Grapelive.com Reviews – January, 2021
2016 Wilson Foreigner, Valdiguie, Rancho Chimiles, Napa Valley.
Wonderfully easy to quaff, simple in a good way and fun the Wilson Foreigner Rancho Chimiles Valdiguie offers plenty of tangy blueberry and tart cherry fruit, even though this bottle is two vintages behind the current release, it was nicely fresh and showed extremely well, especially with the light meal I enjoyed it with. Valdiguie is a grape that was once mistaken for Gamay here in California and is sometimes still called Napa Gamay, but is not related to that Beaujolais varietal, it originally came from the Southwest of France and is almost totally unknown in France these days.making it now a firmly California grape, somewhat similar to Zinfandel (Tribidrag) and more like Petite Sirah (Durif), both of which had mysterious origins and are now part of the fabric of California wine. I have been a long time fan of this grape, even when I thought it was Gamay and I have really enjoyed its rise over the last decade, in particular the wines made by Rochioli, Broc, Cruse and even J. Lohr, so it was interesting to finally open this bottle from Wilson Foreigner, a small husband and wife micro winery based in Petaluma, in Sonoma County, as I had not tried their wines and this version of Valdiguie. The 2016 vintage has a more true Valdiguie sense about it, less Gamay or carbonic like in style with good ripe flavors, but zesty acidity, savory notes and no bubble gum or cotton candy (overt fruity tooty) elements, in fact it is finely balanced and a touch Italian like in style, think Dolcetto or entry level Chianti with a good play between dark berry fruit and light earthiness. This is not a wine to over think obviously and its light body not too different from Pinot Noir is not going to make it a blockbuster or give a profound experience, but it is rustic charms, delicate florals and weightless mouth feel make it a delightful and playful wine worthy of your attention. This dark garnet wine is nicely rounded with the mentioned blueberry, plum and cherry fruits and accented by a touch of loamy earth, bay leaf, lilac, mineral and peppery spices, it is crisply detailed and supported by a touch tannin and vibrant acidity all pretty much as expected of this grape and its 12.7% alcohol is just about perfect for a wine of this style.
The Wilson Foreigner Valdiguie was, I believe, fermented in concrete, aged in neutral French oak, with the winery noting, that this wine shows the qualities that made this once common and widely planted grape a staple of the Napa Valley decades ago. That was before everyone in the Valley started ripping out the rarity vines and replacing them with the more commercially profitable grapes, mainly Cabernet Sauvignon. Wilson Foreigner is finding their our niche and their goal, as owner as David Wilson and his wife Christine say, is to create unique wines with minimal intervention that truly represent the individual vineyards from which they are sourced. David, who grew up on the family ranch in Rancho Chimiles, near to where these Valdiguie grapes are grown, studied fruit science with an emphasis on wine and viticulture at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo as well as traveling the world to expand his experience in wine and landed in South Africa, where he met Chris Alheit, who is a rising star now in his homeland and where he and his wife Suzaan have their own Alheit Vineyards, which they founded in 2011 and are based in the Western Cape. Now the two couples work together on these Wilson Foreigner wines, as the seasons are different which allows Chris and Suzaan to be consulting winemakers, sort of on the side, while David and Christine do the year round day to day work watching over the wines and checking in on the vines. Wilson Foreigner does three wines, this Rancho Chimiles Valdiguie, plus a Zinfandel from old vines in Contra Costa’s Del Barba Vineyard and a Sierra Foothills Albarino from the Rorick Vineyard and are currently selling the 2018s, which should be even better if you want to explore their wines. The 2016 Valdiguie which saw limited whole cluster, somewhere close to 30%, and native yeast fermentation before seeing a brief period in the well used barrels to promote transparency in the final product and allow the Valdiguie to show its true expression. I’m glad I got a chance to try this one and am excited to try the new releases, on a side note I really enjoyed the Alheit Cartology South African white blend, which I reviewed last year at grapelive.com, that was crafted from 87% Chenin Blanc and 13% Semillon and sourced from old bush vines.
($34 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2018 Domaine Sylvain Pataille, Marsannay, Red Burgundy, France.
The basic home village and maybe signature wine from Sylvain Pataille is his fine Marsannay Rouge which in the 2018 is absolutely lovely delivering ripe Pinot purity and a crisp mineral focus along with beautiful delicate floral tones, a dark ruby color, a silken mouth feel and a purring underlying energy. I have been a fan and reviewed a few of this exceptional producer’s wines over the last few years, I only wish they were more easy to find, as Pataille is insanely popular with Burgundy enthusiasts and with only a small amount available it makes sense they are tough gets, but I cannot recommend more highly this winery and getting a few bottles of Sylvain’s Marsannay, especially this one and or his Clos de Roy. The 2018 Marsannay is outstanding and while not an obviously showy or flashy wine, it is a gorgeous wine that slowly comes into full bloom in the glass, gaining depth with every sip, this vintage allows early drinking pleasure as well as having potential to age another decade and maybe a bit longer, though no one could be that patient surely. The layering in Sylvain Pataille’s Marsannay includes black cherry, dark earthy currant, strawberry and plum fruits as well as touches of rose petals, stony loam, sassafras, cedar and a mix of faint baking spices on its well structured medium bodied palate that oozes confidence and class. Pataille, who is a widely admired consultant and vigneron, hand crafts about a dozen cuvées, including red, white and rosé offerings of Marsannay, with Marsannay, it should be noted being the only appellation in the Côte d’Or allowing an AC Rosé label, plus Pataille also does a distinct Aligoté, a Passetoutgrain, which is a blend of Pinot Noir and Gamay and regional bottlings of Bourgogne Blanc and Rouge, many from old vines and single Lieu Dits that make them more interesting than the label would suggest.
The Domaine Sylvain Pataille, based in Marsannay la Cote was founded in 1999, in the northernmost area of the Cote d’Or and most recent (1987) AOC of the Côte de Nuits, works in a natural way with all organic farming methods, plus he is in transition to all biodynamic certification. The domaine already uses no chemical herbicides, pesticides or fertilizers in vines and in the cellar Sylvain employs only natural yeasts, without any additions or a heavy hand in the process. The primary fermentation is done partially in fiberglass and partially in stainless steel, according to the winey, and it is relatively brief, under two weeks with cool temperatures to heighten aromatics and freshness of flavors. The red wines, like this Marsannay are then gently racked into barrique (small Burgundy medium toast oak barrels) with typically about 30% new and then, as Pataille adds, they are aged for up to two full years in the wood, with the basic Marsannay getting an elevage of about 18 months before bottling. Depending on the year or growing season there might be some whole bunches and a bit of stem inclusion, though mainly all the grapes are de-stemed, with this vintage seeing partial whole-cluster to add complexity to this transparent, vivid and delicious Marsannay Rouge. Pataille is sometimes compared to Philippe Pacalet and other artisan winemaker contemporaries that are part of generation that focuses on holistic winemaking and work in harmony with nature to more clearly show the nuances of each terroir and craft wines that are impeccable in quality, but with a bit more rawness to their efforts, as this wine proves in its performance. I hope to keep up with Sylvain’s wines in the future, and I’m grateful to have picked up a tidy amount of these 2018s, I would also suggest them to any Pinot Noir fans as well as to savvy Burgundy buyers.
($60 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2019 Ryme Cellars, Sangiovese Friulano, Fox Hill Vineyard, Mendocino County.
The unique and lovable Ryme Sangiovese Friulano Rosso is a brilliantly fresh and juicy in a full flavored, but lighter red wine that goes fantastically well with a wide range of foods and can be just quaffed, it drinks so nicely it is hard to not finish the bottle. This wine is a co-fermentation of 85% of the classic Chianti red grape Sangiovese and 15% of Friulano, which is a zesty white grape most commonly found in Northeast Italy where it was once known as Tocai or Tocai Friulano in a nod to the old school Chianti wines that once saw up to 20% of white grapes including Trebbiano and Malvasia that either helped local farmers get rid of all their grapes or added acidity and or sugars to the must. This practice has almost died off these days, but Megan and Ryan Glaab of Ryme, who have made quite a name for themselves by crafting italian themed wines, have brought it back here in California with this this exceptionally delicious version. I love their Vermentino(s), their Fiano and especially their absolutely awesome Aglianico bottlings, that are true to their old world cousins and add so much to the California Italian varietal wine scene, these wines elevate Cal Itals to new heights, with this one finding a niche sitting between Rosé or Nouveau style wines and the heavier tannic rich reds. I’ve been blown away by the new world Italian varietals in recent years, it was thought California, Oregon and Washington could quite match the true Italian examples, but now, that is not the case, especially when you taste these Ryme Cellars wines, they are not trying to be carbon copies of those regional stars of Italy, they are uniquely Californian beauties with soulful Italian DNA charms. If you want proof that these wines are a match for their Italian counter parts you need to try them, look for Ryme in particular, but also Martha Stoumen, who’s signature Nero d’Avola is ultra tasty and stylish, as well as the Sheldon Sangiovese, Brian Terrizzi’s Giornata from Paso Robles, Idlewild, which sources from the Fox Hill site as well, Unti in Dry Creek, Odonata, who do a fabulous Brunello like Sangiovese as well as a cool Sparkling Sangiovese, Palmino, who really brought seriousness to California Nebbiolo, Leonetti in Walla Walla, who’s inky Sangiovese is legendary and especially John Paul’s Cameron Winery, with his set of incredible Italian inspired collection, including his Barolo like Willamette Valley Nebbiolo and his stunning white blend or Bianco.
Now back to Ryme and this very cool 2019 Sangiovese Friulano, a red wine that like Beaujolais that can be served chilled for refreshment, but still has a depth of flavors to provide enjoyment with rustic Italian cuisine and or simple country dishes as well as picnic fare or BBQ. The nose is bright with red berries, minty herbs, a light earthy note and perfumed rose petals that lead to a medium bodied and smooth carbonic like layers of raspberry, plum, strawberry and Morello cherry fruits along with subtle accents of anise, basil, shaved cinnamon, fleshy peach and a hint of mineral, sweet tobacco and lingering sweet floral aromatic notes. The luminous pale ruby color is very inviting, made more compelling with the clear, see through glass bottle, which makes it clear this one is for youthful drinking, no waiting required with its easy tannins and saliva inducing natural acidity, this Sangiovese Friulano is pure fun in the glass. Ryme notes that, the two varieties were picked together and co-fermented carbonically in tank before the wine was gently pressed and racked with soft extraction then it was aged in a neutral French Puncheon for short period the finish mallos and bottled early unfiltered and with just a minuscule sulfur. This wine is what the natural wine lovers of Europe call a Glou-Glou style wine, meaning basically it is a drink up non too serious wine that will bring lots of smiles and a mood of tranquility. At Fox Hill Vineyard in Mendocino, according to winemakers Megan and Ryan Glaab, the Friulano is planted next to the Sangiovese, making this wine easy to put together as the grapes can be picked and packed together to bring back to the winery. This is a winery to follow, and I suggest getting on their mailing list, but try not to miss the current releases, these are impressive and playful efforts, I would point you in the direction of Ryme’s Pet-Nats as well with their very limited Crackling Carignan and Crackling Vermentino being irresistible, along with their exciting Cabernet Francs and the Aglianico Rosé, which is part of their awesome Italian influenced lineup. The Ryme label was created by this dynamic husband and wife team back in 2007, with this talented duo having done many years of consulting and winemaking gigs having worked at wineries such as Pax Wine Cellars, Peay Vineyards, Sine Qua Non, Torbreck in Australia and at Helen Turley’s iconic Marcassin. There is a lot to love at Ryme Cellars these days, and this Sangiovese Friulano is a great place to start, check them out.
