2016 Domaine Marc Roy, Marsannay Blanc “Les Champs Perdrix” White Burgundy, France.
I am a huge fan of Alexandrine Roy’s wines, especially her Gevrey-Chambertin reds and even her Oregon wines she oversees for Phelps Creek in the Columbia Gorge, but her Domaine Marc Roy Chardonnay from Marsannay in the Cote Chalonnaise region of Burgundy is a beauty as well with clear trans-act and mineral charms. Alexandrine Roy is a 4th generation vigneron, and the current matriarch of the Roy family, she farms old vine parcels in Gevrey-Chambertin and Marsannay, employing organic practices and ever searching for perfection. This is a tiny domaine, according to her importer Skurnik, that includes just four hectares that are meticulously cared for as if it was Alexandrine’s personal garden. Alexandrine knows her vineyards (many of which are more than 100 years old) are a reflection of her soul and they have roots that are dug deep into the shallow limestone soils and she wants that to show through in her wines like this Marsannay. Roy strives for purity and elegance, her work in the cellar, as noted by Skurnik and relayed to me when I’ve tasted with Alexandrine herself, is done with minimal intervention and extraction, Alexandrine allows her old vines to express themselves with immense depth of flavor and clarity.
The coveted selection of wines from Domaine Marc Roy includes some majestic Pinot Noirs from mostly special Lieu-Dits like La Justice and Clos Prieur, as well as Alexandrine’s Vieilles Vignes (Old Vine), one of my favorites, along with this vibrant Chardonnay, which is on par with many Premier Cru Chablis in class and style. The Marsannay Blanc is from a surprisingly high elevation plot on thin soils over pure limestone, both of which give energy and mineral character to this wine that shows layers of lemon, pear and green apple fruits as well as snappy spice, peach pit, golden fig and clove with a touch of hazelnut and leesy toastiness. Alexandrine uses 40 plus year old organic Chardonnay vines for her pretty and vivid Marsannay Blanc that was fermented in stainless steel tank with 100% indigenous yeasts and then raised in French oak, about which was close to 20% new. This 2016 Les Champs Perdrix Marsannay Blanc is ripe and perfectly balanced with a medium bodied palate and a lingering richness and depth, after a slight smoky reductive note it opens nicely with hints of white flowers and gains in textural pleasure with time in the glass, while still briskly vigorous with natural acidity, making it lovely with soft cheeses and white fleshy fish dishes.
($45 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2016 Tenuta Delle Terre Nere, Etna Rosso DOC, Sicily, Italy.
The spicy Mediterranean red from Mount Etna is a sublime value and a fine and textured wine to start exploring this wonderful and ancient region on Sicily’s volcano. Tenuta Delle Terre Nere, one of the main standard barer producers on Etna and this entry level Etna Rosso DOC is a sleek and mineral/terroir driven red made from mostly Nerello Mascalese, which makes up about 95% and Nerello Cappuccio making up the rest, all coming from the cooler northern side of Etna on volcanic soils and includes vines from multiple plots that are between 5 and 50 years old. Nerello Mascalese is one of the hottest grapes on earth right now and these Mount Etna reds are considered some of Italy’s greatest wines, being likened to Burgundy in graceful class and transparency. Terre Nere has a great selection of single site parcels, these Crus known locally as “Contrade(s)” and make individual wines from them, much in the same way you see in Burgundy, similar to places like Nuits-Saint-Nuits, all based on historic boundaries and quality, and this wine is a region blend mostly from around the township of Castiglione di Sicilia at high elevation and on sloping hillsides formed by the ever present volcano.
The light to medium bodied 2016 vintage of Terre Nere Etna Rosso DOC is delicately perfumed, flinty and has a gentle ruby hue in the glass with satiny and ripe layers of brandied cherries, racy plum, raspberry and cranberry fruits, crushed shale, lavender, anise, blood orange and iron rich mineral tones, lingering on with red pepper, chalky stones and rose petals. Tenuta Della Terre Nere crushes and macerates the grapes together and primary is done in vats before aging for about 12 months in barrel, mostly used to preserve the wines fresh details, making for a savory and authentic red that gives a true and pure sense of place. This wine, brilliant with an array of cuisine, especially the local dishes of Sicily, goes great with California’s flavors, including seafood and wild mushroom dishes. With air this basic Etna gains classic Nerello Mascalese form and complexity, taking on a Pinot like character and mouth feel, this is a pretty and tasty wine to enjoy over the next 3 to 5 years. This wine is joyous for it’s polish and clarity, while there is more serious stuff from Etna, such as Passopisciaro, Salvo Foti, Benanti, Gulfi and Tornatore to name a few, as well as Terre Nere’s cru offerings, this basic wine delivers everything you’d want from a wine of this price.
($24 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
N.V. Laherte Freres, Blanc De Blancs Brut Nature Champagne, France.
The Brut Nature Blanc de Blancs by Aurélien Laherte is from his best parcels of Chardonnay from the southern slopes of Epernay and the Côte des Blancs. The Champagne house of Laherte Freres, founded back in 1889 is located in the village of Chavot in the Coteaux Sud d’Epernay, a sub-region sandwiched between the Côtes des Blancs and the Vallée de la Marne, and is one of the breakout producers in the region with an amazing set of current releases, including this beautiful Blanc de Blancs. 50% of reserve wine is included in this blend. Primary fermentation takes places in a combination of foudres and barrels with regular lees stirring. This wine uniquely saw partial malolactic fermentation, which adds to the dense and luxurious feel, though zero dosage. This Blanc de Blancs, that Laherte feels is representative of the purity and bracing minerality of Chardonnay found in the chalky soils of the area, really performs in the glass revealing complexity and inner energy along with a lively and elegant mousse. Under the direction of Aurélien Laherte who took over his family’s estate in 2005 prefers Extra Brut and non dosage bottlings with his Champagnes all vinified in used Burgundy barrels, with minimal malolactic fermentations, and are bottled without fining and filtration from his select mostly biodynamic farmed vines.
Aurélien Laherte, according to his importer Polarer Selections, is part of a dynamic, young generation of vignerons making waves in Champagne and producing a fine array of terroir-driven Champagnes using a natural (organic and biodynamic) approach to viticulture and winemaking. I tasted with Aurélien a few years back and was highly impressed by his wines and have followed his progress with great interest, in fact I am convinced he is a star right up there with my grower producer herbs, Laurent Champs of Vilmart and Cedric Mousse of Mousse et Fils to name a few. He, as Polaner adds, along with his high school friend Raphael Bereche – another star in the region – founded the “Terres et Vins” group of like minded Champenois producers in 2009, to promote responsible growing and bounce ideas off each other, this group taps some of Champagne’s more progressive and talented vignerons, including another couple of my favorites Agrapart and Marie-Courtin, as well as others. This Brut Nature Blanc de Blancs intrigues on the nose with stony elements, white flowers and yeasty decadence before expanding on the palate with glorious detail and clarity, it shows apple, pear and peach fruits along with hints of lemon zest, doughy notes, hazelnut, like a fine white Burgundy as well as touch of toasiness and that striking mineral mentioned early, lingering with delightful echos of each flavor. Be sure to look for this one and Laherte’s sexy Rose de Meunier Extra Brut.
($45 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2014 Poe Wines, Blanc de Blanc, Manchester Ridge, Mendocino County.
Mostly known for her alluring Pinot Noir(s) and Chardonnay wines, Samantha Sheehan should not overlooked for her brilliant Sparklers, which are single vineyard expression that are similar to some fantastic grower fizz and she is one of handful of high quality producers doing top notch bubbly, with Carachioli Cellars and Michael Cruse, who does the cult Ultramarine, coming to mind. Sheehan founded Poe Wines in 2009 after being inspired by the wines she tasted in Burgundy and Champagne and has been a rising talent ever since with her 100% single vineyard set of bubbly being exceptional offerings, especially this 100% Chardonnay Blanc de Blanc from Manchester Ridge. Manchester Ridge, set on soil that is highly eroded chalky sandstone, sits at a 2,000 foot elevation above Anderson Valley, in the remote Mendocino area, and as Sheehan notes, Tthe vineyard is 400 feet above the fog line, so it gets great exposures, but is extremely cool and allows for a long hang time, which gives added concentration, complexity and flavor development as well as keeping dynamic acidity to make an outstanding series of wines, and clearly makes, as Samantha adds, for high class juice, which sure is the case in this beautiful Blanc de Blanc.
This 2014 Poe Wines Blanc de Blanc is vibrant and elegant, but fills the palate with leesy richness and impressive depth, this 100% Chardonnay really delivers the luxurious impact that you’d expect of a great grower fizz reminding me of the fine examples by Pierre Peters and Laherte Freres! There is pleasing layers of lemon, peach, golden fig, clove, nutmeg, brioche, hazelnut and delicate floral and mineral tones. The body builds in the glass, while the Poe Blanc de Blanc stays vividly transparent and the mousse is fine and lifting with gorgeous small bubbles, creamy mouth feel and energetic beading in the glass. Sheehan picked the Chardonnay at Manchester Ridge on September 2nd, 2014 with loads of racy acidity, and It was fermented in neutral oak barrels without sulfur and with native or indigenous yeasts only. The Chardonnay was then aged in the same barrels for 16 months, before being bottled for sparkling fermentation where it spent a full 3 and a half years on the lees, and was disgorged in April of 2019, all of has given this gorgeous stuff incredible depth and layering. Poe’s sparklers, her Rosé, which I reviewed here recently and this Blanc de Blanc are class acts, I highly recommend getting them for the holidays!
($50 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2017 I. Brand & Family Winery, Cabernet Franc, Bates Ranch Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains.
The new release of Bates Ranch Vineyard Cabernet Franc by Ian Brand under his I. Brand & Family Winery highlights this sites quality and unique profile of flavors in gorgeous detail, this beautifully textured and deep Cab Franc is one of the best single varietal Bordeaux style versions of this grape in California. The Bates Ranch Cabernet Franc parcel was planted back in 1978 and set is on red Franciscan series, iron rich and gravelly volcanic soils that delivers a striking mineral elegance and warm ripeness. The 2017 vintage gave Brand a near perfect set of grapes from which to work, making for a full bodied wine that feels wonderfully engaging and joyously pleasing with a refined palate with silken tannins, polished acidity and layers of dark fruits that are framed by subtle use of French oak. Brand’s deft touch and style are on full display here in his Bates Ranch Cabernet Franc, from this old vine site in the southeastern zone of the Santa Cruz Mountains, in which he employed a traditional fermentation, with careful sorting and de-stemming of the Franc and elevage in mostly used barrels, with Ian using just enough new wood to do the job, if need be.
While the 2016 revealed a more powerful and earthy side of the Bates Ranch Cab Franc, this stunning 2017 edition is a pure vintage expression with more supple mouth feel, delicacy of elements and finesse, without losing any depth of flavors and complexity, it is a wine that looks set to age well and set to be a classic, it will certainly get richer and gain more serious components with another 3 to 5 years in bottle. The 2017 performs nicely now, and has a seductive look and personality with a dark garnet and ruby hue in the glass and a pretty floral bouquet with a hint of violets along with red berries and that (mention) exciting minerallity, all of which leads to an array of blackberry, plum, red currant and cherry fruits, plus a touch of sandalwood, loam, sweet pipe tobacco, baking spices, anise and a lingering echo of the nose. There’s a lot to love in Brand’s latest set of releases, in fact, considering the pressures of intense expectations from the media after Brand won winemaker of the year last year, these new wines are some of his best yet, especially this Bates Cabernet Franc, along with his outstanding set of Grenache bottlings, his Monte Bello Road Cabernet Sauvignon and his iconic Enz Vineyard Old Vine Mourvedre.
($45 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2018 Weingut Dreissigacker, Organic Riesling Trocken, Rheinhessen, Germany.
Jochen Dreissigacker is one of of the rising stars of the Rheinhessen and his latest set of wines are thrilling offerings and I found his Organic Trocken absolutely delicious and full of vibrant energy and pure fruit with mineral fresh intensity. Jochen Dreissigacker entered the wine business in 2001, taking over his family estate which originally was found as far back as 1728 when it was known as the Jacob Sauer estate, and Dreissigacker has overseen changes that to him crucially needed to be made, most importantly he organic viticulture. The large, seemingly vast Rheinhessen is a unique region of Germany, highlighted by a great diversity of terroirs and varietals coving an area between the Pfalz and the Rheingau as well as bordering the Nahe, interesting it produces maybe the most wine in Germany, but has few superstars, except notably Philipp Wittmann of the fabled Wittmann Estate, one of the greatest wineries in the country and iconic Klaus-Peter Keller of Keller, who has been an inspiration to Jochen. Now Dreissigacker is poised to join Wittmann and Keller in this elite set of great winemakers and this 2018 Organic Trocken Riesling is one of the reasons why, the grapes come from the Bechtheim area, which are the oldest known sites for growing wine in the whole of the Rheinhessen set on rolling hills around this village that has shallow deposits of loess and loam, overlying a bedrock of active limestone, which is similar to some famous parts of Burgundy.
The estate is now certified Organic and there is amazing attention to detail both in the vines and in the cellar, Jochen notes, he wanted to take something good and make it truly excellent, to transform good flavor into an exciting experience, and elevate pleasant wines to an inspiring experience. Which I can clearly see in his wines, especially this excellent and value priced dry Riesling, Dreissigacker adds that he has worked with the unique mineral composition of his vineyards, the local climate and microclimate(s) and harnessed his own deep passion for winemaking and his region, putting those elements into every bottle. According to the estate, this 2018 is partly estate fruit from the Heilig Kreuz site in Bechtheim and part purchased (organic) fruit from friends and neighbors, all within the Wonnegau zone on mainly Loess and loam soils. Dreissigacker fermented this Organic Trocken Riesling in 100% stainless steel, with extended lees aging, again all in stainless, to give pure form and allow it to be as transparent as possible. Vividly peachy and bursting with racy acidity this 2018 is everything you’d want in a wine at this price with layers of tangerine, apricot, lime and a hint of green apple along with wet (chalky) stones, verbena, caraway seeds (something unique, somewhat suggested by the winery after tasting it) as well as delicate floral tones, steely mineral and a touch of tropical essences. Keep your eyes open for this one and all of the Dreissigacker wines, including their Cru Bechtheimer Riesling and their Sekt Brut Riesling!
($20-24 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2009 Paul Bara, Special Club, Brut Rosé Champagne, Grand Cru, Bouzy, France.
The famous grower producer, Champagne Paul Bara, is located in the Bouzy region and makes Pinot Noir driven bubbly that is structured and sophisticated that reflects the terroir with its classic clay and limestone soils that allows the Pinot grapes to really develop full ripeness and power. I have always loved the vitality and firmness of these Champagnes from Bara that always show taught form and zesty acidity, they are enthusiast sparklers that take your full attention to appreciate their vigor and detail, and this is especially true with their rare Special Club bottlings like this glorious 2009 Special Club Brut Rosé, which even in a ripe year is nothing but class. Interesting, these Special Club wines have the highest percentage of Chardonnay in their range and gives them an added richness of texture it seems and a roundness that caresses the full palate with this Rosé showing heightened aromatics and layered flavors with pink citrus, strawberry, a hint of cherry and nutty brioche leesy depth along with wet stone, rosewater, mineral notes and lingering Pinot fruit. The fine mousse is luxurious and beads with the soft pop of small bubbles, it is creamy, but energetic and gives an opulence to what is a powerful Champagne that deserves a meal based around it, rather than it being an aperitif or special occasion sipper, this is center of the table stuff! Bara also does a still red wine, Bouzy Rouge Coteaux Champenois Grand Cru, though it is extremely limited and almost impossible to get your hands on, it is one of the geeky unicorn wines that usually never sees time on the shelf. Bara’s regular bottlings are regal efforts and wonderful values that over deliver in the quality to price arena.
This 2009, a vintage many overlooking as the 2008 continues to be the star of the last decade in the region, but one that will surprise in some cases, as this gorgeous Paul Bara vintage Brut Rosé Special Club proves with its decadence and style. Bara, uses almost zero malos in their fermentations, helping showcase vitality in their Champagne(s) with all their vineyards being Grand Cru and grown to exacting standards which give these Champagnes their clarity, depth and intensity. After hand harvesting and careful sorting the grapes are direct pressed off their skins and cool fermented through primary and aged on the lees, with this Special Club getting 9 years on the lees in bottle. The Special Club Brut Rosé was a final blend of 70% Pinot Noir and 30% Chardonnay, the base wine saw no skin contact, the color coming from the use of 12% Bouzy Rouge, from riper Pinot Noir still wine that was crafted separately from a later pick and with traditional winemaking with daily punchdowns and allowed to go through secondary fermentation. I was thrilled by this 2009 Brut Rosé by Paul Bara and while not easy to find, nor inexpensive if you can find it, it is pure seduction in the glass and worth every penny as it out performs many tete cuvees and is seriously a match for Dom Rosé! Imported by Kermit Lynch, who’s savvy selection of grower fizz is exceptional with Lassale and Bara being great Champagne(s) to look for, and if you can’t find this beauty, be sure to not miss Bara’s 100% Pinot Noir “Comtesse Marie de France” Brut, it is one of the best bottles of bubbly I’ve had. There’s a lot to enjoy at Paul Bara and this Special Club is one of many highlights, they are Champagne(s) that drink as wine, great with food and are of real substance, impressive stuff to savor with someone special.
($90 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2018 Domaine des Terres Dorées par Jean-Paul Brun, Beaujolais “L’Ancien” Vieilles Vignes, France.
One of Beaujolais’ treasures and more delicate producers, Jean-Paul Brun, who started his small winery back in 1979, and who’s Domaine des Terres Dorées is located in Charnay, a village in the Southern Beaujolais just north of Lyons, is known for silky Gamay wines like this new 2018 L’Ancien and fresh Chardonnay as well. The lighter and fresher 2018 Domaine des Terres Dorees L’Ancien is delightful in the glass with strawberry, tangy cherry and wild plum fruits with a charming mineral and floral character and a soft pleasing texture and a lingering fruity finish, adding hints of violets, earthy walnut, chalky stones and herbs. The L’Ancien Vieilles Vignes is comfortable in its own skin, it drinks beautifully without pretense, it is freely a naked Gamay that strides with a quiet confidence and shows absolute purity of the grape and place.
Grown on Burgundy like clay and limestone soils, rather than the more iconic granite that resides in the more famous plots in the Cru Beaujolais site, the old vine L’Ancien Beaujolais was fermented with 100% de-stemmed hand picked Gamay grapes and the fermentation and aging is in cement vats. This savvy Gamay coming from 80 plus year old vines was made to Jean-Paul’s guiding principles of using indigenous yeasts, low natural alcohol and minimal sulfur, making it what he calls an old-style Beaujolais and a more natural wine without dogma. This bright ruby colored L’Ancien Old Vine Beaujolais, which is best served with a chill and with complimentary cuisine, is lacy, vibrant and easy to love. Brun’s wines never disappoint and while not readily available and geeky cool, they are very good values and deliver an honest performance, they are always a treat when they can be found, especially with holidays meals.
($24 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2012 Lucien Crochet, Sancerre Rouge “La Croix du Roy” Loire Valley, France.
This lovely Pinot Noir from famed Sancerre producer Lucien Crochet is drinking in its prime right now, this special La Croix du Roy bottling is a wonderful version of Loire Valley Pinot Noir that really stands out for its class, grace and delicacy in the glass which time in the bottle has given. This finely detailed 2012 La Croix du Roy Sancerre Rouge comes from seven micro parcels with set on soils that are made up of clay and limestone from the Oxfordian and Kimmeridgian eras. Crochet’s stony influenced vineyards are all hillsides on slopes that run from south-east to south to southwest with glorious exposures to the sun and has since 1989 only been worked organically. The 2012 shows satiny layers of red plum, strawberry and a core of black cherry fruits along with mineral notes, light baking spices, wilted roses and wild mushrooms, making for a medium bodied pure Pinot with incredible length and elegance. Lucien Crochet, known for their awesome Sauvignon Blanc, true terroir driven Sancerre(s), also is gifted with Pinot Noir and this La Croix du Roy is one to look for.
This stunning Sancerre Rouge has everything you’d want in a Pinot with exceptional clarity of form and with a classic flavor profile, there is almost nothing to fault here and it certainly has the substance to age further and its a great food wine that thoroughly impresses from start to finish. Crochet hand harvested and crafted this wine with a maceration and primary fermentation that lasts about 30 days with traditional remontage and pigeage (gentle daily punchdowns) before an elevage of 12 months in a combination of stainless steel (40%) and barrel (60%) with mostly used French oak being employed. Then after the cuvee is blended it is aged a further 8 months before bottling, where this Pinot is rested another 4 months before leaving the cellars, allowing it to all come together, which shows in this well developed Sancerre Rouge. This 2012 is still out there and is priced fantastically well, it is a wine that easily competes with Burgundy offerings that are twice or three times the price, this Pinot is especially delicious and its textural class makes it a standout.
($30 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2015 Chateau Moulin de Tricot, Haut Medoc, Red Bordeaux, France.
The Château Moulin de Tricot, mostly sitting within the famous Margaux region, is a tiny property established in the 19th Century by the ancestors of the current proprietor, Bruno Rey, who farms his vines in organic fashion and makes a line of estate bottlings, including this beautiful and value priced Moulin de Tricot Haut-Medoc. This terroir authentic profile comes from the soils and climate, which at Moulin de Tricot are a mix of sand and gravel sitting on a subsoil of clay and marl, that are well drained and allow for deep concentration of flavors, this shows up clearly here in the riper vintage of this 2015 version. The vines here are hand tended with a strict triage (sorting) of the grapes carried out both in the vineyard and in the cellar to guarantee quality, these vines average over 30 years old and the vineyards are made up of mostly Cabernet Sauvignon, that accounts for 75%, with Merlot making up the remaining 25% here. This is an honest wine and highlights Bordeaux’s continued relevance in the wine world and this Cabernet based bottling is one to search out and drink over the next 5 to 10 years, it is a really good buy and this year is warmly open and performs with all the charms you’d expect from a claret.
Classic layers of left bank fruit shine in this 2015 Moulin de Tricot with earthy blackberry, plum and currant leading the way along with a touch of leather, loam, cedar and anise all playing vigorous roles in this fine example of place and traditional style, adding lingering kirsch and held together with solid tannins that never get aggressive, but lends to the wines impressive character. Chateau Moulin de Tricot and its proprietor Rey ferments this Bordeaux in stainless steel tanks and then ages this wine in small French oak barrels for one year, with no new oak being employed on this bottling, which enhances the purity and vivid nature of the fruit, making for a less flashy wine and a wine that rejoices in its restraint and delivers transparency of form. The body gains density with air and fills out wonderfully on the palate and the after taste goes on and on, making, again, a serious impact. This second wine from Moulin de Tricot is a savvy Bordeaux choice, especially in vintages like 2015 and 2016, with this 2015 hitting its stride already, though I would enjoy this dark garnet red with food for the best results.
($37 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2014 Epoch Estate, Ingenuity Red, Willow Creek District, Paso Robles.
This vintage is really getting better and better in the bottle and this Epoch Estate cuvee Ingenuity is coming into its own with gorgeous layers of fruit that are perfectly integrating into a world class wine, bravo to Jordan Fiorentini, winemaker, on this incredible Rhone style red. The ripe richness and full body, with surprisingly high alcohol, somehow all comes together and the impression on the palate is one of complete harmony and balance, much in the same way some Chateauneuf-du-Pape in recent times do, and the Ingenuity, which is Syrah heavy gives a darker profile, along with its backbone of sweet tannin, gives a more structured vigor and feel, rather than heat or weight. This vintage of Epoch’s Ingenuity was made from 50% Syrah, 25% Grenache, 18% Mourvèdre and 7% Petite Sirah all coming from estate vines at their Catapult and Paderewski vineyard sites in the west side of Paso Robles in the hillsides of the Willow Creek District which are set on the limestone and shale rich soils. The terroir here gives intensely deep flavors and density, but with dynamic acidity that helps give this wine its class and energy, the 2014 version delivers this with blackberry, currant, boysenberry, plum and blueberry fruit along with dark floral notes, mineral tones, fresh pepper, minty herb/anise, baked earth, black olive and delicate wood toast with a hint of vanilla, cedar and lingering framboise. This wine is losing some of its youthful jammy elements as well as camphor or tar, which are moving into the background as it becomes more and more refined and the texture is quite heavenly.
The whole lineup at Epoch is impressive, with vintages ’14, ’15 and ’16 all showing fantastic strength across the selection, especially the reds, but I highly recommend checking out the Estate White and their fabulous dry pink wine too, plus I am excited about the Epoch Tempranillo, which shows lots of promise, in fact I had to get a magnum of it to lay down, these are intriguing wines that are some of Paso’s best along with L’Aventure, Saxum and Booker to name a few. Fiorentini, who’s talent is well reported, has a modern winery and cave to employ her magic, along with excellent grapes to work with, thanks to the investment and commitment of the winery’s owners. The handcrafted 2014 Ingenuity was fermented in separate varietal lots in a combination of stainless steel tank and beautiful custom concrete tanks, plus some in open top small bin fermentors, all of which was done with mostly gravity flow and gentle handling, but with long macerations before being aged for 18 months in both small barrique and larger puncheons, of which about a third was new oak. Air and time in the glass reveals even more thrilling details, aromatics and the after taste just goes on and on, it makes for stellar performance and again, while 15.7% alcohol, this really drinks with poise and is seriously good with food, in particular grilled meats, fatty dishes, hard cheeses and wild boar sausage, drink over the next 3 to 5 years.
($69 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2018 Weingut Alzinger, Riesling Smaragd, Loibenberg, Wachau, Austria.
Leo Alzinger has quietly made quite a name for himself in recent vintages and his wines are getting a lot of buzz, and I have been tracking these Gruner and Rieslings from the Wachau region of Austria for a number of years and these 2018 are on par with the best, including his neighbor’s Emmerich Knoll! The latest Smaragd, a later pick and richer style, is a gorgeous Riesling from the Loiber Cru and sourced from steep plots on the prestigious and towering terraced higher elevation site that is set on mostly primary rock, loam and sandy soils with some loess, at the lower sites. This is a place with great intensity and depth of flavors, captured to perfection by Alzinger in his 2018 Loibenberg with a dense array of classic terroir influence and highlighted by racy green apple, key lime, ripe apricot and honeyed grapefruit fruits along with crushed stones, delicate mineral tones, white flowers, sweet herbs, clove, almond oil, verbena and a hint of leesy elements. This beauty shows extract and has a palate impact that will impress red wine lovers as well as Riesling fans, this dry wine has the mouth feel of an Auslese or a richer white Burg, but still has plenty of zing and vigor, it never goes dull or feel cloying.
According to Alzinger’s famous importer Terry Theise, the harvest at Alzinger comes later than some of Leo’s neighbors in Unterloiben, which Leo attributes to his old vines and the unique settings and exposures of his particular plots. This extra hang time on the vines doesn’t increase sweetness or lift brix, but as Alzinger notes, it gives physiological ripeness and leads to greater balance and complexity, that in this case shows clearly to be true. Theise adds that Alzinger whole cluster presses his grapes and does short maceration on the skins and then settles the juice for 24 hours, which limits green tannin in the ferments. The house style leans toward the elegant with transparency being the main goal and while this parcel delivers a richness it is impressive for its restraint, this Loibenberg Smaragd is the real deal and a thrilling Riesling that should perform well for a good decade or more. With time in the glass this wine gains opulence as a Smaragd should do and the textural pleasure intensifies and the length is seriously divine, it is a Riesling to search out! The 2018 vintage is varied for Austria, but these Alzinger’s are exceptional from his lighter and zesty Federspiel Gruner Veltliner to this Smaragd with it’s fuller body, keep an eye out for them.
($65 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2013 Domaine Henri Gouges, Nuits-Saint-Georges, Les Chenes Carteaux, Premier Cru Red Burgundy, France.
The famous Domaine Henri Gouges was founded in 1920 and started bottling their own wines exclusively in 1933 at their property in Nuits-Saint-Georges and the rest they say is history, making some of the finest wines of the region. From the Gouges winery, now all new and gravity flow, the 2013 Les Chenes Carteaux 1er Cru rouge is remarkably fresh and still very youthful with racy red fruits, vibrant acidity and dusty spices showing on the satiny palate. Les Chenes Carteaux is a tiny cru between the famous Les Vaucrains and Les Saint-Georges set on some absolutely brilliant terroir and this pedigree shows here, in fact I tasted this one blind and I first thought I was tasting a top Pommard! I happily surprised by this lovely Gouges Burgundy as it opened up with air gaining in depth and getting deeper in flavors with dark fruit and floral tones coming through adding beauty to the complex layers. There is a lot to enjoy here and the 2013 is delivering more than most could hope for with a lush quality and highlights graceful and gentle focus and talent in the cellar.
Maybe not as hard in its youth as its more fabled neighbors the Les Chenes Carteaux, which is set on really sandy soils with some clay and limestone underneath allows a more forward personality, but still with a solid form and structure that gives this wine an age worthy feel in the mouth. Gouges, now run by Gregory Gouges and his cousin, Antoine, have tamed these brawny wines in recent vintages and refined the estate’s style, without taking anything away from their character, these are absolutely delicious Burgs, especially this little gem, which is a stylish effort and a great value. The domaine has converted to all organic viticulture as well which has improved energy and finesse in the wines, which is showing clearly here with majestic transparency, it gives vivid layers of black cherry, red raspberry and wild plum fruits, dark rose petal florals, loamy earth, tea spices and a light presence of toast oak. This is really an expressive ruby/garnet hued Pinot Noir that should improve a little with another 3 to 5 years in bottle, where it will fill out texture wise and drink smartly for another decade or more, this is classic stuff in the glass.
($70 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2016 Weingut Leitz, Riesling Kabinett, Rüdesheimer Klosterlay, Rheingau Germany.
The Klosterlay Kabinett is one of the mainstays of Leitz’s outstanding collection of Rieslings and a true classic with it’s mix of slate, loess and loam soils giving this beauty its defining character. Johannes Leitz loves this site, believing Klosterlay is perfect for touch of residual sugar or a semi dry fruity wine that still has the mineral intensity from the slate, “Lay” which is a very old word meaning slate and “Kloster” is German for Abbey, the vines sits beneath the Benedictine Abbey of St. Hildegard, hence the name. This vineyard sits above the eastern edge of Rudesheim, it is the spot where the Rüdesheimer Berg begins to gently undulate or flatten out as it goes toward the village of Geisenheim where the Rhein starts to widen out, making it a singular micro climate. This vintage has a special place in my heart as I was here in Rudesheim at harvest time and was able to watch the grapes come into Leitz’s winery, including this Klosterlay, it is also a vineyard that I made a point of walking through on my fist visit to the Rheingau in 2009!
The 2016 vintage, which the locals here consider a miracle year that looked like a disaster until September brought an amazing run of sunny days to ripen the grapes after a dismal cool and wet early Summer and the sunshine and warm of September shows through here with Leitz’s Klosterlay Kabinett showing brilliantly in the glass. In all honesty, this is one of the wines that turned me on the German wines in a big way for pure drinking pleasure, it can be enjoyed with any food or any occasion and its hint at sweetness really refreshes the palate. Bright apple, apricot, peach and racy tangerine fruits lead the way on this light to medium bodied wine with touches of smoky shale, rosewater, lime blossom, mineral spice, saline and chamomile. This vintage with a few years of age is drinking awesome and is fabulous with spicy foods, especially Thai and curries, and it still has plenty to offer for a bit of time yet. You can see it starting to evolve and giving its potential complexity and is losing some of the youthful sweetness, drink this charmer over the next 5 to 7 years.
($24 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2017 Weingut Emmerich Knoll, Gruner Veltliner, Loibner Federspiel, Wachau Austria.
The lighter Federspiel GruVee from Emmerich Knoll is full of life and flavor with bright mineral and acid intensity showing a pale greenish gold hue in the glass. Emmerich Knoll, a third generation vigneron, located in Austria’s Wachau region, in Unterloiben, west of Vienna and on the mighty Danube is one of the greatest producers in the world and one of the most iconic for crafting Austria’s signature Gruner Veltliner as well as dry Riesling. What really stands out is the purity and terroir that shine through Knoll’s wines, it is extraordinary that even his delicate Federspiel can be so complex and layered. Set on gravelly soils with orthogneiss and loess as well as river sand and alluvial deposits, Knoll’s vineyards are all located on the far eastern end of the Wachau gorge, this area is the warmest part of region, though still considered a cool climate, all of which contributes to the wines sense of place.
The crisp and salty dry Knoll Loibner Gruner Veltliner Federspiel takes a minute to open in the glass and reveals itself with subtle aromatics and filling out to a medium body on the racy palate showing lemon/lime, green melon, unripe white peach and zesty grapefruit fruits along with citrus blossom, wet stones, steely mineral, snappy herbs, white pepper and almond oil. The Weingut Knoll is very traditional in winemaking and uses exclusively old oak foudres for fermentation and aging with fine lees aging, their wines are surprising long lived and coveted by white wine lovers, though I enjoy them fresh and youthful as well, I find them crystalline and energetic going great with a variety of cuisines, I especially find them a gorgeous pairing with sushi. This 2017 is ripe and textured, but delightfully vibrant and refreshing with its lower alcohol profile and remarkable balance, though hard to find, this is one to look for.
($33 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2019 Domaine Joseph Drouhin, Beaujolais Nouveau, France.
The fresh and creamy Beaujolais Nouveau by Drouhin is dark fruit driven with a lovely soft and silky mouth feel and makes for a simple and tasty Thanksgiving wine. This carbonic Gamay is dark ruby in the glass with loads of strawberry and banana (fruits) on the medium bodied palate along with juicy plum and cherry notes, highlighting the potential of the vintage in the Beaujolais and Burgundy regions. Sweet fruitiness will please most everyone around the Holiday table, even if this fun little quaffer will not impress your more wine serious friends and family, so best to bring out a few other bottles, choice is always welcome. Keeping tradition alive won’t be painful with this Drouhin and it goes well with all the dishes laid out at American Thanksgiving tables, which include roast turkey, candied yams, sweet potato pie, savory stuffing, maybe veggies, buttered mashed spuds and of pumpkin pie. And while I will have like three or four wines, not including Nouveau, I wouldn’t turn my nose up on this version by Drouhin, which is widely available. There are a lot of intriguing Nouveau wines to explore these days, but if you are last minute grabbing a few bottles, this Drouhin will certainly do the job and it will give some smiles and giggles, it is a nice way to celebrate to just finished harvest and a step up from the more generic offerings. Wishing all my friends and wine family a Happy Thanksgiving, Cheers!
($16 Est.) 85 Points, grapelive
2018 Weingut Willi Schaefer, Riesling Spatlese, Graacher Himmelreich, Mosel Germany.
One of the greatest wines in the world and a traditional Riesling of sublime nobility the Willi Schaefer Graacher Himmelreich Spatlese, especially this 2018 vintage, is a gorgeous wine with wonderful fruit and crystalline mineral charms, it’s a Mosel classic. With the complexity and extract, as well as the natural acidity, this semi-sweet Riesling has the flexibility to go with almost any cuisine, it is great with Holiday meals, Asian spicy dishes along with briny sea foods and or savory meat dishes, not fear the Spatlese, certainly never turn down a chance to try Willi Schaefer, no matter what sugar level, these are masterpieces and in particular this Graacher Himmelreich, which is one of the most sought after wines in the world. This micro winery in Germany’s Mosel region in the village of Graach has roots in wine growing that date back to the 1121, though it’s modern history started in the 1590’s! But the greatest success began when Willi joined the family business in 1971, and in recent times the reputation of Shaefer, who makes only about 3,000 cases each year, has grown to cult wine status, helped when Terry Theise, the Riesling guru and famous importer starting bringing these amazing wines to America, made in such tiny amounts, these Rieslings are unbelievably coveted and age worthy. Schaefer pays great attention to their plots and farm sustainable in practice and spend an incredible amount of time hand tending these vines with the Spatlese seeing all hand picking and is done in two passes to achieve it’s depth of flavors and complexity with one pass catching the bright acidity and the next pass to get the concentration, then Schaefer ferments with long cool ferments and the Riesling rests on its lees for a lengthy period before a late bottling. Christoph notes, the fermentation takes place with natural yeasts from the vineyard mainly in old 1,000-liter Fuder German oak casks. Also adding that In the cellar, they try to intervene as little as possible, tasting often, but allowing the vineyard to shine though in each wine.
Willi, who since 2002 has had his children, Christoph his son and Andrea his daughter, who both graduated from the prestigious Geisenheim University, helping him in the cellar is still crafting the magically Rieslings from this estate vines set on the pure Devonian slate soils and impossibly steep slopes of the Graacher Himmelreich, Domprobst and the Wehlener sites. This vintage is beautiful clear and translucent with smoky minerals, exotic fruits, lush texture and fine salinity making for a delicately balanced expression of Spatlese, where the residual sugar is well integrated and shows more as creaminess than sweetness, Shaefer like Katrina Prum (J.J. Prum) and Johannes Selbach (Selbach-Oster) make sweet wines that are seriously impressive in form and life easily hiding concentration and sugar in wines that delight the senses and unfold with grace and length, these are some of the most seductive wines you can ever have. According to Theise, who named Willi Schaefer the winery of the vintage, the Graacher Himmelreich is (more) buoyant, more floral, lighter in texture and is open from day one, which I found especially true here in the ’18 version, it shows lush details with candied lime, apricot, white peach and green apple fruits, a sense of flinty spice, wet shale/rock, a touch of dried ginger, spearmint and hints of tropical elements with touches of pineapple and plumeria flower as well as sea breezes, saltiness and lingering tea spices and rosewater. If you love Riesling, you need to get your hands on these 2018 Schaefer offerings, especially these Spatlese wines, with the Graacher Domprobst #10 and this Graacher Himmelreich, which are just coming out now, but don’t hesitate as the collectors are already grabbing them up, plus be sure not to pass up the Schaefer Kabinett(s) either, and if you see the Auslese, which are ultra rare, fight for it, and put it away for 10 to 20 years! These 2018’s look set to be legendary with loads of cellar potential, though they can be enjoyed now too.
($50 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2019 Poe Wines, Pinot Nouveau, Van der Kamp Vineyard, Sonoma Mountain, Sonoma County.
Made from 100% Pinot Noir from the Van der Kamp Vineyard on Sonoma Mountain is winemaker Samantha Sheehan’s ode to Beaujolais Nouveau and a celebration of the harvest with the first wine of the year. This is a wine I’ve been enjoying for the last few vintages and while it has changed a bit, it continues to be an intriguing and slightly funky version with earthy tones that make this Pinot Nouveau much less fruity than expected with a savory edge. The Van der Kamp family handpicks the grapes at night, and Poe gets the whole bunches to the winery just before sunrise from this old Pinot Noir site, one of the oldest in California, planted at about 1,400 feet up back in the early 1950s, above the historic Glenn Ellen village. Pinot Noir and Meunier from here are very expressive, coming from a patchwork of soils that includes some loam along with volcanic material and decomposed river bed, all of which adds to the complexity and give Sheehan’s wines a unique terroir influence, even in her Nouveau.
Sheehan employed whole clusters, that she put into a portable fermentor and sealed the lid for six weeks, noting that in absence of oxygen, the grapes undergo carbonic fermentation and malolactic at the same time, which she says results in a wine is delicate and fruity, with aromas of rose petals and strawberry. There is that and more and it shows a soft texture and roundness, it takes a length of time for the initial funk to blow off, but once it gets open it gains class and complexity with spice, juicy plum, candied cherry and mineral notes coming out. Poe Wines is really finding it’s voice these days with the last few vintages really turning on the charm, especially the Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Meunier based sparkling wines, these are lovely sparklers made in the grower fizz style, but Sheehan’s single vineyard Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines are also seriously good, in particular I suggest getting some of Samantha’s Manchester Ridge and Van der Kamp bottlings, they are truly special offerings. Those looking for California Nouveau should consider Poe’s along with those from Birichino, Cruse and Martha Stoumen to name just a few, and these 2019’s look very good, highlighting the potential of vintage.
($28 Est.) 87 Points, grapelive
2018 Desire Lines Wines Co., Evangelho Vineyard Red Wine, Contra Costa County.
Cody and Emily Rasmussen’s newer label and winery Desire Lines Wine Co. is one of California’s most exciting recent discoveries and I’ve been highly impressed with their latest releases, especially their awesome Syrah(s) from Griffin’s Lair and Shake Ridge Vineyards as well as this fun Carignan based red from the historic Evangelho Vineyard. I really enjoyed the 2017 vintage, but this 2018 is equally impressive, maybe even better with an extra burst of everything, it just seems more vivid and brighter, making for a pure and crunchy red wine that drinks with exuberant dark fruits. The old vines at Evangelho are own-rooted and were first planted back in the 1890s, during the boom years after the gold rush in the state, it is located near the confluence of California’s two great rivers – the Sacramento and the San Joaquin – set on deep sandy soils, This granitic deposit, eroded from the Sierra Nevada has created a unique terroir in Costa Contra County where, as Cody notes, the vines are buffeted by the winds that blow through the Carquinez Strait and across the Delta causing a stress factor that effects the vines in dramatic fashion allowing for ripe flavor density, but with surprisingly low PH and vibrant acidity, which has proven great for Zinfandel, Mourvedre and Carignan, like this wine shows. This 2018 Evangelho Red is juicy and tangy with blackberry, sugar plums, cherry and pomegranate fruits, light cedar notes along with a dusting of spices, herbs, earthy tones, mineral and anise elements that add complexity and contrast in a medium to full bodied wine. Delicate florals emerge with time in the glass and the palate fills out smoothly with ripe tannins that allows easy enjoyment even this youthful, this is joyously quaffable.
Made from Carignane primarily the Evangelho Red is 90% Carignane and 10% Mourvedre all from this famous site located in Antioch on these Delhi sand knolls was fermented, as Rasmussen, who is the assistant winemaker at Morgan Twain-Peterson’s Bed Rock Wine Co., notes with 30% whole cluster under a submerged cap and aged for ten months in neutral 400L barrels. Cody adds, he loves the 400L barrel size for Carignan, saying that it retains freshness and builds tension like all large format barrels, but with a less reductive funk, allowing for clarity of form and an authentic expression of place and grapes. The winemaking is gentle, minimalistic and with a restrained precision, in which, again as Cody offers, that the inclusion of whole bunches and stems adds spice to the nose, while the small portion of carbonic maceration along with the small portion of Mourvèdre adds fleshy roundness to the palate. Rasmussen notes that the Evangelho Red was inspired by Cru Beaujolais, like Lapierre’s Morgon and Thivin’s Cote de Brouilly, but with a California old vine twist, which he succeeded in expressing here, I love this stuff and it is perfect for Thanksgiving and the Holiday meals of the coming season as well as BBQ and Asian meat dishes. This is a winemaker and winery to get where of, and quick, these are fabulous wines offering great value with tons of character and vigorous personalities, I highly recommend getting on this mailing list. Were are living in such amazing times for exciting wines in California and Desire Lines Wine Co. is one of these new generation of producers taking our state to new heights!
($32 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2015 Cameron Winery, Pinot Noir “Massale” Clos Electrique, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
The reduction and barnyard nose is strong here, much like the classic Domaine Maume Gevrey-Chambertin Premier Cru and Mazis-Chambertin Grand Cru bottlings of the 1990s, but the palate opens up beautifully with beautiful textural layering and deep flavors in a wine that will cause a mild controversy! This limited release Cuvee Massale from Cameron Winery will thrill old school Burg fans and, of course, winemaker John Paul’s loyal followers, this 2015 has loads of personality and character, though those that prefer modern ultra clean and fruit forward Pinots will be taken aback by the stinky bouquet, that said, the palate and overall depth is exceptional and with rewarding patience this is certainly going to be something amazing in 5 to 10 years. There’s a dark color in the glass and a black fruit profile in this 2015 Massale with blackberry, blueberry, black cherry and plum fruits along with hints of smoke, mineral, cedar, graphite, earth and dusty red spices. This vintage shows a dense concentration and vinous beauty, the mouth feel is nearly perfect and silken, while there is also a serious structure (grip) here that again reminds of me of Henri Gouges Nuits-Saint-Georges Vaucrains. This wine really is much improved with air and especially with robust cuisine that will take your mind of the barnyard funk. The contrast between the gorgeous fruit and complexity and the nose at this stage is striking, so I highly recommend resisting temptation and hide this bottle away for another few years if not a decade. Sadly I didn’t follow that and I can only hope to re-visit a bottle someday and see what comes.
The most rare and exclusive bottling in Cameron’s amazing lineup of Pinot Noir(s) is John Paul’s special “Massale” selection from his famed Clos Electrique Estate Vineyard in the Red Hills of Dundee. This bottling is from the mosaic of clones that were brought to California by Paul Masson, in the later part of the 19th century, a Burgundian, who sourced special cuttings and planted them on the hillside above Saratoga where he had his vineyard and winery until he sold it to Martin Ray in 1940. Ray himself had to sell the mountain winery to Seagrams in 1943 after running into financial trouble, but before Seagram’s took over him managed to take a collection of the treasured old clone and plant them higher up in the Santa Cruz Mountains, in a spot that is now Mount Eden, which saved these historic Pinot Noir clones, maybe some of the most important in the new world from extinction! About 30 something years ago, John Paul, realizing what this cuttings meant planted a plot of his Clos Electrique to them, from which, we are blessed, he makes this incredible and limited wine. In a great vintage like 2015, Cameron’s Massale is one of the rarest gets in the Oregon wine world and I am grateful beyond words to have been able to try this one, as I was only able to source just this one bottle, numbered 0066, and review it. Grown on red Jory soils from non-irrigated vines and treated like traditional Burgundy with a long elevation in French oak this Massale Pinot is Cameron’s secret reserve offering and has unique label and packaging with a wax capsule. Cameron’s latest set of wines, especially the 2017 vintage Pinots are incredible with the regional (Village) wines from Ribbon Ridge and Dundee Hills are fantastic values, so in case you can’t find this cuvee these are worthy of your attention.
($100 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2015 J. Rochioli, Pinot Noir “Three Corner” Russian River Valley, Sonoma County.
One of the rarest estate Pinots at Rochioli is their Three Corner, with this bottling coming from a small triangle shaped vineyard on the southern end of their property that was planted back in 1974 and that has what call West Block clonal selection(s) or Rochioli clone on a slope between Westside Road and the Russian River itself. This amazing parcel only yields about 1.5 tons per acre and the wine shows the concentration, making it one of Rochioli’s Grand Cru bottlings. The 2015 is just starting to full express itself and I was impressed with the lovely mineral and cool palate personality with black cherry, plum, cranberry and blueberry fruits, light spices, loam, sassafras/cola bean and toasty sweet oak shadings. This is a rich style Pinot Noir no question, but I wouldn’t say it is overt or over the top and I loved the vitality and lingering floral notes and hints of saline that make it great with an array of cuisine.
The River brings fog and a cool sea breeze up here and gives a big day to night swing in real temperature allowing for classic regional ripeness and balancing acidity that makes for a seriously age worth Pinot Noir. The old vine Three Corner Pinot is usually aged about 15 to 18 months in 50% new French oak and is luxurious, toasty and medium to full bodied with the 2015 showing wonderful length and intensity, it makes quite an impression on the palate in a way a stellar vintage Burgundy does and it handles its 14.5% natural alcohol very well indeed, it really comes together with air and tannins are remarkably fine and silken. I bought a few bottles of this off the Rochioli mailing list and this was the first one I opened, and I’ve thrilled by the class and depth here, it should age exceptionally gracefully for another 5 to 10 years with ease.
($149+ Est.) 94+ Points, grapelive
2018 Big Basin Vineyards, Rosé, California.
The Big Basin Rosé is a treat, made from Carignane from 90 year old vines, plus a touch of Grenache, Mourvedre and maybe a little Syrah, with the main portion of the (Carignane) grapes coming from Wirz Vineyard in Cienega Valley, which is different than from some of the Rosés that Bradley Brown of Big Basin has done in the past that were more GSM based, making for an interesting and slightly fresher style version. Brown says that the two last vintages with Carignane, as the centerpiece of his Rosé has been remarkably success and that his fans have given him their thumbs up on it, and I can add mine too, this is delightful and refreshing stuff that has old vine concentration, lively acidity, mineral focus and is dusty bone dry. This modern California Rhone inspired Rosé joins an ever increasing list of small production groovy dry Pink wines in the state like Arnot-Roberts, L’Aventure and Epoch to name a few and is a nice addition to Brown’s stellar lineup of wines that includes his iconic Rattlesnake Rock Estate Syrah, along with his whole-cluster set of Pinot Noir(s) and other fine offerings.
The 2018 was a great vintage on the Central Coast and Big Basin’s Rosé shows this in complexity, bright detail and perfect ripeness v. acidity with distilled raspberry, strawberry, tart/tangy cherry, melon and pink ruby grapefruit fruits along with a melon fleshiness, dried herbs, rosewater, wild spices and wet stones. This is wonderfully transparent and has a nice steely edge too, and even sort at the end of Rosé season it delivers a depth of flavors and vibrancy that makes it irresistible and great with food, especially picnic fare, mussels in broth with country bread and with BBQ. This vintage shows a pale pinkish salmon color in the glass and it develops a nice delicate floral bouquet with air, Brown allowed it a short soak on the skins before its all native fermentation. This unfined and unfiltered Big Basin Rosé, with only 250 cases made is a rarity, but well worth searching out even at this point, it will drink well until the next vintage is released next Summer. I also want to note, Big Basin’s latest Coastview Chardonnay is fabulous and if you want a sleeper wine, it will really impress white Burgundy fans!
($27 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2017 Brovia, Roero Arneis DOCG, Piedmonte, Italy.
