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
2012 Weingut Schafer-Frohlich, Riesling Auslese, Felseneck, Nahe Germany.
The stunning Schafer-Frohlich Bockenauer Felseneck Riesling Auslese, from the 2012 vintage and tasted in half bottle, is wonderfully balanced and shows fine minerallity to go with the dense and sweet fruit and comes from a Grand Cru vineyard site in the Nahe region. The Felseneck site is set on typically steep sloops with a unique combination of mostly Blue Devonian slate and porphyry soils, which includes some volcanic, basalt, quartz and mineral rich by nature and the eastern exposures here allow for fabulous ripe flavors with a touch of exotic elements, smoky flint and spice that thrills the palate, which this lovely 2012 Felseneck Auslese does with a degree of elegance that makes this sweet wine so exciting to the senses without feeling cloying or heavy. Weingut Schafer-Flohlich, which is an estate that has really come to fame in the last 10 years under the incredibly talented Tim Frohlich grows and makes mostly dry Riesling Rieslings with a vineyard holdings of about 80% Riesling, 10% Pinot Blanc, a grape that deserves more attention in the Nahe, especially Tim Frohlich’s version, 7% Pinot Noir and 3% other grape varieties, plus they hand craft a limited Sekt (sparkling wines) as well I understand, of which I’d love to try at some point. This impressive winery, run by Tim Frohlich, the ninth generation to do so, has many fine bottlings to explore and produces around 10, 000 cases annually, focused on crisp steely wines, but also continues to do traditional fruity styles too including this Auslese and even in some years an Eiswein!
While the Felseneck GG is probably one of the finest dry Rieslings produced in Germany according to many critics, and I love the dry wines from this estate, which join the region’s most succulent offerings like those of Donnhoff, Schlossgut Diel, Gut Hermannsberg, Kruger-Rumpf, Hexamer and others, but this Auslese should not be overlooked either with its gorgeous details and brilliant length. Schafer-Frohlich, a VDP member since 2001, uses 100% wild yeast fermentations, uniquely so and sometimes difficult with sweet wines and uses about 70% stainless steel along with 20% neutral cask and some barrique for the Pinot Blanc and Pinot Noir, I believe, plus Tim farms with eco friendly methods to get the best of his grapes. The 2012 Auslese is deeply floral and with a touch of tropical essences along with faint smokiness, Asian spice and see breezes before opening up on the round palate that is already starting to lose its baby fat and overt sweetness and showing extraordinary complexity, with layers of apricot, tangerine, pineapple, key lime and apple fruits along with wet shale, minty herb, saline and baking spices. This wine will be joyous for decades and will be bliss with hot spiced dishes, especially Thai and racier cuisines, this is outstanding and a wine that will help over come the fear of residual sugar!
($55 Est. & $28 Est. 375ml) 94 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