($25 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2018 Grochau Cellars, Gamay Noir, Twelve Oaks Estate, Chehalem Mountains, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
This dark and vibrant Grochau Cellars wine is a traditionally fermented Willamette Valley Gamay Noir that was sourced from Anne Amie’s Twelve Oaks Estate Vineyard close to Carlton on a newer block of vines planted in 2013 on the Laurelwood soils, which are silty loams or loess with an underpinning of a Jory (volcanic) base on the western edge of the Yamhill-Carlton zone. The terroir and vintage influence adds to the intensity on this stylish and seriously natured Gamay with vigorous acidity and loads of spicy character, this is noteworthy for Gamay lovers, as this vineyard site comes into maturity with the Laurenwood series soils adding a unique profile with a dark hue and a mineral rich element, this is the shallowest of the soil series found in this area, and is often found on hillsides, like these, where the winds have gradually over time blew the thin layers into place, and while the Laurelwood series is common in Willamette Valley it is fairly rare to find Gamay on it. This wine is distinctly non carbonic, tangy fresh, and is a gripping version of Gamay Noir, more along the lines of the famous Brick House example, with its brilliant purple/garnet color and sense of power showing blackberry, mulberry, deep cherry and quieter strawberry and red peach fruits along with a touch of orange peel, damp earth, red spices, crushed gun flint, potpourri floral detail and a sense of walnut husks and wild fennel. This is a complex and every changing Gamay in the glass which starts with an edginess and bite, before slowly coming out of its shell and unfolding into a real beauty with textural quality and presence coming out with air and a significant amount of time in the glass, it ends up a very rewarding wine with a push and pull of fruit and savory tones with a pleasing medium body and a nice lingering echo of flavors on the clipped and crisply dry finish.
I’ve been following John Grochau’s Grochau Cellars for a while, but this was first time I have tried his Gamay and I’m thrilled to report on its excellence, though I’ve always enjoyed his Pinots and especially his Commuter Cuvee Pinot Noir, which is always an exceptional value. In recent years he has really filled out his collection with many single vineyard wines which now include some very tasty whites with Melon de Bourgogne, Pinot Blanc, Albarino and special Brick House Chardonnay, from the legendary biodynamic Ribbon Ridge property. Grochau is still under the radar in California, but he has worked alongside the iconic Willamette Valley winemaker Doug Tunnell at the mentionedBrick House Vineyards for four years and has also spent time at Erath Winery. His first vintage as an owner and winemaker at Grochau Cellars, as he notes, was back in 2002, making it close to 20 years of doing his own thing in this region. Before wine Grochau was a professional cyclist and while touring Europe he fell in love with wine, eventually moving to Portland and took a serious interest in Oregon’s Pinot Noir, which set him on his path. Grochau works exclusively with organic and sustainably-farmed vineyards and everything is done with the old world mentality of making artisan wines that go with food, which his wines do with a flourish and he strives to allow each vineyard to tell the story of place and the year. In the cellar, Grochau employs a gentle touch and cool fermentation(s) with a light touch when it comes to his oak usage, his wines tend to be transparent, luminous and full of energy and with the substance to age gracefully for many years. This vintage of Twelve Oaks Gamay has a very soulful charm about it and while confident and well mannered, it looks to have a rewarding future and should really come into its own one the next two to five years, it’s an impressive effort.
($25 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2017 Cruse Wine Co., Blanc de Noirs, Alder Springs Vineyard, Mendocino County.
The small batch sparkling wines from Michael Cruse are some of the most interesting in California with both his Pet-Nats and his Methode Champenoise style bubbly, like this special edition Blanc de Noirs, are absolutely delicious and sophisticated wines with many being single vineyard site expressions with grower producer like distinction handsome crafted with unique and rare varietals. This particular bottling is vibrant and has a zesty form, but rich and complex with tons of nutty character, its rather intriguing with its play between racy yellow fruits and the mature feeling oxidative palate with layers of lemon, apple butter, white peach, plum, hazelnut, straw, mineral tones and doughy brioche that highlights the yeasty/leesy charms. This Alder Springs Blanc de Noirs cuvee, hand crafted and focused around the structure of no skin contact red grapes, with a Pinot Noir like quality, was what Michael Cruse calls an experiment in melding reductive and oxidative winemaking, it certainly played with my senses and I wasn’t truly expecting this complexity and stylistic personality, but it grew on me as I began to fully understand its purpose and personality, and as an admirer of a range of Sherry wines and Jura whites I got more and more into it as it opened up in the glass. Cruse notes that he finds this sparkler extremely complex, showing pastry, miso, marzipan with an element of pistachio gelato and floral detail, which I can confirm as well. The mouse is vigorous, rather than luxurious or creamy, giving the Alder Springs Blanc de Noirs an energetic intensity and makes it cleansing and refreshing, it is exceptional with food and proved nicely flexible with spicy and full flavored Asian dishes that I unfairly ate while sipping on this. I know, without question this Blanc de Noirs, would go better with grilled sardines, salty Tapas and or briny oysters, which I hope to prove in the future.
The lineup at Cruse Wine Co. is quite impressive with his top sparkling wine, Ultramarine being an underground classic with a cult like following, leading the way, but I love his Pet-Nats too, with the sparkling Valdiguie and sparkling St. Laurent being big favorites of mine and I love his set of still red wines with the Tannat, which I recently reviewed, and the Valdiguie being ones that I try not to miss. The Alder Springs Blanc de Noirs was fermented after the grapes were whole cluster (soft) pressed using a gentle Champagne cycle and it was done without dosage in a brut Nature style, resulting in a dry Brut or Extra Brut like profile. Just one hundred cases, or 1200 bottles were produced of this Alder Springs Blanc de Noirs, making it a rarity and not easy to find, though at this time it is still listed as available on Cruse’s website. California has more great sparkling wines on offer than ever with some incredible artisan stuff out there including Michael Cruse’s exceptional collection, along with other grower fizz or single vineyard bubblies, these include Samantha Sheehan’s Poe Wines Sparkling Rosé, made with Meunier and her all Chardonnay Blanc de Blancs as well as Caraccioli’s excellent Escolle Vineyard Champagne style sparkling wines to name a couple of ones to search out. The Cruse Alder Springs Blanc de Noirs which finished at 12.5% natural alcohol is briskly dry and ripely textured, it gains a slightly smoky note from the lees aging and shows a bit of saline that gets the saliva gland up and running and lingers on with a hint bitter almonds and clove spice. Cruse also has some other alternative wines that will appeal to the wine geek set with his dry Muscat finding a degree of success for a much maligned grape as well as his Monkey Jacket red blend, made from mainly Valdiguié, a grape that has a Gamay like quality and once thought to be Gamay and called Napa Gamay until recently with the remainder coming from Carignan and Syrah, it is tasty value priced stuff that is a great Pizza night wine. It is a great time to explore the Cruse wines and I highly recommend get on Michael’s email list and explore his latest efforts.
($68 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2015 Cobb Wines, Pinot Noir, Rice-Spivak Vineyard, Sonoma Coast.
One of California’s best producers of small lot Pinot Noirs, Ross Cobb has been at it for close to twenty years now and shows no signs of letting up with this fantastic 2015 Rice-Spivak displaying his gifted touch with a wine of remarkable balance, silken texture and deep, but weightless layers of Pinot fruit. I had planned holding on to this special wine for many more years to let it fully mature and gain secondary characteristics, but as I was celebrating the end of the moronic nightmare of the Trump presidency I could not think of a more perfect patriotic bottle to open and knowing clearly that Ross would agree, and in hope of brighter times ahead, it did not disappoint and even though young it delivered a gorgeous and rewarding experience. This 2015 vintage was warm and ripe, giving plenty of hedonistic fruit density and luxurious mouth feel with this Rice-Spivak Vineyard having a lush and satiny array of black cherry, raspberry, plum and sweet strawberry fruits along with a mix of toasty/smoky oak, mineral, tangy herbs and a delicate floral perfume. This ruby/garnet wine is one of the most packed, full flavored and darkest versions of this vineyard I can remember, it is a Pinot Noir of lush smoothness and refined details, it is pure pleasure in the glass, it gained tremendous dimension over the course of the evening and added subtle earthy elements and lingered on and on with a graceful aftertaste that echos the nose and palate, with hints of orange tea and seeped rose petals. The Rice-Spivak is always one of my favorites in Cobb’s outstanding collection of wines.
Cobb Wines, founded in 2001, is mostly known for the family’s Coastlands Vineyard signature bottlings, sourced this one from the almost equally exciting Rice-Spivak Vineyard near Sebastopol, a six acre site in the cooler zone west of Healdsburg set on the classic Goldridge sandy loam soils, which brings out a lot of depth of fruit, as well as some volcanic material that gives a steak of mineral and a light dusting of spices. The vines are on rolling eastern facing slopes that get lots of morning sun and cool Pacific breezes with night and early morning fog that brings a refreshing burst of natural acidity to the wines. The Rice-Spivak Vineyard is made up of Swan and Dijon clones, with the heritage Swan selection seemingly playing a lead role here and this 2015 version has a some very serious palate impact, this is highly entertaining Pinot that is wonderfully complex, but joyously easy to love. Cobb employed traditional Burgundian winemaking, as is his way, with this Rice-Spivak seeing a careful selection of the grapes, a cool partial whole cluster fermentation, using close 40% whole bunches, and gentle maceration before a long 22 month elevage in French barriques with about 30% new medium/high toast oak, which still needs a bit more integration, though with air and especially with food this wine provides endless pleasure, much the same way classic Williams Selyem and or Rochioli performs. The Cobb Rice-Spivak finished up at 13.6% making for a substantial and structured Pinot without the heat that you get from wines in the 14 to 15% range, this wine should last another decade or more. Cobb offers a unique and seductive set of single site Pinots that really deserve your attention, plus in recent years Ross has added a dry Riesling to his highly admired and desirable lineup, while none are inexpensive, these wines are a must try for California wine enthusiasts.
($75 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2018 Guimaro, Mencia, Vino Tinto, Ribeira Sacra, Galicia, Spain.
