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