Brovia’s 2017 Arneis is as good as it gets for this Piedmonte white grape and is a world class offering with lovely mineral tones, crisp detail and lightly exotic notes, this is absolutely delicious stuff and that is very interesting and pleasing in the glass. Arneis that since the nineties has been on a roll, coming back from near extinction to being one of the most exciting white wine grapes in Italy, and this Brovia version is a gorgeously pure expression from its most distinctive terroir in the Roero zone. According to records and family history, Brovia was originally founded in 1863 near the village of Castiglione Falletto, in the heart of the Barolo district. The Brovia family has been continually growing of grapes in this famous region and now the fourth and fifth generations are continuing the tradition and now have some top plots in Cru sites, making some glorious Nebbiolo wines from Barolo with top bottlings coming from Rocche, Villero and Garblét Sue. The Roero Arneis, as importer Rosenthal notes, the sole white wine of the estate is made from vines in the Roero district from a tiny parcel in Vezza d’Alba, where the soil is sandy over marl and sits pretty high up in altitude on south-facing slopes, a slightly cooler zone and with good sun. The vineyard was planted in 1980 and it gives good concentration and complexity of flavors, which this 2017 shows in wonderful transparent grace and with vibrant lift.
Brovia employs gentle winemaking practices and strive to showcase a sense of place in all of their wines and the Arneis grapes are briefly macerated with a touch of skin contact and the fermentation occurs at cool temperatures for two to three weeks, with the wine being fermented and aged only in stainless steel with about 8 to 9 months in tank and with some light lees, which allows for the refined textural feel. Luck for the United States, about three fourths of the total production comes here to be enjoyed by Italian wine enthusiasts and most of them get sold through restaurants, highlighting the fact that Arneis is a great companion to cuisine, especially fish and delicate pasta dishes, though it is flexible and be used as an aperitif wine and or enjoyed with soft artisan cheeses. This vintage is dry and vivid with ripe fruits which is including a mix of citrus and stone fruit, like white peach, key lime, nectarine flesh along with hints of wet rock, chalkiness, anise and faint white floral notes in a brisk and lively white wine. I love the Brovia collection, especially the basic Barolo normale, which is a stunning value in most years and their Dolcetto, as well as this fine Roero Arneis, it is a fun alternative to Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Gris, drink it up!
($29 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
1989 Chateau Coutet a Barsac, Sauternes-Barsac, Premier Grand Cru Classe, White Bordeaux Sweet Wine, France.
The beautiful amber tinted golden 1989 Coutet is a refined expression of Sauternes-Barsac at a perfect stage in its life, it is joyous in the glass being lush and toffeed, but with a finessed sense of fruit plus a hint of exotic flavors, making it lovely with holiday meals, both lightly sweet dishes and or more savory ones. I’ve had many older, as well as newer vintages of Coutet, and have tasted with Aline Baly, of Chateau Coutet, who says Chateau Coutet is best served chilled, the cool, almost cellar temperature gives the wine more freshness and lift. The wine will naturally warm in the glass, she adds, while it develops more aromatic complexities and fleshes out. Chateau Coutet can also, as Baly advocates, be served with seafood dishes, especially shellfish, lobster, crab and oysters on the half shell, which I shared with her and had three different years (of Coutet), which worked wonderfully in somewhat a surprise. Plus, Baly notes, that Foie Gras is a perfect pairing with Coutet’s naturally sweet opulence. Like Riesling, Sauternes can be enjoyed with spicy Asian cuisine, raw fish, like sushi or sashimi, and cheeses, with Chateau Coutet being a fine companion to these things, not just as a dessert pairing. In this day and age, sometimes, we tend to overlook these exciting wines and after re-visiting them, like this one, it becomes clear we should not do so and that we should find a place for them in our lives.
This 1989 shows an array of flavors with a mature caramel character and aging fruit essences including dried apricot, pear tart, candied oranges, lemon curd, creme brûlée and light floral notes as well as delicate tropical fruits and non noble rot honeycomb. After air there are secondary elements that come through that shows as earthiness and that cuts into the sweetness and the gives even more complexity and there is enough life still to give the texture a feeling lightness, which cuts the sweetness. With the cuisine this beauty delivers a toast note, apple butter, ginger spice, a touch of raisin, tanginess and vanilla, getting more dense and vinous, but not losing its class or elegance of form. This Coutet as in most years was made from late harvest grapes, all very careful hand picked and from a blend that likely about 75% Semillon, 23% Sauvignon Blanc, and 2% Muscadelle and aged in barrel. Château Coutet was recognized as a Classified First Growth in the 1855 classification, but the history goes back much further, in fact its history started in 1643, and Barsac, among the coldest in the region, is one of the greatest for this style of wine, and these days this area offers great value, especially Coutet, who have been connected with the winemaking team from Château Mouton Rothschild since 1994. This 1989 is a nice treat indeed and there are many ex-cellar bottles available, which show excellent quality and well worth searching out.
($75+ Est. 375ml Half Bottle) 92 Points, grapelive
2017 Drew Family Cellars, Pinot Noir, Estate Field Selections, Mendocino Ridge.
Jason Drew’s Pinot and Syrah are some of the State’s greatest wines on offer these days and his estate, located just 3.3 miles from the ocean at close to 1,250 feet in elevation is in Mendocino Ridge appellation at the most western end of the Anderson Valley is the source of some amazing Pinot, like this open knit and lush wine. The site was carefully chosen after years of research by Drew and his family live on the property, which looks like paradise on earth with steep vines and even some heirloom apples, from which they do a crazy good dry cider. The Drew Ranch is farmed, as they state proudly, to the organic standard continuing a long history of organic farming on their ranch that dates back close to 30 years.The climate and soils are about as ideal as one could find for a Pinot Noir vineyard in California with ancient ocean floor soils of decomposed sandstone and shale, high in iron and quartzite with a perfect ratio of sand, gravelly loam and clay that helps provide the material for those gorgeous wines. The marginal fertility, as Drew puts it, combined with excellent water holding capacity and good drainage makes for an extremely compelling site that is planted to a selection of clones including Pommard, 943, 115, Swan, 667 and Mt. Eden. I have long been a fan of Drew’s wines, even before he set up shop in the Anderson Valley, when his wines came from mostly the Santa Barbara area. Jason and his wife Molly Drew started Drew back in 2000, as they note, with a clear pursuit in mind, they wanted to craft small lot, cool climate wines that express site distinction and traditional varietal character, and they have achieved that in spades with an amazing lineup of wines that enjoy their California terroir, but remind of old world versions with the Pinots being very Burgundy like in authentic and soulful way and the Syrah getting their style from classic Northern Rhone character.
The brilliant, ripely forward, youthfully plush and ethereal 2017 Estate Field Selections Pinot Noir from Drew is outrageously good in the glass with a beautiful ruby/crimson hue and a bouquet that includes rose petal, wild herb, ripe red berries and earthy elements that leads to the medium bodied palate of racy raspberry, plum and pomegranate layers that lift the black cherry core of Pinot fruit along with subtle oak toast, tea spices and mineral tones. Drew hardly uses new oak, usually under 20%, native yeast and employs partial whole cluster in his fermentations, he is a master at his craft, making wines of depth and balance that rivals any in California and in Burgundy. Jason has learned winemaking in both hemispheres and holds a Graduate Degree in Enology from the University of Adelaide. His CV includes several notable names in northern and central California, having worked at wineries and vineyards including St Supery, Joseph Phelps (with Craig Williams), Luna, also in Napa Valley (with John Kongsgaard), Carmenet, as well as with the legendary Cathy Corison and Babcock Vineyards with winemaker Brian Babcock. Drew Family Cellars has to rake up there in the top ten small American wineries, maybe even the top five in my book, these last 5 vintages at Drew have been unbelievable and the 2017 releases are majestic offerings, especially the Morning Dew Ranch Pinot, the Perli Syrah and in particular this stellar Estate Field Selections Pinot, which saw Drew’s favored traditional winemaking practices with hand punchdowns and no fining or filtering to showcase purity. Drink this one over the next 5 to 10 years and savor its heavenly class with an array of cuisine and, like all great wines, that last sip is something that will haunt you and make you crave it like a first love.
($60 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2017 La Grange Tiphaine par Coralie et Damien Delecheneau Vignerons, Chenin Blanc “Clef de Sol” Montlouis-sur-Loire, Loire Valley, France.
One of the hottest properties and labels in the Loire Valley is Domaine La Grange Tiphaine, now run by the fourth generation vigneron Damien Delecheneau along with his wife and partner Coralie, based within the two terroirs of Montlouis-sur-Loire and Touraine Amboise AOC’s and are known especially for their natural expression of Chenin Blanc, like this fabulous “Clef de Sol” cuvée from a special plot in Montlouis. La Grange Tiphaine was originally founded at the end of the 19th century by Alfonse Delecheneau, who family has carried out since then, but has really been a rising star more recently under Damien when he came back to the family winery in 2002, and who has made wine in Bordeaux, the States and in South Africa, another serious place for old vine Chenin, bringing that experience with him. Delecheneau has followed in the footsteps of his idol and mentor François Chidaine, who’s own wines are legendary in Montlouis, and Damien works in a most natural way with all his vineyards being certified organic, he also brings a new level of scientific precision to natural winemaking that makes his small lot handcrafted wines really stand out for their energy, charm and exceptional quality without the usually forgiven funk, these are wines, with this one in particular, that show incredible purity and elegance, rivaling the other top stars of the region.
Highlighting the success at La Grange Tiphaine, in 2016, Damien was elected to take the lead in Montlouis, becoming president of the appellation and has implemented many things to elevate the zone, plus led rescue efforts that saved recent vintages from severe frost devastation that has impacted the Loire and other areas. He is careful in the vines and does many passes to achieve the best results from his vineyard with a maniacal attention to detail and sorting of the clusters and grapes to make the best selection as possible, and this Clef de Sol is from a second pick of riper Chenin, but only bunches that are not botrytized, but show depth of concentration. This wine comes from 80 year old vines set on clay and silica over limestone and all the grapes were de-stemmed, and then pressed to 400 liter tanks, where was fermented and raised for about 12 months. This Clef de Sol by La Grange Tiphaine is vinous on the palate with wonderful deep Chenin fruit and beautiful mineral tones and transparent detailing, it is divinely balanced and still rich in the mouth, this tasty stuff with hints of white flowers, peach, mixed citrus, fig and a touch of wet stone, saline, unsweetened honeycomb, and subtly crisp acidity. Loire fans and natural wine lovers both will rejoice in this Chenin and I highly recommend La Grange Tiphaine, who I have been following for a few vintages now, and they also do a collection of lively red wines made from Côt (Malbec), Gamay and Cabernet Franc that are well worth checking out.
($31 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2008 Domaine de la Romanée-Conti, Vosne-Romanée “Cuvee Duvault Blochet” Premier Cru Red Burgundy, France.
The exceptionally rare Domaine de la Romanee-Conti “Cuvée Duvault-Blochet” Vosne-Romanee Premier Cru Red Burgundy, named after the 19th-century founder of the domaine, Jacques-Marie Duvault-Blocher, is crafted from declassified 100% Grand Cru fruit from their top sites and only done in remarkable vintages, most notably in recent times like the 1999 and this 2008. In some years this cuvee was made from young vines, often rumored to be exclusively from the fabled La Tache site, though DRC has always been cagey about its sources for “Cuvee Duvault Blochet” Premier Cru. I have been blessed with the experience of having tried every bottling of DRC’s Grand Crus, except the Corton offerings, getting to try La Tache, Romanee Saint Vivant, Echezeaux and Richebourg from more than one vintage, though only had the holy grail Romanee-Conti once and the Cuvée Duvault-Blochet now once. The 2008 is outrageously good and a thrilling surprise, in that, it is full developed and rewarding, even without decanting and or air this was spectacular Pinot Noir that was perfumed, wonderfully textured, vivid and showed incredible depth leaning on dark fruit in the profile. If anyone reading this review has some of this stuff, they are very lucky to say the least as it has now entered a window of excellence that will or should please any Burgundy lover.
Made from a second picking from all of the domaine’s vineyards except Romanée-Conti, according to the winery, the wine is labeled Vosne-Romanée Premier Cru, though as mentioned it is all Grand Cru and in my limited knowledge and experience, again as noted, I find this Cuvée Duvault-Blochet more expressive rather than severely structural making me think more of La Tache and Grands Echezeaux instead of the greener and firmer elements of young Richebourg, which I feel need more time to come around. Though I shouldn’t read too much into things as the riper pick may change that opinion, I also must say, I first tasted this bottle without knowing what it was, in a blind flight, and there was an immediate palate response that this was truly something regal and noteworthy, without question this wine was a great wine, its pedigree was on total display! Led by gorgeous and vivacious dark fruits and crushed violets with only a hint of smoke, earth and spice with blackberry, mulberry, black cherry and currant fruits as well as a dusting of Asian spices, mineral tones, snappy and minty herbs, this wine’s tannins are a notably supple, making it textural and fleshy, but still very poised and with enough firmness to let you know it was from powerful sources. Sadly almost none of this is still available and it is wildly unaffordable even if you were to locate it, but that all said, it is utterly jaw dropping good with a decent length (of life) ahead of it.
($1,800 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2017 Weingut Leitz, Pinot Noir Rosé Sekt Brut, Rheingau Sparkling Wine, Germany.
The lightly leesy Leitz Rosé Sekt is made from 100% de-stemmed Pinot Noir grapes from the Rheingau’s middle part from vines set on loam and loess soils in a warmer area, but still allowing for classic acidity and vibrancy of flavors in a Champagne style bubbly. German bubbly is being taking much more serious these days, what was once a novelty is now an almost a must have for every producer and Johannes Leitz’s versions are remarkable for quality and price, especially this Pinot Noir Rosé Sekt with its tart cherry, strawberry and racy citrus notes and creamy fine mousse. This delicious pink sparkler saw a brief maceration on the skins to give that lovely salmon/pink hue, with the grapes undergoing a gentle press cycle before the juice is then racked to tank and, true to the definition of weissherbst, the winery treats it just like a white wine from there on out. The juice undergoes a long, cool primary fermentation in stainless, as do the tank-fermented Rieslings, like the Dragon Stone and Kabinett, here at Leitz, then the secondary fermentation occurs as well in stainless steel in large pressurized tanks, before the lees aging and traditional sparkling techniques are employed.
Leitz is one of Germany’s top estate wineries and one of the top producers in the Rheingau with great holdings mostly around the town of Ruedesheim, including some exceptional Grand Cru vineyards on the famous Ruedesheimer Berg (Magic Mountain) with plots in the famed Schlossberg and Kaisersteinfels as well as in the Drachenstein (Dragon Stone) to name a few. Leitz also does a few things besides Riesling, including Sylvaner and Spatburgunder (Pinot Noir) with two Sparklers, of which this is one. Bright and easy to love the Leitz Pinot Noir Rosé Sekt adds a nice sense of varietal character, mineral tones, wet stone and brioche in the glass, making it a joy for any occasion, it’s as good as many basic Rosé Brut Champagnes at twice the price. Dry, but generous this Brut level bubbly just feels right and gives luxurious detail, it is excellent on its own, but does well with lots of food choices and can be joyous with brunch and or picnics. It is nice to see Sekt get more available in the States, especially the more sophisticated examples, some of which, like Schlossgut Diel’s are every bit as grand as the top Champagne houses and Leitz’s is maybe less serious, but still loads of fun and with wonderful value for the buck.
($30 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2015 Timo Mayer, Pinot Noir, Close Planted, Yarra Valley, Victoria, Australia.
The sexy red and blue fruited ruby red hued Close Planted Pinot Noir from Timo Mayer is sourced from one acre of Pinot Noir on his Yarra Valley estate, planted in the red rocky volcanic and sedimentary soils of this region of Victoria, a cool climate zone in Australia in a high density plot that produces tiny amounts of fruit per vine, that delivers sublime concentration and complexity as this 2015 version shows off with great effect. Making a selection of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Nebbiolo and Gamay, Timo Mayer, who came from Germany, describes his winemaking philosophy as “bring back the funk” handcrafts single vineyard estate wines exclusively and these wines are wildly followed by his almost rabid fans and it is really hard to get your hands on them, especially in the States. Mayer believes, as he notes, that wines are made in the vineyard and therefore he tries to interfere as little as possible in the natural winemaking process and his wines are unfined and unfiltered to show the true expression of the Mayer farm’s terroir. This medium bodied Close Planted Pinot really develops in the glass with air and is riveting in its performance, tasted along with an amazing set of elite California and Burgundy Pinots in the same price class, this Mayer really held its own, and it gave me a real reference point for fair judgement, I frankly love this wine, it’s up to the hype.
The 2015 Pinot is slightly reductive and spicy with whole bunch character and a lovely lingering sense of fruit and floral tones, this is very impressive stuff with succulent and tangy red fruits, wild herb, earth and a whisper of French oak. The layering is beautiful with silky tannins and vibrant acidity that highlights each flavor detail with strawberry, black cherry, plum, pomegranate and vine picked bramble berry along with dried violets, orange tea, mineral flintiness and a nice saline note. One of Timo’s importers notes, he left his native Germany for the Yarra Valley many years ago, and he organically farms a small 2.5 hectare plot called Bloody Hill, as Timo adds “because it’s bloody steep.” Mayer produces wines that go toward elegance and purity over muscle and showiness and he is unafraid to show utter transparency and earthiness in his wines. His signature style, is in the use of whole-cluster fermentations, that he says increases complexity and giving silkier tannins and freshness. His wines have become legendary and this wine is considered some of Australia’s best Pinot Noir, which I can only agree for what I’ve tasted over the years, this is some intriguing juice. It’s hard to argue that Timo Mayer’s wines are great values at the price we have to pay in the States, but boy howdy they are, as this wine proves they are lust inducing gems.
($110 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2014 Vilmart & Cie, Grand Cellier d’Or, Brut Champagne, Blances Voies, Rilly-la-Montagne 1er Cru, France.
The thrilling 2014 vintage Brut Grand Cellier d’Or by Laurent Champs of Champagne Vilmart & Cie is a gorgeous wine that proves this is going to be a much better year for top bubbly than people may have thought, it shows bright intensity, fine detail, mineral tones and vinous grace on the palate. This latest collection of Vilmart is simply gorgeous stuff with amazingly pure flavors and delicacy along with lively freshness, especially this stunning 2014 vintage Grand Cellier d’Or Brut with its vivid apple and lemon fruits and subtlety divine leesy character and ultra fine mousse. This beauty gains with air and fill out richly on the palate and the beading bubbles are invigorating and creamy helping with the impression of energy and luxuriousness, while liquid mineral, brioche, hazelnut and white flowers all add to the depth and complexity. This one, with its vitality and wet stones or chalky finesse was may favorite of the main line of this set of bottlings imported by the famous grower fizz guru Terry Theise and while outstanding own its own it has the substance and structure to be a center piece wine with food, as are all of Champs’ bubbly, it is of course tasty with spicy prawns and or briny/salty caviar.
Laurent Champs is an absolute master at his craft and his Champagne is one of the world’s great wines, it was a great pleasure and honor to have tasted with him on many occasions, including as recently as last month when I sampled his current releases, and as mentioned they are all delicious, elegant and sophisticated sparklers that offer terroir driven brilliance and stylish opulence. The Vilmart Champagnes are true grower producer wines and this one comes from estate grown organic vines from a single Lieu-Dit “Blances Voies” in the Premier Cru Rilly-la-Montagne area. Laurent, who is the fifth generation at Vilmart, which was founded by Desire Vilmart in 1890 as a recoltant-manipulant, used 65 year old ungrafted Chardonnay and Pinot Noir to craft this cuvee, fermenting and aging the grapes in a combination of wood vessels including large foudre, demi muids and some barriques. Champs chose 80% Chardonnay and 20% Pinot Noir and allowed it to age on the lees for 48 months and used zero malo to preserve its laser like freshness, while being wonderfully pleasing, exotic and deep, it should age incredible well, this is special stuff. Enjoy this with your favorite people and or family for any celebration, it is a thrilling and rewarding vintage Champagne.
($120 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2015 Parsonage Village Vineyard, Dario & Bixby Reserve, Carmel Valley Estate, Monterey County.
The inky dark, purple/black and garnet edged Dario & Bixby Reserve is all estate blend of Merlot and Petit Verdot that is full of tannic power and opulently textured black fruits along with a heady perfume of violets and spice, making for an amazing and concentrated red wine. This tiny production reserve wine was a special barrel cuvee with a new Taransaud 225L barrel, one of the most prized French oak coopers noted for their quality product, especially in Bordeaux and with top estates in the Ribera del Deuro, plus a used Seguin Moreau French barrique which give this wine an seductive Saint-Emilion like appeal on the rich and full bodied palate that features crushed blackberries, sweet plum, black currant and blueberry compote along with racy spices and briar notes with lingering cinnamon, smoky vanilla, creme de cassis and a hint of incense, lavender, bitter coco and licorice. This rare bottling, which is normally done in two separate wines, is a hard get, but well worth asking (beg) the winery to dig into the library for, and or look for the individual versions, especially the 2013 and 2014 vintages.
The 2015 vintage gave a minuscule amount of fruit per vine with ultra small clusters and berries, this was especially so at Bill Parsons small vineyard, a south facing hillside only a mile east of the Carmel Valley Village which is set on chalky and rocky soils. The Merlot grown here is on a steep south facing slope that catches all the sun and produces tiny yields and small berries, making it a force to be reckoned with, this is not your grandma’s Merlot, it has the power and tannin to match most Cabs and combined with the inky/spicy Petit Verdot just makes for an incredible wine, almost totally unique and un-to itself. I have been a long time admirer of Parsonage and their commitment to being a winery that makes wine without compromise, achieving richness and depth usually not seen in Carmel Valley, more along the lines of what you’d expect of Napa or Paso, all handcrafted in tiny amounts. The Parsonage Syrah(s) are always a favorite too, be sure to check them out with 2014, 2015 and 2017 looking (drinking) great right now, they taste more like Barossa than Hermitage, but with their own sexy hedonistic twist!
($80 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2017 Giuseppe Ellena, Langhe Nebbiolo DOC, Piedmonte, Italy.
It’s a thrill to discover new producers, like Giuseppe Ellena of Cuneo, Piedmonte, where young winemaker Mateo Ellena is crafting some interesting wines, he has worked for both Elio Altare of La Morra and Giacoma Bologna of Rocchetta Tanaro, so comes with some serious street cred and I was impressed by his latest release, a basic Langhe Nebbiolo from estate plots in the famed La Morra zone of Barolo. The home estate is planted to vines and hazelnuts and Mateo has converted it all to organic viticulture as well as bringing a bit of what he learned at Altare and Rocchetta Tanaro, with some flair and style from both of these producers being, as he puts it, a fusing modernity with classic or traditional Barolo. This 2017 is supple and silky like a fine Pinot Noir, but with exceptional Nebbiolo flavor and character showing pretty rose petals, candied citrus, tangy herbs along with strawberry, plum and juicy red berry fruits on the lighter palate as well as dried lavender, anise and a hint of tarry earth. This smooth and fruit driven Nebbiolo is vibrant and smooth, making it easy to enjoy right away and while not overly complex or densely structured it is a very pleasing red to pop in its youth.
In Ellena’s cellar, the younger wines, like this Langhe Nebbiolo, are given soft handling, less extraction, with higher temperature ferments and shorter time in oak, if it sees wood at all, which this one doesn’t show at all, it’s as pure as can be, while his Baroo offerngs, which I’m excited to explore next, are macerated for 60+ days on the skins and raised traditionally in botti with a bit of barrique on the more intense Cru wines. Mateo’s primary and malolactic ferments are carried out with 100% indigenous yeasts and the rackings are limited in order to minimize sulfur additions. Ellena, who mostly does Nebbiolo based wines also does Dolcetto and Barbera, plus a rare white made from Nascetta, the relatively unknown Langhe white grape. This rare variety, which is light and aromatic, which was once very popular in the region, but ended up being abandoned at the turn of the 20th century, its recent rediscovery, about 10 years ago is exciting, especially as there is less than 20 acres planted worldwide! I love Nebbiolo and Ellena’s tasty little Langhe Nebbiolo is a nice quilt free version that is a solid choice for the price and perfect for casual drinking, keep an eye out for this label!
($26 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2015 Cameron Winery, Nebbiolo, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
The remarkable Cameron Nebbiolo reminds me a lot of Boca or Ghemme offerings from the Alto Piedmonte with its beautiful bouquet and nice acidity, it excels in being restrained yet expressive coming from the Jory (volcanic) soils of the Dundee Hills, it is one of the best, age worthy and most interesting of the new world examples of this grape. John Paul, winemaker and vigneron at Cameron Winery, most renowned for his Burgundy style Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines, loves Italian wines and was inspired to try Northern Italian varietals in the Willamette Valley and now has Nebbiolo planted in his famous Clos Electrique estate vineyard, where these grapes mostly came from in this vintage, and he also does Friuli inspired skin contact Pinot Gris, a Ramato as well as a Radikon inspired Rouge Gris and a white blend that includes Pinot Blanc, all of which are stunning under the radar wines. John Paul, who works with sustainable and non irrigated vines and employs long maceration(s) and extended elevage is making some of Oregon’s greatest wines.
The 2015 warm and ripe on the palate filling the mouth with dense fruit, dusty tannins and layers of mineral and spice adding earthy and savory notes as it opens in the glass displaying a classic Nebbiolo personality with liquid roses, like Ruche and Vespolina showtimes show as well, along with balsamic dipped Strawberries, racy plum and juicy cherry fruits as well as a touch of red pepper, cedar, mint, blood orange rind and black licorice. At 13.1% natural alcohol, this is a powerful wine, but not heavy and it, like outstanding Barolo and Barbaresco has a way of wearing its tannin and acidity with class, texture and elegance. This ruby red and dark orange edged tinted vivid Cameron Nebbiolo has its youthful ease, but there is complexity and earthiness hiding underneath and it should gain with another 3 to 5 years, this is thrilling stuff and a great value. Cameron’s wines are deep and authentic with a serious nod to the old world, I love these wines, and the latest set are soulful and exceptional in detail and length, don’t miss this one and their 2017 vintage Pinots.
($40 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2018 Dirty & Rowdy, Mourvedre “Familiar” California.
The Mourvèdre Familiar, by Dirt & Rowdy is a barrel selection of all the vineyards they work with and is, as Hardy Wallace, winemaker, puts it, a living snap shot of California Mourvèdre. The blend includes vines from Monterey (Chalone), Mendocino, Contra Costa, El Dorado, plus maybe some San Benito, and Amador Counties. This 2018 vintage is one of the best and most pure yet from these guys and I love the seamless and almost dreamy quality this lighter example of Mourvedre shows, while still being true to varietal flavor with crushed flowers, earth, spice and racy red fruits. Dirty and Rowdy is unique and fun winery and label based in Petaluma, consisting of two couples in the wine industry, making wines with a naturalistic approach, raw, unconventional and focused on whole cluster Mourvedre, with a nod to Bandol and to old school California winemakers. The Dirty (Hardy & Kate) and Rowdy (Matt & Amy) families got together for a simple purpose, as Wallace notes, to craft honest natural wines that they themselves wanted to drink. According to Hardy, there’s a long story about Dirty and Rowdy involving blogs, videos, dream jobs, Atlanta, late nights spent cooking spicy fried chicken in an old cast iron skillet, and a sincere love of real wine and real food, but he’s trying to keep it simple, it is about creating Mourvedre without pretense and allowing the wine to speak for itself.
Dirty & Rowdy employed a native fermentation with zero winemaking additions, with 100% whole cluster, which gives this wine its fruity and savory tension with the vintage showing soft tannin and a warm ripe charm in the glass, and it was bottled unfiltered and unfined, with absolute minimal effective sulfites. The Familiar Mourvedre is juicy and medium bodied with whole bunches excitement on the palate with sweet raspberry, plum and pomegranate fruits as well as delicate floral notes and snappy savory elements and spices with cinnamon, pepper, lavender and minty herbs all coming through in the glass. There is a touch of raw tannin and crunchy mineral behind the youthful and ripe fruit that adds elegance and transparency of form, this is highly quaffable stuff and shows the vintage’s quality, providing insight into the more serious single terroir, single vineyard versions to come. This ruby/garnet Mourvedre gets a bit more grippy with air and reveals some classic dusty baked cherry and earthiness adding to the depth here, this Dirty & Rowdy has a lot going for it and displays this grape in a fresh easy to enjoy style. Mourvedre or Mataro as it is also know, is getting some much deserved attention with a stunning array of wines made from this grape available like those from Ian Brand, Ridge Vineyards, Bonny Doon, Halcon Vineyards, Tablas Creek, Desire Lines Wine Co., Sandlands and Dirty & Rowdy, check them out!
($33 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
n.v. Bodegas La Cigarrera, Manzanilla Dry Sherry, D.O. Manzanilla Sanlucar de Barrameda, Spain.
One of my favorite sipping dry Sherry bottlings is La Cigarrera’s brisk and salty Manzanilla from the Sanlucar de Barrameda zone, its intensity makes it great with tapas, Spanish ham and briny treats, more complex than a Fino and lighter and racier than the oily/nutty and creamier medium dry styles, like Oloroso and Amontillado, with less alcohol too, making it more refreshing. The light gold hued with delicate amber tint La Cigarrera Manzanilla starts with sea shore and pecan aromas and the brisk palate is mouth watering with burnt orange, chamomile, dried apricot, peanut, saline, mineral and lemon oil. The oxidative nuttiness is tamed by the sharp acidity, this a blessing and a curse, as unfamiliar to Sherry drinkers with get a huge shock, because of the austere and severe nature of this Manzanilla, but those you know what to expect will get a thrill and have the right food pairing handy to best enjoy its vibrant personality. It takes study and diligence to understand and appreciate Sherry for its unique taste, winemaking and terroir, and though I don’t drink it often I love exploring it, from Fino, in particular Equipo Navazos, to the exceptional and sweet Pedro Ximenez or P.X., especially by Alvear, along with the classic Oloroso and Amontillado, with Lustau being a top choice, these are without question incredible versions to discover.
The star Manzanillas include La Gitana (Hidalgo), La Guita (Hijos de Rainera Perez Marin) and Solear (Barbadillo) as well as this La Cigarrera, and they are all 100% Palomino which are aged entirely under a layer of flor yeast, this biologically aging process restricts the oxidation and keeps things less oily/nutty in flavors and the close proximity to the Atlantic Ocean allows a cooler storage and more saline infused influence. The thicker the layer of flor the more it protects from air contact, this results in a slightly lighter variety of Sherry, containing virtually no glycerol (cream or textural richness) and instead combines for dry, saline notes with a fresh, zesty liveliness. Manzanilla, as mentioned is very intense, typically displaying more coastal aromas than a Fino, like sea spray, salt , kelp or even iodine notes, like this one shows. Like Fino, Manzanilla Sherries are from grapes grown on chalky and sanding soils and is produced in a Solera system of aged wines that have all developed a strong flor, which are blended, but most top Manzanilla’s are younger with an average of 3 to 7 years of age. Imported by De Maison Selections, this La Cigarrera, is a Sherry to be enjoyed as fresh and as young as possible, it is certainly better in the first 12 months after release, this one was from a 2018 batch, near the end of best by date, so be sure to check dates on the back label. Enjoy with Marcona almonds, sheep hard cheeses, spicy sardines in oil and or white anchovies, and have Happy Sherry Week 2019!
($15 Est. 375ml-Half Bottle) 90 Points, grapelive
2016 Odonata, Cabernet Sauvignon, Prolific Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains.
Odonata, on the River Road wine trail, in Monterey County is an up and coming winery and the latest releases are really attention grabbing efforts, especially their thrilling Prolific Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon that displays beautiful and pure Cabernet fruit, smooth structural tannin and possesses a lovely textural opulence. This is an impressive effort and it is already drinking great with fabulous richness on the palate and Bordeaux like finesse and restraint, I could drink a lot more of this stuff. Winemaker Denis Hoey, who mentored under Jeff Emery, owner and winemaker at Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard starting back in 2004 after Hoey finished his college degree at UC Santa Cruz, with their relationship developing into an Old World apprenticeship for Denis, and he became the production manager for SCMV before starting Odonata Wines in Santa Cruz 2005. Odonada found a permanent home when in 2014 Hoey and his wife, Claire, bought the old Marilyn Remark Winery in the Santa Lucia Highlands where they are raising their family, and running the Odonata Winery and tasting room. He has traveled to Italy and France on several occasions to gain a broader perspective about European winemaking techniques, and since then he’s been making interesting wines, and I discovered them about 4 years ago, when I tried their Pet-Nat, but this Cabernet takes it to another level.
Odonata sourced this Cabernet Sauvignon from a vineyard near Los Gatos on the Eastern slopes of the Santa Cruz Mountains that is planted to a few French clones and set on a mix of soils including organic matter and crushed shales with warm exposures and cool nights which gave Hoey and his team the perfect balance of ripe fruit and lively acids. Odonata, who generally only work with sustainable and organic grapes, which usually means tiny yields, enjoyed a near perfect growing season in the Santa Cruz Mountains in 2016 with this Prolific showing a rich and generous dark fruit profile and personality. Hoey employs a pretty gentle winemaking process with a nod to tradition and transparency with normal pump overs for the fist week then punchdowns once a day for almost two weeks before pressing to barrel, of which generally for his Cabernet is about 50% new and 50% seasoned French oak, though it feels like less in this wine. Classic layers unfold in the mouth with blackberry, black currant, plum and cherry fruits along with subtle wood notes, anise, minty sage and accented by the smell acacia flowers, vanilla and cedar spice. This is a full bodied treat and gains a delicate loamy and mineral tone with air and I’m sure it will thrive with bottle age, getting more interesting over time, it is a Cabernet that excels with food, especially robust cuisine. It’s a great time to discover Odonata and follow their limited releases, in particular check out the Cabernet, the Pinot Noir and their Durif (Petite Sirah) as well as the fun Pet-Nat(s).
($49 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2018 Cruse Wine Company, Sparkling Rosé Valdiguié, Pétillant Naturel, Deming Vineyard, Calistoga, Napa Valley.
Michael Cruse’s sparkling wines are some of the most sought after in California, from his super rare and luxurious Methode Champenoise Ultramarine to this absolutely delicious and fun Sparkling Valdiguié Pétillant Naturel “Pet-Nat” Rosé these are tasty and serious bubbly treats. This version, with its pop cap is no pretense, slightly fruity sparkler with pure Valdiguié character, giving its Gamay like flavor and easy quaffability with fresh red peach, strawberry, seeped violets, candied watermelon and a tangy blueberry/cranberry note along with a creamy vibrant mousse, adding a touch of leesy (yeast) notes and a touch of mineral, dried herb, citrusy sweet tart and a little bit of a confectionary element likeTurkish delights, without any cloying sweetness. This will be a huge hit with Thanksgiving and or Holiday meals with low alcohol, zippy acidity and fruity generosity it will go great with everything on the table, whether it be roast turkey or ham, sweet potato and or savory stuffing.
Cruse sourced the grapes for his Sparkling Valdiguié Pet-Nat comes from the Deming Vyd in Napa Valley’s northern warmer end in the town of Calistoga on loamy, deep soils, that Cruse says, allows this 60+ year old bush trained vineyard to be both organic and dry-farmed, which adds to the intensity of concentration and shows this varietal in its best light. Cruse continues noting that his Valdiguié was whole cluster pressed using the same slow steady cycle as for his traditional method sparkling wines. The wine was then fermented a small stainless steel tank with a touch of skin contact to achieve that light pink tint, finishing at about 10.5% natural alcohol. Towards the end of the fermentation the wine was bottled, stored, and then riddled, and disgorged for clarity, with Michael adding that there was zero additions made here, no yeast, no sugar, or sulfur added, it is pure, fermented, grape juice, and that is exactly what you taste in this delightful bubbly. There is time to order Cruse Sparkling Valdiguié for Thanksgiving, plus his Nouveau Valdiguié 2019 is ready too, check them out on his website and or your favorite wine store.
($32 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2017 Comando G, Garnacha, La Bruja Rozas, Vino de Pueblo, Valle del Tietar, Sierra de Gredos, Vinos de Madrid D.O., Spain.
The talented duo of Dani Landi and Fernando Garcia are creative geniuses behind one of Spain’s hottest new wineries, Comando G, who are making wonderful and transparent old vine Garnacha wines, just a short distance away from Madrid, up in the rugged, weathered peaks of the Sierra de Gredos. Making a wine that transcends perceptions, the Comando G Garnacha is brilliant stuff showing racy red fruits, wonderful layering and heavenly length delivering red raspberry, currant, tangy strawberry, pomegranate and plum fruit along with a crunch and herbal bite of stems and wild spices, mineral and stony notes. This unique region of the greater Castilla y Leon area is close to 1,000 meter up with exceptionally cool nights year round and warm days, which allows the Grenache vines to fully mature, but still have lovely balance as this new 2017 La Bruna de Rozas shows, even in a warm vintage like this one, these wines some a ton of personality and charm with clear details and elegant finesse. The pair of college friends, Dani Landi, who also has his critically acclaimed Bodegas Daniel Jimenez-Landi and Fernando Garcia, who also works at Bodega Marañones, began exploring the Sierra de Gredos and in particular the area around Mentrida for top vineyards, finally purchasing and leasing the best sites they could find, creating their own project, Comando G in 2008, and since then have been a tear with each year being outstanding bottlings.
La Bruja de Rozas, is their village appellation blend coming from small parcels, as they put it, vineyards that are planted in the most impossible places, that includes rockfalls and natural amphitheaters high up in the most remote parts of the mountains that are all farmed to biodynamic/organic methods to give these wines a magical quality. This exceptional Garnacha is terroir driven from the high elevation and granitic sand soils making for a floral laced, perfumed wine, and the hand tended vines are all over 50 years old for this wine, though some are closer to 80 years old, adding to the depth and concentration of flavors, as well as the structured mouth feel. The Comando G La Bruja de Rozas saw a long, almost 5 month maceration with partial whole cluster and an all natural yeast fermentation followed by nine months in large oak vats, before Fernando and Dani bottled it.This region and these wines are amazing and Grenache lovers will want to discover the Sierra de Gredos, and especially the wines of Fernando Garcia and Dani Landi under their exciting Comando G label, as well as the wines under their own personal labels, in particular the Landi single cru bottlings, as well as checking out 4 Monos, a new label and Alfredo Maestro’s Carnacha from Gredos. Spain’s new generation is changing the wine world’s understanding of Iberian Peninsula, it’s a thrilling mind expanding time to be a Spanish wine drinker. This crimson/ruby La Bruja de Rozas is delicious vino that is great with food and like a fine Burgundy keeps a hold of your attention throughout the length of the meal, drink over the ext 3 to 5 years.
($35 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2018 Château de Roquefort, Corail, Rosé Cotes de Provence, France.
The Château de Roquefort Corail Rosé, by Raimond de Villeneuve and his team, comes from his biodynamic vineyard, which is situated in an amphitheater at about 1,000ft up, thus having a special microclimate of its own and adds a freshness to the ripe flavors and mineral tones. This estate, with mostly vines over 40 years, is located on the edge of the Bandol appellation, but over a ridge that lies in a cooler zone, so they don’t have Mourvedre here, instead they have about Syrah 32%, Grenache 27%, Carignan 24%, Cinsault 8%, Clairette and Vermentino 9% planted for this Rosé Cotes de Provence, as well as having an experimental plot of Cabernet Franc and some Portuguese varietals. One of the friendliest Rosé Cotes de Provence available, the Corail shows bright fruitiness with crisp detail and is very elegant and refreshing delivering strawberry, pink citrus, sour cherry, rosewater, watermelon and saliva inducing saline, mineral and wild herbs, picking up a wet stone note as well with time in the glass. This light pink and salmon hued Rosé is a delightful Cotes d’Azur and Mistral influenced wine is great with sea food and its dry briskness, while full of flavor is a great value.
The certified organic Château de Roquefort is all natural fermented with native yeasts with all the different varieties being co-fermented after direct pressing, with the grapes being partially de-stemmed. Some varieties go through a cold maceration for 8 to 24 hours before being pressed, to extract the pretty color and adds to the structured feel that gives the balance in this fine Rosé. At just 12.5% natural alcohol this wine has substance and texture, but lots of lift and vibrant character. This winery offers a ton of quality for the price, and this wine, which of course is best with warm Summer days, still has a lot to offer year round, I enjoy Rosé anytime of year and so should you, especially on a sunny weekend with a picnic or as a aperitif before a family meal. The pairing that suits me is matching this wine with mussels in spicy broth and or classic Mediterranean sea food stew. This 2018 Château de Roquefort, Corail, Rosé Cotes de Provence, which is also labeled vegan, is fabulous vintage, one of best versions I’ve tasted so far and is drinking beautifully now and should last another year without any fall off, making it a bargain to stock up on.
($19 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2017 Laura Lorenzo – Daterra Viticultores, Azos de Vila, Vino Tinto de Manzaneda, Ribeira Sacra, Spain.
Laura Lorenzo is one of the Ribeira Sacra’s rockstars and her wines, like this Azos de Vila vino tinto village cuvée is a field blend of red varieties that includes local varietals, some unknown outside this remote region, these being Mouraton, Mencía, Garnacha Tintorera, Merenzao and Gran Negro that were organically farmed on the almost impossible steep slopes above the Sil River on a mix of Granite, Gneiss, Clay, Slate and Schiste soils. This Galician red is like nothing you’d expect from Spain, it’s an amazing wine that takes cues from the Northern Rhone, the Loire and even Burgundy with dark fruits, loads of mineral, spice and racy acidity in an elegant medium bodied frame. This 2017 vintage of the old vine Azos de Vila comes from many Pueblos including the tiny villages of Seoane, Soutipedre, Langullo, San Vicenzo that make up part of Manzaneda, all from plots, average between 80 to 120 years old, are within the Val do Bibei, which is part of the Quiroga-Bibei subzone, where the cool Atlantic influences collide with the continental climate. This 2017 is beautiful ruby/garnet in the glass with a slightly earth note rising up and quickly fading into delicate floral notes on the nose with hints of herbs and flinty spices that leads to a gorgeous layering of peony flowers, sweet plums, cherry, tangy currant and cranberry in the mouth with lifted acidity, fine mineral tones and a hint of amaro. This wine is just so real and pretty, especially after it opens up and loses the reduction with elements that remind me of Anjou, Fleurie and Saint-Joseph and the 12.5% natural alcohol keeps things vivid and lighter, this is special stuff.
This black and red fruited red shows off the year in transparent detail, it was a warm and dry summer, with all the grapes being hand-harvested in early September by Laura and her crew it what can be best described as back-breaking work, then in the cellar they were partially de-stemmed, with a small bit of whole bunches included and fermented, as Lorenzo notes, using indigenous yeasts in used chestnut and French oak barrels with a two week maceration, after which she then raised the Azos de Vila for 12 months in the same barrels. Bottling was as normal here done without fining or filtration to show the absolute purest of form and Lorenzo, who like Lapierre in Morgon, only employs the lowest amount of sulphur as possible, making her wines taste naturally fresh and authentically raw. Laura Lorenzo was the winemaker and viticulturist at the Ribeira Sacra estate Dominio do Bibei for close to a decade, where she put their wines on the map, before she struck out on her own with her project, creating Daterra Viticultores in 2014. Lorenzo also did influential stints internationally and worked with the iconic Eben Sadie in South Africa at the world famous Sadie Family Winery and she also was Achaval Ferrer in Argentina, both of which had an impact on her wines, contributing to the cult like following these truly hand crafted wines at Daterra Viticultores have achieved.
($40 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2017 Barruol-Lynch, Crozes-Hermitage “Habrard” Northern Rhone, France.
Louis Barruol, the famed Gigondas winemaker at the historic Chateau de Saint Cosme and his friend Kermit Lynch, the pioneering importer, teamed up for a wonderful collection of micro-négociant bottlings from the Rhone, exclusively for the US market with a gorgeous set of Northern Rhone Syrahs being the jewels, including a savvy lineup of Cote-Rotie, Hermitage and Crozes-Hermitage, like this sexy “Habrard” 2017. For the Barruol-Lynch wines, Louis selects the best parcels he can find, from small growers working select plots and in special Lieu-Dits, and then Kermit shows up to consider each lots and either has a cuvée bottled unfiltered, or he blends to find the assemblage that, according to Lynch, satisfies his aesthetic criteria. Barruol, the fourteenth generation of his family to make wine in the region and has an ancient Roman villa that might be one of the oldest wine cellars in the Rhone, crafts each of these Barruol-Lynch reds with care working with the Sérine clone, an ancient version of Syrah, producing only a few precious barrels of each cuvée, which are fermented in cement vats and aged in mostly used barrels for about 12 months and in this case using about 10% whole cluster. There’s a lot to love about these Barruol-Lynch Crozes, in particular this quality version from a stellar vintage, it is an outrageously great bargain.
The 2017 Habrard is warmly ripe and opulent with a heightened sense of fruit concentration and with a decedent mouth feel and it is delicately perfumed with crushed violets and peony floral notes on the nose before leading to the open knit and richly flavored full bodied palate, it certainly feels more like a Cote-Rotie than a mere Crozes-Hermitage, which is wonderful bonus at this price point! There are lovely layers of blackberry, blueberry compote, damson plum plus dense currant/cassis and cherry fruit along with dried lavender, anise, peppery spice, a light cedar note and faint hints of game, camphor and coco. This pure Syrah is already drinking fabulously well and its depth and complexity add to the pleasure on offer here, this should, with its forward nature get even more rewarding over the next 3 to 5 years, but doesn’t need too much time to be enjoyed, especially with robust cuisine, this is exceptional stuff for chilly Fall evenings and family meals, as it goes with many foods and will be a real crowd pleaser with its soft tannins and hedonistic personality. Kermit Lynch, as noted, has long-term relationships with vignerons in every major wine growing region that offers a tremendous array of opportunities, and his partnership with Louis Barruol is a gift to us wine drinkers, don’t miss these wines!
($35 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2018 Weingut Leitz, Riesling, Dragon Stone, Rheingau Germany.
The Rüdesheimer Drachenstein, which sits above the Grand Cru Berg(s) and backed up against the Niederwald Forrest and set on the almost pure quartzite soils, is the source for Leitz’s famous Dragon Stone (Drachenstein means Dragon Stone in German) Riesling and one of my favorite vineyards to walk above the Rhein, it’s an awesome site and makes for a unique Rheingau expression. While not classified, or a QbA, the Dragon Stone Riesling is usually a generous wine with a fairly high must weight, but feels drier than it is, because of the terroir minerality and vivacious acidity, making for a gorgeous easy to love quaffer that can go with a vast array of foods and is exceptionally refreshing in an off dry wine. The 2018, even with high residual sugars, is vibrant with an almost dry sensation on the brisk palate that shows the classic yellow fruits of this remarkable vineyard area, it gives peach, apricot, lemon and golden apples as well as a tangy burst of racy citrus, wet stones, saline and rose oil. Johannes Leitz, who took over his family’s tiny estate in 1985, has turned into one of Germany’s best known and loved wineries and has been a tireless champion of the Rheingau and especially the sites about his hometown of Rudesheim with his Rudesheimer Berg Schlossberg, Kaisersteinfels and Roseneck GG’s being some of the most iconic Riesling bottlings you can experience.
The semi sweet and salty Dragon Stone gains seriousness and impact with time in the glass and with matching cuisine, which I say brings out the best here, like spicy Asian dishes, it delivers a stellar performance and remains one of the greatest values in the Riesling world. Leitz employs an all stainless steel regiment for his lighter or up to Spatlese level bottlings with some lees aging all to promote freshness and purity, like in this Dragon Stone, which get screw caps while the Cru offerings see Stuckfass aging and a real cork finish. The Rüdesheimer Berg, and the Drachenstein, have a spectacular view overlooking the confluence of the Nahe and Rhein Rivers with challenging slopes, these are singular terroirs with lots of slate and quartzite at the westernmost point of the Rheingau region, it’s an area of great importance to Leitz and he farms his plots with passion, integrity and with the utmost care, relying on hand tending of these vines to ensure quality in every bottle that leaves the cellar. While the GG’s and Trockens are the stars, Leitz’s Kabinett and Spatlese remain impeccable and classic, with this Dragon Stone being an extra joyous extra to this fine collection of Rieslings. This 2018 version of Dragon Stone is absolutely delicious and one of the best yet, and gives a hint on just how good, I mean great, this vintage is, stock up.
($18 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2015 Poe Wines, Sparkling Rosé, Sonoma Valley.
Samantha Sheehan, of Poe Wines, makes a lovely set of handcrafted wines that were inspired by her travels to Europe and especially her time in Champagne and Burgundy, she produces traditional Champagne method sparkling wines, a Rosé, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and even a nouveau from Pinot Noir as well as a limited set of Vermuth(s) all of which are outstanding and individual bottlings. This 2015 Sparkling Rosé shows a vivid fruit intensity with delicate floral notes and leesy brioche showing tart cherry, strawberry and pink citrus fruits along with an elegant mineral streak and a generous and textured palate that is highlight by a fabulous refined mousse and beading of bubbles, it is very well made sparkler that delights the senses. Poe’s Sparkling Rosé is made from 70% Pinot Noir coming from the Olcese Vineyard, which was planted in 1972 to the Martini clone of Pinot Noir, and 30% Pinot Meunier from the Van der Kamp Vineyard that lies at the very top of Sonoma Mountain, on a mix of soils, at close to 1,400 feet elevation, it looks down on the historic little town of Glen Ellen to the east and the Bennett Valley to the northwest. It is one of the oldest plantings of Pinot Noir in the state, with some of maybe the oldest Pinot vines still producing and was originally back planted in the early 1950s and it shows in the structure it gives to this Sparkling Rosé, while the Meunier came much later, but makes for a good part of this intriguing bubbly, adding vinous roundness and complexity.