The pure and almost crisply detailed Guimaro Vino Tinto is one of my favorite wines, even in its most simple form this Mencia field blend that is fermented and aged in stainless steel delivers a beautiful and soulful experience in the glass with terroir influence clearly on display, making it a joy to behold and quaff with almost any cuisine. Pedro Rodriguez continues to impress with each new vintage at Guimaro and this 2018 is wonderfully delicious with partial whole bunch, semi carbonic juiciness and crunchiness along with ripe black fruits, soft rounded tannin, lively acidity and lovely mineral tones. The medium bodied palate reveals bright layers of blackberry, mulberry, plum, black cherry and currant fruits that is accented nicely with snappy herbs, flinty stones, lilacs and raw earthiness that seduces the senses and brings easy smiles, it reconfirms my admiration for this outstanding value offering from the steep slopes of the Ribeira Sacra in Spain’s ancient and remote Galicia region. The brilliant gemstone ruby/purple color and delicate floral perfume certainly invite repeated sips and its vibrant nature reminds me of a crossing of a Crozes-Hermitage (Syrah) and a Cote de Brouilly (Gamay), think Maxime Graillot’s Domaine de Lises meets Chateau Thivin! I have been following the Guimaro wines for about a decade now, going back more than 12 vintages and I am still thrilled every time I open a new bottle and this 2018 Vinto Tinto Mencia provided a grateful distraction from the horrifying news of the Covid pandemic, the economic worries and eased the lonely days of not being to travel or see friends, as well as a small celebration of life and the end of shameful and moronic presidency of Donald Trump, which will happen in mere hours now. So yeah, I love this wine and I am a big fan of the winemaker, who I have had the pleasure of meeting a few times and did a couple of tastings with, Pedro is a humble and fun loving person, who’s incredible hard work, which you get a sense of when you see the dangerously steep parcels he farms, and his down to earth and playful personality shine through in the wines.
Pedro Rodriguez’s family vineyards, which for many generations were used to just grow grapes for a co-op, started bottling wine under the Guimaro, which means rebel in local dialect, back in 1991 and they were one of the first wineries to join the Ribeira Sacra DO in 1996, but the Guimaro label really got into gear when Pedro was mentored by the legendary Raul Perez, the godfather of the Mencia grape and well known for his Bierzo versions. Guimaro farms with all organic methods and careful to maintain small yields to craft remarkable collection Mencia based wines, as well as a Godello based white, which is also a rare and rewarding wine in the mold of a steely Chablis. The Ribeira Sacra, or the Sacred Blanks in the native Gallego tongue, has very hard to work vines looking down on the Sil River, which looks intriguingly like the Mosel with in fact similar soils, which are a combination of slate, schist, granite and sand with a cool climate that is heavily influenced by the Atlantic Ocean. The Guimaro Tinto comes from several plots in the Amandi zone, which is mostly planted to Mencia, but also includes small amounts of other local varietals including Caiño, Merenzao (Trousseau) and Souson, which are hand harvested and sees about 35% whole cluster, native yeast fermentation and was raised with tank aging for 6 or so months with no oak being used. The region was been, as the winery notes, cultivated since Roman times, with Ribeira Sacra’s steep terraced vineyards, as mentioned above, are some of the most picturesque and treacherous to work vines in the world of wine, making this Guimaro bottling one of the best values around and it is really a gateway to understanding the wines of this special place. Pedro employs an old-fashioned winemaking method, that was reclaimed and adopted thanks to Perez’s guidance, with wild yeast fermentation, gentle extractions with foot treading in open-top vessels, plus limited raspón (stems) inclusion and working with ultra low sulphites, and while this wine was done in stainless, Rodriguez uses used barrels for his single cru wines, all of which makes for natural and transparent style wines. If you’ve not had Mencia yet, this Guimaro Vino Tinto is a great place to start, especially this outstanding vintage, that I highly recommend stocking up on.
($20 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2018 Dirty and Rowdy, Mourvedre, Shake Ridge Ranch, Amador County.
The stylish Sierra Foothills Shake Ridge Mourvedre is a fresh and vivid red that drinks beautifully now with a range of vivid red fruits, raw, but well managed tannins, meaty savory elements as well as some delicate florals that all unfold on a transparently pure medium/full bodied palate, very tasty indeed. Dirty and Rowdy’s 2018s are my favorites so far from this small and down to earth winery based in Petaluma and look forward to digging into a few of their 2019s soon, which I hear are just as good, which would be not small feat, I really loved the MSG (Mourvedre, Syrah and Grenache) a blend that is like a California meeting of Bandol and Chateauneuf du Pape! This Shake Ridge Ranch Mourvedre from California’s historic gold country in Amador County in the Sierra Foothills comes from one of the state’s best vineyards, farmed organically by the legendary Ann Kramer, it is not far from Sutter’s Creek and set on rocky slopes with a complex mix of volcanic, decomposed Granite and quartz soils. The climate here at close to 2,000 feet up gets hot Summer days, but the night time temps dip dramatically so the vines stay refreshed and certain varietals thrive here, especially the Rhone grapes with spectacular wines being made from this site, in particular the Syrah and Mourvedre, which in this wine proves the quality of Kramer’s talents, with its vibrancy and depth. In recent years I have been really impressed with this vineyard, with Jolie-Laide’s GSM blend, Desire Lines Wine Co.’s 100% Syrah and this Dirty and Rowdy 100% Mourvedre being some of my favorites. I really enjoyed this inky purple/red Shake Ridge and marveled at its constantly changing presence in the glass, it even went fantastically well with a Paella that was full of spicy goodness along with sausage, chicken, mussels and calamari.
Dirty and Rowdy was formed by two partners and their families in 2009 when Hardy Wallace, the face of the winery and his partner Matt Richardson established the label, which is really focused on Mourvedre and natural winemaking techniques, they source grapes from some of California’s top sites, including Shake Ridge, as well as Evangelho in Contra Costa County, Enz Vineyard in San Benito as well as the formerly known as Antle Vineyard in Monterey’s chalky Chalone appellation to name a few. This Dirty and Rowdy 2018 Shake Ridge Ranch Mourvedre, which was hand crafted using lots of whole cluster and native yeast fermentation, is led by layers of earthy dark fruits, including brambleberry, red currant, tangy plum, wild herbs, meaty/savory notes, anise, dried flowers, provencal lavender and lingering kirsch. With air the more gamey bit subsides and the fruit core deepens, highlighting the vintage with ripe detail and energy, it adds a stony and mineral steak as well as gaining in textural quality, bringing out all of its charms in a wine that rewards to patient and one that benefits, as expected, from protein heavy cuisine and robust food dishes. Dirty and Rowdy do their best to let the vineyard speak for itself when it comes to winemaking, they employ a hands off approach in the cellar with minimal intervention and a gentle touch throughout the process, and they age the wines in mostly neutral French barrels, as well as a mix of concrete and terra-cotta vessels. The wines see no additions and have the barest of doses of sulphites, with Dirty and Rowdy bottling with no filtration or fining to preserve each wine’s every nuance and soulful character. These wines have tons of personality and have found a special niche within the wine industry with a fanatical group of followers, so it is important to on their mailing list to score these wines. I highly recommend Dirty and Rowdy’s very limited single vineyard wines, with this one being one to search out, as well as the entry level Familiar Mourvedre, that is a blend of many different vineyard sources and a top value.
($47 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2019 Pax Wines, Trousseau Noir, Berg Ranch Vineyard, Fountaingrove District, Sonoma County.
The wonderfully quaffable and delicately pale 2019 Pax Trousseau pays homage to the Jura region with this light, spicy and tangy fresh wine that has a nice play between fruit and savory elements, making this a super fun. Trousseau, which is known for its Pinot Noir like silky texture and fresh acidity, has gained a cult like following in California, mush the same way as Gamay has with producers like Stolpman’s and Raj Parr’s Combe label, Sandlands by Tegan Passalacqua as well as the most widely known and sought after version from Arnot-Roberts and this limited Pax bottling, which is seriously delicious stuff. I have my favorite Jura examples of this grape, that includes Julien Labet, Jean-Francois Ganevat, Domaine Tissot and Jacques Puffeney to name a few from this remote alpine region of France that inspired this Sonoma hillside, low alcohol, less extracted red. This Bearg Ranch Trousseau shows tart and candied cherries, juicy plum, pomegranate and distilled strawberries with crunchy whole bunches character along with snappy cinnamon, anise and herbal notes in a creamy textured, but zesty wine that benefits from a slight chill and simple country style cuisine. With air this wine rounds out and is supple with its pale ruby color perfectly matching the wine’s refreshing personality and purpose adding a hint of earthiness, subtle stemmy notes and lingers with a sweet and sour feel with soft florals, brambly raspberry and hint of rhubarb. This 2019 Trousseau Noir is a delightful wine that goes great with picnics, cheeses and sea food dishes, as well as BBQs.
Pax’s Trousseau Noir, sourced from the Bearg Ranch in the Fountaingrove AVA, which is set in the hills between Healdsburg and Chalk Hill and planted, as the winery notes, on three different soil types, with the majority on mineral rich red clay and Kidd-forward-cohasset series soils, plus a smaller block is on an old creek-bed, that has gravel and shallow silty soils, and the final block is rooted in deeper loam and clay. Pax Mahle planted four different clonal selections of Trousseau, that he says are from a couple of his favorite Trousseau vineyards, both in California and France. This area sees a cooling flow of air from the Pacific Ocean and cool nights to go with warm days, which promotes good ripe flavors while retaining dynamic energy and natural acidity that certainly shows in this Pax Trousseau, making it easy to enjoy and not a wine to over think. This effort is one of the Pax series of natural style wines that gets partial or all whole cluster and carbonic fermentation(s) with mostly being tank aged and or a short spell in used wood, these are meant to be drunk young and quaffed with friends in a less serious way. There are quite of few of these alternative wines from Pax, of which to explore along with this Trousseau Noir, including a new Savoie inspired Mondeuse, a Trousseau Gris (a skin contact white wine), a Mission grape (AKA Pais or Listan) red and a set of Gamay(s), as well as a Carignan and Chenin Blanc. Of course, most people will know that Pax crafts some of the state’s best Syrah wines, with his Armagh and Alder Springs being a couple of my favorites, but in recent years he added these lighter Glou-Glou wines to his collection and you should check them out.
($38 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2018 Ridge Vineyards “Lytton Springs” Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County.
The 2018 Lytton Springs is absolutely brilliant and a thrilling wine of serious dimension and drinking pleasures, proving once again why it is one of California’s greatest wines with exceptional richness of flavors, lively energy and polished tannins, this is everything you’d want from this Zinfandel blend and more. This long time Ridge staple has long been one of my favorite wines, in fact I almost never miss a chance to visit Lytton Springs, no matter how many times I go there I still am as excited as I was the first time I went there back in 1996 when Ridge had just taken over the site and tastings were in the old barn and on old barrels with a group of cats watching on, a far cry from the modern facility that it is today, though with the same old vines standing guard and giving this special spot its soul and sense of history. With those century old vines and a gifted team in the cellar it’s not hard to understand why this wine is such a success, year after year and decade after decade, and while Lytton Springs is awesome and expressively fruit forward when young, it should also be noted these wines age fantastically well and this 2018 especially looks like a wine that will bring even greater rewards over the next 20 years, with a long cooler growing season providing incredible structure, depth and nice lifting acidity. The young Lytton Springs is deep purple and opaque in the glass, helped by the bigger doses of Petite Syrah and Carignane than normal maybe and its full bodied palate over joys the senses with layers of dense dark berries, including blackberry, boysenberry and classic briar laced raspberry along with plum, blueberry and morello cherry fruits all which unfold with a mix of spices, dried herbs, wild flowers and a polished and slightly smoky sweet wood note. As it is now, this Lytton Springs is impossible to resist and just gets better and better as it opens up and while hedonistic and luxurious it does benefit from food, adding another level to an already sensational wine and allowing it to show some underlying sophisticated elements with a touch of savoriness and a bit of mineral showing up, this vintage is really something extra and should not be missed.
Ridge Vineyards carefully selected the lots for this bottling with the final Lytton Springs blend being 72% Zinfandel, 18% Petite Sirah, 8% Carignane and just 2% Mataro (Mouvervdre) all coming from this Dry Creek property with each varietal fermented separately with all ingenious natural yeasts and gentle winemaking techniques to allow the grapes and vintage to shine without a heavy-handed endowment of extract or an overly lavish oak treatment, going for a more transparent form and freshness. At 14.5%, the 2018 is no wall flower, but the balance and quality of the fruit never let this wine taste anything but impeccably well judged with no flaws in evidence at any point, this is outstanding stuff, one of the best Lytton Springs of the last ten to fifteen years. Ridge says the primary maceration and fermentation were nicely slow and cool with the skins giving excellent pigmentations with just three days and a once a day gentle hand punch downs and or pump overs doing the trick in this magnificent vintage, with plenty of fine grained tannins and serious concentration being delivered perfectly to the finished wine that was aged in Ridge’s special air dried (well seasoned) American oak barrels with just enough new wood to give this wine its stylish texture and its lingering vanilla note. There are a lot of intriguing Zins available these days, but it is always good idea to get a refresher course in the classics like Turley, Biale and Ridge, with their Pagani, Geyserville and this Lytton Springs, all being standard barer efforts. In recent years there have been great alternative choices too, with Bedrock, Lagier-Meredith, Sandlands, Monte Rio Cellars, Martha Stoumen and Lamborn, to name a few to explore by comparison to the amazing array of Zins being made at Ridge. This version of Lytton Springs should not be missed, and I highly recommend trying some of Ridge’s more limited wines too, especially the Rhone inspired reds and their tasty Carignane based wines that I cannot resist, plus Ridge’s Bordeaux varietal lineup from the Monte Bello estate. I am counting the days until we can get back to wine tastings on site, with Ridge being one I, in particular, look forward to visiting again.
($40 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2018 Anne-Sophie Dubois, Fleurie “Les Labourons” Cru Beaujolais, France.
The top or signature wine from the talented Anne-Sophie Dubois is her awesome Les Labourons Fleurie Cru Beaujolais that comes from a high elevation, with a warm Southwest exposure, parcel of Gamay vines that are set on the classic pink granite soils of this appellation, all of which give this gorgeous wine its intensity, distinction, heightened aromatics and elegance with a crisp detailing of pure flavors. This 2018 is impeccable with a clarity of terroir and focus showing a racy edginess and a slight hint of reduction to start before everything comes alive on the medium bodied palate with precise layers of dark vine picked berries, tart currant, strawberry, ripe cherries and earthy blueberry fruits along with delicate spices, mineral tones and crushed violets. While lovely and youthful, this deeply garnet/ruby Gamay beauty takes to another level with a fine structure, complexity and exceptional length in a quaffable package that just gets better and better as it fully opens in the glass, it is a Fleurie that has the style and grace of a Chambolle-Musigny, but at a much more reasonable price. There is no question that Anne-Sophie Dubois is one of young superstars of Beaujolais region and part of a new generation of vignerons that are bringing this area to world wide attention, and as her importer says, as well as redefining the identity of Beaujolais. Dubois was born and raised in Champagne and she gained her first winemaking experiences in Burgundy, which has really guided her in her approach and style with her own wines, especially in the methods she employs in the cellar. Dubois has mostly shied away from the use of carbonic fermentation, preferring a more traditional Burgundian regime with mostly de-stemmed grapes, while employing a natural or indigenous yeast fermentation with a gentle handling of the wine from vineyard to bottle.
Anne-Sophie’s Les Labourons bottling, formerly known as the Clepsydre in her lineup, is named for its special old vine Lieu Dit, and was first released for the 2017 vintage and sports a new artist label, with this effort leading the way in Dubois’ fabulous collection of sophisticated, soulful and all organic Beaujolais. The 2018 Les Labourons came from the oldest vines and the best selections of grapes, which, as mentioned, were 100% de-stemmed and saw a cool maceration with the wine, after primary was complete, seeing an elevage of just over a year in all well used or what you’d call neutral French oak barrels. This very pretty Fleurie Les Labourons that came in at 12.5% natural alcohol is poised, silky ripe and wonderfully balanced, its acidity and taut vibrancy helping make it absolutely delicious with food. There is so much to get excited about in Beaujolais these days, especially with the stunning quality levels were are seeing from the young winemaker that call this place home, including the gifted Dubois as well as next generation of well known estates like Charly Thevenet, Alex Foillard, Justin Dutraive and the Lapierres, along with Julien Sunier, to name a few, all of which I highly recommend. The three main Fleurie offerings at Anne-Sophie Dubois are very individual in personality and each are made to highlight this, they include her Les Cocottes, the only 100% whole cluster and carbonic maceration version, the L’Alchimiste, that is from a selection of vines over forty years of age, 100% de-stemmed and raised in a combination of cement and various sized oak casks, and this Les Labourons, all of which saw a minimal dose of sulphites and bottled unfined and unfiltered to preserve every nuance that the vintage and vines deliver. Anne-Sophie takes great pride in her vines, she like many of vignerons believes the wines are made in the vineyard, and spends most of her time carefully hand tending them and holistically working the soils to keep them healthy, and her commitment shows in her wines, especially this latest release.
($40 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
1996 Domaine Catherine et Pierre Breton, Bourgueil “Grandmont” Loire Valley, France.
The joys and wonderment of a perfectly cellared bottle really comes into focus when you get to experience a wine like this one, where its 25 years haven’t been cruel at all, and it came out of the bottle with amazing energy, freshness, varietal purity and crisp details, making me just say “WOW” and giving me a huge Cabernet Franc smile! I’ve been a have of the Breton wines for sometime now, but I had never had a bottle more than 10 years old before this gorgeous 1996 Grandmont Bourgueil, which was bought on release from Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant and tucked away in a cool dark cellar in Pebble Beach, where it never left until a friend bought the owner’s collection of mostly Rhone and Loire wines around Thanksgiving and I was able to purchase a couple of the lesser known wines that wouldn’t break the bank. I have moved around quite a bit since 2008 and I don’t have high hopes for some of the bottles that have made this nomad like journey, though I hope for the best, while having this bottle showed the incredible value of having a quality cellar that is unaffected by sunlight, movement and changes in temperature. The color of this 1996 Breton Grandmont is exceptional with a beautiful garnet hue in the glass and the nose is heavenly, singing of its terroir and grape with a powerful voice with a flourish of floral notes, sensual mineral, wild herbs, earthiness, red berries and a classic hint of bell pepper. This graceful medium bodied 100% Cabernet Franc shows a bright mix of dark currant, plum, black cherry and mulberry fruits as well as briar, crush stones, leather, the mentioned bell pepper, anise and a touch of cedar on the smooth, but remarkably lively palate that age hasn’t diminished or blunted, making for excellent example of just how good these Loire reds age and just how good these wines, which seem wildly underrated, really are. In hindsight, I should have made a special meal for this amazing Cab Franc, but honestly it was brilliant with leftovers and was equally graceful and lovely all on its own.
The Domaine Catherine et Pierre Breton, founded in 1982, is an all biodynamic and organic estate with a focus on the communes of Chinon and Bourgueil and Cabernet Franc, though they do some nice Chenin Blanc too which comes mainly from selected plots in Vouvray, including a fun Pet-Nat and a series of serous dry and mineral toned versions as well as rare 100% Grolleau Vin de Pays rouge. The more age worthy set of red Bourgueil (and Chinon) wines, which are guided by Pierre Breton are fermented using natural yeasts and see mostly natural winemaking methods without additions and low sulphites, all to promote a transparent array of flavors, structure and balance. This Grandmont, like the Clos Senechal and Les Perrieres Breton’s best two Bougueils, comes from older vines on the hillsides above the plateau of Galichets, and as Kermit Lynch explains, are set on clay and limestone that sits atop the famed tuffeau of the Loire, the chalky white rocky soils. The Grandmont was traditionally macerated in open wood vats and rested in used large wooden foudres, and as, which the winery adds, is bottled without fining or filtration after at least 18 months of fine lees aging. The Breton Bourgueil offerings are the more elegant versions of their Cabernet Francs, while the Chinon(s) tend to be more powerful and more tannic by nature, but both are graceful agers, which this older Grandmont proves in particular. I have been lucky enough to have met the Bretons at a Kermit Lynch Imports tasting and I’ve sampled through almost all of their wines, with their Bourgueil collection being my favorites in their lineup, especially the Les Galichets and profound Les Pierrieres. These Loire Cab Francs go extremely well with winter cuisine and or dishes, including duck breast, wild mushrooms, cheese plates and simply spiced meaty foods. Like the wines from other Loire producers, Olga Raffault, Thierry Germain and Bernard Baudry to name a few, these Catherine et Breton Cab Francs are savvy values for mid term cellaring.
($40 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2019 Jim Barry, Dry Riesling, Lodge Hill, Clare Valley, South Australia.
As a confirmed Riesling Freak and or an Acid Head I am a huge fan of Aussie Rieslings like those by Grosset, Rolf Binder, Pewsey Vale and this Lodge Hill Riesling by Jim Barry, which with its lip smacking dry crispness and subtle concentration of fruit, it is one of the best white wine values in the world. Tom Barry, who runs the famous Jim Barry Wines, which was established back in 1959 and is known for their legendary Armagh Shiraz, one of Australia’s all time greats right up there with Penfold’s Grange and Henschke’s Hill Of Grace, oversees a wonderful collection of vineyard sites, including the Lodge Hill Vineyard, in the Clare Valley, where this wine comes from, it sits pretty high up where it gets good exposure for ripe fruit and gripping extract, but also sees very cold nights that retains intense acidity and stretches out the growing season which fully develops the grapes character and gives the Lodge Hill Riesling its depth. The 2019 is strikingly zesty and salty fresh, but also delivers a complex array of flavors and builds texturally and aromatically with air and food making for an exceptional wine and an excellent example of Aussie Riesling with brisk steely layers of racy citrus, white peach, tart green apple and melon fruits accented by wet stones, a touch of spicy crystalized ginger, minty herb, citron, lime oil and verbena. As this 2019 Lodge Hill Riesling opens the nose gains white roses and flinty/smokiness and touches of clove, lemon zest along with a delicate creaminess, tangy grapefruit and fleshy mango. I love this vintage and its shows fabulous energy throughout, it went extremely well with a range of sushi, especially the tuna and crab rolls.
The Jim Barry lineup is of course red wine heavy with some stellar Shiraz and Cabernet bottlings, but the selection of whites is almost equally impressive, especially the set of Rieslings, including their Watervale Riesling, Florita Riesling, the McKay’s single vineyard Riesling and this one, along with the Wolta Wolta Dry Riesling, a new collaboration with Dr. Loosen and the intriguing recent addition of of Assyrtiko, the Geek varietal that mostly known on the island of Santorini. The Barry family, especially Tom’s father Peter, who as a second generation winegrower really put this winery on the map, has been a great champion for Riesling in Australia for many decades. In Australia, there are two world class terroirs for Riesling, Eden and the Clare, where Jim Barry is located and is set on a complex series of mineral rich soils. The Lodge Hill Riesling vineyard, which Jim Barry planted in 1977, has a unique brown loam over a layer of clay and slate bedrock that really unlocks this Rieslings personality, which certainly shines through in this expressive dry Riesling and gives it an almost German like profile. The Lodge Hill vineyard, according to the winery, is situated on the eastern ranges of the township of Clare and is one of the highest points in the valley to have vines. The winery adds that after discovering this site it was Jim’s original intention was to devote the entire Lodge Hill vineyard to premium Riesling, but he found in part of vineyard a completely different set of soils that favored Shiraz, so they have plot of cool climate Syrah vines too. A gentle touch was employed to craft this wine with a cold fermentation and a short aging period in stainless tanks to preserve vibrancy and fresh detailing. I recommend exploring all of Jim Barry wines from the rare Assyrtiko to the Shiraz offerings and the set of dry Rieslings.
($18-25 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2018 4 Monos, Tinto GR-10, Vinos de la Sierra de Gredos, Spain.
Fast becoming one of my favorite wineries, 4 Monos, which was founded by four friends back in 2010, all native to the Sierra de Gredos wine region in the mountains above Madrid and famous for rugged old vine Garnacha, consists of winemakers Javier García (formerly the head winemaker at iconic Bodegas Jiménez-Landi), Laura García, wine-lover David Velasco and local vineyard owner David Moreno, who make beautifully translucent and perfumed wines, like this gorgeous delicately ruby hued 2018 Tinto GR-10. The wines from here are nothing if not profound and etherial, these are Grenache (Garnacha) based field blends that rival Grand Cru Burgundy for chiseled beauty and satiny angelic weightlessness. This GR-10 Tinto is their outrageously good basic cuvee, a wine that has completely seduced my senses over the last three of four vintages and this 2018 is one of the best to date with a heavenly nose of red berry and liquid flowers that leads to a medium bodied and silken palate of bright plum, pomegranate, strawberry and crushed raspberry fruits as well as having an array of sweet and savory herbs, briar notes, mineral tones, dusty spices and a lingering mix of dried rose petals and lavender. Coming from mostly decomposed granite and vines that range from 15 to 100 years old, this all organic and natural red was hand crafted using about 88% Garnacha, 10% Cariñena and 2% Syrah, which was cold macerated, 100% wild yeast fermented with at least 50% whole cluster depending on vintage. The juice is left on the skins for close to three weeks before being gently pressed and racked to used barrels where it aged nearly seven months in the oak, after which the wine was blended then rested another 2 months in concrete and steel vats. The finished GR-10 Tinto cuvee was bottled unfined and unfiltered to capture every nuance and its soulful sense of place, it is a wine that really excels with simple and fresh cuisine pairings and can be enjoyed with raw milk cheeses as well as a more hearty meal.
In recent years, the Sierra de Gredos has become one of the wine world’s hot spots with top producers, like Comando G and the mentioned Bodegas Jiménez-Landi, led by Dani Landi who is maybe the best known of the superstars here that crafts Garnachas in the same league as Chateau Rayas of Chateauneuf du Pape fame, and 4 Monos, all being ones to look for, especially if you’ve not explored the wines from this special place. The Sierra de Gredos DO appellation, with its dry Mediterranean/Continental climate is set in a mountain range that spreads over parts of three distinct terroirs, all being extreme making working these ancient vines incredibly hard, these subzones include Méntrida, Vinos de Madrid and Castilla y León, which sit between 600 and 1200 meters in elevation, a climate that sees huge changes of temperature between day and night allowing for fantastic ripe flavor development, but with good acidity retention and restrained character. The old bush vines are planted on complex soils that are made up of sand, granite and schist which share this arid, sleepy and remote location with smattering of olive, evergreen, almond, and chestnut trees along with aromatic scrub brush, chamomile, and wildflowers, that all seem to influence the wines and make them the beguiling lovelies there are, as this stellar vintage of 4 Monos displays with a flourish of expression, subtle earthiness and fabulous length. This GR-10 Tinto really delivers for the price, I am always amazed at the depth and clarity in this wine, it is always a guilt free treat to open this bottling, the quality for the price ratio here is absurdly good with this vintage in particular performing beyond my already high expectations. I also must say, along with this GR-10 Tinto, 4 Monos does an amazing job with Blanco as well and their single vineyard wines take it to another level and interestingly they also do a special single varietal Cariñena (Carignan), which I have not had the pleasure of trying yet, but am looking forward to. Grenache fans would be well served by getting to know the wines of the Sierra de Gredos and those searching out this example will be highly rewarded, this is sexy stuff.
($25 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2019 Sheldon Wines, Sangiovese, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County.
The second edition of their Dry Creek Sangiovese is a huge success at Sheldon and while I loved the full carbonic version of 2018 this new release is a wine of more substance and depth, while retaining the gorgeous aromatics and joyous drinking pleasures. The 2019 vintage was similar to 2018 in that it was a long and consistent growing season that was a touch cooler over all, but it came in with smaller yields and more concentration with amazing fruit development with stunning intensity, which Dylan Sheldon exploited to the max capturing exceptional varietal purity, clarity of flavors and impeccable balance, which this Sangiovese displays with transparency and elegance. This Sangiovese is stunning right out of the bottle with a nose of dark flowers and delicate spices along with pretty red fruit layers with energetic Marion berry, fleshy plum, blood orange, earthy currant and sweet kirsch that are lifted by classic acidity and accented by cigar wrapper, licorice, Asian spices and subtle cedar note. The Sheldon 2019 Dry Creek Valley Sangiovese is 100% single varietal and comes from the cooler Northwest corner of the appellation where these is a complex combination of well draining and mineral rich soils, which includes sandy loams, river rock, igneous rocks with high iron content, shale(s) and sandstone(s) that help give the wine complexity and warm ripeness of flavors. Sheldon, seeing the impressive quality of the grapes, decided on a gentle and more traditional fermentation with whole bunches and native yeasts in small bins with a light touch in the maceration, which was done at cool temperatures, as to not extract bitter phenolics and or harsh tannin, he wanted to keep freshness and crisp detailing as well employing a soft pressing of the juice before the wine was racked to a couple of well seasoned French barrels. I am a big fan of the Sheldon lineup and these 2018s and ‘19s are some of the best yet, especially this Sangiovese, I highly recommend checking out these fun and rewarding wines.
Sheldon Wines, which is micro winery based in Santa Rosa which was founded by the husband and wife team of Dylan and Tobe Sheldon back in 2003, is focused on hand crafting unique and ultra small batch wines with an extra bit of attention going to their Grenache, white and red based offerings, but the collection also includes a rare and cool Graciano (a Rioja grape) Black Sparkling Wine, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, a Tempranillo Brut Rosé, a Carignan and an old vine Petite Sirah led field blend. Sangiovese has been gaining traction in California, especially in recent years with some very intriguing versions coming to market, from Stolpman, who’s Love You Bunches is like Sangiovese Nouveau, Reeve, also from Dry Creek, Peterson, Broc, Field Recordings, Lepe Cellars, Odonata, who do a sparkling version and an awesome Brunello like bottling, Ryme Cellars and this delicious Sheldon effort. It is thought that Sangiovese was originally brought to California in the late 19th century by Italian immigrants when it is believed to have been inter-planted with other varietals that arrived around that same time including Zinfandel and Petite Sirah, but more serious plantings came to the West Coast in the 1980s and 1990s, though mostly those vines failed to produce anything of significance, for that we had to wait until the last decade or so, with the exception of Leonetti’s Walla Walla Sangiovese, which is still one of the best new world examples. Now there are about 2,000 acres of Sangiovese in California, with the grape finding a home in Sonoma, Amador, Napa Valley, Santa Barbara, as well as in the greater Central Coast from Paso to Santa Clara, and Mendocino County, where Italian grapes really do well. This Sheldon unfined and unfiltered vibrantly ruby red Sangiovese opens up nicely and adds an extra dimension of texture with air, making it even more desirable with its medium/full bodied palate gaining richness and length with lingering echos of the flavors lasting a long time, and it plays well with food, like a fine Chianti Classico, this is tasty stuff! Only 36 cases of the Dry Creek Sangiovese were made of this vintage, so be sure to secure some as soon as possible.
($36 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2018 Bow & Arrow, Gamay Noir, Johan Vineyard, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
The taut and stubbornly grippy 2018 Bow & Arrow Johan Vineyard Gamay takes it own sweet time to open up and patience, while difficult, will be needed to full discover this reductive and natural styled wine, but once in the mood it really gets on with the program and brings some good game with layers of black cherry, earthy currant, crushed violets, snappy herbs, loamy notes and brambly spices in a lean, crunchy and mineral crisp medium bodied wine. Actually, day two brought a night and day expansion of flavors, texture and made this Gamay really shine, the time to open up revealed this wine’s true personality and it metaphorically went from an ugly duckling to a beautiful swan in the glass with those hours proving critical to its enjoyment and it gained confidence, aromatic quality and poise with every sip. Scott Frank’s urban micro winey, Bow & Arrow, which was founded in 2010, based in Portland is a Loire Valley and old world “natural” inspired label that hand crafts small lot wines from organic vineyard sites throughout the Willamette Valley, including some unique rarities and some cool playful quaffers, but with serious intent, like this one perfectly showcases. I am a longtime fan of Frank’s Bow & Arrow wines, especially his awesome Rhinestones cuvee, also sourced from the Johan Vineyard, that is close to an Oregon version of Cheverny (a Loire Valley appellation) like blend of Pinot Noir and Gamay with loads of vibrant whole cluster character, it is one of my favorite alternative Willamette wines. Frank, who spent some time working under the legendary John Paul of Cameron Winery, has taken his own path and has created an underground following of counter culture wine drinkers that are looking for value priced artisan wines. The Johan Vineyard, a certified biodynamic site in Rickreall area of the Willamette Valley, is largest source of fruit for Bow & Arrow, farmed by Dag Sundby and Dan Rinke, who make their wines and provide grapes to some top notch producers, it is set on Helvatia and Santiam soils which were formed by glaciolacustrine deposits over silty loams and clayey alluvium with high acidity and is mineral rich and influenced by the Chehalem range that gives the wines from here a distinctive (terroir) personality.
This dark garnet/crimson and ruby edged Johan Gramay was all hand crafted with non intervention methods and spontaneous fermentation with a semi carbonic style with lots of whole bunches being used with gentle maceration(s) and only seeing old well seasoned French oak barrels for aging. The Loire Valley grape varieties like Melon de Bourgogne, a famous white grape known best as the its use in Muscadet, a salty dry wine that goes great with oysters, Chenin Blanc and Gamay, like in this one, have been in the Willamette Valley for many decades, but have been brought to attention of many new wine drinkers by Bow & Arrow, as well as a whole new generation of winemakers that have emerged on the Oregon wine scene in recent years. Oregon certainly leads the way in American or new world Gamay offerings with an amazing array of examples like Bow & Arrow along with notable efforts by Brick House, Love & Squalor, Evening Land’s Salem Wine Company, John Grochau’s Grochau Cellars and Grant Coulter’s Hundred Suns to name a few that should be on your radar. Those that like Cru Beaujolais will be well served by exploring these Willamette Valley Gamay wines, again I high recommend Bow & Arrow’s two single varietal versions, which includes this Johan, along with the Rhinestones, all of which are awesome bargains too. Frank also notes that 2019 looks like one of the best ever vintages for Willamette Valley Gamay grapes, so I suggest, if you can’t find the 2018s, to keep an eye out for them as they have just started to hit the market, including the regular Bow & Arrow Gamay bottling, which I also bought directly from the winery and will open soon. Most all of Scott’s red wines showcase a more savory style and are less fruity with an energetic high acidity profile, as this wine clearly displays and made to be enjoyed with food which benefits them greatly. The 2018 Johan Vineyard Gamay Noir is fully ripe, but at 12.5% natural alcohol it drinks very easy and while it is tight now, it should age well for five or more years. If you haven’t had Bow & Arrow yet, I suggest you do so as soon as possible and be sure to get, as mentioned, their Rhinestones, the Johan Melon white, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and the cool Air Guitar red, an Anjou style made from Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, as well as the Gamay(s) wines.
($30 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2018 I. Brand & Family Winery, Syrah/Grenache, Chalone AVA, Monterey County.
The wonderfully proportioned new 2018 Chalone Grenache/Syrah by Ian Brand is a ripe and polished California Rhone style red that comes from some of Monterey’s most historic dirt of the limestone/chalky soils in Chalone, the first premium growing area in the region and sourced from Phil Woodward’s Graff Family vines that were part of the historic Chalone estate. Ian, who is one of the central coast’s most influential new generation winemakers and a vineyard whisperer that is widely admired for highlighting and discovering some of the most distinctive under the radar sites from the Santa Cruz Mountains to Monterey County, including the now critically acclaimed Enz Vineyard in the little known Lyme Kiln Valley where he gets the grapes for his ruggedly delicious Bandol like old vine Mourvedre as well as the Bayly Ranch Vineyard in Paicines that he uses to make an old school Loire style pure Cabernet Franc, as well as a collection of incredible Grenache vineyards that form the core of Brand’s most popular single site terroir driven offerings. This new wine in his signature series is Ian’s first blended cuvee under the I. Brand & Family label and was crafted using about 72% Grenache and 28% Syrah making for an excellent and densely packed Chateauneuf or Southern Rhone like effort that shows off the vintage’s long cool growing season to perfection with deep flavor development and smooth tannins, but with moderate (low) alcohol and fresh acidity along with a lengthy elegant finish. While Ian’s single vineyard 100% Grenache wines are graced with an almost Pinot Noir like delicacy, this wine shows a more rich profile with a darker, Syrah influenced purple/garnet hue and a subtle meatiness with layers of black raspberry, plum jam, sweet kirsch and a touch of blueberry along with acacia flowers, wild fennel, mocha and sprigs of rosemary, dusty stones and a light cedar note. This a solid and very pleasing wine that just gets better and better with air, it really fills out in textural detail as it opens and it benefits greatly when paired up with food, in particular more robust cuisine that brings out the full range of flavors and reveals the true depth of the fruit and complexity more clearly.
Ian Brand’s winemaking is not led by dogma or the desire to one of the cool kids, though he often considered part of the new California movement and or the pursuit of balance group, he is more, in reality a practical winemaker that is trying to guide his wine to bottle with as much sense of place and year as possible, as this limited release 2018 Grenache/Syrah does exceptionally well. That said, he does do some, what you might call “hipster juice” including his Ramato (copper colored) skin contact Pinot Gris, sourced from the Eden Rift Vineyard, which was inspired by the orange style wines of Northeast Italy like those of Gravner, Radikon and others. Ian has been consulting for the Graff Family Vineyards for some time now, but has recently folded them into his lineup of wines and under his personal label and along with this Grenache/Syrah he also does a 100% Graff Syrah, another first for his winery and a super rare lees aged and ultra dry Graff Melon de Bourgogne (the grape of the Muscadet region of the Loire Valley) white wine that is one of California’s best oyster pairings. Brand’s main focus is geology and most conversations lead into a deep dive into the native soils and their influences and merits with different varietals, which he goes into great detail to explain and showcase in his own efforts, which see almost now new oak and a gentle minimalist approach to allow each wine to display very individual personalities. Woodward’s vines are located underneath the Pinnacles National Monument, an area formed by ancient underground volcanic actively which pushed up a massive granite superstructure and exposed a layer of pure limestone on which the Chalone Bench sits, this area has long been coveted for long lived Chardonnay and Pinot Noir as made famous by Phil Woodward and late Dick Graff who founded Chalone in 1974. And while the Burgundian varietals do well in the cooler sections, Woodward also understood early on that the Rhone grapes would excel here, something that Ian fully exploits now in his wines and I highly recommend these latest wines, especially this one. These are tough and scary times for the wine industry and while the COVID pandemic and the fires of 2020 that pretty much wiped out the vintage with smoke taint, especially in the Monterey area, so we must be grateful and celebrate our small victories and this wine provided a nice escape from the stress, it is a good time to support small producers like Ian, so check him out.
($42 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2017 Sidewood Estate, Pinot Noir, Adelaide Hills, South Australia.
The Sidewood Estate, a certified sustainable winery that is widely known for cool climate Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and sparkling wines is the largest family owned winery in the Adelaide Hills region in South Australia and is a locals favorite, but not easily found here in the States, which might change if all of their wines are as great as this Pinot Noir, one of their entry level Signature bottlings I just sampled. This 2017 Sidewood Pinot is absolutely beautiful and excitingly delicious with racy and spicy partial whole bunches and stem inclusion thrills on the medium bodied palate that shows a silky tannin structure and a crisp detailing of flavors with dark fruit, textural opulence and a heightened aromatic profile making for a wine will impress Burgundy lovers as well as cool climate new world enthusiasts, I know I was. The bouquet just jumps from the glass in this ruby/garnet hued Pinot with seeped rose petals, herbs and cinnamon seducing the senses before an impeccable unfolding of pure and energetic fruit layers in the mouth with bursts of crushed raspberries, strawberry, pomegranate and tart plum that are wrapped around a core of classic black cherry along with an echo of the nose with floral tones, mineral, cinnamon and briar spices, a touch of orange tea and soft wood accents. The stems add a lot of character in this wine with an edgy crunch and lift, bringing out the wine’s personality and keeps it from fading from your attention, this is an exceptionally fun and intriguing Aussie Pinot, especially for the price and it is perfectly happy with a variety of foods and cuisine pairings ranging from poultry and pork to salmon and or a mix of sea foods. I must say, I took a flyer on this wine, and was quite blown away with just how much I liked it and how it just got better and better as it opened up. I’ve had plenty of Australian Pinots, so I wasn’t surprised by the quality as there are lots of wonderful examples of this grape from down under, though I mostly have enjoyed Yarra and Mornington versions and even Tassie stuff, but after this one I will explore more from Adelaide Hills! The Sidewood Estate does four series of wines including a range, as mentioned, Champagne method bubbly, an Estate or basic set, a signature collection, like this one and a limited small lot lineup that highlights either special barrel cuvees or unique single clone, like their 777 clone Pinot or single vineyard wines.
The vineyard and vinification team at Sidewood used hand tended and picked grapes from selected and special parcels at this 300 acre property in the Hahndorf area to make this Pinot Noir which was crafted using mostly traditional artisan methods and a gentle touch in the cellar with minimal intervention in the winemaking process to allow the natural terroir influences to shine through. They chilled the freshly picked Pinot grapes for 24 hours and slowly cool fermented with partial whole cluster in what I believe were stainless steel vats to promote freshness and vibrancy in the wine before being aged on the fine lees for 10 months in mostly used French oak barrels which impart a subtle toast and creamy mouth feel while not overtly over shadowing the bright intensity of the fruit. This wine will most definitely appeal to the whole cluster fanatics out there, like me, and its perfume, expressive personality and lingering flavors will seduce most everyone, this is quality stuff. In recent years there has been a new generation movement towards less oaky and less jammy wines throughout Australia and a more savvy wine drinker that appreciate wines that show more delicacy and more transparency, which clearly shows in wines like this with its touch of raw earthiness and nice acidity. The Sidewood label was founded in 2004, so it is not an old winery by Australian standards, but owners Owen and Cassandra Inglis have put a lot of effort to make this estate one of the best in the Adelaide Hills region. They make about 50,000 cases per vintage from all estate grown fruit, with their own vineyard team led by Mark Vella and Peter McIntyre that farm a selection of micro climates set on a complex combination of soils. They actually grow an amazing array of different grapes including some rarities in the country like Tempranillo for their Rosé, as well as Semillon along with a collection of classics like Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Shiraz (Syrah), Chardonnay and Pinot Noir all which are carefully handcrafted under the direction of Sidewood’s winemaker Darryl Catlin, who, as this wine shows, looks to be a talented professional. This nicely balanced Sidewood Pinot, that delivers a good contrast of ripe fruit and savory elements and which came in at about 13% alcohol has really inspired me to look into more of Oz’s wine regions and experience a more diverse selection of the country’s wines.
($32 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2019 Martha Stoumen, Carignan, Venturi Vineyard, Mendocino County.
On a day when I was looking for normality and comfort, I reached for one of my new favorite California wines that recently has made my must have list, the Stoumen Carignan, which is absolutely enticing with a bright, but dark fruit freshness, low alcohol quaffability, spicy and crunchy personality. For my own personal drinking, without over thinking it or having to get too deep into wine geek mode I love wines like this, easy and full of natural purity with a lighter medium bodied palate, great to sip on and have with a casual meal, it is a wine that brings out smiles, laughter and eases the tension of the times we live in. Martha’s wines all show a raw sense of honesty and transparency with this latest 2019 Carignan delivering vibrant layers of crushed blackberry, tree picked plums, tart currant and Morello cherry fruits along with snappy briar notes, earth, dusty stones, cinnamon, sage (sort of like a California garrique) and dried lilac flowers. This red is distinctly weightless in feel, but still with a sense of structure and is soulfully rustic that reminds me of Corbieres, a region known for old vine Carignan in France’s Languedoc region, though Martha says she was more inspired to make a California wine that had the delight of a Cru Beaujolais, which I can also see clearly here. In the last few years we have seen some great examples of Carignan and or Carignan based reds, like this one, as well as those by Sandlands, Broc, Liocco, Sheldon, Ridge, Desire Lines Wine Co. and Pax, to name a few I highly recommend chasing down. Carignan, originally from the greater Mediterranean area and found in the mentioned Languedoc as well as in the Rhone Valley, eastern Spain, Sardinia and in the new world from Chile to Australia is a black grape that has long been here in California, where it is commonly found in old vine field blends, usually inter-planted with Zinfandel. The Stoumen Carignan is extremely flexible with food and provides endless charm to enjoy with almost any foods, but especially delicious with Spanish or Italian (hard) sheep cheeses, Pasta dishes as well as simple country fare and lightly spicy stuff.
Martha, herself maybe describing it best says of her old vine Carignan, that it has aromas of dried earth, chaparral, raspberry jam smeared on a stone and left to dry in the sun. Going on Martha adds that her Carignan maintains Venturi Vineyard’s distinct dusty tannin structure, but in a featherweight and savory way, in a style she adores. This wine comes from the Venturi Vineyard, which was originally planted just after WWII in 1948 on a particularly stony plot of land that is ancient River bed with gnarly head trained vines that are all organic and dry farmed with Stoumen herself helping hand tend her select parcels. This site, uniquely set inland and in Mendocino’s remote forested area gives warm ripeness and concentration, but the cool nights retain refreshing acidity, which Martha carefully nurtures to make a balanced, vivacious and vinous wine. With this wine Martha used all whole cluster in an open-top stainless steel tank, noting that she used a few bins of grapes were foot treaded to encourage the yeasts to get going and explains that to not extract to much harsh tannin a very gentle series of light punch downs. Stoumen employed 100% native yeast, as mentioned with mostly whole bunches for a long and cool fermentation with an extended maceration on the stems and skins to achieve her goals here, before it gets racked from a sealed tank (semi-carbonic) to neutral wood with the Carignan seeing an elevage of nine months in used French oak barrels. This wine, from these 70 year old vines, comes in at just 12% natural alcohol and saw extremely low sulphite, was bottled unfined and unfiltered, shows Stoumen’s attention to detail, her experience in old world winemaking, with stints in Sicily at COS and small estate vineyards in France that influenced her style and passion for wine, is part of a tidy collection of new releases from this small exciting winery that are drinking extremely well, I suggest checking them all out. Of these, I am fond of the Nero d’Avola, maybe Martha’s signature wine, the cool toned and re-imagined Zinfandel, the extended lees aged Negroamaro Rosato (Rosé) and this vivid Carignan, look for them.
($35 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2019 Desire Lines Wine Co., Riesling, Cole Ranch Vineyard and AVA, Mendocino County.
The stunning dry mineral driven Riesling from Cody Rasmussen at Desire Lines Wine Co. is one of California’s best example of this grape, especially this 2019 vintage, which is beautifully bright, intense and expressively pure with an array of racy citrus, white blossoms, tangy apricot, wet stones, tart green apple skins, peach pit and a hint of pear butter on the brisk and zingy light bodied palate. Everything is alive in this fabulous golden pale hued Riesling, energized by its natural acidity and powered by its dry extract this wine will impress Riesling fans everywhere and its presence in the glass is both impactful and elegant, this is a wine of sublime form and balance that adds zest herbs, verbena, clove and ginger spices along with a fine aromatic sense with a light floral perfume and a flinty leesy note. Desire Lines wine Co. is a small husband and wife micro winery in Sonoma, own by winemaker Cody Rasmussen, assistant winemaker at Morgan Twain-Peterson’s awesome Bedrock Wine Company, and his wife Emily Rasmussen, focused on an awesome set of red wines with two of the state’s best Syrah(s), one from the fabled Shake Ridge Ranch in Amador County and the other from the Petaluma Gap’s Griffin’s Lair, as well as an old vine Carignan blend, a powerful Mourvedre and a unique Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon, plus this not to be overlooked Dry Riesling. I’ve been a fan for a few vintages now and I like what I see and taste, this is a label you want to pay attention to, these wines are exceptional hand crafted and small lot efforts that are wonderfully complex and have incredible depth, and it must be noted, they are outrageous values too, I highly recommend getting on their mailing list as soon as possible, these wines are blowing up with enthusiasts, while still being maybe surprisingly a bit under the radar. Rasmussen’s time working with Morgan and Chris at Bedrock certainly shows in the fundamental structures and style in the Desire Lines Wine Co. bottlings, which is high praise, but they do offer Cody to chance to explore his own path and there is sense of this in his wines, especially these latest releases, it is a great time to explore them.
Cody has been working this special Cole Ranch site since 2016 and is himself a huge Riesling fan and loves this place and the quality of this cool climate vineyard really shines through in this 2019, as it did with a 2018, which was one of my favs of the year. Situated in a narrow valley, as Rasmussen notes, in the mountains between Boonville and Ukiah, the Cole Ranch is a monopole and a single-vineyard AVA, one of only a couple of sites in California, it comes with combination of complex California series of soils which transmits its terroir signature into the wine. The Riesling vines here, as Cody adds, were planted back in 1973 on St. George rootstock and are old school head-trained and dry-farmed, that means these old vines provide excellent concentration, moderate alcohol with full flavor development, as this brilliantly detailed wine displays in force. This 2019 Cole Ranch Riesling is joyfully playful and easy to quaff, but is also very serious stuff that goes great with a range of cuisines, very much like the best dry Rieslings of Alsace and Germany and reminds me somewhat of more intriguing examples of Aussie versions, like Jim Barry’s Lodge Riesling, Henschke, Polish Hill and Rolf Binder from the Eden and Clare Valleys as well as G. D. Vajra’s Riesling from Piedmonte Italy, another of my all time favorite Rieslings grown outside of France and Germany. It’s an exciting time for Riesling worldwide, but in particular in California and Oregon, which have in recent years really turned up the quality, with the wines of Desire Lines, Tatomer, Brooks, Joyce, Reeve, Morgan, Bedrock (Cody’s boss), Trisaetum, Stony Hill, Smith Madrone, Casa Nuestra and Cobb, to name a few, taking dry Riesling to the next level. This wine offers big time bang for the buck, and while its tiny production makes it difficult time find, you will be rewarded for your dogged pursuit in getting some. The 2018 and 2019 are similar, so be sure to grab either if you see them and of course don’t forget to score the Desire Lines wines along with these. I really put my money where my mouth was and bought a bunch for myself and opened this beauty last night with take away Sushi, and it was close to perfection as it gets and brought a heavenly lightness and soul refreshment to a mind burdened by the ongoing darkness of these times for which I am grateful for.
($22 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2019 Hundred Suns Wines, Syrah “Super Moon” Vidon Vineyard, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
Grant Coulter and Renée Saint-Amour’s Hundred Suns Wines, founded in 2015 and based in McMinnville, is a micro winery focused on Pinot Noir as you’d expect in the Willamette Valley, but they also produce some very interesting other wines including a fantastic Gamay, a Chablis like Chardonnay and even a Grenache and this Super Moon, which is lighter natural style whole cluster Syrah. This is a totally unique version of Syrah, a grape not known for its presence in the cool climate Willamette Valley and made in a gentle way as to allow for a transparent raw freshness of details that delivers a spicy, soft fruited, tangy, earthy and savory wine, but with an elegant quaffable personality. This wine was made from, what winemaker Grant Coulter, the Ex Beaux Freres man says, a warm Willamette Valley area, but in a more classically cool year that played a major role in how this delightful Super Moon Syrah turned out and making it a true reflection of time and place with vibrant layers of tangy pomegranate, juicy plum, crushed raspberry and dusty cherry fruits along with wild herbs, baked earth, leather, ground peppercorns, seeped flowers and fennel notes. The textural quality is more Pinot like than what you’d expect from a more tannic and meaty Syrah with a smooth structure behind the vibrancy of the fruit, the pulsating acidity and crunchy mineral tones, which are spotlighted by the whole bunches and the use of neutral barrels that didn’t impart any overt flavoring on the medium bodied palate. Grant and Renée believe this vintage has created a very singular wine and explain that a Super Moon is a rare and beautiful lunar event that occurs when the full moon coincides with the moon’s closest approach to Earth in its orbit, making the moon seem brighter and more close than usual. They add that Super Moon felt like an appropriate name for this wine, as its personality shows, that could only have come to being in this particular vintage.
The Hundred Suns Super Moon Syrah was sources from the Vidon Vineyard, which as mentioned is a warmer site for the Willamette Valley where Syrah can be grown and get ripe in most years, though it was right on the edge during this vintage. To achieve the goal for this wine It was fermented 100% whole cluster in a sealed tank, in a Beaujolais Cru style, for 12 days with native yeasts before Coulter opened the tank and then foot-stomped the Syrah clusters, with full stem inclusion one time before pressing it off to used or neutral French barrels for eight months. This unfined and unfiltered Super Moon Syrah came in at 12.8% natural alcohol, making for a subtle red wine that opens up nicely in the glass, but one that really needs some time and food to unfold and give its full potential. Hundred Suns has become one of my new favorites and I have been hugely impressed with the last three vintages and especially the latest set of Pinot Noir releases, including the awesome single vineyard 2018 Shea Vineyard Pinot Noir, the Sequitur Vineyard Pinot, from the legendary Beaux Freres founder Mike Etzel’s prized Ribbon Ridge estate and the stunning entry level Old Eight Cut Pinot, which is one of Oregon’s greatest values. The Vidon Vineyard, which was founded in 1999 by Don Hagge and Vicki Lewis, but is now owned and managed by Dru and Erin Allen, is planted to Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Viognier, Syrah, and Tempranillo, is in the Newberg area of the in the Chehalem Mountains AVA and set on complex series of soils witch is lead by the classic the red Jory mineral rich volcanic/basalt based soils. This Super Moon has a distinctive profile, that is interestingly like a Georgian Saperavi or a Mondeuse from the Savoie, the Alpine region of France close to the Swiss border, that is rather different than most Syrah(s) which are usually much darker and densely rich. With air this garnet ruby colored wine loses some of its edgy and taut angular sharpness, it certainly grew on me over a few hours, but again it benefits greatly with protein heavy cuisine and or hard cheeses.
($30 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2018 Cameron Winery, Pinot Noir, Ribbon Ridge AVA, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
The incredibly dark 2018 Ribbon Ridge Pinot is a thrilling wine with gorgeous fruit and complexity with a silky mouth feel, but firmly layered with great balance and structure showing loads of black cherry, vine picked wild berries and crushed violets along with delicate smoky notes. This 2018 is exceptional from start to finish adding mineral elements and a stony/savory contrast to the beautifully pure Pinot fruit. This wine really makes an impact on the medium bodied palate and is an outrageous value, it drinks fabulous now and is very likely only going to get better with a few more years in bottle. The Ribbon Ridge, is very different from his Dundee Hills version, showing its terroir and darker fruit profile, which is provided by the appellation’s Marine Sedimentary soils. The grapes for this wine are sourced from two sites, the Foster Farms Vineyard and the Armstrong Vineyard, grown without irrigation as Paul believes it is crucial for concentration and full flavor development, with both vineyards farmed with sustainable methods and highlight the Ribbon Ridge AVA’s characteristics. John Paul explains, that fruit from Ribbon Ridge is always intense, deeply hued, perfumed with loads of sexy black fruit, making the wines, like this one, bold and with a gripping personality. I absolutely love this vintage, its power and elegance reminds me of some of my favorite Cote de Nuits, Burgundy fans will love this stuff, especially those that go for Vosne-Romanee.
The winemaking at Cameron is traditional Burgundy in style with John Paul crafting his wines with native yeasts used for primary fermentation(s) and long elevage(s), usually between 18 and 20 months (or more) in barrique, that are seasoned with a couple of fills. Paul is very particular about his oak and his choice of barrels, saying it is crucial to the quality of the final product to have the right selection of wood. Paul also notes, that for both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, he usually selects his favorite artisan barrels that from a cooper he discovered while in Burgundy, who lives in the village of Saint Romain in Burgundy. His barrel maker Claude Gillet, together with his children and several master coopers turn out some of the most distinct barriques Paul has ever seen and Claude and his son, Laurent, often visit Joh Paul to taste the wines in barrel and make their recommendations for choice of forest, toast level and all of the other minutia that go into making an oak barrel flatters Cameron’s style. As mentioned in prior reviews, Paul believes that barrels reach their perfection only after a couple vintages, so prefers to use used wood that has at least two or three fills which allows his wine to show their true depth and detail without overt oak influence. As this 2018 opens it sheds a slightly reductive (truffle) earthiness allowing the floral dimension to be a lovely focal point and the density of fruit to shine, it is a wine that benefits from matching cuisine and patience, a slow meal will bring out the best in this seductive Pinot. What a bargain, there are very few Pinots that reach this level of quality for the price, I highly recommend stocking up on these Cameron 2018s.
($30 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2018 Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona, Rosso di Montalcino DOC, Tuscany, Italy.
Always a wine I search out for its pedigree and value, this Rosso di Montalcino (baby Brunello) comes from classic Sangiovese Grosso grapes with vines in some of this famous estate’s prime parcels, and this 2018 is lively and delicious with exceptional purity and rich detail. The 2018 may not be as fantastic as the other worldly 2016, but it is not far off and is much more flexible and quaffable in style with a bit more acidity and as it opens it gains another level making it very compelling with a nice and full range of flavors you expect from this producer. The palate starts brightly with very subtle floral notes, a hint of spice and toasted cedar on the nose and echoed in the mouth along with blackberry, plum, maceration cherries and earthy mulberry fruits that are accented by dried potpourri, candied orange rind, minty herb and anise. As this Ciacci Rosso gets going with time and air it reveals itself with splendid clarity gaining a touch of toffee and sweet pipe tobacco as well as delivering more textural presence making this wine much more interesting and really exciting with food. The dark garnet core and orange/ruby edged Rosso di Montalcino, which comes from organic grapes, has many charms and its medium/full body gives it some serious impact, especially for the price this vintage is a wine that over delivers and great for anytime drinking with without wallet draining guilt, it’s a Sangiovese lovers bargain.
This Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona Rosso di Montalcino was made, as per DOC rules, from 100% Sangiovese from the Brunello Castelnuovo dell’Abate zone set at elevations between 180-360 meters above sea level with mineral-rich marly soils witch is complex with some limestone and volcanic sub structures adding to the terroir influence with good sun exposure. The primary fermentation of the carefully sorted and all de-stemmed berries is in a combination of stainless steel and cement tanks with a gentle maceration or extraction before being rested in large Slavonian oak casks for about a year to soften the tannins and allows for immediate pleasure on release. The Ciacci Piccolomini winery is run by Paolo and Lucia Bianchini, brother and sister, who’s family inherited this highly regarded property in 1985, they took over from their late father Giuseppe in 2004 and they have not just continued the traditions here, but have raised the quality level to even greater heights, especially with their top Brunello di Montalcino bottlings that are some of the most prized in the region. Ciacci has mainly Sangiovese in their elite vineyards of course, but they also have plantings of Syrah, Cabernet, and Merlot that go into Bianchini’s other wines, including their Super Tuscan “Ateo” and their IGT Toscana Rosso, with those last two wines also being fabulous bangs for the buck, plus the 100% Syrah Fabius, which I hope to try. There is a lot to love from Ciacci Piccolomini d’Aragona and the coming soon 2016 Brunello(s) look to be legendary, so it is an awesome time to explore this lineup. I am big fan of these Ciacci wines and they really bring out a desire to re-visit Tuscany, especially the historic Montalcino area, as soon as possible!
($20 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2018 Matt Connell Wines, Pinot Noir “Rendition” Artist Label Series, Central Otago, New Zealand.
The 2018 Rendition Central Otago Pinot Noir by Matt Connell is rich and layered wine that thrills the palate with a deep ruby color and slightly smoky nose that leads to an array of fleshy black cherry, plum, raspberry and blueberry fruits along with hint not orange tea, saline, sweet herbs and a polished, almost luxurious, silken mouth feel, making it very impressive and pleasing stuff. The label based on a piece by New Zealand’s version of Banksy, the street artist “Component” that Connell felt succinctly or abstractly captured the (purity) of elements that make up Central Otago’s intriguing and beautiful remote landscape. Central Otago, a wine region that is like no other in the world and an area well known for its unique Pinot Noir terroir, it is often considered the Burgundy of the Southern hemisphere. This is my first experience with Matt Connell’s wines and I am very impressed, this is an exciting, well structured and high quality effort that interesting details that reminds me of wines from the Sonoma Coast or Anderson Valley with its dark flavor profile and depth with moderate alcohol and slate driven Spatburgunder(s), like those made by August Kesseler and or recent vintages of Meyer-Nakel, both of which are fantastic Pinots. While the 2018 is now end of vintage, I see the 2019 has hit the market and I look forward to getting some of that too, such is my delight with this under the radar Kiwi Pinot and the reasonable price, you could do a lot worse than this well made and complex wine. The diverse and mineral rich soils of Central Otago give the wines here their personality and are influenced by the Southern Alps mountain range, which creates the exceptional cool climate conditions to produce great Pinot grapes.
There’s a lot to discover from New Zealand’s south island wine regions, especially here in Central Otago, a place of incredible rugged beauty and while mostly known world wide for the excellent Pinot Noirs found here there is an amazing subculture of other varietals that do well here from Gruner Veltliner to Gamay Noir as well as Riesling and Chardonnay. This Matt Connell Rendition Pinot was made using sustainable grapes grown in the Lowburn and Bendigo subzones using clean and minimal intervention, in other words Connell has a light touch, while allowing the wine to be opulent in flavor, but with a nice cut of natural acidity and without the overt use of new oak. The Matt Connell Wines label was established in time for Vintage 2016 and was instantly a hit with the locals and in his second vintage, 2017, Matt scored a trophy at the prestigious New Zealand International Wine Show for his Pinot Noir, though digging into his wines I see he makes what he calls a Viognier Rosé and a Single site Chardonnay from Lowburn, which also looks like worth a try too. Matt Connell, who has 20 years of winemaking in his background with some great winemakers helping him along the way from Sue Hodder at Wynns Coonawarra Estate and Adam Godley Campbell at Elk Cove vineyards in Oregon to Michele Richardson the Ex head winemaker at New Zealand’s Villa Maria and he now with his wife Beth, who is focused on winery business, have set their own path and produce a tight set of artisan wines, like this delicious Rendition Pinot, that display a sense of place. Limited availability in the States, this fruit forward and graceful Pinot also goes great with food and will age well, though very rewarding now. Connell’s efforts, have as noted, caught on with a nice medal haul in recent years with a Gold Medal on this 2018 and a Double Gold for the just released 2019 version, again, making me think I need to invest in a few bottles soon.
($30 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
n.v. Moussé Fils “L’Or d’Eugene Perpétuelle” Blanc de Noirs, Brut Champagne, France.
Happy New Year! The best way to finish off such a difficult and dark year is to celebrate life and small mercies, which I did with this gorgeous grower fizz by the sublimely talented Cedric Mousse, who’s Champagnes are under the radar masterpieces with incredible depth and terroir intensity, like his multi vintage L’Or d’Eugene Perpétuelle Blanc de Noirs. This deep Champagne Mousse Fils L’Or d’Eugene Perpétuelle Brut Blanc de Noirs, which was disgorged with low sugar (4 Grams per Liter) on 11/18/2019 and was crafted from a perpetual selection of reserve wine that started with 2003 that gives this bottling its fabulous range of flavors and complexity, it has a cepage of 80% Meunier and 20% Pinot Noir that gives a rich and structured palate. This L’Or d’Eugene Perpétuelle handed the evening with a flourish, going wonderful with everything I was doing, drinking great as a aperitif by the warm fire and still being a graceful partner with spicy curried shrimp over fettuccini pasta. This bubbly performed with serious quality and character with a rewarding layers of lemony citrus, apple and nectarine fruits along with hazelnut, clove, wet stones, leesy/yeasty brioche and an underlying mineral current in a dry and vivid Meunier driven medium bodied palate. With air and food the delicate aromatic detail comes alive, the refined mousse adding a sense of luxurious class with a compelling white flower element and the mouth feel takes this Champagne to the next level. The maturity that the reserve component brings adds to the thrill of this seductive and rewarding Blanc de Noirs that showcases Mousse’s skills in blending his cuvees, which all have their own personalities and are vibrantly soulful in the glass, these are some of the best Champagnes for the money you can find.
I’ve been following the Mousse Fils Champagnes for a few years now after being turned on them by importer Terry Theise and his team at one of his fabled grower producer trade tastings and these hand crafted efforts really impressed me, especially the Meunier based versions, like this one, and Cedric’s awesome Special Club Brut and 100% Meunier Brut Rosé (the first all Meunier Rosé being accepted in a Special Club bottling) along with the vintage dated Terre d’Illite Brut, which also an exceptional value. Mousse, who’s family goes back in 1750 in the region, was established as a Champagne house in 1923, which uses all organic grapes, is based in the Vallée de la Marne area with its unique soils that include a mineral rich schist subsoil under the classic clay. Mousse relies on Meunier, a grape that is now very much in fashion, even though Meunier (or Pinot Meunier if you like) has struggled until recently to be taken seriously in Champagne, but, as the winery notes, at Moussé the Pinot Meunier is celebrated. Cedric has 80% of his vines planted to Meunier with 16% Pinot Noir and just 4% of Chardonnay all of which are carefully farmed by hand using holistic viticulture methods that leads to a more expressive finished product here. Cedric, who’s modern cellars are powered by mainly solar panels, is trying to minimize the estate’s carbon footprint and make the production as environment friendly as possible and his wines are almost all exclusively stainless steel fermented and aged with extended lees contact for two years and see full malolactic conversion for opulence, while still being lively and laser focused. This limited offering, that saw 50% of latest vintage blended with 50% of the reserve selection with the original base, as noted, from 2003 to 2017 and is sourced from distinct parcels in Cuisles, Jonquery, Olizy and Châtillon-sur-Marne where Meunier really thrives.
($45 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive