2018 Weingut Selbach-Oster, Riesling Feinherb, Graacher Domprobst “Alte Reben” Mosel, Germany.
One of the sleepers in Johannes Selbach’s fabulous collection of 2018 wines is the stunning old vine Graacher Domprobst Feinherb that delivers a dry style and energy driven palate with a fantastic play between crystalline mineral lightness and the extract density that comes through as textured layers. This is incredible Riesling, in a lineup of incredible Rieslings from slate slopes above the Mosel, making it hard to see its individual excellence, in fact it did take time and reflection to get clarity on this Graacher Alte Reben Feinherb which, when focused on, gives a performance that rivals the best of the region with layers of generous green apple, lime, mango and quince fruits, dried ginger spices, smoky flint stoniness, citron/verbena and salted melon sorbet, in a weightless and steely frame. The acidity hides the residual sweetness (off dry), again showing why a non trocken (dry) can be more balanced and still drink crisply dry, especially in a wine of this purity and quality, where exceptional work was done in the vineyards and experience in the cellar that allowed this wine’s unique true personality and soul were allowed to come through without forcing it into a category that would have changed its life force. Some will say that if Selbach had fermented a shade or two drier he could have made a GG out of this wine, but that would take away more than it would have given, this wine is better for the extra fruity quality and it certainly drinks much drier than the average Burgundy or California Chardonnay, but the point is Selbach has revealed the absolute best of the place and grapes to shine through, it is magnificent and a Riesling that shows the heart of the Mosel. The Graacher plots are on primarily blue Devonian slate with a layer of loam underneath, that brings out the fruit, and it’s that expression that Johannes celebrates and spotlights here, this is a special old vine section and this Riesling, which came in the winery with about Spatlese must weight, bursts at the seams with gorgeous tension and intensity, though presented with grace and poise.
Selbach’s holdings in the middle Mosel includes some of the best old vines in the region with about half of their vines being on their original rootstocks, in Zeltinger Himmelreich, Schlossberg, and Sonnenuhr; Wehlener Sonnenuhr; and, Graacher Himmelreich and this one from Graacher Domprobst. These vineyards are set on the classic weathered Devonian slate and are on a very steep, contiguous slope that gathers the sun and the reflection off the river with perfect south and south west exposures. These vines make for an impressive set of parcels, which are all picked separately, of course by hand and each is faithfully fermented to create very individual wines that pay great respect for each site and what story they each want to tell, I am in particularly fond of certain sites and over the 20 plus years I’ve been enjoying and tasting Selbach-Oster I have developed favorites that speak to me personally, like Zeltlinger-Schlossberg, which no matter how it is treated and or sugar level it makes my heart sing and beat a little faster, though I always love the Kabinett, always a guilty pleasure. 2018 has proved more difficult to fully understand and my vision has been blurred by greatness, all of the Selbach wines are brilliant to point where it is terribly difficult to pick out the highlights, hence the need for reflection, but I highly recommend looking for and searching out all of the single parcel wines, like the Bomer, Rotlay and Schmitt, plus this Graacher Domprobst Feinherb, which is a steal for the quality on offer! Johannes uses traditional oak fuder in his cellar, adding, according to his importer Terry Theise, a few new large casks every couple of years and the ferments are done in a combination of fuder (German oak cask) and stainless steel, predominantly these wines are allowed to start with “Sponti” or with wild yeasts, and aged on the lees for an extended period. This wine was fermented in those old Mosel Fuder barrels, some up to 60 years old, almost as old as the vines themselves, this stuff deserves your attention and it should really gain with another 10 years in the cellar, if you could keep your hands off it!
($38 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2016 Saint Jean du Barroux, par Philippe Gimel, Ventoux Rouge “La Source” Rhone Valley, France.
The Saint Jean du Barroux wines are made by Philippe Gimel, the talented winemaker who is an ex chemist that first worked at top names such as Château de Beaucastel in Chateauneuf du Pape, as well as La Janasse, Pierre Bise and Château Devès, names his Ventoux cuvées of Saint Jean Du Barroux after an element of the surrounding terroir, like this La Source Rouge being influenced by a local natural spring near by. The Cotes du Ventoux area in the Rhone’s Luberon is located close to Provence in the foothills of the chalky Mount Ventoux, the highest site in the area, made famous as terrifying and tough stage on the Tour de France, it’s a great and very underrated growing region renowned worldwide for incredible values in Rhone reds, made mostly from Grenache and Syrah. This 2016 La Source by Domaine Saint Jean du Barroux is absolutely fabulous with the depth, perfume, ripe smooth tannins and concentration of flavors that rivals many wines three, four or five times the price, this is stunning lavender scented wine that delivers layers of rich boysenberry, dusty plum, pomegranate and strawberry fruits along with dried flowers, wild garrigue (herb/shrub) or sage, peppercorns, licorice as well as lingering creme de cassis and kirsch, adding a touch of loamy stones and clay contrasting savory elements.
The dark purple/garnet hued, full bodied and aromatic 2016 vintage Saint Jean du Barroux La Source Ventoux Rouge, crafted using 70% Grenache, 25% Carignan and 5% Cinsault all from organic vines set on classic rocky top soils over limestone and hardened clay, it easily could pass for, and tastes like a top-flight Gigondas or Rasteau with exceptional purity, made from a tank raised selection. Gimel pays careful attention to each parcel and he, according to the winery, harvests and sorts by hand, does his fermentation using indigenous yeasts in cement tanks, where it also spends its elevage, and he only bottles after the wines age 18 months at the minimum. Imported by Eric Solomon of European Cellars, the Saint Jean du Barroux wines have a fanatic following with Rhone fans and bargain hunters, these are insanely good wines, especially in years like 2016 and this wine in particular is a steal with its serious palate impact and deliciousness. Philippe Gimel founded his estate back in 2003 and has skyrocketed in popularity in recent years, these wines are stand outs in an area that doesn’t get that much press, which maybe good for those looking for fantastic Rhone expressions at everyday drinking pricing, and at a time like we have now with Covid-19 stay in place orders, this La Source is a wine to stock up on. I highly recommend trying the Saint Jean du Barroux Ventoux Rouge offerings, drink up!
($20 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2018 Sandlands Vineyards, Red Wine, Lodi California.
The latest set of Sandlands are looking pretty awesome, and I started by opening the new 2018 Lodi Red, which is equal parts Cinsault, Carignan and Zinfandel, which takes a leading role in the profile at this stage with its raspberry fruit standing out, though it gets more complex and interesting with time and air, making for a delicious California blend that is bursting with expressive flavors. This dark garnet and purple wine has beautifully textured layers of ripe and smooth dark berries, tangy cherry, from the racy Cinsault, as well as plum, pomegranate and a hint of blueberry fruits. Behind the fruit there is an array of spices, mineral notes, touches of anise, floral dimension and a very subtle wood element. There’s a supple mouthfeel and old vine concentration that is a hallmark of Passalacqua’s wines, who for the past eleven years has worked for Turley Wine Cellars, starting as harvest intern, as he notes, and now as Larry’s head winemaker and vineyard manager! The Sandlands Vineyards label is his personal project, with Tegan and his wife Olivia Passalacqua making a tight collection of wines that are mostly from vines set on sandy soiled sites from across the state. Their lineup includes, what he calls, the forgotten classic California varieties, that as mentioned are primarily grown in decomposed granite (sand), from regions and vineyards that have been farmed for many generations (of California families), but have remained, as Tegan adds, the outliers of California viticulture. This head-trained, dry-farmed and own rooted vineyards are extremely special to Passalacqua, which he says harken back to California’s roots of (wine) exploration, wonder, and hard work.
The 2018 Sandlands Vineyards Lodi Red was an intentional blend of three old vine vineyards, so while not a heritage field blend from a single interplanted site, it does have that kind of feel and personality in the glass. The plots include some1886 Cinsault vines from the Bechthold Vineyard, as well as some 1900 Carignane from the Spenker Ranch and some grapes from the 1915 Zinfandel vines from Passalacqua’s home ranch, at the Kirschenmann Vineyard. Tegan Passalacqua, who is a Napa Valley native, has really stamped his name on the current lineup of Turley and has because a leading voice in California wine, promoting the state and its history with almost every breath. He got his start in the wine industry working in winery labs in Napa, as well as traveling around the world to gain perspective and experience with some influential regions and winemakers. He notes, he has worked in the cellars of Craggy Range in New Zealand with Doug Wisor, along with two of my high heros, Eben Sadie, of Sadie Family Wines in the Swartland of South Africa and Alain Graillot in the Northern Rhone Valley of France! The Lodi Red finished up at 13.3 % natural alcohol and stays very lively and fresh throughout, it is an easy wine to enjoy and is delicious with lots of food choices, I enjoyed it with grilled spicy chicken burritos, but would love to have it with Cajun cuisine and or BBQ pork, plus it will be fabulous with burgers too. While it is tough to find the Sandlands stuff, I highly recommend joining the mailing list, they are really tasty, fairly priced and each wine is unique.
($30 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2015 G.D. Vajra, Barolo DOCG, Coste di Rose, Piedmonte, Italy.
New to the Vajra collection is the Coste di Rose Cru Barolo from a unique vineyard site high in the hills and set on deep sands, so sandy in fact the Vajra’s call this site the beach, over marl and clay soils that gives this Nebbiolo its awesome perfume and amazing texture, just when you thought this winery couldn’t get any better, a wine like this comes along and you get blown away all over again! The 2015 shows the vintage’s warmth and smooth tannins making for a compelling young Barolo, it should age exceptionally well, but certainly it will be very enjoyable all along the way, though I can imagine the upcoming 2016 will be the for collectors to stock up on, with the years more structured form, that said I love this 2015 very much and adore its almost Burgundy/Pinot Noir like class and silken mouth feel, and I imagine it will firm up with another year or so in bottle. The estate of GD Vajra is situated in Vergne, the highest village in the Commune of Barolo with Nebbiolo, being the main varietal, but also planted with Dolcetto, Barbera, Freisa, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and of course their legendary Riesling, which is one of my favorites, to name a few. The vineyards are at heights of 350-400 meters, which plays a big part in the wines’ complexity and aromatic quality that winemaker Giuseppe Vajra achieves with his amazing collection of offerings. I tasted the Coste di Rose at this years Slow Wine Tasting in San Francisco, which thankfully happened before the Cover-19 shutdown, where Vajra’s importer(s) showed us the latest Bricco Della Viole Cru Barolo, the Riesling, which I have reviewed earlier and this new Cru, that I haven’t tried, and while the Bricco Della Viole remains the flagship wine, this Coste di Rose is right up there!
The vines at Vajra, according to the winery, are some of the last to be harvested in the region, giving them long hang times as the higher altitude often pushes their pick dates well into October. Giuseppe Vajra, who took over from his dad Aldo, continues to makes wines in line with tradition, but also uses technology and state of the art facilities to craft these wines. The Barolo wines get about a 30-40 day cuvaison, gently extracting the fine tannins from the skins. Vajra notes that there is a small percentage of stems are left in durning the maceration and primary ferments depending on the vintage. The G.D. Vajra wines are not adorned with flashy sweet/toast French barriques, these wines are exceptionally pure and transparent versions of Barolo and the wines are aged in large (mostly older) Slovenian oak barrels for between 42-48 months before bottling. I’ve been lucky to have had the chance to try most of Vajra’s Barolo bottlings since the 2008 vintage and have been blessed to have tasted with Giuseppe on more than a few occasions and it has been a stellar rise in stardom for this humble and gifted winemaker, when you mention great winemakers in Italy, let alone Piedmonte, Vajra is almost always mentioned, especially by those in the know. The 2015 Coste di Rose starts with its heady rose petal perfume, delicate earthiness and red fruits on the full bodied, but ultra luxurious palate, with the tannins well hidden at this point, again making this feel more like a Chambolle than a rustic Barolo, delivering a silken cascade of brandied cherry, raspberry, plum and balsamic dipped strawberries along with fresh mineral tones, snappy herbs, light cedar and sandalwood notes, as well as licorice, mint, blood orange zest and lingering mulberries. Drink this beauty over the next 5 to 15 years. ($69-85 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2018 Cruse Wine Company, Tannat, Alder Springs Vineyard, Mendocino County.
Mostly known for his divine Ultramarine Methode Champenoise sparkling wine and his fun lineup of pétillant naturel, Michael Cruse also makes some really good still wines some of which come from unique places and crafted from lesser known varietals, like his Valdiguie, also known as Napa Gamay, because it was long thought to be Gamay and this Tannat. This firmly tannic black grape is originally from France’s Basque region and found in wines from Irouléguy in the Pyrénées, as well as famously also in the Madiran AOC in France’s southwest, plus Tannat has proven to be quite delicious in the new world with serious versions coming from Uruguay and the grape is seeing some success in California, where it was only a minor player, though it has been here for nearly a century, and a blending grape until more recently. Cruse gets his from one of the best vineyards in Northern California, Alder Springs, in Mendocino County, mostly known for Rhone varietals, especially Syrah. Located just 12 miles east of the beautiful Mendocino Coast, and 3 miles west of the legendary Redwood Highway 101, the site is remote and challenging, but makes for fabulous wines, this region is bordered by a dramatic coastline, the Eel River and is also home to enormous Redwood trees. The Alder Springs Vineyard, In the far northern Mendocino County, past Anderson Valley, is farmed by Stuart Bewley, who has been growing some of California’s most sought after wine grapes since 1993. Cruse is making lots of fun stuff, like this Tannat, with his pop top Sparkling Valdiguie pétillant naturel being one of my personal favorites, as well as his Sparkling St. Laurent Blanc de Noirs pétillant naturel, made from a rare Austrian red grape grown in Carneros.
Michael Cruse, like most from this new group of California’s talented winemakers and micro wineries is not interested in making blockbuster and oak driven wines of the prior generation, but instead he is looking for purity and youthful drinking pleasure in his still wines, like this one, using natural methods and indigenous yeast fermentations and without the use of new barrels. Tannat can be very rustic, fiery and dusty dry, it is naturally high in raw tannins, polyphenols and pigment, making for chewy wines that tend to need some robust cuisine to tame the gripping force on the palate, though Cruse has managed to present the grape in a more generous and stylish form with a lacy freshness, ripe black fruit flavors and vivid details. Interestingly, Bewley has an array of three different Tannat clones including 794, 474 and 717 at Alder Springs, which would seemingly add to the complexity in this wine. Alder Springs is not a monolithic site with many micro climates, a mix of plots and many soils from which to chose like marine sediments, gravels, clay, broken stones and basalt to name a few, along with various hills and slopes. The dark purple and electric garnet hued 2018 Cruse Tannat starts with a hint of sweet florals, black fruit, wild herbs and mineral tones before filling out on the ripe and impeccably smooth, especially for Tannat, palate with layers of blackberry, blueberry, plum and black cherry fruits, minty licorice, a touch of deep blood orange, a hint of iron and delicate spices. This wine is very textural in mouth feel and it is wonderfully fresh, with satiny tannins, refined natural alcohol at 13%, good acidity and will be exceptionally fan with simple and rustic country style cuisine, it’s a delicious and easy to drink wine to drink over the next few years.
($39 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2018 Giacomo Borgogno & Figli, Timorasso – Derthona DOC, Colli Tortonesi, Piedmonte, Italy.
A few years ago, Walter Massa of Vigneti Massa almost single handedly brought the rare Timorasso grape back from extinction and now it is one of the hottest white wines made in the Piedmonte region, and we are seeing many great producers jumping on the bandwagon, including the famed Vietti and this beautiful expression by the legendary Barolo maker Borgogno. Tasted at Slow Wine earlier this year, the 2018 Borgogno Derthona DOC should be arriving to the United States soon, though you’ll have to really work hard to get your hands on it as it is extremely limited, but you’ll be greatly rewarded for your hard work and search if you get your hands on it. Borgogno’s Timorasso from organic vines is lightly floral, medium bodied with a lovely texture and fine minerallity, it delivers a polished and lively performance highlighting the grape’s best qualities with layers of peach, citrus and quince fruits, leesy notes, white flowers and an array of herb and spices along with a nice saline and wet stone element. Derthona is the ancient name for Tortona, the town in southeast Piemonte, hence the appellation Colli Tortonesi (Tortona Hills) name. The Timorasso is widely believed to be one of the longest-aging white varieties in Italy, with many of the producers saying it takes a few years to get itself together in the bottle, adding a depth of flavor and making more of a palate impact with honeyed notes and it deserves serious attention, going well with a variety of foods including poultry, pork and fatty fish and decedent shellfish, even lobster and or crab dishes. The Borgogno Timorasso doesn’t come cheap compared to other examples, like the Massa, which I also recommend trying, but it is a gorgeous white wine that is joyous rarity, that will be great addition to the cellar or a special occasion.
The Borgogno Dertona DOC comes from the Monleale, mostly hillsides around Tortona set on classic clay and limestone soils with good ripening coming from the great southeast and southwest exposures, making for a more full bodied version, in some ways like the dry rich Alsatian Rieslings, but with a bit more softness and opulence, like Burgundy, especially when allowed to age. This 2018 which was aged, mostly in tank for 18 months is very refined and has remarkable clarity with a delicate light pale color and subtle acidity, which is very rounded. Borgogno, also known as “Giacomo Borgogno & Figli” which was founded back in 1761 by Bartolomeo Borgogno, was one of the very first elite Barolo producers and has an amazing track record for great wines, with their Nebbiolo bottlings being some of the most desirable wines in Italy. The Farinetti family acquired this historic winery in 2008, but is firmly committed to quality and the estate’s traditions, with Andrea Farinetti, according to the winery, who graduated from the oenological school in Alba, took over in 2010 giving a youthful excitement to this legendary property. The 2015 marked the first vintage of their Timorasso white after a purchase of the vineyard sites and the conversion to all organic practices. Borgogno also brought back the use of concrete for fermentations to give an extra element of classic and soulful expression to the wines throughout the range. You should never miss a chance to try the Borgogno Cru Baroli, like those from Cannubi, one of the world’s greatest vineyards, Liste and Fossati, which are exceptional or Grand Cru sites, plus their Riserva, which is sometimes aged 20 years in the cellar! I also love their de-classified Barolo, Langhe Nebbiolo called “No Name” as it offers an awesome value, and now I am going to keep an eye out for this Derthona!
($55 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2016 Fedellos do Couto, Loma dos Ares, Red Wine, Ribeira Sacra, Galicia, Spain.
The Fedellos do Couto, founded in 2011 by Luis Taboada, and based in his family home, is a small and intriguing winery headed up by winemakers Curro Barreño and Jesús Olivares who are focused on crafting wines from the local terroir and local varietals, like Mencia and Godello. The Loma dos Ares is made mostly from parcels in the Bibei zone using old vine Mencia, about 40%, and with small amounts of Muraton, Bastardo, Caiño Tinto, Negreda, Aramón, Gran Nero and Garnacha Tintorea making up the rest of the blend, sourced from vines set mainly on granite, sand and schist based soils. According to their importer, Eric Solomon – European Cellars, Lomba dos Ares, is Curro & Jesus’ village wine coming from their oldest and steepest vineyards on the west bank of the Bibei River, that separates Ribeira Sacra from Valdeorras, with these vines averaging about 70 years old. This dark ruby and magenta hued 2016 is bright and fresh, but still with the old vine concentration showing vivid red fruits leading the way delivering loads of whole cluster crunch and tangy flavors that remind of some Jura red wines with a crisp and mineral vibrancy. There are layers of earthy/spicy raspberry, tart plum, cherry and lingonberry fruits, along with snappy herbs, light floral tones, a touch of saltiness, racy cool climate acidity and dusty tannins, making this a wine that refreshes on the medium weight palate making it perfect for Spring and Summer drinking and goes well with many cuisine options.
The Ribeira Sacra, which is a very historic wine growing area in Spain’s green Galicia region just northeast of the Portuguese border near the Mina and Sil Rivers that was prized by the Romans who cherished the wines from this steep and remote region. This area has seen a huge amount of excitement in recent years with wines of outstanding quality making quite a slash with wine critics and wine lovers, these new generation of Ribeira Sacra wines are led by the likes of Pedro Rodriguez of Guimaro, Laura Lorenzo of Daterra Viticultores, Envinate and this Fedellos do Couto label. There is a respect for the land and the hard work that goes into making these wines, it is not easy here with few roads and ultra steep, mostly terraced vineyards that doesn’t allow much but back breaking labor and hand work, so you see mostly now organic and natural style wines, including this Loma dos Ares. The wine, a co-ferment of all the varietals in cement vats, using hand harvested grapes, with 100% whole cluster and natural yeast fermentation employing a long, gentle maceration with pigeage lasting between 40 to 60 days. After primary the wine was racked over to a combination of neutral 300-500L French oak barrels for an elevage of about 10 months before being bottled. This 2016 vintage is pretty and well structured, it should develop nicely for many years to come, even though it is super easy to love now, especially with its restrained natural alcohol, which at 12.5% adds to the wines cool and vivid character, this is fabulous stuff.
($24 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2018 Dard et Ribo, Crozes-Hermitage Rouge “C’est le Printemps” Northern Rhone, France.
René-Jean Dard and François Ribo, who produce some of the most sought after natural Syrahs, are famously media shy and hermit like vignerons from Mercurol, north of Valence, founded their tiny Northern Rhone estate in 1984 with a small cellar and micro parcels of vines and a focus on non intervention wines. Jamie Goode, the English wine critic and natural wine expert, says that René-Jean Dard and François Ribo accidentally became known as natural winemakers, as they commonly don’t use any sulphites (added sulfur) at all, although, he notes, they are not religious about it and really were just trying to make wines they themselves were interested in drinking. Their fame has more to do with their attention to detail and very hard vineyard work and the exceptional quality of their grapes, especially the ones that go into their Crozes-Hermitage bottlings, that are still outstanding values and are more commonly available, like this wonderfully expressive C’est le Printemps. Dard and Ribo have close to ten hectares of vines, with half of that in Crozes-Hermitage, as well as some in Saint Joseph, and a small plot on the hill of Hermitage, which goes into their unicorn version of this legendary site. Their production is about 65% Syrah, which they are most known for, but they also do close to 35% white wine, which a mix of Marsanne and Roussanne parcels, again mainly in Crozes.
I recently got a few bottles of the classic black label Crozes, from the 2017 vintage, plus one of this lovely fresh 2018 “C’est le Printemps” which I had never seen in person prior to this vintage, it is Dard and Ribo’s quaffer or Glou-Glou version almost like their idea of a Nouveau, made for early release and early drinking and it fits the bill perfectly with loads of pure fruit, light spiciness and soft tannins. The Crozes-Hermitage vines are from organic plots, farmed without chemicals, mostly hillside, set on iron rich red clay soils with gravel and alluvial stones scattered throughout the vines, which give these wines true terroir character and even this version shows the classic detailing, a pretty crushed violet bouquet and flavors with layers of blueberry, damson plum, currant and black raspberry fruits, along with snappy licorice, saline and iodine, mineral tones plus cinnamon and peppery spices. This wine shows a nice juiciness, a ripe personality and a tank raised like vibrancy of form, adding a hint of earthiness, mission figs, lingering kirsch and lavender. This medium bodied, low sulfur, drink now, Syrah, which reminds me of Maxime Graillot’s Domaine des Lise Equinoxe in style, but maybe slightly more complex and expressive, I really should have bought more of this from SommSelect! Happily, I have found these Dard and Ribo to live up to my expectations and I hope to explore more of the limited stuff in the future, they are delicious.
($35 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2018 Inspiration Vineyards, Viognier, Canihan Vineyard, Sonoma Valley.
Jon Phillips’ new labels and new releases have transformed this winery and I am thrilled with the results so far, in particular I really like the 2018 Canihan Viognier with its beautiful honeysuckle bouquet and fleshy apricot that bursts from the glass. While not classic Condrieu by any means, it is a lovely California version of this grape with a richer mouth feel and denser impact on the full bodied palate, but is well balanced and not overly fruity or heavy with a nice cut of acidity and less obvious oak shadings and it is joyous with food, especially spicy shrimp and calamari. Phillips, who is the Chairman of the Board for Family Winemakers of California, started Inspiration Vineyards in 2002 after studying through one of the UC Davis extension programs and making some vintages of home wines. Jon moved to the Russian River area and set up shop originally on Olivet Lane, but now makes his wines in an urban winery in Santa Rosa and has a few acres of estate vines with a focus on Zinfandel and like his peers does Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from classic Russian River sites, plus some intriguing Rhones, like Grenache, Syrah and this Viognier. This white will appeal to those that have enjoyed Joseph Swan, Kunde, Alban and Cold Heaven expressions of this varietal and for those that are looking for an expressive alternative to buttery Chardonnays or grassy Sauvignon Blancs.
The 2018 Viognier shows a bright golden color and starts fresh, dry and tangy, getting more lush and rounded with air and matching cuisine delivering layers of the mentioned apricot, tangerine, melon, apple butter, marmalade and golden fig fruits along with a touch of brioche (lees), herbs, wet stones and an echo of the florals. This highly aromatic Viognier is pleasantly ripe and mouth filling and offers a solid value for fans of this grape and the regional wines. I can’t wait to try some of the other new wines sporting the new art labels with the Ceja Farms Grenache, especially after trying the Sheldon Wines version, and as noted before Dylan Sheldon joined Jon here at Inspiration in 2016 and his influence and synergy here has brought a lot to the newer wines in the collection. The use of new oak is limited and the wines have gained vitality and natural fresh details, but still full of flavor with a lighter touch in the cellar. There are a bunch of wines in the lineup to discover, in addition to the Viognier and Grenache, look for their 2018 Branley Pinot Noir, the 2018 Palindrome Vineyard Syrah from Dry Creek Valley, a low alcohol Ray’s Zin 2018 from the Russian River Valley, a luxurious full throttle 2018 Zinfandel from the Gallaway Vineyard in Dry Creek Valley and the 2017 Sonoma Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Inspiration sells almost exclusively direct and all of the bottlings are very limited, like this one and the wines are terrific values, so check them out on their newly updated website.
($29 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2018 Desire Lines Wine Co, Evangelho Red, Contra Costa County.
Cordy and Emily Rasmussen’s Desire Lines Wine Co label is one of the most exciting new wineries I’ve tried in the last couple of vintages and while their Shake Ridge and Griffin’s Lair Syrahs are absolutely outstanding wines, both as good as it gets in California Syrah, I really love their Carignan based Evangelho Red, especially this 2018, which delivers purity of fruit, complex savory/meaty elements from the addition of a bit of Mourvedre and vividly fresh details. There is a joyous cascade of black and red fruits on the full bodied palate plus delicate crushed flowers, truffle/earthiness, peppery spices, crunchy herbal notes, mineral tones and light cedary wood shadings with a mouthful of blackberry, wild cherry, plum and boysenberry fruits. It is exciting that the low percentage of Mourvedre gets its place on the stage with hints of leather, kirsch and firm tannins really supports the deep and concentrated Carignan flavors perfectly and the partial full bunches fermentation makes this wine even more thrilling, this is drinking outrageously good right now and it will age too. This brilliantly dark Evangelho with its seductive purple/garnet color grabs your attention in the glass and with air it gains presence and poise, refining in texture and adding hints of cassis (black currant), tangy blueberry and herbs de Provence and anise. This unique red wine was inspired by old world wines and exploits its California old vines to near perfection, there’s a lot to enjoy here and while I highly recommend Desire Lines Syrah, this wine should not be missed if you see it and I suggest following this winery and joining their mailing list as soon as possible, there is no question Rasmussen’s offering are becoming highly sought after, these small lot bottlings are exceptional.
Winemaker, Cody Rasmussen, who is the assistant winemaker at Bedrock Wine Company under Morgan Twain-Peterson, says his 2018 Evangelho Red Wine is a blend of roughly 90% Carignan and 10% Mourvèdre, that similarly to the 2017, was fermented with 30% whole cluster to make this wine pop and excite the senses and with there hope to create a wine that is fresh and intense, drinkable in the same way a top Cote de Brouilly or Morgon does. Rasmussen adds that he then aged the 2018 Evangelho Red for ten months in neutral French 400L barrels. Cody loves the bigger 400L barrel size for his Carignan, noting that it retains freshness and builds tension in the wine, like all large format barrels, but with a less reduction than the bigger puncheons that he prefers for Syrah and the solo Mourvèdre. Last but not least, because the grape quality is everything when crafting a great wine, its source vineyard matters greatly, in particular when it comes from a historic site like Evangehlo, this awesome heritage site in Costa Contra that is set on deep sand. The vines at the Evangelho Vineyard, now owned by Morgan Twain-Peterson, is over 120 years old, it was planted originally back in late 1890s with mostly Zinfandel and Mourvedre, but with some other things too, like this parcel of Carignan. Rasmussen state that the Evangelho Vineyard near Antioch, is upstream from the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers and not far from the water’s edge, making it effectively a coastal vineyard in sand dunes with some weathered granitic washed down from of the Sierra Nevada Mountain range over millennia. This vintage is epic and this wine takes full advantage, enjoy it with friends and fun, it goes great with BBQ and or burgers!
($32 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2019 Pax Wines, Mission, Somer’s Vineyard, Mokelumne River, Lodi.
The Pax 100% Mission is a vibrant and light red wine that feel the need for a chill and enjoyed in its racy youth with a fun sort of Beaujolais like playful juicy cherry led personality, but with a unique blast of dry savory notes and a zippy array of spices from cinnamon to red pepper flakes along with a zesty acidity and fine dusty tannins. Pax, known for their world class Syrah, does a delightful collection of natural style Glou-Glou wines, some of which were started under Pax Mahle’s Wind Gap label that has now been folded into the Pax lineup, these included his Trousseau Gris, his highly sought after Gamay Noir, plus a Petit Manseng, a little known French white grape that is grown primarily in Gascony, and more famously in the Jurançon and Pacherenc in the southwest, plus this slightly wild Mission grape, that is also known as Listan Prieto, found in the Canary Islands and Pais, which is its name in Chile. In California, Mission arrived with the Missions, hence the name, since the original Spanish vines by that time had no had a remembered name, some of the oldest living Mission vines are still at the Mission San Gabriel in Los Angeles that to have been planted in 1771, while the Somer’s Vineyard in Lodi looks like it was planted in the early 1900s. The Mission grape in the central valley of California was mostly used in the production of Brandy rather than still wine and occasionally Mission was used in late harvest wines, known as Angelica, this was the first version that I tried from a 200 year old vineyard in Santa Barbara County.
Pax employed a 100% while cluster and native fermentation allowing for a semi carbonic style of character with the wine getting a short aging spell with a four month elevage in neutral French barrels, plus a month in concrete tank before bottling with everything done to preserve freshness. These grapes, sourced from these old organic vines, came from the Mokelumne River zone on ancient river bed on deep sandy loam soils, which has led to roots that have dug way down to get moisture, since they are all dry farmed and they have huge trunks that according to the winery look like trees being about six feet high. The 2019 Pax Mission (aka Listan Prieto) which was just released reminds me of some of the more interesting Canary Islands wines like Envinate’s Benje and Fronton de Oro’s Tinto as well as a few Pipeno’s (Louis Antoine Luyt) from Chile made from Pais that date back to the first Missionaries in the 1500s. The flavors are slightly earthy and raw with layers of strawberry/rhubarb, umami, dried herbs and rose petals along with the tangy cherry, cinnamon and peppery notes along with grilled orange and wild fennel. The Mission grape is showing it deserves a second chance in California, after almost disappearing in the mid 1900s when it was much maligned and replaced by more noble varietals, mostly from France, maybe not as serious wine, but as an easy drinking quaffer and non pretentious counter culture wine! Enjoy Pax’s light ruby-pale garnet, almost Rosé like, hued Mission, which is just 12.5% natural alcohol and now with lots of laughter, friends and simple cuisine.
($24 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2018 Eden Rift, Zinfandel, Dickinson Block, Cienega Valley, San Benito County.
For those that love Turley, Ridge, Bedrock, Bucklin and or Saucelito Canyon who all use historic old vine vineyards for their Zinfandels should really check out the last Eden Rift Dickinson Block Zinfandel that comes from a small parcel of vines that were planted in 1906, way over a hundred years old and making for a stunning wine of depth and concentration. I have been lucky enough to try the 2017 and this 2018 versions and I can tell you this is a beautifully aromatic and polished expression of Zinfandel with classic black raspberry and plum fruit, a lovely dark purple/garnet color and a delicate array of spices, chalky mineral notes, subtle oak shadings along with pretty floral notes and fresh herbs de Provence. This 2018 is wonderfully textured, vivid in detail and is perfectly ripe, it is a stellar vintage for depth, clarity and it delivers everything with the impression of fine balance and pleasing richness, and this wine does it exceptionally well, hats off to winemaker Cory Waller, who really nailed it here. Walking through this special plot of old Zinfandel vines, which are head trained you might see a couple of odd ball black varietals and maybe some Carignan inter planted, but you can really taste that Zin personality from start to finish. This 2018 gets better and better with air and adds tangy blueberry, kirsch, anise and a touch of coco and the mouth feel impresses with supple/sweet tannin and thrilling full bodied palate, it goes great with rustic cuisine, especially hearty meat dishes and or tomato based pastas, and yes Pizza.