The Pinot Meunier and Pinot Noir grapes were both, as Sheehan notes, picked early as is done with sparkling wines, on August 24th of 2015. All the grapes were pressed together, and co-fermented in neutral French oak barrels with 100% native yeasts and without the addition of sulfur. Samantha adds that after primary fermentation, she kept the sulfur extremely low and allowed this Rosé to rest for the next 11 months in barrel before putting it into bottle for sparkling fermentation, where It was aged another almost three years on the lees before being disgorged. This Sparkling Rosé by Sheehan hits all the right cords and is one of the best grower fizz style hand crafted wines available, joining Michael Cruse and Caraccioli in that small production elite set from California. I love Samantha’s latest stuff and have been fan of her wines since she burst on the wine scene out of no where back with the 2012 vintage, after starting her own label in 2009, with her beautiful Chard and Pinot. She has really put herself into these wines and you can see her inspiration shining through from her travels to Burgundy and Champagne, her wines are well balanced and exceptionally food friendly, especially this light pink and salmon hued Sparkling Rosé which gains depth and seriousness with matching cuisine and yet is still fun and playful by itself, drink over the next 3 to 5 years.
($42 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2018 Joyce Wine Company, Syrah, Tondre Grapefield, Santa Lucia Highlands.
At a Halloween party with some scary good wines on offer, one really stood out, this new Joyce Syrah from the Tondre Grapefield vineyard site in the Santa Lucia Highlands, it is another big step up for winemaker Russell Joyce and this Monterey winery, it is an absolutely gorgeous and complex wine with beautiful fruit purity, a background of savory elements and highlights the brilliance of the vintage locally. The aromatics are sexy with blaclk fruits, crushed violets and a subtle meatiness along with stem influences before revealing dark marionberries, plum and black cherry fruits on the medium to full bodied youthful palate along with herbs de Provence, minty anise, creme de cassis, peppercorns, tangy briar notes and a hint of graphite. The 2015, 2016 and the 2017 versions were all lovely versions, but this one really takes it to the next level with its total completeness and shows Joyce’s progression in winemaking and his tweaks here have been amazingly successful to allow this site to fulfill its potential and stylistically this wine takes its own path and follows the old school Northern Rhone tradition with the use of partial whole bunches.
The performance here was made even more impressive by the fact I tasted it side by side with one of Louis Barruol’s latest Crozes-Hermitage, in fact I would have probably have had a hard time picking which was which if blind tasted, so good was this Joyce Tondre Syrah! Right now, there are some thrilling California Syrah wines out there, like Drew’s Valenti and Perli Vineyards, Desire Lines Wine Co.’s Griffin’s Lair and Shake Ridge offerings as well as Paul Gordon’s Halcon Vineyards, all of which, and including this one are exceptional values. Joyce employed early picks of the Syrah fruit and fermented in cement tank with 60% whole-cluster with the wine aged in a combination of cement and neutral French barrels, all of which was preserve freshness and vitality, keeping natural alcohol down and showing the sandy loam terroir of the SLH. This deep purple/ruby Syrah is serious stuff and will certainly gain with bottle age, though it is impossible to resist even now, especially with robust and or rustic protein laced cuisine, it will be awesome with wild mushroom dishes, grilled meats, roast poultry and even Korean BBQ! Drink this outrageously cool Syrah over the next 3 to 5 years, Syrah geeks should not miss this way.
($35 Est.) 96 Points, grapelive
2014 Mousse Fils, Special Club Brut Champagne, Meunier – Les Fortes Terres, Vallée de la Marne, France.
The brilliant 100% Meunier 2014 Special Club by Cedric Mousse, Champagne Mousse Fils’ 12th generation wine grower, is one of the most exciting Champagnes of the vintage so far and delivers a gorgeous performance in glass with vinous roundness and incredible minerally, this is a stunning bubbly. There is a lot to love from Mousee, especially if you are a Meunier freak, which is now an identity I embrace, Mousse was the very first all Meunier Special Club producer and their lineup from the clay and mineral rich soils in Vallee de la Marne are is one of the best I’ve tried that features this grape and they remind me of the more famous Jerome Prevost, but with their own unique flourish. This 2014, a Blanc de Noirs, is brisk and lively with a beautiful and refined mousse and elegant beading of the bubbles showing layers of lemon, apple, liquid mineral, wet stone, flinty notes, brioche and a delicate floral note along with a creamy texture and length that really impresses. This fine Meunier Special Club Brut is fresh and vibrant, but deepens and gets better and better with every sip, becoming a complex and thrilling sparkler that can be enjoyed on a special occasion and or with a meal, it has the depth to cover your needs and goes with a good range of cuisine.
The Mousse Special Club Brut, which is pure grower fizz, comes from the estate’s single vineyard Cuisle, with this bottling being 100% from the Les Fortes Terres Lieu-Dit and was fermented in all stainless and went through full malos with 36 months of lees aging. Mousse is working all sustainable with mostly all organic practices, with a holistic approach being used here with no pesticides and minimal use of copper to allow the vineyard to really express itself in the wines. Cedric, who has worked in Bordeaux at Pomerol’s Chateau Trocard as well as Napas Valley’s Freemark Abby built a new and modern winery at Mousse and adopted renewables with color and geothermal power sources, making him a pioneer in his region of Champagne, only about an hour or so east of Paris. Terry Theise, the grower producer Champagne guru and importer took his time, almost 6 years, to take a chance on this young winemaker and bring these Meunier based Champagnes to the united state, his first grower estate focused on Meunier, and is now a great believer in Mousse and the grape. I am a huge fan of this collection, especially this new Special Club, and his Les Vignes de Mon Village Brut Nature, which is one of my go to bubblies, if you’ve not had Mousse, now is the time to discover this awesome producer.
($110 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2017 Halcon Vineyards, Pinot Noir, Oppenlander Vineyard, Anderson Valley.
The latest from Halcon, is fourth vintage of Oppenlander Pinot Noir made by this small winery run by Paul Gordon, who Halcon Estate Vineyard is the source of one the best Syrahs in California. The extremely cool located Oppenlander Vineyard, which sits just 8 miles from the town of Mendocino, and comes from deeply (own) rooted vines, mostly clone 115, that makes up about two-thirds of this 2017 vintage, with the remains one-third being Pommard. Gordon, who had the help of Scott Shapely, the talented winemaker who crafts Gary Franscioni’s Roar wines through the 2017 vintage and the Oppenlander has that feel about, with pretty serious fruit and a nice sweet toasty wood note backed up with some whole bunch savory tones and good natural acidity balancing everything out. The 2017 Oppenlander Pinot Noir, like a few of the Anderson Valley wines I’ve tasted so far is still primal and has loads of potential to become a thrilling wine over time, that said there’s a lot of pleasure to be had in its youth too with gorgeous purity of fruit, a touch of spice, mineral, earth and smoky wood. The layers unfold with crushed raspberry, plum and currant all wrapped around a core of cherry along with a mix of dusty and minty herbs, anise, forrest floor and a touch of vanilla. The body fills out with air a makes for caressing palate and while the aromatics are a bit muted at this point there seems to be an inner perfume of rose petals ready to come out along with a bit of pomegranate, both of which eventually come out from hiding in glass after 15 to 20 minutes.
Halcon Vineyards, again mostly known for their Alturas Syrah, also make of the most interesting Petite Sirah wines available with those grapes coming from the Yorkville Highlands and the terraced Theopolis Vineyard, as well as doing this well made Pinot Noir, along with micro bottlings of Roussanne, Mourvedre and a GSM blend, all of which offer high quality drinking for very modest prices. If you’ve not had these Halcon wines, it is way past time to discover them, especially the mention Syrah(s), but don’t overlook the Petite Sirah or this one either. Gordon utilized about 40% whole-cluster and this wine was aged in 20% new French oak barrel, then bottled unfined and unfiltered, with everything done as gently as possible and to allow the vineyard site to show through and to be an authentic and transparent Pinot Noir. The high amount of whole cluster and stems really adds to the energy and fleshy mouth feel and it should only get better and better with age, it also can be drunk with lots of food choices from blackened salmon to grilled meat as well as seared duck breast and or wild mushroom dishes. At about 13.3% natural alcohol this Pinot is refined and looks set to get even more silky, but still with depth, complexity and concentration, it’s luxurious stuff with a lovely ruby dark hue and admirable length and grace to impress most any Pinot fans. I am going to hide a bottle from myself with a time capsule note to open in just under a decade and see what emerges from the bottle, I am thinking it will be very rewarding indeed.
($35 Est.) 92+ Points, grapelive
2017 Piedrasassi, Syrah “PS” Santa Barbara County.
Piedrasassi’s winemaker Sashi Moorman is one of California’s best and most influential winemakers, though still relatively unknown to the public, somewhat like Eric Baugher is at the famed Ridge Vineyards, after helping establish Stolpman in the mid nineties he is now the winemaker behind Raj Parr’s Sandhi, Domaine de la Cote and Oregon’s Evening Land wineries. Sashi’s personal label, Piedrasassi is dedicated to cool climate Syrah mostly, though he has started focusing on Mourvedre as well in recent vintages, and this “PS” is his shockingly good entry level wine, coming from Moorman’s vineyards sites that range from Ballard Canyon (Santa Ynez Valley) in the east to the Santa Rita Hills and Arroyo Grande in the west. Moorman, who was himself influenced by Syrah pioneers and mentors like Bob Lindquist of Qupe and Adam Tolmach of the Ojai Vineyard, had Andrew Murray as friendly completion, both being from about the same generation, the same area and also focused on Syrah, along with established Rhone superstars, John Alban of Alban Vineyards and the cult label Sine Quo Non by the eccentric Manfred Krankl, helped lift Syrah in the Santa Barbara region, making it some of the most sought after wine in the state. Taking his own path, his wines at Stolpman and with Piedrasassi seem more stem influenced and his own really take that to the next level with a nod to Cornas, like the wines of Thierry Allemand and old school Cote-Rotie like Domaine Jamet with low sulphur and whole-cluster fermentations plus the use of cement vats rather than flashy oak.
Moorman’s are extreme and intriguing examples of Syrah with old world winemaking, but with perfectly ripened California fruit, mostly from sandy soils and close to the ocean with wines that, as he puts it, are then raised in large, used barrels, and, finally, bottled without any fining or filtration. He believes that the wines, with stem inclusion, are more expressive and develop more aromatic complexity, they also have more savory tones, earthiness, tension and gain in purity with bottle age, with this PS version already being a wildly compelling Syrah showing liquid violets, Ollailieberry pie filling, black cherry, plum and blueberry fruits, Cinghiale bacon, peppercorns, loamy earth, minty herb and licorice. A touch of reductiveness gives a slight natural and funky whiff, but this go away after the first sip and this medium to full bodied wine. Syrah is seeing a robust moment in time with many fine options like this Piedrasassi PS offering an exceptional value, and it joins newer versions from Greg Brewer (Ex Post Facto), Drew Family, Halcon and Desire Lines Wine Co. to name a few as the new wave of Syrah producers that you’ll want to discover. This PS always sells out, it is not hard to see why, especially for the price, but also look for the Bien Nacido, the Patterson & Sebastiano Vineyards, and maybe the signature bottling Rim Rock Vineyard in Arroyo Grande, they are stunning wines! This vintage is a huge success for the PS and it is going to surprise a few people with its ability to age, at this price, get all you can and enjoy it with robust cuisine.
($25 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2017 Weingut Mueller-Catoir, Riesling Trocken, Burgergarten, VDP Erste Lage, Pfalz, Germany.
The Burgergarten in the Haardt vineyard as used by the famed Mueller-Catoir, or hill garden, is a Premier Cru site that is composed of weathered yellow sandstone interspersed with layer of loess and clay giving the perfect conditions to make a lush, but crisply dry Riesling of refined elegance and with a concentrated underlying power, which in 2017 is incredible and joyously perfumed. Muller-Catoir, which converted to 100% organic in between 2007 and 2009, uses a more reductive (non oxidative) winemaking style, with a gentle crush, a long skin contact, and a very slow pressing of the grapes as to not push bitter phenolics from the seeds, along with their ferments at warmer than what is considered normal temperatures in stainless steel tank. Mueller-Catoir, which was founded back in 1774, is now run by Philipp David Catoir, the ninth generation of Catoir’s to do so and has the Martin Franzen as the cellar master (winemaker) and who took over from the legendary Hans-Günther Schwarz in 2001, and in my opinion has even raised the quality here. The 2017 Burgergarten Trocken goes a long way to proving that with exotic tropical fruit and floral aromas with plumeria, jasmine, dried pineapple, gingery/peppery notes and grilled citrus leading the way on the racy palate, this Riesling feels a bit like Trimbach’s Cuvee Frederic Emile, adding layers of wild peach, while cherry, tangy apricot and zesty lime notes along with loads of tannin like structure, zippy acidity, chalky stones and a Chablis like steely edge! Air brings more body out and clears the touch of reduction that easily blows and this Riesling becomes in fact more white Burgundy like in some ways, while also gaining hints of spearmint, chamomile and verbena, which clearly are Riesling influences and it is strikingly impressive for keeping its tension , clarity and severity, like a firm GG should.
Parts of Burgergarten were originally planted 700 years ago, making it one the first vineyard sites to be in the Pfalz region, which is not all that from from Alsace and one of the more interesting regions of Germany, it’s chalky soils much different from the classic slate of the Mosel and to those of the Rheingau and the Nahe. This area can produce monumental dry Riesling, as witnessed here with this Erste Lage Trocken from Mueller-Catoir, but it can also do riveting Pinot Noir, Scheurebe, Pinot Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, especially when done by the neighboring Von Winning estate as well as one of the best dry Muscats or Muskateller in the world, of which Mueller-Catoir is my favorite. Terry Theise, Mueller-Catoir’s famous importer, says the estate produces wines of outstanding transparency and density, and remains emblematic of Riesling at its most sophisticated, and I totally agree, these are amazingly pure wines that are both wildly entertaining in expression and wines of remarkable class and finesse. I have long been a fan, as longtime readers of my reviews will have certainly noted, and while Theise has waxed lyrically about the Spatlese and Auslese here, I am completely seduced with the dry wines at Mueller-Catoir and this one is no exception, in fact I find it as compelling as the GG’s! This not Riesling for the sweet toothed or for hot and spicy cuisine, it is more at home with unadorned sushi, the freshest of mackerel, toro and or crab cakes. This Burgergarten grows on you with every sip and should get even more intriguing with 3 to 5 years more are on it, patience I think will be well rewarded, and I hope I get to revisit it a few more times.
($40 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2017 Brick House Vineyard, Pinot Noir “Select” Willamette Valley, Oregon.
One of my favorites from the legendary Doug Tunnell and team at the all biodynamic Brick House Vineyard in Oregon’s Willamette Valley is their most approachable of the Pinot Noirs, the “Select” which is a moderately priced, estate grown wine that is only produced in exceptional vintage, like this one. The “Select” is a selection of barrels representing all the vineyard blocks on the farm, in the Ribbon Ridge AVA, all of which were picked at the discretion of the winemaker. The lively nature and expressive personality of the vintage is captured wonderfully in the Select Pinot and it shows the house style and terroir to near perfection with layers of dominate blue fruits, delicate spice, mineral tones and a touch of earthy charm to go with a lifted bouquet that is pretty in floral detail and is echoed on the dreamy aftertaste. The Select delivers a medium bodied, smooth textured palate of blackberry, cherry, blueberry and strawberry fruits along with a bit of briar spiciness, refined oak notes as well as wilted roses, loamy/woodsy chanterelles and orange marmalade. This is a stylish and satiny wine, but one that has a sophisticated structure, vigorous energy and inner (acidity) vibrancy, especially in its youthful form.
Brick House Vineyard, which was founded in 1990 and was an early adopter of organics, believes biodynamic agriculture holds particular appeal for winegrowers to achieve better quality, and became totally certified in the practice in 2002, making it one of the first in the region. Tunnell, who was clearly influence by the top domaines in Burgundy that use biodynamic techniques calls the methods holistic, regenerative for the soils and adds a positive spiritual approach with its close attention to nature’s cycles it harnesses energies not always obvious to the naked eye. The winemaking is traditional and like others of this generation gives a nod to the old world, in particular the Cote de Nuits classics. Brick House Vineyard has a collection the modern Dijon clones as well as blocks of Pommard and Wadensvil, two of the mainstay old clones in Oregon. Brick House also does one of the finest new world Gamay Noirs, it is a lovely wine itself and holds its own with this estate’s great Pinot Noir offerings. Along with Cameron Winery, Beaux Freres, St. Innocent and Ken Wright Cellars, to name a few, Brick House Vineyard is part of the generation that put Oregon wine where it is now, and for that we are grateful. Don’t miss these 2017s from Oregon, like this Select from Brick House!
($40 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2018 Moshin, Rosé of Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County.
Rick Moshin, a self-taught farmer and winemaker who (along with friends and family) built our gravity-flow winery by hand after purchasing a Pinot Noir vineyard in 1989, has always been working sustainably and is noted for promoting organic and nature style wines before they became much more fashionable and in recent years brought on the young talents of Patrick Callagy, the ex Radio-Coteau winemaker/enologist, who was exposed to serous biodynamic wnegrowing and cellar work. While most known for Russian River Pinot Noir, especially their Moshin Estate, Halo’s Hill and Rosalina bottlings, Moshin also does some interesting alternative wines including a Dry Creek Vermentino, a Sauvignon Blanc, a Chardonnay, even a sparkler and this crisply dry, but flavorful Rosé, made from 100% Pinot Noir. While perfectly dry, there is the typical vinous, almost opulent feel of ripe Pinot Noir fruit from this region, much like Rochioli, with bright intensity and delicate floral aromas, it shows a medium body with layers of fresh and tart cherry, strawberry, watermelon, ruby grapefruit and a touch of mineral as well as sassafras. A touch of brioche, toast and lees, which seems to be from a short period in oaks is not unwelcome and adds to the overall pleasure in this ripe, but vibrant year.
Made from selected vineyard sources within the region and a mix of clones that includes Pommard, Calera, Swan, 115, 777 and even some Wadensvil, also known as either clone 2A or the old Swiss clone. Moshin and Callagy used only free run juice with fully ripe grapes in the Saingnee method, which gives the rich detail here and the slightly higher natural alcohol, that comes in at about 13.2%, though not over the top and allowing a nice sense of energy and balance to shine through. The main Goldridge soils, which are well drained and perfect for the making the vines dig down deep to get nutrients, which enhances the complex and density of the wines, this along with the holistic vineyard and cellar approach and 100% native yeast fermentations give this wines their own personality. With air and time in the glass this Saingnee Rosé of Pinot Noir unfolds with Pinot fruit, spice and makes for a wine that can and should have cuisine to match, like pulled pork , mussels in Mediterranean flavored broth and or sun dried tomato pasta. This is very solid effort and will absolutely thrill fans of this winery and region, it was nice to re-connect with Moshin after not trying these wines in many years and I look forward to seeing what the future brings.
($25 Est.) 89 Points, grapelive
2018 Weingut Selbach-Oster, Riesling Trocken, Zeltinger Sonnenuhr***, Mosel Germany.
The 2018 Zeltinger Sonnenuhr “Three Stars” barrel sample is Selbach’s Grand Cru dry Riesling, a GG by another named if you will and it has the presence, brisk mineral crunchiness and structure to rival the best in region, but with this estate’s gorgeous vinous pleasures and generosity on the palate and like its siblings the block designate Andrecht, Rotlay, also in Sonnenuhr, and the Bomer, this Riesling has weight and impact you’d see in a Hermitage Blanc. As Terry Theise, the famed Riesling guru and importer notes, the Selbachs are the primary owners of this Sonnenuhr site, named for the hours of radiant sunshine it receives. This is, Theise adds, the steepest of the main three vineyards at Zeltinger, and there are large outcroppings of rock with chunks of blue Devonian slate with a very shallow subsoil of decomposed slate and this is also the driest of the vineyards, and generally speaking, these wines are full-bodied, and a bit flashier in style, which I also find, with amazing mouth feel and exotic notes. This is sexy jaw dropping stuff in this vintage, and even though it wasn’t in its final form, you can just tell this is next level stuff with layers of orchard fruits, crisp citrus, tropical essences, wet stones and spicy crystalized ginger race at you, it kind of reminds me of a dry version of a Willi Schaefer Graacher Auslese with that impressive richness and never ending aftertaste, though still high toned and structured with gripping extract. This Sonnenuhr Three Stars Trocken cascades across the lush palate with creamy apricot, mango, green apple and tangerine fruits, but is exact and chiseled with vivid acidity and steely/flinty mineral tones as well as crystalized ginger, minty herb, salty sea shore, wet shale, a hint of smoke and lees along with a delicate lime blossom, verbena and lingering peach.
Theise adds as well, that the Selbach family’s heritage in the wine business goes back centuries to 1660, with Selbach’s historical ancestors shipping wines down the Mosel in their own ships, the wine carried in oak barrels made by cooper Matthias Oster, the great-grandfather on the paternal side of the family, noting Thus, the winery developed as both a top estate producing some of the region’s best wines, especially their Rieslings like this one, and also as a négociant, a wine trader and shipper. The cellar at Selbach, under the direction of Johannes, has continued the use of traditional oak fuder in his cellar, bringing in new large casks every few years. The vinification here in this renown Mosel estate is carried out in a combination of fuder and stainless steel, in an hands-off manner with no fining, and predominantly with “Sponti” of wild yeasts. Johannes Selbach, who has the talents of Christian Vogt, the ex winemaker at Kartauserhof, as well as Sebastian, his son and next generation helping him out, is in pursuit of purity and aims for a typical modern Mosel style, which reflects the minerality of the rocky Devonian slate soils, a bit drier than 20 years ago, as well as the elegance and finesse of perfectly grown and ripe Riesling fruit. This vinous and captivating Riesling is an under the radar Grand Cru quality offering that you’ll have to really search out, but it is worth it, as very few wines reach this level of greatness at this price, and the more commonly found Kabinett level wines with their low alcohol grace are also exceptional Rieslings for any occasion, 2018 is another gem of a vintage for Selbach-Oster, keep an eye out for them.
($45 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2018 Avaler, Pinot Noir, Sonoma County.
Wonderfully open, pure and delicious, the newest addition to the value lineup at Avaler, is their Sonoma County Pinot Noir, which is sourced from two sites, one in the Russian River and one in the western Sonoma Coast and is a high quality and limited production wine that is compelling from start to finish. Avaler, a price conscious label of small production wines started by two friends, winegrower Jon Phillips of Inspiration Vineyards and winemaker Dylan Sheldon, who is regularly featured here with wines crafted under his (and his wife Tobe’s) Sheldon Wines label, a micro winery in the Santa Rosa area that does an amazing set of eclectic bottlings from sparkling Tempranillo, Graciano and Petite Sirah to Sangiovese and his much beloved Grenache. Most recently, I reviewed the Avaler “R Own Cuvee” that is a Rhone inspired red that has almost 20% Viognier blended in with Grenache and Syrah in a wine that is Cote-Rotie meets Cotes du Rhone with lush California fruit, it’s a fun wine, but I really adore this new Pinot they are just about to release. The 2018 Avaler Pinot Noir is racy fresh, but still richly flavored and satiny on the palate showing black cherry, plum and strawberry fruits along with a light toasty note, sassafras, earl grey tea, blood orange and a hint of rose petals and smoky vanilla.
Dylan and Jon made only 128 cases of this easy to love Pinot Noir using 80% neutral French oak and just one or 20% new barrel, with an elevage of just eight months to keep things as pure as possible, while allowing complexity and silky texture to develop. The grapes were careful picked here with 60% being Calera clone from the Russian River, which gives the ripe lush character as well as a nice spicy edge and 40% being Pommard clone from the Sonoma Coast that seems to give a sense of coolness, mineral and structure with a layer of seductive earthiness in the back ground, and at 13.8% natural alcohol this is a finely balanced wine that will also please a crowd with its opulence. With air this ruby/garnet hued Pinot gains the added dimension and detail just mentioned and while super tasty now, there is good reason to believe it will evolve for quite a few years, though as nice as it is, it is not likely too many will want to wait. This will be a good holiday meal, no guilt, quaffer from a vintage that is set to offer up some spectacular wines, as Sheldon puts it, affordable delicious wines should be on your dinner table every night, and that’s what this label does, they are tiny lots of good drinking wines made by good people, it’s a good time to Avaler up.
($28 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2008 Domaine Marcel Deiss, Huebuhl Cru, Cru d’Alsace, France.
The pretty semi sweet Huebuhl by Deiss is essentially a V.T. (Vendange Tardive) being a late harvest style wine with higher sugars and with some botrytis, which shows with its honeyed fruit and textural quality, and uniquely it was crafted with a cepage make up of Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris and Pinot Noir crushed without skin contact. The Marcel Deiss winery, one of Alsace’s great estates and most innovative in creating non mono varietal Cru wines and are leaders in the region in biodynamic and organic farming. They make some of the most intriguing wines in Europe, especially their fantastic Altenberg Grand Cru, Schoenenbourg Grand Cru and my favorite the Mambourg Grand Cru, which are bottlings that are some of the best white wines in the world. I really enjoyed this Huebuhl with its mature notes and rich palate that shows baked apple, dried apricots, gingerbread, pineapple and golden fig along with a hint of creme brûlée and grilled orange, it’s a generous and serious wine that begs for seared Foie Gras or a light tangy fruit or savory tart, plus surprising it goes with briny dishes too, like oysters.
This honeyed and lush white was made with grapes coming from a small mountain pass that separates Bergheim from Ribeauvillé, as importer Becky Wasserman notes, Huebuhl (which literally means ‘early growing and wet place’) is a small hollow that slopes away gently, joining Grunspiel to the West and Rotenberg to the East set on clay soils of an ancient lake bed, and is located in a slight hollow that encourages the development of the mentioned “noble rot” botrytis. Not as overtly sweet as Sauternes, the Huebuhl was handcrafted with a very slow whole-cluster pressing, lasting up to 12-hours, with a 100% natural yeast fermentation and then was aged for 12 months in large, ancient well seasoned neutral oak foudres. This is a complex and fascinating wine that will thrill with its spice, opulent mouth feel and the exotic joyous flavors that unfold, the Pinot Gris here seems to give this wine its unique character and personality, but that is just my own opinion, as these wines are more about place/terroir than the individual varietal. This wine is a special treat and would be great to celebrate Thanksgiving with, it is a classy version of an Alsace classic.
($39 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2017 Saint Cosme, Crozes-Hermitage Rouge, Northern Rhone, France.
The beautiful and sultry 2017 Crozes from Louis Barruol at Chateau de Saint Cosme is highly entertaining, complex and remarkably easy to quaff even now in its infancy with classic terroir influences and warmly ripe dark fruits, making for a seductive 100% Serine heirloom clone Syrah. Barruol, famous for his estate Gigondas southern Rhone wines, loves his northern Rhone negotiant bottlings, especially his Crozes-Hermitage notes that Syrah at Crozes-Hermitage shows (us) what the balance of a Syrah can and should be, suffused with freshness and pretty peony aromas, and a salty palate that gives depth, but unfurls with no heaviness. I wholeheartedly agree and this vintage has it all and more showing layers of pepper laced blackberry, blueberry, black currants and damson plum fruits along with crushed violets, graphite, loamy earth and black licorice to start with a nice burst of acidity, satiny tannin, a touch of cedar and sweet smoke, all with a vinous textured elegance.
Saint Cosme really allows the place and vintage to speak in its most true and best voice in its wines, and this Crozes especially proves this point and is an example of authentic and classic varietal purity and over the last 3 releases I’ve found stunning quality here, making for outrageous value for the money. For the 2017 version, Barruol and team did 100% de-stemming and fermented in vats before aging the Crozes in 20% new oak casks, with the remaining wine in once and twice used barrels for 12 months. Saint Cosme sourced this wine from extraordinary hillside vines set in granite soils around the villages of Crozes, Larnage, Gervans and Erôme where Barruol has contracts with old vine parcels, which Barruol says can compete with the more famous Hermitage, and while this wine is not in direct competition with the wines of Chave, Chapoutier and or Jaboulet, it does put a huge Syrah inspired smile on my face! This is irresistible stuff showing gorgeous detail and is fabulous with an array of cuisines from Korean BBQ to Zuni Chicken, in particular it is joyous with lamb kabob and or wild mushroom dishes, drink now or hold for 3 to 5 years.
($32 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2016 Domaine Marchand-Tawse, Gamay, Coteaux Bourguignons, France.
This wonderfully textural and pretty Marchand-Tawse 100% Gamay Coteaux Bourguignons is made from grapes sourced from two sustainably grown clay and limestone soil vineyards located mainly in the village of Flagey-Echézaux with a smaller portion coming from the village of Vosne- Romanée, which give this unique Cote de Nuits Gamay a real sense of terroir, clearly drinking with the soul of a Burgundy with a Pinot Noir like character, while unmistakably dark fruited Gamay at heart. This is a stunning value, from a region not known for bargains, with sensational transparency and purity, once again proving the commitment and passion for quality at this domaine under the direction of Pascal Marchand, the French Canadian, ex Comte Armand winemaker, who along with his partner Moray Tawse created this label and purchased the famed Domaine Maume in 2012, along the talents Mark Fincham (who I have tasted with a few times over the years) and Thomas Dinel in the cellar, gaining access to some of the regions best plots and are making an incredible collection of wines. Part of the new wave of vignerons and micro-négociants who, with their partner-growers, embrace organic and biodynamic farming practices while rejecting dogma, Marchand and team work hard to maintain traditions, but also embrace modern techniques as long as they don’t take from being as natural as possible in line with the mission and passion here. This is really good stuff, and while I have focused on Marchand-Tawse’s outstanding set of red and white Burgundies many, many times over the years here on grapelive.com, this was my first time trying their little Gamay, and I can tell you, I won’t forget this one, it easily fits in with their set Nuits-Saint-George reds, their awesome Meursault and my personal favorite their Morey-Saint-Denis, Rue de Vergy, which is one of the best kept secrets in Burgundy.
The 2016 Gamay Coteaux Bourguignons unfolds quickly in the glass, starting with tiny hint of earthy reduction before revealing a delicate spicy and floral bouquet with violets, rose oil and dried herbs leading to a smooth tannin structured medium bodied palate of blackberry, blueberry, sweet cherry and tangy plum fruits as well as racy acidity, mineral tones, a light sense of walnut, truffle, minty anise and just the right amount of peppery stemmy bite. Tasting this Marchand-Tawse Gamay with winemaker Russell Joyce, who does a very limited all carbonic bottling of true Gamay Noir here on the central coast, which is one of the best I’ve tasted in the state, it as mentioned above by both of us, how Pinot (or Burgundy) like this wine drinks, leaving us impressed, this is a wine that transcends its varietal make up. Marchand, Fincham and Dinel used 100% whole-cluster here with a traditional (semi-carbonic) fermentation with natural or indigenous yeasts in steel vats with daily punchdowns to ensure extraction, which heightens the dark purple/garnet color and gives this wine spine, then after primary the Gamay was rested in used French oak with a combination of barrique and larger demi-muids (casks) for close to a year with another couple of months in vat (with two rackings) before being bottled unfined and unfiltered. All the vineyard and cellar work were done to the lunar calendar in keeping with biodynamic principles, all to showcase the complexity of its Echézaux and Vosne-Romanée terroirs. I would bet this 2016 will last a surprisingly long time, but serious I can’t imagine waiting on this one, I just want to pop every bottle I have, drink this brilliant Gamay anytime you can, it is really worth searching out and stocking up on.
($28 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
nv Parusso, Rosé Langhe Nebbiolo Spumante, Metodo Classico, Piedmonte, Italy.
The Armando Parusso sparkling Nebbiolo, made in the Champagne method, is a handcrafted beauty by winemaker Marco Parusso, who’s winery in Barolo is famous for their powerful red wines from native varietals and especially their Nebbiolo(s) from from top sites like Rocche, where they got their start plus Mosconi and Bussia. Parusso, founded back in 1901 by Gaspare Parusso, didn’t start bottling estate wines until Marco’s dad, Armando started the family label in 1971 to pursue quality and a personal expression in the wines and his son Marco, who became involved at a very young age, has taken these wines to an exceptional level, and his wonderful dry, very Brut like and elegant Langhe Rosé Nebbiolo Spumante is a thrill in the glass, it’s a grower fizz that is a unique bubbly that shows class and terroir. This Rosé bubbly is vibrant and vivid with pretty copper/pinkish hue along with a delicate and caressing feel, but vigorous mousse that delivers riveting complexity on the palate showing mixed citrus, dried apricot, tart cherry and strawberry fruits as well as spice, rose petals, a touch of earth, tannin and leesy notes.
This exciting bubbly really needs rustic and robust cuisine to display its true nature, it deserves a matching meal and can without question became a centerpiece of an event, it easily handled a family style dinner when I sampled it, going wonderfully with an array of food choices, including everything from meyer lemon pizza to steamed mussels in garlic and wine broth, plus French fries and a burger! Marco employed classic techniques to make this Rosé Langhe Nebbiolo Spumante, which is listed as non-vintage and comes from Barolo hillside sites on sandy marl and clay soils, using a combination of stainless steel vats and large wood casks with a short maceration to extract that perfect color and then with a long cool ferment, which lasted close to a month before resting on the lees for about three years. There’s a lot of buzz about Italian sparkling wine, some is pure hype, but I must agree there is some magical stuff out there with a whole new generation dedicating themselves to quality, which is lifting everything to the next level, and the Piedmonte region has emerged as a hot spot with many intriguing surprises to discover like this rare one.
($49 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2015 Chateau Pegau, Cotes du Rhone Rouge “Maclura” Rhone Valley, France.
The richly flavored and complex Maclura Cotes du Rhone Rouge by Laurence Feraud of Chateau Pegau and Domaine de Pegau Chateauneuf du Pape fame is made up of about 60% Grenache, 25% Syrah, 10% Mourvèdre and 5% Cinsault, it’s a wine that shows vintage and terroir to beautiful effect with warm ripe fruit, spice and earthy charms. This wine comes from estate vines that average between 35 and 60 years old set on classic Chateauneuf like terroir with deep, stony, clay soils marked by round galets in the Sorgues area, all within 4 miles of the much more famous Chateauneuf du Pape AOC. The “Maclura”, which is named after a type of Osage Orange tree (also known by the name Hedge Apple) by Feraud by for the many of these trees that line the Chateau’s grounds, hence inspiring the name of this cuvée, shows, especially in this 2015 vintage, deep color and loads of black and red fruits including boysenberry, sweet plums, pomegranate and strawberry compote along with a hint of stems, a fleshy textural feel, as well as peppery spices, lavender, anise, creme de cassis, leather and dusty stones. This ready to go stuff is sultry and is hedonism in the glass, not overtly so, but with top notch quality and it is performing well right now.
This wine was produced with traditional methods, whole cluster and fermented using indigenous yeasts, all in epoxy lined tanks without any oak all to promote purity of form and to allow the place to shine through on the full bodied palate. Pegau, since Laurence took over here, has become one of the Rhone’s great estates and her wines are exceptional and world class, in particular her Chateauneuf(s) of course, but wine lovers, especially Grenache fans should really look for this Maclura Cotes du Rhone, with its pretty character and smooth tannins it really is easy to love, while still being rather serious in style. Feraud, while admitting these Cotes du Rhone(s) are not Chateauneuf(s), she keeps yields absurdly low, using only limits permitted in Chateauneuf noting that the wines have all of the density and hedonism of their big brother(s) from the fabled region. Pegau’s current lineup is full of stars and value, also of note is the Cotes du Rhone “Lone” Blanc made from 40% Clairette, 30% Bourboulenc, 20% Grenache Blanc and 10% Ugni Blanc, which is also delicious. This 2015 Cotes du Rhone Rouge, all organic, is a savvy crowd pleaser and great with a variety of cuisine, I highly recommend it with these cool Fall evenings and simple, but robust meals, drink now and often.
($23 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
nv Vilmart & Cie. Grand Cellier, Premier Cru Brut Champagne, a Rilly la Montagne, France.
Laurent Champs’ grower producer Vilmart Champagne’s are some of the greatest wines in the world and they seem to get better and more elegant with each vintage and collection he reveals and I especially love the latest disgorgement of his Premier Cru Brut Grand Cellier that comes from his organic estate vines in Rilly la Montagne 1er Cru “Hautes Grèves” with its precision and vinous sex appeal. This Champers at this price is outrageously good and incredibly well crafted in the house style, which is luxurious, but structured with delicacy and wonderful detail throughout on the medium bodied palate with layers of white flowers, mineral, crushed stones, lemon, peach and hazelnut all flowing seamlessly and caressingly in the mouth, finishing with lovely leesy/yeasty brioche, while staying invigorating and taught, this is fabulous bubbly in the same class as Krug, but maybe less obvious in form. The majority of Vilmart’s 11 hectares of vines, as noted by his famous importer Terry Theise, who was one of first to recognize the quality in site expression Champagnes, lie in Rilly-la-Montagne, although there are a few plots just over the border in the neighboring village of Villers-Allerand. Vilmart, Theise adds, is a member of Ampelos, an organization that promotes organic and sustainable viticulture in the region, and Champs has never used any herbicides or chemical fertilizers since taking over the helm heree.
The latest Vilmart Grand Cellier 1er Cru is a cepage blend of about 70% Chardonnay and 30% Pinot Noir with the Assemblage being from 2012-2013-2014 vintages with a minimum of 10 months in used French oak cask, which adds that voluptuous feel, while still having that zest acidity and core grip of tension that makes this beauty stand out. The Grand Cellier can almost stand up to decanting as it is ever changing in the glass with creamy mousse that seduces and it certainly can and should be paired with cuisine, such is the grace and complexity found here, like all the Vilmart offerings it is something exotic and special to enjoy. Champagne Vilmart, which dates back to 1890 when it was founded by Desire Vilmart and it has always been focused on grower fizz, being a récoltant-manipulant, making champagne exclusively from estate-owned vines since the very beginning. Since 1989 the estate has been in the hands of Laurent Champs, one of France’s great winegrowers and cellar master, he is the fifth generation of his family to lead this exceptional and prized estate. Champs, who declares he is a vintner first and a Champagne maker second says he does wine first, then afterward we do Champagne, and these age amazingly well changing with dramatic effect in bottle after 3 to 5 years, even the non-vintage bubbly like this one, and especially the Rubis Cuvee Brut Rosé, which is like drink sparkling Grand Cru Burgundy! Happy #ChampagneDay
($60 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2013 Jim Barry Wines, Shiraz “The Armagh” Clare Valley, South Australia.
The beautiful Jim Barry The Armagh Shiraz is really showing well at the moment with impressive restraint and layering, while still having a seriously dense (rich) and powerful presence in the glass with an inky purple/black and crimson hue and a dark berry coulis and spice laced full bodied palate, it is a wine to be taken seriously and enjoyed for another decade or more. Coming off old vine parcels in the Mounty Lofty Ranges zone of South Australia’s Clare Valley, with the Armagh vineyard, named for the original Irish settlers that came here back in 1849, was planted by Jim Barry in back in 1968 and yields less than two tonnes per acre. The soil here in this more mild and cool site is on sandy-gravel soils with a north-west facing slope that acts as a sun basket making sure these special vines get perfectly ripe. This vintage was warm and the tannins are strikingly silky allowing for early drinking on a wine known for its stellar age worthy structure, though this vintage still has plenty of guts under the hood showing blackberry, crushed flowers, blueberry compote, toast notes and creme de cassis along with hints of loam, cedar, peppery spice and a touch of loam, mineral and mole. Swirling and air bring further dimension with anise, embers, elderflower/violet and plum fruit, in a Syrah that should thrill the enthusiast, it’s a wine that stands proudly with the world’s best versions of this grape, be it other Aussie champs or wines like Guigal’s cru Cote-Rotie, La La bottlings. Australia is going through a big change and re-birth in many ways, with an export market looking to China and young winemakers going for a lighter style and elegance, which is to be admired, and while Aussie wines sometimes are, if not often overlooked in the states, classics like this wine are a reminder of this country’s greatness in this ever tightening niche of collector wines.
Peter Barry is the second generation winemaker here at Jim Barry Wines, named after his late father, and has been the managing director and winemaker since 1985, with his son Tom Barry, who is a young winemaker to watch getting a lot of attention at home, he is the third generation here following in his father and grandfather’s footsteps, after graduating with an oenology degree in 2010 and stints at Yalumba, Australia’s oldest winery and Shaw + Smith, a boutique label that make great Aussie Riesling as well as the famed Dr. Loosen (Mosel) and even part of harvest at Donnhoff (Nahe) in Germany. This makes sense as Jim Barry has some exceptional Riesling vines and make a tasty version too, with Tom showing a real touch with this grape as well as with the famous Shiraz, and he has been helping his father keep the Jim Barry winery at the top echelon of Australian wine. The Armagh was traditional fermented with great care done in the sorting with de-stemmed berries and then aged a full 20 months in 60% French and 40% American oak barrels, which gives this Shiraz its Aussie character, but at 14% natural alcohol it is a wonderfully purring beast with a refined sense of balance and it should continue to develop for years and years, while not cheap, it is almost half the price of comparable wines like Penfolds Grange, Hill of Grace by Henschke and the mentioned Guigal La La’s. The current set of wines at Jim Barry are all worthy of checking out, especially the lower end stuff, including as noted the Riesling, the rare Assyrtiko (geek grape), along with the Cabernet Sauvignon(s), though of course the Shiraz collection stands out and this Armagh, an Aussie first growth, is a treat indeed.
($250 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2016 Luigi Ferrando, Erbaluce di Caluso DOCG “La Torrazza” Northern Piedmonte, Italy.
One of the coolest and best value Italian whites from the Alto Piedmonte, the Ferrando Erbaluce di Caluso La Torrazza is full of energy, depth and dry extract, gaining texture and richness (body) with air and time in the glass, making for a remarkable wine from a little know varietal that was close to extinction less than a generation ago. In recent years, Ferrando and Favaro have really shown the quality in this grape and have brought this DOCG into the spotlight and onto the world’s stage, making dry and elegant wines that has a serious nature and mouth feel that rivals some much more expensive regional white wines including some famous places like Burgundy and the Loire Valley. The Erbaluce, an ancient grape that little is know about, but once was thought of as the noble varietal in this northwest part of Italy, finds its home high up in the Canavese district, the lake country in the Alpine foothills north of Torino, it’s a place that has gained attention for Nebbiolo wines lately with wines that are now thought of in the same breath as the fabled Alba and Asti zones, with Ferrando crafting a fine expression of Nebbiolo as well. The La Torrazza is 100% stainless steel fermented and aged to preserve purity and freshness, which shows clearly in this 2016 vintage with its brisk lemony tones and underlying natural acidity delivering layers of peach (like Chenin in some ways), mixed citrus and lime blossoms, minty mountain herbs, acacia honey and steely crispness.
Here in the Canavese, according to Ferrando’s importer, Rosenthal, that northwesterly most area of Piedmont that sits on the western flank of the Alto Piemonte before the transition to the Vallé d’Aosta, Erbaluce produces the sole white wines of this region granted DOCG status, Erbaluce di Caluso, Erbaluce di Caluso Spumante, Erbaluce di Caluso Passito. Adding also that, Historical records show that Erbaluce’s virtues were touted as early as 1606. The name reflects the grassy, hay-like qualities of its flavors and aromas (Erbe … meaning grass or herbs) and its ability to capture and thrive on the light (Luce) from the sun that sweeps across these terraced hillsides in abundance throughout the growing season. The soils here were formed by glaciers (moraine) and are mineral rich, which transmits itself in the wines. Ferrando crafts this wine without malolactic fermentation, and its bottled after eight months on the fine lees, that adds the textural finesse without the use of oak. After time in the glass this light golden Erbaluce adds savory tones, quince tanginess, crushed stones and spicy jasmine. This wine is fabulous with food and especially sea food and soft cheeses and as well as being a fine choice with oysters. There’s a ton of interest in the Piedmonte whites and this Erbaluce is really worth discovering and Ferrando is a great starting point, and this vintage should drink well for another 3 to 5 years easy.
($18 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2017 Domaine Camille et Mathieu Lapierre, Juliénas, Cru Beaujolais, France.
The Lapierre Juliénas is beautifully ripe, perfumed and almost exotic in nature with its unique volcanic and schist soil giving loads of floral tones, spicy contrast and mineral highlights. Coming from a single lieu-dit known as Côte de Bessay this Juliénas Cru Beaujolais is a pure Gamay wine that, again like the more well known Morgon bottlings from Lapierre is crafted with traditional whole cluster fermentation à l’ancienne and using 100% native yeasts and was aged on the fine lees in used ex Burgundy barrels. The palate is full and packed with blackberry, strawberry and cherry fruits along with hints of black walnut, anise, tangy herb, all spice and dried violets showing the vintage to perfection and allowing the Gamay’s true nature to shine with an underlying freshness and purity of form, creating a sexy balance of juicy fruit and lively acidity that is impossible to resist.
Mathieu and his sister Camille Lapierre confidently continue the great work that their late father Marcel pioneered with this domaine based in Morgon, and now having introduced all biodynamic vineyard practices and ensuring that Marcel’s legacy of Jules Chauvet influenced traditional wine growing lives on. The viticulture and vinification, as noted by importer Kermit Lynch, of their Juliénas is the same as the estate’s more famous Morgon offerings, starting with old vines, in this case over 60 years old, never using synthetic herbicides or pesticides, harvesting late for deep flavor development, rigorously sorting to remove all but the healthiest grapes, and adding the absolute minimal doses of sulfur (as this one has) or none at all, everything is done here to adhere to Chauvet and their fathers belief in natural wine. That said, Mathieu and Camille have made this label a reflection of the past and future, carving out their own niche and making exceptional wines, like this one.
($38 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2018 Weingut Carl Loewen, Riesling Trocken “Alte Reben” Mosel Germany.
These 2018s by Christopher Loewen are something very special and maybe even a step up on the last few outstanding vintages produced here at Weingut Carl Loewen with exceptional wines throughout the lineup, especially the top Feinherb and GG bottlings, but his entry level wines are stunning too and, at the price, are Rieslings to stock up on, in particular look for this gorgeous and seriously bone dry Old Vine “Alte Reben” Trocken. It was great seeing Christopher again and taste his latest finished bottlings, like this one as well as his amazing barrel samples of the top wines, like his monumental 1896 Feinherb from the Maximin Herrenberg and the mighty Ritsch Riesling Trocken “GG”, both wines I’ve fallen in love with in recent years and written about. As Loewen’s famous Riesling guru and evangelist Terry Theise notes, this is a cuvée from old ungrafted parcels in Loewen’s collection of steep plots which are on this part of the Mosel’s classic grey slate soils, though Loewen says there are veins of red volcanic deposits here too, that are now being worked only using organic methods and harvested by hand. Loewen farms mostly in three VDP Grosse Lage sites, Longuicher Maximiner Herrenberg, Thörnicher Ritsch and Leiwener Laurentiuslay and is now considered one of the region’s superstars, the rise from solid to stellar has come recently with the generational shift from father to son, as has happened all over the world, and the praise here is incredibly well deserved.
Like all the wines Christopher makes, the grapes are all pressed whole cluster and pomace is never moved as to not break the stems, which, as Loewen notes, leads to phenolic flavors and bitterness that he wants to avoid. The juice, he adds, is “browned” or oxidized pre- fermentation, a practice common in Burgundy, and his ferments are completely natural without addition of yeast known here as Sponti, plus absolutely no enzymes or nutrition is used. This wine, one step up from the entry level estate, is an all stainless wine and while severely dry it manages to be complex and textural, it is a serious Riesling for those that want pure minerallity and racy acidity above all else. This 2018 shows a bit more fullness of form without losing any energy with exciting layers of zesty citrus and orchard stone fruits along with a hint of tropical essences and flinty/stony spiciness with lime, green melon, white peach, tart apricot and tangerine as well as crystalized ginger, wet shale, salty sea shore, white lavender/rose, chamomile and crisp apple skin. Tart and mouth watering, this Alte Reben is still concentrated and has loads of structural extract, making for a complete Riesling that is zippy and refreshing, but one that can deliver a world class performance with food, it is a sleeper in the latest set from the talented Loewen, but one well worth seeking out! If wine is a story of people and place, it’s wines like this that are a celebration of that image and it is a joy to drink.
($30 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2017 Domaine Vincent Paris, Crozes-Hermitage Rouge, Northern Rhone, France.
Vincent Paris, whose first vintage was 1997, is a native of Cornas and one of the Northern Rhone’s brightest young stars with an amazing set of Syrah wines, in particular look for his Granit 30 and Granit 60 bottlings, though his other village wines are killer too including some regional offerings that are spectacular values, like this brilliant dark purple 2017 vintage Crozes-Hermitage Rouge and his Saint-Joseph. Paris, who inherited most of his vines (some of which are 100 years old) from his grandfather has made quite a name for himself, plus he also rents vines from his uncle, the legendary Cornas vigneron Robert Michel, who’s influence and mentoring is evident in Vicent’s lovely wines. The Domaine wines are all biodynamically farmed vines, which are located in various parcels along the southeast facing Cornas slope, while the Vincent Paris Selection bottlings, like this one, come from various leased plots within quality terroirs, with this Crozes coming a long-time organic grower in Crozes with Syrah vines that average 30 years of age set on mostly alluvial soils and with “galet roulets” (large heat storing rocks) with a thin top soil.
