Grapelive.com Reviews – June, 2020
2019 Sheldon Wines, Syrah, Luc’s Vineyard, Fountaingrove AVA, Sonoma County.
The absolutely delicious 2019 Luc’s Syrah by Dylan and Tobe Sheldon of Sheldon Wines is a dark and juicy version made in a quaffable style with a carbonic fermentation similar to a Cru Beaujolais with supple tannins and spicy tones. Sheldon is mostly known for their stunning collection over the years of Grenache based wines and their fabulous Graciano, which is one of the most unique wines in California, but in recent years they have branched out a little with a Carignan and Sangiovese, plus a sparkling Tempranillo, as well as returning to Grenache Blanc along with their Petite Sirah, this Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon based wines. This small micro winery based in Santa Rosa was founded back in 2003 and like Sandlands, Arnot-Roberts, Broc Cellars and Ian Brand pay tribute to historic California wines and vineyards, but are also influenced by the old world and are looking to craft tiny lots of authentic wines with less adornment and less alcohol. This 2019 Luc’s Vineyard Syrah shows bright black raspberry, blueberry, boysenberry and plum fruits, crushed peppercorns, a touch of anise, earth and sweet floral notes wrapped in a silken mouth feel and a medium/full palate. This Syrah has pure varietal flavors and is a little like Pax’s North Coast version as well as similar to tank raised Northern Rhone stuff, reminding me of Maxime Graillot’s Domaine des Lises, as well as his Equinoxe, which is good company to be in. The Luc’s vineyard is a single southwest facing hillside acre of vines straddling the border between Santa Rosa and Calistoga and planted on very rocky volcanic soils that gives these wines, the Graciano, Grenache, Tempranillo and this Syrah their personality.
Dylan Sheldon’s winemaking on this Syrah, that is due too be released soon, was typically unique, half traditional artisan and half mad scientist employing, as he puts it, whole cluster, with the Syrah coming in at 21.8 brix on October 16th, which was then pitch forked and sealed in a small stainless steel tank to undergo a cold, slow carbonic fermentation for 8 days. That made the lot about half complete, he then drained the juice to a separate tank, and pressed off the skins. The free run and press wine was, as he notes, then co-fermented with pressed Viognier skins for an additional week to add intense floral complexity. Interestingly, in 2019 the Viognier actually came in a bit earlier than usual for the Sheldon’s, so they pressed it, then vacuum packed about 150 pounds of skins into the freezer! So they waited for the Syrah to get ripe for close to two weeks before completing this co fermentation stage. After which the wine was gravity fed to neutral French oak for 3 months as it completed its malo-lactic conversion, then Dylan clean racked the finished Syrah to single a 60 gallon stainless barrel where it spent the next 3 months prior to its bottling. The 2019 Luc’s Syrah finished at 12.7% natural alcohol and with its carbonic character this tasty stuff is great with Summer foods and BBQ’s and can be served with a slight chill to be a refreshing style warm weather red. The latest set of ultra small production wines by the Sheldon’s are some of the best yet from this winery that I’ve followed since they started and especially intriguing is the aromatic and textural quality that they show, these are very beautiful efforts! This 2019 Syrah should be available soon, be sure not to miss it, get on the list here and current lineup of 2018s are great, grab the Grenache(s) and the Graciano too!
($38 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
Grapelive.com Reviews – May, 2020
2017 Sling | Stone, Pinot Noir, Monterey County.
Another exciting wine from one of Monterey’s newest labels, the Monterey County Pinot Noir from Sling | Stone wines is ripe and well detailed with classic dark Pinot fruit and nice fresh acidity and silky texture. Francisco “Junior” Banuelos’ of Sling | Stone Wines, is an assistant winemaker at Odonata Winery based in the Santa Lucia Highlands on River Road has released an impressive collection of wines including a couple of Pinot Noir(s), this being one of them, an already crucially acclaimed Syrah and his exciting Silacci Vineyard Chardonnay, which I reviewed back in March. Junior’s small lot wines are well worth searching out, especially his Pinot with its expressive nature that highlights the vintage’s character and the regions flavors with sweet black cherry, raspberry and plum bursting from the glass along with a hint of spice, earth and light toasty notes as well as a touch of blood orange and baking spices. I found this bottle I got from Jessica Trask at Village Wine and Taproom, after tasting this vintage at her place a few times, and before I dig into the Sling | Stone 2018s, I wanted to see how this one was doing and it is better now and I’m really excited for the 2018 version, which was sourced from the Knott Family Vineyard and saw a touch of new French oak.
Banuelos is part of talented group of Monterey winemakers that are changing the scene here and he was inspired by the likes of his boss at Odonata Dennis Hoey, Ian Brand, Russell Joyce, Samuel Louis Smith, head winemaker at Morgan as well as doing his own wines, Scott Shapely of Roar and Flywheel, as well as established superstar Jeff Pisoni, along with a few others of tight group of a new generation in the area that have changed the face of Monterey’s wines. The wines, especially the 2018 and the 2019 vintages are going to be legendary for Monterey and they are going to show the regions full potential and moves the bar way up in terms of quality and style, which is more authentic, less fruit bomb and more vibrant with less alcohol. It’s great to see these guys take risks and put their vision out there, these are wines that have distinct and unique personalities that also highlight the diverse micro terroirs within California’s largest growing region. The dark ruby and delicious 2017 Monterey County Pinot by Sling | Stone is fabulous with food and it opens up aromatically with air, it is hitting a great spot, I can only imagine how good the 2018 will be, definitely it is a wine I will explore soon, plus Junior’s partial whole cluster Tondre Grapefield Pinot Noir that is just being released now.
($32 ESt.) 91 Points, grapelive
2018 Weingut Donnhoff, Riesling “Estate” Nahe, Germany.
One of the world’s stellar values by one of the world’s great wineries, the Donnhoff Estate QbA Riesling, especially in a year like this 2018, is a beauty wine with amazing purity, mineral packed and generous details with just enough sweetness to refresh the palate, it is an excellent Summer white. Following Donnhoff closely for almost 20 years has given me time to full appraise and appreciate these wines, and now with Cornelius Donnhoff crafting these masterpieces from the Nahe this famous estate is even getting better! Cornelius, who took over from his father Helmut, is the 4th generation to run this historic winery and their amazing collection of Erste Lage, or grand cru vineyard sites that all have very distinct characteristics. Donnhoff has a steep set of vineyards with many different soils from volcanic to slate along with some gravel and loess-clay allowing Cornelius to produce an incredible range of wines from his majestic GG dry Rieslings to Eiswein in certain vintages and everything in between, and his entry level Estate bottlings come from these fantastic vines, with this slightly off dry lighter bodied Riesling having far more complexity and style than the price would suggest with an array of flavors and pleasures.
Cornelius has a unique cellar where he can either have all the wines in either wood cask or in stainless tank allowing him total flexibility to work with whatever the vintage offers and this Estate was fermented and aged mostly in stainless, but a small part was done in ancient large used German oak. The grapes came from a mix of vines including great sites like Oberhauser Felsenberg with its volcanic underpinning, plus Keselberg on weathered slate and Klamm with its own combination of weathered porphyry and slate as well as veins of quartzite, all which contributes to the class and nature of this Riesling. Brilliant pale golden in hue and utterly delicious with yellow peach, light tropical notes along with classic lime, green apple and apricot fruits along with flinty spices, mint and chamomile, quince paste, lemon peel and a touch of muskmelon. The mouth feel is crisp and mineral driven but also easy and with a creaminess of form from the lingering residual sugar, though the wines doesn’t taste overtly sweet, just finely balanced and high toned gaining exotic elements with air with hints of crystalized ginger and verbena coming out as it opens. This is so good, and while pretty widely available it usually sells out fast so stock up on it if you find it!
($25 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2016 Domaine de l’Austral, Saumur Puy Notre Dame “Cuvee 253” Loire Valley, France.
Domaine de l’Austral, which debuted with this vintage 2016 when Pauline Mourrain and Laurent Traubat took over this estate in Saumur, what was formerly known as Château Tour Grise, when the previous owners, Philippe and Françoise Gourdon decided to retire, but only doing so after making sure the property was in good hands. The site was originally founded in 1990 and Certified Organic in 1998. The expectational fresh, pure and medium bodied 2016 Domaine de l’Austral 100% Cabernet Franc Saumur Puy Notre Dame “Cuvee 253” comes from single parcel of vines set on chalk. Knowing the quality of the fruit and the heightened personality of the year, this husband and wife team decided to let the wine express itself without manipulation or additions in the cellar, hoping to capture the most transparent expression of terroir as possible. The couple as per the norm with this region is leaning toward holistic growing with biodynamic practices being employed including a focus on healthy, living soils with a rich and diverse microbic presence. Pauline and Laurent do all their fermentations naturally using indigenous yeasts and long or extended macerations, and for this special cuvee, one of their very first bottlings in fact, it was aged exclusively in a concrete egg. This estate, imported by Floraison Selections in Emeryville, is going to be a winery to watch making honest, great priced, authentic wines of place. This Cuvee 253 has some raw tannins and while supple show a structured nature that will serve it well for years to come and the acidity is bracing, those that love Cab Franc from this region will beam smiles of contentment at the taste of this l’Austral Saumur Rouge.
The wines at Domaine de l’Austral are vinified and aged in the estate’s historic underground troglodyte cellar that was cut from the natural limestone for which Saumur is famous for and for which gives the Cabernet Franc and Chenin Blanc grown here their striking characteristics. The new label and proprietors are already creating a buzz about their wines are were very quickly taking in by the prestigious Renaissance des Appellations and have achieved peer recognition and been already awarded a price at the Competition “Vignerons et Terroirs d’Avenir” (Winegrowers & Terroirs of the Future). And this wine shows why they are on the radar and look set to be stars, this Domaine de l’Austral, Saumur Puy Notre Dame “Cuvee 253” is vivid and lively with classic Cab Franc flavors with the tiniest hint earthy leather and bell pepper this 2016 shows racy red currant, briery raspberry, plum , cranberry and cherry fruits with loads in minerality and chalky stoniness as well as snappy herbs, anise, sandalwood and touch of floral notes. I was highly impressed by the youthfulness this Saumur displays and the value on offer, this would be incredible with duck breast and or rustic country cuisine and I can see huge potential rewards for those looking to cellar some Loire Franc, like the wines of Olga Raffault in Chinon. This dark and subtle wine has lots of hidden joys to unfold given time to open completely and looks to be diamond in the rough, not quite a wallflower, but a tad shy, though certainly delivering much more than expected, especially with food. The Mourrain and Traubat lineup here at Domaine de l’Austral is all about small lot Cabernet Franc, with many unique site offering, plus a Chenin Blanc and a Sparkling Cabernet Franc Rosé, all of which should grab your attention.
($27 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2019 Le P’Tit Paysan by I. Brand & Family Winery, Rosé, Pierre’s Pirouette, Central Coast.
The new Rosé is made from a classic Bandol blend of 56% Mourvedre, 26% Grenache and 18% Cinsault and is grippingly fresh and crisply detailed with ultra sharp and tangy flavors, making for a well structured Summer wine. Brand who is has become an influence and a focal point for authentic for the Monterey, Chalone, Santa Clara and San Benito parts of the central coast region with a fabulous selection of mainly Rhone style wines like his old vine Grenache and Mourvedre bottlings, as well as a savvy lineup of Cabernet Franc and a powerful Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet Sauvignon from an old vine vineyard right near the famed Monte Bello. The Le P’Tit Paysan line is Ian’s valued packed collection with the Pierre’s Pirouette Rosé being one of the most popular and a real bright spot for warm day quaffing.
The 2019 is similar to the 2018, but maybe a touch or a fraction cooler and drier in style with a Provence style light/pale salmon/pink hue in the glass and vivid ruby grapefruit, tangy sour cherry, strawberry and under ripe watermelon fruits along with salty wet stones, a nice mineral pop, spice, dried herb and seeped flowers. The grapes were brought into the winery for Rosé with lower Brix, well before the regular red batches came in and Brand did a short soak and stainless fermentation to preserve purity and vibrant freshness making for the wines zesty character and low alcohol feel on the lithe palate. This non Saignée Rosé is a non fruity and more retrained style making a quiet and purpose minded pink wine made to be a loyal and competent friend with a meal and a refreshing personality to enjoy in peace, great for picnics and beach or porch sipping.
($20 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2019 Tablas Creek Vineyard, Vermentino, Adelaida Disctriict, Paso Robles.
The latest release of Tablas Creek’s Vermentino is one of the best and is perfect for Summer days, afternoons and evenings with excitingly fresh detail and a vividly pure form, its crisp and lively personality make it exceptionally well suited for warm weather and lighter cuisine. This vintage Vermentino marks Tablas Creek’s eighteenth bottling of this traditional Mediterranean varietal that thrives in a variety of soils and is widely planted though still not as well as respected as it should be and it has made a big impact in California in recent years finding a home in Paso Robles, thanks to Tablas Creek and their French Partners Chateau de Beaucastel for bringing their Chateauneuf du Pape cuttings over. Vermentino goes by a few names including Favorita in Piedmonte Italy and Rolle in parts of France and it arguably is best expressed band at its best on the Island of Corsica where it is called Vermentinu. While known principally in Sardinia, Corsica, and Northern Italy, Vermentino is also grown in the Rhone Valley, and as mentioned it is part of the collection of varietals in the famous Chateauneuf du Pape as well as in Côtes de Provence as a minor partner with Clairette and Marsanne. In California, the Vermentino grape has a few interesting champions, of course Tablas Creek, but also Randall Grahm of the iconic Bonny Doon Vineyard, who even makes a sparkling example, one of the first to bring Rhone style wines to a wider audience, in fact Grahm has told me that Vermentino could be one of the most important white grapes in the State with huge potential and the ability to counter the effects of climate change. Other important bottlings of California Vermentino include Ryme Cellars in Sonoma, where Megan and Ryan Glaab make two unique version, one with skin contact and Monterey’s Arroyo Seco AVA has fine expressions of Vermentino as done by Mark Chesebro, as well as Unti Vineyards in Dry Creek, where Mick Unti makes a striking version, to name a few of people finding a place of pride for this varietal in their lineups.
The 2019 Tablas Creek Vineyard Vermentino is dynamically vivid and brightly focused with a racy array of lemon/lime, white peach and subtle tropical notes, turning on the vibrant acidity mid palate adding some tangy tangerine, melon and wet stone in a zippy dry white wine that, while lighter in frame, has a nice sense of depth, mineral tones and extract. There is delicate floral notes and a sea shore salinity that make this vintage of Vermentino stand out and make it lip smacking, it is totally refreshing and entertaining on its own and great with food, especially sea foods, sardines, oysters, mussels in both and or creamy cheeses. The 2019 Tablas Creek Vermentino is 100% single varietal and comes from organic vines in the West Side of Paso Robles in the Adelaida District as was fermented exclusively in stainless steel, with Tablas’ winemaking team led by Neil Collins looking for vibrancy and purity of flavors. At 13% natural alcohol, the new Vermentiono feels electric and taut with near perfect balance between ripe fruit and tangy lift, thanks to the long cool even growing conditions. I am a huge Vermintino fan, especially the wines mentioned above and enjoy it in many different styles from the richer Tuscan and Sardinian versions, grown on sandy soils and clay or partial volcanic, that can be quite full bodied to the stony Corsican wines where they rival Chablis for class and complexity. The Corsica Vermentinu is not monolithic or done one way, the Island has many different soils and micro climates and the wines are produced using various methods and aged in diverse ways, like stainless, large cask and even amphora, as well with some getting lees aging too. Some of the best examples are imported by Kermit Lynch, look for Arena, Yves Leccia, Clos Canarelli and especially Domaine Comte Abbatucci. Tablas Creek has brought the best of the Rhone to California and they excel in their white wine examples from the zesty briny fresh Vermentino and Picpoul to the waxy Marsanne, plus Grenache Blanc as well as the powerful and oily rich Roussanne, these are all prime and thrilling wines to explore hitting the full range of what these grapes can do! The Vermentino was everything it promised to be at the beach and pleases without pretense or loudness, it is a joyous brisk white that with provide lots of fun over the coming year.
($27 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2018 Vinca Minor, Old Vine Carignan, Mendocino County.
The Vinca Minor label was new to me and I was left very impressed by their latest release, an old vine Carignan from the all certified organic Hawkeye Ranch Vineyard in Mendocino County, home to many exciting ancient plots of Carignan, a Rhone varietal and famous in Corbieres in France’s Languedoc region, that seem to be finally getting the attention they deserve, especially wines as pretty and quaffable as this one. The Vinca Minor Hawkeye Ranch Carignan was done very much in line with modern trends or a lighter more natural style with a easy rustic charm using 100% whole cluster and indigenous or native yeast fermentation with classic foot and hand gentle maceration and pilage without any chemicals or additives with ultra low sulphur. The 2018 Carignan was raised in neutral, well seasoned, French oak barrels for 16 months which really allowed a supple texture to emerge and it has a graceful and detailed medium bodied palate led by blackberry, plum, candied cherry and currant fruits accented by liquid flowers, that reminds me a little of Ruche with this perfume taste along with a touch of loamy earth, brambly spices, cedar, whole cluster herbal notes and crunch, along with a hint of grilled rosemary, lavender, fennel and mint. The nose will fool you, it has a gamey funk at first and takes a while to clear off making you think this will show brett or an earthy edginess, but it blows to reveal the dark florals and red berry fruits, best to decant or be patient, the best is just a moment or two lagging a minute or so behind. Vinca does this Carignan, as well as a Mendocino Red, which has 35% French Colombard (a lesser white grape usually found in Brandy production, as in Cognac) co-fermented with full stems with Carignan and Valdiquie and a Carignan Rosé, plus a zippy Mendocino Sauvignon Blanc.
Vinca Minor is a small (family) micro winery based in Berkeley that was started in 2013 by Jason and Emily O’Hara Charles with a love of old vines from Mendocino that sparked an obsession with Carignan. Jason, who was pursuing a photo journalism after college traveled the world from Mexico City to the wilds of the Spanish countryside, fell hard for wine during a stay in New York as a server in Manhattan, where he found himself, as he puts, it surrounded by passionate wine experts. It convinced him to take the wine plunge, moving to California to be a harvest intern, which in turn led him back to Europe and to Pomerol, where he learned winemaking at Chateau Haut Goujon in Lalande de Pomerol. Saying he served soil, sun and grape he returned to California working for many famous and well known wineries in Napa Valley. Since then, he and his wife started their urban Vinca Minor winery and tasting room on Fourth St in Berkeley with a focus on natural wines. They are fascinated by California’s northern most wine regions, like the almost forgotten old vine sites in Mendocino County, like where this tasty wine comes from. The Charles family call their winery a great adventure in exploring wine’s history in Northern California and hoping to put it in the bottle. The winery’s name, Vinca Minor commonly known as vinca, periwinkle or dwarf periwinkle comes from the love of these blue/purple flowers and their labels showcase the their admiration of floral artistic expression. Vinca Minor, like Broc, Martha Stoumen and Las Jaras makes an interesting lineup of what is affectionately called “Glou Glou” or glug glug wine(s) in a similar vein, though distinct differences are there to be discovered, and it is well worth experiencing these Vinca Minor efforts. This fun Carignan has a nice freshness and no pretense, enjoy it with simple cuisine and drink it sooner v. later, as there is not reason to wait.
($32 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2018 Hundred Suns, Gamay Noir, Tualatin Estate, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
Renée Saint Amour and Grant Coulter’s Hundred Suns is one of Oregon’s most exciting micro winery projects and I love everything they are doing here, especially their out of the box Pinots and this Gamay from the Tualatin Estate, a wine that saw 60% whole cluster carbonic fermentation, 40% traditional de-stemmed using small yielding selections of ripe fruit and indigenous yeasts and aged in amphora. Grant who for about decade worked under Mike Etzel at Beaux Freres, working his way up to head winemaker now consults and oversees the winemaking and vineyards for the upcoming Flaneur Winery, as well as these Hundred Sons, a label he started in 2015 getting fruit from top sites, including Etzel’s Sequitur Vineyard and Dick Shea’s famous Yamhill Carlton site. While the attention is rightly on his Pinot Noir bottlings, which are delicious, totally unique and stylish in way few Oregon can match with some carbonic fruit forward expressive flavors and whole bunches crunchiness that remind me of Philippe Pacalet, in Burgundy, Jean Foillard of Morgon fame and Timo Mayer in Australia’s Yarra Valley! Now, the Gamay always sells out fast, don’t let that bum you out, just get on the list for the next vintage and grab some of the Pinot Noirs, the Old Eight Cut Pinot is one of the best values in Oregon and the mentioned Shea and Sequitur single vineyard wines are off the charts! This wildly delicious ruby/garnet Gamay Noir is serious and passionately, in not painstakingly, hand crafted nectar, and while not an easy find with so little of it available, it is really worth the search.
The Hundred Suns 2018 Tualatin Estate Gamay is incredible in the way it has Gamay’s punchiness, but supple textures and remarkable depth, it is pretty lavish and flamboyant with loads of personality and charm showing racy plum, cherry and strawberry fruits along with cinnamon, cool chalk, Asian spices and crushed violets. The name “Tualatin” originates from the native peoples of this part of Oregon and means “gentle and easy flowing,” referring to the Tualatin River that meanders on its way to the confluence with the more famous Willamette River. Tualatin Estate Vineyard, originally established back in 1973 by wine pioneers Bill Fuller and Bill Malkmus, is one of the oldest and most respected vineyard cool climate sites in Oregon’s Willamette Valley near Forest Grove in a rain shadow in the Valley’s far northwest on marine sedimentary soils. This vineyard is mostly planted to Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Riesling, Gewürztraminer, Muscat and Pinot Blanc, with a tiny selection especially for Grant of true Gamay Noir, which all goes into this fascinating wine. The winemaking here is intriguing, the whole-cluster carbonic batch was done in sealed tank then aged in neutral French oak with the de-stemmed traditionally native yeast fermented batch getting its elevage in the terra-cotta Amphora for seven months, with both then being gently racked to blending tank for settling and bottled unfixed and unfiltered. This Gamay opens up with luxurious results and at 14.1% natural alcohol there is tons of palate impact, while still retaining the grape’s energy and enjoys a sexy mouth feel. I am saving a bottle for extended aging, as I am with a few single vineyard Pinots that I think will bring even greater rewards in 5 to 10 years, Hundred Suns should be on your radar, these offerings are stunning singular wines.
($30 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2018 Pax, Syrah, Sonoma-Hillsides, Sonoma County.
The Pax Syrahs, especially this one, the Sonoma-Hillsides, are the gold standard in California for authentic varietal character and quality for the money, with this Sonoma Hillsides being one of the most sought after versions in the state. The 2018 is turning out to be an incredible vintage for California Syrah and this Pax Hillsides shows why with intense dark fruit and depth, but with a sense of delicacy and lower alcohol giving the wine elegance and inner beauty, there’s a lot to unpack here with layers of black raspberry, minty herbs, lavender oil, a hint of olive and an unfolding of plum, fig and blueberry notes all adding dimension in the glass. The earthy nature or gamey element is subdued at present, but should come out with time along with a rich floral component as this wine hits its stride. That said, this wine comes with heavy expectations and its deep purple and garnet color invites comparisons to famous addresses in the Northern Rhone. Pax Mahle is one of California’s best known, influential and respected winemaker, who has been incredible helpful to a whole new generation of small producers. Pax, a Rhone specialist, but who also has branched out into making some natural style alternative wines in recent years from unique and rare grapes, is most know for his towering and age worthy single vineyard Syrah bottlings, including his Castelli-Knight, Alder Springs and the Griffin’s Lair bottlings.
This wine,100% Syrah, the multi vineyard cuvee, 2018 Sonoma-Hillsides, was hand crafted with old world influence using a combination of whole bunches (100% Whole-Cluster), with Pax’s fermentation using only indigenous yeasts. In his Syrah these days there is a variety of vessels for elevage with some getting concrete vat(s) and some getting used French casks including larger barrels or puncheons, but with this wine though, Pax aged it completely in the cement tank for 10 months. all of which the allow the wine to show its true nature in a clear transparent form. Pax Mahle has been on top of the Syrah game in California for years and has refined His style, which has been honed or the last decade has come to match his personal vision of what Syrah should be, and that follows some of the great wines of France’s northern Rhone region, most like Cote-Rotie and Hermitage, but these are not wines that mimic those wines, these California wines should be looked at as equals, not copies, and they have their own personalities. The 2018 saw fruit sourced from top sites like Castelli-Knight Ranch, in the Russian River, Griffins Lair Vineyard, in the Petaluma Gap area of the Sonoma Coast and the Nellessen Vineyard, in the Sonoma Coast with a cross section of Sonoma’s soils including volcanics, marine sediments and some broken shales, sandy loams and gravelly elements. This Hillsides Syrah finished at 12.9% natural alcohol, but don’t be fooled, this is a dense wine that will really gain with some bottle age, be patient and be rewarded.
($48 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2017 Weingut Mueller-Catoir, Scheurebe Trocken, Haardter Manderling, Pfalz, Germany.
I love Scheurebe and this Mueller-Catoir is one of if not the best dry version, with this ripe and expressive 2017 showing everything the grape has to offer, it delivers intensity and aromatic quality, it’s a thrilling German white wine from one of the most admired wineries in the Pfalz. This vintage is bursting from the glass with jasmine, liquid roses and spearmint lifting to the nose while the light to medium bodied palate delivers tangy grapefruit, white peach, quince, sour apple and pineapple fruits along with chalky mineral, saline, clove spice, wild fennel and the crisp, lip smacking finish keeps things severe and refreshing. Shuerebe, a very aromatic grape, also known as Samling 88 (Austria), was a seed crossing of Riesling and a little known varietal called Bukettrbe back in 1916 by Doctor Georg Sheu, hence the name, which became official as tribute to its creator. I should state my thanks for those details to Anne Krebiehl MW who presented these facts in her book “The Wines of Germany” also noting that for many years, it was thought Scheurebe was a crossing of Riesling and Silvaner, but recent studies has proved otherwise. Scheurebe grows best in Calcareous soils, with Muller-Catoir’s Pfalz version regarded as maybe the greatest expression of this grape, in particular their Trocken single Cru Haardter Mandelring example. The full range of wines at this property are amazing from the thrilling dry wines to the finely balanced sweet wines, everything at Mueller-Catoir is class, when it comes to the Pfalz, this and Von Winning are must try wines.
I’m a huge fan of Mueller-Catoir, thanks to long time importer and Riesling guru Terry Theise, who really introduced to the full lineup here many moons ago, their Rieslings are some of Germany’s best, but they have this awesome Scheurebe, as well as a great dry Muscat (Muskateller), maybe the best I’ve ever had, along with Pinot Blanc and Rieslaner, of which they do a fabulous sweet wine from. Weingut Mueller-Catoir has been family owned since 1774 with 9 generations tending the vines, as Theise notes, the winery is now run by Philipp David Catoir, who has Martin Franzen as his cellar master, hailing from the Mosel and formerly at Schlossgut Diel, took over the winemaking from the legendary Hans-Günther Schwarz in 2002. Müller-Catoir has gone holistic in recent years and farm mostly organic, but remain very practical with absolute quality demanded of the grapes here, there is no compromise at this place, they focus on purity and terroir. The vineyards in Haardt, where this wine comes from, are composed of primary rock (urgestein) and sandstone, with an increasing proportion of gravel lower on the slopes. This estate and the region has a long history of winegrowing with the Burgergarten site being first planted close to 700 years ago, and, as the winery notes. Mueller-Catoir which has a tradition of reductive winemaking implementing a gentle crush, a long skin contact, slow gentle pressing, and then ferments at warmer, according to the winery again, than customary fermentation temperatures in stainless steel to promote transparency, which this lovely Scheurebe shows, drink it over the next 3 to 5 years.
($49 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
1986 Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard, Pinot Noir, Estate Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountain.
This 1986 Santa Cruz Mountain Pinot, shared with us by the winemakers Junior Banuelos and Denis Hoey at Odonata was showing beautifully, incredible really for a 34 year old wine with pretty details and a core of fruit without a severe fragility or sous bois, it impressed a crowd of Pinot Noir fans to near silence and awe! Hoey, owner at Odonata was mentored by Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard’s Jeff Emery and had access to this beauty, which we tried with an equally good 1985 version, it was tough to pick between them, in fact maybe more people liked the more expressive 1985, but I admired the delicacy of the 1986 and lighter frame that reminded me of a perfectly aged Burgundy with dried rose petals, a touch of damp earth, Christmas spices along with strawberry, cherry and plum fruits at its core, lingering on the medium bodied palate with minty herb and mushroomy accents. Jeff Emery began his career at the iconic Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard in 1979, serving an apprenticeship under the owner, Ken Burnap, and never moved on, basically taking over the winery in 2002. The original Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard property was a living history of the region, so it was sad when those old vineyards were lost to development in the later part of the 2000s, though Emery and Burnap to our eternal gratitude saved a big library of their wines and treasures like this can be found and admired. This wine’s color was impressive too, pretty dark crimson and with a gentle orange/brick edge, surprising, but seductive and still with a structured mouth feel.
When I was learning about wines and starting a career in the wine business I remember these wines from the 1990s, which were raw, robust and gripping wines that paid no heed to the modern approach and fashion of over polished and fruit bombs that were the rage at the time, though they could really blossom with age and patience, as this 1986 clearly shows. For many years, the Santa Cruz Mountains region was dominated by four wineries, Ridge Vineyards, David Bruce, Martin Ray/Mount Eden and Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard, each with their own stylistic character and charm. They very first Petite Syrah I tried that I remember was a Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard version, they of course called it by the grape’s true name Durif, spurring me on to learn the history of the varietal, a process that captured my passions for wine knowledge, at the time it wasn’t all there on the internet! The Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard, known now more for Pinot Noir was also a Rhone producer before it was a thing and made some cool Grenache over the years as well, so if you find old bottles of this winery around be sure to not miss them, especially the estate vineyard Pinots like this one if you see it, plus that Durif, they probably will live 50 years! The Santa Cruz Mountains region has many fabulous wineries and vineyard sites to explore now and Emery and Burnap are part of its legendary period in the 1970s and 1980s that led to many winemakers to be inspired to give this place a try, including Dennis Hoey at Odonata, who wines are getting better and better and well worth digging into, with his Santa Cruz Mountains efforts being exceptional!
($N/A) 93 Points, grapelive
2010 J. Rochioli, Pinot Noir, Little Hill, Russian River Valley.
One of California’s most famous and historic Pinot Noir producers, Rochioli continues to make their rich and age worthy wines that when young show opulence, luxurious oak treatment and loads of pure Russian River flavors, but once they get some age they shed the more obvious sweet/smoky wood and gain a fine sense of delicacy and secondary complexity, as this 2010 Little Hill Pinot is doing right now. The Little Hill section sits below the Sweatwater and Big Hill plots on the southern side of the Rochioli estate just west of Westside Road and was mostly planted on this higher bench in the mid nineties to a collection of clones, mainly their own (Rochioli) West Block selection, along with some Pommard and Romanee-Conti, which all add to the depth and structure. With southeastern exposures and the ancient and not so ancient river bed soils make the Rochioli estate with its cooling influences from the marine gap that cuts up the river’s track a top Pinot Noir and Chardonnay area, along with neighbors Williams Selyem, this was ground zero for great Pinot Noir in the 1980s and 1990s when the grape was finally getting the attention in deserved in the state. The Little Hill, being part of the J. Rochioli single parcel series, gets aged in French oak, with probably 40 to 50% new medium plus toast barrique for between 15 to 18 months, plus some bottle resting before release, then of course I gave it another seven years in my own storage, which allowed it to develop to near perfection. I have learned to age my Rochioli wines, sometimes the hard way and I especially love them around ten years after release, oh and I definitely mean the Chardonnay as well!
The Rochioli family, now led by Joe Jr. and Tom Rochioli along with long time cellar master Terry Berring make seriously delicious and impactful wines, and I’ve long been a fan and while I have had access to many great wines over the years, Rochioli has a special spot in my heart, considering it took more than seven years for me to get on their mailing list, it seems unlikely knowing my general lack of patience! There is a surprisingly diverse cross section of soils across the Rochioli’s property and they pick and ferment each block separately. Tom notes, while this is a common practice in Burgundy, it was his dad who started it in the Russian River, with Rochioli being a pioneer, they were one of the first in the area to introduce, what they call a micro-batch process. Tom Rochioli believes that being able to taste unique differences between the diverse soil and clonal diversity that typifies the Russian River, plus a more hands off approach in the cellar, is what makes Rochioli the iconic producer it is. The 2010 is still a flamboyant and expressive wine with a nice freshness and vintage marker very much alive in the flavor profile, it delivers tasty layers of black cherry, tangy red currant, plum, cranberry and pretty strawberry fruits, a touch of loamy/stony earthiness, cedar and rose petal floral notes, adding a hint of black tea, cola bean and sassafras. With time in the glass the silken medium bodied palate pleases even more and the wine takes on a class and grace you’d expect from such a wine and the graceful length impresses, every sip is magic for this wine, absolutely in its prime spot, this was a particularly great bottle, I wish I had more!
($100-150 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2016 Domaine Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey, Saint Aubin, En Remilly, Premier Cru White Burgundy, France.
How good are these PYCM Chardonnays? There are so good they are now doubling in price just a year of so after release, like this exceptional 2016 Premier Cru Saint-Aubin En Remilly that is just starting to open up into top form and depth with still a laser sense of detail and mineral tones, while gaining textural richness and unveiling of its personality. The fleshier 1er Cru En Remilly by Pierre-Yves comes from three individual plots of vines, from what I understand with one in the highest part of the premier cru, which I imagine heightens the acidity and two lower down in the main section, or as Decanter calls it, in its heart, and closer to Chassagne-Montrachet, which gives the wine its density and presence on the palate, all are set on the classic clay and chalky limestone soils. This 2016 vintage follows this house style with slightly earlier pick dates to really highlight intensity and hyper focus of flavors with loads of lemony citrus, green apple, bosc pear and tart peach fruits along with bitter melon, clove spice, wet river stones, saline and a slow unfolding of leesy brioche along with a hint of hazelnut and sweet wood notes. The play between brisk energy and its dense opulence is fantastic, making for an exciting wine that performs as expected, even with sky high expectations and stunning with food, it held up nicely with lobster and would be brilliant with soft creamy cheeses.
Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey is one of famous Colin clan with his father and his brothers all being great vignerons, but these days Colin-Morey is probably the most revered and along with his wife Caroline Morey of the equally famous Morey family are a true power couple in the Cote d’Or, now based in their new modern winery in Chassagne they turn out some of the most sought after wines in the Cote de Beaune. The En Remilly has become one of biggest stars in the PYCM lineup, sadly driving up the price, though it remains one of the best values for stellar white Burgundy, especially on release with vines being most 25 to 55 years old and providing concentration, vigor and purity, which this vintage shows with precision and refined elegance. Colin-Morey follows a strict protocol and method, using all sustainable and hand tended vineyards, with mostly organic practices in the vineyards, while in the cellar he ferments and ages his wines in barrel, with the mentioned early picks, and uses indigenous yeasts and notably he prefers larger format 350L French oak casks, with his Premier Crus seeing close to 30% new, adding just the right amount of toasty accents. This beauty is wonderfully balanced and seriously good stuff, this is a Chardonnay for Chardonnay lovers, enjoy it over the next 5 to 10 years, though not many will have that kind of patience! I hear the Colin-Morey 2017s look to be on the richer side and more luxurious in style, making perfect sense considering the vintage conditions, so I was glad to get this one in before getting my hands on the upcoming wines for comparison.
($65 to $125 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2017 Cume do Avia, Caíño Longo Tinto, Dos Canotos, Ribeiro, Galicia, Spain.
The native grape, Caiño Longo is usually used in blended wines, but is capable of doing lovely solo efforts and this bright low alcohol red wine from the talented group of friends at Cume do Avia from Spain’s Ribeiro D.O. is a fabulous effort with a crisp bright personality, similar to Fleurie (Cru Beaujolais Gamay) with a crunchy mineral freshness and racy red fruits. This winery is a hot ticket right now and they farm and use varietals with local significance, they have small plantings of thirteen different indigenous Galician grapes, all selected from ancient vines in the Ribeiro zone, and they have plans to plant many more, especially the long forgotten ones that they hope to re-discover and add to their collection. Led by Diego Collarte and his brother Álvaro, both grew up in Vigo, the latest city in the region, Cume do Avia is like many young Spanish producers that are school friends that have turned away from glitz of city life to get back to their roots, sometimes lost to 3 or 4 generations and finding their mission in the hard work of remote wine regions and long overlooked old vines using natural/organic farming as well as historic methods in the cellar, as they employ here. The terroir here, which is renown for white whites and close to the border with Portugal, is mainly granite based, but there is a diversity of soils in some of vineyards that Cume do Avia have near the Avia River, and this adds spice and complexity to their wines, with some sand, schist and even slate soils here as well. There is an underlying depth and richness though things are kept in firm check by its vibrant form, it certainly rounds out with food and should be allowed time to fill out, then it will show its best and bring a more joyous experience.
The 2017 Caíño Longo Tinto Dos Canotos fills the glass with a vivid ruby hue and delicate floral perfume as well as crushed red berries that leads to a medium bodied vivacious palate with under 12% alcohol, making for a refreshing and zippy red wine that adds that mineral tone, light spices and herbs gaining strawberry, sour cherry, vine picked briar laced raspberry, tangy red currant and lingering earth, rose petal and cinnamon. The lighter frame opens up texturally with air, but the wine stays quite puckering, tartly detailed and is great with a slight chill, it is strikingly vivid stuff and fun, being like Pinot in its ability to go with many cuisine options. These wines are serious efforts that enjoy your attention, though they have a friendly personality, like this one does and drink in what we call a Glou Glou (or glug glug) style, which is reserved for wines that don’t need much over thinking and are easy to quaff. The wine, coming form hand tended and harvested using biodynamic/holistic practices in the vineyards, and fermented with indigenous yeasts with some whole bunches, then the wines are aged in neutral vessels, some including chestnut casks that were more common in older times. This winery admits it has been a tough journey since they started in 2005 to now, where they have a demand for their wines with some disasters and set backs along the way, but I love this intense and vigorous Caíño Longo Tinto Dos Canotos and I can’t wait to taste more of their efforts, and I hear they had a big step up with their 2018 releases, so that is even more exciting. There is a lot to find joyous in the single varietal bottlings, but I also would not miss the blended efforts, make with Souson, Caiño Longo and Brancellao as well as others.
($42-50 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2017 Weingut Clemens Busch, Riesling Trocken, Mosel Germany.
The tasty entry level dry Riesling from Clemens Busch is flavorful, especially this ripe year 2017 and there is a lot on off for the price with plenty of peachy expressive fruit, but still energy filled and with crystalline mineral character. This all biodynamic Middle Mosel Riesling From Weingut Clemens Busch, a pioneer in natural winemaking and organic viticultural in the Mosel region, shows fresh details, oyster shell and crisp saline to go with the pretty classic lime, green apple and quince fruits plus wet shale, white flowers and a delicate smoky element. Clemens and Rita Busch, the husband and wife team, run this small, but much admired estate and their influence can be felt throughout Germany with many vignerons following in their footsteps. Since taking over his family winery in 1984, Clemens, the fish generation wine grower, has passionate put his vision in place and while it took a long while to do the conversion and gain acceptance locally, regionally and globally, he has become an iconic figure with his incredible lineup of dry Rieslings, with this one being a great gateway into his wines. His top bottlings are fantastic and well worth the extra cost and age well gaining texture and complexity with each identified by their different and distinct terroirs on the original hillsides, each being highlighted on his labels by their historical names, they include Fahrlay, Falkenlay, which is one of my favorites, Rothenpfad, Felsterrasse, and Raffes.
Busch’s grapes are grown mostly on the extremely steep Pündericher Marienburg, a mixed slate based, continuous vineyard, with many tiny prime lieu-dits, that spans and entire hillside facing the village of Pünderich. Exposed full South/Southwest and right on the edge of the river, it is widely considered some of the very best sites in this part of the mighty Mosel. Clemens believes the special parcels have their character and are themselves Cru sites with their own micro climates and show individual expressions. These wines are all unique and Busch combines old traditional methods with his all natural approach in the cellar, which he notes, with 80% of the wines being fermented and aged in very old 1000L barrels with the youngest used close to 50 years old, and many, he adds, were built by Rita’s father. Clemens allows a sponti (native yeasts) fermentation and nothing is ever added to the wine, except an ultra low dose of sulfur at bottling to allow for safe handling and or shipping stability, with the hope that the wines show purity of the terroir, which I believe they do. Interesting to note is that most of the Rieslings here have color coded capsules that tell the buyer what type of slate was in each wine, with red (red slate), grey (grey slate) and blue for the (blue slate) with this lighter Riesling Trocken being all grown on grey slate from multiple parcels in the famous parts of Marienburg. The Mosel is on fire with so many great and intriguing wines, it maybe hard to chose, but you should consider trying these Weingut Clemens Busch dry Rieslings, they don’t disappoint, I offer as an understatement!
($27 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2018 Martha Stoumen, Carignan, Venturi Vineyard, Mendocino County.
Martha Stoumen’s 2018 Venturi old vine Carignan is a fresh old school style quaffer with lovely dark flavors, supple tannins and a juicy medium body, it pleases without pretense or polish, it is naturally delicious. Martha, influenced by European country wines that show clarity of place and traditions is now trying to make terroir-driven wines in, as she says, the land that she holds so dear in her heart, California, she leases and farms around half of the vineyards herself, to achieve her goal, with the other half being farmed by multi-generation farmers, Stoumen adds, who understand their land and who farm with the same philosophies. The Venturi Vineyard is located in Mendocino County and was originally planted back in 1948, it is a dry farmed and organic site just north of Ukiah, in the Calpella Valley, set on predominantly Pinole gravelly loam soils. Her Carignan is lightly floral and spicy with vibrant blackberry, black cherry and currant fruits, a bit darker than Zinfandel, but in the same mode there is some nice acidity, bramble and briar as well as roasted herbs, like rosemary sprigs and sage, along with cinnamon and a hint of cedar. The vines underpinnings contain, according to Martha, a mixture of sandstone, shale and quartz, with these deep, well-drainning soils which were formed from alluvial flows also has fist-sized stones not too different than what you’d see in Chateauneuf. Martha’s latest set of wines are fun and can be drunk without abandon or worry, they are all made to be shared in their youth, look for this one, only 400 cases made as well as her signature Nero d’Avola, the Sicilian grape she fondly remembers from her time there as well as her interesting set of whites, plus her Zinfandel, another zesty style red with very low alcohol.
This latest release from Stoumen joins some of her best expressions so far with this Venturi Vineyard Carignan being delightfully engaging and tasty with faint earthy tones and a touch of mineral to the zesty fruit. This wine was crafted using 100% Carignan from a 70 year-old Carignan block on a particularly stoney parcel, as Stoumen explains, as it lies on a former riverbed, making the tending of these old vines not easy work, but worth the serious efforts, especially in this vintage. These parcel characteristics and cool nights here, Martha exploited to craft a wine that showcases this site’s inherent personality, that along with a long, cool fermentation result in a Carignan, as she says, with a much lighter body than most considering the old vine concentration, in fact the natural alcohol is just 11.4%! Stoumen’s calm experienced minimalist winemaking approach and patience in the cellar letting the natural yeasts and bacteria present on the grape skins perform fermentation, she believes allowing longer macerations and aging to provides stability rather than using additives, and after a few years of tasting and drinking her wines I have no reason to argue, these are soulful, somewhat raw in style, but clean and elegant. Like the new generation of California’s top small producers Stoumen uses well seasoned neutral French oak barrels and her wines are transparent with a focus on place and grape purity in their profiles. Martha has had a good education in real world winemaking having apprenticed under stars like Reinhard Löwenstein (Heymann-Löwenstein, Mosel), Jordan Fiorentini (Chalk Hill, California) Chris Brockway (Broc Cellars, California), Clive Dougall (Seresin, Marlborough), Didier Barral (Léon Barral, Faugères, France), and Giusto Occhipinti (COS, Sicily), all of which as guided her down her own path. This attractive purply Venturi Carignan, while lighter in fashion, has plenty of character and substance making it expressive more so with food and part of a table with simple cuisine and good humor, it brings comfort and smiles all around, drink up.
($35 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2018 Cameron Winery, White Blend “Giuliano” Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
One of best kept secrets of Oregon is Cameron Winery’s Northern Italian inspired whites, especially this Giuliano, which is a blend of Friulano, Pinot Bianco (Pinot Blanc), Pinot Grigio (Pinot Gris) and Auxerrois with a small bit of perfumed Moscato (Muscat) that winemaker John Paul, a huge fan of Friuli and Alto Adige whites, gives heightened aromatics in this gorgeous crisp dry wine. Paul ferments his “Cameroni” (Italian style) whites in stainless in mostly separate lots with a special cultured yeast and limited lees aging to promote clarity, purity and freshness with this blended white seeing a bit more bottle age to allow the high acidity to calm a bit and let some texture to develop, all of which prove magically here in his 2018 version, one of the best yet, it is a wine to get really excited about, it shows exceptional detail and quality. Cameron known for their classic Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines, some of the most sought after and famous in the region, also do Nebbiolo, another Italian inspired effort worth chasing down!
The light to medium bodied 2018 Giuliano Bianco delivers precise layers and mineral charm with an array of zesty citrus, with lemon/lime, tart peachy stone fruit along with hints of melon, quince, kumquat as well as jasmine, orange blossom, spearmint and saline infused wet rock. This is absolute delicious stuff, serious in quality, but easy to love and it drinks great with or without food, though it would shine with briny sea foods, in particular I would love to have another few bottle for oysters and or clam dishes. That said, this wine has structure and substance to handle richer cuisine too as well as Alpine cheeses, when it opens up it gains even more palate impact, while retaining its refreshing character. Coming from holistic and dry farmed vines in the Willamette Valley’s Dundee Hills AVA with Cameron’s grapes being grown without the use of pesticides, herbicides or synthetic fungicides, making the wine feel more natural and with the Jory (volcanic) soils adding complexity and a spicy element. Be sure to look for this one, it is just fabulous and should go for 3 to 5 years with ease.
($30 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2017 Terredora di Paolo, Fiano di Avellino DOCG, Campania, Italy.
Sometimes we forget just how good these southern Italian white wines are, especially the ones coming from Campania made from Fiano, Greco and Falanghina, ancient local varietals, some of which were once thought to the region by the Greeks, with Terredora’s 2017 Fiano di Avellino being a delicious example with mineral freshness and purity. Terredora Di Paolo, owned by an offshoot the famous Mastroberardino family, led by Walter Mastroberandino and his children Paolo, the winemaker and Daniela, who manages the estate, was founded as a modern winery in 1978, it is one of the largest privately run producers in the area, but one that takes the local culture and traditions very seriously with a history that is linked to Campania, its land and its people for many generations. Terredora di Paolo decided early on to focus on transparency and employs innovation and technology to get the best from the quality of its vineyards and grapes, according to the winery this concept to put great care in the vineyards and modern technology in the cellar strengthened and fostered the avantgarde character of their offerings.
The 2017 vintage Terredora Di Paolo Fiano di Avellino is ripe and peachy, but retains its refreshing distinction with a flinty, almost smoky mineral edgy element, bright acidity and has a nice saline, mouth watering zip and stony note to go with an array of citrus on the medium bodied palate, adding fine herb and subtle white flowers. This is very nice stuff that goes great with warm days and sea foods, I love drinking Fiano, it’s a grape that is gaining interest in California too, with Dry Creek’s Unti doing a fabulous version, as an alternative to New Zealand SB’s and boring Pinot Grigio that seem to flood wine lists for white wines other than Chardonnay. The Fiano vines are set in the prime Montefalcione and Lapio zones in the main DOCG set on calcareous clay based soils at about 1,800 feet of elevation that helps with retaining the wines vitality. The Terredora bottlings are all 100% varietal, and this Fiano di Avellino was completely fermented and aged in temperature controlled stainless steel to preserve crisp detail and makes this Campania white so clean and vibrant. I highly recommend the Terradora for their quality to price ratio and easy enjoyment with this Fiano and their Falanghina being my favorites in the current lineup.
($20 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2017 Andrew Murray Vineyards, Syrah, Tous les Jours, Santa Ynez Valley.
The twist off top, easy open dark fruited and spicy Tous les Jours Syrah by long time Rhone maestro Andrew Murray is vintage marked with ripe and warm flavors with blackberry/boysenberry, black plum, blueberry, mission fig and creme de cassis fruit, plus peppercorns, Dutch salted licorice and floral tones. Everything is well portioned and the quality for the price is outrageous and like Louis Barruol’s Saint Cosme Cotes du Rhone, which is made from 100% Syrah, it’s easy to see why this wine is so wildly popular. Andrew Murray came to Syrah by accident when he was trying to make a California version of Condrieu (Viognier) and his vineyard was wrongly planted with Syrah instead, but maybe fate played an even hand after all when he started working with this grape, as his versions, like his famous Roasted Slope, a Cote-Rotie style expression, his new Watch Hill Vineyard and of course this wonderful entry level Tous les Jours. This deep purple/crimson Tous les Jours drinks smoothly with ultra plush tannin, but still has a nice brightness of detail, purity and subtle earthiness or meaty elements as you’d expect from this Northern Rhone varietal.
Murray, who like many young winemakers, was inspired by his travel to Europe and especially from his visits to the Rhone Valley in the early 1990s that sparked a passion to make the same style wines in California, and for that he chose Santa Barbara and especially in a cooler zone of the Santa Ynez Valley where he has made a name for himself, but following in the footsteps of an earlier generation like Bob Lindquist of Qupe, Randall Grahm of Boony Doon, who long sourced grapes from Bien Nacido, and John Alban of Alban Vineyards. The Tous les Jours came from a selection of vineyards and is mostly tank raised with very little oak presence, similar to Maxime Graillot’s entry level Crozes-Hermitage with carefully sorted and mostly de-stemmed Syrah grapes for fresh transparency and varietal character, but with a California personality. As Murray explains, everything starts with great grapes from the Santa Ynez Valley, plus a small amount from Paso, using the different climates to create a wine that is both fruity and spicy at the same time. Through his experiences with both New World and Old World style winemaking, Andrew adds, the goal was to make the most drinkable Syrah imaginable, in particular for a stylish everyday wine that as I note, way over delivers.
($18 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2018 Desire Lines Wine Co., Mourvedre, Experimental Series No. 2, Fred’s Home Block, Del Barba Vineyards, Contra Costa County.
The latest Desire Lines Wine Co. wines are stunning and I love this 100% Mourvedre Experimental Series No. 2, of which only about 65 cases were made from seriously old vines in Contra Costa. Winemaker Cody Rasmussen, who’s, as mentioned, is the assistant winemaker at Morgan Twain-Peterson MW’s Bedrock Wine Co. in Sonoma, is one of the rising talents of the California wine scene and his wines are all stunning, especially his Syrah bottlings and this one too. Rasmussen explains his “Fred’s Home Block” old vine Del Barba Mourvèdre is from a small parcel of vines planted back in the 1880s in Oakley on the classic delta sand. The vineyard, as he adds, was for many years a core piece of the Bonny Doon Cigare Volant, plus Randall Grahm’s Old Telegram (Mourvedre) and for good reason, as the wines were incredible, that I agree with having being a fan of those wines for a long time. Cody notes that these vines are planted on the eastern edge of the Oakley Sands just three miles east of the famed Evangelho Vineyard, which he knows well as it is now owned by Twain-Peterson and is one of the top sites used in their Bedrock lineup as well as providing Rasmussen with some awesome Carignane. Rasmussen is finding some great vineyard sites to make wine from, all done in tiny lots and with extreme care to provide quality and site expression, which this wine shows, this is top notch and a fun filled offering.
The 2018 vintage is bursting with energy and dark fruits with lovely purple/garnet color in the glass and has an array of spices and light mineral tones, showing a Bandol like character, but with smooth California textures and warmth. The Experimental Series No. 2 Fred’s Home Block delivers expressive red vine berries, bright, but sweet cherry, dusty plum and tangy currant jam along with earthy notes, savory elements, that mentioned spicy edge and wild herbs, adding faint leather, dried flowers, anise and cedar when this awesome Mourvedre opens up. Rasmussen continues to be inspired in his winemaking practices by the old world, but is very precise and clean in his methods, employing what he’s learned over the last few vintages, this wine was fermented with 30% whole cluster for 30 days in tank, which is close to twice as long as some of his other wines and then the Fred’s Home Block was raised in a single neutral French oak 600L barrel. This Mourvedre really captivates in the mouth and provides tons of pleasure, in joins some very intriguing versions of this grape, like Ian Brand’s Enz Vineyard and Dirty and Rowdy’s many examples, and this Desire Lines Wine Co. expression is wonderful with food, especially rustic country dishes. There’s a lot of value and thrills in Rasmussen’s latest stuff, I highly recommend joining their mailing list and take advantage of getting some of these limited releases.
($28 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2016 David Arthur Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, Three Acre, Pritchard Hill, Napa Valley.
One of the elite Napa Cabs, the David Arthur Three Acre, comes from the best estate vines up on the very fashionable Pritchard Hill, an area known for the highest quality of the grapes and this 2016 is absolutely thrilling in style and substance, with incredible depth of fruit and purity of its dark and rich flavors. David Long the founder of David Arthur Vineyards has a lengthy history in Napa, starting with his dad who was savvy enough to collect a series of land parcels, including the expansive property overlooking Lake Hennessy in the hills on the eastern side of the famous Napa Valley not far from Chappellet, one of the pioneers of this special terroir. The Long family started visiting the Napa Valley in the 1950’s, and according to the winery, Don Long, a butcher by trade who owned a small grocery store in Portola Valley, near Stanford University and had long been interested in the California wine country and the wine scene had a keen eye for business opportunities, he began steadily investing in Napa Valley real estate. All of this led to the acquisition of nearly 1,000 acres of prime virgin land for vines atop of the noted Pritchard Hill in St. Helena. The 2016 Three Acre shows fabulous black currant, plum, blackberry and blueberry fruits as well as minty, menthol, anise, sandalwood, smoky vanilla, sweet lilacs, a touch of loam, red spices and iron, it really floods the full bodied palate with thick chocolatey smoothness, while retaining an inner energy and focused detail, very impressive for a wine of this heft and grip.
The David Arthur wines are now crafted by Nile Zacherle, a Marin native and a UC Davis grad, Nile, Long notes, has built a career producing award-winning wines from both Burgundian and Bordeaux varietals and has given the recent wines a more gentle and elegant profile, which really enhances the character and nature of the grapes that go into these wines, especially this 2016 Three Acre, which is a fantastic Cabernet Sauvignon. Zacherle has added an extra dimension to David Arthur Vineyards and he continues to push quality through focused attention on the volcanic based soils, organic viticultural management and a minimalist approach in the cellar, all of which remind me of some of the world’s best, in particular wines like Chateau Pontet-Canet in Pauillac and Celia Welch’s Corra, one of my personal favorites. This limited special Cabernet Sauvignon Three Acre, which is a blend of 76% Cabernet Sauvignon, using clone 337, 16% Petit Verdot and 8% Cabernet Franc which was grown at higher elevation and has a bit longer hang time allowing for more intensity and grip as well as the ripe black fruits on display. This is a luxurious Cabernet Sauvignon, no question it is dense and saw almost 90% new French oak, but it is handling it all with grace and feels well structured, even at close to 15% natural alcohol it has sense of refinement and it really gets into its groove with prime rib, flank steak and robust cuisine. This is stuff that looks like it will have a long window of drinking, maybe two decades or more, if you have it, I think another 3 to 5 years will bring even more rewarding experiences.
($130-156 Est.) 94-96 Points, grapelive
2017 Weingut Leitz, Riesling Spatlese, Rüdesheimer Magdalenenkreuz, Rheingau Germany.
One of the classics from Leitz, the Magdalenenkreuz Spatlese is wonderfully expressive and full of flavor, the name of this vineyard, translates to “the cross of Mary Magdalene,” named after a red sandstone cross that can be found amongst the vines. Johannes Leitz nicknamed this wine Maggie and it has always been a traditional favorite of his and mine, especially when having hot spicy dishes and or Thai curries. Here east of the village of Rüdesheim the soils are comprised of sandy loam, loess and with much less slate than down Rhein, and the climate here makes the wines fatter, I mean richer in feel and fruity, and it is ideal for a riper expression of Riesling. The Maggie is always textural, opulent and forward, but very refined and light on its feet, more like a Kabinett in feel, while still having complex layering and structural extract. This wine matched up perfectly with orange chicken, hot Asian mustard dipped BBQ pork and Singapore style curry noodles with spicy prawns!
The very pleasing, generous, pineapple laced and peachy 2017 Rüdesheimer Magdalenenkreuz Spatlese, from a warm vintage, has lots of concentration highlighted by its residual sugar creaminess, rather than outright sweetness. Leitz’s traditional Spatlese, only 8% alcohol, shows a nice medium bodied palate of tangerine, apricot, juicy apple, quince, lemon peel and tropical/exotic fruits along with a touch of gingery spice, mineral notes, stoniness and rosewater. This pale and youthful Riesling is filling, but also refreshing with plenty lively acidity to balance it out, it is in fact very elegant and is very respectful of many food choices from briny dishes to BBQ pork, as well as hot and spicy Chinese dishes, where the sugar and low alcohol really is appreciated, and cleanses the attack of heat. This is excellent stuff, precision made with 100% stainless steel and it is a pure terroir influenced wine of ultra transparency that should drink fantastical well for a decade or longer.
($29 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2017 Bodegas y Vinedos Raul Perez, Ultreia, Mencia, Saint Jacques, Valtuille de Abajo, Bierzo DO, Spain.
The awesomely priced Ultreia Saint Jacques Bierzo Mencia based red from the famed Raul Perez is a deep and full flavored wine with lovely balance and energy that shows off its old vine concentration and clay based soil terroir. This multi vineyard field blend style red from Bierzo’s Valtuille zone comes from vineyard plots ranging in age from 80 to 120 years old shows Mencia in a richer form than say the Ribeira Sacra, but the small bit of Bastardo (believed to be Trousseau) and Garnacha Tintorera (Alicante Bouschet) plus lots whole bunches keeps things well balanced and the fruit is contrasted by a light earthiness, savory notes, spice and mineral elements. This 2017 is ripe and dark fruited with bright blackberry, plum, currant and black cherry layers as well as snappy herbal notes, cedar and cinnamon all flowing in a rush of vivid flavors and authentic character. The vines, for all of Perez’s lineup are all organic, and for this one, were all hand tended and harvested with the oldest being from plants that date back to 1900 and the youngest from 1940, making for a wonderful regional expression of varietal character and a wine with a proud sense of place and being, it is also a fantastic gateway into Raul’s brilliant set of vinous glories.
As mentioned here and across the world of wine, Raul Perez is a grand master of Mencia and the godfather of the Bierzo region with a huge impact on how this wine is seen, clearly defining what it is and should be. His influence and mentorship has launched a whole generation of Spanish winemakers with at least a dozen or more being on their way to super stardom, as well as progressing with his own collection of wines. This Ulteia Saint Jacques is one of Perez’s entry level bottlings, but you’d be hard pressed to find anything lacking here, though his upper end cru stuff is out of this world. The Saint Jacques was about 80% whole cluster and fermented with indigenous yeasts in large wooden vats with maceration(s) lasting between two and five months, which is a long cool period, which adds to the dimension in this beautiful Tinto. The wine, after primary is then rack to an assortment of vessels to age with a combination of French casks including 225L, 500L, foudre and with some of the wine seeing its elevage in cement cuve, after which the Saint Jacques was bottled unfined and unfiltered to preserve every nuance and show the purity of this wine’s personality. I love this fresh and easy to drink young red, well I love all of Raul’s wines, but this one delivers so much for the price it is impossible to resist, drink with simple country dishes, hard cheeses and or BBQ. It’s hard to imagine a better deal on such quality old vine, medium bodied stuff!
($20 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2012 Weingut Heymann-Löwenstein, Riesling, Uhlen L, Terrior Laubach, VDP Grosse Lage, Mosel Germany.
Though the Heymann-Löwenstein, based in Winningen on the famous Mosel River in Germany, is relatively new, Reinhard Löwenstein’s family have been growing grapes in the Mosel from 1520 and the winery is now well regarded and known for the wines exceptional quality, with a focus on the denser and drier style of Riesling. Reinhard and his wife Cornelia Heymann launched Weingut Heymann-Löwenstein back in 1980 with a collection of plots on the difficult-to-farm steep slate terraces in the prestigious crus of Winninigen in the Uhlen Grand Cru, with some prime parcels like Roth Lay set on Iron-bearing red slate and Laubach, where this wine comes from that has a calcareous overlay with a base of grey slate soils. Heymann-Löwenstein is also all about sustainable practices and is now all biodynamic, this and with the traditional methods used in the cellars make these wines natural and full of terroir purity, as this sexy 2012 Uhlen L shows. Now, this wine is not labeled a Grosses Gewachs or GG, but it in fact is and you’ll see it called as much with more recent vintages getting the famous GG marketing. The profile is lush, but still with the classic energy from natural acidity along with the striking mineral intensity with crisp citrus, peach, quince and apricot fruits all with an orange like character as well as flinty wet stone, saline, chamomile, gingery spices, liquid flowers/rosewater and a touch of tropical elements. This wine really excels in the glass and is ever changing with each sip, gaining a regal like elegance in texture and refinement, this is brilliant and heady stuff.
The Heymann-Löwenstein wines are as per normal here 100% hand tended and harvested and Reinhard and his family ferment their Riesling in historical fashion slowly with natural yeasts or “sponti” until they reach a point of balanced dryness, as he puts it through a harmonious integration of sugar and acidity that once characterized the famous Mosel Rieslings of the 19th century, when they were the most valuable wines in the world. Löwenstein adds, that his grapes are harvested late in the season, often with between 10-20% botrytis-infected (noble rot) clusters, and treated to extended lees contact, usually in the traditional Mosel fuder 2400L German oak, as this wine saw or smaller 1000-liter casks, all of which give the wines a fuller bodied feel and richness with a degree of honey tones. The Uhlen L Riesling also saw a fermentation with 12 hours of maceration on the skins and was aged a total of 10 months in the used wood, again this style is somewhat unique and this wine is a stand out bottle, in fact with the attention to detail here, every vintage is fabulous, especially years like 2012, one of my favorites, but be sure to look for 2015 and 2016 too, and I can’t wait to try the 2018s! It was a pleasure to once have tasted with Löwenstein when Reinhard visited San Francisco on a trade tasting tour of the state and his lineup absolutely thrilled me with the stunning flavors achieved and the class throughout the lineup from his base Slate Terraces or Schiefertarressen to the stunning set of small lot Grosse Lagen bottlings, so it was great to revisit this 2012 Uhlen L, sourced from vines that average 55 years old, and see its form is still getting even better with secondary expression now showing!
($60 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2018 Filomena Wine Company, St. Laurent, Ricci Vineyards, Carneros.
Morgan Twain-Peterson MW is not only turning out amazing wines at his Bedrock Wine Co. in Sonoma, he is also turning out to a launching pad for great young winemakers, like Cody Rasmussen who’s Desire Lines Wine Co. made a huge splash last year and now Luke Nio and this Filomena Wine Co. label, which looks set to be one of this years big hits, especially after trying his latest offering, this beautiful and intriguing St. Laurent. This wine made from this rare Austrian red grape was sourced from the Ricci Vineyard in the clay based soils of Carneros that allow loads of expressive fruit to flow on the medium bodied palate and the cool marine climate keeps a nice freshness and detail to shine here, making for a dark and flavorful wine with smooth tannins and a supple mouth feel with delicate spice, earth and mineral notes. Led by a deep purple/ruby color and a seductive nose of florals and crushed vine berries the Filomena St. Laurent flows with blackberry, mulberry, plum, candied sour cherry and tart blueberry fruits along with black olive, a faint bell pepper, cedar and minty herbs, all of these layers and light elements give this wine a profile somewhere between Pinot Noir and Cabernet Franc, but with a expressive carbonic openess that is like Gamay and or Barbera, it’s a brilliant example of this grape and a wildly fun wine. This tasty stuff with go great with loots of foods and can be slightly chilled like a Cru Beaujolais, but is serious and structured too allowing it to stand out for its personality and quality, this is a new winery to watch, with this wine being a great value too, Luke also does a powerful Syrah from Griffin’s Lair Vineyard, which I’ll write about soon.
Nio has really crafted a super little wine here using about 50% whole cluster and the mentioned carbonic maceration, with a natural indigenous yeast fermentation in tank which allows this wine to deliver its forward and vibrant fruity quality, while staying dry, fresh and tangy with a light stemmy crunch. The Filomena Wine Co. St. Laurent was then aged, as Nio notes, half in a stainless steel barrel and half in a neutral 400L French oak puncheon for 9 months before going to his bottles. When you think of cool and alternative grapes you now have another one to check out, this wine joins the likes of Arnot-Roberts Trousseau, Martha Stoumen’s Nero d’Avola, Sheldon Wines’ Graciano, Sandland’s Cinsault, Russell Joyce’s Gamay, Michael Cruse’s Tannat (note he also does a St. Laurent sparkler from this vineyard), Jaimee Motely’s Mondeuse and Pax Mahle’s Mission (Pais) to name a few. St. Laurent, the third most popular varietal in Austria plus also found in the Czech Republic and Germany is one of the parent grapes along with Blaufrankisch of Zweigelt. The St. Laurent which is planted widely in Austria, but is hard to find a stand out version and especially in recent years has taken a backseat to the more serious Blaufrankisch (also known as Lemberger in Germany and interestingly in Washington State), but St. Laurent looks to have a new champion here with Nio, and this wine is absolutely delicious. As noted, St. Laurent also known as in German as Sankt Laurent is a highly aromatic dark-skinned wine grape variety and while Its origins are somewhat mysterious, it is believed to have resulted from a (maybe natural?) crossing of Pinot noir with an unknown second parent grape. There’s not much of Filomena’s St. Laurent, so be sure to get on their mailing list and get their latest releases as soon as you can!
($24 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2015 Core by Montevetrano, Aglianico IGT, Campania, Italy.
One of Italy’s iconic wines of the south, Montevertrano is a singular and towering red wine made from Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot and the native Aglianico grapes and crafted under the supervision of Riccardo Cotarella, one of the most influential winemakers in the world, tasting this wine is always a treat, and while the top wine is spectacular they also make a stylish and rewarding value priced second wine called the Core by Montevertrano. The owner of the estate is Silva Imparato, she started with vines as a hobby, but quickly saw the quality and potential here, and founded the winery in 1985 in the hills near the commune of San Cipriano Picentino, not far from Salerno. Mountains surround the property, which includes a beautiful ancient Villa, a modern cellar, that built in 2000 with the vineyards situated on gentle slopes facing south and southwest making for a perfect setting to produce great wines. The lighter more local tasting Core collection includes a Greco based Bianco as well as this tasty and expressive Aglianico based red, these are a wonderful way to get glimpse of the soul of the place and of course to Montevetrano.
The 100% Aglianico 2015 Core IGT Rosso, which is pronounced Kor-Ay in Italian is local dialect for “heart” hence the label art, designed by Silvia’s daughter and used to evoke the love of life, that the winery calls the spirit of Montevetrano. Core is sourced, as Cotarella notes, from particular experimental Aglianico plots on the estate in San Cipriano as well as selected outside growers in the classical Benevento area and the wine is fermented in all stainless steel with a gentle maceration and primary fermentation lasting about 15 days with daily punchdowns, pump-overs and racking before being put into small French oak Bordeaux style barriques for just about 4 months to soften tannins, but allow vivid freshness, which this wine clearly shows. The quality and personality of the Core lineup is especially rewarding for the price and this 2015 is drinking really well with vibrant dusty red fruits like spiced raspberry, plum, currant and candied orange as well as savory notes of meat/iron, leather and a mix of floral and kirsch notes along with licorice and cedar. This chewy and flavorful Core red goes great with country style cuisine and robust Mediterranean dishes.
($22 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2017 Comando G Viticultores, Rozas 1er Cru, Vino de Paraje, Sierra de Gredos, Vinos de Madrid D.O., Spain.
The Rozas Premier Cru is one of the world’s great Grenache wines, and most likely one you haven’t heard of, hand crafted by the talented duo of Daniel Landi and Fernando Garcia, who have been friends since their school days and have other successful projects, with Landi already being a superstar, they formed Camando G in 2008 to work together and the results are absolutely stunning, as this 2017 vintage shows! This region of Spain in the mountains above Madrid, in the Sierra de Gredos is a special terroir that in recent years has broke out and become a Garnacha hot spot that rivals the world’s great sites for this grape, these wines show high elevation elegance and detail, but with old vine concentration and amazing aromatics as well as length in authentic style wines that are mostly made with organic grapes and indigenous yeasts, in a natural fashion that highlights the exceptional purity, as these Comando G offerings display to almost perfection. The 2017 is wonderfully expressive with buoyant fruit, spice, delicate earthy/stony notes and a sweet floral bouquet, this stuff is Garnacha for Grenache lovers, it gives the same thrill as when you get a chance to try Chateau Rayas or one of Louis Barruol’s single cru Gigondas!
Comando G’s Rozas 1er Cru, with layers of brambly raspberry, candied cherry, plum and pomegranate fruits along with a burst of licorice, garrique like lavender, dusty earth, fine pepper and seeped roses, plus chalky notes as well as hint of cedar, is joyous on the full bodied, but lively rich/satiny palate, all of which make this Garnacha irresistible and sultry. Landi and Garcia used a few set of vines averaging 50 to 60 years old for this one, all biodynamic and set on sandy granite soils at almost 900 meters up near the small village of Rozas de Puerto Real. The Rozas 1er Cru saw a native fermentation with some whole cluster in large open top wood vats with gentle pilage and then the Garnacha was aged about a year in mainly seasoned 30 to 40 HL French cask. The winemaking, which can be described as hands off, but with great attention to quality allows this wine to shows a graceful textural side along with a mineral character that is more in line with Burgundy than you’d expect though with a glorious Grenache flavor profile. The Sierra de Gedos makes you work for this level of quality, as the winery notes, the viticulture in this part of Spain is ancient and tenacious, only suited to adventurous, with small plots planted in the most impossible places, including rockfalls and natural amphitheaters high up in the most remote parts of these mountains, and we are grateful for that seriously hard work. This wine has ages of time left, but gorgeous now, do not miss it and all of the Comando G bottlings!
($50 Est.) 96 Points, grapelive
2017 Jim Barry, Watervale Riesling, Clare Valley, South Australia.
The crisp, bright and fresh dry Watervale Riesling by Jim Barry Wines is one of the great values in white wines and for those of us that are Riesling freaks will enjoy stocking up on this for the warm Summer months ahead. The tiny village of Watervale is nestled in South Australia’s Clare Valley and is internationally renowned for the quality of its Rieslings which along with Eden have long been places in Oz to search out for this grape. The Barry family has shown a long history of making tasty dry Riesling, as they proudly note, they have consistently been awarded prizes for its quality ever since its first release in 1974. The, as the winery adds, Watervale Riesling is picked from select parcels of vines that achieve ripeness with naturally high acid levels that gives this wine its balance, finest and lightness of feel, while still being flavorful and having true varietal character. The Barry family started their famous winery in 1959 and world renown for their Shiraz wines with the young Tom Barry continuing the tradition taking over from his famous father Peter Barry (son of founder Jim), who brought this small producer such fame with his trade mark Armagh Shiraz, an iconic Australian wine.
The 2017 is drinking lovely with brisk acidity still pumping, but secondary notes starting to emerge with touches of earth, flinty stoniness and a whiff of petrol adding to the vibrant lime and white peach fruits as well as touches of green melon, mint and verbena. The Watervale Riesling is easy to drink and with only a faint trace of classic Clare oiliness and its saline and tangy personality makes it lovely refreshing and great with warm evenings, afternoons and foods fresh from the sea, going great with oysters, mussels and claims. The rocky loamy soils here make the roots dig through cracks to get moisture and help concentrate the grapes making the Clare, which has been known for wine since 1851, a special terroir and its elevation and either help create perfect conditions for both Riesling and Syrah. The Watervale Riesling is just a killer bargain, it delivers purity and personality of a wine twice the price, it joins Alsace’s Kuentz Bas and Leitz’s Dragonstone as top picks for the price. The Jim Barry winery also does an upper end version too, the Lodge Hill Riesling, which is a thrilling version of steely and intense Riesling joining Pewsey Vale, Grosset, Henschke and Jasper Hill to name a few elite examples of Oz Riesling.
($20 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2016 Kellerei Cantina Terlan, Pinot Bianco, Vorberg Riserva, Alto Adige – Terlano DOC, Italy.
The richly textured and deeply flavored Vorberg Riserva from the 2016 vintage, a ripe and highly regarded year, is a special Pinot Blanc that shows this grape in its best possible form, rivaling anything from anywhere in terms of quality and character with an array of citrus and stone fruits, delicate spices, light floral notes and leesy mouthfeel. The Terlan/Terlano winery, one of my favorite Alto Adige producers, especially for white wines like this one, but also they make one of the finest Sauvignon Blancs in the world and many others, was founded back in 1893 in this mainly German speaking region of Italian’s far north Dolomite Mountains, an area known as the South Tyrol, connected to Austria by traditions and culture. Terlan/Terlano is a cooperative in function with some 143 small artisan growers providing grapes with a total focus on high quality over quantity, pushing for organics and sustainable practices, and their track record on wines is legendary, and these wines are amazingly age worthy bottlings, I have on many occasions tasted 20 to 30 year old whites, in particular their Chardonnay, that were incredible and exceptionally fresh. Most of the vines used by Terlan/Terlano are on red porphyry, the stone that gives the wines in the area their typical character and a dusting of sand and a thin top soil, which allows a striking minerallity and a crystalline personality, along with south facing exposures that give lots of sunshine in this Alpine and pristine high elevation zone.
The golden Vorberg Riserva is full bodied and quite lush with classic honey pear, granny smith apples, tangy white peach, especially the soft flesh, quince and the racy lemony citrus fruits along with a touch of creamy brioche, almond and wet stones, as well as herb tea and the mentioned mineral essences. This well rounded, almost white Burgundy like, Pinot Blanc was vinified using only hand picked grapes, then gently whole cluster pressed and with a lengthy settling or clarification of the must by natural gravity. The slow and cool primary fermentation in unique temperature controlled big oak barrels before, as the winery notes, the wine is racked over for malolactic fermentation and aging on the lees in traditional wooden barrels for 12 months. This 100% Pinot Bianco/Pinot Blanc is a stylish and luxurious offering that highlights the terroir and the dramatic picturesque place that is the Alto Adige, very much in line with the great bottlings found at Terlano. These whites go wonderfully with the local cuisine of course, but can be really enjoyed with our California inspired dishes too, including the seafoods available as well as butter and herb roasted chicken and fresh greens, plus it can even handle artichokes, which is of importance to me in my area known for these tasty flowers. Terlan/Terlano does some fantastic stuff, so please take time to discover some of their more rare ones, look for their Quarz (Sauvignon Blanc), the Kreuth (Chardonnay), the Lunare (Gewürztraminer), plus the two blended cuvees Nova Domus and Terlaner, both of which are outrageously good!
($50 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2017 G.D. Vajra, Dolcetto d’Alba “Coste & Fossati” Piedmonte, Italy.
The dark and fruit filled 2017 G.D. Vajra Coste & Fossati Dolcetto is a delicious wine, we are far from the days when Dolcetto was consider a rough peasant wine, especially when planted in Cru sites and hand crafted by a hugely talented winemaker like Giuseppe Vajra, and this vintage shows remarkably well in the glass with sharp fresh detail, depth of flavors and all without being a loud or flashy wine. There is a bright intensity and it goes fabulous with rustic and or simple country cuisine, it has plenty of fruit and vibrant acidity to form an exciting structure and its deep purple/garnet color is very inviting and sets up the senses for the joy to come. The nose brings a bouquet of cut violets, wild herbs and crushed blackberries which leads to a medium bodied palate that flows seamlessly with briar laced vine berry, plum, black currant and tangy cranberry with vivid accents of anise, mineral, spearmint, amaro/herbs and kirsch. The tannins are mild, letting the Vajra Coste & Fossati Dolcetto d’Alba be enjoyed anytime and any place and faint earthy elements add a layer of soulful personality in this very fine and balanced Italian red. I love this version of Dolcetto, a varietal that I have a special soft spot for, the very first case of wine I ever bought was a box of Dolcetto d’Alba, which I loved with family meals and enjoyed at beach parties and picnics. One night, at a traditional old school family trattoria, I was introduced to Dolcetto with a mix of homemade pasta, sausages, wild mushrooms and many side dishes and it was at that moment I began to understand Italian wine’s purpose and I’ve been a devotee ever since!
Vajra’s Dolcetto d’Alba Coste&Fossati is a collection of antique Dolcetto clones that was collected and cultivated by Giuseppe’s father Aldo Vajra between 1979 and 1985, after care selections were identified the best cuttings were grafted in two of the estate’s great Barolo vineyards, Coste di Vergne and Fossati, where these vines thrived and produce an exceptional example of this classic Piedmonte grape. Aldo was ahead of his time, he started farming holistically back in 1971 making his winery sustainably certified very early on and has be fully organic certified since 2019. The Crus where this wine is sourced are set on Barolo’s white Marl, limestone and clay soils with a smattering of sandy topsoil and interestingly, Vajra’s blocks are at high elevation and later pick dates are common adding to the development of flavors, while the cool nights keep loads of vital acidity. To show this wine in its purest form the fermentation and aging happens exclusively in stainless steel, with a vinification lasting 15-20 days in custom upright vats designed for Vajra, at free, but cool temperatures with gentle punch-downs and pump-overs to rinse the cap. Vajra then let the Dolcetto go through spontaneous malolactic fermentation and the wine was allowed the wine rest for 7 or 8 months before bottling. The current collection of Vajra’s wines are all outstanding with some noticeable stand outs, including the set of Barolo offerings from 2015 and their awesome dry Riesling, one of the best in Italy, but don’t miss the more value priced stuff with the Langhe Nebbiolo and this one being top tasty choices to stock up on!
($25 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2017 Morgan Winery, Pinot Noir, Rosella’s Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands.
One of the best wines from the Santa Lucia Highlands in the vintage, the 2017 Morgan Rosella’s Pinot is really showing fantastic right now with great detail and expressive aromatics delivering beautiful fruit, floral tones and perfectly judged ripeness and oak treatment, this is gorgeous Pinot Noir from one of the great cru sites in the region. This limited single vineyard wine is going to be tough to get, but well worth searching for and I suggest begging the winery for some and or get on their list, as their 2018 should be even better! The estate Rosella’s Vineyard, owned by Gary Franscioni and named for his wife Rosella, and is beside the family home, is in the cool part of the Santa Lucia Highlands with a blast of cold Pacific Ocean air flowing through the vines here, which are set on the classic sandy loamy soils and farmed with exceptional care and with green practices in partnership with the Pisoni family. Dan Lee has a special set of these vines available to him and this wine is always a treat in Morgan’s lineup, especially now, since Lee brought in winemaker Sam Smith, who’s really been a lift to this classic Monterey label.
Along with the sister wine from the Garys’ Vineyard, the 2017 Rosella’s enjoyed a gentle and fermentation using traditional methods and this vintage saw about 50% new oak that adds a nice toasty/smoky accent to this dark fruited Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot. This version of Morgan’s Rosella’s spent about a year in barrel to refine the tannin and acid structure, while still allowing the wine to show a fresh balance and it has restrained natural alcohol making for a graceful and deep expression of place. The nose shows subtle wood and vivid flowery notes and dark berries that leads to the medium full palate of black cherry, raspberry, plum and currant fruits along with bramble and briar spice, a touch mineral, vanilla and orange tea. The textural quality is one of the highlights here and the vivid life force of the fruit, it has a burst of vivacious character that make it unique, it feels less dense than the Garys’ and yet it has a soft power that will allow it to shine for years and years. There is a lot to be excited about in the newest releases from Morgan, I wouldn’t miss any of their 2018s, in particular check out their organic estate Double L Vineyard collection and the single clone selections, these wines are out of the this world with the Chardonnay Clone 96 being outrageously delicious!
($65 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2006 Weingut Georg Breuer, Riesling, Rauentaller Nonnenberg “Monopol” Rheingau Germany.
I have grateful memories of trying this wine, the golden Breuer 2006 Nonnenberg dry Riesling, while visiting Rudesheim in 2009 and it was awesome to re-try it recently with an incredible panel of Rheingau wines and it has really held up and excelled in the years in between then and now with a full depth of complex and secondary character showing now. In the last few years Theresa Breuer has been turning out some amazing wines, these later offerings have taken on a real natural and authentic appeal with lovely detailing and highlight her individual parcels and unique vineyard sites, like this one from the Rauentaller, a historic growing site that was brought back to the spotlight by the Georg Breuer winery, almost alone, it is a unique place in the Rheingau, as Terry These, one of the world’s most respected Riesling gurus, tells it, this commune is ground-zero for Rheingau underachieving, sadly, as it shows fantastic potential and can achieve greatness as this wine proves! The 2006 has entered full maturity and delivers smooth texture and has intriguing layers of apricot, seeped rose petals, persimmon, kumquat and peach tart along with lemony tones adding mineral notes, chamomile and verbena. There’s still a kick of saltiness, wet stones and gripping extract with just a faint hint of honey in a pure Riesling that keeps your attention in glass, it looks about right for its age and its mature character makes it wonderfully elegant at this stage and tasty with classic German foods, especially hams. Theresa Breuer, keeps things simple in the winemaking, her fermentations are natural or started with pied de cuve, using traditional elevage in large used barrels for the top wines, like this one, which shows exceptional quality and transparency. Any trip to Rudesheim, which I say is a must for wine lovers, must include a visit to Weingut Georg Breuer in the old town, there is always a special treat in store for you.
The sex appeal of Breuer’s wines are their amazing vineyard sites with a majority of the holdings located in the three greatest Grand Crus in Rüdesheim – Berg Schlossberg, Berg Roseneck and Berg Rottland, which are mostly slate driven and this Monopole (Monopol in German) site, Nonnenberg in Rauenthal, which is very different from the Rudesheimer Berg with a less dramatic view and slope over the Rhein, but with its own magic and prime hillside setting set on quartzite and schist soils. This area was part of the collection used by the famous Kloster Eberbach, the historic monastery that helped define quality Riesling under the church that was guardian of German wine for hundreds of years prior to secular rule. Teresa took over from her father, Bernhard Breuer, who, as the winery notes, was one of the key members of Charta, an organization formed to promote a drier style of Rheingau wine. Bernhard was a huge proponent of this style of wine, and believed that the Rheingau was perfectly suited to producing very fine, elegant and flavorful dry Reislings, which is obviously true, especially today as you can see in his daughters wines, as well as those of Kunstler, Leitz, Spreitzer and others. Bernhard was also a strong advocate for a vineyard classification system based on geology, historical precedent and quality of wines and was a visionary in believing in the Rauentaller and in particular the Cru Monopol Nonnenberg, which he brought into the wineries portfolio. Theresa Breuer has led an organic movement in the Rheingau and all of her vineyards are farmed organic, she runs the estate with her uncle Heinrich as well as longtime manager and icon in the region, Hermann Schmoranz and her Swedish cellar master Markus Lunden, making a tight crew of passionate persons that are committed to producing wines of place and purity, these are wines to search out. If you can find Theresa’s Rieslings with some age, all the better, but grab 2015, 2016 and 2017 versions, especially her Schlossberg and this Nonnenberg, all of which are fabulous and age worthy wines.
($60 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
Grapelive.com Reviews – April, 2020
2017 Halcon Vineyards, Mourvèdre, Halcon Estate Vineyard, Yorkville Highlands, Mendocino County.
The unbelievable and thrilling dark and spicy Halcon 100% Mourvèdre , which Paul Gordon crafted from his own tiny parcel at the Halcon Estate at 2,500 feet up above Mendocino’s Yorkville Highlands, one of California’s most dramatic terroirs, makes for an exceptional and extreme example of this grape. These conditions with the elevation and cool long growing season make for a big challenge for Gordon, known for his fantastic Syrah, who says – at times it feels like he and wife Jackie have to spend more time nurturing the one acre of Mourvèdre than the rest of our 15 acres combined! Mourvèdre ripens very late, but seems to thrive on the meager topsoil over the broken shales and schist allowing transparent flavors, slightly lower natural alcohol with this vintage coming in at just 12.5%, plus it shows delicate floral notes and mineral tones. This 2017, a warm year, gave Gordon some fabulous fruit and he made the most of that gift from nature with this limited bottling of Mourvèdre that shows loads of black fruit, whole bunch crunch, peppercorns, violets and a light gamy note led by blackberry, black cherry, mulberry and plum preserves along with tangy herbal essences, sandalwood and grilled fennel. This medium to full bodied and with fresh acidity along with fairly firm, but fine grained tannins, it is a wine very much in the house style, so those like me that love their Syrah will be wonderfully excited by this northern Rhone style (unique for Mourvèdre) wine, which is more Cornas in style, rather than Bandol, maybe the greatest region for this grape.
The Mourvèdre vines here are maybe some of the rarest, in this location, being what could be the coldest area with this varietal in the world, with Halcon’s temperatures, as Paul notes, closely matching what Ampuis or Côte Rôtie historically sees in average, meaning that these vines are on the very edge of ripeness for Mourvèdre, which means lots of tender love and care or hard work! In order to ensure fruit maturity the Gordon’s prune their Mourvèdre rows back to 3-4 spurs per plant, which leads to just eight or so clusters per individual vine. That said, in 2017, yields were such that Halcon was able to do a single varietal bottling, and it turned out fantastic. Usually all the Mourvèdre goes into their GSM Esquisto, which has a ratio of close to 20% Mourvèdre in the blend. The 100% Mourvèdre, came in at 22.1 brix and was picked in mid October, early for Halcon, which can see November pick dates. Gordon used a healthy 50% whole-cluster fermentation with good extraction and what was a high level of stem inclusion for Mourvèdre, which shows in the wine’s dynamic and vivacious personality, texture and an earthy/leathery edginess or tension on the intriguing palate. The Halcon Mourvèdre was aged over a year in neutral French 500L puncheons and, like all of Paul’s wines, it was fermented with native yeasts and saw a gentle regime of hand pilage. Just 70 cases were produced, so it will sell out fast, though the 2018 should be available soon, it should be easily as good or better considering the high quality of the vintage, and as I say every time I review one of these wines, it is highly recommended that wine enthusiasts join this mailing list.
($35 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2018 Inspiration, Zinfandel “Ray Zin” Russian River Valley.
The lean and tangy Ray’ Zin from Jon Phillips at Inspiration Vineyards comes from some head trained vines in a slightly cooler zone of the Russian River Valley region in Sonoma County, it is what he calls a claret style Zinfandel with low alcohol and crisp acidity. This reminds me of old school Chianti or maybe more of a lighter Rioja Crianza with its kiss of American oak and zesty raspberry and cherry fruits along with its medium bodied palate and slightly raw personality, which makes it great with pasta, pizza and hard cheeses. There is a tart cranberry, roasted herbs and a smattering of brown spices and peppery note along with a touch of cedar, coconut and toasty vanilla, gaining some floral bouquet with air and lingering red currant. There is some potential gains in texture and tannin roundness with time in bottle in this very limited bottling, with only 25 cases made and at 12.7% natural alcohol it offers a more easy drinking personality than the more powerful and full bodied versions of Zinfandel, like Phillip’s Dry Creek Valley Gallaway bottling, which is a full throttle style.
This 2018 Ray Zin, helped by the cool long growing season is pearly and dust with a vivid ruby color was produced to be more like some wines made in the past like the 1970s Zins of Joseph Swan or the like that rarely saw alcohol above 12% and aged well, but were a bit rough and chewy, needing time and air along with food to show their best. This Zinfandel has a bitter green edgy side that surely benefits matching it with savory foods and especially protein, it is nicer with BBQ and a slight chill that transforms it into a more friendly quaffer. Inspiration has turned up the quality and variety in their offerings and the new artist labels are striking as well, making a winery that was under the radar and somewhat unnoticed a more colorful presence, there is also a more authentic and natural feel to the wines. I recommend trying the new stuff, in particular I would lead you to their new Grenache, Syrah and Cabernet, along with the latest Pinot Noir, all of which impress for value and expressive details.
($25 Est.) 88 Points, grapelive
2017 Envínate, Migan Tinto, Listan Negro, Vinos Atlanticos, Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain.
The Envínate wines come from mostly Atlantic influenced sites from the Canary Islands to Galicia plus a couple of remote sites within Spain including Almansa, all crafted by winemakers Roberto Santana, Alfonso Torrente, Laura Ramos, and José Martínez, who all met while at college and vowed they would someday work together and pay tribute to their home regions. The wines are some of the most exciting in Spain, especially their Tenerife grown offerings like this stunning Migan cuvee that is sourced from two very old parcels, with between 90 and 120 years of age, of “cordon trenzado” or braided vines on high elevation sites on volcanic soils. The vines follow the slope of the ancient volcano, braided to keep them close to the ground to keep them from being battered by wind and helping them retain and collect moisture in this unique terroir on these islands of the western coast of Africa. I have been following Roberto Santana’s wines for a long time and his efforts have almost impressed me, I love these wines, especially his Listan Negro based bottlings, a grape that is part of set of what we call the Mission grape(s) and mostly found here in the Canary Islands where it was planted by those making the journey to the new world sometime between the 1500s and 1700s at a time when Spain was colonizing the west coast of the Americas with Catholic missionaries needing European vines to make sacrament wines. The Listan Negro grape is wonderfully dry and spicy with the ability to really transmit terroir with transparent purity, as this Envinate Migan does showing the volcanic mineral essence throughout, its a varietal that has a lighter sense of being and can be as elegant as Pinot Noir, again this Migan has this exceptional quality and complexity.
The 2017 Migan is beautifully smooth, but racy with vivid acidity and with delicate earthiness along with its exotic array of spices that thrill the palate which is just medium bodied and restrained in natural alcohol, it is layered with tangy red fruits including dusty plum, strawberry, tart cherry and blood orange that are contrasted by red pepper flakes, leather, anise and faint cedar notes. Everything here is silken and textural gaining sweet floral tones, hints of iron, delicate earthiness and lingering dried rose petals, grilled herbs and red currants making for a stylish and natural feeling wine. According to Envinate and Santana, the Migan, made from 100% Listan Negro, as noted is sourced from two plots, 60% comes from the La Habanera plot on dark volcanic sand at the highest elevation n the area, and the other 40% coming from their older San Antonio plot, that is much lower on the slope with more clay based soils. All the grapes, which are all organic, were hand-harvested, using traditional fermentation and using very low SO2, each lot was foot-troddened and fermented separately with the La Habanera getting 100% whole cluster, while the San Antonio saw just 15% whole cluster. Envinate employs in large concrete vats for primary fermentation and maceration, then when finished the Migan was racked and gently pressed off into 228 & 600L old French barrels for malolactic and aging, that lasted for 11 months, and then bottled is without fining or filtration. This is a wine that has the class and depth of a Nuits-St.-Georges (Burgundy) with a ruby/garnet hue and elements that resembles Fleurie (Cru Beaujolais) and or Etna Rosso (Nerello Mascalese), the Migan cuvee with 12% alcohol makes for a lovely food wine and as is crisply refreshing, best with a bit of chill, this is a fabulous vintage, one of my favorites to date!
($49 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2018 Domaine Morey-Coffinet, Puligny-Montrachet, Le Trézin, White Burgundy, France.
The Domaine Morey-Coffinet, founded by Michel Morey in the 1970s is now run in the by Thibault Morey, Michel’s son, who joined the family business in the late 1990s, and that generational shift has brought more attention to the wines here. It’s noted that Domaine Morey-Coffinet wines have since reached new heights in recent years and while I’ve only known Thibault’s wine, I too have been highly impressed with what I’ve tried and this 2018 Puligny Trézin is a gorgeous and full bodied example of white Burgundy, it is a wine with a serious palate impact and dense layering, in line within vintage, which tend to be on the richer side. According to the winery, almost every week, father and son taste each cuvée together, following all of their wines in cask in their ancient cellar, exchanging opinions and sharing experiences. Importer Martine’s Wines say the shy, soft-spoken Thibault continues to push the quality of his domaine to a whole different level as he grows in confidence and experience crafting expressive, powerful, wonderfully hedonistic wines, all of which certainly shows in this one. The Le Trézin parcel, named after a stream and or spring, is in the famed Puligny-Montrachet, one of the greatest Chardonnay sites in the Côte de Beaune set on clay and limestone with warm and ripe exposure facing southeast.
The surprisingly round and creamy 2018 Maison (non estate vines) Morey-Coffinet, Puligny-Montrachet, from the premium lieu-dix Le Trézin, drinks more like a serious Premier Cru or Grand Cru, such is the depth and impressive mount feel with thick layers of apple, pear, peach and lemon curd fruits along with hints of smoke, brioche, hazelnut, clarified cream and even a bit of creme brûlée along with an underlying wet stone, clove spice and subtle mineral tones. This is a regal Chardonnay with a luxurious presence that makes it stunning with decedent cuisine, I would suggest things like lobster and or crab cakes, plus swordfish as well as soft double or triple cream cheeses. This Morey-Coffinet reminds me of some the first times I was able to sample Meursault, Le Montrachet and Batard-Montrachet from mid to late nineties, which were fatter style versions, like from Bouchard, Drouhin and Leflaive. This wine was fermented and aged 12 months in French oak using about 30% new barrels, with what I think some lees stirring or batonage, considering the texture and leesy character and was bottled unfixed and unfiltered. Now most of the to wines are much more racy and sleek, so while I enjoyed this Puligny very much it is not in the modern lean style, it is absolutely voluptuous, and should be celebrated for its personality, drink now for the next 3 to 5 years.
($75 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2017 Cruse Wine Company, Valdiguie, Rancho Chimiles Vineyard, Napa Valley.
The Cruse Valdiguie is always a tasty treat and the 2017 has a ripe and fruit forward style along with a light to medium body and juicy acidity that make it great Summer porch pounder and fun for any occasions, especially backyard BBQ’s. Cruse does two Valdiguies, one Pet-Nat version and this red version which displays a low alcohol quaffing personality with bright Gamay like dark fruits, a touch of spice, herbs and a delicate floral presence. This 2017, while just 12% natural alcohol, is ripe and smoothly textured at this point at a good spot with black cherry, blueberry, vine picked tangy berry, plum and sugar beet fruits along with distilled violets, light cedar notes and sage/fennel with a touch of grilled orange. Michael Cruse’s Petaluma based winery is a great label to explore making some thrilling values in red wines, but really standing out for his collection of sparkling wines that include an awesome set of Pet-Nats with some exotic grapes, like the mentioned Valdiguie and St. Laurent, a rare for California, Austrian red grape, but also a couple of luxurious Champagne method cuvees, one being his geeky cool grower fizz style Ultramarine Brut which is already a cult classic. Cruse has an intriguing lineup out right now, besides the Valdiguie and bubbly, Michael has a Tannat, a dry Muscat, an interesting Sierra Foothills Chard and his seriously delicious Monkey Jacket red field blend, made from Valdiguie, Syrah and Carignan, it’s not a wine to pass up, trust me!
The 2017 Cruse Wine Company red Valdiguie from Rancho Chimiles is done in a modern natural fashion with whole cluster, and in neutral oak with this vintage being mostly aged in large puncheons, 6 being used, plus a single barrique. Rancho Chimiles, first planted in 1972 by Virginia and Terry Wilson on 10 acres in this area east of Napa to Napa Gamay, a grape later to be known as Valdiguie. One of the oldest ranches in Napa County, Rancho Chimiles is still owned and operated by the Wilson family, it straddles the ridge between Wooden Valley and northern Gordon Valley, and includes bench land in both valleys. This ranch, where these vines are, interestingly is a historical site, with the original land grant being awarded by Governor Pio Pico, the last Governor of Mexican California.The deeply colored red Valdiguie glows with a vivid ruby at the core and drinks so easy it makes for fun evening companion with loads charm, it should be enjoyed slightly chilled, similar to your favorite Cru Beaujolais and with smiles and simple foods. Definitely look the Cruse bubbles, but don’t miss his set of reds either, especially if you like wines by Bric Cellars, Dirty and Rowdy, Martha Stoumen, Sheldon Wines and or Jolie-Laide, as these wines are in that same vein, but not clones. I love Valdiguie and Michael Cruse’s is one of the best, I can’t wait to drink his Sparkling version that he just released as well as his 2018!
($32 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2018 Diatom, Chardonnay, Bar -M Vineyard, Los Alamos Valley, Santa Barbara County.
The crisp light/pale gold no oak Diatom Bar-M Chardonnay by Greg Brewer is beautifully detailed and is a totally unique expression with fresh and vivid white peach and mixed citrus fruits leading the way along with delicate spring blossoms, clove spice, quince paste, wet chalk and sea shore elements. Brewer continues his obsession in Chardonnay purity with his Diatom label, a very singular journey or vision quest, more like a Jules Verne novel and Captain Nemo rather than Herman Melville’s Captain Ahab! There is a zen like quiet to these wines, as all the outside world is hushed, again like being on the Nautilus where all the madness of the world and noise are silenced and the wine reveals itself in the grapes truest form and nature. Brewer, founding winemaker at the legendary Brewer-Clifton and known for Burgundy style Pinot Noir and Chardonnays from cru sites in the Sta. Rita Hills, is one of Santa Barbara’s most respected and influential winemakers, he also crafted the acclaimed wines at Melville and over the years has produced some fabulous stuff. These Diatom wines are no compromise and ultra precise Chardonnays, they are intellectually challenging that try to dig down to the core essence of the varietal and the individual vineyard site, but they are also wines of quality and a pleasure to experience, in particular with raw foods and highly focused ingredients, like hyper fresh sushi and masterfully executed, they deserve that perfection to show themselves at their best. People want to compare these wines to terroir particular wines like Chablis, which I can understand, but you can’t explain them that way, they wines that unto themselves. Each year brings a new revelation and understanding of terroir and of Chardonnay self with these Diatom wines, they are fun and thrilling examples of what is possible.
The Diatom Bar-M Vineyard Chardonnay is sourced, according to Brewer, from a stunning contiguous block of clone 76 Chardonnay planted over 20 years ago in the Los Alamos region of Santa Barbara County set on ancient seabeds. The Los Alamos area is a magnificent and relatively unknown region, where you can find Rhone grapes, like Grenache and Syrah as well as Burgundy grapes in cooler zones, where the sandy loam soil, as Greg adds, lends itself to fruit with a bit more flesh and weight – perfectly suited to the Diatom model. The Innox style fermentation done with his special yeast cultures at very low temperature in small stainless-steel tanks, with inhibited malo-lactic or no malo to promote absolute transparency and freshness. Brewer leaves nothing to chance, using a short hose transit ensure precision and focus in these wines. Diatom is motivated by what Greg calls the pursuit of subtraction and refinement, in his mission to remove the mentioned outside noise or accents other than the grape and place. He likens It to the polishing of a grain of rice until one has reached its ultimate inner core. The Sta. Rita Hills and joining areas continue to inspire him and this marine landscape, in his words, is stark and so are the wines of its provenance. These Diatoms are fascinating efforts with as little disturbance, distraction or interference as possible. I love the 2018 vintage with its amazing mineral and energy driven character, they are weightless, but rich and textual, it is one of my favorite years for the Diatom line and this Bar-M, with its stony qualities and tangy edge is stunning stuff, enjoy it with creamy Toro or fatty/briny Spanish mackerel and have your mind blown! This Bar-M is delicious and is utterly compelling with a nice play between racy acidity and ripe flavors, don’t mis this, the Santos Road and Spear Vineyard, they all are outstanding. Also, check out Greg Brewer’s new Ex Post Facto Syrah too, which is super good, all are now available through Brewer-Clifton.
($30 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2016 Waits – Mast Family Cellars, Pinot Noir, Mariah Vineyard, Mendocino Ridge.
Waits – Mast Family Cellars was founded by Brian Mast and Jennifer Waits back in 2005 with this couple making their first barrel of their own Pinot in 2007 with a passion for marine influenced wines like Littorai, Cobb, Drew, Hirsch and Peay Vineyards. According to Brian, before they started making wine we were passionate wine consumers taking many weekend getaways were spent exploring wineries across California, plus a few special trips to France, Switzerland and even New Zealand. All of this cruising around made them hyper focused on the Anderson Valley and I became a big fan after first trying their Londer Vineyard 2010 and later the fantastic Deer Meadows Vineyard, which is farmed by Richard Savoy, of Savoy Vineyard fame, and a high elevation organic site above Boonville. Now Waits – Mast have a talented Shalini Sekhar, Winemaker, who studied Enology and Viticulture at Fresno State University, and applied her skills at Williams-Selyem Winery, Copain Custom Crush (now Punchdown Cellars), and Bluxome Street winery, and now besides Waits – Mast she crafts the Neely Wines (of Varner fame) from the Santa Cruz Mountains, specializing on Pinot Noir from these cool coastal mountain sites. The 2016 Mariah has lush layering with refined tannin and nice silky elegance on the palate with black cherry, raspberry, plum and tart currant/cranberry fruits along with subtle smoky/sweet oak toast, cinnamon, rose petal, mineral and a hint of mocha. This wine flows and opens smooth with a rich sense of detail and finesse, but still has plenty of energy and vitality.
The beautiful and expressive 2016 Mariah Pinot comes from a Pinot Noir block that Brian and Jennifer source comes from two different clones, Dijon 667 and Pommard, planted to older root-stock from vines that were originally put in the ground in the 1970s set on a combination of Hugo and Josephine loams over a well drained sandstone and fractured shales. This region and in particular this area has produced some of California’s best Pinot Noirs in recent years and there is great expectations on these wines, which this wine lives up to. As noted in my reviews of Drew, who is not far from Mariah, this part of the Anderson Valley is on the very western side within 10 miles of the ocean and up above 1200 feet, making for a cool, breezy and fog influenced long growing season that makes for stunning Pinot Noirs. The wines from Waits – Mast are handcrafted in San Francisco in very small lots and offer exceptional value, especially these 2016 vintage offerings, which was an absolutely awesome year in the Anderson Valley, with this Mariah and their Nash Mill Vineyard bottlings being stand outs! This Mariah saw lots of whole cluster and saw a cool maceration, hand punch downs and pump overs to enhance the aromatics, vibrancy of flavors, structure and allow texture to form before a slow gentle pressing to just four French oak barrels for another year of elevage. With only 94 cases of this unfixed and unfiltered Mariah Vineyard Pinot Noir, that finished at a graceful, but ripe 13.5% natural alcohol, it would be best to get on it pretty quickly and also I recommend capturing their 2012s and in particular the 2014s if you see them, as well as joining the Waits – Mast mailing list.
($42 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2018 Bow & Arrow, Rhinestones, Pinot Noir/Gamay Noir, Johan Vineyard, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
The Rhinestones by Potland Oregon’s Bow & Arrow winery is one of my favorites, it’s a unique cuvee blend of 65% Pinot Noir and 35% Gamay Noir coming from the Willamette Valley’s biodynamic/organic Johan Vineyard and done in a Loire Valley natural wine style with juicy fruit, fresh acidity, earthy rawness and a spicy/stemmy kick. Interesting this blend is like Passetoutgrain, which is made in Burgundy from the same blend of Pinot and Gamay, winemaker Scott Frank says he’s more influenced by wines made in the Loire’s Touraine region, where they also have Pinot Noir and Gamay and that they also get blended together in a lighter and zippier fashion. One of the most intriguing examples from the Loire is Domaine Philippe Tessier’s Cheverny Rouge, crafted with Pinot and Gamay, it more closely resembles this Rhinestones. Sometimes those Touraine reds also have Pineau d’ Aunis and or Grolleau, but those grapes haven’t quite made it to the new world yet, so Frank is left with Pinot and Gamay, both of which are grown in quantity and quality in Oregon. Loire Valley grape varieties like Melon, Chenin Blanc, and true Gamay Noir were planted in the Willamette Valley decades before Frank moved here from New York in 2001, but instead of going along with most winemakers that make Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, inspired by the Cote d’Or, he followed the less prestigious and more quaffable style of the Loire, even he has helped make wine at John Paul’s Cameron Winery, one of the most legendary and iconic producers in the state, famous for his Pinot and Chards. Bow & Arrow continues to prove counter culture, sort of a workers party style wines have a place among Oregon’s new generation of wines and have brought Gamay to to people, along with other cool things to explore.
This 2018 Rhinestones is ripe in flavors, but shows a more earthy tone that the last two vintages with fresh layers of black cherry, plum and red currants along with a red peach flesh textural taste along with hints of dark florals, leather and an array of spices with cinnamon and pepper notes. There’s a serious side here, but it can be enjoyed for its vivacious lighthearted personality and it goes down with a cool crisp detail begging for smiles, simple meals and companionship. According to Frank the Rhinestones blend is determined by nature and vintage, with the 2018 getting more Pinot than the past few most recent versions as the Johan Vineyard delivered this combination and ratio for this wine. Bow & Arrow, which Scott and his wife Dana started in 2010, is a full fledged, subterranean urban micro winery located in Northeast Portland and is now a cult winery, making natural style “wine for the people” with a fanatic wine savvy fan base. The Rhinestones usually gets a whole cluster and native fermentation with exceptionally low SO2 being used and it is aged in a mixture of concrete and old barriques. This wine, as Frank notes, is the flagship of the Bow & Arrow operation and communicates what they are all about as much as anything they make. The winery tries to craft wines that are effortlessly drinkable but rewarding in their unique and complex gifts in the glass. The latest releases from Bow & Arrow are outstanding values and delivers populist drinking pleasures, especially interesting are the newer Sauvignon Blancs, the Melon de Bourgogne, the very cool Air Guitar red made from Cabernet Sauvignon and Cab Franc in an Anjou style, the 100% Gamay bottlings, and the Hughes Vineyard Pinot Noir, all of which are, like this one, mineral driven, slightly funky, transparent and focused wines, keep an eye out for them or join their list.
($23 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2016 Bibi Graetz, Grilli, Toscana IGT Rosso, Italy.
The juicy almost carbonic fruity Bibi Graetz Grilli is a super Tuscan red blend from vineyards around Greve in Chianti Classico, close to Siena and in the 2016 vintage it consisted of about 60% Cabernet Sauvignon, 20% Merlot and 20% Syrah. The area, mostly known for Sangiovese also has lots of international varietals growing along side the native grapes and are set on Galestro and clay soils that brings out a dense richness of fruit and ripe dark flavors. Bibi Graetz, who is a famous Italian/Norwegian artist and Tuscan vigneron, has created one of the regions most prized Italian wineries in the last 15 years and has produced some iconic wines, especially his Testamata, his flagship wine, a 100% Sangiovese wine from old vines. The winery started at Castello di Vincigliata, which was acquired by Bibi’s parents over 60 years ago, and is the base where Graetz crafts his wines, is located on a hillside overlooking the picturesque city of Florence. Graetz’s Testamata legend began here with this small 5-acre vineyard in Fiesole. In Viola (Florence) dialect to have “Grilli” (which translates to crickets in Italian) means to be a dreamer, which fits well with Graetz’s personality. This wine, that was 100% fermented and aged in steel vats to preserve the freshness, was born from the partnership with Mondavi, through the import arm, reflects, as the winery puts it, the creative style and the dynamism of Bibi Graetz, who also is known for a sly sense of humor and playfulness. It should also be noted too, Grilli is different from the norm for Bibi, who broke his own rule and made a wine without indigenous Tuscan grapes, using mostly Bordeaux grapes, mostly Cabernet and Merlot, adding too that bit of Syrah, all which have found a home in Chianti and the Tuscan Coast.
Recently a friend of mine brought this wine in to try as he had found it at a Grocery Outlet for under $10 a bottle, and knowing the brand and having had these Graetz wines since the beginning I knew he had found an insane deal, but I hadn’t had this Grilli before, so it took me by surprise with its soft roundness and easy fruitiness and the fact that Graetz is almost fanatical about using indigenous and historic regional grapes in his wines. So after a bit of confusion, I settled in to just enjoy this tank raised Tuscan red, which offers loads of basic drinking pleasures with a pure sense flavors and medium bodied comfort with an array of black, blue and red fruits and a creamy mouth feel, with just enough tannin and acidity to make it easy with cuisine. There is simple layering of blackberry, candied cherry, tangy currant and fresh picked plum fruits, a touch of pipe tobacco, sprigs of garden herbs and a hint of mocha. This no oak wine, imported now by Michael Mondavi’s Folio Fine Wine Partners, made for the US market is another value offering from Graetz and is very much in the international and clean style, but certainly a contrast to some of the other bottlings in the lineup. I like this wine, hence the Wine of the Day review, but I really love Graetz’s more true native stuff, like his awesome Soffocone di Vincigliata, that is 100% Sangiovese and the stylish Colore Rosso that is special barrel selection made of Sangiovese, Colorino and Canaiolo, as well as the mentioned Testamata. Tasty and smooth, this Grilli is a solid bistro wine that will satisfy most wine drinkers and will go nicely with picnics, pasta and burgers. Graetz has remained a cult producer, an under the radar label, but now with Folio, you should be able to find them more easy, and their Casamata line and this Grilli are a good way to get started.
($28 Est.) 88 Points, grapelive
2017 Marjan Simčič, Ribolla (Gialla), Opoka, Medana Jama Cru, Brda, Slovenia.
The golden straw/yellow Ribolla from Marjan Simčič, a winegrower in the Goriška Brda wine region in Slovenia, is absolutely stunning, being both mineral driven and steely crisp, but also having depth and sublime textural beauty. The vineyards straddle the Slovenian/Italian border, with half of them on each side and this estate defies country classification, though for this wine we will call it from Slovenia. Josef Simcic started to make wine here in 1860. Five generations later, Marjan Simcic carries on the tradition, making some fabulous wines including his Pinot Noir that I reviewed most recently, plus a must try Sauvignon Blanc, a Merlot and this thrilling Ribolla (Gialla). The Ribolla comes from old vines in the best sites with a minimum of 65 years of age at about 250 meters above sea level with a cooler north and western exposures on stony marl (opoka), limestone soil as well as ancient organic matter. Marjan employs natural spontaneous fermentation, with skin contact with berries in the maceration for about 16 days in large 1,000 Liter concrete eggs, for the Ribolla, before being gently (pneumatic) pressed off to a combination of cement and oak. This Opoka cru white saw 10 months in the concrete eggs and then an additional 12 months in 500L oak barrels locally known as tono. These Marjan Simčič Cru Selection wines have a very rich hue in the glass, in this case a glowing yellowish gold, with Marjan adding that they typically have an extraordinary beautiful body, as well as the classic characteristic mineral note. The low, vine covered, hills of Brda open towards the Italian Friulan lowland that supplies warm sea air. Goriška Brda district is only, it should be noted 20-odd kilometres away from the Adriatic not too far away from Trieste. On the north side there are the Julian Alps and the Trnovska Plateau which protects them, in a rain shadow, from the influence of the colder and more severe mountain climate and shorter seasons. This area has a dark war torn history, from both World Wars, and its remoteness makes it a path less traveled, but it intrigues me and I hope to someday visit this special place.
The 2017 Ribolla leads with white flowers, delicate tropical essences, lemon/lime and peach, it gains more and more complexity with air taking on brioche, phenolic savory notes, wet stones, orange, saline, verbena and clarified cream in a wine that feels medium bodied, but somehow weightless and vivid throughout. The fresh acidity is subtle in this wine and everything stays taut, while allowing an impressive layering to unfold in a generous and caressing fashion, this is sublime stuff. Marijan took over the management of the farm in 1988 and in 1997, in the village of Ceglo near Medana, he built a new and modern wine cellar was built, which Simčič believes created the perfect conditions for producing high quality wines, and he was proved right over the next two decades with his wines all being critically acclaimed, especially in recent years by the famous Gambero Rosso Slow wine guide, at which point I became where of them. These wines from picturesque hills that roll between Slovenian Brda region and on the Italian side that is in the Collio region. The Marjan Simčič winery has four wines labeled as “Opoka” (Ribolla, Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc and Merlot) which are his pride and joy, they represent, as he puts it, a completely new dimension of quality in the regions wines. Marjan’s vineyard sites are farmed with mostly organic and natural methods in this historic place with a long growing tradition made up of thick layers of marl and sandstone, these soils of Brda/Collio are ideal for growing vines, which were first planted here as early as Roman times and have long been regarded as Grand Cru quality, and this wine and Simčič’s Pinot very much prove this terroir’s greatness. For Ribolla, this one and the Damijan Podversic Ribolla Gialla from Friuli are my two favorites, though in the new world this grapes gaining popularity with Dan Petroski’s Massicin in Napa making a brilliant example. This vintage is supposed to be available soon, keep an eye out! Marjan Simčič is now directly imported by Wine Warehouse, so be sure to ask your favorite wine merchants about these gorgeous wines.
($45 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2016 Odonata, Syrah, Santa Lucia Highlands.
In recent years Monterey’s Odonata Wines is a small family winery owned and operated by winemaker Denis Hoey, based in the Santa Lucia Highlands on River Road have been making some wonderful local focused sustainable and organic wines. Dennis Hoey says he subscribes to the idea of blending of old world winemaking methods and attitudes with new techniques and he is in a continuous search of ways for improvement, adding he is always learning and hopes to keep things (his wines) fresh, interesting and exciting, which Odonata does, from my own experiences I am discovering all kinds of thrilling stuff here, like their SLH Syrah. Hoey, who once worked in craft brewing actually made his first wines when he was just 21 years old and has traveled many times to Europe, including to France and Italy to gain perspective on traditional wines. He notes that he graduated from UC Santa Cruz in 2004 with a degree in Business Management, but soon turned to wine as a career after he met Jeff Emery, a local legend and winemaker at Santa Cruz Mountain Vineyard, soon joining his famous winery. Their relationship quickly turned into an Old World apprenticeship for Denis, and he became the production manager for SCMV before starting his Odonata Wines 2005. For about a decade he grew his winery and portfolio gaining many central coast wine fans, then In 2014 Hoey and his wife, Claire, bought the old Marilyn Remark Winery in the Santa Lucia Highlands where Odonata now makes wines and grows some of their grapes as well as raising their family, becoming a serious and soulful presence on the Monterey wine scene. This Odonata Syrah, coming from the area’s sandy/loamy soils, saw a gentle and careful maceration with hand pilage and partial whole cluster, which is usually around 25%, fermentation to deliver purity and a slight wild or feral quality to the wine with mostly well season barrels being used to age the finished wine. This wine is drinking great right now and the tannins melt away with food, though they do give some grip and add to the palate impact, making the Odonata Syrah delightful with robust cuisine.
Odonata, which has found a niche with their bubbly wines, which are produced using the classic Methode Champenoise, but with an interesting twist offering sparkling Riesling and intriguingly a Rosé of Sangiovese fizz! That said, they make a dynamic range of red wines and I have tried a few outstanding bottlings, having mentioned their awesome Cabernet Sauvignon sourced from the Santa Cruz Mountains and more recently this well made and great drinking 2016 Santa Lucia Highlands Syrah. Even more impressive, is that it comes from a vintage that can be sometimes scared by the Soberanes Fire inferno that caused wide spread smoke taint in the region, but this wine shows none of this flaw in any obvious way with a beautiful and exciting fruit driven profile and fresh low alcohol feel. The fairly rich and power 2016 Odonata Syrah has a nice savory, almost meatiness, element to add complexity here going really well with a the core of blue and black fruits that includes blackberry, mission fig, plum, sweet currant and kirsch along with nice accents like dried lavender, violette pastels, camphor, minty herbs and cedar notes adding a touch of pepper, grilled fennel and iron/mineral tones with air. As the wine opens it carries a nice natural acidity and at just 13.3% it is well balanced in a cool climate style. As followers of grapelive will know, I am a huge fan of the Syrah wines of the region, especially from the Santa Lucia Highlands, I honestly believe since 2004, Syrah wines from here have been the equal to or even better than in some cases to Pinot Noir! To support my conclusions, I highly recommend Roar, Pisoni (Lucia), Morgan and Joyce, who’s Tondre is a thriller in the same fashion this wine is, as well as Wrath, especially their KW Ranch version, some of the older Big Basin from here too, along with speciality wines from Cattleya, Sling | Stone (made by Junior Banuelos, assist. winemaker at Odonata) and Sandlands to name a few. While the 2016 is mostly sold out, though is available through a couple of wine merchants, the 2017 and up coming 2018 Odonata Syrahs are certainly worth checking out!
($38 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2017 Purple Hands, Pinot Noir, Lone Oak Ranch, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
Cody Wright, son of the famous Ken Wright one of Oregon’s most influential winemaker, who branched out on his own when he was only 25 years old, has crafted a savvy set of wonderful Willamette Valley Pinots and this 2017 Lone Oak Ranch cuvee perfectly shows why you’ll want to discover these Purple Hands wines, it is a beautiful and value packed offering with that impresses on the satiny palate. Cody grew up working in his family business’s from the winery to the vineyard and went on to graduate with environmental science degrees from the University of Oregon in 2003. Back In 2005 Cody founded Purple Hands Winery with 250 cases. Now along with Marque Wright, this pair now has a well established winery, it a way the story reminds me in some ways to Morgan Twain-Peterson and his Bedrock Wine Co. Cody’s Purple Hands Winery, based in Dundee, is all about exploring site-specific Pinot Noir and Chardonnay that, in what he says, unearths the Willamette Valley’s long evolutionary history, making authentic and wines that seems more generous in nature to his dad’s wines, that I find need a few years in bottle to show their best, with Cordy using traditional winemaking techniques that conveys an honest expression of each of the vineyards that he uses. He adds, that all of his wines undergo native fermentation and remain unfined and unfiltered at bottling to preserve their natural, I would say pure soulfulness and their wild character. The Lone Oak Ranch is a special cuvee, more of a regional expression, rather than a single vineyard wine, mostly from the Jory soils of the red hills of Dundee, but features five of the Willamette Valley’s AVA’s and a variety of soils that show cool climate and marine sedimentary character along with that iron rich Dundee volcanic mineral element.
The 2017 is warmly ripe in flavor with layers of smooth black cherry, plum, raspberry and strawberry fruits along with a hint of smoke, red pepper, sweet floral tones, tangy sassafras and tea notes. The vintage falls in line with the prior two years and the new 2018, with this 2017 still available in some shops and at a great price for the quality. Cody used only hand harvested fruit from a selection of eight top cru sites and fermented, as mentioned above in small lots with indigenous yeast and in small open top fermentors, with what tastes like a bit of whole berry, employing hand punch downs and gentle macerations. After the primary was done the individual wines are racked off to barrels to age and go through natural malos, this elevage was done with 75% neutral French barriques and 25% new wood, which does add to the polished and luxurious profile and mouth feel. After 11 months the wines were blended and this selection was like all of the Purple Hands bottlings was unfined, which as noted allows the wine to show its most transparent form and true personality. This is really drinking well and should get even better over the next 3 to 5 years and it does follow the family Wright theme of structure and focus, though I feel the Purple Hands stuff is a bit more friend and joyous in their youth, especially this 2017 Lone Oak Ranch, which has a pretty bouquet, a dark ruby color and a distinct and lingering silky aftertaste with touches of cinnamon, currants and echos of kirsch. I recommend exploring these Purple Hands wines, there is a great range from to chose, I suggest this one for the bargain cost here, but for more intrigue look for the Shea, Latchkey, the Freedom Hill, one of my personal favorites, as well as Cody’s Kroff and Holstein, two of his favored Dundee vineyards. If you can find the 2017s, go for it, but don’t overlook the 2016s and the current set of plush 2018s, all are worth your time and effort.
($31 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2016 Domaine du Grand Montirail, Gigondas, Cuvee Vieilles Vignes, Rhone Valley, France.
The gorgeous 2016 Domaine du Grand Montmirail old vines Gigondas cuvee, typically a blend is 80% Grenache, 5% Syrah and 5% Mourvèdre from 30-65 year-old vines, delivering a full bodied and concentrated effort with a deep purple/crimson color and remarkable purity and transparency, showing loads of perfectly ripe dark fruit, floral tones, mineral notes and spiced nuances. This wine is sumptuous and comforting on the dense palate with lovely Grenache led and terroir driven charm, I’ve been a long time fan of this property over the years, but this 2016 really is something special with boysenberry, black plum, sweet currants and kirsch fruit along with lavender, chalky stones and licorice all merging in hedonistic joy. Most of the bottles I’ve had from Domaine du Grand Montmirail were imported by San Francisco’s Charles Neal (who’s got his own special bottlings) and while their are various importers for the estate, Charles has given me most of my knowledge about Yves Cheron, the vigneron at Domaine du Grand Montmirail, which was started originally by his father who moved to the southern Rhone from Burgundy. Denis Cheron, a Beaune native bought the Cave du Grand Comtadiné in Vacqueyras in the 1960’s where he vinified grapes for scores of local producers, as well as himself and created a negoçiant firm called Pascal. One of Denis’ first client suppliers was the owner of the Domaine du Grand Montmirail, a wonderfully situated property in the southeastern part of Gigondas, that he later acquired, as Neal notes, and the rest is history. Yves, a graduate in enological studies in Beaune, has the winery in league with the very best in the region, like the famous Saint Cosme, and his Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre comes from vines planted exclusively on the hillsides and terraces, known locally as banquettes, with these vineyards being situated directly on the southern slope of the Dentelles de Montmirail. It is a superb area, with soft breezes, Mediterranean weather and a few natural springs to hydrate the vines, all combining for these warm, textural and flavorful wines, it is dominated by towering granite cliffs and an amazing view of the famous Mount Ventoux off in the distance. Based close to the small town of Suzette, Domaine du Grand Montmirail is a remote treasure isolated from the worries of the world, where the famous range Dentelles de Montmirail cast a impressive shadow above the winery and the scent of the garrigue (rosemary, thyme, sage) is ever present in the air.
The winemaking at Domaine du Grand Montmirail is classically simple and guided by experience and traditions with Cheron concentrating his main efforts in the vineyards and carefully working the land, he is focused on quality fruit. The subsoils of Grand Montmirail’s parcels are composed of sedimentary clay from when the ancient seas covered this site, also the rise of the Alps created many rifts, including the emergence of the impressive rocky barriers that are the Dentelles, and this clay is littered with small pieces of limestone, its this that helps give Grand Montmirail its round, approachable texture and structure. The soil is well-drained, but drought is rarely a problem, because of the mentioned springs. The wines, as Neal goes on, always have a an extraordinary elegance, moderated alcohols and smoothness that, he adds, which much of the appellation finds difficult to obtain.The grapes are carefully sorted and 100% de-stemmed then the must is cooled and the pre-fermentation period lasts several days in order to extract pigment and primary aromas of the grapes. Only indigenous yeasts are used, and typically primary fermentation lasts close to two weeks, and the wine is handled extremely gently with it getting pressed in a bladder press. Cheron ages his wines in enamel-lined tanks in the temperature-controlled winery, with underground vats that naturally remain cool. As noted above, there is no oak is used during the wine’s élévage, again to promote freshness and clarity, to transmit the place and grapes directly into the wine without added accents. The altitude of the vineyards varies between 300 and 350 meters, which is among the highest in Gigondas, this allows more natural acidity that shows in the detail and vibrancy. The Domaine du Grand Montmirail harvest starts with their Syrah, the quickest grape, interestingly to ripen here, then the Grenache starts coming in next from in the highest sites and last, but not least the latest picks are of Mourvèdre with its later ripening characteristic giving richness and refined tannin. Tasting these wines over the years, I just get more and more impressed with these Grand Montmirail offerings, with the Cotes du Rhone(s) as well as the Vacqueyras being a wonderful bargains and this 2016 Vieilles Vignes Gigondas, sometimes seen with cuvee Juliette on the label, performing even better than expectations, it also is awesome with hearty cuisine and or simple country fare.
($35 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
Special Review: Malbec World Day
2015 Catena Zapata, Malbec, Adrianna Vineyard, Mundus Bacillus Terrae, Vino de Parcela, Gualtallary, Tupungato, Uco Valley, Mendoza, Argentina.
While celebrating #malbecworldday I was reminded of this monumental wine by Catena Zapata, it is one one of the greatest expressions of this grape, originally from the Cahors region in southwest France, a place that was once the most sought after red wine producing region in Europe and may have led to wide spread planting in the Bordeaux area, as that is where Malbec from Cahors was shipped out of, as it was one of the favored port cities in France. Catena, which is sometimes thought of as the Mondavi of Argentina with the patriarch Nicolás Catena building the first modern winery and promoting the Mendoza region, much the same was as Robert Mondavi did, and the wines throughout the range are all solid to spectacular, with this single parcel wine being one of Argentina’s first growths. This 2015 is unbelievable and totally unique with amazing sharp details, depth and with waves of pleasure coming from the range of flavors and the fruit density, but with surprising natural acidity giving everything a cool sense of balance and energy. The tannins are polished, ripe and sweet giving the texture a luxurious mouth feel as you’d expect from a top Bordeaux and or an Argentine Malbec for that matter, but they are the underlying spine that keeps this wine in the Grand Classe league, it is a wine that will go for decades where over time in bottle it should gain dramatic levels of elegance. The main profile at this stage includes loads of bright and briar laced black and blue fruits with layerings of blueberry, black cherry, marionberry, plum flesh and tangy dark currants are playing parts as well as smoky sweet French oak, spices, sandalwood, hints of mure liqueur and roasted herbs de Provence. This is an outrageously beautiful and special Malbec, and it is not value option it is a wine that explores the highest level of quality and this shows in the ultra extreme price, which is the catch or only sad part of reviewing this fantastic wine, but some lucky collectors will certainly celebrate its treasures.
The Adrianna Vineyard Vinos de Parcela, an Argentine, or as the winery calls it – South America’s Grand Cru, is a very noteworthy site that took years of search and hard work to realize and deliver its potential. Doctor Laura Catena, the global head of Catena Zapata, says that finding a site like Adrianna or La Tache or Lafite is like finding gold, and I may add that this wine is like what To Kalon is to Napa Valley, it is one of the greatest site expressions in Argentina. It’s exceptional quality is a combination of research, historic knowledge and a little luck according to the Catena’s and when Nicolás Catena Zapata found the Adrianna site, it was because he was looking for the coolest climate in Mendoza, hoping to explore the finest and most purest character of Malbec. The Adrianna Vineyard, which was planted in 1992, is at 5,000 feet up in the Andes, goes beyond just the cool climate, it is also the soils that define this wine’s greatness, the site is an ancient dried river bed, the stony, limestone soils are well drained and the extreme high altitude adds to the long season and complexity of flavors. Adrianna Vineyard, named after Nicolás Catena Zapata’s youngest daughter, in theGualtallary District of Tupungato Alto Region, in the Uco Valley, located in the greater Mendoza zone and this version is from the terraced plot Mundus Bacillus Terrae which is just 1.4 Hectares on this alluvial hillside. The Catena Family, which is entering its second century of winemaking in Mendoza, chose an interesting path with the fermentation on this Adrianna Vineyard, Mundus Bacillus Terrae Malbec with 75% of primary fermentation in concrete employing an exciting 50% whole cluster and with only 25% of the blend going through primary in Oak Foudres all of which was done with between 8 to 13 days of maceration, it should be noted to that the finishing alcohol was 14%, not over the top and it never feels heavy or hot on the engaging palate. The aging was a lengthy 18 months in barrel, with exclusively 100% French barriques being used, though the oak treatment is decided by the vintage’s individual characteristics. While this wine is largely out of most of our leagues price wise, the rest of Catena’s lineup has plenty of value and worth searching out, and don’t forget to explore Laura’s personal Luca wines, they are some of my personal favorites.
($365 Est.) 96 Points, grapelive
2013 Casa E. di Mirafiore, Barolo DOCG, Lazzarito, Piedmonte, Italy.
The recently revived Mirafiore label, which was originally founded back in 1858 by Conte Albeto Emanuele di Mirafiore is now run by the Farinetti family, who also took over the famous Borgogno in the same year 2008, and introduced a great set Barolo wines, with myself having a couple of prior vintages recently, which were very exciting, but this 2013 Lazzarito takes it to another level! Tasted at this years Slow Wine Tasting in San Francisco, this 2013 Casa E. di Mirafiore cru Lazzarito, a vineyard site that also supplies the fabled Vietti version, is all organic and made with a nod to tradition with classic power and depth of fruit, this is a stellar Barolo that delivers stylish layers of dark cherry, damson plum, red currant and grilled orange fruit with subtle savoty/meaty sous bois, anise, iron notes and a spicy cedary tones. This wine opens up texturally and gives additional floral elements with a beautiful array of rose petals and lavender and minty herbs coming alive on the nose and the rich mouth feel making for an impressive effort, this gets more and more thrilling as it gets air in the glass. This Lazzarito delivers its unique power and grip in a poised and with a shiny brilliance, like a Grand Cru Burgundy, but with a true Nebbiolo palate and hue with a dark garnet core and a ruby/brick edge, this keeps getting better and better with every minute and sip, there’s a ton of personality and charm in this Mirafiore, it is a class act. Lazzarito wines have taken off in price in the past few years, making it one of the most coveted Crus in Barolo, much like say Chambertin Clos de Beze (is) and revered with the same sense of awe as that famous Burgundy site.
Mirafiore’s cellar is run by Danilo Drocco, an obvious talent, who follows historic Piemontese methods of winemaking here, including extra long macerations and aging in large oak casks, mostly Slovenian using only top hillside sites and small yields. Mirafiore produces a full lineup of offerings, but with a laser focus on their Barolo bottlings, though I did really also enjoy their Barbera d’Alba Superiore and I hear their Dolcetto is also excellent, I hope I get chance to try it. The selection of Baroli is mainly three versions with a value priced, though not cheap Barolo Normale (cuvee) and two Cru upper end wines, this Lazzarito and their signature Paiagallo cru, which I also enjoyed, but it was from the much lighter 2014 vintage and not as striking or complex as the 2013. The grapes come from prestigious Fontanafredda owned and farmed parcels with top terroir influence, all the vines are set on the region’s renown calcareous marl (limestone) and hard clays soils and have warm south facing exposures that allow perfect ripening and a long hang time. The Farinetti is certainly making waves in the Langhe with an incredible selection of wineries and a collection of top or elite vineyard holdings, in particular those of Borgogno and those that are used in this Casa E. di Mirafiore. This is very exciting stuff that I highly recommend finding the Nebbiolo(s), the regular Barolo at around $50 is a good deal and Barbera, with this Lazzarito, which should be coming soon, being a priority find. These 2013s should age really well, though they are generous that the statuesque 2010s and are drinking well in their youth by comparison, this one should go a long time, 10 to 15 years easy, and has a open window, so drinking it soon is still very rewarding.
($100 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2018 Bordes Wines, Pinot Noir, Reserve, Sonoma Coast.
I was turned on to this new small family winery by my friend and winemaker Dylan Sheldon, of Sheldon Wines, who is something of a talent spotter and who has turned me on to some fantastic finds and this Bordes Pinot Reserve looks like a very good discovery, and he should know as he watched first hand how this wine was made. The grapes comes from a small sustainable estate vineyard owned by the Bordes family, with Stephen and Carolyn along with children Stephen Jr., Megan and future winemaker Rachel Bordes, who’s is studying Wine and Viticulture at Cal Poly, being the team, which includes Bowdoin Pfeifer, who is the consultant in charge of winemaking, as a friend of the family, as this label gets off the ground. Coming for a private vineyard site in a cool Sonoma County area on marine sedimentary soils, the upcoming 2018 Bordes Reserve Pinot Noir is a beauty with clear aromatics and sharp detailing with a lighter sense of being in the glass with a very refined 13.3% natural alcohol, but with a wonderful array of ripe fruit and vibrancy. Interesting, Bowdoin Pfeifer is better known for his digital expertise, being well known for his management of data centers through the Asia Pacific area including in Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore, Sydney and Melbourne, makes wine on the side! Just 200 cases were made of this 2018 vintage, which should be available to purchase soon, along with their Rosé and Chardonnay, following a debut limited release of Pinot from the 2017 vintage.
The 2018 Bordes Reserve Pinot was made with 100% Pommard clone and all de-stemmed grapes with about 20% new French oak being used in this vintage to allow the delicacy of the fruit to shine through, which is does very well, this is delightful stuff and it shows lots of purity and satiny layers. The medium bodied palate highlights the year’s beautiful long cool growing season and carries the brightness and energy really well with classic Sonoma Coast style character with black cherry, a hint of sweet toastiness, racy plum, tangy raspberry and a hint of cranberry as well as touches of rose petals, spice, mineral and Darjeeling notes all playing roles in this well crafted Pinot. There is an exciting freshness and subtle perfume that helps make this wine stand out and as it opens it gets more serious and unveils more textural nuances adding a depth of quality and the wine continues to please and linger in the aftertaste. The oak presence feels a bit overt at first, but folds nicely into the background as the wine has time in the glass allowing the fruit to take center stage and makes this Pinot delicious with a variety of foods and meals, it went very well with herb crusted roast chicken indeed. It will be interesting to follow this label and see how things go, as this wine shows lots of potential and promise, drinking well and with superb clarity with its pretty unfiltered/unfined ruby color and tasty flavors, it looks to be on a good journey, drink now through 2026.
($39 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2013 Mount Eden Vineyards, Cabernet Sauvignon, Estate Grown, Santa Cruz Mountains.
The richly favored Estate Mount Eden Cabernet is a real California classic, showing off its unique terroir, with old school structure and ripe density making it striking in the glass now, but with the substance to age for another two or three decades, similar in that respect with Bordeaux’s best Left Bank estates! I finally got around to reviewing this one with its dark inky color and firm tannins it is still quite young and just starting to fully emerge, and better still, Mount Eden has started re-offering it through their library (cellar selection) release program recently, which I highly recommend jumping on. Mount Eden Vineyards, as I have noted in my reviews, is one of the longest running family estates in California that is famous for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, like Sonoma’s Hanzell, but has always done a fantastic Cabernet Sauvignon, that is influenced by the location in the same way Ridge Vineyards’ Monte Bello and Kathryn Kennedy’s Cabernets do.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 noted above concentrated his efforts 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. 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, along with the Pacific breezes and cooler nights here makes for tremendous balance, depth and truly great wines.
The 2013 Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, hand crafted by Patterson, a vigneron who believes that all wines are made in the vineyard, fermented it using 85% Cabernet Sauvignon along with small percentages of Merlot, Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot 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 this Cabernet is aged close to twenty-two months in the cellar. As well documented Mount Eden’s famous estate as started by Martin Ray and now run by the Patterson family, who have turned this remote property on a rugged mountaintop in the Santa Cruz Mountains into one of the most world renown wineries in the world. The cuttings of Cabernet Sauvignon at Mount Eden Vineyards are from Chateau Margaux originally, coming to California likely in the 1890’s and this 2013 is a continuation of some great wines from this property and is followed by two stunning vintages as well, with the 2014 being one of my favorites and the 2015 which I recently tried at the Slow Wine Tasting in San Francisco and will get a review soon, though I thought since this one is starting to really getting into its groove I’d get my thoughts down now. This ’13 feels opulent and has wonderful mouth feel, while still having serious grip and depth, it defines what California Cabernet is at its best like the wines from Dunn, Corison, the mentioned Ridge, Phillip Togni, Diamond Creek and Chappellet’s Pritchard Hill bottlings. The flavors unfold is fine detail here with blackberries, black plum, creme de cassis (deep currant), cherry and blueberry fruits along with a sweet smokiness, subtle pipe tobacco, mineral, acacia flower, minty sage, cedar and sandalwood. Mount Eden is on fire right now, the Estate lineup is as good as it gets, in particular the latest Chards impresses, and should be thought of as Montrachet rival, and the Pinot and Cabernet are stunning, especially the 2012, this 2013 plus the following 2014 and 2015 versions, don’t miss these brilliant years.
($90-125 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2018 Weingut Kruger-Rumpf, Scheurebe Spatlese, Nahe Germany.
The beautifully expressive Kruger-Rumpf Scheurebe comes completely from Dautenpflänzer, a Grand Cru – VDP Grosse Lage, with most vines here being old parcels planted in the 1950s and set on very favorable quarzite soils. Georg Rumpf is one of Germany’s Scheurebe maestros and this 2018 shows this talent to near perfection, capturing the very best in this varietal’s natural character and the vineyard’s terroir quality, this is a vintage, like the 2016, which was slightly more exotic, that delivers gorgeous tropical and concentration with fairly high residual sugars, but with a very balanced presence, this white is wildly easy to drink and is refreshing and with classic Scheurebe (phenolic) tanginess cutting into the sweetness. Fermented and lees aged in only stainless steel to keep exacting purity and transparency, allowing this grape to show itself in its truest style, its rich and dense on the palate, but still delightful and lifted with just 8.5% natural alcohol making it fabulous as a expressive sipper and fantastic with an array of cuisine options, it is great with either briny and or spicy dishes, again it is fruity though not overtly sweet. The Dautenpfanzer is one of the core vineyards in Kruger-Rumpf’s lineup offering up Rieslings that are heavenly from their frivolous and smile inducing Kabinett to a chiseled and powerfully dry and intense GG, it also provide the Rumpf’s with the grapes for this Scheurebe, a plot I visited in 2016 at harvest time and I sampled Scheurebe directly from the vines, which were bursting with passionfruit and pineapple flavors! The 2018 echos that with layers of peach and grapefruit adding to that tropical fruit with a sunny and lush medium bodied palate along with a bite of spearmint, green tea spices, mineral notes and a saline infused wet stone element, all the while giving delicate jasmine and orange blossom floral bouquet and the lingering sweetness feeling well managed to not be too honeyed or cloying. Stefan Rumpf started making his own wines in 1984, even though the Weingut dates back to the 1790’s, as most of its history was a grower that sent its grapes to the local co-op. Kruger-Rumpf, since the 90’s have been known for exceptional quality, but gained little notice until Terry Theise discovered them and began bringing the wines to America. Stephan is a humble personality and his focus on quality and desire to express the distinctive terroirs in the family’s prestigious sites led them to this new era, where his sons are continuing to raise this label’s profile. Georg and Philipp have brought renewed energy and technical skill, with both brothers graduating from Germany’s illustrious Geisenheim University with Georg the viticulture and oenology skills, while Philipp focusing on wine economics, marketing and human resources, making the Rumpf’s a solid team. This Scheurebe holds its must weight in a very svelte way and while vinous its not heavy, it is a wine that has loads of personality, but not overly loud in the mouth, this is a tasty vintage.
Shuerebe, a very aromatic grape, also known as Samling 88 (Austria), was a seed crossing of Riesling and a little known varietal called Bukettrbe back in 1916 by Doctor Georg Sheu, hence the name, which became official as tribute to its creator. I should state my thanks for those details to Anne Krebiehl MW who presented these facts in her book “The Wines of Germany” also noting that for many years, it was thought Scheurebe was a crossing of Riesling and Silvaner, but recent studies has proved otherwise. Scheurebe grows best in Calcareous soils, with Muller-Catoir’s Pfalz version regarded as maybe the greatest expression of this grape, in particular their trocken single cru example. That said, the Rumpf’s have always made their Scheurebe sing, and this 2018 is wonderfully delicious. One of my favorite wineries, The Kruger-Rumpf estate is located in Münster-Sarmsheim, a small village on the western side of the Nahe River, close to Bingen and across the Rhein from Rudesheim, in the most northern section of the Nahe region. This village is where Nahe meets the Rhein River, it is the warmest area of this region, it’s a place that is geographically unique and complex with a combination of many soils and steep vineyard sites, and this area represents the intersection of four major German wine regions, the Nahe, the Rheingau, with the Mittelrhein to the north, and the Rheinhessen to the east. The majority of Kruger-Rumpf’s holdings, according to Terry Theise, the famous German wine guru and importer, are located on the western side of the Nahe, though they also own Grosse Lage (Grand Cru) parcels directly across the Nahe River in Binger Scharlachberg, which is part of the Rheinhessen. Theise also notes that Kuger-Rumpf’s vineyards are farmed sustainably, with Georg focusing on organic practices including natural treatments, plus bees are kept nearby to facilitate pollination and aid in overall bio-diversity. Periodically sheep are allowed to roam the vines helping to control underbrush in these very steep and hard to til sites. All vineyards in the Rumpf holdings are hand harvested to ensure that only optimally ripe grapes and healthy clusters are selected. Fermentations at Kruger-Rumpf almost always occur spontaneously with ambient yeasts for the dry and off dry wines, the wines stay on their gross lees well into spring, with some getting stuckfass, like the GG’s and others like the Kabinett(s) and Spatlese seeing mostly stainless. All the wines at this estate are generous and sensual offering stellar pleasure in each level, they are awesome values too, be sure to check these 2018s out, especially their Abtei Erste Gewachs Trocken and this sexy, lightly golden Scheurebe. I cannot wait for the chance to re-visit this winery when I travel back to Germany, while slightly off the beaten path the old cellars are pretty easy to explore from Rudesheim, which is my usual base when I tour the wine region, I highly recommend a stop here and of course all of the wines.
($22 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2019 Presqu’ile, Gamay Nouveau, The Presqu’ile Vineyard, Santa Maria Valley.
One of the rising stars, or a talent that is just know getting some deserved buzz, in the Santa Barbara area wine scene is winemaker Dieter Cronje at the Presqu’ile Vineyard, with the estate vines in Santa Maria producing some fabulous Chardonnay and Pinot Noir as well as some serious Gamay Noir, a grape that is taking off in California these days. This version by Cronje and his team, while done as a Nouveau, is actually quite complete and well structured, I was very impressed and loved drink on it very much with its nice whole bunches crunchy/juicy personality with a burst of dark berry fruits and stemmy herbs and spices making it a exciting quaffer. It’s worth noting that the Santa Maria Valley American Viticultural Area (AVA), which was established back in 1981, making it the second oldest AVA in California after Napa Valley is a cool climate region that was one of the first places to grow premium Pinot Noir grapes in the area and Bien Nacido is one of the great sites in California, with great winemakers having enjoyed these grapes for many decades, like Au Bon Climat, Qupe and even Bonny Doon showcasing the regions potential over the years. True Gamay (Gamay Noir) is a more recent star to the area and there’s now quite a few wineries in the Santa Maria and Santa Barbara counties joining the party with this fun Beaujolais grape, I personally have liked the Pence Ranch Gamay, but you should definitely check out Drake Whitcraft’s Gamay (plus his heavenly light Trousseau!) and this Presqu’ile Nouveau.
This 2019 Presqu’ile Vineyard Nouveau has classic Gamay and carbonic maceration character with a lovely medium bodied fruity palate showing blackberry, strawberry and tangy plum as well as savory herbal tension that really makes for a thrill and the ripe (smooth) tannins give this some real grip too. That said, nothing but even though it has a bit of a bite there an ease of use feel to it with refreshing vibrant acidity, it’s a lighter style red that is perfect for Spring days and best with a chill. I noticed this limited and pleasing wine is still available through the Presqu’ile Vineyard website, and I would have Gamay fans make sure not to miss it, it joins some really good California and Oregon Gamay Noir offerings, like Pax, Arnot-Roberts, Joyce Wine Co., Edmonds St. John, Hundred Suns (Oregon), Salem Wine Company (Oregon), Bow & Arrow (Johan Vineyard, Oregon) and Brick House, one of the first to plant true Gamay Noir in the Willamette Valley, to name a few. Even those that are Gamay snobs, that like me love the classic wines of Lapierre, Foillard, Breton, Thivin, Dutraive and Sunier, should take notice of these new world Gamay wines. This Nouveau by Presqu’ile is tasty stuff and it should hold up nicely for the warms days ahead over the next 6 months if not longer, it will be a cool wine with friends, once we are able to hopefully stop extreme social distancing and have picnics and BBQs, but regardless it will be good with simple and lighter foods, drink it up. As mentioned, there is a lot to like at Presqu’ile and I highly recommend checking out the Chards and Pinots here as well as this one, this is a winery that should be on your radar.
($28 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2018 Weingut Willi Schaefer, Riesling Spatlese, Graacher Domprobst #5, Mosel Germany.
The Schaefer Graacher Domprobst lot #5 is a special small batch that was picked and fermented separate from the main bottlings and is a fabulous unique edition that was hand harvested on a later pass through the vines and where only perfect clusters were chosen prior to the Auslese pick and without any botrytis, from what I understand, making for a more concentrated expression that still shines with brilliant freshness and mineral tones. While the 2017s were ultra luxurious and dense, these 2018s are slightly more lacy and show a finer delicacy without being less sensual or impactful, and clearly as per normal Schaefer has made a fantastic set of wines, with this one really standing out. Terry Theise, Riesling guru and the importer of Schafer’s wines, says without hesitation or without any doubt that Willi Schaefer is one of the greatest estates in Germany, and I am and most critics will never question that, this address is the gold standard for quality with two main parcels in Domprobst and Himmelreich all on pure Devonian slate. Thesise adds, located in Graach, Weingut Willi Schaefer is blessed with south-to-southwest exposition, (meaning) the vines have great sun exposure all day as well as having a natural spring that runs through the hillside, guaranteeing good water supply even in warm vintages. The Romans already knew the benefits of Graach’s sites and cultivated vines here, with each plot here, again Theise explains that (this) Domprobst is more mineral, smokier, shadowy and takes longer to emerge, while (the) Himmelreich is buoyant, more floral, lighter in texture and is open from day one, making them easy to love young. Terry calls these Schaefer wines calm and without pretense, which is true, but they are also wine royalty, confident and magnificent in my opinion, I never miss a chance to enjoy them, neither should anyone.
This 2018 Domprobst #5 Spatlese is dense, more than out right sweet on the palate with plenty of brooding complexity and balanced detailing, it shows tightness at first, but unfolds with beautiful and brilliant fruit with crisp green apple, lime, apricot and a mix of subtle tropical fruit along with smoky shale, wet stones, spearmint and chamomile tea and delicious lingering tangerine sorbet, peach flesh and rosewater, that comes from the must weight and residual sugar. This wine will get much more interesting as its baby fat and its deep inner spice comes through, as there is only a hint of crystalized ginger and tangy notes, but the youthful acidity keeps it from feeling heavy adding a sense of lightness to this serious Spatlese, this is going to reward those lucky enough to have it for decades to come. This chiseled and crystalline Riesling has clarity and it delights the palate with a tease of rich fruitiness and a cooler sense of being and restraint keeping a nice impression of tension, this all the reason these wines are so sought after and coveted, not only by Riesling junkies, but by Schaefer’s peers and friendly rivals, such is the respect and quality here. Willi’s son Christoph and his wife Andrea have become more and more involved and the wines only seem to get better, so this estate is going from strength to strength and they are now doing an extremely rare set of dry wines with the release of a set of Grosses Gewachs in recent years, while the traditional Kabinett, Spatlese and Auslese remain the core focus, with the Schaefer Kabbies being some of the most exceptional values in the wine world. This #5 is a collector gem and while imported, it will take some searching to get, though worth it! If you get some, cherish them and if you can’t wait to open it, do so with high end Asian, like Thai cuisine, slightly hot/spicy that has fresh ingredients that highlights simplicity. As a note, the regular Dombrobst Spatlese (92 Ponts) and all the Schaefer the Kabinett(s) are also pretty fantastic too, so don’t overlook any in this lineup.
($70 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2017 4 Monos, Garnacha, GR10 Tinto, Sierra de Gredos, Vinos de Madrid, Spain.
The new vintage of 4 Monos, floral and fresh, takes over where the last vintage left off, taking this up and coming winery in the Sierra de Gredos D.O. up a notch, with this new and beautiful 2017 GR10 Tinto exploding in glass with Garnacha (Grenache) purity and charm. This year’s version shows the delicate side of the grape, but still with expressive quality and complexity of form, this is a ripe and smooth wine that certain impresses on the medium full palate with raspberry, plum, strawberry, pomegranate and dusty red currant fruits along with smooth tannin, bright spices, herb, anise and a light earthiness, stoniness and mineral tones. The Sierra de Gredos, made famous in recent years by the likes of Daniel Landi, Comando G, these guys and girl at 4 Monos and Alfredo Maestro, is a mountain range that spreads over parts of three appellations – Méntrida, Vinos de Madrid, and Castilla y León – and sits between 600 and 1,200 meters in elevation, only a short way west of Madrid itself. These old bush vines planted on sand, granite, and schist make for some amazing and expressive Garnacha, but with lively acidity and delicacy, Especially when done by the names mentioned and these 4 Monos, Javier Garcia (also the head winemaker at Méntrida the locally iconic Bodegas Jiménez-Landi), co-winemaker Laura Robles, wine-lover David Velasco, and vineyard holder David Moreno. This is a micro label, made by friends and with passion for place, with their wines, like this one, being lovingly crafted and being allowed to speak in a soft voice, I highly recommend them.
This delicious Garnacha comes, as per normal here, from mostly old head trained (En Vasco/En Gobolet) vines between about 30 and 85 years old set on mostly decomposed granite soils at about 800 meters up in the Sierra de Gredos, all within the Vinos de Madrid DO appellation and comprised of all organic 85% Garnacha, 10% Cariñena (Carignan), 3% Morenillo (a rare native grape) and about 2% Syrah. This high elevation adds freshness of detail and the continental climate, semi arid, adds to the concentration and supple mouth feel, especially so in this vintage, along with heightened aromatic beauty. As mentioned in my prior reviews and reports on this winery, 4 Monos use an old school or traditional minimalist natural winemaking approach, exclusively employing wild yeasts and whole bunches in the fermentation, foot-treading the grapes for careful extraction, with very little sulfur added. This vivid ruby/garnet and stem influenced GR10 Tinto village wine saw between 21-40 days on the skins through primary then it gently pressed and raised in 300 & 600 liter casks, plus a 4500L foudre for 7 months, always aging their wines in well seasoned old French barrels then racked off to concrete tank, usually about 2 months to settle before bottling. Drinking like a nice Pinot Noir, as this wine tends to do, its silken texture is very pleasing, and though not flashy it seduces the senses, fully opening to a wine that could easily sell for twice the price. Not a lot of these wines are made, and their importer Jose Pastor Selections has it highly allocated, so you’ll need to be diligent to find them, but they are worth it, especially this one that adds kirsch and lavender on the finish.
($25 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
1999 Domaine aux Moines, Savennieres-Roche aux Moines, Loire Valley, France.
The surprisingly fresh 1999 Chenin Blanc from Domaine aux Moines in Savennieres starts with mature aromas and a slight waxy/honeyed note, but the palate is much more vibrant and mineral driven than you’d expect from a 20 year old white and its layered citrus, peach and quince fruits stay pretty vivid throughout, very impressive stuff. Of course with air, which I gave it in the glass, despite it being so delicious, it does take on some oxidative nuttiness and lingers with a bit of baked apple, but that is not a fault at all it is a celebration of its maturity and evolution. Domaine aux Moines is wine cult winery and is treasured by a niche set of wine enthusiasts and Chenin freaks, these wines are cherished much the same way as the Nicolas Joly (Savennieres) and Domaine Guiberteau (Saumur) wines are, and they are celebrated for their austerity and earthy subtle character. My experience with these wines makes me certain that they are much more enjoyable with age on them, like this one shows, they really come alive and show their true depth with at least 10 years, this is a blessing and a curse to casual wine drinkers as they tend to not know what they are missing in the younger versions and give these wines a meh, and the blessing is that they are solid values in their youth if you can be patient and putting them away for future rewards. This lovely yellow/golden hued wine really needs to be paid attention to, it speaks softly and to really get what is going on here, you’ll need to be at peace and listen with all your focus and maybe have in with some goat brie and or lighter dishes that don’t over shadow this brilliant wine.
This all organic under-the-radar estate, located in the Loire’s Savennières AOC and in the sub-appellation of “Roche Aux Moines”, is right next to the famed Coulee de Serrant, one of the most famous biodynamic and hollowed vineyards in France, owned by Nicolas Joly, one of the most renowned vignerons in French wine, making it on some prized terroir. According to the winery, the Domaine aux Moines estate was founded in 1981, though there are records of vineyards planted in the region since the middle ages when the monks (“moines” in French means monks) from the Abbaye de St Nicolas tended vines in this part of the Loire. Domaine aux Moines is now run by mother and daughter Monique and Tessa Laroche, who hand tend their vines, which are mostly Chenin Blanc, though there is some Cabernet Franc here too, which are set on predominantly schists with some sandstone and clay. Savennieres is located on the Western edge of the Anjou region near the city of Angers and the vineyards are set on hillsides on the Loire itself and the wines here tend to be intensely drier in style with flinty/stoney flavors, which is especially showing in these Domaine aux Moines Chenins. This wine, which retains nice acidity and has a pear butter textural quality was naturally fermented with indigenous yeasts in stainless steel tanks and then aged on the less mostly in tank, but with a small portion in used French oak casks of various sizes and was made with extremely careful sorting and small yields to make a delicate, but concentrated wine that adds dried pineapple, wild herb and floral notes. Luckily, because this is such a geeky wine and a well kept secret, the domaine does have older vintages like this available and this wine is out there and not outrageously expressive, keep an eye out for it if you love Chenin with some age.
($40 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2017 Field Recordings, Rosé of Valdiguie, French Camp Vineyard, Paso Robles.
Andrew Jone’s Field Recordings is one of the coolest places to visit in Paso Robles, set in the Tin City industrial park and this micro winery produces some seriously fun stuff, like this exciting 100% Valdiguie pink wine, plus other rarities including Tempranillo, Tannat, a series of bubbles and canned wines and Chenin Blanc. Mostly known for their California red blend Fiction, I have enjoyed lots of these Field Recordings offerings, most recently trying their super juicy Tannat red and this Valdiguie Rosé that is fruity, but mostly dry and crisp with ruby grapefruit, a touch of raspberry, tart cherry and strawberry fruits along with a hint of dried herbs and a steely mineral element, and while a year or so behind it is still drinking remarkably fresh and vibrant showing no signs of dullness and oxidation at this stage. There is always something intriguing to discover at Field Recordings and Jones focuses on richly flavored wines that are well priced quaffers!
The Valdiguie grapes, once thought to be Gamay and sometimes known as Napa Gamay, but from a separate varietal that originally came from the southwest of France, were sourced from the French Camp Vineyard in Paso Robles and winemaker Andrew Jones did a quick whole cluster press and then a cool ferment with everything, including aging in stainless steel with just 4 months in the steel barrels before bottling. The super pale, slightly peachy/salmon, colored Rosé of Valdiguie made for a nice sunny companion on a warm evening following a big rainstorm and it went great with left over Pizza, proving enough fruity in character to cover the tomato sauce and mix of toppings and was easy to sip. Jones, who is a famous nurseryman in the Paso and Santa Barbara area has a gifted touch for wine and knows where to find good grapes with professional insight into many of the local vineyards, some that he helped plant and get material for. Every vintage brings all kinds of totally new blends and bottlings, so it is always a new experience when the Field Recordings wines come out.
($26 Est.) 86 Points, grapelive
2017 Domaine Vincent Paris, Cornas “Granit 30” Northern Rhone, France.
The Vincent Paris Cornas Granit 30 comes from granite soils and the from vineyard parcels that are at a steep 30% slope, hence the name and it maybe one of the best Syrah wines for the money in the world, and especially this 2017 vintage, which is absolutely engaging and delicious with magnificent purity and terroir accented character. The 2017s are showing amazing, the seem fuller, rounder and more harmonious in style than the last few vintages, even though ripeness is quite similar, and while I admit, that personally I like the more edgy, tension filled and crunchy years, there’s no denying the depth and complexity and sensual pleasure of the 2017s make them standout, and this wine does, it is a wine of beauty and checks all the boxes you’d ever desire from a northern Rhone Syrah. This dark purple, magenta and bright garnet edged Cornas by the talented vigneron, Vincent Paris, who’s proven to be in the same league as the iconic producers in this region, like the Chave’s, Robert’s and Allemand’s as well as his own uncle the famous Robert Michael, is layers with blackberry, blueberry, damson plum, candied cherry and earthy mulberry fruits along with smoky embers, loamy crushed stones, anise, distilled violets, mountain shrub, a touch of game and lingering creme de cassis. There is almost no noticeable oak on display, and none is needed as this 100% Syrah is absolutely complete here and speaks to your palate and soul in a strong, but understated voice that makes you listen in seduced rapture and as the wine opens fully in the glass it never waivers or dulls, it never stops exciting the senses. The Granit 30, according to the winery, comes from biodynamic vines on the lowest part of the slope of decomposed granite, in particular vines that are located in the lieu-dits of St. Pierre and Patou and Paris uses about 15 to 20% whole cluster on this Syrah with minimal stem inclusion, but enough to add pop to the wine, as they do here perfectly, adding texture, heightened floral aromatics and umami notes.
Vincent Paris, a Cornas native whose first vintage was 1997, is known to be a bit media shy is the co-president of the Cornas AOC appellation and puts his total heart into this area, not only making fantastic wines, but to also save traditions, honor the history and set the groundwork to keep Cornas one of the most prestigious regions in the Rhone and France. Paris owns and farms 6 hectares of vineyards and produces mostly all of his wines from the Cornas, though he did add a small plot of vines in Saint-Joseph and makes a lovely Syrah from there as well, he does three main Cornas bottlings, this one, plus his Granit 60, from steeper 60% slopes and his La Geynole, which has some of the fabled Reynard fruit, is an extremely limited offering from an old vine parcel that was planted in 1910 that were originally part of his uncles holdings, which his has inherited. The Granit 30 is supposedly the entry level or easy version, but I love this wine and find it a thrilling expression of place, again as I have said many times, this Granit 30 is a stunning value. This wine, the “30″, again references both the gradient slope of the vineyards used, but also as well as detailing that the average age of the vines is also about 30, and all of Paris’ grapes are farmed organic with these vines on warm exposures facing southeast and tended by hand with extreme care and smaller yields to extract concentration of flavors. In cellar, Paris makes his wines pretty much inline with classic methods with fermentation at low temps, and with small lots being vinfied in a combination of barrel and in tank with this one getting two thirds in wood and one third in vat/tank with the finished blend seeing about a year in mostly neutral French oak. This stuff is true and vivid wine of place, it is wonderfully transparent and this year’s plush and silken fruit make it a joyous experience in its youth, but the underlying tannin and refined natural acidity makes you want to have it with matching cuisine, though it has the freshness to go with many choices from hearty stews, lamb and grilled steak to roast herb crusted chicken and Asian pork dishes. If you’ve not had Vincent’s wines, you really should fix that, and these 2017s are a great way to start.
($40 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2013 Big Basin Vineyards, Gabilan Mountains GSM, Rhone Red Blend, Monterey County.
Bradley Brown’s 2013 Big Basin Gabilan Mountains GSM, made from 49% Grenache, 27% Syrah and 24% Mourvedre is really drinking well right now and has really come together in what was in some cases an awkward vintage with some uneven or bumpy wines. This one has gained texture and the stemmy whole cluster personality of its youth is fading into a more lush and complex wine while keeping just enough tension and earthiness to thrill the full bodied palate showing bramble berry, black plum, baked cherry and sweet and tangy pomegranate fruits to go with a touch of camphor, crushed rock, cedar, pepper, dried flowers, minty herb/anise and creme de cassis. There are some chewy tannins still, but things gain poise with air adding some mocha and fleshiness, which comes out more with robust foods and while in the glass this dark purple/crimson wine reveals sticky lavender, a hint of violets and contrasting meaty or iron like flavors. The 2013 GSM is a sleeper year and I recommend it highly, though while not readily available, the 2014 and 2015 versions are maybe even better, plus Big Basin is just now putting out their new stuff and the 2016 and 2017 reds are well worth investing in as well as their very limited Provence style Rosé, from the same vineyards used in the Gabilan Mountains GSM. Last years Rosé was absolutely delicious and Bradley just sent me a note claiming the 2019 is looking to a solid rival, which he says is the best yet, and I am really looking forward to drinking a few. It is a great time to support your friends with small wineries and this Santa Cruz Mountains winery is one of the finest producers around, best known for Syrah, but with a super lineup of Pinot too, as well as Chardonnay and savvy blended wines.
Coming from the Gabilan Range, a mountainous area to the north of the Salinas Valley with a combination of de-composed granite and chalky limestone, its a area with remarkable potential for wine grapes with cooling influences from the Pacific Ocean and elevation, especially these Rhone varietals that mostly are sourced from the Coastview Vineyard, one of the regions hot spots. Big Basin has been using grapes from here since around the 2007 vintage and in particular he loves the Syrah from this site, citing that the climate and soils make for excellent expressive of this grape, which Brown has a touch for, as anyone who’s had his estate Rattlesnake Rock will attest to. With the GSM in 2013, Brown fermented both Syrah and Grenache lots with up to 100% whole cluster, while the Mourvedre looks to have had more de-stemming to tame the phenolics and ease off the stem crunch in this well portioned wine. After fermentation, Brown and his winemaking team pump out the fermented wine then very gently press what is left with a small basket press, typical in the southern Rhone, then a brief settling occurs then the wine is racked to French oak barrels where it remains on the light lees for close to 18 months, with each grape lots aging separately with low sulfur. Then after aging the wines get blended for each finished offerings, including this cuvee, and bottled without filtering. These non estate wines are wonderful values and are powerful wines with strong wills and personalities that have exciting aging potentials, it isn’t easy to find older vintages, but putting a few of the current releases away can bring intriguing rewards. As mentioned Big Basin is releasing a new set for Spring, so I suggest going to their website and get on the allocations list and or buy a few of ready to ship bottles.
($44 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2016 Bonny Doon Vineyard, Le Cigare Volant, Rhone Style Red Blend, California.
The richly textured and firmly tannic 2016 Le Cigare Volant is a forgotten vintage and wine, especially so since the sale of the Bonny Doon Vineyards winery and the recent re-vamp of the Le Cigare to a fresher easier to drink Cinsault influenced style, but this wine should not be overlooked, as it delivers a powerful and dense core of black and red fruits, along with spicy and meaty/savory notes as well as pretty delicate floral tones. Randall Grahm and winemaker Nicole Walsh have done a masterful job with this edition of Le Cigare, it certainly didn’t go out with a whimper, its shows layers of blackberry, racy red currant, plum and dried cherries on a full bodied palate adding grilled herbs, licorice, violetette and a touch of sweet oak in Randall’s signature classic style California Chateauneuf Rhone blend, leading with the obvious fruit, but with gripping intensity and underlying complexity. This wine is very impactful and alive in the glass with its deep garnet and ruby hue and its slow to express itself Grenache fruit, but with air it comes at you with a huge rush of pomegranate and strawberry jam. This is one of the more substantial Cigare’s I’ve ever had with flamboyant fruit and ripeness, but loads of umami and a structural spine of tannin, it is definitely a wine with flesh and bones, its alive and has a strong heart beat and blood flowing, this is good stuff. Randall who one of the first California Rhone Rangers continues to inspire today and is still a huge influence on California wine and like Robert Mondavi is one of the hall of fame vintners in the state and his Le Cigare Volant is an iconic wine, we legions of fans worldwide.
The 2016 Le Cigare Volant, which was in itself a slight change from a few prior releases, had a bit more whole cluster and a really good dose of Mourvedre in the final blends, which ended up being close to 41% Grenache, 30% Mourvèdre, 15% Syrah, 14% Cinsaut. Grahm as per normal with Cigare used a vast assortment of Vineyards, and this year saw 33% Rancho Solo (Grenache), 30% Del Barba (Mourvedre), 14% Bechtold (Cinsault), 10% Lieff, 10% Shokrian and 3% Wolff all of which supplied the extra as well as the Syrah, making the wine classified as Central Coast or just California, or as Randall suggests of planet Earth! Ever the tinkerer, Grahm does all kinds of ferments and aging regiments for this wine with some of it being fermented and aged in tank, some in barrel and some in glass 5-gallon demijohns or bonbonnes, which with the lees make for excellent vessels to develop textural beauty, plus Randall is not afraid of adding toasty wood chips if need be! This 2016 is ever changing as it opens and after half an hour the stems get their groove on and give old world crunch and a bright life force that tames the expressive fruit, this certainly wasn’t expected, but very much appreciated and the wine turns even more thrilling in personality. Bonny Doon will continue to explore and focus on Rhone style wines with Grahm as the ambassador for the time being, though he will be putting more time into his amazing 10,000 Grapes Project, making thousands of new varietals from seed to make sure the future has the best material to make California truly unique and to be sure viticulture survives climate change, as well as make small lots of wine from his Popelouchum (Pop-loh-shoom) estate vineyard.
($45 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2018 Weingut Selbach-Oster, Riesling Feinherb, Graacher Domprobst “Alte Reben” Mosel, Germany.
One of the sleepers in Johannes Selbach’s fabulous collection of 2018 wines is the stunning old vine Graacher Domprobst Feinherb that delivers a dry style and energy driven palate with a fantastic play between crystalline mineral lightness and the extract density that comes through as textured layers. This is incredible Riesling, in a lineup of incredible Rieslings from slate slopes above the Mosel, making it hard to see its individual excellence, in fact it did take time and reflection to get clarity on this Graacher Alte Reben Feinherb which, when focused on, gives a performance that rivals the best of the region with layers of generous green apple, lime, mango and quince fruits, dried ginger spices, smoky flint stoniness, citron/verbena and salted melon sorbet, in a weightless and steely frame. The acidity hides the residual sweetness (off dry), again showing why a non trocken (dry) can be more balanced and still drink crisply dry, especially in a wine of this purity and quality, where exceptional work was done in the vineyards and experience in the cellar that allowed this wine’s unique true personality and soul were allowed to come through without forcing it into a category that would have changed its life force. Some will say that if Selbach had fermented a shade or two drier he could have made a GG out of this wine, but that would take away more than it would have given, this wine is better for the extra fruity quality and it certainly drinks much drier than the average Burgundy or California Chardonnay, but the point is Selbach has revealed the absolute best of the place and grapes to shine through, it is magnificent and a Riesling that shows the heart of the Mosel. The Graacher plots are on primarily blue Devonian slate with a layer of loam underneath, that brings out the fruit, and it’s that expression that Johannes celebrates and spotlights here, this is a special old vine section and this Riesling, which came in the winery with about Spatlese must weight, bursts at the seams with gorgeous tension and intensity, though presented with grace and poise.
Selbach’s holdings in the middle Mosel includes some of the best old vines in the region with about half of their vines being on their original rootstocks, in Zeltinger Himmelreich, Schlossberg, and Sonnenuhr; Wehlener Sonnenuhr; and, Graacher Himmelreich and this one from Graacher Domprobst. These vineyards are set on the classic weathered Devonian slate and are on a very steep, contiguous slope that gathers the sun and the reflection off the river with perfect south and south west exposures. These vines make for an impressive set of parcels, which are all picked separately, of course by hand and each is faithfully fermented to create very individual wines that pay great respect for each site and what story they each want to tell, I am in particularly fond of certain sites and over the 20 plus years I’ve been enjoying and tasting Selbach-Oster I have developed favorites that speak to me personally, like Zeltlinger-Schlossberg, which no matter how it is treated and or sugar level it makes my heart sing and beat a little faster, though I always love the Kabinett, always a guilty pleasure. 2018 has proved more difficult to fully understand and my vision has been blurred by greatness, all of the Selbach wines are brilliant to point where it is terribly difficult to pick out the highlights, hence the need for reflection, but I highly recommend looking for and searching out all of the single parcel wines, like the Bomer, Rotlay and Schmitt, plus this Graacher Domprobst Feinherb, which is a steal for the quality on offer! Johannes uses traditional oak fuder in his cellar, adding, according to his importer Terry Theise, a few new large casks every couple of years and the ferments are done in a combination of fuder (German oak cask) and stainless steel, predominantly these wines are allowed to start with “Sponti” or with wild yeasts, and aged on the lees for an extended period. This wine was fermented in those old Mosel Fuder barrels, some up to 60 years old, almost as old as the vines themselves, this stuff deserves your attention and it should really gain with another 10 years in the cellar, if you could keep your hands off it!
($38 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2016 Saint Jean du Barroux, par Philippe Gimel, Ventoux Rouge “La Source” Rhone Valley, France.
The Saint Jean du Barroux wines are made by Philippe Gimel, the talented winemaker who is an ex chemist that first worked at top names such as Château de Beaucastel in Chateauneuf du Pape, as well as La Janasse, Pierre Bise and Château Devès, names his Ventoux cuvées of Saint Jean Du Barroux after an element of the surrounding terroir, like this La Source Rouge being influenced by a local natural spring near by. The Cotes du Ventoux area in the Rhone’s Luberon is located close to Provence in the foothills of the chalky Mount Ventoux, the highest site in the area, made famous as terrifying and tough stage on the Tour de France, it’s a great and very underrated growing region renowned worldwide for incredible values in Rhone reds, made mostly from Grenache and Syrah. This 2016 La Source by Domaine Saint Jean du Barroux is absolutely fabulous with the depth, perfume, ripe smooth tannins and concentration of flavors that rivals many wines three, four or five times the price, this is stunning lavender scented wine that delivers layers of rich boysenberry, dusty plum, pomegranate and strawberry fruits along with dried flowers, wild garrigue (herb/shrub) or sage, peppercorns, licorice as well as lingering creme de cassis and kirsch, adding a touch of loamy stones and clay contrasting savory elements.
The dark purple/garnet hued, full bodied and aromatic 2016 vintage Saint Jean du Barroux La Source Ventoux Rouge, crafted using 70% Grenache, 25% Carignan and 5% Cinsault all from organic vines set on classic rocky top soils over limestone and hardened clay, it easily could pass for, and tastes like a top-flight Gigondas or Rasteau with exceptional purity, made from a tank raised selection. Gimel pays careful attention to each parcel and he, according to the winery, harvests and sorts by hand, does his fermentation using indigenous yeasts in cement tanks, where it also spends its elevage, and he only bottles after the wines age 18 months at the minimum. Imported by Eric Solomon of European Cellars, the Saint Jean du Barroux wines have a fanatic following with Rhone fans and bargain hunters, these are insanely good wines, especially in years like 2016 and this wine in particular is a steal with its serious palate impact and deliciousness. Philippe Gimel founded his estate back in 2003 and has skyrocketed in popularity in recent years, these wines are stand outs in an area that doesn’t get that much press, which maybe good for those looking for fantastic Rhone expressions at everyday drinking pricing, and at a time like we have now with Covid-19 stay in place orders, this La Source is a wine to stock up on. I highly recommend trying the Saint Jean du Barroux Ventoux Rouge offerings, drink up!
($20 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2018 Sandlands Vineyards, Red Wine, Lodi California.
The latest set of Sandlands are looking pretty awesome, and I started by opening the new 2018 Lodi Red, which is equal parts Cinsault, Carignan and Zinfandel, which takes a leading role in the profile at this stage with its raspberry fruit standing out, though it gets more complex and interesting with time and air, making for a delicious California blend that is bursting with expressive flavors. This dark garnet and purple wine has beautifully textured layers of ripe and smooth dark berries, tangy cherry, from the racy Cinsault, as well as plum, pomegranate and a hint of blueberry fruits. Behind the fruit there is an array of spices, mineral notes, touches of anise, floral dimension and a very subtle wood element. There’s a supple mouthfeel and old vine concentration that is a hallmark of Passalacqua’s wines, who for the past eleven years has worked for Turley Wine Cellars, starting as harvest intern, as he notes, and now as Larry’s head winemaker and vineyard manager! The Sandlands Vineyards label is his personal project, with Tegan and his wife Olivia Passalacqua making a tight collection of wines that are mostly from vines set on sandy soiled sites from across the state. Their lineup includes, what he calls, the forgotten classic California varieties, that as mentioned are primarily grown in decomposed granite (sand), from regions and vineyards that have been farmed for many generations (of California families), but have remained, as Tegan adds, the outliers of California viticulture. This head-trained, dry-farmed and own rooted vineyards are extremely special to Passalacqua, which he says harken back to California’s roots of (wine) exploration, wonder, and hard work.
The 2018 Sandlands Vineyards Lodi Red was an intentional blend of three old vine vineyards, so while not a heritage field blend from a single interplanted site, it does have that kind of feel and personality in the glass. The plots include some1886 Cinsault vines from the Bechthold Vineyard, as well as some 1900 Carignane from the Spenker Ranch and some grapes from the 1915 Zinfandel vines from Passalacqua’s home ranch, at the Kirschenmann Vineyard. Tegan Passalacqua, who is a Napa Valley native, has really stamped his name on the current lineup of Turley and has because a leading voice in California wine, promoting the state and its history with almost every breath. He got his start in the wine industry working in winery labs in Napa, as well as traveling around the world to gain perspective and experience with some influential regions and winemakers. He notes, he has worked in the cellars of Craggy Range in New Zealand with Doug Wisor, along with two of my high heros, Eben Sadie, of Sadie Family Wines in the Swartland of South Africa and Alain Graillot in the Northern Rhone Valley of France! The Lodi Red finished up at 13.3 % natural alcohol and stays very lively and fresh throughout, it is an easy wine to enjoy and is delicious with lots of food choices, I enjoyed it with grilled spicy chicken burritos, but would love to have it with Cajun cuisine and or BBQ pork, plus it will be fabulous with burgers too. While it is tough to find the Sandlands stuff, I highly recommend joining the mailing list, they are really tasty, fairly priced and each wine is unique.
($30 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2015 G.D. Vajra, Barolo DOCG, Coste di Rose, Piedmonte, Italy.
New to the Vajra collection is the Coste di Rose Cru Barolo from a unique vineyard site high in the hills and set on deep sands, so sandy in fact the Vajra’s call this site the beach, over marl and clay soils that gives this Nebbiolo its awesome perfume and amazing texture, just when you thought this winery couldn’t get any better, a wine like this comes along and you get blown away all over again! The 2015 shows the vintage’s warmth and smooth tannins making for a compelling young Barolo, it should age exceptionally well, but certainly it will be very enjoyable all along the way, though I can imagine the upcoming 2016 will be the for collectors to stock up on, with the years more structured form, that said I love this 2015 very much and adore its almost Burgundy/Pinot Noir like class and silken mouth feel, and I imagine it will firm up with another year or so in bottle. The estate of GD Vajra is situated in Vergne, the highest village in the Commune of Barolo with Nebbiolo, being the main varietal, but also planted with Dolcetto, Barbera, Freisa, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and of course their legendary Riesling, which is one of my favorites, to name a few. The vineyards are at heights of 350-400 meters, which plays a big part in the wines’ complexity and aromatic quality that winemaker Giuseppe Vajra achieves with his amazing collection of offerings. I tasted the Coste di Rose at this years Slow Wine Tasting in San Francisco, which thankfully happened before the Cover-19 shutdown, where Vajra’s importer(s) showed us the latest Bricco Della Viole Cru Barolo, the Riesling, which I have reviewed earlier and this new Cru, that I haven’t tried, and while the Bricco Della Viole remains the flagship wine, this Coste di Rose is right up there!
The vines at Vajra, according to the winery, are some of the last to be harvested in the region, giving them long hang times as the higher altitude often pushes their pick dates well into October. Giuseppe Vajra, who took over from his dad Aldo, continues to makes wines in line with tradition, but also uses technology and state of the art facilities to craft these wines. The Barolo wines get about a 30-40 day cuvaison, gently extracting the fine tannins from the skins. Vajra notes that there is a small percentage of stems are left in durning the maceration and primary ferments depending on the vintage. The G.D. Vajra wines are not adorned with flashy sweet/toast French barriques, these wines are exceptionally pure and transparent versions of Barolo and the wines are aged in large (mostly older) Slovenian oak barrels for between 42-48 months before bottling. I’ve been lucky to have had the chance to try most of Vajra’s Barolo bottlings since the 2008 vintage and have been blessed to have tasted with Giuseppe on more than a few occasions and it has been a stellar rise in stardom for this humble and gifted winemaker, when you mention great winemakers in Italy, let alone Piedmonte, Vajra is almost always mentioned, especially by those in the know. The 2015 Coste di Rose starts with its heady rose petal perfume, delicate earthiness and red fruits on the full bodied, but ultra luxurious palate, with the tannins well hidden at this point, again making this feel more like a Chambolle than a rustic Barolo, delivering a silken cascade of brandied cherry, raspberry, plum and balsamic dipped strawberries along with fresh mineral tones, snappy herbs, light cedar and sandalwood notes, as well as licorice, mint, blood orange zest and lingering mulberries. Drink this beauty over the next 5 to 15 years. ($69-85 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2018 Cruse Wine Company, Tannat, Alder Springs Vineyard, Mendocino County.
Mostly known for his divine Ultramarine Methode Champenoise sparkling wine and his fun lineup of pétillant naturel, Michael Cruse also makes some really good still wines some of which come from unique places and crafted from lesser known varietals, like his Valdiguie, also known as Napa Gamay, because it was long thought to be Gamay and this Tannat. This firmly tannic black grape is originally from France’s Basque region and found in wines from Irouléguy in the Pyrénées, as well as famously also in the Madiran AOC in France’s southwest, plus Tannat has proven to be quite delicious in the new world with serious versions coming from Uruguay and the grape is seeing some success in California, where it was only a minor player, though it has been here for nearly a century, and a blending grape until more recently. Cruse gets his from one of the best vineyards in Northern California, Alder Springs, in Mendocino County, mostly known for Rhone varietals, especially Syrah. Located just 12 miles east of the beautiful Mendocino Coast, and 3 miles west of the legendary Redwood Highway 101, the site is remote and challenging, but makes for fabulous wines, this region is bordered by a dramatic coastline, the Eel River and is also home to enormous Redwood trees. The Alder Springs Vineyard, In the far northern Mendocino County, past Anderson Valley, is farmed by Stuart Bewley, who has been growing some of California’s most sought after wine grapes since 1993. Cruse is making lots of fun stuff, like this Tannat, with his pop top Sparkling Valdiguie pétillant naturel being one of my personal favorites, as well as his Sparkling St. Laurent Blanc de Noirs pétillant naturel, made from a rare Austrian red grape grown in Carneros.
Michael Cruse, like most from this new group of California’s talented winemakers and micro wineries is not interested in making blockbuster and oak driven wines of the prior generation, but instead he is looking for purity and youthful drinking pleasure in his still wines, like this one, using natural methods and indigenous yeast fermentations and without the use of new barrels. Tannat can be very rustic, fiery and dusty dry, it is naturally high in raw tannins, polyphenols and pigment, making for chewy wines that tend to need some robust cuisine to tame the gripping force on the palate, though Cruse has managed to present the grape in a more generous and stylish form with a lacy freshness, ripe black fruit flavors and vivid details. Interestingly, Bewley has an array of three different Tannat clones including 794, 474 and 717 at Alder Springs, which would seemingly add to the complexity in this wine. Alder Springs is not a monolithic site with many micro climates, a mix of plots and many soils from which to chose like marine sediments, gravels, clay, broken stones and basalt to name a few, along with various hills and slopes. The dark purple and electric garnet hued 2018 Cruse Tannat starts with a hint of sweet florals, black fruit, wild herbs and mineral tones before filling out on the ripe and impeccably smooth, especially for Tannat, palate with layers of blackberry, blueberry, plum and black cherry fruits, minty licorice, a touch of deep blood orange, a hint of iron and delicate spices. This wine is very textural in mouth feel and it is wonderfully fresh, with satiny tannins, refined natural alcohol at 13%, good acidity and will be exceptionally fan with simple and rustic country style cuisine, it’s a delicious and easy to drink wine to drink over the next few years.
($39 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2018 Giacomo Borgogno & Figli, Timorasso – Derthona DOC, Colli Tortonesi, Piedmonte, Italy.
A few years ago, Walter Massa of Vigneti Massa almost single handedly brought the rare Timorasso grape back from extinction and now it is one of the hottest white wines made in the Piedmonte region, and we are seeing many great producers jumping on the bandwagon, including the famed Vietti and this beautiful expression by the legendary Barolo maker Borgogno. Tasted at Slow Wine earlier this year, the 2018 Borgogno Derthona DOC should be arriving to the United States soon, though you’ll have to really work hard to get your hands on it as it is extremely limited, but you’ll be greatly rewarded for your hard work and search if you get your hands on it. Borgogno’s Timorasso from organic vines is lightly floral, medium bodied with a lovely texture and fine minerallity, it delivers a polished and lively performance highlighting the grape’s best qualities with layers of peach, citrus and quince fruits, leesy notes, white flowers and an array of herb and spices along with a nice saline and wet stone element. Derthona is the ancient name for Tortona, the town in southeast Piemonte, hence the appellation Colli Tortonesi (Tortona Hills) name. The Timorasso is widely believed to be one of the longest-aging white varieties in Italy, with many of the producers saying it takes a few years to get itself together in the bottle, adding a depth of flavor and making more of a palate impact with honeyed notes and it deserves serious attention, going well with a variety of foods including poultry, pork and fatty fish and decedent shellfish, even lobster and or crab dishes. The Borgogno Timorasso doesn’t come cheap compared to other examples, like the Massa, which I also recommend trying, but it is a gorgeous white wine that is joyous rarity, that will be great addition to the cellar or a special occasion.
The Borgogno Dertona DOC comes from the Monleale, mostly hillsides around Tortona set on classic clay and limestone soils with good ripening coming from the great southeast and southwest exposures, making for a more full bodied version, in some ways like the dry rich Alsatian Rieslings, but with a bit more softness and opulence, like Burgundy, especially when allowed to age. This 2018 which was aged, mostly in tank for 18 months is very refined and has remarkable clarity with a delicate light pale color and subtle acidity, which is very rounded. Borgogno, also known as “Giacomo Borgogno & Figli” which was founded back in 1761 by Bartolomeo Borgogno, was one of the very first elite Barolo producers and has an amazing track record for great wines, with their Nebbiolo bottlings being some of the most desirable wines in Italy. The Farinetti family acquired this historic winery in 2008, but is firmly committed to quality and the estate’s traditions, with Andrea Farinetti, according to the winery, who graduated from the oenological school in Alba, took over in 2010 giving a youthful excitement to this legendary property. The 2015 marked the first vintage of their Timorasso white after a purchase of the vineyard sites and the conversion to all organic practices. Borgogno also brought back the use of concrete for fermentations to give an extra element of classic and soulful expression to the wines throughout the range. You should never miss a chance to try the Borgogno Cru Baroli, like those from Cannubi, one of the world’s greatest vineyards, Liste and Fossati, which are exceptional or Grand Cru sites, plus their Riserva, which is sometimes aged 20 years in the cellar! I also love their de-classified Barolo, Langhe Nebbiolo called “No Name” as it offers an awesome value, and now I am going to keep an eye out for this Derthona!
($55 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2016 Fedellos do Couto, Loma dos Ares, Red Wine, Ribeira Sacra, Galicia, Spain.
The Fedellos do Couto, founded in 2011 by Luis Taboada, and based in his family home, is a small and intriguing winery headed up by winemakers Curro Barreño and Jesús Olivares who are focused on crafting wines from the local terroir and local varietals, like Mencia and Godello. The Loma dos Ares is made mostly from parcels in the Bibei zone using old vine Mencia, about 40%, and with small amounts of Muraton, Bastardo, Caiño Tinto, Negreda, Aramón, Gran Nero and Garnacha Tintorea making up the rest of the blend, sourced from vines set mainly on granite, sand and schist based soils. According to their importer, Eric Solomon – European Cellars, Lomba dos Ares, is Curro & Jesus’ village wine coming from their oldest and steepest vineyards on the west bank of the Bibei River, that separates Ribeira Sacra from Valdeorras, with these vines averaging about 70 years old. This dark ruby and magenta hued 2016 is bright and fresh, but still with the old vine concentration showing vivid red fruits leading the way delivering loads of whole cluster crunch and tangy flavors that remind of some Jura red wines with a crisp and mineral vibrancy. There are layers of earthy/spicy raspberry, tart plum, cherry and lingonberry fruits, along with snappy herbs, light floral tones, a touch of saltiness, racy cool climate acidity and dusty tannins, making this a wine that refreshes on the medium weight palate making it perfect for Spring and Summer drinking and goes well with many cuisine options.
The Ribeira Sacra, which is a very historic wine growing area in Spain’s green Galicia region just northeast of the Portuguese border near the Mina and Sil Rivers that was prized by the Romans who cherished the wines from this steep and remote region. This area has seen a huge amount of excitement in recent years with wines of outstanding quality making quite a slash with wine critics and wine lovers, these new generation of Ribeira Sacra wines are led by the likes of Pedro Rodriguez of Guimaro, Laura Lorenzo of Daterra Viticultores, Envinate and this Fedellos do Couto label. There is a respect for the land and the hard work that goes into making these wines, it is not easy here with few roads and ultra steep, mostly terraced vineyards that doesn’t allow much but back breaking labor and hand work, so you see mostly now organic and natural style wines, including this Loma dos Ares. The wine, a co-ferment of all the varietals in cement vats, using hand harvested grapes, with 100% whole cluster and natural yeast fermentation employing a long, gentle maceration with pigeage lasting between 40 to 60 days. After primary the wine was racked over to a combination of neutral 300-500L French oak barrels for an elevage of about 10 months before being bottled. This 2016 vintage is pretty and well structured, it should develop nicely for many years to come, even though it is super easy to love now, especially with its restrained natural alcohol, which at 12.5% adds to the wines cool and vivid character, this is fabulous stuff.
($24 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2018 Dard et Ribo, Crozes-Hermitage Rouge “C’est le Printemps” Northern Rhone, France.
René-Jean Dard and François Ribo, who produce some of the most sought after natural Syrahs, are famously media shy and hermit like vignerons from Mercurol, north of Valence, founded their tiny Northern Rhone estate in 1984 with a small cellar and micro parcels of vines and a focus on non intervention wines. Jamie Goode, the English wine critic and natural wine expert, says that René-Jean Dard and François Ribo accidentally became known as natural winemakers, as they commonly don’t use any sulphites (added sulfur) at all, although, he notes, they are not religious about it and really were just trying to make wines they themselves were interested in drinking. Their fame has more to do with their attention to detail and very hard vineyard work and the exceptional quality of their grapes, especially the ones that go into their Crozes-Hermitage bottlings, that are still outstanding values and are more commonly available, like this wonderfully expressive C’est le Printemps. Dard and Ribo have close to ten hectares of vines, with half of that in Crozes-Hermitage, as well as some in Saint Joseph, and a small plot on the hill of Hermitage, which goes into their unicorn version of this legendary site. Their production is about 65% Syrah, which they are most known for, but they also do close to 35% white wine, which a mix of Marsanne and Roussanne parcels, again mainly in Crozes.
I recently got a few bottles of the classic black label Crozes, from the 2017 vintage, plus one of this lovely fresh 2018 “C’est le Printemps” which I had never seen in person prior to this vintage, it is Dard and Ribo’s quaffer or Glou-Glou version almost like their idea of a Nouveau, made for early release and early drinking and it fits the bill perfectly with loads of pure fruit, light spiciness and soft tannins. The Crozes-Hermitage vines are from organic plots, farmed without chemicals, mostly hillside, set on iron rich red clay soils with gravel and alluvial stones scattered throughout the vines, which give these wines true terroir character and even this version shows the classic detailing, a pretty crushed violet bouquet and flavors with layers of blueberry, damson plum, currant and black raspberry fruits, along with snappy licorice, saline and iodine, mineral tones plus cinnamon and peppery spices. This wine shows a nice juiciness, a ripe personality and a tank raised like vibrancy of form, adding a hint of earthiness, mission figs, lingering kirsch and lavender. This medium bodied, low sulfur, drink now, Syrah, which reminds me of Maxime Graillot’s Domaine des Lise Equinoxe in style, but maybe slightly more complex and expressive, I really should have bought more of this from SommSelect! Happily, I have found these Dard and Ribo to live up to my expectations and I hope to explore more of the limited stuff in the future, they are delicious.
($35 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2018 Inspiration Vineyards, Viognier, Canihan Vineyard, Sonoma Valley.
Jon Phillips’ new labels and new releases have transformed this winery and I am thrilled with the results so far, in particular I really like the 2018 Canihan Viognier with its beautiful honeysuckle bouquet and fleshy apricot that bursts from the glass. While not classic Condrieu by any means, it is a lovely California version of this grape with a richer mouth feel and denser impact on the full bodied palate, but is well balanced and not overly fruity or heavy with a nice cut of acidity and less obvious oak shadings and it is joyous with food, especially spicy shrimp and calamari. Phillips, who is the Chairman of the Board for Family Winemakers of California, started Inspiration Vineyards in 2002 after studying through one of the UC Davis extension programs and making some vintages of home wines. Jon moved to the Russian River area and set up shop originally on Olivet Lane, but now makes his wines in an urban winery in Santa Rosa and has a few acres of estate vines with a focus on Zinfandel and like his peers does Chardonnay and Pinot Noir from classic Russian River sites, plus some intriguing Rhones, like Grenache, Syrah and this Viognier. This white will appeal to those that have enjoyed Joseph Swan, Kunde, Alban and Cold Heaven expressions of this varietal and for those that are looking for an expressive alternative to buttery Chardonnays or grassy Sauvignon Blancs.
The 2018 Viognier shows a bright golden color and starts fresh, dry and tangy, getting more lush and rounded with air and matching cuisine delivering layers of the mentioned apricot, tangerine, melon, apple butter, marmalade and golden fig fruits along with a touch of brioche (lees), herbs, wet stones and an echo of the florals. This highly aromatic Viognier is pleasantly ripe and mouth filling and offers a solid value for fans of this grape and the regional wines. I can’t wait to try some of the other new wines sporting the new art labels with the Ceja Farms Grenache, especially after trying the Sheldon Wines version, and as noted before Dylan Sheldon joined Jon here at Inspiration in 2016 and his influence and synergy here has brought a lot to the newer wines in the collection. The use of new oak is limited and the wines have gained vitality and natural fresh details, but still full of flavor with a lighter touch in the cellar. There are a bunch of wines in the lineup to discover, in addition to the Viognier and Grenache, look for their 2018 Branley Pinot Noir, the 2018 Palindrome Vineyard Syrah from Dry Creek Valley, a low alcohol Ray’s Zin 2018 from the Russian River Valley, a luxurious full throttle 2018 Zinfandel from the Gallaway Vineyard in Dry Creek Valley and the 2017 Sonoma Valley Cabernet Sauvignon. Inspiration sells almost exclusively direct and all of the bottlings are very limited, like this one and the wines are terrific values, so check them out on their newly updated website.
($29 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2018 Desire Lines Wine Co, Evangelho Red, Contra Costa County.
Cordy and Emily Rasmussen’s Desire Lines Wine Co label is one of the most exciting new wineries I’ve tried in the last couple of vintages and while their Shake Ridge and Griffin’s Lair Syrahs are absolutely outstanding wines, both as good as it gets in California Syrah, I really love their Carignan based Evangelho Red, especially this 2018, which delivers purity of fruit, complex savory/meaty elements from the addition of a bit of Mourvedre and vividly fresh details. There is a joyous cascade of black and red fruits on the full bodied palate plus delicate crushed flowers, truffle/earthiness, peppery spices, crunchy herbal notes, mineral tones and light cedary wood shadings with a mouthful of blackberry, wild cherry, plum and boysenberry fruits. It is exciting that the low percentage of Mourvedre gets its place on the stage with hints of leather, kirsch and firm tannins really supports the deep and concentrated Carignan flavors perfectly and the partial full bunches fermentation makes this wine even more thrilling, this is drinking outrageously good right now and it will age too. This brilliantly dark Evangelho with its seductive purple/garnet color grabs your attention in the glass and with air it gains presence and poise, refining in texture and adding hints of cassis (black currant), tangy blueberry and herbs de Provence and anise. This unique red wine was inspired by old world wines and exploits its California old vines to near perfection, there’s a lot to enjoy here and while I highly recommend Desire Lines Syrah, this wine should not be missed if you see it and I suggest following this winery and joining their mailing list as soon as possible, there is no question Rasmussen’s offering are becoming highly sought after, these small lot bottlings are exceptional.
Winemaker, Cody Rasmussen, who is the assistant winemaker at Bedrock Wine Company under Morgan Twain-Peterson, says his 2018 Evangelho Red Wine is a blend of roughly 90% Carignan and 10% Mourvèdre, that similarly to the 2017, was fermented with 30% whole cluster to make this wine pop and excite the senses and with there hope to create a wine that is fresh and intense, drinkable in the same way a top Cote de Brouilly or Morgon does. Rasmussen adds that he then aged the 2018 Evangelho Red for ten months in neutral French 400L barrels. Cody loves the bigger 400L barrel size for his Carignan, noting that it retains freshness and builds tension in the wine, like all large format barrels, but with a less reduction than the bigger puncheons that he prefers for Syrah and the solo Mourvèdre. Last but not least, because the grape quality is everything when crafting a great wine, its source vineyard matters greatly, in particular when it comes from a historic site like Evangehlo, this awesome heritage site in Costa Contra that is set on deep sand. The vines at the Evangelho Vineyard, now owned by Morgan Twain-Peterson, is over 120 years old, it was planted originally back in late 1890s with mostly Zinfandel and Mourvedre, but with some other things too, like this parcel of Carignan. Rasmussen state that the Evangelho Vineyard near Antioch, is upstream from the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers and not far from the water’s edge, making it effectively a coastal vineyard in sand dunes with some weathered granitic washed down from of the Sierra Nevada Mountain range over millennia. This vintage is epic and this wine takes full advantage, enjoy it with friends and fun, it goes great with BBQ and or burgers!
($32 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2019 Pax Wines, Mission, Somer’s Vineyard, Mokelumne River, Lodi.
The Pax 100% Mission is a vibrant and light red wine that feel the need for a chill and enjoyed in its racy youth with a fun sort of Beaujolais like playful juicy cherry led personality, but with a unique blast of dry savory notes and a zippy array of spices from cinnamon to red pepper flakes along with a zesty acidity and fine dusty tannins. Pax, known for their world class Syrah, does a delightful collection of natural style Glou-Glou wines, some of which were started under Pax Mahle’s Wind Gap label that has now been folded into the Pax lineup, these included his Trousseau Gris, his highly sought after Gamay Noir, plus a Petit Manseng, a little known French white grape that is grown primarily in Gascony, and more famously in the Jurançon and Pacherenc in the southwest, plus this slightly wild Mission grape, that is also known as Listan Prieto, found in the Canary Islands and Pais, which is its name in Chile. In California, Mission arrived with the Missions, hence the name, since the original Spanish vines by that time had no had a remembered name, some of the oldest living Mission vines are still at the Mission San Gabriel in Los Angeles that to have been planted in 1771, while the Somer’s Vineyard in Lodi looks like it was planted in the early 1900s. The Mission grape in the central valley of California was mostly used in the production of Brandy rather than still wine and occasionally Mission was used in late harvest wines, known as Angelica, this was the first version that I tried from a 200 year old vineyard in Santa Barbara County.
Pax employed a 100% while cluster and native fermentation allowing for a semi carbonic style of character with the wine getting a short aging spell with a four month elevage in neutral French barrels, plus a month in concrete tank before bottling with everything done to preserve freshness. These grapes, sourced from these old organic vines, came from the Mokelumne River zone on ancient river bed on deep sandy loam soils, which has led to roots that have dug way down to get moisture, since they are all dry farmed and they have huge trunks that according to the winery look like trees being about six feet high. The 2019 Pax Mission (aka Listan Prieto) which was just released reminds me of some of the more interesting Canary Islands wines like Envinate’s Benje and Fronton de Oro’s Tinto as well as a few Pipeno’s (Louis Antoine Luyt) from Chile made from Pais that date back to the first Missionaries in the 1500s. The flavors are slightly earthy and raw with layers of strawberry/rhubarb, umami, dried herbs and rose petals along with the tangy cherry, cinnamon and peppery notes along with grilled orange and wild fennel. The Mission grape is showing it deserves a second chance in California, after almost disappearing in the mid 1900s when it was much maligned and replaced by more noble varietals, mostly from France, maybe not as serious wine, but as an easy drinking quaffer and non pretentious counter culture wine! Enjoy Pax’s light ruby-pale garnet, almost Rosé like, hued Mission, which is just 12.5% natural alcohol and now with lots of laughter, friends and simple cuisine.
($24 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2018 Eden Rift, Zinfandel, Dickinson Block, Cienega Valley, San Benito County.
For those that love Turley, Ridge, Bedrock, Bucklin and or Saucelito Canyon who all use historic old vine vineyards for their Zinfandels should really check out the last Eden Rift Dickinson Block Zinfandel that comes from a small parcel of vines that were planted in 1906, way over a hundred years old and making for a stunning wine of depth and concentration. I have been lucky enough to try the 2017 and this 2018 versions and I can tell you this is a beautifully aromatic and polished expression of Zinfandel with classic black raspberry and plum fruit, a lovely dark purple/garnet color and a delicate array of spices, chalky mineral notes, subtle oak shadings along with pretty floral notes and fresh herbs de Provence. This 2018 is wonderfully textured, vivid in detail and is perfectly ripe, it is a stellar vintage for depth, clarity and it delivers everything with the impression of fine balance and pleasing richness, and this wine does it exceptionally well, hats off to winemaker Cory Waller, who really nailed it here. Walking through this special plot of old Zinfandel vines, which are head trained you might see a couple of odd ball black varietals and maybe some Carignan inter planted, but you can really taste that Zin personality from start to finish. This 2018 gets better and better with air and adds tangy blueberry, kirsch, anise and a touch of coco and the mouth feel impresses with supple/sweet tannin and thrilling full bodied palate, it goes great with rustic cuisine, especially hearty meat dishes and or tomato based pastas, and yes Pizza.
The Eden Rift label, which is the new name for this site, was created in 2016, has brought this old property back to the wine worlds attention which is well deserved with the attention to detail in the vineyards, that were originally started back in 1849, making it one of the oldest wine growing homesteads in California. This wine, the Dickinson Block Zinfandel is one of the most limited in the Eden Rift collection, which is focused on Pinot Noir, which makes sense when you realize that Eden Rift’s neighbored by the famous Calera Estate and Mount Harlan, and where Waller, who has made wine in Oregon and New Zealand, was also an assistant winemaker alongside his brother Mike, the head winemaker at Calera. The Eden Rift wines are all hand crafted and made with indigenous yeasts where possible and aged exclusively in French oak barrels and the grapes which all sustainably grown are hand harvested with serve yields and sorting for quality. The soils at Eden Rift are a mix of limestone and are dolomite-rich that gives these wines their terroir driven flavors, helped along the way by the cool evenings and coastal influence that flows a wind gap into the Cienega Valley. A visit to the estate is an incredible experience, especially seeing the gorgeous terraced Pinot Noir plots with their heritage clone selections like Calera and Mount Eden clones growing on steep eastern facing hillsides. There lots of exciting these happening at Eden Rift and I must also note, their Chardonnay is not a wine to overlook here, like this one it delivers a great performance, I, as you might have guessed, highly recommend checking out the new releases.
($45 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2016 Ampeleia, Kepos, Costa Toscana IGT, Tuscany, Italy.
Ampeleia, one of Tuscany’s most intriguing wineries, based near Maremma was founded in 2002 as collaboration between like minded friends, including one of Italy’s greatest winemakers Elisabetta Foradori, who’s famous Alto Adige estate is one of the most prized in the Dolomites, Thomas Widmann, and Giovanni Podini. The together created an organic farm with a focus around making biodynamic wines using natural and traditional methods. The Kepos red is a unique Tuscany coast wine made from Mediterranean grape varieties including 60% Alicante Nero (aka Grenache), 25% Mourvedre and 15% Carignano all from estate grown biodynamic wines. ‘Kepos’ is Greek and is synonymous with ‘garden,’ or any place where trees and herbs are grown. These grapes are sourced from vineyards closest to the Ocean, but at about 300 meters above sea level with cool breezes in the Ampeleia di Sotto parcel, its a place where the Mediterranean scrub dominates the landscape and, according to the winery, permeates the air with its lavender/sage like fragrance. While Elisabetta Foradori’s Altro Adige offerings, made with her signature Teroldego grapes, are firm and powerful and are strikingly unique, these Ampeleia wines seem more casual, playful and sultry in style, making for a unique contrast in approach.
Foradori crafted this Kepos using all de-stemmed grapes, and co-fermented all of Grenache, Mourvedre and the Carignano together with indigenous yeasts and gentle maceration and daily punch downs. The Ampeleia Kepos, like many traditional Rhones, like some from Gigondas was aged about a year in cement tank, then that was followed by 7 months of resting in its bottle before leaving the cellar. The 2016 is beautifully aromatic and the palate is warm and textured highlighting the fabulous vintage in Italy and especially in Tuscany with this Kepos showing ripe and smooth tannins and a medium full palate of fresh and spicy raspberry, dusty plum, strawberry as well as kirsch, dried flowers, peppery herbs, wild fennel and delicate mineral tones. Like all the Ampeleia wines I’ve tried so far, this wine delivers a straight forward, smooth and authentic performance in the glass, these are not blockbuster or showy wines, but oh man they are delicious and delight the senses and without a doubt captures the essence of this place. I adore the slightly raw and earthy personality in the Ampeleia lineup, but there is exceptional fruit and quality here too, I could easily drink these almost everyday, they are also super food friendly with refined acidity and without oaky elements, look for them.
($25 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2018 Waxwing Wine Cellars, Syrah, Coastview Vineyard, Monterey County.
Scott Sisemore has made some really awesome wines in the recent few vintages and has raised the game here at his Waxwing Wine Cellars, especially with his latest set of Pinot Noirs and his Syrah bottlings, like this 2018 Coastview Vineyard Syrah that comes from John Allen’s exceptional site in the Gablan Mountain Range. Scott says he enjoys visiting the Coastview Vineyard most all of all with its remote location and spectacular vistas from the elevation, which is about 2, 200 feet up and overlooks the cool Pacific Ocean set on a unique combination of decomposed granite and limestone soils. While Coastview has many varieties planted and does well with Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, it is the Rhones that interest Sisemore, who really is laser focused on the Syrah here, which provides deep flavors and incredibly pure fruit with wonderful density and length while retaining fresh acidity and pretty aromatics. The 2018 version is a full bodied expression of syrah with loads of texture, ripe tannins and delicate spices with layers of boysenberry, blackberry, cherry, plum and blueberry fruit as well as dark flowers, a touch of smoky oak, creme de cassis, minty melted black licorice and cayenne. Only 5 barrels were produced and this limited Syrah by Waxwing will certainly go fast with its bold profile and rich opulence of flavors when it is officially released this month, so be sure to email Scott directly on his website to reserve yours.
There is a lot to love about this wine and the collection of new releases from Sisemore with this one being one of prizes, but also check out his Lester Vineyard Pinot and Syrah from Corralitos, in the south west side of the Santa Cruz Mountains, the Deerheart Vineyard Pinot, a wine I discovered last year from a unique site also in the Santa Cruz Mountains, as well as his Sonoma Coast Pinot and Syrah offerings, plus a couple of intriguing Santa Barbara and Santa Ynez wines, along with the Tondre Grapefield dry Riesling. The Waxwing line is all small lot hand crafted wines with a respect of each terroir and regional character with very individual personalities with this Coastview Syrah being very expressive of place, it reminds me of some of the Big Basin wines that also originate here. Sisemore used 100% whole cluster and the Coastview Syrah was foot treaded and saw a long cold soak in open top fermentors and the fermentation went for months in Scott’s cold cellar. The must saw two to three punch-downs a day and was racked into once used French barrels where it was aged for about 14 months. This inky purple Syrah sings in the glass with a powerful presence in the mouth and it needs some seriously robust cuisine, like a rack of lamb, try-tip steak, wild mushroom dishes and or BBQ fare. This wine is less northern Rhone than the other Syrah bottlings in the lineup and is more in line with some of thedelicious stuff coming out of the Santa Barbara County and or the westside of Paso Robles, making it a head turner!
($40-50 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2017 Martellotto Winery, Malbec “My Way” Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara, Santa Ynez.
The My Way Mablec by Greg Martellotto comes from the warmest area of the Santa Ynez Valley in the Happy Canyon of Santa Barbara AVA that has become a hot bed for Bordeaux varietals and this 2017 vintage shows an intense inky dark color and has some big tannin on the full bodied palate as well as a deep sense of black fruits. Martellotto credits his family’s long history in making rustic southern Italian wines as his guide to his own modern wines, which he says are made to show a raw soulful essence that he feels was inspired by the old world way of (wine) life and he focuses on small batch terroir driven offerings coming from sustainable vineyards with many sites being all organic. Each of his wines demands an individual approach and he tries to allow the grapes speak for themselves, and this Malbec certainly shows its own personality, not as rustic and fiery as Cahors, the spiritual home of the Malbec grape and not as graceful or polished as the best from Argentina it leans toward the bold California style with layers of blueberry compote, smoky oak notes, plum, blackberry and creme de cassis along with a light spiciness, floral notes and a minty herbal element. Air is this wines best friend and close behind is rich food dishes with both allowing this wine to find a polished form and gives this Malbec a stage to show the lush opulence that is underneath the firm structure, much in the same way air and cuisine helps young Bordeaux and or raw southern Italian wines.
Martellotto, who stated his label in 2005, with winemaking experience in Mexico, Italy, Napa Valley, Paso Robles, and now in Santa Barbara County, says he’s trying to combine creative fermentation techniques along with an artistic blending prior to bottling to produce wines that are distinctive, he also tries to do many indigenous yeast ferments depending on the varietal and while still under the radar he has proven very good at spotting high quality vines to chose from including some very incredible sites like the Spear Vineyard in the cool Sta. Rita Hills, where he gets some Pinot Noir. Greg’s current set of wines, all small lot bottlings that are individually numbered, that includes red and white blends in Bordeaux and Rhone styles, a Viognier, a Chardonnay, a Cabernet Sauvignon, a Merlot, a Petite Sirah, a Syrah and the mentioned Pinot Noir to name a few, plus a unique Rosé. Greg, who also holds a degree in biology from Stanford, named his Malbec after Frank Sinatra and the famous version of My Way and seemingly the wine was blended to honor the man’s boldness and personality. The final blend was 80% Malbec and 20% Petit Verdot and was aged in a combination of French and American oak for 10 months with about 10% new oak, giving that sweet toasty vanilla. It must be noted that Martellotto is offering a big discount on his wines during this shelter in place period, with the fear of the spread of Covid-19, and this one comes down to under $30 and it will please a wide range of wine lovers, especially those that like bolder expressions and wines that go well with hearty dishes.
($40 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2018 Martha Stoumen, Zinfandel, Venturi Vineyard, Mendocino County.
Martha Stoumen, who was celebrating her birthday yesterday March 20, is one of the new generation of California small batch producers that is working in a natural way to craft her wines with old world techniques that she learned during her time in Europe doing winemaking internships. Best known for her time at Giusto Occhipinti’s COS Winery in the Vittoria region of Sicily and her love of the Nero d’Avola grape, as well as her commitment to organic farming, both with vines she works herself and her partnerships with multi-generational family grape growers, like this Venturi Vineyard in Mendocino County located just north of Ukiah, in the Calpella Valley, on a combination of sandstone, shale, quartz and gravelly loam soils. Stoumen crafts her small lot offerings at Pax’s facility in Sebastopol and makes an exciting lineup of wines with bottlings of unique varietals, like her signature Nero d’Avola and (French) Colombard plus California classics like Petite Sirah, Carignan and this young vine, organic and dry famed Zinfandel, to name a few, as well as her Post Flirtation line of blended wines, red, white and a Rosé. I have eagerly been waiting to dig into Martha’s latest releases, especially these 2018 vintage reds and this Venturi Zin is an absolutely delicious and fresh wine with a pleasing old school rustic charm and a bright low alcohol personality. This is the first year Stoumen made a Venturi Vineyard Zinfandel from a parcel of younger vines set on rock strewn part of the vineyard in an area that was formed from ancient alluvial flows and this deep and well drained sites makes for expressive and concentrated fruit which shows in this wine with its layers of earthy and spicy flavors on the medium bodied palate that shows fresh crushed raspberries, tart cherries and plum fruits along with Asian spices, orange tea, truffle, wild fennel and pepper jelly. This exciting low sulfur and almost crisp red deepens with air and an amazing perfume of dark flowers comes alive in the glass, it is a joyous crimson and unfiltered ruby colored wine that goes brilliantly with robust cuisine and or hard cheeses and charcuterie. Italy has played a big part in Stoumen’s education and during her undergraduate studies she immersed herself on a Tuscan farm learning the inter connected balance of natural farming and traditional agricultural systems working with an olive orchard, farm animals, bees, and vegetables along with grape vines going valuable insights into organic synergies.
The Venturi Zinfandel, which is vegan safe, was fermented using 100% whole cluster, with Stoumen starting with a small portion of the bunches being foot treaded and placed in the bottom of the tank, then un-treaded clusters are put on top. Then, according to Martha, they slowly foot-tread or perform (body) punch-downs for about a week until things are soft enough to gently do pump-overs. She adds, that because grapes are broken up slowly over time, sugars are also released more slowly rather than all at once, resulting in a slower fermentation, maybe adding to the lower alcohol here, which is 12.7%, but with a ripe and textural feel. The primary and secondary fermentation is all native or indigenous and saw a 28-day maceration before pressing with Stoumen’s minimalistic approach and a gentle racking before the wine rested in all well seasoned used barrels for 12 months on its lees. The final bottled wine shows good intensity of form, lively acidity and mild dusty tannins that gives this Zinfandel a transparent and raw character, but the nose especially develops with sensuality and adds an elegance to this lighter style wine with lilacs and lavender emerging. You can see why these wines are gaining a fan base and not only with the natural wine crowd, as these wines deliver a fine performance and you can clearly see Martha’s personal style shinning through, in particular I love her Carignan, the Nero d’Avola and this Zinfandel. Stoumen, who got her start initial exposure to grape farming and winemaking in Tuscany, got a Master’s at UC Davis, and has before starting her own label spent stints at some of the world’s best wine estates, she worked under the renown Reinhard Löwenstein at Heymann-Löwenstein, in the Mosel, as well as working under stars like Jordan Fiorentini (Epoch), when she was at Chalk Hill, Chris Brockway of Broc Cellars, Clive Dougall at Seresin, in Marlborough New Zealand, Didier Barral at Domaine Léon Barral of Faugères fame in France’s Languedoc, and the mentioned Giusto Occhipinti. These experiences have shaped Stoumen and led her to take her own path to create terroir driven California wines from unique grapes and sites, and they are well worth checking out.
($38 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2019 Poe Wines, Rosé of Pinot Noir/Pinot Meunier, California.
I’ve been a fan of Samatha Sheehan’s wines since she first starting making her wines, especially her Poe Rosé, with this 2019 being the best one to date, it makes for a delightful Spring treat and a much needed distraction from the news in the world. Poe started back in 2009, with Sheehan being inspired to craft her own wines after visiting Burgundy and the Champagne regions of France, she now hand makes a stellar collections of wines that includes traditional Champagne method sparkling wines, (this) Rosé, Chardonnay(s), Pinot Noir(s), a special nouveau Pinot Noir and a fabulous Pinot Meunier. Sheehan’s Poe Rosé is vibrantly fresh, dry and minerally crisp with bright sour cherry, grapefruit, strawberry and watermelon fruits along with delicate rosewater, spring herbs, light spices and wet stones. This steely and delicious wine, as Sheehan notes, is a blend of 66% Pinot Noir from the Manchester Ridge vineyard located in the Mendocino Ridge AVA, which sits on hilltop only a few miles from the Pacific Ocean on the far western side of the Anderson Valley, with 34% Pinot Meunier sourced from the historic Van der Kamp Vineyard on Sonoma Mountain. The Van der Kamp vineyard has been farmed for over 100 years, having some of the oldest Pinot Noir wines in California, plus this special parcel of Meunier, as Sheehan adds, and is comprised of Speckles loam, Volcanic Tuff and decomposed ancient stream-beds, which adds to the structure wine.
The Poe Rosé is 100% “direct to press” version of dry pink, picked in the vineyard to be Rosé, as opposed to a saignée, that would be a bleed off from ripe red wine grapes, with the hand harvested fruit picked in the cool of the night, and pressed lightly first thing the following morning. Then pressed juice, according to Samantha was transferred into a stainless steel tank where it was fermented naturally at 48 degrees for 2 weeks, explaining the cold fermentation preserves the purity of flavors, with every nuance and heightens the aromatics. Sheehan inhibited malolactic fermentation on her Pinot Noir/Meunier Rosé, again to keep this vibrant and zesty form, and it was sterile filtered so it would not go through malolactic fermentation in bottle. There’s a lot to love about this Rosé, which is just being released and is available on Sheehan’s website right now and it is also a great time to support California’s small wineries that under tremendous hardship with the current situation and these scary times. Poe’s sparkling wines are absolutely stunning efforts, some of the most interesting grower producer style bubbles in the state and are classic Brut dry bottlings, plus Sheehan’s Chards and Pinots deserve your attention as well. The Rosé season is well and truly here and there are going to be an amazing array of dry pinks coming to you and this Poe is one that you certainly should try!
($24 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2018 Corral Wine Company, Sauvignon Blanc, Zabala Vineyard, Arroyo Seco AVA, Monterey County.
The new Corral Sauvignon Blanc comes from the Zabala Vineyard in the Arroyo Seco AVA, it has become a hot spot for interesting and aromatic versions of this grape and this fresh and delicious one is worth checking out. The Corral Wine Co. is a family run micro (craft) winery in Corral de Tierra, that has a few acres of Pinot Noir vines and looks forward to releasing their estate wine in the near future and in the mean time that have done a nice job with this Zabala sourced Sauvignon Blanc. This wine is also the debut for winemaker Adrien Valenzuela, who has been patiently waiting for his chance to show of his cellar skills outside his day job at Constellation Brands in Gonzales. A Salinas and Monterey County native Valenzuela, who was studing biology and nursing, took an internship at Estancia and caught the wine bug, his first solo wine that he made in his garage was a hit at the Mid-State Fair, taking a Gold Medal. He is a winemaker for some of the Robert Mondavi line and getting experience as Corral gets itself off the ground, but as many other young winemakers have found out it is a tough road to success and there was many roadblocks along the way and it is great to see these young people taking their chance and making it in this tough business.
Fermented and aged in stainless, this 2018 Zabala Sauvignon Blanc is excitingly vivid, zesty and pure, making it a great Summer sipper and a white that goes great with lighter cuisine, especially delicate fish, goat cheeses, salads and picnic foods. The nose is striking with gooseberry, wild herbs, white flowers and citrus in this tangy refreshing white that leads to a light zippy palate with loads of lemon/lime, white peach, quince and papaya fruits as well as a nice cut of bite from natural acidity as well as mineral and wet stone elements. It has been very interesting to see a Monterey County renaissance of Sauvignon Blanc, it is an amazing turn around for this grape locally, it’s a trend I didn’t see coming at all with the alternative grape varietals doing so well here, like Vermentino, Picpoul, Grenache Blanc and especially Albariño. I first heard of a re-focusing on SB from Ian Brand of I. Brand & Family Winery and La Marea Wines, he told me it would happen, telling me that the climate and soils made it possible for Sauvignon Blanc to shine here, and his has been proven right, in particularly with his own Zabala version, Joyce’s Old Vine Carmel Valley SB, Chesebro’s, Drench Wines (also Zabala!) and this beautiful and crisp Corral release. 2018 and 2019 are stunning vintages for Sauvignon Blanc, in Monterey, and I recommend searching for this small production wine.
($24 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2018 Hundred Suns, Pinot Noir, Old Eight Cut, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
The new Old Eight Cut Willamette Valley Pinot from Hundred Suns is full of dark fruits, richness from the warm vintage and with an underlying light savory element and vibrancy that keeps things in form, this is riper than the 2017, but still focused and balanced with a delicious palate and sex appeal for youthful drinking. I am a big fan of all the wines coming from this small Oregon producer made by the ex-Beaux Freres winemaker Grant Coulter, especially this barrel selection Old Eight Cut Pinot, which its exotic semi carbonic style that is modern, but similar to what you see from Philippe Pacalet in Burgundy and with some Cru Beaujolais, like Jean Foillard thrown in! Even the name reflects this idea, as Coulter puts it, (the) Old Eight Cut, which is a diamond cut dating back to the 1400s using simple tools and few cuts to enhance the natural brilliance of the stone without disguising its true nature, that also describes the winemaking theme, these are wines made using ancient techniques and traditional means to showcase the purity of fruit and the year. The 2018 vintage was a warm year in the Willamette, as noted, and Coulter adds that fruit set was poor and the clusters were tiny, all of which explains the intensity and concentration, but there somehow managed to be good acids in the end, with the dry winds in August closing the leaf stomata allowing that boost in acid, allowing wines that look more complex and structured than would have been imagined, I myself am loving the results here and the Old Eight Cut should age well too.
The latest Old Eight Cut release has layers of classic dark cherry, blackberry, wild plum, pomegranate and racy strawberry fruits, an array of spices, herbs de Provence and potpourri and light hints of earth, blood orange and faint oak shadings. As Grant explains, the Old Eight Cut, the main wine or entry level bottling, is cellar selection that stitches together pieces from unique sites from across the whole Willamette Valley, which includes many differing soil types and climates from Jory (volcanic) to a marine sedimentary base. The small lots are fermented with 100% native yeast, with this vintage seeing about 40% whole cluster with less hybrid winemaking in this one, this minimum of intervention paid off with a soulful expression of flavors and graceful textures. Hundred Suns aged the final batch on the lees for 11 months in neutral French oak barrels and after which it was gently racked to tank and bottled unfined and unfiltered, again the enhance the Pinot Noir’s sense of purity and true character. With air and time in the glass this dark ruby and garnet hued Pinot gains depth and length, adding heightened perfume, making it pretty thrilling stuff and has the stuffing to go with a range of cuisines. The Old Eight Cut, from organically grown grapes, offers loads of silken pleasures and is a stunning value in Willamette Pinot, again this is a winery to watch, in particular these Pinots, plus Coulter is also doing a fabulous Gamay and even a stylish Washington State Grenache, keep an eye on Hundred Suns! I can’t wait to dig into their single vineyard or Cru wines, most of which are biodynamic grown, in the near future.
($30 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2017 Drew Family Cellars, Syrah, Perli Vineyard, Mendocino Ridge.
Always an exciting wine, the Drew Perli Syrah, is quite lush in the 2017 version and full of black fruit and with smooth ripe tannins, and even though made using full bunches and stems it delivers an opulent and full bodied palate with presence that reminds me more of the southern Rhone than the Northern Rhone, though I do see a touch of Guigal Cote Rotie in the polished form here. This is a wine that excites in the mouth feel and in impact delivering blackberry, plum, black currant, blueberry coulis and kirsch fruits along with subtle spice, smoky mineral notes, anise, cedar and black Mission figs. The nose is still subdued at this stage, but a light floral array emerges with air, and you can see that underneath all the dense fruit there is a more savory side lurking and that much more is developing behind the scenes on display so far. The Perli drinks very well now, make no mistake, though I am more interested in its potential in 3 to 5 years, and if you do open it like I did, be sure to have it with food, especially heavy protein dishes and or hard cheeses. As I’ve been saying for some time now, Drew Family Cellars is one of California’s best wineries and Jason Drew is making some of the state’s absolutely best wines, in particular his awesome set of Pinots, like the Estate bottlings and the Morning Dew Ranch, as well as his limited release Syrah(s) like the Valenti Ranch and this Perli Vineyard.
The Perli Vineyard, which Drew notes, lies within the Mendocino Ridge appellation and sits at 2200 ft elevation just ten miles from the Mendocino Coast, cooled by the Pacific Ocean on a steep north eastern slope, which allows for long hang times for the grapes and with restrained sugars. This 21 year old vineyard is set on ancient ocean floor uplift with sedimentary soils with both the McDowell selection and the 877 clones of Syrah. The McDowell selection, Jason adds, is notable as it is the oldest field selection of Syrah in North America, that originally came into California in 1880 where it was propagated by the San Jose Mission and then later planted on the McDowell Ranch in Mendocino County in 1902, maybe the first Rhone Ranger. Drew employed a 100% Native Yeast and 100% Whole Cluster fermentation, on this vintage of the Perli Syrah, to promote purity and thrilling flavor evolution with gentle maceration, pilage and pressing, with the wine resting on the fine lees in neutral French oak for close to a year with gravity racking a couple of times before bottling. The Perli which really excels when given time to open in the glass has a joyous textural quality and while almost exotic and very expressive it has a natural balance and is just 13.8% in alcohol, keeping it from feeling hot or boozy, this is tasty stuff. Only 75 cases, or three barrels, were produced of the Drew Perli Syrah, making it a rare treat to cherish, Drew advises this one sells out fast, so keep an eye out for it.
($48 Est.) 93+ Points, grapelive
2018 Weingut Künstler, Spätburgunder Rosé, Rheingau Germany.
When thinking back on the last year and celebrating my birthday, I wanted to reflect on some fun times and fun wines, less serious, but well crafted, so I reviewed my notes and found this one staring at me, it is perfect for this occasion and a sublime Pinot Noir Rosé with fresh details and a lively nature. Gunter Künstler, one of Germany’s best winemakers and world renown for his stunning Rieslings, is based the famous Rheingau village of Hochheim, on the banks of the Main river, which flows west from Frankfurt, meeting the Rhein here and is a place of unique conditions with a warm and somewhat humid climate and a mix of loess, clay, sand, loam, marl and limestone soils that allows for ripe and dense dry wines, when farmed with the passion and hard work like Künstler, with even his basic bottlings like this one being solidly crafted. The 2018 Rosé, a limited and hard to find pink, is full of wild strawberry, bright and sour cherry and plum water, it is fruity in a refreshing dynamic way and has good full Pinot character along with hints of spice, crushed wet stones, delicate rosewater and zingy citrus. Impressive for the cut of acidity and mineral tones as well as the wonderful round textured palate, it’s a wine for sunshine, laughter and friends.
Künstler, who has moved with great care and respect for his vines to organic practices, also takes a pragmatic approach in the cellar, which according to Riesling guru and importer Terry Theise, is in line with the elite producers in Germany with a focus on dry wines. The musts settle by gravity, to save the wine from bitter phenolics and are gently pressed clear with fermentation done with cultured yeast, because, as Gunter notes, it’s often still warm when grapes are being picked and to work sponti would mean a greater risk of volatile acidity. The winery, as Theise adds, orients toward cask as opposed to steel, though each is used, and the Spätburgunder Rosé is, I believe, mostly stainless fermented and aged to preserve fresh vibrancy and its purity. The latest set of wines from Künstler includes an amazing set of Riesling Trockens from the home village Crus to the fabled Rudesheimer Berg as well as a fabulous couple of Pinot Noirs, these are absolutely on par with Burgundies twice of three times the price! The Kirchenstück and Hölle Grosses Gewachs, no matter the vintage, are some of the greatest Rieslings you’ll ever taste and should be in your collection if you are into that sort of thing, of course you are! Keep an eye out for all the Weingut Künstler offering, and for instant smiles grab the Rosé when or if you see it!
($25 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2016 Domaine Taupenot-Merme, Gevrey-Chambertin, Red Burgundy, France.
The Domaine Taupenot-Merme, a producer that is been making some noise in recent years, is based in the village of Morey St Denis in the Cote de Niuts, and was formed back in 1963 with the marriage of Jean Taupenot and Denise Merme, is known for classically style wines from small parcels in over twenty appellations. Today Taupenot-Merme is led by the brother and sister team of Romain and Virginie Taupenot, and they have moved to all organic farming and the quality has really started to rise, and I was was in particularly impressed with this beautiful and structured village Gevrey-Chambertin, it makes you admire the winemaking skills of Romain and his non intervention or hands off low key style that allows each wine to show a sense of place and individual personalities. This 2016 Gevrey-Chambertin shows a lively freshness and purity of fruit with some firm tannins and it has subtle perfume and a good long finish, this is impressive Burgundy to enjoy in the medium term, it will likely go another 10 to 15 years, but I love how it opens in the glass and think it can be enjoyed thoroughly even now, as within minutes of the first sip there was everything you’d want on display here with lovely rose petals, red Pinot fruit and a touch of spice, smoke and mineral notes. This is a pretty Burgundy that gives a solid performance showing the mentioned floral bouquet, light earthy tones and complex layers of tart raspberry, black cherry (that echos throughout), plum and red currant fruits, cinnamon, shaved vanilla, tea spice, a touch of orange zest, wild forrest mushroom and woody toast.
Romain is pretty traditional in the cellar with his wines and this one saw a careful sorting and was all de-stemmed with the primary fermentation occurring naturally with indigenous yeasts with a soft maceration before the grapes go into the Champagne style gentle pneumatic press to control the phenolic extraction to make the wine as refined and silky. The elevage, at Taupenot-Merme, as their importer Martine’s Wines puts it, is simple, with Romain favoring mainly two tonneliers, Francois and Mercurey for the aging for his wines, like this one, which saw 20% new oak. The Gevrey-Chambertin saw just over a year in barrel on the fine lees with no racking, then the wine was transferred to stainless to settle and clarify for at least three months before being bottled unfined and unfiltered. I had not had many of wines of Taupenot-Merme in recent years, though many of my friends have and have been saying these were special offerings with lots of early drinking pleasure, with many saying they were an under the radar producer that still was an under valued estate, and from my own experience with this 2016 I would agree. This one certainly impressed me and I would recommend it for those that love Burgundy, it isn’t a blockbuster, but it would be a rewarding bottle with any meal. I am excited to try more of the lineup of Taupenot-Merme and I hope to try the upper end range of Premier Crus and Grand Crus, after the quality of this Gevrey, they must be outstanding.
($75 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2016 Flywheel, Grenache, Boer Vineyard, Chalone AVA, Monterey County.
Winemaker Scott Shapely’s Flywheel Wines, his own project, specializing in hand-crafting small-lot wines in his home town from fruit grown in Monterey County, with most vineyard sources located near the Pinnacles and especially the unique limestone terroir of the Chalone region. This chalky region has, as Shapley puts it, a majestic landscape that provides amazing grapes that showcases this special place and its characteristic dense fruit and minerality. Shapely who has been the winemaker at Roar for a while now, crafting some of the greatest wines of the Santa Lucia Highlands, especially the Garys’ and Rosella’s Pinots, as well as consulting at some other high quality boutique producers, which until recently included helping Paul Gordon’s Halcon Vineyards, a winery that is fast becoming one of the state’s best Syrah makers. It was great to catch up with Scott recently and taste his beautiful 2016 Boer Vineyard Grenache, it is a wine that impresses with lovely delicacy and purity of varietal form, on par with some of the most finessed versions of this grape with layers of dusty raspberry, strawberry, pomegranate and plum fruits, brambly spices, chalky stones, rose petals, lavender and wild fennel. There’s a quiet sense of confidence on the medium full palate and a feeling of fresh lightness that allows easy drinking, the extra bottle age here really benefits it and lets this Grenache to unfold with graceful and sweet tannins and the wine doesn’t have a heavy hand with almost no oak accents showing at this point. The 2016 Boer Grenache is delicious from start to finish, its ruby/crimson color invites and the finish re-invites you to enjoy another sip, its a smooth wine that gives way more than expected, it really highlights Shapely’s talents and the Chalone regions personality in a natural and transparent way, this is tasty stuff.
Grenache is really seeing its time come and I have been blown away with what is going on here in California with this grape and the great array of expressions that are available and Shapely’s Flywheel Grenache is an under the radar offering that fans of this varietal should search out, it reminds me of a few top quality wines I’ve had in the last few months, like Ian Brand’s fabulous Besson, Sheldon’s Ceja Farms and it has a lot in common with a few made by the talented Angela Osborne as well, to name a few, as well as some classic Rhones and the gorgeous wines of the Sierra de Gredos in Spain. The Boer Vineyard is up in the Gabilan Range very near the Pinnacles National Monument, set on collection of desirable soils including decomposing granite and brittle, chalky limestone from an ancient seabed uplifted by tectonic plate movement, it is a place of big daily temperature swings that brings out the lush fruit that takes center stage in the wines, like this Flywheel Grenache, but also the chilly nights fresh the vines and gives the wines a lift of acidity. Shapely makes a full selections of tiny production wines under his label with a collection of Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Mouredre and this Grenache, which is a very solid value, exceeding in terms of quality for the price, it is a wine that makes me want more and is brilliant with an array of cuisine choices. I can’t wait to dig into more of Scott’s wines, I really look forward to trying the Flywheel Mourvedre as well, it is a grape that also thrives in the limestone soils of the Chalone zone. This 2016 Boer Grenache is really hitting its stride and is in a great place, it should drink well for another 3 to 5 years easily, I highly recommend chasing down a few bottles!
($30 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2018 Weingut Carl Loewen, Riesling Trocken, Longuicher Maximin Herrenberg “1896 Alte Reben” VDP Grosse Lage, Mosel Germany.
The fantastic Old Vine Trocken from Christopher Loewen is a great way to celebrate Riesling’s birthday, which is celebrated on March 13 and it looks like this grape is now 585 years old, especially well honored by this wine that comes from Germany’s oldest known Riesling vines dating back, to as the label and name suggest, 1896! This particular bottling is Loewen’s alternative top dry Riesling, labeled Alte Reben instead of Grosses Gewachs or a GG, it is a secondary special selection from this Grand Cru site. The historic Weingut Carl Loewen estate dates back to 1803 when a set of vineyards and buildings that was formally owned by the Maximin order, much the same way the famous Maximin Grunhaus (Von Schubert) started after the Church’s lands were sold off to fund the secular Napoleonic government, and this sale included Loewen’s prized, ultra steep, Maximiner Herrenberg, one of the Mosel’s greatest vineyards. The dry 2018 Alte Reben Longuicher Maximin Herrenberg is a striking and crisply focused Riesling with classic slate soil influence showing intense minerallity along with brisk citrusy fruit with layers lime, tangerine, white peach, quince along with hints of kumquat, green apple, pineapple fruits as well as flinty wet shale (stoniness), chamomile, saline, verbena and white flowers. This is a wonderfully complex and thrilling Riesling that expands on the medium bodied palate with gripping extract and the sensation of textural grace making for a profound experience!
The Maximiner Herrenberg vineyard, as mentioned and noted was originally planted in 1896, and is now farmed by Loewen using organic methods and carefully sorted to not have botrytis in the dry wines with this parcel being in the lower slopes, set on red slate soils, closer to the Mosel river, benefiting from both reflective light from the river that adds to the ripening of these amazing Riesling grapes. Using modern natural methods in the cellar, the grapes are all whole cluster pressed, and Loewen is careful not to move the pomace so to not get bettering phenolic flavors, then the juice, according to the winery, is “browned” or oxidized pre-fermentation to stabilized the wine and get away from harsh reduction. Loewen’s ferments are “Sponti” completely natural without addition of enzymes or nutrition, with these single vineyard wines, Christopher notes, being individually block picked with the juice going directly into classic Fuder barrels (or oak casks around 1000L in size) which average 25 years old to age. While the GG’s are awesome, especially the sister Herrenberg version, and Loewen’s majestic Ritch, there are two wines that you don’t want to miss, the 1986 Feinherb, one of the most sought after cult wines in the Mosel and this Alte Reben (Old Vine) Maximiner Herrenberg Trocken, both from the VDP Grand Cru (Grosse Lage) vines, these are exotic beauties that deserve your attention and a space in your collection! Happy Birthday Riesling! Loewen is quickly becoming a name on Riesling lovers lips, he is an outstanding talent and his collection of 2018 wines are stunning.
($50-55 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2007 Bodegas R. Lopez de Heredia, Rioja, Vina Bosconia, Spain.
The refined and mature tasting 2007 Vina Bosconia is a silky and pleasing Rioja made by the classic Lopez de Heredia is a real winner in the price point with loads of dried and fresh red fruits, spice, texture and delicate floral notes. López de Heredia hasn’t changed much the more than 130 years since its founding, it is an ultra traditional producer that has stayed true to its house style without any nod to modern fashion, these are not flashy wines, but wines of soulful elegance without compromise. in fact, the Bodega López de Heredia is owned by the same family who founded it, with Maria José, Mercedes and Julio César, the latest generation running the show seamlessly and with respect to their ancestors. López de Heredia produces a beautiful range of wines, including a collection of Crianzas and Reservas with red, white and rosé offerings, plus a series of Gran Reservas in great years, with this Vina Bosconia Crianza being a favorite of mine, especially for the price. Bosconia is always Tempranillo based, usually in the highest percentage and has that character and profile with red cherries, plum, raspberry and baked red peach notes along with an grilled orange notes, as well as cedar, minty herb, tobacco and leathery earth, gaining wilted roses, dried currants and the structure is held together with opulent, soft tannin. This is wine that is much better off with food that matches its style, this wine is heading into a mature and lightness of form that deserves consideration and should be admired with the right pairing, in this case sleep cheeses, roast poultry, less robust dishes and or delicately flavored meats.
Lopez de Heredia believes in extended elevage (barrel aging) with a bare minimum of three years in barrels and with many wines getting close to 10 years in cask, this one gets between 3 and 5 years, depending on vintage with all American oak being employed. The primary fermentation is done in large oak vats and includes daily pump overs and lasts about a week before the wine is raised in the Bordeaux sized American barrels all with a traditional oxidative style that leads to round soft wines and wine that have a track record of long lives. The medium bodied Bosconia comes from the Rioja Alta zone which gives this wine its balance with the cooler nights giving natural acidity, sourced from a vineyard called El Bosque, located close to the river Ebro, but with high elevation in the south-facing foothills of the Sierra Cantabria range. The soils here are a combination of clay and limestone, and these vines, which include mostly Tempranillo, in the Bosconia that translates to about 90% in the final blend, plus Garnacha, Mazuelo and Graciano with an average of 40 years. The 2007 isn’t one of the most critically acclaimed vintages and while the 2004, 2005 and 2006 versions were more impactful and richer, the 2007 still delivers a poised performance and is easy to enjoy and is a great way to get started with this famous estate. The white and rosé also get long barrel aging and are incredibly intriguing wines, though of course the reds are what people look for with Lopez de Heredia with Bosconia being a middle of range bottling, with their signature Vina Tondonia Reserva, a vineyard they purchased back in 1913, being the biggest prize in their masterful collection. This is a wine to savor over the next 3 to 5 years, and though it might not be their most impressive, it is a lovely wine that will bring smile all around the table, drink up.
($30 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2018 Roar, Pinot Noir, Rosella’s Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands.
The Rosella’s Vineyard in the Santa Lucia Highlands, planted back in 1996 on a cool site with classic Arroyo Seco sandy Loams, is one of the Grand Crus of the region and the Franscioni family, fourth generation growers produce some of Monterey’s best wines under their Roar label, which they started with the 2000 vintage. Gary and Rosella, along with their sons Adam and Nick Franscioni have produced a fabulous set of wines in the 2018 vintage, especially this gorgeous Rosella’s Pinot Noir, which was a selection of the best barrels from their estate and home vineyard, it is wonderfully aromatic and dances on the palate with a ballerina’s sense of grace and form making it one of the best versions of Roar’s signature bottling I’ve tasted. I have followed the Roar wines since the beginning and have had almost every offering, so I have a great palate reference to these wines and this latest Rosella’s is one of my favorites with its vibrancy, depth, texture and length all being incredible here. There is a sense of density and opulence that will satisfy the returning fans of this wine, but I love the delicacy and energy in this edition that highlights the greatness of the vintage, which was long and cool, giving the wines lots of ripe flavors without heaviness or overt alcohol, this is going to be a legendary year for the Santa Lucia Highlands. This Rosella’s has a beautiful dark ruby hue, a mix of rose petals and dried violets making it seductive, luxurious and inviting for Pinot lovers and it will need something a little more special in the form of cuisine to match it, maybe duck breast with a huckleberry reduction?
The 2018 Roar Rosella’s starts with its heavenly floral perfume, red fruits and subtle smoky sweet toastiness that leads to a medium full bodied palate of black cherry, plum, vine picked raspberry and a touch of tangy blueberry fruit along with bramble and briar spice, rose hip tea, vanilla and a faint elegant earthiness. Roar craft just tiny amounts of wine with a focus on Pinot Noir, though they also do Chardonnay as well as Syrah and even a micro batch of Viognier with Nick and consulting winemaker Scott Shapely leading the efforts in the cellar. Rosella’s is planted to a mix of Pinot clones and is traditionally fermented with all hand sorted and mostly de-stemmed grapes, after maceration, pilage and primary (fermentation) the wine is gently pressed to 100% French oak for aging, with about 50% new barriques employed from a variety of coopers including Cadus, Ermitage, Francois Freres, Latour, Remond and Seguin Moreau. The Franscioni’s love the expressive nature and character of the fruit and never shy away from the deep and dark flavors that come from their vines, these are hedonistic, alluring and showy wines that deliver on their promise in the glass with impressive confidence, this vintage is totally irresistible! These days, the Roar wines are hard to find, it is best to get on their mailing list and the 2018 Pinots are going to go fast, so keep your eyes out. The 2016 and 2017 vintages produced a mixed bag of Santa Lucia Highlands wines and made the growers pull their hair out, but these 2018’s are the rewards of their hard work and commitment, with this Rosella’s, which will only get better and better over the next 5 to 10 years in bottle, being a stunning example.
($62 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2018 Weingut Leitz, Riesling, Rüdesheimer Trocken, Rheingau Germany.
The fabulous Rudesheimer Trocken feels more like a GG than a QbA with beautiful detailing, texture and density showing a real presence in the glass with plenty of extract and vigor with a focused array of briskly dry fruits, crystalized stones, mineral and salinity making it vividly refreshing, cooly crisp and serious good with oysters and lightly spiced cuisine. This bottling is always worth searching out and this 2018 takes it to another level and it is drinking well and has extra sense of refinement and graceful tension on the medium bodied palate. Coming from a quality site above the village of Rudesheim that has a good slope plus weathered slate and some quartzite soils, these Riesling grapes transmit pure terroir driven character, making for a stylish region wine that was fermented and aged solely in stainless to deliver its vibrant form. The mouth feel is surprisingly round, but with losing any of its lively nature and it expands in layers with lime, green apple, a touch of peach, quince and papaya fruits, as well as light flinty liquid mineral notes, wet stones, a touch of spearmint and white flowers that unfolds on the nose. I have visited Rudesheim, a picturesque wine village on the Rhein River, a few times now and this Riesling really makes me miss it, in particular this great estate and state of the art winery.
The Leitz Rüdesheimer Trocken is the “village level” dry Riesling for this highly regarded estate, but Johannes is fanatical about quality and value, delivering wines that allows give more for the money. The fruit for the 2018 version in fact was sourced entirely from the Drachenstein vineyard, and comes from a single VDP Grosse Lage parcel that is set at the same height of the famous Rüdesheimer Berg with a mix of loess and loam, that brings out the expressive fruit, but includes, as mentioned a smidge of broken slate and a touch of quarzite. This is a very different expression of Drachenstein, more precise, drier and taut than the fruity and opulent Dragon Stone bottling. This winery, one of the best in the region and as you’ve guessed from my reviews it is a favorite of mine, sets the standard in the Rheingau across their range, especially with their majestic Grosses Gewachs from Rudesheimer Berg Schlossberg, Kaisersteinfels, Roseneck and the Hinterhaus! That said, these entry level wines are outstanding, especially this one, and Leitz never rests on their laurels, with owner Johannes Leitz always looking toward the future. You can easily see why Johannes was recently recognized by Gault Millau as “Winemaker of the Year” and I highly suggest looking for these 2018 wines.
($27 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2017 Hundred Suns, Grenache, Elephant Mountain Vineyard, Rattlesnake Hills AVA, Yakima Valley, Washington State.
Winemaker Grant Coulter, most famous for his Willamette Valley Pinot Noir(s) from top sites in the Willamette Valley, including the Sequitur Vineyard, owned by his old boss Mike Etzel (Beaux Freres) has released a Washington State Grenache, adding it to his Hundred Suns label, which at first seems out of place, until you remember he has experience with this grape from his time at Beaux Freres in Ribbon Ridge, who had an Upper Terrace plot of Grenache. That wine, which was released only in the perfect years, was an ultra cult rarity, which I am lucky to have had a couple of times, so I was excited to see what Grant would do with his new version, and I can tell you it is just an awesome wine! The dark fruited and spiced Hundred Suns Elephant Mountain Grenache is intensely flavored, deep in color and concentration, it at first reminds me of a great Gigondas, but takes on its own personality with air and flows into a complex array of unique elements that fill out on the full bodied palate with ripe and textural layering. There is a core of boysenberry, plum and pomegranate fruits that is wonderfully accented by a touch of stemmy tanginess, this crunch adds a stylish tension to wine and there’s a nice savoriness and sweet tannins giving the wine balance and raises the intrigue level significantly. Coulter captured delicacy and pretty details as well with light floral tones, mineral, roasted herbs de Provence, bitter coco and creme de cassis all integrated into the background. This wine got better and more interesting with every sip and was awesome with food, I put some challenging cuisine into the mix and this wine handled it with grace and enhanced the meal fantastically well, it was brilliant with grilled octopus, rosemary roast chicken, seared and pepper crusted Ahi (Tuna) as well as fennel, watermelon radish and sautéed endive! This wine delivers an exceptional performance, it will really turn on Grenache freaks, it is a profound version and seriously fun, those that can find it will be rewarded and it is worth searching for.
Hundred Suns is a label you should follow and these wines are as exciting as anything I’ve ever tasted, Grant Coulter and Renee Saint-Amour took a giant leap of faith to start this small winery and the results so far have been thrilling. After leaving one of the highest regarded wineries in America, Beaux Freres, Coulter has taken those experiences and took his own ideas in a new direction and led to experimentation and a winemaking freedom. Coulter’s exploring new techniques of fermentation and aging without fear because of his own experiences and the insights from his years in the cellar. They manipulate their wines as little as possible, and try hard to let the individual vineyard(s) and vintage(s) speak for themselves. The wines, Grant notes, are fermented with indigenous yeasts, native malolactic bacteria, and without the use of unnatural additives. The winemaking in this Grenache from this unique vineyard in Washington State’s Yakima Valley was inspired to say the least, Coulter explains, at harvest, they foot-stomped a small layer of fruit at the bottom of a tank and layered the remainder of the fruit on top, 100% whole cluster in a hybrid carbonic maceration. The tank was then gassed and sealed for 20 days. Once opened, the grapes in whole bunches (mostly still fully intact) were pressed and fermentation was completed with indigenous yeast, Coulter adding that, then the wine was aged in terra-cotta amphora for 12 months followed by a spell in neutral French oak for 5 additional months. After which this unique 100% Grenache was hand gravity bottled unfined and unfiltered, making for wine that takes cues from natural wine, old world/ancient tradition and new world ideas and melds them together in a seamless fashion. While I love the Hundred Suns Pinots, all of which are outstanding and the Gamay, this Grenache is a welcome addition to the collection and one I will continue to grab when I can, it is pure pleasure and joins some of my favorite wines made from this grape.
($42 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2011 Barone Pizzini, Franciacorta “Bagnadore Riserva” Dossaggio Zero, Sparkling Wine, Lombardy, Italy.
Made from Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, Barone Pizzini’s vintage Franciacorta Riserva 2011 is a stunning bubbly as serious as serious gets in the grower fizz world, and it is a wine that clearly points to Franciacorta as Italy’s true version of Champagne, this is a wine a regal class and style. Brilliant in refinement with a luxurious mousse and outstanding vigor and dry detail, plus exciting leesy depth, it reminds me a lot of vintage Agrapart, one of my favorite Champagnes that always shows intense mineral driven vibrancy and crispness. Franciacorta, Italy’s first Sparkling DOCG is set in the hills surrounding Lake Iseo, which form a glacial carved amphitheater, and it is here in the Lombardy region where these sparkling wines have been produced and consumed as long ago as the 13th century. Barone Pizzini has crafted theirs here since 1870, and in recent times have led an organic movement, with all their 125 acres of vineyards being certified organic as well as providing support for historical causes and preserving cultural sites with respect of the land and the areas traditions. These vineyards are mostly all at least 200 meters above sea level and are set on complex soils with a mix of morainic and fluvioglacial deposits from, from what the winery calls, the many epochs of advancing and retreating glaciers, all which with the cooler almost alpine climate make for the exciting and vivid flavors in the Franciacorta wines and that lovely mineral driven character, especially in the zero dosage versions like this awesome Bagnadore Riserva.
The brisk nature and lively focus of this 2011 from Barone Pizzini is joyous and electric in the glass with its ultra cool shade of pale and tiny bubble beading make this stylish stuff very inviting along with its beautiful laying on the poised and delicate palate showing lemon, quince, racy fresh apple and orchard fruits as well as that mentioned mineral element, faint rosewater, brioche and hazelnut, gaining a deep impression with time in the glass. There is a sensational almost feline quality to this exceptional grower producer bubbly with the feeling of muscles flexing under the sleek and elegant form. In the cellars, the Barone Pizzini team use a tiny amount of partial malolactic fermentation, but usually less than 5% preferring to showcases a natural vitality and freshness. They employ barrel fermentation cellar for most of the wines, adding that as well as using some barrique-aging for the resulting base wines prior to second fermentation in the bottle, like famous Champagne producers like Krug and Vilmart. The Bagnadore, named after a flowing creek near the winery’s cellars, is sourced from a single vineyard called Roccolo and its Chardonnay and Pinot Nero grapes getting a careful sorting then are gently pressed and fermented in temperature controlled stainless and barrels, plus It is aged for six months in stainless steel tanks and French barriques, followed by 60-70 months in bottle to mature on the lees (natural yeasts) until disgorgement without any addition of a dosage. This is a classic Franciacorta that thrives with lighter and briny cuisine, perfect with oysters and other sea foods, be sure to keep an eye out for this bubbly.
($45-55 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2019 Sling | Stone Wines, Chardonnay, Silacci Vineyard, Monterey County.
A great new addition to the new generation wine scene in the Monterey region is Francisco “Junior” Banuelos’ Sling | Stone (or Sling & Stone) Wines label and his latest set of wines which include a couple of Pinot Noir(s), an already crucially acclaimed Syrah and this exciting Silacci Vineyard Chardonnay. This tasty Chard, that I managed to get a preview bottle of, that comes from a premier cool climate Cru site just north of the Santa Lucia Highlands is well worth getting your hands on when Banuelos releases it. Junior is one of good guys and one of the most engaging and humble winemakers you’d ever hope to meet, so it is easy to love his wines, but the wines do speak for themselves with a quiet confidence and expressive quality, and I love the not so subtle and ironic label, with Sling | Stone clearly referring to the David v. Goliath struggle young winemakers of limited means face and the determination and courage it takes to make it. This Silacci Chardonnay is ripe and plush showing lovely white blossoms and fuji apple on the nose leading to a vibrant medium to full bodied palate of peach, lemon, the mentioned apple and melon fruits along with honeysuckle, a touch of apricot preserves, clove spice, and a loamy wet stone element. This Chardonnay is young and freshly vivid, ever changing and with air it takes on a really exceptional mineral or steely form and it displays an extra level of complexity that makes you want to take another sip and share its pleasures in the glass. There was a little extra meaning and care put into this wine, which was dedicated to the late Rusti Silacci, who sadly passed last September and who is greatly missed. The Silacci Vineyard, with a tiny Chardonnay parcel, is a great site, especially for Pinot Noir, that was rumored to be Pisoni clone, is east facing, set on Chualar sandy loams and gets lots of hang time, constantly cooled by the blast of cold Pacific Ocean air, allowing full development of the grapes, while retaining plenty of juicy acidity.
Junior, who’s day job is being the assistant winemaker at Denis Hoey’s Odonata Winery on River Road in the Santa Lucia Highlands, took an interesting route here on his Silacci Chardonnay deciding to barrel ferment it and then age it in 100% stainless steel, but was rewarded with a wine that delivers a rich mouth feel and keeps racy and fresh. There is a real California sense about this wine with its opulence and slightly tropical nature, it doesn’t hide its pride of place and it will only get deeper as it ages. There is no doubt this set of 2018 and 2019 wines from “Junior” Banuelos are going to make Sling | Stone a name on peoples lips, these are solid efforts, these are wines that really say “I have arrived” and I’m here to stay! That is an impressive achievement for a guy that looked like had not much of chance to making it in this business only a few years ago, but fate looks to have shined on Banuelos. His start was one of those chance moments that don’t always come, he was working in his parents gas station in Gonzales, when Hoey’s winery truck came coasting to halt, out of gas and he managed to talk his way into a job! This was especially heartwarming as he had literary sent hundreds of resumes out to the wine community and had no replies until Hoey appeared out of the blue, and the rest is history. There are a few upcoming releases to watch for here with Sling | Stone about to bring out a Tondre Grapefield partial whole cluster Pinot Noir, which will likely thrill those that missed out on that awesome 40% whole cluster Syrah, that sold out, as well as this lovely succulent Chardonnay that will go great with grilled swordfish and mango chutney or Baja California (spiny) lobster dishes. Only 28 cases were made of this Silacci Chardonnay, so it will be a quick sell out when it is released, so don’t miss it, plus that Tondre Pinot, keep an eye out for them, they will be let out in the wild soon.
($N/A) 92 Points, grapelive
2018 Sheldon Wines, Grenache, Ceja Farms, Sonoma Valley.
The 2018 vintage at Sheldon welcomed back the Ceja Farms Vineyard back to their lineup, as winemaker Dylan Sheldon put it, it was like a return of an old friend, with this tiny 2 acre Grenache planting on the southern and western edge of the Sonoma Valley where the cool Gap breezes make for fresh delicate wines, right up Dylan’s alley with heighten aromatics and tangy focus. This vintage, of which only one and half barrels (36 cases) were made is a stylish lighter focus version of this grape, more like the Sierra de Gredos wines that are all the rage, like those Garnachas of Daniel Landi, Comando G, 4 Monos and Alfredo Maesto or in California, more in the vein of A Tribute to Grace by Angela Osborne and or Ian Brand to name a select few. Dylan’s Grenache obsession began early and has been his main varietal since starting his own label with his wife Tobe back in 2003, and before that when his discovered, somewhat ironically, a lighter version of Grenache from Turkey Flats in Australia’s Barossa Valley and when on his honeymoon he made wine for a harvest with Louis Barruol at the famed Chateau de Saint Cosme, the legendary Gigondas producer. To say Sheldon is a Grenache freak is understatement, though his does a try collection of other wines too including his Graciano, the rare other Rioja grape, plus Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, an old vine field blend mainly of Petite Sirah as well as a fabulous Sangiovese and even a sparkling Tempranillo! In 2018 Dylan did two Grenache wines, this one from Ceja Farms and a Fountaingrove AVA Luc’s Vineyard, both of which are in the more restrained and delicate style, though this one is a few shades lighter and more delicate on the medium bodied palate.
Grenache, in California, is very much the in thing these days and it ranges in style from the massive and full throttle Saxum and ultra cult bottlings from Manfred Krankl at Sine Qua Non to the more nuanced or lighter wines of the mentioned A Tribute to Grace, McPrice Meyers, Birichino and Ian Brand, plus the famous Bonny Doon versions by the original Rhone Ranger Randall Grahm, who has said to me that Grenache is what California Pinot lovers really should be drinking! Sheldon’s latest Ceja Farms is wonderfully expressive with lovely aromatics and it is a wine that rushes at you with a red floral array on the nose as well as fresh crushed raspberry, plum, pomegranate, sweet strawberry and candied cherry fruits coming into vivid focus on the medium bodied palate along with a light dusting of spices and shrub/herbs, plus Turkish delights confectionery or Jolly Rancher, lavender and anise. Sheldon really brought the density of fruit out here, but kept everything vibrant and bright without any heaviness, it like the other beautiful offerings from this vintage in their lineup really excels in the glass and struts its stuff with pride and is very well balanced. The winemaking in this Grenache was as per normal at Sheldon with native fermentation, usually with a good portion of whole bunches, set of by the spent lees from an earlier fermentation and aged in neutral French oak, with a basket pressing. Sheldon, as always, notes that no new oak was harmed in the making of this wine. I can see the influenced of all the wines Sheldon has made and all the wines he admires in this one, it is one of his best to date! This Ceja Farms absolutely and with some flamboyance performs impeccably and with loads of stylish personality, it will get your attention and seduce you, enjoy it with a rustic meal and lots of laughter!
($36 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2016 Larkmead, Cabernet Sauvignon, Solari, Napa Valley.
Catching up on one of the great and historic wineries and one of Napa’s top winemakers in Napa Valley, which I did at this years Slow Wine tasting in San Francisco, turned into a otherworldly experience tasting the 2016 vintage of Larkmead. Larkmead has made some awesome wines in this wildly acclaimed year, far better than I would have even expected, these are serious cellar worthy Cabernets that have incredible depth of flavor already. These are fantastical hued wines in the glass with a inky purple/black color, perfume and gripping intensity, they reveal very Chateau Latour like character, especially the Solari, one of the signature wines. The Larkmead Solari is 100% estate Cabernet Sauvignon grown on a unique combination of Cortina gravels over Pleasanton loam, which is clay based soils that keeps a sense of coolness and while the wine is deeply fruited it is also less alcohol than many of its contemporaries making it an excellent micro expression of terroir and varietal, and this 2016 is a gorgeous wine that winemaker Dan Petroski calls Solari muscular, both on the nose and on the palate, but, for me, while powerful like a great Pauillac still shows an elegance and a supper long finish. The concentrated and seductively dark 2016 Solari was crafted with 21 MONTHS in barrel, allowing some of the firm tannins to sweeten up with Petroski using his favored Darnajou and giving it about 70% new oak, he says that the 2016 Solari has swagger, I agree this is awesome stuff that is showing why it’s one of Napa’s best bottles. In Larkmead’s 2016’s you find the same power and finesse you usually find in Cathy Corison’s wines with the regular Napa bottling, priced at just north of a Franklin, being no slouch either, these are an elite collection of age worthy wines, certainly worthy the prices when compared to what is the current field of rival offerings.
One of the oldest family-owned and run estates in Napa Valley, Larkmead, which was originally founded back in 1895, is now under the care of Cam and Kate Solari Baker, who have revived the property and guided it to the very top of league table. Hurt by depression, prohibition and World Wars over the years, the winery needed some love and care and that first came when Kate’s parents, Larry and Polly Solari, purchased Larkmead in 1948 and gained great respect of their peers over the years. Set between St. Helena and Calistoga on the Silverado side of the Napa Valley the Larkmead property is a unique contiguous, sustainably farmed, 110-acre vineyard with so much diversity including seven soil profiles to, what the winery calls its topography and the presence of colluvial fans makes Larkmead a rare site and a prize for their gifted winemaker. Petroski, who is also well known for his own label Massican, which focuses on the bright style of Mediterranean white wines, using an intriguing selection of grapes like Friulano, Ribolla Gialla, Pinot Grigio and Greco, has really made Larkmead a blue chip collector label in recent years. I admit to being blown away by Dan’s latest set of wines with this Solari showing outrageously well with its layers of blackberry coulis, creme de cassis, plum and black cherry fruitiness and ripe tannins along with sweet toast oak accents that never intrude on the purity as well as touches of minty herb, savory tones, anise, sandalwood, spicy tobacco, sage and floral incense. This brilliant Solari (black label) Cabernet will stand up to the test of time, it looks set to be a Napa legend in the making, if you have patience of course and a fat wallet, look for its best window to open in another 5 to 10 years and it should go past 2046! Save up and splurge on these 16s if you can, the rewards should be thrilling.
($224.95 Est.) 97-99 Points, grapelive
2018 Val de Mer, Chablis AOC, White Burgundy, France.
The flinty and stylish 2018 Val de Mer has more palate depth and length you’d normally expect in a basic cuvee making it a real solid value and a tasty Chablis to stock up on. Val de Mer is a partnership between François Moutard of Moutard Champagne, who bought an old winery and vineyards near Chablis and star winemaker Patrick Piuze, who’s own label is taking off in the wine world and who has spent the last decade making wines in Chablis for serious estates includes the likes of Olivier Leflaive, Verget, and Jean‐Marc Brocard. The lineup of Val de Mer includes a great selection of sparkling and still wines with exceptional entry level bottlings, like this one, as well as some fine Premier Crus, plus a very limited Grand Cru offering, with the non dosage Brut being a favorite of mine. The Chablis AOC is 100% Chardonnay and all stainless tank fermented and aged using sustainable and mostly organic methods in the vines with Piuze saying the location and vines at Val de Mer give these wines their own personality and this vintage shows a a ripe profile and a lovely textural or supple feel while still being deliciously fresh and vibrant. This is a no brainer for those looking for a bargain in Chablis, it is sublime with food and very nice as an aperitif, providing steely comfort.
I love all of Patrick’s wines and have done so for a few vintages now, but missed out on some the still wines at Val de Mer until recently so getting to enjoy this new release was a good reminder not to miss them. Made exclusively for the US market these Val de Mer offer a ton of quality for the price and are easier to find than the rare self label Piuze stuff and then there is the fabulous bubbly too, all of the Chablis show fantastic purity and expressive mineral driven character. These terroir focused wines, especially the Petit Chablis and the Chablis AOC have traditional zingy acidity and are great expressions of the ancient limestone soils with the mentioned flinty notes, oyster shells and stony elements with the Chablis AOC getting a richer and more expanded palate. The layers in this Chablis by Piuze and Val de Mer, which comes from three parcels, Des Couverts (village of Chablis), Prehy (near Courgis), and Lignorelles, include meyer lemon, green apple, Asian pear and tart, but fleshy peach (stone fruit and pit) fruits that mingle perfectly with the flavor accents above as noted, along with a touch of saline, and the Val de Mer performs with joyous precision in the glass. Be sure to get some of this well crafted Chablis, it is sure to put a smile on your face, drink up.
($30 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2017 Littorai, Pinot Noir, The Haven Vineyard, Sonoma Coast.
Ted Lemon’s Littorai is one of the great wines (wineries) of California and while not an easy wine to find, like Aubert and Marcassin, these are worthy challenges in finding them and I highly recommend getting on their list if you are a Pinot Noir fan, but if you can find them I would snag what you grab, especially this gorgeous 2017 The Haven Vineyard, which is absolutely divine. The most compelling aspect of these Littorai wines is their subtlety and a sensation of lightness, but this grace does not diminish their depth and complexity at all, these are wines with that Pinot magic, which we all crave and admire. Lemon, who is a Burgundy veteran, having been the first American winemaker in the famous region at Roulot, Dujac, Roumier and Bruno Clair has been crafting fabulous American Pinot Noir and Chardonnay sourced from cool climate sites on the true Sonoma Coast since 1993. Ted is committed to organic and biodynamic farming and along with his wife Heidi grows and prepares all of the biodynamic preps used in the vineyards on their farm and they even use sheep and other animals to maintain cover crops, these natural practices ensure everything is as sustainable as possible and add to the energies and quality of their grapes. Littorai’s are almost exclusively wines that are bottled from unique terroir driven single-vineyards from the most western of California’s vineyards, set on mainly marine sedimentary soils, in Sonoma and western Mendocino Counties. Littorai itself comes from the Latin word for “coasts” and Lemon has a gift with these Pacific Ocean influenced vineyards and this The Haven Vineyard, Lemon’s first estate vineyard, highlights his talent and the sense of place with beautiful detailing and fresh mineral tones with satiny layers of black cherry, plum, brambly raspberry and lingering strawberry fruits along with zesty blood orange, teas spices, crushed stones, a light cedary (wood) note as well as a touch of cranberry, baking spices and rose petals.
Littorai’s selection of vineyards are selected for the exacting attention to detail and methods to ensure each site is represented in all its own glory and of which individual personality shows through, Lemon is incredibly passion about small yields and even ripening to give complexity of flavors and lower natural alcohols, he is ever searching for transparency and what we all call balance, which all of the Littorai wines have. These wines are really made in the vineyard and Lemon is diligent in his picking and like top domaines in Burgundy, which has influenced his winemaking, the grape and cluster sorting happens in the vines at the harvest and again in the cellar where everything is intensely inspected for perfection, nothing gets through on the line here, only the best fruit is vinified. All of Lemon’s Pinots are cold soaked for a slow maceration and natural fermentation in a combination of stainless steel and wood fermenters with indigenous yeasts and then gently pressed to French oak for a lengthy elevage and allowed to go through natural malolactic, this aging has a soft touch when it comes to new barriques with each vintage and vineyard getting their own treatment, with about 20% new and at least 16 months on the lees. Also, in most years there is about 30% whole cluster employed, though this is also dependent on the vintage and this The Haven Vineyard has some exotic pomegranate and lifting stem inclusion showing adding a wonderful touch of tension, silken tannin and tangy herbs on the medium bodied and textural palate. This is unbelievably delicious Pinot Noir, and as a long time fan of Ted Lemon’s wines, both Littorai and his New Zealand Burn Cottage label from biodynamic vines in Central Otago, it was great to catch up with the new releases at the Slow Wine tasting recently, these are pure class, especially this one.
($100-150 Est.) 96 Points, grapelive
2017 Weingut Von Winning, Sauvignon Blanc Trocken, II, Pfalz Germany.
While the outstanding Von Winning estate in Germany’s Pfalz region is mostly known for their amazing dry Rieslings, especially their magnificent Grosses Gewachs versions that rival top white Burgundy, it should not be overlooked for their stunning lineup of Sauvignon Blancs, which are some of the finest examples I’ve ever had from this grape, these are gorgeous wines, like this Sauvignon Blanc II, that is bursting with pure fruit and vibrancy. The Von Winning Sauvignon Blancs come from multiple vineyards in Deidesheim, mostly Paradiesgarten, but, as the winery notes, there is also fruit sourced too from Deidesheimer Herrgottsacker and Kallstadter Steinacker, giving a complex array of flavors from the sites and the mix of sandy loam, red sandstone, basalt, & löss soils. The series of Sauvignon Blanc offerings from Von Winning is an exceptional collection that ranges from light and brightly fresh to the serious wood aged Sauvignon Blanc 500, named after the 500mL French barrels it is fermented and aged in, which I have reviewed many times and consider maybe the best Sauvignon Blanc in the world, or at least right up there with Dagueneau’s famous Pouilly-Fume, Gerard Boulay’s Sancerre Cru, Terlano’s Quarz (from Alto Adige) and Haut Brion Blanc! The 2017 was a ripe and plush vintage, but this wine delivers a zesty performance and gives a solid showing of natural acidity and salinity to balance out the vivid fruit, it is a class act.
The Von Winning Sauvignon Blanc II is an expressive white with fresh citrus and orchard fruits with a medium bodied and tangy palate of lemon/lime, quince, white peach, a touch of grapefruit and melon fruits along with crushed stones, white blossoms, tropical essences, clove spices and stylish mineral tones. This is a zippy Sauvignon Blanc, but still with some fleshy density and extract making it great with food, I love this wine with white fish, goat cheeses and especially grilled shrimp or prawns as it provides racy refreshment. The Von Winning estate really takes extra care in their vineyards and is now fully organic and they sort the fruit coming into the cellar with severe and focused selections only making the cut here, this is a team that is committed to extreme quality and everything that goes into the bottle is absolutely world class. This wine is fermented and lees aged entirely in stainless steel to showcase the terroir and grapes in their most naked or transparent form, and it is hard not to see the dedication and soulful bounty in this well crafted Sauvignon Blanc, it delivers everything as promised and is a top value. Importer, Terry Theise notes Von Winning uses just a gentle clarification, along with natural and spontaneous fermentation and the abandonment of fining agents, (to) create wines that show a distinctive indigenous and very elegant style, which I agree with, but couldn’t say better, this is a winery to follow across the range, go in for the outstanding Rieslings, but don’t miss out on the SB’s.
($18 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2015 Domaine Les Grandes Vignes, Anjou Rouge Villages, L’ Ancrie, Loire Valley, France.
Jean-François Vaillant, vigneron at the Domaine Les Grandes Vignes in the Loire Valley, is crafting a large selection of small lot wines including a few sparkling Pet-Nat’s, a Rosé, some fine Chenin Blancs, both dry and sweet versions and a host of Cabernet Franc based wines, including this L’ Ancrie Anjou Rouge, which I tried for the first time this week and of which I was very impressed, especially with food. Part of Poppy Hall’s eclectic new collection of offerings this Domaine Les Grandes Vignes, Anjou Rouge Villages, L’ Ancrie was perfect with their duck breast and their quail dish, as well as their short ribs all of which were amazing dishes at this Pacific Grove bistro that leans on comfort food, but with a stylish twist on American cuisine and locally sourced ingredients. The small tasty menu and the tight fun list that usually promotes small family producers that make organic and or natural wines makes Poppy Hall a must try restaurant for locals and Monterey visitors and this 2015 Domaine Les Grandes Vignes Anjou Cabernet Franc L’ Ancrie, an under the radar choice proved to be a excellent companion to the menu. The dark and earthy character, ripe fruit and nice natural acidity really excited the palate and lifted the food to the next level with classic layers of black cherry, blackberry, mulberry, plum and cranberry fruits along with a faint trace of bell pepper, leather, dried violets, anise, mineral tones, Greek olive and cedary notes, lingering on with earthy currants, tobacco/spicy elements and echos of kirsch.
Vaillant, who from what I’ve read, seems to be incredibly focused on his vines, revealing in his enthusiastic explanations of Biodynamic treatments, cover crops, and pied-de-cuves, as well as his low and no sulfur wines, humbly suggesting the vineyards make the wines and you can tell he puts in the hard work himself in the 100 acres that he farms. This Loire estate, I learned, was first established by the Vaillant family back in the 17th century, and has continued as a family estate to this day, run by the enthusiastic Jean-Francois. The Domaine Les Grandes Vignes vines in Anjou and Bonnezeaux are farmed without pesticides, chemical fertilizers, or insecticides, and are all certified organic and Biodynamic. The Cabernet Franc bottlings come from complex soils that range from grey and green schist, phtanite, quartz, and ‘falun coquillé,’ to various gravelly and sandy types, of which add to the flavor profile and most of the reds here are vinified without the addition of SO2 (sulfur) to enhance the freshness and purity, but thankfully this 2015, which has some age on it, shows no off putting flaws, mousy notes or funk. This, while earthy, shows solid fruit dimension and is a solid value for the quality, I look forward to trying newer vintages of Domaine Les Grandes Vignes, as this offering provided a lot of pleasure with the meal, plus I am curious about the Sparkling and the Glou Glou (quaffable) Grolleau. The short maceration followed by aging in 2-3 year-old barrels for less than a year belie the concentration and depth here, this was impressive, be sure to keep an eye out for it if you are a Cab Franc fan, drink now.
($28 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2018 Schlossgut Diel, Riesling Feinherb, Von der Nahe, Nahe Germany.
It is with great joy and admiration that I send my congratulations to winemaker Caroline Diel, who was just named Winemaker of the Year, by Falstaff, in Germany, I truly cannot agree more, this is truly deserved for an incredible vigneron and a remarkable person. I love her wines and visiting her cellar during the 2016 harvest was a wonderful experience as well as being able to get an up close view of her vineyard sites, which are breathtaking in their steepness and their historic majestic presence, this winery in Germany’s Nahe region is really one of the world’s greats. Caroline, who even had a stint at the fabled Domaine de la Romanee-Conti, since taking the reins at Schlossgut Diel has proved herself to be a force to be reckoned with, taking the estate’s offerings to the next level, she makes some of finest dry wines in all of Europe with her stunning Grosses Gewachs being stars, but she also crafts the best sparkling wine I’ve ever had, yes, even better than vintage Krug! Plus she does a fantastic Pinot Noir and even her more basic bottlings, like this gorgeous dryish Feinherb Von der Nahe, a special cuvee made for Terry Theise and the American market, are total class and insane values. If you’ve not discovered Schlossgut Diel, it is past time you do so, Caroline is absolutely killing it and these last 3 or 4 vintages have been simply awesome. Diel, who took over the estate in 2012 after joining the cellar team in 2006 also had internships at renowned spots while at school including Château Pichon-Lalande in Bordeaux and prestigious German vineyards such as Robert Weil, Toni Jost and Dr. Deinhard/Von Winning, adding experience, as the winery notes during her wine-growing studies at the famous Geisenheim University in the Rheingau.
The Von der Nahe is a dry style, but not classified as a trocken, having just enough residual sugar to allow for a more generous nature, giving it a flexible purpose making it great with food and sublime in freshness it shows classic Nahe flavors, a crystalline mineral focus and delicate floral aromatics. As has been noted before, Armin Diel, Caroline’s father, has been a champion of German Riesling around the world, promoting Schlossgut Diel, and was one of the pioneers of dry Rieslings, which are crafted with incredible precision in large oak barrels, plus some concrete and in this case mostly in stainless steel tanks, with a nod to tradition and focus on purity. Diel has a complex variety of soils to work with from slate to gravel, as well as areas of sandstone and quartz, all providing the detailing on these terroir wines. The Von der Nahe Riesling comes from estate vines with these vineyards being on steep, south-facing slopes, which gives it its ripe expression with high proportions of slate that delivers a flinty spiciness. The 2018 vintage wine was spontaneously fermented with indigenous yeasts in traditional (large oak) barrels with extended lees aging in stainless steel tanks, allowing a slightly richer character to develop, while preserving exceptional clarity. White peach, green apple and mixed citrus fruits lead the way along with snappy ginger, verbena, rosewater and salty wet stones show in this lovely almost entry level wine, it is quality and elegance all the way, enjoy it for the next 3 to 5 years with anything you feel like eating with it, it goes great with everything from smoked ham to spicy tuna sushi. Bravo Caroline and Schlossgut Diel! I can’t wait to visit the winery again, in the meantime I’ll be sipping on this wine, plus their offer hand crafted brilliant bottlings, including the Kabinett wines that should not be overlooked either!
($29 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2017 Tablas Creek Vineyard, Esprit Blanc de Tablas, Adelaida District, Paso Robles.
One of California’s great white whites and certainly the class of the field when it comes to mostly Roussanne, the Tablas Creek Vineyard Esprit Blanc de Tablas is an amazing Chateauneuf du Pape Blanc Rhone style wine with rich density and an energetic lively tension that makes it a thrill on the palate. With a brisk intensity and slightly lower natural alcohol, this vintage has really found that perfect groove of balance and impact, at only 13% it doesn’t fall into a heady or heavy performance, instead keeping a restraint poise that really impresses and refreshes with every sip. The Esprit Blanc, made from 68% Roussanne, 17% Grenache Blanc, 7% Picpoul, 4% Clairette Blanche and 4% of the the incredibly rare Picardan, all from cuttings sourced at Chateau de Beaucastel and the Perrin Family, who partner with the Haas family at Tablas Creek, is gorgeously layered with Roussanne’s notable mouth filling and oily smooth texture and phenolic extract with tangerine, apricot, melon and bosc pear fruits along with chalky crushed wet stones, jasmine, bitter almond, clove spices, mineral tones and a delicate hint of lingering butterscotch. That said, there’s a bright vein of lemon, like a ray of California sunshine, as well as mouth watering saline element that helps curb the impression of weight, making this pale gold wine excellent with many food choices and will allow this wine to age with a graceful arc. We in California are truly blessed with climate and terroir with this wine doing its best to highlight this, its flavor and balance comes from Paso’s limestone soils and the cooling influence from the Templeton Gap
The top series, or Cru, of wines at Tablas, the Esprit line is selected from the top 15%-20% of the estate grown lots each vintage, and as the winery notes is aged in 1200-gallon foudres, large French casks for an extended period to allow the wines to integrate and deepen, this Esprit Blanc has especially gained from this careful selection of grapes and the old world treatment in the cellar. The Winery also notes that this is the first vintage to incorporate two new varieties to the final Esprit Blanc blend, adding that the Picardan brings an elegance and Clairette Blanche gives a fresh crispness, clarity and is gently citrusy. With time in the glass even more complexity comes through with subtle wild fennel, brioche (leesy notes), honey and a touch of the wood, all delivering an extra dimension and harmony to this wonderful wine. I always imagine having crab cakes and lobster roll with this wine, but it goes sublimely with roast chicken, swordfish steaks, wild mushroom pasta dishes and an array of soft cheeses. This is an elite example of a white Rhone and sets a high standard, as do all of Tablas’ sensational lineup, it is always a treat to sample these wines, be sure to take advantage of the opportunity to try them, in particular I suggest this one if you like Roussanne, and are looking for an alternative to a fine Chardonnay, but don’t miss their 100% Picpoul and Vermentino bottlings either, both are delightfully vivid and absolutely must haves for warm days! I have always admired these wines from Tablas, was well as of course the Perrin’s Beaucastel classics, but in recent years I have gained a true appreciation for the contribution the Haas and Perrin families have made to California’s wine history, for which we should all be grateful for.
($45 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2016 Marjan Simčič, Pinot Noir “Opoka” Goriski Brda, Slovenia.
With vineyards that cross between the Collio region of Italy and the Brda zone of Slovenia, the Marjan Simčič winery has a slight identity crisis within the wine world, are they Italian or Slovenian and the answer doesn’t make it any easier, but the wines are beautiful and the quality and passion shine through in the glass, especially in this lovely and surprising Pinot Noir that shows incredible lightness, but with depth and length that rival some more prestigious regions. Marjan Simčič, mostly known for their skin contact whites that have a long tradition in the region of northeastern Italy, actually make some spectacular normal macerated wines, like this Pinot Noir and their Sauvignon Blanc, which was a huge hit at this years Slow Wine Tasting in San Francisco, plus a delicate and finessed version of Brda Ribolla. The Marjan Simčič Pinot Noir from their Opoka cru vineyard site shows warm ripe fruit, from a vintage that is credited with many fine offerings from all over Italy, floral perfume, light earthy and minerally tones, a dusting of spices, faint orange tea notes and cedary wood with layers of black cherry, tart plum, mulberry/currant and mini garden strawberry fruits that stand out on the medium bodied palate. There an exceptional textural quality here that belies the wines origins and reminds me of satiny Chambolle-Musigny wines, this stuff is pure ruby colored class and there’s a underpinning of fresh acidity that keeps everything in crisp form and allows the individual details to be excitingly revealed with each sip, this is a stunning effort and is not a wine that gets lost in a crowd.
I discovered the Marjan Simčič wines a few years ago at another Slow Wine tasting, and sadly they didn’t have an importer, so I wasn’t able to follow up on them, now imported, though limited in scope, I hope to keep a better track of these great wines, I certainly will be following his Pinot Noir a lot more closely, this is outstanding stuff. Marjan Simčič,’s favorite saying is that there is truth in wine. (meaning transparency and terroir that shows in his wines and his love of place.) He adds that his wine tells the story of the magical Brda region in Slovenia, where the family lives and is from, noting that he feels connected strongly to this land. He tries to tell that story (of year and place) in every glass of his wines, which this 2016 Pinot does well, it holds your attention and draws you in, my seduction was complete, I was vastly impressed as you might gather. This Pinot comes from an eastern facing plot at Opoka set on a special combination of soils including marl, slate and sandstone, which explains the intriguing flavors and Simčič fermented it with carefully select yeasts in large conical oak after a two week maceration before a gentle pressing to barrel where the wine rested 27 months, all French barrique with about 30% new oak used then bottled unfined and unfiltered. Now that Wine Warehouse imports Simčič, I plan to enjoy a lot more of these wines. This Pinot, from near the village of Celgo, will be top of my repeat list and I can’t wait to match it with food, where I am sure it will turn out to be mind blowing!
($50-60 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2018 Troon Vineyard, Vermentino, Kubli Bench, Applegate Valley, Oregon.
West coast Vermentino is all the rage right now with this Mediterranean grape seeing a real rise in popularity with many wineries producing great examples, including Tablas Creek in Paso Robles, Chesebro and Bonny Doon in Monterey’s Arroyo Seco to name a few, but this Troon Vineyard from Oregon has really done an amazing job with theirs from the southern Oregon region of Applegate Valley. The coastal climate conditions suit this varietal and Troon’s is a lovely fresh wine with brisk and crystal clear details and a sublime textural quality, that rivals some of the world’s best versions of Vermentino, like those from Corsica, which are some of the most pure examples you can find, especially the wines of Yves Leccia, Abbatucci and Clos Canarelli, which have elevated Vermentino to very regal territory. Vermentino’s home range goes all along the Mediterranean coast of France and Italy with top wines coming from, as mentioned, Corsica, Sardinia, Tuscany as well as in areas near Provence, the Rhone, where it is one of the legal Chateauneuf du Pape grapes and parts of the Languedoc and beyond where it is sometimes called Rolle as well as in Piedmonte where it is known as Favorita, as it was once favored by an intriguing countess! Troon’s version, an all biodynamic bottling is wonderfully posed in the glass with a lovely minerally personality and vibrantly focused with fresh citrus blossom, liquid stones, tangerine and peach notes, adding a leesy mouth feel and sense of vinous depth without being any but electric and steely dry.
Troon’s winegrower Craig Camp says Vermentino has proven to be ideally suited to the soils and climate of the Applegate Valley, near Grant’s Pass in this unique growing region, adding that the warm, dry summers and the granitic soils give a deeply favored and complex style of wine that he compares to the Sardinia examples, while I see the similarities with the granite intense Corsica terroir. The Vermentno at Troon is a mainstay and in fact they do a few different versions, including an orange skin contact one, much like a Vermentino done by Sonoma’s Ryme Cellars, another outstanding one to look for, also a Vermentino specialist that is exploring this flexible grape that offers richness and good natural acidity. Vermentino is awesome with a vast selection of cuisine and can be an alternative to everything from Sancerre to Gruner Veltliner and or Muscadet to Verdejo. The latest new world Vermentinos are very much an exciting bunch of thrilling whites that deserve your attention, especially this Troon Vineyard with its 12 months on the lees and riveting flavors and refreshing zesty charms. Randall Grahm of California’s Bonny Doon told me a few years ago he saw Vermentino as a potential hero of the future with a warming planet, as it can retain so much lively acidity and is adaptable to a variety of locations and soils, and his is a beauty too, he even has done a sparkling Vermentino. Troon is a world class organic and sustainable estate with an exciting set of wines, some based on Rhone grapes and some others from more exotic stuff like Malbec and Tannat, these are wines to check out, in particular this light gold and crisp Vermentino that is fabulous with sea foods and soft cheeses.
($25 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2016 Fattoria di Fèlsina, Fontalloro IGT Rosso, Castelnuovo Berardenga, Tuscany, Italy.
The wines of Fèlsina have always moved me and I find them as compelling as Bordeaux and or Burgundy, the Castelnuovo Berardenga based estate in the southeastern most Chianti Classico zone has long been one of the great names in Tuscany. Their Chianti Classico Riserva Rancia is one of the most prized and cellar worthy in the region, it rivals many a top Brunello, and Fèlsina also produces one of the most iconic of all Sangiovese wines, the Fontalloro, which is labeled as a simple IGT Rosso, or Vino di Tavola, much the same way as Montevertine’s Le Pergole Torte is, another pure and outstanding Sangiovese wine. Felsina were early foregoers of blending in the other local varietals and especially the white grapes that were so commonly added, instead really focusing on the Sangiovese and only making their Chianti lineup with the single varietal, and they have never been temped to add Merlot and or Cabernet Sauvignon, which has become legal and is widely used in the final blends, even though they do have a single site Cabernet Sauvignon on the estate, preferring the absolute purity of the transmission that their Sangiovese delivers. The Fontalloro, especially this powerful, concentrated and complex 2016 version, performs with a sense of elegance that is hard to describe in written words, it is a wine that needs to be experienced to understand its profound impact on the senses and the palate, it reminds me of Chateau Margaux in that way, it is not as showy as some of its contemporaries, but unforgettable, beautiful, and almost without a fault. I really, really am impressed with this 2016 edition, tasted at this year’s Slow Wine, of Fontalloro, it is one of the best I’ve tried from Felsina since the majestic 1997 and is everything you’d ask for in such a wine, and while not a cheap bottle, it is one of the wine world’s sublime values, honestly there are 100’s of boring and generic wines that sell for twice the price.
The ripe and structured year gave all the best elements to this Fontalloro to be one of the legends and the Felsina team didn’t disappoint, making a wine for the ages and while exceptional even now, like I always say, a great wine is a great wine regardless when you open the bottle, this one will be one that will be a certain treasured time capsule wine that should be incredibly long lived, going two or three decades with ease. The layers unfold with gorgeous life and dimension with a firm, but welcome tannic force that holds back the massive fruit and shows the wine’s terrific poise in the glass with classic Sangiovese details including blackberry, plum, cherry and strawberry fruits, a light sense of French oak, delicate florals, minty herb, sweet and spicy tobacco, a trace of sandalwood, balsamic notes, mineral and well judged acidity that lifts this full bodied wine and keeps things in near perfect check. The Fontalloro, 100% Sangiovese, coming from old vines in three top vineyards, Poggio al Sole vineyard, within Chianti Classico, and the Casalino and Arcidossino vineyards, within the Chianti Colli Senesi, they straddle the border between “Classico” and “Colli Senesi” at almost 400 meters of elevation that has a good high to low temp range that promotes quality and complexity. This area, which is known for its unique profile and terroir influence is set between forested areas and rolling hills of chalky soils that are calcareous in Chianti Classico and predominantly loamy and sandy in the Sensi. The vines, which are now farmed with biodynamic practices, according to the estate, are in excess of fifty years of age that gives the wine its mature and deep character, and the Fontalloro, which sees a traditional fermentation is then aged in small French oak barrels, plenty of which were new, for between fifteen to eighteen months prior to bottling, it is a serious wine and one of Italy’s absolute best.
($65 Est.) 98 Points, grapelive
2018 Cameron Winery, Pinot Blanc “Giovanni” Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
The beautiful and taut Pinot Blanc from John Paul at Cameron Winery in the Dundee Hills AVA of Oregon’s Willamette Valley is influenced and inspired by the winemakers love of the wines of northern Italy, especially the Friuli region and in this case a little bit of the Dolomites with this Giovanni, it shows beautiful crisp details and mineral charm. In recent years I have fallen in love with Cameron’s Pinot Blanc or Bianco and have also come to the opinion that Pinot Blanc is one of the best grape expressions in Oregon, in particular for whites in wines such as this, as well as in the stylish versions crafted by Ken Wright and the talented Kelley Fox, which come from the coastal range side of the Willamette Valley on marine sedimentary soils, while this one comes from the red hills of Dundee on the class volcanic Jory soils, that gives this one it’s unique individual character. This 2018 shows fine acidity, ripe flavors and a pleasure in its textural excellence, core of white fruit and contrasting stone pit bitter element along with a touch of racy spice, this Cameron Giovanni Pinot Blanc delivers smooth layers of apple driven fruits, brisk citrus, peach flesh as well as a touch of honey, herbs and white flowers.
Cameron, known for their incredible Burgundy style Pinot Noirs, some of Oregon’s greatest ever wines, also has this Italian side to his lineup, or as John Paul calls the Cameronis, and as mentioned the wines of Friuli and Alto Adige offer a model that works exquisitely with much of Cameron’s fruit. The Pinot Bianco or “Giovanni” as Paul calls it, is fermented in cool stainless steel tanks, which the winery notes, typically is from 3 different lots of estate grown grapes that are from non irrigated vines with appropriately chosen cultures of aromatic yeasts, and bottled early after a short 6 to 8 months in its exuberant youth, to preserve vitality, usually in the early Spring, after harvest. Cameron also does a fabulous Nebbiolo too, it will certainly surprise Barolo and Barbaresco drinkers with its purity and classic Langhe personality, along with his serious of whites and his Ramato style, or orange wine, Pinot Gris, plus the Friuli style Fruliano blend that gets Friulano, Pinot Bianc, Pinot Grigio and Auxerrois with a small bit of Moscato in the finished wine, it is another savvy effort to chase down if you can. I had the Giovanni Pinot Blanc with oysters on the half shell and a exotic mignonette that included some raw ginger and this lovely wine managed to soak it up no problem and be rich enough to go with a lobster tail and shellfish fettuccine with poise and grace, this wine rocks and the price is unbelievable for the quality in the glass!
($18 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2016 Weingut Korrell, Riesling Trocken, Nahe Germany.
The Korrell estate in the Nahe has been one of beautiful additions to my lineup of fine Riesling producers and I have been impressed by all the wines I have had so far as they get introduced to the United States, and I really enjoy this 2016 Trocken, which I missed in my first exploration into these wines, with its crisp detail, tangy fresh stone fruits and vitality of form. Martin Korrell, the sixth generation of the Korrell family, is the talent behind this ambitious and innovative estate, he has a wonderful palate of diverse soils to work with here, not far from the likes of Donnhoff, Schlossgut Diel, Hexamer, Gut Hermannsberg, Kruger-Rumpf and Schäfer-Fröhlich. There is volcanic, slate, quartz and gravel in the Nahe, plus Korrell has their prized single vineyard monopole Paradies cru vineyard which is set on mineral intense clay and fossilized limestone, that gives Korrell’s flagship Riesling a fantastic textural richness and depth that reminds me of some of the great Pfalz GG’s. The Korrell family, as mentioned here a few times, has Spanish roots, has a long winegrowing tradition going back 250 years or more, with their Nahe farming property dating back to 1832, though really fine tuning the focus to exclusively wine production in 1967 when Wilfried Korrell convertied it all vines.
This 2016 is brightly fruited with layers of white peach, grapefruit, tart apricot, quince, melon and green apple fruits all of which are in a transparent loop on the medium bodied palate with plenty zing from natural acidity and mouth watering saline, this is classy dry Riesling that is accented by hints of orange blossom, minty herb, clove, dried spicy ginger, crushed stones and intense liquid mineral. There’s a light smoky and petrol note and a touch of reduction, letting you know you are drinking Riesling, but overall there is an open and easy feel to the Korrell Trocken that invites joyous abandon and it can be easily enjoyed as a refreshing sipper and or with a more serious meal, this stuff will not let you down. The texture comes through as it warms in the glass and the steely edgy quality here fades to allow the fruit to flow makes this Nahe Trocken a fine Riesling to go with crab dishes, like the crab salad sliders I had with it, plus it can go with oysters and mildly spicy cuisine, in particular, some Thai curry. I also recent had the Korrell Sekt Rosé, a fine and entertaining Pinot Noir based sparkler, though not yet in the United States, but fingers crossed we get more of these wines, though for now I recommend getting some of this dry Riesling and their awesome GG like Von Den Grossen Lagen, all from VPD Grand Cru sites, names you’d know.
($24 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2015 Giacomo Borgogno & Figli, Langhe Nebbiolo “No Name” Piedmonte, Italy.
Another one of the stars of the recent Slow Wine Tasting in San Francisco was the Borgogno No Name (Nebbiolo), which really is a de-classified Barolo that saw the same winemaking and treatment as their Cru offerings, and in fact this No Name 2015 was an equal to their presigous Cannubi bottling on the day and is really a gorgeous wine with incredible depth, power and purity. The historic Borgogno & Figli label and winery has been restored to the highest level of respect and quality under the ownership of Andrea Farinetti, who has a string of intriguing wineries and projects throughout Italy and who is dedicated to native varietals and traditions within the regions. He has in recent years added the rare Piedmonte white grape Timorasso to Borgogno’s vineyards in the Colli Tortonesi zone, and the 2018 Derthona Timorasso is a beauty with lovely texture and mineral notes, certainly worth searching out for an alternative Italian white, but of course Borgogno is mostly known for their classic Nebbiolo in Barolo form and this No Name bottling is exceptional. The No Name, I believe, comes from a time when Borgogno were tardy getting in some registration forms to label one of their Barolo Riservas and were not allowed to label it as such, so in playful ironic payback they just called it No Name, and since then have made a Barolo bottling with that label, since it became an instant legend, though current versions are not renamed Risevas, but more a special barrel selection, from what info I could pry out of the winery. This No Name is packed with intensity and layered with black raspberry, macerated strawberry, cherry and damson plum fruits with balsamic accents, earth, anise, a touch of dried rose petals, mineral, grilled orange and pretty cedary notes, this is impressive and full bodied Nebbiolo with a gripping structure, while feeling rich and satiny on the palate with everything that make Nebbiolo regal showing up here.
The No Name Langhe Nebbiolo comes from vineyards located in the Langhe area in the villages around Barolo set on the classic Marl limestone and clay soils with all the estates vines being certified organic and is crafted with the idea of being a more early drinking example of Nebbiolo, but with real Barolo presence in the glass, which this 2015 delivers, in a rich and warm vintage, making for a killer value and an exciting wine that you’d be able to pop the cork on anytime the mood grabbed you without the guilt of opening a true Barolo that would be better with another decade in the cellar, that said, this one can and should age exceptionally well too! Borgogno, which is one of Piedmonte’s oldest and most revered Barolo properties, founded back in 1761 uses traditional winemaking in their No Name, with a fermentation and long maceration of about 2 weeks in temperature controlled tanks and with what the winery says was a submerged cap maceration with a variable duration between 10 and 20 days, to allow the gentle extraction of structure and depth of flavors, allowing for a generous exploration of the grape and place. As mentioned, the No Name gets the full Barolo treatment and was aged in Slavonia oak barrels for at least three years and aging in bottle for at least two years before release, which is just about to happen in the US market. Borgogno has some incredible plots in some of Barolo’s most admired Crus including Liste, Fossati and the mentioned Cannubi, one of the world’s best vineyards, and this wine is a great way to discover and explore the winery’s quality, it’s terroir and house style. The No Name Langhe Nebbiolo, especially in this ripe year, offers remarkable value and a vinous noble drinking experience, while still having less pretense and it will be fabulous with rustic cuisine and with friends, definitely a wine worth every penny.
($45 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2018 G.D. Vajra, Langhe Riesling “Petracine” Piedmonte, Italy.
One of my absolute favorite whites, the G.D. Vajra dry Riesling, comes from high elevation plots near Barolo in Vajra’s cru sites Fossati and Bricco Bertone on marl, sand, stones and clay soils. This 2018 is one of the best and aromatic versions I’ve tried of Vajra’s Riesling Pétracine which is due to be released soon and it is produced only with the oldest vines. These Vajra parcels are the oldest known plantings of Riesling in Piemonte, going in the ground from a special Rheingau clone believed to have been from Alsace’s famous Marcel Deiss own cuttings back in 1985. It is a stunning Riesling, one of the most exciting outside of Alsace and Germany sourced from sites that are on hillsides near a forested area with east/south-east exposures at 420-480 meters above sea level, where it stays very cool, helping retain loads of natural acidity while allowing for ripe complexity. Its name Pétracine comes from an ancient synonym of Riesling, meaning ‘the roots [into] the stone’ that explains why the grape, usually found in slate and or sandstones is known historically for doing well in rocky soils. This is exceptionally cool stuff from Giuseppe Vajra, who is best known for his cru Barolo, the Bricco Delle Viole and his unique Kye Freisa, made from of Piedmonte’s rare and almost forgotten red grapes, but he also does a solid lineup of Barbera, Dolcetto and Nebbiolo varietal wines that are insane value offerings. Sadly I missed the Vajra family at the San Francisco Slow Wine Tasting, they are some of the nicest people in the wine world, but I did get a preview of the Riesling and got a taste of Vajra’s latest Barolo cru Coste di Rose, which is outrageously good and perfumed, both are not to be missed.
The brightly fresh, peachy and vivid 2018 Vajra Langhe Riesling has a warm sunny pale golden hue and shows a beautiful zesty tension on the delicately medium bodied palate with an array of citrus and stone fruits leading the way, it gains layers and vinous generosity with every sip, but stays taught and impeccably focused throughout. There is a fascinating dimension of wet stones, tropical notes, spiced crystalized ginger and tangy quince that really adds class and pop to the Riesling’s profile along with hints of rosewater, lemon verbena and lingering jasmine blossoms, making for gigantic turn on and with its brisk steeliness and lively acidity it certainly plays well with briny/saline shellfish, from mussels to claims, as well as oysters and crab dishes. Giuseppe Vajra is making some amazing wines, each with their own signature style and terroir showing up the bottle, like this Riesling which was hand harvested to be sure all the grapes and clusters came into the cellar intact then gently pressed and cold soaked or settled for approximately 20 days before fermentation to help drop out any green phenolics and the wine was aged exclusively on the fine lees for about 8 months in stainless steel. The Vajra’s led the way with Riesling in the Langhe and while almost 20 other producers now grow and make own expressions, Vajra’s remains a step ahead and this wine is pretty close to what you could call an Italian Grosses Gewachs or an Alsace Grand Cru bottling, it is a guilty pleasure that I always cherish! I can’t wait for this 2018 to reach America
($45 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2017 Folded Hills Vineyards, August Red, Santa Ynez Valley.
One of the surprises and a new find for me at the Slow Wine tasting in San Francisco was Andrew and Kim Busch’s estate grown Folded Hills Vineyards from the Santa Ynez Valley, just north of Santa Barbara, where they focus on Grenache. The selections I tasted were fresh and pure with a lighter touch and with wonderful flavors, with their 100% whole cluster and carbonic Grenache and this August Red being my favorites, these are stylish examples of California Rhones and very exciting, since they are flying way under the radar, but with an amazing team in the vines and in the cellar with Kiwi, A Tribute to Grace, winemaker Angela Osborne using her talents in crafting these small lot wines and Stolpman’s Ruben Solorzano doing his usual magic in the vineyards. The August Red is delightful with racy red fruits leading the way before a darker and richer side comes through with air, much in the same way I find a fine Gigondas does with light earthy notes, spice and delicate floral notes all showing up here as well with layers of boysenberry, strawberry, tangy red beet root, blueberry and kirsch fruits along with shaved cinnamon, peppercorns, lavender and anise. The August Red has a more heighten presence in the glass, a deeper color, from the Syrah and it is that percentage of Syrah that gives an extra sense of textural quality to this excellent wine, in fact I think the Syrah lifts the Grenache and allows it to really take center stage.
Set on 15 planted acres in the coastal mountains, the vineyards at Folded Hills have their own micro-climate which is less wind-exposed than the Santa Rita Hills and not as warm as Ballard Canyon, leading to these vibrant wines that produced in a very natural way with a sense of place and purpose. Ruben farms Folded Hills using organic methods, with everything done in concert with the Ranch going ons, additionally, they prune, plant and harvest according to the lunar calendar to respect the natural rhythms of the vines. Angela, who has made a name for herself by making ultra transparent wines, especially with her favored Grenache, uses indigenous yeasts and is careful to promote a lighter frame with refined tannins, which shows here, the August Red, which is a blend of 67% Grenache and 33% Syrah that comes in at 13.9% natural alcohol. The Busch’s are sitting on a beautiful place and the wines are a thrill, I only only see them getting more and more interesting in the years to come, the clarity of form in the wines, especially the carbonic Grenache and this August show they have a serious commitment and I look forward to seeing what comes next! I will be buying a few of the 2018 whole cluster carbonic Grenache to just quaff about with, it is zesty refreshing and easy to enjoy, while this more impactful August Red will need a matching meal to give its best performance, it should develop nicely over the next 3 to 5 years.
($43 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2017 Drew Family Cellars, Chardonnay, Valenti Ranch, Mendocino Ridge.
The super rare and limited Drew Chardonnay is a gorgeous wine, it was a real pleasure to get a chance to try it at this year’s Slow Wine 2020 tasting in San Francisco and catch up with the winemaker himself, known for his incredible Pinot Noir and Syrah bottlings from the cool climate Anderson Valley, which are some of the greatest wines in California. The Chardonnay is wonderfully balanced and alive with natural acidity and exceptional length with finely detailed layers of apple, pear. lemon, quince and golden fig fruits with subtle oak accents, clove spice, wet stone, a subtle salty element, mineral and honeysuckle. This Valenti Ranch Vineyard Chardonnay gains a poised sense of texture without being heavy and it has a sensational palate impact, it has a rich concentration, but the vibrant energy of a white Burgundy, it is pure class in the glass and would be a great companion to lobster and or swordfish steaks. Like Drew’s Pinots, this is a wine that let’s you know it is a pure California wine and is completely transparent, it goes to one of my favorites list of top Chards, joining another newcomers, Samuel Louis Smith’s Spear Vineyard, the Ceritas Trout Gulch, Richard Alfaro’s Mary Katherine as well as classics like Littorai, which was also outrageously good yesterday at Slow Wine, Mount Eden, Hanzell and Peay Vineyards, to name a few.
Grown just six miles from the Pacific on an east facing ridge at 1,200-1,350 feet, the Valenti Ranch produces distinctive character from the Mendocino Ridge with deep fruit develop and exciting vitality. The constant maritime winds coupled with, what Jason Drew calls thin marginal soils, made up of Ornbaun Series ancient seabed sedimentary soils lends itself to smaller berry size and naturally lower yields, all of which created the material to make this expressive and impressive wine. Drew used 100% native yeast barrel fermentation on his Chardonnay, the first he’s made in Anderson Valley and since his days as an assistant winemaker at Babcock in Santa Barbara County and he employed all neutral French oak for the 18 months in barrel it saw. The Valenti, a special vineyard site farmed with organic methods, has a selection of Chardonnay clones that include old Wente, Mt Eden, Dijon 176 and 75 that helps contribute to the complexity in this wine that reveals a touch of chalk or crushed oyster shell, kumquat and delicate leesyness. Even in a warm year like this 2017 vintage, Drew’s style is restrained with just 13.4% natural alcohol and there is refreshing dynamic force to this studied effort. There is a lot to admire in the latest set of Drew wines, and as mentioned the Pinots and Syrah bottlings are fantastic, as my recent reviews have highlighted in recent years, but I absolutely thrilled with this limited release Chardonnay!
($50 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2016 Drench Wine, Rosé, Spindrift, Napa Valley.
The Drench Wine Spindrift Rosé, handmade by winemaker Emily Hunt from a small vineyard off the Silverado Trail in Napa Valley using about 80% Sangiovese and 20% Petite Sirah is a vinous and wonderfully round example of a Rosé that can age and still have dry bright freshness, making it uniquely Californian in style and flavors, though reminds me at of Italian Rosato meets old school Provence. Emily is making a tight lineup of interesting wines, and as mentioned here, her Sauvignon Blanc from Zabala Vineyard, her most recent offering is a very lovely and exciting wine, from her hometown vines in Monterey, where she is a consulting winemaker and an assistant winemaker who has helped make Galante Vineyard wines and Holman Ranch wines in Carmel Valley. The Rosé scene in the state has blown up and there is lots of thrilling dry pinks to chose from, but Hunt’s Drench Spindrift Rosé stands out for the cool packaging, in the personal use size of 500ml and for the complexity of layers including racy cherry, distilled plum, strawberry, ruby grapefruit and a touch of watermelon fruits plus a subtle mineral tone, saline, delicate spices, rosewater and smooth underlying acidity.
The Drench Napa wines all are made from her two tons of fruit sourced from the Fazekas Vineyard, off of Silverado trail in Napa, making her offerings quite rare, this vineyard site was originally planted back in 1994 for the Mondavi’s Mi Familia Winery with the true Italian clones of Sangiovese, brought in by Robert Mondavi mostly likely came from Frescobaldi, as they were friends and partners with the Mondavis, with the Petite Sirah (which adds structure here) bud wood coming from old vines in Calistoga. Drench also does a deep full bodied version too from this site, which is a compelling wine as well with a lush richness and loads of ripe black fruits and some nice dried flowers and cigar wrapper notes, though I do enjoy the Rosé’s flair and vibrance, it is especially good with food, in particular with mussels in spicy broth and or grilled salmon. The mostly Sangiovese, which has a nice burst of natural acidity, Drench Spindrift Rosé is a 100% saignée, ripe fruited bleed of 100% de-stemmed grapes and was pressed off the skins after a 4 hour soak and fermented at a cool 55 degrees over 3 weeks and sees no oak, which explains the complexity and generous mouth feel, drink this one over the next year or two.
($25 Est. 500ml) 90 Points, grapelive
2018 Turley Wine Cellars, Cinsault, Bechtold Vineyard, Lodi California.
The Turley wines, mainly celebrated for their exceptional Zinfandel portfolio, are ripe and luxurious with outspoken personalities, less known is that all of Turley’s vineyard sources are farmed using organic methods and sustainable with the wines being crafted using indigenous yeasts and natural fermentation(s). Larry Turley’s the Turley Wine Cellars, as he notes, makes forty-seven wines from over fifty vineyards, the vast majority of which are single vineyard designate Zinfandels and Petite Syrahs which are made with mostly classic old vines are also produced with a respect for California’s rich tradition in winemaking and with the hope to preserving this exciting wine culture. Now with Tegan Passalacqua, who took over as the director of winemaking in 2013, as well as being their vineyard and grape guru, Turley Wine Cellars has really raised the game, the wines have gained a true authentic and terroir driven quality, making the wines even more thrilling and elevating Passalacqua to one of the state’s best vignerons. He has brought a gentle touch and love of dirt to the scene, I’ve always enjoyed my conversations with Tegan, especially when he gives me a schooling on a varietal’s (grape) history in California and his history making wines with Alain Graillot, the iconic northern Rhone producer, known for his gorgeous Crozes-Hermitage and with the equality famous Eben Sadie of Sadie Family Wines in South Africa, who is a master of natural wines and blending. Turley also puts out some lesser known wines, one of them is their Bechtold Cinsault, a fresh carbonic quaffable red made from this obscure Rhone and Languedoc grape, which is also a minor player in Provence Rosé.
The Turley Bechtold Cinsault comes from the Lodi region, where some of California’s earliest vineyards were planted in the 1800s with Bechtold being planted in 1886, this Cinsault vineyard is the oldest of its kind in the country, as Tegan notes, perhaps even beyond. These historic vines, which are cherished far and wide and are even featured in Randall Grahm’s latest expression of his Cigare Volant, are gnarly, head-trained and planted on their own roots, dug deep in the well draining sandy loam soils, making for seriously delicious lighter style wines that are somewhat like a California version of Cru Beaujolais. Passalacqua has done a fabulous job with this 2018 version with its beautiful aromatics and juicy/vibrant profile delivering black cherry, raspberry, dark floral notes, dried herbs de Provence, fennel and tart currents. The Bechtold Cinsault is a Glou Glou style carbonic wine that is lovely with a slight chill and enjoyed without pretense, this fruit forward offering is perfect for picnics and BBQs as well as country or rustic cuisine. There is no hint of overt wood or is it a flashy wine, but just a fun and racy wine, its dark magenta/ruby hue and vitality in the glass is wonderfully inviting, you can see why this one is one of the most sought after under the radar bottlings in Turley’s incredible collection of wines, along with the cellar worthy Hayne Petite Sirah. I have coveted my bottles of this Cinsault and I also love the Turley Grenache, another rarity in the lineup and usually found at their Paso Robles tasting room, always a must visit spot when I am down there.
($28 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2017 Nanclares y Prieto Viticultores, Albariño, Rias Baixas, Galicia, Spain.
One of my favorite white wines, the Nanclares Albariño is a minerally, bright, slightly leesy and sea breeze infused beauty with crisp intensity and delicately aromatic, this 2017 is an absolute classic expression of terroir and varietal purity. This bottling, the signature version of Alberto Nanclares, is a striking wine that starts with citrus blossom and zesty steeliness, with green apple, wild peach and lime fruits leading the way along with a touch of reduction and salty wet stones all of which is perfectly set against its light to medium bodied frame and exciting natural acidity. This beautiful and tangy fresh Albariño gains a structure and textural grace with air adding an impressive presence in the glass, which is lovely in its golden pale hue and authentic sense of place and flavor profile. The Alberto Nanclares Albariño comes from 30 plus year old vines from tiny parcels around the town of Cambados and the Meaño areas set on almost pure sand with granite underneath, with the vines trained in the traditional overhead style called pergola to maximize airflow and exposure to sunshine at nearly absolute sea level, only a stones throw from the remote beaches of this cool climate region on Spain’s quiet Atlantic coast. The Val do Salnés area is historically considered the ancestral or spiritual home of the Albariño grape and almost no where is it so perfectly transmitted into a wine as it does in this Nanclares and it is a wine made from the sea, easily one of the best with seafood, in particular oysters, mussels, clams and ultra fresh sushi, it is a wine that can be a great alternative to Sancerre, Muscadet (Melon), dry Riesling, Gruner Veltliner and or Chablis.
Nanclares, who is based in the Cambados, started in the mid nineties just tending a vineyard in his semi retirement home as a hobby is now one of the greatest producers of fine Albariño in Galicia’s famous Rias Baixas region crafting an awesome set of single vineyard versions as well as his regional Dandelion cuvee and this outstanding example, known as the “Alberto Nanclares” or sometimes referred to as the “Estate” with the grapes all coming from the Val do Salnés sub zone. Nanclares brought the talented Silvia Prieto on board a few years ago now and has gone from strength to strength with her energy and commitment helping lift this label to new heights and expanding the range of wines with the additions of a few red wines, including an elegant and complex Mencia from grapes coming from the Ribeira Sacra. The Nanclares y Prieto winery is now all organic and has added some biodynamiques to their practices, even employing compost from collect seaweed from the near by Atlantic Ocean, all which proves their dedication, in this humid region that is terribly difficult to farm without convention methods. But, the wines have really benefited from this extraordinary effort and they are unbelievably compelling wines, especially this one which saw natural winemaking in the cellar with only a tiny dose of sulfur and native yeast fermentation with no malos and 90% stainless steel and 10% used French oak cask being used here, the aging was done for nine months on the lees then bottled unfined and unfiltered to preserve dynamic quality, give the wine age worthiness and showcase the wine’s true character. This is rewarding Albariño that sets the standard for this grape and region, this is one to look for and covet, it will drink nicely for another 3 to 5 years.
($32 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2018 Weingut Alzinger, Gruner Veltliner Smaragd, Ried Steinertal, Wachau, Austria.
One of the most complex and serious Gruners I’ve tried in ages, the Alzinger Smaragd Ried Steinertal is one of Austria’s Grand Cru wines on the level as the fabled Emmerich Knoll wines and winemaker Leo Alzinger is getting a lot of attention and acclaim, and this wine especially shows why with its depth and richness of body and its long dry finish. Grown near the Danube, west of Austria’s capital of Vienna, Alzinger’s vines cling to steep hillsides near the town of Unterloiben in the Wachau region this Gruner is a late pick with a selection of old vine set on lower slopes on mostly loess based soils with gneiss, mica schist, primary rock and loam that give this wine its density and fruit expression. A fanatic about pristine fruit quality and serve selections in the vineyards, Leo’s wines deliver this commitment to quality in the bottle and shine in the glass with sublime detail, energy and glorious elegance, while still having a powerful presence on the palate and charming concentration. This 2018 has a full body and generously viscous with layers of lemon/lime, white peach, quince and spiced Asian pear fruits along with saline infused rock, delicate mineral tones, rosewater and a play between leesy texture and a bit of bitter almond. This is serious stuff that will take a thought on the right pairings and a match that will compliment its opulence, as these Smaragd are thicker and more blooding than the delightful and lighter Federspiel versions.
The Ried Steinertal is in a hidden cool climate zone set between steep hills and holds on with the use of majestic terraces, it is a site that develops incredibly slowly and the hang time is extremely long allowing superior ripening without high sugars making for a good retention of natural acidity and gives this Smaragd a fine balance and extra level of class. Alzinger employs winemaking methods that promote extreme clarity and transparency, Leo is ever searching for purity and terroir transmission, sometimes this can prove difficult in the denser Smaragd, but this 2018 is an absolutely stunning Gruner that has a unique character, inner beauty and certainly looks like a classic example. Leo uses whole cluster pressing during crush and a short maceration, then allows the must to settle a full 24 hours to drop out any harsh greeness or phenolic tannin. This primary is in cold conditions and is spontaneously fermented in stainless steel with the aging done with the lees, its elevage is done mainly in stainless steel, though a with a small amount of Gruner seeing neutral Austrian oak, this formula works well and the tiny amount of wood helps smooth the mouth feel and this wine gains a bit of creaminess with air. Gruner is a worldwide phenomenon with Austria’s signature grape getting vineyard space throughout the new world, in particular there are many new plantings in California and in Oregon’s Willamette Valley with some exceptional results, but a wine like this Alzinger shows you why the Wachau reigns supreme and this vintage is a profound white wine.
($75 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2016 Domaine Monthelie-Douhairet-Porcheret, Monthelie “Clos du Meix Garnier” Monopole, Red Burgundy, France.
One of the under the radar regions of the Cote de Beaune, Monthelie is a quality area for Pinot Noir in Burgundy and Monthelie-Douhairet-Porcheret is one of the best wineries to explore here, making beautiful examples, like this gorgeous single Lieu-Dit expression. The Domaine Monthelie-Douhairet-Porcheret is located in the town of Monthelie, in the heart of the Côte de Beaune, and covers just 13 hectares of vineyards, not just in Monthelie, but also includes plus small parcels in the famed Pommard, Volnay and Meursault zones. The wines here are crafted by the respected André Porcheret and granddaughter, Cataldina Lippo, and it is well noted their traditional style and elegance. The Douhairet family originally ran this winery, but back In 1989, Madame Armande Douhairet asked André Porcheret to run the show and became an adopted son and his name was added to the Domaine’s name. Porcheret has a notable history in Burgundy, he was the cellar master for the Hospices de Beaune from 1976–1988, before he was hired by Lalou Bize Leroy to make wines at her newly created Domaine Leroy, one of the greatest estates in the Cote d’Or, from 1988–1993. André came back to the Hospices de Beaune from 1994–1999, and as mentioned he has since 1989, he has been crafting the excellent wines here at Monthelie-Douhairet-Porcheret. In the cellar, and employed here on this satiny Monthelie, it was made using 100% de-stemmed grapes with a gentle old school fermentation and maceration before being aged for 18 months in barrel of which 10% were new medium plus toast. All wines at MDP show impeccable purity and are bottled without fining or filtration.
The 2016 Clos du Meix Garnier, a special monopole site, is expressive and brightly fruited with a seductive rose petal and Pinot perfume and feels beautiful on the medium bodied palate that impresses for its rich detail, complexity and grace, this is wine that over performs for the price. This Monthelie has everything you’d expect of a Burgundy at twice the cost, in fact I easily could have believed this was a Premier Cru Volnay and its sensual layering and finish it is a fine bottle to search out. The Monthelie-Douhairet-Porcheret Clos du Meix Garnier is well balanced with red plum, strawberry and spiced raspberry fruits to go with a lovely core of black cherry adds classic chalkiness, mineral, delicate floral tones and subtle oak notes, all of which make this a beautiful Pinot Noir that carries its terroir with pride. Imported by Martine’s Wines, the same importer that Domaine Leroy has always used (in California) I think shows the admiration that this label carries within the industry, and this wine backs that up, it is one I certainly will be buying a few bottles of. Putting my money where my mouth is, I can’t wait to show this off to some friends, it really is quite intriguing and will be brilliant with duck breast and almost any cuisine. The vintage, a year that seems better in the bottle than expected and that can age some, has exceptional transparency, good density and lively acidity with a burst of saline and lingering with heavenly silkiness on the long finish with currants and almost a touch of violets that almost reminds me of Vosne Romanee!
($45 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2018 Sheldon Wines, Graciano, Luc’s Vineyard, Fountaingrove AVA, Sonoma County.
Dylan and Tobe Sheldon’s Graciano comes of a tiny vineyard in the Fountaingrove AVA, which lies in a cool zone near Santa Rosa and was first approved by the TTB in 2015, it is bordered to the north by Chalk Hill and Knights Valley, to the south by the Sonoma Valley, to the west by the Russian River Valley, and to the east by Napa’s Diamond Mountain District and Spring Mountain District. Fountaingrove is pretty far inland, but the maritime breezes and fog entering through the gap in the Sonoma Mountains east of Santa Rosa regulates the climate here making a perfect place for grape growing and this rare varietal thrives here, as this new vintage from Sheldon shows. The terrain is mainly rolling hills with Sonoma Volcanic, which is reddish and has iron and Franciscan Formation or complex, including greywacke sandstones, shales and loamy bedrock soils, all of which adds to the spice and mineral drive in the wines. Sheldon’s 2018 Graciano is very deeply hued with an electric purple/magenta and garnet color and is densely fruit filled with a medium full body and layered with blackberry, plum, cherry and red currant fruits along with hints of briar spiciness, grilled fennel, mineral and lovely floral perfume, it later adds a touch of blueberry, violette and cinnamon. This Graciano has a forward personality and expressive dark character with a bright and zesty energy making it great with a wide array of cuisine choices from hard cheeses and Spanish ham to a rack of lamb or wild mushroom dishes.
Graciano a Spanish grape, also known as Tintilla, is mostly renown for being one of the Rioja grapes, though rarely done as a single varietal wine and it is even more unique when found in California, where the Sheldon’s were one of the first wineries to make one in modern times beginning in the mid 2000s. Dylan, who is first and foremost a Grenache specialist, especially after spending time in the Rhone on a harvest gig with the famous Chateau de Saint Cosme and winemaker Louis Barruol who’s Gigondas is one of the world’s greatest wines. Sheldon Wines, which was formed in 2003, has never been afraid to explore different paths and grapes, like this Graciano, also does a sparkling Tempranillo, carbonic Sangiovese, Carignan and Rhone blends, his signature Vinolocity, which is a wild Petite Sirah and Tempranillo blend, as well as Syrah and Cabernet Sauvignon, plus a unique Petite Sirah and Cabernet field blend called the Red Hat. This wine was traditionally crafted using a small basket press and fermented to a natural 12.9% natural alcohol and aged in two neutral French oak barrels, as Dylan adds, no new oak was harmed in the making of this wine, and it was bottled unfined and unfiltered. This is one of the best versions of Graciano I’ve tried, brilliantly detailed, clean vitality and with a generous vinous mouth feel, it should drink fabulously for 5 to 10 years, though almost irresistible now, this is tasty stuff! Sheldon, who produces only ultra small lot wines is well worth searching out.
($36 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2018 Weingut Carl Loewen, Riesling Trocken, Ritsch, Grosses Gewächs, Mosel Germany.
Christopher Loewen’s 2018 Ritsch GG coming from extreme slopes, the second steepest in Europe, takes this vineyard to the next level, this is one of the wines of the vintage (lots of German ’18s on the list!) with outrageous depth and majestic form that feels like the wine was chiseled out its historic slate driven terroir. Christopher Loewen, who took over the estate’s winemaking in recent years, from his famous father, has brought this winery to pinnacle of German wine with a focus on organic farming, natural and minimalistic cellar work, specializing in a sophisticated drier style of pure Riesling. The Carl Loewen, as noted by me and of course Terry Theise, the Riesling guru that imports this wine, estate dates back to 1803, when a collection of prime vineyards and winery buildings were purchased at auction, these had once been part of the Church’s religious Maximin order, it included the famed Maximiner Herrenberg, which has the oldest set of Riesling vines in Germany, planted in 1896. Karl-Josef, Christopher’s dad, who was always looking for old vineyards, added significant parcels mainly by savvy buys of steep old vineyards (with low yielding vines) that no one wanted to work anymore, with the Thörnicher Ritsch vineyard coming into the fold in 1998. Ritsch, as mentioned in my writings, is the second steepest vineyard in Germany, second only to Bremer Calmot in the lower Mosel set on grey weathered slate and quartzite soils that give this incredible wine its personality and character. Christopher says it took awhile for the Loewen’s to get Ritsch to perform as they knew it could and they struggled as they moved from conventional farming to chemical free organic methods here, but their faith and commitment has really paid off as the vineyard’s true potential has finally been unlocked! There is a lot to love here in this 2018 version, highlighting Loewen’s touch and its glorious terroir influence, making this pale greenish/golden Riesling a special bottle to cherish.
This new release, 2018 Ritsch Grosses Gewachs Riesling is exceptional and thrillingly intense with a sense of underlying power and dynamic energy all of which translates outwardly with its youthful generosity and crystal clear details with layers of vibrant fruits, flinty mineral and a saline burst that makes this wine burst from the glass with green apple, lime, grapefruit, tart apricot, fleshy melon, quince and faint tropical fruits along with smoky wet shale, chamomile, citrus blossom, delicate rosewater and a touch of leesy concentration. This is absolutely going to be the stuff of legends, those looking for a sleeper for the cellar should really not miss this one, it will easily eclipse the classics and still offers tremendous value, this wine is on the level of greatness that compares with Raveneau Les Clos Grand Cru Chablis, Domaine Leflaive Puligny-Montrachet and or Coche-Dury Meursault! The Loewen Ritsch, a wine I’ve been singing the praises of since the 2014, is a brisk and dry wine that develops slowly with air gaining graceful texture and deepens with time, I am mind-glowingly impressed with this vintage, not just for this offering, but with all of Loewen’s collection, to say they nailed it is an understatement for the ages. This brilliant wine joins Christopher’s fantastic 1896 Maximiner Herrenberg old vine bottlings, especially the stunning Feinherb, which I reviewed earlier, these are wines that German wine lovers should not miss and should rush out and find, in particular those that enjoy the wines by Wittmann, Keller, Donnhoff, Loosen and Maximin Grunhaus (Von Schubert) to name a few. Throughout Loewen’s lineup there are wines of sublime value and quality from the basic estate stuff to the gorgeous set of GGs, plus the Kabinett and Alte Reben Trockens are rocking good.
($65 Est.) 97 Points, grapelive
2018 Pax, Gamay Noir, Sonoma Coast.
The latest release Gamay from Pax is an old world and austere bottling with a meaty and with a raw earthiness, it is less fruit driven the the past two releases, though still appeals for the natural style and goes well with rustic cuisine. The 2018 has a background of fresh acidity and is layered with black raspberry, cherry, tangy wild strawberry and dusty plum fruits along with an array of spices, herbs, crushed flowers, iron/mineral notes and a light cedary element, along with what tastes like touch of Brettanomyces, which adds a savory dryness to this vintage. Those looking for a light and fruity wine best look to Pax’s delightful Valdiguie, one of my secret favs in Mahle’s lineup, and Carignan bottlings, as this Gamay has a more seriousness about it and is slightly natty in form. Air brings out a touch more body and length in this lightly tannic and crisp Gamay, it fills out to a medium bodied red that is best served with a bit of a chill and with food that will coax more fruit out, with burgers, duck confit and or sleep (hard) cheeses. I am loving the unique alternative wines being done by the talented Pax Mahle, in particular his Chenin Blanc, the mentioned Carignan and Valdiguie bottlings, the Trousseau Gris as well as his Rhone blend, The Vicar.
Pax, most known for outstanding Syrah, was the first winery to produce and release a Gamay Noir from the cool climate Sonoma Coast region, not too long ago, starting with a tiny batch he did in 2015, a wine I didn’t get to try. I did however did try and love both with 2016 and 2017 versions, as they were more widely released, though as this 2018, are limited and hard to find. The Pax Gamay is sourced from a set sustainably farmed in vineyards Pax had used to make his ultra cool climate Wind Gap wines, which was folded back into the Pax label, set on marine sedimentary soils and cooled by breezy conditions influenced by the Pacific Ocean. This Gamay was crafted using traditional methods, similar to Cru Beaujolais, with 100% whole cluster fermentation and partial carbonic maceration with the wine getting close to 10 months in used French oak barrels with almost no sulphur added. This vintage reminds me of older vintages of Clos de la Roilette Fleurie and will certainly appeal to those that love the funk, it’s an intriguing edition that might get a reaction, both positive and negative, I think I might suggest drinking it sooner v. later. Be sure to check out all of the classic Syrah(s) here, plus Pax’s unique collection of other cool stuff.
($40 Est.) 89 Points, grapelive
NV Ultraviolet by Poe Wines, Sparkling Rosé, California.
The Ultraviolet Sparkling Rosé is a fun, lively and fruity bubbly that is generous and Cremant de Loire like in style with a slight California twist, it’s made mostly from Cabernet Franc, but with a touch of Colombard, instead of either Chenin Blanc or Sauvignon Blanc as found in the French versions, making for an interesting offering from the talented Samantha Sheehan of Poe Wines. Delightfully easy and quaffable this Ultraviolet, Sheehan’s second value priced label, Sparkling Rosé has flashes of strawberry, sour cherry, distilled raspberry and ruby citrus fruits with touches of mineral, floral tones along with a faint herbal note and a hint of leesy/yeasty roundness. Much less serious than her Poe grower producer style sparklers, which are some of the finest versions in California, like Caraccioli and Michael Cruse’s Ultramarine, this Ultraviolet Sparkling Rosé is great for beach drinking and or as a flavorful aperitif with it’s more forward and fruity nature. Sheehan’s Poe lineup is full of outstanding wines, I highly recommend checking out her Van der Kamp Pinot and Manchester Ridge Chardonnay, plus her fantastic Poe sparklers, in particular the single vineyard Blanc de Blancs, it truly is spectacular and compares well with top grower fizz Champagnes, plus I adore her Pinot Meunier, also from the Van der Kamp Vineyard on Sonoma Mountain.
Samantha Sheehan, who founded her Poe Wines winery in 2009 after traveling to Europe and being inspired by the wines she tasted in Burgundy and Champagne, and has now established himself as a top notch producer of Chardonnay and Pinot Noir, as well as turning out to be a studied and well respected Champagne style producer. Sheehan says her goal is not to replicate Burgundy (or Champagne), but rather create alluring, vineyard specific, age-worthy wines that express the beautiful terroir of California. At Poe, there is a focus on minimal intervention in the cellar, judicious use of sulfur, and never any additives to craft transparent wines that show purity and a sense of place. This Sparkling Rosé has a base of 85% Coombsville Cabernet Franc rosé, made from the grapes that go into Sheehan’s other Ultraviolet bottling, her juicy, everyday priced Cabernet Sauvignon, and with 15% French Colombard from Mendocino. This wine was made utilizing the Charmant method as opposed to fermenting it in bottle, as done with the Champagne method wines at Poe. The sparkling base, which is about extra dry in feel, went through a second fermentation in stainless steel tank utilizing yeast and sugar and fermentation was kept cold, lasting close to seven weeks. This is a very enjoyable Sparkling Rosé to pop with casual purpose, especially along with lots of food and laughter!
($26 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2017 G.D. Vajra, Langhe Nebbiolo DOC, Piedmonte, Italy.
The Vajra 2017 Langhe Nebbiolo is an absolutely beautiful wine with incredible depth of style for the price, in fact it is on par with some serious Barolo offerings and better than many 2014 Barolo bottlings that are on the market now at triple the cost! Delightfully generous, but vigorous, dry and full of intensity this is a wine of varietal purity with crushed roses, balsamic dipped strawberry and anise notes to go along with layers of briar laced raspberry, damson plum, orange and kirsch fruit as well as light notes of mineral/iron, incense and fresh saline infused chalk/stones. I’m a huge fan of the G. D. Vajra lineup and winery, especially the craftsmanship of Giuseppe Vajra, winemaker, has brought to the wines since I’ve been following them, which started with the 2008, now tens years on these are some of Italty’s best wines. The GD Vajra estate, fourth generation artisan Barolo producer is an example of elegant, pure, and expressive terroir wines, is found in Vergne, the highest village of Barolo in north- west Italy, where the vineyards sit at an altitude of up to 400 metres. The winery’s simple message is, they make wines that do not need to talk out loud or flex their muscles, they just ask them to touch the hearts of all, which I think is mostly has very well accomplished, especially in their Barolo Bricco delle Viole, Barolo Ravera, their amazing dry Riesling, the Dolcetto, the Kye Freisa and this awesome Langhe Nebbiolo. Produced from Cru sites in the Barolo area, this Langhe Nebbiolo is from young vines, including Bricco Bertoni, all hand-picked, with a long vinification and, as Vajra explains, extremely gentle, as so to retain lift and tension to this wine, which was achieved, this is a wine of class and vitality.
Vajra, who has farmed using organic practices since 1971, calls the 2017 a vintage of rich wines with plenty of energy and aromatics, and I agree, this version has plenty of density and ripeness coming in at a Barolo like 14.5% and has a balancing grip and freshness. This Langhe Nebbiolo was fermented and aged in a combination of stainless tank and neutral oak casks, it saw between 8 and 14 months of aging to develop its vinous and graceful mouth feel as well as to preserve the classic Nebbiolo character. That 100% Nebbiolo primary fermentation lasted for almost 3 weeks days in vertical vats, and then was followed by a natural spontaneous malolactic fermentation, with mainly that elevage being in the stainless, while a tiny amount of the blend saw some wood. Vajra, like most great winemakers, is humble and believes his wines are all made in the vineyard and those vines have been nurtured and the soil preserved by grassing and gets a cover crop, which they have for almost 50 years now. Vajra notes, it takes an incredible ratio of manual work per acre to produce the best grapes, adding that the farming at Vajra is a labor of love and a lot goes into monitoring and improving the biodiversity of both flora and fauna not just in the vineyards, but also in the winery fields and the near by forest, knowing all of this plays a part in the stunning quality of Vajra’s collection. Be sure to find and enjoy the current Vajra wines, in particular Giuseppe’s set of Nebbiolo wines, with this “Baby Barolo” one being one to certainly stock up on!
($25 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2014 Mount Eden Vineyards, Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Santa Cruz Mountains.
The 2014 Mount Eden Estate Cabernet Sauvignon is a beauty from start to finish, one of the finest I’ve tried in fact and it’s right up there with some of California’s best versions, reminding me of Corison and Ridge Vineyards in style with an elegance and authentic character showing layers of black fruits, a smooth tannic structure and subtle floral perfume. Mount Eden Vineyards is one of the longest running family estates in California that is famous for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, but has always done a fantastic Cabernet Sauvignon. This historic winery is perched up at 2000 feet, with an eastern exposure above Saratoga and overlooking the Silicon Valley in the Santa Cruz Mountain Appellation, just about 50 miles south of San Francisco. Mount Eden was founded in 1945 and was one of the original “boutique” California wineries by famed vintner Martin Ray, who as mentioned focused on small lots of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. Since 1981 Jeffrey Patterson, the current owner along with his wife Ellie, has guided the winemaking and grape growing at Mount Eden, taking it to the very top in terms of quality making it an iconic producer. Patterson considers himself a winegrower, always crediting the place with its unique terroir for the sublime wines. He says he concentrates on wine growing rather than winemaking and he is obsessed with gentle and natural techniques in the handling of his grapes. Martin Ray purchased the first parcel of this mountaintop estate, which is now the site of Mount Eden Vineyards, back in 1943 and proceeded to plant special Burgundy (clones) Pinot Noir selections and Chardonnay vines with cuttings that came from Paul Masson’s La Cresta vineyard, now known as The Mountain Winery. Martin Ray, who grew up near Masson’s property met Paul Masson and developed a true friendship and Masson had great affection for Martin, as he had no sons of his own, and allowed him to work in the cellar and learn the art of making fine wine, this was pivotal to the future creation of Mount Eden.
Mount Eden’s estate as started by Martin Ray and now run by the Patterson family sites on a rugged mountaintop in the Santa Cruz Mountains with 40 acres of low-yielding Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, plus tiny amounts of Merlot and Cabernet Franc vines that go into the Cabernet Sauvignon bottlings. Interesting, separate from the relationship with Paul Masson, the heritage of Mount Eden Cabernet Sauvignon dates back to the 1890s, when the famed viticulturist Emmett Rixford of Woodside, California, obtained selected cuttings from Chateau Margaux in Bordeaux and it’s from Rixford’s famous La Questa Vineyard with these selections that were used to plant parcels at Mount Eden. The Soils at Mountain Eden are very thin with a dominant base of Franciscan shales, which are found in these coastal range vineyards, which suits these vines and adds to the concentration of flavors. The climate is cool, with the Pacific Ocean near by, especially for Cabernet, and influenced by the vineyard’s altitude and its proximity to San Francisco bay as well. The vines are trellised in a modern fashion, which promotes even ripening, with the long growing season adding refined tannins and complexity, along with nice natural acidity, which this 2014 shows perfectly. The Mount Eden Cabernet Sauvignon was fermented in small 1,000-gallon stainless steel tanks, with Patterson doing punch downs manually and macerated it, as he notes, for about ten days after fermentation completed, then was transferred into new Bordelaise chateau barrels where aged twenty-two months in the cellar. Beautiful in detail, this 2014 delivers deep blackberry, plum, cherry and currant fruits, plus accents of sandalwood, acacia flower, cedar, minty herb, pipe tobacco, iron/mineral and lingering vanilla, anise and creme de cassis. This fresh and lively unfined and unfiltered Mount Eden Cabernet was aged an extra two years in bottle prior to its release and it is a gorgeous wine that should go for another two to three decades with legendary potential!
($90 Est.) 96 Points, grapelive
N.V. Moussé Fils, Anecdote Lieu-Dit La Varosses, Blanc de Blancs Brut Champagne, Cuisles, Vallée de la Marne, France.
Cedric Moussé’s beautiful Champagne collection, usually led by distinct Pinot Meunier bottlings, are some of finest grower producer offerings I’ve tried in recent years and his unique 100% single parcel, 100% Chardonnay and 100% organic Anecdote Lieu-Dit La Varosses is a gorgeous Champagne with ripe layers, rich leesy texture and mineral intensity. The Champagne Moussé, who’s estate grown vines include 80% Pinot Meunier, 16% Pinot Noir and just 4% Chardonnay, which obviously makes this Anecdote La Varosses are delicious rarity, is the first member of the Club de Tresor (the body that maintains and approves the famous Special Club Champagne expressions) to make a Spécial Club wine of 100% Pinot Meunier and the first Club member to produce a Rosé de Saignée Spécial Club. Focused on purity and textural quality, Moussé works almost exclusively with stainless steel when crafting his Champagne, with the exception of a small amount of Pinot Meunier destined for his rosé and all the cuvees undergo secondary (malolactic) fermentation that adds to the pleasure and vinous depth. Cedric Moussé, according to his importer Terry Theise, adheres to a ‘lutte raisonee’ approach to grape growing, practicing organic viticulture, using herbal infusions that, Moussé says, act as ‘vitamins’ for the vines, with cover crops proving nutrients, and zero pesticides or comercial fertilizers.
The latest Anecdote Lieu-Dit La Varosses all comes from the 2015 vintage, a warm and dense year that adds to the luxurious feel and ripe fruit complexity in this wonderfully detailed grower fizz, and as mentioned it was crafted from this tiny Chardonnay parcel in stainless steel with a full 48 months on the lees. The terroir here is quite special with this side valley, in the Vallee de la Marne, not all that far from Paris, has unique soils for Champagne that consists of a schist subsoil under the local “green” clay. This combination of climate and soils gives a remarkable freshness, even with these full malos and a lifted sense of fruit, especially in Moussé’s favorite Pinot Meunier versions, but also works to great effect in this Chardonnay sparkler, giving some generosity and structure as well as a salinity which makes everything pop in the glass. The current Anecdote shows loads of personality and refined charm with lemon, peach and bosc pear fruits, delicate floral notes, brioche, wet stones, clove and liquid mineral all supported by an exceptionally fine mouse and effervesce of tiny beading creamy bubbles. This is fabulous Champagne and a top value in limited production, hand crafted and stylish grower fizz with a serious presence, it is great on its own, but sensational with cuisine, be sure to look for this and all of the Moussé lineup! The Moussé Champagnes are still under the radar and priced way below their true value, those that love Jerome Prevost, Brouchard, Laharte and Agrapart will really be thrilled by these exciting Champagnes.
($50 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2014 Ferren Wines, Chardonnay, Lancel Creek Vineyard, Sonoma Coast.
The Ferren label wines I’ve tasted, which I’ve had just a couple of so far, have impressed me with the quality and depth of flavors, especially this Lancel Creek Chardonnay from a cool climate Sonoma Coast vineyard, it shows a deep fruit concentration and texture and vibrance, it reminds me of Ramey, Aubert, Littorai and Ceritas with rich character, but also graceful, showing fine details and length. Winemakers Matt Courtney and David Wherritt founded Ferren, a Sonoma Coast winery, in 2013, after an eight-year apprenticeship with the legendary Helen Turley of Marcassin and formerly of Martinelli, with a focus on mainly full-bodied and boldly expressive Chardonnays and elegantly transparent Pinot Noirs coming from cool climate Sonoma Coast vineyards. The Ferren Wines are made using, as the winery states, traditional Burgundian methods, using indigenous yeasts with the fermentations are carried out exclusively by native flora that arrive on the grapes from the vineyards without fining or filtration. The vineyards in Ferren’s portfolio are exceptional places to source top notch grapes, like this Lancel Creek, on the true Coast, which are all hand picked, with Ferren basing its pick dates with a nod to the potential for producing profound, age-worthy wines. All of their parcels are, as they note, farmed to the highest standards of sustainability and wine quality, adding that they are dedicated to doing tiny lots of artisan single-vineyard Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.
Lancel Creek Vineyard, planted by the late Ulises Valdez, one of the hero’s of California winegrowing, is perched above the tiny hamlet of Occidental on the remote true west Sonoma Coast. This secluded, two-acre site is set on the Goldridge soils that provides just enough nutrients and moisture for these densely planted vines to ripen fully with small berries, giving low yields of intensely aromatic and flavorful Chardonnay grapes, which shows in this Ferren Lancel Chardonnay. The Lancel Vineyard faces the Pacific Ocean, that crashes ashore a mere five miles to the west and certainly plays a role in the the wines made from this set of vines, the combining influences of the cold Pacific and the long warm days helps produce a wine of dense opulence and a studied balance, again this Ferren delivers it all with a finesse and poise. This 2014 version is really coming into its own with lush flavors and refined acidity allowing an unfolding cascade of apple, pear, orange/lemon, yellow peach and golden fig fruits along with touches of butterscotch, clove, honeysuckle and hint of smoky vanilla. Time in the glass reveals a more and more substantial wine and greater pleasure with this golden hued Chardonnay filling the palate with a fleshy mouth feel, it is best with cuisine choices that match up, including lobster, smoked salmon with crème fraiche and especially Époisses de Bourgogne, creamy cheese. The style here is pure California, similar to Wayfarer by Pahlmeyer, and it really works, this is a winery to watch and if you can locate this 2014, it will be worth your effort.
($75 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2017 Morgan Winery, Pinot Noir, Double L Estate Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands.
The latest Double L Vineyard Pinot Noir is really an impressive wine from Morgan, one of Monterey’s best and longest running family wineries with the Lee family being great ambassadors for the region and especially for the Santa Lucia Highlands, where this Pinot was born, it highlights the vintage, the marine influence and the hard work in the vines, as well as giving wondrous joy and depth in the glass. This 2017, from the organically grown grapes from Dan Lee’s estate Double L Vineyard and crafted by the hugely talented Sam Smith, head winemaker at Morgan, shows beautiful clarity and rich fruit character, it’s one of the finest wines I’ve ever tasted from the winery, eclipsing the sublime early nineties versions that were made by Joe Davis, who was one of the first star winemakers in Monterey, which were the wines that brought fame to area and began the rise in the Santa Lucia Highlands. Smith’s joining of the team at Morgan has seen its wines get to the next level and I’m incredibly excited to see what the next couple vintages bring, I think they will even be better still, I see the 2018 and 2019 becoming absolutely legendary for Morgan and Monterey. This wine, just getting a full release, has already been garnering critical acclaim and you can immediately see why when seeing and tasting it, it shines ruby and garnet in the glass and the silky palate is layered with dense fruit delivering black cherry, raspberry, plum and wild strawberry along with some toasty sweet oak notes, nice briar and cinnamon spices, distilled rose petals, delicate earthiness and mineral tone. This wine, interestingly feels more evolved than than the 2016’s and some of the single clone 2017 bottlings, maybe proving the barrel selection and mixing of clones makes for a more intriguing example.
Morgan’s signature Double L Vineyard is in a prime spot with its location in the northern end of the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA, widely believed to be one the best spots for growing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Planted to a variety of modern and classic clones, including some rare Burgundy selections, Double L is set on east facing terraces overlooking the Salinas River Valley. This near perfect north-south vineyard row orientation, according to the winery, provides optimum sun exposure and access to the strong afternoon ocean breezes that moderate the afternoon temperatures, they also thicken the grape skins, adding a structured tannic element and the long growing season concentrates flavors, while retaining good natural acidity. The Double L Vineyard has been Certified Organic since 2002, making it the first vineyard in the Santa Lucia Highlands to achieve both organic and sustainable certifications, again helping with flavor development and giving the wines an inner beauty and energy, which clearly shows in a vintage like this one and makes for vivacious fruit intensity. The 2017 saw just about of year in barrel with about 50% new oak being used, as per normal in this luxurious Pinot Noir, but thankfully the smoky oak has merged with the deep sense of ripe fruit allowing the true nature to shine through and there’s still a lot to come with potential to age 10 to 15 years easily. There is a lot to admire in Morgan’s current lineup with this one, being a study in opulence and style, and their 2018 Double L Estate Chardonnay, especially the Clone 96 version, being stellar wines and stars of the show, they are definitely worthy of being in your cellar.
($65 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2017 Lucia Vineyards by Pisoni, Chardonnay, Soberanes Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands.
The rich and full bodied Soberanes Chardonnay from winemaker Jeff Pisoni, who makes the wines for his family’s labels, is a fabulous and showy wine, hand crafted with only 200 cases made and opulently layered this golden hued nectar is a beauty that thrills the palate. This Chardonnay comes from the highly regarded Soberanes Vineyard, the Pisoni’s and Franscioni’s latest vineyard project that was purchased back in 2007 and is looking like it can eclipse the famous Garys’ and Pisoni Estate for grape quality, it especially shows promise with Syrah, but of course Pinot is doing well, as well as the Chardonnay, which is heavy in Old Wente clone, that gives the amazing concentration that this 2017 Soberanes Chard shows. The site, next to Garys’ has an array of Chardonnay clonal material planted on 33 acres in the sandy loamy and rocky soils, it is very diverse and includes more than dozen different clones of the most renowned heritage selections from California and Burgundy, including what is believed to be a Montrachet clone, all playing roles that adds to the complexity and quality in the wines, as well as the cool ocean influence. Jeff Pisoni, one of the state’s best winemakers, has really hit a groove with his wines, these 2017’s are top notch, in particular the spectacular Pisoni Estate Pinot, his set of Syrah(s) and this Soberanes Chardonnay.
Made using carefully sorted grapes and a gentle whole cluster pressing and was (barrel) fermented and aged in 100% Franch oak barriques with 100% natural/indigenous yeasts, with what Pisoni says, was minimal stirring of the lees over the course of this Chardonnay’s 15-month slumber in the cellar. The Soberanes Chard saw elevage in 50% new oak, and malos completeld slowly without additions, which certainly shows on the nose and on the toasty sweet finish, plus giving the creamy lush texture, but overall it really has integrated exceptionally well even now in this wine’s youth and it is well balanced and remarkably lively, highlighting the well judged winemaking, the terroir and the natural acidity that shines through. The nose is full of honeysuckle, citrus and creme brûlée and leads to the densely packed mouth with layers of lemon curd, apple, bosc pear, golden fig, orange marmalade and peach fruits along with wet stone, a kick of saline, mineral tones, a hint of clove spice, tropical essences, vanilla and a faint honeycomb note. This is regal Chardonnay, right up there with Aubert, Peter Michael, Mount Eden and Kongsgaard and should be enjoyed with hedonistic and decedent cuisine, such as lobster and or salmon dishes. Drink this one over the next 5 to 7 years, this is flamboyant stuff and impresses with its presence in the glass.
($50 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2017 Schlossgut Diel, Riesling Trocken, Burg Layen, Nahe Germany.
Caroline Diel’s latest wines are some of the best in Germany and everything I’ve tasted from 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018, which she feels needs more time to reach its potential, have been absolutely gorgeous and one of the under the radar in the collection is her Burg Layen Trocken, with this 2017 version being impeccable, precise and full of character. Schlossgut Diel, a family owned winery, established back in 1802, is located in the lower Nahe on a steep south-facing slope, on the Burg Layen estate near Dorsheim, Diel’s Grand Cru Goldloch, Burgberg and Pittermännchen parcels make up some Diel’s prestigious holdings and are the source of Caroline’s top Grosses Gewachs bottlings, which are notably, three of the greatest white wines in the world. Diel’s father Armin was one of the biggest advocates for dry Rieslings and helped promote them throughout the world, and now Caroline leads that crusade along with her husband Sylvain, as well as showing off her outstanding Pinot Noir, her fantastic Sekt sparkling wines, which are as seductive as Krug, as well as her traditional sweeter offerings, with her Kabinett, Spatlese and especially her Auslese, a wine of pure opulence, density and finesse. The combination of great vineyard sites, dedicated vineyard management, which is as organic as possible and sustainable, plus Caroline’s meticulous winemaking makes Schlossgut Diel, along with Donnhoff, one of the Nahe region’s most sought after wineries. This Burg Layen Dry Riesling is one of my favorites, it offers exceptional value and has a distinct terroir and house style, it makes for a great place to start, if you’ve not tried Diel’s wines.
This wine, named for the castle, the Burg Layen is a pedigreed site, is set on mainly clay based soils that are accented by some flinty slate and well draining grave, makes for elegant Rieslings that are, as importer Terry Theise notes, capable of aging and that are widely adored by savvy Riesling drinkers, as I very much would like to be known as, and this 2017 is graceful, complex and crisply delicious. With subtle power and underlying intensity, the 2017 Burg Layen Riesling Trocken has crystalline minerallity, brilliant energy and layers of yellow peach, lemon, green apple, unripe apricot, quince and green melon fruits along with zesty spices, wet rock, salivating saline and delicate rosewater. With air the wine gains the vintage’s richness and mouth feel, while stay incredibly structured and with a seductive tension, this is a beautiful stuff that gives the thrill of the Grosses Gewachs, but can be drunk without guilt and or waiting. Caroline Diel uses carefully selected fruit that is, as she notes, either whole-cluster pressed or, if vintage necessitates, de-stemmed by hand so as not to break skins and warrant oxidation, and I can attest to the extreme sorting and attention to detail, as I witnessed some of practices when I visited the winery back in 2016. Fermentation at Diel is carried out spontaneously, using mostly indigenous yeasts in large German oak casks, stuckfass, doppelstuck, and sometimes in cement tanks for the drier (Riesling) wines and then aged extensively on the lees. This transparent dry Riesling has many years of pleasure ahead, but I would find it hard not to enjoy it now, especially with lightly spiced shellfish and or fresh sea foods.
($38 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2017 Chateau de Saint-Cosme, Gigondas, Rhone Valley, France.
Louis Barruol’s Chateau de Saint Cosme Gigondas is one of the most iconic Rhone wines, certainly one of the greatest in terms of quality and value and one of my absolutely favorite wines, almost nothing comes close in terms of drinking pleasure for the money and this 2017 is just awesome, beautifully lush and richly textured, but with fine balance, spiciness and serious palate impact. As noted in my long history of reviews, the Chateau de Saint Cosme estate is located north to the village of Gigondas, and is one of the oldest wineries in the region, it stands on tan ancient Gallo-Roman villa which very probably already had its own vineyards, with the records showing that it was founded at least as far back as 1416 with Barruol’s family buying the famous site in 1570. Set in a slightly cooler zone of the appellation, Saint Cosme’s vines are on mainly the classic limestone marl and Miocene sandy soils, all wonderfully situated to produce profound wines, which this year’s Gigondas is, no question. There’s plenty of stuffing and structure, making for a wine with instant gratification, but that can age a long time in the cellar.
The latest main estate wine, Château de Saint Cosme 2017 Gigondas, was made using about 70% Grenache, 14% Syrah, 15% Mourvèdre and 1% Cinsault. Brilliant in detailing, this vintage has an underlying beauty and perfume, while still being dense and powerful, its’ a thrilling whole cluster version, which adds more dimension and a sultry earthiness that sets against the deep fruit perfectly, I honestly can imagine it getting better than this, in fact this wine blows away many Chateauneuf du Pape(s) that sell for two or three times the price. Layered with a core of vinous black fruits, this Saint Cosme Gigondas shows boysenberry, creme de cassis, dark plum, pomegranate and misson figs along with violets, cinnamon, dried lavender plus a touch of bitter chocolate, leather, cedar and black licorice. The inky purple hued 2017 edition, pretty much as per normal was aged for twelve months, getting about 20% in new oak, which I believe are puncheons, with close to 50% of the wine resting in casks used for 1 to 4 fills and 30% in concrete vat, giving it a well rounded mouth feel and exceptional purity. Barruol’s wines are always hedonistic and authentic in style, they and in particular this one never disappoint, especially with hearty cuisine, I suggest that you don’t miss this vintage!
($40 Est.) 96 Points, grapelive
2018 Samuel Louis Smith, Pinot Noir, Montanita de Oro, Monterey County.
The latest set of wines from Sam Smith’s Samuel Louis Smith label are stunning, I‘ve mentioned the gorgeous Chardonnay from the Spear Vineyard and most recently his Syrah, which I absolutely love, but you shouldn’t miss his Pinot Noir either, this 2018 Montanita de Oro, Monterey County, all from hillside vines, is outstanding. Sourced from two distinct vineyard sites, Pelio Vineyard in Carmel Valley set only 7 miles from Carmel Bay on shales and chalky stones with its cool marine climate delicacy and the Coastview Vineyard in the Gabilan Range, northwest of Chalone with a complex set of granite and limestone soils giving this wine depth and intensity of flavors. Smith who’s really making a name for himself with his fabulous efforts at Monterey’s famous Morgan Winery, especially with his latest Double L Estate wines, both the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir offerings are delicious and some of the most elite Santa Lucia Highlands wines to date, on par with the Roar and Lucia by Pisoni stuff. His own micro-négociant label, Samuel Louis Smith Wines, is one of the most exciting small lot handmade wines (boutique) collection on the Central Coast, with a focus on the Sta. Rita Hills and Monterey. Smith, who credits his experience making Pinot Noir wines in the Willamette Valley, cool climate Northern Rhone Syrah and as well as being a winemaker for Margerum in Santa Barbara County as giving him the understanding of terroir and insight to craft his wines has really shown his potential with these 2018’s!
This Samuel Louis Smith Montanita de Oro Pinot Noir, which saw loads of whole cluster, is vibrantly expressive and sensual with layers of black cherry, strawberry, plum, blood orange, pomegranate and tart cranberry fruits along with an array of spices, a touch of earth, mineral tones, light sweet toastiness and crushed flowers. I got to taste through the new releases with Smith and I, as mentioned, was thrilled by them, and throughout the last almost three years I have tried quite a few of Sam’s earlier wines, and they are exceptional as well, providing insight into how they develop with a few years of bottle age and they have impressed, especially the Radian Vineyard Pinot Noir and the Lafond Vineyard Syrah, both from fantastic sites in the Santa Barbara area where Smith was based before moving to Monterey. I must also mention, his Morgan Double L Estate 2017 Pinot, which is just released as well as is beauty and already creating a lot of buzz too, it is is great time to discover his wines, both the Morgan stuff, which includes some small batch single clone bottlings, like Pommard, DRC and in particular the Double L clone 96 Chardonnay, which is one of the best Chards I’ve tried this year in California, right up there with some of the state’s classics, as well as his personal wines, like this one. Textural and intriguing from start to finish, this Montanita de Oro Pinot, still youthful and vivid, with its balancing natural acidity has many years of pleasure in store, don’t miss it and get on Smith’s mailing list, these will go fast.
($42 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2008 Spring Mountain Vineyard, Elivette Red, Spring Mountain, Napa Valley.
A winery that is reviving itself is Spring Mountain Vineyard with a confident set of new releases, especially their lovely Sauvignon Blanc, but it is the history of the place and their re-release of some exciting library selections that has got a lot of attention, with their 2008 Elivette Cabernet based red being one of the nicest surprises so far. The Elivette was made from Spring Mountains Estate fruit and is comprised of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon,13% Cabernet Franc, 6% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot and 1% Malbec and it shows its mountain structure perfectly, the fruit is well balanced, quite lively too, and the color is remarkably youthful and beautifully dark, making for a stylish drink and a wine that is putting on a great show in the glass. The historic Spring Mountain Vineyard is an 845-acre estate, with 225 acres under vine, that was once three separate estates each with its own vineyard and winery beginning in 1873, these make up collection of vineyard sites, including Spring Mountain Vineyards/Miravalle, Chevalier, and La Perla. Interestingly, below La Perla, and eventually added to it, was the first vineyard planted by Fredrick and Jacob Beringer in 1882. These terraced hillsides were planted in a wide assortment of grape varieties to support the Beringer brothers fledgling, but now famous, winery. The privately owned estate, with current ownership taking over the property in 1992 after its rise in modern times under Mike Robbins, who had the label from 1974 to 1992 and oversaw an incredible period that brought fame to this world class winery, is now comprised of four historic vineyards that were first, as noted, planted to vine in the late 1800s and only estate bottled wines are produced. This 2008 is lovely stuff with loads of pleasing personality on display, I’m glad to see this winery making a comeback in some ways and getting attention again, I was very impressed with this vintage Elivette, plus their delightful and fresh 2017 Sauvignon Blanc, which I enjoyed with soft cheese and grilled prawns.
Spring Mountain’s complex vineyard, once the setting for a prime time soap opera “Falcon Crest”, has vines are planted on 135 distinct hillside plots that rise from 400 to 1,600 feet above sea level on the eastern slopes of Spring Mountain with a stunning view of the Napa Valley. The weathered volcanic materials, sandstones, shales and sedimentary rock mountain soils make for small yields, less than two tons of grapes per acre typically, making for big shouldered wines that reflect terroir with intense flavors, though Spring Mountain is known for finesse and their supple tannin structure and bright acidity from the cool nights, leading to graceful long lived wines, like this 2008 is showing today. The unique qualities of each block, which are fermented and aged separately and then carefully blended to make the top cuvee, the Elivette. This Elivette was crafted to become the finest expression of the Spring Mountain Vineyard, and it shows brilliant layers of blackberry, blueberry, dark plum and kirsch fruits, creme de cassis, dried sage, tobacco, acacia flower, a touch of earthiness, smoke and mineral tones, finishing with anise, cedar and vanilla. An amazing string of winemakers have worked at Spring Mountain over the years and it has at many times been the equal of Napa’s greatest estates, mostly known for their Cabernet Sauvignon, this Elivette Bordeaux blend and Sauvignon Blanc, they have also made one of Napa’s most sought after Syrah(s) and now, in particular that White Bordeaux style Sauvignon Blanc. After tasting this 2008, which I tasted blind, I am even more interested to see what the 2014, 2015 and especially the 2016 versions of Elivette and the basic Cabernet.
($150 Est. “Current Release Price”) 94 Points, grapelive
2016 Weingut Knebel, Riesling, Von Den Terrassen, Mosel Germany.
This beauty comes from the steep slopes of slate above the river with vines holding on by the use of historic terraces, these need constant work and tender love and care, which Matthias Knebel does to produce his distinct Rieslings, this area Winningen, is one of the sites that defines the essence of these terraced vineyards, that are cultural landmarks, in the Mosel Valley. This wine, Knebel’s Von Den Terrassen Riesling, represents this sense of place and tradition, it is an off dry style that drinks clearly on the drier scale, but with a rich density and a gorgeous vinous charm, while retaining the classic stony/smoky slate driven character with plenty of natural acidity and a crystalline mineral essence. Working with natural methods and sustainable vineyard practices, Matthias, creates authentic wines that reflect his passion and commitment to his craft and his back breaking work in the vines, he is among a talented group of a new generation in the Mosel, and in Germany, that have broken through in recent years for the exceptional quality and intensity of their wines, with his Rieslings reminding me of Christopher Loewen, Mosel, and Theresa Breuer in the Rheingau, to name a couple of modern stars. Knebel is grateful for the work done in the past, by his family, and the gifts of nature, or as he beautiful says “We see ourselves in charge to maintain this legacy, that our forefathers bequeathed to us.” – Matthias Knebel.
The 2016 vintage Von den Terrassen, fermented with sponti, indigenous yeasts and aged in stainless steel, shows remarkable purity and terroir with a slight hint of reduction and earthy charm before opening up to a leesy rich palate of wild peach, lime, apricot, tangerine and muskmelon fruits that are accented by wet shale, flinty stones, saline, spearmint, a faint petrol note, honey and verbena elements in an intriguing Riesling that would be excellent with Asian and Indian cuisines as well as rustic German dishes as well as fish tacos, sushi and or Parma ham. Knebel has a collection of top parcels of vines many of which are between 40-70 year-old, some of which are un-grafted and as mentioned, Matthias is dedicated to farming with minimal intervention, no herbicide or pesticides and relies on small yields, fewer canes, natural competition with his old old vines, all hand tended and picked with rigorous selection both in the vineyard and the cellar, ensuring perfectly ripe and healthy grapes. Knebel uses primarily stainless steel in his vinification(s) and aging, as he notes, these stainless tanks best expresses his nuanced terroirs, also depending on vintage, malolactic fermentation is mostly avoided but much like maceration, some of which see skin contact, is determined on a case-by-case, year by year basis. This 2016 is current in the United States and it is just getting into its groove, so be sure to snap some up, and I look forward to the following 2017’s and 2018’s, which certainly will be exciting stuff!
($32 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2015 Cave Dog, Red Wine, Beau Terroir Vineyard, Napa Valley.
The gloriously balanced and nuanced 2015 Cave Dog Red Wine from Michael Havens was crafted using 58% Merlot and 42% Cabernet Franc in a classic Right Bank Bordeaux style from a vineyard he has long used, Beau Terroir Vineyard in Napa Valley, it is a wine that shows a stylistic nod to the old school and is very svelte and beautifully detail, offering up the vintage’s ripe and density with an irresistible finesse and graceful length. This wine is a throwback to Havens’ original Bourriquot, like the ones he made during the late 1990s and early 2000s, which were some of the savvy and desirable wines in Napa Valley, I was a huge fan and they were exceptional values, like this one from his Cave Dog label is currently. Havens, it should be noted, is not involved with the wines now named after him, Havens Wine Cellars, they bare no resemblance to his own efforts, and this Cave Dog line is an awesome set of wines, with this one being the leader of the pack and his only red wine, plus his lovely set of whites from Galician grape varietals, Albarino, a grape he personally brought to America and made it a star here and his latest import, Godello. The Cave Dog Red shows gorgeous aromatics with floral tones, a light toasty note and a deep sense of dark fruits before a full bodied palate of blackberry, currant, plum and black cherry fruit as well as delicate cedar, refined Cab Franc earthy elements shining here along with the Merlot’s smooth tannin and textural quality, gaining mineral notes, vanilla, anise and baking spices. Made with passion and with Chateau Cheval Blanc as a model, this Cave Dog Red, even with its unlikely name, is a fabulous wine, honest, authentic and opulent with a polished mouth feel and a stunning lingering aftertaste, especially with matching cuisine, think roast meats, duck breast in cherry reduction and or a rack of lamb.
Havens, who works without dogma, believes careful thought and common sense is required to produce a great wine and starts with a plan with each stage needing a thought process that gets the best out of the grapes with each stage being extremely important to achieve one’s goal, so every detail is done with precision and with a gentle hand to preserve nature’s gift. This wine was ultra carefully crafted using hand picking, hand sorting and the grapes were all de-stemmed and allowed to ferment with indigenous yeasts in open-topped tanks, and to preserve the wonderful aromatics Havens gets, as he notes, from Beau Terroir vineyard, he pumps over or punch down(s) the cap as gently as possible, typically twice a day. After primary fermentation is complete, with lots of tasting to be sure extraction is refined and is giving sublime structural integrity, the wine is free run to barrel with a lightly pressed selection added as needed if the quality is there and then the full wine is allowed to go through malos own its own without inoculation. The aging is usually between 16 to 20 months in medium plus toast French oak from Havens’ preferred barrel makers, Boutes, Sylvain and Atelier, all of which specialize in Bordeaux cooperage and add just the right amount of accents and nobility to the finished wine. The Cave Dog whites are marvelous too, especially the crisp and mineral driven Albarino, with its Rias Baixas inspiration, which I have reviewed here at grapelive.com, it’s one of the best if not the best version of this grape in the new world. It’s exciting to follow Michael Havens again, I love his wines and recommend getting on his list, and I can’t wait to see what the new vintages bring!
($60 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2018 Weingut Spreitzer, Estate Riesling Trocken, Rheingau Germany.
The delightful and crisp Spreitzer Estate Trocken is at first easy and delicious, but soon you realize it is far more serious than expected with a wonderful depth of flavors and a gripping dry extract hidden beneath its generous personality, and while I had put praise on Spreitzer’s GG, Alte Reben and Feinherb offerings in prior reviews, I really had to showcase this wine for the quality and exceptional value in this Riesling. Andi and Bernd Spreitzer has put together an excellent set of wines from the 2018 vintage, which looks set to be a classic year in the Rheingau and most all of Germany, from what I’ve tasted so far, highlighted by wines that have richness of fruit, vinous pleasure along with fresh energy, all of which this Estate Trocken shows. The Weingut Spreitzer estate, also known as Josef Spreitzer, as originally founded back in 1641, now run by the Spreitzer brothers Andreas and Bernd, is also one of the oldest privately run wineries in the Rheingau region and has some tremendous vineyard holdings in the middle Rheingau, where the Rhein River runs at its widest point. These vineyard sites, many Grosse Lage and Erste Lage crus are set on an amazing combination of different soils including loess, loam, sand, slate, quartzite, red iron rich stones and clay, all of which add complexity and the climate here is slightly warmer which aids in ripening, helping develop exotic flavors and textures. The Estate Trocken, influenced by the Lenchen vineyard in Oestrich, the heart of Spreitzer’s holdings, is composed mostly of loam and loess soils, is also the basis of one of their majestic GG’s, the Rosengarten, which is one of the most prestigious wines of the lineup and the region.
This 2018 Estate Trocken Riesling from Spreitzer comes from 20 year old vines sourced from three of their vineyards around and in the village of Oestrich, these include Klosterberg, Lenchen and Doosberg set on mainly loam, loess and quartzite soils very close the the estate with its panoramic view of the mighty Rhein. This tasty stuff starts with vibrant citrus and green melon notes and crystalline mineral charm along with brisk saline, stoniness and tropical elements before getting more classic in detail on the graceful medium bodied palate with green apple, peach, lime and tangy apricot fruits, a touch of dried ginger, lemon zest, chamomile and spearmint. This little Riesling got some love and care in the cellar with it being fermented and aged in a combination of stainless steel tanks and old barrels, the large stuckfass German oak casks which are cherished family members here at Spreitzer, with mostly native yeast fermentation(s). The winery, as noted by their importer Terry Theise, strives to maintain fruit (intensity) and finesse by cleaning the must by gravity for 24 hours after the grapes get their whole-cluster pressing, then the wine rests on their gross lees for an extended time and only is filtered once before bottling to promote both freshness and depth, with the final product showing only a hint of reduction, and no oxidation typically. While nicely dry in style there is a distinctive opulence and presence in this Riesling which makes in standout in its price class and it is impressive in the glass and especially with food, in particular grilled BBQed shrimp, light curries, cured ham and or crab cakes. There’s a lot in this current selection at Spreitzer to admire, but this one is a good choice to stock up on.
($22 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2018 Assiduous, Merlot, Kells Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains.
Winemaker and farmer Keegan Mayo, founder of Adissuous Wines, who calls the Santa Cruz Mountains his home, his inspiration and his focus point for his wines, was born on the Big Island of Hawai’i, but moved to Santa Cruz when he was just eight years old, is making expressive, vividly fruit forward and lively wines. Mayo says he is on a mission to create savory wines that have a sense of place and picks growing sites that have special qualities, like an outlier soil or climate factor to achieve a uniqueness in his wines. These Adissuous wines are totally new to me, I was given the heads up on them by Kristie Gallo, an advocate for a new generation of Santa Cruz Mountains wines, so it was really fun to try this intriguing whole cluster and carbonic Merlot, it isn’t what I had expected of this varietal, but it is wildly delicious with an almost Cru Beaujolais feel about it. Mayo farms organically, noting also that he has a less is more approach in his winemaking and creates single vineyard/single variety wines using minimal intervention in the cellar, making natural modern wines with clean and clear flavors. This Kells Vineyard Merlot, presented in a Bordeaux bottle with a red lipstick wax capsule, bursts from the glass with a full carbonic floral and fruit array showing off crushed raspberry, strawberry, fresh plum and sweet cherry fruits that caresses the medium bodied palate with a round soft creaminess before you get a nice savory stemmy crunch with a light herbal sensation, cinnamon spice and a hint of cedar. Like other areas in California, the Santa Cruz Mountains is seeing a changing of the guard and more and more this youth movement is gaining a foot hold with some talented folks, like Keegan, making some headlines.
Keegan got his introduction into the wine industry when he helped out for a few summers at the Split Rail Vineyard in Corralitos, one of the first plantings in the region before going to UC Davis, where he studied and graduated from their prestigious Viticulture and Enology Program. He also spent a harvest with Mumm in Napa as a cellar hand/intern as well as doing a stint with Church Road Winery in Hawkes Bay, New Zealand, before, as he puts it, settling into a nearly nine year tenure with Testarossa Winery, in Saratoga, where he eventually became the Assistant Winemaker. Now with his own label, Mayo has began to express his own ideas and I look forward to exploring more of his wines, especially as I really loved this totally different path version of Merlot, with its vivid and juicy character, it is a quaffable and well price wine. I have noticed he does Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, Pinot Gris as well as a 100% Malbec, a wine that excites me to chase down, along with this Merlot. This was a seriously fun wine without being serious, easily quaffable in every way, even if it isn’t recognizable as Merlot at this stage, which may upset purists, but will thrill those that enjoy natural wines. That said, this Adissuous carbonic Merlot is extremely well made and has no sloppy or natty funk, and it joins some very cool carbonic wines, like the Reeve and Sheldon Sangiovese(s), Pax Gamay and Carignan, to name a few. This non varietal correct Merlot is for people that are not traditional Merlot fans, and it rewards those seeking out fresh transparent wines.
($25 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2017 Halcon Vineyards, Elevación Syrah, Estate, Yorkville Highlands, Mendocino County.
This is the second vintage of this special 100% Syrah cuvée Elevación by Halcon Vineyards from their high elevation estate in the Yorkville Highlands and it is absolutely outstanding with stunning purity and an amazing play between ripe fruit and savory elements. Paul Gordon, who had enjoyed Scott Shapely of Roar and Flywheel as his winemaker consultant through the 2017 harvest, has crafted one of California’s greatest Syrah offerings from this cool climate hillside site in the wilds of Mendocino County. Syrah is really hitting its groove again in California, and this latest generation of offerings are mindglowingly good, they easily rival top Rhone stuff from some famous names and they are insanely affordable for the quality on offer, especially these Halcon Vineyard bottlings. This Elevación shows an intense black/purple color with magenta/garnet edges in the glass and the magic starts to lift from the rim with a bouquet of violets, black fruits, racy herbal notes and an earthy sultry sensation before unfolding in layers on the medium/full bodied palate with black raspberry, damson plum, blueberry compote, tangy dark currant and kirsch fruits along with a full stems crunch, olive tapenade, melted black licorice, delicate bacon fat, peppercorns and a touch of a mineral/stony element. This 2017 shows warm rich detail, rather forward for this winery, but classic to its track record it has remarkably low alcohol for a wine of this impact, sensual texture and depth, its a very lively Syrah with a personality that reminds me of Auguste Clape or Guillaume Gilles, both famous Cornas producers.
This Halcon Vineyard Elevación was crafted using old school traditional methods, fermented in a very hand crafted small batch using indigenous yeasts, with Gordon admitting he is a Northern Rhone fanatic and inspired by Cote-Rotie and Hermitage, wines by Domaine Jamet and Alain Graillot seem obvious influences. The 2017 Elevación is again, as Gordon notes, 100% Chave selection (Hermitage clone) Syrah fermented with 100% whole-cluster (full stem inclusion) and aged in neutral French oak puncheons, bottled as per normal here unfined and unfiltered, with everything done to promote transparency and highlight the unique schist soil terroir. There were, as Paul adds, no adjustments to alcohol nor acids and again they needed no additions, going for a very natural style with minimal sulfur, as is the fashion. Just like main Syrah offering at Halcon, the Alturas Syrah, this wine benefited from very mature fruit, from the extra long hang time and stems at low sugars, as mentioned, and it came in at only 12.8% natural alcohol. Halcon only made 185 cases of this Elevación, so it is a good idea to get on the list here, it is also a wine that looks like to have a long drinking window with potential to age up to another decade, even though I find it almost impossible to resist even now. I’ve been a long time fan of these wines and still get giddy when I open a bottle, there is an awesome sense of thrill and value for the money in these wines, don’t miss them. This 2017 set of wines is high quality stuff, with this one in particular being a standout, I can’t to enjoy it with Zuni (Cafe in SF) style chicken, spicy lamb and or Korean BBQ pork!
($38 Est.) 96 Points, grapelive
2018 Weingut Goldatzel, Riesling Spaltese Feinherb, Johannisberger Goldatzel, Rheingau Germany.
Johannes Gross is one of the rising stars of the Rheingau and his Goldatzel wines are a stellar set of under the radar Rieslings that deserve wider attention, especially these beautiful 2018’s, like this unique Johannisberger Goldatzel Spatlese Feinherb with its exceptional crystalline detailing and subtle fruit density and depth. This almost dry, but round structured Riesling glistens in the glass with a pale sunlight hue and thrills the palate with ripe and pure fruit layers that includes apple, key lime, white peach, apricot and papaya along with hint of zesty grapefruit, crunchy mineral, saline infused stones and acidic energy, gaining in body and textural charm with air, making a vinous and complex Riesling that would impress both modern dry style drinkers as well as classic traditionalists. The youthful talent, Johannes Gross, who is in his third year post-university, having studied at the famous Geisenheim, one of the world’s great wine college/institutions, has taken the helm of his family’s very respected small estate in the middle Rheingau with selected vineyard holdings in the villages of Johannisberg, Winkel and Geisenheim, not far from Spreitzer, one of my favorites, has brought international interest to this winery in recent vintages and got renown Riesling guru Terry Theise to take him into his fantastic portfolio of wines.
The Johannisberger Goldatzel vineyard site is set on loam, loess and quartzite soils and is beautiful situated well above the Rhein River where it runs at one of its widest points and makes for wines, that Theise calls, are distinct showing fastidious chiseled clarity of form, which Gross’ 2018 Johannisberger Goldatzel delivers with style and generous grace. Goldatzel’s wines are made without extreme dogma and each wine is made with an individual attention to detail, Gross uses whatever techniques give the best results to promote transparency and elegance. They use a combination of native and specialized cultured yeasts and have both large stuckfass and stainless tanks with each vineyard and wine getting the treatment that best suits each lot, with this Johannisberger Goldatzel getting “Sponti” spontaneous fermentation with primary and less aging done in stainless steel. The underlying quartzite influence really shines through and the vinous feel creates a wonderful play in mouth, in particular this 2018 drinks in a drier that the label suggests and while crisp and delicate, there is a serious substance here and it has a real presence or impact, it is a lovely and thoughtful Riesling that gets the juices flowing. After time in the glass it certainly adds a nice perfume too with citrus blossoms and rosewater to the aromatic array and the finish is equally impressive, this would be fabulous with spicy or cracked crab and or Asian cuisines.
($38 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2016 Simon di Brazzan, Cabernet Franc, Isonzo del Friuli DOC, Friuli Venezia Giulia, Italy.
Tucked in Italy’s top right corner, the Friuli Venezia Giulia region is known for most recently as the Orange Wine capital of Italy and famous for great Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Grigio and Friuliano wines, but there is some fine reds made here too, especially Bordeaux varietals like Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon and interestingly Cabernet Franc, like this gorgeous very Loire like version from Daniele Drius, a fourth generation winegrower, at Simon di Brazzan winery. The Brazzano and Mariano del Friuli Vineyards, in the Isonzo del Friuli DOC near Cormons and Mariano, are the source of this beautiful and perfumed wine from Drius and the vines which range from 20 to 30 plus years old set on Alluvial allochthonous soil with excellent drainage allowing a wonderful fruit intensity as well as delicate detailing and sublime length, especially in a fabulous vintage such as 2016. I really thought this was a top Loire wine, as I tasted it completely blind in a Bordeaux varietal tasting panel, it has a Bourgueil like elegance, though it also has Chinon like density, so I was surprised to find it was in fact from the Friuli! This winery, which is totally new to me, is now a label I plan to follow closely and I can’t wait to try their other offerings, especially their “Ramato” coppery “Orange” Pinot Grigio and their sparkling wine!
This deep garnet hued and smooth textured 2016 Cab Franc from Simon di Brazzan is a stunner and a fantastic value as well as being unique and maybe geeky cool, it is certainly a wine I would buy and drink often, I am grateful to Ms. Kelsie Gray for bringing this wine, imported by Vinity Wine Company, an imported with a big presence in San Francisco with a top notch portfolio of wines from Italy, including some favorites like Marisa Cuomo, ArPePe, De Conciliis, Damijan Podversic, Cascina Val del Prete, Le Piane, I Favati, Valle dell Acate, Querceto di Castellina and Graci, all that are usually featured at Slow Wine events and winners of famous Tre Bicchieri awards. The traditionally fermented Simon di Brazzan Cabernet Franc, using de-stemmed grapes, it is gently handed and spends about a week on the skins in tank then aged with extended lees contact without new oak to preserve vitality and purity. This expressive wine is generous on the palate with ripe tannins, a sensual medium body and a heavenly perfume of violets and dark flowers, light spices, mineral notes and subtle earthiness with layers of black cherry, plum and currant fruits along with a touch of olive, bell pepper, anise and a faint cedary/tobacco note. This is outstanding stuff to enjoy over the next 3 to 5 years and great with lamb, mushroom dishes and rustic cuisine.
($25 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2017 Tablas Creek Vineyard, Picardan, Rhone White, Adelaida District, Paso Robles.
One of the rarest white wines and varietal in California is Tablas Creek’s tasty Picardan, made from this little known and little planted Chateauneuf du Pape grape. With maybe a dozen or so acres of Picardan planted worldwide, Tablas Creek’s version maybe one of two or three wines made as a single varietal wine and it is a crisp and interesting example with elements that remind me of Vermentino (Rolle), Picpoul and maybe Trebbiano (d’Abruzzo) or Pecorino with a crisp tangy profile. It is surprising in this day and age, just how little is known about Picardan, which is also known as Araignan, Oeillade blanche and or Picardan Blanc other than its classic place as being one of 13 permitted blending grapes within the Châteauneuf-du-Pape AOC in Rhône Valley region of France, but even that is very thin as the grape is usually only found in the blend as a very minor player with maybe six to eight known acres grown in this famous region if that. With Tablas’ success in bringing the Chateauneuf grapes to California, from their partnership with the famed Chateau de Beaucastel and their estate vineyards, it was intriguing that they they brought some Picardan, which I guess was to be used as part of a field blend to add complexity and authentic character to their amazing set of Rhone whites from their estate vines in the Adelaida District of the westside zone of Paso Robles and its limestone based soils. Picardan, lightly golden in hue, is one of the Rhone’s most obscure white grapes, as the winery notes, although it was apparently more common before phylloxera’s arrival in the mid to late 1800s.
The 2017 Tablas Creek Vineyard Picardan starts with orange blossom, wet stones, snappy herbs along with bitter white peach, unripe apple and zesty lemon/lime fruits and even in a ripe year it stays nice and bright with a light delicacy and refreshing acidity, though it does gain a bit of texture (faint oily notes) with air without any sense of weight. Since the variety is practically unknown for any other use than being a tiny part the Châteauneuf-du-Pape blend(s) it is hard to find many reference points to really judge what this wine should taste like, but that being said, this is worthy of place in the lineup and is fun to sip on and I can see it going well with delicate and or briny seafoods, like oysters and steamed clams. There is a saline note, in this Picardan, that is mouth watering and it clears the palate, making it brisk and delightful and it can be enjoyed as a warm day sipper with picnic fare. This is not an exotic or overt white wine, more neutral in style, it’s not going to blow your mind, even though it will hold your attention and easily quaffable. Tablas brought in the budwood (of Picardan) into the United States in 2003 as part of our goal to have all the Chateauneuf du Pape varieties (available) and It was released from quarantine to Tablas in 2012, and they planted a half-acre in 2013, farmed organically, certified biodynamic, with a first harvest in 2016 for a single varietal bottling. The 2017, the second edition, was whole cluster pressed and fermented and aged in stainless steel tanks using indigenous yeasts, all in a quest for purity and made to be drunk in its youth, so drink up!
($30 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2013 Domaine Bitouzet-Prieur, Volnay Taillepieds, Premier Cru Red Burgundy, France.
Vincent Bitouzet, from the traditional Domaine Bitouzet-Prieur, makes elegantly structured wines, and is known primarily for his Meursault white Burgundies from his small winery in heart of the Cote de Beaune, but I love his reds, especially his set of Volnay Premier Crus, like this beautiful and firmly framed Volley Taillepieds. Graced with his prized and extensive holdings in Meursault, Bitouzet’s reds also come from pedigreed sites and special Lieu-Dits and every vine is hand tended with extreme care and all the world is done with organic methods, as many of the top estates do, but it should be noted that the Bitouzet-Prieur wines are still by Burgundy standards, exceptional values, especially at the quality levels of their recent vintages. This 2013 Volnay Taillepieds, which is still youthful and tightly wound, is just coming out of its shell and beginning to show its inner beauty and potential with pretty rose petal, strawberry and mineral delicacy unfolding on the chiseled medium bodied palate, this is a serious wine and one that truly needs matching cuisine and a center stage to shine. As this Bitouzet-Prieur comes alive in the glass it grabs your full attention with its ruby/garnet gemstone hue and its layers of cherry, plum, dusty raspberry and racy red currant fruits comes into focus with air along with hints of smoke, dried lavender, Earl Grey tea like tannins, baking spices and candied orange. The texture is rather gripping still, but turns round and silken with time and food, as you’d expect in such a wine with this class and its performance is impressive, and I think it will only get better with some extra cellaring.
Bitouzet is crafting his wines tried and true practices with an authentic and natural style, employing only indigenous yeast fermentations and the reds receive a daily pigeage, depending on the vintage to ensure just the right amount of extraction and are generally aged 24 months of elevage before being bottled. For both Bitouzet-Prieur’s reds and whites, there is never more than 20% new oak is used for the aging here allowing a true sense of the place to shine through and giving a pure form and sensuality to the wines, and in particular these techniques have paid off here, making for a very complete and complex wine that seduces with its poised details. The Bitouzet-Prieur Meursaults are slightly reductive and restrained in style, but get absolutely delicious with bottle age and the reds are similar, as this Volnay Taillepieds clearly shows, these not flamboyant expressions by any means, they are subtle and refined examples of the Cote de Beaune Terroir(s) that require patience. The Volnay holdings are stunning and now working with his son Francois, Vincent’s set of “Taillepieds”, “Clos des Chenes”, “Pitures”, and “Caillerets” plus the most recent addition to the lineup, “Mitans”, which I also reviewed here, are all worth searching out, also don’t overlook the basic Bourgogne Blanc and Rouge. According to importer, Rosenthal Wine Merchant, the Volnay 1er Cru Taillepieds cuvée, one of Bitouzet’s most austere and aggressive wines, as they put it, is one of the most complete representations of the complexity in the finest of Volnay, calling Taillepieds one of the great vineyards in the region, and I find it reminds me of Domaine de Montille, one of my favorites from this vineyard and village, it also should age another decade with ease.
($65 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2018 Château Pegau, Cotes du Rhone “Cuvee Lône Blanc” Rhone Valley, France.
The second label of the famed Domaine du Pegau, Château Pegau offers a line of great value Rhone wines, like this fresh and beautiful Cotes du Rhone Blanc “Lône” which was hand crafted by Laurence Feraud, one of the most famous and talented Chateauneuf-du-Pape vignerons. The Feraud family have been growing vines in Chateauneuf-du-Pape since 1670 and while mostly growers over their long history in the region they became one of the most important labels and making their own estate wines, mainly under Laurence’s father Paul, but certainly it was her wines that brought fame here, especially with her Cuvée Réservée Rouge and her signature Pegau Cuvée Laurence, which are two of the greatest Chateauneuf(s) and that cherished by collectors. In recent years Laurence was able to add a prized new set of vineyards to grow their line when Paul and Laurence Féraud purchased a 100+ acre estate in Sorgues, and renamed it Château Pegau. It is an exceptional terroir situated less than 4 miles southeast of Châteauneuf-du-Pape itself and on very similar soils, and Laurence Feraud makes sublime use of these vines. The “Lône” Blanc 2018 is a lovely and stylish white that delivers fresh and ripe flavors with classic details and graceful length, it shows a nice stony charm and highlights Laurence’s gifted touch with her whites.
The latest Château Pegau, Cotes du Rhone “Cuvee Lône Blanc” is a blend of 40% Clairette, 30% Bourboulenc, 20% Grenache Blanc and 10% Ugni Blanc from these estate grown and hand harvested grapes that are from vines that average 35 to 60 years in age and that are set on limestone and clay soils with the iconic “galets” large stones littered among the rows of old bush vines. Named “Lône” after the small stream that runs next to the estate, this wine, all tank raised and vibrant in glass shows stone fruit, citrus blossoms, spice and mineral notes with layers of tangerine, green apple, white tangy peach and pear butter along with a touch ginger/pepper, wet rock and a supple texture that lingers on in this medium bodied and distinctive white wine. This wine is easy to enjoy, in particular with fleshy seafood dishes, not unlike a fine Cassis Blanc and is a wonderful way to explore and or discover the joy of Rhone whites, a sublime stepping stone into Pegau’s more serious Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc versions. This delicious stuff gains with air and food, it takes on a hint of oil depth and refreshes with plenty of saline and crispness, drink this over the next two or so years, and I recommend enjoying it and Pegau’s red bottlings in this series, which are solid bargains. I am a huge fan of Clairette Blanche, it works great in blends like this one and is a grape that like Vermentino is really starting to get the attention it deserves.
($20 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2017 Laura Lorenzo – Daterra Viticultores, Portela do Vento, Ribeira Sacra, Galicia Spain.
Laura Lorenzo is one of Spain’s great new generation of vignerons (viticultores) making incredible Mencia based reds from impossibly steep and back-breaking vineyard sites mostly in the Ribeira Sacra, which means “Sacred Banks” in Gallego, the local Galician dialect that is an ancient cross between Spanish and Portuguese in the remote Galicia region. This tall and rebellious young woman is as tough as nails and has a real passion for her wines, Lorenzo, who I have been following since she stated her own label is an outstanding talent and has risen from obscurity to a new hero in the natural wine world and beyond with her soulful, beautiful and transparent/raw wines. Now a darling of the Sommelier establishment Laura Lozenzo’s limited terroir driven bottlings are extremely hard to get, especially offerings like this Mencia based field blend Portela do Vento Tinto, which is one of her most sought after, it’s Lorenzo’s “Glou-Glou” quaffable version with easy textures and a profile that fits nicely between earthy Crozes-Hermitage (Northern Rhone Syrah), Chinon (Loire Valley Cabernet Franc) and aromatic Fleurie (Cru Beaujolais Gamay) with dark fruit, spice and juicy acidity. As Lorenzo puts it, she allows the grapes speak for themselves, she ferments with wild or indigenous yeasts, primarily employing older wooden casks for maceration as well as fermentation and elevage (aging), only adding only small amounts of SO2 (sulfur) during the winemaking process when absolutely needed, much the same way as Arianna Occhipinti and the famous Domaine Lapierre, with no clarification, filtration, or adjustments made to the wines. According to Lorenzo’s importer, Jose Pastor Selections, Laura describes her farming as “agro-ecology with minimal impact.” She works with techniques that nurture life in the soils, helping to create a healthy and thriving ecosystem for her old goblet trained vines. All work is carried out manually, with these conditions and the wild remoteness here demands it and the vineyards are well cared for with some biodynamic preparations being used.
The 2017 Portela do Vento (Mencia Tinto) by Laura Lorenzo’s Daterra Viticultores, crafted from iconic bush vines, is about 90% Mencia and a 10% mix of Alicante Bouschet (Garnacha Tintorera,), Merenzao, Mouraton and Gran Negro fermented partial whole cluster and with native yeasts in a combination of French cask and Foudre with 15 days on the skins before aging 12 months in large 400 and 500L casks. This Portela do Vento, a darkly hued and graceful wine, comes from steep organic sites, with vines ranging from 26 to 80 plus years old in the Sober zone on the River Sil and Mendoia, Trives on the Bibei River, in subs zones of Galicia’s Ribeira Sacra and Valdaorras D.O.’s known as Amandi and Val do Bibei set on mostly pure granite with some sandy loams. The ripe vintage shows in the medium/full mouth feel and lush details, but with under 13% natural alcohol and loads of energy this wine drinks oh so joyous with a slightly earthy element and smooth tannins adding to the complexity here, there’s lots to love in this version with black cherry, plum, strawberry, pomegranate, tart blueberry and tangy currant fruits as well as delicate background layers of cinnamon, crushed floral tones, basil/garden herbs, dusty stones, a touch of leather, mineral and a peppery spice. This is a cool and compelling wine that is great for sharing and is very flexible with food choices, as in Beaujolais, it does enjoy a slightly chilled presentation and seems right with simple rustic or country style cuisine, especially hearty stews and or outdoor grilling. The latest set of wines from Laura Lorenzo are exceptional and wonderfully delicious expressions, both her reds, as mentioned, which are Mencia focused, and her whites that are made from old vine Godello and Palomino, be sure to keep your eye out for them, especially the new releases including her Gavela do Pobo, or Vila, Casas de Enriba, Azos da Vila and this Potera do Vento.
($35 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2016 Weingut Künstler, Riesling Kabinett Trocken, Kirschenstuck, Rheingau Germany.
The Künstler family winery, based since 1965 in the historic Rheingau town of Hochheim, one of Riesling’s original sites near the Main river, has a history that dates back to 1648, but became one of Germany’s top estates under the leadership of Gunter Künstler, who took over the business in 1992, has brought fame to this region that was almost forgotten with his beautiful drier style wines. Gunter Künstler’s gorgeous 2016 (Hochheimer) Kirschenstuck Dry Kabinett highlights Künstler’s elegant style and is serious like a baby GG with riveting and chiseled details and gorgeous texture, it shows beautiful layering and bright energy with lemon/lime, apricot, mango, green apple and peach on the pit fruit along with sea salt, wet flint, verbena and chamomile accents. I have been thrilled by Künstler’s wines for almost two decades, though I have really only started following him more closely since his move into the Terry Theise portfolio and have been luck to have tasted with him on many occasions when he has visited California, and I can’t wait to go to Hochheim to taste the wines on site, where Gunter has converted his vines to organic methods and see his Cru sites like Holle, Herrnberg and Kirschenstuck, where is Riesling comes from. The substance and sublime nature of the Künstler wines is legendary and if you love Riesling, you’ll find them amazing, not doubt about it, also interestingly Gunter has a small planting of Alvarinho (Albarino) too and makes an excellent version.
Grown on a mix of loess, clay, sand, loam, marl and limestone soils that gives these wines from Künstler their complexity and grace, this Hochheimer Kirschenstuck Kabinett Trocken dances on the palate with a Chablis like steeliness and vitality, but with a lush sensation that make this even more delicious and exciting on the lighter Kabinett level frame. The Hochheim area is rather warm and humid, which makes for ripe flavors, but stressful growing conditions, making Künstler work incredibly hard to get perfect grapes without botrytis and makes the decision to go all organic even more evidence of commitment and passion. In the cellar, Künstler is looking for absolute purity and precision, so given his terroir and weather he sorts grapes with extreme care and ferments with selected yeasts and ultra clarified juice to craft his crystalline wines using both stainless steel, like with this one as well as various wood casks. At my most recent meeting and tasting with Künstler I was able to go through a series of vintages and styles and found exceptional quality throughout the range and was blown away with his latest Pinot Noirs, which are stunning wines as well as the set of Rieslings, with his 2007 Holle GG being one of the greatest wines I can remember, and this one, really standing out. Be sure not to miss the 2016, 2017 and 2018 wines from Künstler, and while the Grosses Gewachs deserve to be in your cellar, this crisp Dry Kabinett is one to enjoy now!
($30 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2018 Samuel Louis Smith, Syrah, Sandstone Terrace, Santa Cruz Mountains.
One of the most exciting new labels to emerge in recent years in Monterey is Sam Smith’s Samuel Louis Smith Wines focused on Mountainside vineyards and unique sites, with a tight and tidy collection of what he calls Micro-Negociant wines that deliver exceptional quality and charm for the price, especially Smith’s Pinot and Chard offerings, plus this stunning Syrah from the Santa Cruz Mountains. This 2018 Syrah shows incredible depth and Northern Rhone charm with jaw dropping layering of blue and black fruits, spice, crunchy stems, savory tones and intense florals, making for a pure and outrageously seductive wine. Smith, who studied in Bordeaux and made wine in the Rhone, is dedicated to sourcing fruit from the most distinctive sites possible with what he calls sustainably managed vineyards, with a thrilling selection of vines from the Sta. Rita Hills to the Santa Cruz Mountains, as well as a couple of unique Carmel Valley sources along with an established gem in the Gabllan range northwest of Chalone. He is also head winemaker at the historic Morgan Winery, a pioneer of organic viticulture and traditional winemaking in Monterey’s premier Santa Lucia Highlands region. Sam Smith’s CV is not lacking with stints at Margerum in Santa Barbara County as well as spending a harvest with Francois Villard in the Rhone, where he got a tremendous chance to work with Syrah in its most historic area, and his latest stuff for Morgan has given this Monterey winery a whole new look and elevated it to a fantastic place and quality level, in particular the Pinot Noirs and Chardonnays, as well as Riesling and Syrah, which is in a slightly different style than his own version(s), making for an impressive start to his Monterey career. I’ve reviewed a few of Smith’s wines over the last two vintages and I am a huge fan, you read them here at grapelive.com and this new set is even better, it was a treat to taste with him and get up to date on the latest offerings, these small lot and handcrafted bottlings really deserve your attention, they all have aromatic appeal, pretty detailing, vinous textural (mouth feel) and wonderful energy.
The latest Syrah Renaissance, while still a small niche, is in full swing in California with many fabulous new examples from highly talented and passionate young winemakers, just like Sam Smith, with labels like Desire Lines Wine Co., Halcon Vineyards, Stolpman and Jolie Laide to go with Syrah masters like Pax Mahle, Jason Drew, John Alban and Sashi Moorman, who’s Piedrasassi label provided an inspiration for many that wanted to explore the more stem inclusion (whole-bunches) style. For Smith’s very Cornas, or Jamet Cote-Rotie like Sandstone Terrace Syrah he used 85% stem inclusion with whole cluster fermentation and only neutral French oak aging, using grapes coming from two vineyards in the Santa Cruz Mountains, the little known Gali Vineyard in the cool coastal influenced Corralitos area and more widely respected Zayante Vineyard higher up, closer the the famous Big Basin estate. With Sam using equal 50/50 (percent) between Gali and Zayante which are set on a combination of soils including clay loam, sandy/clay loam coming from weathered sandstone as well as shale and schist that provide glorious complexity in this Syrah that delivers black plum, blueberry, boysenberry and tangy currant fruits, crushed violets, minty anise and grilled/roasted rosemary/lavender or Provençal herbs, peppercorns, sweet kirsch, a hint of cedar, black olive, mineral/stones, dried embers, cinnamon and delicate meatiness that is all well integrated providing beautiful fruit density and a near perfect tension/lively play of exciting earthy and savory elements with the lush ripeness of the grapes along with vintage’s amazingly low alcohol, this is simply awesome and will get more intriguing over the following decade! Be sure to check out this Samuel Louis Smith Wines label and do not miss these 2017 and 2018 vintages, the new Montanita de Oro Pinot Noir, a full review coming soon, and the Spear Vineyard Chardonnay, which is extremely sexy and on par with some of California’s absolute best, like Kongsgaard, Ceritas, Mount Eden and Sandhi to name a few and even has a exotic Hermitage Blanc like presence, are wildly good and sublime values, as is this remarkable Syrah.
($35 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2017 Mendel, Semillon, Mendoza, Argentina.
The Mendel winery in Mendoza Argentina is usually known for their beautiful Mabec and Cabernet Franc red wines, but what a lovely surprise this Semillon is, it is a really solid version of this rare varietal, more known for its use in white Bordeaux and Sauternes, though it does have a few pockets in the new world where it shines, and this is one of them. This Mendel Semillon, grown at 3,000 ft in the Uco Valley, is vastly different than its French cousins, as well as the expressions from Australia, where it is also found and used in many fine dry wines from the Hunter Valley to the Margret River, with this Mendel showing crisp form and racy acidity with subtle tropical notes and a main core of lemony fruit. Mendel wines, based in Lujan de Cuyo, is a partnership between Roberto de la Mota, one of Argentina’s most respected winemakers and founder Anabelle Sielecki, who is one of the wine world’s dynamos, the winery is name after her father, and her global business expertise and passion has made Mendel one of the top producers in the region from her family’s old vineyard which was originally planted back in 1928. Interesting, as I studied up on Mendel’s Semillon I discovered that Semillon is one of the oldest European varietals in Argentina and Mendel’s comes from high elevation plots that are over 60 years old, which gives this wine its old vine character and concentration.
Roberto de la Mota, who was trained in France and has worked with speciality projects included the Cheval des Andes, the ultra-prestigious joint venture between Chandon & Bordeaux’s Chateau Cheval Blanc has both old world and new world influences and that shows in his elegantly styled wines, especially his Malbecs, which I have been hugely found of since first trying them, and his Semillon is pretty cool stuff, made similar to a Graves with oak aging for 8 months and with an expanding palate that gets more decedent and lush as it opens up in the glass. The traditionally fermented Mendel Semillon feels bright and brisk with lively citrus leading the way, but the lees and new American oak eventually allow for the rich texture to show through adding additional layers of peach, apricot, orange marmalade, lime blossom and a hints of creme brûlée and coconut on the lengthy finish. This dry Semillon has a lot of personality and can go with a wide selection of food choices, with the winery suggesting pairing it with shrimp ceviche, steamed muscles, fresh oysters or grilled lobster, which sounds great to me! This is a fun wine that is worth more than a casual glance and presents this grape in a new and intriguing light, this 2017 should drink nicely more another 3 to 5 years, keep an eye out for Mendel’s Semillon and their reds too.
($25 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2018 Clos Sainte Magdeleine, Rosé, Cassis AOC, Provence, France.
The beautiful and richly flavored Clos Ste. Magdeleine Cassis Rosé from the 2018 vintage proves why it is one of the best with its fabulous array of wild strawberries, seeped rose petals, grapefruit, racy peach and sour cherries along with its seductive vinous quality and liquid mineral feel on the dense, but lively palate, this is serious stuff that delivers everything you could want from a Provence Rosé! Brilliant pale salmon/pink in the glass, this crisply refreshing Clos Ste. Magdeleine Rosé is a blend of 40% Grenache, 40% Cinsault and 20% Mourvèdre, which gives this gorgeous wine its complexity and nature, it comes from 15 to 40 year old vines on the regions classic clay and limestone soils. Set in the picturesque ancient Provence fishing village of Cassis on the Mediterranean sea, Clos Ste. Magdeleine is a small family run estate winery that renown the world over for their white and rosé bottling, which are always delightful and profound wines that intensely sought after and limited, making them cherished treats that go especially well with seafood dishes. The whites here at Clos Ste. Magdeleine are incredibly elegant, crafted with a focus on primarily Marsanne and some Clairette, along with Bourboulenc, a rare Chateauneuf du Pape grape, as well as Ugni Blanc. They also have planted a new parcel of Vermentino, though not allowed in their Cassis Blanc, it should play a role in their lineup even as a IGP wine.
The viticulture and vinification at Clos Sainte Magdeleine, owned by the Sack family, imported by the famed Kermit Lynch, who also represents the iconic Domaine Tempier, just down the way in Bandol, is under the direction of Jonathan Sack, the fourth generation to be at the helm here. The Clos Ste. Magdeleine domaine is one of only a handful of AOC Cassis wineries and it takes its historic and pride of place very seriously and have started, as Kermit Lynch notes, a three-year long conversion to organic viticulture to preserve the nature of this special terroir and improve the quality, which is already exceptional. The winemaking is traditional and focused on energy and purity, in this classic Rosé they went with 100% stainless steel and zero malo-lactic fermentation after the grapes were carefully sorted and de-stemmed with a short skin maceration with the wine aged in tank with re-integrated lees for just under a year, which helps explain this dynamic wines vivid flavors and unfolding depth. This 2018 is ripe and generous and has stylish presence in the glass and has a touch of saline, stony and savory elements that sharpens the detail and enhances the pleasure, both for drinking now and for the future, for this Rosé can be short term aged as well. Drink this textured Clos Ste. Magdeleine Rosé over the next 3 years, and though hard to get and rare, it is really worth searching out!
($36 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2018 Saint Cosme, Cotes du Rhone Rouge, Rhone Valley, France.
Louis Barruol’s Saint Cosme, located north to the village of Gigondas, which he is most famous for, is the oldest estate in the region being on the site of an ancient Gallo-Roman villa which dates back to 1416 and very probably it already had its own vineyard as well as cellars carved from the natural limestone walls, with the Barruol family acquiring it back in 1570 and making it one the Rhone greatest estates. The fabulous basic Saint Cosme Cotes du Rhone is made from 100% Syrah coming from what Barruol calls top vineyard parcels, saying he is no magician, knowing only great sites made great wines and mostly this little beauty uses plots in Vinsobres, which is a special area of the southern Rhone that is sublimely suited to Syrah. The Saint Cosme Cotes du Rhone vines are set on mostly limestone sand, red clay and pebbles on Villafranchian terraces that gives this remarkably expression its stylistic charm, density and class, with Barruol noting he thinks Vinsobres is the best area to grow Syrah in this area, which is just to the north of Gigondas and influenced by cool alpine winds that help refresh the vines, giving ripe fruit, but with energy of natural acidity. Barruol makes some of the regions most intriguing wines, both in the Northern and Southern zones, I love his classic Gigondas as well as his Chateauneuf, along with his Crozes-Hermitage and Cote-Rotie, proving equality as good with his Grenache based offerings, again especially his famous Gigondas bottlings and his gorgeous Syrah based goodies, all of which display terroir influence and play the ripe fruit against savory/spicy events.
The 2018 Saint Cosme Cotes du Rhone feels denser and more fruit forward that the last few vintages, but should steady itself and lose some baby fat as it gets a little time in the bottle, though quite enjoyable and easy to love even now showing black raspberry, black fig paste, plum, kirsch and blueberry fruits, delicate spices, a touch of earth and game, lavender and anise all coming through on this wine’s plush palate. The all tank aged and partial whole cluster (mostly de-stemmed though) Cotes du Rhone Rouge 2018, which is Louis Barruol’s 22nd vintage of his Saint Cosme Côtes du Rhône, is his personal ideal for an entry level version and (he) adds that the vision for this wine have remained unchanged, it’s purely Syrah focused with open knit fruit, crafted with transparent finesse, giving fresh detail and loads pleasure. This wine checks off all the priorities with flair and substance and it is a stupid good value and sublime with rustic and or comfort cuisine, it is one of my favorite wines, a no brainer for fun and a solid Rhone experience that excites the senses both in dark visuals with its purple/crimson hue and its rich tastiness! Drink this over the next three to five years, it goes great with tangy BBQ and many robust dishes as well as being just a joy to relaxingly sip on when you need a friendly red. I must also make note that, Barruol has included a new Vinsobres to his lineup, that should be out soon, look for it, it will be called Château de Rouanne and will be 50% Grenache, 40% Syrah and 10% Mourvedre, all whole cluster and raised in concrete, it should be awesome.
($15 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2016 Raul Perez, Mencia, La Vitoriana Lomas de Valtuille, La Vizcaina, Bierzo, Spain.
The iconic Spanish winemaker, Raúl Pérez, is one of the world’s most admired vignerons known for his intuitive winemaking genius and natural focus crafting an amazing set of wines from his base in Valtuille de Abajo in Spain’s Bierzo region. Perez, who made his first commercial wine at the age of 22, started his own Bodegas y Vinedos winery in 2005 and while producing his legendary wines he has also offered guidance and has been a great mentor to many rising talents throughout Spain, including Veronica Ortega and Pedro Rodriguez of Guimaro, as well as many others. He has also championed the native varietals found in Rias Baixas, Ribeira Sacra, Tierra de Leon and of course in his native Bierzo in the greater Castilla Y Leon zone, but is best known for his work with Mencia, a dark skinned grape usually found in Galicia, like the Ribeiro Sacra, here in Bierzo and in cooler parts of Portugal, it makes for a dark colored red wine with bright acidity and has been compared to Cab Franc, Gamay, Syrah and Pinot Noir depending on its terroir and vintage, I can find many aspects of those grapes in Mencia, though I think it should be experienced without these expectations to fully appreciate its charm and complexity, and I fully recommend exploring the Raul Perez versions, especially this gorgeous 2016 La Vizcaina with its almost old school Chateauneuf du Pape like presence in the glass!
Most of the time I compare Mencia to Northern Rhone meets Cru Beaujolais, but this La Vizcaina is richer and more leathery, though a pretty delicate floral perfume comes through with air reminding me again of Fleurie and the wine is wonderfully balanced with a nice chalky/mineral element to go with a ripe and dense dusty red fruit profile. Coming from harden clay soils in the Valtuille, the La Vizcaina is most all Mencía, but Perez usually includes other grapes in a field blend, with maybe some Bastardo (Trousseau), Garnacha Tintorera (Alicante Bouschet), Doña Blanca and Palomino being included, all co-fermented using whole-cluster and indigenous yeasts with primary being done typically in large oak vats with two month macerations before elevage in well seasoned French oak barrels, then bottled unfined and unfiltered. The serious La Vizcaina 2016 is layered and medium full bodied with a compelling and seductive array of flavors including black cherry, plum, mission fig, vine picked berry fruits, a touch of baked earth, minty herbs, all spice, cedar and dried flower incense, all well defined and with sweet tannins that feel quaffable and supple while providing a just enough drying grip to let you know this is wine that can age. At 13.5% natural alcohol, this Raul Perez Mencia is perfectly pure, vivid and authentic in the glass, adding to the visual pleasure of its dark garnet and ruby color and while not a heavy wine, it certainly makes a big impression and impact, lingering on and on, this is exceptional stuff.
($35 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2017 Drew Family Cellars, Pinot Noir, The Fog-Eater, Anderson Valley.
The Fog-Eater Pinot Noir is one of the best regional hand crafted Pinots in the state and Drew Family Cellars is one of California’s best producers, based in the cool climate west end of the Anderson Valley. Jason Drew’s latest three vintages have been a step above the rising talent in the state, and he is making some of the most compelling Pinots ever made, while a fantastic new generation of winemakers is quickly following in his footsteps, it is an awesome time to a California wine drinker. The 2017 The Fog-Eater, an appellation blend, from several sites from both bench and hillside locales along with outer western rim vineyards in the Anderson Valley which Drew uses to create, as he puts it, a classic expression of (the) Anderson Valley. This vintage is warm, ripe fruited with a dark fruit profile, it is quite silky and lush on the medium bodied palate that gives pretty black cherry, plum, raspberry and currant like fruits along with a touch of herbal/spicy edginess as well as crushed rose petals, mineral tones, plus delicate cinnamon and vanilla from the kiss of toasted oak. This warm year’s dark garnet and ruby hued edition allows immediate pleasures, but there is plenty of stylish flourish, natural acidity and low alcohol, coming in at just 13.4%, making this a complex and quaffable version of Drew’s iconic The Fog-Eater.
The term Fog-eater, as Drew notes, is a Boontling term, from the local dialect in the area, that is used to describe those who live out on the coastal margins, as the Drew family does and the outliers in the fog, all fitting for this Pacific Ocean influenced area near the Mendocino coast, which delivers its signature on these wines. As with most all of the Drew wines, Jason used 100% native yeasts during the fermentation on this lovely and authentic Pinot Noir and he employed close to 25% whole clusters, as he says brings additional structure and spice into The Fog-Eater. The charm and form of these great wines is also relies on the Alluvial, Gravel, Loam and Seafloor Uplift soils as well as the clonal selections of Pinot Noir that includes Dijon Clones: 115, 667, 777 as well as Mt. Eden and Rochioli clones. This 2017 The Fog-Eater saw just 10% new French oak and was aged just about a year in the barrel with just two gentle rackings, highlighting Drew’s graceful touch and desire to present wines of elegance, substance and transparency, which he has done to near perfection here, it drinks sublime already, but as with all of Jason’s offerings have wonderful age worthy quality and should get even more delicious with another few years in bottle, there looks to be a wide drinking window easily into the 2030s.
($45 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2017 Weingut Von Winning, Riesling Trocken, Ungeheuer, Grosses Gewächs, Pfalz Germany.
When I look back again over the wines I tasted in 2019, I am shocked I didn’t mention this awesome wine from Von Winning, it truly was one of the best and most majestic of the vintage in the dry Grand Cru class, it certainly is on par with top white Burgundy, if in fact not better! Von Winning as reported far and wide, and of course by me in recent years, is one of Germany’s greatest and most unique wine estates, based in the Pfalz and with a no compromise sense of purpose in everything wine they do, from their basic state Riesling to their Grosses Gewachs, like this gorgeous and textural Ungeheuer GG, and it’s worth noting they also make one of the world’s great Sauvignon Blancs along with a sublime collection of Pinot Noir and sparkling Sekt(s)! Vigneron and cellar master Stephan Attmann has put tremendous effort and focus into the vines here with the Von Winning Riesling vines trained in the same way as you’d find in Meursault or Montrachet and he admits he is heavily influenced by the Cote d’Or and the great wines of Burgundy and his winemaking is also inspired by the fabled French region with barrel fermentation and lees aging with a very dry focus. Von Winning has a fantastic collection of Cru sites to craft their wines, mostly Grosse Lage and they use extreme care with the vineyard sites, working with organic methods and high density plantings, all of which has made this winery one of the world’s elite labels. Located in the town of Deidesheim, Von Winning has some of the most desirable sites in all of Germany, including a parcel in Kirchenstuck, the most expensive property (vines) in Germany according to rumors, Kalkofen, which usefully gives the most flamboyant wines here, Ruppertsberg, the Paradiesgarten lieu-dit, Leinhohle, Langenmorgen, Grainhubel and this Ungeheuer, which is set on a combination of Loess, Loam, Basalt and chalky sandstone in the legendary Forst zone.
Beautiful in detail and rich in character the 2017 Ungeheuer GG starts with a heady perfume of white flowers and rosewater, liquid mineral a touch of Asian spice and stone fruits before opening up to a dense, ripe vintage, full bodied palate that shows lemon curd, apricot, white peach and mango fruits as well as wet stones, saline, spearmint, yeasty notes and hazelnut, all of which are in line with Riesling purity, but the elegance, flinty/steely elements and racy mouth feel scream Grand Cru Chablis, it has the same presence as Raveneau’s classic Les Clos! Attmann, who has said his winemaking technique is not doing the wrong things at the wrong time, uses a gentle touch in the cellar allowing his top dry wines to go through indigenous yeast fermentations in cask and uses no additions with an all gravity flow press room, with his Grosses Gewächs wines ferment and age in 500mL French barrels, though he has refined his usage in recent times preferring less new oak, which is clearly the case here. Still a baby, this 2017 Von Winning Ungeheuer really takes off when allowed to breathe and I think it has huge potential for even more magic in the coming decade, it gains a firm structure and intensity with the extended time in the glass, making it very clear you are drinking something extraordinary, this is a dry Riesling that will get your full attention and keep it! So far these 2017’s have been rather plush and in some cases rather flabby, but this one, while at first forward and lush, it quickly turns on the complexity and vigor with a nice burst of natural acidity and energy, getting even a bit racy as it unwinds itself, it is a vivid and thrilling wine that impresses for depth and length, absolutely top notch stuff.
($70 Est.) 96 Points, grapelive
2015 Domaine Paul Jaboulet Aine, Cotes du Rhone “Biographie” Rhone Valley, France.
One of the most complete and natural Cotes du Rhone offerings from a big wine domaine is Caroline Frey’s Jaboulet Biographie Cotes du Rhone and this warmly ripe and pleasing 2015 is a tremendous value in this price class with pure Grenache plummy fruits leading the way on the medium bodied palate. Frey has led Domaine Paul Jaboulet Ainé into the full conversion to organic viticulture throughout their range and this fresh and delicious Cotes du Rhone Rouge is one of the newly all organic certified lineup. This 2015, from a stellar and riper Rhone vintage, has a classic blend of mostly Grenache along with a healthy dose Syrah and Mourvedre, which adds a deeper complexity than you’d expect in a southern Rhone entry level wine and as it gets air it almost takes on darker character in line with the Northern Rhone or higher elevation Gigondas. The vines are mainly over 40 years old, with some well over 80, and there is plenty of concentration in the profile with boysenberry, plum, huckleberry, cherry and strawberry fruits, peppery spices, mineral essences, iron/meaty elements, a hint of embers, anise, dried flowers and a touch of cedar.
World renown for their estate Hermitage La Chapelle, Paul Jaboulet Aine is one of the Rhone’s top producers and has made significant strides throughout their range under the Frey family and vigneron Caroline Frey, in fact she has put this domaine among the world’s elites on par with Chapoutier and Guigal in terms of quality and production levels and her efforts with the lesser négociant line has vastly improved with her guidance, especially the basic Cotes du Rhone and the Crozes-Hermitage reds. There is plenty to admire here and easy choices to make, but I wouldn’t over look the Biographie Cotes du Rhone Rouge, in particular this 2015, but I can say with confidence the 2016, 2017 and 2018 should be just as delightful as the last three vintages in the region have been spectacular, so no need to be picky on year for this one if you see it. I love the freshness and beautiful dark color in the glass with its garnet/magenta hue adding to the seduction here, this wine also has surprising substance and should drink solidly for another 3 to 5 years, enjoy it with country inspired cuisine and or BBQ, it is impressive stuff.
($15 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2018 Weingut Kruger-Rumpf, Riesling Trocken, Dorsheimer Burgberg, Grosses Gewächs, Nahe Germany.
Coming from a tiny incredibly steep Grand Cru site, the Burgberg Vineyard, that is set on volcanic and quartz soils near Munster in the village of Dorsheim, the Kruger Rumpf Burgberg GG is one of the most exciting wines of vintage at this small winery near Bingen at the confluence of the Nahe and the mighty Rhein rivers and it is fantastically mineral driven dry Riesling. This latest set of wines, especially the Rieslings from Georg Rumpf and his family are some of the best yet from this estate and the GG’s and the Premier Cru Trockens are gorgeous wines, no one is going to want to miss these 2018 Nahe offerings, especially the Pitterberg GG, the Abtei Erste Lage 1937 old vine, one of my secret favorites and this beautifully detailed Burgberg GG. Rumpf who has turned to mostly all organic practices, and the Burgberg parcel is farmed organic, and prefers to do natural fermentations, or Sponti, with his Cru wines with the GG’s getting less aging in large cask, Stuckfass to allow less reduction and enhance generosity, while retraining freshness and vitality in the wines, which shows here in this barrel sample of Burgberg which I got from Georg’s brother Philipp, who handles the marketing and packaging here at Kruger-Rumpf. These Kruger-Rumpf GG’s are some of the best values out there, they really deserve much more attention, as does the the lesser bottlings and their wildly tasty Scheurebe, which is one of the best examples in Germany.
The Kruger-Rumpf winery, which dates back to the 1790’s, is focused on purity and the expression of the distinctive terroirs in the family’s holdings, but only began making estate labeled wines in 1984 when Georg’s dad Stefan began crafting small production bottlings. Now, mostly retired Stefan has turned things over to his sons Georg and Philipp, who are continuing the traditions here with a renewed energy and technical skill, that impresses Terry Theise their importer, who considers Kruger-Rumpf one of best under the radar estates in the region and notes that Kruger-Rumpf is innovative and is always striving to reach new levels of quality. I visited Kruger-Rumpf in the fall of 2016 at harvest time and was thrilled with the stylish wines I found and was blown away with the individual vineyards they farm and the hard work they have been putting in the restore the Abtei site. The iron rich volcanic and quartz influenced 2018 Burgberg GG starts with white flowers, stone fruits and vibrant citrus before expansion on the medium full palate with layers of lime/tangerine, apricot, green apple, papaya, bitter pit white peach and white cherry fruits along with steely form, spearmint, verbena, mouth watering saline, exotic spices and subtle leesy elements. This is going to be a legendary wine and is already showing Georg’s signature finesse and vinous personality, it has masses of potential and its delicacy is utterly delicious! There’s a lot to admire at Kruger-Rumpf these days and this crisp 2018 Burgberg is a stunning effort that gains with air in the glass and will more so with a few years in bottle.
$55 Est.) 94+ Points, grapelive
2017 Theopolis Vineyards, Petite Sirah, Estate Grown, Yorkville Highlands, Mendocino County.
The richly flavored and deeply colored estate grown Theopolis Petite Sirah is one of the best examples of this grape in California coming from a unique terroir and steeply terraced vines in the Yorkville Highlands. 2017 was a ripe year and making for a warmly lush textured version with loads of black raspberry, blueberry, plum and dark currant fruits along with light smoky sweet toasty wood notes, crushed acacia flowers, mineral tones and touches of bitter chocolate and black licorice. This purple/black wine is opulent, but still well balanced with 13.9% natural alcohol and an inner brightness of details, so it drinks wonderfully in its youth and has potential to age, its firm well integrated tannins plus the (high elevation climate) acidity giving it a lot of time to evolve. This vintage of Theopolis Petite is certain to one of the best yet for this spectacular vineyard in Mondecino County, and it is a lovely expression of this grape and an interesting counterpoint to the Halcon Petite Sirah from this same site and is done with a more Cornas or Rhone style and is more whole cluster stem influenced, while this wine has a more modern polished presence in the glass.
In 2017 Theopolis and owner Theodora Lee used small bins for fermentation and employed manual gentle punch downs during the primary fermentation and extracted loads of color before racking the wine to French oak barrels where it was aged for 20 months, then it was bottled unfined and unfiltered ending up with about 45% new wood. This round and full bodied Petite Sirah really thrills the senses and fills out every corner of the mouth and it lingers on and on with a creme de cassis note, giving it a big personality and impact, it should impress Petite Sirah fans greatly. This is also a wine with plenty to offer with meals and can be graceful with many cuisine choices, though best with more robust dishes, going great with BBQ, Roast lamb, short ribs and pork dishes as well as hard cheeses and or wild mushrooms. This is a brilliant and poised Petite Sirah that should continue to develop and gain with cellaring, even though it is drinking pretty sexy right now, be sure to keep your eyes out for this one. Theopolis is a list that is well worth joining the prices are fair and the wines deliver quality and distinction, especially their signature estate grown Petite Sirah!
($39 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2018 Domaine de Sulauze, Vin de France “Charbonnieres” Coteaux d’Aix en Provence, France.
The fruit driven and slightly earthy Charbonnieres Vin de France Rouge comes from Domaine de Sulauze’s single parcel of massale selection Syrah and Grenache vines on limestone and sand that was fermented using partial carbonic maceration and all biodynamic grapes that brings the fresh detail and vibrancy to this fun wine. Everything at Domaine de Sulauze, owned by Guillaume and Karina Lefèvre, is made with mostly natural methods and very low sulfur, in fact some bottles use no added sulfur at all. According to vignerons Guillaume and Karina Lefèvre, as they put it “Domaine de Sulauze is more than a vineyard. It’s a special place that is alive and (is) meant to be shared.” The Lefèvre’s put on an annual pig roast, they say is a joyous and raucous affair where they gratefully share the bounty of the vineyard, their on site brewery, bakery and olive groves, which provides gorgeous oil for the locals. All proudly prepared and set at the Domaine’s big hearted table. Bright red fruits, crushed flowers, stones and garrique lead the way here in this delicious Medium bodied Rhone style blend that gets better and better with each sip adding juicy pomegranate, plum and bright cherry whole cluster influenced fruits, though air delivers a Syrah blue fruit depth, which thrills, along with licorice, pepper, leather and minty herbs, finishing with hints of lingering violets and fine grained dusty tannins.
Karina and Guillaume came to the domaine in 2004 and immediately converted the vines to organic farming and a few years later, to biodynamic farming as well. Planted to classic Provence varieties like Vermentino, Grenache Blanc, Ugni Blanc and Clairette for the whites and primarily Grenache and Syrah, including the rare Sereine clone, for the reds like this one, plus some Cabernet Sauvignon, Cinsault and Mourvèdre. No chemical treatments are used at Domaine de Sulauze, everything is harvested by hand, and the domaine has just recently started ploughing with horse, in keeping with biodynamic traditions. While known for their Coteaux d’Aix en Provence bottlings, especially the Lefèvre’s “Pomponette” Rosé as well as their “Galinette Blanc” and “Chapelle Laique” Rouge, the Vin de France reds are super cool offerings that are exceptional and unique wines, they are well worth searching out, with this “Charbonnières” being one of their most serious expessions, rivaling some Cotes du Rhone Villages and more well known Rhone AOC’s and it will impress lovers of authentic old school Gigondas! This is superb with a slight chill and BBQ and is wonderfully quaffable, easy to enjoy in its youthful form, drink now. This intriguing ruby/magenta “Charbonnières” is nicely pure and transparent with no hint of oak and with exciting zesty refreshing quality, but still complex and with a soulful impact, I could use a few more bottles!
($28 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2017 Kelley Fox Wines, Pinot Noir “Ahurani” McMinnville, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
The vibrant and light ruby hued 2017 Ahurani Pinot by Kelley Fox is full of vivid red fruit and whole cluster character with candied cherry, plum, pomegranate and racy red currant fruits as well as a zesty herbal and cinnamon spice background before opening up and revealing a more complex and complete Pinot in the glass. The Momtazi Vineyard, the source of this beautiful and lively wine, is a Demeter-certified biodynamic vineyard in the McMinnville Foothills A.V. A. and gives the Ahurani its distinct personality and energy, which the talented Fox captures in here to near perfection using close to 50% whole bunches and allowing for a very natural charm as well as pretty low alcohol, with this 2017 coming in at 12.5%. The Ahurani, named after a ancient Persian goddess of water and well being, because the Momtazi Vineyard has many beautiful springs and a sense of quiet peace and Fox hopes that feeling transmits itself in this lovely wine, which I can almost taste in this vintage with its pleasure and racy playfulness.
Kelley Fox, one of Oregon’s most interesting characters and best winemakers, got her winemaking start at the famous Eyrie Vineyards, who she credits with an everlasting influence on her style, that was followed by a 10-year term at Scott Paul, that really elevated her reputation. I have been a fan, but I love her own wines that I started following more closely in the last 5 years. She founded her own label back in 2007 and now produces around 2,000 cases a year of Pinot Noir mostly, but also does a crazy good Pinot Blanc and a Ramato (cooper/orange) style Pinot Gris. The Pinots, her main focus, come from two of the Willamette Valley’s most highly regarded and meticulously farmed vineyards, Maresh in the Dundee Hills and this Momtazi. Using primarily used Burgundy barrels and indigenous yeasts, Fox is going for transparency and this one is fabulously delicious, and it only gets better with food and with air.
($35 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2015 Domaine de Bellene, Nuits-Saint-Georges, Vieilles Vignes, Red Burgundy, France.
Nicolas Potel’s newish Burgundy Domaine, The new Domaine de Bellene, was born in 2005, after he sold his negociant self named operation, when some of the growers Nicolas Potel had been working with decided to stop their own production and proposed that he take over their vineyards, which he did. Nicolas Potel who had made a name for himself during the late 1990s like Vincent Girardin, took this as the perfect chance and way to realize his dream to a true vigneron, to create his own Burgundy that would be inline completely with his vision, making wines, as he puts it, with the highest level of authenticity and quality. One of his offerings, this Nuits-Saint-Georges old vine really impressed me with its deep concentration, silky layers and refined presence in the glass with a dark garnet/ruby hue and beautiful floral bouquet along with classic Pinot fruit. This Domaine de Bellene NSG Vieilles Vignes comes from three different Lieu-Dits located just north of the town of Nuits-St.-Georges itself, on the Vosne-Romanée side, which includes the La Charmotte, Aux Chouillets St. Julien and Les Argillats. According to the winery, all of these unique and special parcels are more than 60 years old, and are on clay and limestone soils with some sandy influence and in this location the wines are more perfumed and more fruit forward, which the wine shows, especially in this ripe and pure vintage in the region.
The small town of Nuits-Saint-Georges lies at the epicenter of the Côtes de Nuits, just south of Vosne-Romanée and north of the Unesco heritage town of Beaune, Burgundy’s capital, and while there are no Grands Crus here, there are number of exceptional Premier Crus and Lieu-Dit vineyards that certainly deliver Grand Cru depth and class. Potel’s lovely version is a red Burgundy from all organically farmed vines using a native yeast fermentation, with traditional pigeage and light pump-overs, as well as a long settling period, a long, gentle pressing before being racked to barrels for its elevage, which lasted 14 months. The NSG is aged in French oak barriques with 50% being brand new medium plus toast without fining with just a light filtration at bottling, ending up with less than 700 cases made. This vintage turns on the charm with air feeling round and satiny gaining complexity with each sip and showing off black cherry, plum, red berry and currant fruits, delicate earthiness, pretty perfumed rose petals and faint violet, a touch of spice along with sweet and smoky oak toast. The Domaine de Bellene Nuits-Saint-Georges is really coming together nicely and it is a well crafted effort that gives a very vinous and generous performance, but looks set to develop further in the bottle and should gain even more with another 5 to 10 years in the cellar.
($75-93 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2018 Weingut Monchhof, Riesling Kabinett, Ürzig(er) Wurzgarten, Mosel Germany.
The brilliantly delicious Monchhof Ürzig Wurzgarten Kabinett 2018 is one of the best values in Mosel Riesling and it shows a traditional light sweetness with racy acidity and crunchy mineral crisp detail with layers of green apple, apricot and zesty citrus fruits with hints of tea spice, lime blossom and smoky flinty stoniness. This wine is pure terroir and sunshine in the glass with a slate driven soul, fresh and easy to enjoy, it just brings happiness and goes fabulous with a great variety of cuisine. Crafted by one of Germany’s most respected vignerons, Robert Eymael, the owner here as well as at J. J. Christoffel, has been charge at Monchhof since 1994, focuses on estate vines in the historic Urzig Wurzgarten as well as Erdener Treppchen and the fabled Erdener Pralet, all classic slate soiled steep sites with this Ürzig Wurzgarten set on its iconic red slate with volcanic spiciness, which transmits its character in the wines. The estate produces primarily fruity style, off dry Kabinett, Spatlese and Auslese wines, though rumor has it Eymael and Volker Besch, his right hand man winemaker, are going to maker a serious lineup of Trockens in the coming years, like Willi Shaefer has now done! These modern Kabinett wines are superb quality wines, their fruity residual sugars don’t feel cloying and the complexity and low alcohol make them thrilling stuff, sublime with briny and spicy dishes, as they provide lovely refreshing joy.
The Monchhof estate, a former possession of the Cistercian Abbey at Himmerod, has a long history and in fact, it is one of the oldest estates in the entire Mosel. It dates back to 1177, the winery has shown documents from Pope Alexander III showing the Abbey and the Roman Catholic church owned vineyards in and around the village of Ürzig with its iron rich soils and highly prized sweet nectar. The Eymaels in 1804, who knew what a prize this property was, purchased the estate from Napoleon, at an auction in Paris, as many historic sites were traded after the church was relieved of their huge holdings in Germany. The very steep Ürziger Würzgarten, one of the prized jewels in the Mosel river valley, is planted 100% to Riesling with some vines almost a hundred years old all which are on original rootstocks and the wines are made with mostly stainless steel fermentation, as this one saw with lees aging in tank as well, though they use some old wood cask for the richer offerings. 2018 Mosel wines are absolutely glorious and there are many exciting wines and loads of values out there, look for Selbach-Oster, Carl Loewen, J. J. Prum, Dr. Loosen, Markus Molitor, the mentioned Willi Schaefer and these stunning Monchhof offerings, especially this slightly exotic, delicately sweet and tasty Ürzig Wurzgarten Kabinett! This is a Riesling that can be aged a few years and makes for a good choice to stock up on, and I should mention their Auslese from the Pralat, reviewed earlier here, is also a must have Riesling.
($20 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2016 I. Brand & Family Winery, Old Vine Grenache, Besson Vineyard, Santa Clara Valley.
Ian Brand’s new releases are some of his most expressive and impressive yet with his Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet Sauvignon and Cabernet Franc offerings leading the way along with this sublime Old Vine Grenache from the historic Besson Vineyard near the Hecker Pass and the town of Gilroy, which is now way past one hundred years old. This 2016 is a gorgeously pure Grenache, made with 50% whole-cluster and aged in a combination of used French oak of various sizes, showing bright fruit intensity, spice and mineral notes with a pretty red fruit, subtle earth, and a sweet floral bouquet. The body builds and the old vine concentration comes through with air and time in the glass, this wine keeps pumping out the fruit and gains a very serious presence on the palate getting more complex and pleasing with every sip with layers of silky raspberry, strawberry, pomegranate and tangy plum fruits, light herbal (stems) notes, cedar, anise, faint pepper and kirsch. This Besson Old Vine Grenache is one of Ian’s signature offerings, joining his Old Vine Mourvedre from the Enz Vineyard and his Bayly Ranch Cabernet Franc that captures the soulful expression of the Loire Valley in a singular California wine.
The Besson Vineyard, planted on its own roots back in around 1910, is finally getting the acclaim and attention it deserves, it has been the source of some outstanding wines, it transmits transparent flavors and is a unique terroir. In recent times it has had lovingly maintained vines with a focus on quality fruit and natural methods has been sustainably dry farmed ever since it was originally planted. This site, as I have noted in prior reviews of this and other wines from this vineyard, first came to the wine world’s attention when California icon Randall Grahm used these grapes in his Clos de Gilroy Grenache, and more recently being used by Angela Osborne of Tribute to Grace, the Kiwi who is one of California’s top Grenache producers, as well as one of Brand’s friends John Locke of Birichino, another label that is putting out a beautiful version of this Besson Vineyard. Ian’s example, with the little extra aging is turning on the charm and its whole bunches, textural density and old world character makes this vintage very seductive indeed and it should only get better over the next 3 to 5 years, this is a Grenache for Pinot Noir lovers, don’t miss it. Brand’s reputation as a vineyard whisperer is as solid as ever, especially when you try his latest wines, these are site driven wines that, like Morgan Twain-Peterson’s Bedrock Wines, show the state’s history and potential in the bottle.
($42 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2017 Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey, Bourgogne Blanc, White Burgundy, France.
Maker of some of Burgundy’s most sought out white wines, Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey, has made a brilliant and clear Chardonnay that is incredibly pure and focused for a basic regional version and shows why these wines are so highly coveted by Burgundy fans, it’s a great value and vibrantly expression in this 2017 vintage. Almost greenishly pale gold in the glass this 2017 Bourgogne is deliciously crisp and zesty with a slight hint of reduction and is loaded with mineral, white flowers, racy citrus and a delicate sense of wood informed texture with classic Puligny like flavors showing apple, pear, lemon and white peach fruits along with hazelnut, wet stones and faint spicy elements with clove and mouth watering saline. There is a burst of fresh acidity and at first this wine is serve and bracing, fans of PYCM will be thrilled, as this wine follows his style over the last decade, and with air this 2017 Bourgogne Blanc gains a bit more palace impact and fills out with a pleasing roundness emerging, but staying vivid, sharply detailed and focused, making for an elegant and well crafted Chardonnay that will go fabulously with an array of cuisine. I enjoyed this beauty with my New Year’s Eve meal and it went gloriously well with my Epoisses, that amazing soft creamy cheese that oozes decadence, it cut through the fat and made my evening joyous.
Domaine Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey, led by Pierre-Yves Colin, who is the eldest son of the famed Marc Colin, is based in Chassagne-Montrachet in their new cellars there that he shaves with his wife’s label Caroline Colin-Morey. Pierre-Yves worked aside his dad and brothers as the winemaker at his father’s domaine from 1994 to 2005, then stepped out on his own founding his own domaine, starting it from family vineyards he inherited from his family and his wife’s side too, also famous and with good parcels of vines in the region. Since that time, he rapidly rose in the wine world, especially with his Saint-Aubin and Chassagne White Burgundies, he has really is a star in the Cote de Beaune and these wines set the gold standard for quality. He and his wife Caroline, join Jean-Marc Roulot and Alix de Montille as one of Burgundy’s elite power couple, and while his top bottlings are spectacular, I am always thrilled with his less pricey offerings, especially his Saint-Aubin lieu-dit whites, and I also enjoy his Pinot Noir too. Pierre-Yves continues to refine his wines, and he has started using larger format demi-muid barrels and uses no stirring of the lees (batonage) to preserve fresh intensity of form, his wines are steely and with an electric like transparency, and this 2017 is all that, keep an eye out for it.
($38 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2008 Weinlaubenhof Alois Kracher, Auslese Cuvee, Burgenland, Austria.
The late and legendary vigneron Alois Kracher, one of the world’s best sweet wine producers, was around to craft this one, but the Auslese Cuvee late harvest wine has his spirit, made from hand picked grapes with Noble Rot (Botrytis) for the the winery’s entry level offering using 60% Chardonnay and 40% Welschriesling. Coming from their Burgenland estate vines in eastern Austria this is a classy and exceptional effort that has really aged well and is a pleasure in the glass. When drunk young, the Kracher Auslese Cuvėe is, as the winery notes, medium golden yellow with fine floral notes, quince and fresh peach flavors and offering some bright acidity with a balanced sense of sweetness and a clean mineral finish, but allowed to age, as this 2008 was, it gains a lovely amber hue and gains a sublime honeyed tone from the botrytis and the flavors richen with baked apricot, lemon curd and exotic lychee fruits taking charge on the palate. This regal sweet wine, unique with its use of these varietals, was fermented and aged in stainless steel tanks to preserve a succulent refreshing purity of form and to keep from getting volatile acidity or funk and this Auslese (which means here a select harvest) is lovely, and while I prefer the Gruner Veltliner and Riesling versions, this is certainly in a great place right now and drinks like an aged Sauternes (Basac) or a BA (Beeren Auslese) without the new oak creme brûlée influence.
Weinlaubenhof Kracher has long been in a class of their own, when it comes to sticky wines, and Alois Kracher, who pasted away sadly in 2007 and was a favorite of mine,, achieved practically a god like status in the wine world, almost no other sweet wines have reached such a high level of recognition, respect and praise, except maybe Chateau d’Yquem! Unlike most famous sweet wine producers, Kracher has done it using many different kinds of grapes, even those without much pedigree, which led many to believe that it was the terroir and the passion for their craft that gave Kracher its magic. The fabled Austria estate is now run by Gerhard Kracher, who is the head of the Weinlaubenhof Kracher’s cellar, vineyard and is in charge sales. He learned much from the two generations that came before him and brought so much fame to this small winery, continuing in their big shadow with some gorgeous wines under his belt he combines tradition and modernity, paying tribute and moving forward. This 2008 Kracher Auslese is proof that the future is bright still for Kracher and its complexity was a delicious surprise with additional orange marmalade, wet stone and apple butter coming through with air, it works well with light desserts and savory cuisine too, drink now. I am now inspired to explore more of the later vintages from Kracher and will keep an eye out for well cellared examples too, this was too good not to mention.
$45-69 Est. 375ml-halif bottle) 93 Points, grapelive
2015 Corison Winery, Cabernet Sauvignon, Sunbasket Vineyard, St. Helena, Napa Valley.
When reflecting on on of the great wines I’ve been lucky enough to try and review I have to end this year on someone that continues to impress and shows no sign of slowing down with a great set of current releases, this of course is Cathy Corison and this wine, a new offering, is a perfect way to show have exciting her wines are and to end a great vintage here at grapelive.com. Corison is most known for her Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon, from vineyards she always worked with and her estate Kronos bottling, but she has been using Sunbasket for some time and has done a single vineyard Cab Franc from here under her Helios second label, and know she has added a single vineyard Cabernet Sauvignon to her main lineup, and it is a stunner! Corison Winery has sourced Sunbasket Vineyard, which was originally planted on the alluvial and gravelly soils in St.Helena in the early 1950’s by the legendary winemaker, André Tchelistcheff, for over 25 years, sharing it with Shafer Vineyards, as Corison notes, for many years until they became an exclusively estate winery just over 10 years ago. Corison has taken all the Sunbasket fruit after Shafer stopped using it and has been converting it to more sustainable (farming) methods, making it much more organic and allowing the vines natural energies to shine through, which shows it this ripe and dynamic 2015 Sunbasket Cab. Cathy has long valued the Sunbasket Vineyard’s grapes and adds that she admires the fruit here for its bright red and blue fruit and pretty aromatics, that is clearly part of the joy of this first release with its lovely violet/acacia perfume and deep sense of fruit on the full bodied palate. The Sunbasket is in my opinion, just a touch more lush than Corison’s Kronos, but no less serious, this is fabulous stuff, it blows away many Napa wines at twice the price and those that like Ridge’s famous Monte Bello will be very interested in this wine, or should be.
Cathy Corison, one of California’s greatest winemakers, a living legend and long respected for her pure and elegant Cabernet wines that rival any produced here and those in Bordeaux, I find her wines both majestic and densely powerful, these are wines that capture the best that Napa Valley has to offer, but are never over the top and Corison works incredibly hard in the vineyard to maximize natural acidity and keep alcohol moderate, while still expressing deep flavor profiles, which this gorgeous Sunbasket delivers to perfection. Corison, humbly suggests that it’s all about the vineyard and the quality of the fruit and that she just guides it all to bottle, but there is no questioning her talents and the result of her passion and commitment to her craft. As she says, great grapes make great wine, with Cathy’s winemaking being largely non-interventionist though traditional with full macerations and when her primary ferments are completed the wine is aged in small French oak barrels for at least 20 months, that she’s adds, letting the magical alchemy happen when the wine aging. The Sunbasket 2015 is openly rich and opulent from the first moment your senses come close and the nose is full of the floral bouquet along with blackberries and spices before a cascade of pure Cabernet Sauvignon fruits fills the mouth with black current, plum, boysenberry and blueberry along with hints of coco, tobacco leaf, cinnamon, sage/anise, sandalwood as well as a touch of smoky oak notes and vanilla. Everything flows nicely together and the sweet tannin holds it all in fine balance, while a bigger framed Cab, it is graceful and lively with a sensual textural and fantastic length with heaviness. This brilliant effort is going to thrill Corison fans and it drink incredible for decades to come, it is a perfect sister wine to Cathy’s signature Kronos! What a wine, and what a year, bravo Cathy for your hall of frame career and this great new wine to celebrate with.
($165 Est.) 96 Points, grapelive