals. Drink this delightful brisk ruby hued wine over the next 2 or 3 years, though I suggest sooner vs. later as I love the vivid freshness it has right now. Niepoort has a great lineup of still wines, some that rival Burgundy in complexity and class, they are not wines to overlook, and while this light red is not all that serious, it is utterly delicious.
($22 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2017 Weingut Korrell Johanneshof, Riesling Trocken, Monopol “Paradies” Nahe Germany.
The radiant and graceful Korrell Paradies Trocken leads with expressive pure apple tones impresses for it’s elegance and subtle character, it’s a wine of great poise and delicacy, especially admirable for such a young Riesling. The monopole estate vineyard, Paradies, is the oldest single site Korrell has and is the flagship wine from winemaker Martin Korrell, it comes from his family’s vines that are set on limestone and clay soils in Bad Kreuznach area of the Nahe region. The Paradies Riesling Trocken is a gorgeous white of depth and precise winemaking that takes advantage of this unique site in the Nahe. This wine is the heart and soul of Korrell and it is product of it’s unique climat,or terroir, it sees more sunshine and the limestone allows for serious concentration, while retaining acidity, though there is always great attention paid to pick dates to finely tune this signature bottling to place and vintage. Korrell mixes some traditional stainless fermentations with some native yeast and barrel ferments to craft his wines and the Paradies shows a beautiful leesy finesse that reminds me a bit of the Von Winning GG’s, with a long time on the lees adding a beautiful glycerin density to this gorgeous dry Riesling. Coming off Korrel’s incredible Riesling Cup win for his Von den Grossen Lagen (Grand Crus) Riesling Trocken, I was absolutely thrilled to be able to try this wine, and found this particular wine just as intriguing. Martin focuses on preserving heightened aromatics and crisp mineral tones, while allowing the mouth feel and depth to shine through, it is an amazing accomplishment to get it all right, and Korrell deserves his time in the limelight, this is complex and glorious stuff. Layers of that green apple, peach, mixed fresh citrus and melon fruits are lifted by liquid rock, steely mineral and faint perfume of white flowers along with a silkiness of mouth feel, while still delightfully crisp, delivering an exciting energy filled performance. This is a winery that about to break out and join some elite company, in fact they are riding high after as mentioned, winning the famous Riesling Cup award with their unique multi (Grand) cru Von den Grossen Lagen Trocken Riesling, and this wine is just extra proof there is real quality here! The lightly golden hued and generously textured Paradies will age well, it’s full of charm, class and potential, best to let this one have another 3 to 5 years, though it certainly is delicious right now.
($n/a- 19 Euro in Germany) 94 Points, grapelive
2017 Diatom, Chardonnay, Hilliard Bruce Vineyard, Sta. Rita Hills.
Greg Brewer’s Diatom 2017 Hilliard Bruce Vineyard is all Chardonnay clone 96, sourced from a steep, ultra cool climate north facing slope on the western border of the Sta. Rita Hills AVA that makes for an acid and mineral intense version that almost has Raveneau like presence in the glass, but with a touch more generosity on the palate, more perfumed with citrus blossom rather than hazel nut, impressive non the less. The severe ocean winds influence the land, Brewer notes, adding that the sand and gravel characterize the soil profile that transmits purply into this vibrantly expressive Chardonnay from one of California top winemakers and Chard masters, who’s best known for his efforts at his Brewer Clifton and his work at Melville Estate. I love all these 2017’s, but this Hilliard Bruce Vineyard shows a beautiful harmony between the bright minerality of site with the rounder mouthfeel characterized by this clone. Brewer’s approach to Diatom is to dig down to the purest form of Chardonnay he can, I like to think of it as a zen like focus that captures the grape in a vacuum, with the fermentations down at very low temperature in small stainless-steel tanks, or Innox, coupled with inhibited malo-lactic, so no cream or butter distractions, and short hose transit ensure precision and ultra sharp detail. This is wildly amusing and intellectually intriguing Chardonnay with ripe flavors, but with steely crispness, at 14.5% natural alcohol there is mouth feel and expansion on the vibrantly electric palate with fresh citrus, green melon and white peach notes along with wet stones, liquid mineral and tart herb, lemongrass, quince and hint grapefruit zest. The wine rounds out with warm and time in the glass revealing a touch of honeysuckle and lime. Ultra pale, clean almost devoid of color except for a faint greenish gold, the Diatom Hilliard Bruce Vineyard 2017 is an awesome if not super geeky Chardonnay that takes its style to the extreme, beware this is polar opposite to mainstream barrel aged Chard, and as I curious and adventurous wine professional I find it massively exciting and thrilling, though best with briny dishes, white fish, mussels, claims and especially oysters, drink over the 2 to 5 years.
($36 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2016 Saint Cosme, Crozes-Hermitage Rouge, Northern Rhone, France.
Louis Barruol’s Saint Cosme, most famous for his Gigondas, negociant series is one of the great values in the wine world, and especially his northern Rhone lineup impresses, with his Crozes-Hermitage always a stand out, and this 2016 is no exception with the vintage’s amazing combination of power and poise showing a deep character, but with a lovely freshness of detail and inner energy. Barruol’s deep/dark purple/garnet hued Crozes-Hermitage is 100% Serine clone (a local and an ancient variety of Syrah) that is 100% destemmed fruit coming off main sites in the extraordinary hillsides around the villages within Crozes, Larnage, Gervans and Erôme lie vineyard plots set of sand/clay over granite soils. This vintage was aged in 20% new French oak with the rest being put in 1 and 2 times used cask, with the Syrah seeing about a year of elevage before bottling, unfiltered, making for a rich, ripe and vivid Crozes-Hermitage Rouge with a pure and earthy Syrah personality and a classic regional terroir core and character with a loaded palate of black and blue fruit, spice and savory elements with a raw tannic grip as well as the vintage’s nice acidity that gives this wine a exciting kick in the ass! Barruol notes that his growers and in particular where he buys his grapes for this wine, in Tenay, Habrard and Batits, set behind Hermitage hill itself, with the oldest vines having the ability to produce wines that can compete with Hermitage! I do not doubt that and you can feel their presence in vintages such as this, no question, again this wine is an absolute steal for the price. The Saint Cosme 2016 Crozes surprises for the width and textural feel with beautiful layers of blackberry, boysenberry, blueberry, damson plum and black cherry/kirsch fruits along with light camphor/embers, violets, mission fig, cinnamon, black licorice, creme de cassis, peppercorns, and a hint of crushed rock and leather. There is a lot going on here, and the finish is exceptionally lengthy and smooth, again it has serious palate impact, while still fresh in details, at 13% natural alcohol, it is medium/full in body, perfectly weighted, and I can see it getting better over the next 3 to 5 years too, very impressive, it’s a Syrah that delivers on its promises. Delicious stuff, give air or decant for best results, but absolutely magic when paired with rustic/robust cuisine, drink this Crozes over the next 5 to 10 years.
($26 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2014 Forman, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley.
Ric Forman’s 2014 Cabernet Sauvignon is a big Napa Valley wine, but with the vintage’s fresher style, sharp detail and potential for extended cellar aging, it absolutely thrills from start to finish, making one of his best efforts in years, I like it much better than 2007, 2010, 2012 and 2013 editions, somewhat a sleeper year overall I adore this one with its wonderful play between opulence and vibrant form. Mainstream media types have gone crazy for the ultra luxurious, fat chocolate style Cabs, especially loving the 2013 and 2015 vintages, and while Forman excelled in those years too, I still am much more excited by the complexity and inner energy found in the best 2014’s like those of Corison, Corra by Celia Welch, Chappellet and this Forman, ask me in 15 to 20 if I’m proved right, but I think they are more intriguing than the more heralded 2013’s, so we’ll see. Ric Forman credits Bordeaux as being the biggest influence on his wines and style, though you can’t hide, especially in the last decade the explosive ripe quality of Napa fruit, so the touch Forman has is even more impressive, as like his inspiration he crafts wines of elegance and unending layers with a sense of soul, life and restraint. Like the top cellars in Bordeaux, Forman uses the most advanced equipment while using traditional hand harvested fruit, that is cared for with gentle techniques, it is also quickly done, with the grapes processed within 30 minutes of picking. Ultra selection of berries on the clusters, with rigorous hand sorting, the fruit is gently de-stemmed in a French Delta de-stemmer and transported, intact whole berry, for fermentations in small 2-4 ton temperature controlled stainless steel fermentors. Cold primary and maceration lasts for 3-4 weeks to get all the extraction of color and complexity of the skins, while malos happen in the barrels and the wine is aged for almost years, with no pump racking periodically done and a light egg white fining being done, also a la Bordeaux. Forman’s blend usually comes out something like 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, with the rest being close to 5-6% Merlot, 14% Cabernet Franc and 5-6% Petit Verdot all coming off Ric’s own vines in Saint Helena, 100% off the estate owned and farmed Grande Roche Vineyard with the finished wine getting about 75% new oak. This 2014 flows with pretty perfume and delicate toasty sweetness on the nose with acacia flowers, vanilla, mocha and black fruits while the palate gains depth and feel with every sip, evolving into layers of blackberry, creme de cassis (currant cored), plum and cheery along with a touch of cedary wood, tobacco spiciness and hints of licorice, sage and unsweetened cocao, before a lengthy finish that reveals the oak in a graceful way along with an echo of the vanilla/mocha. After time in the glass you feel the expressive purity of fruit and the wine gains a sense of integration and class, while filling out and delivering a full bodied palate impact, this is worthy of it’s hype and reputation, and why Napa is a force in the wine world, excellent and finessed stuff.
($120 Est.) 94+ Points, grapelive
2016 Equis, Crozes-Hermitage “Equinoxe” Northern Rhone, France.
Maxime Graillot’s Equis Equinoxe Crozes-Hermitage is one of the best values in pure terroir driven northern Rhone Syrah out there, it’s a lighter framed version, but still with great detail and varietal pleasures. The 2016 vintage is especially fun in the glass with vibrant energy and a lovely purple/garnet hue showing fresh blackberry, blueberry, plum, racy currant and tangy cherry fruits, a hint of camphor/graphite, minty herb, anisette, mineral/stone and ripe tannins along with a burst of juicy/fresh acidity. This edition is almost crisp in nature, but opens to a creamy medium weight wine with air, this shouldn’t be judged with an ultra serious eye, but rather enjoyed for it’s quaffable personality, it’s like a Beaujolais-Villages vs. Cru Beaujolais in a way, it’s brightness and barely medium weight frame make is a relaxed Syrah, while displaying all the right elements and a touch of class. Maxime uses organic grapes from sandy granite hillside vines, mostly younger here, and he de-stems 90 to 100% depending on the vintage and raises the 100% in used Burgundy barrels, usually bought from Domaine de la Romanee-Conti when available, much like Jean Foillard does for his famous Morgon Cote de Py. While not a full on natural wine guy, Maxime Graillot understood that organic and bio farming were the best route for himself, he trained under his very famous father Allain Graillot from a young age and in 2004 decided to split his time between his father’s domaine and establishing his cellar and small estate. Being a local kid, he knew where the best parcels in the Rhône’s Crozes zone, and in Saint-Joseph, were to be had, and he purchased a few tiny plots in the village of Beaumont-Monteux, just south of his pop Alain’s plots in La Chene Vert. He has converted the previously conventionally farmed vineyards to organics, making sure to soils were hand tended with great care allowing the roots to dig deeper into the gravel, which brings out concentration and terroir complexity and he banned the use of herbicides, relying on holistic treatments. His top Cru wines under Domaine des Lises and Domaine Equis are incredible wines, deeper in style, more heady and age worthy, but it’s hard to resist this joyful meant to drink young Equinoxe, it’s a wine that excites for its value and expressive style. The 2016 is going fast off the shelf and lists, so don’t wait, though the newly released 2017 shouldn’t be any less delicious!
($22 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2015 Field Recordings, Petit Verdot, Happy Canyon, Santa Barbara County.
This fun, dark fruited and unique bottling from Andrew Jones at Field Recordings is primarily Petit Verdot 76%, but with 12% Cabernet Sauvignon and intriguingly 12% Carignan, sourced from sites within the Happy Canyon AVA, near Santa Ynez in Santa Barbara County makes for a wonderfully California only style of wine. Very dark, almost inky with a deep sense of fruit with a unique black fruit profile with the perfume, color and spice of Petite Sirah, the tannin and currant notes of the Cabernet along with a bright juiciness and crunchy character of the Carignan, making for a gripping, but mouth filling wine with black cherry, blackberry, plum and briar laced boysenberry along with dried flowers, cedar, anise and light toasty oak shadings. Field Recordings makes a real interesting set of wines with many rare varietals featuring along with more classic stuff, based in Tin City in Paso Robles, this is an under the radar winery that makes for a great sideline visit when in the area, you’ll find something for every palate here, from Chenin Blanc to this full bodied red blend, as well as a wonderful Cabernet Franc and even a 100% Tannat! I picked up this bottle, the Chenin and a Rose of Valdiguie on my recent visit to Field Recordings and it was great to catch up with Andrew Jones, winemaker, and seeing his winery, there is even more cool stuff coming out soon, I can’t wait to visit again soon.
($25 375ml-Half Bottle) 90 Points, grapelive
2017 Domaine Camille et Mathieu Lapierre, Morgan, Cru Beaujolais, France.
One of the modern world’s most iconic wines, the Lapierre Morgon continues to be both the standard barer for the Morgon region of Beaujolais and for pragmatic natural wines. One of the first and most successful on the world stage, the Lapierre Morgon is one of the most highly sought after and prized wines in the world, the late Marcel Lapierre was a legend and followed a holistic approach in the vineyard and his kids Camille and Mathieu continue true to his beliefs farming close to biodynamic levels of organic and natural farming and using natural yeasts and exceptional low sulfur additions, in some cases with no sulfur added at all, all in the quest to transmit the purity of terroir and the most vivid form of Gamey Noir. The 2017 vintage is bright, fresh and thrilling, it rivals the best vintages for clarity with vibrant cherries, violets, fennel and a light walnut note leading the way before opening up to a deeper, dark sense in the glass with plum, blueberry and black raspberry fruit coming alive in the crisp medium bodied palate as well as hints of earth, spice, mineral and savory tones. This cuvee, the standard “S”, with a light sulfur addition, this is not the normal Kermit Lynch offering that sees no sulfur and marked “N”, it is from the estate’s 60 year old vines set on the gravelly pure granite soils of the Cru, it was whole cluster fermented with the mentioned indigenous yeasts only and on the fine lees in old Burgundy barrels where the wine is raised for just under a year, then bottled unfined and unfiltered. This version is slightly less expressive and fruity versus the cuvee “N”, but still absolutely glorious Gamay, translucent and this 2017 is drinking fantastic right now, I have had it out of both 750ml and magnum already and I am very impressed, the quality and pleasure make this dark garnet and ruby hued wine is an authentic and fun example of the grape and place, absolutely irresistible from start to finish, I love this year a lot and I cannot wait to try the cuvee “N” and the limited reserve bottling Cuvee Camille too.
($38-44 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2015 La Marea, Old Vine Grenache, Besson Vineyard, by Ian Brand, Santa Clara County.
The latest Ian Brand Grenache release, is his 2015 Old Vine Besson Vineyard under the La Marea label, it is a gorgeous medium bodied and vivid red wine from a unique spot that lies between three regions, Santa Cruz Mountains, San Benito and Santa Clara on an ancient river bed and was planted over one hundred years ago, this vineyard Vineyard sits just shy of the Santa Cruz Mountains appellation, on the ‘Hecker Pass’ a gap that cuts a path to Santa Cruz from Gilroy. Planted in 1910, this historic Besson vineyard was brought to fame years ago by Bonny Doon’s Clos de Gilroy, these head trained mature vines makes for wonderfully expressive Grenache(s) and transmits it’s terroir beautifully through its gravelly/stony dirt and hardened clay/loam soils, not forgetting its all dry-farmed and organic. This one forgotten vineyard is now one of the hottest places in the central coast for old world style Grenache with amazing life, delicacy and complexity, while still being a great value and easy to love and Ian Brand does it style and transparent grace with his 2015 showing the vintages warm and concentration in a refined and almost raw presentation of flavors, it’s a serious wine, but with a lighter touch and focus, and while youthful it has a sense of sophistication and class in the glass, similar to Spain’s Garnacha hot spot Gredos de Sierra, as made by 4 Monos, Daniel Landi, Comando G and Alfredo Maestro. In California, Grenache’s star is rising with wines from many producers and regions giving this grape a spot among the states elite wines with many different forms from powerful/dense examples from Saxum, Sine Qua Non, Stolpman, Sans Leige to the more earthy/lighter examples like Sheldon, Tribute to Grace, Pax, Birichino and this La Marea version by Ian Brand that has a zesty freshness and bright spicy nature. The 2015 starts with dusty raspberry, floral tones and a spicy herb note, opening up to layers of tart cherry, guava, minty anise, warm stones and a hint of earth before a core of strawberry, plum and pomegranate awakens in the mouth along with a faint trace of wood, Ian used only neutral French oak here to allow this site to shine through without any distraction as well as allowing a natural lift from acidity and subtle ripe tannins. This wine seems brisk and gripping, but cuisine changes everything bringing a much more textural impact and darker fruits, this wine has even greater potential in the coming years, best to give it another 2 to 3 years, or be sure to have with robust foods. Brand’s new set of releases is brilliant and this one is a sleeper in his latest series, be sure not to miss it, but also look for his 2015 Monte Bello Road Cabernet Sauvignon, a Margaux like beauty that has the authentic feel of Corison and terroir markers similar to Ridge, from just down the road, as well as Ian’s 2016 Bates Ranch Cabernet Franc, which is a pure California version of Franc, somewhat between Loire and Bordeaux in style, but with a polished California opulence, it is one of the best wines for the money you can find! If you are a Grenache freak, you’ll want to discover Brand’s La Marea, especially this one with its pretty ruby/garnet hue and its lingering savory edge and his sweet(er) and chalky Chalone AVA Brosseau!
($38 Est) 93 Points, grapelive
2016 Inspiration Vineyards, Grenache, Ceja Farms, Sonoma Valley.
Santa Rosa’s under the radar winery Inspiration Vineyards, located in the new Olivet District, has just released a very full bodied and generous Grenache, coming off Ceja Farms in Sonoma Valley, a site that I have enjoyed in Sheldon Wines in the past, it is a bit of a cooler vineyard that highlights the fresher side of this grape, but 2016 was ripe and lush too, making for a compelling and fruit forward wine. Jon Phillips winemaker and proprietor of Inspiration Vineyards, a Sonoma based micro winery with a few old vine Zinfandel estate vines, with the help of Grenache freak Dylan Sheldon of the mentioned Sheldon Wines have teamed up to make an intriguing set of new releases, all are wonderful values and easy to love with very hedonistic pleasures, especially this new 100% Grenache bottling. This vintage is very expressive right out of the bottle with a initial sensation that rinds you of a juicy Zin before settling into a more complete Grenache like wine with lush plummy fruits that include raspberry, pomegranate, sweet cherry and racy strawberry fruits with an array of spices, floral tones, soft wood/mocha notes and liqueur. Only 2 barrels of the 2016 Grenache were made with just 50 cases released, making this limited wine a pretty good deal at under $30, and its flamboyant personality will make it a real crowd pleaser too, its 14+% alcohol gives a the impression of richness and body, while still having an energetic character and nice balance.
($29 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2016 Cave Yves Cuilleron, Sant-Joseph Blanc “Lyseras” Northern Rhone Valley, France.
Since 1987 Yves Cuilleron has run the family estate, which dates back to just 1947, making wines from mainly Condrieu, Saint Joseph Rouge and Blanc, Cote Rotie, Saint Péray and a series of Vin de Pays from the Collines Rhodaniennes, all in traditional northern Rhone style from many select parcels and Lieu-Dits and is now based in a modern winery in the town of Chavanay. He has become in this short time one of the most influential winemakers of his generation and of the region, crafting excellent examples of Syrah in his reds along with Viognier in Condrieu, that are regarded as some of the very best there is, but I love his Marsanne and Roussanne village blends from Crozes-Hermitage and especially his Saint-Joseph , like this one! The 2015 and 2016 vintages in particular are spectacular for Cuilleron, with the 2016’s showing just a little bit more finesse rather than the 2015’s power and fleshy nature, that said it is tough to chose between them and neither should be overlooked. The vineyards for this Lyseras are situated in the winery’s home village of Chavanay with an east-southeast exposure, that allows for ripe flavors and expressive/complexity of flavors that are led by the higher percentage of Marsanne. The soil is a mix of sand and granite, which transmits both the mineral and fruit elements in the wine and delivers a softer texture than the more serve granite parcels. Both Marsanne and Roussanne are used in this Saint-Joseph Blanc blend, unlike its sister 100% Roussanne version “Digue”, an absolutely awesome wine too, though both of the wines are barrel-fermented and barrel-aged with an elevage of about nine months, making for a richer and rounder style white with serious palate impact and pleasure, while still being thoughtfully balanced and lively. Typically for his whites, Cuilleron uses native yeasts and natural full malos in the barrel, depending on the vintage of course and in better years the wines see a healthy dose of newer oak, though the wines never seem too flashy or heavy handed, but rather opulent and long on the finish as is this lightly golden hued 2016 Lyseras. Starting with a spiced apple/pear note the Premier Cru Burgundy class Lyseras picks up a mix of candied citrus, peach/apricot, clove, dried ginger, bitter almond and creme brûlée along with a mouth filling oiliness and decadent feel, while a subtle racy side emerges too almost with the intensity of tannins along with some melon, steely flint, wild herb and shaved vanilla. Air allows a white blossom to come forward and a more zesty citrus like energy to flow, adding some exotic spice, waxy butterscotch and tropical fruit and floral notes. More delicate and graceful than the more massive Hermitage Blancs, you still get all the thrill and character making for a really serious wine and a class act in the glass, especially pair with just the right cuisine like butter finished lobster tail and creamy white fish, as well as soft cheeses. The vitality never leaves the medium/full palate here in Cuilleron’s Saint Joseph Blanc “Lyseras” and it is a real impressive effort, impossible not to be seduced by its layered array of details and depth, especially for the price, drink this one over the next 3 to 5 years, though I wouldn’t bet against this lasting a good decade or more.
($28 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2017 Theopolis Vineyards, Pinot Noir, Yorkville Highlands, Mendocino County.
Theodora Lee’s latest Pinot, the 2017 Yorkville Highlands, is her lightest and freshest red, but don’t let that fool you, it is a complex and charming Pinot, again crafted by Ed Kurtzman, formerly of Roar, with beautiful ripe personality this is an another quality effort from this small Mendocino County winery best known for their estate vineyard Petite Sirah. This vintage of Theopolis Yorkville Highlands Pinot Noir was fermented using native yeast and then raised in toasty French oak for just about a year, with about 25% new barrels employed. It follows my prior experience with this selection from recent years with a subtle floral perfume, ripe fruits, juicy on the medium bodied palate, though very smooth and satiny in the mouth. This new release is 14.2% natural alcohol and generous without being hot or flabby with just enough bright acidity to make the flavors pop with it’s crimson core and bright ruby edges this Pinot delivers layers of black cherry, raspberry, plum and a touch of cranberry fruit with soft textures and adding rose oil, sweet herbs, smoky vanilla as well as a nice mineral tone. Look for this wine to fill out over the next 2 or 3 years and adding some complexity to the mix, as with air this young wine gained detail and character over the course of a few hours and was really good with mixed cuisine including hard to pair veggies, leaving everyone and myself impressed, it is a very solid effort and a wine to look forward to in the new year.
($42 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2013 Baxter, Nebbiolo, Fox Hill Vineyard, Mendocino County.
The under the radar Italian varietal scene in Mendocino County has taken a new turn with some very interesting and serious versions of Northern Italian grapes, including Piedmont’s classic Barbera, Dolcetto and Nebbiolo, and this Baxter, a winery better known for its Pinot Noir, crafting a beauty of a Nebbiolo from Fox Hill Vineyard and the 2013 vintage that is just now starting to take shape giving true varietal character while being a unique California wine. Baxter’s Pinots have thrilled me since I first tried their lineup of 2012 wines and especially their whole cluster bottling, but this 2013 is the first non Pinot offering I’ve tried from Phillip Baxter and while it needed a good three or fours to full reveal itself, this deep and tannic wine comes good with wonderfully pure fruit, brisk acidity and plenty of herbal and savory elements that certainly give the impression of the Langhe, though with a bit more ripeness and thickness on the palate as well as a long creamier finish. The layers of flavors impresses with round bing cherry, plum and boysenberry fruits, as well as minty/tangy basil, menthol and anise along with hints of leather, wet earth, lavender and dried roses, picking up some candied peach, citrus rind and cedar too in a complex red that shows a bit of brick around a core of garnet in the glass. According to Baxter, Fox Hill Vineyard, most known itself for the grapes it supplies to Italian style wine specialist Idlewild Wines, another winery not to miss, has a wonderful collection of indigenous Italian varietals, being perfect blend of hot and cold, the vineyard is ideally situated to grow great Nebbiolo and the owners planted three clones grown on the vineyard, those being Lampia, Michet and Bra versions. They also grown the mentioned Barbera and Dolcetto as well as the white grape Arneis, the site is located on the Eastern edge of Mendocino County, on the gentile bench land of the Ukiah valley just off the redwood highway with cold nights and warm days allowing ripe flavors, soft tannins and still having fresh acidity that give the wines complexity and freshness, and that is highlighted here in this 2013 Baxter, a wine that needs time and food still to show it’s best. Phillip makes his wines old school using native yeasts with hand punch-downs after a long cold soak and extended maceration, with this Nebbiolo seeing just old wood, he produced just a few barrels of this wine, which as he says, enjoyed an extra-long barrel aging or elevage, after a soft basket press, for about 30 months to allow the wine to soften and to steadily allow it to develop it’s full range of flavors. Suggesting to lay his 2013, and the just released 2014 down if possible for another couple of years, which I agree, maybe 3 to 5 would be better yet, or at least decant if enjoying sooner. Baxter thinks it would be fabulous paired with either fresh mushroom linguini or pork roast, while had with a winter selection of roasted winter veggies, polenta and an earthy beet ravioli combo, which brought out a more exotic fruit sense in this one and allowing the wine to fill out completely on the medium/full palate adding to the pleasure of its experience.
($42 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2017 Morgan, Chardonnay, Double L Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands.
The groove is back at Morgan, and with the talents of Sam Smith in the cellar the last two vintages have been exceptional putting Dan Lee’s winery back in the top echelon in the Santa Lucia Highlands, in particular are Smith’s versions of the Double L Estate Chardonnay from the home ranch that was planted back in 1997. Especially this absolutely stunning 2017 vintage, which is an upcoming release, and is maybe my favorite young Chardonnay ever from the Highlands, more than matching the best stuff from the elite guys there, including Jeff Pisoni’s wonderful estate and Lucia bottlings as well as the best from Roar and their famous Rosella’s Vineyard, and others. I was lucky enough to run into Smith post harvest to taste this wine and a few from his own label, Samuel Louis Smith Wines, that is also a great set of 2017 offerings with a recently reviewed duo of Syrah from the Santa Cruz mountains and a Pinot Noir from Albatros Ridge in Carmel Valley. Smith and his team at Morgan, carefully hand sorted the Double L grapes then they were gently whole cluster pressed to yield the highest quality juice, according to Morgan, with barrel ferments starting with Montrachet yeast in French oak, with between 15%-30% new Burgundy barriques being used to raise this Chardonnay along with a combination of used oak. About 90% of the lots go through malo-lactic fermentation, with just 10% non malo to preserve crispness and Smith uses lees stirring or batonage to expand the wine’s glycerin and give the wine a touch of rich density and presence without overt or flabby. When you think of Monterey’s history in premium wine, Morgan pops up more than a few times from their beginnings back in 1982, at almost the same time as Talbott came into being, with Dan Morgan Lee as the owner/winemaker, who then created wines under the St. Vrain brand until switching to Morgan Winery in 1986. Adding Joe Davis as head winemaker and focusing on Pinot Noir and Chard, instead of Cabernet Sauvignon, which they made from Carmel Valley grapes and Sonoma Sauvignon Blanc made a huge difference with Davis crafting some world class stuff into the mid nineties, especially his reserve Pinot that included some Pisoni Vineyard fruit. Then there was a good run of wines, but certainly the addition of Sam Smith has raised the game here as the new 2017 Double L Chardonnay clearly shows, it’s impressive right from the start, even from the nose alone you just know you are tasting something extraordinary with striking minerallity, citrus blossom and delicate oak shadings leading the way to the medium/full palate. The Lee family estate Double L Vineyard is all organic, was certified in 2002, though it has always been farmed that way from the beginning, it’s a site that gets plenty of cool ocean influence, it was named the Double L (Double Luck) in honor of Dan’s twin daughters, it was planted to multiple clones, on the Highlands sandy loams, to get the most complex flavors as possible from this Cru terroir, with nod to some of the most renowned Burgundy legends the farming was done in a holistic way that seemed the best way to get the results Lee dreamed of in this wonderfully sloping hillside location. Back to the gorgeous 2017 edition, it has incredible mouth feel without being heavy and it has dynamic layers of fresh picked gold delicious apple, bosc pear, vivid tangerine/orange, lemon curd and inviting white peach as well as hits of tropical fruits, creme brûlée, steely/stony elements, melon fleshiness, hazelnut, clove and saline before the rich wood notes return with a touch of cream and vanilla. The inner brightness and vitality is irresistible and those cool marine breezes and fog keeps that lively acidity in play all the way throughout, it’s hard to get me this excited for many Chardonnays, but this one rocks, and Smith tells me he thinks the 2018 will be even better, which is awesome, even if it is hard to imagine improving on what is close to perfect in California Chardonnay! This is a sleeper wine, and I bet it will fly under the radar, but it seriously deserves your attention, it’s in league, though not the same as, with some heroic wines, like those of Ceritas, Sandhi, Littorai and the likes! There is also, a single clone version called Clone 15 that is bigger and more luxurious too, though I haven’t gotten around to that one yet, and I honestly think this regular Double L is as good as I could ever hope full, it’s energy and complexity of detail, while being totally seamless is mind-blowing, it should go a decade with stellar and graceful ease.
($44 Est.) 96+ Points, grapelive
2014 Marie Courtin, Resonance, Extra Brut Blanc de Noirs Champagne, Sparkling Wine, France.
The vital and elegantly lifted Courtin Extra Brut Resonance is a 100% Pinot Noir Blanc de Noirs that was fermented and lees aged in stainless steel with no dosage which gives this beautiful Champagne an intense and structured feel and crisp restrained nature, making it wonderfully pure and deliciously entertaining. Dominique Moreau, winemaker/cellar master at Champagne Marie Courtin, is crafting all biodynamic/organic grower fizz from a single vineyard in the Cote de Bars zone of the southern most part of the region, not too far away Chablis, set on the same Kimmeridgian (limestone) soils using a massale selection of old vine grapes that were planted in the 1970s. This warmer area allows for ripe fruit, light or non dosage and add to the textural pleasures of these sparkling wines made by Moreau, and while the domaine is rather new with the first release coming in 2005 this tiny estate is already highly regarded and sought after, with her offerings joining the likes of Mousse, Cedric Bouchard and Jerome Prevost as a rising star(s) in region doing an extremely dry racy style of mineral driven and terroir bubbly. Glorious with food, in particular briny oysters, seafood, caviar and or creamy cheeses like Epoisses! Briskly focused the 2014 Resonance has tight layers of citrusy fruits with lemon/lime, white peach/cherry, chalky details, steely mineral notes and with a vibrant mousse along with a slow reveal of richness and leesy nutty brioche. This very exciting stuff, more delicate than overt, with good acidity keeps things laser sharp and brilliantly vivid on the zesty palate, if you like more opulent/fleshy or generous Champagnes this might be a shock to your system, but there is no denying it’s class and quality, it’s a style I find thrilling and this Marie Courtin is one of my favorites.
($57 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2017 Joyce Wine Company, Syrah, Tondre Grapefield, Santa Lucia Highlands.
Russell Joyce’s beautiful new releases continue to impress and this latest Syrah effort from Tondre Grapefield in the Santa Lucia Highlands is one of the best pure Syrah wines to date from the winery and the region putting it up in same league as Roar and Lucia with maybe a slighter lighter touch, but with absolutely gorgeous detail and medium bodied texture. 2017 is proving a great vintage for Joyce, adding to their stellar run of recent vintages, and while their Pinot Noir lineup is exceptional, digging deeper into their set up wines brings a lot of unique treasures including their fresh dry Riesling, a crisp Albarino, an awesome old vine Chenin Blanc and this perfumed and delicately spiced Syrah, this a winery on a great run and on a high. This vintage saw a bit more whole cluster than prior versions, maybe 30% or more in total, but the stems are wonderfully muted behind the amazing purity of fruit and floral notes with a layering of blackberry, creme de cassis, sweet plum and blueberry compote along with an array of herbs de Provence, peppercorns, anise, violette pastel and a light sense of earth, mineral and cedar. Joyce used small open top fermenters where they were cold soaked for about a week before fermentation began naturally with native yeast, with primary fermentation going for a couple of weeks before it was pressed to barrel. The Tondre Syrah, which has a stylish and rich mouth feel was raised in 100% neutral French oak barrels where it finished malos and the wine was left to age sur lie for close to a year before being bottled unfined and unfiltered to preserve its fresh and natural flavors, very much in classic northern Rhone style, and I love this stuff, it is a wonderful value too, and should get even better over the next 3 to 5 years, this brilliant red is one to stock up on. There is a lot to admire in this and all the current releases at Joyce, and things are even more exciting for the years to come, look for some really limited bottlings next year, Monterey County’s new generation has come of age, no question!
($28 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2014 Cameron Winery, Nebbiolo, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
The smoky and slightly reduced Cameron Nebbiolo starts out very much like a Nuits-Saint-George Burgundy, but once it blows off and opens up a real Nebbiolo nature comes through with plum, poached cherry, raspberry and tangy currant fruits as well as a mix of red spices, dried herbs, flowers and anise, at once becoming exotic and classic, making it one of Oregon’s most intriguing reds. John Paul, Cameron’s winemaker, known for his famous Pinot Noirs, is also an Italian wine freak, especially Barolo, and he is a pioneer of Italian varietals and styles here in the Willamette Valley and his tricycle label Nebbiolo is a blend of his Jory soils (volcanic) Dundee Hills estate Clos Electrique Vineyard and the White Oak Vineyard. The 2014 Cameron Nebbiolo adds a dusty layer of tannins and brisk orange peel that balances out the warm fruit core, but the wine remains generous and textured throughout and it has a plenty of stuffing, it lingers on and on, making for a glorious and unique wine to geek out on over a long meal, as it certainly gains pleasure and complexity when paired with robust cuisine and given time in the glass to reveal all of its details. This wine really changes wonderfully with time and air, highlighting the youthfulness of it’s nature at this point, gaining zingy berry notes, damp earth and sweet flowers, it is great with food, I mean best with robust cuisine certainly and I would love to re-visit this unique and intriguing wine in another 3 to 5 years. I love this new set of Cameron wines, especially his Pinot Noirs of course, but his Italian inspired offerings are really sexy too, do not miss anything from John Paul!
($36 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2016 Foursight Wines, Pinot Noir, Clone 05, Charles Vineyard, Anderson Valley. Joe Webb and Kristy Charles of Foursight Wines have crafted a gorgeous set of new releases from their estate Charles Vineyard in the heart of the Anderson Valley and especially great is this 100% Pommard clone cuvee known as the “Clone 05” which is a serious, but wonderfully dream Pinot with heightened perfume, smooth red fruits and with subtle spice, mineral and well judged wood treatment to highlight purity and terroir. Webb, ex assistant winemaker at Joseph Swan and Charles made this “Clone 05” from selected Pommard blocks in the vineyard and a careful selection of barrels in the winery, all with native yeast primary and natural malos, using about 25% whole cluster, plus 75% de-stemmed, but whole berry grapes, everything hand down in the vineyard and in the cellar with hand punch downs, making for a small to wine, with only 262 cases, of elegance and with a gentile character, but with hints of raw integrity, earth and silky tannins. The 2016 saw about 40% new French oak, which is surprising as it doesn’t show too much in oak on the palate, except for faint sweet/smoky note on the finish and a hint on the nose, for it is the fruit that really shows up here, plus floral tones and a slight chalky stony element, both of which add to the depth and pleasure in this exceptionally pretty wine. A nice sense of richness comes through with air, but the acidity and finesse keeps things nicely restrained, the medium bodied palate feels lovely, satiny and graceful with layers of black cherry, raspberry, plum and strawberry fruits along with the mentioned earth, wild herbs, vanilla, rose petal tea, cinnamon and it finishes with a touch of blood orange, pomegranate and a deeper sensation of impact that makes this wine stand out. This wine has a very balanced 13.9% natural alcohol, yes ripe and textured, but with fine detail and energy, this is impressive stuff from Foursight, super for mid term cellaring, though brilliant now, drink for the next 5 to 7 years. ($54 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2016 Kelley Fox Wines, Pinot Noir, Momtazi Vineyard, McMinnville, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
The gorgeously expressive 2016 Momtazi Pinot is spicy, vibrant and perfumed with a beautiful crimson/ruby hue in the glass, and as in 2015, Fox notes, this bottling is again 100% whole cluster, and it clearly shows in this wines intensity and tension. Kelley Fox has made another awesome wine, and while the vintage was ripe this bottling is fresh and precise in detail making it a stunning effort that is absolutely thrilling, especially if you like stem inclusion and it’s a wine that should only get better and better over the next decade! The all biodynamic Momtazi Vineyard always shows mineral and exotic spices resting on basalt from volcanoes this site has cooling breezes, dramatically set west of McMinnville with some east facing slopes, and Fox likes to highlight the terroir here, so she used no new wood at all, just neutral Burgundy barrels, native yeasts and this vintage came in at 13% natural alcohol, allowing the vitality and energy to flow freely in a pure, richly textured and balanced wine. The nose is explosive with wild flowers, dark berries, minty herbs (stems) and red peppery spices which leads to a medium full palate of black cherry, strawberry jam, plum and tangy currant/berry fruits along with star anise, cinnamon and liquid violets adding a hint of green tea, blood orange and pomegranate with just a kiss of earthy chard and subtle oak. I cannot believe how great this wine is, after falling so hard for the 2015, it was with incredibly high expectations I tried this vintage 2016, and it floored me and I would be hard pressed to pick a favorite, but after time in the glass this 2016 even seduced me further still, it’s tightly wound personality and the stemmy drive might not be for everyone, but for me it’s a total thrill and the potential here is off the carts, I’m putting a bottle away for 5 to 10 years. Kelley Fox has mastered her craft and style to near perfection, this latest set of wines is simply awesome, it particular her Freedom Hill Pinot Blanc and the 2015 and 2016 Momtazi Pinot Noir(s), these are do not miss wines from Oregon, this again is an impressive lineup from a huge talent.
($45 Est.) 95+ Points, grapelive
2013 Poderi Oddero, Barolo DOCG, Piedmonte, Italy.
When I go Barolo there are a select group of producers I call my go to, and Oddero is one of those I always love and this 2013 is a beauty with classic Nebbiolo character, true Barolo structure, but finessed enough to be able to enjoy even it’s its youth with its acidity and tannin well hidden behind its pure fruit. Poderi Oddero has a collection of plots throughout Barolo, and while they do some amazing single Crus, I just love this DOCG blend coming from selected sites including Vigna Rionda in Serralunga d’Alba, Brunate in La Morra, Mondoca di Bussia Soprana in Monforte d’Alba, Rocche di Castiglione, and Fiasco and Villero in Castiglione Falletto, all of which are vineyards of great distinctive qualities that represent the region’s great terroirs. The primary fermentation is done in stainless steel to preserve purity and freshness, then the wine is raised in large used Slavonian and Austrian casks with some smaller lots using a bit of newer French oak barrels, then a majority selection is blended to form this Barolo. With the gifted winemaker Luca Vaglio, who’s been the lead here since 2001, Oddero winery has become one of the most prized traditional producers in Barolo, it was founded back in 1878 in La Morra around the town of Santa Maria and is still run by the Oddero family with vineyards on a combination of limestone, sandstone, clay and sandy soils. This 2013, which is more flamboyant than the 2012 and less powerful than 2010 has both the elegance and age worthy structure of each in a wine that finds the middle ground without losing out or missing anything, it’s an impressive Barolo with layers of blackberry, plum, poached cherry, damson plum and tart cranberry fruits along with melted black licorice, tar, minty herb as well as incense, dried violets, earth, chalk, leather and sandalwood. Air allows a textural mouth feel to come into view, and this well crafted Nebbiolo shines, though it needs patience and food to show its best, drink over the next decade and a half.
($39-50 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2017 Cruse Wine Company, Carignan, Evangelho Vineyard, Contra Costa County.
One of the most intriguing vineyards in California, the Evengelho Vineyard, a true heritage site, is all own-rooted on forty-foot-deep banks of beach sand alongside the Sacramento River Delta, now owned and run my Morgan Twain-Peterson of Bedrock Wine Co. who notes, Evangelho is a totally unique site, planted in the 1890s in Contra Costa County which suits the old vine Zinfandel, Mourvedre and Carignane that is there. While Peterson’s Bedrock is a field blend from here, mostly Zinfandel, Michael Cruse has decided to explore just the Carignan(e) as a solo expression, and he has crafted a beauty from this historic vineyard. The 2017 Cruse Carignan is deeply colored, inky dark with a purple/garnet hue in the glass, but the wine itself is vibrant and wonderfully fresh showing blackberry, blueberry and tart plum fruits, light spicy/cinnamony tones, a touch of sweet and sour herbs, a bit of earthy/meay charm, mineral and a nutty/cedary edginess. Cruse has made a wine of lovely depth, old vine concentration and playful easiness that is really fun in the glass, it’s juicy without being jammy and complex without losing any pleasure, it’s impressive stuff. Carignan is the new black, from Pax to Ridge, it is a grape to explore, look for some intriguing examples from Martha Stoumen, Ryme, Skylark, Broc Cellars, The Princess and the Peasant, the mentioned Pax and Ridge, and in particular this Cruse Wine Co. all of which due justice to this underrated varietal, mostly known for its European and Mediterranean versions from Corbieres to Sardinia and for being in some Southern Rhone blends such as Chateauneuf-du-Pape and Gigondas where it is a minor player alongside Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre. Drink this Cruse 2017 Evangelho Carignan over the next 2 to 3 years as it really suits being drunk young, even though I wouldn’t be surprised to see it age well too.
($35 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2015 Domaine Philippe Tessier, Cour-Cheverny Blanc, La Porte Dorée, Loire Valley, France.
The Cour-Cheverny La Porte Doree by Tessier, a natural wines vigneron in the Loire, is an all organic 100% Romorantin cuvée, the rare and unique grape, a native varietal to Cour-Cheverny. Coming from Tessier’s oldest vines grown on limestone bedrock under soils composed of silica and clay, and is fermented using native yeasts then aged in older, neutral barrels for much longer than his entry level version of Cour-Cheverny Blanc as well as being allowed to through full malos. The elevage on this La Porte Doree lasts about 10 months in a combination of Foudres and Demi Muids, then rested a further 5 months in cement tank before bottling to add density and texture without taking away from the fresh character and terroir. Romorantin is a sibling of Chardonnay, and was once very widely grown in the Loire region, but it is now only seen in the Cour-Cheverny AOC, making it a rarity, it produces an intense wine, with a steely charm and has a driving mineral tone, somewhat reminiscent of Chablis, though more oxidative in style and in personality. Vibrant and mineral fresh to start with white peach and citrus, the 2015 La Porte Doree turns a touch nutty with pecan and hazelnut, baked apple and orange rind before regaining it’s vitality and more steely character adding wet river rock and lemon/lime with some leesy rounded mouth feel which gives a slightly creamy sensation to the medium weighted palate. This very natural and far from the mainstream wine is very worthy of your attention if looking for a path much less traveled, it grew on me in glass and I found myself admiring it’s complexity, best to drink the 2015 over the next 2 to 3 years, better yet now.
($28 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2008 Bodega R. Lopez de Heredia, Rioja Crianza, Vina Cubillo, Rioja Alta, Spain.
The beautifully rustic old world Rioja Vina Cubillo Crianza 2008 from Lopez de Heredia is crafted from estate grown grapes featuring about 65% Tempranillo, 25% Garnacho, the local named for Grenache/Garnacha and with small amounts of each of Mazuelo and Graciano that is aged in large casks for 3 years with multiple racking(s) per year and getting a light fining for purity and clarity, while being bottled unfiltered to preserve all the natural character. The 2008 is open and textured, easy to love, highlighting the terroir of Rioja Alta and especially that of Vina Cubillas, which has an altitude of 410 meters, that keeps cool at night to ensure good acidity, and the vines have an average age of 40 years, that adds to the concentration and maturity of expression. The soil here is from the Tertiary Period (a geologic period from 65 million to 2.58 million years ago) and is a mixture of clay and limestone with a littering of river stones that gives these wines their Burgundy like quality and class, it’s place for exceptional Tempranillo, as well as Graciano and the Garnacha and allows the lighter and more delicate nature show through, and even though Vina Tondonia is their flagship vineyard, I always love the Vina Bosconia and especially this Vina Cubillo with it’s softer and more raw personality. This wine shows a slight oxidative note, and an earthy truffle/leather tone at first but feels lovely on the palate, and the stewed fruit blows off and gets fresher with air allowing a hint of dark flowers, creamy cherry and the palate deepens with an elegant textural sense adding a bit of wood and tobacco leaf as you sip further. The layers of Tempranillo led flavors unfold as expected with dark berry, anise and vanilla making core appearances, it needs food to really shine, rich winter stews, country or old school meat dishes and wild mushrooms do wonders for this classic Rioja, drink now.
($30 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2012 Olga Raffault, Chinon Rouge, Les Picasses, Loire Valley, France.
Wonderfully old school and elegant, the Olga Raffault Chinon Les Picasses is a pure and age worthy Cabernet Franc that pays tribute to the late Olga Raffault, who past a few years back, and who’s Domaine Olga Raffault is now and currently run by her granddaughter Sylvie and her husband Eric de la Vigerie who have faithfully carried on her tradition and style. These wines seem to last forever, I’ve been luck to try wines from Raffault dating back into the 70’s and 80’s and they remain vibrant and fresh with incredible structure and show lovely dimension and detail with classic red fruits, light bell pepper and mineral. The Les Picasses, from 50 old vines grown on limestone and alluvial clay soils from a single ancient riverbank plot is fermented and aged in large 30HL wood vats, about 800 gallon oak casks, where the Cabernet Franc is usually raised for between 12 and 18 months, though in some vintage the elevage can last 2 to 3 years, after being moved to chestnut casks and in more recent years they have experimented with more stainless in the wines, though this cuvee is all in the wood. The Les Picasses gets a bit of bottling aging before release, at least a year, and sometimes more, it averages about 48 months after harvest to allow things to be more softened when sold.Their importer, Louis/Dressner adds, Raffault’s Les Picasses’ often has a light garnet color belying the depth of fruit flavor and complexity. Its style is rustic, quite earthy, with hints of orange zest and deep, dark cherry flavor. The tannins are soft, but present, and the mineral complexity in the finish is superb, to which I certainly agree, I adored the 2007, 2008 and 2010 vintages, so I was excited to get my hands on this 2012, and it does not disappoint with a surprising and welcome fresh array of flavors with a sweet violet and saddle leather earthy nose leading to a fine palate of blackberry, currant, black cherry and plum fruits along with a hint of bell pepper, wild ceps, minty anise, stony elements and light cedar. This is so easy to love and a classic Loire Cabernet Franc, but with a bright intensity and freshness that makes it seem lighter than it is, especially with food where it deepens and adds even more complex detail, drink with robust cuisine over the next decade.
($27 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2016 Laura Lorenzo, Daterra Viticultores, Azos de Vila, Ribeira Sacra, Spain.
The Azos de Vila Tinto by Laura Lorenzo’s Daterra Viticultores is a unique field blend of co-fermented Mouraton, Mencía, Garnacha Tintorera (Alicante Bouschet), Merenzao, Gran Negro, Doña Blanca (a rare local white varietal), Colgadeira, Godello (the native white varietal) from very old vine plots that range from 80-120 years old in the Granite, Gneiss, Clay, Slate and Schist soils of the Manzaneda zone in Val do Bibei, close to the Ribeira Sacra in Spain’s cool Atlantic climate in Galicia. Laura Lorenzo, the one woman army, winemaker and heroic viticulturist, worked at an established Ribeira Sacra estate, Dominio do Bibei for close to a decade, but also did southern hemisphere stints at the famed estates of both Eben Sadie, Sadie Family Wines, maybe the best producer in South Africa and Achaval Ferrer, one of my favorite producers in Argentina. All of which help her form her own ideas and skills, so in 2014, she struck out on her own, creating the label Daterra Viticultores, focusing on native grapes and intense vineyard sites, where she works organically in the Val do Bibei-Quiroga (a) sub-zone of Ribeira Sacra and beyond into remote Valdeorras region, though mostly she farms the steepest of slopes above the Sil River. Lorenzo’s natural styled Azos was partially de-stemmed and fermented with wild yeasts in old, open-top French oak barrels with 20 days maceration, then raised for 11 months in a mix of used 225 and 500 liter oak casks and inert/neutral influence chestnut barrels, before its bottling without any fining or filtration for extreme purity. The 2016 Azos is high toned, showing blackberry, briar, wild plum and strawberry along with tangy currants, aromatic floral tones with violets and incense, complexly flavored and with surprising depth, mineral intensity, wildly spicy too giving dusty red pepper and shaved raw cinnamon, leathery rawness and with a classic low alcohol profile and brightness at 12.5% natural alcohol. This 2016 showing a slight rustic charm and dark fruit presence in the glass with a dark garnet/red hue that intrigues the senses and thrills the medium weighted palate that reminds me a bit of Crozes-Hermitage, but more exotic. Laura Lorenzo continues to set the world on fire with her soulful wines, her Daterra stuff rocks and this one is knocks my socks off, these wines are hard to find, but worth the effort and don’t overlook her exceptional Godello based white either, drink this Azos de Vila over the next 2 to 3 years.
($33 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2015 Domaine La Grange Tiphaine “Becarre“ Touraine-Amboise Rouge, by Damien Delecheneau Vigneron, Loire Valley, France.
The 100% Cabernet Franc Becarre from Coralie and Damien Delecheneau’s Domaine la Grange Tiphaine in the Tourairne-Amboise is a wine of natural styling with an earthy character with dark fruits, an array of spice and herbs, chalky stones and rustic notes. Damien, the third generation to run this winery, studied oenology and viticulture in Bordeaux before working at wineries in California and South Africa, returning to the family estate in 2002 to take over the reins, now working fully biodynamic and with minimal intervention in the cellar. The Becarre comes from a plot of vines that are on average 20 years old set on calcareous Silex and red clay soils, it was fermented using native yeasts with a gentile maceration in cuve and concrete vats, with aging done in mostly used barriques with the elevage lasting about 9 months before bottling with the absolute minimum of sulfur and filtering to preserve the purity of the wine and sense of terroir. Damien, who’s know the president of the Montlouis AOC winegrowers association was inspired by Francois Chidaine and is well respected as a winemaker, he produces a set of reds, whites, a rosé and sparkling wines that he hand crafts from five different varieties: Chenin Blanc, Côt (Malbec), Gamay, Cabernet Franc, and even the ancient and rare Loire variety called, Grolleau, all from Montlouis and Touraine. While all organic and a natty winemaker, and according to the winery, the design of the winery itself and the steps taken to ensure quality in his wines rival some of the most technically advanced wineries in the world, but this is all in the name of using as few additives as possible, to evoke their precious terroir in its purest sense. This Cabernet Franc really impresses with a little air gaining violets, truffle, a hint of bell pepper and lovely textured red fruits along with a core of currant and blackberry as well as mineral notes and a bit of rustic leather, cedar and licorice. Delecheneau’s Becarre is a classic Loire Franc and shows good intensity of fruit, well hidden firm tannins and subtle acidity that allow allow a ripe sense of fruit to shine brightly here, making for a real pleasure in the glass, best though with cuisine, drink over the next 3 to 5 years.
($27 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2016 Desparada, Nebbiolo “Dione.8.Nh4” Luna Matta Vineyard, Paso Robles.
The Desparada 2016 Dione Luna Matta Vineyard Nebbiolo was a small lot, just 24 cases, that was fermented in Amphora and is a part of Vailia From’s new experimental Stalwart Series with these terra-cotta vessels. Her cutting edge wines are all intriguing efforts, she is crafting some interesting wines focused on both Bordeaux and Italian varietals, as well as blends using both that are especially successful, much the same way as L’Aventure has been with their Bordeaux meets Rhone style bottlings, highlighting the amazing array of wines that impress here in Paso Robles. After the native yeast ferment in the Amphora, Vailia aged this Dione Nebbiolo in a single 100% neutral French oak, which means it is a rare edition with only 24 cases made and it was only offered to her wine club, though begging worked in her beautiful zen like tasting room and winery in Paso Robles’ Tin City, though joining the Desparada mailing list and or wine club is highly recommended. Richly flavored, ripe and lush with true Nebbiolo markers, though with the added density that the California sun brings, this Desparada Dione Nebbiolo from the Luna Matta Vineyard feels glorious on the palate with layers of racy, but opulent red fruits, light spices, incense, dried flowers and a touch of tannic grip. It opens up nicely and really flows seamlessly with black cherry, raspberry, damson plum fruits leading the way along with anise, lavender oil, chalky stone and a sweet/earthy Chanterelles note in a medium/full bodied wine that stills feels lively even at about 15% natural alcohol with enough acidity to cover the sweet character of the fruit adding a hint of mineral charm with air, this is impressive stuff, best served with robust cuisine and enjoyed slowly with a long meal.
($50 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2017 Domaine Huet, Vouvray Sec, Clos du Bourg, Loire Valley, France.
The Clos du Bourg Sec (dry) is a thrilling Chenin with a precise form and crisp detail, while still being gloriously generous with pretty white peach, fresh citrus, wet stones, a touch of saline and steely mineral intensity, making this Vouvray a great wine and highlights the class of its terroir. One of the most iconic wines of the Loire Valley, the Huet Vouvray is one of the most sought after and admired wines of the region, and this amazing dry version from the outstanding 2017 is a thrill in the glass. Since its founding in 1928, Vouvray’s Domaine Huet has been the standard-bearer for great, age-worthy Chenin Blanc, especially those of the late Gaston Huet, though the wines made now are sublime and wonderfully elegant, especially this Clos du Bourg Sec. Clos du Bourg, farmed since 1953, and purchased by the domaine in 1963, is one of the top sites, along with Le Mont and Huet’s original estate parcel Le Haut-Lieu, which started the legend back in 1928, these three vineyards are considered the Grand Crus of Vouvray and have a long history of producing great Sec, Demi-Sec, or Moelleux wines as well as a tiny amount of gorgeous late harvest sweet wine, the legendary Cuvée Constance, a magical botrytized dessert wine that rivals the world’s best and Huet does a fine sparkler. The famed Gaston Huet believed Clos du Bourg to be the greatest of all Vouvray vineyards, and certainly his favorite with the Première Côte’s shallowest and stoniest soils it produces wine of dramatic energy, mineral complexity and remarkable generous texture. American Anthony Hwang, from New York, purchased a majority stake in Huet back in 2002, and today his children reside at and direct the estate, while long time winemaker Jean-Bernard Bertholmé continues to craft the wines, as he’s done since 1979. The Clos du Bourg 2017 Sec coming from old vines set on calcareous soils is a riveting Chenin Blanc with mineral intensity, bright details and exceptional length, this is everything you’d want from a dry version of this grape with peach and citrus fruit, chalky stones and a delicate floral sense plus a waxy almost honeyed mouth feel. This is one of best young Vouvrays I’ve ever had and it should just get better and better with some age, drink this beauty over the next 3 to 5 years, and don’t miss out on these 2017 Huets!
($33 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2017 Brick House Vineyards, Gamay Noir, Ribbon Ridge, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
One of the new world’s true Gamay Noir’s pioneers and champions, Doug Tunnell of Brick House Vineyards uses classic Burgundy techniques to make his version with all grapes being 100% true Gamay Noir from his estate in Ribbon Ridge, he is fully biodynamic certified by Demeter and part of the Deep Roots Coalition which shows his commitment to sustainable and organic farming. Made with traditional fermentation using native yeasts and extended elevage in French oak barrique, in other words he treats his Gamay with the same care and respect as his more famous Pinot Noir(s) allowing the grape to express a more subtle form and flavors. The 2017 seems a bit more pure in fruit and more expressive than the bigger framed 2016 and earthier version and takes on a wonderfully spicy nature with air, also gaining a mineral sense and sassy personality with racy red fruits leading the way. that air really brings extra joy and a textured smooth mouth feel in this more delicately natured Gamay, plus a racy spiciness comes through as well adding too layers of black cherry, candied plum, tart strawberry and raspberry fruits along with hints of the mentioned mineral, light florals, savory essences like pepper, herbs and light cedar. This is a wine that gets more and more engaging as it opens up, its lively acidity keeps it fresh, especially after significant time, hours even, showing there is great craft here being employed to make a wine of class, length and one that will age well, Tunnell deserves a lot of credit for championing Gamay and making such a beautiful version, which is one of the new world’s best examples.
($28 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2015 Tablas Creek, Roussanne, Adelaida District, Paso Robles.
The glorious and pale golden/yellow hued Beaucastel clone Roussanne from Tablas Creek shows a remarkable family resemblance with its beautiful rich detail and intensity, while strikingly dense and full bodied it is still energetic, lively and finely balanced, somewhat intriguing it is that it almost feels more restrained than its old world cousins. Usually found as a significant player in Châteauneuf du Pape Blanc and Hermitage Blanc, Roussanne is less often found as a single varietal wine, though with the exception being as mentioned the Chateau de Beaucastel Old Vine (100% Roussanne) Chateauneuf du Pape white (one of the Rhone’s best whites), and in California there are very few pure Roussanne bottlings, but there are some absolutely gorgeous examples, most notably wines by Alban, Stolpman, L’Aventure (though I believe they have now changed to a blend), Truchard and this Tablas Creek version. As to why there are not more, it is known that Roussanne is tricky and fickle grape and there is a more recent concern that the vines are prone to conditions that make it less attractive to growers, and winemakers have seemed to have largely given up on it, preferring other Rhone whites more increasingly, such as Grenache Blanc. Tablas notes, Roussanne grapes are susceptible to powdery mildew and rot, and the vine is a shy and erratic producer even under ideal conditions, and of the five white Rhône varietals that they grow at Tablas Creek, Roussanne is generally the latest-ripening. In addition, it is prone to shutting down toward the end of harvest, as well as to shatter and uneven yields. I am a fan of Roussanne and think it is absolutely fascinating and expressive with a thrilling weighty mouth feel, it has a wildly hedonistic oily texture when barrel fermented, and this Tablas Creek Roussanne offers deep layers and a complexity of flavors. Tablas is very much in the Roussanne camp, even with it’s growing challenges and in the cellar they use a combination of small barrels, large foudres and tank to ferment and raise its version with partial malos to retain acidity and freshness, while allowing the grapes personality to shine through. The nose is slight floral with white blossoms, mineral toned and with a hint of spice and honey leading to a packed opulent palate of nectarine, apricot, pear tart, lemon curd/creme brûlée, tangy crystallized ginger, butterscotch, bitter almond, tropical/pineapple notes as well as honeycomb and a touch of wood, in a flowing round white wine of serious impact, gaining a wet stone chalky element, citrus rind and white anise on the finish. It seems to me that this wine is just coming out of a shy phase and is really starting to express its potential, I can imagine it getting even better with another 3 or 4 years, and it is truly magic with cuisine, especially lobster tail, richer fish dishes and or creamy cheeses. My recent visit to Tablas was highlighted by their amazing set of whites from their Rhone blends to their single varietal offerings, these are wines you should get to know, especially this lush and textual Roussanne, but don’t overlook the Picpoul, Vermentino and the Esprit de Tablas!
($35 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2017 Bow & Arrow, Pinot Noir/Gamay Noir “Rhinestones” Johan Vineyard, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
The fruity and spicing Pinot Noir and Gamey blend from Bow & Arrow is a lovely wine of unique quality and personality with layers of blackberry, cherry and plum fruits along with tangy elements, floral notes, exotic spices and delicate herbal notes. Scott Frank’s Bow & Arrow Rhinestones 2016 was one of my favorite wines of the last year, so I was hyper-excited for the new release of this natural, all biodynamic blend of 65% Pinot Noir and 35% Gamay Noir, for the 2017 vintage. This new version is more structured and refined in texture with just a hint of earthy charm, it took a while to seduce the palate hiding some of it’s depth while it gets through it’s youthful shyness, it’s different than 2016, last years whole cluster intensity just blew me away. This is one of Oregon’s best kept secrets and greatest values, and both vintages are outstanding, maybe over time the 2017 will eclipse the prior year! Frank an expert on all things Gamay actually looks for the Loire Valley for his inspiration instead of Burgundy or Beaujolais where the natural and organic wine movement has really taken off, starting with classics like Joly and more modern heros like Fred Niger at Domaine de L’Ecu and Domaine Philippe Tessier in Cheverny. Pinot Noir and Gamay blends are not new by any means, even in Burgundy they thrive today in wines labeled Bourgogne Passetoutgrains with some top domaines in region making them, while it is more common in the Loire in and around Touraine and especially in Cheverny. According to Scott, his Rhinestones is aged in a mixture of concrete and old barriques, and he notes this wine is the flagship of the Bow & Arrow operation and communicates what “we’re” about as much as anything they make, and you can see why with every sip, it has a different percentage of each varietal each year depending on what nature gives and expresses. While the 2016 was more obvious, with it’s exciting stems showing through with an expressive thrill, while this 2017 is a little backward, more pretty in nature, a shade lighter/smoother or subtle, in style at this point, though the longer it was open the more it came into line with the expectations (I had) and it should get even more interesting with a bit more bottle age, there’s a lot to admire and even more to come, drink from 2019 to 2025.
($23 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2016 L’Aventure, Optimus Estate, Stephan Vineyards Red Blend, Willow Creek District, Paso Robles.
The deeply inky all estate grown cuvee Optimus Estate red from Stephan Asseo at L’Aventure Winery in western Paso Robles is a blend of 50% Syrah, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon and 20% Petit Verdot, and it’s an opulent and full bodied wine that combines the Bordeaux blood in Asseo’s veins, being from right bank, with the Cabernet and Petit Verdot and the Rhone of the Syrah. The inky deep colored Optimus really shows off the glorious vintage that this region enjoyed in 2016 with it’s densely ripe fruit and refined (though tightly wound) tannin structure, with this red being wonderfully endowed with richness and incredible length, but what impresses most is the remarkable balance in such massive wine, even at it’s 15.4% natural alcohol it remains lively and with clear detailing which shows Asseo’s deft touch and techniques. This vintage ended up with about 60% new French oak and 40% in 1-year-old French oak with malolactic fermentation in barrel and was raised for 14 months and then bottled with no fining and unfiltered, all in reaction to the intense fruit and powerful tannin structure, Asseo adds “In the 2016 vintage, every grape from my estate ended up making some good wine, which is not always the case. In terms of style, 2016 reminds me a lot fo the 2014. I love the balance, the silkiness and the length in this vintage. Most of the wines are big, super intense, rich and flavorful but at the same time super delicate, pure and vibrant. Once again the terroir spoke, producing some intense ripe wine but also with nuance and nice acidity! I am extremely happy with the result.” I couldn’t agree more, as mentioned and I love the thrilling full bodied palate that unfolds with thick layers of blackberry, creme de cassis, sweet plum, blueberry compote, smoky/toasty oak vanilla, sweet tobacco leaf, graphite/mineral, anise, violets and a touch of sandalwood. This young and firm, but extended air allows complete enjoyment, but this is serious stuff and could use a few years to develop, and needs matching cuisine to give it’s sexy best with robust dishes and or a hard cheese plate, drink over the next 5 to 7 years. There is a lot of excitement at L’Aventure, a recent visit to their winery and vineyard was an amazing experience in tasting, and seeing the caves, which were cut into a limestone hillside, very much like Saxum, and seeing the mix of fermentation vessels that now includes plenty of cement, wood and even amphora, as well as seeing some new grape varietals in the mix, like Graciano! The lineup here is stunning, I especially was impressed with the Cote a Cote Rhone style Grenache led red, the Sibling a proprietary blend of Grenache, Syrah and the Graciano, the unique Syrah, Graciano and Viognier blend For Her and of course the awesome L’Aventure 37% Grenache, 30% Syrah, 26% Mourvedre, 26%, 7% Petit Verdot Rosé, which is always one of my guilty pleasures, don’t miss a chance to visit this place!
($56 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2015 Portland Wine Company “Love & Squalor” Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
Winemaker Matt Berson has done more than ten years of harvests now for his tiny urban winery based in Portland, Oregon and each time I try his wines I am more and more impressed and can’t believe how reasonably priced his wines are, especially his signature Pinot Noir. Coming off six vineyards, primarily Sunny Mountain, Temperance Hill, Cherry Grove and Medici, the 2015 Love & Squalor is also made up of eight different clones all of which give depth of flavor, complexity and mouth feel. The name Love & Squalor is an ode to and a tribute to iconic author J.D. Salinger, one of Berson’s favorites, who lovingly and with some irony makes his wines with passion and with a less than glitzy winery. The 2015 Love & Squalor Pinot saw an 18-month elevage in well seasoned used French barriques, which allows it to show refined fruit maturity and elegance without obtuse or overt oak, there is a textural pleasure, but with an underlying class and freshness that you do not find in wines in this price class, and this 2015 is all about quality in the glass with lovely layers of expressive red fruit and a smooth tannin structure. Berson, who was a cellar rat in Oregon before venturing out into the world and doing stints around the globe in paces that include New Zealand, Napa, Germany, and Argentina where he gained the skills to come home and start his own label with success making wines, especially Riesling and this Pinot Noir, which are really worth searching high and low for. The 2015 is ripe with layers of black cherry, plum and sweet raspberry fruits primarily adding light mocha notes as well as brambly spices, ultra fine tannins, delicate herb/tea notes and a touch of minerallity. This medium bodied Pinot offers a lot of pleasure and roundness on the palate for immediate drinking, but should go a few years too, one of the best Love & Squalor(s) to date this really good juice for the price, enjoy now and often.
($22 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2016 4 Monos Viticultores, Tinto “GR10” Garnacha, Sierra de Gredos, Vinos de Madrid D.O., Spain.
The 4 Monos Tinto is wonderfully vibrant and vivid in the glass with a translucent ruby hue and with sweet red berry, slightly earthy and floral perfume that leads to an intriguing lighter to medium weighted palate of purity and finesse. One of my new favorite Spanish producers, 4 Monos (the 4 monkeys) is team of four winemaker and wine loving friends that make handcrafted small lot wines in the mountains above Madrid, using old school techniques and a light touch to make delicious authentic wines from their native region. The Sierra de Gredos, made famous in recent years by the likes of Daniel Landi, Comando G and Alfredo Maestro, is a mountain range that spreads over parts of three appellations – Méntrida, Vinos de Madrid, and Castilla y León – and sits between 600 and 1,200 meters in elevation, only a short way west of Madrid itself. These old bush vines planted on sand, granite, and schist make for some amazing and expressive Garnacha, but with lively acidity and delicacy, Especially when done by the names mentioned and these 4 Monos, Javier Garcia (also the head winemaker at Méntrida icon Bodegas Jiménez-Landi), co-winemaker Laura Robles, wine-lover David Velasco, and vineyard holder David Moreno. This wine comes from regional vineyard parcels with head trained (En Vasco/En Gobolet) vines ranging between 30 and 85 years old set on mostly decomposed granite soils at about 800 meters up in the Sierra de Gredos, all within the Vinos de Madrid DO appellation and comprised of all organic 85% Garnacha, 10% Cariñena, 3% Morenillo, 2% Syrah for this lovely fresh vintage. Minimalists in the cellar, the 4 Monos wines are created with natural winemaking methods, such as wild yeasts and whole cluster fermentation, foot-trodding the grapes for minimal extraction, with very little sulfur added, and minimal oak treatment using old barrels exclusively. This GR10 Tinto village wine was on the skins for between 21-40 days, until primary was done then gently pressed and raised in 300 & 600 liter used oak casks and a 4500L foudre for 7 months, plus another 2 months in concrete to settle before bottling. Layers continue to unfold with air with tangy strawberry, pomegranate, briar laced raspberry and sweet and sour plum fruits along with sharp/crisp mineral tones, dusty tannins, dried herb, anise and lavender. After an hour it takes on some kirsch elements, gets silken and fills out a bit more, while always staying refined and showing just a hint of stems-menthol and leather, this wine way over delivers for the price and is ultra cool Grenache that Pinot Noir or Burgundy lovers will find hard to resist. In California we have Grenache re-imagined led by a mix of characters, Sheldon Wines, Ian Brand, Angela Osborne (Tribute to Grace), Birichino and Randall Grahm’s ever evolving Grenache based wines that are after or into this style, all with admirable results, so be sure to check them all out if you love Grenache, but certainly don’t miss this 4 Monos Tinto if you can find it, and drink this 2016 over the next 3 to 5 years, it’s a great and quaffable red to enjoy anytime.
($18 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2017 Weingut Korrell Johanneshof, Riesling Trocken “Von den Grossen Lagen” Nahe Germany.
The beautifully steely crisp Von den Grossen Lagen Riesling Trocken by Weingut Korrell is a striking and complex wine that absolutely thrills in the glass with layers of tangerine, apricot, kumquat and quince fruits this is supported by smoky wet shale, rose oil, lime blossoms, verbena, saline, red tea spices, leesy almost caramel like textures as well as bone dry extract that makes this wine so wonderfully structured and with an underlying power. Even in it’s youth this fabulous pale limpid yellow/golden Riesling, which delivers graceful transparency, a subtle perfume and vivid energy, drinks with sublime form and elegance and of course there is the intensity and tension of the vibrant and racy acidity that provides the showcase for everything that is great in this fantastically crafted wine. It’s very exciting time for this small Nahe producer, as they just received one of Germany’s top prizes for this wine, taking the famous Riesling Cup! Winemaker, Martin Korrell adds that, the German Riesling Cup is perhaps the most recognized Wine prize in the German wine scene – with a blind tasting of more than 800 Rieslings and a participation of all top wineries. Wine legends like Doennhoff, Schäfer Fröhlich or Wittmann won this contest in the last years – and last Saturday we got the honor to be the winner of 2018. It was selected as the best by a jury of experts – sommeliers, journalists and oenologists. I extend my congratulations to Martin & Britta Korrell on this awesome win, and it certainly gave me food for thought as I was preparing to taste/review this wine, let’s just say it really whet my appetite to try it! And it does not disappoint with it’s class and depth it is without question a fantastic dry Riesling. Coming off four Grand Cru parcels, hence the name Von den Grossen Lagen (from the Grand Cru vineyards) this exceptional dry Riesling has it all, showing the Nahe’s great mix of soils in one wine, even though it is mostly marked by the volcanic influence. Martin Korrell blended this 2017 version from 34% Schlossbockelheimer in den Felsen, a vineyard you might have heard off being a site that Donnhoff uses in one of their own great Grosses Gewachs, 16% Schlossbockelheimer Konigfels, which is on porphyritic (volcanic) soils, 42% Norheimer Kirschheck, again a vineyard known for some of the best Spatlese from Donnhoff and set on intense slate soils, and 8% from an ultra steep parcel at Niederhauser Klamm known for it’s driving minerallity. Fermentations, with all four of the single sites done separately, the Norheimer Kirschheck begins as always with native and it is fermented in oak barrel, while the 3 other ones are done using more classical methods with special yeasts in steel tanks with cool ferments with all the wines seeing more than six months on the lees. I am so grateful for the efforts of Britta and Martin to get me this Von den Grossen Lagen to try, the Korrell’s are rising stars in the Nahe and I hope to visit them on my next trip to Germany, they make a full lineup of wines, including a set of dry Rieslings with this one and their monopole Paradies, along with what I hear is an amazing Sekt as well as off dry and fruitier styles. This is a winery of note that is currently looking for an importer for the US market, and after tasting this intriguing wine I hope it becomes more widely available!
($n/a- 16 Euro in Germany or about $48 US with exchange rates and import mark ups) 96 Points, grapelive
2017 Dirty and Rowdy, Mourvedre “Unfamiliar” California.
Petaluma’s Dirty and Rowdy Family Wines, was established in 2009 with partners Hardy Wallace and Matt Richardson focused on unique vineyard sites of Mourvedre and who’s motto is “Untinkered with wines, so many soils, and (so many) miles, made of mostly Mourvèdre” are without question one of must try wineries of this new current crop of indie winemakers crafting some value priced and natural/authentic offerings without pretense and this Unfamiliar Mourvedre bottling being one not to miss wine! Usually made with rustic abandonment, the boys at Dirty and Rowdy had to change their up methods with this harvest (2017) and hustled to produce a clean and clear wine, this regional blend Mourvedre is the result of serious hard work, mostly due to a intense three day heat wave I would guess, that altered the best laid and laid back plans! Coming off a group of selected vineyards that included: Shake Ridge Ranch, Rodnick Farm (formerly Antle), both Skinner vineyards, Rosewood, Wonderment Rd., Alder Springs, and Brosseau, this Unfamiliar Mourvedre unites Amador, Chalone and Mendocino County to name just a few AVA’s and it shows a bright and juicy character and a tangy savory contrast to the up front fruit, the final blend of this ruby/garnet hued red was 85% Mourvèdre, 10% Syrah, 5% Grenache of whole cluster goodness, with grapes, 90% of which was organic, that needed a lot of extra TLC. That all said, the end result is wonderfully restrained at a labeled 12.5% and is easy to love showing sweet raspberry, pomegranate, racy plum and sweet/tart cherries on the medium weighted palate along with a nice sense of mineral, light floral elements, acidity and dried lavender/herbal notes. Due to the complexity of the harvest and a few stuck ferments, this was maybe the most un-natural version of Dirty and Rowdy’s Mourvedre as it was not all natural, native and needed filtration to be as delightful as it is, so it looks to be maybe a one off in style, but certainly not a misfit, I really love this stuff, drink now.
($23 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2015 Foursight Wines, Pinot Noir “Zero New Oak” Charles Vineyard, Anderson Valley.
One of the best deals around and one of most pure Pinots from the Anderson Valley is Kristy Charles’ Foursight Wines Zero New Oak bottling, it was designed to be a showcase of the estate fruit, and it impresses for it’s class, brightness and exciting layers, Charles used all native yeasts, 20% whole cluster and only used barrels here with wild yeast in both primary and in secondary fermentation (malos) from a mix of clones including Pommard, 777, 115 and 114. The Charles Vineyard has been the source to many a fine Pinot, especially well known in the vineyard designate Papapietro-Perry versions, which is one of the reasons I found out about this small winery headed by Kristy Charles and Joe Webb, along with Kristy’s parents William and Nancy in Anderson Valley, where Kristy also serves as head of the Anderson Valley Winegrowers Association with great distinction and respect of her peers. For Foursight’s Zero New Oak Pinot, they used open top fermentors and did hand punch downs and employed a very gentile Champagne style press for gentile handing of their grapes before going into second year and well seasoned barriques before bottling unfined and unfiltered, noting the wines are all vegan safe. The Charles family purchased the land back in 1950, and the estate vineyard was planted to vines back in 2001, which is set on ancient river bed with rocky well drained soils just southeast of the tiny hamlet of Boonville in the heart of the Anderson Valley, a top spot for cool climate varieties and a place that is making some of California’s greatest wines these days. With just about 10 acres of Pinot Noir planted Charles Vineyard is a small production vineyard and the wines from here are pretty limited, especially this bottling. Webb was the assistant winemaker at the historic Joseph Swan Vineyards in the Russian River Valley and Kristy did the UC Davis extension program and as a team they are looking for terroir expression, with their estate vines as well as natural and authentic or soulful wines much in the same way as their neighbors and friends in region are doing, with likes of Anthill Farms, Baxter, Philips Hill, Halcon and Drew all being great peers and inspiration, they are part of the new California generation that have respect for old school traditions, nature and have a real pride of place. Pretty red fruits dance on the medium full palate and it takes a good long while for everything to wake up here in this 2015 vintage, but once full going this Pinot starts to add layers and deepens greatly with black cherry, rose petals, minty herbs, plum and sweet strawberries along with a hint of chalk dust, cedar and tea spices. Wonderful with food, this cuvee is more subtle than prior vintages, and Foursight has lightened their touch here using much less stems by reducing the percentage of whole bunch(s) in 2015 going for delicacy, feminine grace and elegance, which has successfully presented itself in this wine in particular, and I can see even more potential to come with further aging, you can drink now with no penalty, but I am looking forward to seeing what happens in another 5 to 7 years, I am certain of future rewards. This is a wine that comes alive with food, it will be great on your holiday table or when you have a long evening meal, great with duck breast, and or wild mushroom dishes.
($39 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2016 Jean Foillard, Morgon “Cote du Py” Cru Beaujolais, France.
One of Gamay’s most respected and most sought after superstars, the Jean Foillard Cote du Py is a gorgeous wine of class, divine balance and detail, it achieves what it does with charm and subtly, rather than any in your face overtness. This 2016 flows with beautiful layers of dark fruits, delicate floral notes, earthy/brambly spice and a touch of beet root. Foillard’s Cote du Py mostly old vine Morgon, is not just one of the world’s best Gamay wines, it’s one of France’s great wines period, it’s always a beauty with a soul that transcends varietal and speaks of place first and foremost and is highly prized and sought after for it’s class and depth that rivals top offerings in the Cote d’Or. Importer Kermit Lynch waxes lyrically about Foillard and his wines and are part of his gang of four, M. Lapierre, Thevenet, Guy Breton and Foillard that started the Cru Beaujolais revolution for his portfolio, which have changed minds about what Gamay and especially what this Cru village of Morgon can do, they join Fleurie’s Dutraive as the core of Beaujolais champions. According to Lynch, Jean and Agnès Foillard took over his father’s domaine in 1980, and soon thereafter began to make (his) Kermit Lynch’s customers very happy with stunning wines, and Jean followed the teachings of Jules Chauvet, a traditionalist that believed in organic and natural wines way before it was a thing. Most of their vineyards are planted on the Côte du Py, the famed slope outside the town of Villié-Morgon and the pride of Morgon. These granite and schist soils sit on an alluvial fan at the highest point above the town and impart great complexity. Kermit goes on to add, Jean along with the gang of four (that included the famed late Marcel Lapierre, with son Mathieu and daughter Camille now continuing, Jean-Paul Thévenet, and Guy Breton) never uses synthetic herbicides or pesticides, harvesting later, rigorously sorting to remove all but the healthiest grapes, adding only minimal doses of sulfur dioxide or sometimes none at all, and refusing both chaptalization and filtration in their wines. This end result allows Morgon Cru to express itself naturally, as it should be without that overly bubblegum and banana aromas that mark so many other Beaujolais available today, instead showing a rustic structure, spicy notes, and mineral-laden backbone this what real Morgon is all about. I would absolutely agree and I have long been a huge fan of these wines, especially Foillard who uses mostly ex-Burgundy barriques, sometimes sourced from the fabled Romanee-Conti, he uses 100% whole cluster fermentation mostly in concrete vats that lasts 3 to 4 weeks before raising the wine in barrel for between 6 and 9 months, in the case of this Cote du Py. The vines are up to 90 years old here and while a few young ones make up a small percent overall there is that old vine character that shines through as well as the class of the terroir that comes from it’s Schist, Granite and Manganese soil makeup. Layers of plum, blackberry, violets, walnut essence, a touch of green herb, sugar beet and hint of straw along with anise, mineral and citrusy acids all make appearances in this medium framed Morgon that feels just a bit sharp and raw on the palate, which doesn’t take away from any of the racy pleasures in this well crafted 2016 version, it is not a criticism of the wine, rather just the vintage reality, it just lacks the hedonism of the 2015 without being at all disappointing, it is racy on it’s own, but much more intriguing with cuisine, gaining refinement and dimension with food, drink over the next 3 to 5 years.
($48 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2018 Cruse Wine Company, Valdiguie Nouveau, Suisun Valley, California.
Michael Cruse is one of the most admired new California winemakers, his Cruse Wine Company is an under the radar anti-mainstream success story who has a cult like following for his sparkling wines, both his Pet-Nats and his rare Champagne style version, but he also does some wildly fun still wines. in particular delicate and lighter framed Carignan and Valdiguie based red wines, especially Valdiguie, a grape of obscure origins in the southwest of France that was long thought to be Gamay in California, where it is still sometimes called “Napa Gamay” and is championed by a diverse group of winemakers and producers from J. Lohr and Rochioli Vineyards to recent stars Broc Cellars, Field Recordings, who make a Valdiguie Rosé and Cruse. One of his most fun jottings is this Valdiguie Nouveau, which is a stylish and more refined version with a lovely pale electric magenta/ruby color, just a shade darker than a Rosé, it’s floral and carbonic fruitiness make it almost impossible to resist, and this 2018 is outrageously good with pretty wild flowers, tart cherry as well as with classic Beaujolais Nouveau like hint of soft bubble gum and county fair cotton candy essences. Fresh and playful this Valdiguie Nouveau has a easy light weight form and with air gets more complex adding strawberry, herbs, watermelon/pomegranate and candied citrus. Served chilled it refreshes and stays focused with a crisp detail and is lively dry making for a cozy quaffer. Michael Cruse’s Ultramarine Brut Sparkler might be the most sought after new world bubbly and his mailing list is fast becoming a craze, I recommend getting on it, but I love the whole selection of stuff available, I must thank Stevie and Josiah at Bay Grape in Oakland for introducing me to Michael a few years ago at one of the Pet-Nat Zoo nights, as I have really enjoyed his wines over the last couple of years, and this Nouveau is a happy place to forget the seriousness of life, it’s much needed in this current age.
($22 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2016 Foursight Wines, Semillon, Charles Vineyard, Anderson Valley.
Kristy Charles’ Foursight Wines are crafted from estate grown fruit and her Semillon is very much made in the Haut-Brion Blanc style with classic white Bordeaux character, she used 20% Sauvignon Blanc in the final blend of this 2016 and it was wild yeast/barrel fermented and used 20% new French oak and went through full malos to finish 13.9% and gives this beautiful wine it’s presence in the glass. Crafted by Krsty Charles and Joe Webb, the ex Joseph Swan man this all estate fruit grown Semillon is an exotic and exciting surprise in their latest lineup. Wonderfully textured and lush the golden hued 2016 Foursight Semillon melts in your mouth with dense layers of waxy/oily goodness and rich oak opulence making for a serious white wine, and while known almost exclusively for their Pinot Noir, this stuff will impress! Layers of white melon, lemon curd, papaya and quince fruits go wonderfully with creme brûlée, leesy, toasty notes and faint straw/hay. This Semillon cuvée from Foursight has tons of charm, class and potential to age for a decade with ease, air allows more finesse to shine through as well gaining some zippy citrus, lime blossom, mineral and eye opening length, it has some amazing palate impact and proves this grape doesn’t get enough attention and focus. I really enjoyed this wine, and in fact Foursight’s latest set is a great set of wines, especially their estate Foresight Zero New Oak all wild yeast Pinot Noir 2015 and this 2016 Foursight Semillon, with both showing expressive flavors and attractive textural quality, they are also really good values.
($25) 93 Points, grapelive
2018 Poe Wines, Pinot Nouveau, Van der Kamp Vineyard, Sonoma Mountain.
Samantha Sheehan’s Poe Wines Pinot Nouveau is a wine is crafted/made in a Beaujolais Nouveau style, and according to Samantha it is an homage to the idea of celebrating the end of the vintage, and as well as giving a tease of of the upcoming vintage. Sheehan harvested just a couple tons from a Pinot Noir block that was planted back in the 1980s at the Van der Kamp Vineyard, on top of Sonoma Mountain, which is set on the alluvial and mineral rich soils that makes this site so exceptional. It was made from a selection of Mt Eden, Swan, Calera, Martini, and La Tache clones that was all whole cluster that went into a stainless steel tank, and then sealed the lid tightly closed for six weeks, Sheenan explains, that In the absence of any oxygen, the grapes went though an intracellular fermentation, or as we call it, full carbonic maceration. The 2018 is a beautiful version, showing the complexity and purity of vintage, while still being fun and easy to love with a light savory tone holding the fruity nature in check, it shows pretty tart cherry, plum and red berry flavors adding strawberry and just a hint of carbonic cotton candy, tropical and bubble gum and crisp acidity in this vivid light/medium bodied and ruby colored Nouveau. There is more to come with air as the palate refines and gets more Pinot like, it proves California Nouveau is not a gimmick and opens up nicely to become a more complete with floral notes and a dusting of spice and herbs lingering with the fruit essences on the finish. Serve slightly chilled and enjoy with food, it will impress with the holiday fare too, it also highlights the underlying nature of the 2018 vintage which looks exceptional, it whets the appetite for the wines to come. Poe Wines has an amazing set of wines as current releases, these are some of Sheenan’s best offerings to date, I can’t stress enough, you should get on her list and get these new wines, especially her new Sparkling Rosé, which is absolutely outstanding, her Pinot Noir, her Pinot Meunier and her Chardonnay, all of which are studied examples of varietal and place as well as being stellar wines.
($28 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2016 Desparada, Syrah “Niobe” White Hawk Vineyard, Santa Barbara County.
Vailia From’s Desparada White Hawk Syrah is a show stopper with deep layers of black and red fruits, making it a great version of this singular vineyard, made famous over the years by Adam Tolmach of the Ojai Vineyard, Manfred Krankl of Sine Qua Non and Maggie Harrison of Lillian, it sits on the southern facing slope of Cat Canyon some 21 miles from the Pacific and 2 miles north of Los Alamos in Santa Barbara County on Arnold sand and Elder shaly loam. Vailia who got turned on to this fruit because she buys Sangiovese from here aged her White Hawk Syrah in 25% new French, 25% onetime used and 50% neutral (French) barrels to let the fruit express itself, and that it does, it feels dense and lively in the mouth somewhere between the delicate Ojai version and a more fruit forward style wine like an Alban Syrah giving the same thrills of both in a well crafted wine and it’s a great first 100% Syrah effort from Vailia, who considers herself an Italian and Bordeaux varietal producer. Desparada is a very unique all women winemaking team led by Vailia that makes craft wines in her winery in Paso Robles’ Tin City, an artisan industrial park that supports the micro producers in the region. I’ve followed these wines for quite awhile now and have always been impressed by their spirit and character, but I recently tasted through the new releases and found they have reached the next level and have gained impressive detail and grace, I especially loved her set of Sauvignon Blanc(s), her “Suitor” a fabulous red blend of 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 36% Sangiovese and 4% Cabernet Franc, it’s a beauty that over delivers for the price too, plus Soothsayer, a cool cuvee of 59% Cabernet Sauvignon and 41% Barbera, and this “Niobe” White Hawk Vineyard Syrah. The Niobe starts with lifted aromatics with a subtle floral perfume and mineral note before the wave of thick black fruits fills the full bodied palate with layers of boysenberry, cherry compote, wild plum and vine picked berry fruit along with spice, cedar, camphor, dark chocolate, fig paste and dried flowers. There’s a burst of youthful acidity that gives a juicy tone to this lush Syrah, and the sweet tannin is ripe and gives this red a velvet spine, there’s even more to come too, rewarding potential looks like a sure thing, I plan to give the bottle I bought about 3 to 5 years in the cellar. Vailia is also experimenting with some amphora aged stuff, so I also scored a very limited bottling of her clay pot raised Sangiovese, also from the White Hawk Vineyard as well as her Nebbiolo, new Picpoul and the ultra cool Arclight which is a Rosé of Sangiovese, Barbera, & Nebbiolo! My recent visit to Paso Robles was a huge success, this trip confirmed that this region is still defining itself and is bursting with exciting new producers and small wineries that are fully embracing being different and crafting distinct California inspired wines using proprietary blends of grapes, I highly recommend discovering Desparada, Vailia From is putting out some amazing things.
($50 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2016 Tablas Creek, En Gobelet, Red Blend, Adelaida District, Paso Robles.
Tablas Creek’s amazing red blend En Gobelet (referring to head trained or bush vines) crafted from a unique proprietary Rhone hybrid blend of Mourvèdre 39%, Grenache Noir 30%, Syrah 20%, Counoise 8% and the French Basque grape Tannat 3% that delivers a full bodied and deep wine of rich fruit and spiced complexity. The “gobelet” is an ancestral method of vine training, it was used by the Romans, and before, it allows the vine to grow up and more suited for hand harvesting and works best in warmer and breezy climates such as the Southern Rhone and of course Paso Robles, where you find many old bush vine vineyards. Interesting, the “gobelet” pruning method, which has been replaced mostly in favor of trellised vines which produces more fruit and is easier to harvest, but is perfect for the conditions in Talbas Creek’s Adelaida District vineyards, by allowing air through the vine while providing an umbrella like canopy of leaves/vegetation to shade there grapes, this works best with strong spur varietals like Grenache and Mourvedre that are used here to great effect. The En Gobelet Rouge uses Tablas’ original Chateau de Beaucastel clones for the the Chateauneuf du Pape grapes, as well as Tannat that was also brought over by the Haas (owners of Vineyard Brands wine imports) and Perrin (owners of Chateau de Beaucastel, one of the most prestigious wineries in France) families, the owners of Tablas Creek. Neil Collins, wine director at Tablas Creek, an English transplant who has been with the winery since it’s beginning has over the years, quietly become one of California’s most respected winemakers has put together an amazing set of 2015, 2016 and 2017 wines with both his reds and whites being exceptional throughout the range. I was down to Paso Robles recently to taste from this iconic producer that has through it’s wines and vines has made a huge impact on California wine and certainly helped lift the Rhone style wine movement, and I found some fantastic small batch offerings that I had not tasted before, like this En Gobelet Rouge. The 2016 vintage looks set to be a great vintage for Paso Reds, especially in the more Western and steep sloped vineyard sites, and this Tablas Creek En Gobelet highlights this perfectly, it’s mouth filling density and opulence is hard to resist, but it’s wonderful structure and balance sets it apart, Collins has nailed with this blend, allowing the full potential to flow forth across the textural palate with blackberry, plum, boysenberry, poached cherries and dusty raspberry fruits along with a touch of lavender, anise, pepper, tobacco leaf, chalky stones, leather and light cedary notes. With opening it gains a beautiful seamless refinement and the tannins turn ripe, while never getting dull, and at 14.2% natural alcohol it is not overt or hot, the thrills keep coming and a light floral perfume, sublime cassis, mocha and a hint of game reveal themselves and add to the glorious experience to behold in this special and limited edition bottling. The addition of Tannat to the dark garnet En Gobelet is what sets this apart from the usual Chateauneuf du Pape blend Tablas does in their flagship Esprit de Tablas Rouge, making for a unique purely California wine. A visit to Tablas is a fascinating education and must do when you visit Paso Robles, and the tasting flights always provide wonderful surprises to savor, this time I got to try a Picardan Blanc, a rare Chateauneuf Blanc grape of which there is maybe only 5 or 6 acres of in the whole world, a Picpoul, a 100% Counoise, a 100% Mourvedre and many more along with this En Gobelet Rouge, which was one of my personal favorites, it’s a wine that has a long life ahead of it, drink over the next 5 to 15 years.
($50 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2014 Epoch Estate, Veracity Red, Willow Creek District, Paso Robles.
A recent trip to Paso Robles was a great chance to catch up with some old friends and check out some new places, I am absolutely blown away by the sense of community and knowledge to be found here, in many cases it is far more impressive than you would find in Napa Valley and there’s a more authentic casualness to be celebrated in the region that impresses and feels comfortable even in the most prestigious of spots here. Also I am impressed with the youth and enthusiasm for new things and ideas, there a lot going on here, it’s not just Southern California’s Napa clone, it’s unique style and terroirs make this an exciting place to be, and I tasted some amazing wines, especially those by L’Aventure, Tablas Creek and Bill Armstrong’s Epoch Estate in Paso Robles’ hillside Willow Creek District. All of the Epoch lineup rocked, I adore their Rosé, the Estate White and the Estate Red, but their more luxurious cuvees are just incredible, especially this Veracity and their inky Ingenuity Red which are made in their fantastic state of the art winery with lots of cement fermentors and a stunning underground cave system. Epoch’s gorgeous Veracity is their Chateauneuf du Pape Rouge style blend made from 66% Grenache with 18% Mourvedre and 16% Syrah and coming off their two estate vineyards, 63% Paderewski and 37% Catapult, on steep slopes, which are set on a mix of shale and limestone soils, that give this wine it’s depth and intensity. Jordan Fiorentini, Epoch’s winemaker, fermented in concrete, stainless steel, and oak tanks and 1⁄2-ton French oak puncheons then raised for 18 months in a combination of mostly wood, but with 8% in concrete eggs with about 24% new French oak overall to make for a powerful, full bodied and elegant wine that has opulence, but feels silky and balanced with a burst of energy and wonderful heightened flavors. A wonderful array of blue and black fruits greet the lush palate with some cool stoniness and spiciness with boysenberry, violet liqueur, cassis and a mix of plum, blueberry and raspberry adding a hint of vanilla, chalk, licorice and dusty chocolate. The satiny density of form doesn’t get flabby or dull the lively nature to be found here and the aftertaste goes on forever, lingering on and on with Pretty detail and a touch of welcome briar, lavender/incense, earth and kirsch. Air allows this Veracity to show it’s graceful textures, and while ripe at 15.4% natural alcohol, it shows great finesse and focus, right up there with great Chateauneuf(s), it certainly deserves all of it’s critical acclaim, this is one of California’s great wines. Drink this stuff over the next decade and try to enjoy with simple, but robust cuisine, and be sure to make Epoch Estate a stop when you get to Paso, their new tasting room is amazing, their people friendly and full of info about the wines, the vines and other fun under the radar places to visit, it’s a must see winery in the area.
($75 Est.) 96 Points, grapelive
2017 Martha Stoumen, Carignan, Venturi Vineyard, Mendocino County.
It’s super fun to see a new generation of California winemaker going about re-inventing and discovering new ways to express grapes that never had much of voice here in California, like Martha Stoumen’s new release of Venturi Vineyard Carignan with it’s bright, but dark fruit, fresh flavors and slightly raw earthiness. Carignan also known as Carignane in California, is a grape that is found throughout the Mediterranean regions of Europe with major plantings in Italy, especially on Sardinia, Spain and in France where it plays a prime spot in Corbieres wines, an AOC in the Languedoc, as well as playing a minor role in the Southern Rhone, including Gigondas and Chateauneuf-du-Pape. It’s a deeply colored red grape that most plays a supporting role in old vine field blends in California, blended with Zinfandel, Syrah and Grenache to great effect, though in recent years it has started too come off the shadows and become a varietal that is getting attention as a solo grape or the main focus, in particular there has been some exciting versions from Ridge Vineyards, Sandlands, Pax, The Princess and the Peasant, Skylark, Bonny Doon and Ryme Cellars to name a few. Stoumen’s 2017 Carignan is really tasty and gets even more interesting and deep with air, she uses grapes that come off the historic Venturi Ranch in Mendocino, where Cariginan thrives, this parcel was planted back in 1948 and is extremely rocky, dry farmed with a make up of this old riverbed containing veins of quartz, shale, and sandstone soils all which seems to give the wine a mineral tone, a deep hue and a ripeness of detail with lower natural alcohol, with this one coming in at about 12%, this fits Martha’s style perfectly as she prefers a lighter and lively wine. The nose takes a moment to come alive and blow off a faint funk, very much like an old world country wine, giving some floral notes and brambly spices along with crisp blackberry, earthy/dusty plum and tangy cherry fruits as well as zesty blood orange, red peach along with light herbal elements, basil leaf, pepper and a bit of bite from skin tannins. Stoumen, who worked at COS in Sicily is known for her natural methods and textured wines, she has a lovely touch with her wines and a love for Italian grapes, she does a really good Nero d’Avila, see my review here. (click here) This is a vibrant red wine that gains greatly with cuisine, it has a streak that reminds me a little of Gamay with it’s juicy nature, it’s a playful wine that shows Carignan in it’s purest or naked form, it’s a version that should fill out more as it ages, but good to go right now, drink over the next 2 to 5 years and with food and friends.
($35 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2016 Cameron Winery, Pinot Noir, Reserve, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
John Paul’s Cameron Reserve Dundee Hills 2016 is a beautiful youthful Pinot Noir crafted in classic Burgundian style with a dark ripe vintage backing up the slightly earthy reductive style, it impresses the palate much the same way as does Perrot-Minot’s Nuits-Saint-Georges, but with that Dundee spiciness from the Jory soils. Paul is one of the leading lights in the Deep Roots Coalition and is a firm believer in using only non irrigated (dry farmed) vines as well as striving for true sustainability and traditional methods in the cellar, his wines are authentic, dense and transmit a sense of purity. The Reserve is a special bottling, blended from lots of both of their top estate vineyards Clos Electrique and Abbey Ridge from a vintage that Cameron considers a stellar year with tiny unusually small berries and amazing concentration with incredible flavor and powerful extract of which shows in the Reserve with a deep garnet and ruby hue in the glass and youthful intensity with a tight form that leads me to believe this will age fantastically well and get’s me really excited for the winery’s single vineyard top wines, because if this one is this good, then wow, they will be off the charts! Paul uses only native ferments and longer elevage, between 18 to 24 months (in only French oak small barrels) to allow his Pinots the show their terroir and complexity without being rushed out of the cellar. There is firmness to start here, but with air things just get better and better, dropping it’s gripping graphite/smoke and gamey notes to the background while revealing an inner beauty and perfume of violets and black fruits with layers of black cherry, plum, currant and misson fig fruits pumping on the medium full palate along with a dusting of red and brown spices, cedar, stinky truffle and a touch of char. The mouth feel is impressive and fruit density gloriously presented, while sweet and velvety tannins hold things in place, plus the subtle acidity gives an exciting precision to this 2016 Reserve Pinot and the finish is long and sexy. It really is a stunning wine, just note, it has much more potential and there’s much more to come, it’s still very primal at this stage, it is a wine that should hit it’s full stride in 3 to 5 years and go 15 years with ease! It should be held a while for best results, drink this Cameron Reserve Dundee Hills Pinot from 2023 to 2029 if you can wait, if not, give it plenty of air and enjoy with serious cuisine.
($40 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2016 Bodega Garzón, Tannat, Reserve, Uruguay.
This deeply colored and flavored Tannat from Garzon comes from selected blocks coming from vineyards within 11 miles of the Atlantic Ocean that get plenty of warm sunshine and cool breezes that allows full ripening and balance, making for a complex and spicy wine. Done in modern, but not over done style with clean and clear detail this Garzón Tannat Reserve is full bodied and loaded with rich fruit decadence, but with a nice balance of tannin and acidity that allows a core of tar, spice and bite to offset the dense black fruits, which include black plum, currant, dusty raspberry and a touch of fig, I had this in a blind tasting and was leaning towards an ultra expensive cool climate Aussie Shiraz or maybe something with a touch of Cabernet or Mourvèdre in it, as we were doing Southern Hemisphere, but I got a huge surprise when it was revealed as pure Tannat, then it made such sense, especially after air when this wine added some leathery/earthy notes and brambly spices. This is a powerful and dark/inky wine, and it impresses for it’s unique and ever so slightly rustic character, aged in mostly used French oak and fermented in cement vats it has enough old world charm to make it thoughtful, but enough international cleanliness to please the many over the geek squad, it’s a wine I would buy no question, it also would be great with robust cuisine, as food brings out prettier elements and floral shadings. This Tannat finds the right path between international polish and the more traditional/rustic style like you’d find in a French version, say a Madiran or the Pyrenees Basque Irouleguy, you get a little bit of both and it’s the better for it, fun and impressive stuff from Uruguay, a country that deserves more attention than it gets.
($18 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2016 Payten & Jones “Valley Vignerons” Pinot Noir, Yarra Valley, Victoria, Australia.
Behn Payten and Troy Jones are the down to earth winemakers behind the Payton and Jones Yarra Valley based winery crafting an interesting set of wines in a more laid back and natural style. made with a bit of humor and Aussie honesty, they say the wines aren’t ‘squeaky clean’, they are a bit ‘edgy’, maybe even a bit ‘raw’,but always interesting, with a little soul left in. They reckon drinking these wines is like experiencing a band live, maybe in a small club, as opposed to listening to a studio recorded album, they have minimal intervention, delicious, always smashable. That’s exactly what I found experiencing their Valley Vignerons Pinot Noir, a full on whole cluster carbonic wine that is bright, almost Gamay like with expressive fruit and loaded with spice and floral tones coming off a 20 year plus vineyard in the Yarra Glen zone of the Yarra Valley set on an eastern aspect with silty loams and hardened clay soils with mud and iron stones scattered throughout the site, all of which leans itself to the carbonic maceration and adds to the nice fruity/spicy tension. This 2016 is Payten & Jones’ 10th vintage of VV Pinot and they consider it their best yet and I can see why, this is fun stuff, but a wine that can go toe to toe with much more expensive wines. The bright and tangy medium bodied palate shows pretty rose oil, minty herb (bite) and layers of racy red fruits including fresh picked cherries, wild strawberry, raspberry jam and tart plum along with hints of pepper, tea spice, dried orange peel and very subtle cotton candy/bubble gum. With air a more rustic earthy charm comes into view adding a balance and as they put it a certain “raw” sexiness, it’s wine to search out, especially for the price, it’s a tasty little thing to enjoy now.
($20 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2014 A.A. Badenhorst Family Wines, Red Blend, Swartland, South Africa.
Badenhorst is one of the top wineries in South Africa and their top label, A.A. Badenhorst Family Wines, is all from old vine parcels in the Paardeberg zone of Swartland, it’s an area known for Rhone style wines, especially those made from Syrah and Cinsault, both which feature here in the 2014 Badenhorst red blend. Cousins from Constantia, Hein and Adi Badenhorst started this project, with Adi being recognized as one of South Africa’s great winemaking talents, by restoring an ancient farm and a cellar that had gone neglected back in the 1930’s focusing on Grenache, Chenin Blanc and local favorite Cinsault grown on the farm’s granite soils. All of the wines come from their Kalmoesfontein farm in the Swartland appellation of South Africa, though they do buy a bit of fruit from selected grape growers in the region to fill out the final blends, with their old bush vines, Grenache Noir, Cinsault and Chenin all planted in the 50s and 60s are grown in the Siebritskloof part of the Paardeberg mountain, and they use dry farming and mostly organic methods, calling their wines natural wines crafted in the traditional manner, I would say they are modern old school wines. Badenhorst uses concrete and old casks to make their wines, he’s all about keeping it simple and showing the wines soul and place, after completing his studies at Elsenburg, South Africa’s best wine college, Adi worked a few harvests at Chateau Angelus, as well as with Alain Graillot in the north Rhone, France, and Wither Hills in New Zealand, plus he did stints at local cellars including Simonsig, Steenberg and Groote Post, finishing by spending nine years as the winemaker at the esteemed Stellenbosch estate of Rustenberg. Adi’s 2014 is made from Shiraz 56%, Grenache 17%, Cinsault 17% and a touch of the Portuguese varietal Tinta Barocca 10%, all made whole cluster (he does the same with his white too) with foot treading and twice daily pigeage with primary fermentation in conical oak and concrete vats before going into closed cement vats with 6 months on the skins before pressing, and then the wine is raised in a combination of old casks and giant 4,000L foundres. Badenhorst has varied exposures and the vines are on three distinct types of granite(s) that are found here each providing personality and unique character to the wines, they include Paardeberg, Lammershoek and Lemoenfontein types (soils) plus some different sub-surface geology with a touch clay and some serious shale(s). Think of this A. A. Badenhorst red as a South African Chateauneuf du Pape hybrid with loads of earthy spicy charm and warm fruit with layers of plum, blueberry, poached cherries and boysenberry as well as peppercorns, minty herbs, licorice, lavender oil and flinty stones. With air this wine builds in presence on the medium/full palate gaining a beautiful sense of texture and depth, while still retaining a fresh core and sweet tannin that supplies a gripping mouth feel, providing proof of this wines seriousness and subtle earthy tones add to the mix making this stuff irresistible. This is a wine that simply entertaining, but has real complexity and class, it’s a wine that has a 5 to 10 year future at least, it’s drinking gloriously in this moment, be sure to check out this one, and Badenhorst’s single vineyard 2016 limited edition 100% Cinsault, as both are terroir driven awesome offerings!
($45 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2014 Baxter, Pinot Noir, Valenti Vineyard, Mendocino Ridge.
The beautiful and pure Baxter Valenti Pinot Noir from the cool climate site in the western end of the Anderson Valley in the Mendocino Ridge zone is a lovely and elegant wine that showcases both the stylish, though restrained winemaking and a sense of place. Baxter has risen to notoriety in recent years and are best known for their Pinot Noir(s), though they do a few other interesting interesting things including a Nebbiolo, the winery is a father & son partnership between Phil L Baxter and Phil T G Baxter, conceived to produce handcrafted single vineyard wines focusing on the Anderson Valley and surrounding Mendocino appellations with the pair combining more than fifty years of experience. Phillip Baxter the younger is becoming the face of winery and is part of the Anderson Valley generation that has made this region one of the best in the world, and like Jason Drew’s Drew Family Cellars bottlings, the Baxter wines are highly sought after and very limited, also Baxter trained in Burgundy with Pascal Marchand at Domaine de la Vougeraie and has put that to good use, as I noted when I reviewed his 2012 whole cluster Oppenlander a few years ago. The Valenti family originally started farming grapes on their homestead over 100 years ago, and the site is now farmed to organic practices by the mentioned Jason Drew. This Cru vineyard sits high upon Greenwood Ridge in the Mendocino Ridge appellation, according to Baxter, Valenti is nick-named ‘Islands in the Clouds’, because these ridge-top vineyards appear like islands peeking out from the maritime fog above the valley set on Gold Ridge loams, well-drained ancient oceanic soils with decomposed sandstone and with a high iron content and It is just a mere five miles from the Pacific Ocean, a stone’s throw from Baxter Winery. The Mendocino Ridge zone appellation (AVA) is special as it consists only of the coastal Mendocino ridge-top areas above 1200ft, and Valenti is one of the star vineyards as it shows clearly in this 2014 Baxter version with it’s layers of black cherry, plum and racy currant fruits along with wonderfully refined underlying acidity that keeps every detail brilliant and fresh on the rich medium bodied palate, additional notes of mineral, wild herbs, spice and subtle oak that flows in the mouth in a round and seamless fashion. Baxter usually works with native fermentation and per normal with his Pinots it looks like they use some whole cluster, though maybe not a high percentage on this 2014?, once pressed, the wine spent 18 months in a mix of neutral French oak barrels and small bit in stainless steel before being bottled unfined and unfiltered, and aged a further six months prior to release. The aftertaste gets better and longer with each sip and air adding rose petals, blood orange, a touch of vanilla and raspberry cream, this is silky stuff, I think it shows off lots of potential and it could age another 5 to 7 years with ease, but it is drinking fabulously right now, impressive and delicious!
($40 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2015 Le Miccine, Chianti Classico DOCG, Tuscany, Italy.
One of Chianti’s rising stars, Le Miccine is crafting some impressive wines and the current Chianti Classico 2015, a Tre Bicchieri winner, is an absolute perfect example of what these Tuscany hillside vineyards are capable of producing with ripe warm fruit, exceptional purity and bright acidity, and with an authentic class. Paula Papini-Cook the highly regarded French Canadian winemaker with Italian grandparents is the one woman show here at Le Miccine, an amazing historic estate in the Gaiole Classico zone and her latest efforts show her gifted touch and finesse with Sangiovese especially though like Castello di Ama, Le Miccine does a single parcel Merlot too, and it’s riveting. Le Miccine follows organic viticultural practices as much as possible, which increases the biodiversity and allows the vines to increase their natural defenses against harmful elements, they are looking for a balance that gives optimum grape quality and respecting the nature of their place. The estate vineyards in this Chianti Classico include the native Sangiovese, of which there are 6 different clones along with Malvasia Nera and Colorino that make up a minor part in the blend, but adds to the depth and complexity in the wine. The crisply fresh Classico is fermented completely in stainless steel tanks with the wine being raised in mostly large cask to highlight the natural vibrancy and transparency, it’s a combination that works great in warm vintages, like this 2015, it gives a vigor and focus to this easy to love and understand Tuscan red. Beautiful detail and precision make this wine awesome with food, it shows a medium bodied palate with layers of plum, tangy cherry, blackberry and cranberry fruits along with minty herbs, mineral tones, cedary spice, anise, tobacco leaf and delicate earthiness. Things get a bit more lush with air adding a creamy feel, while still being well structured and held firm by soft tannins, again, this Chianti Classico from Gaiole in Chianti is best with food, be it rustic or robust cuisine, the meal will allow a deeper personality to show through and it will bring out a touch of floral beauty to the Le Miccine, making it even more impressive, drink over the next 3 to 5 years.
($28 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2017 Quinta do Regueiro, Trajadura/Alvarinho, Minho, Portugal.
The beautifully mineral driven and zesty fresh Quinta do Regueiro Trajadura and Alvarinho from Portugal’s Minho DOC is a wonderful almost Riesling like white that offers a lot for the modest price. Regueiro, founded in 1988, is one of the best estate’s in the region and has some amazing old vine parcels, and is especially known for their single varietal Alvarinho/Albarino, the wines offer and step up in complexity and depth from the more basic Vinho Verde, while retaining the low alcohol and freshness you’d expect from this style of wine. This Trajadura led vintage adds an intriguing additional dimension which seemingly gives this wine a bit more substance as well as a slightly more expanded profile, it’s detail is certainly impressive and it’s acidity is vibrant though turns refined and almost rounded with air. The light/medium palate displays apricot, lime, green apple and honeydew melon as well as aromatic florals and delicate steely tones. While not as dense as the lees reserve Alvarinho, this wine for the price is an absolute steal, and it rivals much more expensive offers from it’s Spanish neighbors in the Ribeiro zone, it’s a beauty and goes great with fresh seafoods, especially clams, oysters and sardines. At under 12% this Trajadura and Alvarinho blend is perfect to drink with picnics and meant to be enjoyed in it’s youth, while Regueiro isn’t easy to find, it is worth searching out, drink up!
($15 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2014 Poe Wines, Sparkling Rosé of Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir, Sonoma County.
The Poe Rosé Methode Champenoise Sparkling Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir, crafted from vines at Van der Kamp Vineyard, high on Sonoma Mountain using grapes that were picked on August 30th of 2014, and fermented in barrel with native yeast and rested sur lie, it’s a remarkable example of California bubbles, maybe one of the best I’ve had! Samantha Sheehan of Poe Wines is an exceptional talent and her lineup is beyond noteworthy, her wines are some of the most intriguing you are going to find, and this Meunier driven sparkler is out of this world with vivid details and class, she allowed the wine finish primary then in January of 2016, she bottled the wine for another fermentation in bottle, as is done in Champagne, and then allowed it to age on the lees until March of 2018 when it was disgorged. Van der Kamp, planted in the early 1950’s, it is possibly the oldest planting of Pinot Noir in the state, and that Pinot adds structure and yeasty form to this lusty Rosé, while the Meunier gives that wonderful purity of fruit and I believe a streak of minerallity, this stuff is full of personality and charm it in fact reminds me of some of my favorite Champagnes like those of Christophe Mignon and Aurélien Laherte, both of which make exciting grower fizz. This Poe sparkler joins a few ultra premium California producers of fine bubbly, this one in particular is in league with the likes of Michael Cruse marker of Ultramarine, which is one of the hardest wines to get in California, Lichen by Dan Rivin and Monterey’s Caraccioli Cellars. As noted in my prior reviews on Poe, Samantha Sheehan founded POE in 2009 after being inspired by the wines she tasted in Burgundy and Champagne, and she is fulfilling her dream and her potential in making terroir driven wines in California, I keep getting blown away with every new set of her wines, and this is something special, it takes it’s place along side Samantha’s fabulous Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, and in recent years she has become a champion of Pinot Meunier both in Sparkling and still wines. This 2014 vintage Rosé has stunning vitality to match the Krug like barrel ferment textural richness and depth with sexy layering of flavors on the palate with a creamy, but perky mousse, it shows tangy cherry, strawberry, raspberry water, wet stone, brioche/toast, citrus and a hint of rosewater, it’s leesy decedent bubbly that thrills from start to finish. If you want something fun, but ultra serious in quality, you won’t want to miss this stylish Sparkling Rosé from Poe Wines, it’s pretty limited so if you want it for the Holiday season or because you love fine bubbly, you better not wait. Note meant to be an after thought, Sheenan’s Sparkling Rosé is even better with cuisine, it sings with food, it certainly is not just for rare celebrations, it deserves more attention than that, it is truly magnificent.
($42 Est.) 96 Points, grapelive
2013 Tenimenti d’Alessandro, Syrah “Il Bosco” Cortona DOC, Tuscany Italy.
This Italian Syrah is unmistakably Italian in it’s soul, but in many ways it reminds me of Penfolds Grange with it’s opulence that is matched by intensity and structure with ripe layers of fruit, spice and wood tones, it’s without question of sublime quality and shows this warm vintage and terroir to near perfection. Massimo d’Alessandro’s Il Bosco Syrah from Cortona, in Tuscany, is one of the most exciting versions in Italy and is a world class wine and this 2013 does not disappoint expressing it’s warm vintage with class and ripe density, it’s a truly unique and impressive wine. Syrah first came to this old ex Etruscan enclave in Val di Chiana back in 1988 when Milan professor Attillio Scienza planted an experimental 10 acre plot using selected Rhone clones, and within 11 years the area was given DOC status for the Syrah, a truly remarkable accomplishment with Tenimenti d’Alessandro being one of the regions biggest successes. The Il Bosco is produced from 100% Syrah grapes selected from the three oldest hillside vineyards, with the Il Bosco (the forest in Italian) plots were planted between 1988 and 1995 and the wine is aged 24 months in oak, mostly French, 30% new and raised in a combination of barriques and bigger wooden casks, plus it gets an extra 12 months of bottle aging before release, similar to what you see in Brunello and Barolo, highlighting the serious nature of this wine. The Palate feels dense and chewy, but refined as well, showing copious amounts of cassis, plum and blackberry along with melted black licorice, a hint of menthol, mocha and lovely mix of dried herb, spice and floral elements with touches of lavender, lilacs and vanillin. There is a Guigal level of regal decadence here and this vintage is exceptional for d’Alessandro, making for an impressive performance, a potential 20 year wine in the offing.
($40-50 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2016 Brick House Vineyards, Pinot Noir, Select, Ribbon Ridge, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
Wonderfully soulful and with layers of earth, woody/forest notes and dark fruits the estate grown Select Ribbon Ridge by Oregon legend Doug Tunnell’s Brick House Vineyards. This 2016 is an old school beauty with very expansive and textured fruit and wistful elegance, it’s a beguiling Pinot Noir in the Burgundy tradition. Brick House, organic since 1990 and now full Demeter certified biodynamic, is also part of the Deep Roots Coalition that is focus on dry farming and even in a ripe year like 2016 Tunnell made impressively delicate and balanced wines, especially this one, according to Tunnell it’s the most easy-going and approachable of all of Brick House’s Pinot Noirs, the “Select” is a moderately priced, estate grown wine that is a selection of barrels representing all the different vineyard blocks on the farm in the Ribbon Ridge AVA of the Willamette Valley, at the discretion of the winemaker and team. The medium bodied palate oozes with a sense of class and place with pretty floral notes and a mouth that shows blackberry, plum and sweet cherry fruits along with hints of tea, spice, herb, mineral and a touch of chalk with soft tannins as well as nice oak shadings, gaining that subtle earthy charm with air and lingering with an impression of rose petals and strawberries. There’s no drama here, no sharp edges and it’s a wine that sneaks in it’s best qualities without any showmanship, this is a transparent and pure Pinot Noir that tastes dreamy and hits all the boxes without being flashy, enjoy over the next 3 to 5 years. I love all the wines here at Brick House, especially their Pinots, and recent vintages are awesome, but don’t overlook their Chardonnay, which gets better and better, as well as their true Gamay Noir, which is one of the very best in the new world.
($35+ Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2016 Drew Family Cellars, Syrah, Perli Vineyard, Mendocino Ridge.
Of Drew’s latest releases you’ll find some amazing Pinot Noirs and Syrahs, that include this beautiful and richly flavored Perli Mendocino Ridge bottling, it seems the most forward of the three Syrahs on offer and lingers with studied elegance and freshness. The Perli Syrah by Jason Drew is one of the best examples of cool climate Syrah in northern California using California clones, which include McDowell and 877, grown at elevation, the Perli Vineyard is ten miles from the ocean, 2,200 feet up on a steep northeast-facing slope of thin oceanic soils. This site on a sunny ridge top is kept cool by Pacific winds, making wines, according to Drew, with immense structure, concentration and complexity, it has a different profile than some of Drew’s other Syrah offerings that are closer to the ocean and have Chave (Hermitage) selection clonal material. Typically for Perli, Drew used about 50% new oak and employs a bigger cask or “Puncheons” fermenting with about 50% whole cluster, that is done 100% native yeast, with gentile handling and punch downs before being raised in the cask where the wine is only gravity racked twice before bottling. Loaded with ripe black plum, vine picked berries, blueberry compote and briar/spiced currants this new release Perli Vineyard Syrah is compelling from the start, adding a dark floral tone to the inviting almost opaque purple/garnet hue in the glass, with air it adds a multi dimension and complex array of spice, licorice, mineral, meatiness, earth, mocha and just a faint subtle hint of toasty sweet oak. These 2016 also offer a lift of acidity that makes them a touch more light-footed in feel, but don’t let that fool you these are wines of wonderful inner beauty and density that will continue to develop and evolve on the coming decade, these are impressive wines, some of the very best in California.
($48 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2016 Cameron Winery, Rouge de Gris, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
Cameron’s skin contact Pinot Gris is one of America’s best Orange wines, and it really gets all the pigment from these grapes making for a deeply colored wine, hence the name Rouge de Gris, which means red from grey in French. According to John Paul of the famed Oregon producer Cameron, this wine is dedicated to the late Stanko Radikon, who was one of Italy’s most iconic orange wine producers, and his son, Saša of Radikon Oslavia in Italy’s northeast near the border with Slovenia, who made Paul realize the potential locked up in the Pinot gris grape. Cameron, and winemaker John Paul, is also notable for being the leading member of the Deep Roots Coalition, as are Doug Tunnell of Brick House and Kelley Fox—it’s an organization of wineries that are committed to dry farming and Paul is considered one of the most thoughtful farmers in the Willamette Valley. This Pinot Gris comes from Cameron’s oldest vineyard is Abbey Ridge located high in the Dundee Hills at an elevation range of 500-700 feet, with the first vines were planted here back in 1976. Made to be served chilled the Rouge de Gris is fresh and vibrant showing lovely wild strawberries, minty herb, rose petal and touches of red citrus, peach and tart raspberry in a medium weight wine, it has a striking generosity and perception of lush detail before a subtle grippy savory side comes through that makes you aware of just how serious this wine is. I loved the 2015 version, but this riper vintage really turns this Rouge de Gris into a very complete offering, maybe taking it to the next level, as it is especially well crafted and drinks beautifully and gets even better when paired with Fall food choices and more robust cuisine. Cameron, known for their legendary Pinot Noir(s) like their estate Clos Electrique and Abbey Riddge bottlings also make some Italian inspired wines as well, somewhat under the radar and having a cult like following they can be hard to find, but are well worth searching out, be sure to look for this Rouge de Gris as well as John Paul’s Nebbiolo and his Friulano based white blend Giuliano, all of which just got released!
($33 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2013 Casanova di Neri, Brunello di Montalcino DOCG, Tuscany, Italy.
The classic di Neri white label Brunello 2013 is exactly what I had been led to believe the vintage was, ripe and structured, easy to love now, but with serious age worthy potential that makes this vintage something special, especially for Americans that like to drink the wines in their youth. This is a rich and full bodied Brunello, showing a pretty dark garnet hue, that flows across the palate with finessed grace, but with an underlying power and a velvet grip showing ripe fruit, mixed spices, minty herbs and light cedar notes adding focused Sangiovese (Grosso) details and subtle acidity. Layers of blackberry, plum and pouched cherries lead the fruit in the mouth and while the aromatics are still evolving there is a sensation of dried flowers and incense beneath the youthful personality which bodes well for it’s future and it’s inner beauty. With air the sweetness of fruit gives way to savory tones with the addition of pipe tobacco, a hint of balsamic or hoisin, anise and minty herbs, but overall the Casanova di Neri Brunello stays generous, without too much wood, and mouth filling with purity of place and grape, it’s very lovely and impressive stuff. 2013 is a vintage that has serious, structure and stuff, but can be enjoyed in it’s youth, I can imagine a 20 year drinking window here.
($68 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2017 Weingut Leitz, Riesling QbA “Dragon Stone” Rheingau Germany.
The Leitz Dragon Stone is one of my favorite drinking wines of all time, it never fails to put a smile on my face and way over delivers for the price, it comes off the VDP Erste Lage Drachenstein Cru, a high parcel above the Rudesheimer Berg that backs up against the Niederwald forest and is set on slate and quartzite along with loose top soils. Ultra clean and generous in style the unclassified Dragon Stone is off dry, but with more weight than a Kabinett, and while a QbA it feels more like a drier Spatlese or modern Feinherb with some residual sugar that pleases the palate, but doesn’t present itself as overt sweetness as this site tends to drink drier in style. It’s a wonderfully expressive example of fruit forward Riesling, but with a balancing zesty personality showing some chunky mineral tones, good acidity and tangy extract. This all tank raised Riesling is vivid and full of energy and personality with racy yellow fruits, peach and papaya, zesty citrus, wet shale/stones and musk melon. This 2017 is a beautiful wine with Leitz precision and clarity of form, it’s comes in at 9.5% natural alcohol, making it easy to quaff with your favorite Thai or other Asian dishes, I honestly can’t get enough of this stuff, Johannes Leitz never disappoints and this Dragon Stone Riesling is always a standard barer in it’s price class, it’s an easy go to wine.
($17 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2016 Chateau de Saint Cosme, Cotes-du-Rhone Rouge “Les Deux Albions” Rhone Valley, France.
Louis Barruol uniquely with the Chateau version Cotes du Rhone Les Deux Albians uses multi vineyard sites to gain complexity, but still co-ferments all the grapes (together) which includes mainly Syrah, but with good does of Grenache, Carignan, Mourvèdre and Clairette. This 2016 is gripping stuff, deep and earthy highlighting it’s 100% whole cluster fermentation and Syrah based power, especially in such a vintage, this is very serious stuff, this is not your grandpa’s Cotes du Rhone, in fact it would be hard not to think of this as a full blown Chateauneuf or Crozes-Hermitage. This wine comes from parcels of vines that are set on hardened clay hillsides of ancient alluvium, along with limestone marl and rocky pebbles with southern exposures mostly, but with enough elevation and the Mistral that gives acidity, so this inky dark wine has fantastic structure and solid tannins. The Les Deux Albions is raised in a combination of unique wooden vats with a truncated cone shape and concrete tanks, this serves this wine well allowing the terroir and old school character to excel, it’s a brilliant Rhone and a killer value. Dark meaty and leathery notes lead the way along with a bouquet of melted salty black licorice, crushed violets that leads to a bold palate of boysenberry, black plums, peppercorns, dried aromatic herbs, lavender oil, cedar and lingering blueberry all of which unfold in lively and vigorous layers, it’s a full bodied red that just gets better and better with each and every sip.
($24 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2016 Halcon Vineyards, Petite Sirah “Tierra” Theopolis Vineyard, Yorkville Highlands.
The very sexy, almost Northern Rhone style, cooler climate Halcon Petite Sirah comes from the Theopolis Vineyard, a high elevation site that was planted in 2003, it’s a vineyard that is just hitting it’s groove, and really getting into that perfectly mature stage. This 2016 was picked October 11th, Theopolis Vineyard continues to demonstrate that it is on the edge of ripening for Petite Sirah, but ultimately a seriously rewarding site for this grape, being more than rather late to make a drier and fresher style version of this grape, the long hang-time gave complexity of flavors and nicely ripe fruit. As in 2015 Halcon’s winemaking team went for 50% whole-cluster and aged the Petite Sirah in neutral French oak puncheons, and this is really the secret of success here, making a wine of fresh detail, stem inclusion tension and lifted aromatics, this is special stuff. Paul Gordon deserves a lot of credit it crafting this wine in this unique style that will remind those drinking this gorgeous wine of a fine Cornas, it is total class and thrilling in the glass, this Tierra is also bottled unfined and unfiltered for authentic purity. This deep purple and garnet hued Petite comes in at a finely balanced 14.1% natural alcohol, in fact it feels slightly lower, though the palate does expand with time and air, filling out and adding dimension over an hour of opening. Just about 150 cases of the Halcon Tierra was made and if you want to taste one of California’s absolute best and exotic Petite Sirah(s) you better get on it quickly, as it has way of disappearing fast. The 2016 Tierra feels a touch lighter on it’s feet than the 2015, but overall very similar with vine picked blackberry, dusty currant, plum and tangy blueberry fruits, a stemmy briar bite, a mix of spices, dried herbs, anise and some subtle floral notes, mineral and youthful/gripping, but sweet tannins. This wine is full and complete with potential to get even better over the next 3 to 5 years, what a great set of wines Halcon has put out, especially their estate Syrah of course, but their Pinot Noir offerings and this Tierra Petite are also exceptional, these are wonderful values too, get on Halcon’s list.
($32 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2015 Domaine de Sulauze “Jambonnette” Vin de France, Provence, France.
Made mostly for the annual farm pig roast the Domaine de Sulauze Vin de France Rouge Jambonnette is non conforming to the rules blend of estate grapes, all organic and with no sulfur added, it’s a special cuvee of 50% Syrah, 30% Mourvèdre, 20% Cabernet Sauvignon. It’s pressed after a 3 week maceration and racked to cask then aged for 9 months in old wood barrels, before bottling, it makes for a full bodied and juicy country red that delivers ripe and earthy fruit, with rustic charm, a touch of stems? and mild tannins, it’s meant to be drunk young and fresh, great for Fall and of course pork dishes. The no sulfur added Jambonnette 2015 is vibrant still and openly earthy with hints of truffle, bacon fat and saddle leather to go with a bit of (stemmy) herbal notes (sage and anise) adding savory tones to the fruit core found here, the main profile is plummy with macerated cherry, strawberry, racy red currants and vine picked berries adding touches of mineral, chalky stones and sandalwood. Best to enjoy this intriguing red with robust cuisine as to hide some of the rougher edges, but honestly I love the vigor and unique quality here, Domaine de Sulauze is a wonderful all organic estate in Provence and Karina and Guillaume Lefevre are proving to be a force to be reckoned with in the region.
($18 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2014 Lasseter Family Winery “Chemin de Fer” Estate Rhone Red Blend, Sonoma Valley.
This 100% organic estate grown Rhone style red blend from Lasseter is a modern California version of Chateauneuf-du-Pape crafted from 65% Grenache, 21% Mourvedre and about 14% Syrah. The Chemin de Fer displays an oozing density and dark fruit character, but with harmonious balance and structure, it’s hedonistic, but not flabby or syrupy, it’s a beautiful and distinct wine that grabs your attention and wows the palate. Lasseter has put out a superb set of wines, a Semillon/Sauvignon Blanc, a Provence like Rosé and four red blends, this is a winery that leans toward all time traditions and refuse to do single varietal bottlings, with this Rhone style red being maybe their signature wine, though they make three high end Bordeaux based reds, one a Malbec based, one a “Right Bank” Merlot based, but with under 50% being Melot with Malbec, Franc and Cab Sauv and one more Pauillac like with 82% Monte Rosso Cabernet Sauvignon and a touch of Merlot and Franc, all luscious and Sonoma flavored. This Chemin de Fer Rhone Blend and the Amoureux Malbec ($65) really stood out as the most unique, with my nod going to this Grenache based wine by razor thin margins. The beautiful mouth feel and hedonistic in taste this 2014 Chemin de Fer really makes this wine stand out and leads to layers of boysenberry, blueberry compote, sweet kirsch, black plum and creme de cassis along with hints of lilacs, dried aromatic herbs, cinnamon, a mix of racy spices, toasty vanilla and sticky lavender. This wine is heady and opulent without being cloying or heavy, it gains greatly with food, it’s a charmer with robust cuisine and or with hard cheeses. Drink this impressive Lasseter Rhone Blend over the next 3 to 5 years, I hear it drinks well with your favorite Pixar film as well.
($52 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2016 Filipa Pato “Nossa Calcario” Bical, Bairrada, Portugal.
This gorgeous Portuguese white wine from Filipa Pato, known for her red Baga based wines is made from the Bairrada native varietal Bical grown on the this regions unique terroir, with it’s maritime cool climate and limestone/sand and clay soils. The region also has Portugal’s highest wine classification, Denominação de Origem Controlada (DOC) and the local Bical grape, planted primarily here in the Bairrada region can produce high acid wines and it can often be found in sparkling wine production, but Pato’s is a stunning version of a still wine with a wonderful textural mouth feel and white Burgundy like complexity. I’ve bee a fan of Filipa’s wines for quite awhile, enjoying her Baga reds and her sparkling Baga/Bical, though I had never tasted this Nossa before and I must say I’m thrilled with this impressive white, it reveals a beautiful mix of citrus, stone fruits and delicate floral tones in a fleshy and pleasing wine. The palate is medium full with lovely expansion and layers white peach, pear, lemon, golden fig and faint tropical essences along with a delightful mineral charm, wet stones, musk melon and leesy notes. Pato, who uses biodynamic practices in her home area of Beiras, get these Bical grapes from a chalk clay slope from a site she considers a Grand Cru above the village of Oís do Bairro (Filipa’s hometown) and she ferments naturally and ages this wine in well used French oak barrels, which adds the perfect rich detail to this crisply fresh grape, it certainly gives you the impression that it is as serious as a Premier Cru Chablis, it’s steely, but generous, striking a near perfect balance. Portugal, known for reds, is home to some amazing whites, they are well worth discovering, besides this beauty from Filipa Pato, you should look for Pessoa’s Vinho Verde, Regueiro’s Trajadura and Alvarinho from the Minho region and Deu la Deu’s all Alvarinho from the Moncao e Melgaço zone, as well as any of the Niepoort range of whites, and besides Bical, Alvarinho and Trajadura look for Arinto and or Loureiro (grapes) based wines. This Filipa Pato Nossa Calcario 100% Bical should continue to develop and gain depth over the next 3 to 5 years in bottle, but waiting on it is not needed as it delivers a brilliant performance right now.
($35 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2016 Deltas Freres, Cotes-du-Rhone Rouge “Saint-Esprit” Rhone Valley, France.
The Delas Côtes-du-Rhône Saint Esprit is made from a blend of Syrah mostly and with just under half being Grenache grapes, it usually consists of 60% Syrah and 40% Grenache Noir, as does this 2016, and of which come from a small village in the Ardèche region. The vineyard have a warm Mediterranean climate set on site with southern exposure on steep granite hillsides provides the best growing conditions for these vines, giving ripe flavors and still retaining good acidity. All the grapes are de-stemmed and fermentation and maceration take place in closed vats for approximately 15 days. Daily pump-overs ensure good extraction, then the wine ages in tank for about 8 months before bottling. The 2016 vintage was great in the Rhone and this Delas Saint Esprit Rouge is opaque/dark and juicy with fine tannins and a spicy kick to go with the opulent fruit. There’s a lot to love here, boyseberry, raspberry, kirsch, pomegranate and tangy plum fruits cascade across the medium full palate and lingering cassis and violets just add to the joyous ease that mark this unbelievably good value Cotes du Rhone. I’ve been a fan for almost 20 years, this and Delas’ Cotes du Ventoux have always over delivered for the price, but this 2016 is one of best I’ve had and should not be missed. Drink now, this is one of the most clean and polished cheap Cotes du Rhone reds you’ll find.
($10-12 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2015 Kelley Fox Wines, Pinot Noir, Momtazi Vineyard, McMinnville, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
The biodynamic Momtazi vineyard 2015 vintage Pinot Noir from Kelley Fox is one of my favorite Oregon Pinots of all time! Joining the greats from Beaux Freres, 1994 and 2008, and some of John Paul’s Cameron, Ken Wright, Doug Tunnell’s Brick House, Bergstom and St. Innocent, especially their Freedom Hill(s) this stuff is seriously great with stunning layers and intense whole cluster expressiveness, and while still a baby, it is remarkably poised and perfumed, if you like stems this is your jam. Vivid and filled with electric shock detailing this wine is a thrill on the palate and the finish lasts forever, this is not a Pinot Noir to be missed. Kelley Fox started her own label in 2007, after beginning her career winemaking at Eyrie, the long time Oregon Pinot (and that influence shows very clearly in the wines she produces under her own name), followed by a 10-year stint (2005 to 2015) as winemaker at Scott Paul. She launched her own winery in 2007 and now produces around 2,000 cases a year of lithe, mineral-driven and strikingly pure Pinots from two of the Willamette Valley’s most highly regarded and meticulously farmed vineyards, Maresh and Momtazi. Native yeasts are used for all of the wines, and anywhere from a third to three-quarters whole clusters have been used since the beginning, but as of the 2015 vintage Fox (used 100%) and will be using all whole bunches going forward whenever possible. This Momtazi reminds me a little of Philippe Pacalet’s Nuits-Saint-Georges, but maybe even better in all areas, this is an unreal almost out of body experience in the glass with amazing purity of fruit, and even with all the stems it shows transparent terroir and elegance, it’s first impression is exotic, sexy and with a nervy tension of herbs and spices, but with a few hours of air a true sense of class and place take control delivering an almost perfect performance. The palate of black cherry, pomegranate and briar laced vine picked berries is full and dense while still having an exciting vibrancy of acidity adding strawberry compote, candied orange peel, aromatic and bitter herbs, roses, light earthy tones, mineral, tangy cinnamon and refined and subtle framing of French oak notes. This is wildly fascinating Pinot Noir that can be enjoyed now, but oh man the potential rewards for 5 to 10 years in bottle are massive, I adore this now, but I am locking a bottle away to re-visit in 7 or so years. I have just got my hands on the 2016, which I’m told is even better, so I can’t wait to try that one too, but that is going to be a tough act to follow as this is mind blowing.
($49 Est.) 97 Points, grapelive
2017 Domaine de Sulauze, Rosé “Pomponette” Coteaux d’Aix en Provence, France.
Karina and Guillaume Lefevre’s Domaine de Sulauze in Provence makes some beautiful wines and one of their best is their Pomponette Rosé Coteaux d’Aix en Provence which is crafted from about 60% Grenache, 15% Cinsault, 10% Syrah, 10% Mourvèdre and 5% Vermentino (or Rolle). Made via direct press, the Pomonette is made in the vineyard to be Rosé, it’s a non saignee dry pink with a vibrant personality, but with vivid and round flavors that expand on the palate and give a rich mouth feel and the layers unfold with an elegant seamless sensation and a depth of character. This 2017 is best vintage yet for this Pomonette Rosé, it’s intense and nervy with great detailing and the finish is just amazing, I seriously think this is on par with Domaine Tempier and certainly better than 90% of whats out there! Bright and zingy with loads of mineral and with a pretty pale orange/pinkish hue in the glass the Domaine de Sulauze Pomponette Rosé, imported by Floraison Selections, bristles with verve showing a kiss of ruby grapefruit, orange rind along with tart strawberry, sour cherry and faint watermelon fruits as well as bitter herb, spice, chalky and wet stones a trace of floral tones. This cooly crisp Rosé gains depth and texture with air, this is serious stuff, complex and complete in a way few Rosé wines ever achieve, drink this beauty over the next year or so, great with an array of foods and cuisines, it holds up to more robust dishes with ease.
($21 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2016 Domaine Weinbach, Riesling, Schlossberg Grand Cru, Vin d’Alsace, France.
The 2016 Grand Cru Schlossberg by Domaine Wenbach is a gorgeous wine, it has always been a favorite of mine and this vintage really shines with fresh intensity and an inner beauty which unfolds with precise details and graceful textures. Domaine Weinbach, one of Alsace’s great estates, was originally founded by the Order of Capuchin monks back in 1612, property was a walled in and self contained site making some of the best wine in the region. The “Clos des Capuchins” is the vineyard that surrounds the domaine, it sits directly below the prestigious Schlossberg Cru (the first terroir in Alsace to receive the status of Grand Cru), along with the Grand Cru Furstentum (known for Gewürztraminer and as well as to the adjacent Altenbourg Cru (known for Pinot Gris) vineyard that rises above the Weinbach clos. The domaine is in the heart of Kayserberg’s hills and valleys one of the most picturesque places in Europe. The grapes used in this bottling come from the highest plots of the famous grand cru, making for a ripe, but steely dry wine with good fresh acidity and with an underlying power, Weinbach thrived in 2016 as did the Alsace region, it’s a vintage that offers classic Alsace quality and wonderfully balanced wines, especially this lovely dry Schlossberg Riesling with it’s pretty golden color in the glass and it’s liquid rose petal bouquet. Layers of nectarine, pithy apricot, lemon/lime, quince and tropical notes all come through on this fine Riesling, gaining spicy details and stoniness with air that adds some balanced savory elements to the core of yellow fruits. Look for a richer palate with a very more years in bottle, even though I am smitten with the vibrancy and vigor it shows right now, drink now and or over the next 5 to 10 years.
($46 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
N.V. Mousse Fils, Les Vignes de Mon Village, Blanc de Meunier, Brut Champagne, Vallee de la Marne, France.
One of my Champagnes is the Mousse, especially their Les Vignes de Mon Village 100% Pinot Meunier, which is wonderfully expressive and full of round mineral driven grace with it’s own unique character and style that highlights it’s terroir and it’s single varietal flavors. This batch was from 50% 2014 and 50% 2015 with a 24 month en triage on the lees and went through full malos from vines in the Cuisles zone, and it was aged exclusively in stainless steel vats. Cedric Mousse is the twelfth generation here and the Mousse name has graced Champagne labels since 1923, he has himself made wines in California and Bordeaux working at Freemark Abby in Napa Valley and Chateau Trocard in Pomerol, before returning to Champagne to take over the family house in around 2004, and very quickly he was invited to join the Special Club for his efforts and he has brought a more organic approach to the farming, with no pesticides or synthetic fertilizers to give the vines a more health environment. The Champagnes by Mousse are always vivid and vibrant with a steely charm and a gorgeous textural mouth feel, they are elegant offerings of Meunier. This bottling, imported by the famed Terry Theise, is an excellent bubbly with crisp detail and a creamy mousse with small beading bubbles that are subtle, but luxurious with a liquid mineral element to go with a dense palate of lemon, green apple, golden fig, stone fruit-white cherry, wet rock, hazelnut and delicate yeasty bread dough/brioche note. This smoothly focused Champagne is my perfect #ChampagneDay pick and drinks great right now!
($70 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2017 Samuel Louis Smith, Syrah “Sandstone Terrace” Santa Cruz Mountains.
The Samuel Louis Smith Sandstone Terrace Syrah from the Santa Cruz Mountains is an awesomely beautiful wine with a heady bouquet of crushed violets, lilacs and spicy black fruits that leads to a fantastically textured, but lively medium full palate of boysenberry, blueberry compote, peppered raspberry, plum and kirsch along with licorice, minty herb (partial whole cluster?) and cedary notes, it’s a cool climate Syrah of Saint-Joseph class if not Cote-Rotie, it’s an ultra impressive effort. Sam Smith, ex Margerum and the head winemaker at Monterey’s Morgan Winery is one of the most intriguing talents in the Monterey Bay, south Santa Cruz Mountains and central coast, seemingly to have come out of nowhere, he’s one of areas top new talents and these 2017’s are his best yet, they include a Sta. Rita Hills Chardonnay, this Syrah and his gorgeous Albatross Ridge Pinot Pinot (click here) which I recently reviewed. This deeply colored wine is almost opaque with purple/garnet hues in the glass is wonderfully inviting and while refined and seamless it has plenty of extract, structure and acidity to be a stunning companion with cuisine with a tannin profile that firmly frames the fruit, and gets even more interesting with air and in particular with food adding a touch of game, camphor and cassis. Syrah lovers should not miss this one, it looks to released before this Holiday season and since it will be limited you might want to pre-order or get on Smith’s mailing list, you’ll not be disappointed, and it’s a killer deal for the quality, drink over the next 3 to 5 years, and more than likely much longer though it will be hard to not drink it now.
($33 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2016 Cima Collina, Pinot Noir, Righetti Vineyard, Edna Valley.
Annette Hoff’s Righetti Vineyard Pinot Noir is an absolute stunner with exotic whole cluster perfume and spicy intensity, it just might be Cima Collina’s best wine to date! Cima Collina produces artisan wines from small Monterey vineyards, plus a bit of estate wines from Carmel Valley along with a couple of super limited bottlings from select parcel outside the region, like this Edna Valley offering from the Righetti Vineyard that is planted to an interesting selection of California Pinot Noir clones including Calera and Swan as well as some 943 and 115. Hoff joined Cima Collina in 2004 helping start the winery from scratch after worldwide winemaking stints most notably in New Zealand and in Napa, where she helped make some outstanding Pinots at Saintsbury. Annette’s wines have always had personality and a certain raw boldness since starting her Monterey and Carmel Valley collections, some of that was a reflection of the area and some was a bit of her own character showing through, but she has crafted a gorgeous and polished wine here with this one, though still with lots of powerful nature, vitality and low intervention. This 2016 Righetti from Cima Collina is almost like an expressive Grenache at first with a burst of floral tones, racy red fruits, peppery spice and grenadine before getting into it’s Pinot fruits with a core of black cherry, strawberry and plum coming alive on the overt and expressive medium bodied palate, adding cinnamon, earthy stems, anise tea and a hint of French oak. Righetti Ranch, just east of the town of San Luis Obispo, dates back to 1890 and has been in the current family for generations, and getting into the vineyard scene recently, and seemingly inspired by the Talley family. Their ranch has always been known for producing world class avocados, although now they have vines with about fifty acres planted to Chardonnay and Pinot Noir grapes. I’m told the soils here are unique and differ from any other vineyard in the Edna Valley zone and the elevation is also a bit higher than others in the region, it produces wines of deep color and complexities with a low pH and good acidity for aging and balance, and it is in no doubt here with Cima Collina’s version. Brilliant in it’s garnet and ruby color and sexy in verve and lingering with rose petals, dried sage/lavender and pomegranate, this is well judged and intriguing Pinot to search out, it’s going to be a tough get unless you join the Cima list, but it is a good time to discover or re-discover this small winery and visit their Carmel Valley Village tasting room.
($56 Est.) 92+ Points, grapelive
2012 Weingut Leitz, Riesling Trocken, Rüdesheimer Berg Roseneck, Katerloch, VDP Grosse Lage, Rheingau Germany.
The beautiful golden hued 2012 Leitz Rosie Trocken, a GG by another name, is drinking absolutely gorgeous with tons of fruit, mineral and extract in an ultra dry and crisp style with a hint of maturity and mouth feeling complexity. More open than the Schlossberg and Kaisersteinfels Crus the Rudesheimer Berg Roseneck shows expressive yellow peach, candid lemon peel, tropical notes, wilted roses and lime blossom along with elements of verbena, chamomile, faint petrol/flint, wet stone and green apple. The Rudesheimer Berg Roseneck cru sits above Rudesheim and the Rhein River on mostly reddish soils with lots of weathered slate it’s a site that gets plenty of sun and is very generous in flavors making for elegant and round wines, there’s more opulence here than it’s Berg siblings, but they always age well and have fine structures. With air a saline and savory side comes out to contrast against the fruity essences that bursts from the glass and the textural presence gives a serious palate impact, while the brisk acidity holds everything to together perfectly, this is a wonderful dry Riesling that thrills and is brilliant with cuisine in the same way as a Premier Cru Chablis, but with a more exotic personality. Leitz now labels this bottling a Grosses Gewachs under VDP rules and the 2015 and 2016 are current releases, I reviewed the 2015 about a year ago, still available to view here at grapelive.com and I rated it at 94+ Points, while the 2011 and 2012 might be hard to find they are great deals if you find them, especially this 2012 which continues to get better and impress more with age. Johannes Leitz’s latest releases are some of his best young wines across the board with something to love in each price class and style, from classic Spatlese and Kabinett to the drier stuff all of these wines make an impression and provide purity and terroir driven character, in particular check out Leitz’s Dragonstone, the Magic Mountain and these Trocken bottlings, like this one, along with the Erste Lage Drachenstein and the GG’s!
($40 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
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