This 2017 Crozes-Hermitage shows the vintage’s strength within the Northern Rhone with wonderful depth and ripe classic flavors and spicy detail, it was 100% de-stemmed and fermented without any oak at all, with it getting 9 months in tank only for absolute terroir and varietal purity. The bouquet is seductive with crushed violets, red and black fruits, graphite and a meaty element that is truly typical of the region along with a smooth tannin medium bodied palate that delivers boysenberry, damson plum, blueberry and kirsch fruits as well as peppercorns, minty herb, camphor, earth, bitter coco, creme de cassis and black licorice accents. This wine has been on run of great vintages with 2015, 2016 and this 2017 all being fantastic, each having subtle differing nuances, but overall similarly easy to love with exceptional quality, though I must say right away this one seems a touch more expressive and it really opens up quickly, this is a good year to stock up on, especially at this price it is hard to beat! Nice stuff to just quaff without any guilt and super with food, drink this pretty little thing over the next 3 to 5 years. Vincent Paris should without question, should be on your list of vignerons to follow, especially for the savvy/bargain buyer(s) and Syrah lovers, which I consider myself a full member of both.
($28 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2017 Oliver Pithon, Cuvee Lais Rouge, Cotes du Languedoc, France.
The old world Pithon Pais red blend from the lower Languedoc-Roussillon area in the Côtes Catalanes zone is made from all organic 40% Carignan, 40% Grenache Noir & 20% Mourvèdre that was grown on schiste, marl & limestone calcarious soils making for an intense meaty natural wine that reminds me of old Beaucastel and or Vieux Telegraphe Chateauneufs from the mid nineties or earlier! Olivier Pithon, originally from Anjou in the Loire Valley, where his family has the famous Pithon-Paillé winery, known for Cabernet Franc and Chenin Blanc, fermented & aged each parcel and varietal separately for this wine and raised it before blending for about 16 mo in mostly large used casks which shows in the lightly bretty nose and the authentic earthy character. The touch of reduction and smoky mineral note blows off with a few swirls and what lies beneath is a beautiful and almost delicate wine, but with a sense of raw power and depth as well showing a medium to full bodied palate with layers of plum, tart cherries, pomegranate and spiced boysenberry fruits along with minty herb, lavender, anise, leather and a flinty stony note, gaining a touch of floral essences, graphite and mineral, finishing nicely with ripe tannins and a refined balance with just 13.5% natural alcohol. This 2017 Lais Cotes du Languedoc Rouge fills out with air, going some flourish and flair, but stays almost Pinot Noir like in satiny form, making it counter to expectations, as this region in recent years has produced more super concentrated and extracted wines that are full blown with a sense of dry port like density, usually with an inky color, which this wine does not possess, it is more lively and has a more ruby/crimson hue. After many years of being a fan of Pithon-Paillé, it was exciting to try Olivier’s wine and I highly recommend that you check them out, with this one being a good starting place, but allow it to get air and enjoy it with rustic, simple country style cuisine choices, it is exceptional with food.
Olivier grew up working in the vineyard, gaining an early application for the results of hard work and the gifts of nature on the wine developing a respect for terroir. Though his importer, Floraison Selections, says Pithon was a rebellious youth, and left the family vineyard, deciding to made his way on his own, he first headed to Bordeaux to continue his studies in winemaking and in 2001 settled in Calce, in the remote Côtes Catalanes, not far from the Spanish border, after being introduced to local legend Gérard Gauby by his brother Jo (Pithon-Paillé). In a rags to riches story, Oilvier came to Calce with his cow Lais and his house and immediately set about to his work, by farming a few hectares organically and biodynamically. After producing some successful wines, he now the has 19 hectares of certified organic and biodynamic vines which Olivier farms with the help of 6 cows. He adds, “I’ve had only one desire: to give everything to my vines so that then they give it back in their grapes and in my wine(s).” He continues, “You must be proud and put your guts, your sweat, your love, your desires, your joy and your dreams into your wine.” Calce is situated at 300 meters above sea level and located between the Mediterranean, the Pyréenees and Corbières with Pithon’s domaine having several distinct parcels of marl, shale, schist and clay, offering an array of influences that make his wines unique. With a nod to tradition he works exclusively with regional varietals, mainly Carignan, Grenache and Mourvèdre for the reds and with Maccabeu, which is more common in Spain, Grenache Gris and Grenache Blanc for the whites. This Lais Rouge is an impressive effort and a wonderful transparent expression of terroir and is very fairly priced for what develops in the glass, if you are a Rhone fan or into the Sierra de Gredos Garnacha(s) this is a producers to discover.
($30 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2017 Wrath, Pinot Noir, Swan/828 (Clones), San Saba Vineyard, Monterey County.
Sabrine Rodems, winemaker at Wrath has taken this label from obscurity to one of the best in Monterey with her continued success with richer styled Pinot Noirs, with most coming from vines in the Santa Lucia Highlands bench with its sandy loams and breezy cool climate making for some seriously deep wines. I must admit, I have at certain times had a love and hate relationship with Wrath, while I have always admired Rodems’ Syrah and some of whole cluster Pinots, the Rose and Chard until recently seemed a bit sweet for my personal taste, but in recent vintages the wines have reached a fine place, especially this new Swan and 828 clone cuvee from the San Saba Vineyard. This parcel is set in a sheltered nook, that is farmed with care and is certified sustainable, it sits just outside the SLH, but with a continuation of climate and soils, the Arroyo gravelly loam and Hanford sandy loam, which is well drained and low vigor, making for concentrated and intensely flavored grapes. This 2017 is very well balanced and has a quality feel about it, it reminds me of Williams Selyem and or Rochioli in style with a smoky earthy sensation, a dense palate and luxurious array of racy red fruits that takes me back to those wineries heydays of the mid nineties which is intriguing! As it opens up, this Swan/828 Pinot really takes off in the glass with a beautiful ruby/garnet hue, a subtle perfume of floral tones, spice and wild strawberries that comes through along with layers of black cherry, dusty plum and raspberry fruits as well as hints of briar, nutmeg, leather, cedar, cola bean, mineral/stony notes and a touch of stem tension and fleshiness that excites and lifts the fruit nicely. Look for more rose petals and pomegranate to come through with bottle age and the Swan’s earthy side matches the 828’s almost Grenache like expressiveness well, I look forward to letting the wood tame a bit and see its evolution.
The Thomas family bought San Saba Vineyards in late 2007 and created Wrath Wines and dramatically changed the culture and style of the estate with new viticulture practices focusing on crafting small lots of premium Pinot Noir as well as over the years adding Syrah, Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc, plus most recently a Falanghina, an ancient Italian white aromatic varietal from Italy’s Campania region. Wrath was the brainchild of co-owner and director of operations Michael Thomas, who brought in the talented Rodems and who also had the help of famed consultant Byron Kosuge, who made made for Miura and his own label and who had a great wealth of knowledge about the local sites. Recently, Wrath added the upcoming talent Miguel Lepe to help Rodems in the cellar, after he spent time making the Figge wines. I recently was highly impressed by Wrath’s all whole cluster Ex Vite Pinot Noir from the 2014 vintage, which is a thrilling wine, but with a gripping bite, while this one seems to hit a more finessed or polished cord, Rodems chose to vinify the the clonal selections separately with about 20% whole cluster and blending from barrel, which was a selection of various tonnelleries to add complexity, 40% new in total, and with close to a year of elevage. Then, after bottling, Wrath cellared this Swan/828 for an additional 12 months, which I must say paid off, allowing it to develop a textural seamlessness and elegance, and it is not done yet, as I think there is more to come with potential rewards for patience, drink over the next 3 to 5 years. This wine joins some fine offerings from Roar, Lucia, Morgan and Joyce delivering an exceptional SLH charm and a value packed performance, it’s solid choice, especially at this price point. Wrath is hitting its stride and with stellar vintages in barrel there’s a lot of expectations and this Pinot, which is just coming out now, gives a big hint of some next level stuff down the road.
($35 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2018 Weingut Korrell Johanneshof, Riesling Estate Trocken, Nahe, Germany.
Based in the Bad Kreuznach-Bosenheim area of the Nahe River Valley, Korrell is one of the breakout stars to just hit the American wine scene and the latest set of wines are gorgeous terroir driven efforts, including this village level dry Riesling which is exceptionally pure, perfumed and exciting. This 2018 is quite impressive for an entry level, making it a fantastic value, it really drinks above its price class with an exotic bouquet of rosewater, orange blossom and verbena and a crystalline and crisp medium bodied palate that shows a cascade of ripe and expressive fruits that are balanced superbly with a steely mineral focus, zesty acidity and a mouth watering saline element that recharges the senses. Martin Korrell, winegrower at this ambitious and innovative estate, and the Nahe has a diverse set of soils to work with from volcanic to slate as well as quartz and gravel to chose from, plus Korrell has their prized single vineyard monopole Paradies cru set on mineral intense clay and fossilized limestone, which is his family’s flagship site that produces Riesling that rival Burgundy for textural richness and greatness of dry impact and concentration! The Korrell family, which as Spanish roots, has been practicing viticulture for the better part of 250 years, and the estate in the Nahe has been around since 1832, with Wilfried Korrell in 1967 converting it to all wine focus, and now run by Martin and Britta Korrell, who are the sixth generation and are the ones that have raised it to the level it is now. They built a new press house and modern winery in 2011 and farm 26 hectares of vines that include Riesling, Pinot Blanc, Pinot Gris, Müller-Thurgau, Gewürztraminer, Silvaner, Muskateller and Scheurebe as well as the red grapes, Pinot Noir, Frühburgunder, Portugieser and Dornfelder.
Each wine from Korrell seems like a personal expression, and Martin joins a long list of stellar producers here from superstars like Schlossgut Diel to Donnhoff, as well as Gut Hermannsberg, Kruger-Rumpf and Schäfer-Fröhlich in making some of the Nahe’s best examples of Riesling. While under the radar until recently, Korrell like Harald Hexamer, also in the Nahe, have taken a while to get discovered in America, but the wines speak for themselves and now are getting well deserved attention. Of what is imported now, be sure to explore the signature Paradies Riesling, the Von Den Grossen Lagen (a special cuvee of dry Riesling lots from all VDP Grosse Lage sites) and this Estate Trocken that is a fabulous starting wine to get an insight into the quality here, plus there is a tiny bit of Eiswein and an award winning Sparkling Sekt to be found. This 2018 Trocken, which saw fermentation in steel tanks, is hard to resist with its clear and precise layers of mix of stone fruit and citrus leaning on brisk apricot, white cherry, melon, tangerine and mango along with a touch of bitter herb, wet rock, a dusting of spice and hint of creamy lees. Refreshing and bright, this is style that goes great with mildly spicy food, cured meats and lighter fare and at 12.5% natural alcohol it has plenty of extract and substance to chew on, like a baby GG. This vintage is one where the regional or village basic wines really excelled and there are a ton of cheap thrills to be had, these are serious quality for reasonable prices, so stock up, with this Korrell Trocken being a good target.
($22 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2018 Domaine Serol, Gamay, Cote Roannaise “Eclat de Granite” Loire Valley, France.
Stephane Serol’s latest release, the 2018 Eclat de Granite is a lovely and intriguing red with a meaty core of dark fruit and mineral tones along with fresh acidity and a subtle floral delicacy made from 100% Gamay St. Romain, with a partial whole cluster fermentation and aged in neutral wood & tank. Gamay St. Romain is a unique clone of Gamay Noir that has evolved in this remote location in the highest part of the Loire Valley wine region in the Cote Roannaise, sometimes called the lost Cru of Beaujolais with its granite based well draining soils. The Côte Roannaise may be little known but the wines of Serol stand out, and as importer Floraison Selections they boldly and loudly speak for themselves, whether its the luscious, off-dry sparkling Gamay “Turbullent,” the delicate and precise bone dry still rosé “Cabochard”, or (to) the dense and spicy south-eastern exposed single parcel “Oudan” Gamay Cote Roannaise, this are impressive wines. This 2018 Eclat de Granite Gamay Cote Roannaise shows crushed violets and blackberries, a sanguine (iron rich) beefy note, black cherry, wild herbs, anise and spices in an elegant medium bodied wine that has warm ripe tannins and gives a soulful performance in the glass. This purple/ruby colored Gamay stays polished throughout and finishes with an earthy charm and stylishly vibrant, its a wine that gains interest with food and like Beaujolais enjoys a bit of chill when served, it is a wonderfully quaffable red to enjoy in the near term.
As mentioned, technically part of the Loire Valley but actually much closer to Beaujolais, the Cote Roannaise it is only about 50 km west of Morgon (Beaujolais) in the Monts de Madeleine, close to the Loire River’s source in the Massif Central. Gamay, as in Beaujolais, reigns supreme in this high elevation site, as noted, that is perched on a vein of granite, with Domaine Serol having an amazing set of old vine single parcels that capture nuanced expressions of terroir and make for extremely compelling wines, like this one. The Serol estate dates back to the 18th century and Stéphane is the 5th generation winegrower and his wife Carine have done much to elevate the recognition of Cote Roannaise. Serol have close to 30 hectares planted, the oldest vines are 80 years old and the domaine is certified organic, working with biodynamic principles, in the process of converting to full Demeter certification. The winemaking is traditional and everything is done to make them express place and in recent years they have gained in energy and are poised, but with playful rustic character underneath that adds a degree of authentic old world realism that makes these wines shine. I have been an admirer of Serol for a few vintages now and this one is a notch above the prior couple in my opinion and well worth searching out, especially Gamay Geeks like me. Ready to go now, this stuff has subtle nature and a nice finesse to it, less fruity that Beaujolais with a solid structural mouth feel, it pairs well with an array of flavorful cuisine choices and doesn’t need complication, simple is best, drink up.
($21 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2018 Schlossgut Diel, Riesling Kabinett, Dorsheimer Pittermanchen, Nahe Germany.
One of the most perfect Kabinett wines of the vintage so far is the gorgeous and impeccably balanced Pittermanchen by Schlossgut Diel and the stellar talents of Caroline Diel at this famous Nahe estate and highlights this years potential, especially in the slightly off dry styles and powerful Trockens in this region in particular. The Diel 2018 Pittermanchen, sourced from a slate driven VDP Grand Cru site in Dorsheim flows across the palate with amazing texture and a full array of flavors that feel a touch drier than one would expect, but still with a generous caress with green apple, lime, apricot and melon fruits along with flinty and wet stones, sea salt, crystalized ginger and a delicate essence of white flowers, finishing with a creamy rich detail, white still crunchy and jazzy at the same time. The latest Diel Kabinett perfectly captures the serious and elegant styling that is hallmark of Caroline’s wine with the playful and ease of use character of a Kabinett level wine, it’s brilliant stuff that gets more interesting with every sip and gains depth and complexity in the glass, especially with food, for a lighter Riesling it sure delivers an impressive performance. Diel’s current lineup is stellar stuff with many highlights and standouts, fans of this winery will be highly impressed with these latest wines, plus be sure to not overlook the incredible Sekt Brut Nature and Sekt Extra Brut sparkling Rieslings, they absolute blow away Champagne in their price class!
Located in the lower Nahe, the historic Schlossgut Diel, which the family established back in 1802, with a steep south-facing slopes, is, as noted by Terry Theise Diel’s Riesling guru importer, owned by prominent gourmand and wine aficionado Armin Diel, well regarded for his work to promote German wine, and whose daughter Caroline now oversees winemaking. The three prized Grosse Lage vineyards include Goldloch, Burgberg and Pittermännchen that comprise Diel’s esteemed holdings and were well documented as early as 1901 as an exceptional source for fine and high quality wines, a tradition that continues today, but with a focus on the dry wines, even though Diel still crafts some of the greatest fruity/sweeter Rieslings available. The Pittermännchen vineyard which benefits from those south-facing slopes and its mineral soils, mostly of slate, but with quartz and gravel gives complexity and zesty detail to the wines, as well as that great minerality found in them. Diel prefers whole cluster pressing and “Sponti” native yeast fermentations done in stuckfass, doppelstuck and cement tanks, along with severe selections of the grapes, which are farmed as organic and sustainable as possible with subtle lees aging to balance freshness and richness of form for long lived wines. This Dorsheimer Pittermanchen Kabinett is a savvy choice and one of my favorites, great with spicy Asian cuisine as well as with briny/savory dishes too, drink this joyous Riesling over the next 3 to 7 years, though it should live 20 years, maybe more!
($43 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2018 Bodegas Los Bermejos, Listan Negro, Maceracion Carbonica, Lanzarote D.O. Canary Islands, Spain.
The Bodegas Los Bermejos, in the Canary Islands is one of the most interesting estates of this volcanic islands range, run by winemaker Ignacio Valdera, is located on the easternmost island of Lanzarote, that is just 125km from the African coast. This is one of the most extreme vineyard locations on the planet with vines fighting to survive by digging through lava rock in pits to keep the harsh Atlantic winds from ripping the canopy apart, but through all this Ignacio still hand crafts an amazing set of wines, including this lively and juicy fresh all Carbonic red made from the native Listan Negro grape, which was brought here by Spanish explorers and Missionaries many centuries ago, as well as a crisp mineral driven Malvasia and one of coolest Methode Champenoise sparkling wines in the world. The Canaries have been getting a lot of love in recent years, with serious stars of the Islands, like Envinate, this Los Bermejos, as well as Crater, Suertes del Marques and Fronton de Oro are all wines to try and discover.
All of Los Bermejos’ vines are set in the crust of petrified lava and ash that runs 3-5 meters deep from an ancient eruption and six year lava flow that created these wild landscapes and each vine is individually hand tended using organic and sustainable practices without irrigation, making for tiny yields and excellent concentration of flavors which shows in this vividly fresh Carbonic Maceration Listan Negro. A beautiful purple/garnet hue greets you in the glass and the nose is floral and spicy leading to a medium bodied vibrant palate with blackberry, plum and sweet cherry fruits along with red pepper flakes, shale like stoniness, iron and herbs de Provence. Mild alcohol and light tannins add to the quaffable appeal of this all tank raised wine, which goes great with its unique traditional carafe style bottle. Serve this interesting red with a slight chill for the best and most refreshing results and have with picnics, BBQ’s and or Holiday meals, same as you would a classic Beaujolais.
($25 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2018 Hundred Suns, Gamay Noir, Tualatin Estate Vineyard, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
One of the most tasty and unique wines of the vintage in Oregon is this super limited production Gamay Noir by Hundred Suns, coming of a historic vineyard that was originally planted by pioneer and local legend Bill Fuller in the early 1970s on marine sedimentary soils. This parcel is just one acre of true Gamay Noir that was only recently re-discovered by a friend of winemaker Grant Coulter, the ex Beaux Freres man, who along with his partner Renee Saint-Amour started this small personal label, making small lot hand crafted wines, which include some amazing Pinot Noir(s) along with a Grenache and this lovely Gamay. Hundred Suns, a reference to the number of days from grapevines flowering to harvest, started in 2015 when Grant moved on from being winemaker at Beaux Freres to overseeing the vineyards and making the wines for Flaneur Wines, which are super wines as well, and Renée swapped the classroom, she was a Portland high school teacher, for the cellar and running of the day-to-day business. Grant Coulter, a Monterey Bay area native, moved to Oregon to pursue his wine career, following in the footsteps of Ken Wright and Eric Hamacher, both who did the same thing with great success. This winery is one to follow, part of a new wave of outstanding Oregon producers and this radiant, and ripe Gamay certainly merits your attention.
The 2018 vintage was a ripe one in Oregon, making the Gamay a bit exotic and Coulter chose a very unique route to express the best qualities of the grape, the place and year by doing 60% whole-cluster carbonic maceration, sans soufre and 40% traditional fermentation with native yeasts and de-stemed grapes, with the carbonic portion getting 7 months in well season French oak, while the other lots was aged in terra-cotta amphora for the same 7 months before to separate wine was blended, racked to tank and bottled unfined and unfiltered. The Lapierre’s, Foillard’s and Fred Niger’s of the world would be highly impressed and so would the lovers of those wines too! This tension filled and crunchy Gamay from Hundred Suns is bursting at the seams with dark racy fruit, stemmy spice and mineral tones showing blackberry, cherry, plum and blueberry fruits, an array of exotic spice, including zesty hot cinnamon, crushed violets, walnut oil and amaro notes! Wonderfully fleshy and textural with a a glorious Dutraive Fleurie pretty side meets Lapierre warmth and soulfulness, this exceptional stuff, Gamay lovers with want to start chasing this ASAP! This is not a weak kneed Gamay at about 14% natural alcohol and it drinks like a Pinot Noir with satiny tannin. Oregon is a hot bed for individual expressions of this grape, I love Brick House’s as well as Bow & Arrow’s, Evening Land’s (Salem Wine Company) and this Hundred Suns with all of them being strikingly different. This is seriously fun and thrills the palate, enjoy now and for the next 3 to 5 years.
($30 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2017 Tablas Creek, Picpoul Blanc, Adelaida District, Paso Robles.
Beautiful pure, crisp and clean, the wonderful Tablas Creek Picpoul Blanc is a really lovely white wine that excels because of its zippy lightness and subtle depth of character, especially in a vintage like 2017, making this a delightful and flexible wine that is great to sip on with its refreshing qualities, but also great with food, proving this grape’s potential in the new world. Picpoul is one of the classic Chateauneuf du Pape grapes, usually used in the blends in the this famous Rhone region, though it is also the star in the Languedoc’s Picpoul de Pinet, where it is center stage and solo in the wines, where its intense lime and crisp acidity make them so desirable. Tablas brought over the cuttings from the famed Chateau de Beaucastel estate and has made single varietal and blended wine at their westside Paso Robles estate for just over a decade now, and with great results, leading to there grape’s expansion in the state with many fine other examples now available, like those from Desparada and in particular Randall Grahm’s Boon Doon Vineyard version from the organic Beeswax Vineyard in Arroyo Seco. I love Tablas’ own example, which seems to get more and more interesting as the years go by and this 2017 is a beauty with layers of lime and lime blossom, chalky wet stone, saline and mineral charm, adding a touch of leesy texture, tropical notes and zesty white peach, tangerine, melon and wild herbs.
The winemaking here is done with serious that to achieve the best results, focusing on Picpoul’s strengths with Neill Collins and team treating the freshly picked Picpoul grapes to a whole cluster pressing, and fermenting them using native yeasts in a mix of stainless steel and neutral 60-gallon acacia barrels to achieve, what they say, a balance of freshness and richness, which I noted in agreement, with all the grapes being sourced from estate plantings in the Adelaida District, close to the winery. Picpoul which is usually vibrant and brisk is also fairly low in natural alcohol, with this vintage being a touch riper at 13.2%, but still restraint and cool on the light/medium bodied palate and the acidity and steely form keeps things very elegant. Tablas, known for their Chateauneuf style reds and cool single varietal reds, including Mourvedre, Grenache, Counoise and Tannat, sometimes get overlooked for their whites, but that is a huge mistake as they are gorgeous and are some of the state’s best, I in particular love their classic Esprit de Tablas Blanc, a white Chateauneuf blend, as well as this little Picpoul, along with their other single varietal series that includes their Vermentino, super rare Picardan and the powerful 100% Roussanne. This 2017 Picpoul Blanc gets even more appealing with air, I have had many samples over the last year and I have been thoroughly impressed each time, (The winery says the new 2018 is even better!) and it goes great with many food pairings, I enjoy it with mixed sea food, including shellfish like oysters, claims and mussels, but it can do poultry dishes and soft cheeses easily as well.
($30 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2017 Weingut Kunstler, Spatburgunder Trocken, Hochheim Reichestal, Grosses Gewächs, Rheingau Germany.
Known as one of the greatest dry Riesling estates of Germany Weingut Kunstler was founded in 1965 by Franz Kunstler when he re-established the Weingut Künstler in Hochheim Main/Rheingau after having to leave the east after WWII, but it wasn’t until In 1992 when his son Gunter took over the estate, that things started to happen and in 1994 the estate was admitted to the prestigious VDP with the wines beginning to show their true potential. Generally soils here nearer to Frankfurt in Hochheim am Main are loess, clay, sand, loam, marl and limestone and the climate more humid, which is not ideal for organic farming like Gunter prefers, but even so his wines are some of the most beautiful in Europe, and not just his Rieslings, and his wine like this GG Hochheim Reichestal Spatburgunder and his Assmannshausen GG are exceptional world class Pinots. In the last 15 years the quality of German Pinot Noir has risen to levels that has given the Burgundians something to think about, wines by F. Becker, Meyer-Nakel, Schlossgut Diel and Kunstler not only rival Grand Cru stuff, in some vintages they absolutely eclipse some of the legends of the Cote d’Or, I won’t name drop on big names that wish they were this good, but trust me this latest Kunstler is absolutely stunning! What stands out the most here is that it does have to try to hard and is not flashy at all it is just pure quality, that wonderfully transmits the soul of the vineyard, the VDP Grosse Lage (Grand Cru) Hochheim Reichestal, with its grace and seductive character, to near perfection.
This rich and silky Pinot is layered with delicacy and finesse showing pretty rose petals, subtle chalkiness and medium bodied palate of black cherry, crushed raspberry, strawberry and a hint of blueberry fruit along with a soft, almost, background smoky/toast, dried fig and earthy/loamy notes with everything seamless, but energetic and riveting throughout. Quite honestly, the savvy and gentle winemaking make this all the more impressive with the ever expanding mouth feel with its gorgeous fleshy red to black fruits and floral tones, with a touch of dried violets remind me of somewhere between Chambolle-Musigny and Vosne-Romanee, though distinctly German in its precision and controlled delivery. Though, I adore the slate driven Ahr and Assmannshausen versions with their more intense smoky sweet and flinty notes, this wine is just darn near perfect in its transparency and satiny lush form and the dreamy long finish, the care in the vineyard and the craftsmanship in the cellar really shines through and tells you a near perfect story of the vintage and the passion to make such a majestic wine. Kunstler’s cru Rieslings from 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018 are all tantalizing wines, but this is a regal stuff that will reward the true Pinot fan, especially those that can lay a few down for 7 to 10 years! While this wine is priced in the league it plays in, you can also check out the village version, Kunstler’s Spatburgunder Tradition, at $40, it is also well worth checking out, it is a pretty wine that gives hints, and insights on Gunter’s class in the cellar.
($120 Est.) 96 Points, grapelive
2018 Domaine Sigalas, Assyrtiko, Santorini, Greece.
The renown Greek producer, Domaine Sigalas was founded in 1991 by Paris Sigalas, Christos Markozane and Yiannis Toundas and has been in family hands ever since and has become the standard of quality for Assyrtiko, the Greek isles signature white grape. Initially, Sigalas made his wine at the converted Sigalas family home, but according to their importer, Skurnik Wines, back in 1998 a new vinification, bottling and aging cellar was built in Oia, on the northern part of Santorini, which turned this winery from a small operation to a world class estate focused on the white wines of the region. Sigalas has been a pioneer in the organic viticulture on Santorini and has worked hard with the Greek government to push for strict certification and all sustainable practices and while traditional they use the latest in winemaking technology to create the freshest and purest Assyrtiko possible. Zest and vivid in character this wine does open to reveal a nice smooth leesy texture with layers of lemon/lime, white peach, quince and tropical fruits along with a striking mineral tone as well as a mouth watering saline note with a delicate floral sense and stony quality making for a white that can replace Muscadet, Sancerre, Albarino, Vermentino and or Gruner Veltliner on your table.
As mentioned, Sigalas concentrates on native grape varieties, working most closely with Assyrtiko, but also they have small plantings of Athiri, Aedani, Mandilaria and Mavrotragano. The grapes need to be trained close to the ground and wound in a circle to survive from the direct exposure of sun and strong winds, protected inside low-basket-shaped vines or “ampelies”, as they are called locally, referring to this unique pruning system. This Assyrtiko comes from vines located in Imerovigli, the sub-region of Oia Santorini, all Sigalas’s owned basket trained vines (Kouloura) that are on average 60 years old, and are tended in the classic black lava, volcanic ash and pumice soils. This elegant and cooly crisp white saw a fermentation and elevate in stainless steel tanks with controlled temperature with about 50% being free run juice using close 80% whole clusters that was slowly pressed and spent just 5 months on lees to preserve its zesty fresh detail. This is a great Indian Summer sipper and excellent with all sea food choices and a mix of cuisine from Morocco style Lemon Chicken and Couscous to briny oysters and or mussels in a spicy broth. Assyrtiko, like Vermentino and Gruner Veltliner, looks set for success in the new world, once only found in Greece, it is now doing well in Australia, especially Jim Barry’s beautiful example and I can imagine we’ll see a California version in the near future!
($28 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2018 Russell Joyce Small Lot Collection, Old Vines Grenache, Besson Vineyard, Central Coast.
The exceptional new and upcoming release from Russell Joyce under his Small Lot Collection label is the fabulous 100% Old Vine Grenache that was fermented and aged in cement tank with a wildly perfumed, deeply hued and carbonic like character, it is a great follow to his incredible Gamay and Chenin Blanc offerings. The Grenache come from the historic Besson Vineyard in the Hecker Pass, a special place that lies just below the Santa Cruz Mountains and in between the San Benito and Santa Clara AVAs, it was planted on its own roots back in around 1910 and has been sustainably dry farmed ever since. This site first came to the wine world’s attention when California icon Randall Grahm used these grapes in his Clos de Gilroy Grenache, and more recently being used by Angela Osborne of Tribute to Grace, the Kiwi who is one of California’s top Grenache producers, as well as Grenache lover Ian Brand and John Locke of Birichino, another label that is making authentic versions of this vineyard, with Joyce joining that elite set with the wonderful 2018 vintage. Joyce’s version is unique in style, going the route of whole cluster, color extraction and the use of concrete in the fermentation, all of which Russell says was to get away from the strawberry and cotton candy notes that Grenache can develop and add savory (stem) excitement to the palate to tame the grape’s fruity nature and also stay away from wood influence, he uses only neutral French oak. All of which he achieved in this savvy Old Vine Grenache, it feels a bit like a Cru Beaujolais meets Gigondas with a medium/full body and while still youthful and bristling with energy it shows a pretty nose and has a pleasing fleshy texture showing dark berry, plum, pomegranate and tangy black cherry fruits along with a burst of carbonic tropical/exotic expression that is contrasted by zippy herbs, lavender/mint, pepper and crushed flowers.
There’s so much more to come here, it is somewhat difficult to give a clear picture yet, but this Old Vine Grenache that comes from vines grown on ancient alluvial deposits really opens up when given extended time in the glass and reveals hints of a great future ahead, this is impressive stuff that is sure to be a huge hit and sell out fast, so be sure to keep an eye out for its release. Russell Joyce who runs his own Joyce Wine Company, one of Monterey’s new stars, with a sublime series of Pinot Noir, Syrah and Chardonnay has branched out in recent years adding fine dry Chenin Blanc, Riesling and Albarino to his lineup, as well as continuing to make a few Bordeaux style Cabernet Sauvignon(s) from his father’s original home vineyard and from the Massa Estate, an organic vineyard known for quality, long lived wines since the 70’s when it was the old Durney Ranch. Last year, Russell started his Russell Joyce Small Lot Collection to explore exciting vineyards and varietals that were not exactly perfectly fitted to his main lineup, and produced one of the most thrilling examples of California Gamay Noir to date, along with the Old Vine Chenin Blanc, and now he has this Besson Grenache coming along with a second version of Grenache that has 25% Syrah added, which is also outstanding, plus this year he plans a full carbonic Trousseau! Monterey and San Benito counties are on fire right now with a new generation of winemakers and wines that are top notch, and these new Joyce wines are great additions, especially this Old Vine Besson Vineyard Grenache, it is a wine that should evolve over 5 to 10 years majestically, if you are patient rewards will be huge here, though I wouldn’t blame to to open this one earlier with its juicy/crunchy fruit and racy form making it hard to resist as is.
($40 Est.) 93+ Points, grapelive
2017 Rudi Pichler, Gruner Veltliner, Federspiel, Wachau, Austria.
The 2017 Rudi Pichler is a lovely white wine with a sense of ripe flavor(s) and brisk mineral character with nice fresh acidity lifting everything up and there is a real completeness here, making for a complex and satisfying Gruner. This Grüner Veltliner Federspiel, from Rudi Pichler, comes from vineyards on the valley floor, hillsides, and upper terraces set on the Wachau’s combination of Primary rock, Gneiss, and Loess soils. The term Federspiel is used by members of the Vinea Wachau indicating a dry wine between 11.5 and 12.5% alcohol, making it like a Kabinett Trocken in Germany, and similar to wines like Vinho Verde and Txakolina. This pretty and balanced Gruner from Pichler fills out nicely on the palate, which is light to medium bodied in feel with layers of lemon/lime, white peach, bosc pear and papaya fruits plus a touch of white pepper, almond oil, wet stones and tangy/bitter herb.
The Weingut Rudi Pichler, one of Austria’s most well known and great estates, consists of 37 acres that is spread between Wösendorf, Joching, and Weißenkirchen where south-facing terraces, with picturesque and perfect exposures that look down at the mighty blue Danube River, just west of Vienna. This 100% Gruner Veltliner was cold soaked on the skins for almost 6 hours before fermentation in stainless steel tanks, it comes from vines that range between 12 to 40 years old, and it is certified vegan for those that take note of such things, and it is aged in tank on the light lees for close to 7 months before bottling. This non malo, Gruner is stays bright and zippy in the glass with just a hint pf gold in its clear hue and it goes great with a mix of foods, though best with white fish dishes, soft cheeses and or oysters even. This vintage is perfect for people new to Gruner, its smooth and classic details gives a good insight into this signature varietal of Austria and it is easy to enjoy.
($30 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2016 Arianna Occhipinti, Il Frappato, Terre SiciIiane I.G.T. Rosso, Sicily, Italy.
One of the wine world’s most exciting producers and wines, Arianna Occhipinti’s Il Frappato is a natural wine icon and her signature wine made from her estate vines in the Vittoria region of Sicily. The 2016 Il Frappato is exotically spiced and beautifully textured with intriguing complexity in a medium bodied red wine that shows lively layering with pretty floral notes, earthiness and a lovely texture. The nose starts with red berries, an interesting mix of wild herbs and Asian spice including hints of curry leading to a refined palate of raspberry, strawberry, plum and lingonberry fruits that feels silken, like Pinot, but still vividly terroir driven and unique to Occhipinti. Air brings things more together and adds a touch of mineral, kirsch, savory elements and a long echoing finish, this is a wine that thrills more with cuisine than on its own, though it is very flexible with food choices. Arianna, who is an artist and a poet when it comes to her wines, loves to quote verse like one of her favorites “We do not inherit the land from our ancestors; we borrow it from our children.” a phrase by Saint-Exupery, she says it has inspired her and has always guided her efforts as winegrower.
The Frappato is grown on the red sandstone and chalky (limestone) soils that are the hallmark on this side of the Island at just under 900 feet of elevation with an average vine age of 40 years, which shows in the subtle concentration of flavors and the energy of holistic farming approach that Arianna employs. According to her cellar notes the Il Frappato sees a long maceration with 50 days of skin maceration, with 100% indigenous yeasts for fermentation with absolutely no additions or manipulation and very low sulfur if any. The is always a charm and personality that mirrors Occhipinti in her wines, they are singular and authentic without flashy adornment, like this dark ruby/garnet Il Frappato that shows ultra transparency, coming from traditional aging, it saw 14 months in large neutral Slovenian Oak barrels. The unfiltered and all organic Il Frappato, that comes in at 13% natural alcohol, like Cru Beaujolais, really turns on the detail with a slight chill in glass and can be enjoyed with a range of dishes, this is hard stuff to find, but should not be missed when available! Occhipinti started making wine professionally at the age of 21 and even before that it was always in her dreams, and her wines reflect her hard work, her respect for her land and ancestors and each vintage brings more to the table for us to cherish.
($38 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
1976 Weingut Fritz Haag – Ferdinand Haag Erben, Riesling Beerenauslese, Brauneberger Mondelgroben, Mosel-Saar-Ruwer, Germany.
What an amazing treat to try the 1976 Beerenauslese from Fritz Haag, and even this was a less than perfect bottle, it was absolutely gorgeous and still fresh and graceful, losing sweetness and picking up the legendary complexity of pedigreed handcrafted sweet wine and showing a light Botrytis honeycomb and trufflely earthiness. The terrifyingly steep Brauneberg hillside has been revered as a top vineyard site since the Romans first cultivated wine grapes in the Mosel valley. In their day it was called “dulcis mons,” which is Latin for “sweet mountain” is home to Fritz Haag, one the Central Mosel’s finest wine estates known for their amazing long lived Riesling grown on pure slate soils. This Beerenauslese comes from the Brauneberger Mondelgroben cru, a lower parcel with a slightly more humid condition that promotes noble rot in some years, though is now rarely used as a single site bottling, which was brought to my attention by a collector of fine Germany wines. This 1976 gives a star performance in the glass with a golden/amber hue and lovely nose of wilted roses, salted caramel, autumn leaves, clove and dried honey with tangerine, baked apricot, lemon curd, crystalized ginger, chamomile tea, wild mushrooms and apple butter. The texture is dreamy smooth, and while sweet and concentrated it is graced with a remarkable lift of acidity still pumping energy through this well balanced old Riesling.
The historic Fritz Haag wine estate is located in the heart of Germany’s middle Mosel River Valley, where it is known for its classic and traditional Riesling wines in Kabinett, Spatlese and Auslese levels, while most recently they added a dry GG from their top Grand Cru vineyard. The earliest documentation of the estate, according to Haag’s importer the Loosen Bros., dates back to 1605 when the local village was known as “Dusemond.” Though, like in Burgundy, In 1925, this village was renamed “Brauneberg” (“brown mountain,” a reference to the color of the slate soil in this area of the Mosel) in an endeavour to further promote the reputation of its world-renowned vineyards “Brauneberger Juffer” and “Brauneberger Juffer Sonnenuhr.” The Loosen’s add, that this excellent micro-climate and the deep slate soils of the Brauneberg hillside yield some of the most intensely flavored and elegantly-structured Riesling wines of the Mosel region, which after having this and many other of Haag’s wines over the years has convinced me of the greatness here, having loved Fritz’s wines and in modern times, since the 2005 vintage, his son Oliver’s fine examples. Sadly, with climate change and modern tastes, these kind of wines are getting scarce, and that it why finding them is a treasure, I am thrilled and grateful to have enjoyed a nice pour of this delicious slightly waxy nectar.
($N/A) 96 Points, grapelive
2016 Roald Wine Company, Chardonnay, Sonoma Coast.
The beautiful Roald Sonoma Coast Chardonnay is one of the brand new set of wines from winemaker Greg Nelson, who gained experience in both the cellar and the lab at multiple wineries, after moving to Sonoma, including legends Ramey and Martinelli, and he also assisted with the founding Conarium Wines before starting his solo effort label Roald Wine Company. This 2016 Sonoma Coast Chardonnay comes from hillside fruit that is grown on a mountain vineyard that overlooks the Petaluma Wind Gap, where, according to Nelson, they are constantly bathed in a gentle sea breeze. The cool coastal weather allows for a long hang time and the development of complexity in the grapes, which this lovely Chardonnay shows with a concentration of flavors that explode on the medium/full bodied palate. Layered and toasty this 2016 is hitting a really good point of youthful freshness and depth with apple, pear and lemon fruits leading the way with a tough of honeysuckle, vanilla, pie crust, clove and key lime. The coastal influence and maritime climate helps acidity along the unique semi-volcanic soils that includes a unique deposit of petrified wood adds a sense of spice and mineral intensity.
Nelson was born in Indiana and went to high school in New York State near Buffalo. While attending college in Madison, Wisconsin, he frequented a wine shop where he was introduced to wines from Europe and California. He developed a passion for wine, but started first in Biology, getting a PhD in the field at UC San Diego, where he also discovering the sweet taste receptor and the umami taste receptor, earning many accolades and scientific awards like being a Beckman Scholar with the Arnold and Mabel Beckman Foundation, a Hewitt Fellowship, and publication in leading scientific journals! Greg, recently started the Roald label, which is named for his father who he admired greatly and was responsible for his interest in the sciences and heavily influenced him with a positive outlook, a quest to be the best he could be and a calm methodical approach to like and it’s opportunities. Well priced for the quality and style with good racy energy this barrel fermented and aged Chardonnay is everything it is supposed to be and more, drink it now and over the next 2 to 5 years and with roast chicken, soft cheeses and or richer sea food, fish and lobster dishes. This wine, the Sonoma Coast Chardonnay and the Roald Pinot Noir are wines to search out and this is a label to keep an eye out for.
($24 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2018 Cave Dog, Albarino, Napa Valley.
The absolutely outstanding new release from Michael Havens is a highlight in this spectacular vintage for California white wines, his 2018 is full of personality, zip and surprising depth, it sets the standard for Albariño in the New World. Bright and aromatic the new vintage is almost Txakolina like at first before gaining depth in glass with zesty citrus and green apple fruits, a hint of an almost leesy richness unfolding with plenty of mineral, wet stone and saline to keep it mouth waveringly fresh with a touch of jasmine, herb and verbena/rose tea spice. This wine is classic Albarino from start to finish, which is especially apt considering Havens was the first to plant and make Albarino in the country, on this very plot of tough soil in the southern part of the Napa Valley, originally put in the ground back in 1997. He established this parcel Albariño vines with budwood that originated from the Morgadio estate in Rias Baixas, Albarino’s spiritual home region in Spain’s cool northwestern side in Galicia where the Atlantic Ocean keeps everything salty and fresh. Interestingly, he was not done with Galician grapes, as he notes, in 2009, working with grower friend of his John Baillie, in Sonoma Valley, just off Sonoma Mountain, he oversaw the grafting of the first vineyard of Godello in California. This sourced from one of Spain’s greatest wine wine producers, As Sortes, and Morgan Twain-Peterson and Havens produced the first U.S. Godello from those vines in 2012, under their Abrente label, which also did Havens Albarino for a few vintages before his Cave Dog label was born.
I first started following Michael Havens, when he was making wine under the Havens Wine Cellars label, of which he is not involved with any longer, and I was especially taken by his wonderful Saint-Emilion style red wine made from Merlot and Cabernet Franc, it back then was called Bourriquot and it was one of the exquisite Bordeaux blends in Napa Valley, known for its restraint and finesse, often rivaling the best meritage wines, including Opus One and the Joseph Phelps Insignia! Havens, who has been a consultant, as he notes, to many different producers, from family wineries like Truchard Vineyards to industry titans such as Foster’s Wine Group. He says his experiences have allowed him to work with nearly every varietal grown in California, including the ones he introduced to the state Godello and this Albarino, giving him plenty of opportunities to experiment over the decades. The vibrant and aromatic 2018 Cave Dog Albarino is full of intensity and energy, it was all stainless steel fermented and aged without malo-lactic conversion, making for a wine that begs for fresh briny oysters, mussels in wine and garlic broth and or linguine and clams! The more I sip this very studied version of Albarino the more I’m reminded of the great wines from Rias Baixas and especially the old vine Alvarinho from Quinta do Regueiro in the Minho region of Portugal, which is absolutely awesome, Havens is making some thrilling stuff here, keep an eye out for these Cave Dog wines and or join his mailing list!
($30 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2017 Waxwing, Syrah, Coastview Vineyard, Monterey County.
Scott Sisemore’s Waxwing Wine Cellars continues to impress and turn out small production hand crafted wines, like this Coastview Syrah, at very fair prices and showcase some interesting and unique vineyard sites and terroirs. Sisemore, who has had jobs at
Ravenswood Winery and Rosenblum Cellars, along with other notable California producers, as well as making wine abroad in both India and Chile. Most recently, before founding Waxwing in 2006, Scott served as associate winemaker at Pelligrini Family Vineyards, and with more than 20 years experience in the industry has had a chance to work with many top notch vineyards giving him some useful insight on which regions and varietals he wants to focus on, which leans heavily on cool climate site with Pinot and Syrah being his favorites. Coastview Vineyard in Monterey County is a nice elevated sire set on diatomaceous soils and is locally renowned for Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and a selection of Rhone grapes with Syrah, some Grenache and Mourvèdre doing really well there, with some outstanding wines coming off this vineyard, like those from Big Basin, and now Waxwing with this tasty Syrah.
The profile on the 2017 Waxwing Coastview Syrah is in between Northern and hillside Southern Rhone sites like Vinsobres, which has that warm Mediterranean ripe density, while still having a Saint-Joseph aromatic quality, making this wine sing in the glass with crushed red berries, incense floral notes, earthy tones and loads of spice. Scott likes to pick the grapes at modest brix levels, ferment with little or no additions and age in broken-in barrels from a variety of French coopers, to make wines that show a transparent set of layers with this one showing blackberry, plum, blueberry and racy cherry fruits, a hint of crushed rock, camphor, dried violets, minty herb and a lingering touch of creme de cassis, cedar and peppery sage. There is still some youthful tannin and mouth watering acidity keeping things edgy and vibrant, best to decant and have with robust food choices, this is stylish effort that should gain greatly with another year or two in bottle. Also, keep an eye out for his Tondre Grapefield Riesling and especially the Dierberg Vineyard Syrah, which is absolutely outstanding as well.
($35 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2017 Desire Lines Wine Co. Riesling, Cole Ranch Vineyard & AVA, Mendocino County.
Cody Rasmussen’s Desire Lines Wine Co. Cole Ranch Riesling is a lovely dry acid driven white that impresses for its purity and vigor with a crisp minerally and vibrant citrus and stone fruits that thrill in the glass. West Coast Rieslings are staging a comeback of sorts after fading somewhat with the rise of the Finger Lakes in New York State in United States and many serious wines have come out in recent vintages, led by the likes of Brooks in Oregon, Tatomer in Santa Barbara, Cobb and Reeve in Sonoma County along with Morgan, Stirm and Joyce in Monterey County to name a few doing world class stuff, with Desire Lines Wine Co. joining this group and others crafting brilliant Rieslings. Of course I have missed a few other favorites, but this niche market is growing and the dry styles are getting more and more attention and these California offerings should be taken seriously. I admit I’m a Riesling junkie and usually pretty snobby, so it’s been very exciting to see just how good this grape can do in California, and Rasmussen’s Cole Ranch Mendocino County Riesling is really really solid with layers of brisk green apple, melon, unripe/tart apricot/peach and zesty lime fruits with a touch of verbena, spearmint and crushed wet stones, a bit like some fine Aussie versions and with a bone dry saline rich finish. This is very refreshing stuff with a cool steely personality, even in a warm vintage, I can’t wait to see how the 2018 turns out and it will be very interesting to compare the two vintages!
The Cole Ranch Vineyard, located between Ukiah and Boonville, is not just a vineyard it is also a single AVA and has a great track record for producing fine Riesling grapes. Cole Ranch’s long been the home of true Riesling vintage and it has a stellar history being the location that provided amazing grapes that were made by the legendary Dick Arrowood, while at Chateau St. Jean in the 70s and 80s. As Rasmussen notes, the vineyard is a rare example of where the appellation and vineyard name are one and the same, making it in effect what the French would call a “monopole” site. The vineyard, Cody adds, climate is defined by exceptionally cold nights and moderate days, which keeps the acids brilliant and extends hang-time well into the harvest season, which adds to the complexity in the Cole Ranch Riesling, the comes through with every sip here. This vintage is still current, so you should be able to find it, but as mentioned the 2018 has the potential to be even better and that should be hitting the market really soon, and I highly advise getting on the Desire Lines Wine Co. mailing list, these wines are awesome, as I have reviewed in recent months, especially their Syrah offerings, such as the Griffin’s Lair and Shake Ridge, and I will remind readers here that Cody is the assistant winemaker at Morgan Twain-Peterson’s Bedrock Wine Company in Sonoma, where he helps makes some of California’s best wines. This tasty Riesling is perfect for our Indian Summer days and is an awesome Sushi pairing wine, drink over the next 2 to 3 years.
($25 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2017 Morgan Winery, Syrah G17, Santa Lucia Highlands.
One of the best Syrah values out there is the dark fruit driven and savory toned Morgan G17, which is a blend of 90% Syrah, 5% Grenache, and uniquely 5% Tempranillo sourced mostly from the cool climate Santa Lucia Highlands along with minority of grapes from Arroyo Seco. The Syrah character shines through here and it reminds me somewhat of Saint-Cosme’s Syrah based Cotes-du-Rhone(s) though it is slightly richer and shows a warm ripeness of fruit led by boysenberry, damson plum, black raspberry and bright cherry layers along with crushed flowers, mineral tones, hints of sweet smoke, creme de cassis, pepper, cinnamon spiciness and sappy herbs. The acidity is lifting and tannins are lovely in their silky presence on the medium/full bodied palate and the finish is impressive for a wine in this price class, making this wine a bargain and one that highlights the quality at Morgan and savvy of the winemaking. I have long maintained that Syrah has eclipsed Pinot Noir in the sandy loamy soils of the SLH, anyone that has tasted the Lucia, Roar, Joyce, Sandlands, Cattleya and Morgan’s will see that.
Morgan’s latest set of wines from the 2017 and 2018 vintages are exceptional and while known for their outstanding Pinot Noir and Chardonnay offerings, especially their Cru set of single vineyard wines like the Rosella’s, Garys’ and the estate Double L, but under new winemaker Sam Smith, the whole lineup has really improved with wines like this one, along with their lesser known offerings including their Albarino, Grenache Blanc and the two outstanding Rieslings! This dark ruby/purple G17 Syrah expands as it gets air and gets more and more pleasing with every sip and more rewarding, especially with a robust meal and cuisine, going great with grilled meats, Zuni Cafe style chicken over bitter greens and or wild mushroom dishes. Aged for 10 months in French oak barrels, the G17 Syrah got just about 25% new, which does show in the wine’s luxurious and opulence with a nice toasty finish and creamy texture that doesn’t take away anything from the elegance and freshness of fruit, this is tasty stuff.
($25 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2018 Domaine Comte Abbatucci, Cuvée Faustino Rosé, Vin de France, Ajaccio, Corsica, France.
The Domaine Comte Abbatucci is one of Corsica’s most noble estates and with a long history of quality wines on this forbidding and fiercely independent Island, it is run by the charismatic Jean-Charles Abbatucci, a direct descendant of the General Charles Abbatucci, who’s image graces some of the higher end labels, from Ajaccio, who was a hero of the French Revolution and comrade in arms of another local hero, Napoléon Bonaparte. According to Abbatucci’s famous importer Kermit Lynch, the estate’s vines come from cuttings of indigenous grapes, sourced decades ago high up in the isolated and mountainous interior of the island from elderly peasant farmers, effectively saving several native varieties from extinction and preserving ancient winemaking traditions against the tide of international style wines. The beautiful wines from this Domaine are all biodynamic and have been certified since 2000 and while known for their reds, the winery also makes a series a wonderful whites, sparkling and this lovely and deeply flavored dry Cuvée Faustino Rosé, which was crafted from 90% Sciaccarellu and 10% Barbarossa grapes that were grown on the region’s granite soils. Ajaccio, the capital of Corsica, on the south western side of the island, you will see the name Abbatucci as there are streets, monuments and plazas that are dedicated to General Jean-Charles Abbatucci, it’s a historic respect to carries on today in this prideful place.
This 2018 Faustino Rosé is briskly focused and crisp with layers of dusty raspberry, pink citrus, sour cherry and strawberry fruits along with wet stone, mouth watering saline, mineral tones and a light spicy zest. While an all stainless steel fermented Rosé, there is a sense of fullness on the palate and depth gaining weight with air and adding floral notes and a element of earthiness as well, it is a wine that compares well with some of the top Cotes de Provence and Bandol bottlings. The vines average 20 years old, so they have concentration and complexity that transmits into the finished wine and make this Cuvée Faustino Rosé a joyous offering with meals, it has substance and pairs with array of cuisine options, though of course, it shines with Corsica’s rustic dishes and or sea food stews. There is a lot to admire here and whether or not you enjoy this stuff with food or just have it with an Indian Summer sunset, it handles the occasion with poise and authentic ease. Lynch adds, this organic estate just south of Ajaccio, keeps a pristine poly-culture ecosystem in place, complete with herds of sheep foraging through his vines, groves of olive trees on ancient terraces, and large swaths of untouched forests, with an eccentric edge, Abbatucci even plays traditional Corsican polyphonic songs over loudspeakers for the benefit of his vines! I love these wines and in particular this pink one, like Clos Cibonne, it never fails to impress, be sure not to miss it.
($38 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2018 Joyce Wine Company, Pinot Noir, River Road Cuvee, Santa Lucia Highlands.
This super tasty new cuvee from Joyce Wine Company is a Pinot Noir barrel selection blend of special lots coming from mostly Tondre Grapefield and Escolle Vineyard in the Santa Lucia Highlands and looks set to be a tasting room only offering, which is a step up from the highly successful Monterey County regional blend Submarine Canyon and at a price point just below the single vineyard bottlings. A bit deeper in style with a dark garnet/ruby hue in the glass and with expressive fruit intensity and with a crunchy array of mineral, earth and spice to satisfy the medium bodied palate that fleshes out with air. The nose starts with brambles, truffle and wilted roses with hint of blackberry and underbrush leading to a layered and smooth mouth adding black cherry, plum and cranberry fruits, a touch of loam, blood orange tea and nutmeg. These 2018 vintage wines from Joyce are all excellent, especially the Pinots, like this one, but also be sure to keep an eye out for Russell Joyce’s special Small Lot Collection series too, his old vine Grenache & Grenache-Syrah bottlings are off the charts, more on them soon, this is a killer vintage from this Monterey winery.
Made with a gentle touch and only neutral French Burgundy sized barriques, Russell and his team are going for a sense of place and a purity of form, and succeeding in capturing the SLH and the vintage. 2018 was a long and mostly cool year that allowed a less frenzied approach and no compromises with picking and or winemaking, this is a stellar vintage to explore the Central Coast wines, from top to bottom the wines really excel and Joyce has a stunning set from which to choose, including this one. Comparing it to Burgundy, you’d say this was like a Lieu-Dit or a cuvee exceptional that performs better than a straight village or basic Bougogne. Crafted with partial whole-cluster, giving a briar kick and lifting the aromatics and traditional hand punch downs for good extraction, the River Road has a complex flavor dimension and looks set to get even better with some more bottle age, it is also flexible and interesting with different cuisine options from blackened salmon, pork dishes and roast poultry to a filet of beef. This one will definitely intrigue and evolve over the next 3 to 5 years, it is to the Santa Lucia Highlands, as Anthill Farms is with their (Anderson Valley) regional bottling is to Anderson Valley, a solid and authentic SLH Pinot and a nice addition to the Joyce lineup.
($35 Est.) 92+ Points, grapelive
2017 Antoine-Marie Arena,Vermentinu, Patrimonio Blanc, Hauts de Carco, Corsica, France.
One of the world’s most interesting and geeky versions of Vermientino is the Arena Hauts de Carco, it is an all organic grown wine of Vermentinu (the local name) from the estate’s steepest and rockiest vineyard set on a mix limestone, chalk and clay soils. The northern side of Corsica sees more limestone than the southern part with its granite based soils and the wines here are striking for their class and depth that rivals much more prodigious regions of the mainland, especially these Arena bottlings, like this Hauts de Carco that delivers a steeliness almost Chablis character, which are some of the Island’s most rare and intriguing. Antoine-Marie recently got his own parcels, when the family split the estate, allowing this talented young winemaker to get his start with some fabulous material to show off his skills with. Interestingly, and according to his importer Kermit Lynch, Antoine-Marie refers to Vermentinu as Malvasia on his labels as this was the original name in Corsica for this grape variety, though it is not the same as true Malvasia, a story I’ve never heard before. Arena’s new set is on par with Corisica’s elite winemakers such as Yves Canarelli, Yves Leccia and Comte Abbatucci, all makers of outrageously good stuff from this remote and prideful place.
Vermentinu/Vermentino is also known as Rolle, and it has become the main white grape on Corsica and the terroir here produce some of the best examples in the world. This Hauts de Carco was fermented and aged in stainless steel with native yeasts and shows incredible purity, but thrills on the medium bodied palate with a great combination of acidity and texture with lemon/lime, peach and apple fruits along with crunchy mineral and chalky stony elements as well as a hint of white flowers, snappy herb and lees notes. This 2017 is truly exceptional stuff and will continue to impress for a few years, plus it’s magic with food, everything from creamy/tangy goats milk cheese to clams in broth as well as sushi. Arena does many small batch bottings and they are extremely rare and have an almost cult like following, it is hard for Kermit Lynch to keep up with allocation requests, but these are wines to search out, especially this one, as well as their skin contact version, their Blanco Gentile, a native only varietal that has gained attention in recent years, plus the reds made from Niellucciu (Sangiovese) along with local grapes Morescone and Carcagholu Nero. It was great to taste the latest from Antoine-Marie, who is carrying on his family’s traditions and taking the wines to the next level, after years of following this domaine I am more excited than ever to see what’s next here!
($46 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2016 Clos Canarelli, Corse Figari Rouge, Corsica, France.
The powerful and sophisticated Corse Figari Rouge by the talented Yves Canarelli at Clos Canarelli is a unique blend of 80% Niellucciu, 15% Syrah and 5% Sciaccarellu, with Niellucciu being an ancient Etruscan clone of Sangiovese and Sciaccarellu being also Etruscan brought to the Island ages ago and is the same varietal as Mammolo a lesser known Chianti red grape that is almost extinct in Tuscany.
This 2016 vintage is wonderfully complex, layered and deep with a very dark garnet/crimson color and with a serious tannin backbone that serves this wine well acting as a natural balancing spine that holds the warm ripeness of the fruit in check, making this a wine that has tremendous aging potential as well as being a gripping young wine that becomes much more pleasing with decanting and or air. Dark fruits and spice lead the way on the full bodied palate with complex flavors unfolding with every sip, the Corse Figari Rouge gives up blackberry, brandied cherry, plum and mulberry fruits along with hints of cigar/tobacco, wild herb, cedar and minty notes as well as lingering blueberry, smoke/embers and cinnamon spice.
Clos Canarelli, originally founded in 1968, is an all organic and certified biodynamic estate in the remote village of Tarabucetta, on the outskirts of Figari on the southern tip of Corsica, is one of the Island’s most iconic wineries, crafting white, pink and red wines. According to Canarelli’s importer, the famous Kermit Lynch, who was one of the first to recognize the greatness on Corsica, Yves’s choice to convert the domaine to biodynamic viticulture has has given his wines an unusual freshness, complexity, and aromatic intensity that others in Figari have been unable to achieve. Kermit adds, In the cellar, Yves only uses indigenous yeasts, and prefers slow, deliberate, precise fermentations, and leaves his reds unfiltered. With this Corse Figari Rouge being 100% de-stemmed and fermented using large foudres with gentle hand punchdowns daily then aged up to 18 months. This wine is a great alternative to Tuscan reds, Bordeaux and or Rioja, it certainly out performs many such wines in its price class if not much higher!
($45 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2017 Domaine Jérôme Gradassi, Chateauneuf-du-Pape Rouge, Southern Rhone, France.
One of my favorite small producers in the Rhone, Jérôme Gradassi, the ex chef of a Michelin starred restaurant, the “L’Isle Sonnant” in Avignon, which after burning out, he sold in 2003 to take over a tiny Chateauneuf parcel of vines that left to him by his grandfather. After making a few vintages in his late grandfather’s tiny house and basement cellar, a place so small the grapes were shoveled through a window and the juice had to be brought up in hand pulled buckets to barrel, a process that sometimes took a few days to manage, Gradassi is now in his brother’s ex winery Domaine du Remparts, re-named Domaine Jérôme Gradassi. His micro production Chateauneuf du Pape Rouge is roughly about 75-80% Old Vine Grenache Noir and 20-25% Mourvèdre, fermented in cement vats and stainless and then aged in older barriques, using native yeasts and lots of whole cluster, making for a spicy/earthy rustic wine with a nod to old school traditions, which I adore in Chateauneuf. Farmed with holistic practices on classic limestone, riverbed and clay soils, the Gradassi Chateauneuf vines are planted with about 75% Grenache and 25% Mourvedre. His property, according to Domaine, is divided into 6 parcels located in the lieut-dits of Palastor, Bois Dauphin, and Cabriere, all in the cooler north of the AOC, shows a vivid lively form and balance, less dense and less hedonistic than the more modern styles.
Maybe the smallest producer in the appellation, Jérôme’s Chateauneuf ages just over 10 months and is one of freshest you’ll find with a dry savory edginess and with stem fleshiness and tension, it’s a wine I’ve been a fan of since it was first available in the States, along with his Blanc, uniquely made from Clairette Rose, a Gris like varietal, super rare, closely related to more common Clairette Blanche. The 2017 Rouge is youthfully tannic and tart with juicy/grapey Grenache fruit leading the way on the medium/full bodied palate showing dusty bramble berry, pomegranate, plum and strawberry fruits along with bitter herb, dried violets, lavender oil, anise and a touch of kirsch and creme de cassis, adding a touch of leather, truffle, peppercorns and lingering boysenberry coulis. This is one of Jérôme’s most pure versions to date and it should age gloriously, in fact it deserves about 3 to 5 years of cellaring, even though I love it’s vibrant thrill ride of flavors and impressive gripping details, and it enjoys robust food choices to show its best side, that allows it to really fill out and linger on the finish. Drink this lovely dark garnet and magenta hued Chateauneuf Rouge over the next 10 years.
($55 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2017 Daniel Gomez Jimenez-Landi Viticultor, Garnacha, Las Uvas de la Ira, Vino del Pueblo, El Real de San Vincente, Sierra de Gredos Valle del Tietar, Mentrida D.O., Spain.
Dani Landi is one of the most influential winemakers in his region in the high plains and mountains above Spain’s capital, Madrid, in the Sierra de Gredos, one of the hot spots for Garnacha and his wines are highly sought after for the complexity and delicacy they show, like this gorgeous example, the Las Uvas de la Ira. The Gredos is an exciting zone with Landi being one of the ringleaders as well as being part of a winemaking gang known as Comando G with Fernando Garcia, but other top producers here include Alfredo Maestro and 4 Monos, all are well worth searching out, making wines that are old vine authentic, in the Chateauneuf-du-Pape mode, though with a more lighter touch on the alcohol in most cases, though that said this Landi is no light weight at 14.5% and comes across like silky (baby) Chateau Rayas meets Chambolle-Musigny! Dani Landi is a native to the region and was born and raised in Méntrida, where his family has been grape growers here for generations and like almost everyone else sold their grapes to the local cooperative, who Landi still helps out with. Knowing he wanted to express his own vines and personality he started a small winery back in 2012 to do just that and became one of the stars of this unique and ancient wine area that had almost been forgotten. The rise in Gredos seemed to mirror Landi’s releases and his Garnacha Las Uvas de la Ira from the village of El Real de San Vicente being one of his best offerings showing wonderful depth of flavors and a studied finesse that is highlighted in the beautiful pale ruby/garnet hue in the glass and rich detail on the palate.
Landi’s Las Uvas de la Ira Garnacha, from the Méntrida D.O. is fermented using whole cluster with indigenous yeasts in open top French oak casks, and treated like Pinot with gentle hands, then the wine is aged in a combination of foudre, larger, mostly neutral French oak barrels for 12 months, interestingly Landi also is experimenting with terra-cotta with some of his other bottlings seeing a portion that is raised in clay amphorae. The high elevation and cold night make for a long growing season and wonderful development in the grapes, which are about 60 years old set on granitic sands, quartz and freely draining weathered soils, which Landi transmits into the wine with near perfection. A Beautiful energy comes through in the wines, and I would like to think it is because of the purity of terroir and that all the grapes are grown to biodynamic practices, as well as the pop of traditional stem inclusion. The Las Uvas de la Ira Garnacha is highly aromatic with floral tones, mountain herbs, dusty red fruit and an array of spices, this nose leads to a medium body that fills out with macerated cherries, plum, strawberry, pomegranate and red currant fruits along with accents of minty/amaro, licorice, a mineral element, rose/lavender oil, cinnamon and with a light leathery earthiness. The finish echos on and on here with fine grained tannin and a bright cut of acidity pushing the fruit up, giving structure and life here, impressive for Landi’s village bottling. This is stellar wine to celebrate #GrenacheDay or any day! This latest release, imported by European Cellars, is deserving of your attention, especially if you are a Grenachista (Grenache Lover), do not miss it!
($36 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2017 Domaine Thomas Pico – Bois d’Yver, Chablis, White Burgundy, France.
This all organic domaine was hit incredibly hard by hail in both 2016 and 2017 making this Bois d’Yver Chablis by Thomas Pico even more amazing, since he was forced to blend what little fruit he could salvage into just two bottling, his Pattes Loup, and a tiny bottling under this Bois d’Yver label, which was bottled solely for his US importer, Floraison Selections. This was my first experience with Pico’s wines, though he has quite a following, and I was highly impressed, this crisply cool Chablis is classic in terroir character with a flinty/steely charm. It also has a surprisingly beautiful textural quality that leaves a rich impression on the long finish, all the while it is driven by its riveting zippy acidity. I found interesting similarities to Puize, Savary, De Moor and Beru in this Bois d’Yver, which to me, is very exciting and I loved the layered medium bodied palate that shows green apple, lemony citrus, a hint of peach and Bosc pear fruits along with a salty freshness, wet rock and clove spices. The nose is really chalky/stony with a hint of lime, sea breezes and white flowers adding to the thrill and pleasure in this lovely Chardonnay. Pico came back to Chablis in 2004 after years of making wine in Nuits-Saint-Georges to farm his late grandfather’s parcel and started his organic conversion, he is also distinctive in the long élevage he gives his wines, with this Chablis getting 18 months, while his Premier Crus get a 34 months minimum before bottling!
Made from a distinct parcel of vines, the Bois d’Yver Chablis is all estate grown fruit coming from a block between Côte Joannis & Beauregards set on the limestone, marl and clay soils with ripe exposures. Thomas Pico, according to his importer, is famed in the Chablis region for his cult bottlings under his Pattes Loup label, but I am happy to report this bottling is really stylish as well, and of Premier Cru class, it is also a great value. The Bois d’Yver Chablis, from Pico’s father’s historic 2.5 ha estate, which he’s quietly been reviving and converting to organic since 2015 is a label to search out. Thomas Pico is one of a handful of committed producers working organically in Chablis, a region not usually known for sustainable production, though in recent years you’ve seen a bigger push in this direction. Thomas, again according to Floraison, runs Bois d’Yver as a separate estate in parallel to his Pattes Loup and follows the same principles, with holistic organic farming, no synthetic herbicide, pesticides or chemical additions, 100% native yeast fermentations, and extended lees aging, that Pico says, brings out the inherent complexity and depth in the wine but he strives to preserve freshness and energy of the fruit. Though Bois d’Yver consists of one single AOC Village bottling, Thomas feels the parcels are distinctive enough to merit standing on their own, and I absolutely agree, this is a brilliant under the radar Chablis, and one that shined with a vast of array of sushi adding great enjoyment to evening.
($34 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2016 Salvo Foti I Vigneri, Vigna di Milo “Caselle” Etna Bianco, Sicily, Italy.
The wonderfully seductive and delicate Caselle Vigna di Milo by the famed Salvo Foti is a single varietal white wine made from native Carricante, on the eastern slope of Etna, near the town of Milo a picturesque village that is within sight on the Ocean. This is crisply dry and steely fresh wine that shows volcanic influences with white peach, racy citrus and quince fruits with saline mouth watering zest, spicy mineral and stony notes. According to Foti, many generations of Sicilians have known that maybe Mount Etna’s greatest white wine grape, Carricante, reaches its top form here in this location higher on the cooler eastern slopes of the volcano. This quality has lead to the designation of Carricante wines from the Caselle district, surrounding the town of Milo, as the exclusive source of Etna Bianco Superiore. Medium bodied and gaining richness with air the Vigna di Milo Bianco is graceful, stylish and well crafted, it thrills the palate and goes beautifully with matching cuisine. Foti’s white is a class act and shouldn’t be overlooked, even though most people search out his Nerello Mascalese, Etna Rosso(s).
Salvo Foti, the godfather of Sicilian wines, especially Etna versions, is a native of the near by city of Catania, he studied enology and began his career in 1981 as a technical and agrarian advisor to some noted estates in eastern Sicily, and specializes in native grape growing and holistic farming. He continues that work today for estates such as Gulfi, Benanti and Vini Biondi, all of whose wines are universally recognized as among the best in Sicily, as well as malking his own whines. A number of years ago, Salvo’s love of the grapes and soils of Etna, in particular, led him to initiate a project called I Vigneri. This grower/producer group takes its name from an association that existed in the Etna region in 1435, Maestranzi dei Vigneri, a society of vineyard workers that greatly influenced the wine culture of the Etna region. Today, I Vigneri oversees many of vines of Etna and is well regarded for natural practices, traditional methods and attention to detail, as this gorgeous wine shows, which reveals the passion and hard work they put into the vineyard and cellar. With hints of ginger and tropical fruits, this lightly perfumed Vigna di Milo Carricante evolves nicely in the glass and should continue to impress for another 3 to 5 years, it is as good as many White Burgundies that cost a lot more!
($48 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2015 Big Basin Vineyards, Syrah, Rattlesnake Rock, Estate, Santa Cruz Mountains.
This inky and powerful 2015 Rattlesnake Rock Syrah, by Bradley Brown’s Big Basin Vineyards, made from a harvest with ultra tiny yields is an incredible wine of deep concentration and northern Rhone style purity of form and with an everlasting aftertaste, it’s a blockbuster and should age for decades to come. The estate grown Big Basin Rattlesnake Rock Syrah is a field blend of Brown’s oldest vines on south facing slopes at about 1,400 feet above sea level set in mineral laced soils with shale, iron and sandstone at the core with lose clay and loam topsoil, it’s cool site with ocean influences, windy and a severe drop in temps at night, planted mostly to Alban clone or Cote-Rotie clone. This intense, aromatic and spicy Syrah was fermented using organic grapes using indigenous yeasts with partial whole cluster with a dose of Viognier co-fermented in, with gentle hand punchdowns and a long cold soak, as Brown suggests, to extract the full expression of the vineyard, then it was aged about two years in French oak. The Rattlesnake Rock Syrah is unique regional wine, again highlighting the sometimes underrated Santa Cruz Mountains, it is a fantastic wine that joins Rhys, Ridge, Mount Eden and others that make this place so special.
Big Basin’s latest set of wines are all just lovely with exceptional character and quality throughout the range, I especially was impressed with the whole Pinots and the Burgundy like Coastview Chardonnay, they clearly represent some of the best features of the Central Coast. That said, without question Big Basin’s most iconic wine is their Rattlesnake Rock Syrah, which is one of the greatest versions of the grape in California, sitting along side the likes of Alban, Ojai, Peay, Pax, Halcon and Drew to name a few. I least reviewed the 2012 vintage of Rattlesnake, and I had thought it couldn’t get much better than that, but I can admit I was wrong, as this 2015, which is just starting to reveal its true potential with dark layers of blackberry, briar laced olallieberry, damson plum, kirsch, creme de cassis, peppercorns, smoky camphor and liquid violets, as well as minty herb, dusty earth, mineral and licorice. All these flavors are packed into a tannic and full bodied wine that fleshes out with air, which it certainly needs, very much like a young Hermitage! Best to give this one another 3 to 5 years if you have are lucky to have some, with that patience, this brilliant wine will be even greater rewards, and I recommend keeping an eye out for this one and suggest getting on Big Basin’s mailing list.
($70 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2018 Weingut Von Winning, Riesling Trocken, Deidesheimer Leinhohle, VDP Erste Lage, Pfalz Germany.
One of the best kept secret’s in von Winning’s portfolio is their Premier Cru Leinhohle Trocken, it’s a suave and stylish dry Riesling that really is on par with the Grosses Gewächs and shows this gorgeous vintage to near perfection with incredible perfume and complexity, it’s awesome stuff. While sure, it doesn’t have the hedonistic density of Kalkofen GG or thrilling stoniness of the Pechstein GG, but it’s damn close and it’s weightless texture almost makes it more compelling, I would say in this year it reminds of how in some years I in fact love Montée de Tonnerre, a Premier Cru Chablis, better than the Blanchot Grand Cru, like the 2010 Raveneau’s by of comparison, and since Burgundy was von Winning’s winemaker’s biggest inspiration, that hopefully makes relatable sense. In fact Stephan Attmann’s wines can rival the upper echelon of Meusault and even Montrachet, especially his Langenmorgen, Ungeheuer and in particular the Kirchenstuck, the Le Montrachet of the Pfalz, all Grand Cru sites that von Winning has in the Pfalz. The Leinhole Erste Lage is set on löss, loam and red sandstone soils with vines, again influenced by Burgundian practices, with von Winning and Attmann having adopted the single cane trellising system, prevalent in the Cote d’Or, and Grosses Gewächs and this one getting fermentted in 500mL French barrels, with indigenous yeasts and aged in a combination of different sized barrels. This 2018 Leinholhe Erste Lage Trocken is shiny and sunny in the glass with a pale golden/greenish hue and serious nose of white violets, brioche and mango flesh before leading to a complex medium bodied palate of mixed citrus, including lime, tangerine and grapefruit along with tangy apricot, papaya, green apple and pineapple along with salted chalk rock, leesy toast, crystalized ginger, clove spice and crunchy mineral notes.
Von Winning like Leflaive and others farms their grapes using organic/biodynamic and sustainable viticulture with high density planting to ensure the best quality and be responsible stewards of their holdings, it is all the attention to detail and passion here that makes these wines really stand apart from the pack and make them unique. Weingut von Wiinning is one of the best wine estates in Germany and all of Europe, with a focus on dry Riesling, obviously, but they also due lovely Pinot Noir, Sparkling and what might be one of the greatest Sauvignon Blanc wines in the world, and every time I taste with Andreas Hütwohll, their world wide sales director and winemaker, I am left speechless by the quality in these wines. That leads me back to the 2018 Leinholhe Trocken, which I tasted in barrel sample, just before its bottling, it gives me full confidence that this vintage is going to another stunner for the Pfalz. The brilliance of this wine is the inner energy and textural feel, while still being racy with natural acidity it has remarkable depth and every sip reveal new layers, it is a wine that proves Riesling gives the same thrill as a tannic red wine with a velvet edged power, it is absolutely impossible not to be left in awe of what is capable here. This upcoming release is most likely going to get overlooked by those seeking the GG’s and missed by the value hunters, so it just might fly under the radar, but I would still chased it down with excited vigor, because it might be one of the best wines of vintage under $50, I am going to put my own money where my mouth is I can assure you that! Honestly it is wines like this that gives me a child’s like enthusiasm and puts a huge smile on my face, it drinks great now and will for stupid long time to come, it will involve nicely for 15 plus years no question, this 2018 Leinholhe is an exceptional Riesling.
($43 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2016 Chateau Beychevelle, Grand Vin, Saint-Julien, Red Bordeaux, France.
All those rumors you heard about the 2016 vintage in Bordeaux, quiet comparisons to the legendary years, you know what I mean, well, yeah, they are pretty much true, this is a vintage to buy and stock up on. I recently tried this Beychelle, and while not cheap (if not purchased on futures), it is a stunning wine, maybe one of the best young versions I’ve had experience with from this historic property in the Medoc, even better is, like 1990 and somewhat like 2005 and 2009 for sure, it can actually be enjoyed rather young, while still incredibly age worthy, that said, patience will be rewarded. Chateau Beychelle, a fourth grown from the classification of 1855, has traditionally been a solid performer with a legacy of value on offer, though rarely has it reached quality exceeding its expectations, but I must say in recent vintages I’ve been very impressed and like their neighbor Léoville-Poyferré, a Super Second (Growth) are producing some thrilling stuff, especially this 2016 Grand Vin, the top wine from the estate. The 2016 is richly packed with fruit and is extremely deep in color, very purple/back and garnet in the glass and the nose is full of violets, cassis, graphite and sweet toast, which all leads to a palate that echos those first sensations and adds blackberry, plum, black cherry and mulberry fruits, a touch of loaminess, cedar and anise as well as touch of pipe tobacco and vanilla. This is full throttle, full bodied Bordeaux with a veil of opulence that hides the powerful structural tannins well still, and excitingly there is a nice burst of juicy acidity keeping things from getting over the top, everything looks set for a gorgeous long lived wine.
Chateau Beychelle, like many Medoc estates are grateful for the Dutch engineers that literary drained the swamp and created one of the best terroirs in France and the story of it’s label is very interesting. At the beginning of the 17th century, according to the Chateau and local historians, The first Duke of Épernon owned the property, a renown sailor and naval commander, who became great French admiral and such was his reputation that as boats passed in front of his estate, they would lower their sails to show their allegiance and respect. This honor in the end gave rise to the Château’s emblem, the ship with a griffon-shaped prow, its name in Gascon dialect, Bêcha vêla, meaning “baisse voile” (“lower the sails”), which later became Beychevelle. For the 2016 vintage, the final blend of the Grand Vin was Cabernet Sauvignon 47%, Merlot 47%, Cabernet Franc 1% and Petit Verdot 5%, which accounts for the mix of power and lush mouthfeel, and it was raised in 50% new wood. This vintage was the first using new technical facilities at Beychelle, with the best in equipment and a much better working layout to, as the winery suggests, enable a gentle transfer of the grapes by gravity, very precise temperature controlled stainless fermentors, and extractions adjusted to the characteristics of each vat, along with better vineyard practices and a focus on the best individual parcels. The investment here is paying off and this wine is fantastic, it shows off the heart of Beychelle’s vineyards, which are located on two plateaus set on deep Garonne gravels, which the Cabernet loves, over loam and clay that over looks the Gironde River. When you think of all the wines now that go for over $175, especially from Napa, this wine, even at full release price looks pretty reasonable and I bet it will go 25 to 30 years.
($150 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2018 Arianna Ochipinti, SP68 Bianco, Terre Siciiane IGT, Sicily, Italy.
The exotic and refreshing Occhipinti SP68 Bianco is an intriguing perfumed, but crisply dry and salty white made from the local Zibibbo grape, which is also known as Moscato di Alessandria, plus the little known local Albanello varietal, it just might be the best version of this wine to date from the ever amazing and talented Arianna. While somewhat rustic in an authentic style, classic for Occhipinti, this SP68 Bianco reminds me of some of the best examples of Muscat, even if it is only about 60%, including my personal favorites from Mueller-Catoir, who’s Trocken Pfalz Muskateller is outrageously good and Wenbach’s Muscat d’Alsace version, which to me of course is high praise! The taste of the sea comes through in dramatic fashion here and it is brisk with acidity making it vibrant and a thrill with matching briny sea foods and especially shellfish in spicy broth and or Moroccan lemon chicken and couscous. Zesty layers of citrus and stones fruits are led by the jasmine and spearmint bouquet and spicy details along with a touch of tropical essences, wet stone and a touch of rosewater bath salts. The persistent lemon/lime and white peach are lifted here with the dramatic aromatics, sea spray, earth and mineral tones and a pop crystalized ginger in a saliva inducing light bodied wine. The SP68 series (White and Red) are named after the local and historic trade road, which has been around for centuries and has a meaning of tradition and history to Arrianna, making these wines very special to her, she thinks she is honoring the ghosts of her ancestors, who used to trade wine in Amphora and carried to market by mules.
Occhipinti, who is one of the leading lights of the natural wine world and mostly known for her amazing work with the Frappato grape, native to her region in Vittoria, Sicily on the southeastern side of the Island, outside of the volcano zone near Ragusa. Her reds have taken the the world by storm and have brought a whole legion of fans to this part of Sicily, especially the signature Il Frappato, but also her Nero d’Avola and blends, including the sister wine to this one, the SP68 Rosso. Arianna Occhipinti had a meteoric start as a young winemaker who at only 21 released her first vintage, that was the 2004 and has only got better with age. She has rockstar image in the wine world, kind of funny for such a down to earth soul and a woman of the earth, still she has became a mystical, if not seminal figure in the biodynamic/organic and natural wine movement. Arianna tends to 14 hectares of olive groves and 5 hectares of vineyards, which she works with a holistic sensibility and pride of place. For the SP68 Bianco, Occhipinti uses a native yeast fermentation after a 15 day maceration on the skins, with all the aging done solely in cement vats, which lasts 6 months to preserve freshness and allow it to gain texture, and it is bottled unfined and unfiltered. This blend, 60% Moscato di Alessandria and 40% Albanello comes from vines about 15 years old and set on her red sand and chalky limestone soils which are set at about 800 or so feet above sea level and that get a cool breeze. Drink now and often.
($30 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2018 Domaine Rimbert, Cinsault “Cousin Oscar” Vin de France, Saint Chinian, Languedoc, France.
The all natural 100% Cinsault Cousin Oscar from Domaine Rimbert is a tangy fresh red wine that is bursting with vibrancy and classic Cinsault character, and while his Carignan based Saint-Chinian wines are his serious offerings, I love this playful Glou Glou style wine with it’s low alcohol and tangy freshness. This new release of Cousin Oscar is vibrant with a light ruby hue in the glass and with a strawberry led profile that includes tree picked plum, sour cherry, rosewater, cinnamon/pepper spiciness and intense licorice notes. This vat raised Cinsault loves being served with a slight chill and with lighter cuisine, it perks up nicely with food lighting it to a weight similar to Pinot Noir and gains earthy tones and hints of lavender. This wine has a Natty following and features on some Nature Wine Bar lists, it succeeds in being an honest and delightful lighter style red.
Jean-Marie Rimbert, the self proclaimed defender of the Languedoc’s native Carignan grape, is a benchmark grower for the region and also a maverick, being one of the leading lights in the Saint-Chinian AOC. His Cousin Oscar is named for a family member that had a serious reputation with the women in the region, such was his looks and charm he was known, I hear, to have women fighting over his attention, and the label alludes to this and his playful character. Rimbert’s Carignan based reds are, as mentioned above, the more serious stuff and remind me a little of Maxime Magnon’s intriguing Coberieres wines, as well as some fresher (style) Gigondas producers, with its added doses of Grenache and Syrah adding lovely complexity. This Cousin Oscar is wonderful fun and well made, it should satisfy the Natty and non Natty crowd in equal measure. Also if you are Cinsault curious, it also grows great in South Africa, see Baadenhorst, along with some fun stuff coming from California, look for some from Turley, Sandlands, Andrew Murray (Rose) and Randall Grahm is using it freely in his new Cigare Volant at Bonny Doon!
($17 Est.) 88 Points, grapelive
2018 Domaine Testut, Chablis “Cote de Brechain” White Burgundy, France.
A newcomer to me, on the Chablis scene, Domaine Testut looks set for stardom with an impressive Lieu-Dit bottling from Cote de Brechain, tiny plot set of mostly alcareous clay along with some classic limestone from the Kimmeridgien era, making for a mineral and stone driven Chardonnay that certainly on the level of Premier Cru stars in the region and maybe a Grand Cru of two! Cyril Testut has presided over the family estate since 1998, so he’s been doing it while now, the domaine, which was established by his father Philippe Testut in 1967, Testuts have 13 hectares of vineyards (previsouly owned by Cistercian agronomist monks) located in the historic heart of Chablis. It’s a teddy selection of Grand Cru and Premier vines, mostly of which sit between the Premier Cru Montée de Tonnerre and the Grand Cru Blanchots, not too shabby that. Those that like the domaines of Patrick Puize, Savary and Christophe will instantly recognize the style and quality in these Testut wine, and even those that are lucky enough to enjoy the greats, like Raveneau and Dauvissat will no doubt be thrilled by these wines. I was completely seduced by this Testut Cote de Brechain, just by it’s nose alone. This is cystalline Chablis that was fermented and aged between 9 and 12 months in tank without any wood, absolutely exceptional and a wine I plan on stocking up on.
Cyril Testut focuses on capturing terroir, especially the steely/flinty mineral essences and that shows through clearly in this stunning effort, this wine is a must try for Chablis enthusiasts, in particular, like me, that are searching out a great value. This 2018 Cote de Brechain is racy and vividly clear with a fantastic bouquet of lime blossom, wet river stones and orchard fruits that leads to a light/medium bodied palate of tangy green apple, lemon/lime and with chalky detailing with a real sense of purity of form and good natural acidity that lifts the flavors, but feels smooth in the mouth, adding a touch of hazelnut and a hint of clove spice. The Lieu-Dit Cote de Brechain, with 40 year old vines, is on the left bank on Serine river and faces east allowing a long hang time and ripe flavors, but with zesty acidity keeping things remarkably fresh, as this pretty wine shows. Brisk and refreshing the crisp Cote de Brechain opens up with a bit of air and gains textural elements, filling out all corners, while staying true and vibrant throughout. This wine can be easily enjoyed as a Summer sipper, though has structure and finesse to be a serious wine with a meal, search this stuff out!
($25 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2016 Montevetrano, Colli di Salerno “Montevetrano” IGT Rosso, Campania, Italy.
One of the most singular wines of southern Italy, Montevetrano is to Campania as Tignanello is to Tuscany, made from a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, the local Aglianico and Merlot, it is one of the most priced and sought after red wines of the region and is world renown. The Montevetrano estate vineyard takes its name from a medieval castle that dates to Roman times, and was once owned by French Bourbons, which makes it very fitting that they have the French varietals planted along with native Aglianico. This deep and powerful wine comes from this 13 acre site set on calcareous and silty-loam soils that yields a mere 2.4 tons per acre that enhances the rich concentration of flavors. Montevetrano, which was founded back in 1983, with the first Montevetrano being made in 1991, is owned by Silvia Imparato, who along with the famed winemaker Riccardo Cotarella, who is still the consulting enologist, turned this unlikely small property into one of Italy’s best producers. With Domenico “Mimì” La Rocca, a local who was born in Montevetrano, handling the winegrowing and running the cellars Montevetrano continues to be one of Italy’s great wines and the 2016 is absolutely stunning and timeless, it is a wine that will join the vest best ever from this winery. Layered in the mouth with a subtle floral bouquet this 2016 really grabs your attention with blackberry coulis, creme de cassis, plum and black cherries leading the way along with hints of iron, cedar, graphite, minty herb, sweet leather, spicy tobacco leaf and toasty oak notes. This youthful and tightly would wine, the 25th anniversary release of Montevetrano, has 20 to 30 years easy and will reward the patient that want to put something special away in the cellar, and highlights the great vintage that 2016 was in Central and Southern Italy.
The gorgeous dark crimson and ruby hued 2016 Montevetrano was a blend of 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, 30% Aglianico and 20% Merlot that was fermented in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks from very carefully sorted individual berries and then raised in new and one time once French barriques for just over a year. Recently I tasted with Guido Groppi, Montevetrano’s long serving commercial director, and was able to get a real feel for the winery, one that I have admired, and taste through the lineup of current wines along with a special aged Montevetrano from the 2009 vintage, which was also drinking fantastic coming into its prime window. My first experience with Montevetrano was when I tried the late nineties versions that had by that time become quite famous with great reviews and ratings, and I remember always being intrigued by them, as they had a unique quality that while not definitely accurate reminded me of Bordeaux meets top Barolo. I think the last bottle of Monterevetrano I drank was the 2001, which was thrilling even young, but a wine that I think probably could have still aged another two decades! So it was wonderful to get re-acquainted with these wines, especially this newly released 2016 with its sexy layers of dark fruits and I really love that they have moved towards a higher percentage of Algianico in the blend from being almost solely Cabernet and the addition of Merlot has really helped filled out the palate with a lovely elegance. With air the dense fruit gives way to a finessed and graceful wine, that while firm in tannins, really turns on the charm, this is impressive stuff that benefits greatly from a robust meal and time for it to fully develop in the glass.
($70) 96 Points, grapelive
2018 Chateau Peyrassol, Rosé “Cuvee de la Commanderie de Peyrassol” Cotes de Provence, France.
The famous Cotes de Provence winery, Chateau Peyrassol, is located in the hills of the Var, north of St. Tropez and Hyères between the villages of Le Luc and Flassans-sur-Issole and are well known for their top notch dry Rosé. This tranquil and picturesque spot is home to vineyards planted to primarily Cinsault, Grenache and Syrah used in the Rosé bottlings, but also with an interesting mix of other varietals including Cabernet Sauvignon, Rolle (Vermentino), Uni Blanc, Semillon and Clairette Blanc. The current release of the Rosé, 2018 is a beautiful vintage for this in demand wine, one of the finest I’ve tried from this estate in fact, in particular I love this Cuvee de la Commanderie, the work horse wine of the domaine. Like all of the Rosés of Peyrassol this one was made in the direct press method, with maceration and fermentation being done with cool temperatures. According to the winery and importer Rosenthal Wine Merchant, this winemaking process gives the Rosés of Peyrassol their beautiful watermelon, and delicate salmon pink color. The fermentation is exceptionally long, resulting in rosés that are both lively, fresh and full-bodied and complex, as this one shows with its layers of tart cherry, the mentioned watermelon, strawberry and citrusy crisp fruits along with a steely/mineral character as well as having a wet stone, dried lavender and rosewater elements.
The Chateau Peyrassol, as it has been known since 2001, is one of the longest running domaines in the region being first established in the middle of the 1200s, when it was founded by the Knights of Templar, it rests near the sea and is surrounded by a beautiful Mediterranean forest, with Eighty hectares planted to vineyards which are cultivated on the dry, rocky clay and limestone based soils. Many centuries of history have happened here, but it was until the Rigord family, who bought the property in 1870, decided to market and bottle estate wines, in 1981 that any serious attention was paid to this unique estate, originally known as Commanderie de Peyrassol as tribute to the crusading knights that the property served. Now the wines are some of the most respected and sought after in Provence, especially their Cotes de Provence Rosé, like this one, and Philippe Austruy, the currant owner, who has aggressively invested in this exceptional property, modernizing the cellars runs the Chateau with his nephew Alban Cacaret in charge of the day to day and overseeing the winemaking. I also really like the Blanc and Rouge (made from Cabernet and Syrah) a lot, though the Rosé is certainly the most charming and delicious of the wines and they go great with and without food, though they take on a more serious tone and fill out on the palate with food, I especially enjoy them with seafood like mussels in a Mediterranean inspired spicy broth.
($22 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2017 De Forville, Dolcetto d’Alba, Piedmonte, Italy.
This dark fruited and brightly juicy 2017 Dolcetto by De Forville is a little gem of a wine that delivers a wonderful performance worthy of your attention for a grape that sometimes isn’t take as seriously as it should be. De Forville, mostly known for their value price and delicious Nebbiolo wines, especially their Barbaresco offerings, but this Dolcetto shouldn’t be overlooked, much in the same way you don’t want to miss G.D. Vajra’s outrageously good versions either. The De Forville family, according to the importer Rosenthal Wine Merchant, emigrated to Piedmont from Belgium in 1848 and established themselves in the village of Barbaresco in 1860 with Gioachino De Forville at the helm and who was obsessed with Nebbiolo, knowing its regal character was well suited to the terroir where he set of the estate. The current generation running the De Forville family estate are the brothers Valter and Paolo Anfosso, who have taken the wines to the next level. The well made and lovely Dolcetto d’Alba is an attractive purple/crimson wine of which De Forville says is limited to just 500 cases which is sent to the US market, ensuring there is some out there, but you’ll have to chase it down.
Like their also tasty Barbera d’Alba, the De Forville Dolcetto d’Alba is harvested from three separate parcels spread between the communes of Barbaresco and Neive, pretty much all Cru sites. The vines used on this one are an average age of 30 years, and are sustainably farmed. The Dolcetto gets a tank fermentation of approximately 10 days in stainless steel, then after primary is completed wine is racked into large oak “botti” for where it is aged for about six months, making for a fresh and easy to drink style of Italian country wine. This vintage is deeper than most, ripe in color and richness on the medium bodied palate with vivid layers of blackberry, tangy currant, juicy plum and black cherry fruits along with a crunchy mineral note and a mix of brambly spices and herbal essences with a touch of floral violets and a subtle bite of tannin and acidity. For those that are fans of Piedmonte and can’t drink Barolo or Barbesco everyday will be thrilled by this Dolcetto which should drink nicely for 3 to 5 years easy and is a solid value, best with rustic old world style cuisine.
($20 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2017 Weingut Willi Schaefer, Riesling Kabinett, Graacher Himmelreich, Mosel Germany.
One of my favorites and wine world classic, the Willi Schaefer Graacher-Himmelreich Kabi is always a delectable treat, this off dry Riesling is so pure and subtly complex that you can’t help but fall head over heals in love with it on first taste. Schaefer only produces about 2, 900 cases total and with an insanely greedy worldwide fan base, these wines are rarely found on the store shelves, but when you do see either the Kabinetts, buy them as fast as you can. I love the sweeter wines here too, but the Graacher-Domprobst and this Graacher-Himmelreich Kabinett offering are absolute steals for the joy and quality in the glass. These are unquestionably terroir wines, heavily influenced by the Devonian slate soils and the steep slopes on which these vines cling to. I think Terry Theise, the Riesling guru that imports these wines into the states, says it best, These Schaefer wines are silly with deliciousness, and as crystalline as they are, as ethereally complex and limpidly clear as they are, he adds, they don’t fuss at you (about) how amazing they are. They are affectionate and they just sit in the glass and love you with their generous fruitiness and sublime drinkability.
This 2017 is a gorgeous and forward Riesling with a creamy lusciousness and a racy personality with an exotic array of fruit, spice and mineral tones. I personally would adds 3 to 4 more points to the rating here just on common sense and my affection for this wine, but since it is hard to find and desirable without me gushing too about, I restrained myself, though if I get a chance to try it again in say 5 years or more, I no doubt will give it the credit it truly deserves! Schaefer, as noted is a small family winery that has a long history in German wines dating back to 1121 and is solely focused on terroir driven Riesling, making wines that are luxurious and regardless of sugar levels are gloriously balanced, you almost never feel sweetness on its own, it is more textural in its presence, as with this one. The nose has a beautiful array of white flowers, Asian spices, crushed rock and citrus before leading to a polished palate of apricot, key lime, green apple, lychee and tangerine fruits along with a saline note, wet stone, flinty mineral and crystalized ginger. Again the off dry Graacher-Himmelreich Kabinett is more creamy and cloying, making easy to enjoy all on its own, though brilliant with spicy dishes including Thai, Chinese and Indian cuisines, plus cured meats and briny seafood.
($33 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2018 Laurent Herlin, Cabernet Franc “Tsoin-Tsoin” Vin de France, Loire Valley, France.
The bright and strawberry juicy Tsoin-Tsoin by natural wine new comer (to the USA) Laurent Herlin is a easy to drink and quaffable Glou Glou red made from 100% organic Cabernet Franc from the Loire Valley, of which I served chilled for its low alcohol and lighter fresh detail. This wine is insanely popular and I missed out on last years, so I begged importer, Floraison Selections, to let me a have a few bottles on its latest release and I’m glad I dd as it performed with a clean and zesty panache in the glass with a ruby/magenta hue and without any reductive funk, pyrasines or overt kambucha tea notes that can flaw up a natural wine. I had been highly impressed with Herlin’s other bottlings I tried last vintage and while I was excited about this Tsoin-Tsoin, it didn’t let me down and while not serious or complex it met expectations for fun. Vibrant sweet and sour cherry, the mentioned strawberry and tangy plum fruits lead the way here with a touch herbs, spice and mineral tones on the dry light/medium bodied palate that makes this simple Franc joyous with picnics and warm afternoon meals. The Tsoin-Tsoin does what is asked and plays well with Summer meals, I like it with beet salad and goat cheese, as well as with mussels in spicy broth, but it can just as happily be enjoyed on its own, while Herlin’s ‘Cintre’ Petillant Naturel (Pet-Nat) and his Bourgueil Rouge are much more serious expressions of varietal (Cabernet Franc), terroir and substance, they are very much worth searching out as well.
Laurent Herlin, according to Nadia Dmytriw, his importer, has been working without chemical inputs since 2009 and his wines are lively and expressive like the soils where his vines are planted, adding that, these wines are a true pleasure to drink, especially for those that are natural and organic wine fans that also want as low a sulphur footprint as possible, as many of his offerings come Sans Soulfre. This 2018 Tsoin-Tsoin was made with with full carbonic maceration with the Cab Franc coming from his biodynamically grown vines, which lie within the Loire’s Bourgueil zone. Following a 2-year training in Beaune in Burgundy, Herlin worked as a trainee in several vineyards, before setting out on his own, knowing he wanted a close connection to the land and wanted to work as naturally as can be. His rise has been quick and he now grows wine on about 6 hectares in the Bourgueil AOC, on limestone soils, even though do to his styles most are not labeled as such, he as mentioned works to, as he puts it, a biodynamic culture (following Demeter rules) and is certified by Ecocert. Herlin makes his wines with a nod to rustic old school traditions, using only native yeasts and, this one saw no oak, but has not been afraid to experiment, with this wine being a playful expression. Without a long family history here or in wine he doesn’t have an ancient cellar, Herlin makes his wine in storehouse on an old farm in the tiny village of Chouze sur Loire. The Tsoin-Tsoin Cab Franc from Lauent Herlin should be drunk family youthful, not that it would be that hard, over the course of the next 6 months to a year, there is no reason to wait.
($21 Est.) 86 Points, grapelive
2016 Domaine des Roches Neuves – Thierry Germain Vigneron, Saumur-Champigny “Cuvee Domaine” Loire Valley, France.
Thierry Germain, who relocated to the Loire from Bordeaux in the early 1990s, and soon fell under the spell of his spiritual father, the legendary Charly Foucault of Clos Rougeard. Thierry, like Nicholas Joly before him, would ultimately convert his entire domaine to biodynamic viticulture to pursue the quest of pure terroir transmission and becoming one with his vineyards or the land in a holistic way. I love these wines, especially the Cabernet Franc bottlings, like this Cuvee Domaine, they always show fresh, clean lines, energy and pretty aromatics with the older vine parcels and crus showing deeper concentration and power. Germain’s goal, as Lynch puts it, is to produce Cabernet (Franc) with purity, finesse, and drinkability, while avoiding rusticity, vegetal character, and hard tannins, which in my experience he does often and well. The Domaine des Roches Neuves, whose vineyards are planted in the Saumur (Blanc) for the Chenin and Saumur-Champigny (Rouge) for their Franc per the appellation and as importer Kermit Lynch notes, has rightfully become one of the stars of the region.
The Cuvee Domaine comes from a mix of parcels ranging from 5 to 70 years old set on classic sand, clay and Tuffeau Limestone, which drives the vibrancy and lifts the floral bouquet, with 100% de-stemmed grapes fermented in all stainless steel tanks with a minimum of lees contact and just under six months total of elevage in a combination of tank and large neutral wood casks. Like the Les Roches (blue label) the Cuvee Domaine is meant to be a quaffer, but still serious in character and surprisingly with enough structure to age for a decade or more, especially in a vintage like this 2016, with its concentration of fruit and natural acidity, since Thierry picks on the earlier side. The Cuvee Domaine’s Cabernet Franc, like all the Rouge at Domaine des Roches Neuves, is only native yeast fermented and the vines are in both Chaintres de Varrains and Saumur, in the heart of AOC, which are, as mentioned, all biodynamic, making for a very natural expression with a dark and earthy personality. Uplifting layers of black cherry, plum and mulberry fruits lead the way with a touch of crushed raspberry, minty herb, a classic pyrasine green bell pepper note, crushed chalk, a faint hint of cedar and loamy earthy wrapped in a ripe form and soft tannins, this is an impressive medium bodied Cab Franc to enjoy sooner versus later, be sure to look for this fine effort.
($30 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2012 Rovellotti, Ghemme DOCG “Chioso Dei Pomi” Northern Piedmonte, Italy.
The Rovellotti family traces its roots in Ghemme, in the Alta Piedmonte which is fast becoming the hot spot for Nebbiolo, to the latter stages of the 15th century and their wines are made from organic vines, farmed using biodynamic principles in the Baraggiola and Costa del Salmino, in the southern zone of the region that has been recognized as a superior site since the 1600s. The majority of the Rovellotti vineyards are planted to Nebbiolo (sometimes referred to as Spanna in these parts), which is always the main grape within the DOCG and these grapes are supplemented by plantings of Vespolina (also used as a complementary grape in the Ghemme), Bonarda (also known as Uva Rara) and the white grape, Erbaluce (frequently referred to in the Alto Piemonte as Greco Bianco). This wine by Rovellotti, which is from the elegant 2012 vintage was sourced from the “Chioso dei Pomi” vineyard in the heart of Barragiola. This plot, as noted by importer Rosenthal Wine Merchant, is approximately three hectares in size and the vines have a south-southwest exposure, which allows great ripening and retains fresh acidity, making for remarkably pure wines that has amazing grace, but with age worthy structures. I’ve been following Rovelletti since the 2008 vintage was released here in the states, as that vintage was outrageously exciting and it left a huge impression on me, and the 2010 even more so, and even though the 2012 is not quite that level it is a fine effort worth searching out.
The final blend of grapes for the Rovellotti Ghemme “Chioso dei Pomi” was as per normal about 85% Nebbiolo and 15% Vespolina that was picked and fermented in separate lots all in stainless steel vats and then the wine is aged in large Slavonian oak casks for the first twelve months after harvest and then is racked into smaller five hectoliter barrels for an additional eighteen months. Then these various parts of the wine are assembled and blended together in the spring of the third year after the original pick, and the wine is then held in the cellar for more than nine moths before its release. The 2012 starts with subtle earthiness and a delicate floral perfume that leads to a medium bodied palate of brandied cherry, plum and strawberry fruits along with blood orange, wild herbs, dried lavender, rose oil, minty anise and faint game and tar. Surprisingly supple and with velvety tannins this Ghemme comes across more textural than the more powerful 2008 and 2010 versions, but the inner beauty and length make up for the slight lack of punch and the smooth mouth feel is wonderfully Burgundy like, though there is no mistaking the Nebbiolo character and soul. This ruby/brick hued Rovelletti Ghemme “Chioso dei Pomi” really impresses for class and goes great with food, as you’d expect with a Northern Italian wine, drink over the next 3 to 5 years, it’s more complete and interesting than many Barolo in the price range.
($50 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2014 Domaine Henri Gouges, Nuits-Saint-Georges, Red Burgundy, France.
The Gouges family has been growing grapes in Burgundy for more than four hundred years and the current domaine was established in 1920 by the famed Henri Gouges and by 1933 he was producing great wines exclusively under his label and bottling all of their wines instead of selling to large negociants, where the quality of fruit was lost. Henri past the winery on to his sons Marcel and Michel, and it was under their leadership that this famous Nuits-Saint-Georges estate became world class and a worldwide success, making powerful terroir expressive wines with gripping whole cluster intensity that required long cellar times to reveal their brilliance. I have adored these wines since the nineties and have always found them amazingly complex with an inner if not almost hidden beauty, especially their Premier Crus, including the Monopole Clos des Porrets and the classic Les Saint Georges, Vaucrains and Perrières. Now the domaine is run by Gregory and Antoine, who have grown into the challenge with exceptional ease and their latest wines are stunning, like this basic Village NSG shows, they have found an extra dimension and a wonderful degree of elegance that was sometimes missing from their father’s Pinot Noirs, when youthful. In my limited experience, when in doubt, you can always rely on Domaine Henri Gouges for quality and value when in need of a fine Burgundy.
The Nuits-Saint-Georges Rouge comes from 7 small plots, mostly from the southern hillsides set on brown calcareous dirt over the classic limestone and clay soils, with this radiantly red fruited wine coming from the delightfully impressive 2014 vintage, which while known mostly for exceptional whites, it did produce some exciting reds like this one from Gouges. This bottle was brought to a blind tasting, and it was straight from the Domaine by local winemaker Sam Smith of Monterey’s Morgan Winery, who was visiting France a few moths ago and was lucky enough to taste at a few estates in Burgundy, for which I am thankful, as it performed beautifully with exceptional purity of fruit and classic details. Being the basic Village cuvee, it is more open knit in style than the Premier Crus and it shows a joyous array of forward red fruits, delicate floral notes, spice and mineral tones in a textured lighter frame, highlighting the vintage’s personality. With air in the glass this ruby/garnet Pinot Noir gains dimension and complexity adding a bit more intensity on the medium bodied palate with a touch of earth, chalky stones and the flavors become more defined showing black cherry, raspberry, plum and wilted rose petals plus a hint of wood. Everything is poised and elegant with a nice underlying vibrancy, in fact I first guessed it was a Volnay Premier Cru, such was the quality, drink over the next 3 to 5 years, it’s an excellent example from Gouges.
($60 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2017 Domaine Camille et Schaller, Chablis, Vieilles Vignes, White Burgundy, France.
Absolutely new to me, the Domaine Camille & Laurent Schaller, is a family estate based in Préhy, a village in the heart of the Chablis region. The estate is run by Laurent and his son Camille who cultivate vineyards with the three main grape varieties here with of course Chardonnay being the main focus, but they also grown some Aligoté and Pinot Noir too. Their Chablis collection includes main bottling of Petit Chablis, Chablis, Chablis Premier Cru, and this “Old Vine” Vieilles Vignes, which I think is an outstanding wine, it really thrills the palate and is an exceptional value with steely intensity and a depth of flavors that rivals Premier Crus and much more expensive Chablis, it’s very impressive. Classic in style with riveting crushed stone and a touch of smoky leesy character this Schaller Vieilles vignes adds layers of steely lemon, green apple and peach fruits along with a touch of honeycomb, creme brûlée richness on the lively palate making for a Chardonnay of poise and fine tension.
This pale golden Chablis is delicious and is a wine of remarkable substance and length, quite surprising for a wine in this price class, it has depth and vigor to make it a wine to savor over a meal, going especially well with soft cheeses and an array of foods
Made from vines at least 40 years old and set on the classic limestone and clay soils that provide Chablis with its unique flinty/chalky profile, Schaller’s Old Vine was fermented mostly, about 70% in stainless and about 30% in barrel to preserve purity and fresh details, while enough barrel fermented to provide complexity and richness on the medium bodied palate, in fact it is incredibly well judged and has loads of personality, charm and vivacious form, making for a stunning example of the region and the grape, this is lovely stuff that stays vivid and vibrant throughout. Well made, textured and with Premier Cru depth this Schaller Vieilles Vignes is a real crowd pleasing white, and while not as laser like intense as say Raveneau or quite as classic like William Fevre, but this is well worth your attention and this 2017 drinks very well, comparing well with anything in its price range, I highly recommend discovering this estate.
($30 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2016 Domaine Rimbert, Saint-Chinian, “Le Mas au Schiste” Languedoc, France.
The Saint-Chinian AOC or appellation is the oldest winemaking region in the Languedoc, and vines were first planted here in the 17th Century, it is only about 20 miles or so inland from the beautiful blue Mediterranean Sea in the foothills of the huge mountain range known as the Massif Central. Saint-Chinian, and especially Jean-Marie Rimbert’s Domaine Rimbert, is one of the undervalued treasures to be found in the Languedoc, capable of crafting complex, expressive and deeply flavored wines, from old vines in the schist-rich soils on beautiful hillsides. In many ways the wines from here remind me a bit of Gigondas, they are warmly ripe, but with a distinctive freshness, though the main grape here is Carignan, instead of Grenache, though usually similar in final blends with Syrah involved as well. Rimbert’s Le Mans au Schiste is a dark and meaty wine with an opulent fruit core and an array savory and spicy elements along with a flinty stony quality that is heightened from the terroir. The 2016 Schiste is evolving nicely and is richly packed with boysenberry, damson plum and blueberry leading the way along with grilled wild herbs, garrigue/lavender, dried violets, bacon and hint of creme de cassis, this certainly is a elevated vintage for the region and in particular Domaine Rimbert!
The iconic and maverick vigneron Jean-Marie Rimbert, of Domaine Rimbert, who is a self proclaimed defender of the Languedoc’s native Carignan grape, is a benchmark grower for the region. The self proclaimed “Carignaniste” and “Carignator” proudly showcases the grape in his cuvées, and they show just how pleasurable and vibrant this often misaligned grape can be. This is especially true, as this wine shows when planted on the right soils and farmed and vinified responsibly. Rimbert likes to say that “Carignan is my Pinot” and it’s an apt comparison. With his low yields (30hl/ha max, often less), intimate knowledge of his individual parcels, and delicate extractions (punchdowns), he brings out undeniable delicacy, nuance, elegance and age worthiness in the grape. Domaine Rimbert, as he importer, Floraison Selections puts it, the AOC and VDF bottlings alike brim with energy, lift and a crunchy, savory herbal expression that belies the soil’s minerality and the aromatic garrigue studded slopes. This 2016 Les Mas au Schiste is an authentic and soulful wine, with a little funk to start, which blows off quickly, and it gives a performance well beyond it’s price class, it is especially good even paired with robust/rustic country style cuisine and allowed the full opportunity to seduce over a lengthy relaxed meal, keep an eye out for it.
($25 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2018 Weingut Spreitzer, Riesling Trocken, Hallgartener Buntschiefer, Rheingau Germany.
One of my secret favorites of this vintage in Germany is Weingut Spreitzer’s awesome and hellishly good Hallgartener “Buntschiefer” dry Riesling, in fact I think it is on par with the top GG’s in this year, its full of power and concentration, but with the winery’s signature open nature and remarkable finesse. The Spreitzer estate, also known as Josef Spreitzer, founded in 1641, is one of the Rheingau’s oldest private wine growers and when Bernd and Andreas were the Gault Millau’s Discovery of the Year Award recipients in 2001 they got a chance to show the world what can do, and with every vintage since have raised their game. In a recent tasting of their lineup in San Francisco, hosted by Riesling guru Terry These, Spreitzer’s famed importer, I found the wines, especially their upcoming 2018 releases to have even got better. The estate lies in the middle Rhein, where the river is at it’s widest point, this creates a unique climate and gives the area an almost lake effect and the terroir here is dramatically different from area parts of the Rheingau with a vast array of soils and elevations to work with. Around the winery itself, near Oestrich, set in the vines, it is mostly loam and loess with their Lenchen and Rosengarten crus showing deep perfumes and exotic fruits. Also in Oestrich, at the Hallgarten is their plot up high on the slopes, where the Buntschiefer comes from, it sits at close to 300 meters up on a combination of colored slate, quartzite and loess, which gives the Riesling mineral tones, flinty spice, yellow fruits and textural density, and of which Theise adds, it’s like sort of Graacher Himmelreich echo, mutsu apples, scree and slate, and the wine is yummy, gentle and suave. (who could argue?)
In the cellar, as noted by Theise, Spreitzer strives to maintain fruit purity and finesse by clarifing the must by gravity for 24 hours after a whole-cluster pressing, then allowing the wines to rest on their gross lees and only with a light filtering once. The Spreitzers employ a long sponti (natural yeast) fermentation, and extended lees ageing to protect the juice from oxidation, with most of the serious Cru wines like this one, aging in 1200 liter casks of German oak, known as stückfass. The grapes are grown using organic principles where achievable and all with sustainable viticulture as natural as possible and includes alternating cover crops of herbs, greens, and lentils in the summer with grains in the winter. This Buntschiefer Riesling Trocken comes from mature Erste Gewachs (Premier Cru) vines and this 2018 is wonderfully balanced with the slate really giving it an extra level of complexity and stony intensity with layers of weightless fruit, but with structured extract, showing green apple, apricot, yellow peach, snappy crystalized ginger, kumquat, brisk lime and a touch of papaya along with rosewater, verbena, citron and loads of spice, wet shale/rock and salinity. This is gorgeous wine that is just beginning its journey to greatness and I look forward to seeing what happens here with some cellar time, but for the quality and reasonable price you’d be forgiven if you wanted to enjoy a few bottles on the fresher side, especially on a warm day and or with lightly spiced Asian cuisine and or preferably with fresh high end sashimi. This one is a rather special bottling to look for, but don’t overlook the basic Estate Trocken either, it is one of the best values in the Rheingau as well as the stunning old vine Feinherb(s) which I will review soon as well!
($25 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2018 Chesebro, Vermentino, Cedar Lane Vineyard, Arroyo Seco, Monterey County.
Brilliantly vivid and electric in the glass the Chesebro Vermentino is an awesome crisp Summer white wine with clean and vibrant citrus and white peach fruit along with fresh mouth watering acidity and mineral tones. Mark Chesebro, the ex Bernardus winemaker, who started his own label back in about 2005 around his estate Cedar Lane Vineyard was one of the first to champion this varietal in California. He is now joined by a diverse group of influential winemakers that love this grape from the iconoclastic Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon, who absolute believes this Mediterranean grape is the future of California white wines, to Megan and Ryan Glaab of Rome Cellars and the Rhone vine specialist Tablas Creek, who’s excellent clones and dedication have moved the needle on Vermentino without question. In the old world, Vermentino, one of the famous Chateauneuf du Pape grapes, also known in France as Rolle, makes for some amazing wines, especially along the coast of Provence, Liguria and Tuscany, as well as on Sardinia in Italy, and in particular on the Island of Corsica where the natives call it Vermentinu. Be sure to check out the great ones (from Corsica) imported by Kermit Lynch, like Yves Leccia, Clos Canarelli and Comte Abbatucci. This high acid grape can make a wildly entertaining range of styles from zingy offerings, like this version from Mark Chesebro to exotically ripe and lush bottlings, to some unique skin contact examples, like one of the two from Ryme Cellars. Mark Chesebro and his sons run this small family winery, based in Carmel Valley, they very much believe that wine is made in the vineyard and spend most of their efforts exclusively working the vines and try to make authentic wines without any flash or showmanship in the cellar.
The zesty dry 2018 Chesebro Cedar Lane Vermentino is formed from a great vintage in the region and its Arroyo Seco terroir which is set on ancient marine sediments, sand and river stones with warm days and cool nights giving the vines refreshing kick. For 2018 Chesebro let the vintage shine through with vivid flavors, no oak and dynamic energy of form in this 100% Vermentino that was fermented and aged in stainless steel with minimum lees and no malos. This is a white of remarkable purity and brisk detail with a lighter frame and weightless body that shows brisk layers of lemon/lime, white peach, quince, orange marmalade and subtle tropical fruits along with a crystalline minerallity, salty essences, wet stones, light herbs and delicate floral tones. This low alcohol and crunchy Vermentino is dynamite with oysters, mussels in white wine broth, sushi, sardines and linguine and clams or just for warm evening aperitif sipping and or picnics. Nothing extraordinary or trick winemaking needed here, this is just devious and brightly focused wine by a no nonsense winemaker looking to make a quality product at a fair price that reflects his ethics and the vineyard’s sense of place. Chesebro does quite a series of straight forward offerings with a Rhone focus including Syrah, Grenache, Roussanne, but also with Albarino, Pinot Noir, Musque clone Sauvignon Blanc and Chardonnay, all coming from mostly estate grown fruit from his and partners Mission Ranch Vineyard, the home vines at the CM Ranch in Carmel Valley and Cedar Lane, where this wine came from. This latest Vermentino, which I tasted at their tasting room in the Carmel Valley Village, 12 miles from downtown Carmel by the Sea is my favorite of the whites, but I also love their estate grown organic Cider made in the dry Spanish style from tangy apples, drink them over the next couple of years.
($21 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2016 Andrew Murray Vineyards, Syrah “Roasted Slope” Santa Barbara County.
The awesome 2016 Roasted Slope, named in honor and respect for Cote-Rotie, is made from selection of co-fermented Syrah and Viognier, coming from all from three vineyard blocks along Alisos Canyon Road being as well, as I understand is, a barrel selection taken from Watch Hill and Alisos. This deep and spectacular stuff is showing fantastic right now and it, the Roasted Slope, hails a great return to Murray’s lineup, since he hasn’t made it since 2005. Andrew, when he started, was a fresh faced kid that returned to California from internships in both France and Australia with a dream to do an epic Viognier, in fact that was his whole focus in the early days, but in a freak accident he was suddenly the owner of a vineyard in the Santa Ynez Valley that was mistakenly planted to Syrah instead of Viognier! After a few years of waiting for his young vines to mature enough to crop, he was taken by surprise when his grapes started to go through veraison, at first he though maybe it was just a few plants, but fate had other ideas and most of the parcel ended up Syrah, so he made the wine that the vineyard gave him and the rest is history as this wine, which he called Roasted Slope went on to be a cult legend and one of the most prized Syrah based wines in America, right up there with John Alban, Ojai, SQN and Qupe at the time. 25 plus years later this wine again is up there with the new world’s best and it thrills on the palate with impressive and ultra dark fruits, beautiful spicy notes, hints of smoke and embers and a glorious floral perfume and lingering kirsch finish. This is a wine that is packed with flavor and sublime density, but still light on it’s feet and stylish with boysenberry, black plum, creme de cassis, peppercorns, minty anise, violets, sweet cedar and toasted vanilla all showing in an ever changing series of joys with enough savory tones to keep things interesting from start to finish.
In recent years, I have rediscovered my love for Murray’s wines, from his Cinsault Rose, his Tous Les Jours or basic Syrah, the Cotes du Rhone style Esperance, to his exceptional single vineyard, Stolpman Vineyard Syrah and Watch Hill Vineyard Syrah, that has become his signature achievement, but I am so happy the Roasted Slope is back, as it was always a favorite of mine, and it joins a growing list of must have Syrah(s) each year, including Sashi Moorman’s Piedrasassi, Pax, Drew and Halcon’s Alturas. Andrew Murray, who has a bachelor’s degree in viticulture and enology from UC Davis, has evolved as a winemaker and has refined his techniques over the more than two decades he’s been making wine in the Santa Ynez Valley and these last few vintages have really hit the sweet spot, these are nuanced and textured wines with lovely freshness and vitality even though they are warmly ripe and full of California hedonistic density, he is also committed to the principles of sustainable, organic, and biodynamic vineyard farming which is evident in his wines. Murray’s winery is a blend of the old and new, a blend of the classic and the modern, with as he puts it, beautiful French oak barrels and glimmering stainless steel tanks, he uses mostly traditional Burgundian shaped bottles and reliable screwtop closures for his wines, like Randal Grahm at Bonny Doon. As to the wine that first got him excited, his Viognier, well he makes a pretty tasty version still, and while sometimes overlooked these days, his whites are lovely, especially his Grenache Blanc and Rousanne led Esperance Blanc, and of which are great values too. This 2016 Roasted Slope is now sold out at the winery sadly, but still around a few retail shelves, be sure to keep an eye out for it, it’s worth the chase!
($45 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2016 Le Domaine d’Henri – Michel Laroche & Ses Enfants, Chablis Premier Cru, Fourchaume, White Burgundy, France.
A new project by famed Chablis master Michel Laroche with his kids the Le Domaine d’Henri is really worth checking out, especially for the quality to price ratio to be found on their Premier Cru offerings, like this stylish Fourchaume 2016 bottling. The Le Domaine d’Henri estate is a historic property in Chablis with the ancestors of the Laroche family having owned vines in the region as long ago as 1695, and today, with Michel Laroche as patriarch, a winemaker with great experience who Decanter Magazine has compared to Michel Chapoutier, saying to the effect that what Chapoutier is to the Rhone, Laroche is to Chablis, and also suggesting that Laroche has a presence in the area as Olivier Humbrecht has in Alsace. The wines at this Domaine are produced by the family team including Margaux, Romain, Cecile and of course Michel himself, with Cecile, the eldest daughter, taking on the major responsibility of running the vineyards and the estate, she also oversees the cellar team here and directs the winemaking operation. This 2016 delivers classic cooly/steely crisp layers of lemon/lime, green apple, fleshy pear and spicy flinty wet rock, a touch of hazelnut and white flowers. This is racy Chardonnay, but gains more and more texture in the glass, making it great with food, especially sea food, though also great with Burgundian soft cheeses.
The Le Domaine d’Henri wines are handcrafted using, as they put it, minimum intervention, with their Premier Cru grapes being harvested by hand only and are then carefully sorted on a vibrating table in order to ensure that only the best quality fruit goes into the gentle pneumatic press, with the wine being fermented using “pied de cuve”, a process where a small selection of grapes are harvested early and fermented in the vineyard before the main pick, to ensure there is a strong starter natural yeast. The d’Henri wines are never done with added sugar in the must, and the wines get between 10 to 35% of barrel aging, with almost no new oak being used in any given year, blending the oak-aged wines with those that have been aged in stainless steel tanks to achieve a balance, which this wine shows. The domaine believes that minerality is the signature of Chablis and the winemaking here is managed accordingly to showcase that, but there is also no doubt that with Premier Cru concentration these wines show richness and palate impact. Michel notes, that when Henri, his dad, opened a bottle of his cherished Fourchaume, like this one, he often used to say, that’s the purest expression of Chardonnay. And who would argue that, certainly not me, these are are still under the radar wines that are really worth searching out, especially this beautiful stony Fourchaume.
($35 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2018 Sheldon Wines, Carignan, Trimble Vineyard, Mendocino County.
The husband and wife team, Tobe and Dylan Sheldon, at Sheldon Wines have been crafting small lots wines under this label since 2003 and were ahead of their time searching for delicacy and lower natural alcohols and were Grenachistas from the start. Over the following years they built an eclectic lineup of wines that now includes some wild and beautiful things, like their sparkling and carbonic Tempranillo(s), Sangiovese, Graciano, Cabernet Sauvignon, Syrah, Grenache Blanc and Vinolocity Blends, usually Grenache focused along with this new Carignan a wine that Tobe has been thinking about for years and finally got done. The 2018 brought the Sheldon’s their best opportunity for old vine Carignan when they discovered the Trimble Vineyard and they just knew they had found something remarkable and it has fulfilled Tobe’s dream to do this grape and do it right, this near perfect vintage gave them excellent material to express the varietal’s best nature with an intense purple/magenta and deep crimson hue and crunchy black and dusty blue fruits. Tobe and Dylan playfully describe this as a dark brooding wine with rustic charms and spicy mischief, all of which is wonderful true, as they employed a semi carbonic approach with this vibrant Carignan, going whole cluster and native yeasts with a cool temperature fermentation to capture the exotic aromatics and keep its lifted vitality, bottling early to hold on to the fresh detail and mineral notes, and as always the aging was in neutral, well used French Barrels. This lovely medium bodied wine is quite zesty and vigorous at first, but quickly softens and lingers on the finish with a touch of lilac and turns almost creamy with air and food, but never loses its natural acidity and translucent quality.
This Sheldon Carignan, comes of vines that were planted in the mid seventies on gravelly loams, which promotes the ripe fruit and supple tannins and are classically dry farmed and all organic, which thankfully is pretty common place for Mendocino. Everything comes together well here and the Sheldon’s allowed the vineyard to shine with the wine certainly showing the concentration and inner energy from the Trimble Vineyard site with layers of blackberry, currant, plum, really tangy huckleberry/cranberry and black cherry fruits along with snappy/minty herb, crushed stones, cinnamon, lavender/sage, pepper and anise. This is really cool stuff, that shows no oak, that reminds me of the wines of Corbieres, like Maxime Magnon and Jean-Marie Rimbert’s in Saint-Chinian, both of which are Carignan based Languedoc wines, as well as offering the purity and California ripe tannins that you find in Pax, Martha Stoumen and Broc’s versions. Carignan, one of Chateauneuf du Pape grapes, found in the Rhone as well as the mentioned Languedoc, is also common on Sardinia and it parts of Spain, as well as Chile, and has been in California probably has long as Zinfandel if not longer and was primary used in historic field blends. The limited release 2018 Sheldon Trimble Carignan, only 36 cases made, is an exciting and expressive effort with a lot of personality and is an easy fruit driven red, ready to quaff bottle with subtle complexity and a touch of savory edginess that is hard to resist, especially good with a slight chill, enjoy as a companion to BBQ and or robust cuisine, drink now and for the next 3 to 5 years.
($36 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2018 Samuel Louis Smith, Chardonnay, Spear Vineyard, Sta. Rita Hills.
The absolutely gorgeous Spear Vineyard Chardonnay from Sam Smith, an upcoming release under his Samuel Louis Smith label, is one of the best Chardonnay wines in California, up there with the very best and it’s a steal for the price, this is a vintage for the ages in the Central Coast and this wine certainly looks like a legend in the making! This is an epic wine from a vineyard that is fast becoming a California Grand Cru, Spear is an amazing site on the north end of the Sta. Rita Hills getting plenty of effects from cool sea breezes and Pacific Ocean influenced climate that allows perfect ripening and retention of natural acidity that leads to complexity and concentration, as this fantastic wine clearly shows. The Spear Vineyard is a family owned, sustainable and certified organic vineyard, farmed by Ofer Shepher, who as he notes, is solely focused on the Santa Rita Hills appellation and is an inspirational figure in the region and admired for his passion and commitment in making wine and growing grapes that taste of the place where made and grown. Spear is set on clay based soils and is planted to a blend of clones including clone 4, clone 96 and the heritage old Wente clone, which Sam put just 4 and 96 in his 2018 version, which shows in the fruit vitality, mineral tones and thrilling energy. Sam Smith has been getting a lot of media attention for his wines, both from his own label and for his sublime work as head winemaker for Dan Lee at Monterey’s Morgan Winery, where he has really raised the game and the latest Double L Estate stuff is outstanding, especially he is showing an exceptional gift with Chardonnay, though his Pinots are all stellar efforts too.
When asked about his approach, Sam Smith says he really wanted to show this vineyard lots of love and allow the terroir to be its main character, and his without question, nailed it! He went with a whole cluster pressing and native yeast barrel fermentation with 50% allowed to finish malo-lactic with 20% new French oak. Smith, who wanted to preserve the fresh detail, but still wanted palate impact aged this beauty for 9 months before bottling. Still dynamic and youthful, this wildly expressive Chardonnay shows a unique personality, and like the prior vintage has an incredible almost Hermitage meets Condrieu element at its heart with honeysuckle/white flowers, powerful, almost oily mouthfeel with hints of wild apricot fleshiness to along with classic Chardonnay apple and pear fruits. Those that love the exotic orange chiffon and marmalade of Kongsgaard Chards with love this latest Samuel Louis Smith Spear Vineyard Chardonnay which adds wet stone, subtle tropical essences, bright meyer lemon, a touch of clarified cream, clove spice, quince and delicate leesy notes and well judged toasty oak. When given some time in the glass this golden/green tinted pale Chardonnay really thrills the palate with a sexy textural feel and it lingers on and on, it is also blessed with a zippy acidity and an underlying saline briskness, it will fill out over time and it will be stunning with lobster, sweet crab and grilled salmon or swordfish dishes. This is another new and emerging talent to to follow and I highly recommend getting on his email list and not miss this stunning wine.
($38 Est.) 96 Points, grapelive
2016 Desire Lines Wine Co. Syrah, Shake Ridge Ranch, Amador County.
The most powerful and exotic wine in the exceptional lineup of Desire Lines Wine Co. is Cody Rasmussen’s exotic and dense Shake Ridge Ranch Syrah with its gloriously full bodied palate and incredible length on the finish, this is outstanding stuff, maybe the best Amador wine I’ve ever had! This big and serious Syrah took a while to grow on me and for me to fully understand and appreciate as it comes at you with a riot of deep fruit and an array of sweet and tangy spices. I’ll be honest, I loved Rasmussen’s Griffin’s Lair much better at first, and still absolutely adore it, but after reflection this wine maybe left a bigger impression on me, while Griffin’s Lair had the comforting and compelling Northern Rhone character, this Shake Ridge Ranch was more like Penfolds Grange or Chapoutier’s Cote-Rotie, with the flamboyant richness and staggering, but velvety grip, not far off the hedonistic style of Andy Erickson’s Favia “Quarzo” (also from this region) or a Guigal La La! This inky dark Syrah is a big mouth full of wine with packed layers of thick fruit that somehow retains a tight focus and thrills completely with boysenberry, black plum, blueberry coulis and creme de cassis leading the way with hints of smoke, flinty graphite, sweet flowers, roast herbs de provence, mineral and vanilla laced wood notes. This 2016 Shake Ridge Syrah is opulent though has mouth coating tannins that leads me to believe it will be age worthy wine that should take on some even more interesting characteristics, even though I doubt many will be that patient. Desire Lines is one of the best new labels out there this year and as mentioned in prior reviews, this is a another must join list, especially for this and their Griffin’s Lair Syrah(s), but also the Carignan based red and the Cole Ranch Dry Riesling are super tasty wines as well.
Rasmussen, who is the assistant winemaker at Bedrock Wine Company under Morgan Twain-Peterson, started the Desire Line Wine Co. label with his wife Emily with the 2015 vintage, which was made with grapes coming from the mentioned Griffin’s Lair Vineyard in the Petaluma Gap and from a one row block that magically came available. Originally the couple, who were childhood sweethearts, came west to pursue wine from the midwest with Cody doing harvests at Balletto and Patz and Hall before getting his dream job at Twain-Peterson’s Bedrock Wine Co., and its access to some of the most historic fruit in the state. Cody notes that his 2016 Shake Ridge Syrah was fermented with 50% whole cluster and aged for 14 months in neutral French 500L cask, and he adds that he gets the fruit for this wine from two different blocks on the the ranch, which were the first vines planted at Shake Ridge back in 2003, with both blocks running from the crown of a ridge down into a much cooler swale, giving him a range of flavors and providing a natural balance in the wine. The Shake Ridge Ranch, as the winery notes, lies just uphill of the Melones Fault, almost directly in the center of the richest portion of the California Mother Lode, known as Gold Country in the Sierra Foothills with a vast array of rich intense soils. With mostly granite and schist along with Mariposa slate, greenstone, and marble, plus Rasmussen notes that there is also, in the vineyard rows at Shake Ridge, chunks of quartz. This geology makes for a special sauce that along with the warm days and cool nights delivers a unique terroir expression in the regions wines, which is absolutely present in this outstanding Syrah, think Saint-Joseph meets Barossa! Look for Desire Lines Wine Co., and these amazing wines, drink this one over the next 5 to 10 years.
($40 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2018 Kelley Fox Wines, Pinot Blanc, Freedom Hill Vineyard, Coastal Range, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
One of the most exciting and brilliant white wines in Oregon, the 2018 Kelley Fox Pinot Blanc is again a class act, following up on the awesome 2017 version with gorgeous detailing and texture that rivals top Chablis or many white Burgundies! The Freedom Hill Vineyard, planted in 1982 is set on marine sedimentary soils in the Coastal Range area of the Willamette Valley with a glorious southeast exposure that soaks up the sun and produces wines of ripe and complex flavors, and while known for Pinot Noir mainly, the Pinot Blanc is is amazing as this beautiful wine shows. Fox’s Freedom Hill Pinot Blanc comes from a small, under 2 acre parcel of vines and she has shown a majestic touch with this site and grape. The neutral Burgundy barrel-fermented Freedom Hill Pinot Blanc is bright and full of energy with a medium full body showing a touch of phenolics and mineral crunchiness, finishing with lingering toast and brisk mouth watering acidity.
Kelley is understandably proud as can be with her Pinot Blanc, she notes that, this is true, 100% Pinot Blanc, as there is no Auxerrois (which is often found in Oregon versions) in this bottling, and she made it much the same way as she does her Chardonnay(s), this wine was whole cluster-pressed after picking, It was then settled/cleared in tank for a couple of days before racking to neutral Burgundy oak barrels to go through primary and then malo. It was raised for 6 to 7 months before bottling in the mentioned used French oak, with this elevage adding to the complexity and mouth feel, giving a slight leesy richness, while retaining its purity of form, energy and mineral tones. The 2018 vintage is crisp and stony with layers of lemony citrus fruits along with a hint of golden apple and apricot along with wet rock, a touch of mountain herbs, peach tart with buttered crust, subtle white flowers and a bite of orange/grapefruit rind tanginess. This pale white gains presence and mouth feel in the glass as it warms and opens, very impressive stuff!
($28 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2017 Halcon Vineyards, Syrah “Alturas” Estate, Yorkville Highlands.
The main estate bottling from Paul Gordon’s high elevation vineyard above the Yorkville Highlands in Mendocino County is his Alturas Syrah, which is one of the greatest wine values in California, especially this outstanding 2017 with it’s incredible depth of flavors and Northern Rhone style and low alcohol. The Halcón Syrah, which gets a long hang time in this ultra cool climate, was picked October 4th and co-fermented with about 3% Viognier. This dark purple/black opaque Alturas Syrah came from various parcels of the Halcón vineyard, which sits at close to 2, 500ft on schist and shale soils, and from predominately the Chave (Hermitage Clone) selections. Gordon, along with winemaking consultant Scott Shapely, a Monterey native, my hometown and head winemaker at Roar, went with a native yeast and partial whole-cluster fermentation, using close 50% with stems, matching 2016, and they, as Gordon notes, utilized (just) 10% new oak, again in the form of a single 500L French oak puncheon. Paul also adds, this was as mature Syrah fruit he’s ever had at just 22-22.5brix, and finished at 12.7% natural alcohol, making for an exciting and fresh wine of deep fruit complexity and spice. The Halcon Vineyard is one of the most unique and thrilling sites in California, planted mostly to Syrah, but with small area with Grenache, Mourvedre, Viognier and Marsanne as well.
This 2017 Alturas is vivid and full of stemmy intensity (Which makes the aromatics pop, heightens tension and gives fleshy textures) with blackberry, boysenberry, blueberry compote, black plum and kirsch fruits along with white pepper, black olives, anise and smoky embers all packed into a grippy medium full palate that has some firm, but smooth edged tannin and fine acidity. While the 2015 and 2016 had a touch more concentration and immediate richness, this one looks set to be even better. Paul Gordon tracks the daytime temperatures from his Halcon Vineyard to see how it compares to Ampuis, the town closest to the famed Cote-Rotie in France’s Northern Rhone and has found it to be cooler on his Mendocino County mountain top site and with a similar chart of highs and lows, which adds to the recognizable old world character in the Alturas. In fact those that covet Domaine Jamet, Rostaing, Louis Barruol’s negotiant bottlings and Bernard Levet Cote-Rotie(s) would likely be very impressed by what Gordon’s wines display in the glass, I myself have put them to the test in blind tastings over the last few vintages with amazing results for these reasonably priced Halcon wines. In California, to find wines in this league, you would have to say you’d put Halcon in the same league as Pax, Drew, Sashi Moorman (Piedrasassi), Lagier Meredith, Arnot-Roberts and Peay to name a few of my favorites, for style, uniqueness and quality. As I’ve mentioned in my past reviews, this is a list you should be on.
($32) 96 Points, grapelive
2015 Domaine du Pegau, Chateauneuf du Pape Rouge, Cuvée Réservée, Rhone Valley, France.
Domaine du Pegau is one of the go to estates in Chateauneuf du Pape, run by Paul Feraud and his daughter winemaker Laurence, and these hand crafted traditional wines are some of the most authentic and sought after in the region. The Férauds have been growing vines in Châteauneuf-du-Pape since 1670, with titles to their earliest vineyards dating back to at least 1733, but older generation of the Férauds sold most of their production in bulk to top négociants, that have included the likes of Jaboulet-Aine, David & Foillard and even Guigal. That changed in 1964, when Paul decided to sell 5,000 bottles under his own label, which brought in a new era of estate bottlings, but it was until Laurence came on the scene that the true greatest of the estate became clear, when in 1987 they started the Domaine du Pegau. Pegau now has over 50 acres of prime vineyards with a lot being old vine parcels and Laurence is making some awesome stuff, including this incredible 2015 Cuvée Réservée, which was made from 60 year old plus vines set on limestone and clay soils with scattered stones and some sand. These Cuvée Réservée Rouge by Domaine du Pegau are intense wines with transparent layers of fascinating pure flavors that can only be from this terroir, they are dense, luxurious and almost chocolatey, but with studied finesse and with a noticeable lower natural alcohol than some other top wines.
The 2015 Châteauneuf-du-Pape Cuvée Réservée Rouge, was made up of about 80% Grenache, 6% Syrah, 4% Mourvèdre, and 10% of many other authorized varietals, but including Counoise, Cinsault, and Vaccarèse, and the Grenache stands out in this warm vintage with loads of creme de cassis, pomegranate, plum and red berry fruit along with hints of tar, earth, spice and roasted herbs leading the way on the full bodied palate. The tannins are firm, but sweet and ripe allowing this concentrated Châteauneuf-du-Pape to deliver its full array of flavors and complex depths, this is absolutely Chateauneuf at its best! The aftertaste is amazing in detail and length and even in this warm year it remains fresh with this deep red wine adding boysenberry, fig paste, camphor, a touch of peppercorns, cedar and black licorice along with a subtle floral essence, including a hint of lilac and lavender. Laurence fermented this vintage using classic techniques with whole cluster and indigenous yeasts in cement vats, she says maceration and primary lasted about two weeks before the juice was racked into a big casks, she uses well seasoned 5,000 liter oak foudres, and the elevage lasted for close to 18 months, then bottled unfined and unfiltered. This brilliant, dark purple/garnet, powerfully rich Châteauneuf-du-Pape is the stuff of legends, enjoy over the next decade and a half. This is stellar Rhone goodness, and I also loved their Clairette based Blanc too, along with the set of Cotes du Rhone(s), Pegau is rock star solid top to bottom.
($100 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2018 Cameron Winery, Pinot Gris “Ramato” Willamette Valley, Oregon.
One of the new world’s best “Orange” wines, the Friuli inspired Cameron Winery Ramato is a skin contact coppery, hence the name, Pinot Gris is a dry, slightly savory and textured wine that thrills the senses. John Paul, the famed Pinot Noir winemaker at Cameron Winery and Oregon legend is also a huge Italian wine fan, loving the wines of Piedmonte, but also being influenced by the wines of Radikon and Gravner, among others in the north-eastern Italy, near the border with Slovenia where these traditional wines are made. Orange wines are in fashion, but are a tiny niche, and while some dismiss them as a passing fade it should be noted they have been around hundreds if not thousands of years and are not going away anytime soon and we are blessed by their presence, especially when there as good and pleasing as this one is. Made by allowing the wine to spend time on the skins and then being fermented with malo-lactic conversion the amber hued Cameron Ramato, sourced from their estate Abbey Ridge Vineyard in the Dundee Hills AVA, has an intriguing tension between a delicacy of fruit and the soft grip of tannins that provide a structural mouth feel in a dry and brisk wine.
As eluded to, Ramato means copper colored in Italian, which Paul’s certainly shows in the glass and this 2018 version is absolutely brilliant, after many years of experience he nailed this vintage, which his calls one of his best yet and referring to it as a lovely copper-colored libation. He also makes a full on Rouge de Gris version, which is more of a red wine version with full pigment extraction, but this one is pretty and and almost luxurious on the palate, while offering a heightened degree of complexity. This one hits its marks with layers of wild peach, strawberry, red citrus fresh/fruit and rind along with orange tea notes, crushed flowers, dusty cinnamony spices, persimmon and a melon sensation. This wine gains weight as it opens, but never takes on a heavy or flabby personality, staying fresh and lively even as it leaves a serious impression, providing lots of entertaining quality. Sometimes these Orange style wines can be earthy/funky and downright unappealing, but not this almost opulent/creamy Cameron, it is clean and wonderfully lingering, if you are orange curious, this is one to look for! It goes without saying, you’ll want to grab Cameron’s awesome Pinot Noir(s) first and foremost, along with his old world Burgundy style Chardonnay, but be sure not to overlook their Italian inspired whites and especially their Nebbiolo.
($28 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2017 Diatom, Chardonnay, Machado Vineyard, Sta. Rita Hills.
Ultra transparent and intensely bright in flavors the 2017 Diatom Machado reveals floral aromatics, wet rock and loads of lemon/lime before gaining textural depth and a mix of apple, peach and pear fruits along with a steely note. This inox style Chardonnay by Greg Brewer is richer than you’d expect from a zero oak non malo example and while in has dynamic energy and zesty focus it delivers a wonderful all round performance, though certainly not a wine to serve the Rombauer lovers. With air you find a tangy quince element and just a touch of tropical essences along with balancing tart phenolic bite all in a dry and crisp wine. In a recent blind tasting of Chardonnays, this Diatom Machado did remarkably well even against some tidy White Burgs, including some notable Chablis and it really comes alive with cuisine too. These Diatom wines age well as I also discovered a few weeks ago when a winemaker friend who is also a fan of Brewer’s wines opened a lovely 2008 that was surprisingly fresh in form and impressive in detail, these are thought provoking wines, not for everyone, but serious stuff.
This Diatom is a single vineyard Chard from a 15 acre parcel on the Machado family land that is located adjacent to famous Sta. Rita Hills Clos Pepe Vineyard and immediately behind the Kessler-Haak vineyard. This site is marked by a gorgeous rolling terrain with sandy clay loam soils that allow a warm ripe feel to the fruit and exceptional concentration, while still having the marine influence and cooling effect that gives brilliant natural acidity. There are a few blocks used here that are planted to the unique Sweeney Canyon clone Chardonnay, which gives a touch of an almost Riesling like taste and lime note. Brewer’s zen like precision on his Diatom starts with great vineyard management and a fermentation that takes place at very low temperatures in small stainless steel tanks, with his special cultured yeast selections coupled with inhibited malo-lactic, meaning no flabbiness, and short hose transit ensure vitality and focus. I can’t wait to try the new 2018’s from Diatom, which could be absolutely legendary considering the greatest of the harvest on the Central Coast, but that said I really enjoyed this 2017 Machado, so don’t pass it up, especially with Toro (fish dishes) and or Sushi!
($42 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2017 Sandlands, Trousseau, Sonoma County.
The impossibly pale and delicate Sandlands Trousseau starts slow in the glass, feeling more like a soft Pinot Noir at first before air and time bring out a more intriguing and complex wine with spicy layers of red fruits, mineral tones and light wood notes. Sandlands is the personal project of Tegan and Olivia Passalacqua, apart from Tegan’s day job as Turley Cellars winemaker, with a line-up encompasses the forgotten classic California varieties. He uses vineyards that primarily grown in decomposed granite (sand), hence the name, from regions and vineyards that have been farmed for many generations but have remained, as he puts it, the outliers of California viticulture. Primarily these sites are head-trained, dry-farmed and own rooted, the vineyards Passalacqua works with, as he adds, harkens back to California’s roots of exploration, wonder, and especially in his case, hard work. The Sandlands Trousseau is planted at 1400 feet just 3 miles from the Pacific Ocean, on a section of the Bohan Vineyard that sits on gravelly loam soils that were derived from sandstone and shale. This cool area promotes long hang times and low alcohol, making this wine remarkably fresh, but with underlying concentration and complexity at just 12.4% natural alcohol. Tegan, a Napa Valley native, who, as mentioned in a few prior reviews, got his start in the wine industry working in winery labs in Napa, but he has also traveled the world to make wine, having worked in the cellars of Craggy Range in New Zealand with Doug Wisor, with Eben Sadie of Sadie Family Wines in the Swartland region of South Africa, who was just in the states and visited Tegan and his vines, and with Alain and Maxime Graillot in the Northern Rhone Valley of France, one of the world’s most iconic Syrah producers.
Trousseau, is still a mystery grape, found and revered mostly in the remote Jura region in France, but confusingly and maybe not correctly is said to be related to Graciano, though Tegan says it is not related. Graciano though, interestingly can be found in Spain’s varied regions from Sherry-Jerez to the Canary Islands, where it is known as Tintilla as well as being a Rioja grape where it is called Graciano, as well as being in Portugal too, and there it goes by Bastardo! In California Trousseau, which Tegan has told me, was originally called Chause Noir, and maybe Graciosa (that may have led to the confusion?) can now be found throughout the state from Sonoma Valley to Santa Barbara, as well as Lodi. Trousseau came to California a long time ago and was inter-planted in many heritage sites, but had a break through moment about a decade ago when Arnot-Roberts first produced a thrilling single varietal (Trousseau) version from unique volcanic soils in Lake County. The Sandlands 2017 is a fine effort with a smooth texture that flows across the palate with fresh squeezed raspberry, tangy plum and tart juicy cherry fruits along with rose petals, blood orange rind, wild herbs, a touch of smoky vanilla, pepper and cedar. There’s a lot to admire in this wine, especially if you like lighter bodied reds, but that said it takes time to develop in the glass and certainly it impresses most with matching cuisine, and should be enjoyed over the next 3 to 5 years. Sandlands makes some really lovely wines, in particular look for their Chenin Blanc, Carignane, Syrah and Mataro (Mourvedre) along with this one, their red field blend and their super rare Pais, made from the mission grape also known as Listan Prieto.
($28 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2016 Bodegas Basilio Izquierdo – Hidalgo, Viura, Tradicion H, White Rioja D.O. Spain.
The Bodega Basilio, which was previously called Bodegas Aguila Real and had reached a certain cult status for making one of the most expensive red wines in Rioja also in partnership with famous Sherry house Hilalgo makes a 100% Viura Rioja Blanco, a very unique white wine. Basilio Izquierdo was the head winemaker at CVNE for 32 years, so you know the man has talent, he makes a red, white and rosado, the quantities are tiny and rarely seen out of Spain and his own label founded in 2007 is based out of his micro winery in Laguardia (La Rioja), where this white was made. This rare bottling was done as a customer request and little is known about it, except that this Viura was aged in three Manzanilla casks brought from Hidalgo in Sanlúcar de Barrameda in the Sherry region and that Basilio managed to develop a veil of flor for three months, so it is crazy stuff and not like any white Rioja I’ve ever tried. Viura is fairly concentrated and can be as intense as Sancerre, with Sauvignon Blanc like characteristics, which married to a dusty dry, brisk, nutty and saline layer, adds a Sherry like dimension.
This Tradicion H, I can guess the H stands for Hidalgo, famous for their zippy La Gitana Manzanilla, this not a wine that is not easily explained and or appreciated to the mainstream wine drinker, but it is invigorating and lively and gives a brisk and complex performance in the glass with less oxidative character than you’d find in a traditional Sherry, making more easy to enjoy for the less adventurous and it’s great with Tapas and salty snacks, while also with enough depth to handle more robust cuisine. There is layers of lemon/lime, gooseberry, salted rock, almond oil, dried pineapple, kumquat and quince along with a hint of orange blossom, verbena balsam and ginger/peach tea. Also, once open and warming in the glass you get wet chalk, herb and grapefruit rind. This is zingy stuff, combining texture and savory elements and as mentioned totally unique, it’s kind of kinky, like Jura meets Muscadet with a Spanish twist, it’s an aperitif style white to enjoy with salty or briny starters and or cured ham and hard sleep cheeses. This lightly gold tinted white by Basilio Izquierdo is an intriguing exercise that might not be made again, though I admit, it is much better than I thought it would be and without question well crafted, drink it over the next 3 to 5 years.
($30 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2017 Joyce Wine Company, Syrah, Gabilan, Monterey County.
While making a name for himself in recent years for his outstanding Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays, Russell Joyce is one of Monterey’s young guns changing the perception and bringing national attention to the region, and his under the radar Syrah bottlings are absolutely brilliant wines, especially his new deeply colored and powerfully packed Gabilan release. This was was first experience with this version after having many of Joyce’s Tondre Grapefield Santa Lucia Highlands Syrahs in recent years, and I love them as you can see by following my reviews, but this Gabilan is something special indeed and its stunning performance, even in its youth is riveting and highlights this unique terroir, those that have had the glorious wines of Bradley Brown of Big Basin, who has sourced fruit from here for years, will recognize it clearly in this wine. The Gabilan Range above the Salinas Valley, across the Valley from the hIghlands, is closer in soils to Chalone and its elevation allows a refreshing of the vines with a dramatic day to night temperature change and cooling breezes from the Pacific Ocean, there is wonderful concentration and ripe tannin, but with tons of energy and balance too, which is from the Diatomaceous earth here. These vines set on crumbly/chalky fossilized rock, with a thin layer of dirt with limestone, sand and granite are well drained, but hold water deep down making the vines go deep and helping them make grapes of intense flavor, all which Joyce captured to near perfection on the 2017 Gabilan Syrah. Joyce’s Syrah(s) are wines to discover, they are not far off those of the mentioned Big Basin, Pax and Drew, along with those of Roar, Morgan and Pisoni some of my absolute favorite wines, plus they are priced right, they are great values.
Russell, and team at Joyce, have been fine tuning their wine and approach in recent years have produced an amazing set of offerings in 2017 and 2018, with this one really standing out, along with his sublime set of dry white wines made from Albarino, Chenin Blanc,Chardonnay and Riesling, and of course his stellar lineup of Pinots. Now using most neutral, well seasoned French barriques and indigenous yeasts, Joyce has found a sweet spot, which Russell freely admits was inspired by his experience with wines he admired from other winemakers, including the wines from Greg Brewer and Chad Melville, to name a few. With this slightly exotic Gabilan Syrah Joyce employed about 40% whole cluster, which really makes this wine pop on the palate with a spicy intensity and tension that gives this wine, made from Alban clone, originally source from Cote-Rotie, a Northern Rhone degree of character, while having pure California density. There’s exceptional definition, dimension of fruit and a firm structure holding things together here, it flows with blackberry coulis, boysenberry, tree picked black plum, blueberry preserves and punchy kirsch/cherry along with a crunchy mineral sense, cracked peppercorns, minty/basil (stems?), crushed violets, light cedary notes, anise and lingering creme de cassis. The tannins melt in the mouth with a warm silkiness and the subtle acidity allows a full bodied textural feel, this Gabilan is totally absorbing and should age well, its opaque purple/black and garnet hue thrills in the glass, making for complete experience, and one that can be enhanced with cuisine. Joyce is getting a lot of attention and it’s well deserved, the wines are very impressive and deliver and awesome quality to cost ratio, in particular the Syrah efforts like this one, don’t miss it!
($40 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2017 Cave Dog, Godello, Sonoma Valley.
The surprisingly exotic and lush Godello from Cave Dog fills the palate with peach stone fruit, kumquat, white currant and apple butter along with a creamy texture, impressive for a wine without malo, this is fun stuff that would enjoy a pairing with swordfish, fatty halibut as well as roast poultry dishes or decedent triple cream cheeses. Cave Dog is the latest from Michael Havens, creator of Havens Wine Cellars, which was the first winery in California to do Albarino, which he founded and ran from 1984 to 2008, is known as a champion of Merlot and Cabernet Franc in the Napa Valley. A desire to return to this tradition has led him back to a vineyard he knows well and a wine style, that is more Bordeaux in feel, he reveres as well as returning to Spanish whites, like this unique Godello. Much has changed in the Napa Valley and in Michael’s life, but Cave Dog continues his focus on graceful, elegant expressions of these varieties, and it is good to have him back on the scene after a few years in obscurity, where he pretty much checked out, though he did help Morgan Twain-Peterson at Bedrock with his Abrente white made from Albarino. In fact, Morgan Twain-Peterson and Michael Havens produced the first U.S. Godello in 2012, under the Abrente label. After teaching English at UC Davis in the 1980’s, and early in his winemaking career, Havens decided to take advantage of southern Napa’s cooler climate regions like Combsville and Carneros to showcase their restraint and balance, as he notes was a maverick move, in those days of bigger is better, that lead him to produce one of the valley’s earliest single-varietal Merlots and the first Carneros Syrah. A few years later, he would also pioneer, as mentioned, the first Albariño grown and bottled in the United States, sparking interest that has led to the cultivation of over 300 acres of the grape in California today. As the winery also notes, Michael has also served as a head winemaker and consultant to many different producers, from family wineries like Truchard Vineyards in Carneos, to industry titans such as Foster’s Wine Group. His experience has allowed him to work with nearly every grape varietal grown in California, giving him plenty of opportunities to experiment and too focus his attention on certain grapes that appeal to him, such as Godello, which is almost unknown outside its native Galicia in the cool northwest of Spain on the Atlantic coast, close to Portugal.
The Cave Dog label, the re-booting of Micheal Havens as a vintner, got kicked off with the 2014 vintage without much fanfare, but it looks like an intriguing set of wines, and having now registered both Albariño, first and now with Godello with TTB, Haven’s is as he puts it the premier Galician white wine guy in California. Haven adds, that In 2008, he worked the vintage with Ricardo Perez at Descendientes de J. Palacios, in Bierzo, northwestern Spain and through that experience he discovered some fascinating white wines, made from the Godello grape in nearby Valdeorras, Galicia, which inspired his future efforts. Haunted by Godello, he visited Rafael Palacios, Ricardo’s uncle, who makes what many think is the best white wine in Spain, As Sortes made from Godello, and got Rafael o supply him with pedigreed budwood from his famous Godello vineyards. The Godello grapes tends to make a little richer wine than the Albariño, but still with a lively mouthfeel that keeps it fresh. For Havens’ Cave Dog version its cool fermentation and aging on the lees in neutral white barrels has added complexity, texture and subtle aromatics, while blocking malo-lactic keeps the primary fruit front and center making wine that feels great and smooth on the palate, but retains vibrant acidity. Haven’s Godello, a grape that is often compared to white Burgundy and has considerable density is more Chablis like with mineral tones and loads of energy. While this ripe 2017 is as light or fresh as I am used to from versions from Spain, this is well worth checking out. I am a fan of Michael Havens and even visited his old winery on Hoffman Road in Napa, it’s where I fell in love with Albarino and I got to know his Cabernet Franc and Merlot blend, which I adored, it was one of my secret favorite wines as it was classy and beautiful, plus it was a lot less expressive than Cheval Blanc! I’m glad he is back making wine, though I am sad it took me this long to find his stuff, though this project is under the radar.
($25 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2016 Eduardo Torres Acosta Viticulore, Nerello Mascalese, Versante Nord, Terre Siciliane IGT Rosso, Mount Etna, Sicily, Italy.
I’ve really loved these Mount Etna sourced wines from Eduardo Torres Acosta since his first vintage was imported here a couple of years ago, and this Nerello based 2016 from two parcels, both north facing on the volcano is lovely, fresh and exotically spiced, showing this grape in its most flattering light, like Burgundy in class with sense of weightlessness, but with depth, complexity and lingering succulence. The parcels, Pietramarina and Verzella, are located between 550 and 700 meters on soft soils consisting of lava ash from various eruptions on Mount Etna, with Acosta’s vines being between 45-50 years old and they are a field blend mix of close to 80% Nerello Mascalese and 20% other native varieties, including the white Carricante. The Versante Nord red is made via spontaneous fermentation (indigenous yeast), with about 10% whole cluster and It was fermented in cement tanks with somewhere about two weeks on the skins, then the wine is aged 16 months in a neutral Slavonian oak botte (a larger cask). The finished product is a joy in the glass with brandied cherries, spiced raspberry and tree picked plums leading the fruits here in this ruby red and garnet colored wine, adding mineral notes, herbs, flinty red pepper and macerated rose petals along with a earthy hint of reduction. The medium weighted palate is ripe in sweet (smooth) tannin and lifted with pop of energy from the natural acidity with air allowing everything to unfold in stylish fashion. These Etna Rossos are in many ways like Pinot, not flavor wise, but in their silkiness and vibrancy, plus their flexibility with food, especially as you can slightly chill them too and serve with squid ink pasta and briny sauce and or spicy grilled octopus, plus more conventional cuisine.
Eduardo Torres Acosta, a young winemaker from the Canary Islands, first began working with vines in Tenerife where his father (a local postman) had a small plot of land. In 2012 Eduardo moved to Sicily, where he interned at Azienda Arianna Occhipinti, you may have heard of her, one of the natural wine world biggest stars. Soon thereafter he got a job as the enologist at Azienda Passopisciaro, for a few vintages, who are one of the pioneers of Etna’s new wave of producers. Though soon his own label took off, needing more of his full attention. Being imported by natural wine specialist Louis/Dressner has paid off in the states, they have done a great job to put his wines on some great wine lists and Acosta has caught the eye of more than a few influential Somms, making his wines a tough get. Louis/Dressner adds, even despite Eduardo’s “outsider” status, since he wasn’t born on Sicily, he has managed to rent several fine parcels on Etna from the suspicious locals. Up until the 2017 vintage, according to his importer Louis/Dressner, the grapes were harvested and then trucked to Arianna Occhipinti’s estate in Vittoria. Since the winemaking facility is not on Etna, where the grapes are grown, the wines Acosta have made were not allowed DOC status and must carry only the IGT Terre Siciliane designation on the labels, in case there was any confusion. Eduardo was able to convert a small Etna garage into a winery, so this may well change with the release of the 2018’s. Acosta is a name to watch and his wines, a white, this Versante Nord red and a single parcel Nerello Mascalese are all worth searching out.
($35 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2014 Chateau Pradeaux, Bandol Rouge, Provence, France.
In a rare cooler style vintage the 2014 Pradeaux Bandol impresses for its restraint, delicacy and elegance, making for a lovely wine with pretty layers and subtly, rather than the usual Mourvedre power. Showing a sense of refinement, but definitely not a light wine this stuff has plenty of stuffing and complexity to satisfy on the medium/full palate with an underlying, velvet covered, tannic structure. Beautifully deep in color with a purple/garnet hue in the glass this 2014 turns on the charm right from the get go with crushed flowers, bright red fruits, snappy spices and a touch of earth before filling out and taking on a darker profile when open with black cherry, plum and mulberry fruits along with touch of cedar, anise, dusty pepper, lavender and even a classic leather note well in the background. This is a wine of purity and terroir, taking its clues from its limestone influenced Provence soils. Bandol, one of the great wines of France, often age decades and are great with robust and protein rich cuisine, going great with lamb and mushroom dishes and or hard sheep cheeses. This 2014 really starts rocking with food and air and it drinks as gracefully as a fine Medoc Bordeaux, though best to decant an hour before serving.
The Château Pradeaux, run by Cyrille Portalis along with his two sons Edouard and current winemaker Etienne, is situated on the outskirts of the town of Saint Cyr-sur-Mer that lies directly on the gorgeous azur (Blue) Mediterranean between Toulon and Marseilles. The estate has been in the hands of the Portalis family since before the French Revolution and the wines themselves transmit that long history and tradition and Pradeaux has been farmed to organic principles for many years. The estate is all about Mourvedre and this classic cuvée is 95% Mourvèdre and 5% Grenache, all whole cluster and with indigenous yeasts the wines then get a long élevage in large oak foudres, in fact they can last as long as four years. The concentration comes from the old vine fruit with the grapes only coming from vines at least 25 years of age, with most much older. The wines of Château Pradeaux are authentic, bold and sometimes rustic, but this 2014 is easy to enjoy in its youth, a rare joy in a Bandol, also look for their fabulous Rosé, which is composed of Cinsault as well as the obvious Mourvèdre. Chateau Pradeaux remains a great value in a region that has seen huge price jumps in the last 10 to 15 years, and this wine is well worth searching out.
($45 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2018 Weingut Selbach-Oster, Riesling Feinherb, Zeltinger Schlossberg “Alte Reben” Mosel Germany.
The whole collection of 2018 vintage wines from Selbach are masterpieces of purity and terroir, these are some of the best barrel samples I’ve ever tried and these wines are going to be a legendary set of Rieslings, and one that might get overlooked by traditionalists, but deserves your attention is Johannes Selbach’s old vine Zeltinger Schlossberg Feinherb, it is a do not miss! There is a lot of excitement at Selbach for their 2018 wines, which look to include their first true GG’s, though they might be labeled as Three Stars, the first being their awesome Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Trocken, it should be on your watch list, along with this 2018 Schlossberg Feinherb, with it’s off dry richness (though not sweet) proving very sexy in the glass. All of Selbach Oster’s Zeltingen vineyards – Himmelreich, Schlossberg and Sonnenuhr are all set on steep slopes and set on pure blue Devonian slate soils above the Mosel with great souther exposures allowing deep concentration and mineral complexity. When you look for the best in the region, Selbach-Oster joins Loosen, J.J. Prum, Monchhof, Molitor, Maximin Grunhaus and the impressive Loewen, and while Selbach is known for his classic Kabinett, one of the absolute best wines for the money in the world, his opulent Spatlese and his dense and regal Auslese, his drier style wines have always intrigued, usually selected from singular parcels, they are not wines that have been slaves to dogma or technical regulations and too be honest, most of the time their are better for having a little extra residual sugar in the must with this wine showing that extra RS in the form of graceful textural rather than any perception of sweetness. This Zeltinger Feinherb, and find you this is just a barrel sample, is gorgeous with incredible extract, it’s wonderfully detailed Riesling with forward layers of beautiful stone fruits and candied citrus along with hints of apricot, yellow peach, tangerine, quince, flint rock, saline, chamomile, white flowers and crystallized ginger. With air you get classic green apple, lime and creaminess of mouth feel, though a touch of savory wet stones and a touch of lemongrass add contrast to this tasty stuff. The natural acidity and steely mineral tones certainly keeps the energy high and the balance of form is masterful, under the hood is plenty of depth that leads me to believe that this will be a fantastic wine to lose in the cellar for a decade, it will reward both the patient and those that demand instant hedonistic pleasure!
Selbach Oster, with a long storied history in the Mosel, dating back to the 1600s, is run by Johannes Selbach and his wife Barbara, with the increasing help of son Sebastian and daughter Hannah, they, as importer Terry Theise says, manage their vineyards and winery with passion and respect for the estate’s long held traditions. Never one to stand still, Johannes added Christian Vogt in the cellars, he was the winemaker at Kartauserhof for many years, giving even more talent to this winery. Theise adds that, Johannes, like his late father Hans, has continued the use of traditional oak fuder in his cellar, bringing in new large casks every few years. The vinification is carried out in a combination of fuder and stainless steel, with low intervention in an hands-off manner with no fining, and predominantly the wines are done with wild yeasts or Sponti. I have always loved these wines, especially the Kabinett offerings, with the recent vintages 2015, 2016 and 2017 all performing great in the bottle, but these 2018’s are next level and Riesling lovers will want to pre-order as many as possible, in particular the value priced bottlings, like the Zeltinger Himmelreich Halbtrocken, the regular Mosel Kabinett, the Sonnenuhr Kabinett and the Saar negotiant offerings, along with the more serious Graacher, Wehlener and Zeltinger cru stuff, like this one. I was thrilled to catch up with Johannes at a recent tasting and hear about the 2018 vintage, a vintage that Terry Theise is super excited by as he confided to me as well, the wines all were outstanding and in his own humble way seemed really proud of this set, and interestingly in this vintage he guided me towards his Schlossberg wines, my favorite vineyard of his, in contrast to his usually pushing me to give more time and thought to Sonnenuhr! I concede that he was right about that, though for whatever reason I am drawn to Schlossberg and in this vintage I am overjoyed by the quality of this very special vineyard, with the Spatlese as well as this one being in particular explosive with a glorious expressive personality which shines through. Also, I would be amiss without mentioning Selbach’s fabulous and smoky/stony dry Pinot Blanc, one of the best examples of this grape I’ve ever had. (Note: Tasted from Barrel Sample, the finished wine should be released later this fall or winter)
($42 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2017 Caraccioli Cellars, Pinot Noir, Hilltop Cuvee, Escolle Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands.
The beautifully crafted Hilltop Cuvee Pinot, an upcoming release from Scott Caraccioli and his team at Caraccioli Cellars, best known for their awesome grower fizz, is a remarkable wine of gorgeous aromatic intensity and refinement with a dark fruit profile and exceptional balance. This special release** is from the upper most rows at their estate grown Escolle Vineyard, featuring a diverse selection of vines and clones that include 943 and a little 828 that heighten the energy and racy black fruits, making for a very distinct Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir that is fabulously expressive, but with sharp detailing and focus, the vintage was near perfect for Escolle and it really shows here with silky ripe flavors and vibrant lifting acidity. The nose seduced me, and I was already entranced even before this Pinot got to my palate, in fact I thought there might be some whole cluster, but I was wrong as this Hilltop is all de-stemmed fruit, though the bouquet is wildly intriguing with floral tones, spice and exotic dark fruited. Caraccioli says he has been using some bigger format barrels and that this one saw some Puncheon and while 50% new French oak was used this is absolutely joyously not oaky on the palate. Complex with layers of black cherry, wild plum, pomegranate and bramble berry fruits, Asian and baking spices, including shaved cinnamon stick, along with briar notes, mineral elements, earl grey and a hint of smoky Francois Freres wood all make this an irresistible Pinot Noir that certainly raises Caraccioli into the serious league of SLH producers. Attention to yields and meticulous sorting with micro lots, Caraccioli Cellars are getting the most out of Escolle and the passion of place shines through in the wines.
As mentioned Caraccioli Cellars are making some of America’s best Sparkling wines and have already become local legends with their grower producer methode champenoise wines, with both their Cuvee Brut and Brut Rosé being outstanding bubbly, and even more uniquely they are some of the only single vineyard Champagne style sparklers available in the country. Caraccioli’s site was planted in March of 2008 and the Escolle Vineyard is 124 acres of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, as they put it, grounded in the northern Santa Lucia Highlands on the regions sandy loamy soils. Caraccioli Cellars planted the vineyard with a variety of clone and root stock options, giving the winery and its customers for grapes a flexibility in style has led to Escolle making a quick impact here, with many talented local winemakers enjoying their fruit from here including Ian Brand, Jim Schultze of Windy Oaks and Russell Joyce, all making sublime Chardonnay from Escolle grapes. Caraccioli’s still wines seem to get better with each vintage and this one is very pretty Pinot Noir and their new 2017 Escolle Chardonnay is showing well also with a steely streak of minerallity and creamy texture. Learned from stars of the Santa Lucia Highlands, the Caraccioli’s put the utmost care into the tending of the vines and the farming here is so good that Escolle rivals the Cru sites, namely Rosella’s, Garys’, Soberanes, Sierra Mar, Double L as well as Tondre and surpassing Sleepy Hollow, out here for grape quality, this hands on, studied and hand crafted approach has paid off, especially with the 2017 vintage and in particular in this limited bottling. **Note: This was a preview sample, look for it this fall, thank you Scott Caraccioli for sharing this beauty.
($N/A) 94+ Points, grapelive
2017 Alfredo Maestro Tejero Viticultor, Tempranillo “Vina Almate” Castilla y Leon, Spain.
One of the best deals in natural and pure Tempranillo, the Viña Almate by Alfredo Maestro Tejero, comes from Clay-Calcareous and Alluvial soils at an elevation between 700-1000 meters with vine ages ranging from 10-80 years. This 100% Tinto Fino (Tempranillo) cuvée is made from fruit sourced from various plots in Valtiendas (Segovia), as well as in Peñafiel (Valladolid) in the Castilla y León region, basically in the Ribera del Duero, but since his winemaking practices don’t adhere to the D.O., it’s considered a rebel wine. All the grapes, known locally as Tinto Fino, were hand-harvested, mostly by Alfredo himself, as he is pretty much a one man army, then they are whole-cluster crushed and fermented with native yeasts in steel vat with about 12-15 days of maceration. The resulting fresh and vibrant wine raised over winter in vat, without oak and bottled in February unfined, unfiltered, and with very low or no SO2, capturing the purest form possible. This 2017 is slightly reductive at first with a touch of earthy funk that blows off allowing pretty fruit and floral details to take over on the medium bodied palate showing blackberry, plum, mulberry and black cherry fruits, along with minty herb, leather, mineral tones, sandalwood, licorice and dried lavender. The natural tannin and acidity make this a succulent red wine, a touch drying on it’s own, but smooth with a range of cuisine options, it’s great with BBQ, picnics and a party quaff.
I love Alfredo’s wines, they are honest and charming offerings, much like he is himself, I am grateful to have done a few tastings with him and he gives off a warm of friendship, which is transmitted through his wines as well. His family came to the winemaking town Peñafiel, in the Ribera del Duero from the Basque Country, and according to his importer Jose Pastor, having grown up amongst the grapes vines, and always having a great interest in wine, it seemed he was destined to be a winemaker. Through the encouragement of his closest friends, he started making his own wine in 1998 and in that same year he planted his first vineyard -Almate- which he named after himself, not short of confidence, on the Rio Duraton near his home. From the beginning he farmed organically, but followed the winemaking guidebooks to the letter for a few years before following his own instincts in the cellar and going all natural, this gave his wines a new life and got the attention of the natural wine world. This Vina Amate, his highest production bottling, is a great way to discover the Alfredo Maestro wines, but he does some cool Garnacha too, as well as a couple single parcel Tempranillo(s), a lovely Garnacha Tintorera (Alicante Bouschet) Rosado, along with a wild white wine called Lovamor made from hundred plus year old parcels of Albillo, a rare native varietal, which in the latest vintage was “Orange Wine” style fermented on the skins for 7 days and aged in neutral chestnut wood barrel. All of which are delicious and exciting, and again this Vina Almate is a solid starting place to launch into these wines, giving good bang for the buck.
($15 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2017 Envinate, Palo Blanco, Listan Blanco/Palomino, Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain.
This energy driven white, by Envinate, is sourced from a tiny 1.5ha vineyard of centenarian (hundred year old) cordon trenzado, which is the named for the braided vine system used on the windswept volcanic hillside, Listan Blanco, also known as Palomino (the Sherry grape) at 600m elevation, and is named for the area where it’s planted on the Island of Tenerife. This Canary Islands white shows the terroir intensity and is an earthy spice, bone dry wine with a crisp saltiness and electric form, it was fermented naturally, whole cluster pressed before racking off the skins into cement vat where it is done without malo-latic fermentation and raised in old large Friulian oval foudres for 10 months. While known in the natural wine world for their exciting Listan Nergo red wines, Envinate is gaining a reputation for their whites, especially their Taganan Blanco, which is made from a field blend mix of mostly Listan Blanco, Albillo Criollo, Marmajuelo, Gual, and Malvasia, but includes a few grapes no one can seem to identify, as well as this 100% Listan Blanco. As noted by me and other top critics, Envinate is a talented group of 4 friends, consisting of winemakers Roberto Santana, Alfonso Torrente, Laura Ramos, and José Martínez. This gang of 4, as they have become known, formed back in 2005 while studying enology at the University of Miguel Hernandez in Alicante and decided that they all would make wine together, regardless of where they ended up. Then after their graduation, they formed a winemaking consultancy, which evolved into Envínate, a project, now based on Tenerife, that focuses on exploring distinctive parcels mainly in the Atlantic regions of Spain, including most famously the Ribeira Sacra in Galicia and the Canary Islands, as well as one site influenced by the Mediterranean sea in the Alicante region along with a plot in Extremadura. I’ve been following Envínate for many vintages now and every time I try their wines I find something new and exciting in them, and the current releases are thrilling, quite honestly there is nothing quite like them!
The 2017 Palo Blanco is slightly funky on the nose at first, but that blows off quickly to reveal a vibrant and spicy dry white wine that gains class and stylistic charm in the glass with a glistening pale golden hue, it is a nervy and exciting wine that expresses its terroir and especially performs well with sea food and or soft cheeses. Brisk acidity and restrained fruits hides the depth at first, but as the Palo Blanco opens it fills out and adds a graceful texture with a core of citrus fruit and wet rock along with dried pineapple, ginger, pepper/flint, mouth watering saline as well as white peach, quince and a touch of waxy verbena. Palomino, rarely achieves what you find here, and this is incredibly unique, I can only think of examples like those of Sadie Family in South Africa and Laura Lorenzo in Galicia that make wines from this grape that is on this level. The collective aim, as they put at Envinate, is to make profoundly pure and authentic wines that express the terruño of each parcel in a clear and raw/authentic way, as this 2017 Palo Blanco transparently shows in every detail. To make this happen to their satisfaction, there are no chemicals used in any of the Envínate farmed or used vineyards, with every parcel picked by hand, all the grapes are foot-trodden old school style, and the wines are fermented exclusively with wild yeasts, with a varying proportion of whole grape clusters (for the reds) included. As for aging, as mentioned above, the wines are raised in old barrels and the absolute minimum amount of sulfur is used and only added at bottling, if needed. The results in the bottle are thrilling, there are some of the most exciting, slightly funky and honest wines being produced in Spain today. I tend to describe them as wild and remote as the regions from which they come, in particular these from the Canary Islands, which if you hadn’t noticed is an island chain off the coast of north Africa that were planted to vines during the Spanish colonial era in the new world with the Missionaries taking the same selection of vines to the western coast of the Americas from Chile all the way up to present day Sonoma in California starting in the 1500s. If you want to discover these wines, especially this rare white, you’ll have to work a bit, but it is worth it!
($45 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2017 Salvo Foti – I Vigneri, Vinudilice, Etna Rosato, Sicily, Italy.
The godfather of Sicily’s Mount Etna wines, Salvo Foti produces inspirational bottlings of Carricante and from the eastern slope of the volcano as well as renowned bottlings of Nerello Mascalese from the northern reaches of Etna. Salvo Foti is well known for his tremendous efforts to rediscover, champion and propagate the indigenous grapes of Mount Etna under the I Vigneri banner, a group of visionary growers committed to native grapes and holistic grown vines, in an effort to preserve the island’s ancient wine growing traditions. Over the years he has isolated some of the best grapevines of Carricante and Nerello Mascalese in order to continue to grow the volcano’s amazing viticultural legacy. For his Rosato, he uses a vineyard planted to mainly hundred year old Alicante (Grenache) vines, but of course there is mixed with some other red and white grape varietals, some unknown, with vines at 1300 meters above sea level surrounded by a holly oak forest, and from which this Rosé wine, called Vinudilice, is made. While not biodynamic in the biblical sense, Foti’s vines set on soils of broken or decomposed lava stone of varying depth mixed with sand, and farmed with no fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides of any kind.
Interestingly, Foti’s fermentations are done in open oak vats, with indigenous yeast and without the use of enzymes or temperature control, thankfully the nights by this time of year on the Volcano are surprisingly quite cold. There is very little sulfur ever used on the grapes or the must, if at all, with aging happening in mostly used wood or cement with racking and bottling, which is unfined and unfiltered, is done under lunar cycles. If not for the pinkish and salmon hue, I would swear this was a wonderful and textured white wine, it almost has the feel of a Cassis Blanc and a graceful complexity with a pure mineral sense as well as a lovely long finish. Layers of fleshy fruit caress the medium bodied, very dry, palate which includes peach, melon, orange citrus and just a hint of strawberry and sour cherry, along with dusty spices, saline, wet rock and touch of earthiness. Again, this is a wine of beauty and mouth feel with subtle floral and steely elements, it is incredibly stylish, without pretense and flexible, being able to go with many cuisine choices. This vintage is stunning and I only wish I had more, it is extremely rare, as are all of Salvo’s offerings, and don’t flinch at the price, it’s less than Domaine Tempier these days and just as thrilling!
($45 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2015 Corison, Cabernet Sauvignon, Kronos Vineyard, Napa Valley.
The Kronos Estate Vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon by Cathy Corison, the Napa Valley icon who’s celebrating her birthday today August 9, is one of the great wines of the new world and this 2015 vintage is proof of that with incredible depth and sophistication of flavor. While I love Corison’s regular Napa bottling, there is no question the Kronos is something remarkably special, it pushes the bar higher for Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon with its concentration, which is hedonistic, but balanced by its inner energy, this is what a great wine should be, lush and textured with a full bodied palate, polished tannin structure and a still vibrant and vividly detailed, it never feels over blown or like chocolate syrup as many high end Napa Cabs can be, and the natural alcohol is lower than most, especially in the more serious echelon of wines from the Valley. Some of this is Cathy’s style showing its class and some of it is the organic and sustainable farming techniques used in the Kronos vineyard, which sits in the shadow of the Mayacamas just behind the Saint Helena winery a stones throw from the famous Hwy 29, in the heart of Napa Valley. The Kronos Vineyard, was named for one of the titans in Greek mythology, the sons of heaven and earth, and it lives up to its name, and Corison feels blessed to work with such a legendary site, this vineyard gives her an elevated platform from which to showcase her talents, as this wine clear presents. It was planted in 1971 on St. George rootstock, which is completely resistant to Phylloxera, and these mature gnarly, wise old ladies are now over 45 years old, it is thriving in its prime, but of course the yields are pitifully low at a meager 1.25 tons/acre. Corison, who was the first woman winemaker winery owner in Napa Valley, believes this vineyard offers her a chance to make a singular wine, a profound Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, that rivals the world’s best, she adds that the wines she has made from here, make Kronos one of the great Cabernet vineyards of the world. Certainly I would put it in there somewhere, and this vintage I am sure holds its own with a regal and powerful presence in the glass.
Cathy’s career started with her completing a master’s degree in Enology at UC Davis, after which she took a harvest internship at Freemark Abbey back in 1978. Her head winemaking began at Chappellet Vineyard and lasted for most the 1980’s, and she did a little moonlighting at times, consulting for the likes of Staglin, York Creek and Long Meadow Ranch. Her own label began in 1987 and she focused almost entirely on crafting world class Cabernet Sauvignon from vineyards along the Rutherford and St. Helena bench, where the gravelly loams soils produce distinct wines that are terroir driven. The 2015 Kronos delivers a rich and inky dark Cabernet Sauvignon with layers of classic blackberry, plum, succulent currant, kirsch and blueberry fruit along with a touch of spice, sweet cedar notes, a hint of violets, vanilla and with cinnamon and licorice. The mouth feel is impressive and this wine has a gripping personality that holds your attention on the lengthy finish and the aftertaste goes on for days. The tannins are ripe, as they tend to be in warm years, but as always in Corison’s wine they hold everything together and there is a brightness that makes this young and forceful Cabernet Sauvignon sing, and gives me a certainty of further greatness in the years ahead, without question this wine holds a treasure of rewards for those who have patience. This Kronos, like the famed Ridge Monte Bello, and the recently reviewed Diamond Creek Gravelly Meadow, looks set to be a contender for classic status in the cellar, it should age wonderfully and stay in its prime for decades. The bouquet shows fresh fruits, floral tones and a smoky wood note, and with air some loam, savory sage and tobacco leaf emerge adding complexity and with robust cuisine this wine shows off, it really benefits from decanting at this stage, allowing it to stretch its legs and the food melts the tannins.
Happy Birthday Cathy and thank you for making such monumental wines, this 2015 Kronos is gorgeous stuff, it grew on me and while I didn’t think I could like a 2015 vintage wine as much as I loved the 2014, but this wine won me over completely, and I’ve curious to see where it goes, I hope I get a chance to enjoy this wine again in 10 or 15 years.
($165 Est.) 97 Points, grapelive
2015 Diamond Creek, Cabernet Sauvignon, Gravelly Meadow, Napa Valley.
Diamond Creek, one of the first single vineyard wines and a California legend, still makes one of the best Cabernet Sauvignons in the state and this latest Gravelly Meadow is a gorgeous wine with a deep purple/crimson color and ripe tannin, it’s a wine that is packed with fruit and should age, like all Diamond Creek’s, for another two to three decades. I was saddened to hear of the passing of Boots Brounstein this week, and I will always be grateful of her kindness and support over the years, she and her late husband Al, were wonderful people and their passion for wine infectious, they were always generous with their time with me and I will never forget that. When I first got into the wine business, I used to attend a special Cabernet Sauvignon tasting in Napa Valley, at the Greystoke or the CIA and the Brounstein’s were enthusiastic and even in his poor health Al would charm the room, and many times he even would have a secret bottle under the table to share, these were great moments they have always stayed with me. Diamond Creek, which I have many times compared to Chateau Latour, have always been treasured bottles and they have a fantastic track record for quality and staying power, I recently had a 1981, which proved all my beliefs, still remarkably fresh and brilliant in detail, and not too long ago I had a mid seventies version and it too was nearly perfect, I think maybe only Ridge come close to the age worthiness of Diamond Creek. The winery began when Al Broustein bought about 70 acres on Napa’s Diamond Mountain in 1967, and he planted around 25 acres to Cabernet Sauvignon, along with a small amount of merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot on four distinct terroirs, incredibly all were within 60 feet of each other with Volcanic Hill, Red Rock Terrace, Gravelly Meadow and the tiny Lake cru all becoming prestigious sites and are always bottled and vinified separately. By the early to mid seventies Diamond Creek was producing powerful mountain Cabernet Sauvignon that rivaled the best Bordeaux and their long time winemaker Phil Steinschreiber has made some of the state’s greatest wines, and the current 2015 vintage is top notch, and for me, this Gravelly Meadow is Cabernet that lives up to the historic wines from their past with blackberry, plum, black currant and blueberry fruits on the full bodied palate along with touches of smoky wood, anise, minty sage, sweet tobacco leaf, violet florals and lingering creme de cassis all wrapped in a firm structure, though unlike the 1970s and 1980s, the tannins are lush and smooth, mostly from the vintage rather than any winemaking changes.
Founded in 1968, Diamond Creek was California’s first exclusively Cabernet Sauvignon Estate Vineyard, though many more have followed, especially those famous “Cult” producers in the early nineties like Screaming Eagle, Harlan and Bryant Family that were, I’m sure inspired by the visionary Al Broustein and his pioneering and iconic wines. Even though, he thought he had a special place, Al brought in iconic Napa winemaker André Tchelistcheff (of BV Georges Latour fame) and got his seal of approval. As the winery notes, Brounstein, who loved Burgundy and Bordeaux equally, but knew that Napa, even back in the late sixties, was not well suited for Pinot Noir and opted for Cabernet. So he went to Bordeaux, checked out places in Pauillac and Pessac Leognan and talked some of the region’s top vintners into giving him some vine cuttings. (And) Because there was a seriously long quarantine process before using them on these shores, Brounstein had the cuttings shipped to Rosarita Beach, in Baja California, where. Al flew his own plane down and picked up the cuttings and secretly brought them back to Napa, an exercise he repeated — seven times! This parcel, the Gravelly Meadow, is one of the coolest micro-climates on the property, it is a five-acre vineyard that was originally a pre-historic river bed, that the Broustein’s noted, that this stony plot, with it’s gravelly soil drains rapidly and the vines struggle for moisture, resulting in the lowest yields and giving amazing concentration. Al Broustein famously suggested his Gravelly Meadow wines were some of his favorites and can be described as “earthy, cedary, jammy and ripe blackberry with a spicy expansive finish.” All of which I agree with, and this 2015 can easily fit that, though I find them more complex than that certainly and they develop a real Medoc like loamy character as they age that takes away the jamminess, without losing the purity of fruit that make these Cabernet’s so compelling. In modern times, this traditional or old school Napa wine seems timeless and in my mind only Cathy Corison’s, who’s latest Cab is fantastic too and Phillip Togni’s wines are in same vein. I love these wines and while not cheap, they are often better than wines twice or three times the price, and while in recent years the climate and warm years have made these wines beautiful in their youth, they still reward patience, making them attractive to collectors, and this 2015 looks set to be a classic.
($225 Est.) 96 Points, grapelive
2018 La Marea by Ian Brand, Albarino “Alt Cut” Kristy Vineyard, Monterey County.
One of the purest and freshest whites of the Summer is Ian Brand’s La Marea “Alt-Cut” Albarino, and this limited edition is a special batch that was vineyard yeast fermented or Pied de Cuve and was whole cluster pressed with a few days of skin contact, making for a vibrant and mineral crisp dry white with nice depth and extract. Ian’s regular version saw more skin contact and is more Sancerre like, which is also incredible, but this Alt-Cut version is wonderfully stylish and far more Rias Baixas true in character with electric acidity and green apple leading the way along with layers of citrus, melon and fleshy white peach, finishing with tangy notes and saline infused wet rock. This Alt-Cut is flying out of the tasting room and you can see why, it is pretty in detail and refreshing on the lighter bodied, but textural palate. The Kristy Vineyard, where this wine comes from, is on the western bench above the Salinas River set on an alluvial fan of diatomaceous earth, or ancient sea bed, with some broken limestone sediment that allows a ripening of flavors, but with a noticeable lower alcohol, it makes for complex and zippy wines.
While harvesting the grapes, sometimes a few days before the full pick, a small batch is put into buckets or small bins and crushed right there within the rows of vines and allowed to ferment naturally and then this is used to set off the crushed grapes in the winery. This Pied de Cuve Alt-Cut, I hope gets done again, as this vintage shows a lovely and distinct personality that really satisfies all the wants in an Albarino, it is great as a poolside or beach party sipper on it’s own, but also is great with food, in fact it gains depth and entertains especially well with food, in particular briny options like Claims, oysters and mussels as well as going great with grilled or pan fried Sardines and or squid. This Albarino gains aromatic as it opens revealing lime blossom and some brisk herbs, while the mouth feel softens making it even more compelling in the glass where its pale greenish gold hue catches the light. Brand de-stemmed all the grapes from a special parcel in the vineyard and left them on the skins for two days in cool vats, aging it with minimal lees and bottled it early to preserve its vivid personality, with only 70 cases made. This is tasty stuff that highlights the fantastic vintage in the region, if you are looking for something fun and unique, check this out.
($30 Est.) 92+ Points, grapelive
2017 Cameron Winery, Pinot Noir, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
The amazingly seductive and Burgundy like, Cameron 2017 Dundee Hills cuvee Pinot Noir is from grapes exclusively from the two exceptional estate vineyard sites in the Dundee Hills AVA, these being the fabled Clos Electrique and Abbey Ridge Vineyards, both of which are multi-clone and non-irrigated vines. The 2017 version is wonderfully lively and bright with phenomenally low alcohol at only 12.6%, but still surprisingly deep in flavors and with a dark hue and fruit profile along with tons of personality and charms, it sometimes is hard to imagine a better Oregon Pinot for the price. Slightly reduced at this stage, as all Cameron’s seem to be when young, the 2017 Dundee Hills Pinot is lively with layers of blackberry, strawberry and plum fruits that are wrapped around a dark cherry core along with red spices, cinnamon, graphite, sweet toast, tea notes and cedary/wood.
John Paul, Cameron’s legendary winemaker, who is Burgundy influence to the core of his being, is devoted to non-irrigated vines for the intensity of concentration and pigment, and that he strives for sustainable and organic grapes and in the cellar he goes for traditional methods. The Pinots are all 100% native yeast fermented and they receive long elevage, at minimum 18 months and such was the case here in the this beautiful, rich and spicy barrel selection Dundee Hills bottling. After time in the glass and with air this deep garnet/ruby Pinot opens to reveal more floral elements, ripe currant jelly and savory things both meaty and herbal, making for a sexy and stylish wine to drink over the next 5 to 7 years easy. Not as densely packed as 2014, 2015 and 2016 versions, the 2017’s are more lacy and lighted, though not light or missing anything, it is much more a finessed year to cherish.
($30 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2017 Weingut Carl Loewen, Riesling Trocken, Ritsch, Grosses Gewächs, Mosel Germany.
Loewen’s amazing Ritsch GG coming from extreme slopes, the second steepest in Europe, set on intense slate is a wonderfully concentrated dry Riesling that shows the historic terroir along with the talents of Christopher Loewen, who took over the estate’s winemaking in recent years and has brought this winery to new heights of quality, focusing on a sophisticated drier style. The Carl Loewen estate dates back to 1803, and according to importer Terry Theise, one of the world’s most respected Riesling experts, when an agent in Paris purchased a set of vineyards and buildings owned by the Church’s religious Maximin order. This sale was part of an auction used to generate money for the Napoleonic government after secularization thought Europe and included some of the finest vineyard site in the Mosel, including Maximiner Herrenberg, which has the oldest set of Riesling vines in Germany, planted in 1896 and then two years later Loewen acquired their main parcels at Maximin Klosterlay. Christopher’s dad, always wise and with a nose for great sites, Karl -Josef, was always looking for old vineyards and grew the Estate by purchasing steep old vineyards (low yielding) that no one wanted to work anymore, he in fact for this wine, he got the estate’s first selection in the Thörnicher Ritsch vineyard in 1998, which as noted, is the second steepest vineyard in Germany, second only to Bremer Calmot in the lower Mosel. This is an exceptional site with grey weathered slate and quartzite soils, and as Christopher notes, it took awhile for the Loewen’s to get this place up to speed, going from conventional farming to chemical free organic methods here, as they now practice throughout their holdings, and the quality in the last three vintages have reached impressive levels of quality, with this 2017 being absolutely gorgeous and perfumed with beautiful mineral detailing and crystalline transparency. There are three wines that you’ll want to get from Loewen, their Alte Reben Trocken, their incredible 1896 Herrenberg Feinherb, from Germany’s oldest Riesling vines and this Ritsch GG, it’s a powerful and majestic wine that really stands out.
Christopher employs a natural approach to making his wines, and as Theise notes, all of the grapes are all pressed whole cluster pressed, but the pomace is never moved. With Loewen adding “when you move the solids, you break stems, which leads to phenolic flavors”, which he avoids. The juice is then “browned” or oxidized pre- fermentation, that reduces reduction and brings out more fruit purity. Loewen’s ferments are Sponti (native yeast) and completely natural without addition of enzymes or nutrition for the yeast, with single vineyard wines, like this one, are bloc picked and go directly into Fuder barrels (around 1000L in size) which average 25 years old without temperature control as the cellar here is very cold already. The 2017 Thörnicher “Ritsch” Grosses Gewachs is rich, ripe and opulent in personality with a hint of exotic fruits, but still is driven by this vineyard’s special characteristics, it’s a site that Theise calls, one of Germany’s great undiscovered Grand Crus, and there is a certain intensity of extract, a slight green note, though less obvious in this vintage, as well as the flinty spiciness which contrasts perfect with the fruit density. The palate reveals layers of apricot/peach stone fruits, a subtle tropical element with touches of papaya, mango and passion fruit along with a burst of lime and tangerine as well as crushed wet stones, minty herb, verbena, lemongrass and leesy notes. This 2017 will continue to evolve, it’s lush and forward now, but the underlying grip and the core material has potential elevate this beauty to an even greater level, it will be worth it to put a few bottles away, even though it is such a joyous Riesling as it is now. Loewen’s upcoming 2018’s are without a doubt going to be legends, I had a chance to try them with Christopher and they are some of the best young Rieslings I’ve ever tried, his whole collection is stellar. When I fist started exploring German wines over 20 years ago, I was taken by Selbach-Oster, Leitz and Loewen, they have always been special to me and helped me understand the greatness of Riesling, and they still do, especially in recent years and with the direction Christopher has taken, his wines are some of the greatest white wines in the world, do not miss them, in particular the old vine trockens!
($65 Est.) 95+ Points, grapelive
2017 Tablas Creek Vineyard, Vermentino, Adelaida District, Paso Robles.
The Tablas Vermentino is an amazing dry white wine with crisp minerally detail and plenty, fresh fruit of zesty zippiness, but also with a beautiful textural charm, reminding me somewhat of Yves Leccia’s Patrimonio Blanc (Biancu in Corsican dialect), which is high praise as Leccia’s wines are some of my favorites, especially his 100% Vermentinu (Vermentino). Vermentino, one of the great Mediterranean varietals can be found from Corsica to Sardinia, as well as mainland Italy from Liguria to Piedmonte, where it is known as Favorita, because it was the Duchess of Savoy’s favorite white wine, hence the name, though because it has mutated slightly, as has Pigato, it is listed as a separate grape, while in France it is known as Rolle, though can be labeled either Vermentino or Rolle. None other than the iconic California Rhone pioneer Randall Grahm, of the Bonny Doon Vineyard, believes Vermentino might be the best grape for the central coast and thinks it can be the next big thing, in fact he is going to include it more prominently in his famous Rhone white style Cigare Blanc blend, and other wineries are interested in Vermentino too, such as Ryme Cellars, which do two distinct single varietal versions that are awesome. The Tablas version is a classic example to get a feel for the grape, and in much the same way as they did with Picpoul, have made this wine extremely popular for the alternative to Chardonnay and Sauvignon Blanc crowd, it is a stylish and vibrant wine that has enough mouth feel, depth and complexity to satisfy serious connoisseurs as well. Vermentino, while not a household name is waking waves and there is a lot to admire in terms of quality and personality, especially with this intriguing Tablas Creek all stainless wine.
The estate grown Tablas Creek Vermentino comes from all organic and biodynamic vines from their own Beaucastel Châteauneuf du Pape clones in the Adelaida District of Westside Paso Robles, which is set on most limestone, just like it is back home in the Rhone and as well in Provence. This 2017 is Tablas’ 15th vintage of Vermentino and it’s a beauty, it delivers a worthy performance in the glass with rich layers of racy fruits on the medium bodied palate including tangerine, white peach, lemon/lime and tangy green melon along with lime blossom, tart grapefruit, orange zest/peel, light herbs and a touch of savory/briny salty elements. With air and a slight warming in the glass this ultra pale wine gains a certain creamy density and glycerin level, making an impact and while brisk throughout and steely dry it can hold your attention and go with a richer selection of cuisine options from tuna and swordfish steaks to pasta and basil dishes and or claim linguine, as well as even salads, oysters and picnic fare. Vermentino should be on your radar and you should be drinking a lot of it, be sure to check Tablas Creek’s 2017, and look for their 2018, which looks even better vintage wise, and while you are at it explore Ryme’s set, Chesebro’s extra crispy version from Arroyo Seco, the mentioned upcoming wines from Bonny Doon as well as the old world wines of which Kermit Lynch, who’s a huge fan of Vermentino, imports, like the Yves Leccia and Antoine Arena on Corsica and Clos Sainte Magdeleine in the Provence village of Cassis, who use Vermentino in their non AOC white as well as the Languedoc Pic St. Loup estate Château La Roque. Visiting Tablas Creek is a must do when in Paso Robles and Vermentino is a required highlight and you’ll be surprised to find it is featured in many wines, sometime in the rose as well as a single varietal, this one is drinking great now, enjoy.
($27 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2017 Eden Rift, Pinot Noir, Terraces, Cienega Valley, San Benito County.
The wildly expressive, perfumed and complex inaugural release of Eden Rift’s Terraces Pinot Noir, 100% Calera heritage clone, comes exclusively from the estate steep Q-block, part of a section of limestone terrace plot that has prime south exposure and enough elevation to receive the cool ocean breezes, making it the most version from the winery, and the best wine to date from this new project in the Cienega Valley. The Calera clone vines, got from Calera itself, as the property is just a mile away or so, produce extra small berries and intense flavors and with the dramatic day to night temperature change and the fabulous calcareous soils deliver ripe fruit density, but with vivid natural acidity, allowing the wines to be generous and graceful on the palate, as this one certainly is, as well as having poise and balance. Crafted by Cory Waller, who’s brother is the long time Calera winemaker and native son of the region is one of the emerging youthful talents, has put Eden Rift on the map with his 2017 vintage, and the 2018 looks even better still, so this is a winery and winemaker to keep an eye on. That said, this 2017 Terraces, a late release, is really good and worth investing in with it’s layered mouth feel and exciting medium/full palate that shows rich blackberry, succulent cherry, plum and pomegranate fruits along with wild mint, liquid flowers, a hint of sweet toast and mineral tones. Gaining depth with swirls in the glass this dark garnet and ruby edged Pinot is less reductive than the neighbors version and its fine tannins make it highly entertaining and joyous to drink in its youth, while it does have structure and loads of energy from the partial whole cluster, it should age well too.
The Eden Rift property, one California’s earliest homesteads under vine, dates back to 1849 and is a historical site with a parcel of old vine Zinfandel, along with a few other black grapes, like Carignan, known as the Dickinson Block that was planted in 1906. A visit to the winery recently was a revelation, it is an amazingly beautiful place and the hillside terraces are spectacular in the dramatic landscape that is out here in the remote wilds of San Benito County, and while a trek to get here it is worth a day trip to taste along the Cienega Valley wine trail. As mentioned above, Waller chose a special selection of Calera clone lots to make this 2017 Terraces Pinot, while the main estate bottlings include a mix of Dijon and Heritage clones with Mount Eden and Swan there, going with 38% whole cluster, fermented with native yeasts in open top temperature controlled tanks with gentle daily punch downs. The wine after primary was racked into just seven barrels where it went through secondary and raised for close to 10 months before going into bottle unfined and unfiltered, Eden Rift decided to bottle at that point to preserve the lovely aromatics and then they held it back in the cellar for an extra period of time to allow it to find its feet and I was thrilled with their results and I can’t wait to see how it develops, it has a deep sense of fruit and has a smooth/silky feel, but in the background the tiniest pop and spicy bite of stems gives me some idea that there is more to come in 3 to 5 years. This is a winery that has big ambitions and the potential is on display in this Terraces, and I think their Chardonnay is wonderful too, plus as I reviewed prior Eden Rift has a fun and crunchy carbonic Pinot Noir, the Eden – A – Vent, it’s a wine that I’m hooked on, as well as a nice Summer sipping dry rosé of Pinot Noir.
($64 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2015 Jean Foillard, Morgon, Les Charmes “Eponym” Cru Beaujolais, France.
Rivaling the 2009 vintage, Foillard’s 2015’s are amazing Gamay wines, from his classic Cote du Py, his floral and delicate Fleurie to his most unique bottlings, like his Cuvee 3.14 and this Morgon Les Charmes “Eponym, these wines expand the mind to what can be achieved with Cru Beaujolais. A bit more restrained and tannic than the 2009’s this 2015 is still packed with depth and density with a pure hedonistic joyous palate and with an exotic quality to the deep black fruit character, its a gripping wine from one of the greatest producers in the region. One of group of Beaujolais producers who are disciples of Jules Chauvet, the godfather of french natural wine in the Beaujolais region, Jean Foillard, uses organic grapes, ultra low SO2, and makes very natural style wines, but wines that are luxurious and Burgundy like in class. Famous importer, Kermit Lynch, who brought the great Beaujolais to us in the United States and gave us a true glimpse of just how great these wines are, adds Foillard’s Morgons are deep, structured, and complex, with a velvety lushness that makes them irresistible when young despite their aging potential. Jean raises his wines in older barrels sourced from top estates in Burgundy, a logical decision for someone crafting Gamay in a Burgundian style. The 2015 Eponym thrills from the start with crushed violets, dark berries, spicy notes and a hint of black walnut along with layers of rich plum, blackberry, sweet cherry and tangy currant fruits, plus anise, cedar, dried basil, mineral tones and a touch of stoniness.
Jean Foillard’s 2015 Les Charmes “Eponym” cuvée is a rare treat from all organic vines at the very top of Morgon that are close to
One of the true Gamay masters, Jean Foillard makes some of the world’s best versions, as mentioned above, from that dreamy Fleurie to his Cuvee 3.14, which has a cult like following, being maybe the hardest to find and his most sought after wines, as well as the unbeatable Cote du Py, Foilard’s main wine. All are utterly compelling and delicious wines, though if you were looking for a wine of severe brut force and power, very uncommon for this grape, you’d find it in Foillard’s most intense bottling, his Morgon Les Charmes “Eponym” cuvee with its, as noted, raw tannin and usually rock hard nature, it is a wine to lay down for a decade if not more. That said, in warmer years, like this 2015 it can be really enjoyed when young, though best with fuller cuisine so that it can unwind and show its majestic array of flavors. The Les Charmes Eponym is sourced exclusively from the Les Charmes vineyard, the highest altitude lieu-dit in the Morgon appellation, it was traditionally fermented with 100% whole cluster with native yeasts and raised in ex-Burgundy barrels, well season, for about 9 months before bottling with Foilard’s traditional exceptionally low SO2, unfined and unfiltered. If you can find this bottling, buy it and cellar it for 3 to 5 years, it’s Foillard magic!
($50 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2016 Domaine du Closel, Savennieres “La Jalousie” Loire Valley, France.
The beautiful 100% Chenin Blanc Domaine du Closel La Jalousie, from the 2016 vintage, shines in glass and thrills on the palate with loads of purity, mineral character, racy fruit and a lovely textural feel that comes from younger biodynamic vines in the Savennieres region of the Loire Valley set on schist soils that allow its expressive nature to lead the way. The all organic, which was certified biodynamic in 2015, Domaine du Closel is run by the talented Evelyne de Pontbriand, who took over the family estate in 2001. Her passion for wine finally got the better of her, becoming a leading vigneron, which was a big career change from teaching French literature, but the results are clear she has a gift for wine, as this wine shows, and she was even elected President of the Savennieres AOC, the first woman ever to hold this position. Her talents in the cellar has made her wines at Domaine du Closel, once known historically as the Château des Vaults, which dates back to 1495, the estate changed its name when it was inherited by Michèle de Jessey, Evelyne’s dad, world class offerings, that I feel are not far off the famous Nicolas Joly Vignobles de la Coulee de Serrant in quality. The Closel vineyards are located exclusively in the most western hill of the Savennières area and includes some of the best parcels in the whole region, including the famed Les Caillardières and Clos du Papillon. The topsoil here is shallow, very warm and made up of purple/green schist and sandstone as well as mineral rich volcanic rock with quartz, phtanites, ryolites and spilites that deliver sublime finesse and complexity in the wines.
The La Jalousie comes from 15 to 20 year old vines set on quartz schist and sandstone, but mostly that decomposed schist and Pontbriand fermented and aged this in stainless steel with 9 to 12 months of aging on the lees, the Jalousie is a modern rendition of Savennières, it is not overtly rich, honeyed or oxidative, but a more crisp version and is nicely fruit-forward, fresh and vibrant made for earlier-drinking. All the grapes, hand harvested, are the first by the estate to harvest each vintage, are destemmed and gently pressed, then fermented with all native yeasts and with very little additional sulfur, so impressively the wine shows almost no reduction in bottle and the mouth feel is opulent, this 2016 is gorgeous in detail and form. The layered and seamless performance of the La Jalousie opens with white flowers, wet stones, preserved citrus that leads to a core of peach and delicate pear fruits along with quinces, muskmelon and a hint of apple butter. There are faint traces of honeycomb, though briskly dry and while elegantly lighter in style it gains a stylish creaminess. This Chenin Blanc really is a fine wine that is great right now, though I can even imagine it aging pretty well for another 3 to 5 years with ease. Interestingly, Pontbriand also has re-trained most of her vines to goblet, or head trained, which she says has improved aromatics and in a step further, she believes trimming the canopy is traumatizing to the vines, so she has been lifting the leaves up and gently winding them up the posts to expose the clusters to the sun. This sensitivity and the attention to detail really seems to have made a difference, this is a stellar white wine and is well worth searching out.
($35 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2017 Martha Stoumen Wines, Nero d’Avola, Mendocino County.
Martha Stoumen has become quite a sensation since joining the California wine scene a few years ago, bringing her experience of making wines in France and Italy along with her and her natural wine style, making her a new favorite within an exciting niche of young talents and lovers of off the beaten track wines. This 2017 Nero d’Avola, a very personal expression for her, given her time in Sicily, is a vibrant and lively red with intriguing earthy character and layers of lighter flavors with tart fresh crushed blackberry, spiced plum, lingonberry, cherry and strawberry fruits along with touches of porcini, mineral, wild herbs, lilac flowers and candied blood orange. In recent times there has been a renewed interest in Italian varietals in Mendocino County with many new things popping up and or rediscovered, from Dolcetto to Nebbiolo and from Sagrantino to Barbera all joining the more well known and used Sangiovese, but Nero d’Avola is still pretty rare. According to Stoumen, the beauty of Nero d’Avola is its Chiaroscuro-like nature, with brightness from its ability to hold onto acidity in warm Mediterranean climates, and her version is quite lovely and almost delicate in form and at 13% natural alcohol it feels fresh, but with nice depth and texture. This vintage is my favorite so far and this wine can go with a wonderful range of foods, from some sea foods to more hearty cuisine and or BBQ fare. Stoumen’s wines are slightly raw, but very stylish too, fans of Broc Cellars, Jolie-Laide, Ryme, Jaimee Motely, Raj Parr and Ian Brand will find similarities and a certain fraternal brother/sisterhood.
The Stoumen Nero d’Avola is maybe her signature wine and reminds us that she has good experience with this Sicilian grape, mostly found on the southern side of the island in the Vittoria region, where it is commonly blended with Frappato, though done solo too, having worked for Guisto Occhtipinti at COS, one of Italy’s most prized wineries. This vintage comes from two sites, with 62% coming off Benson Ranch Vineyard, in Ukiah, Mendocino County, a site that has 14 year old dry farmed (no irrigation) vines that is farmed according to organic principles without the use of pesticides, herbicides, and synthetic fungicides, while the other 38% being sourced from Fox Hill Vineyard. Fox Hill, which has a full selection of Italian grapes is in the Talmage Bench area of Mendocino County, with the Nero d’Avola that Martha picked was from 33 year old vines, which Stoumen adds, is as far as she knows, the oldest Nero d’Avola in California, and it is farmed sustainably without the use of pesticides, herbicides, and or synthetic fungicides. Stoumen is not showy in the cellar, she uses native yeasts and low sulphur, allowing everything to show through with a purity of place, she usually employs an elevage of 12 to 18 months on her Nero d’Avola with only neutral wood, and this 2017 wonderfully quaffable, and while structured its tannins are ripe and smooth, which allow it to also be served with a slight chill for warm days and evenings of Summer and Fall. Stoumen’s current set of offerings, which is a bit wild and varied are all really fun wines, mostly for early drinking, though this one seems to have enough complexity and stuffing to age 3 to 5 years no problem, check them out.
($40 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2018 Weingut Dönnhoff, Riesling Trocken, Tonschiefer, Dry Slate, Nahe Germany.
These 2018 German Rieslings are out of this world with amazing purity and vibrancy, especially the wines of Dönnhoff and while most won’t be available for awhile yet, the early release “estate” as well as this fantastic Tonschiefer “Dry Slate” bottlings are available now, and no one should miss them! Exceptional in vivid detail and minerally crisp, the slate influenced and terroir driven Tonschiefer is heavenly light, bone dry and zesty with flinty/steely spice, wet rock and citrus infused with laser like focus, while still being wonderfully generous in form. Tasting Dönnhoff is always a treat, this estate is one of the world’s great and their Rieslings never disappoints, even now with my expectations as high as they are, I am left in a state of awe, even for the less expensive wines like this one, which I can’t ever get enough of! I had this bottle recently with sushi and it provided excellent palate refreshing cleansing as well as a dynamic flavor enhancement to the purity of fish, never outshining the food, it was just perfect and the lighter body here made it easy to quaff along merrily. This vintage shows a fantastic vitality with lime, white peach, spiced apricot and a white currant fruits to go along with the slate stony core as well as chamomile, citron, apple skin and orange blossom, all in a saline and mouth watering Riesling. Importer Terry Theise, one of the world’s most renown Riesling gurus, has often quoted Helmut Dönnhoff , but his “Extraordinary wines are based on extraordinary vineyards.” has always stuck with me, and when I get a chance to try his legacy in the bottle of all the Dönnhoff wines I can truly see his proof in them, they are great wines from great vines!
The Dönnhoff family first came to the Nahe region over 200 years ago, and after establishing a modest farm, it slowly evolved into a full-fledged wine estate, in more modern times it became world renown when in 1971 Helmut Dönnhoff began the making the wine here. Now things are run, and the winemaking, by Helmut’s son Cornelius, and I feel the wines just get better and better here, both the ultra premium dry stuff led by the GG’s and the sweeter versions from Kabinett to Eiswein, which maybe be the greatest wine I ever tasted! I love their Spatlese and Auslese bottlings, these are high residual sugar wines that do not taste sweet in the obvious way and are glorious wines of class and refinement. That said, it is almost impossible to resist the Dönnhoff Trockens, like this one, and especially Cornelius’ drop dead gorgeous Hermannshohle GG, one of the planet’s absolutely best dry white wines! The Nahe, and Dönnhoff , has a wide variety of soils from loess to volcanic as well as gravel, sandstone and a mix of slates, and the Tonschiefer comes from a pure slate set of vines, all between 25 and 40 years old, at the Oberhausen Leistenberg estate vineyard. The grey slate Leistenberg vineyard, a VDP Grosse Lage (Grand Cru), lies in a small side valley of the Nahe just outside Oberhausen where these warm, decomposed clay slate soils and steep terraced hillsides provide ideal conditions for Riesling, and the cooler afternoon conditions here allow for long hang times and lower natural alcohol, making for sophisticated versions of this grape. Note to self, get more of the tasty Tonschiefer, with its stunning delicacy and pop of acidity, and stock up on the 2018 vintage!
($28 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2016 Saint Cosme, Chateauneuf-du-Pape Rouge, Rhone Valley, France.
The historic Chateau de Saint Cosme, one of the best Gigondas estates, also make an exceptional collection of Northern Rhone and Southern Rhone wines, including this ultra stylish Chateauneuf du Pape, which is an outstanding value from a fantastic vintage. Crafted by Louis Barruol, who’s ancestors (family) bought the noted ancient Gallo-Roman villa site in 1570, which most probably already had its own vineyard, as they found winemaking cellars there, and the estate’s existence as a wine growing property is documented as well in famous letters written by Jean de Chalon, Prince of Orange back in 1416, the modern wines are some of the best in the region. The 2016 version of Chateauneuf du Pape Rouge, a blend of about 50% Grenache, 30% Mourvèdre, 10% Syrah, 7% Cinsault and 3% Clairette (Blanche) the white grape, and it comes from top sites in La Crau, Valori and Christia, and saw a 100% whole cluster fermentation, with aging being done in used oak casks, mostly puncheon with a few small barrels. Barruol, notes that 2015 and 2016 vintages being warm and ripe needed the whole cluster to achieve depth and complexity, adding that “The stem is part of the fruit and helps terroir expression, just like the pips – taking them out, in my opinion, is nonsense and a great loss.” All which I whole agree with, this wine, as well as almost all of his reds are wonderfully expressive and ripe, but stay fresh and sublimely balanced, and while I loved the 2014 in a cooler year and loved the 2015 with its silken texture, this 2016 is even better still with its unbelievable length and vivid fruit core, certainly it is one of the best values in Chateauneuf you will find. There is not many wineries that can match Saint Cosme for quality and price in the Rhone and this wine delivers a performance well above its cost, in fact I’ve tried wine triple the price that were not as seductive as this one.
This 2016 is extremely weighty and rich, feeling hedonistic and opulent on the full bodied palate, it is strikingly different from Saint Cosme’s Gigondas, which feels cooler, darker and more vibrantly spicy, while this Chateauneuf is really all about the fruit and texture with layers of black raspberry, candied plum, cherry and a hint of pomegranate with fig paste, herbs de Provence, dried floral incense, a touch of savoriness along with creme de cassis, sweet Thai basil, salted black licorice and cedar notes. This deep purple/crimson wine has a powerful and youthful presence, but opens easily and flows luxuriously, its tannin structure velvety, making it even a joyous wine even now, though robust cuisine really helps unlock its full personality and seductive charms, best to have with serious proteins! Barruol goes on to say that, Châteauneuf and Gigondas, while generally similar Grenache based blends, are like the yin and the yang, alpha and omega – they are different in virtually every way, and I love the contrast of the two, and while I usually prefer, as does Mr Barruol, the estate grown Gigondas, but that choice in a vintage such as this a lot harder and this wine absolutely rocks. Savvy collectors will be rewarded for putting Saint Cosme’s Chateauneuf(s) away for 5 to 10 years, I honestly doubt I could keep my hands of them that long, especially this 2016, which is drinking very sexy indeed, and with air the dense fruit subsides slightly to allow earth and spice to shine through giving an added dimension to this already excellent wine. Saint Cosme, across the range, has had three amazing vintages in a row with 2015, this 2016 and the upcoming 2017 all proving to be fabulous, so be sure to check them all out, from their 100% Syrah Cotes du Rhone to their single cru and or appellation serious wines, like this Chateauneuf, their Gigondas of course and their set of northern Rhone reds.
($39 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2017 Waxwing, Pinot Noir, Deerheart Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains.
The super exotically aromatic 2017 Deerheart Vineyard Pinot Noir by Scot Sisemore of Waxwing Wine Cellars is rich in fruit expression and lingering with ripe dark flavors making it a very showy wine that impresses rom the start and gets better and better with each sip. Not all fruit, it has substance and depth, in a surprise for such a new vineyard site and it bodes well for those that get grapes from here, with Waxwing’s gaining sophistication and balance as it opens adding a nice energy and some savory elements. This vineyard is new for Scott and he seems to have nailed its personality to a tee and allowed it to shine through with layers of cherry, plum, boysenberry and cranberry fruits, a light dusting of spices, sweet tea and smoky wood notes with natural acidity holding things together in a silky way. I think it should lose some baby fat and the overt fruit with subside in time, but those that cherish forward wines will love it and should enjoy it in its youth, while those that want more subtlety will be rewarded by cellaring this one for another 2 to 3 years. This crimson/garnet Pinot with bright ruby edges would be an excellent choice with seared ahi and or duck breast with a reduction as it has the mouth feel and presence in the glass to carry the more weighty food choices.
The Deerheart Vineyard, on La Honda Road, in a beautiful secluded valley between the town of La Honda and San Gregorio Beach, only five miles from the Pacific Ocean and is owned by the Larson family, it’s one of the newest sites found by Waxwing Wine Cellars winemaker Scott Sisemore. This cool coastal vineyard is exposed to its share of coastal fog in the morning and is set on well drained soils, perfect for low yielding and intense Pinot Noir, which Sisemore has used to great effect in his 2017 Deerheart Vineyard. The Belmont based Waxwing Wine Cellars is an ultra boutique or micro craft winery that is mostly known for cool climate Pinot Noir and Syrah offerings, though in recent years Sisemore has branched out and added some unique stuff including a top notch Cabernet Sauvignon from Star Lane Vineyard in Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara as well as a nice dry SLH Tondre Grapefield Riesling. The Clones on this Deerheart are as follows: 667, 777, “828,”, 943, 459 and 2A (Wadenswil) on a variety of rootstocks and Scott did his version 100% de-stemmed, then inoculated with Assmanhausen yeast after a 5-day cold soak, after racking the 2017 Deereart Pinot was aged 10 months in once-used French oak barrels, which offered plenty of toast and refinement. Those that like Rhys should check out this Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot and get on their list, these are tiny production and very limited offerings.
($55 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2017 Weingut Von Winning, Sauvignon Blanc “500” Pfalz Germany.
Continuing its run as one of the world’s absolute best Sauvignon Blancs, the Von Winning 2017 Sauvignon Blanc 500 is almost in a class of its own and is one the greatest white wines in Europe! While that seems like ultra praise, you can judge for yourself, there are few wines with Sauvignon Blanc in them that compare to this one, it is a match for the likes of Haut-Brion Blanc (Semillon/Sauvignon), Dagueneau and the single cru Sancerre(s) of top producers like Gerard Boulay as well as Italy’s Terlano Quarz, a wine with a cult like following. Von Winning is one of Germany’s most serious estates, mostly known for their incredible dry Rieslings from their organic vines in the Pfalz, which are crafted by Stephan Attmann in a unique Burgundy style using vines that are trained like vines in the Cote d’Or and in super high density, making for small yields and intense flavors and the with the cru bottlings being fermented and aged in special 500L casks. The Sauvignon Blanc 500 (meaning it was also fermented and aged in the same 500 Liter Barrel) sees much the same treatment as Von Winning’s eight or nine tremendous Grosses Gewchs (Grand Cru) giving this wine an incredible density and concentration, this is luxurious and powerful wine with mouth filling layers of citrus and orchard fruits along with hedonistic creme brûlée, smoky sweet wood, mineral tones and chalky/sony detail with a fresh zip pf acidity as well as a touch of exotic tropical fruit. The weight and texture of Von Winning’s 500 Sauvignon Blanc is perfectly judged and goes well with the woody presence in this amazing wine.
The Von Winning Sauvignon Blanc 500 is, as the winery notes, sourced from Deidsheimer Paradiesgarten (with those high density plantings), Deidesheimer Herrgottsacker and Kallstadter Steinacker vineyard sites, all of which are on a combination of löss, loam and the regions classic red sandstone and is a best selection of barrels. As Terry Theise, Von Winning’s importer notes, Attmann, who famously describes his winemaking as “not doing the wrong thing at the wrong time.” treats his wines with a very gentile hand employing a minimalist approach in the cellar and with the highest respect of the estate’s terroir and wanting to highlight purity. He also uses natural and spontaneous fermentation and without any fining agents to create wines with a distinctive personality and very elegant style. In the Von Winning cellar there is no need for pumping the juice or wine as everything is done with gravity flow. The wines made with extreme care are expressive, complex and stunning in detail, especially this one which gains with air and time in the glass revealing lemon curd, a hint of grapefruit, gooseberry, quince and white flowers which added to its sexy brioche/lessy mouth feel and sexy form make this special stuff. This is a no compromise wine and while not cheap, it is pretty damn mind blowing and considering it’s quality, worth every penny and will impress over the next 5 to 10 years, it might be the best wine of the vintage here! Also, it must be noted, Von Winning does two other more basic Sauvignon Blanc(s) the I and II, and while not to this level they are extremely good too, all are together these wines make you think about your choices and put Germany’s versions of this grape, maybe ahead of France and New Zealand!
($95 Est.) 97 Points, grapelive
2015 Mount Eden, Chardonnay, Estate, Santa Cruz Mountains.
The gorgeous 2015 Mount Eden Estate Chardonnay shows amazing depth, complexity, texture and length, it satisfies all the senses and is one of the great wines of California, and the world! As I have mentioned in a recent review of their brilliant Pinot Noir, Mount Eden is one of the most celebrated and cherished small boutique wineries in California making estate Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. Mount Eden’s winery and vines sit about 2,000 feet up above what is now Silicon Valley, it was originally founded as the Martin Ray Estate back in the mid 1940s and over the following 20 plus years became known for exceptional Chards and Pinots. In 1970 Ray lost the property to an investor coup and in 1972 it became Mount Eden, and they hired Pinot guru Richard Graff who had founded Chalone, who crafted the legendary 1972 and 1973 vintages before the owners brought on the little known woman winemaker Merry Edwards, who is now a California icon! In the more modern era of Mount Eden Vineyards Jeffrey Patterson, winemaker has made the estate one of California’s absolute best, he was originally hired as the assistant winemaker back in 1981. Having graduated in biology from UC Berkeley in 1975, Patterson was fortunate to have been in Berkeley in the 1970s when local food and wine in the Bay Area were becoming relevant with the likes of Alice Waters creating a huge buzz. This is when she opened the famed Chez Panisse and Kermit Lynch had just started bringing in some of the great undiscovered wines of France, and the public were getting their first chance to explore French cuisine as well as have it paired with famous old world wines, all of which inspired and helped form Patterson’s future approach to his wines.
Patterson’s 2015 Estate Chardonnay flows across the palate with a full bodied opulence, but with fine detailing and balance in the mode of a fine Puligny or maybe more like bolder vintage of Batard, richly pleasing and with layers of ripe apple, lemon curd, pear and peach tart along with mineral tones, creme brûlée, golden fig, orange blossom, a faint trace of dried pineapple, toast and vanilla. There is some earthy elements, saline and stony flavors in the background and an underlying natural acidity that cuts into the luxurious concentration that makes this regal wine stand out, Mount Eden and Hanzell still make awesome Chardonnay and this vintage of Mount Eden is positively awesome and it should prove to be a classic, I can imagine it aging well for another decade easily with charm, grace and hedonistic style. Patterson notes that these wines, which come from unique Burgundy clonal material that is know known as Mount Eden Clone and he details the winemaking here as follows, with the Estate Chardonnay grapes getting harvested when slightly yellow to yellow-green and are pressed without crushing. Adding that, all of the juice is barrel-fermented in new and one-year-old French Burgundy barrels, where the wine undergoes full malolactic fermentation and elevage on the lees lasted for close to ten months before being lightly filtered prior to bottling. Patterson like to give his wines time to age and fill out, so the Estate Chardonnay is rested in Mount Eden’s cellar for two years before being released for sale. And we all benefit from that dedication to quality with the later release of these wines and this vintage is sublime and darn near perfection in the glass, in fact all the currant estate offerings are fantastic here and should not be missed, all are build to age and have great potential for those that like to put down their wines, but drinking great now.
($60 Est.) 96 Points, grapelive
2016 O’Shaughnessy, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley.
The 2016 Napa Valley vintage is everything it was promised to be, especially when shown through an impression like this beautiful O’Shaughnessy Cabernet Sauvignon which relies mostly on young-vine Cabernet from the Wools Ranch on Mt. Veeder as well as some coming off their Howell Mountain estate, which provides depth and character. This well made wine is wonderfully complex and lightly spicy with classic firm structure along with the modern dark fruit opulence we’ve come to expect from a Napa Cabernet. O’Shaughnessy’s Estate sits at 1,800 feet on the legendary Howell Mountain, not from the famous Dunn Vineyards, and was founded back in 1996 by Betty O’Shaughnessy Woolls And Paul Woolls. The estate has the talented winemaker Sean Capiaux making the wines, in fact he has overseen the planting of the vineyard and even selected numerous clones of Cabernet Sauvignon that was planted in the various vineyard sites, which are mostly mountain vineyard plots. O’Shaughnessy is focused on Cabernet, though they do a nice Chardonnay and a very limited Syrah in some years and intriguingly, according to the winery they have all seven of the historic Bordeaux varietals planted on property, including Cabernet Sauvignon and their blending varietals, Cabernet Franc, Petit Verdot, Merlot, Malbec, Carmenere, St. Macaire and Gros Verdot, the last two being extremely rare and are almost unknown even in Bordeaux itself!
The richly packed O’Shaughnessy 2016 Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley had a final blend of about 80% Cabernet Sauvignon, 8% Malbec, 5% Merlot, 3% St. Macaire, 2% Cabernet Franc and 2% Petit Verdot, that fills out all corners of the senses.This deep purple/inky wine that delivers an exceptional performance with a full bodied, black fruit driven and ripe tannin led palate with layers of blackberry, mocha, creme de cassis, plum and blueberry coulis along with hints of violets, licorice, smoky vanilla, sage and sweet tobacco notes. Sean, who has made wine in the past at Peter Michael, Jordan and Pine Ridge, uses an array of modern equipment, but follows a classic approach to his wines here, which are naturally fermented, get long elevage and are bottled unfined and unfiltered. These techniques, as noted by Capiaux, allows the character of the grapes and terroir of the O’Shaughnessy Estate vineyards to be the stars of the show, which in a vintage such as this proves his point to perfection. I have been a fan of Capiaux, who also does a great lineup of Pinots under his own label, and O’Shaughnessy for close to 15 years, so it was great to catch up with their latest releases with Luke Russ, their Commercial Director and long time Napa pro, these are very impressive wines, as good if not better than ever, in particular this brilliant bottling, that in fact rivals more elite Napa offerings at half the price. Drink this beauty over the next 10 to 15 years.
($80 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2016 Schlossgut Diel, Spatburgunder (Pinot Noir) Trocken, “C” Cuvee Caroline, Nahe Germany.
Armin and daughter Caroline Diel’s Schlossgut Diel in the Nahe region of German are renown for their amazing Rieslings, especially their Trockens (dry wines) but there are two things you must never miss trying from this famous estate, their ultra luxurious Brut sparkling wines that rival anything that Krug or Vilmart make and Caroline’s exceptional Pinot Noir, that regardless of sounding cliche, rivals some top names in Burgundy. I was lucky enough to be at Schlossgut Diel at harvest time in 2016, when the grapes for this gorgeous Cuvee Caroline or “C” Pinot Noir (Spatburgunder) came in to cellar from the vines, so it was with personal fascination and meaning to me to see how things turned out and I mean wow, this is just utterly delicious and serious stuff with pure class showing from start to finish. The Nahe is a treasure trove of great wine estates and the region has a amazing array of terroirs for one of the smallest in Germany, sitting to the west of the Rheinhessen and to the south (and southwest) of the Rheingau it has mostly eastern facing steep slopes that capture lots of sun, making for ripe grapes, and while not a large area is dedicated to Pinot Noir, it can produce special wines as this one proves.
German Pinot Noir has been a thing now for more than a decade with top producers like Friedrich Becker, in the Pfalz and Meyer-Nakel in the Ahr making lots of headlines, along with some vintages from August Kesseler too, from his Assmannshausen Hollenberg cru in the Rheingau, but in more recent vintages I have been really impressed if not absolutely blown away with upper Rheingau grown Gunter Kuntzler’s GG Hochheimer Reichestal and this Diel, which is a stellar Nahe Pinot Noir. Beautifully balanced and stunning in the glass this 2016, with its beautiful dark garnet and ruby edges, gives a top notch performance on the palate reminding me of something like a favorite Chambolle-Musigny or a Clos Saint-Denis even, though still with its own unique personality that comes from the combination of soils that includes gravel, clay, slate and quartz that highlight mineral tones and radiant red fruits found here. Silky and mouth filling this Cuvee Caroline, named obviously after the winemaker and her signature red wine is already drinking fabulously with a layered form with dense cherry, strawberry and wild plum fruits that coming bursting on to the palate before some darker, almost black fruit, comes through with hints of violets, spice and smoky in the background, wrapped around blackberry, tangy currant, cranberry and toasty wood notes.
Caroline, who once did a stint at the fabled Domaine de la Romanee-Conti, is very hands on in the vineyards and meticulous in the cellar with the fruit for this premium Pinot Noir cuvée being carefully selected exclusively from her finest Pinot Noir plots, with all the grapes being rigorously eye balled and hand sorted for the utmost quality. All the clusters of these deeply color grapes, from a multi-pass manual harvest, were de-stemmed by hand and then fed into open wooden fermenting vats. Caroline adds that eight days of maceration followed, after which the wine began its wild ferment with native yeasts. She also notes that during this primary fermentation, the cap is foot-stomped in gentle, (very) controlled punch-downs. Then after a four week settling period, the young wine is gravity-fed into small oak barrels for its secondary or malolactic fermentation, where it is raised for about 20 months in total, using mostly new oak, but also with a small portion of reconditioned barrels that are rotated in each year. 2016 which was an interesting if not frightening vintage with a cool wet mid-summer before an extended Indian summer saved the year providing grapes with lush ripeness, but with lovely freshness too, this is a year to look for in both Diel’s outstanding Rieslings and this Pinot Noir.
($130 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2017 Domaine Lucien Crochet, Sancerre Blanc, Loire Valley, France.
One of the best Summer whites, and certainly my favorite Sancerre of the vintage, is the Lucien Crochet 2017 with its purity and mineral focus that highlight the classic terroir of this Loire Valley Sauvignon Blanc, with the grapes coming for this basic cuvée from the vineyards in Bué, crochet’s home village, as well as Vinon and Crézancy. Crochet who started going organic in 1989 make some lovely wines with soulful expressions of both Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Noir from their La Croix du Roy lieu-dit, which in some vintages rival some big names making Premier Cru Burgundy. This 2017 is steely with vivid citrus, white flowers and chalky with layers of grapefruit, lemon/lime, white peach, kiwi and green melon fruits, wet stones, a touch of herb and tangy lemongrass as well as a fine textural quality and exciting acidity. This is perfect as a fresh and vibrant young white, to be drunk over the next year or two.
The Lucien Crochet uses exclusively temperature controlled stainless tanks to ferment this Sancerre cuvée, and like all the whites at the domaine, according to Rosenthal Wine Merchant, their importer, this wine sits in contact with the fine lies for a considerable period of time, between 9 and 12 months overall, with the racking being done late in the spring following harvest. The vineyard sites all are mostly the classic white Kimmerdigian soils, but also with some Oxfordian era limestone, all of which cleanly and transparently show here and shine, this ultra pale Sancerre is gorgeous in its naked form and electric on the light to medium bodied palate with leesy mouth feel adding an elegance and substance to the performance. This wine is wonderfully dry and brisk, refreshing and a great companion to the region’s goat cheeses and Summer cuisine choices, including grilled fish and or lemon chicken and Couscous.
($32 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2017 Halcon Vineyards, Petite Sirah “Tierra” Theopolis Vineyard, Yorkville Highlands.
The thrilling and edgy Halcon Tierra is one of California’s most intriguing Petite Sirah(s) with intense and racy inky dark fruits and spicy notes that excite the senses in a way that few Petite wines can, it has a more northern Rhone presence in the glass that you could ever imagine. This is Paul Gordon’s fifth edition using this unique vineyard site, owned and run Theodora Lee, of Theopolis Vineyard, who also with the help of Ed Kutzman makes a fine version too, is a high elevation and terraced vineyard that is always on the edge of ripening, but provides amazing grapes with fascinating depth and complexity with generally lower natural sugars or brix at harvest, with the Halcon 2017 coming in at a very refined 13.9% alcohol. Gordon, who has his own signature Syrah vineyard much higher up, and one of the best labels for whole cluster driven Syrah and Rhone style wines, really has made a brilliant Petite Sirah that delivers a performance more in line with a great Cornas, think Thierry Allemand, Guillaume Gilles, Domaine Lionnet and or Auguste Clape rather than a more traditional California style. While mostly Syrah like, there is a part of this wine that has an old school Cabernet Sauvignon side with its structure, this is astonishing opaque purple/black and garnet stuff that benefits robust cuisine, and or hard cheeses. I have been nothing but impressed since first trying the Halcon and each vintage gets even more spine tingling, these wines rival anything in their price class no question and are of the same quality as many of the state’s top Rhone producers, and these 2017 have taken it up a notch or two, even as tight and youthful as they are.
Paul Gordon, who through this vintage had Scott Shapley, as his wine consultant and winemaker, known for his work at Roar , helping out with the wines, crafted this Petite Sirah, grown on poor, low vigor and gravelly soils, using 50% whole-cluster in the fermentation with significant stem inclusion, almost unheard of in Petite Sirah, and then aged in neutral French oak puncheons, which allow for exceptional purity of form. This unfined and unfiltered Tierra is bursting with ripe blackberry, currant, plum and blueberry fruits, along with dried violets, incense, cigar box, sandalwood, bitter coco, black licorice, savory peppercorns and Asian spices. This vintage is lively and with a big powerful mouth feel, but lifted with a streak of mineral and acidity and while gripping and firm the tannins are polished enough to allow a full revealing of this wines dynamic and exotic personality, this is an outrageously great wine and one that should age amazingly well. With air this wine takes on a regal confidence while still keeping its riveting tension and thrill gaining a lushness of fruit and incredible length with hints of frankincense, leather, lavender/sage and creme de cassis. I can’t say this enough, get on Halcon’s mailing list and buy these wines, the wine is worth at least double if not triple the asking prices, especially buy their Syrah(s) both the classic Alturas that is co-fermented with Viognier and the monumental Elevación made from 100% Chave Hermitage Selection Syrah clones, along with Gordon’s Grenache/Mourvedre, his Oppenlander Pinot Noir as well as this freakishly good fleshy Petite Sirah. Drink over the next two decades!
($32 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2018 Kelley Fox Wines, Pinot Gris, Maresh Vineyard, Dundee Hills, Oregon.
Kelley Fox, known for her outstanding Pinot Noirs, also does a fantastic Pinot Blanc and this slightly mysterious skin contact Pinot Gris that sits somewhere between a Rosé and a true Ramato, or orange wine, with its rich and savory palate giving a nice play contrasting wild strawberry, sour cherry, plum water, grilled orange and peaches with umami elements that includes flinty mineral, red spices, maybe from the Jory (volcanic) soils, saline and bitter herbs. Fresh and wonderfully dry the 2018 seems more tension filled that my last time tasting Fox’s Maresh Pinot Gris, but still having the intriguing complexities and lingering dried flowers and wet stones. Fox notes, the vines which produced this Pinot Gris were planted on their own roots in 1991 on the northwest corner of Maresh Vineyard, in the Willamette Valley’s Dundee Hills AVA, and farmed to mostly organic practices. Fox, who started her winemaking career at Eyrie Vineyards, she followed that up with a 10-year stint (2005 to 2015) as winemaker at Scott Paul, where she gained international fame for her talents with Pinot Noir, before going it alone by establishing her own winery in 2007. Under her own label things seem to be getting even better and her wines have risen to even higher levels of excellence and these last three vintages have just been mind blowing.
This Maresh Pinot Gris, is not really all that serious when compared to her Pinot Blanc and the Pinot Noirs, but still, even with its weirdness and less sleek profile it continues to fascinate. This unique wine, according to Fox, for the 2018 vintage, was 100% destemmed and fermented in two 1.5 ton “macrobin” fermentors, with one pigeage (foot-treading) happening each day, for about 18 days total of skin contact occurring before the wine was pressed at dryness. Then the elevage (aging) was completed in a uterine-shaped concrete amphora tank, which explains the hint of volatility and chalky mouth feel, neither of which would be expected in a Rosé, and not unwelcome, it just makes this a bit of an oddity. This is no wimpy wine with it’s slightly aggressive nature, it is best to enjoy with food and more robust cuisine choices. Be sure to explore Fox’s Pinots they are as mentioned, fantastic wines, don’t overlook her Freedom Hill Pinot Blanc and this fun stuff, which adds a welcome little weirdness to Kelley’s lineup.
($29 Est.) 88 Points, grapelive
2017 Desire Lines Wine Co. Red Wine, Evangelho Vineyard, Contra Costa County.
Cody Rasmussen’s Desire Lines Wine Co.“Evangelho” red is an intriguing old vine Carignan and a touch Mourvedre from the sandy Contra Costa soils that delivers a punch of dark fruit, spice and earthy intensity with crunchy/juicy plum and blueberry from the Carignan and a meaty power with black cherry, blackberry and baked earth edgy side from the famous Evangelho Mourvèdre/Mataro vines. Rassmusen, who is the assistant winemaker for Morgan Twain-Peterson at Bedrock Wine Co. has really created quite a splash with his own line of wines, making an excellent set of interesting things, especially his Griffin’s Lair and Shake Ridge Syrah(s), his Cole Ranch Riesling and this awesome Evangelho red blend. Layered with the black, blue and red fruits this vintage shows a minty and spicy side with boysenberry coming through with air adding anise, crushed stones, a touch of cedar and tart currant. I can imagine some leather and sanguine notes popping up in the future in this deeply flavorful and purple/garnet hued wine, though as it is drinking vividly and joyously I cannot think that many will put any away to rest in the cellar.
For his 2017 Evangelho Red Wine, Rassmusen says he ended up with a blend of roughly 95% Carignan and with just 5% Mourvèdre, though it feels like more on the dense palate. The wine, which Cody notes was inspired by his love for the great Cru Beaujolais of France like Clos de la Roilette’s Cuvée Tardive Fleurie and the old-vine single parcels of Château Thivin in Cote de Brouilly, which are his personal favorites and mine too! The Evangelho Vineyard, which is now owned and farmed by Twain-Peterson, Carignan/Mourvedre was fermented with about 30% whole cluster under a submerged cap and was rack to cask where it was aged for ten months in larger neutral 400L barrels to give these edition an expressive personality and fresh character. This is quaffable, but structured stuff, it has a unique flexible ability to be great with a slight chill with picnics and BBQ, but equally at home with a formal sit down dinner with classic steak and fixings or a rack of lamb, drink this over the next 3 to 5 years. This is a winery to discover and a young winemaker to follow, I highly recommend getting on their list as soon as possible.
($35 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2018 Alfaro Family Vineyards, Gruner Veltliner, La Playita Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains.
One of the central coast’s most intriguing alternative whites has to be Richard Alfaro’s estate grown Gruner Veltliner, the Austrian national grape famously grown along the Danube River to the west of Vienna in the Wachau, where like here, makes for a mineral driven dry white wine with interesting stony fruit and bright acidity. Alfaro has crafted a slightly richer denser version in 2018 without losing its vibrant and zesty character, it certainly has a palate impact and loads of extract with a touch of leesy like roundness, highlighting this exceptional vintage. This La Playita Vineyard edition GruVee is serious stuff along the lines of some of the legends of Gruner such as Hirtzberger, Pichler, Knoll, Hirsch, Berger, Nigl and Ingrid Groiss to name of few (of my particular) favorites that make dry crisp styles, but with depth and mouth feel. This 2018 is cool and steely, it starts briskly with lemon/lime and white peach fruits with a touch of loam, almond oil, verbena and wet rock before opening up and filling out with a touch of green apple and muskmelon which adds a fleshy dimension along with just a hint of herbs and brioche. This wine has the same stylish appeal as you would find in a Sur Lie aged Muscadet going great with fresh shucked oysters and or other local sea foods and soft cheeses as well as being a nice Summer sipper.
The 2018 Alfaro Family Vineyards La Playita Gruner was aged 6 months in neutral oak and comes from estate vines set in the unique terrior of Corralitos, at the southern end of the Santa Cruz Mountains appellation on some sandy loams. These soils give lots of fruit detail and the cooling influence of the Pacific Ocean less that 10 miles away preserves a fresh intensity of form in the wine. The South facing La Playrita (Little Beach in Spanish) Vineyard site sits at approximately 500 feet of elevation and next to a seasonal stream, this parcel is at the coolest spot on the Alfaro farm. When planted in 2008, Alfaro notes, there were only about 10 acres of Gruner Veltliner in all of California, and with the wine’s success that acreage is growing and today there are approximately 170 acres more planted, and there is sizable number in Oregon now too. Alfaro’s efforts have been brilliant, and now there are even some cult wines coming from his vines with Vocal Gruner and even Arnot-Roberts making one from these vines, while we are also now seeing fine examples of this varietal coming from Santa Barbara County, Edna Valley and the Sonoma Coast. I’ve tasted this bottling a three occasions now and it has got better each time making me think it can age a few years with no problem, but of course it is wonderful right now, drink anytime.
($25 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2017 Domaine Vincent Paris, Saint-Joseph Rouge “Les Cotes” Northern Rhone, France.
Vincent Paris, whose first vintage was 1997, is one of the Northern Rhone’s awesome collection of great young winemakers and is co-president of the Cornas appellation, where he is based and his small lot collection of Syrah(s) include Cornas, for which obviously he most famous for and a selection of Crozes-Hermitage and Saint-Joseph bottlings like this gorgeous version. Vincent’s uncle is the legendary and now retired Robert Michel, one of Cornas’ finest ever growers mentored him and helped make his first few vintages, before he stepped out on his own and got his own cellars and a vineyard plots, with Vincent’s total rented and owned holdings amounting to a mere 8 hectares. They are located at different places primarily along the southeast facing Cornas slope, a bit in Crozes and a small lot in St. Joseph where he gets the grapes for this one. This is such a satisfying Northern Rhone that is high-toned and pure, it has potential to get even better, making it a great buy for the price, even though it is not as thrilling as the more whole-cluster driven Cornas, but still a wonderful wine.
Farming all organic and tending steep granite soil sites, Paris crafts bold and expressive wines, fermenting in tiny batches and with this Les Cotes Saint-Joseph he uses native yeast and ferments in a combination of steel and wood, at low temps to preserve the beautiful aromatics, with this wine seeing a year in barrel. With the Saint-Joesph he uses less whole cluster to focus on elegance and refinement, which this vintage shows especially, but with the vintage’s depth and concentration this is an awesome mouthful of Syrah. After fabulous stuff in 2015 and 2016, these 2017 had a lot to do to match and excite the Rhone enthusiasts cravings and it does and then some! This 2017 Saint-Joseph is freshly detailed with classic elements, it’s impressive in the glass with a deep garnet/purple color and layers of blackberry, currant, boysenberry and blueberry fruits along with graphite, anise, cedar and pepper, adding density with air and gaining hints of subtle florals including violets. There is a bright almost sharp focus here with some raw tannin and while poise and ripe it gives some muscle to this Syrah, making it best with food, drink over the next 5 to 10 years.
($35 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2017 Gregory Brewer Wines, Syrah, Ex Post Facto, Santa Barbara County.
A much more serve version of Santa Barbara County Syrah than you’d expect from a wine with close to 15% natural alcohol this 2017 vintage details a more austere style than the last year with plenty of wild herbs, loam, bramble/briar spiciness and less, at this stage, forward fruit with more subdued layers of blackberry, blueberry, tangy currant and cranberry on the powerful palate. This wine moves to its own agenda and with a snails pace adding crushed pepper, olive and anisette notes before revealing pretty violets, kirsch and a vinous mouth feel. I will put a few bottles away for another year or two and revisit, as I felt it is more of tease at this point, hinting at more pleasure and poise to come. Best to decant this and or serve with hardy cuisine, including grilled meats, hard cheeses and or lamb dishes.
The new vintage of Ex Post Facto Syrah from Greg Brewer, one of California’s great winemaking talents and original partner in the famed Brewer-Clifton label as well as doing his Chardonnay specialist label Diatom, is a rich and earthy version that shows classic Northern Rhone character and spiciness. This 2017 is expressive and whole cluster flamboyant, but still quite tight in presentation, this stuff needs age and I can see why Brewer is waiting until late fall for its official release, that said you can already see the huge potential here and I was very impressed with the lift and balance in what is a very serious and ripe vintage. For those that don’t remember Brewer’s fabulous efforts with Syrah at Melville, especially the Donna’s, you’ll want to get on the list for these wines, which he sells through Diatom & Brewer-Clifton, this stuff compares well with the likes of Pax, Drew, Andrew Murray and Sashi Moorman’s Piedrassasi label as well as Stolpman in Ballard Canyon, and is priced exceptionally well considering it’s limited availability.
($32 Est.) 90-92 Points, grapelive
2017 Clos Ste. Magdeleine, Cassis Blanc, Provence, France.
I’m a huge Cassis Blanc fan, I think it is one of the great wines of France and one of the wine world’s best kept secrets, and Clos Ste. Magdeleine is one of the best producers, imported by the famed Kermit Lynch, this elite Provence winery makes stunning versions and this 2017 absolutely rocks my world! Clos Saint Magdeleine, now run by Fancois Sack was originally founded by Jules Savon, who won the Gold Medal for the domaine at the World’s Fair in 1900 and put this estate on the map and the Sack family who have been in charge for four generations continue to make awesome wines in this picturesque village on the Mediterranean sea, not far from both Bandol and Marseille, where Cassis is a favorite at the best bistros and cafes. The village (AOC) which allows only White and Rosé is an ancient fishing village, and as Kermit Lynch notes, Cassis has seen its fair share of visitors over the millennia. Greek colonists from Phocaea first arrived in the sixth century B.C., and with them came the timeless Ugni Blanc grape and viticultural savvy. The Romans later made their way here, as well as their Barbarian successors, followed by the medieval Counts of Les Baux, all the way to tourists of the modern era looking to escape the cold, dark cities. Cassis is not only an active port, but what Kermit calls “an earthly paradise…”, with the vineyards of Clos Sainte Magdeleine being particularly stunning, and a place I hope to visit in person. These vineyards jut out on to a private cape to meet majestic shoreline and spectacular limestone cliffs, poised above gorgeously beauty of the sparkling, azure Mediterranean, which even from pictures is breathtaking, I can only imagine witnessing it in the flesh. It is well known that only a handful of vignerons today are fortunate enough to produce A.O.C. Cassis, with Domaine Bagnol and Clos Sainte Magdeleine being the top, and the small quantities available are largely consumed locally, making it hard to find, but well worth searching out, especially this one.
The 2017 Cassis Blanc is made from organic grapes, about 40% Marsanne, 30% Ugni blanc, 25% Clairette and 5% Bourboulenc, with the last three varietals being Chateauneuf du Pape legal and the Marsanne, which makes up the biggest part and does exceptionally well here close to the sea is one of the main grapes in the Northern Rhone, and most famously in Hermitage Blanc. I always find that the basic cuvee with it’s higher percentage of Clairette Blanc is the most interesting, to my tastes and that is seems have a bit more vitality and intriguing aromatics with a wonderful mineral quality, while the upper end single vineyard/parcel Bel-Arme with much more Marsanne offers a more textural feeling and is fuller, while still fabulous, I much prefer the regular Cassis and its refreshing form, especially this warm vintage. The all organic Clos Sainte Magdeleine Cassis Blanc is all de-stemmed and gravity pressed and then the juice is fermented and aged in 100% temperature-controlled stainless steel tank with some lees contact and with full malos. Aged in total for between 14 to 18 months in tank, Clos Sainte Magdeleine’s Cassis Blanc, as Kermit adds, success lies in an uncanny ability to capture a dichotomous nerve and sun-kissed unctuousness, making it both incredibly food-friendly and delicious entirely on its own, of which I complete agree with. Bright with layers of lime, tangerine, orange blossom, wet and saline rich stones, a touch of almond oil, verbena and unripe peach/apricot along with zippy acidity and clove spice this vintage has a hint of ripe apply creaminess from the Marsanne when in warms in the glass giving the impression of serious intention without taking away from the fantastic energy, this is brilliant wine and perfection on a warm evening, drink over the next 3 to 5 years, though there is no reason to wait.
($35 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2017 Cameron Winery, Pinot Noir, Ribbon Ridge, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
Very different from his Dundee Hills bottlings, John Paul’s Cameron Ribbon Ridge Pinot shows terroir and darker black fruit profile, which seems highlighted by the Marine Sedimentary soils, though there is a family resemblance in its slight reductive presence in the glass and Burgundy like class. As Paul Notes, the grapes for this wine are sourced from two distinct vineyards, Foster Farms Vineyard and Armstrong Vineyard in the Ribbon Ridge AVA. The young vine Foster Farms site which was planted in 2006 that is lovingly tended by famed cider apple grower Alan Foster, along with the Armstrong Vineyard that was recently converted to dry-farmed only grapes, both of which give this wine its soul and complexity. Paul adds, fruit from Ribbon Ridge is always intense with loads of structure, making for a bold and gripping personality in the wine(s), but vintage is always key sand this beautiful and lacy 2017 is stunner with a poise in the glass that is remarkable in this price point, this is a killer bottle of Pinot for the money, no wonder it sells out so fast. Part of the Deep Roots Coalition, Cameron is committed to dry farming for many obvious reasons, quality and intensity of the grapes through smaller yields and the less diluting of flavors and terroir transmission, plus he is concerned for the environment and wasting water is something he wants to avoid as that water usually means taking away from areas that need it, the kick on effect is it saves salmon streams as well.
Bursting with blackberry, plum and dark cherry fruits, a hint of sweet smoke and earthy tones this vintage of Cameron’s Ribbon Ridge is a thrilling wine with pure old world character, it gains in everyday possible with air, taking on a deeper form, spices, layers and florals. As with all of the Cameron wines they see almost no irrigation and the winemaking is tradition Burgundy all the way with native yeasts used for primary fermentations and long elevages, usually between 18 and 20 months in barrique, that are seasoned with a couple of fills. The Winery is very particular about its wood and Cameron’s choice of barrels, as Paul puts it, is equally crucial to the quality of the final product. For both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay he usually select barrels from a wonderful cooper he discovered, who lives in the village of Saint Romain in Burgundy. His name is Claude Gillet and together with his children and several master coopers they turn out some of the most exquisite wine barrels to be found. in fact every year Claude and his son, Laurent, visit our winery, taste the wines in barrels and make recommendations for choice of forest, toast level and all of the other minutia that go into crafting an oak barrel that suits Cameron’s style. As mentioned, John Paul, Cameron’s legendary winemaker believes that barrels reach their perfection only after a couple vintages, he prefers to utilize used cooperage which is between 1-3 years old for our most precious cuvées and even older for the regional or village wines, like this one. Drink this Pinot over the next 5 to 7 years and always pair it with matching cuisine, both Cameron’s Dundee Hills cuvee and this one are
($30 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2018 Ameztoi, Rubentis Rosé, Getariako Txakolina, Spain.
The beautifully delicate and mineral fresh Ameztoi Rosé is crafted from local basque grapes 50% Hondarribi Beltza and 50% Hondarribi Zuri grown on limestone and sand with mostly old vine fruit with some of these vines dating back to 1918, this slightly spritzy and low alcohol wine is one of the world’s most exciting Rosés. The Getariako Txakolina region is on the Bay of Biscay and is a cool zone in the basque area of Northwest Spain within sight of San Sebastian, the food mecca just South of the French border. Ignacio Ameztoi, of Ameztoi, is the fifth generation of his family to carry on the tradition of making Txakolina in the province of Getaria, on a unique stretch of land that extends out into the bay, and he has played a key role in the advancement of the region in the last decade, cleaning up the wines and promoting a lighter and fresher style wine to great effect. The 2018 version is divinely vivid and lifted with snappy and tart raspberry water, sour cherry and tangy garden strawberry fruits along with zippy grapefruit/citrusy notes, mineral tones, salty wet stones and rose oil. It should be noted this winery still uses some grapes from their special plot that was planted in 1840 that has been preserved by the Ameztoi family, this pre-Phylloxera block is one of the oldest set of vines in Europe!
The iconic Rubentis Rosé, the region’s first pink wine, was naturally fermented in refrigerated stainless steel tanks utilizing indigenous yeasts from the vineyard. The tanks are closed to preserve natural carbonation from fermentation, which is the preferred style of Getaria. The fermentation tanks, according to importer De Maison Selections, are kept chilled to near 32 degrees Fahrenheit before bottling, which preserves the wine’s delicate, effervescent character and signature mousse. The Rubentis Rosé a field blend of the white Hondarrabi Zuri and the red Hondarrabi Beltza grapes, which are co-fermented for three weeks. When most local wineries gave up on the indigenous red hondarrabi beltza vines, the Ameztoi family retained their old vines, which gives their rose exceptional vibrancy and complexity. This vintage is perfection and a thrill in the glass with quaffable character, it is a wine that proves a wine doesn’t have to be heavy or dense to have a serious impact on the palate, and it delivers a wonderful performance that leaves you always wanting more with an electric shock of mouth feel and mouth watering brisk detailing, it is a wine that should never be missed, especially in Summer. Absolutely great on its own at the beach, with its only 11% natural alcohol making it a refreshing dry treat, though it can easily be enjoyed with an array of cuisine choices, great with spicy dishes, salads, fried sardines, mussels and or briny oysters as well.
($22 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive