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