The Eden Rift label, which is the new name for this site, was created in 2016, has brought this old property back to the wine worlds attention which is well deserved with the attention to detail in the vineyards, that were originally started back in 1849, making it one of the oldest wine growing homesteads in California. This wine, the Dickinson Block Zinfandel is one of the most limited in the Eden Rift collection, which is focused on Pinot Noir, which makes sense when you realize that Eden Rift’s neighbored by the famous Calera Estate and Mount Harlan, and where Waller, who has made wine in Oregon and New Zealand, was also an assistant winemaker alongside his brother Mike, the head winemaker at Calera. The Eden Rift wines are all hand crafted and made with indigenous yeasts where possible and aged exclusively in French oak barrels and the grapes which all sustainably grown are hand harvested with serve yields and sorting for quality. The soils at Eden Rift are a mix of limestone and are dolomite-rich that gives these wines their terroir driven flavors, helped along the way by the cool evenings and coastal influence that flows a wind gap into the Cienega Valley. A visit to the estate is an incredible experience, especially seeing the gorgeous terraced Pinot Noir plots with their heritage clone selections like Calera and Mount Eden clones growing on steep eastern facing hillsides. There lots of exciting these happening at Eden Rift and I must also note, their Chardonnay is not a wine to overlook here, like this one it delivers a great performance, I, as you might have guessed, highly recommend checking out the new releases.
($45 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2016 Ampeleia, Kepos, Costa Toscana IGT, Tuscany, Italy.
Ampeleia, one of Tuscany’s most intriguing wineries, based near Maremma was founded in 2002 as collaboration between like minded friends, including one of Italy’s greatest winemakers Elisabetta Foradori, who’s famous Alto Adige estate is one of the most prized in the Dolomites, Thomas Widmann, and Giovanni Podini. The together created an organic farm with a focus around making biodynamic wines using natural and traditional methods. The Kepos red is a unique Tuscany coast wine made from Mediterranean grape varieties including 60% Alicante Nero (aka Grenache), 25% Mourvedre and 15% Carignano all from estate grown biodynamic wines. ‘Kepos’ is Greek and is synonymous with ‘garden,’ or any place where trees and herbs are grown. These grapes are sourced from vineyards closest to the Ocean, but at about 300 meters above sea level with cool breezes in the Ampeleia di Sotto parcel, its a place where the Mediterranean scrub dominates the landscape and, according to the winery, permeates the air with its lavender/sage like fragrance. While Elisabetta Foradori’s Altro Adige offerings, made with her signature Teroldego grapes, are firm and powerful and are strikingly unique, these Ampeleia wines seem more casual, playful and sultry in style, making for a unique contrast in approach.
Foradori crafted this Kepos using all de-stemmed grapes, and co-fermented all of Grenache, Mourvedre and the Carignano together with indigenous yeasts and gentle maceration and daily punch downs. The Ampeleia Kepos, like many traditional Rhones, like some from Gigondas was aged about a year in cement tank, then that was followed by 7 months of resting in its bottle before leaving the cellar. The 2016 is beautifully aromatic and the palate is warm and textured highlighting the fabulous vintage in Italy and especially in Tuscany with this Kepos showing ripe and smooth tannins and a medium full palate of fresh and spicy raspberry, dusty plum, strawberry as well as kirsch, dried flowers, peppery herbs, wild fennel and delicate mineral tones. Like all the Ampeleia wines I’ve tried so far, this wine delivers a straight forward, smooth and authentic performance in the glass, these are not blockbuster or showy wines, but oh man they are delicious and delight the senses and without a doubt captures the essence of this place. I adore the slightly raw and earthy personality in the Ampeleia lineup, but there is exceptional fruit and quality here too, I could easily drink these almost everyday, they are also super food friendly with refined acidity and without oaky elements, look for them.
($25 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2018 Waxwing Wine Cellars, Syrah, Coastview Vineyard, Monterey County.
Scott Sisemore has made some really awesome wines in the recent few vintages and has raised the game here at his Waxwing Wine Cellars, especially with his latest set of Pinot Noirs and his Syrah bottlings, like this 2018 Coastview Vineyard Syrah that comes from John Allen’s exceptional site in the Gablan Mountain Range. Scott says he enjoys visiting the Coastview Vineyard most all of all with its remote location and spectacular vistas from the elevation, which is about 2, 200 feet up and overlooks the cool Pacific Ocean set on a unique combination of decomposed granite and limestone soils. While Coastview has many varieties planted and does well with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, it is the Rhones that interest Sisemore, who really is laser focused on the Syrah here, which provides deep flavors and incredibly pure fruit with wonderful density and length while retaining fresh acidity and pretty aromatics. The 2018 version is a full bodied expression of syrah with loads of texture, ripe tannins and delicate spices with layers of boysenberry, blackberry, cherry, plum and blueberry fruit as well as dark flowers, a touch of smoky oak, creme de cassis, minty melted black licorice and cayenne. Only 5 barrels were produced and this limited Syrah by Waxwing will certainly go fast with its bold profile and rich opulence of flavors when it is officially released this month, so be sure to email Scott directly on his website to reserve yours.
There is a lot to love about this wine and the collection of new releases from Sisemore with this one being one of prizes, but also check out his Lester Vineyard Pinot and Syrah from Corralitos, in the south west side of the Santa Cruz Mountains, the Deerheart Vineyard Pinot, a wine I discovered last year from a unique site also in the Santa Cruz Mountains, as well as his Sonoma Coast Pinot and Syrah offerings, plus a couple of intriguing Santa Barbara and Santa Ynez wines, along with the Tondre Grapefield dry Riesling. The Waxwing line is all small lot hand crafted wines with a respect of each terroir and regional character with very individual personalities with this Coastview Syrah being very expressive of place, it reminds me of some of the Big Basin wines that also originate here. Sisemore used 100% whole cluster and the Coastview Syrah was foot treaded and saw a long cold soak in open top fermentors and the fermentation went for months in Scott’s cold cellar. The must saw two to three punch-downs a day and was racked into once used French barrels where it was aged for about 14 months. This inky purple Syrah sings in the glass with a powerful presence in the mouth and it needs some seriously robust cuisine, like a rack of lamb, try-tip steak, wild mushroom dishes and or BBQ fare. This wine is less northern Rhone than the other Syrah bottlings in the lineup and is more in line with some of thedelicious stuff coming out of the Santa Barbara County and or the westside of Paso Robles, making it a head turner!
($40-50 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2017 Martellotto Winery, Malbec “My Way” Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara, Santa Ynez.
The My Way Mablec by Greg Martellotto comes from the warmest area of the Santa Ynez Valley in the Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara AVA that has become a hot bed for Bordeaux varietals and this 2017 vintage shows an intense inky dark color and has some big tannin on the full bodied palate as well as a deep sense of black fruits. Martellotto credits his family’s long history in making rustic southern Italian wines as his guide to his own modern wines, which he says are made to show a raw soulful essence that he feels was inspired by the old world way of (wine) life and he focuses on small batch terroir driven offerings coming from sustainable vineyards with many sites being all organic. Each of his wines demands an individual approach and he tries to allow the grapes speak for themselves, and this Malbec certainly shows its own personality, not as rustic and fiery as Cahors, the spiritual home of the Malbec grape and not as graceful or polished as the best from Argentina it leans toward the bold California style with layers of blueberry compote, smoky oak notes, plum, blackberry and creme de cassis along with a light spiciness, floral notes and a minty herbal element. Air is this wines best friend and close behind is rich food dishes with both allowing this wine to find a polished form and gives this Malbec a stage to show the lush opulence that is underneath the firm structure, much in the same way air and cuisine helps young Bordeaux and or raw southern Italian wines.
Martellotto, who stated his label in 2005, with winemaking experience in Mexico, Italy, Napa Valley, Paso Robles, and now in Santa Barbara County, says he’s trying to combine creative fermentation techniques along with an artistic blending prior to bottling to produce wines that are distinctive, he also tries to do many indigenous yeast ferments depending on the varietal and while still under the radar he has proven very good at spotting high quality vines to chose from including some very incredible sites like the Spear Vineyard in the cool Sta. Rita Hills, where he gets some Pinot Noir. Greg’s current set of wines, all small lot bottlings that are individually numbered, that includes red and white blends in Bordeaux and Rhone styles, a Viognier, a Chardonnay, a Cabernet Sauvignon, a Merlot, a Petite Sirah, a Syrah and the mentioned Pinot Noir to name a few, plus a unique Rosé. Greg, who also holds a degree in biology from Stanford, named his Malbec after Frank Sinatra and the famous version of My Way and seemingly the wine was blended to honor the man’s boldness and personality. The final blend was 80% Malbec and 20% Petit Verdot and was aged in a combination of French and American oak for 10 months with about 10% new oak, giving that sweet toasty vanilla. It must be noted that Martellotto is offering a big discount on his wines during this shelter in place period, with the fear of the spread of Covid-19, and this one comes down to under $30 and it will please a wide range of wine lovers, especially those that like bolder expressions and wines that go well with hearty dishes.
($40 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2018 Martha Stoumen, Zinfandel, Venturi Vineyard, Mendocino County.
Martha Stoumen, who was celebrating her birthday yesterday March 20, is one of the new generation of California small batch producers that is working in a natural way to craft her wines with old world techniques that she learned during her time in Europe doing winemaking internships. Best known for her time at Giusto Occhipinti’s COS Winery in the Vittoria region of Sicily and her love of the Nero d’Avola grape, as well as her commitment to organic farming, both with vines she works herself and her partnerships with multi-generational family grape growers, like this Venturi Vineyard in Mendocino County located just north of Ukiah, in the Calpella Valley, on a combination of sandstone, shale, quartz and gravelly loam soils. Stoumen crafts her small lot offerings at Pax’s facility in Sebastopol and makes an exciting lineup of wines with bottlings of unique varietals, like her signature Nero d’Avola and (French) Colombard plus California classics like Petite Sirah, Carignan and this young vine, organic and dry famed Zinfandel, to name a few, as well as her Post Flirtation line of blended wines, red, white and a Rosé. I have eagerly been waiting to dig into Martha’s latest releases, especially these 2018 vintage reds and this Venturi Zin is an absolutely delicious and fresh wine with a pleasing old school rustic charm and a bright low alcohol personality. This is the first year Stoumen made a Venturi Vineyard Zinfandel from a parcel of younger vines set on rock strewn part of the vineyard in an area that was formed from ancient alluvial flows and this deep and well drained sites makes for expressive and concentrated fruit which shows in this wine with its layers of earthy and spicy flavors on the medium bodied palate that shows fresh crushed raspberries, tart cherries and plum fruits along with Asian spices, orange tea, truffle, wild fennel and pepper jelly. This exciting low sulfur and almost crisp red deepens with air and an amazing perfume of dark flowers comes alive in the glass, it is a joyous crimson and unfiltered ruby colored wine that goes brilliantly with robust cuisine and or hard cheeses and charcuterie. Italy has played a big part in Stoumen’s education and during her undergraduate studies she immersed herself on a Tuscan farm learning the inter connected balance of natural farming and traditional agricultural systems working with an olive orchard, farm animals, bees, and vegetables along with grape vines going valuable insights into organic synergies.
The Venturi Zinfandel, which is vegan safe, was fermented using 100% whole cluster, with Stoumen starting with a small portion of the bunches being foot treaded and placed in the bottom of the tank, then un-treaded clusters are put on top. Then, according to Martha, they slowly foot-tread or perform (body) punch-downs for about a week until things are soft enough to gently do pump-overs. She adds, that because grapes are broken up slowly over time, sugars are also released more slowly rather than all at once, resulting in a slower fermentation, maybe adding to the lower alcohol here, which is 12.7%, but with a ripe and textural feel. The primary and secondary fermentation is all native or indigenous and saw a 28-day maceration before pressing with Stoumen’s minimalistic approach and a gentle racking before the wine rested in all well seasoned used barrels for 12 months on its lees. The final bottled wine shows good intensity of form, lively acidity and mild dusty tannins that gives this Zinfandel a transparent and raw character, but the nose especially develops with sensuality and adds an elegance to this lighter style wine with lilacs and lavender emerging. You can see why these wines are gaining a fan base and not only with the natural wine crowd, as these wines deliver a fine performance and you can clearly see Martha’s personal style shinning through, in particular I love her Carignan, the Nero d’Avola and this Zinfandel. Stoumen, who got her start initial exposure to grape farming and winemaking in Tuscany, got a Master’s at UC Davis, and has before starting her own label spent stints at some of the world’s best wine estates, she worked under the renown Reinhard Löwenstein at Heymann-Löwenstein, in the Mosel, as well as working under stars like Jordan Fiorentini (Epoch), when she was at Chalk Hill, Chris Brockway of Broc Cellars, Clive Dougall at Seresin, in Marlborough New Zealand, Didier Barral at Domaine Léon Barral of Faugères fame in France’s Languedoc, and the mentioned Giusto Occhipinti. These experiences have shaped Stoumen and led her to take her own path to create terroir driven California wines from unique grapes and sites, and they are well worth checking out.
($38 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2019 Poe Wines, Rosé of Pinot Noir/Pinot Meunier, California.
I’ve been a fan of Samatha Sheehan’s wines since she first starting making her wines, especially her Poe Rosé, with this 2019 being the best one to date, it makes for a delightful Spring treat and a much needed distraction from the news in the world. Poe started back in 2009, with Sheehan being inspired to craft her own wines after visiting Burgundy and the Champagne regions of France, she now hand makes a stellar collections of wines that includes traditional Champagne method sparkling wines, (this) Rosé, Chardonnay(s), Pinot Noir(s), a special nouveau Pinot Noir and a fabulous Pinot Meunier. Sheehan’s Poe Rosé is vibrantly fresh, dry and minerally crisp with bright sour cherry, grapefruit, strawberry and watermelon fruits along with delicate rosewater, spring herbs, light spices and wet stones. This steely and delicious wine, as Sheehan notes, is a blend of 66% Pinot Noir from the Manchester Ridge vineyard located in the Mendocino Ridge AVA, which sits on hilltop only a few miles from the Pacific Ocean on the far western side of the Anderson Valley, with 34% Pinot Meunier sourced from the historic Van der Kamp Vineyard on Sonoma Mountain. The Van der Kamp vineyard has been farmed for over 100 years, having some of the oldest Pinot Noir wines in California, plus this special parcel of Meunier, as Sheehan adds, and is comprised of Speckles loam, Volcanic Tuff and decomposed ancient stream-beds, which adds to the structure wine.
The Poe Rosé is 100% “direct to press” version of dry pink, picked in the vineyard to be Rosé, as opposed to a saignée, that would be a bleed off from ripe red wine grapes, with the hand harvested fruit picked in the cool of the night, and pressed lightly first thing the following morning. Then pressed juice, according to Samantha was transferred into a stainless steel tank where it was fermented naturally at 48 degrees for 2 weeks, explaining the cold fermentation preserves the purity of flavors, with every nuance and heightens the aromatics. Sheehan inhibited malolactic fermentation on her Pinot Noir/Meunier Rosé, again to keep this vibrant and zesty form, and it was sterile filtered so it would not go through malolactic fermentation in bottle. There’s a lot to love about this Rosé, which is just being released and is available on Sheehan’s website right now and it is also a great time to support California’s small wineries that under tremendous hardship with the current situation and these scary times. Poe’s sparkling wines are absolutely stunning efforts, some of the most interesting grower producer style bubbles in the state and are classic Brut dry bottlings, plus Sheehan’s Chards and Pinots deserve your attention as well. The Rosé season is well and truly here and there are going to be an amazing array of dry pinks coming to you and this Poe is one that you certainly should try!
($24 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2018 Corral Wine Company, Sauvignon Blanc, Zabala Vineyard, Arroyo Seco AVA, Monterey County.
The new Corral Sauvignon Blanc comes from the Zabala Vineyard in the Arroyo Seco AVA, it has become a hot spot for interesting and aromatic versions of this grape and this fresh and delicious one is worth checking out. The Corral Wine Co. is a family run micro (craft) winery in Corral de Tierra, that has a few acres of Pinot Noir vines and looks forward to releasing their estate wine in the near future and in the mean time that have done a nice job with this Zabala sourced Sauvignon Blanc. This wine is also the debut for winemaker Adrien Valenzuela, who has been patiently waiting for his chance to show of his cellar skills outside his day job at Constellation Brands in Gonzales. A Salinas and Monterey County native Valenzuela, who was studing biology and nursing, took an internship at Estancia and caught the wine bug, his first solo wine that he made in his garage was a hit at the Mid-State Fair, taking a Gold Medal. He is a winemaker for some of the Robert Mondavi line and getting experience as Corral gets itself off the ground, but as many other young winemakers have found out it is a tough road to success and there was many roadblocks along the way and it is great to see these young people taking their chance and making it in this tough business.
Fermented and aged in stainless, this 2018 Zabala Sauvignon Blanc is excitingly vivid, zesty and pure, making it a great Summer sipper and a white that goes great with lighter cuisine, especially delicate fish, goat cheeses, salads and picnic foods. The nose is striking with gooseberry, wild herbs, white flowers and citrus in this tangy refreshing white that leads to a light zippy palate with loads of lemon/lime, white peach, quince and papaya fruits as well as a nice cut of bite from natural acidity as well as mineral and wet stone elements. It has been very interesting to see a Monterey County renaissance of Sauvignon Blanc, it is an amazing turn around for this grape locally, it’s a trend I didn’t see coming at all with the alternative grape varietals doing so well here, like Vermentino, Picpoul, Grenache Blanc and especially Albariño. I first heard of a re-focusing on SB from Ian Brand of I. Brand & Family Winery and La Marea Wines, he told me it would happen, telling me that the climate and soils made it possible for Sauvignon Blanc to shine here, and his has been proven right, in particularly with his own Zabala version, Joyce’s Old Vine Carmel Valley SB, Chesebro’s, Drench Wines (also Zabala!) and this beautiful and crisp Corral release. 2018 and 2019 are stunning vintages for Sauvignon Blanc, in Monterey, and I recommend searching for this small production wine.
($24 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2018 Hundred Suns, Pinot Noir, Old Eight Cut, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
The new Old Eight Cut Willamette Valley Pinot from Hundred Suns is full of dark fruits, richness from the warm vintage and with an underlying light savory element and vibrancy that keeps things in form, this is riper than the 2017, but still focused and balanced with a delicious palate and sex appeal for youthful drinking. I am a big fan of all the wines coming from this small Oregon producer made by the ex-Beaux Freres winemaker Grant Coulter, especially this barrel selection Old Eight Cut Pinot, which its exotic semi carbonic style that is modern, but similar to what you see from Philippe Pacalet in Burgundy and with some Cru Beaujolais, like Jean Foillard thrown in! Even the name reflects this idea, as Coulter puts it, (the) Old Eight Cut, which is a diamond cut dating back to the 1400s using simple tools and few cuts to enhance the natural brilliance of the stone without disguising its true nature, that also describes the winemaking theme, these are wines made using ancient techniques and traditional means to showcase the purity of fruit and the year. The 2018 vintage was a warm year in the Willamette, as noted, and Coulter adds that fruit set was poor and the clusters were tiny, all of which explains the intensity and concentration, but there somehow managed to be good acids in the end, with the dry winds in August closing the leaf stomata allowing that boost in acid, allowing wines that look more complex and structured than would have been imagined, I myself am loving the results here and the Old Eight Cut should age well too.
The latest Old Eight Cut release has layers of classic dark cherry, blackberry, wild plum, pomegranate and racy strawberry fruits, an array of spices, herbs de Provence and potpourri and light hints of earth, blood orange and faint oak shadings. As Grant explains, the Old Eight Cut, the main wine or entry level bottling, is cellar selection that stitches together pieces from unique sites from across the whole Willamette Valley, which includes many differing soil types and climates from Jory (volcanic) to a marine sedimentary base. The small lots are fermented with 100% native yeast, with this vintage seeing about 40% whole cluster with less hybrid winemaking in this one, this minimum of intervention paid off with a soulful expression of flavors and graceful textures. Hundred Suns aged the final batch on the lees for 11 months in neutral French oak barrels and after which it was gently racked to tank and bottled unfined and unfiltered, again the enhance the Pinot Noir’s sense of purity and true character. With air and time in the glass this dark ruby and garnet hued Pinot gains depth and length, adding heightened perfume, making it pretty thrilling stuff and has the stuffing to go with a range of cuisines. The Old Eight Cut, from organically grown grapes, offers loads of silken pleasures and is a stunning value in Willamette Pinot, again this is a winery to watch, in particular these Pinots, plus Coulter is also doing a fabulous Gamay and even a stylish Washington State Grenache, keep an eye on Hundred Suns! I can’t wait to dig into their single vineyard or Cru wines, most of which are biodynamic grown, in the near future.
($30 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2017 Drew Family Cellars, Syrah, Perli Vineyard, Mendocino Ridge.
Always an exciting wine, the Drew Perli Syrah, is quite lush in the 2017 version and full of black fruit and with smooth ripe tannins, and even though made using full bunches and stems it delivers an opulent and full bodied palate with presence that reminds me more of the southern Rhone than the Northern Rhone, though I do see a touch of Guigal Cote Rotie in the polished form here. This is a wine that excites in the mouth feel and in impact delivering blackberry, plum, black currant, blueberry coulis and kirsch fruits along with subtle spice, smoky mineral notes, anise, cedar and black Mission figs. The nose is still subdued at this stage, but a light floral array emerges with air, and you can see that underneath all the dense fruit there is a more savory side lurking and that much more is developing behind the scenes on display so far. The Perli drinks very well now, make no mistake, though I am more interested in its potential in 3 to 5 years, and if you do open it like I did, be sure to have it with food, especially heavy protein dishes and or hard cheeses. As I’ve been saying for some time now, Drew Family Cellars is one of California’s best wineries and Jason Drew is making some of the state’s absolutely best wines, in particular his awesome set of Pinots, like the Estate bottlings and the Morning Dew Ranch, as well as his limited release Syrah(s) like the Valenti Ranch and this Perli Vineyard.
The Perli Vineyard, which Drew notes, lies within the Mendocino Ridge appellation and sits at 2200 ft elevation just ten miles from the Mendocino Coast, cooled by the Pacific Ocean on a steep north eastern slope, which allows for long hang times for the grapes and with restrained sugars. This 21 year old vineyard is set on ancient ocean floor uplift with sedimentary soils with both the McDowell selection and the 877 clones of Syrah. The McDowell selection, Jason adds, is notable as it is the oldest field selection of Syrah in North America, that originally came into California in 1880 where it was propagated by the San Jose Mission and then later planted on the McDowell Ranch in Mendocino County in 1902, maybe the first Rhone Ranger. Drew employed a 100% Native Yeast and 100% Whole Cluster fermentation, on this vintage of the Perli Syrah, to promote purity and thrilling flavor evolution with gentle maceration, pilage and pressing, with the wine resting on the fine lees in neutral French oak for close to a year with gravity racking a couple of times before bottling. The Perli which really excels when given time to open in the glass has a joyous textural quality and while almost exotic and very expressive it has a natural balance and is just 13.8% in alcohol, keeping it from feeling hot or boozy, this is tasty stuff. Only 75 cases, or three barrels, were produced of the Drew Perli Syrah, making it a rare treat to cherish, Drew advises this one sells out fast, so keep an eye out for it.
($48 Est.) 93+ Points, grapelive
2018 Weingut Künstler, Spätburgunder Rosé, Rheingau Germany.
When thinking back on the last year and celebrating my birthday, I wanted to reflect on some fun times and fun wines, less serious, but well crafted, so I reviewed my notes and found this one staring at me, it is perfect for this occasion and a sublime Pinot Noir Rosé with fresh details and a lively nature. Gunter Künstler, one of Germany’s best winemakers and world renown for his stunning Rieslings, is based the famous Rheingau village of Hochheim, on the banks of the Main river, which flows west from Frankfurt, meeting the Rhein here and is a place of unique conditions with a warm and somewhat humid climate and a mix of loess, clay, sand, loam, marl and limestone soils that allows for ripe and dense dry wines, when farmed with the passion and hard work like Künstler, with even his basic bottlings like this one being solidly crafted. The 2018 Rosé, a limited and hard to find pink, is full of wild strawberry, bright and sour cherry and plum water, it is fruity in a refreshing dynamic way and has good full Pinot character along with hints of spice, crushed wet stones, delicate rosewater and zingy citrus. Impressive for the cut of acidity and mineral tones as well as the wonderful round textured palate, it’s a wine for sunshine, laughter and friends.
Künstler, who has moved with great care and respect for his vines to organic practices, also takes a pragmatic approach in the cellar, which according to Riesling guru and importer Terry Theise, is in line with the elite producers in Germany with a focus on dry wines. The musts settle by gravity, to save the wine from bitter phenolics and are gently pressed clear with fermentation done with cultured yeast, because, as Gunter notes, it’s often still warm when grapes are being picked and to work sponti would mean a greater risk of volatile acidity. The winery, as Theise adds, orients toward cask as opposed to steel, though each is used, and the Spätburgunder Rosé is, I believe, mostly stainless fermented and aged to preserve fresh vibrancy and its purity. The latest set of wines from Künstler includes an amazing set of Riesling Trockens from the home village Crus to the fabled Rudesheimer Berg as well as a fabulous couple of Pinot Noirs, these are absolutely on par with Burgundies twice of three times the price! The Kirchenstück and Hölle Grosses Gewachs, no matter the vintage, are some of the greatest Rieslings you’ll ever taste and should be in your collection if you are into that sort of thing, of course you are! Keep an eye out for all the Weingut Künstler offering, and for instant smiles grab the Rosé when or if you see it!
($25 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2016 Domaine Taupenot-Merme, Gevrey-Chambertin, Red Burgundy, France.
The Domaine Taupenot-Merme, a producer that is been making some noise in recent years, is based in the village of Morey St Denis in the Cote de Niuts, and was formed back in 1963 with the marriage of Jean Taupenot and Denise Merme, is known for classically style wines from small parcels in over twenty appellations. Today Taupenot-Merme is led by the brother and sister team of Romain and Virginie Taupenot, and they have moved to all organic farming and the quality has really started to rise, and I was was in particularly impressed with this beautiful and structured village Gevrey-Chambertin, it makes you admire the winemaking skills of Romain and his non intervention or hands off low key style that allows each wine to show a sense of place and individual personalities. This 2016 Gevrey-Chambertin shows a lively freshness and purity of fruit with some firm tannins and it has subtle perfume and a good long finish, this is impressive Burgundy to enjoy in the medium term, it will likely go another 10 to 15 years, but I love how it opens in the glass and think it can be enjoyed thoroughly even now, as within minutes of the first sip there was everything you’d want on display here with lovely rose petals, red Pinot fruit and a touch of spice, smoke and mineral notes. This is a pretty Burgundy that gives a solid performance showing the mentioned floral bouquet, light earthy tones and complex layers of tart raspberry, black cherry (that echos throughout), plum and red currant fruits, cinnamon, shaved vanilla, tea spice, a touch of orange zest, wild forrest mushroom and woody toast.
Romain is pretty traditional in the cellar with his wines and this one saw a careful sorting and was all de-stemmed with the primary fermentation occurring naturally with indigenous yeasts with a soft maceration before the grapes go into the Champagne style gentle pneumatic press to control the phenolic extraction to make the wine as refined and silky. The elevage, at Taupenot-Merme, as their importer Martine’s Wines puts it, is simple, with Romain favoring mainly two tonneliers, Francois and Mercurey for the aging for his wines, like this one, which saw 20% new oak. The Gevrey-Chambertin saw just over a year in barrel on the fine lees with no racking, then the wine was transferred to stainless to settle and clarify for at least three months before being bottled unfined and unfiltered. I had not had many of wines of Taupenot-Merme in recent years, though many of my friends have and have been saying these were special offerings with lots of early drinking pleasure, with many saying they were an under the radar producer that still was an under valued estate, and from my own experience with this 2016 I would agree. This one certainly impressed me and I would recommend it for those that love Burgundy, it isn’t a blockbuster, but it would be a rewarding bottle with any meal. I am excited to try more of the lineup of Taupenot-Merme and I hope to try the upper end range of Premier Crus and Grand Crus, after the quality of this Gevrey, they must be outstanding.
($75 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2016 Flywheel, Grenache, Boer Vineyard, Chalone AVA, Monterey County.
Winemaker Scott Shapely’s Flywheel Wines, his own project, specializing in hand-crafting small-lot wines in his home town from fruit grown in Monterey County, with most vineyard sources located near the Pinnacles and especially the unique limestone terroir of the Chalone region. This chalky region has, as Shapley puts it, a majestic landscape that provides amazing grapes that showcases this special place and its characteristic dense fruit and minerality. Shapely who has been the winemaker at Roar for a while now, crafting some of the greatest wines of the Santa Lucia Highlands, especially the Garys’ and Rosella’s Pinots, as well as consulting at some other high quality boutique producers, which until recently included helping Paul Gordon’s Halcon Vineyards, a winery that is fast becoming one of the state’s best Syrah makers. It was great to catch up with Scott recently and taste his beautiful 2016 Boer Vineyard Grenache, it is a wine that impresses with lovely delicacy and purity of varietal form, on par with some of the most finessed versions of this grape with layers of dusty raspberry, strawberry, pomegranate and plum fruits, brambly spices, chalky stones, rose petals, lavender and wild fennel. There’s a quiet sense of confidence on the medium full palate and a feeling of fresh lightness that allows easy drinking, the extra bottle age here really benefits it and lets this Grenache to unfold with graceful and sweet tannins and the wine doesn’t have a heavy hand with almost no oak accents showing at this point. The 2016 Boer Grenache is delicious from start to finish, its ruby/crimson color invites and the finish re-invites you to enjoy another sip, its a smooth wine that gives way more than expected, it really highlights Shapely’s talents and the Chalone regions personality in a natural and transparent way, this is tasty stuff.
Grenache is really seeing its time come and I have been blown away with what is going on here in California with this grape and the great array of expressions that are available and Shapely’s Flywheel Grenache is an under the radar offering that fans of this varietal should search out, it reminds me of a few top quality wines I’ve had in the last few months, like Ian Brand’s fabulous Besson, Sheldon’s Ceja Farms and it has a lot in common with a few made by the talented Angela Osborne as well, to name a few, as well as some classic Rhones and the gorgeous wines of the Sierra de Gredos in Spain. The Boer Vineyard is up in the Gabilan Range very near the Pinnacles National Monument, set on collection of desirable soils including decomposing granite and brittle, chalky limestone from an ancient seabed uplifted by tectonic plate movement, it is a place of big daily temperature swings that brings out the lush fruit that takes center stage in the wines, like this Flywheel Grenache, but also the chilly nights fresh the vines and gives the wines a lift of acidity. Shapely makes a full selections of tiny production wines under his label with a collection of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Mouredre and this Grenache, which is a very solid value, exceeding in terms of quality for the price, it is a wine that makes me want more and is brilliant with an array of cuisine choices. I can’t wait to dig into more of Scott’s wines, I really look forward to trying the Flywheel Mourvedre as well, it is a grape that also thrives in the limestone soils of the Chalone zone. This 2016 Boer Grenache is really hitting its stride and is in a great place, it should drink well for another 3 to 5 years easily, I highly recommend chasing down a few bottles!
($30 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2018 Weingut Carl Loewen, Riesling Trocken, Longuicher Maximin Herrenberg “1896 Alte Reben” VDP Grosse Lage, Mosel Germany.
The fantastic Old Vine Trocken from Christopher Loewen is a great way to celebrate Riesling’s birthday, which is celebrated on March 13 and it looks like this grape is now 585 years old, especially well honored by this wine that comes from Germany’s oldest known Riesling vines dating back, to as the label and name suggest, 1896! This particular bottling is Loewen’s alternative top dry Riesling, labeled Alte Reben instead of Grosses Gewachs or a GG, it is a secondary special selection from this Grand Cru site. The historic Weingut Carl Loewen estate dates back to 1803 when a set of vineyards and buildings that was formally owned by the Maximin order, much the same way the famous Maximin Grunhaus (Von Schubert) started after the Church’s lands were sold off to fund the secular Napoleonic government, and this sale included Loewen’s prized, ultra steep, Maximiner Herrenberg, one of the Mosel’s greatest vineyards. The dry 2018 Alte Reben Longuicher Maximin Herrenberg is a striking and crisply focused Riesling with classic slate soil influence showing intense minerallity along with brisk citrusy fruit with layers lime, tangerine, white peach, quince along with hints of kumquat, green apple, pineapple fruits as well as flinty wet shale (stoniness), chamomile, saline, verbena and white flowers. This is a wonderfully complex and thrilling Riesling that expands on the medium bodied palate with gripping extract and the sensation of textural grace making for a profound experience!
The Maximiner Herrenberg vineyard, as mentioned and noted was originally planted in 1896, and is now farmed by Loewen using organic methods and carefully sorted to not have botrytis in the dry wines with this parcel being in the lower slopes, set on red slate soils, closer to the Mosel river, benefiting from both reflective light from the river that adds to the ripening of these amazing Riesling grapes. Using modern natural methods in the cellar, the grapes are all whole cluster pressed, and Loewen is careful not to move the pomace so to not get bettering phenolic flavors, then the juice, according to the winery, is “browned” or oxidized pre-fermentation to stabilized the wine and get away from harsh reduction. Loewen’s ferments are “Sponti” completely natural without addition of enzymes or nutrition, with these single vineyard wines, Christopher notes, being individually block picked with the juice going directly into classic Fuder barrels (or oak casks around 1000L in size) which average 25 years old to age. While the GG’s are awesome, especially the sister Herrenberg version, and Loewen’s majestic Ritch, there are two wines that you don’t want to miss, the 1986 Feinherb, one of the most sought after cult wines in the Mosel and this Alte Reben (Old Vine) Maximiner Herrenberg Trocken, both from the VDP Grand Cru (Grosse Lage) vines, these are exotic beauties that deserve your attention and a space in your collection! Happy Birthday Riesling! Loewen is quickly becoming a name on Riesling lovers lips, he is an outstanding talent and his collection of 2018 wines are stunning.
($50-55 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2007 Bodegas R. Lopez de Heredia, Rioja, Vina Bosconia, Spain.
The refined and mature tasting 2007 Vina Bosconia is a silky and pleasing Rioja made by the classic Lopez de Heredia is a real winner in the price point with loads of dried and fresh red fruits, spice, texture and delicate floral notes. López de Heredia hasn’t changed much the more than 130 years since its founding, it is an ultra traditional producer that has stayed true to its house style without any nod to modern fashion, these are not flashy wines, but wines of soulful elegance without compromise. in fact, the Bodega López de Heredia is owned by the same family who founded it, with Maria José, Mercedes and Julio César, the latest generation running the show seamlessly and with respect to their ancestors. López de Heredia produces a beautiful range of wines, including a collection of Crianzas and Reservas with red, white and rosé offerings, plus a series of Gran Reservas in great years, with this Vina Bosconia Crianza being a favorite of mine, especially for the price. Bosconia is always Tempranillo based, usually in the highest percentage and has that character and profile with red cherries, plum, raspberry and baked red peach notes along with an grilled orange notes, as well as cedar, minty herb, tobacco and leathery earth, gaining wilted roses, dried currants and the structure is held together with opulent, soft tannin. This is wine that is much better off with food that matches its style, this wine is heading into a mature and lightness of form that deserves consideration and should be admired with the right pairing, in this case sleep cheeses, roast poultry, less robust dishes and or delicately flavored meats.
Lopez de Heredia believes in extended elevage (barrel aging) with a bare minimum of three years in barrels and with many wines getting close to 10 years in cask, this one gets between 3 and 5 years, depending on vintage with all American oak being employed. The primary fermentation is done in large oak vats and includes daily pump overs and lasts about a week before the wine is raised in the Bordeaux sized American barrels all with a traditional oxidative style that leads to round soft wines and wine that have a track record of long lives. The medium bodied Bosconia comes from the Rioja Alta zone which gives this wine its balance with the cooler nights giving natural acidity, sourced from a vineyard called El Bosque, located close to the river Ebro, but with high elevation in the south-facing foothills of the Sierra Cantabria range. The soils here are a combination of clay and limestone, and these vines, which include mostly Tempranillo, in the Bosconia that translates to about 90% in the final blend, plus Garnacha, Mazuelo and Graciano with an average of 40 years. The 2007 isn’t one of the most critically acclaimed vintages and while the 2004, 2005 and 2006 versions were more impactful and richer, the 2007 still delivers a poised performance and is easy to enjoy and is a great way to get started with this famous estate. The white and rosé also get long barrel aging and are incredibly intriguing wines, though of course the reds are what people look for with Lopez de Heredia with Bosconia being a middle of range bottling, with their signature Vina Tondonia Reserva, a vineyard they purchased back in 1913, being the biggest prize in their masterful collection. This is a wine to savor over the next 3 to 5 years, and though it might not be their most impressive, it is a lovely wine that will bring smile all around the table, drink up.
($30 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2018 Roar, Pinot Noir, Rosella’s Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands.
The Rosella’s Vineyard in the Santa Lucia Highlands, planted back in 1996 on a cool site with classic Arroyo Seco sandy Loams, is one of the Grand Crus of the region and the Franscioni family, fourth generation growers produce some of Monterey’s best wines under their Roar label, which they started with the 2000 vintage. Gary and Rosella, along with their sons Adam and Nick Franscioni have produced a fabulous set of wines in the 2018 vintage, especially this gorgeous Rosella’s Pinot Noir, which was a selection of the best barrels from their estate and home vineyard, it is wonderfully aromatic and dances on the palate with a ballerina’s sense of grace and form making it one of the best versions of Roar’s signature bottling I’ve tasted. I have followed the Roar wines since the beginning and have had almost every offering, so I have a great palate reference to these wines and this latest Rosella’s is one of my favorites with its vibrancy, depth, texture and length all being incredible here. There is a sense of density and opulence that will satisfy the returning fans of this wine, but I love the delicacy and energy in this edition that highlights the greatness of the vintage, which was long and cool, giving the wines lots of ripe flavors without heaviness or overt alcohol, this is going to be a legendary year for the Santa Lucia Highlands. This Rosella’s has a beautiful dark ruby hue, a mix of rose petals and dried violets making it seductive, luxurious and inviting for Pinot lovers and it will need something a little more special in the form of cuisine to match it, maybe duck breast with a huckleberry reduction?
The 2018 Roar Rosella’s starts with its heavenly floral perfume, red fruits and subtle smoky sweet toastiness that leads to a medium full bodied palate of black cherry, plum, vine picked raspberry and a touch of tangy blueberry fruit along with bramble and briar spice, rose hip tea, vanilla and a faint elegant earthiness. Roar craft just tiny amounts of wine with a focus on Pinot Noir, though they also do Chardonnay as well as Syrah and even a micro batch of Viognier with Nick and consulting winemaker Scott Shapely leading the efforts in the cellar. Rosella’s is planted to a mix of Pinot clones and is traditionally fermented with all hand sorted and mostly de-stemmed grapes, after maceration, pilage and primary (fermentation) the wine is gently pressed to 100% French oak for aging, with about 50% new barriques employed from a variety of coopers including Cadus, Ermitage, Francois Freres, Latour, Remond and Seguin Moreau. The Franscioni’s love the expressive nature and character of the fruit and never shy away from the deep and dark flavors that come from their vines, these are hedonistic, alluring and showy wines that deliver on their promise in the glass with impressive confidence, this vintage is totally irresistible! These days, the Roar wines are hard to find, it is best to get on their mailing list and the 2018 Pinots are going to go fast, so keep your eyes out. The 2016 and 2017 vintages produced a mixed bag of Santa Lucia Highlands wines and made the growers pull their hair out, but these 2018’s are the rewards of their hard work and commitment, with this Rosella’s, which will only get better and better over the next 5 to 10 years in bottle, being a stunning example.
($62 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2018 Weingut Leitz, Riesling, Rüdesheimer Trocken, Rheingau Germany.
The fabulous Rudesheimer Trocken feels more like a GG than a QbA with beautiful detailing, texture and density showing a real presence in the glass with plenty of extract and vigor with a focused array of briskly dry fruits, crystalized stones, mineral and salinity making it vividly refreshing, cooly crisp and serious good with oysters and lightly spiced cuisine. This bottling is always worth searching out and this 2018 takes it to another level and it is drinking well and has extra sense of refinement and graceful tension on the medium bodied palate. Coming from a quality site above the village of Rudesheim that has a good slope plus weathered slate and some quartzite soils, these Riesling grapes transmit pure terroir driven character, making for a stylish region wine that was fermented and aged solely in stainless to deliver its vibrant form. The mouth feel is surprisingly round, but with losing any of its lively nature and it expands in layers with lime, green apple, a touch of peach, quince and papaya fruits, as well as light flinty liquid mineral notes, wet stones, a touch of spearmint and white flowers that unfolds on the nose. I have visited Rudesheim, a picturesque wine village on the Rhein River, a few times now and this Riesling really makes me miss it, in particular this great estate and state of the art winery.
The Leitz Rüdesheimer Trocken is the “village level” dry Riesling for this highly regarded estate, but Johannes is fanatical about quality and value, delivering wines that allows give more for the money. The fruit for the 2018 version in fact was sourced entirely from the Drachenstein vineyard, and comes from a single VDP Grosse Lage parcel that is set at the same height of the famous Rüdesheimer Berg with a mix of loess and loam, that brings out the expressive fruit, but includes, as mentioned a smidge of broken slate and a touch of quarzite. This is a very different expression of Drachenstein, more precise, drier and taut than the fruity and opulent Dragon Stone bottling. This winery, one of the best in the region and as you’ve guessed from my reviews it is a favorite of mine, sets the standard in the Rheingau across their range, especially with their majestic Grosses Gewachs from Rudesheimer Berg Schlossberg, Kaisersteinfels, Roseneck and the Hinterhaus! That said, these entry level wines are outstanding, especially this one, and Leitz never rests on their laurels, with owner Johannes Leitz always looking toward the future. You can easily see why Johannes was recently recognized by Gault Millau as “Winemaker of the Year” and I highly suggest looking for these 2018 wines.
($27 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2017 Hundred Suns, Grenache, Elephant Mountain Vineyard, Rattlesnake Hills AVA, Yakima Valley, Washington State.
Winemaker Grant Coulter, most famous for his Willamette Valley Pinot Noir(s) from top sites in the Willamette Valley, including the Sequitur Vineyard, owned by his old boss Mike Etzel (Beaux Freres) has released a Washington State Grenache, adding it to his Hundred Suns label, which at first seems out of place, until you remember he has experience with this grape from his time at Beaux Freres in Ribbon Ridge, who had an Upper Terrace plot of Grenache. That wine, which was released only in the perfect years, was an ultra cult rarity, which I am lucky to have had a couple of times, so I was excited to see what Grant would do with his new version, and I can tell you it is just an awesome wine! The dark fruited and spiced Hundred Suns Elephant Mountain Grenache is intensely flavored, deep in color and concentration, it at first reminds me of a great Gigondas, but takes on its own personality with air and flows into a complex array of unique elements that fill out on the full bodied palate with ripe and textural layering. There is a core of boysenberry, plum and pomegranate fruits that is wonderfully accented by a touch of stemmy tanginess, this crunch adds a stylish tension to wine and there’s a nice savoriness and sweet tannins giving the wine balance and raises the intrigue level significantly. Coulter captured delicacy and pretty details as well with light floral tones, mineral, roasted herbs de Provence, bitter coco and creme de cassis all integrated into the background. This wine got better and more interesting with every sip and was awesome with food, I put some challenging cuisine into the mix and this wine handled it with grace and enhanced the meal fantastically well, it was brilliant with grilled octopus, rosemary roast chicken, seared and pepper crusted Ahi (Tuna) as well as fennel, watermelon radish and sautéed endive! This wine delivers an exceptional performance, it will really turn on Grenache freaks, it is a profound version and seriously fun, those that can find it will be rewarded and it is worth searching for.
Hundred Suns is a label you should follow and these wines are as exciting as anything I’ve ever tasted, Grant Coulter and Renee Saint-Amour took a giant leap of faith to start this small winery and the results so far have been thrilling. After leaving one of the highest regarded wineries in America, Beaux Freres, Coulter has taken those experiences and took his own ideas in a new direction and led to experimentation and a winemaking freedom. Coulter’s exploring new techniques of fermentation and aging without fear because of his own experiences and the insights from his years in the cellar. They manipulate their wines as little as possible, and try hard to let the individual vineyard(s) and vintage(s) speak for themselves. The wines, Grant notes, are fermented with indigenous yeasts, native malolactic bacteria, and without the use of unnatural additives. The winemaking in this Grenache from this unique vineyard in Washington State’s Yakima Valley was inspired to say the least, Coulter explains, at harvest, they foot-stomped a small layer of fruit at the bottom of a tank and layered the remainder of the fruit on top, 100% whole cluster in a hybrid carbonic maceration. The tank was then gassed and sealed for 20 days. Once opened, the grapes in whole bunches (mostly still fully intact) were pressed and fermentation was completed with indigenous yeast, Coulter adding that, then the wine was aged in terra-cotta amphora for 12 months followed by a spell in neutral French oak for 5 additional months. After which this unique 100% Grenache was hand gravity bottled unfined and unfiltered, making for wine that takes cues from natural wine, old world/ancient tradition and new world ideas and melds them together in a seamless fashion. While I love the Hundred Suns Pinots, all of which are outstanding and the Gamay, this Grenache is a welcome addition to the collection and one I will continue to grab when I can, it is pure pleasure and joins some of my favorite wines made from this grape.
($42 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2011 Barone Pizzini, Franciacorta “Bagnadore Riserva” Dossaggio Zero, Sparkling Wine, Lombardy, Italy.
Made from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, Barone Pizzini’s vintage Franciacorta Riserva 2011 is a stunning bubbly as serious as serious gets in the grower fizz world, and it is a wine that clearly points to Franciacorta as Italy’s true version of Champagne, this is a wine a regal class and style. Brilliant in refinement with a luxurious mousse and outstanding vigor and dry detail, plus exciting leesy depth, it reminds me a lot of vintage Agrapart, one of my favorite Champagnes that always shows intense mineral driven vibrancy and crispness. Franciacorta, Italy’s first Sparkling DOCG is set in the hills surrounding Lake Iseo, which form a glacial carved amphitheater, and it is here in the Lombardy region where these sparkling wines have been produced and consumed as long ago as the 13th century. Barone Pizzini has crafted theirs here since 1870, and in recent times have led an organic movement, with all their 125 acres of vineyards being certified organic as well as providing support for historical causes and preserving cultural sites with respect of the land and the areas traditions. These vineyards are mostly all at least 200 meters above sea level and are set on complex soils with a mix of morainic and fluvioglacial deposits from, from what the winery calls, the many epochs of advancing and retreating glaciers, all which with the cooler almost alpine climate make for the exciting and vivid flavors in the Franciacorta wines and that lovely mineral driven character, especially in the zero dosage versions like this awesome Bagnadore Riserva.
The brisk nature and lively focus of this 2011 from Barone Pizzini is joyous and electric in the glass with its ultra cool shade of pale and tiny bubble beading make this stylish stuff very inviting along with its beautiful laying on the poised and delicate palate showing lemon, quince, racy fresh apple and orchard fruits as well as that mentioned mineral element, faint rosewater, brioche and hazelnut, gaining a deep impression with time in the glass. There is a sensational almost feline quality to this exceptional grower producer bubbly with the feeling of muscles flexing under the sleek and elegant form. In the cellars, the Barone Pizzini team use a tiny amount of partial malolactic fermentation, but usually less than 5% preferring to showcases a natural vitality and freshness. They employ barrel fermentation cellar for most of the wines, adding that as well as using some barrique-aging for the resulting base wines prior to second fermentation in the bottle, like famous Champagne producers like Krug and Vilmart. The Bagnadore, named after a flowing creek near the winery’s cellars, is sourced from a single vineyard called Roccolo and its Chardonnay and Pinot Nero grapes getting a careful sorting then are gently pressed and fermented in temperature controlled stainless and barrels, plus It is aged for six months in stainless steel tanks and French barriques, followed by 60-70 months in bottle to mature on the lees (natural yeasts) until disgorgement without any addition of a dosage. This is a classic Franciacorta that thrives with lighter and briny cuisine, perfect with oysters and other sea foods, be sure to keep an eye out for this bubbly.
($45-55 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2019 Sling | Stone Wines, Chardonnay, Silacci Vineyard, Monterey County.
A great new addition to the new generation wine scene in the Monterey region is Francisco “Junior” Banuelos’ Sling | Stone (or Sling & Stone) Wines label and his latest set of wines which include a couple of Pinot Noir(s), an already crucially acclaimed Syrah and this exciting Silacci Vineyard Chardonnay. This tasty Chard, that I managed to get a preview bottle of, that comes from a premier cool climate Cru site just north of the Santa Lucia Highlands is well worth getting your hands on when Banuelos releases it. Junior is one of good guys and one of the most engaging and humble winemakers you’d ever hope to meet, so it is easy to love his wines, but the wines do speak for themselves with a quiet confidence and expressive quality, and I love the not so subtle and ironic label, with Sling | Stone clearly referring to the David v. Goliath struggle young winemakers of limited means face and the determination and courage it takes to make it. This Silacci Chardonnay is ripe and plush showing lovely white blossoms and fuji apple on the nose leading to a vibrant medium to full bodied palate of peach, lemon, the mentioned apple and melon fruits along with honeysuckle, a touch of apricot preserves, clove spice, and a loamy wet stone element. This Chardonnay is young and freshly vivid, ever changing and with air it takes on a really exceptional mineral or steely form and it displays an extra level of complexity that makes you want to take another sip and share its pleasures in the glass. There was a little extra meaning and care put into this wine, which was dedicated to the late Rusti Silacci, who sadly passed last September and who is greatly missed. The Silacci Vineyard, with a tiny Chardonnay parcel, is a great site, especially for Pinot Noir, that was rumored to be Pisoni clone, is east facing, set on Chualar sandy loams and gets lots of hang time, constantly cooled by the blast of cold Pacific Ocean air, allowing full development of the grapes, while retaining plenty of juicy acidity.
Junior, who’s day job is being the assistant winemaker at Denis Hoey’s Odonata Winery on River Road in the Santa Lucia Highlands, took an interesting route here on his Silacci Chardonnay deciding to barrel ferment it and then age it in 100% stainless steel, but was rewarded with a wine that delivers a rich mouth feel and keeps racy and fresh. There is a real California sense about this wine with its opulence and slightly tropical nature, it doesn’t hide its pride of place and it will only get deeper as it ages. There is no doubt this set of 2018 and 2019 wines from “Junior” Banuelos are going to make Sling | Stone a name on peoples lips, these are solid efforts, these are wines that really say “I have arrived” and I’m here to stay! That is an impressive achievement for a guy that looked like had not much of chance to making it in this business only a few years ago, but fate looks to have shined on Banuelos. His start was one of those chance moments that don’t always come, he was working in his parents gas station in Gonzales, when Hoey’s winery truck came coasting to halt, out of gas and he managed to talk his way into a job! This was especially heartwarming as he had literary sent hundreds of resumes out to the wine community and had no replies until Hoey appeared out of the blue, and the rest is history. There are a few upcoming releases to watch for here with Sling | Stone about to bring out a Tondre Grapefield partial whole cluster Pinot Noir, which will likely thrill those that missed out on that awesome 40% whole cluster Syrah, that sold out, as well as this lovely succulent Chardonnay that will go great with grilled swordfish and mango chutney or Baja California (spiny) lobster dishes. Only 28 cases were made of this Silacci Chardonnay, so it will be a quick sell out when it is released, so don’t miss it, plus that Tondre Pinot, keep an eye out for them, they will be let out in the wild soon.
($N/A) 92 Points, grapelive
2018 Sheldon Wines, Grenache, Ceja Farms, Sonoma Valley.
The 2018 vintage at Sheldon welcomed back the Ceja Farms Vineyard back to their lineup, as winemaker Dylan Sheldon put it, it was like a return of an old friend, with this tiny 2 acre Grenache planting on the southern and western edge of the Sonoma Valley where the cool Gap breezes make for fresh delicate wines, right up Dylan’s alley with heighten aromatics and tangy focus. This vintage, of which only one and half barrels (36 cases) were made is a stylish lighter focus version of this grape, more like the Sierra de Gredos wines that are all the rage, like those Garnachas of Daniel Landi, Comando G, 4 Monos and Alfredo Maesto or in California, more in the vein of A Tribute to Grace by Angela Osborne and or Ian Brand to name a select few. Dylan’s Grenache obsession began early and has been his main varietal since starting his own label with his wife Tobe back in 2003, and before that when his discovered, somewhat ironically, a lighter version of Grenache from Turkey Flats in Australia’s Barossa Valley and when on his honeymoon he made wine for a harvest with Louis Barruol at the famed Chateau de Saint Cosme, the legendary Gigondas producer. To say Sheldon is a Grenache freak is understatement, though his does a try collection of other wines too including his Graciano, the rare other Rioja grape, plus Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, an old vine field blend mainly of Petite Sirah as well as a fabulous Sangiovese and even a sparkling Tempranillo! In 2018 Dylan did two Grenache wines, this one from Ceja Farms and a Fountaingrove AVA Luc’s Vineyard, both of which are in the more restrained and delicate style, though this one is a few shades lighter and more delicate on the medium bodied palate.
Grenache, in California, is very much the in thing these days and it ranges in style from the massive and full throttle Saxum and ultra cult bottlings from Manfred Krankl at Sine Qua Non to the more nuanced or lighter wines of the mentioned A Tribute to Grace, McPrice Meyers, Birichino and Ian Brand, plus the famous Bonny Doon versions by the original Rhone Ranger Randall Grahm, who has said to me that Grenache is what California Pinot lovers really should be drinking! Sheldon’s latest Ceja Farms is wonderfully expressive with lovely aromatics and it is a wine that rushes at you with a red floral array on the nose as well as fresh crushed raspberry, plum, pomegranate, sweet strawberry and candied cherry fruits coming into vivid focus on the medium bodied palate along with a light dusting of spices and shrub/herbs, plus Turkish delights confectionery or Jolly Rancher, lavender and anise. Sheldon really brought the density of fruit out here, but kept everything vibrant and bright without any heaviness, it like the other beautiful offerings from this vintage in their lineup really excels in the glass and struts its stuff with pride and is very well balanced. The winemaking in this Grenache was as per normal at Sheldon with native fermentation, usually with a good portion of whole bunches, set of by the spent lees from an earlier fermentation and aged in neutral French oak, with a basket pressing. Sheldon, as always, notes that no new oak was harmed in the making of this wine. I can see the influenced of all the wines Sheldon has made and all the wines he admires in this one, it is one of his best to date! This Ceja Farms absolutely and with some flamboyance performs impeccably and with loads of stylish personality, it will get your attention and seduce you, enjoy it with a rustic meal and lots of laughter!
($36 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2016 Larkmead, Cabernet Sauvignon, Solari, Napa Valley.
Catching up on one of the great and historic wineries and one of Napa’s top winemakers in Napa Valley, which I did at this years Slow Wine tasting in San Francisco, turned into a otherworldly experience tasting the 2016 vintage of Larkmead. Larkmead has made some awesome wines in this wildly acclaimed year, far better than I would have even expected, these are serious cellar worthy Cabernets that have incredible depth of flavor already. These are fantastical hued wines in the glass with a inky purple/black color, perfume and gripping intensity, they reveal very Chateau Latour like character, especially the Solari, one of the signature wines. The Larkmead Solari is 100% estate Cabernet Sauvignon grown on a unique combination of Cortina gravels over Pleasanton loam, which is clay based soils that keeps a sense of coolness and while the wine is deeply fruited it is also less alcohol than many of its contemporaries making it an excellent micro expression of terroir and varietal, and this 2016 is a gorgeous wine that winemaker Dan Petroski calls Solari muscular, both on the nose and on the palate, but, for me, while powerful like a great Pauillac still shows an elegance and a supper long finish. The concentrated and seductively dark 2016 Solari was crafted with 21 MONTHS in barrel, allowing some of the firm tannins to sweeten up with Petroski using his favored Darnajou and giving it about 70% new oak, he says that the 2016 Solari has swagger, I agree this is awesome stuff that is showing why it’s one of Napa’s best bottles. In Larkmead’s 2016’s you find the same power and finesse you usually find in Cathy Corison’s wines with the regular Napa bottling, priced at just north of a Franklin, being no slouch either, these are an elite collection of age worthy wines, certainly worthy the prices when compared to what is the current field of rival offerings.
One of the oldest family-owned and run estates in Napa Valley, Larkmead, which was originally founded back in 1895, is now under the care of Cam and Kate Solari Baker, who have revived the property and guided it to the very top of league table. Hurt by depression, prohibition and World Wars over the years, the winery needed some love and care and that first came when Kate’s parents, Larry and Polly Solari, purchased Larkmead in 1948 and gained great respect of their peers over the years. Set between St. Helena and Calistoga on the Silverado side of the Napa Valley the Larkmead property is a unique contiguous, sustainably farmed, 110-acre vineyard with so much diversity including seven soil profiles to, what the winery calls its topography and the presence of colluvial fans makes Larkmead a rare site and a prize for their gifted winemaker. Petroski, who is also well known for his own label Massican, which focuses on the bright style of Mediterranean white wines, using an intriguing selection of grapes like Friulano, Ribolla Gialla, Pinot Grigio and Greco, has really made Larkmead a blue chip collector label in recent years. I admit to being blown away by Dan’s latest set of wines with this Solari showing outrageously well with its layers of blackberry coulis, creme de cassis, plum and black cherry fruitiness and ripe tannins along with sweet toast oak accents that never intrude on the purity as well as touches of minty herb, savory tones, anise, sandalwood, spicy tobacco, sage and floral incense. This brilliant Solari (black label) Cabernet will stand up to the test of time, it looks set to be a Napa legend in the making, if you have patience of course and a fat wallet, look for its best window to open in another 5 to 10 years and it should go past 2046! Save up and splurge on these 16s if you can, the rewards should be thrilling.
($224.95 Est.) 97-99 Points, grapelive
2018 Val de Mer, Chablis AOC, White Burgundy, France.
The flinty and stylish 2018 Val de Mer has more palate depth and length you’d normally expect in a basic cuvee making it a real solid value and a tasty Chablis to stock up on. Val de Mer is a partnership between François Moutard of Moutard Champagne, who bought an old winery and vineyards near Chablis and star winemaker Patrick Piuze, who’s own label is taking off in the wine world and who has spent the last decade making wines in Chablis for serious estates includes the likes of Olivier Leflaive, Verget, and Jean‐Marc Brocard. The lineup of Val de Mer includes a great selection of sparkling and still wines with exceptional entry level bottlings, like this one, as well as some fine Premier Crus, plus a very limited Grand Cru offering, with the non dosage Brut being a favorite of mine. The Chablis AOC is 100% Chardonnay and all stainless tank fermented and aged using sustainable and mostly organic methods in the vines with Piuze saying the location and vines at Val de Mer give these wines their own personality and this vintage shows a a ripe profile and a lovely textural or supple feel while still being deliciously fresh and vibrant. This is a no brainer for those looking for a bargain in Chablis, it is sublime with food and very nice as an aperitif, providing steely comfort.
I love all of Patrick’s wines and have done so for a few vintages now, but missed out on some the still wines at Val de Mer until recently so getting to enjoy this new release was a good reminder not to miss them. Made exclusively for the US market these Val de Mer offer a ton of quality for the price and are easier to find than the rare self label Piuze stuff and then there is the fabulous bubbly too, all of the Chablis show fantastic purity and expressive mineral driven character. These terroir focused wines, especially the Petit Chablis and the Chablis AOC have traditional zingy acidity and are great expressions of the ancient limestone soils with the mentioned flinty notes, oyster shells and stony elements with the Chablis AOC getting a richer and more expanded palate. The layers in this Chablis by Piuze and Val de Mer, which comes from three parcels, Des Couverts (village of Chablis), Prehy (near Courgis), and Lignorelles, include meyer lemon, green apple, Asian pear and tart, but fleshy peach (stone fruit and pit) fruits that mingle perfectly with the flavor accents above as noted, along with a touch of saline, and the Val de Mer performs with joyous precision in the glass. Be sure to get some of this well crafted Chablis, it is sure to put a smile on your face, drink up.
($30 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2017 Littorai, Pinot Noir, The Haven Vineyard, Sonoma Coast.
Ted Lemon’s Littorai is one of the great wines (wineries) of California and while not an easy wine to find, like Aubert and Marcassin, these are worthy challenges in finding them and I highly recommend getting on their list if you are a Pinot Noir fan, but if you can find them I would snag what you grab, especially this gorgeous 2017 The Haven Vineyard, which is absolutely divine. The most compelling aspect of these Littorai wines is their subtlety and a sensation of lightness, but this grace does not diminish their depth and complexity at all, these are wines with that Pinot magic, which we all crave and admire. Lemon, who is a Burgundy veteran, having been the first American winemaker in the famous region at Roulot, Dujac, Roumier and Bruno Clair has been crafting fabulous American Pinot Noir and Chardonnay sourced from cool climate sites on the true Sonoma Coast since 1993. Ted is committed to organic and biodynamic farming and along with his wife Heidi grows and prepares all of the biodynamic preps used in the vineyards on their farm and they even use sheep and other animals to maintain cover crops, these natural practices ensure everything is as sustainable as possible and add to the energies and quality of their grapes. Littorai’s are almost exclusively wines that are bottled from unique terroir driven single-vineyards from the most western of California’s vineyards, set on mainly marine sedimentary soils, in Sonoma and western Mendocino Counties. Littorai itself comes from the Latin word for “coasts” and Lemon has a gift with these Pacific Ocean influenced vineyards and this The Haven Vineyard, Lemon’s first estate vineyard, highlights his talent and the sense of place with beautiful detailing and fresh mineral tones with satiny layers of black cherry, plum, brambly raspberry and lingering strawberry fruits along with zesty blood orange, teas spices, crushed stones, a light cedary (wood) note as well as a touch of cranberry, baking spices and rose petals.
Littorai’s selection of vineyards are selected for the exacting attention to detail and methods to ensure each site is represented in all its own glory and of which individual personality shows through, Lemon is incredibly passion about small yields and even ripening to give complexity of flavors and lower natural alcohols, he is ever searching for transparency and what we all call balance, which all of the Littorai wines have. These wines are really made in the vineyard and Lemon is diligent in his picking and like top domaines in Burgundy, which has influenced his winemaking, the grape and cluster sorting happens in the vines at the harvest and again in the cellar where everything is intensely inspected for perfection, nothing gets through on the line here, only the best fruit is vinified. All of Lemon’s Pinots are cold soaked for a slow maceration and natural fermentation in a combination of stainless steel and wood fermenters with indigenous yeasts and then gently pressed to French oak for a lengthy elevage and allowed to go through natural malolactic, this aging has a soft touch when it comes to new barriques with each vintage and vineyard getting their own treatment, with about 20% new and at least 16 months on the lees. Also, in most years there is about 30% whole cluster employed, though this is also dependent on the vintage and this The Haven Vineyard has some exotic pomegranate and lifting stem inclusion showing adding a wonderful touch of tension, silken tannin and tangy herbs on the medium bodied and textural palate. This is unbelievably delicious Pinot Noir, and as a long time fan of Ted Lemon’s wines, both Littorai and his New Zealand Burn Cottage label from biodynamic vines in Central Otago, it was great to catch up with the new releases at the Slow Wine tasting recently, these are pure class, especially this one.
($100-150 Est.) 96 Points, grapelive
2017 Weingut Von Winning, Sauvignon Blanc Trocken, II, Pfalz Germany.
While the outstanding Von Winning estate in Germany’s Pfalz region is mostly known for their amazing dry Rieslings, especially their magnificent Grosses Gewachs versions that rival top white Burgundy, it should not be overlooked for their stunning lineup of Sauvignon Blancs, which are some of the finest examples I’ve ever had from this grape, these are gorgeous wines, like this Sauvignon Blanc II, that is bursting with pure fruit and vibrancy. The Von Winning Sauvignon Blancs come from multiple vineyards in Deidesheim, mostly Paradiesgarten, but, as the winery notes, there is also fruit sourced too from Deidesheimer Herrgottsacker and Kallstadter Steinacker, giving a complex array of flavors from the sites and the mix of sandy loam, red sandstone, basalt, & löss soils. The series of Sauvignon Blanc offerings from Von Winning is an exceptional collection that ranges from light and brightly fresh to the serious wood aged Sauvignon Blanc 500, named after the 500mL French barrels it is fermented and aged in, which I have reviewed many times and consider maybe the best Sauvignon Blanc in the world, or at least right up there with Dagueneau’s famous Pouilly-Fume, Gerard Boulay’s Sancerre Cru, Terlano’s Quarz (from Alto Adige) and Haut Brion Blanc! The 2017 was a ripe and plush vintage, but this wine delivers a zesty performance and gives a solid showing of natural acidity and salinity to balance out the vivid fruit, it is a class act.
The Von Winning Sauvignon Blanc II is an expressive white with fresh citrus and orchard fruits with a medium bodied and tangy palate of lemon/lime, quince, white peach, a touch of grapefruit and melon fruits along with crushed stones, white blossoms, tropical essences, clove spices and stylish mineral tones. This is a zippy Sauvignon Blanc, but still with some fleshy density and extract making it great with food, I love this wine with white fish, goat cheeses and especially grilled shrimp or prawns as it provides racy refreshment. The Von Winning estate really takes extra care in their vineyards and is now fully organic and they sort the fruit coming into the cellar with severe and focused selections only making the cut here, this is a team that is committed to extreme quality and everything that goes into the bottle is absolutely world class. This wine is fermented and lees aged entirely in stainless steel to showcase the terroir and grapes in their most naked or transparent form, and it is hard not to see the dedication and soulful bounty in this well crafted Sauvignon Blanc, it delivers everything as promised and is a top value. Importer, Terry Theise notes Von Winning uses just a gentle clarification, along with natural and spontaneous fermentation and the abandonment of fining agents, (to) create wines that show a distinctive indigenous and very elegant style, which I agree with, but couldn’t say better, this is a winery to follow across the range, go in for the outstanding Rieslings, but don’t miss out on the SB’s.
($18 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2015 Domaine Les Grandes Vignes, Anjou Rouge Villages, L’ Ancrie, Loire Valley, France.
Jean-François Vaillant, vigneron at the Domaine Les Grandes Vignes in the Loire Valley, is crafting a large selection of small lot wines including a few sparkling Pet-Nat’s, a Rosé, some fine Chenin Blancs, both dry and sweet versions and a host of Cabernet Franc based wines, including this L’ Ancrie Anjou Rouge, which I tried for the first time this week and of which I was very impressed, especially with food. Part of Poppy Hall’s eclectic new collection of offerings this Domaine Les Grandes Vignes, Anjou Rouge Villages, L’ Ancrie was perfect with their duck breast and their quail dish, as well as their short ribs all of which were amazing dishes at this Pacific Grove bistro that leans on comfort food, but with a stylish twist on American cuisine and locally sourced ingredients. The small tasty menu and the tight fun list that usually promotes small family producers that make organic and or natural wines makes Poppy Hall a must try restaurant for locals and Monterey visitors and this 2015 Domaine Les Grandes Vignes Anjou Cabernet Franc L’ Ancrie, an under the radar choice proved to be a excellent companion to the menu. The dark and earthy character, ripe fruit and nice natural acidity really excited the palate and lifted the food to the next level with classic layers of black cherry, blackberry, mulberry, plum and cranberry fruits along with a faint trace of bell pepper, leather, dried violets, anise, mineral tones, Greek olive and cedary notes, lingering on with earthy currants, tobacco/spicy elements and echos of kirsch.
Vaillant, who from what I’ve read, seems to be incredibly focused on his vines, revealing in his enthusiastic explanations of Biodynamic treatments, cover crops, and pied-de-cuves, as well as his low and no sulfur wines, humbly suggesting the vineyards make the wines and you can tell he puts in the hard work himself in the 100 acres that he farms. This Loire estate, I learned, was first established by the Vaillant family back in the 17th century, and has continued as a family estate to this day, run by the enthusiastic Jean-Francois. The Domaine Les Grandes Vignes vines in Anjou and Bonnezeaux are farmed without pesticides, chemical fertilizers, or insecticides, and are all certified organic and Biodynamic. The Cabernet Franc bottlings come from complex soils that range from grey and green schist, phtanite, quartz, and ‘falun coquillé,’ to various gravelly and sandy types, of which add to the flavor profile and most of the reds here are vinified without the addition of SO2 (sulfur) to enhance the freshness and purity, but thankfully this 2015, which has some age on it, shows no off putting flaws, mousy notes or funk. This, while earthy, shows solid fruit dimension and is a solid value for the quality, I look forward to trying newer vintages of Domaine Les Grandes Vignes, as this offering provided a lot of pleasure with the meal, plus I am curious about the Sparkling and the Glou Glou (quaffable) Grolleau. The short maceration followed by aging in 2-3 year-old barrels for less than a year belie the concentration and depth here, this was impressive, be sure to keep an eye out for it if you are a Cab Franc fan, drink now.
($28 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2018 Schlossgut Diel, Riesling Feinherb, Von der Nahe, Nahe Germany.
It is with great joy and admiration that I send my congratulations to winemaker Caroline Diel, who was just named Winemaker of the Year, by Falstaff, in Germany, I truly cannot agree more, this is truly deserved for an incredible vigneron and a remarkable person. I love her wines and visiting her cellar during the 2016 harvest was a wonderful experience as well as being able to get an up close view of her vineyard sites, which are breathtaking in their steepness and their historic majestic presence, this winery in Germany’s Nahe region is really one of the world’s greats. Caroline, who even had a stint at the fabled Domaine de la Romanee-Conti, since taking the reins at Schlossgut Diel has proved herself to be a force to be reckoned with, taking the estate’s offerings to the next level, she makes some of finest dry wines in all of Europe with her stunning Grosses Gewachs being stars, but she also crafts the best sparkling wine I’ve ever had, yes, even better than vintage Krug! Plus she does a fantastic Pinot Noir and even her more basic bottlings, like this gorgeous dryish Feinherb Von der Nahe, a special cuvee made for Terry Theise and the American market, are total class and insane values. If you’ve not discovered Schlossgut Diel, it is past time you do so, Caroline is absolutely killing it and these last 3 or 4 vintages have been simply awesome. Diel, who took over the estate in 2012 after joining the cellar team in 2006 also had internships at renowned spots while at school including Château Pichon-Lalande in Bordeaux and prestigious German vineyards such as Robert Weil, Toni Jost and Dr. Deinhard/Von Winning, adding experience, as the winery notes during her wine-growing studies at the famous Geisenheim University in the Rheingau.
The Von der Nahe is a dry style, but not classified as a trocken, having just enough residual sugar to allow for a more generous nature, giving it a flexible purpose making it great with food and sublime in freshness it shows classic Nahe flavors, a crystalline mineral focus and delicate floral aromatics. As has been noted before, Armin Diel, Caroline’s father, has been a champion of German Riesling around the world, promoting Schlossgut Diel, and was one of the pioneers of dry Rieslings, which are crafted with incredible precision in large oak barrels, plus some concrete and in this case mostly in stainless steel tanks, with a nod to tradition and focus on purity. Diel has a complex variety of soils to work with from slate to gravel, as well as areas of sandstone and quartz, all providing the detailing on these terroir wines. The Von der Nahe Riesling comes from estate vines with these vineyards being on steep, south-facing slopes, which gives it its ripe expression with high proportions of slate that delivers a flinty spiciness. The 2018 vintage wine was spontaneously fermented with indigenous yeasts in traditional (large oak) barrels with extended lees aging in stainless steel tanks, allowing a slightly richer character to develop, while preserving exceptional clarity. White peach, green apple and mixed citrus fruits lead the way along with snappy ginger, verbena, rosewater and salty wet stones show in this lovely almost entry level wine, it is quality and elegance all the way, enjoy it for the next 3 to 5 years with anything you feel like eating with it, it goes great with everything from smoked ham to spicy tuna sushi. Bravo Caroline and Schlossgut Diel! I can’t wait to visit the winery again, in the meantime I’ll be sipping on this wine, plus their offer hand crafted brilliant bottlings, including the Kabinett wines that should not be overlooked either!
($29 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2017 Tablas Creek Vineyard, Esprit Blanc de Tablas, Adelaida District, Paso Robles.
One of California’s great white whites and certainly the class of the field when it comes to mostly Roussanne, the Tablas Creek Vineyard Esprit Blanc de Tablas is an amazing Chateauneuf du Pape Blanc Rhone style wine with rich density and an energetic lively tension that makes it a thrill on the palate. With a brisk intensity and slightly lower natural alcohol, this vintage has really found that perfect groove of balance and impact, at only 13% it doesn’t fall into a heady or heavy performance, instead keeping a restraint poise that really impresses and refreshes with every sip. The Esprit Blanc, made from 68% Roussanne, 17% Grenache Blanc, 7% Picpoul, 4% Clairette Blanche and 4% of the the incredibly rare Picardan, all from cuttings sourced at Chateau de Beaucastel and the Perrin Family, who partner with the Haas family at Tablas Creek, is gorgeously layered with Roussanne’s notable mouth filling and oily smooth texture and phenolic extract with tangerine, apricot, melon and bosc pear fruits along with chalky crushed wet stones, jasmine, bitter almond, clove spices, mineral tones and a delicate hint of lingering butterscotch. That said, there’s a bright vein of lemon, like a ray of California sunshine, as well as mouth watering saline element that helps curb the impression of weight, making this pale gold wine excellent with many food choices and will allow this wine to age with a graceful arc. We in California are truly blessed with climate and terroir with this wine doing its best to highlight this, its flavor and balance comes from Paso’s limestone soils and the cooling influence from the Templeton Gap
The top series, or Cru, of wines at Tablas, the Esprit line is selected from the top 15%-20% of the estate grown lots each vintage, and as the winery notes is aged in 1200-gallon foudres, large French casks for an extended period to allow the wines to integrate and deepen, this Esprit Blanc has especially gained from this careful selection of grapes and the old world treatment in the cellar. The Winery also notes that this is the first vintage to incorporate two new varieties to the final Esprit Blanc blend, adding that the Picardan brings an elegance and Clairette Blanche gives a fresh crispness, clarity and is gently citrusy. With time in the glass even more complexity comes through with subtle wild fennel, brioche (leesy notes), honey and a touch of the wood, all delivering an extra dimension and harmony to this wonderful wine. I always imagine having crab cakes and lobster roll with this wine, but it goes sublimely with roast chicken, swordfish steaks, wild mushroom pasta dishes and an array of soft cheeses. This is an elite example of a white Rhone and sets a high standard, as do all of Tablas’ sensational lineup, it is always a treat to sample these wines, be sure to take advantage of the opportunity to try them, in particular I suggest this one if you like Roussanne, and are looking for an alternative to a fine Chardonnay, but don’t miss their 100% Picpoul and Vermentino bottlings either, both are delightfully vivid and absolutely must haves for warm days! I have always admired these wines from Tablas, was well as of course the Perrin’s Beaucastel classics, but in recent years I have gained a true appreciation for the contribution the Haas and Perrin families have made to California’s wine history, for which we should all be grateful for.
($45 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2016 Marjan Simčič, Pinot Noir “Opoka” Goriski Brda, Slovenia.
With vineyards that cross between the Collio region of Italy and the Brda zone of Slovenia, the Marjan Simčič winery has a slight identity crisis within the wine world, are they Italian or Slovenian and the answer doesn’t make it any easier, but the wines are beautiful and the quality and passion shine through in the glass, especially in this lovely and surprising Pinot Noir that shows incredible lightness, but with depth and length that rival some more prestigious regions. Marjan Simčič, mostly known for their skin contact whites that have a long tradition in the region of northeastern Italy, actually make some spectacular normal macerated wines, like this Pinot Noir and their Sauvignon Blanc, which was a huge hit at this years Slow Wine Tasting in San Francisco, plus a delicate and finessed version of Brda Ribolla. The Marjan Simčič Pinot Noir from their Opoka cru vineyard site shows warm ripe fruit, from a vintage that is credited with many fine offerings from all over Italy, floral perfume, light earthy and minerally tones, a dusting of spices, faint orange tea notes and cedary wood with layers of black cherry, tart plum, mulberry/currant and mini garden strawberry fruits that stand out on the medium bodied palate. There an exceptional textural quality here that belies the wines origins and reminds me of satiny Chambolle-Musigny wines, this stuff is pure ruby colored class and there’s a underpinning of fresh acidity that keeps everything in crisp form and allows the individual details to be excitingly revealed with each sip, this is a stunning effort and is not a wine that gets lost in a crowd.
I discovered the Marjan Simčič wines a few years ago at another Slow Wine tasting, and sadly they didn’t have an importer, so I wasn’t able to follow up on them, now imported, though limited in scope, I hope to keep a better track of these great wines, I certainly will be following his Pinot Noir a lot more closely, this is outstanding stuff. Marjan Simčič,’s favorite saying is that there is truth in wine. (meaning transparency and terroir that shows in his wines and his love of place.) He adds that his wine tells the story of the magical Brda region in Slovenia, where the family lives and is from, noting that he feels connected strongly to this land. He tries to tell that story (of year and place) in every glass of his wines, which this 2016 Pinot does well, it holds your attention and draws you in, my seduction was complete, I was vastly impressed as you might gather. This Pinot comes from an eastern facing plot at Opoka set on a special combination of soils including marl, slate and sandstone, which explains the intriguing flavors and Simčič fermented it with carefully select yeasts in large conical oak after a two week maceration before a gentle pressing to barrel where the wine rested 27 months, all French barrique with about 30% new oak used then bottled unfined and unfiltered. Now that Wine Warehouse imports Simčič, I plan to enjoy a lot more of these wines. This Pinot, from near the village of Celgo, will be top of my repeat list and I can’t wait to match it with food, where I am sure it will turn out to be mind blowing!
($50-60 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2018 Troon Vineyard, Vermentino, Kubli Bench, Applegate Valley, Oregon.
West coast Vermentino is all the rage right now with this Mediterranean grape seeing a real rise in popularity with many wineries producing great examples, including Tablas Creek in Paso Robles, Chesebro and Bonny Doon in Monterey’s Arroyo Seco to name a few, but this Troon Vineyard from Oregon has really done an amazing job with theirs from the southern Oregon region of Applegate Valley. The coastal climate conditions suit this varietal and Troon’s is a lovely fresh wine with brisk and crystal clear details and a sublime textural quality, that rivals some of the world’s best versions of Vermentino, like those from Corsica, which are some of the most pure examples you can find, especially the wines of Yves Leccia, Abbatucci and Clos Canarelli, which have elevated Vermentino to very regal territory. Vermentino’s home range goes all along the Mediterranean coast of France and Italy with top wines coming from, as mentioned, Corsica, Sardinia, Tuscany as well as in areas near Provence, the Rhone, where it is one of the legal Chateauneuf du Pape grapes and parts of the Languedoc and beyond where it is sometimes called Rolle as well as in Piedmonte where it is known as Favorita, as it was once favored by an intriguing countess! Troon’s version, an all biodynamic bottling is wonderfully posed in the glass with a lovely minerally personality and vibrantly focused with fresh citrus blossom, liquid stones, tangerine and peach notes, adding a leesy mouth feel and sense of vinous depth without being any but electric and steely dry.
Troon’s winegrower Craig Camp says Vermentino has proven to be ideally suited to the soils and climate of the Applegate Valley, near Grant’s Pass in this unique growing region, adding that the warm, dry summers and the granitic soils give a deeply favored and complex style of wine that he compares to the Sardinia examples, while I see the similarities with the granite intense Corsica terroir. The Vermentno at Troon is a mainstay and in fact they do a few different versions, including an orange skin contact one, much like a Vermentino done by Sonoma’s Ryme Cellars, another outstanding one to look for, also a Vermentino specialist that is exploring this flexible grape that offers richness and good natural acidity. Vermentino is awesome with a vast selection of cuisine and can be an alternative to everything from Sancerre to Gruner Veltliner and or Muscadet to Verdejo. The latest new world Vermentinos are very much an exciting bunch of thrilling whites that deserve your attention, especially this Troon Vineyard with its 12 months on the lees and riveting flavors and refreshing zesty charms. Randall Grahm of California’s Bonny Doon told me a few years ago he saw Vermentino as a potential hero of the future with a warming planet, as it can retain so much lively acidity and is adaptable to a variety of locations and soils, and his is a beauty too, he even has done a sparkling Vermentino. Troon is a world class organic and sustainable estate with an exciting set of wines, some based on Rhone grapes and some others from more exotic stuff like Malbec and Tannat, these are wines to check out, in particular this light gold and crisp Vermentino that is fabulous with sea foods and soft cheeses.
($25 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2016 Fattoria di Fèlsina, Fontalloro IGT Rosso, Castelnuovo Berardenga, Tuscany, Italy.
The wines of Fèlsina have always moved me and I find them as compelling as Bordeaux and or Burgundy, the Castelnuovo Berardenga based estate in the southeastern most Chianti Classico zone has long been one of the great names in Tuscany. Their Chianti Classico Riserva Rancia is one of the most prized and cellar worthy in the region, it rivals many a top Brunello, and Fèlsina also produces one of the most iconic of all Sangiovese wines, the Fontalloro, which is labeled as a simple IGT Rosso, or Vino di Tavola, much the same way as Montevertine’s Le Pergole Torte is, another pure and outstanding Sangiovese wine. Felsina were early foregoers of blending in the other local varietals and especially the white grapes that were so commonly added, instead really focusing on the Sangiovese and only making their Chianti lineup with the single varietal, and they have never been temped to add Merlot and or Cabernet Sauvignon, which has become legal and is widely used in the final blends, even though they do have a single site Cabernet Sauvignon on the estate, preferring the absolute purity of the transmission that their Sangiovese delivers. The Fontalloro, especially this powerful, concentrated and complex 2016 version, performs with a sense of elegance that is hard to describe in written words, it is a wine that needs to be experienced to understand its profound impact on the senses and the palate, it reminds me of Chateau Margaux in that way, it is not as showy as some of its contemporaries, but unforgettable, beautiful, and almost without a fault. I really, really am impressed with this 2016 edition, tasted at this year’s Slow Wine, of Fontalloro, it is one of the best I’ve tried from Felsina since the majestic 1997 and is everything you’d ask for in such a wine, and while not a cheap bottle, it is one of the wine world’s sublime values, honestly there are 100’s of boring and generic wines that sell for twice the price.
The ripe and structured year gave all the best elements to this Fontalloro to be one of the legends and the Felsina team didn’t disappoint, making a wine for the ages and while exceptional even now, like I always say, a great wine is a great wine regardless when you open the bottle, this one will be one that will be a certain treasured time capsule wine that should be incredibly long lived, going two or three decades with ease. The layers unfold with gorgeous life and dimension with a firm, but welcome tannic force that holds back the massive fruit and shows the wine’s terrific poise in the glass with classic Sangiovese details including blackberry, plum, cherry and strawberry fruits, a light sense of French oak, delicate florals, minty herb, sweet and spicy tobacco, a trace of sandalwood, balsamic notes, mineral and well judged acidity that lifts this full bodied wine and keeps things in near perfect check. The Fontalloro, 100% Sangiovese, coming from old vines in three top vineyards, Poggio al Sole vineyard, within Chianti Classico, and the Casalino and Arcidossino vineyards, within the Chianti Colli Senesi, they straddle the border between “Classico” and “Colli Senesi” at almost 400 meters of elevation that has a good high to low temp range that promotes quality and complexity. This area, which is known for its unique profile and terroir influence is set between forested areas and rolling hills of chalky soils that are calcareous in Chianti Classico and predominantly loamy and sandy in the Sensi. The vines, which are now farmed with biodynamic practices, according to the estate, are in excess of fifty years of age that gives the wine its mature and deep character, and the Fontalloro, which sees a traditional fermentation is then aged in small French oak barrels, plenty of which were new, for between fifteen to eighteen months prior to bottling, it is a serious wine and one of Italy’s absolute best.
($65 Est.) 98 Points, grapelive
2018 Cameron Winery, Pinot Blanc “Giovanni” Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
The beautiful and taut Pinot Blanc from John Paul at Cameron Winery in the Dundee Hills AVA of Oregon’s Willamette Valley is influenced and inspired by the winemakers love of the wines of northern Italy, especially the Friuli region and in this case a little bit of the Dolomites with this Giovanni, it shows beautiful crisp details and mineral charm. In recent years I have fallen in love with Cameron’s Pinot Blanc or Bianco and have also come to the opinion that Pinot Blanc is one of the best grape expressions in Oregon, in particular for whites in wines such as this, as well as in the stylish versions crafted by Ken Wright and the talented Kelley Fox, which come from the coastal range side of the Willamette Valley on marine sedimentary soils, while this one comes from the red hills of Dundee on the class volcanic Jory soils, that gives this one it’s unique individual character. This 2018 shows fine acidity, ripe flavors and a pleasure in its textural excellence, core of white fruit and contrasting stone pit bitter element along with a touch of racy spice, this Cameron Giovanni Pinot Blanc delivers smooth layers of apple driven fruits, brisk citrus, peach flesh as well as a touch of honey, herbs and white flowers.
Cameron, known for their incredible Burgundy style Pinot Noirs, some of Oregon’s greatest ever wines, also has this Italian side to his lineup, or as John Paul calls the Cameronis, and as mentioned the wines of Friuli and Alto Adige offer a model that works exquisitely with much of Cameron’s fruit. The Pinot Bianco or “Giovanni” as Paul calls it, is fermented in cool stainless steel tanks, which the winery notes, typically is from 3 different lots of estate grown grapes that are from non irrigated vines with appropriately chosen cultures of aromatic yeasts, and bottled early after a short 6 to 8 months in its exuberant youth, to preserve vitality, usually in the early Spring, after harvest. Cameron also does a fabulous Nebbiolo too, it will certainly surprise Barolo and Barbaresco drinkers with its purity and classic Langhe personality, along with his serious of whites and his Ramato style, or orange wine, Pinot Gris, plus the Friuli style Fruliano blend that gets Friulano, Pinot Bianc, Pinot Grigio and Auxerrois with a small bit of Moscato in the finished wine, it is another savvy effort to chase down if you can. I had the Giovanni Pinot Blanc with oysters on the half shell and a exotic mignonette that included some raw ginger and this lovely wine managed to soak it up no problem and be rich enough to go with a lobster tail and shellfish fettuccine with poise and grace, this wine rocks and the price is unbelievable for the quality in the glass!
($18 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2016 Weingut Korrell, Riesling Trocken, Nahe Germany.
The Korrell estate in the Nahe has been one of beautiful additions to my lineup of fine Riesling producers and I have been impressed by all the wines I have had so far as they get introduced to the United States, and I really enjoy this 2016 Trocken, which I missed in my first exploration into these wines, with its crisp detail, tangy fresh stone fruits and vitality of form. Martin Korrell, the sixth generation of the Korrell family, is the talent behind this ambitious and innovative estate, he has a wonderful palate of diverse soils to work with here, not far from the likes of Donnhoff, Schlossgut Diel, Hexamer, Gut Hermannsberg, Kruger-Rumpf and Schäfer-Fröhlich. There is volcanic, slate, quartz and gravel in the Nahe, plus Korrell has their prized single vineyard monopole Paradies cru vineyard which is set on mineral intense clay and fossilized limestone, that gives Korrell’s flagship Riesling a fantastic textural richness and depth that reminds me of some of the great Pfalz GG’s. The Korrell family, as mentioned here a few times, has Spanish roots, has a long winegrowing tradition going back 250 years or more, with their Nahe farming property dating back to 1832, though really fine tuning the focus to exclusively wine production in 1967 when Wilfried Korrell convertied it all vines.
This 2016 is brightly fruited with layers of white peach, grapefruit, tart apricot, quince, melon and green apple fruits all of which are in a transparent loop on the medium bodied palate with plenty zing from natural acidity and mouth watering saline, this is classy dry Riesling that is accented by hints of orange blossom, minty herb, clove, dried spicy ginger, crushed stones and intense liquid mineral. There’s a light smoky and petrol note and a touch of reduction, letting you know you are drinking Riesling, but overall there is an open and easy feel to the Korrell Trocken that invites joyous abandon and it can be easily enjoyed as a refreshing sipper and or with a more serious meal, this stuff will not let you down. The texture comes through as it warms in the glass and the steely edgy quality here fades to allow the fruit to flow makes this Nahe Trocken a fine Riesling to go with crab dishes, like the crab salad sliders I had with it, plus it can go with oysters and mildly spicy cuisine, in particular, some Thai curry. I also recent had the Korrell Sekt Rosé, a fine and entertaining Pinot Noir based sparkler, though not yet in the United States, but fingers crossed we get more of these wines, though for now I recommend getting some of this dry Riesling and their awesome GG like Von Den Grossen Lagen, all from VPD Grand Cru sites, names you’d know.
($24 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2015 Giacomo Borgogno & Figli, Langhe Nebbiolo “No Name” Piedmonte, Italy.
Another one of the stars of the recent Slow Wine Tasting in San Francisco was the Borgogno No Name (Nebbiolo), which really is a de-classified Barolo that saw the same winemaking and treatment as their Cru offerings, and in fact this No Name 2015 was an equal to their presigous Cannubi bottling on the day and is really a gorgeous wine with incredible depth, power and purity. The historic Borgogno & Figli label and winery has been restored to the highest level of respect and quality under the ownership of Andrea Farinetti, who has a string of intriguing wineries and projects throughout Italy and who is dedicated to native varietals and traditions within the regions. He has in recent years added the rare Piedmonte white grape Timorasso to Borgogno’s vineyards in the Colli Tortonesi zone, and the 2018 Derthona Timorasso is a beauty with lovely texture and mineral notes, certainly worth searching out for an alternative Italian white, but of course Borgogno is mostly known for their classic Nebbiolo in Barolo form and this No Name bottling is exceptional. The No Name, I believe, comes from a time when Borgogno were tardy getting in some registration forms to label one of their Barolo Riservas and were not allowed to label it as such, so in playful ironic payback they just called it No Name, and since then have made a Barolo bottling with that label, since it became an instant legend, though current versions are not renamed Risevas, but more a special barrel selection, from what info I could pry out of the winery. This No Name is packed with intensity and layered with black raspberry, macerated strawberry, cherry and damson plum fruits with balsamic accents, earth, anise, a touch of dried rose petals, mineral, grilled orange and pretty cedary notes, this is impressive and full bodied Nebbiolo with a gripping structure, while feeling rich and satiny on the palate with everything that make Nebbiolo regal showing up here.
The No Name Langhe Nebbiolo comes from vineyards located in the Langhe area in the villages around Barolo set on the classic Marl limestone and clay soils with all the estates vines being certified organic and is crafted with the idea of being a more early drinking example of Nebbiolo, but with real Barolo presence in the glass, which this 2015 delivers, in a rich and warm vintage, making for a killer value and an exciting wine that you’d be able to pop the cork on anytime the mood grabbed you without the guilt of opening a true Barolo that would be better with another decade in the cellar, that said, this one can and should age exceptionally well too! Borgogno, which is one of Piedmonte’s oldest and most revered Barolo properties, founded back in 1761 uses traditional winemaking in their No Name, with a fermentation and long maceration of about 2 weeks in temperature controlled tanks and with what the winery says was a submerged cap maceration with a variable duration between 10 and 20 days, to allow the gentle extraction of structure and depth of flavors, allowing for a generous exploration of the grape and place. As mentioned, the No Name gets the full Barolo treatment and was aged in Slavonia oak barrels for at least three years and aging in bottle for at least two years before release, which is just about to happen in the US market. Borgogno has some incredible plots in some of Barolo’s most admired Crus including Liste, Fossati and the mentioned Cannubi, one of the world’s best vineyards, and this wine is a great way to discover and explore the winery’s quality, it’s terroir and house style. The No Name Langhe Nebbiolo, especially in this ripe year, offers remarkable value and a vinous noble drinking experience, while still having less pretense and it will be fabulous with rustic cuisine and with friends, definitely a wine worth every penny.
($45 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2018 G.D. Vajra, Langhe Riesling “Petracine” Piedmonte, Italy.
One of my absolute favorite whites, the G.D. Vajra dry Riesling, comes from high elevation plots near Barolo in Vajra’s cru sites Fossati and Bricco Bertone on marl, sand, stones and clay soils. This 2018 is one of the best and aromatic versions I’ve tried of Vajra’s Riesling Pétracine which is due to be released soon and it is produced only with the oldest vines. These Vajra parcels are the oldest known plantings of Riesling in Piemonte, going in the ground from a special Rheingau clone believed to have been from Alsace’s famous Marcel Deiss own cuttings back in 1985. It is a stunning Riesling, one of the most exciting outside of Alsace and Germany sourced from sites that are on hillsides near a forested area with east/south-east exposures at 420-480 meters above sea level, where it stays very cool, helping retain loads of natural acidity while allowing for ripe complexity. Its name Pétracine comes from an ancient synonym of Riesling, meaning ‘the roots [into] the stone’ that explains why the grape, usually found in slate and or sandstones is known historically for doing well in rocky soils. This is exceptionally cool stuff from Giuseppe Vajra, who is best known for his cru Barolo, the Bricco Delle Viole and his unique Kye Freisa, made from of Piedmonte’s rare and almost forgotten red grapes, but he also does a solid lineup of Barbera, Dolcetto and Nebbiolo varietal wines that are insane value offerings. Sadly I missed the Vajra family at the San Francisco Slow Wine Tasting, they are some of the nicest people in the wine world, but I did get a preview of the Riesling and got a taste of Vajra’s latest Barolo cru Coste di Rose, which is outrageously good and perfumed, both are not to be missed.
The brightly fresh, peachy and vivid 2018 Vajra Langhe Riesling has a warm sunny pale golden hue and shows a beautiful zesty tension on the delicately medium bodied palate with an array of citrus and stone fruits leading the way, it gains layers and vinous generosity with every sip, but stays taught and impeccably focused throughout. There is a fascinating dimension of wet stones, tropical notes, spiced crystalized ginger and tangy quince that really adds class and pop to the Riesling’s profile along with hints of rosewater, lemon verbena and lingering jasmine blossoms, making for gigantic turn on and with its brisk steeliness and lively acidity it certainly plays well with briny/saline shellfish, from mussels to claims, as well as oysters and crab dishes. Giuseppe Vajra is making some amazing wines, each with their own signature style and terroir showing up the bottle, like this Riesling which was hand harvested to be sure all the grapes and clusters came into the cellar intact then gently pressed and cold soaked or settled for approximately 20 days before fermentation to help drop out any green phenolics and the wine was aged exclusively on the fine lees for about 8 months in stainless steel. The Vajra’s led the way with Riesling in the Langhe and while almost 20 other producers now grow and make own expressions, Vajra’s remains a step ahead and this wine is pretty close to what you could call an Italian Grosses Gewachs or an Alsace Grand Cru bottling, it is a guilty pleasure that I always cherish! I can’t wait for this 2018 to reach America
($45 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2017 Folded Hills Vineyards, August Red, Santa Ynez Valley.
One of the surprises and a new find for me at the Slow Wine tasting in San Francisco was Andrew and Kim Busch’s estate grown Folded Hills Vineyards from the Santa Ynez Valley, just north of Santa Barbara, where they focus on Grenache. The selections I tasted were fresh and pure with a lighter touch and with wonderful flavors, with their 100% whole cluster and carbonic Grenache and this August Red being my favorites, these are stylish examples of California Rhones and very exciting, since they are flying way under the radar, but with an amazing team in the vines and in the cellar with Kiwi, A Tribute to Grace, winemaker Angela Osborne using her talents in crafting these small lot wines and Stolpman’s Ruben Solorzano doing his usual magic in the vineyards. The August Red is delightful with racy red fruits leading the way before a darker and richer side comes through with air, much in the same way I find a fine Gigondas does with light earthy notes, spice and delicate floral notes all showing up here as well with layers of boysenberry, strawberry, tangy red beet root, blueberry and kirsch fruits along with shaved cinnamon, peppercorns, lavender and anise. The August Red has a more heighten presence in the glass, a deeper color, from the Syrah and it is that percentage of Syrah that gives an extra sense of textural quality to this excellent wine, in fact I think the Syrah lifts the Grenache and allows it to really take center stage.
Set on 15 planted acres in the coastal mountains, the vineyards at Folded Hills have their own micro-climate which is less wind-exposed than the Santa Rita Hills and not as warm as Ballard Canyon, leading to these vibrant wines that produced in a very natural way with a sense of place and purpose. Ruben farms Folded Hills using organic methods, with everything done in concert with the Ranch going ons, additionally, they prune, plant and harvest according to the lunar calendar to respect the natural rhythms of the vines. Angela, who has made a name for herself by making ultra transparent wines, especially with her favored Grenache, uses indigenous yeasts and is careful to promote a lighter frame with refined tannins, which shows here, the August Red, which is a blend of 67% Grenache and 33% Syrah that comes in at 13.9% natural alcohol. The Busch’s are sitting on a beautiful place and the wines are a thrill, I only only see them getting more and more interesting in the years to come, the clarity of form in the wines, especially the carbonic Grenache and this August show they have a serious commitment and I look forward to seeing what comes next! I will be buying a few of the 2018 whole cluster carbonic Grenache to just quaff about with, it is zesty refreshing and easy to enjoy, while this more impactful August Red will need a matching meal to give its best performance, it should develop nicely over the next 3 to 5 years.
($43 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2017 Drew Family Cellars, Chardonnay, Valenti Ranch, Mendocino Ridge.
The super rare and limited Drew Chardonnay is a gorgeous wine, it was a real pleasure to get a chance to try it at this year’s Slow Wine 2020 tasting in San Francisco and catch up with the winemaker himself, known for his incredible Pinot Noir and Syrah bottlings from the cool climate Anderson Valley, which are some of the greatest wines in California. The Chardonnay is wonderfully balanced and alive with natural acidity and exceptional length with finely detailed layers of apple, pear. lemon, quince and golden fig fruits with subtle oak accents, clove spice, wet stone, a subtle salty element, mineral and honeysuckle. This Valenti Ranch Vineyard Chardonnay gains a poised sense of texture without being heavy and it has a sensational palate impact, it has a rich concentration, but the vibrant energy of a white Burgundy, it is pure class in the glass and would be a great companion to lobster and or swordfish steaks. Like Drew’s Pinots, this is a wine that let’s you know it is a pure California wine and is completely transparent, it goes to one of my favorites list of top Chards, joining another newcomers, Samuel Louis Smith’s Spear Vineyard, the Ceritas Trout Gulch, Richard Alfaro’s Mary Katherine as well as classics like Littorai, which was also outrageously good yesterday at Slow Wine, Mount Eden, Hanzell and Peay Vineyards, to name a few.
Grown just six miles from the Pacific on an east facing ridge at 1,200-1,350 feet, the Valenti Ranch produces distinctive character from the Mendocino Ridge with deep fruit develop and exciting vitality. The constant maritime winds coupled with, what Jason Drew calls thin marginal soils, made up of Ornbaun Series ancient seabed sedimentary soils lends itself to smaller berry size and naturally lower yields, all of which created the material to make this expressive and impressive wine. Drew used 100% native yeast barrel fermentation on his Chardonnay, the first he’s made in Anderson Valley and since his days as an assistant winemaker at Babcock in Santa Barbara County and he employed all neutral French oak for the 18 months in barrel it saw. The Valenti, a special vineyard site farmed with organic methods, has a selection of Chardonnay clones that include old Wente, Mt Eden, Dijon 176 and 75 that helps contribute to the complexity in this wine that reveals a touch of chalk or crushed oyster shell, kumquat and delicate leesyness. Even in a warm year like this 2017 vintage, Drew’s style is restrained with just 13.4% natural alcohol and there is refreshing dynamic force to this studied effort. There is a lot to admire in the latest set of Drew wines, and as mentioned the Pinots and Syrah bottlings are fantastic, as my recent reviews have highlighted in recent years, but I absolutely thrilled with this limited release Chardonnay!
($50 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2016 Drench Wine, Rosé, Spindrift, Napa Valley.
The Drench Wine Spindrift Rosé, handmade by winemaker Emily Hunt from a small vineyard off the Silverado Trail in Napa Valley using about 80% Sangiovese and 20% Petite Sirah is a vinous and wonderfully round example of a Rosé that can age and still have dry bright freshness, making it uniquely Californian in style and flavors, though reminds me at of Italian Rosato meets old school Provence. Emily is making a tight lineup of interesting wines, and as mentioned here, her Sauvignon Blanc from Zabala Vineyard, her most recent offering is a very lovely and exciting wine, from her hometown vines in Monterey, where she is a consulting winemaker and an assistant winemaker who has helped make Galante Vineyard wines and Holman Ranch wines in Carmel Valley. The Rosé scene in the state has blown up and there is lots of thrilling dry pinks to chose from, but Hunt’s Drench Spindrift Rosé stands out for the cool packaging, in the personal use size of 500ml and for the complexity of layers including racy cherry, distilled plum, strawberry, ruby grapefruit and a touch of watermelon fruits plus a subtle mineral tone, saline, delicate spices, rosewater and smooth underlying acidity.
The Drench Napa wines all are made from her two tons of fruit sourced from the Fazekas Vineyard, off of Silverado trail in Napa, making her offerings quite rare, this vineyard site was originally planted back in 1994 for the Mondavi’s Mi Familia Winery with the true Italian clones of Sangiovese, brought in by Robert Mondavi mostly likely came from Frescobaldi, as they were friends and partners with the Mondavis, with the Petite Sirah (which adds structure here) bud wood coming from old vines in Calistoga. Drench also does a deep full bodied version too from this site, which is a compelling wine as well with a lush richness and loads of ripe black fruits and some nice dried flowers and cigar wrapper notes, though I do enjoy the Rosé’s flair and vibrance, it is especially good with food, in particular with mussels in spicy broth and or grilled salmon. The mostly Sangiovese, which has a nice burst of natural acidity, Drench Spindrift Rosé is a 100% saignée, ripe fruited bleed of 100% de-stemmed grapes and was pressed off the skins after a 4 hour soak and fermented at a cool 55 degrees over 3 weeks and sees no oak, which explains the complexity and generous mouth feel, drink this one over the next year or two.
($25 Est. 500ml) 90 Points, grapelive
2018 Turley Wine Cellars, Cinsault, Bechtold Vineyard, Lodi California.
The Turley wines, mainly celebrated for their exceptional Zinfandel portfolio, are ripe and luxurious with outspoken personalities, less known is that all of Turley’s vineyard sources are farmed using organic methods and sustainable with the wines being crafted using indigenous yeasts and natural fermentation(s). Larry Turley’s the Turley Wine Cellars, as he notes, makes forty-seven wines from over fifty vineyards, the vast majority of which are single vineyard designate Zinfandels and Petite Syrahs which are made with mostly classic old vines are also produced with a respect for California’s rich tradition in winemaking and with the hope to preserving this exciting wine culture. Now with Tegan Passalacqua, who took over as the director of winemaking in 2013, as well as being their vineyard and grape guru, Turley Wine Cellars has really raised the game, the wines have gained a true authentic and terroir driven quality, making the wines even more thrilling and elevating Passalacqua to one of the state’s best vignerons. He has brought a gentle touch and love of dirt to the scene, I’ve always enjoyed my conversations with Tegan, especially when he gives me a schooling on a varietal’s (grape) history in California and his history making wines with Alain Graillot, the iconic northern Rhone producer, known for his gorgeous Crozes-Hermitage and with the equality famous Eben Sadie of Sadie Family Wines in South Africa, who is a master of natural wines and blending. Turley also puts out some lesser known wines, one of them is their Bechtold Cinsault, a fresh carbonic quaffable red made from this obscure Rhone and Languedoc grape, which is also a minor player in Provence Rosé.
The Turley Bechtold Cinsault comes from the Lodi region, where some of California’s earliest vineyards were planted in the 1800s with Bechtold being planted in 1886, this Cinsault vineyard is the oldest of its kind in the country, as Tegan notes, perhaps even beyond. These historic vines, which are cherished far and wide and are even featured in Randall Grahm’s latest expression of his Cigare Volant, are gnarly, head-trained and planted on their own roots, dug deep in the well draining sandy loam soils, making for seriously delicious lighter style wines that are somewhat like a California version of Cru Beaujolais. Passalacqua has done a fabulous job with this 2018 version with its beautiful aromatics and juicy/vibrant profile delivering black cherry, raspberry, dark floral notes, dried herbs de Provence, fennel and tart currents. The Bechtold Cinsault is a Glou Glou style carbonic wine that is lovely with a slight chill and enjoyed without pretense, this fruit forward offering is perfect for picnics and BBQs as well as country or rustic cuisine. There is no hint of overt wood or is it a flashy wine, but just a fun and racy wine, its dark magenta/ruby hue and vitality in the glass is wonderfully inviting, you can see why this one is one of the most sought after under the radar bottlings in Turley’s incredible collection of wines, along with the cellar worthy Hayne Petite Sirah. I have coveted my bottles of this Cinsault and I also love the Turley Grenache, another rarity in the lineup and usually found at their Paso Robles tasting room, always a must visit spot when I am down there.
($28 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2017 Nanclares y Prieto Viticultores, Albariño, Rias Baixas, Galicia, Spain.
One of my favorite white wines, the Nanclares Albariño is a minerally, bright, slightly leesy and sea breeze infused beauty with crisp intensity and delicately aromatic, this 2017 is an absolute classic expression of terroir and varietal purity. This bottling, the signature version of Alberto Nanclares, is a striking wine that starts with citrus blossom and zesty steeliness, with green apple, wild peach and lime fruits leading the way along with a touch of reduction and salty wet stones all of which is perfectly set against its light to medium bodied frame and exciting natural acidity. This beautiful and tangy fresh Albariño gains a structure and textural grace with air adding an impressive presence in the glass, which is lovely in its golden pale hue and authentic sense of place and flavor profile. The Alberto Nanclares Albariño comes from 30 plus year old vines from tiny parcels around the town of Cambados and the Meaño areas set on almost pure sand with granite underneath, with the vines trained in the traditional overhead style called pergola to maximize airflow and exposure to sunshine at nearly absolute sea level, only a stones throw from the remote beaches of this cool climate region on Spain’s quiet Atlantic coast. The Val do Salnés area is historically considered the ancestral or spiritual home of the Albariño grape and almost no where is it so perfectly transmitted into a wine as it does in this Nanclares and it is a wine made from the sea, easily one of the best with seafood, in particular oysters, mussels, clams and ultra fresh sushi, it is a wine that can be a great alternative to Sancerre, Muscadet (Melon), dry Riesling, Gruner Veltliner and or Chablis.
Nanclares, who is based in the Cambados, started in the mid nineties just tending a vineyard in his semi retirement home as a hobby is now one of the greatest producers of fine Albariño in Galicia’s famous Rias Baixas region crafting an awesome set of single vineyard versions as well as his regional Dandelion cuvee and this outstanding example, known as the “Alberto Nanclares” or sometimes referred to as the “Estate” with the grapes all coming from the Val do Salnés sub zone. Nanclares brought the talented Silvia Prieto on board a few years ago now and has gone from strength to strength with her energy and commitment helping lift this label to new heights and expanding the range of wines with the additions of a few red wines, including an elegant and complex Mencia from grapes coming from the Ribeira Sacra. The Nanclares y Prieto winery is now all organic and has added some biodynamiques to their practices, even employing compost from collect seaweed from the near by Atlantic Ocean, all which proves their dedication, in this humid region that is terribly difficult to farm without convention methods. But, the wines have really benefited from this extraordinary effort and they are unbelievably compelling wines, especially this one which saw natural winemaking in the cellar with only a tiny dose of sulfur and native yeast fermentation with no malos and 90% stainless steel and 10% used French oak cask being used here, the aging was done for nine months on the lees then bottled unfined and unfiltered to preserve dynamic quality, give the wine age worthiness and showcase the wine’s true character. This is rewarding Albariño that sets the standard for this grape and region, this is one to look for and covet, it will drink nicely for another 3 to 5 years.
($32 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2018 Weingut Alzinger, Gruner Veltliner Smaragd, Ried Steinertal, Wachau, Austria.
One of the most complex and serious Gruners I’ve tried in ages, the Alzinger Smaragd Ried Steinertal is one of Austria’s Grand Cru wines on the level as the fabled Emmerich Knoll wines and winemaker Leo Alzinger is getting a lot of attention and acclaim, and this wine especially shows why with its depth and richness of body and its long dry finish. Grown near the Danube, west of Austria’s capital of Vienna, Alzinger’s vines cling to steep hillsides near the town of Unterloiben in the Wachau region this Gruner is a late pick with a selection of old vine set on lower slopes on mostly loess based soils with gneiss, mica schist, primary rock and loam that give this wine its density and fruit expression. A fanatic about pristine fruit quality and serve selections in the vineyards, Leo’s wines deliver this commitment to quality in the bottle and shine in the glass with sublime detail, energy and glorious elegance, while still having a powerful presence on the palate and charming concentration. This 2018 has a full body and generously viscous with layers of lemon/lime, white peach, quince and spiced Asian pear fruits along with saline infused rock, delicate mineral tones, rosewater and a play between leesy texture and a bit of bitter almond. This is serious stuff that will take a thought on the right pairings and a match that will compliment its opulence, as these Smaragd are thicker and more blooding than the delightful and lighter Federspiel versions.
The Ried Steinertal is in a hidden cool climate zone set between steep hills and holds on with the use of majestic terraces, it is a site that develops incredibly slowly and the hang time is extremely long allowing superior ripening without high sugars making for a good retention of natural acidity and gives this Smaragd a fine balance and extra level of class. Alzinger employs winemaking methods that promote extreme clarity and transparency, Leo is ever searching for purity and terroir transmission, sometimes this can prove difficult in the denser Smaragd, but this 2018 is an absolutely stunning Gruner that has a unique character, inner beauty and certainly looks like a classic example. Leo uses whole cluster pressing during crush and a short maceration, then allows the must to settle a full 24 hours to drop out any harsh greeness or phenolic tannin. This primary is in cold conditions and is spontaneously fermented in stainless steel with the aging done with the lees, its elevage is done mainly in stainless steel, though a with a small amount of Gruner seeing neutral Austrian oak, this formula works well and the tiny amount of wood helps smooth the mouth feel and this wine gains a bit of creaminess with air. Gruner is a worldwide phenomenon with Austria’s signature grape getting vineyard space throughout the new world, in particular there are many new plantings in California and in Oregon’s Willamette Valley with some exceptional results, but a wine like this Alzinger shows you why the Wachau reigns supreme and this vintage is a profound white wine.
($75 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2016 Domaine Monthelie-Douhairet-Porcheret, Monthelie “Clos du Meix Garnier” Monopole, Red Burgundy, France.
One of the under the radar regions of the Cote de Beaune, Monthelie is a quality area for Pinot Noir in Burgundy and Monthelie-Douhairet-Porcheret is one of the best wineries to explore here, making beautiful examples, like this gorgeous single Lieu-Dit expression. The Domaine Monthelie-Douhairet-Porcheret is located in the town of Monthelie, in the heart of the Côte de Beaune, and covers just 13 hectares of vineyards, not just in Monthelie, but also includes plus small parcels in the famed Pommard, Volnay and Meursault zones. The wines here are crafted by the respected André Porcheret and granddaughter, Cataldina Lippo, and it is well noted their traditional style and elegance. The Douhairet family originally ran this winery, but back In 1989, Madame Armande Douhairet asked André Porcheret to run the show and became an adopted son and his name was added to the Domaine’s name. Porcheret has a notable history in Burgundy, he was the cellar master for the Hospices de Beaune from 1976–1988, before he was hired by Lalou Bize Leroy to make wines at her newly created Domaine Leroy, one of the greatest estates in the Cote d’Or, from 1988–1993. André came back to the Hospices de Beaune from 1994–1999, and as mentioned he has since 1989, he has been crafting the excellent wines here at Monthelie-Douhairet-Porcheret. In the cellar, and employed here on this satiny Monthelie, it was made using 100% de-stemmed grapes with a gentle old school fermentation and maceration before being aged for 18 months in barrel of which 10% were new medium plus toast. All wines at MDP show impeccable purity and are bottled without fining or filtration.
The 2016 Clos du Meix Garnier, a special monopole site, is expressive and brightly fruited with a seductive rose petal and Pinot perfume and feels beautiful on the medium bodied palate that impresses for its rich detail, complexity and grace, this is wine that over performs for the price. This Monthelie has everything you’d expect of a Burgundy at twice the cost, in fact I easily could have believed this was a Premier Cru Volnay and its sensual layering and finish it is a fine bottle to search out. The Monthelie-Douhairet-Porcheret Clos du Meix Garnier is well balanced with red plum, strawberry and spiced raspberry fruits to go with a lovely core of black cherry adds classic chalkiness, mineral, delicate floral tones and subtle oak notes, all of which make this a beautiful Pinot Noir that carries its terroir with pride. Imported by Martine’s Wines, the same importer that Domaine Leroy has always used (in California) I think shows the admiration that this label carries within the industry, and this wine backs that up, it is one I certainly will be buying a few bottles of. Putting my money where my mouth is, I can’t wait to show this off to some friends, it really is quite intriguing and will be brilliant with duck breast and almost any cuisine. The vintage, a year that seems better in the bottle than expected and that can age some, has exceptional transparency, good density and lively acidity with a burst of saline and lingering with heavenly silkiness on the long finish with currants and almost a touch of violets that almost reminds me of Vosne Romanee!
($45 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2018 Sheldon Wines, Graciano, Luc’s Vineyard, Fountaingrove AVA, Sonoma County.
Dylan and Tobe Sheldon’s Graciano comes of a tiny vineyard in the Fountaingrove AVA, which lies in a cool zone near Santa Rosa and was first approved by the TTB in 2015, it is bordered to the north by Chalk Hill and Knights Valley, to the south by the Sonoma Valley, to the west by the Russian River Valley, and to the east by Napa’s Diamond Mountain District and Spring Mountain District. Fountaingrove is pretty far inland, but the maritime breezes and fog entering through the gap in the Sonoma Mountains east of Santa Rosa regulates the climate here making a perfect place for grape growing and this rare varietal thrives here, as this new vintage from Sheldon shows. The terrain is mainly rolling hills with Sonoma Volcanic, which is reddish and has iron and Franciscan Formation or complex, including greywacke sandstones, shales and loamy bedrock soils, all of which adds to the spice and mineral drive in the wines. Sheldon’s 2018 Graciano is very deeply hued with an electric purple/magenta and garnet color and is densely fruit filled with a medium full body and layered with blackberry, plum, cherry and red currant fruits along with hints of briar spiciness, grilled fennel, mineral and lovely floral perfume, it later adds a touch of blueberry, violette and cinnamon. This Graciano has a forward personality and expressive dark character with a bright and zesty energy making it great with a wide array of cuisine choices from hard cheeses and Spanish ham to a rack of lamb or wild mushroom dishes.
Graciano a Spanish grape, also known as Tintilla, is mostly renown for being one of the Rioja grapes, though rarely done as a single varietal wine and it is even more unique when found in California, where the Sheldon’s were one of the first wineries to make one in modern times beginning in the mid 2000s. Dylan, who is first and foremost a Grenache specialist, especially after spending time in the Rhone on a harvest gig with the famous Chateau de Saint Cosme and winemaker Louis Barruol who’s Gigondas is one of the world’s greatest wines. Sheldon Wines, which was formed in 2003, has never been afraid to explore different paths and grapes, like this Graciano, also does a sparkling Tempranillo, carbonic Sangiovese, Carignan and Rhone blends, his signature Vinolocity, which is a wild Petite Sirah and Tempranillo blend, as well as Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, plus a unique Petite Sirah and Cabernet field blend called the Red Hat. This wine was traditionally crafted using a small basket press and fermented to a natural 12.9% natural alcohol and aged in two neutral French oak barrels, as Dylan adds, no new oak was harmed in the making of this wine, and it was bottled unfined and unfiltered. This is one of the best versions of Graciano I’ve tried, brilliantly detailed, clean vitality and with a generous vinous mouth feel, it should drink fabulously for 5 to 10 years, though almost irresistible now, this is tasty stuff! Sheldon, who produces only ultra small lot wines is well worth searching out.
($36 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2018 Weingut Carl Loewen, Riesling Trocken, Ritsch, Grosses Gewächs, Mosel Germany.
Christopher Loewen’s 2018 Ritsch GG coming from extreme slopes, the second steepest in Europe, takes this vineyard to the next level, this is one of the wines of the vintage (lots of German ’18s on the list!) with outrageous depth and majestic form that feels like the wine was chiseled out its historic slate driven terroir. Christopher Loewen, who took over the estate’s winemaking in recent years, from his famous father, has brought this winery to pinnacle of German wine with a focus on organic farming, natural and minimalistic cellar work, specializing in a sophisticated drier style of pure Riesling. The Carl Loewen, as noted by me and of course Terry Theise, the Riesling guru that imports this wine, estate dates back to 1803, when a collection of prime vineyards and winery buildings were purchased at auction, these had once been part of the Church’s religious Maximin order, it included the famed Maximiner Herrenberg, which has the oldest set of Riesling vines in Germany, planted in 1896. Karl-Josef, Christopher’s dad, who was always looking for old vineyards, added significant parcels mainly by savvy buys of steep old vineyards (with low yielding vines) that no one wanted to work anymore, with the Thörnicher Ritsch vineyard coming into the fold in 1998. Ritsch, as mentioned in my writings, is the second steepest vineyard in Germany, second only to Bremer Calmot in the lower Mosel set on grey weathered slate and quartzite soils that give this incredible wine its personality and character. Christopher says it took awhile for the Loewen’s to get Ritsch to perform as they knew it could and they struggled as they moved from conventional farming to chemical free organic methods here, but their faith and commitment has really paid off as the vineyard’s true potential has finally been unlocked! There is a lot to love here in this 2018 version, highlighting Loewen’s touch and its glorious terroir influence, making this pale greenish/golden Riesling a special bottle to cherish.
This new release, 2018 Ritsch Grosses Gewachs Riesling is exceptional and thrillingly intense with a sense of underlying power and dynamic energy all of which translates outwardly with its youthful generosity and crystal clear details with layers of vibrant fruits, flinty mineral and a saline burst that makes this wine burst from the glass with green apple, lime, grapefruit, tart apricot, fleshy melon, quince and faint tropical fruits along with smoky wet shale, chamomile, citrus blossom, delicate rosewater and a touch of leesy concentration. This is absolutely going to be the stuff of legends, those looking for a sleeper for the cellar should really not miss this one, it will easily eclipse the classics and still offers tremendous value, this wine is on the level of greatness that compares with Raveneau Les Clos Grand Cru Chablis, Domaine Leflaive Puligny-Montrachet and or Coche-Dury Meursault! The Loewen Ritsch, a wine I’ve been singing the praises of since the 2014, is a brisk and dry wine that develops slowly with air gaining graceful texture and deepens with time, I am mind-glowingly impressed with this vintage, not just for this offering, but with all of Loewen’s collection, to say they nailed it is an understatement for the ages. This brilliant wine joins Christopher’s fantastic 1896 Maximiner Herrenberg old vine bottlings, especially the stunning Feinherb, which I reviewed earlier, these are wines that German wine lovers should not miss and should rush out and find, in particular those that enjoy the wines by Wittmann, Keller, Donnhoff, Loosen and Maximin Grunhaus (Von Schubert) to name a few. Throughout Loewen’s lineup there are wines of sublime value and quality from the basic estate stuff to the gorgeous set of GGs, plus the Kabinett and Alte Reben Trockens are rocking good.
($65 Est.) 97 Points, grapelive
2018 Pax, Gamay Noir, Sonoma Coast.
The latest release Gamay from Pax is an old world and austere bottling with a meaty and with a raw earthiness, it is less fruit driven the the past two releases, though still appeals for the natural style and goes well with rustic cuisine. The 2018 has a background of fresh acidity and is layered with black raspberry, cherry, tangy wild strawberry and dusty plum fruits along with an array of spices, herbs, crushed flowers, iron/mineral notes and a light cedary element, along with what tastes like touch of Brettanomyces, which adds a savory dryness to this vintage. Those looking for a light and fruity wine best look to Pax’s delightful Valdiguie, one of my secret favs in Mahle’s lineup, and Carignan bottlings, as this Gamay has a more seriousness about it and is slightly natty in form. Air brings out a touch more body and length in this lightly tannic and crisp Gamay, it fills out to a medium bodied red that is best served with a bit of a chill and with food that will coax more fruit out, with burgers, duck confit and or sleep (hard) cheeses. I am loving the unique alternative wines being done by the talented Pax Mahle, in particular his Chenin Blanc, the mentioned Carignan and Valdiguie bottlings, the Trousseau Gris as well as his Rhone blend, The Vicar.
Pax, most known for outstanding Syrah, was the first winery to produce and release a Gamay Noir from the cool climate Sonoma Coast region, not too long ago, starting with a tiny batch he did in 2015, a wine I didn’t get to try. I did however did try and love both with 2016 and 2017 versions, as they were more widely released, though as this 2018, are limited and hard to find. The Pax Gamay is sourced from a set sustainably farmed in vineyards Pax had used to make his ultra cool climate Wind Gap wines, which was folded back into the Pax label, set on marine sedimentary soils and cooled by breezy conditions influenced by the Pacific Ocean. This Gamay was crafted using traditional methods, similar to Cru Beaujolais, with 100% whole cluster fermentation and partial carbonic maceration with the wine getting close to 10 months in used French oak barrels with almost no sulphur added. This vintage reminds me of older vintages of Clos de la Roilette Fleurie and will certainly appeal to those that love the funk, it’s an intriguing edition that might get a reaction, both positive and negative, I think I might suggest drinking it sooner v. later. Be sure to check out all of the classic Syrah(s) here, plus Pax’s unique collection of other cool stuff.
($40 Est.) 89 Points, grapelive
NV Ultraviolet by Poe Wines, Sparkling Rosé, California.
The Ultraviolet Sparkling Rosé is a fun, lively and fruity bubbly that is generous and Cremant de Loire like in style with a slight California twist, it’s made mostly from Cabernet Franc, but with a touch of Colombard, instead of either Chenin Blanc or Sauvignon Blanc as found in the French versions, making for an interesting offering from the talented Samantha Sheehan of Poe Wines. Delightfully easy and quaffable this Ultraviolet, Sheehan’s second value priced label, Sparkling Rosé has flashes of strawberry, sour cherry, distilled raspberry and ruby citrus fruits with touches of mineral, floral tones along with a faint herbal note and a hint of leesy/yeasty roundness. Much less serious than her Poe grower producer style sparklers, which are some of the finest versions in California, like Caraccioli and Michael Cruse’s Ultramarine, this Ultraviolet Sparkling Rosé is great for beach drinking and or as a flavorful aperitif with it’s more forward and fruity nature. Sheehan’s Poe lineup is full of outstanding wines, I highly recommend checking out her Van der Kamp Pinot and Manchester Ridge Chardonnay, plus her fantastic Poe sparklers, in particular the single vineyard Blanc de Blancs, it truly is spectacular and compares well with top grower fizz Champagnes, plus I adore her Pinot Meunier, also from the Van der Kamp Vineyard on Sonoma Mountain.
Samantha Sheehan, who founded her Poe Wines winery in 2009 after traveling to Europe and being inspired by the wines she tasted in Burgundy and Champagne, and has now established himself as a top notch producer of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, as well as turning out to be a studied and well respected Champagne style producer. Sheehan says her goal is not to replicate Burgundy (or Champagne), but rather create alluring, vineyard specific, age-worthy wines that express the beautiful terroir of California. At Poe, there is a focus on minimal intervention in the cellar, judicious use of sulfur, and never any additives to craft transparent wines that show purity and a sense of place. This Sparkling Rosé has a base of 85% Coombsville Cabernet Franc rosé, made from the grapes that go into Sheehan’s other Ultraviolet bottling, her juicy, everyday priced Cabernet Sauvignon, and with 15% French Colombard from Mendocino. This wine was made utilizing the Charmant method as opposed to fermenting it in bottle, as done with the Champagne method wines at Poe. The sparkling base, which is about extra dry in feel, went through a second fermentation in stainless steel tank utilizing yeast and sugar and fermentation was kept cold, lasting close to seven weeks. This is a very enjoyable Sparkling Rosé to pop with casual purpose, especially along with lots of food and laughter!
($26 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2017 G.D. Vajra, Langhe Nebbiolo DOC, Piedmonte, Italy.
The Vajra 2017 Langhe Nebbiolo is an absolutely beautiful wine with incredible depth of style for the price, in fact it is on par with some serious Barolo offerings and better than many 2014 Barolo bottlings that are on the market now at triple the cost! Delightfully generous, but vigorous, dry and full of intensity this is a wine of varietal purity with crushed roses, balsamic dipped strawberry and anise notes to go along with layers of briar laced raspberry, damson plum, orange and kirsch fruit as well as light notes of mineral/iron, incense and fresh saline infused chalk/stones. I’m a huge fan of the G. D. Vajra lineup and winery, especially the craftsmanship of Giuseppe Vajra, winemaker, has brought to the wines since I’ve been following them, which started with the 2008, now tens years on these are some of Italty’s best wines. The GD Vajra estate, fourth generation artisan Barolo producer is an example of elegant, pure, and expressive terroir wines, is found in Vergne, the highest village of Barolo in north- west Italy, where the vineyards sit at an altitude of up to 400 metres. The winery’s simple message is, they make wines that do not need to talk out loud or flex their muscles, they just ask them to touch the hearts of all, which I think is mostly has very well accomplished, especially in their Barolo Bricco delle Viole, Barolo Ravera, their amazing dry Riesling, the Dolcetto, the Kye Freisa and this awesome Langhe Nebbiolo. Produced from Cru sites in the Barolo area, this Langhe Nebbiolo is from young vines, including Bricco Bertoni, all hand-picked, with a long vinification and, as Vajra explains, extremely gentle, as so to retain lift and tension to this wine, which was achieved, this is a wine of class and vitality.
Vajra, who has farmed using organic practices since 1971, calls the 2017 a vintage of rich wines with plenty of energy and aromatics, and I agree, this version has plenty of density and ripeness coming in at a Barolo like 14.5% and has a balancing grip and freshness. This Langhe Nebbiolo was fermented and aged in a combination of stainless tank and neutral oak casks, it saw between 8 and 14 months of aging to develop its vinous and graceful mouth feel as well as to preserve the classic Nebbiolo character. That 100% Nebbiolo primary fermentation lasted for almost 3 weeks days in vertical vats, and then was followed by a natural spontaneous malolactic fermentation, with mainly that elevage being in the stainless, while a tiny amount of the blend saw some wood. Vajra, like most great winemakers, is humble and believes his wines are all made in the vineyard and those vines have been nurtured and the soil preserved by grassing and gets a cover crop, which they have for almost 50 years now. Vajra notes, it takes an incredible ratio of manual work per acre to produce the best grapes, adding that the farming at Vajra is a labor of love and a lot goes into monitoring and improving the biodiversity of both flora and fauna not just in the vineyards, but also in the winery fields and the near by forest, knowing all of this plays a part in the stunning quality of Vajra’s collection. Be sure to find and enjoy the current Vajra wines, in particular Giuseppe’s set of Nebbiolo wines, with this “Baby Barolo” one being one to certainly stock up on!
($25 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2014 Mount Eden Vineyards, Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Santa Cruz Mountains.
The 2014 Mount Eden Estate Cabernet Sauvignon is a beauty from start to finish, one of the finest I’ve tried in fact and it’s right up there with some of California’s best versions, reminding me of Corison and Ridge Vineyards in style with an elegance and authentic character showing layers of black fruits, a smooth tannic structure and subtle floral perfume. Mount Eden Vineyards is one of the longest running family estates in California that is famous for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, but has always done a fantastic Cabernet Sauvignon. This historic winery is perched up at 2000 feet, with an eastern exposure above Saratoga and overlooking the Silicon Valley in the Santa Cruz Mountain Appellation, just about 50 miles south of San Francisco. Mount Eden was founded in 1945 and was one of the original “boutique” California wineries by famed vintner Martin Ray, who as mentioned focused on small lots of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. Since 1981 Jeffrey Patterson, the current owner along with his wife Ellie, has guided the winemaking and grape growing at Mount Eden, taking it to the very top in terms of quality making it an iconic producer. Patterson considers himself a winegrower, always crediting the place with its unique terroir for the sublime wines. He says he concentrates on wine growing rather than winemaking and he is obsessed with gentle and natural techniques in the handling of his grapes. Martin Ray purchased the first parcel of this mountaintop estate, which is now the site of Mount Eden Vineyards, back in 1943 and proceeded to plant special Burgundy (clones) Pinot Noir selections and Chardonnay vines with cuttings that came from Paul Masson’s La Cresta vineyard, now known as The Mountain Winery. Martin Ray, who grew up near Masson’s property met Paul Masson and developed a true friendship and Masson had great affection for Martin, as he had no sons of his own, and allowed him to work in the cellar and learn the art of making fine wine, this was pivotal to the future creation of Mount Eden.
Mount Eden’s estate as started by Martin Ray and now run by the Patterson family sites on a rugged mountaintop in the Santa Cruz Mountains with 40 acres of low-yielding Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, plus tiny amounts of Merlot and Cabernet Franc vines that go into the Cabernet Sauvignon bottlings. Interesting, separate from the relationship with Paul Masson, the heritage of Mount Eden Cabernet Sauvignon dates back to the 1890s, when the famed viticulturist Emmett Rixford of Woodside, California, obtained selected cuttings from Chateau Margaux in Bordeaux and it’s from Rixford’s famous La Questa Vineyard with these selections that were used to plant parcels at Mount Eden. The Soils at Mountain Eden are very thin with a dominant base of Franciscan shales, which are found in these coastal range vineyards, which suits these vines and adds to the concentration of flavors. The climate is cool, with the Pacific Ocean near by, especially for Cabernet, and influenced by the vineyard’s altitude and its proximity to San Francisco bay as well. The vines are trellised in a modern fashion, which promotes even ripening, with the long growing season adding refined tannins and complexity, along with nice natural acidity, which this 2014 shows perfectly. The Mount Eden Cabernet Sauvignon was fermented in small 1,000-gallon stainless steel tanks, with Patterson doing punch downs manually and macerated it, as he notes, for about ten days after fermentation completed, then was transferred into new Bordelaise chateau barrels where aged twenty-two months in the cellar. Beautiful in detail, this 2014 delivers deep blackberry, plum, cherry and currant fruits, plus accents of sandalwood, acacia flower, cedar, minty herb, pipe tobacco, iron/mineral and lingering vanilla, anise and creme de cassis. This fresh and lively unfined and unfiltered Mount Eden Cabernet was aged an extra two years in bottle prior to its release and it is a gorgeous wine that should go for another two to three decades with legendary potential!
($90 Est.) 96 Points, grapelive
N.V. Moussé Fils, Anecdote Lieu-Dit La Varosses, Blanc de Blancs Brut Champagne, Cuisles, Vallée de la Marne, France.
Cedric Moussé’s beautiful Champagne collection, usually led by distinct Pinot Meunier bottlings, are some of finest grower producer offerings I’ve tried in recent years and his unique 100% single parcel, 100% Chardonnay and 100% organic Anecdote Lieu-Dit La Varosses is a gorgeous Champagne with ripe layers, rich leesy texture and mineral intensity. The Champagne Moussé, who’s estate grown vines include 80% Pinot Meunier, 16% Pinot Noir and just 4% Chardonnay, which obviously makes this Anecdote La Varosses are delicious rarity, is the first member of the Club de Tresor (the body that maintains and approves the famous Special Club Champagne expressions) to make a Spécial Club wine of 100% Pinot Meunier and the first Club member to produce a Rosé de Saignée Spécial Club. Focused on purity and textural quality, Moussé works almost exclusively with stainless steel when crafting his Champagne, with the exception of a small amount of Pinot Meunier destined for his rosé and all the cuvees undergo secondary (malolactic) fermentation that adds to the pleasure and vinous depth. Cedric Moussé, according to his importer Terry Theise, adheres to a ‘lutte raisonee’ approach to grape growing, practicing organic viticulture, using herbal infusions that, Moussé says, act as ‘vitamins’ for the vines, with cover crops proving nutrients, and zero pesticides or comercial fertilizers.
The latest Anecdote Lieu-Dit La Varosses all comes from the 2015 vintage, a warm and dense year that adds to the luxurious feel and ripe fruit complexity in this wonderfully detailed grower fizz, and as mentioned it was crafted from this tiny Chardonnay parcel in stainless steel with a full 48 months on the lees. The terroir here is quite special with this side valley, in the Vallee de la Marne, not all that far from Paris, has unique soils for Champagne that consists of a schist subsoil under the local “green” clay. This combination of climate and soils gives a remarkable freshness, even with these full malos and a lifted sense of fruit, especially in Moussé’s favorite Pinot Meunier versions, but also works to great effect in this Chardonnay sparkler, giving some generosity and structure as well as a salinity which makes everything pop in the glass. The current Anecdote shows loads of personality and refined charm with lemon, peach and bosc pear fruits, delicate floral notes, brioche, wet stones, clove and liquid mineral all supported by an exceptionally fine mouse and effervesce of tiny beading creamy bubbles. This is fabulous Champagne and a top value in limited production, hand crafted and stylish grower fizz with a serious presence, it is great on its own, but sensational with cuisine, be sure to look for this and all of the Moussé lineup! The Moussé Champagnes are still under the radar and priced way below their true value, those that love Jerome Prevost, Brouchard, Laharte and Agrapart will really be thrilled by these exciting Champagnes.
($50 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2014 Ferren Wines, Chardonnay, Lancel Creek Vineyard, Sonoma Coast.
The Ferren label wines I’ve tasted, which I’ve had just a couple of so far, have impressed me with the quality and depth of flavors, especially this Lancel Creek Chardonnay from a cool climate Sonoma Coast vineyard, it shows a deep fruit concentration and texture and vibrance, it reminds me of Ramey, Aubert, Littorai and Ceritas with rich character, but also graceful, showing fine details and length. Winemakers Matt Courtney and David Wherritt founded Ferren, a Sonoma Coast winery, in 2013, after an eight-year apprenticeship with the legendary Helen Turley of Marcassin and formerly of Martinelli, with a focus on mainly full-bodied and boldly expressive Chardonnays and elegantly transparent Pinot Noirs coming from cool climate Sonoma Coast vineyards. The Ferren Wines are made using, as the winery states, traditional Burgundian methods, using indigenous yeasts with the fermentations are carried out exclusively by native flora that arrive on the grapes from the vineyards without fining or filtration. The vineyards in Ferren’s portfolio are exceptional places to source top notch grapes, like this Lancel Creek, on the true Coast, which are all hand picked, with Ferren basing its pick dates with a nod to the potential for producing profound, age-worthy wines. All of their parcels are, as they note, farmed to the highest standards of sustainability and wine quality, adding that they are dedicated to doing tiny lots of artisan single-vineyard Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
Lancel Creek Vineyard, planted by the late Ulises Valdez, one of the hero’s of California winegrowing, is perched above the tiny hamlet of Occidental on the remote true west Sonoma Coast. This secluded, two-acre site is set on the Goldridge soils that provides just enough nutrients and moisture for these densely planted vines to ripen fully with small berries, giving low yields of intensely aromatic and flavorful Chardonnay grapes, which shows in this Ferren Lancel Chardonnay. The Lancel Vineyard faces the Pacific Ocean, that crashes ashore a mere five miles to the west and certainly plays a role in the the wines made from this set of vines, the combining influences of the cold Pacific and the long warm days helps produce a wine of dense opulence and a studied balance, again this Ferren delivers it all with a finesse and poise. This 2014 version is really coming into its own with lush flavors and refined acidity allowing an unfolding cascade of apple, pear, orange/lemon, yellow peach and golden fig fruits along with touches of butterscotch, clove, honeysuckle and hint of smoky vanilla. Time in the glass reveals a more and more substantial wine and greater pleasure with this golden hued Chardonnay filling the palate with a fleshy mouth feel, it is best with cuisine choices that match up, including lobster, smoked salmon with crème fraiche and especially Époisses de Bourgogne, creamy cheese. The style here is pure California, similar to Wayfarer by Pahlmeyer, and it really works, this is a winery to watch and if you can locate this 2014, it will be worth your effort.
($75 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2017 Morgan Winery, Pinot Noir, Double L Estate Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands.
The latest Double L Vineyard Pinot Noir is really an impressive wine from Morgan, one of Monterey’s best and longest running family wineries with the Lee family being great ambassadors for the region and especially for the Santa Lucia Highlands, where this Pinot was born, it highlights the vintage, the marine influence and the hard work in the vines, as well as giving wondrous joy and depth in the glass. This 2017, from the organically grown grapes from Dan Lee’s estate Double L Vineyard and crafted by the hugely talented Sam Smith, head winemaker at Morgan, shows beautiful clarity and rich fruit character, it’s one of the finest wines I’ve ever tasted from the winery, eclipsing the sublime early nineties versions that were made by Joe Davis, who was one of the first star winemakers in Monterey, which were the wines that brought fame to area and began the rise in the Santa Lucia Highlands. Smith’s joining of the team at Morgan has seen its wines get to the next level and I’m incredibly excited to see what the next couple vintages bring, I think they will even be better still, I see the 2018 and 2019 becoming absolutely legendary for Morgan and Monterey. This wine, just getting a full release, has already been garnering critical acclaim and you can immediately see why when seeing and tasting it, it shines ruby and garnet in the glass and the silky palate is layered with dense fruit delivering black cherry, raspberry, plum and wild strawberry along with some toasty sweet oak notes, nice briar and cinnamon spices, distilled rose petals, delicate earthiness and mineral tone. This wine, interestingly feels more evolved than than the 2016’s and some of the single clone 2017 bottlings, maybe proving the barrel selection and mixing of clones makes for a more intriguing example.
Morgan’s signature Double L Vineyard is in a prime spot with its location in the northern end of the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA, widely believed to be one the best spots for growing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Planted to a variety of modern and classic clones, including some rare Burgundy selections, Double L is set on east facing terraces overlooking the Salinas River Valley. This near perfect north-south vineyard row orientation, according to the winery, provides optimum sun exposure and access to the strong afternoon ocean breezes that moderate the afternoon temperatures, they also thicken the grape skins, adding a structured tannic element and the long growing season concentrates flavors, while retaining good natural acidity. The Double L Vineyard has been Certified Organic since 2002, making it the first vineyard in the Santa Lucia Highlands to achieve both organic and sustainable certifications, again helping with flavor development and giving the wines an inner beauty and energy, which clearly shows in a vintage like this one and makes for vivacious fruit intensity. The 2017 saw just about of year in barrel with about 50% new oak being used, as per normal in this luxurious Pinot Noir, but thankfully the smoky oak has merged with the deep sense of ripe fruit allowing the true nature to shine through and there’s still a lot to come with potential to age 10 to 15 years easily. There is a lot to admire in Morgan’s current lineup with this one, being a study in opulence and style, and their 2018 Double L Estate Chardonnay, especially the Clone 96 version, being stellar wines and stars of the show, they are definitely worthy of being in your cellar.
($65 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2017 Lucia Vineyards by Pisoni, Chardonnay, Soberanes Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands.
The rich and full bodied Soberanes Chardonnay from winemaker Jeff Pisoni, who makes the wines for his family’s labels, is a fabulous and showy wine, hand crafted with only 200 cases made and opulently layered this golden hued nectar is a beauty that thrills the palate. This Chardonnay comes from the highly regarded Soberanes Vineyard, the Pisoni’s and Franscioni’s latest vineyard project that was purchased back in 2007 and is looking like it can eclipse the famous Garys’ and Pisoni Estate for grape quality, it especially shows promise with Syrah, but of course Pinot is doing well, as well as the Chardonnay, which is heavy in Old Wente clone, that gives the amazing concentration that this 2017 Soberanes Chard shows. The site, next to Garys’ has an array of Chardonnay clonal material planted on 33 acres in the sandy loamy and rocky soils, it is very diverse and includes more than dozen different clones of the most renowned heritage selections from California and Burgundy, including what is believed to be a Montrachet clone, all playing roles that adds to the complexity and quality in the wines, as well as the cool ocean influence. Jeff Pisoni, one of the state’s best winemakers, has really hit a groove with his wines, these 2017’s are top notch, in particular the spectacular Pisoni Estate Pinot, his set of Syrah(s) and this Soberanes Chardonnay.
Made using carefully sorted grapes and a gentle whole cluster pressing and was (barrel) fermented and aged in 100% Franch oak barriques with 100% natural/indigenous yeasts, with what Pisoni says, was minimal stirring of the lees over the course of this Chardonnay’s 15-month slumber in the cellar. The Soberanes Chard saw elevage in 50% new oak, and malos completeld slowly without additions, which certainly shows on the nose and on the toasty sweet finish, plus giving the creamy lush texture, but overall it really has integrated exceptionally well even now in this wine’s youth and it is well balanced and remarkably lively, highlighting the well judged winemaking, the terroir and the natural acidity that shines through. The nose is full of honeysuckle, citrus and creme brûlée and leads to the densely packed mouth with layers of lemon curd, apple, bosc pear, golden fig, orange marmalade and peach fruits along with wet stone, a kick of saline, mineral tones, a hint of clove spice, tropical essences, vanilla and a faint honeycomb note. This is regal Chardonnay, right up there with Aubert, Peter Michael, Mount Eden and Kongsgaard and should be enjoyed with hedonistic and decedent cuisine, such as lobster and or salmon dishes. Drink this one over the next 5 to 7 years, this is flamboyant stuff and impresses with its presence in the glass.
($50 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2017 Schlossgut Diel, Riesling Trocken, Burg Layen, Nahe Germany.
Caroline Diel’s latest wines are some of the best in Germany and everything I’ve tasted from 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018, which she feels needs more time to reach its potential, have been absolutely gorgeous and one of the under the radar in the collection is her Burg Layen Trocken, with this 2017 version being impeccable, precise and full of character. Schlossgut Diel, a family owned winery, established back in 1802, is located in the lower Nahe on a steep south-facing slope, on the Burg Layen estate near Dorsheim, Diel’s Grand Cru Goldloch, Burgberg and Pittermännchen parcels make up some Diel’s prestigious holdings and are the source of Caroline’s top Grosses Gewachs bottlings, which are notably, three of the greatest white wines in the world. Diel’s father Armin was one of the biggest advocates for dry Rieslings and helped promote them throughout the world, and now Caroline leads that crusade along with her husband Sylvain, as well as showing off her outstanding Pinot Noir, her fantastic Sekt sparkling wines, which are as seductive as Krug, as well as her traditional sweeter offerings, with her Kabinett, Spatlese and especially her Auslese, a wine of pure opulence, density and finesse. The combination of great vineyard sites, dedicated vineyard management, which is as organic as possible and sustainable, plus Caroline’s meticulous winemaking makes Schlossgut Diel, along with Donnhoff, one of the Nahe region’s most sought after wineries. This Burg Layen Dry Riesling is one of my favorites, it offers exceptional value and has a distinct terroir and house style, it makes for a great place to start, if you’ve not tried Diel’s wines.
This wine, named for the castle, the Burg Layen is a pedigreed site, is set on mainly clay based soils that are accented by some flinty slate and well draining grave, makes for elegant Rieslings that are, as importer Terry Theise notes, capable of aging and that are widely adored by savvy Riesling drinkers, as I very much would like to be known as, and this 2017 is graceful, complex and crisply delicious. With subtle power and underlying intensity, the 2017 Burg Layen Riesling Trocken has crystalline minerallity, brilliant energy and layers of yellow peach, lemon, green apple, unripe apricot, quince and green melon fruits along with zesty spices, wet rock, salivating saline and delicate rosewater. With air the wine gains the vintage’s richness and mouth feel, while stay incredibly structured and with a seductive tension, this is a beautiful stuff that gives the thrill of the Grosses Gewachs, but can be drunk without guilt and or waiting. Caroline Diel uses carefully selected fruit that is, as she notes, either whole-cluster pressed or, if vintage necessitates, de-stemmed by hand so as not to break skins and warrant oxidation, and I can attest to the extreme sorting and attention to detail, as I witnessed some of practices when I visited the winery back in 2016. Fermentation at Diel is carried out spontaneously, using mostly indigenous yeasts in large German oak casks, stuckfass, doppelstuck, and sometimes in cement tanks for the drier (Riesling) wines and then aged extensively on the lees. This transparent dry Riesling has many years of pleasure ahead, but I would find it hard not to enjoy it now, especially with lightly spiced shellfish and or fresh sea foods.
($38 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2017 Chateau de Saint-Cosme, Gigondas, Rhone Valley, France.
Louis Barruol’s Chateau de Saint Cosme Gigondas is one of the most iconic Rhone wines, certainly one of the greatest in terms of quality and value and one of my absolutely favorite wines, almost nothing comes close in terms of drinking pleasure for the money and this 2017 is just awesome, beautifully lush and richly textured, but with fine balance, spiciness and serious palate impact. As noted in my long history of reviews, the Chateau de Saint Cosme estate is located north to the village of Gigondas, and is one of the oldest wineries in the region, it stands on tan ancient Gallo-Roman villa which very probably already had its own vineyards, with the records showing that it was founded at least as far back as 1416 with Barruol’s family buying the famous site in 1570. Set in a slightly cooler zone of the appellation, Saint Cosme’s vines are on mainly the classic limestone marl and Miocene sandy soils, all wonderfully situated to produce profound wines, which this year’s Gigondas is, no question. There’s plenty of stuffing and structure, making for a wine with instant gratification, but that can age a long time in the cellar.
The latest main estate wine, Château de Saint Cosme 2017 Gigondas, was made using about 70% Grenache, 14% Syrah, 15% Mourvèdre and 1% Cinsault. Brilliant in detailing, this vintage has an underlying beauty and perfume, while still being dense and powerful, its’ a thrilling whole cluster version, which adds more dimension and a sultry earthiness that sets against the deep fruit perfectly, I honestly can imagine it getting better than this, in fact this wine blows away many Chateauneuf du Pape(s) that sell for two or three times the price. Layered with a core of vinous black fruits, this Saint Cosme Gigondas shows boysenberry, creme de cassis, dark plum, pomegranate and misson figs along with violets, cinnamon, dried lavender plus a touch of bitter chocolate, leather, cedar and black licorice. The inky purple hued 2017 edition, pretty much as per normal was aged for twelve months, getting about 20% in new oak, which I believe are puncheons, with close to 50% of the wine resting in casks used for 1 to 4 fills and 30% in concrete vat, giving it a well rounded mouth feel and exceptional purity. Barruol’s wines are always hedonistic and authentic in style, they and in particular this one never disappoint, especially with hearty cuisine, I suggest that you don’t miss this vintage!
($40 Est.) 96 Points, grapelive
2018 Samuel Louis Smith, Pinot Noir, Montanita de Oro, Monterey County.
The latest set of wines from Sam Smith’s Samuel Louis Smith label are stunning, I‘ve mentioned the gorgeous Chardonnay from the Spear Vineyard and most recently his Syrah, which I absolutely love, but you shouldn’t miss his Pinot Noir either, this 2018 Montanita de Oro, Monterey County, all from hillside vines, is outstanding. Sourced from two distinct vineyard sites, Pelio Vineyard in Carmel Valley set only 7 miles from Carmel Bay on shales and chalky stones with its cool marine climate delicacy and the Coastview Vineyard in the Gabilan Range, northwest of Chalone with a complex set of granite and limestone soils giving this wine depth and intensity of flavors. Smith who’s really making a name for himself with his fabulous efforts at Monterey’s famous Morgan Winery, especially with his latest Double L Estate wines, both the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir offerings are delicious and some of the most elite Santa Lucia Highlands wines to date, on par with the Roar and Lucia by Pisoni stuff. His own micro-négociant label, Samuel Louis Smith Wines, is one of the most exciting small lot handmade wines (boutique) collection on the Central Coast, with a focus on the Sta. Rita Hills and Monterey. Smith, who credits his experience making Pinot Noir wines in the Willamette Valley, cool climate Northern Rhone Syrah and as well as being a winemaker for Margerum in Santa Barbara County as giving him the understanding of terroir and insight to craft his wines has really shown his potential with these 2018’s!
This Samuel Louis Smith Montanita de Oro Pinot Noir, which saw loads of whole cluster, is vibrantly expressive and sensual with layers of black cherry, strawberry, plum, blood orange, pomegranate and tart cranberry fruits along with an array of spices, a touch of earth, mineral tones, light sweet toastiness and crushed flowers. I got to taste through the new releases with Smith and I, as mentioned, was thrilled by them, and throughout the last almost three years I have tried quite a few of Sam’s earlier wines, and they are exceptional as well, providing insight into how they develop with a few years of bottle age and they have impressed, especially the Radian Vineyard Pinot Noir and the Lafond Vineyard Syrah, both from fantastic sites in the Santa Barbara area where Smith was based before moving to Monterey. I must also mention, his Morgan Double L Estate 2017 Pinot, which is just released as well as is beauty and already creating a lot of buzz too, it is is great time to discover his wines, both the Morgan stuff, which includes some small batch single clone bottlings, like Pommard, DRC and in particular the Double L clone 96 Chardonnay, which is one of the best Chards I’ve tried this year in California, right up there with some of the state’s classics, as well as his personal wines, like this one. Textural and intriguing from start to finish, this Montanita de Oro Pinot, still youthful and vivid, with its balancing natural acidity has many years of pleasure in store, don’t miss it and get on Smith’s mailing list, these will go fast.
($42 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2008 Spring Mountain Vineyard, Elivette Red, Spring Mountain, Napa Valley.
A winery that is reviving itself is Spring Mountain Vineyard with a confident set of new releases, especially their lovely Sauvignon Blanc, but it is the history of the place and their re-release of some exciting library selections that has got a lot of attention, with their 2008 Elivette Cabernet based red being one of the nicest surprises so far. The Elivette was made from Spring Mountains Estate fruit and is comprised of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon,13% Cabernet Franc, 6% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot and 1% Malbec and it shows its mountain structure perfectly, the fruit is well balanced, quite lively too, and the color is remarkably youthful and beautifully dark, making for a stylish drink and a wine that is putting on a great show in the glass. The historic Spring Mountain Vineyard is an 845-acre estate, with 225 acres under vine, that was once three separate estates each with its own vineyard and winery beginning in 1873, these make up collection of vineyard sites, including Spring Mountain Vineyards/Miravalle, Chevalier, and La Perla. Interestingly, below La Perla, and eventually added to it, was the first vineyard planted by Fredrick and Jacob Beringer in 1882. These terraced hillsides were planted in a wide assortment of grape varieties to support the Beringer brothers fledgling, but now famous, winery. The privately owned estate, with current ownership taking over the property in 1992 after its rise in modern times under Mike Robbins, who had the label from 1974 to 1992 and oversaw an incredible period that brought fame to this world class winery, is now comprised of four historic vineyards that were first, as noted, planted to vine in the late 1800s and only estate bottled wines are produced. This 2008 is lovely stuff with loads of pleasing personality on display, I’m glad to see this winery making a comeback in some ways and getting attention again, I was very impressed with this vintage Elivette, plus their delightful and fresh 2017 Sauvignon Blanc, which I enjoyed with soft cheese and grilled prawns.
Spring Mountain’s complex vineyard, once the setting for a prime time soap opera “Falcon Crest”, has vines are planted on 135 distinct hillside plots that rise from 400 to 1,600 feet above sea level on the eastern slopes of Spring Mountain with a stunning view of the Napa Valley. The weathered volcanic materials, sandstones, shales and sedimentary rock mountain soils make for small yields, less than two tons of grapes per acre typically, making for big shouldered wines that reflect terroir with intense flavors, though Spring Mountain is known for finesse and their supple tannin structure and bright acidity from the cool nights, leading to graceful long lived wines, like this 2008 is showing today. The unique qualities of each block, which are fermented and aged separately and then carefully blended to make the top cuvee, the Elivette. This Elivette was crafted to become the finest expression of the Spring Mountain Vineyard, and it shows brilliant layers of blackberry, blueberry, dark plum and kirsch fruits, creme de cassis, dried sage, tobacco, acacia flower, a touch of earthiness, smoke and mineral tones, finishing with anise, cedar and vanilla. An amazing string of winemakers have worked at Spring Mountain over the years and it has at many times been the equal of Napa’s greatest estates, mostly known for their Cabernet Sauvignon, this Elivette Bordeaux blend and Sauvignon Blanc, they have also made one of Napa’s most sought after Syrah(s) and now, in particular that White Bordeaux style Sauvignon Blanc. After tasting this 2008, which I tasted blind, I am even more interested to see what the 2014, 2015 and especially the 2016 versions of Elivette and the basic Cabernet.
($150 Est. “Current Release Price”) 94 Points, grapelive
2016 Weingut Knebel, Riesling, Von Den Terrassen, Mosel Germany.
This beauty comes from the steep slopes of slate above the river with vines holding on by the use of historic terraces, these need constant work and tender love and care, which Matthias Knebel does to produce his distinct Rieslings, this area Winningen, is one of the sites that defines the essence of these terraced vineyards, that are cultural landmarks, in the Mosel Valley. This wine, Knebel’s Von Den Terrassen Riesling, represents this sense of place and tradition, it is an off dry style that drinks clearly on the drier scale, but with a rich density and a gorgeous vinous charm, while retaining the classic stony/smoky slate driven character with plenty of natural acidity and a crystalline mineral essence. Working with natural methods and sustainable vineyard practices, Matthias, creates authentic wines that reflect his passion and commitment to his craft and his back breaking work in the vines, he is among a talented group of a new generation in the Mosel, and in Germany, that have broken through in recent years for the exceptional quality and intensity of their wines, with his Rieslings reminding me of Christopher Loewen, Mosel, and Theresa Breuer in the Rheingau, to name a couple of modern stars. Knebel is grateful for the work done in the past, by his family, and the gifts of nature, or as he beautiful says “We see ourselves in charge to maintain this legacy, that our forefathers bequeathed to us.” – Matthias Knebel.
The 2016 vintage Von den Terrassen, fermented with sponti, indigenous yeasts and aged in stainless steel, shows remarkable purity and terroir with a slight hint of reduction and earthy charm before opening up to a leesy rich palate of wild peach, lime, apricot, tangerine and muskmelon fruits that are accented by wet shale, flinty stones, saline, spearmint, a faint petrol note, honey and verbena elements in an intriguing Riesling that would be excellent with Asian and Indian cuisines as well as rustic German dishes as well as fish tacos, sushi and or Parma ham. Knebel has a collection of top parcels of vines many of which are between 40-70 year-old, some of which are un-grafted and as mentioned, Matthias is dedicated to farming with minimal intervention, no herbicide or pesticides and relies on small yields, fewer canes, natural competition with his old old vines, all hand tended and picked with rigorous selection both in the vineyard and the cellar, ensuring perfectly ripe and healthy grapes. Knebel uses primarily stainless steel in his vinification(s) and aging, as he notes, these stainless tanks best expresses his nuanced terroirs, also depending on vintage, malolactic fermentation is mostly avoided but much like maceration, some of which see skin contact, is determined on a case-by-case, year by year basis. This 2016 is current in the United States and it is just getting into its groove, so be sure to snap some up, and I look forward to the following 2017’s and 2018’s, which certainly will be exciting stuff!
($32 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2015 Cave Dog, Red Wine, Beau Terroir Vineyard, Napa Valley.
The gloriously balanced and nuanced 2015 Cave Dog Red Wine from Michael Havens was crafted using 58% Merlot and 42% Cabernet Franc in a classic Right Bank Bordeaux style from a vineyard he has long used, Beau Terroir Vineyard in Napa Valley, it is a wine that shows a stylistic nod to the old school and is very svelte and beautifully detail, offering up the vintage’s ripe and density with an irresistible finesse and graceful length. This wine is a throwback to Havens’ original Bourriquot, like the ones he made during the late 1990s and early 2000s, which were some of the savvy and desirable wines in Napa Valley, I was a huge fan and they were exceptional values, like this one from his Cave Dog label is currently. Havens, it should be noted, is not involved with the wines now named after him, Havens Wine Cellars, they bare no resemblance to his own efforts, and this Cave Dog line is an awesome set of wines, with this one being the leader of the pack and his only red wine, plus his lovely set of whites from Galician grape varietals, Albarino, a grape he personally brought to America and made it a star here and his latest import, Godello. The Cave Dog Red shows gorgeous aromatics with floral tones, a light toasty note and a deep sense of dark fruits before a full bodied palate of blackberry, currant, plum and black cherry fruit as well as delicate cedar, refined Cab Franc earthy elements shining here along with the Merlot’s smooth tannin and textural quality, gaining mineral notes, vanilla, anise and baking spices. Made with passion and with Chateau Cheval Blanc as a model, this Cave Dog Red, even with its unlikely name, is a fabulous wine, honest, authentic and opulent with a polished mouth feel and a stunning lingering aftertaste, especially with matching cuisine, think roast meats, duck breast in cherry reduction and or a rack of lamb.
Havens, who works without dogma, believes careful thought and common sense is required to produce a great wine and starts with a plan with each stage needing a thought process that gets the best out of the grapes with each stage being extremely important to achieve one’s goal, so every detail is done with precision and with a gentle hand to preserve nature’s gift. This wine was ultra carefully crafted using hand picking, hand sorting and the grapes were all de-stemmed and allowed to ferment with indigenous yeasts in open-topped tanks, and to preserve the wonderful aromatics Havens gets, as he notes, from Beau Terroir vineyard, he pumps over or punch down(s) the cap as gently as possible, typically twice a day. After primary fermentation is complete, with lots of tasting to be sure extraction is refined and is giving sublime structural integrity, the wine is free run to barrel with a lightly pressed selection added as needed if the quality is there and then the full wine is allowed to go through malos own its own without inoculation. The aging is usually between 16 to 20 months in medium plus toast French oak from Havens’ preferred barrel makers, Boutes, Sylvain and Atelier, all of which specialize in Bordeaux cooperage and add just the right amount of accents and nobility to the finished wine. The Cave Dog whites are marvelous too, especially the crisp and mineral driven Albarino, with its Rias Baixas inspiration, which I have reviewed here at grapelive.com, it’s one of the best if not the best version of this grape in the new world. It’s exciting to follow Michael Havens again, I love his wines and recommend getting on his list, and I can’t wait to see what the new vintages bring!
($60 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2018 Weingut Spreitzer, Estate Riesling Trocken, Rheingau Germany.
The delightful and crisp Spreitzer Estate Trocken is at first easy and delicious, but soon you realize it is far more serious than expected with a wonderful depth of flavors and a gripping dry extract hidden beneath its generous personality, and while I had put praise on Spreitzer’s GG, Alte Reben and Feinherb offerings in prior reviews, I really had to showcase this wine for the quality and exceptional value in this Riesling. Andi and Bernd Spreitzer has put together an excellent set of wines from the 2018 vintage, which looks set to be a classic year in the Rheingau and most all of Germany, from what I’ve tasted so far, highlighted by wines that have richness of fruit, vinous pleasure along with fresh energy, all of which this Estate Trocken shows. The Weingut Spreitzer estate, also known as Josef Spreitzer, as originally founded back in 1641, now run by the Spreitzer brothers Andreas and Bernd, is also one of the oldest privately run wineries in the Rheingau region and has some tremendous vineyard holdings in the middle Rheingau, where the Rhein River runs at its widest point. These vineyard sites, many Grosse Lage and Erste Lage crus are set on an amazing combination of different soils including loess, loam, sand, slate, quartzite, red iron rich stones and clay, all of which add complexity and the climate here is slightly warmer which aids in ripening, helping develop exotic flavors and textures. The Estate Trocken, influenced by the Lenchen vineyard in Oestrich, the heart of Spreitzer’s holdings, is composed mostly of loam and loess soils, is also the basis of one of their majestic GG’s, the Rosengarten, which is one of the most prestigious wines of the lineup and the region.
This 2018 Estate Trocken Riesling from Spreitzer comes from 20 year old vines sourced from three of their vineyards around and in the village of Oestrich, these include Klosterberg, Lenchen and Doosberg set on mainly loam, loess and quartzite soils very close the the estate with its panoramic view of the mighty Rhein. This tasty stuff starts with vibrant citrus and green melon notes and crystalline mineral charm along with brisk saline, stoniness and tropical elements before getting more classic in detail on the graceful medium bodied palate with green apple, peach, lime and tangy apricot fruits, a touch of dried ginger, lemon zest, chamomile and spearmint. This little Riesling got some love and care in the cellar with it being fermented and aged in a combination of stainless steel tanks and old barrels, the large stuckfass German oak casks which are cherished family members here at Spreitzer, with mostly native yeast fermentation(s). The winery, as noted by their importer Terry Theise, strives to maintain fruit (intensity) and finesse by cleaning the must by gravity for 24 hours after the grapes get their whole-cluster pressing, then the wine rests on their gross lees for an extended time and only is filtered once before bottling to promote both freshness and depth, with the final product showing only a hint of reduction, and no oxidation typically. While nicely dry in style there is a distinctive opulence and presence in this Riesling which makes in standout in its price class and it is impressive in the glass and especially with food, in particular grilled BBQed shrimp, light curries, cured ham and or crab cakes. There’s a lot in this current selection at Spreitzer to admire, but this one is a good choice to stock up on.
($22 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2018 Assiduous, Merlot, Kells Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains.
Winemaker and farmer Keegan Mayo, founder of Adissuous Wines, who calls the Santa Cruz Mountains his home, his inspiration and his focus point for his wines, was born on the Big Island of Hawai’i, but moved to Santa Cruz when he was just eight years old, is making expressive, vividly fruit forward and lively wines. Mayo says he is on a mission to create savory wines that have a sense of place and picks growing sites that have special qualities, like an outlier soil or climate factor to achieve a uniqueness in his wines. These Adissuous wines are totally new to me, I was given the heads up on them by Kristie Gallo, an advocate for a new generation of Santa Cruz Mountains wines, so it was really fun to try this intriguing whole cluster and carbonic Merlot, it isn’t what I had expected of this varietal, but it is wildly delicious with an almost Cru Beaujolais feel about it. Mayo farms organically, noting also that he has a less is more approach in his winemaking and creates single vineyard/single variety wines using minimal intervention in the cellar, making natural modern wines with clean and clear flavors. This Kells Vineyard Merlot, presented in a Bordeaux bottle with a red lipstick wax capsule, bursts from the glass with a full carbonic floral and fruit array showing off crushed raspberry, strawberry, fresh plum and sweet cherry fruits that caresses the medium bodied palate with a round soft creaminess before you get a nice savory stemmy crunch with a light herbal sensation, cinnamon spice and a hint of cedar. Like other areas in California, the Santa Cruz Mountains is seeing a changing of the guard and more and more this youth movement is gaining a foot hold with some talented folks, like Keegan, making some headlines.
Keegan got his introduction into the wine industry when he helped out for a few summers at the Split Rail Vineyard in Corralitos, one of the first plantings in the region before going to UC Davis, where he studied and graduated from their prestigious Viticulture and Enology Program. He also spent a harvest with Mumm in Napa as a cellar hand/intern as well as doing a stint with Church Road Winery in Hawkes Bay, New Zealand, before, as he puts it, settling into a nearly nine year tenure with Testarossa Winery, in Saratoga, where he eventually became the Assistant Winemaker. Now with his own label, Mayo has began to express his own ideas and I look forward to exploring more of his wines, especially as I really loved this totally different path version of Merlot, with its vivid and juicy character, it is a quaffable and well price wine. I have noticed he does Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Gris as well as a 100% Malbec, a wine that excites me to chase down, along with this Merlot. This was a seriously fun wine without being serious, easily quaffable in every way, even if it isn’t recognizable as Merlot at this stage, which may upset purists, but will thrill those that enjoy natural wines. That said, this Adissuous carbonic Merlot is extremely well made and has no sloppy or natty funk, and it joins some very cool carbonic wines, like the Reeve and Sheldon Sangiovese(s), Pax Gamay and Carignan, to name a few. This non varietal correct Merlot is for people that are not traditional Merlot fans, and it rewards those seeking out fresh transparent wines.
($25 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2017 Halcon Vineyards, Elevación Syrah, Estate, Yorkville Highlands, Mendocino County.
This is the second vintage of this special 100% Syrah cuvée Elevación by Halcon Vineyards from their high elevation estate in the Yorkville Highlands and it is absolutely outstanding with stunning purity and an amazing play between ripe fruit and savory elements. Paul Gordon, who had enjoyed Scott Shapely of Roar and Flywheel as his winemaker consultant through the 2017 harvest, has crafted one of California’s greatest Syrah offerings from this cool climate hillside site in the wilds of Mendocino County. Syrah is really hitting its groove again in California, and this latest generation of offerings are mindglowingly good, they easily rival top Rhone stuff from some famous names and they are insanely affordable for the quality on offer, especially these Halcon Vineyard bottlings. This Elevación shows an intense black/purple color with magenta/garnet edges in the glass and the magic starts to lift from the rim with a bouquet of violets, black fruits, racy herbal notes and an earthy sultry sensation before unfolding in layers on the medium/full bodied palate with black raspberry, damson plum, blueberry compote, tangy dark currant and kirsch fruits along with a full stems crunch, olive tapenade, melted black licorice, delicate bacon fat, peppercorns and a touch of a mineral/stony element. This 2017 shows warm rich detail, rather forward for this winery, but classic to its track record it has remarkably low alcohol for a wine of this impact, sensual texture and depth, its a very lively Syrah with a personality that reminds me of Auguste Clape or Guillaume Gilles, both famous Cornas producers.
This Halcon Vineyard Elevación was crafted using old school traditional methods, fermented in a very hand crafted small batch using indigenous yeasts, with Gordon admitting he is a Northern Rhone fanatic and inspired by Cote-Rotie and Hermitage, wines by Domaine Jamet and Alain Graillot seem obvious influences. The 2017 Elevación is again, as Gordon notes, 100% Chave selection (Hermitage clone) Syrah fermented with 100% whole-cluster (full stem inclusion) and aged in neutral French oak puncheons, bottled as per normal here unfined and unfiltered, with everything done to promote transparency and highlight the unique schist soil terroir. There were, as Paul adds, no adjustments to alcohol nor acids and again they needed no additions, going for a very natural style with minimal sulfur, as is the fashion. Just like main Syrah offering at Halcon, the Alturas Syrah, this wine benefited from very mature fruit, from the extra long hang time and stems at low sugars, as mentioned, and it came in at only 12.8% natural alcohol. Halcon only made 185 cases of this Elevación, so it is a good idea to get on the list here, it is also a wine that looks like to have a long drinking window with potential to age up to another decade, even though I find it almost impossible to resist even now. I’ve been a long time fan of these wines and still get giddy when I open a bottle, there is an awesome sense of thrill and value for the money in these wines, don’t miss them. This 2017 set of wines is high quality stuff, with this one in particular being a standout, I can’t to enjoy it with Zuni (Cafe in SF) style chicken, spicy lamb and or Korean BBQ pork!
($38 Est.) 96 Points, grapelive
2018 Weingut Goldatzel, Riesling Spaltese Feinherb, Johannisberger Goldatzel, Rheingau Germany.
Johannes Gross is one of the rising stars of the Rheingau and his Goldatzel wines are a stellar set of under the radar Rieslings that deserve wider attention, especially these beautiful 2018’s, like this unique Johannisberger Goldatzel Spatlese Feinherb with its exceptional crystalline detailing and subtle fruit density and depth. This almost dry, but round structured Riesling glistens in the glass with a pale sunlight hue and thrills the palate with ripe and pure fruit layers that includes apple, key lime, white peach, apricot and papaya along with hint of zesty grapefruit, crunchy mineral, saline infused stones and acidic energy, gaining in body and textural charm with air, making a vinous and complex Riesling that would impress both modern dry style drinkers as well as classic traditionalists. The youthful talent, Johannes Gross, who is in his third year post-university, having studied at the famous Geisenheim, one of the world’s great wine college/institutions, has taken the helm of his family’s very respected small estate in the middle Rheingau with selected vineyard holdings in the villages of Johannisberg, Winkel and Geisenheim, not far from Spreitzer, one of my favorites, has brought international interest to this winery in recent vintages and got renown Riesling guru Terry Theise to take him into his fantastic portfolio of wines.
The Johannisberger Goldatzel vineyard site is set on loam, loess and quartzite soils and is beautiful situated well above the Rhein River where it runs at one of its widest points and makes for wines, that Theise calls, are distinct showing fastidious chiseled clarity of form, which Gross’ 2018 Johannisberger Goldatzel delivers with style and generous grace. Goldatzel’s wines are made without extreme dogma and each wine is made with an individual attention to detail, Gross uses whatever techniques give the best results to promote transparency and elegance. They use a combination of native and specialized cultured yeasts and have both large stuckfass and stainless tanks with each vineyard and wine getting the treatment that best suits each lot, with this Johannisberger Goldatzel getting “Sponti” spontaneous fermentation with primary and less aging done in stainless steel. The underlying quartzite influence really shines through and the vinous feel creates a wonderful play in mouth, in particular this 2018 drinks in a drier that the label suggests and while crisp and delicate, there is a serious substance here and it has a real presence or impact, it is a lovely and thoughtful Riesling that gets the juices flowing. After time in the glass it certainly adds a nice perfume too with citrus blossoms and rosewater to the aromatic array and the finish is equally impressive, this would be fabulous with spicy or cracked crab and or Asian cuisines.
($38 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2016 Simon di Brazzan, Cabernet Franc, Isonzo del Friuli DOC, Friuli Venezia Giulia, Italy.
Tucked in Italy’s top right corner, the Friuli Venezia Giulia region is known for most recently as the Orange Wine capital of Italy and famous for great Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio and Friuliano wines, but there is some fine reds made here too, especially Bordeaux varietals like Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and interestingly Cabernet Franc, like this gorgeous very Loire like version from Daniele Drius, a fourth generation winegrower, at Simon di Brazzan winery. The Brazzano and Mariano del Friuli Vineyards, in the Isonzo del Friuli DOC near Cormons and Mariano, are the source of this beautiful and perfumed wine from Drius and the vines which range from 20 to 30 plus years old set on Alluvial allochthonous soil with excellent drainage allowing a wonderful fruit intensity as well as delicate detailing and sublime length, especially in a fabulous vintage such as 2016. I really thought this was a top Loire wine, as I tasted it completely blind in a Bordeaux varietal tasting panel, it has a Bourgueil like elegance, though it also has Chinon like density, so I was surprised to find it was in fact from the Friuli! This winery, which is totally new to me, is now a label I plan to follow closely and I can’t wait to try their other offerings, especially their “Ramato” coppery “Orange” Pinot Grigio and their sparkling wine!
This deep garnet hued and smooth textured 2016 Cab Franc from Simon di Brazzan is a stunner and a fantastic value as well as being unique and maybe geeky cool, it is certainly a wine I would buy and drink often, I am grateful to Ms. Kelsie Gray for bringing this wine, imported by Vinity Wine Company, an imported with a big presence in San Francisco with a top notch portfolio of wines from Italy, including some favorites like Marisa Cuomo, ArPePe, De Conciliis, Damijan Podversic, Cascina Val del Prete, Le Piane, I Favati, Valle dell Acate, Querceto di Castellina and Graci, all that are usually featured at Slow Wine events and winners of famous Tre Bicchieri awards. The traditionally fermented Simon di Brazzan Cabernet Franc, using de-stemmed grapes, it is gently handed and spends about a week on the skins in tank then aged with extended lees contact without new oak to preserve vitality and purity. This expressive wine is generous on the palate with ripe tannins, a sensual medium body and a heavenly perfume of violets and dark flowers, light spices, mineral notes and subtle earthiness with layers of black cherry, plum and currant fruits along with a touch of olive, bell pepper, anise and a faint cedary/tobacco note. This is outstanding stuff to enjoy over the next 3 to 5 years and great with lamb, mushroom dishes and rustic cuisine.
($25 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2017 Tablas Creek Vineyard, Picardan, Rhone White, Adelaida District, Paso Robles.
One of the rarest white wines and varietal in California is Tablas Creek’s tasty Picardan, made from this little known and little planted Chateauneuf du Pape grape. With maybe a dozen or so acres of Picardan planted worldwide, Tablas Creek’s version maybe one of two or three wines made as a single varietal wine and it is a crisp and interesting example with elements that remind me of Vermentino (Rolle), Picpoul and maybe Trebbiano (d’Abruzzo) or Pecorino with a crisp tangy profile. It is surprising in this day and age, just how little is known about Picardan, which is also known as Araignan, Oeillade blanche and or Picardan Blanc other than its classic place as being one of 13 permitted blending grapes within the Châteauneuf-du-Pape AOC in Rhône Valley region of France, but even that is very thin as the grape is usually only found in the blend as a very minor player with maybe six to eight known acres grown in this famous region if that. With Tablas’ success in bringing the Chateauneuf grapes to California, from their partnership with the famed Chateau de Beaucastel and their estate vineyards, it was intriguing that they they brought some Picardan, which I guess was to be used as part of a field blend to add complexity and authentic character to their amazing set of Rhone whites from their estate vines in the Adelaida District of the westside zone of Paso Robles and its limestone based soils. Picardan, lightly golden in hue, is one of the Rhone’s most obscure white grapes, as the winery notes, although it was apparently more common before phylloxera’s arrival in the mid to late 1800s.
The 2017 Tablas Creek Vineyard Picardan starts with orange blossom, wet stones, snappy herbs along with bitter white peach, unripe apple and zesty lemon/lime fruits and even in a ripe year it stays nice and bright with a light delicacy and refreshing acidity, though it does gain a bit of texture (faint oily notes) with air without any sense of weight. Since the variety is practically unknown for any other use than being a tiny part the Châteauneuf-du-Pape blend(s) it is hard to find many reference points to really judge what this wine should taste like, but that being said, this is worthy of place in the lineup and is fun to sip on and I can see it going well with delicate and or briny seafoods, like oysters and steamed clams. There is a saline note, in this Picardan, that is mouth watering and it clears the palate, making it brisk and delightful and it can be enjoyed as a warm day sipper with picnic fare. This is not an exotic or overt white wine, more neutral in style, it’s not going to blow your mind, even though it will hold your attention and easily quaffable. Tablas brought in the budwood (of Picardan) into the United States in 2003 as part of our goal to have all the Chateauneuf du Pape varieties (available) and It was released from quarantine to Tablas in 2012, and they planted a half-acre in 2013, farmed organically, certified biodynamic, with a first harvest in 2016 for a single varietal bottling. The 2017, the second edition, was whole cluster pressed and fermented and aged in stainless steel tanks using indigenous yeasts, all in a quest for purity and made to be drunk in its youth, so drink up!
($30 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2013 Domaine Bitouzet-Prieur, Volnay Taillepieds, Premier Cru Red Burgundy, France.
Vincent Bitouzet, from the traditional Domaine Bitouzet-Prieur, makes elegantly structured wines, and is known primarily for his Meursault white Burgundies from his small winery in heart of the Cote de Beaune, but I love his reds, especially his set of Volnay Premier Crus, like this beautiful and firmly framed Volley Taillepieds. Graced with his prized and extensive holdings in Meursault, Bitouzet’s reds also come from pedigreed sites and special Lieu-Dits and every vine is hand tended with extreme care and all the world is done with organic methods, as many of the top estates do, but it should be noted that the Bitouzet-Prieur wines are still by Burgundy standards, exceptional values, especially at the quality levels of their recent vintages. This 2013 Volnay Taillepieds, which is still youthful and tightly wound, is just coming out of its shell and beginning to show its inner beauty and potential with pretty rose petal, strawberry and mineral delicacy unfolding on the chiseled medium bodied palate, this is a serious wine and one that truly needs matching cuisine and a center stage to shine. As this Bitouzet-Prieur comes alive in the glass it grabs your full attention with its ruby/garnet gemstone hue and its layers of cherry, plum, dusty raspberry and racy red currant fruits comes into focus with air along with hints of smoke, dried lavender, Earl Grey tea like tannins, baking spices and candied orange. The texture is rather gripping still, but turns round and silken with time and food, as you’d expect in such a wine with this class and its performance is impressive, and I think it will only get better with some extra cellaring.
Bitouzet is crafting his wines tried and true practices with an authentic and natural style, employing only indigenous yeast fermentations and the reds receive a daily pigeage, depending on the vintage to ensure just the right amount of extraction and are generally aged 24 months of elevage before being bottled. For both Bitouzet-Prieur’s reds and whites, there is never more than 20% new oak is used for the aging here allowing a true sense of the place to shine through and giving a pure form and sensuality to the wines, and in particular these techniques have paid off here, making for a very complete and complex wine that seduces with its poised details. The Bitouzet-Prieur Meursaults are slightly reductive and restrained in style, but get absolutely delicious with bottle age and the reds are similar, as this Volnay Taillepieds clearly shows, these not flamboyant expressions by any means, they are subtle and refined examples of the Cote de Beaune Terroir(s) that require patience. The Volnay holdings are stunning and now working with his son Francois, Vincent’s set of “Taillepieds”, “Clos des Chenes”, “Pitures”, and “Caillerets” plus the most recent addition to the lineup, “Mitans”, which I also reviewed here, are all worth searching out, also don’t overlook the basic Bourgogne Blanc and Rouge. According to importer, Rosenthal Wine Merchant, the Volnay 1er Cru Taillepieds cuvée, one of Bitouzet’s most austere and aggressive wines, as they put it, is one of the most complete representations of the complexity in the finest of Volnay, calling Taillepieds one of the great vineyards in the region, and I find it reminds me of Domaine de Montille, one of my favorites from this vineyard and village, it also should age another decade with ease.
($65 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2018 Château Pegau, Cotes du Rhone “Cuvee Lône Blanc” Rhone Valley, France.
The second label of the famed Domaine du Pegau, Château Pegau offers a line of great value Rhone wines, like this fresh and beautiful Cotes du Rhone Blanc “Lône” which was hand crafted by Laurence Feraud, one of the most famous and talented Chateauneuf-du-Pape vignerons. The Feraud family have been growing vines in Chateauneuf-du-Pape since 1670 and while mostly growers over their long history in the region they became one of the most important labels and making their own estate wines, mainly under Laurence’s father Paul, but certainly it was her wines that brought fame here, especially with her Cuvée Réservée Rouge and her signature Pegau Cuvée Laurence, which are two of the greatest Chateauneuf(s) and that cherished by collectors. In recent years Laurence was able to add a prized new set of vineyards to grow their line when Paul and Laurence Féraud purchased a 100+ acre estate in Sorgues, and renamed it Château Pegau. It is an exceptional terroir situated less than 4 miles southeast of Châteauneuf-du-Pape itself and on very similar soils, and Laurence Feraud makes sublime use of these vines. The “Lône” Blanc 2018 is a lovely and stylish white that delivers fresh and ripe flavors with classic details and graceful length, it shows a nice stony charm and highlights Laurence’s gifted touch with her whites.
The latest Château Pegau, Cotes du Rhone “Cuvee Lône Blanc” is a blend of 40% Clairette, 30% Bourboulenc, 20% Grenache Blanc and 10% Ugni Blanc from these estate grown and hand harvested grapes that are from vines that average 35 to 60 years in age and that are set on limestone and clay soils with the iconic “galets” large stones littered among the rows of old bush vines. Named “Lône” after the small stream that runs next to the estate, this wine, all tank raised and vibrant in glass shows stone fruit, citrus blossoms, spice and mineral notes with layers of tangerine, green apple, white tangy peach and pear butter along with a touch ginger/pepper, wet rock and a supple texture that lingers on in this medium bodied and distinctive white wine. This wine is easy to enjoy, in particular with fleshy seafood dishes, not unlike a fine Cassis Blanc and is a wonderful way to explore and or discover the joy of Rhone whites, a sublime stepping stone into Pegau’s more serious Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc versions. This delicious stuff gains with air and food, it takes on a hint of oil depth and refreshes with plenty of saline and crispness, drink this over the next two or so years, and I recommend enjoying it and Pegau’s red bottlings in this series, which are solid bargains. I am a huge fan of Clairette Blanche, it works great in blends like this one and is a grape that like Vermentino is really starting to get the attention it deserves.
($20 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2017 Laura Lorenzo – Daterra Viticultores, Portela do Vento, Ribeira Sacra, Galicia Spain.
Laura Lorenzo is one of Spain’s great new generation of vignerons (viticultores) making incredible Mencia based reds from impossibly steep and back-breaking vineyard sites mostly in the Ribeira Sacra, which means “Sacred Banks” in Gallego, the local Galician dialect that is an ancient cross between Spanish and Portuguese in the remote Galicia region. This tall and rebellious young woman is as tough as nails and has a real passion for her wines, Lorenzo, who I have been following since she stated her own label is an outstanding talent and has risen from obscurity to a new hero in the natural wine world and beyond with her soulful, beautiful and transparent/raw wines. Now a darling of the Sommelier establishment Laura Lozenzo’s limited terroir driven bottlings are extremely hard to get, especially offerings like this Mencia based field blend Portela do Vento Tinto, which is one of her most sought after, it’s Lorenzo’s “Glou-Glou” quaffable version with easy textures and a profile that fits nicely between earthy Crozes-Hermitage (Northern Rhone Syrah), Chinon (Loire Valley Cabernet Franc) and aromatic Fleurie (Cru Beaujolais Gamay) with dark fruit, spice and juicy acidity. As Lorenzo puts it, she allows the grapes speak for themselves, she ferments with wild or indigenous yeasts, primarily employing older wooden casks for maceration as well as fermentation and elevage (aging), only adding only small amounts of SO2 (sulfur) during the winemaking process when absolutely needed, much the same way as Arianna Occhipinti and the famous Domaine Lapierre, with no clarification, filtration, or adjustments made to the wines. According to Lorenzo’s importer, Jose Pastor Selections, Laura describes her farming as “agro-ecology with minimal impact.” She works with techniques that nurture life in the soils, helping to create a healthy and thriving ecosystem for her old goblet trained vines. All work is carried out manually, with these conditions and the wild remoteness here demands it and the vineyards are well cared for with some biodynamic preparations being used.
The 2017 Portela do Vento (Mencia Tinto) by Laura Lorenzo’s Daterra Viticultores, crafted from iconic bush vines, is about 90% Mencia and a 10% mix of Alicante Bouschet (Garnacha Tintorera,), Merenzao, Mouraton and Gran Negro fermented partial whole cluster and with native yeasts in a combination of French cask and Foudre with 15 days on the skins before aging 12 months in large 400 and 500L casks. This Portela do Vento, a darkly hued and graceful wine, comes from steep organic sites, with vines ranging from 26 to 80 plus years old in the Sober zone on the River Sil and Mendoia, Trives on the Bibei River, in subs zones of Galicia’s Ribeira Sacra and Valdaorras D.O.’s known as Amandi and Val do Bibei set on mostly pure granite with some sandy loams. The ripe vintage shows in the medium/full mouth feel and lush details, but with under 13% natural alcohol and loads of energy this wine drinks oh so joyous with a slightly earthy element and smooth tannins adding to the complexity here, there’s lots to love in this version with black cherry, plum, strawberry, pomegranate, tart blueberry and tangy currant fruits as well as delicate background layers of cinnamon, crushed floral tones, basil/garden herbs, dusty stones, a touch of leather, mineral and a peppery spice. This is a cool and compelling wine that is great for sharing and is very flexible with food choices, as in Beaujolais, it does enjoy a slightly chilled presentation and seems right with simple rustic or country style cuisine, especially hearty stews and or outdoor grilling. The latest set of wines from Laura Lorenzo are exceptional and wonderfully delicious expressions, both her reds, as mentioned, which are Mencia focused, and her whites that are made from old vine Godello and Palomino, be sure to keep your eye out for them, especially the new releases including her Gavela do Pobo, or Vila, Casas de Enriba, Azos da Vila and this Potera do Vento.
($35 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2016 Weingut Künstler, Riesling Kabinett Trocken, Kirschenstuck, Rheingau Germany.
The Künstler family winery, based since 1965 in the historic Rheingau town of Hochheim, one of Riesling’s original sites near the Main river, has a history that dates back to 1648, but became one of Germany’s top estates under the leadership of Gunter Künstler, who took over the business in 1992, has brought fame to this region that was almost forgotten with his beautiful drier style wines. Gunter Künstler’s gorgeous 2016 (Hochheimer) Kirschenstuck Dry Kabinett highlights Künstler’s elegant style and is serious like a baby GG with riveting and chiseled details and gorgeous texture, it shows beautiful layering and bright energy with lemon/lime, apricot, mango, green apple and peach on the pit fruit along with sea salt, wet flint, verbena and chamomile accents. I have been thrilled by Künstler’s wines for almost two decades, though I have really only started following him more closely since his move into the Terry Theise portfolio and have been luck to have tasted with him on many occasions when he has visited California, and I can’t wait to go to Hochheim to taste the wines on site, where Gunter has converted his vines to organic methods and see his Cru sites like Holle, Herrnberg and Kirschenstuck, where is Riesling comes from. The substance and sublime nature of the Künstler wines is legendary and if you love Riesling, you’ll find them amazing, not doubt about it, also interestingly Gunter has a small planting of Alvarinho (Albarino) too and makes an excellent version.
Grown on a mix of loess, clay, sand, loam, marl and limestone soils that gives these wines from Künstler their complexity and grace, this Hochheimer Kirschenstuck Kabinett Trocken dances on the palate with a Chablis like steeliness and vitality, but with a lush sensation that make this even more delicious and exciting on the lighter Kabinett level frame. The Hochheim area is rather warm and humid, which makes for ripe flavors, but stressful growing conditions, making Künstler work incredibly hard to get perfect grapes without botrytis and makes the decision to go all organic even more evidence of commitment and passion. In the cellar, Künstler is looking for absolute purity and precision, so given his terroir and weather he sorts grapes with extreme care and ferments with selected yeasts and ultra clarified juice to craft his crystalline wines using both stainless steel, like with this one as well as various wood casks. At my most recent meeting and tasting with Künstler I was able to go through a series of vintages and styles and found exceptional quality throughout the range and was blown away with his latest Pinot Noirs, which are stunning wines as well as the set of Rieslings, with his 2007 Holle GG being one of the greatest wines I can remember, and this one, really standing out. Be sure not to miss the 2016, 2017 and 2018 wines from Künstler, and while the Grosses Gewachs deserve to be in your cellar, this crisp Dry Kabinett is one to enjoy now!
($30 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2018 Samuel Louis Smith, Syrah, Sandstone Terrace, Santa Cruz Mountains.
One of the most exciting new labels to emerge in recent years in Monterey is Sam Smith’s Samuel Louis Smith Wines focused on Mountainside vineyards and unique sites, with a tight and tidy collection of what he calls Micro-Negociant wines that deliver exceptional quality and charm for the price, especially Smith’s Pinot and Chard offerings, plus this stunning Syrah from the Santa Cruz Mountains. This 2018 Syrah shows incredible depth and Northern Rhone charm with jaw dropping layering of blue and black fruits, spice, crunchy stems, savory tones and intense florals, making for a pure and outrageously seductive wine. Smith, who studied in Bordeaux and made wine in the Rhone, is dedicated to sourcing fruit from the most distinctive sites possible with what he calls sustainably managed vineyards, with a thrilling selection of vines from the Sta. Rita Hills to the Santa Cruz Mountains, as well as a couple of unique Carmel Valley sources along with an established gem in the Gabllan range northwest of Chalone. He is also head winemaker at the historic Morgan Winery, a pioneer of organic viticulture and traditional winemaking in Monterey’s premier Santa Lucia Highlands region. Sam Smith’s CV is not lacking with stints at Margerum in Santa Barbara County as well as spending a harvest with Francois Villard in the Rhone, where he got a tremendous chance to work with Syrah in its most historic area, and his latest stuff for Morgan has given this Monterey winery a whole new look and elevated it to a fantastic place and quality level, in particular the Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays, as well as Riesling and Syrah, which is in a slightly different style than his own version(s), making for an impressive start to his Monterey career. I’ve reviewed a few of Smith’s wines over the last two vintages and I am a huge fan, you read them here at grapelive.com and this new set is even better, it was a treat to taste with him and get up to date on the latest offerings, these small lot and handcrafted bottlings really deserve your attention, they all have aromatic appeal, pretty detailing, vinous textural (mouth feel) and wonderful energy.
The latest Syrah Renaissance, while still a small niche, is in full swing in California with many fabulous new examples from highly talented and passionate young winemakers, just like Sam Smith, with labels like Desire Lines Wine Co., Halcon Vineyards, Stolpman and Jolie Laide to go with Syrah masters like Pax Mahle, Jason Drew, John Alban and Sashi Moorman, who’s Piedrasassi label provided an inspiration for many that wanted to explore the more stem inclusion (whole-bunches) style. For Smith’s very Cornas, or Jamet Cote-Rotie like Sandstone Terrace Syrah he used 85% stem inclusion with whole cluster fermentation and only neutral French oak aging, using grapes coming from two vineyards in the Santa Cruz Mountains, the little known Gali Vineyard in the cool coastal influenced Corralitos area and more widely respected Zayante Vineyard higher up, closer the the famous Big Basin estate. With Sam using equal 50/50 (percent) between Gali and Zayante which are set on a combination of soils including clay loam, sandy/clay loam coming from weathered sandstone as well as shale and schist that provide glorious complexity in this Syrah that delivers black plum, blueberry, boysenberry and tangy currant fruits, crushed violets, minty anise and grilled/roasted rosemary/lavender or Provençal herbs, peppercorns, sweet kirsch, a hint of cedar, black olive, mineral/stones, dried embers, cinnamon and delicate meatiness that is all well integrated providing beautiful fruit density and a near perfect tension/lively play of exciting earthy and savory elements with the lush ripeness of the grapes along with vintage’s amazingly low alcohol, this is simply awesome and will get more intriguing over the following decade! Be sure to check out this Samuel Louis Smith Wines label and do not miss these 2017 and 2018 vintages, the new Montanita de Oro Pinot Noir, a full review coming soon, and the Spear Vineyard Chardonnay, which is extremely sexy and on par with some of California’s absolute best, like Kongsgaard, Ceritas, Mount Eden and Sandhi to name a few and even has a exotic Hermitage Blanc like presence, are wildly good and sublime values, as is this remarkable Syrah.
($35 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2017 Mendel, Semillon, Mendoza, Argentina.
The Mendel winery in Mendoza Argentina is usually known for their beautiful Mabec and Cabernet Franc red wines, but what a lovely surprise this Semillon is, it is a really solid version of this rare varietal, more known for its use in white Bordeaux and Sauternes, though it does have a few pockets in the new world where it shines, and this is one of them. This Mendel Semillon, grown at 3,000 ft in the Uco Valley, is vastly different than its French cousins, as well as the expressions from Australia, where it is also found and used in many fine dry wines from the Hunter Valley to the Margret River, with this Mendel showing crisp form and racy acidity with subtle tropical notes and a main core of lemony fruit. Mendel wines, based in Lujan de Cuyo, is a partnership between Roberto de la Mota, one of Argentina’s most respected winemakers and founder Anabelle Sielecki, who is one of the wine world’s dynamos, the winery is name after her father, and her global business expertise and passion has made Mendel one of the top producers in the region from her family’s old vineyard which was originally planted back in 1928. Interesting, as I studied up on Mendel’s Semillon I discovered that Semillon is one of the oldest European varietals in Argentina and Mendel’s comes from high elevation plots that are over 60 years old, which gives this wine its old vine character and concentration.
Roberto de la Mota, who was trained in France and has worked with speciality projects included the Cheval des Andes, the ultra-prestigious joint venture between Chandon & Bordeaux’s Chateau Cheval Blanc has both old world and new world influences and that shows in his elegantly styled wines, especially his Malbecs, which I have been hugely found of since first trying them, and his Semillon is pretty cool stuff, made similar to a Graves with oak aging for 8 months and with an expanding palate that gets more decedent and lush as it opens up in the glass. The traditionally fermented Mendel Semillon feels bright and brisk with lively citrus leading the way, but the lees and new American oak eventually allow for the rich texture to show through adding additional layers of peach, apricot, orange marmalade, lime blossom and a hints of creme brûlée and coconut on the lengthy finish. This dry Semillon has a lot of personality and can go with a wide selection of food choices, with the winery suggesting pairing it with shrimp ceviche, steamed muscles, fresh oysters or grilled lobster, which sounds great to me! This is a fun wine that is worth more than a casual glance and presents this grape in a new and intriguing light, this 2017 should drink nicely more another 3 to 5 years, keep an eye out for Mendel’s Semillon and their reds too.
($25 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2018 Clos Sainte Magdeleine, Rosé, Cassis AOC, Provence, France.
The beautiful and richly flavored Clos Ste. Magdeleine Cassis Rosé from the 2018 vintage proves why it is one of the best with its fabulous array of wild strawberries, seeped rose petals, grapefruit, racy peach and sour cherries along with its seductive vinous quality and liquid mineral feel on the dense, but lively palate, this is serious stuff that delivers everything you could want from a Provence Rosé! Brilliant pale salmon/pink in the glass, this crisply refreshing Clos Ste. Magdeleine Rosé is a blend of 40% Grenache, 40% Cinsault and 20% Mourvèdre, which gives this gorgeous wine its complexity and nature, it comes from 15 to 40 year old vines on the regions classic clay and limestone soils. Set in the picturesque ancient Provence fishing village of Cassis on the Mediterranean sea, Clos Ste. Magdeleine is a small family run estate winery that renown the world over for their white and rosé bottling, which are always delightful and profound wines that intensely sought after and limited, making them cherished treats that go especially well with seafood dishes. The whites here at Clos Ste. Magdeleine are incredibly elegant, crafted with a focus on primarily Marsanne and some Clairette, along with Bourboulenc, a rare Chateauneuf du Pape grape, as well as Ugni Blanc. They also have planted a new parcel of Vermentino, though not allowed in their Cassis Blanc, it should play a role in their lineup even as a IGP wine.
The viticulture and vinification at Clos Sainte Magdeleine, owned by the Sack family, imported by the famed Kermit Lynch, who also represents the iconic Domaine Tempier, just down the way in Bandol, is under the direction of Jonathan Sack, the fourth generation to be at the helm here. The Clos Ste. Magdeleine domaine is one of only a handful of AOC Cassis wineries and it takes its historic and pride of place very seriously and have started, as Kermit Lynch notes, a three-year long conversion to organic viticulture to preserve the nature of this special terroir and improve the quality, which is already exceptional. The winemaking is traditional and focused on energy and purity, in this classic Rosé they went with 100% stainless steel and zero malo-lactic fermentation after the grapes were carefully sorted and de-stemmed with a short skin maceration with the wine aged in tank with re-integrated lees for just under a year, which helps explain this dynamic wines vivid flavors and unfolding depth. This 2018 is ripe and generous and has stylish presence in the glass and has a touch of saline, stony and savory elements that sharpens the detail and enhances the pleasure, both for drinking now and for the future, for this Rosé can be short term aged as well. Drink this textured Clos Ste. Magdeleine Rosé over the next 3 years, and though hard to get and rare, it is really worth searching out!
($36 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2018 Saint Cosme, Cotes du Rhone Rouge, Rhone Valley, France.
Louis Barruol’s Saint Cosme, located north to the village of Gigondas, which he is most famous for, is the oldest estate in the region being on the site of an ancient Gallo-Roman villa which dates back to 1416 and very probably it already had its own vineyard as well as cellars carved from the natural limestone walls, with the Barruol family acquiring it back in 1570 and making it one the Rhone greatest estates. The fabulous basic Saint Cosme Cotes du Rhone is made from 100% Syrah coming from what Barruol calls top vineyard parcels, saying he is no magician, knowing only great sites made great wines and mostly this little beauty uses plots in Vinsobres, which is a special area of the southern Rhone that is sublimely suited to Syrah. The Saint Cosme Cotes du Rhone vines are set on mostly limestone sand, red clay and pebbles on Villafranchian terraces that gives this remarkably expression its stylistic charm, density and class, with Barruol noting he thinks Vinsobres is the best area to grow Syrah in this area, which is just to the north of Gigondas and influenced by cool alpine winds that help refresh the vines, giving ripe fruit, but with energy of natural acidity. Barruol makes some of the regions most intriguing wines, both in the Northern and Southern zones, I love his classic Gigondas as well as his Chateauneuf, along with his Crozes-Hermitage and Cote-Rotie, proving equality as good with his Grenache based offerings, again especially his famous Gigondas bottlings and his gorgeous Syrah based goodies, all of which display terroir influence and play the ripe fruit against savory/spicy events.
The 2018 Saint Cosme Cotes du Rhone feels denser and more fruit forward that the last few vintages, but should steady itself and lose some baby fat as it gets a little time in the bottle, though quite enjoyable and easy to love even now showing black raspberry, black fig paste, plum, kirsch and blueberry fruits, delicate spices, a touch of earth and game, lavender and anise all coming through on this wine’s plush palate. The all tank aged and partial whole cluster (mostly de-stemmed though) Cotes du Rhone Rouge 2018, which is Louis Barruol’s 22nd vintage of his Saint Cosme Côtes du Rhône, is his personal ideal for an entry level version and (he) adds that the vision for this wine have remained unchanged, it’s purely Syrah focused with open knit fruit, crafted with transparent finesse, giving fresh detail and loads pleasure. This wine checks off all the priorities with flair and substance and it is a stupid good value and sublime with rustic and or comfort cuisine, it is one of my favorite wines, a no brainer for fun and a solid Rhone experience that excites the senses both in dark visuals with its purple/crimson hue and its rich tastiness! Drink this over the next three to five years, it goes great with tangy BBQ and many robust dishes as well as being just a joy to relaxingly sip on when you need a friendly red. I must also make note that, Barruol has included a new Vinsobres to his lineup, that should be out soon, look for it, it will be called Château de Rouanne and will be 50% Grenache, 40% Syrah and 10% Mourvedre, all whole cluster and raised in concrete, it should be awesome.
($15 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2016 Raul Perez, Mencia, La Vitoriana Lomas de Valtuille, La Vizcaina, Bierzo, Spain.
The iconic Spanish winemaker, Raúl Pérez, is one of the world’s most admired vignerons known for his intuitive winemaking genius and natural focus crafting an amazing set of wines from his base in Valtuille de Abajo in Spain’s Bierzo region. Perez, who made his first commercial wine at the age of 22, started his own Bodegas y Vinedos winery in 2005 and while producing his legendary wines he has also offered guidance and has been a great mentor to many rising talents throughout Spain, including Veronica Ortega and Pedro Rodriguez of Guimaro, as well as many others. He has also championed the native varietals found in Rias Baixas, Ribeira Sacra, Tierra de Leon and of course in his native Bierzo in the greater Castilla Y Leon zone, but is best known for his work with Mencia, a dark skinned grape usually found in Galicia, like the Ribeiro Sacra, here in Bierzo and in cooler parts of Portugal, it makes for a dark colored red wine with bright acidity and has been compared to Cab Franc, Gamay, Syrah and Pinot Noir depending on its terroir and vintage, I can find many aspects of those grapes in Mencia, though I think it should be experienced without these expectations to fully appreciate its charm and complexity, and I fully recommend exploring the Raul Perez versions, especially this gorgeous 2016 La Vizcaina with its almost old school Chateauneuf du Pape like presence in the glass!
Most of the time I compare Mencia to Northern Rhone meets Cru Beaujolais, but this La Vizcaina is richer and more leathery, though a pretty delicate floral perfume comes through with air reminding me again of Fleurie and the wine is wonderfully balanced with a nice chalky/mineral element to go with a ripe and dense dusty red fruit profile. Coming from harden clay soils in the Valtuille, the La Vizcaina is most all Mencía, but Perez usually includes other grapes in a field blend, with maybe some Bastardo (Trousseau), Garnacha Tintorera (Alicante Bouschet), Doña Blanca and Palomino being included, all co-fermented using whole-cluster and indigenous yeasts with primary being done typically in large oak vats with two month macerations before elevage in well seasoned French oak barrels, then bottled unfined and unfiltered. The serious La Vizcaina 2016 is layered and medium full bodied with a compelling and seductive array of flavors including black cherry, plum, mission fig, vine picked berry fruits, a touch of baked earth, minty herbs, all spice, cedar and dried flower incense, all well defined and with sweet tannins that feel quaffable and supple while providing a just enough drying grip to let you know this is wine that can age. At 13.5% natural alcohol, this Raul Perez Mencia is perfectly pure, vivid and authentic in the glass, adding to the visual pleasure of its dark garnet and ruby color and while not a heavy wine, it certainly makes a big impression and impact, lingering on and on, this is exceptional stuff.
($35 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2017 Drew Family Cellars, Pinot Noir, The Fog-Eater, Anderson Valley.
The Fog-Eater Pinot Noir is one of the best regional hand crafted Pinots in the state and Drew Family Cellars is one of California’s best producers, based in the cool climate west end of the Anderson Valley. Jason Drew’s latest three vintages have been a step above the rising talent in the state, and he is making some of the most compelling Pinots ever made, while a fantastic new generation of winemakers is quickly following in his footsteps, it is an awesome time to a California wine drinker. The 2017 The Fog-Eater, an appellation blend, from several sites from both bench and hillside locales along with outer western rim vineyards in the Anderson Valley which Drew uses to create, as he puts it, a classic expression of (the) Anderson Valley. This vintage is warm, ripe fruited with a dark fruit profile, it is quite silky and lush on the medium bodied palate that gives pretty black cherry, plum, raspberry and currant like fruits along with a touch of herbal/spicy edginess as well as crushed rose petals, mineral tones, plus delicate cinnamon and vanilla from the kiss of toasted oak. This warm year’s dark garnet and ruby hued edition allows immediate pleasures, but there is plenty of stylish flourish, natural acidity and low alcohol, coming in at just 13.4%, making this a complex and quaffable version of Drew’s iconic The Fog-Eater.
The term Fog-eater, as Drew notes, is a Boontling term, from the local dialect in the area, that is used to describe those who live out on the coastal margins, as the Drew family does and the outliers in the fog, all fitting for this Pacific Ocean influenced area near the Mendocino coast, which delivers its signature on these wines. As with most all of the Drew wines, Jason used 100% native yeasts during the fermentation on this lovely and authentic Pinot Noir and he employed close to 25% whole clusters, as he says brings additional structure and spice into The Fog-Eater. The charm and form of these great wines is also relies on the Alluvial, Gravel, Loam and Seafloor Uplift soils as well as the clonal selections of Pinot Noir that includes Dijon Clones: 115, 667, 777 as well as Mt. Eden and Rochioli clones. This 2017 The Fog-Eater saw just 10% new French oak and was aged just about a year in the barrel with just two gentle rackings, highlighting Drew’s graceful touch and desire to present wines of elegance, substance and transparency, which he has done to near perfection here, it drinks sublime already, but as with all of Jason’s offerings have wonderful age worthy quality and should get even more delicious with another few years in bottle, there looks to be a wide drinking window easily into the 2030s.
($45 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2017 Weingut Von Winning, Riesling Trocken, Ungeheuer, Grosses Gewächs, Pfalz Germany.
When I look back again over the wines I tasted in 2019, I am shocked I didn’t mention this awesome wine from Von Winning, it truly was one of the best and most majestic of the vintage in the dry Grand Cru class, it certainly is on par with top white Burgundy, if in fact not better! Von Winning as reported far and wide, and of course by me in recent years, is one of Germany’s greatest and most unique wine estates, based in the Pfalz and with a no compromise sense of purpose in everything wine they do, from their basic state Riesling to their Grosses Gewachs, like this gorgeous and textural Ungeheuer GG, and it’s worth noting they also make one of the world’s great Sauvignon Blancs along with a sublime collection of Pinot Noir and sparkling Sekt(s)! Vigneron and cellar master Stephan Attmann has put tremendous effort and focus into the vines here with the Von Winning Riesling vines trained in the same way as you’d find in Meursault or Montrachet and he admits he is heavily influenced by the Cote d’Or and the great wines of Burgundy and his winemaking is also inspired by the fabled French region with barrel fermentation and lees aging with a very dry focus. Von Winning has a fantastic collection of Cru sites to craft their wines, mostly Grosse Lage and they use extreme care with the vineyard sites, working with organic methods and high density plantings, all of which has made this winery one of the world’s elite labels. Located in the town of Deidesheim, Von Winning has some of the most desirable sites in all of Germany, including a parcel in Kirchenstuck, the most expensive property (vines) in Germany according to rumors, Kalkofen, which usefully gives the most flamboyant wines here, Ruppertsberg, the Paradiesgarten lieu-dit, Leinhohle, Langenmorgen, Grainhubel and this Ungeheuer, which is set on a combination of Loess, Loam, Basalt and chalky sandstone in the legendary Forst zone.
Beautiful in detail and rich in character the 2017 Ungeheuer GG starts with a heady perfume of white flowers and rosewater, liquid mineral a touch of Asian spice and stone fruits before opening up to a dense, ripe vintage, full bodied palate that shows lemon curd, apricot, white peach and mango fruits as well as wet stones, saline, spearmint, yeasty notes and hazelnut, all of which are in line with Riesling purity, but the elegance, flinty/steely elements and racy mouth feel scream Grand Cru Chablis, it has the same presence as Raveneau’s classic Les Clos! Attmann, who has said his winemaking technique is not doing the wrong things at the wrong time, uses a gentle touch in the cellar allowing his top dry wines to go through indigenous yeast fermentations in cask and uses no additions with an all gravity flow press room, with his Grosses Gewächs wines ferment and age in 500mL French barrels, though he has refined his usage in recent times preferring less new oak, which is clearly the case here. Still a baby, this 2017 Von Winning Ungeheuer really takes off when allowed to breathe and I think it has huge potential for even more magic in the coming decade, it gains a firm structure and intensity with the extended time in the glass, making it very clear you are drinking something extraordinary, this is a dry Riesling that will get your full attention and keep it! So far these 2017’s have been rather plush and in some cases rather flabby, but this one, while at first forward and lush, it quickly turns on the complexity and vigor with a nice burst of natural acidity and energy, getting even a bit racy as it unwinds itself, it is a vivid and thrilling wine that impresses for depth and length, absolutely top notch stuff.
($70 Est.) 96 Points, grapelive
2015 Domaine Paul Jaboulet Aine, Cotes du Rhone “Biographie” Rhone Valley, France.
One of the most complete and natural Cotes du Rhone offerings from a big wine domaine is Caroline Frey’s Jaboulet Biographie Cotes du Rhone and this warmly ripe and pleasing 2015 is a tremendous value in this price class with pure Grenache plummy fruits leading the way on the medium bodied palate. Frey has led Domaine Paul Jaboulet Ainé into the full conversion to organic viticulture throughout their range and this fresh and delicious Cotes du Rhone Rouge is one of the newly all organic certified lineup. This 2015, from a stellar and riper Rhone vintage, has a classic blend of mostly Grenache along with a healthy dose Syrah and Mourvedre, which adds a deeper complexity than you’d expect in a southern Rhone entry level wine and as it gets air it almost takes on darker character in line with the Northern Rhone or higher elevation Gigondas. The vines are mainly over 40 years old, with some well over 80, and there is plenty of concentration in the profile with boysenberry, plum, huckleberry, cherry and strawberry fruits, peppery spices, mineral essences, iron/meaty elements, a hint of embers, anise, dried flowers and a touch of cedar.
World renown for their estate Hermitage La Chapelle, Paul Jaboulet Aine is one of the Rhone’s top producers and has made significant strides throughout their range under the Frey family and vigneron Caroline Frey, in fact she has put this domaine among the world’s elites on par with Chapoutier and Guigal in terms of quality and production levels and her efforts with the lesser négociant line has vastly improved with her guidance, especially the basic Cotes du Rhone and the Crozes-Hermitage reds. There is plenty to admire here and easy choices to make, but I wouldn’t over look the Biographie Cotes du Rhone Rouge, in particular this 2015, but I can say with confidence the 2016, 2017 and 2018 should be just as delightful as the last three vintages in the region have been spectacular, so no need to be picky on year for this one if you see it. I love the freshness and beautiful dark color in the glass with its garnet/magenta hue adding to the seduction here, this wine also has surprising substance and should drink solidly for another 3 to 5 years, enjoy it with country inspired cuisine and or BBQ, it is impressive stuff.
($15 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2018 Weingut Kruger-Rumpf, Riesling Trocken, Dorsheimer Burgberg, Grosses Gewächs, Nahe Germany.
Coming from a tiny incredibly steep Grand Cru site, the Burgberg Vineyard, that is set on volcanic and quartz soils near Munster in the village of Dorsheim, the Kruger Rumpf Burgberg GG is one of the most exciting wines of vintage at this small winery near Bingen at the confluence of the Nahe and the mighty Rhein rivers and it is fantastically mineral driven dry Riesling. This latest set of wines, especially the Rieslings from Georg Rumpf and his family are some of the best yet from this estate and the GG’s and the Premier Cru Trockens are gorgeous wines, no one is going to want to miss these 2018 Nahe offerings, especially the Pitterberg GG, the Abtei Erste Lage 1937 old vine, one of my secret favorites and this beautifully detailed Burgberg GG. Rumpf who has turned to mostly all organic practices, and the Burgberg parcel is farmed organic, and prefers to do natural fermentations, or Sponti, with his Cru wines with the GG’s getting less aging in large cask, Stuckfass to allow less reduction and enhance generosity, while retraining freshness and vitality in the wines, which shows here in this barrel sample of Burgberg which I got from Georg’s brother Philipp, who handles the marketing and packaging here at Kruger-Rumpf. These Kruger-Rumpf GG’s are some of the best values out there, they really deserve much more attention, as does the the lesser bottlings and their wildly tasty Scheurebe, which is one of the best examples in Germany.
The Kruger-Rumpf winery, which dates back to the 1790’s, is focused on purity and the expression of the distinctive terroirs in the family’s holdings, but only began making estate labeled wines in 1984 when Georg’s dad Stefan began crafting small production bottlings. Now, mostly retired Stefan has turned things over to his sons Georg and Philipp, who are continuing the traditions here with a renewed energy and technical skill, that impresses Terry Theise their importer, who considers Kruger-Rumpf one of best under the radar estates in the region and notes that Kruger-Rumpf is innovative and is always striving to reach new levels of quality. I visited Kruger-Rumpf in the fall of 2016 at harvest time and was thrilled with the stylish wines I found and was blown away with the individual vineyards they farm and the hard work they have been putting in the restore the Abtei site. The iron rich volcanic and quartz influenced 2018 Burgberg GG starts with white flowers, stone fruits and vibrant citrus before expansion on the medium full palate with layers of lime/tangerine, apricot, green apple, papaya, bitter pit white peach and white cherry fruits along with steely form, spearmint, verbena, mouth watering saline, exotic spices and subtle leesy elements. This is going to be a legendary wine and is already showing Georg’s signature finesse and vinous personality, it has masses of potential and its delicacy is utterly delicious! There’s a lot to admire at Kruger-Rumpf these days and this crisp 2018 Burgberg is a stunning effort that gains with air in the glass and will more so with a few years in bottle.
$55 Est.) 94+ Points, grapelive
2017 Theopolis Vineyards, Petite Sirah, Estate Grown, Yorkville Highlands, Mendocino County.
The richly flavored and deeply colored estate grown Theopolis Petite Sirah is one of the best examples of this grape in California coming from a unique terroir and steeply terraced vines in the Yorkville Highlands. 2017 was a ripe year and making for a warmly lush textured version with loads of black raspberry, blueberry, plum and dark currant fruits along with light smoky sweet toasty wood notes, crushed acacia flowers, mineral tones and touches of bitter chocolate and black licorice. This purple/black wine is opulent, but still well balanced with 13.9% natural alcohol and an inner brightness of details, so it drinks wonderfully in its youth and has potential to age, its firm well integrated tannins plus the (high elevation climate) acidity giving it a lot of time to evolve. This vintage of Theopolis Petite is certain to one of the best yet for this spectacular vineyard in Mondecino County, and it is a lovely expression of this grape and an interesting counterpoint to the Halcon Petite Sirah from this same site and is done with a more Cornas or Rhone style and is more whole cluster stem influenced, while this wine has a more modern polished presence in the glass.
In 2017 Theopolis and owner Theodora Lee used small bins for fermentation and employed manual gentle punch downs during the primary fermentation and extracted loads of color before racking the wine to French oak barrels where it was aged for 20 months, then it was bottled unfined and unfiltered ending up with about 45% new wood. This round and full bodied Petite Sirah really thrills the senses and fills out every corner of the mouth and it lingers on and on with a creme de cassis note, giving it a big personality and impact, it should impress Petite Sirah fans greatly. This is also a wine with plenty to offer with meals and can be graceful with many cuisine choices, though best with more robust dishes, going great with BBQ, Roast lamb, short ribs and pork dishes as well as hard cheeses and or wild mushrooms. This is a brilliant and poised Petite Sirah that should continue to develop and gain with cellaring, even though it is drinking pretty sexy right now, be sure to keep your eyes out for this one. Theopolis is a list that is well worth joining the prices are fair and the wines deliver quality and distinction, especially their signature estate grown Petite Sirah!
($39 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2018 Domaine de Sulauze, Vin de France “Charbonnieres” Coteaux d’Aix en Provence, France.
The fruit driven and slightly earthy Charbonnieres Vin de France Rouge comes from Domaine de Sulauze’s single parcel of massale selection Syrah and Grenache vines on limestone and sand that was fermented using partial carbonic maceration and all biodynamic grapes that brings the fresh detail and vibrancy to this fun wine. Everything at Domaine de Sulauze, owned by Guillaume and Karina Lefèvre, is made with mostly natural methods and very low sulfur, in fact some bottles use no added sulfur at all. According to vignerons Guillaume and Karina Lefèvre, as they put it “Domaine de Sulauze is more than a vineyard. It’s a special place that is alive and (is) meant to be shared.” The Lefèvre’s put on an annual pig roast, they say is a joyous and raucous affair where they gratefully share the bounty of the vineyard, their on site brewery, bakery and olive groves, which provides gorgeous oil for the locals. All proudly prepared and set at the Domaine’s big hearted table. Bright red fruits, crushed flowers, stones and garrique lead the way here in this delicious Medium bodied Rhone style blend that gets better and better with each sip adding juicy pomegranate, plum and bright cherry whole cluster influenced fruits, though air delivers a Syrah blue fruit depth, which thrills, along with licorice, pepper, leather and minty herbs, finishing with hints of lingering violets and fine grained dusty tannins.
Karina and Guillaume came to the domaine in 2004 and immediately converted the vines to organic farming and a few years later, to biodynamic farming as well. Planted to classic Provence varieties like Vermentino, Grenache Blanc, Ugni Blanc and Clairette for the whites and primarily Grenache and Syrah, including the rare Sereine clone, for the reds like this one, plus some Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault and Mourvèdre. No chemical treatments are used at Domaine de Sulauze, everything is harvested by hand, and the domaine has just recently started ploughing with horse, in keeping with biodynamic traditions. While known for their Coteaux d’Aix en Provence bottlings, especially the Lefèvre’s “Pomponette” Rosé as well as their “Galinette Blanc” and “Chapelle Laique” Rouge, the Vin de France reds are super cool offerings that are exceptional and unique wines, they are well worth searching out, with this “Charbonnières” being one of their most serious expessions, rivaling some Cotes du Rhone Villages and more well known Rhone AOC’s and it will impress lovers of authentic old school Gigondas! This is superb with a slight chill and BBQ and is wonderfully quaffable, easy to enjoy in its youthful form, drink now. This intriguing ruby/magenta “Charbonnières” is nicely pure and transparent with no hint of oak and with exciting zesty refreshing quality, but still complex and with a soulful impact, I could use a few more bottles!
($28 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2017 Kelley Fox Wines, Pinot Noir “Ahurani” McMinnville, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
The vibrant and light ruby hued 2017 Ahurani Pinot by Kelley Fox is full of vivid red fruit and whole cluster character with candied cherry, plum, pomegranate and racy red currant fruits as well as a zesty herbal and cinnamon spice background before opening up and revealing a more complex and complete Pinot in the glass. The Momtazi Vineyard, the source of this beautiful and lively wine, is a Demeter-certified biodynamic vineyard in the McMinnville Foothills A.V. A. and gives the Ahurani its distinct personality and energy, which the talented Fox captures in here to near perfection using close to 50% whole bunches and allowing for a very natural charm as well as pretty low alcohol, with this 2017 coming in at 12.5%. The Ahurani, named after a ancient Persian goddess of water and well being, because the Momtazi Vineyard has many beautiful springs and a sense of quiet peace and Fox hopes that feeling transmits itself in this lovely wine, which I can almost taste in this vintage with its pleasure and racy playfulness.
Kelley Fox, one of Oregon’s most interesting characters and best winemakers, got her winemaking start at the famous Eyrie Vineyards, who she credits with an everlasting influence on her style, that was followed by a 10-year term at Scott Paul, that really elevated her reputation. I have been a fan, but I love her own wines that I started following more closely in the last 5 years. She founded her own label back in 2007 and now produces around 2,000 cases a year of Pinot Noir mostly, but also does a crazy good Pinot Blanc and a Ramato (cooper/orange) style Pinot Gris. The Pinots, her main focus, come from two of the Willamette Valley’s most highly regarded and meticulously farmed vineyards, Maresh in the Dundee Hills and this Momtazi. Using primarily used Burgundy barrels and indigenous yeasts, Fox is going for transparency and this one is fabulously delicious, and it only gets better with food and with air.
($35 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2015 Domaine de Bellene, Nuits-Saint-Georges, Vieilles Vignes, Red Burgundy, France.
Nicolas Potel’s newish Burgundy Domaine, The new Domaine de Bellene, was born in 2005, after he sold his negociant self named operation, when some of the growers Nicolas Potel had been working with decided to stop their own production and proposed that he take over their vineyards, which he did. Nicolas Potel who had made a name for himself during the late 1990s like Vincent Girardin, took this as the perfect chance and way to realize his dream to a true vigneron, to create his own Burgundy that would be inline completely with his vision, making wines, as he puts it, with the highest level of authenticity and quality. One of his offerings, this Nuits-Saint-Georges old vine really impressed me with its deep concentration, silky layers and refined presence in the glass with a dark garnet/ruby hue and beautiful floral bouquet along with classic Pinot fruit. This Domaine de Bellene NSG Vieilles Vignes comes from three different Lieu-Dits located just north of the town of Nuits-St.-Georges itself, on the Vosne-Romanée side, which includes the La Charmotte, Aux Chouillets St. Julien and Les Argillats. According to the winery, all of these unique and special parcels are more than 60 years old, and are on clay and limestone soils with some sandy influence and in this location the wines are more perfumed and more fruit forward, which the wine shows, especially in this ripe and pure vintage in the region.
The small town of Nuits-Saint-Georges lies at the epicenter of the Côtes de Nuits, just south of Vosne-Romanée and north of the Unesco heritage town of Beaune, Burgundy’s capital, and while there are no Grands Crus here, there are number of exceptional Premier Crus and Lieu-Dit vineyards that certainly deliver Grand Cru depth and class. Potel’s lovely version is a red Burgundy from all organically farmed vines using a native yeast fermentation, with traditional pigeage and light pump-overs, as well as a long settling period, a long, gentle pressing before being racked to barrels for its elevage, which lasted 14 months. The NSG is aged in French oak barriques with 50% being brand new medium plus toast without fining with just a light filtration at bottling, ending up with less than 700 cases made. This vintage turns on the charm with air feeling round and satiny gaining complexity with each sip and showing off black cherry, plum, red berry and currant fruits, delicate earthiness, pretty perfumed rose petals and faint violet, a touch of spice along with sweet and smoky oak toast. The Domaine de Bellene Nuits-Saint-Georges is really coming together nicely and it is a well crafted effort that gives a very vinous and generous performance, but looks set to develop further in the bottle and should gain even more with another 5 to 10 years in the cellar.
($75-93 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2018 Weingut Monchhof, Riesling Kabinett, Ürzig(er) Wurzgarten, Mosel Germany.
The brilliantly delicious Monchhof Ürzig Wurzgarten Kabinett 2018 is one of the best values in Mosel Riesling and it shows a traditional light sweetness with racy acidity and crunchy mineral crisp detail with layers of green apple, apricot and zesty citrus fruits with hints of tea spice, lime blossom and smoky flinty stoniness. This wine is pure terroir and sunshine in the glass with a slate driven soul, fresh and easy to enjoy, it just brings happiness and goes fabulous with a great variety of cuisine. Crafted by one of Germany’s most respected vignerons, Robert Eymael, the owner here as well as at J. J. Christoffel, has been charge at Monchhof since 1994, focuses on estate vines in the historic Urzig Wurzgarten as well as Erdener Treppchen and the fabled Erdener Pralet, all classic slate soiled steep sites with this Ürzig Wurzgarten set on its iconic red slate with volcanic spiciness, which transmits its character in the wines. The estate produces primarily fruity style, off dry Kabinett, Spatlese and Auslese wines, though rumor has it Eymael and Volker Besch, his right hand man winemaker, are going to maker a serious lineup of Trockens in the coming years, like Willi Shaefer has now done! These modern Kabinett wines are superb quality wines, their fruity residual sugars don’t feel cloying and the complexity and low alcohol make them thrilling stuff, sublime with briny and spicy dishes, as they provide lovely refreshing joy.
The Monchhof estate, a former possession of the Cistercian Abbey at Himmerod, has a long history and in fact, it is one of the oldest estates in the entire Mosel. It dates back to 1177, the winery has shown documents from Pope Alexander III showing the Abbey and the Roman Catholic church owned vineyards in and around the village of Ürzig with its iron rich soils and highly prized sweet nectar. The Eymaels in 1804, who knew what a prize this property was, purchased the estate from Napoleon, at an auction in Paris, as many historic sites were traded after the church was relieved of their huge holdings in Germany. The very steep Ürziger Würzgarten, one of the prized jewels in the Mosel river valley, is planted 100% to Riesling with some vines almost a hundred years old all which are on original rootstocks and the wines are made with mostly stainless steel fermentation, as this one saw with lees aging in tank as well, though they use some old wood cask for the richer offerings. 2018 Mosel wines are absolutely glorious and there are many exciting wines and loads of values out there, look for Selbach-Oster, Carl Loewen, J. J. Prum, Dr. Loosen, Markus Molitor, the mentioned Willi Schaefer and these stunning Monchhof offerings, especially this slightly exotic, delicately sweet and tasty Ürzig Wurzgarten Kabinett! This is a Riesling that can be aged a few years and makes for a good choice to stock up on, and I should mention their Auslese from the Pralat, reviewed earlier here, is also a must have Riesling.
($20 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2016 I. Brand & Family Winery, Old Vine Grenache, Besson Vineyard, Santa Clara Valley.
Ian Brand’s new releases are some of his most expressive and impressive yet with his Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc offerings leading the way along with this sublime Old Vine Grenache from the historic Besson Vineyard near the Hecker Pass and the town of Gilroy, which is now way past one hundred years old. This 2016 is a gorgeously pure Grenache, made with 50% whole-cluster and aged in a combination of used French oak of various sizes, showing bright fruit intensity, spice and mineral notes with a pretty red fruit, subtle earth, and a sweet floral bouquet. The body builds and the old vine concentration comes through with air and time in the glass, this wine keeps pumping out the fruit and gains a very serious presence on the palate getting more complex and pleasing with every sip with layers of silky raspberry, strawberry, pomegranate and tangy plum fruits, light herbal (stems) notes, cedar, anise, faint pepper and kirsch. This Besson Old Vine Grenache is one of Ian’s signature offerings, joining his Old Vine Mourvedre from the Enz Vineyard and his Bayly Ranch Cabernet Franc that captures the soulful expression of the Loire Valley in a singular California wine.
The Besson Vineyard, planted on its own roots back in around 1910, is finally getting the acclaim and attention it deserves, it has been the source of some outstanding wines, it transmits transparent flavors and is a unique terroir. In recent times it has had lovingly maintained vines with a focus on quality fruit and natural methods has been sustainably dry farmed ever since it was originally planted. This site, as I have noted in prior reviews of this and other wines from this vineyard, first came to the wine world’s attention when California icon Randall Grahm used these grapes in his Clos de Gilroy Grenache, and more recently being used by Angela Osborne of Tribute to Grace, the Kiwi who is one of California’s top Grenache producers, as well as one of Brand’s friends John Locke of Birichino, another label that is putting out a beautiful version of this Besson Vineyard. Ian’s example, with the little extra aging is turning on the charm and its whole bunches, textural density and old world character makes this vintage very seductive indeed and it should only get better over the next 3 to 5 years, this is a Grenache for Pinot Noir lovers, don’t miss it. Brand’s reputation as a vineyard whisperer is as solid as ever, especially when you try his latest wines, these are site driven wines that, like Morgan Twain-Peterson’s Bedrock Wines, show the state’s history and potential in the bottle.
($42 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2017 Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey, Bourgogne Blanc, White Burgundy, France.
Maker of some of Burgundy’s most sought out white wines, Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey, has made a brilliant and clear Chardonnay that is incredibly pure and focused for a basic regional version and shows why these wines are so highly coveted by Burgundy fans, it’s a great value and vibrantly expression in this 2017 vintage. Almost greenishly pale gold in the glass this 2017 Bourgogne is deliciously crisp and zesty with a slight hint of reduction and is loaded with mineral, white flowers, racy citrus and a delicate sense of wood informed texture with classic Puligny like flavors showing apple, pear, lemon and white peach fruits along with hazelnut, wet stones and faint spicy elements with clove and mouth watering saline. There is a burst of fresh acidity and at first this wine is serve and bracing, fans of PYCM will be thrilled, as this wine follows his style over the last decade, and with air this 2017 Bourgogne Blanc gains a bit more palace impact and fills out with a pleasing roundness emerging, but staying vivid, sharply detailed and focused, making for an elegant and well crafted Chardonnay that will go fabulously with an array of cuisine. I enjoyed this beauty with my New Year’s Eve meal and it went gloriously well with my Epoisses, that amazing soft creamy cheese that oozes decadence, it cut through the fat and made my evening joyous.
Domaine Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey, led by Pierre-Yves Colin, who is the eldest son of the famed Marc Colin, is based in Chassagne-Montrachet in their new cellars there that he shaves with his wife’s label Caroline Colin-Morey. Pierre-Yves worked aside his dad and brothers as the winemaker at his father’s domaine from 1994 to 2005, then stepped out on his own founding his own domaine, starting it from family vineyards he inherited from his family and his wife’s side too, also famous and with good parcels of vines in the region. Since that time, he rapidly rose in the wine world, especially with his Saint-Aubin and Chassagne White Burgundies, he has really is a star in the Cote de Beaune and these wines set the gold standard for quality. He and his wife Caroline, join Jean-Marc Roulot and Alix de Montille as one of Burgundy’s elite power couple, and while his top bottlings are spectacular, I am always thrilled with his less pricey offerings, especially his Saint-Aubin lieu-dit whites, and I also enjoy his Pinot Noir too. Pierre-Yves continues to refine his wines, and he has started using larger format demi-muid barrels and uses no stirring of the lees (batonage) to preserve fresh intensity of form, his wines are steely and with an electric like transparency, and this 2017 is all that, keep an eye out for it.
($38 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2008 Weinlaubenhof Alois Kracher, Auslese Cuvee, Burgenland, Austria.
The late and legendary vigneron Alois Kracher, one of the world’s best sweet wine producers, was around to craft this one, but the Auslese Cuvee late harvest wine has his spirit, made from hand picked grapes with Noble Rot (Botrytis) for the the winery’s entry level offering using 60% Chardonnay and 40% Welschriesling. Coming from their Burgenland estate vines in eastern Austria this is a classy and exceptional effort that has really aged well and is a pleasure in the glass. When drunk young, the Kracher Auslese Cuvėe is, as the winery notes, medium golden yellow with fine floral notes, quince and fresh peach flavors and offering some bright acidity with a balanced sense of sweetness and a clean mineral finish, but allowed to age, as this 2008 was, it gains a lovely amber hue and gains a sublime honeyed tone from the botrytis and the flavors richen with baked apricot, lemon curd and exotic lychee fruits taking charge on the palate. This regal sweet wine, unique with its use of these varietals, was fermented and aged in stainless steel tanks to preserve a succulent refreshing purity of form and to keep from getting volatile acidity or funk and this Auslese (which means here a select harvest) is lovely, and while I prefer the Gruner Veltliner and Riesling versions, this is certainly in a great place right now and drinks like an aged Sauternes (Basac) or a BA (Beeren Auslese) without the new oak creme brûlée influence.
Weinlaubenhof Kracher has long been in a class of their own, when it comes to sticky wines, and Alois Kracher, who pasted away sadly in 2007 and was a favorite of mine,, achieved practically a god like status in the wine world, almost no other sweet wines have reached such a high level of recognition, respect and praise, except maybe Chateau d’Yquem! Unlike most famous sweet wine producers, Kracher has done it using many different kinds of grapes, even those without much pedigree, which led many to believe that it was the terroir and the passion for their craft that gave Kracher its magic. The fabled Austria estate is now run by Gerhard Kracher, who is the head of the Weinlaubenhof Kracher’s cellar, vineyard and is in charge sales. He learned much from the two generations that came before him and brought so much fame to this small winery, continuing in their big shadow with some gorgeous wines under his belt he combines tradition and modernity, paying tribute and moving forward. This 2008 Kracher Auslese is proof that the future is bright still for Kracher and its complexity was a delicious surprise with additional orange marmalade, wet stone and apple butter coming through with air, it works well with light desserts and savory cuisine too, drink now. I am now inspired to explore more of the later vintages from Kracher and will keep an eye out for well cellared examples too, this was too good not to mention.
$45-69 Est. 375ml-halif bottle) 93 Points, grapelive
2015 Corison Winery, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sunbasket Vineyard, St. Helena, Napa Valley.
When reflecting on on of the great wines I’ve been lucky enough to try and review I have to end this year on someone that continues to impress and shows no sign of slowing down with a great set of current releases, this of course is Cathy Corison and this wine, a new offering, is a perfect way to show have exciting her wines are and to end a great vintage here at grapelive.com. Corison is most known for her Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, from vineyards she always worked with and her estate Kronos bottling, but she has been using Sunbasket for some time and has done a single vineyard Cab Franc from here under her Helios second label, and know she has added a single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon to her main lineup, and it is a stunner! Corison Winery has sourced Sunbasket Vineyard, which was originally planted on the alluvial and gravelly soils in St.Helena in the early 1950’s by the legendary winemaker, André Tchelistcheff, for over 25 years, sharing it with Shafer Vineyards, as Corison notes, for many years until they became an exclusively estate winery just over 10 years ago. Corison has taken all the Sunbasket fruit after Shafer stopped using it and has been converting it to more sustainable (farming) methods, making it much more organic and allowing the vines natural energies to shine through, which shows it this ripe and dynamic 2015 Sunbasket Cab. Cathy has long valued the Sunbasket Vineyard’s grapes and adds that she admires the fruit here for its bright red and blue fruit and pretty aromatics, that is clearly part of the joy of this first release with its lovely violet/acacia perfume and deep sense of fruit on the full bodied palate. The Sunbasket is in my opinion, just a touch more lush than Corison’s Kronos, but no less serious, this is fabulous stuff, it blows away many Napa wines at twice the price and those that like Ridge’s famous Monte Bello will be very interested in this wine, or should be.
Cathy Corison, one of California’s greatest winemakers, a living legend and long respected for her pure and elegant Cabernet wines that rival any produced here and those in Bordeaux, I find her wines both majestic and densely powerful, these are wines that capture the best that Napa Valley has to offer, but are never over the top and Corison works incredibly hard in the vineyard to maximize natural acidity and keep alcohol moderate, while still expressing deep flavor profiles, which this gorgeous Sunbasket delivers to perfection. Corison, humbly suggests that it’s all about the vineyard and the quality of the fruit and that she just guides it all to bottle, but there is no questioning her talents and the result of her passion and commitment to her craft. As she says, great grapes make great wine, with Cathy’s winemaking being largely non-interventionist though traditional with full macerations and when her primary ferments are completed the wine is aged in small French oak barrels for at least 20 months, that she’s adds, letting the magical alchemy happen when the wine aging. The Sunbasket 2015 is openly rich and opulent from the first moment your senses come close and the nose is full of the floral bouquet along with blackberries and spices before a cascade of pure Cabernet Sauvignon fruits fills the mouth with black current, plum, boysenberry and blueberry along with hints of coco, tobacco leaf, cinnamon, sage/anise, sandalwood as well as a touch of smoky oak notes and vanilla. Everything flows nicely together and the sweet tannin holds it all in fine balance, while a bigger framed Cab, it is graceful and lively with a sensual textural and fantastic length with heaviness. This brilliant effort is going to thrill Corison fans and it drink incredible for decades to come, it is a perfect sister wine to Cathy’s signature Kronos! What a wine, and what a year, bravo Cathy for your hall of frame career and this great new wine to celebrate with.
($165 Est.) 96 Points, grapelive