New Reviews

January, 2020

2017 Mendel, Semillon, Mendoza, Argentina -photo 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, Provence, France -photo grapelive

2018 Clos Sainte Magdeleine, Rosé, Cassis AOC, Provence, France.
The beautiful and richly flavored Clos Ste. Magdeleine Cassis Rosé from the 2018 vintage proves why it is one of the best with its fabulous array of wild strawberries, seeped rose petals, grapefruit, racy peach and sour cherries along with its seductive vinous quality and liquid mineral feel on the dense, but lively palate, this is serious stuff that delivers everything you could want from a Provence Rosé! Brilliant pale salmon/pink in the glass, this crisply refreshing Clos Ste. Magdeleine Rosé is a blend of 40% Grenache, 40% Cinsault and 20% Mourvèdre, which gives this gorgeous wine its complexity and nature, it comes from 15 to 40 year old vines on the regions classic clay and limestone soils. Set in the picturesque ancient Provence fishing village of Cassis on the Mediterranean sea, Clos Ste. Magdeleine is a small family run estate winery that renown the world over for their white and rosé bottling, which are always delightful and profound wines that intensely sought after and limited, making them cherished treats that go especially well with seafood dishes. The whites here at Clos Ste. Magdeleine are incredibly elegant, crafted with a focus on primarily Marsanne and some Clairette, along with Bourboulenc, a rare Chateauneuf du Pape grape, as well as Ugni Blanc. They also have planted a new parcel of Vermentino, though not allowed in their Cassis Blanc, it should play a role in their lineup even as a IGP wine.

The viticulture and vinification at Clos Sainte Magdeleine, owned by the Sack family, imported by the famed Kermit Lynch, who also represents the iconic Domaine Tempier, just down the way in Bandol, is under the direction of Jonathan Sack, the fourth generation to be at the helm here. The Clos Ste. Magdeleine domaine is one of only a handful of AOC Cassis wineries and it takes its historic and pride of place very seriously and have started, as Kermit Lynch notes, a three-year long conversion to organic viticulture to preserve the nature of this special terroir and improve the quality, which is already exceptional. The winemaking is traditional and focused on energy and purity, in this classic Rosé they went with 100% stainless steel and zero malo-lactic fermentation after the grapes were carefully sorted and de-stemmed with a short skin maceration with the wine aged in tank with re-integrated lees for just under a year, which helps explain this dynamic wines vivid flavors and unfolding depth. This 2018 is ripe and generous and has stylish presence in the glass and has a touch of saline, stony and savory elements that sharpens the detail and enhances the pleasure, both for drinking now and for the future, for this Rosé can be short term aged as well. Drink this textured Clos Ste. Magdeleine Rosé over the next 3 years, and though hard to get and rare, it is really worth searching out!
($36 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2012 Weingut Schafer-Frohlich, Riesling Auslese, Felseneck, Nahe Germany -photo grapelive

2012 Weingut Schafer-Frohlich, Riesling Auslese, Felseneck, Nahe Germany.
The stunning Schafer-Frohlich Bockenauer Felseneck Riesling Auslese, from the 2012 vintage and tasted in half bottle, is wonderfully balanced and shows fine minerallity to go with the dense and sweet fruit and comes from a Grand Cru vineyard site in the Nahe region. The Felseneck site is set on typically steep sloops with a unique combination of mostly Blue Devonian slate and porphyry soils, which includes some volcanic, basalt, quartz and mineral rich by nature and the eastern exposures here allow for fabulous ripe flavors with a touch of exotic elements, smoky flint and spice that thrills the palate, which this lovely 2012 Felseneck Auslese does with a degree of elegance that makes this sweet wine so exciting to the senses without feeling cloying or heavy. Weingut Schafer-Flohlich, which is an estate that has really come to fame in the last 10 years under the incredibly talented Tim Frohlich grows and makes mostly dry Riesling Rieslings with a vineyard holdings of about 80% Riesling, 10% Pinot Blanc, a grape that deserves more attention in the Nahe, especially Tim Frohlich’s version, 7% Pinot Noir and 3% other grape varieties, plus they hand craft a limited Sekt (sparkling wines) as well I understand, of which I’d love to try at some point. This impressive winery, run by Tim Frohlich, the ninth generation to do so, has many fine bottlings to explore and produces around 10, 000 cases annually, focused on crisp steely wines, but also continues to do traditional fruity styles too including this Auslese and even in some years an Eiswein!

While the Felseneck GG is probably one of the finest dry Rieslings produced in Germany according to many critics, and I love the dry wines from this estate, which join the region’s most succulent offerings like those of Donnhoff, Schlossgut Diel, Gut Hermannsberg, Kruger-Rumpf, Hexamer and others, but this Auslese should not be overlooked either with its gorgeous details and brilliant length. Schafer-Frohlich, a VDP member since 2001, uses 100% wild yeast fermentations, uniquely so and sometimes difficult with sweet wines and uses about 70% stainless steel along with 20% neutral cask and some barrique for the Pinot Blanc and Pinot Noir, I believe, plus Tim farms with eco friendly methods to get the best of his grapes. The 2012 Auslese is deeply floral and with a touch of tropical essences along with faint smokiness, Asian spice and see breezes before opening up on the round palate that is already starting to lose its baby fat and overt sweetness and showing extraordinary complexity, with layers of apricot, tangerine, pineapple, key lime and apple fruits along with wet shale, minty herb, saline and baking spices. This wine will be joyous for decades and will be bliss with hot spiced dishes, especially Thai and racier cuisines, this is outstanding and a wine that will help over come the fear of residual sugar!
($55 Est. & $28 Est. 375ml) 94 Points, grapelive

2018 Saint Cosme, Cotes du Rhone Rouge, Rhone Valley, France -photo 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 -photo 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 -photo 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 -photo 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 -photo 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 -photo 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 -photo 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 -photo 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 -photo 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 -photo 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, Urziger Wurzgarten, Mosel Germany -photo 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 -photo 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 -photo 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 -photo 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

December 2019

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

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