New Reviews

Grapelive.com Reviews – September, 2021

2019 Pax Wines, Pineau d’Aunis, Bearg Ranch, Fountaingrove AVA, Sonoma County.
One of the rarest red wines in California, this carbonic and spicy lighter red wine is Pax’s super geeky and limited Pineau d’Aunis, a light skinned red grape found in the Loire Valley, mostly around Touraine and Anjou, which is mainly used in blends and in the region’s Rosés. Those that love the Jura and Beaujolais will go crazy for this juicy medium bodied wine that shows a crunch of whole cluster, racy red berries, a touch of wild flowers and peppery spices with brambly raspberry, tangy plum, strawberry and a pop of orange/peach as well as cinnamon, basil, anise and a delicate earthiness that adds a nice bit of umami. Best to enjoy this one with a nice chill and friends, it is a fun, low alcohol and no pretense wine that should provide smiles and pleasure for a year or so. Pax also recently released a wine called Dazed & Carbonic, that is a crazy blend of co-fermented Syrah, Viognier 70% and 30% whole cluster, carbonic Trousseau Gris, as well as a 100% Trousseau Noir and a new dry Rosé called Roggae Rosé that is a blend of whole cluster Gamay and Pinot Noir, all of which are small lot whole cluster/carbonic fermented in tank with natural methods, being a short elevage in vat or neutral French oak.

Pax, known for incredible Syrah bottlings, in recent years has developed a fun lineup of rarities and natural style wines including Gamay, as well as old California favorites made from Mission and Charbono, along with the Jura and Savoie, Alpine inspired wines like Trousseau and Mondeuse. This new Pineau d’Aunis joins this geeky group and it is a quaffable addition that unique set, though it will not be easy to find as so little was made, but it is worth the search. Pax’s collection of unique quaffers are offered first to their wine club and I recommend joining, because these wines are so fun and very affordable. Pineau d’Aunis, which is also known as Chenin Noir, is an ancient Loire Valley grape that was much more widely planted and celebrate in the past, in fact it was hugely popular as far back as 1246, when it became a favorite of King Henry the Third of England, though it has become a rare varietal in modern times and is more of a curiosity these days. Pineau d’Aunis, as mentioned gets called Chenin Noir, however in DNA testing it has been confirmed that Pineau d’Aunis is not in fact related at all with Chenin Blanc, nor is it related to Pinot Noir, which it sometimes gets confused with. This bright ruby colored Pax Pineau d’Aunis is likely the only version of this grape in California and is set on the volcanic gravelly soils of the Bearg Ranch near Healdsburg, where Pax has his tiny plots of Gamay, Trousseau and Mondeuse.
($38 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2019 Domaine Huet, Vouvray Sec, Le Mont, Loire Valley, France.
One of France’s iconic wines, Domaine Huet Vouvray is always a treat when finds its way into your glass, and for me, especially the dry Sec style, like this gorgeously pure and crystalline Le Mont cru bottling that shows just how delicious these wines can be with fresh and vivid wild peach, melon, crisp apple and lemony fruits that shine with wet stone, steely mineral tones along with un-sweeten honeycomb, clove and a hint of herbs. The 2019 vintage looks set to be a classic with great fruit intensity, vivacious natural acidity and that cool chalk note from the prime terroir that this Le Mont vineyard site sits on, in the best of the Vouvray zone in this tranquil Loire Valley region that allowed both generations of Huet’s to overcome their war scares and produce some of the most beautiful Chenin Blancs ever produced. This wine, one of the last made under Jean-Bernard Berthomé, Gaston Huet’s long serving winemaker and cellar master, really captures the essence of this winery, the place and the history here. The Le Mont, is easy to spot as Huet, it couldn’t be anything else and I love the fine and dry detailing on this vintage, even though it can age, it is absolutely lovely young and fresh, proving itself an outstanding companion to sea food and or cheese. I have been lucky enough to taste through the full collection of Huet and more than a few occasions and while I gravitate to these drier style wines, there is a real thrill to try the fabled Cuvée Constance, a heaven late harvest Chenin that rivals the illustrious Chateau D’Yquem! This brilliant and saline infused Le Mont Sec saw a temperature-controlled fermentation in large, old oak demi-muids as well as stainless steel vats, with only partial lots going through malos, depending the vintage, and the wine was then blended and raised just under a year in the bigger format demi-muids.

Domaine Huet, originally founded back in 1928, is an iconic estate and Vouvray producer, it is renown for some of the world’s most compelling Chenin Blanc bottlings ever put in bottle with a complete range of styles, including some of the longest-lived off-dry and sweet versions, as well as brisk natured bone dry bottlings, like this gorgeous Le Mont Sec, that is always one of my favorites in the lineup. Domaine Huet was formed when Victor Huet purchased the” Le Haut Lieu” vineyard and started producing some of the greatest wines in France before the estate expanded in the mid-1950s, when the legendary Gaston, Victor’s son, added vineyards on the Première Côte, with this Le Mont site, with less clay and more stone, being purchased in 1957 and famed Clos du Bourg, which took a little longer to acquire, finally being added to the portfolio in 1963 after being farmed by Huet for a decade. Gaston Huet, who took Huet to new heights, was an early convert to biodynamics and became fully bio in 1990 and certified completely in 1993 with top enologist Jean-Bernard Berthomé leading the winemaker from 1979 to 2019, when he finally retired and turned the cellar over to his protégé Benjamin Joliveau, a Vouvray native who worked hand-in-hand with Jean-Bernard for the last decade, starting in 2009. This transition looks be be seamless and traditions under the American (brother and sister) pair of Sarah and Hugo Hwang looks secure and quality in the last 20 years since I started following has only gone up, if possible! Like I mentioned above I have had lots of experience with Huet, including some 50 plus year old cellar direct bottlings and I can tell you these 2019s are the real deal, and this Le Mont Sec is an insane value for the quality it displays. The 2019s look to have a long life ahead, they have brisk and youthful tightness, but the underlying concentration and ripeness, at 13.5%, bodes well for those that want to cellar them, these are as good as I’ve ever tasted from Huet at this stage.
($40 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2017 Ridge Vineyards, Zinfandel, Pagani Ranch, Sonoma Valley.
The 2017 Pagani Ranch Zinfandel, made from 84% Zinfandel, 7% Petite Sirah and 7% Alicante Bouschet, is incredibly dark and purple hued in the glass with enticing aromas of crushed berries, seeped flowers, chocolate and brambly spices, all of which are echoed richly on the full bodied and supple palate that fills the mouth with black raspberries, sweet plum, creme de cassis, sandalwood, Turkish fig, sticky lavender and mocha notes. The historic Pagani Ranch was originally planted in the traditional way with interplanted black grapes and saw the main plantings beginning in the early part of the 20th century with many old zin vines being well over a hundred years old, which shows in the beautiful concentration and depth in this outstanding and classic Zin blend from Ridge, one of America’s greatest wineries. Like Lytton Springs, in Dry Creek, there is a good dose of Alicante Bouschet here, which acts like a secret sauce here and adds to magic, while the Petite Sirah adds color, chocolate and a bit of a backbone to this hedonistic vintage. Probably the last pick in Ridge’s Zin collection of vineyards, the Pagani, originally planted back in 1895, is always lush in texture, but still brightly focused with good natural acidity even in what would be considered a warm year, adding to the overall charm and balance, this wine should age well for another decade or more. These Ridge Zin based reds are pure California wines, bringing out the best of what the state has to offer and go great with our varied cuisine, though they are especially good with BBQ and or Mediterranean and Middle Eastern dishes.

Angela and Felice Pagani came from Italy to Sonoma Valley in the late 1880s and purchased the ranch that now bears their name and is run by Felice’s granddaughter, Norma Pagani Amantite and her son Dino, who are carrying on the family’s heritage and traditions. Ridge has been making Pagani Zinfandel since 1991 and this vineyard on the western side of Sonoma Valley continues to be a star in their stellar offerings of Sonoma vineyard sites. The majority of the vineyard, set on Haire clay loams with a tiny amount of red soils, was planted ninety to one hundred twenty years ago, surviving though as Ridge notes, a few portions of it were replanted between 2013 and 2018, including many of Ridge’s sections. The hand harvested grapes were 100% de-stemmed and crushed with only native yeasts for a natural primary and natural malolactic fermentations, as the winery continues, the must was pumped over a floating cap and pressed at about nine days, enough time to go dry and extract the wine’s intense color then it was racked to 100% air-dried American oak barrels. The Ridge Pagani usually sees close to 15% new, 15% one-year-old, 20% two-year-old, 20% three-year-old,15% four-year-old, and 15% five-year-old wood with an elevage lasting fourteen months in the barrel before bottling. Ridge employs a low SO2 regime on all their wines to preserve the fresh fruit and keep the natural nuance of each vineyard site, with just enough new oak to provide a sense of refined elegance and luxuriousness, in this case, it shows to be well judged and subtly gives a smoky toastiness. While I loved the 2018s, this 2017, which maybe surprisingly has slightly lower alcohol, is showing extremely well and is full of pleasure.
($35 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2019 Dirty & Rowdy, MSG, Red Rhone Blend, Chalone AVA, Monterey County.
It was a sad day last week when I found out that Dirty & Rowdy family wines was being dissolved, as I had really grown to love these wines, especially their awesome Chateauneuf du Pape inspired MSG Rhone style red, made from Chalone grapes coming off this chalky limestone and decomposed granite soil region in the Galbilan mountain range, and their selection of Mourvedre based offerings, as well as their super rare Barbera from Mendocino. I sulked around a few days, wondering what I would say about this and what wine of theirs would I open to begin the process of acceptance, then I got word that there might be a phoenix rising from the Dirty & Rowdy ashes and I perked right up, with the help of this gorgeous 40% Mourvedre, 40% Syrah and 20% Grenache blend. The King is Dead, Long Live the King, or something to that effect, as I have confirmed the half of the Dirty & Rowdy family is going to introduce a new label, with Hardy Wallace announcing that he has created the ‘Extradimensional Wine Co. Yeah!’ label and will carry on the traditions started with Dirty & Rowdy while striving to take it up a notch or two. While absorbing this good news, I cherished this, my last bottle of the MSG and rocked out to its pleasures in the glass with its deep purple/garnet color and heady mix of dark fruits, bright savory stem induced umami crunch and its lush textural quality. These wines always show a seductive raw sex appeal and earthy transparency that find irresistible with this 2019 giving a fantastic performance, equaling the experiences I had with the stunning 2018 version with dense layering of fruit, but with fresh and lively detailing that highlight the vintage’s outstanding quality, especially here on the central coast, with black raspberry, plum, pomegranate and creme de cassis leading the way with hints of lavender, pepper, chalky stones, minty herbs and a touch of welcome funk.

This Dirty & Rowdy label was founded by friends Hardy Wallace and Matt Richardson, and Dirty & Rowdy’s original mission was to create ‘untinkered with wines’ from vineyards all over California, which was certainly accomplished with hard work, humor and a force of will. To quote Dirty & Rowdy’s Hardy Wallace “We don’t make wine by numbers, recipes, or additions, but we aren’t zealots … unless we’re talking about that spicy fried chicken” meaning these wines were made from carefully hand picked grapes, sourced from organic vines and allowed to ferment naturally with old school non interventional methods with indigenous yeasts, foot trodding and lots of whole cluster. Extra attention was paid to picking dates and phonetic ripeness, which in the case of this MSG, really paid off with incredible depth, aromatics and the delightfully low natural alcohol, that come in at a near perfect 13.5%, making for an expressive and thoughtfully balanced wine that still has a serious and powerful impact. Only a few barrels were made of the 2019 ‘MSG’ (Mourvedre, Syrah, and Grenache) that was fermented with 100% whole bunches and then aged in well seasoned or neutral French oak. I must note, I spied on Hardy’s Instagram account he got some amazing Chalone Grenache this year and I cannot wait to see what he does with it and I highly recommend getting on his and wife Kate Graham’s new list at Extradimensional Wine Co. Yeah! Sadly, the drought has affected some of my favorite northern California sites and Wallace confided to me that the Barbera didn’t make it to harvest this year, but he told me he got some awesome old vine Carignane and will do a special bottling, and I’ve all over that! This cool toned MSG, with its rocking Live Monterey County label that reminds me of a Kiss meets Monte Python scene, is a delicious Rhone red, that adds hints kirsch, tartare, dried flowers and anise with air, that is best served with friends and hearty foods. Dirty & Rowdy will be missed, but I’m thrilled to see Hardy’s next adventure, which I am sure will be a massive hit!
($42 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2020 Jolie-Laide, Melon de Bourgogne, Rodnick Vineyard, Chalone AVA, Monterey County.
This 2020 Jolie-Laide Melon de Bourgogne is a bright and vibrant white wine with beautiful tension and mineral charm, it shows a touch of peach, honeydew and green apple to go along with a zesty citrus blast in a refreshing and bone dry lighter framed wine that shows clean and finely focused detailing, making it natural companion to briny sea food dishes. This vintage was crafted with restraint and is less leesy relying on its steely nature to entertain and it does just that with a subtle roundness emerging with time and air in the glass in this ultra pale wine that showed really well in a recent blind Loire Valley varietal tasting and did exceptionally as a pairing with Pico, a soft goat Brie like cheese. The Jolie-Laide Melon adds touches of tangy herb, delicate white flowers, saline infused sea shells and wet stones, giving it a brisk and un-fruity personality, while still confidently pleasing overall and having a good balance. Winemaker Scott Schultz, who has worked for Pax Mahle for many years, is one of the rising stars in California and his Jolie-Laide lineup continues to impress, especially his Halcon Vineyard Syrah, his Trousseau, Cabernet Pfeffer and Gamay blend, the solo Gamay, the Shake Ridge Rhone Blend and this one.

The Melon de Bourgogne or Melon grape is a variety of white grape grown primarily in the Loire Valley region of France and most famously in the Muscadet region, though, while rare It is also found in North America, especially now in Oregon where it started to take off in around 2007, but it has been here in California longer, much longer in fact than we originally knew. Recent DNA testing has shown that plantings here in the Chalone AVA that have been called Pinot Blanc since the 1970s turned out to be Melon! Here in Scott Schultz’s Melon de Bourgogne, the grapes come from the chalky soils of Chalone and the organic Rodnick Vineyard, one of the sites that was used in the classic Chalone Estate wines made by Dick Graff and Phil Woodward. Jolie-Laide’s winemaking is low intervention and natural using whole cluster pressing, cement and neutral wood with some skin contact in the whites, though this one seems less so than other vintages that I’ve tried. Melon, like Picpoul, Vermentino and Albarino is finding a welcoming home in Monterey County, after discovering it had been here quite awhile, and this one, perfect for oysters, is really worth searching out. Jolie-Laide’s new Fall releases are about to drop and I’m excited to see what is coming out, it is a great time to join this mailing list, these wines are incredibly impressive small lot wines, not to be missed.
($26 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2013 Casa Nuestra, Cabernet Franc, Estate Bottled, Napa Valley.
The 2013 Casa Nuestra Cabernet Franc is a beautiful and uniquely Napa version of this grape, as it is neither Loire or Bordeaux like in style, though hints of both of those regions certainly make brief appearances in the background with a touch of earthy bell pepper, chalky mineral and ripe fruit kissed by sweet toasty oak notes. I have been a long time fan of this winery and try to drop by this rustic and friendly site off the Silverado Trail between St. Helena and Calistoga, and I always try to pry loose some of their prized Chenin Blanc, as well as the Cab Franc, the dry Riesling and the St. Helena Tinto field blend. Owner Gene Kirkham, a fan and promoter of civil rights and folk music, was so committed to his Loire Valley varietals and such was the quality, the French honored him with a celebration in Chinon, the classic region known for Cabernet Franc and Chenin Blanc. Casa Nuestra’s Cabernet Franc, which the winery notes, is one of the longest running single varietal Cabernet Franc programs in the country and is one of Napa’s best kept secrets with a dark purple/crimson color in the glass and a heightened bouquet of florals and baking spices along with a full bodied palate of blackberry, cherry, plum and currant fruits all fitting together nicely with the notes mentioned above echoing on and on along with a touch of dried herbs, cedar, toasted coconut and coco powder. This wine feels excellent and has plenty of structure and depth, while softening with age as it comes into a mature drinking period and will be sublime with seared duck breast and raspberry reduction and or simple meat dishes as well as hard cheeses. The family traditions continue here at Casa Nuestra with Hannah Kirkham, who is the director of guest service and the wine club manager here, keeping everything running smoothly. Casa Nuestra in recent years has attracted the attentions of Tegan Passalacqua, the famous winemaker and vineyard manager at Turley Wine Cellars, who has bought fruit for both Turley, that do a special friend blend bottling and for his own Sandlands label, doing a limited Casa Nuestra dry Chenin!

Casa Nuestra was founded as a winery by Gene Kirkham back in 1979, even though the Kirkham family previously bought a vineyard in Oakville, one of the first hillside plots there in 1956, which was an old style vineyard that was planted to “blacks” or a mix of red grapes, that we a heritage field blend site these days. The Oakville vineyard produced a distinct and singular wine and became an almost cult hit, way back before we had those, it had Charbono, Mourvedre, Petite Sirah, Carignane, Pinot Noir, Rofosco, Alicante Bouschet, Napa Gamay (Valdiguie), Negrette and in fact a tiny bit of Gray Riesling, also known as Trousseau Gris and maybe more all mixed through out the vineyard and these grapes were all blended in.These wines went out of fashion in the 1980s and most growers ended up ripping up most of their vines and replanted them to a single varietal, mainly Cabernet Sauvignon, or to Chardonnay as well as Merlot, but the Kirkham’s understood the old style field blend was going to be lost here in California if nothing was done to protect them, so he kept them and then in 1994 grafted many of their original vine cuttings to his St. Helena property, where the winery sits to keep this precious heritage going. Casa Nuestra is mostly coveted for their dry Chenin Blanc, dry Riesling and this Cabernet Franc all of which sell out fast to their wine club and direct to consumer program, as none of their wines are available outside of the winery. All the vines the winery uses are organic and farmed to low natural yields to give the truest sense of the terroir and concentration in the grapes, and the winemaking as reflects a kinder and more gentle approach as well. In the winery they take great care in the handling of the grapes and use old traditional methods, like employing small basket presses and special low impact pumps, then they use the best suited oak from both France and America to age the wine, depending on the varietal. If you want to taste Napa’s history and visit a more down to earth old homestead, rather than the modern almost palace like estates, this is a place to discover and I highly recommend getting on their mailing list and club to get the rarities, and this Cab Franc.
($50 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2001 Chateau Tour Grise, Saumur Puy Notre Dame “Les Vigneux” Loire Valley, France.
The absolutely stunning and pure 2001 Les Vigneux, a special cellar direct release from the famous and highly regarded Chateau Tour Grice that has since transitioned into new ownership and are now made under the Domaine L’Austral label, with the former owners Philippe and Françoise Gourdon retiring, but not before crafting some of their best wines and hand picking their successors to continue the traditions here. The deep garnet/red colored Les Vigneux is a beauty in the glass with a surprisingly fresh nose and vibrant palate that shows a bouquet of earthy violets, green spices, chalky stones and wild berry notes before a firmly structured and mineral toned mouthful of blackberry, mulberry, cranberry and dusty cherry fruits with a hint of plum, sandalwood, cedar, bell pepper, flinty spice and saline infused black licorice. This wine perfectly captures its terroir and still has incredible youthful fruit for a twenty year old wine and delivers a sublime Cabernet Franc performance, proving the age worthiness and divine character of this grape. The Les Vigneux is a small single parcel in Saumur that is set on classic Silex limestone soils and is one of the most prized sites in the region and of Tour Grise, which obtained full biodynamic certification back in 1998, this wine clearly shows this fabulous vineyard at its very best and it far exceeded my expectations, I only wish I had bought a lot more!

La Tour Grise estate, which is only a total of 20 Hectares, was one of the first generations of biodynamic converts in the Loire Valley along with the more well known Nicolas Joly and a few others, Philippe Gourdon founded this domaine in 1990 and got biodynamic certified in the following years as noted. These wines are a true reflection of the commitment and passion of these pioneers, with Philippe farming his own single plot in Saumur with hand cared for love and hard work. I have really enjoyed the Chateau Tour Grise and the L’Austral wines in the past, especially the rare Tour Grise Brut sparkler and these single vineyard Cab Francs, as well as their light and juicy Chenin Noir (Pineau d’Aunis). This Cabernet Franc a deep and authentic wine of glorious natural detail and complexity with purity of form and place. The Chateau Tour Grise wines were naturally vinified, with long macerations and indigenous yeasts and aged in the estate’s historic underground troglodyte cellar that was cut from the natural limestone for which the Saumur AOC is famous for and for which gives the Cabernet Franc and Chenin Blanc grown here their striking characteristics. The new owners, Pauline Mourrain and Laurent Traubat have faithfully made their own wines, as mentioned above under the L’Austral label, and employ many of the same methods that the Gourdon’s used, though in recent years have taken things to the next level, so it will be well worth following this winery that use a combination of cement and used French oak to age these wines. This 2001 Chateau Tour Grise Cab Franc was cellar aged in bottle and was just re-released in a special limited offering from importer, Floraison Selections, and is a steal, especially for Loire enthusiasts and savvy collectors.
($30 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2019 Domaine Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey, Santenay Premier Cru Rouge, Les Gravieres, Red Burgundy, France.
The super young and fresh PYCM Santenay Rouge Les Gravieres Premier Cru starts with a flash of rectuctive funk, but blows off quickly to reveal a gorgeous dark fruited Pinot Noir that, after fully opening, way out performs for the price point, making for a stellar red Burgundy value from a top performing producer, that while best known for his whites, does a fantastic job with his red grapes. The deep and floral palate will have you thinking this was a Cote de Nuits, maybe a Vosne-Romanee or Morey-St.-Denis with a more blue tone to the fruit and violets on the nose, rather than the Cote de Beaune, but shows just how good things are getting in these parts, especially in St. Aubin and Santenay. As mentioned this 2019 vintage is full of blue fruit and black cherry with tangy currant and purple plum showing up on the racy, tension filled, medium bodied palate that fills out with air adding a silken roundness with time in the glass, giving hints of earth, baking spices, orange tea and a kiss of toast wood, along with the partial whole bunch pop or crunch of wild herbs, cinnamon, pomegranate and a cool mineral tone. Most of the higher end Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey wines are way beyond my budget, but I am a huge fan and have been lucky enough to have tasting with him on a few occasions and have found my sweet spot in his lineup with a few of his under the radar bottlings, which not only can I afford, are absolutely awesome bottles, like this one, along with the whites from Rully and Pernand-Vergelesses that offer tremendous value at the money they fetch. In particular I admire and love the Rully Blanc “Le Cailloux”, that s a wine that could easily be mistaken for a Chassagne-Montrachet, which great as I can not aford his Chassagne anymore!

One of Burgundy’s biggest stars, Pierre-Yves Colin is the eldest son of the famed Chassagne winemaker Marc Colin, has gained international stardom in the last decade or so, especially for his Cote de Buane whites from a fabulous set of vines throughout this southern zone, and is heralded for his incredible and mineral intense Chardonnays. After working as the winemaker at his father’s domaine from 1994 to 2005, he established his own domaine, Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey after he married into the famous Morey family, from plots of vines he inherited from his family. Since that time, he has rapidly become, as it has been widely reported, a star in the Cote de Beaune and is now considered one of Burgundy’s top producers, along with the new generations at Coche, Jobard and Roulot. Now working alongside his wife Caroline, who has begun bottling mostly reds under her own label, Pierre-Yves own reds have seemingly got even better, which I doubt is a just by chance, as Caroline has proven to be very gifted in her own right. The Premier Cru “Gravieres” is on the Chassagne side of Santenay, as the winery notes, directly adjacent to 1er “Clos de Tavannes”, which is generally considered one of the top sites in the village and are 50 plus year old vines set on the classic clay and limestone soils of this rolling hills terroir. Pierre-Yves used 50% whole cluster and 50% de-stemmed berries will all indigenous yeasts, employing a cool and gentle extraction during a lengthy maceration before the wine was aged in 20% new wood. The Les Gravieres saw about a year in the small 228 French oak barrels and then bottled unfined and unfiltered, and like his whites, Pierre-Yves makes his reds in a fashion that rewards some patience, but still can be enjoyed in their vigorous, but polished youth, as this 2019 vintage clearly shows, this brilliant stuff.
($65 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2018 Pax, Chenin Blanc, Buddhas Dharma Vineyard, Mendocino County.
Tasted blind, in a study of Loire varietals against some of the French classics, this 2018 dry and mineral driven Chenin Blanc by Pax Mahle of Pax Wines really showed well and was old world enough to be mistaken for a fine Savennières, impressive stuff and a big step up from the last couple of vintages with crisp detailing and a purity of flavors. The medium bodied palate is nervy with lots of energy from the long cool growing season, but with good complexity and nice fruit density showing vibrant peach, fresh citrus and Asian pear fruits along a touch of clove, tangy herb and honeycomb to go with the steely element, a faint leesy note and wet stones. You can see this wine gaining a fuller and waxy richness in time, though I love the way it is drinking right now, it is in a perfect place and it would be great with a variety of cuisine options, from soft cheeses to oysters on the half shell as well as a nice companion with poultry dishes. Chenin has seen a big time re-emergence in California and there are some fantastic versions available now, after many years in the shadows, with this one along with the likes of Lieu-Dit, Littorai, Jaimee Motely and Sandlands being exceptional wines to explore along with classics by Chappellet, Chalone and cult favorite Casa Nuestra, all worth searching out.

Pax’s Chenin Blanc is sourced from the Buddhas Dharma Vineyard, a vineyard that was planted back in 1944 in the wilds of Mendocino County, just north of the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, and is highly regarded for the quality of the fruit. This exceptional site is all dry farmed, grown using holistic principles, virtually organic, without the use of any chemicals, it s located at the base of Enlightenment Mountain set on gravelly volcanic soils. Pax is high on the later releases from this Buddhas Dharma Vineyard site due to a cooler vintages, especially this one, which gave him the opportunity to harvest slightly riper fruit, but with good natural acidity, and it allowed him to take a more Burgundy like approach in the winemaking. The Pax 2018 Buddhas Dharma Chenin was 100% whole cluster pressed and fermented with indigenous yeasts in a combination of neutral French oak as well as a couple of new Stockinger Austrian barrels, which are not as toasty sweet as the French when new. After primary fermentation the Chenin, as the winery notes, naturally went through full malolactic conversion and raised in the same neutral French oak barrels and Stockinger Austrian barrels for 10 months before being bottled unfined and unfiltered. This lightly golden white is a great alternative wine, and a change of pace to enjoy in these later Summer days. Pax is just on to the 2019, and from everything I hear it should be pretty close in style and quality, with a similar vintage, in case you can’t find the 2018.
($30 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2004 Pascal Cotat, Sancerre “Les Monts Damnés” Loire Valley, France.
One of the most underrated treats in the wine world is finely aged Sauvignon Blanc, like this one from Sancerre legend Pascal Cotat, that comes from one of the top hillside crus in Sancerre and hand crafted to age, those that have had old Dagueneau Pouilly-Fume, fellow top gun Sancerre artist Boulay and or Italians like Jermann and one of my all time favorites, Quarz by Cantina Terlano in the Alto Adige will understand just how good Sauvignon Blanc can be when made right and cellared well at around 20 years old. This 2004 was remarkably fresh, even feeling zesty at 17 plus years old, but with complex secondary evolution adding dimension and tertiary elements to this gorgeous example sounded from 45 plus year old vines, in what maybe the best vineyard site in the region, above the village of Chavignol, set on classic ancient chalky and fossilized limestone, often described as the most singular Sauvignon Blanc and notably these vines are on very steep slopes,Chavignol’s finest with these “terres blanches” soils being very much like those of Chablis with a thin layer of clay. This wine might be long in the tooth, but it showed extremely well against some tough competition and with more youthful fruit density, proving maturity and grace are still appreciated. This wine shows terroir, wears its age proudly and its pedigree is clearly on display here, it was superb with a soft goat brie cheese, holding up even after an hour or so, pure class.

There are a of Cotats in the region, but the two best vignerons are the brothers Francois, who makes his own wines from the older family cellars, and Pascal, who has a cult like following with older vines and the new cellars. In the previous generation their father and uncle ran separate domaines, but made the wines in single lots and just labeled them under their own label, this practice went on from 1947 to the 1990s before the French government decided that was legal and the wines had to be made separately for each domaine name, which how it is done today. This 2004, by Pascal, is light on its feet and vigorous for its age with nice energy behind the more mature profile with orangey citrus, dried peach, paraffin/honeycomb, oyster shell, wet flint, morel and cedar all flowing smoothly in the mouth and lingering with hint of leesy nuttiness. The single cru wines, this one, the Les Mont Damnés and La Grand Cote are native yeast barrel fermented and raised in large very old demi-muids with a little bit sometimes aged in neutral smaller French oak barrels, depending on the vintage and cellar needs. Cotat wines are unique, often not interesting when young, so if you buy one of the cru wines, be patient, there will be rewards for waiting. I’ll be getting a 2019, that is just out now, and pop it in the cellar with tag that reads don’t open until 2028. Thanks to my friend Alex Lallos and studied wine professional for sharing this bottle, that he had hidden away, with a few of us studying Loire varietals, it was a valued look at well aged Sancerre from a great vineyard.
($59 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2011 Antichi Vigneti di Cantalupo, Ghemme DOCG, Anno Primo, Alto Piedmonte, Italy.
The Antichi Vigneti di Cantalupo “Cantalupo Anno Primo’” Ghemme DOCG is a dark and powerful example of these Nebbiolo based wines of the region and this one really delivers for the price, showing you why these Alto Piedmonte wines are now all the rage with savvy Nebbiolo drinkers with a deep and pure sense of the grape thing through on the ful bodied palate. This Anno Primo crafted from the older and more prized selection of vines is made up of mostly Spanna (Nebbiolo) along with a small percentage of rare other local varietals, notably Vespalina, which helps give a bit of pigment, perfume, spice and an exotic fruit expression without taking away from the classic Nebbiolo charm and character, along with a tiny amount of Uva Rara, an ancient native grape that is almost never done in a single varietal wine. Slightly less tannic and brooding than the more gripping 2010 wines, this 2011 has a bit more supple fruit and feels wonderful in the mouth, but it is no softy and offers plenty of classic underlying muscle with great definition and a sturdy backbone that holds up the beautiful dark red fruits. The profile is evolved with brandied raspberry, damson plum, dried cherries and mulberry leading the way along with subtle earth, spice, mineral and cedar notes, as well as licorice, blood orange, pipe tobacco, delicate rose petals and a hint of herbal amaro. Barolo and Barbaresco fans will be well served to check this winery out and search out this exceptional effort by winemaker Alberto Arlunno and put Cantalupo on their watch lists, in particular this serious and age worthy Anno Primo, and the lighter fresher styled Agamium, Colline Noravesi DOC, a wine that is delicious and a steal at under $20.

Alto Piedmonte, including Ghemme, Gattinara and is one of Italy’s major hot spots for Nebbiolo with well draining rocky soils and old vines, with Antichi Vigneti di Cantalupo being one of the new stars in the region. The terroir here was formed in ancient times as the great Monte Rosa glacier receded leaving morainic rock, sand and alluvial deposits, making it a perfect place for high quality Nebbiolo, with the vineyards being rich in quantity minerals, scattered with pebbles. The cooler climate here and long sunny days have seen it become a highly coveted zone for top vignerons, in fact many classic producers in Barolo and other more well known areas have started buying up sites here. Ghemme is planted mostly to Spanna, as noted, the local name for Nebbiolo, with about 80% of the vines dedicated to this noble grape, but it shares space with Vespalina and Uva Rara, lesser known red varietals which also make up a minority of the blends here and they add aromatics, color and a light fruity note to the very structured and complex Nebbiolo. Alberto Arlunno, of Cantalupo, uses stainless tanks to ferment his carefully de-stemmed grapes and he ages mostly in large Slovenian oak casks, in traditional fashion, but also employs a small amount of French though usually reserved for the top Ghemme offerings, like this one, giving some extra luxurious personality to the more concentrated wines. I have enjoyed my limited experience with these Cantalupo wines, and this one certainly leaves an impact, it is beautifully crafted wine with a nice gracefully maturity settling in, it should be rewarding for many years to come as well. The 2011 might be hard to get at this point, but the 2012, another very solid vintage, is still current and easier to find, and I will be getting a few bottles myself!
($40 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2014 Stony Hill, Chardonnay, Spring Mountain District, Napa Valley.
The historic Stony Hill Vineyard, founded back in the early 1950s, on Spring Mountain is still one of Napa’s great secrets, largely overlooked, but one of the most prized by collectors and those that enjoy aging their wines and their Cabernet Sauvignon is notably less than other wines in this level of quality and I have been a fan of their dry Riesling for years. That all said, the Stony Hill Chardonnay is not less exciting and age worthy, as I was reminded of at the last Slow Wine tasting, when I got a chance to sample their 2011 and 2014 Chards, with both impressing with depth and intensity from the slightly cooler vintages and the estate’s mineral driven mountain fruit. The 2014 won my heart and palate with a bit more of all of the elements coming together with harmonious complexity and a pleasing textural grace, it shows a steely nature not often found in California, and especially in the warmer Napa Valley, though that is exactly why this wine is a stand out and highlights the great terroir underneath this famous vines. Golden and with the impression of maturity beginning to show the 2014 is still wonderfully vibrant and focused with layers of apple, lemon, nectarine and Asian pear fruits along with hints of white flowers, fig, clove and wet stones that all flow smoothly across the medium/full palate that feels nicely creamy without any heavy hand showing and a retrained use of oak. This is a beauty and should cellar well for the better part of a decade, maybe more and it will be fabulous with various cuisine choices, especially crab and or lobster. Established by the McCrea family, who were big fans of French wines were visionaries and played a big role in inspiring many famous Napa winemakers, built the first Napa Valley post-prohibition winery in 1951, and released their first vintage of Stony Hill with their 1952 vintage almost 70 years ago. Stony Hill, now run by the respected Carlton McCoy, Jr, who will honor the McCrea’s legacy and retain the classic winemaking style of Mike Chelini who made these incredible wines for more than four decades.

Stony Hill, a classic old school label is not resting on its laurels and is looking toward the future, recently announcing the hire of the youthful and talented Jaimee Motely as winemaker, who is excitingly approaching her first harvest here and I am really looking forward to see what she does here, I am confident that she will do fantastic stuff and re-invigorate this winery. Motely, who is known for her work with Chenin Blanc and the rare in California, Savoie grape, Mondeuse, has a natural gift for expressing varietal purity and is highly regarded for her skills in the cellar and her attention to detail, so I am sure she’s put out some special stuff that fulls respects the history of Stony Hill and faithfully follow the style here. Interestingly, Cabernet and Merlot didn’t make an appearance at Stony Hill until 2009, with the McCreas being more interested in the whites, they originally planted Pinot Blanc, Johannisberg Riesling, an old German Rheingau clone and later added Gerwurztraminer and Semillon, as well as Chardonnay. This 2014 Chardonnay was grown on the high elevation parcels that are set on a complex set of mountains soils with volcanic influence along with broken limestone, all of which give this wine its class, structure and vitality that sets it apart and makes it a Napa icon, but with an old world soulful personality. The all organic Stony Hill sits on steep terraces on the slopes of the Mayacamas range, on the western side of the Napa Valley, in the Spring Mountain District AVA , with their vines up at an elevation between 800 and 1550 feet and facing northeast that allows ripening, but also is more moderately cool that gives these wines their balance. The vineyard was established in 1948, between St. Helena and Calistoga, as the winery notes, predates the beautiful and serene Bothe State Park, which surrounds the entire property. It’s a great time to get on the mailing list here at Stony Hill, which is going all biodynamic, looking to get fully Demeter certified, and has some intriguing wines in the works, with new plantings of Cabernet Franc, Malbec, Gamay, Petit Verdot, and a little bit of Chenin Blanc!
($58 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2018 Jean Foillard, Morgon “Cote du Py” Cru Beaujolais, France.
The deep colored and densely fruited 2018 Foillard Cote du Py is an absolute thriller in the glass and is really hitting its stride right now with expressive and exotic ripeness, but with great structure, elegance and clarity of detail, highlighting the vintage and the sublime talents of this superstar winemaker. Foillard is one of greats of the region and his wines rival Premier Cru and Grand Cru Burgundy and this wine is his signature bottling and always is a magical treat to behold, this wine never fails to blow minds and bring joy to the palate and this vintage does not disappoint, especially with its luxuriously opulent mouth feel and incredible length. Coming from vines that range from 10 to 90 years old and set on the granite based soils with schist and veins of manganese this gorgeous Cote du Py shows dark berries, sweet plum, black currant and strawberry fruit on the lush and ripe full bodied palate along with an array of subtle spice, dried herbs, mineral notes and heavenly florals with hints of anise, walnut, a light earthy stoniness and crushed peonies. The acidity is non aggressive, but life giving here, as in a fine Pinot Noir, and the textural grace of the semi-carbonic whole cluster fermentation is divine and satiny. This year’s version, from organic grapes with ultra low SO2 employed as per normal, is as hedonistic as it is serious, with this wines later picking making for a real impact and a heady 14.5% natural alcohol, which is much less obvious than one would imagine with this Gamay’s elegance, this is very special stuff.

Foillard, as mentioned here in prior reviews, was greatly inspired by natural wine guru Jules Chauvet, a traditionalist who led the natural wine movement in the Beaujolais and redefined the wines of the region and who wanted to go back to pre-industrial style organic farming and not use chemical additives in the cellar. Jean and three other local vignerons, Marcel Lapierre, Jean-Paul Thévenet, and Guy Breton joined in on this movement, this became the Gang of Four, a nickname coined by the famed importer Kermit Lynch, who brought these masterpieces of Gamay to America, along with Dutraive and others brought critical acclaim to this region that had been badly maligned for generations. Foillard took over his father’s domaine in 1980, with stellar vineyard holdings mainly in the revered Côte du Py, as Kermit Lynch notes, the famed slope outside the town of Villié-Morgon and the pride of the Morgon cru. These granite and schist soils sit on an alluvial fan at the highest point above the town and impart great complexity on these wines. Jean Foillard, who hand crafts his wines using native yeasts and using traditional 100% whole cluster with a long gentle maceration that usually lasts just over 3 weeks and raises his wines in older barrels, always well seasoned and sourced from top estates in Burgundy, including the Domaine de la Romanee-Conti. This elevage of the Cote du Py in the used French barriques is between 6 to 9 months, depending on the vintage and always to preserve energy, transparency and purity, as this fabulous 2018 shows impeccably. There are so many new vignerons making fantastic wines in Beaujolais it is hard to keep up, including a new generation of Foillard, with Jean’s son Alex making his own delicious wines, but this wine is still a legend.
($42 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

2017 Theopolis Vineyards, Theo-Patra’s Cuvée Cerise, Red Wine, California.
The extended aged deep purple/garnet 2017 Theo-Patra’s Cuvée Cerise is surprisingly fresh and vibrantly spiced with a smooth full bodied palate of black fruit and showing a delicately perfumed nose making for a wine that was an easy, but serious companion to late meal and cheese plate, while watching the amazing tennis on display in New York for the US Open. This vintage, which was held back in barrel, was made from 50% Petite Sirah, the winery’s signature grape, and the main varietal of their iconic Theopolis terraced vineyard in the Yorkville Highlands, and 50% Cabernet Sauvignon, which they sourced from outside their own vines and region, hence the California wine on the label, these Theo-Patra’s Cuvée Cerise bottlings are helping fill out the small collection of hand-crafted wines made by Theodora Lee, which include her awesome estate Petite Sirah, a couple of Pinot Noirs and the rare and unique off dry estate white wine made from the Symphony grape, which is a California crossing of Muscat of Alexandria and Grenache Gris that was originally developed back in 1948 by the late Harold Olmo, a noted professor of viticulture at the University of California, Davis. This 2017 flows densely across the palate with blackberries, blueberries, plum and creme de cassis leading the way along with a bright peppery note, subtle florals, mint, sage and anise, as well as a touch of fig, cedar and coco powder. Theodora, who’s fast becoming part of the fabric of the new California wine scene and a modern champion of the Petite Sirah grape, had told me this was a wine I didn’t want to miss, and she was right, I was very impressed with this special edition of her namesake Theo-Patra’s Cuvée, of which only 132 cases were made.

As mentioned and reviewed many times here at Grapelive, the Theopolis Vineyards Estate Petite Sirah is one of the best new versions of this grape in the state, grown in Mendocino County’s Yorkville Highlands. Petite Sirah or Petite Syrah is also known as Durif and originally comes from an accidental crossing of Peloursin and Syrah vines in the southwest of France. Named after the French botanist Francois Durif, who’s nursery is where this happened, the grape saw little success or admiration in its home country, but it has found a welcome home here in California, where it makes a dense and inky wine with incredible aging potential and is great in a blend or as a solo varietal wine. A long and conclusive of DNA study confirmed the grape’s history with a fingerprinting happening at the UC Davis in 1997, that identified Syrah as the source of the pollen that originally crossed with the Peloursin flowers, creating this separate varietal. The grape’s high natural resistance to downy mildew had encouraged its cultivation in the early 20th century in the southern part of France, but as stated, it never really took off there, in fact it extremely hard to find in France, while it has gained more excitement in places like Australia, Israel, Brazil, Argentina, Chile, and Mexico, as well as here in California. For the Theopolis Theo-Patra’s Cuvée Cerise the Petite Sirah and Cabernet Sauvignon were fermented in separate small lots with hand punch downs and saw a full extraction of color and tannin before being blended and barrel aged a full 48 months before bottling to mature this ripe and powerful wine. Theodora, along with Ed Kurtzman, her winemaking consultant, who is famous for his efforts with Roar and Freeman, decide to use neutral French oak here as to not over toast this tasty wine, which proved an excellent choice and this wine is the better for it, allowing some rustic charm to shine through. Best to enjoy this expressive effort that lingers on with an aftertaste that adds sandalwood, kirsch and dried violets, with robust cuisine and while really delicious now, it should continue to improve over the next two to three years
($36 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2017 La Ca’ Növa, Barbaresco DOCG “Montestefano” Piedmonte, Italy.
Absolutely one of the best deals out there, the Cru Montestefano Barbaresco by La Ca’ Növa is a wonderfully expressive, deeply fruited and silky Nebbiolo to enjoy in the near term, it is a wine of pleasure and class with sense of place and transparent purity of form. The dark ruby/garnet color with hint of electric brick on the edges is unmistakably Nebbiolo and is inviting as is the seductive nose of wilted roses, crushed red berries, kirsch and mountain herbs leads to a full bodied and textural palate that highlights the ripe and concentrated vintage, but don’t be fooled, there is a serious feline muscular structure underneath here that reminds you that this is something extraordinary and non to common of a thrill to behold. With velvety tannins holding up a classic array of flavors, this Montestefano impresses from start to finish with seamless layers of black cherry, damson plum, reduced strawberries, earthy forest floor, a hint of cedar, minty licorice, liquid flowers and chalky stones that seem to echo on and on. This is fabulous stuff from a top and sometimes underrated vineyard site, certainly this Barbaresco is flying under the radar and savvy Barolo and Barbaresco drinkers will want to track this beauty down, it is sensuous Nebbiolo that is raw and sultry without pretense. This is a wine that will transport you directly to the ancient hills of Piedmonte and makes you dream of Alba truffles and long meals with friends and or family.

Marco Rocca’s La Ca’ Növa winery is located just outside of the historic village of Barbaresco and is a small winery that produces traditional styled wines that way over deliver for the price, especially Rocca’s basic Barbaresco and this masterpiece from the famed Montestefano cru. Marco’s main passion is his Nebbiolo parcels and his trio of Barbaresco wines, but as the winery notes, Marco also does Dolcetto and Barbera, which I will now search out, because if his Cru Montestefano is this good and is this insanely low priced, they must be fantastic values. The winery has prized holdings in the Montefico and Montestefano crus, as well as nice sites within the Barbaresco DOCG zone from which they make the set of Barbarescos, plus Marco does a entry level Langhe Nebbiolo DOC, another wine I think needs investigating. Rocca is old school and shy by nature, he is not into modern technology and his wines are made in rustic fashion but with extreme care and love. He does his fermentation(s) without temperature control or with stainless tanks, he only employs indigenous yeasts and everything is done by hand using open barrels, as was done in older and simpler times. The maceration, interestingly is done with a large wooden spoon, which Marco uses to stir the musts, which he notes, is very difficult and time consuming work, but it worth it, as it helps extract a much richer color as well as more polyphenols. If you’ve not had La Ca’ Növa, this is a great time to explore their wines, this must be one of the best kept secrets I’ve run across in the last few years!
($40 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2020 Domaine de La Begude, Bandol Rosé, Provence, France.
The brightly colored and fruit forward Domaine de La Begude Bandol Rosé is a classic styled and dry version made from mostly Mourvedre, with a little bit of Grenache and Cinsault showing ripe fruitiness, but with good structure, zesty acidity and a bit lower natural alcohol than most modern Bandols making it nicely refreshing and food friendly. I’d not had or remember having this certified sustainable Domaine previously and I was impressed with the performance here with its transparent layering of ruby grapefruit, plum water, tart cherry, watermelon and strawberry fruits, a fine mineral detail, a steel coil of energy and a mix of florals, dried herbs and wet stones. The Domaine de La Begude grows its vines on a forested plot near the Mediterranean sea with beautiful south facing terraced vineyards with an average vine age of close to 25 years and planted to mainly Mourvedre, but with Grenache, Cinsault, Clairette, Rolle and Ugni Blanc as well. The wines here are notably done in a more modern clean style and have retrained natural alcohols for ease of use and to go great with the region’s inspiring cuisine. The vines, it should be noted, set on clay and limestone of the Maures Mountains are all certified organic and have been since 2006.

Pretty new on the Provence wine scene, Domaine de La Bégude was founded in 1996 by the Tari family, who are an old wine producing family with a historic pedigree in Bordeaux where they own the famous third growth, Château Giscours, in Margaux. Begude is run by Guillaume and his wife Soledad, who have really made Bandol their passion and home, not only is Guillaume ithe winemaker for the estate, he also serves as the president of the prestigious Bandol AOC. The Domaine le La Begude is based in an ancient Merovingian chapel that dates back to the 7th century and the “Conil” seigneury, where a thriving village once sat, but no longer exists. From here Guillaume hand crafts his Bandol wines, he does mostly his Bandol Rouge bottlings, though he also does a crisp Clairette Blanche, Ugni Blanc and Rolle (Vermentino) white as well as a couple of Rosé efforts, with this being his classic version. The Rosé sees a bit extra skin maceration with string to achieve its glowing vivid hue and was aged a full 18 months in neutral French oak casks to add depth and a round mouth feel, while still having plenty of zippy detail. I love that this Bandol Rosé is just about 12.%, instead of the more common 14 plus you see now, and while not on the level of the stars in the region yet, it offers a fabulous value and has a terroir driven and lovable charm.
($35 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2018 Domaine Camus-Bruchon, Savigny-les-Beaune 1er Cru “Aux Gravains” Red Burgundy, France.
Guillaume Camus, who has now taken the helm from his dad Lucien, is one of the rising stars in the Côte de Beaune, and is making outstanding and elegant wines from vineyard holdings in in the Cote de Beaune, with many parcels in Premier Cru sites, especially in the Savigny-Les-Beaune, where this gorgeous Aux Gravains comes from, as well as nice pieces of Pommard and in the Beaune zone. The Camus-Bruchon vines are solidly mature and old, averaging at least 35 years, though as noted by importer Beaune Imports, they have some fabulous 95 year old vines too, like in their plot in the Grands Liards vineyard. This 2018 vintage Premier Cru Aux Gravains is an absolute gem of a red Burgundy with exceptional purity and a beautiful dark garnet/ruby color in the glass with supple/smooth layers of black cherry, plum, red currant and Moro orange fruits, a fine chalky tannin, refined natural acidity, mineral notes along with a touch of rose petal, Asian spices, black tea and a subtle wood frame in this wonderfully pleasing medium bodied wine. The Camus-Bruchon Burgundies, which I have been following and buying for many years have been superb dating back many vintages and remain savvy buys for the Burgundy enthusiast, they offer great terroir driven flavors and character at an insanely good price and they age fantastically well as I have found at trade tastings, when I have experienced 20 to 30 old bottles that showed almost no signs of their age. I took a uncharacteristic gap in reviewing these wines, which isa shame, as they taste even better than I remember, with the 2008, 2009, 2010 and 2011 being excellent, as I noted, but this 2018 is looking like a step up. All the vineyard sites farmed by the Camus family are dome using sustainable methods and with great respect for the lands and to promote healthy soils, these wines really showcase each site’s distinct micro climates and are really respectful of history of this region.

Like his father, Guillaume, of Domaine Camus-Bruchon, has a light touch and very much a winemaker that makes his wines in the vineyard, rather than in the cellar, everything he does is to showcase each vineyard site and produce transparent wines. He uses approximately 15% new oak in any given year, including in his top Premier Cru bottlings like this one, preferring to follow the Domaine’s tradition of crafting raw, balanced and graceful Pinots. The Camus-Bruchon wines see an extended maceration to fully extract the terroir and structure with about 18 days in total for the period of fermentation. The wines are all done with indigenous yeasts in old school concrete vats before being racked of to the French oak for over a year and then they are bottled unfined and unfiltered to capture every nuance and the full sense of place. The older Camus-Bruchon wines might have been a bit more chewy and meaty, a touch more rustic, but there is a long lineage of continuous quality and highlight the classic clay and limestone soils, these Burgundies are fine examples of wines grown in the vineyard, and as Guillaume says, he firmly believes that one can only make wine as good as the grapes that you grow and it is clear he spends much more time with his vines that he does in the cellar, as it should be, especially when you have the parcels at your disposal like he does. The Camus-Bruchon Savigny-Lès-Beaune 1er Crus are stunning values and this Aux Gravains is one to stock up on, but be sure to also keep an eye out for the Lieu-Dit, non Premier Cru, Aux Grands Liards Vieilles Vignes (old vine), it maybe one of the best Pinots for the price in all of Burgundy. Others to look for in this stellar collection are the Savigny-Lès-Beaune Les Narbantons 1er Cru, which has been a long time favorite of mine, it is more dark fruited, complex and deep with lots of inner power and a heavenly perfumed nose, and the rare Clos des Arvelets Premier Cru from the legendary Pommard zone. Enjoy this 2018 Savigny-les-Beaune 1er Cru “Aux Gravains” now, particularly with robust cuisine, or put some bottles away and be gloriously rewarded with patience, no doubt this wine will be excellent in 15 years too.
($45 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2020 James Rahn, Skin Contact Pinot Gris, Weber Vineyard, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
Another one in my group, of my study of Pinot Gris, that highlight the past and future of this grape, is the James Rahn Weber Vineyard Willamette Valley skin contact Pinot Gris with its bright reddish/organge pink color, with a hint of cloudiness and slightly savory/smoky profile with a fleshy medium bodied palate and smooth texture, making it an interesting Northeast Italy (Friuli Venezia Giulia) inspired version. I have a feeling this vineyard might have been effected by some smoke from the fires that raged through the Pacific Northwest as I maybe just feel a touch of ashy influence, but with the minimum amount of skin contact it doesn’t really intrude on the mostly pleasing freshness and fruit detail here, though it would be best to enjoy this wine in the immediate future and not to wait to get the best of the pretty layering that it now shows. There is plenty to like here with a mix of fruit and stony notes with red apples, grilled citrus, melon and earthy strawberry along with a hint of leathery and woodsy truffle, minty herbs and delicate baking spices. This dusty dry wine is best served with pungent foods, I can see it going well with everything from briny raw oysters to feta cheese salads and even sea urchin. Oregon is a hot bed for new and exciting wines and has led to a whole new wave in whites, including an array of Pinot Gris styles from the classic Eyrie version to Cameron’s Ramato (cooper colored) example to various shades of skin contact, with the new label from Fair Moon Wines, the Sunshine Effect Skin Contact Pinot Gris being another really nice savory style, like this Rahn Weber edition, all showcasing the full range of what this grape can do.

In recent years, James Rahn has become a highly sought out label, producing highly individual and unique wines with a focus on Pinot Noir, but with some beautifully hand crafted bottlings of cool rarities like Mondeuse, the famous Savoie red grape, Trousseau, the lighter hued Jura grape that has become an underground success story in both Oregon and California, Gruner Veltliner, the classic Austrian white grape and Pinot Meunier, the other Champagne red grape that has shown huge potential here in the Willamette Valley along with Gamay, the classic Beaujolais grape that is thriving and getting almost as desirable as Pinot Noir these days, being a fast seller in lineups like Rahn’s and last but not least a dry intense Riesling, which is how I discovered Rahn. The Pinot Gris, made more like a red wine with a skin maceration, is sourced from the sustainably grown Weber Vineyard in the Dundee Hills AVA on a combination of soils with mainly Jory, red volcanic and marine sedimentary influences here. The Weber Vineyards, which are quite mature vines that were planted between 1975-1988 the Weber’s property includes a total of thirty five acres, with old vine Riesling, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and even some Gewurtzraminer grapes, as well as the small parcel of Pinot Gris. Rahn notes that, over the years the Weber Vineyard grapes were sold to some famous names, such as Erath Winery, John Paul at Cameron, Rex Hill and Arterberry Winery to name a few. The Rahn Pinot Gris saw a ripe pick, but finished at 12.3% natural alcohol, retaining good energy with fresh acidity and was aged in neutral French oak barrels, to promote purity, going through full malos and bottled unfined and unfiltered after a few months in the wood, this vintage is slightly lighter than in the past, with the 2018 being much darker, made in the Gris Rouge style, by comparison. There is a lot to get excited about in Rahn’s collection and I highly recommend checking these cool wines out!
($25 Est.) 87 Points, grapelive

2020 The Language of Yes, Le Cerisier, Rosé of Tibouren and Cinsault, Central Coast.
The Language of Yes wines are a collaboration between Randall Grahm, post Bonny Doon Vineyard, and Gallo, the massive family wine company, exploring some of the unique sites and varietals in the Central Coast of California, which at first seems like an unlikely coupling, but it offers both great benefits and the first release from this partnership is this fabulous Le Cerisier dry pink wine that is a uniquely wonderful take on old school Provence Rosé. The genius and creative mind of Grahm is exploited to its full potential here with grape choices and labeling and Gallo’s resources, facilities and vineyards have paid off in this wine no question. At first crisp and mineral driven with a subtle fruit element, this The Language of Yes Rosé turns on the charm and adds a sensational textural quality that is surprisingly vinous and luxurious that gives this wine a presence, elegance and complexity that will remind you of maybe, the most famous Tibouren based wine, Clos Cibonne, which is high praise, as that wine regularly gets called the greatest dry Rosé in the world. This seductive Rosé has a slightly orange, pale pinkish hue and round medium bodied palate of racy citrus with blood orange and ruby grapefruit, peach flesh, sour cherry, watermelon and rosewater with that supple opulence of lees and a delicate caramel note. There is a fine cut of natural acidity and tart and tangy juiciness, like sour cherry and strawberry, brought into focus with the good dose of Cinsault in this vintage, making for a well judged and balanced effort that also allows this wine to be a refreshing sipper, though honestly this wine is made for serious meals and pairs excellent with a range of cuisine, though I would suggest sea food stews, steamed mussels in spicy broth and or with a selection of farm cheeses.

Tibouren, also known as Rossese di Dolceacqua in Italy, is a rare ancient varietal that is found primarily in the Cotes de Provence wines, where it is mostly used in the Rosé, like those of the mentioned Clos Cibonne and the Roux family that are credited with restoring its fame and make the most highly regarded version. Randalll Grahm is leading the charge in California to get more plantings of this grape and this 2020 Le Cerisier Rosé might be the first Tibouren based version in the state, at least it is the first I’ve seen and he has his blocks planted at his Popelochum Vineyard in San Juan Bautista, where he is doing an exciting grape breeding program. Tibouren, which is earthy and very light in pigment is, as mentioned, most common in the Provence wine region, though, as French ampelographer Pierre Galet suggests, the grape possibly could be from the Greeks, but also notes that the origins might actually be Middle Eastern. His studies seem to point to he uniquely shaped leaves of the Tibouren vine, that includes some deeply incised lobes that are usually seen in the Vitis selection of grape vines in the Middle East. Galet also explains that over hundreds of years the evolution of Tibouren it is likely that its ancestor vines were brought to Greece originally and then later introduced to France by the Ancient Greeks at their settlement in Marseille, which seems pretty easy to believe, though some think that Tibouren arrived much later in the 1800s as there is very little documentation to prove otherwise. Grahm believes Tibouren (Rossese) will play a big part in California’s wine future, and if the wines made from it are anything like this one, it would be hard to argue against that. Look for more offers coming from The Language of Yes wines this fall, including a pure Grenache, which I am excited to try!
($32 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2018 Les 3 Lodges by Ludovic Laur, Cahors “Le Clos” Malbec, Southwest, France.
Ludovic Laur’s Les 3 Lodges 100% Malbec Le Clos from Cahors is a pure and dark purple/garnet wine that has a fine tannic structure, nice natural acidity and a medium/full palate of juicy blue fruits, it is clean, fresh and well made stuff and a bargain for the price. I was gifted this bottle to try, as the vineyard in Cahors is looking to import a line of wines to the United States and wanted some feedback, and my first impression is that, this is a perfectly enjoyable Malbec with layers of blueberry, cherry and vine picked berries along with a hint of mineral, violets, cedar, anise and brambly spices, making it a highly drinkable version that would be a super value as a bistro wine, not overly complex or too serious, but you couldn’t ask too much more in this price class. This wine might struggle to set itself apart on the shelves of a big wine store, though I would not hesitate choosing it for parties, picnics and a or having a glass with a burger or simple foods. I really enjoyed this single Lieu-Dit Le Clos Malbec with a big plate of rustic and Calabrian pepper spiced pasta, as it easily coped with the intensity of flavors and the heat of the dish, which was impressive for dry and tannic wine. The Laur’s are driven to honor their land and grow their grapes with sustainable farming practices to produce wines that show terroir character, ripe supple textures and energy, while in the cellar they employ a more modern approach to craft their Malbecs to deliver transparency and a clean or polished style to be appealing to a wider audience without losing a sense of place.

The Laur family has been in Cahors and is a historic wine growing clan in the region which dates back to 1881 and currently Patrick, Ludovic and Cédric Laur manage their 46 hectares of vines on the Floressas hills with a primary mission to farm Malbec, with Ludovic doing his own set of wines separately, like this one. The family’s bottlings are more traditionally labeled and include three Cahors Rouge, using just the Malbec grape, as well as doing a Malbec Rosé and Viognier, plus they do acouple of sparkling wines as well, while Ludovic’s line includes this Le Clos Malbec, a very simple Chardonnay and his own Malbec Rosé, which is crisply dry and refreshing. Cahors, which is seen as a remote and rustic country wine region in the Southwest of France, acually has highly entertaining and serious wine history, the area dates back to Celtic times when it was known as Divona, but really became famous in Roman times, in fact in was one of the most import wine producing prizes of their empire, suppling their armies with dark powerful black wines. Little known too, is that it was the shipping of these Cahors wines, that made Bordeaux a thriving port and have have been instrumental in giving the locals there the idea of commercial wine production, cutting out the long distance hauling of barrels overland to Bordeaux. Before Argentina’s rise and use of Malbec, Cahors was synonyms with this grape and the region has seen a remarkable rise in quality in recent times and the region’s fame is re-gaining its luster and pride. While not seriously imported, the Les 3 Lodges by Ludovic Laur is widely available throughout Europe and has a good reputation for quality, which this 2018 Malbec confidently displays, it also gives me a thirst for more Cahors.
($10 Est.) 88 Points, grapelive

Grapelive.com Reviews – August, 2021

2009 Domaine la Monardiere, Vacqueyras Rouge, Les 2 Monardes, Cotes du Rhone Villages, Rhone Valley, France.
The ripe 2009 Les 2 Mondares Vacqueyras by Domaine la Mondariere shows dense fruit and loads of savory elements with a sense of maturity really making its presence felt with hints of truffle, dried flowers and sous bois or bouillon cube notes coming through on the warm mouth filling palate with boysenberry, plum sauce, stewed cherries and creme de cassis along with chalky stone, a meaty/iron element, tarry licorice, garrigue and leathery notes. The Les 2 Monardes was crafted from 70% Grenache and 30% Syrah that was sourced from vines of an average age of 40 years, on this special Lieu-Dit that is planted on the region’s classic limestone and sandy clay soils in Vacqueyras, which is a bit higher in elevation and on cooler hillsides that see a bit more breezy conditions and chilly nights, helping provide welcome relief from the hot Summer days in the Southern Rhone, adding to the balanced quality in these wines. This dark garnet red 2009, a pretty warm year, shows its age and ripeness, but still delivers a very nice performance and while fruity, still has a rustic character that is best enjoyed with hearty foods, especially grilled meats and or hard cheeses. Martine and Christian Vache at Domaine la Monardiere are putting out some soulful stuff, and the wine are solid values too.

The Vache family bought this estate from the Monardieres back in 1987 and, as noted in my prior reviews, began their journey into becoming a top producer in the Vacqueyras AOC, this is the result of a lot of hard work in the cellar as well as an investment in the vines, converting to organic farming and committing to smaller yields and quality, all of which has paid off with their wines, including this bottling. As noted before, the Grenache and Syrah grapes are all hand-harvested, carefully sorted in the vineyard to maximize concentration and intensity. This wine saw 100% de-stemmed grape berries that were fermented using spontaneous yeasts, with a lengthy maceration and extraction period that lasted close to three weeks with gentle daily punch-downs. The Vache’s traditional approach included them aging their Vacqueyras single cru for 12 months in a combination of tank and neutral cask, with some Grenache lots in smaller barrels to add richness and soften tannins and bottled unfined and unfiltered. The Monardiere lineup now includes a Vacqueyras Rosé, an Old Vine Vacqueyras (Vieilles Vignes) and this single vineyard style Les 2 Monardes, which has become a go to wine for me in recent years, and I can’t wait to get some of the latest releases, though it has been cool to explore some of these nicely cellared bottles, which have been showing up. I am excited to see what this Domaine does for the 2018 and 2019 vintages, which look like superb vintages in the Southern Rhone, keep an eye out for them.
($35 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2016 Eyrie Vineyards, Pinot Gris, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
Tasting a little like a Riesling, the Eyrie Dundee Hills Pinot Gris has a hint of tropical fruit, flinty wet stones, green apple and dried apricots along with subtle earthy notes, orange citrus and white flowers, it is just starting to get a creamy mouth feel, but still has a vein of tangy zest, making it a nicely complex example of Oregon Gris. It’s well documented that David Lett, founder and winemaker at the famous Eyrie Vineyards, which started back in the mid sixties, helped pioneer Pinot Noir here in the Willamette Valley and is one of the heros of Oregon’s recognition in premium wines and ushered in the golden age of Pinot Noir in America, though it is lesser known that he also was a huge fan and maker of Oregon Pinot Gris, making it one of the wines that defined Oregon wine for decades, especially on the white side of things, and Eyrie still makes one of the standard bearer examples, like this beauty from the 2016 vintage. David’s son Jason Lett continued to produce outstanding wines here at Eyrie, which are hand crafted using traditional techniques, like native yeast fermentations in reds, skin contact on whites, and full natural malolactic to promote, as Lett notes, the most complex expression of their varieties. These old school wines receive minimal racking, extended lees contact, complete and spontaneous malolactic fermentation, with no fining, and minimal filtration, all to capture purity and influence of the year and terroir. For this Pinot Gris, which is all from organic Dundee vines, Eyrie fermented and aged it in 100% stainless with the wine resting on the lees for 11 months and finished at around 13% natural alcohol, which helps explain the wines exotic flavors and beautiful texture.

In the cellar, Eyrie likes to do extended lees contact on their wines, with both red and white wines, which are allowed to fully develop before bottling and, as they explain, for example, their Pinot Gris ages, as mentioned above, for a full 11 months before bottling, or about 3 times as long as a typical Oregon Pinot Gris, though we are seeing a modern revolution in styles here in Oregon with many unique bottlings coming in recent years taking advantage of the skin contact excitement in the market place. Interesting, back in 1974, Eyrie Founder David Lett observed a new strain of malolactic bacteria in their wines, which had happened naturally in the cellar, that allowed them to undergo malolactic at lower temperatures and higher degrees of acidity than any commercial strain available at that time. This natural resident of Eyrie’s cellar continues to contribute to every wine they produce, including this Pinot Gris and their delicious Pinot Blanc, as well as the Chards. The Lett’s believe that these full and natural fermentation(s) (primary and secondary) gives their wines a remarkable stability and balance as well as allows them to age exceptionally well, this they say, just cannot be achieved any other way. They love to use whole cluster fermentation, depending on the vintage, and even do it on the Pinot Gris to make a full skin fermented Rosé version. Even with the nice bit of age on this 2016, there is lots of energy and natural acidity that keeps things fresh here, while the maturity adds depth and makes it more rounded, it is a serious food wine, much in the mold of a good Alsatian Pinot Gris, very impressive stuff. I am glad I got a chance to try this Pinot Gris has it enters its prime and it reminds me I need to pay attention to Eyrie again and restores my faith in the grape, which is making a serious come back!
($24 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2017 Domaine du Gour de Chaulé, Gigondas AOC, Cuvée Tradition, Rhone Valley, France.
The ripe and dense 2017 cuvee Tradition Gigondas by Gour de Chaulé flows smoothly across the full bodied palate with deep layers of black raspberry, plum, pomegranate and creme de cassis fruit along with sweet dark flowers, snappy herbs, a light sense of spice and a subtle earthiness, adding dried lavender, warm stones, a touch of cedar and pepper. This is an impressive and serious Grenache based wine that way over delivers for the price, this is a wine that could easily pass for a top notch Chateauneuf, and it should get better for the next 3 to 5 years in bottle and last 15 more years, pretty solid for such a warm vintage and while there is plenty of stuffing here, I’d say with the way it drinks, you would be well served to enjoy it sooner v. later. This years version, of the Cuvée Tradition, was crafted from 80% Grenache Noir, 10% Syrah and 10% Mourvedre, all done with native yeasts and using full whole clusters and then aged for close to 18 months in large neutral French oak foudres. These Gigondas wines by Domaine du Gour de Chaulé are old school, natural and rustic versions in most years and there usually is a rawness that is highly compelling with leather notes and some rough tannin and power, but the 2015, 2016 and really ripe 2017 editions are big and opulent wines that show a more seamless and smooth personality, easy to love in their youth, especially this one.

The modern times at Domaine du Gour de Chaulé has been all about women that have heroically brought fame to this property in the shadow of the Dentelles de Montmirail where they have farmed small yielding vines in Gigondas with their estate being mainly planted to Grenache, with a few small parcels of Syrah and Mourvedre for blending in their main wines, plus a small plot of Cinsault for use in their unique Gigondas Rosé, a wine that is almost never seen on the shelves, as it sells out fast. The original estate dates back to 1871, but the Domaine du Gour de Chaulé, as it is known now was founded in 1900 by Eugene Bonfils, current matriarch Stéphanie Fumoso’s great grandfather, with her daughter, Aline, being the one that significantly developed and modernized the estate back in 1985 and converted the estate to all sustainable farming, bringing the quality levels up and gaining world wide attention for the wines. This terroir, which has been a prized area since Roman times, at Gigondas’ higher elevation gets a bit more cooling influence and the rocky clay and marl soils bring out the best in Grenache, with incredible depth and complexity, and Syrah is more common here than down in the sandy lower regions of the Southern Rhone Valley. This is label to search out, imported by Rosenthal Wine Merchant, and I highly recommend grabbing any vintage you see!
($30 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2020 G.D. Vajra, Langhe Nebbiolo DOC “Claré J.C.” Piedmonte, Italy.
The new release of Vajra’s unique Claré J.C. Langhe Nebbiolo is bright ruby in the glass and zesty on the lighter framed spicy palate with a spritz of effervescence and racy ripe red fruits that give pure Nebbiolo flavors, but without the usual gripping tannins, making for a distinctly fresh and quaffable wine to be enjoyed with a slight chill and with non pretense meals. This wine picks up the floral nature of the Nebbiolo with seeped rose petal aromatics and a crisply dry, but fruity array of red berries, pomegranate, grilled orange, tart cherry and garden strawberries along with dried herbs, Asian spices and star anise. This wine recalls an almost forgotten era and style of local Nebbiolo that dates back to the 1600s with a short maceration period and bottled quickly capturing the natural CO2, similar to what we see in Spain’s basque Txakolinas. Giuseppe Vajra’s one of the region’s most outstanding talents and his latest collection offers quality throughout the range from the serious and cellar worthy cru Barolo bottlings to the more ready to go wines like this one, and I can almost never not mention his thrilling dry Riesling, one of my absolute favorites.

The ever innovative Vajra family, who pioneered organic farming in Barolo in the early 1970s and who invested in high elevation parcels, knowing that they would be greatly beneficial with the ever warming climate, painstakingly researched the historical recipe for this old style Nebbiolo, finding the winemaking protocol that follows the 1606 writings of G.B. Croce, jeweler of the House of Savoia, who chronicled this delicacy and who noted that the wines were bottled soon after the fermentation so as to retain a gentle off-dry finish, with a zippy spritz and a lovely energy. This 2020 vintage, which was one of the longest in recent times and helped add vigorous natural acidity while providing ripe density, was done with about 18% of the grapes, which came from younger vines within the Langhe DOC, fermented in whole clusters with the rest being de-stemmed berries, all in tank. Then, as the winery notes, after the noted shorter maceration, the wine was then racked to finish fermentation off the skins, for a gentler extraction and was bottled in February following harvest. This wine, which I really chilled down on a warm evening went beautifully with a spicy pasta rigatoni with Calabrian peppers, and I highly recommend it for the contented smiles it provokes.
($24 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2015 Domaine Anthony Thévenet, Morgon, Vielles Vignes, Cru Beaujolais, France.
The 2015 Domaine Anthony Thévenet Morgon “Vieilles Vignes” is a generous and smooth drinking Cru Beaujolais with pure Gamay juiciness that provides endless enjoyment and is an exceptional value for what it get in the glass or bottle, which includes grapes sourced from all organic vines that were planted between1865 and1935 and set on the classic sandy soils with schist and blue granite of upper elevation Morgon, one of the region’s best crus. Fermented and aged naturally in mainly concrete with partial carbonic and bottled without additions, except for a small dose sulfur and or finning or filtering, the Anthony Thévenet is all about tradition and purity showing layers of black raspberry, plum and cherry fruits to start along with hints of walnut, stony mineral, truffle and anise. Uniquely in the cellar to keep the texture silky, Anthony doesn’t do punch-downs or pump-overs and the wine is moved only with gentle gravity flow. Interesting, Anthony Thévenet is not related to the famous Thévenets in the region, Jean-Paul, who is one of the most famous producers in Morgon and Fleurie history, and his son Charly, that is now making the wines, are not related, which would seem weird, but then you find out that Thévenet is actually an extremely common last name around these parts. That said, this was my first experience with Anthony’s wines and I was happily impressed with the nature of this wine and found it completely charming. Served to me at cellar temperature, this old vine Morgon gained a lovely strawberry note and the aromatic really perked up while it opened in the glass

Anthony Thévenet, who has put time in with some legendary winemakers, honing his own skills, is part of the new generation of vignerons in Cru Beaujolais that are driven by passion and driven by the love of place and history, making wines that are true to traditions and with a respect for the land. Mostly, including Thévenet are devotees of Jules Chauvet, who almost single handedly turned the region around by pursuing organic and natural style wines, rejecting industrial farming and mass production, his influence is still felt today in the wines here, as well as In the wines from his mentors, as well as local heros such as Lapierre, Dutraive, the Bretons and the other namesake Thévenets. In 2010, Thévenet inherited his grandfather’s vineyard in Villié-Morgon, with awesome old vine parcels that are 40-150 years old. Anthony worked for the legendary Jean Foillard, along with George Descombes in the vineyard and in the cellars. He released his first vintage in 2013, which he handcrafts in the vin naturel style, after working closely with Decombes and Foillard gave him time to fine tune his own wines. Thévenet works and lives among his vines with animals, so it is important that the environment is healthy and he has, as his importer T. Edwards says, a steadfast devotion to his vines and the terroir with a huge respect for those that came before him. The vineyards are all farmed organically with no chemicals and no pesticides all by hand and sorting is done directly in the vineyard. The wines see a mix of old wood and concrete tank, and get 10 to 25 days of carbonic maceration and rest in the cement for 8 months. I am now excited to try the more current vintages, especially the 2019 and the upcoming 2020s.
($28 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2016 Tribute to Grace, Grenache, Santa Barbara Highlands Vineyard, Santa Barbara County.
The 2016 Tribute to Grace Grenache from the Santa Barbara Highlands Vineyard is a deeply flavored and dark wine, much more opulent and dense than I expected, it is serous stuff that will remind people of big modern era Chateauneufs with ripe layering of fruits and its impressive mouth feel. Winemaker Angela Osborne, the Kiwi transplant, is making some of the state’s most sought after and desirable Grenache wines, each with individual characteristics from the different vineyards she uses, with this one being one of the biggest and most impactful in the collection and this dark garnet colored 2016 is ripe full-bodied vintage to enjoy over the next 3 to 5 years. The nose is fruity and subtlety floral with some underlying spice and earth all of which echos on the palate and on the aftertaste with a mouth full of red berries, plum sauce, kirsch, fig paste and mocha along with faint traces of cinnamon, pepper and anise. This wine is very evolved and the tannins and acidity are luxurious integrated. making for a lush and smooth expression of Grenache, it’s a wine that is really best with robust cuisine, I can see it going incredibly well with prime rib, lamb kabobs and or a hearty beef strew, and for those that don’t eat meat, best to pair this with hard sheep’s cheeses, mushroom casserole or veggie lasagna. Osborne, as I have mentioned, has made quite a name for herself and is now part of the fabric of this new generation of talent in California that are taking our wines to the next level.

Angela Osborne, the New Zealand born winemaker who moved to California in 2006 to pursue her love of Grenache, first made this wine in 2007, sourcing her first California Grenache from this Santa Barbara Highlands Vineyard, which is, as she notes, nestled high above the Pacific Ocean and close to 33 miles inland, this high-desert vineyard site provides, in her words, the perfect balance of heat and light for thrilling quality grapes. Osborne named her label after her grandmother Grace, who she says gave her her so much and who she will always pay tribute to through her wines, which she also hopes will show a sense of grace as well, something I think she has done well in her first dozen or so vintages. The Santa Barbara Highlands Vineyard is farmed sustainably and planted, as Osborne notes, according to particular site-specificity and set on exposed rock and deep sandy soils, it is a warm terroir that is not unlike Chateauneuf du Pape or the Mediterranean region of Spain and France, particularly good for Grenache, which makes up only a tiny percentage of what is grown here with five different Grenache clones in a small block that Angela gets. For those looking for exceptional new world Grenache, Tribute to Grace should be on your radar, these are hard to find wines, but well worth the chase, and don’t miss Osborne’s Rosé if you see it, a bit easier to find are the Folded Hills label, which I tasted at the San Francisco Slow Wine tasting last year and reviewed, these are wines she consults for and are excellent as well.
($45 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2020 Ricochet Wine Company, Le Ressort, Pétillant Naturel, Sparkling Wine, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
This Le Ressort Pet-Nat, made from Pinot Blanc and a small amount of Pinot Noir, by Ricochet is a fresh and delightful little sparkler that is more complex and textural that first impressions and I was left very impressed and happily pleased by the second glass, its dry crisp nature and energy make it wonderfully food friendly as well as being highly quaffable. I had never heard of or had these Ricochet Wines before coming across this bottling, and I have found out winemaker Erich Berg has some solid background in Oregon wine and has worked for Domaine Serene and the lesser known, but really cool Illahe Vineyards and is now serving as the assistant winemaker to Brianne Day at Day Wines, who has become one of the state’s leaders in natural styled and terroir driven wines. Not only are Berg’s wines good, he is doing good beyond crafting his wines by donating 5% of sales to local and regional non-profit organizations that specialize in areas that help people bounce back from difficult situations, hence the name Ricochet, which means to bounce back.

The small lot and handcrafted 2020 Ricochet Le Ressort Pétillant Naturel, which is slightly pinkish, almost Rosé like, was made from 95% Pinot Blanc and just 5% Pinot Noir from grapes sourced from a site in McMinnville in the Willamette Valley. The soda cap, pop top, Le Ressort was naturally fermented and saw just a few months of lees aging before bottled with some cloudy sediment presence in the glass, but the flavors are bright and clear with a surprising sense of richness and body with an impactful palate of Fuji apple, melon, peach and a delicate sense of cherry and strawberry fruits along with hints of herbs, mineral, brioche, verbena and subtle florals. Ricochet, which started really in 2018, is a micro winery and according to Berg is now up to 12 tons per vintage of grapes processed, which is tiny, and they do a little Pinot Noir, Tempranillo, Mourvedre Rosé, Pinot Blanc, Gruner Veltliner, and this fun bubbly Pet-Nat. I look forward to trying more of these Ricochet Wines, with the Gruner and Tempranillo being high on my list to try and while this Le Ressort is already sold out on their website I highly recommend chasing a few bottles down in the wild!
($22 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2018 Carbone by Favia Wines, Cabernet Sauvignon, Napa Valley.
Andy Erickson’s Favia Carbone Cab is an ultra deep, lush and luxurious wine that shows a fine balance and energy, it should continue to please and improve for many years to come and I was very impressed with the total quality here, it is very much in line with Cabernets that cost twice or three times the price. Erickson, of course has incredible experience making elite wines, including his wines at Screaming Eagle, Staglin, Dancing Hares and Ovid to name a few, is an exceptional winemaker, who I think is celebrating his 20th year as a head winemaker in Napa, so it was great to check in on his wines. Andy and his wife Annie now make there home in the Coombsville AVA, a small part of Napa with a long history, as they note, goes back to the later part of the 1800s. Back in the early days of Napa Valley viticulture, the Erickson’s tell, three brothers settled in what is now known as Coombsville, they, Antonio, Lorenzo, and Nicola Carbone also were the first Italian immigrants to inhabit this quiet, rolling hilled area east of the city of Napa, and records show they were cultivating crops as far back as 1872. They, as the Erickson’s continue, planted grapes on the hillsides, and they, as tradition in the area planted fruits and vegetables closer to the main house, which was erected in 1886, and they constructed a stone cellar that still remains today. The property became known as the Antonio Carbone Winery and Italian Gardens, and now it is home to Favia Wines, after Andy and Annie painstakingly restored the old residences, winery, orchards and the gardens. They have made this property home there family and farm a percentage of their own vines that go into this awesome Carbone, named for the original owners, Cabernet Sauvignon.

The 2018 vintage of the Favia Carbone Cabernet Sauvignon is a blend of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon, 24% Cabernet Franc, and 1% Petit Verdot and is the first vintage to be called “Cabernet Sauvignon” on the label. As prior releases were more classic Bordeaux blends, this year’s wine, as the winery notes, maintains the stylistic opulence and fruit density, with the Cabernet Franc to the aromatic quality and adds distinct spice detail. The Cabernet Sauvignon is dominate as would be expected and delivers a thick sense black fruits, including blackberry coulis, hints of blueberries, plum and creme de cassis, as well as providing the structure and power here. Texture, a signature trait in Erickson’s wines is paramount and is seductive in this vintage, and remarkably seamless for such a young wine and the aftertaste goes on and on with touches of dark florals, exotic spices and anise. This Carbone is sourced from our favorite vineyards in the cooler Coombsville AVA, here at their estate and from a high end Oakville site, all of which gives this Cabernet Sauvignon its velvety tannins and complexity, underneath its expressive fruit. This wine was aged for sixteen months in French oak barrels, with enough new to give it a sweet toasty vanilla scent in the background, and it was bottled without fining and filtration. This inky purple/crimson wine really makes an impression and showcases the Favia house style, making it a gateway into their top bottlings. While not inexpensive, it is not outrageous, especially for what you get in the bottle. Also, the more limited efforts here sell out quickly, with 1,144 cases produced, the Carbone is much more available, so you’ll likely be able to find it and I recommend it for those looking for something a little more affordable than what you’ll see in this quality tier.
($75 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2016 Filomena Wine Company, Syrah, Griffin’s Lair Vineyard, Petaluma Gap AVA, Sonoma County.
Luke Nio’s Filomena Griffin’s Lair Syrah is a thrill ride of epic proportions with boysenberry, hoisin, crushed violets, minty herbs, bacon, dark current and blueberry compote all coming at you on the medium/full bodied palate along with peppercorns, tarry earth, cinnamon, cedar. camphor and salted black licorice in the background adding to this wine’s northern Rhone meets California personality, it’s awesome stuff from this rising star. Nio, who is a winemaker at Morgan Twain-Peterson’s Bedrock Wine Co, started his own micro-winery label in 2014, and has built up a solid reputation as a winemaker and has crafted a stellar collection of small lot wines over the last few vintages, including some cool rarities like his Enz Vineyard Cab Pfeffer Rosé and his Ricci Vineyard St. Laurent Red from Carneros, made from a unique Austrian grape, which has become a must have wine for me with its Cru Beaujolais style, semi-carbonic, juiciness, as well as this Griffin’s Lair Bottling, the signature wine here. This Syrah is impressive for it’s expressive nature and purity, it is a powerful and deeply colored wine that delivers a real bang for the buck with lush dark fruits, spice and classic smoky/meaty funk showing lush tannins, lively acidity, whole bunch complexity with a complex balance between the fruit and florals with the savory and mineral elements. Enjoy this gorgeous California Syrah over the next ten years and be sure to have it with hearty cuisine, especially BBQ, grilled meats and or wild and woodsy Mushroom dishes.

The Filomena Griffin’s Lair Syrah was hand crafted from small yielding vines in the cool, breezy zone in the Petaluma Gap AVA, not far from Lakeville and set on a complex array of fault influenced soils, the vineyard is farmed by John Flynn to mostly organic methods with the intension to move to full biodynamics in the future. Nio notes that Griffin’s Lair was planted in 2000 by Joan and Jim Griffin at their tiny ranch just off Lakeville Highway. It is planted to roughly 75% Pinot Noir and 25% Syrah (Noir, 470, Alban, and 877 clones) with a couple of rows of Viognier framing the Syrah block. The vineyard sits just five miles above San Pablo Bay at the southern end of the Petaluma Gap, an elbow-shaped valley that essentially acts as a wind tunnel from the coast. The Griffin’s Lair was elevated in prestige when Pax, famous for his Syrah released his version, which is one of the most desirable Syrahs in California, and it is a special site for Nio, who first came to the attention of Twain-Peterson with his own early efforts from this vineyard. This 2016 vintage was 100% whole cluster and foot-trod, employing an old school indigenous yeast fermentation with an extended maceration period with hand punch-downs before pressing. Everything done here was to promote full extraction of flavors and pigment with the idea to fully mature this wine before release. After the primary fermentation the Griffin’s Lair was barreled down to a neutral 600L demi-muid (French oak cask) and was aged 18 months before being bottled, then the wine was, as Nio adds, cellar rested for another 3 years. This offering is super limited, but I highly recommend getting a few bottles while you can and join this list!
($42 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2018 Domaine de Montille, Beaune Premier Cru “Les Grèves” Red Burgundy, France.
Etienne’s 2018 Beaune Premier Cru Les Grèves Rouge is a beautiful and detailed red Burgundy that absolutely shows its class and is remarkably poised for such a young wine with a gorgeous textural quality and depth of fruit already in evidence on the lively, but satiny medium bodied palate. First impressions here are of potential and I was easily seduced by the bouquet and the beautiful entry with its lovely red fruits, rose petals and bright spiciness from the use of whole bunches in the fermentation. The De Montille Beaune 1er Cru Les Grèves has silky round layers of Italian cherries, crushed raspberry and tangy strawberry fruits along with touches of mineral, herbs, blood orange and very well judged wood accenting, making for a regal and elegant Burgundy and one that should fill out in every dimension over the next 5 to 10 years, though one that seems to be complete and complexity enough to be enjoyed in its early life, it especially would be exciting with cuisine. This dark ruby colored Burgundy is ripe in aromatic and taste terms, highlighting the vintage and the showcases the underlying terroir, which is marked by the clay and limestone soils here that are very chalky, and as with all of De Montille’s farming, this parcel is all organic and biodynamic. Like his father’s classic style, Etienne De Montille used loads of whole clusters here, is this vintage, with about 66%, and it saw a native yeast primary fermentation, which is traditionally done here, along with a lengthy maceration period and diligent (daily) gentle hand punch-downs. After about 15 to 20 days on the skins the wine is pressed and racked to barrel, with about 25% new being used, as is per normal for the Domaine De Montille. The De Montille wines are always around 12% natural alcohol and the they usually see about 18 months in the oak before being bottled unfined and unfiltered, all of which seem to be geared for graceful aging and this 2018 Le Grèves with its sense of pedigree is looking good to live up to this domaine’s reputation.

Domaine de Montille, located in Volnay, is one of the most respected wineries in the world, not just one of the top domaines in Burgundy, but also sparking a huge amount of pride within France. The De Montilles, with a family heritage that dates back to the 17th century in the region and a winemaking tradition and history since 1750, but it wasn’t until Hubert de Montille, a well known lawyer, took over in 1947 that the estate started to rise in quality, joining some of the elite domaines in the Cote d”Or. Dedicated to wine and committed to excellence, Hubert began a run of producing long lived and highly sought after Burgundies, making some of the best reds within the Pommard, Beaune and Volnay crus ever seen. I have been lucky enough to taste a few of Hubert’s finest efforts, including his 1990 Volnay, 1er Cru, Les Taillepieds, which was a bit near the end of its life, but was absolutely heavenly. Now, De Montille is run by Hubert’s son Etienne, who has maintained the heritage here and in some cases eclipsed his famous father with some excellent wines of his own. It should not be overlooked that, Hubert’s equally accomplished daughter Alix, who’s married to Jean-Marc Roulot, joined as the winemaker for the white wines, which have almost become the equal of the reds. Etienne, also a lawyer, has also carved out some new high quality parcels, which have ben added to their impressive collection of mainly Premier Cru vineyard plots, which now includes two Grand Crus, Corton and Clos Vougeot to go with all those exceptional Premiers. Over the years, I have enjoyed many of these wines and I have developed a personal taste for a few of them in particular and this Les Grèves Beaune 1er Cru is one of my favorites, along with the Volnay, 1er Cru, Les Mitans, the Pommard, 1er Cru, Les Pézerolles, the Beaune, 1er Cru, Les Sizies, which is one of the best values in the lineup, and the Cote de Nuits grown Nuits St Georges bottlings. The winery now has 20 hectares of land in 20 appellations, impressively Etienne and Alix have 75% in Premier Cru and Grand Cru vineyard sites. I hope to see this beauty again in a dozen or so years time, it should reward the patient and savvy Burgundy fans.
($125 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2018 I. Brand & Family Winery, Cabernet Sauvignon, Massa Estate Vineyard “Block 10” Carmel Valley, Monterey County.
The outer Medoc like Massa Estate Block Ten Cabernet Sauvignon by Ian Brand starts with loads of stony mineral and some chunky tannins that reminds me of young Bordeaux in the the Chateau Montrose St. Estephe mold with an underlying power and a gravelly feel before opening nicely and expanding on the full bodied palate, this is not your jammy and ripe velvety Cab, it is, as Ian calls it, a proper Cabernet, with an old school charm. Things move in the right direction with air and time in the glass with the deep blackberry, currant, plum and earthy mulberry fruits folding together beautifully along with hints of green spice, cedar, anise, dried peony, sage and lingering kirsch and chalk. This all organic Massa Block 10 Cabernet is muscle laced and made for aging, if you want the best out of it, so if you want to pop the cork now, best to decant it for a few hours and have with a robust meal, that said, it offers a rewarding experience for the patient and shows the classic terroir and structure this site is historically known for, going back to the 1970s when the Durney family owned and made wines from this vineyard. Those early Durney Cabs were quite rough when young, but really blossomed with age, and this vineyard, now owned by the Massa family and overseen by Ian Brand, is getting a lot of attention by some famous new generation winemakers, including Morgan Twain-Peterson of Bedrock Wine Company, who will get fruit from here this harvest, as well as Jaimee Motely, now the head winemaker at the famous Stony Hill Vineyard, and ex local Megan Glaab of Ryme Cellars to name a few. In recent years, Brand has found some old vineyards that had almost been forgotten and brought them back into the spotlight, like this Massa Estate, as well as the Enz Vineyard where he does his signature Mourvedre.

Ian Brand, famous for his old vine Grenache and Mourvedre bottlings, has really shown a talent with the Bordeaux varietals, especially Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon with his Monte Bello Road Cabernet Sauvignon from high up in the Santa Cruz Mountains being his pinnacle effort and a wine that impresses fans of classic California Cabernets, in the style of some of the legends, not far in quality from this wines neighbor at Ridge and in a style that might remind people of Phillip Togni and Cathy Corison. The Massa Block 10 comes from the high elevation upper Carmel Valley in an area called Cachagua, it’s the deep end of the valley with a set of complex soils and a sense of remoteness and serenity with sloping vineyards and a long growing season, influenced by the cool Pacific breezes and cool nights, but warm days that allows for a full development of flavors without excessive sugars. This block that Ian sources the grapes from was planted in early 1980s and has being organically and dry farmed since the vines first started producing, which adds to the depth and the structure grip in this compelling and dark purple/garnet wine. Brand, who picked this 2018 at fairly restrained Brix levels as the year was cool and even throughout the season, much less flamboyant than the much riper 2017 vintage, used native yeasts and a medium length maceration period as there was plenty of extract and grainy tannins here, crafted from carefully sorted and de-stemmed berries. After about two weeks the wine was racked to French oak barrels, with about 33% new wood, where the wine was aged for 20 months. This Massa Cabernet is only going to get better and better over the next 5 to 10 years, give it time, but for more immediate pleasures, while this one is in the cellar, drink the mentioned Fellom Ranch, Monte Bello Road and the Bates Ranch Cab Franc, I bought a few of these outstanding Cabs and I recommend you get some too. As a Carmel Valley native, it is great to see these local vineyards shine and be taken seriously and this wine should stand the test of time.
($75 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2018 Bucklin, Ancient Field Blend, Old Hill Ranch, Sonoma Valley.
Will Bucklin’s Zin based Ancient Red Field Blend is a deep, richly flavored and thrilling wine that has more than two dozen different varietals in the mix, with close to 65% Zinfandel with the remaining balance co-fermented after being picked together. These other grapes, all inter-planted at Old Hill Ranch, includes small amounts of Grenache, Alicante Bouschet, Petite Sirah, Grand Noir, Syrah, Carignan, the rare Persan red grape, originally from the Savoie region in the Alpine region of France close to the Swiss border and some Mataro (Mourvedre) as well as some white grape clusters. This Ancient Zin blend is dark purple/garnet color in the glass, boldly fruity and floral on the nose with a complex full bodied palate with loads of classic ripe black raspberries along with some briar/spicy notes, adding sweet plums, minty herbs, sandalwood, baked earth, mineral, kirsch, mocha and a dark florals. Bucklin humbly says of his Ancient parcel, it is 12 Acres, 30 grape varieties and 1 wine! This is an understatement and this is an iconic wine, like those of Bedrock and in league with the Ridge Pagani and Lytton Springs bottlings. This is a special and historic place for Zinfandel, where it was first planted, located in the Glen Ellen/Kenwood area of the Sonoma Valley, which was also the first place to planted to non Mission grapes in the state. The 2018 is a lively and fresh vintage in character, but also deeply concentrated and it should only get better with age, while I loved the 2017, this release takes this wine to the next level. I recommend securing some of them as soon as possible. Bucklin has a gifted touch with his wines and as a winegrower he is very in tune with the subtle nuances that his vines give, he was a Pinot Noir geek and was the winemaker at Oregon’s King Estate and you can see that gentle winemaking experience in his wines, and this wine really benefited from this approach.

The Old Hill Ranch estate was found by William McPherson Hill, the namesake of Old Hill Ranch, in 1852, just two years after California became a state, after he bought this property from the famous General Vallejo, who himself contributed to the planting of vineyards in the region expanding on what the Missions had established a century before. As Bucklin notes, the vineyards were planted to grape varieties that Hill had specially imported from Peru, and as mention these were the first non-mission grapes planted in Sonoma. In 1856, Bucklin adds, Hill was growing a grape variety called “Black St. Peters,” a variety prized for its fruit intensity, acidity and color, which was much more pleasing, rich and complex than the Mission grape(s), this Black St. Peters grape was actually “Zinfandel” and it started our love affair with this mysterious Croatian grape (known now to be Tribidrag, thanks to the incredible work of Dr. Carole Merideth at UC Davis) that immigrated here in an unlikely trek from its homeland through Austria, Paris and Boston, finally finding a new home in Sonoma in the 1850s. Will Bucklin The Bucklins, who have suffered and are recovering from the Napa/Sonoma fires in 2017 when their family compound burned down, but luckily the vines survived, are great caretakers of this land, for which we can all be grateful. The family bought this property in run down down condition in 1981 and, as mentioned here, to their great credit, instead of ripping up the old vines with so many almost un-sellable varietals, they put in a heroic effort to bring the vineyard back into great condition and keep its historic vines intact. Over the years great wines have come from this Old Hill Ranch, mostly notably Joel Peterson’s Ravenwood single vineyard version, a wine that seems to age forever! The Ancient Field Blend really captures this heritage in the bottle and this vintage is one of my favorites to date.
($40 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2018 Domaine Sylvain Pataille, Marsannay “Clos du Roy” Red Burgundy, France.
One of my favorite Burgundy producers for immediate pleasure and value, the Domaine Sylvain Pataille offers a stunning lineup of Marsannay bottlings, including the gorgeous Clos du Roy, with this dark ruby colored 2018 version showing beautiful aromatics, silky layers and pure Pinot fruit in an impeccably balanced and expressive wine. Sylvain Pataille, who is a top consultant in the region, makes his wines in a very non intervention way with no additions and is very committed to organic and biodynamic farming in all of his vineyard sites, which are most all within the boundaries of the Marsannay zone in the northern part of the Cote de Nuits. There is so much to admire here in this Clos du Roy with a distinct mineral charm, spice and floral intensity, it shows smooth flowing layers of red berries, black cherry, plum and strawberry/pomegranate fruits along with a delicate earthiness, subtle sandalwood/cedar, snappy herbs and orange tea. The texture and expressive medium bodied palate give this wine its graceful refinement, while it still has an easy transparency, energy and wonderful length, this is a wine that gives you what you want in an affordable Burgundy, it is opulent, complex and drinks exceptionally well in its youth. Sylvain Pataille, the wild haired vigneron that looks like middle school chemistry teacher, does mainly Pinot Noir, but also crafts a selection of Aligote based whites and a classic Marsannay Rosé, called Fleur de Pinot, as well as a set of Chardonnays and a extremely rare Pinot Beurrot, which we know as Pinot Gris.

For the 2018 Marsannay Clos du Roy, Sylvain Pataille employed a100% whole-cluster and indigenous yeast fermentation with a very gentle and cool maceration period to extract color and flavor, but to also allow for an easy elegance to shine through, which is clearly in evidence in this wine already. After the juice finishes primary fermentation the wine is softy racked to the mostly used wood with the wine then being aged for 18 months in French oak barrels, after which Pataille did the final blend and let the wine settle in stainless steel tank for 5-6 months, with only a minimal sulfur dose at bottling for stability. This premier lieu-dit is set on clay and marl with a, as the winery notes, unique calcium rich gravelly (grèzes litée), slightly reddish and iron-rich top soil with some vines that date back to 1950s. Interestingly, according to the Syndicat d’Appellation Marsannay, the Clos du Roy (Roi and Roy means King) in the little town of Chenôve was originally called “Le Clos des Ducs”, as it was a possession of the Dukes of Burgundy. The vineyard was renamed Clos du Roy in 1477, after the defeat at Nancy of the Duke of Burgundy, Charles the Bold, and the subsequent annexation to the Kingdom of France of his lands. The Clos du Roy is a special site and American geologist Brenna Quigley, who recently was honored in the press for being one of the country’s best 40 under 40 wine industry personalities, was instrumental in understanding the soils here, and has impressively bedrock (soil) mapped the region. The wines of Pataille are incredibly terroir driven and natural expressions of place, especially this exceptional Marsannay Clos du Roy, a wine that always way over delivers for the price and one I highly recommend.
($60 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2019 Lucia by Pisoni, Pinot Noir, Soberanes Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands.
There not many wines that can rival the Lucia Soberanes Pinot for presence in the glass, in fact, in recent years this bottling has nearly eclipsed the fabled Pisoni Estate Pinot and this 2019 looks like it will reach even greater heights than the fantastic 2018, this is absolutely awesome young Pinot that is close to perfection in its style and showcases its sense of place with a badge of honor. This wonderfully saturated and dark Pinot Noir has a thrill to it, it is full of power, energy and is impeccable in its layering of flavors with a gorgeous array of black cherry, blackberry, plum and earthy strawberry fruits along with contrasting briar/spice and savory elements, plus a touch of polished oak, hoisin, fig and vanillin notes, all enhanced by the enticing nose here which is perfumed with pretty florals and the sensation of blue fruits. The medium/full palate is still taut and lively, but opens quickly to satiny opulence with a wonderfully luxurious mouth feel and adds a dimension of creamy richness and lingers on and on with echos of the pure Pinot fruit, fans of the Santa Lucia Highlands will be completely seduced by this Lucia Soberanes Pinot, it is simply outstanding. I wouldn’t be surprised to see this edition to make the year’s ten best wines list. There is so much to love in these Pisoni offerings, it is hard to pick a favorite, especially with the 2019 Soberanes Vineyard releases that include this Pinot and the fabulous Chardonnay, and I can’t wait to try the Syrah, which in some years is the best of the best from here. The long cool growing season, smaller than normal yields and no compromise farming has led to the greatness that is in bottle, I highly recommend getting a few bottles of this magical nectar.

The 33 acre Soberanes Vineyard in the Santa Lucia Highlands, which in honor of the area’s history, bears the family name of José María Soberanes, who marched from Mexico to Monterey Bay with the famed Portolá expedition, and his son Feliciano, who acquired the 8,900-acre land grant, as the winery notes, as repayment for his loan of forty horses, fifty head of cattle, four oxen and some sheep. This vineyard is again where the Pisoni and Franscioni families have partnered to farm this premier vineyard site, that sits up and is very close to their famed Garys’ Vineyard, and is the most recent addition to their stellar collection. The Soberanes was planted to Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Syrah back in 2007, and has been gaining in reputation and quality with every vintage, it features sandy loam soils that, as the winery boasts, has significant sub-soil boulders layered into the alluvial fan and diverse clonal material with more than a dozen of the most renowned heritage selections from California and Burgundy in the mosaic of the Pinot Noir vines. To highlight the nature of this special place and the vintage, winemaker Jeff Pisoni used a native fermentation with about 30% whole cluster, with each of vineyard block being done separately in open-top tanks with great care and attention to detail to achieve deep color and flavor extraction, looking for balance and complexity in the finished wine, which was aged in French oak barrels for just under a year with 40% new wood employed in this vintage. Drink this coastal influenced and terroir driven Lucia 2019 Soberanes Pinot over the next 10 to 15 years, it is what legends are made of.
($70 Est.) 96+ Points, grapelive

2019 Morgan Winery, Albarino, Arroyo Seco, Monterey County.
The bright, fresh and salty crisp Morgan Albarino is a great Summer wine and shows off plenty of varietal character and nuance to be taken seriously, especially when enjoyed with classic shellfish pairings.There’s a good aromatics, brisk energy and mineral notes that frame the Albarino’s zesty citrus, led by Kaffir lime, and green apple core along with tart peach, wet stones and a light herbal essence. This lean white is great alternative to the sea of generic Sauvignon Blanc and Pinot Grigio wines in this price range, it is nicely refreshing and cleans the palate with vibrant natural acidity, while still having enough structure and texture to please the senses. While we usually consider Albarino a Spanish varietal and most famously grown in the Rias Baixas region of Galicia, the grape is traditionally grown in both Spain and Portugal, where it more often blended and one of the grapes used in regional wines, such as (in) Vinho Verde. Albarino has found a happy home here in California and is now found throughout the state, though it does particularly well in coastal, marine influenced sites, like here in Monterey and especially in the Arroyo Seco AVA, where Morgan sources this well crafted version. We all owe Michael Heavens a big thank you for bringing up the first California example, his first vintage from Carneros in 1999 was absolutely delicious and showed the potential of this exceptional grape and now, after more than twenty years, we have stellar versions available with this lovely Morgan joining Heavens Cave Dog, which comes from those first cuttings, Joyce Wine Company’s Albarino that comes from the sister vineyard, to the one used by Morgan, in Arroyo Seco and Ian Brand’s La Marea from the Kristy Vineyard in southern Monterey County on ancient river bed soils.

The Albarino grapes for this Morgan 2019 release was all sourced from the Mission Ranch vineyard in the Arroyo Seco AVA, farmed by Mark Chesebro, who also does a fine example and who was an early fan of this grape. The daytime temperatures in Arroyo Seco regularly reach the mid to upper 80’s during the Summer months, but the warm days are mitigated by the ever present morning and night time fog and the constant cool breezes that are drawn south from Monterey Bay. The climate in Arroyo Seco provides an extended growing season, resulting in quality fruit of depth in flavor and balance. The grapes for Morgan’s Albarino were hand-picked and, per the winery, whole cluster pressed to stainless steel tanks for a cool fermentation, retaining freshness and bright fruit flavors. After primary fermentation, the wine was then oak aged for six months in a combination of French and Hungarian barrels, that included about 11% new, which doesn’t make its presence felt in flavor, but adds to the mouth feel. The year was long and cool, highlighting the Ocean effect on the Albarino, and while there was some concern about full ripeness, but by dry-farming, according to the winery, in select parcels helped get the grapes there, allowing healthy phenolics, acid, and concentration. The use of Hungarian wood played a subtle role here to help smooth out the wine, without adding too much sweet toastiness that the new French would give, as they deliver a more neutral effect, which is much appreciated in a wine such as this. All of the latest Morgan wines show a heightened degree of elegance and lots of credit is due owner Dan Lee for bringing in the hugely talented Sam Smith as head winemaker, who has really taken these wines to the next level. He has now applied his gifted touch throughout the collection and this wine is greatly benefited by his precise detailing. Don’t miss these new releases, including this Abarino, along with the latest Chards, Pinots and the awesome estate Double L Syrah!
($24 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2019 Kelley Fox Wines, Pinot Noir, Mirabai, Dundee Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
The brilliantly vivid and gemstone ruby hued 2019 Mirabai Pinot Noir from the hugely talented Kelley Fox is just gorgeous in the glass with radiant flavors, spices and aromatic florals that all seduce the senses, highlighting a sense of place, in this case the iron rich Jory soils and hillside old vines of the Dundee Hills as well as the lighter framed lift of the vintage, fabulous from start to finish. There’s some whole bunch juiciness and crunch that adds to the exotic side that comes trough with a touch of earthiness and mineral tones that go beautifully well with the core cherry and strawberry fruit and the subtle neutral wood, making for, as Fox says, a transparent, luminous and uplifting Pinot Noir that I suggest is a Pinot for Pinot lovers with a nice cut of acidity and absolute purity, no pretense or make up on this natural beauty. In recent years I have come to really love these Kelley Fox offerings, especially this bottling, which is always a fantastic value, but I also must say, Fox’s Freedom Hill Pinot Blanc is exceptional and should not be missed either. The delicate and medium bodied Mirabai opens open to real bright, but silky layers of the cherry and strawberry led fruits along with a touch of pomegranate, plum and brambly red berries along with orange tea, dusty red spices, including a bit of shaved cinnamon and pepper, cedar and rose petals.

This 2019 vintage of Mirabai was crafted from two vineyards in the Dundee Hills, 75% from the old vines at the Maresh Vineyard, with some of the blocks dating back to the early 1970s, one of the top cru sites in the region and then about 25% from the Webber Vineyard, which is all self rooted Pommard clone that was planted back in 1983, both of which add pedigree, fruit density and complexity to this oh so good wine. Fox, who has been a top consultant and winemaker in Oregon for many years, including a decade at the Scott Paul winery, used about 30% whole cluster and native yeast fermentation for this Mirabai, which saw a gentle maceration and was aged close to nine months in well seasoned French oak barrels. This is wonderfully fresh in style with just 12.5% natural alcohol, though (it) has impressive depth and texture, but is easy to enjoy in its youth, somewhat Cru Beaujolais like and it is very nice with a slight chill as well. The Mirabai selection is great way to get started with the Kelley Fox collection before digging into her more precious bottlings, such as her single vineyard versions from Webber, Maresh and Hyland, all of which are a bit more serious and age worthy. That said, this Mirabai, for the price is one that is light on the wallet for the quality on offer and one to stock up on. Fox made 972 cases of this rewarding Mirabai Pinot, so it is readily available, so there is no excuses to not get some, you’ll be happy you did.
($37 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2017 Domaine Harmand-Geoffroy, Gevrey-Chambertin, Red Burgundy, France.
The steady and well regardad Domaine Harmand-Geoffroy is run by Gerard Harmand and his son, Philippe, this family-run estate that was originally founded in the late nineteenth century has nine hectares of vineyards, all planted to Pinot Noir and all located within the boundaries of Gevrey Chambertin in the Cote de Nuits. The viticulture and winemaking here is traditional and classically styled, as this 2017 bottling of basic Gevrey-Chambertin shows to great effect, with transparent and silken textural layering, ripe red fruits, mineral and a touch of raw earthiness that perfect matches the percentage of newer oak barrels and the subtle sweet toastiness. This bottling with its white label, uniquely different from another importer, was a direct import for K & L Wines, in case long time fans of this winery, as I am, might be confused, but the quality and taste is all too, and happily so, familiar. The 2017 is medium bodied and has a dark ruby color with a nose of crushed berries, rose petals, sandalwood and a faint chanterelle, woodsy note, before opening up on the palate to black cherry, blood orange, mulberry and strawberry fruits along with an array of baking spices, underbrush and seeped tea. The lingering finish finish is pure smooth Pinot with an almost creamy aftertaste, while still bright and youthful, it proved easy to enjoy and was graceful with food. The clean lines in this wine come from the use of stainless in the primary fermentation and the well judged use of new oak, which is typically around 20% in this bottling, and in the vines, Gérard and Philippe hand tend and farm without the use of pesticides, chemicals or synthetic treatments, looking to promote healthy soils and authentic character in their wines.

The Domaine Harmand-Geoffroy offers a chance to explore the terroir of Gevrey-Chambertin through their many lieu-dit and Premier Cru sites at very reasonable prices, except for the Grand Cru Mazis-Chambertin, which is their most prized wine, especially for the small production and hand crafted nature of this wines. This wines may never be blockbusters, but they are wonderfully true in possessing a sense of place and this 2017 Gevrey-Chambertin way over performs for the price I got it for. Gerard and Philippe use grapes that are de-stemmed 100%, and carefully hand sorted, then there is a cold soak and maceration that lasts up to five dayss, then cuvaison goes on for about two weeks, this is very carefully and gently done with precise temperature-control. After the wine is finished with primary fermentation it is then racked into barrel where the malo-lactic fermentation occurs naturally and the wines are aged for close to 16 months on the fine lees in small oak barrels or Burgundy barriques and bottled unfined and unfiltered. In America and especially on the west coast, you almost never see a quality grower/producer Gevrey under $75 these days, so when I saw this offered at such a low price I was a touch nervous, but it is drinking beyond expectations and I would recommend it without hesitation. These wines, in my own experience get a bit more complex and pretty when they get a few more years on them, the maturity brings a delicacy that is very rewarding. This Village Gevrey was assembled from a selection of different plots with a combination of clay and limestone based soils, all scattered throughout the appellation including some up to 80 years old, giving the wine its pedigree. Over the years, since the 2006 vintage, I’ve tried the Gevreys and the Mazis many times and I’ve always happy with what I’ve found.
($45 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2020 Tablas Creek, Patelin de Tablas Rosé, Paso Robles.
This Patelin de Tablas Rosé is one of the standard bearers of dry California Rosés and remains one of the tastiest in the state, it is made from 75% Grenache, 19% Mourvedre and 6% Counoise sourced from mostly non estate grown fruit, but all within the preferred westside zone with cool air from the Templeton Gap and the classic limestone spoils, which allows ripe flavors, but with vitality and a crisp form. The delicately pale, peachy/pink colored 2020 is immensely pleasing, lively and steely with tart cherry, strawberry, grapefruit, watermelon and nectarine flavors leading the way along with saline, mouth watering acidity, mineral notes, rosewater and wild herbs. While lean, bone dry and zesty, this Patelin de Tablas Rosé has a surprising roundness and is very palate generous, making for an impactful wine and wonderfully refreshing at only 13% natural alcohol. The grapes for the Patelin de Tablas Rosé, as the winery explains, are sourced from three Paso Robles appellations, all as mentioned on the westside, including the warmer, higher-elevation Adelaida District, near the Tablas Creek estate itself, and the moderate, hilly El Pomar to the south-east, that provide the structure in the wine, as well as the moderate-to-warm Creston area, east of Templeton, that produces grapes with loads of fruit and spice. Tablas Creek’s Rosé was one of the first serious dry Rosé wines in California and it continues to be one of the most tasty, though it now has lots of great competition now, from Bedrock’s Ode to Lulu to Arnot-Roberts’ Rosé of Touriga Nacional, to Niki Pallesen’s Stars & Dust Rosé, Tribute to Grace and Ian Brand’s Le P’tit Paysan Peirre’s Pirouette, to name just a few.

The Tablas Creek Vineyard Patelin de Tablas Rosé is mainly Grenache, similar to Tavel, the Rhone’s only all Rosé appellation and to parts of Provence like the area of Cassis, which this wine really reminds me of most, and is, as the winery notes, supplemented with Mourvèdre and Counoise to provide some deeper fruit tones and additional spice. The winery continues that 80% of the grapes were picked and direct-pressed into stainless steel tanks with no real skin contact, or maceration, beyond the time they spent in the press, while the remaining 20% grapes were picked cold, early in the morning or at night, then de-stemmed and left to cold soak for close to 8 hours to provide some color and structure. Going on the winery adds, that after 12 hours or there abouts, these macerating lots were pressed and then added to the direct-press lots to ferment. The fermentation was spontaneous, only using native yeasts and after primary fermentation the tanks were blended and cold-stabilized, with everything done to preserve freshness and purity, and the finished Rosé was bottled after about 3 months in tank. Tablas also produces a full on Saignee Rosé that is full bodied and much fruitier in style, that wine, the Dianthus, is much darker, picked later and comes from estate vines and is made of 48% Mourvedre, 37% Grenache and 15% Counoise, making more traditionally like a more powerful Bandol Rosé. Both are exceptionally delicious wines and both deserve your attention if you are looking for quality dry Rosé, though I personally seem to gravitate to this Patelin de Tablas version.
($25 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2019 Weingut Brundlmayer, Riesling “Terrassen” Kamptal, Austria.
The lime scented and flavored dry 2019 Riesling Terrassen showcases the best qualities of Austrian versions of this grape adding zesty kumquat, green apple, melon and almond oil notes as it opens this Brundymsyer Kamptal Riesling is mouth watering, vibrantly fresh with a burst of stony saline and tropical fruit adding complexity. The light pale gold color belies the extract and depth found in this value priced wine, this is exceptional stuff, brilliantly focused and bristles with energy. Vincent Brundlmayer makes some of Austria’s most thrilling wines, especially his Cru Gruner Veltliners and Rieslings, but he also makes one of the finest methode Champenoise Brut Rosé sparklers in Europe, along with a amazing collection of varietal wines, including his stellar and unique Cabernet Franc as well as this value priced Terrassen Dry Riesling. Weingut Brundlmayer, formerly known as Willi Brundlmayer, Vincent’s dad, who made this winery famous for quality, especially in the late nineties and to the mid 2000s, before young Vincent started speaking his own wings and took it to the next level. This Terrassen Dry Riesling is sourced from prime terraced vineyards, and mainly all organic vines, including the famed Heileigenstein and parcels in Steinmassal and Steinberg set on primary rock, loess and clay soils and mainly younger vines with an all spontaneous stainless steel fermentation and lees aging regime. The fine detailing, enticing aromatics and absolute purity of form make this dry Riesling unbelievably compelling, especially for Riesling enthusiasts!

The Kamptal, Austria’s largest growing area, is an increasingly prestigious wine district located 55 kilometers (35 miles) northwest of Vienna, near the Wachau and the Kremstal, its historic sister regions. This prime location, with the wine town of Langenlois at its heart, is filled with steep, sun baked, with meager loess based rocky soils on picturesque terraced vineyard sites that overlook the river Kamp, that flows off of the mighty Danube. These vines in Kamptal produce some of Austria’s most distinct offerings, if not some of the world’s finest white wines, especially by talented winemakers like Vincent Brundlmayer, mainly made from and most notable fabulous Grüner Veltliner as well as intense flinty Rieslings. These elevated terraces, according to the winery, consist of stonier soils that bring out fruit-driven varietal character with mineral nuances and good aging potential. The vines, as the winery continues, for this Terrassen Riesling are from the lower situated terraces grown on the fertile loess which brings out more fruit in the wines that makes them very expressive in their youth, with a more ready to go personality, which shows in this beautiful 2019 vintage. I am and have been a huge fan of this winery for a long time, and each time I have a bottle I am even more impressed, with this wine always being a wine that way over delivers for the price and that is lovely with a varied choice of cuisine from oysters to lightly spicy Asian dishes. This Terrassen Riesling is a must, but other wines in the Brundymayer lineup I recommend include the mentioned Brut Rosé, plus the Langenloiser Alte Reben (old vine) Kamptal Reserve Gruner, the Ried Zöbinger Heiligenstein Riesling (Grand Cru level) and the Extra Brut Reserve bubbly. Again this super dry, taut and lithe Riesling is simply outstanding and electric in the glass, what a bargain.
($25 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2020 Domaine du Gros ‘Noré, Bandol Rosé, Provence, France.
It is my Summer ritual to begin Summer with a Bandol Rosé and that has now become official with this beautiful Domaine du Gros ‘Noré Bandol Rosé that is full flavored, dry and mineral driven with an impressive palate of ruby grapefruit, strawberry water, sour cherry, watermelon and peach notes along with wet stones, hints of herbs, rosewater and a fine textural roundness. My usual Bandol Rosé rite of Summer starts with the likes of Domaine Tempier, Chateau Pradeaux and or Domaine Bunan, though in recent years I have been leaning towards Alain Pascal’s Domaine du Gros ‘Noré and this 2020 certainly justifies my choice with an exceptional flourish and quality that exceeds my expectations, this wine is a tremendous value, especially in the elite group of wineries it is up against. While the attractive, almost glowing pink hue will captivate your eyes, the rest of your senses will be equally seduces from nose to the crisp, but lingering finish, this Bandol Rosé is a fabulous wine all on its own, though structured and powerful enough to go with all your Summer dishes, it is an impeccable companion to fresh cuisine. I enjoyed this Domaine du Gros ‘Noré with a California hybrid Caprese salad that included heirloom and cherry tomatoes, thin sliced jalapeño peppers, extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar with garden raised basil. It also did fantastic with a selection of speck and watermelon, which I added to my late afternoon snack, this dry pink refreshed and added to pleasure of the warm sunny afternoon and the gentle Ocean breeze.

The Domaine du Gros ‘Noré, imported by the famed Kermit Lynch, who also brings in Domaine Tempier, is located in La Cadière d’Azur, and as Kermit Lynch notes, with the vineyards set on both clay and limestone which imparts structure and a deep sense of fruit. This Bandol micro-climate near the blue Mediterranean Sea brings is a warm zone with full sun, though, as Kermit adds, it is tempered by the persistent Mistral winds. This area is a place were Mourvedre thrives and it plays the most important role here, and especially in the set of Bandol Rouge bottlings and in this Rosé as well. The reds get about 80% Mourvedre in the blend, which gives these Domaine du Gros ‘Noré offerings their age worthy stuffing and allows the Rosé to also carry on drinking well for 3 to 5 years at least. The 2020 Domaine du Gros ‘Noré Bandol Rosé, which comes from all organic 30 year old vines in the more clay rich selections of the estate, was a finished blend of 54% Mourvèdre, 25% Cinsault, 19% Grenache and about 2% of the white grape Clairette Blanche, all of which adds to the complexity and completeness of this wonderful wine. To achieve the balance here the wine was made using about 65% direct press and about 35% maceration, or saignee method, which adds the hedonistic richness and ripe profile, and it was fermented as well as aged in 100% stainless steel vats, that keeps things vibrant, clean and pure. I highly recommend buying the full range of wines under this label, and don’t miss the Bandol Blanc, trust me, it is a rare gem in this awesome collection, it is made from 70% Ugni Blanc and 30% Clairette and sees a 24 hour skin maceration and stainless regime, it is almost as compelling as this stellar Rosé, almost.
($40 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2018 Ridge Vineyards, Zinfandel, Pagani Ranch, Sonoma Valley.
The rich, dark purple and deep fruited 2018 Ridge Pagani Ranch Zinfandel leads with a classic black raspberry, crushed flowers and brambly spiciness that comforts the palate and rinds you just how fabulous these wines are and how truly Californian they are, this wine could not be, nor want to be anything else, something it wears with pride. This vintage, which by Sonoma standards was long and cool, brings a fresh vibrancy to this powerfully concentrated field blend of 84% Zinfandel, 9% Alicante Bouschet and 7% Petite Sirah, which has a sense of blue fruit as it opens in the glass, adding plum, blueberry and some boysenberry pie filling along with an array of wild herbs, including hint of sage, fennel and dried rosemary. This is richly opulent stuff, coming in at a heady 14.9% natural alcohol, but with a nice cut of acidity from the years cool influence and the fact that Pagani sits in a cooler micro-climate within the Sonoma Valley that gives this bottling its distinctive character, with its long hang time, in this case an October pick date. This wine turns on the seductive charm with each sip, making for a sensuous experience and it feels luxurious on the full bodied palate, in a sensation that will remind you of serious Gigondas and or Chateauneuf du Pape interns of impact and quality, while never wavering from the Zinfandel profile. I usually go for the Lytton Springs and Geyserville, but this Pagani 2018 is a great bottle of Ridge, it was sublime with food too, showing a very cuisine friendly side last night with my pizza, which included garden heirloom tomatoes and sliced jalapeño peppers and fresh basil leaves.

The Pagani Ranch, originally planted by Felice Pagani in the 1890s and many of the old vines still provide the base for this wine, even though Ridge’s blocks have seen some re-planting with some young vines coming into production with the 2015 vintage, though overall most of the acreage here consists of 100 plus year old vines, which are, as you’d expect, mostly Zinfandel along with a small percentage of Alicante Bouschet, Mataro (Mourvedre) and Petite Sirah. Ridge, as the winery notes, has produced a Pagani Ranch bottling each year since 1991, adding that the foggy mornings here, on this picturesque site just off Hwy 12 near the town of Kenwood, the gravel, loam and clay soils and the old vines make for small yields and energy filled berries that makes these wines compelling with fruit density and savory complexity with moderate tannins, all of which allows these wines to be enjoyed young, but still have good aging potential. Ridge promotes sustainable and organic methods and make these Zinfandel wines with low intervention using native or indigenous yeasts and natural malos. The Ridge wines are most all aged in specially extended air dried American oak barrels, with this wine seeing mostly used wood and saw an elevage of about 12 months before bottling. This 2018 version is one of my favorites, reminding me a lot of the 2014, which I loved and wrote about here, it got even better on day two, adding a sweet cherry and subtle vanilla creaminess, while still being as vigorous and poised as when I opened it, very impressive. Ridge has added some new and exciting wines to their portfolio in recent years, from Roussanne to Falanghina as well as classic Carignane, all of which are well worth searching out, while their historic lineup of Monte Bello and Zin blends continue to be some of California’s best wines.
($35 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2016 G.D. Vayjra, Barolo, Coste di Rose, Piedmonte, Italy.
Readers of my reviews will certainly know about G.D. Vajra, one of my favorite producers in the world and one of Barolo’s stars with a collection of fantastic Cru bottlings, this includes their signature Bricco Delle Viole, their Ravera and this exotic Coste di Rose Barolo, the newest in the Cru lineup and the most fruit forward with a lavish full bodied palate. This 2016 is wonderfully textural, rich and silken as well as structured to age with a fabulous depth of flavors, showcasing the nature of place and vintage, a year that I am loving more and more each time I try it, especially when it is made by Giuseppe Vajra, who’s wines always impress. The Vajra estate was one of the first in the region to convert to organic farming and continue to lead in this regard and they have some of the highest parcels in Barolo, taking advantage of the cooling influence to increase the hang time to achieve full ripeness without heavy character or high alcohol. The Coste di Rose is a small Cru in Comune di Barolo that It is located on a high elevation steep slope that arises from Bosco della Fava and descends swiftly towards the border with Monforte d’Alba, as the winery notes, set on unique deep sandy soils. The 2016 has fantastic layering and a gorgeous mouth feel showing classic black cherries, damson plum, framboise, reduced orange along with a sprig of mint, tarry black licorice, cedar wood notes and a heighten rose petal perfume. This special site includes a five-meter tall sand dune, which has earned the Coste di Rose the nickname “The Beach” and this vineyard is its own distinct terroir that delivers extraordinary fruit density, but with impeccable balance and purity, I would compare Coste di Rose to Burgundy’s famous Bonnes Mare Grand Cru, while the Vajra’s Bricco Delle Viole is more reserved and chiseled in manner of Musigny. Having tasted many comparative vintages of Domaine Comte Georges de Vogue, Musigny vs Bonnes Mares including 1990, 1991, 1995, 1996 as well as 2000 and 2001, I can say, these Vajra Crus are in the same league!

The Coste di Rose Cru Barolo from a unique vineyard site high in the hills and set on deep sands, so sandy in fact the Vajra’s call this site the beach, over marl and clay soils that gives this Nebbiolo its awesome perfume and amazing texture. The estate of GD Vajra is situated in Vergne, the highest village in the Commune of Barolo with Nebbiolo, being the main varietal, but also planted with Dolcetto, Barbera, Freisa, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and of course their legendary Riesling, which is one of my favorites, to name a few. The vineyards are at heights of 350-400 meters, which plays a big part in the wines’ complexity and aromatic quality that winemaker Giuseppe Vajra achieves with his amazing collection of offerings. I first tasted the Coste di Rose at last years Slow Wine Tasting in San Francisco and reviewed the 2015 vintage here, so I knew this was going to be a special wine, coming from a vintage that will certainly go down as one the legendary years in the Barolo region, and I was not let down, this is a gorgeous Nebbiolo that should get better and better over the next two decades. The Vajra Barolo wines, like this one, see about (a) 30-40 day cuvaison, which allows for a gentle extraction the tannins from the skins, also Vajra notes, that there is a small percentage of stems are left in durning the maceration and primary fermentation depending on the vintage, riper years see more. The G.D. Vajra wines are not adorned with flashy sweet/toast French barriques, these wines are exceptionally pure and transparent versions of Barolo and the wines are aged in large (mostly older) Slovenian oak barrels for between 42-48 months before bottling. While every release of these Vajra Barolo offerings merit your attention, I highly recommend chasing down these 2016s and getting them into your cellar! I hope to re-visit the Vajra 2016s in a decade somehow, they should be even more amazing at that point and in the meantime I suggest drinking the 2013 and 2015 versions, both of these vintages offer exceptional quality and can be drug now without penalty, plus I highly recommend the Vajra Albe Barolo, the entry level offering, as it is a hugely rewarding wine and a great value.
($75 Est.) 96 Points, grapelive

2020 Martha Stoumen, Vermentino, Venturi Vineyard, Mendocino County.
This beautiful and textural white from Martha Stoumen is crafted from 100% Vermentino from the Venturi Vineyard in Mendocino County, it is her first bottling of this varietal and it turned out fantastic tasting like a cross of some of my favorite Corsican versions, like Comte Abbatucci, Yves Lecia and Clos Canarelli with the cooler climate version found in Piedmonte, where the grape is known as Favorita with a dry palate, brisk and steely fresh, but smoothly textural with a subtle creamy dimension that gives this wine its impact. The Venturi Vermentino, an ultra pleasing Summer wine, was hand crafted with care to bring out the best in these grapes with a lush layering of melon, peach, tangy tangerine and green apple fruits along with wet stones, lemon curd, creamy verbena and sprigs of herb. The nose is slightly confectionary with a light citrus flower or orangey note, but there is plenty of pith and lime zest to keep some welcome taut tension. Enjoy this seriously fun white with your favorite sea foods and or any outdoor dinning you do, it really goes great with food, though many will quaff this Vermentino solo or as an aperitif. I had this wine with a basil, Calabrian pepper oil and tomato flat bread pizza and was rewarded by this wine’s ability to please in its rich feel and refresh the palate.

The Venturi Vineyard in Mendocino County is dry farmed and all organic with the vines mostly being head trained, as this Vermentino block is and all hand tended with Martha using it as a source for many wines in her collection, as the quality is exception and the flavors concentrated, but also with good natural acidity, which gives her wines their energy and balance. Just 94 cases of the Stoumen Venturi Vermentino was made in this premier vintage and it is sure to go fast. Martha says, the Vermentino saw a gentle foot treading, then the grapes were loaded directly into her gentle pneumatic membrane press or “bladder press”. After which, she adds, the pressed juice was settled overnight and then racked off gross lees to tank to begin fermentation. Once the Vermentino’s primary fermentation was completed, the wine was racked again to neutral oak barrels to finish malolactic fermentation and got short élevage of about 6 months. Vermentino, one of the Chateauneuf du Pape grapes, also known as Rolle, is found mainly in Tuscany, Linguria and Sardinia and has found a happy home here in California, from Paso Robles to Mendocino and has the potential to be a huge star. Stoumen limited the lees contact throughout fermentation to preserve crisp detailing, vibrance and keeping some of the Vermentino classic saltiness. Martha’s wines are attractive, authentic and natural in feel, this wine is a stellar addition to her lineup, maybe the best of her whites.
($38 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2019 Hundred Suns, Pinot Noir, Shea Vineyard, Yamhill-Carlton AVA, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
One of my favorite Oregon wines, the Hundred Suns Shea Pinot, is a knockout in this worrisome vintage and is way over performing for such a young and fresh wine with pretty aromatics, depth of flavor and complexity, all which highlights the special nature of this vineyard in the Yamhill-Carlton AVA of the Willamette Valley. This dark ruby hued Pinot Noir bursts from the glass with bright red fruit intensity, spices and floral tones which leads to a firmly detailed medium bodied palate of black cherry, bramble berry, tart plum, lingonberry and pomegranate fruits as well as a touch of whole cluster pop with mineral, fennel, blood orange, a touch of stony saline and black tea notes. Winemaker, Grant Coulter, the ex Beaux Freres star, who along with Renée Saint-Amour started their own label Hundred Suns in 2015, with a focus on small lot Pinots, of which the Shea Vineyard is one of the signature wines. While this 2019 might not be as good as the 2018, it is still rockstar stuff and a fabulous wine in its own right, it has its own charm, its own personality and the incredible attention to detail that goes into each vintage and wine here at Hundred Suns, these are wines that remind me of the wines of Philippe Pacalet and Jean Foillard, expressive, authentic and with energetic class. Oregon is producing a lot of new labels of merit and there’s tons to be exited by, with Hundred Suns being one not to miss.

As Hundred Suns notes, the Shea Vineyard was planted In the late 1980s, by Dick and it is now one of Willamette Valley’s most esteemed and iconic vineyards having provided grapes some legendary wines, including some made by Ken Wright, Mike Etzel of Beaux Freres, where as mentioned Grant worked, and even Manfred Krankl of Sine Quo Non, to name a few. Hundred Suns gets fruit from a one acre block at Shea which is 100% Dijon Clone 777 on a parcel that sits at about 450 feet above sea level on a south/southwest hillside slope. This warm site in Yamhill-Carlton AVA, as Coulter explain is planted on marine sedimentary soils and is well drained allowing for a deep concentration of flavors and a beautifully dark color, but still full of energy and structured, making for a Pinot that can really age. In this vintage, the Shea saw close to 40% Whole Cluster, will a lot done with all de-stemmed that was blended after fermentation with the partial full bunches lot. The ferments are done with all native yeasts and the wine was raised in 100% used French oak, with an elevage of 10 months in the neutral wood and bottled with low sulphur and unfined. Coulter says 2019 vintage was a return to familiar Oregon years, noting they dodged rainstorms to pick in late September and adds that by keeping yields low the grapes reached full ripeness, I am seriously impressed with what was achieved, this is a beautiful and elegant version to drink over the next 5 to 10 years. The Hundred Suns lineup continues to impress, the Pinots are all standout offerings, and I love the Gamay and Grenache bottlings as well, plus the Chardonnay is well worth grabbing too, get on this list.
($50 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

1998 Domaine Zind-Humbrecht, Pinot Gris, Clos Windsbuhl Monopole, Hunawihr, Alsace, France.
This fully mature and perfect aged Pinot Gris from the prestigious Zind-Humbrecht and winemaker Olivier Humbrecht, the 12 generation proprietor, is one of the finest examples of this grape I’ve ever had, it even rivals their Grand Cru Rieslings for depth, pleasure and impact. This wine stands out with a sublime golden/amber hued in the glass and a remarkable almost full bodied mouth feel and opulent textural quality with layers of baked apple, peach, tangy quince, dried apricot and pear butter along with subtle mineral tones, wet flint, lemon curd, fading of wilted rose petal oil and secondary elements of wild mushroom, earth and spicy cloves. The 1998 vintage is about as good as it gets right now, it is undeniably hedonistic for a dry Pinot Gris, a hallmark for Zin-Humbrecht, who started during this period to pick later and allow for a little extra residual sugars in the musts, all of which benefits a wine such as this, that is like a Spatlese at this stage with the obvious sugar (sweetness) all but faded away now, so that the wine feels impressively dense, exotic and complex without any cloying effect. Zind-Humbracht’s winemaking for these Cru wines is more luxurious in style than some of their contemporaries, preferring to use native yeasts and long fermentations on the lees in oak barrels rather than stainless steel tanks. Only the oldest vines (over 40 years old) from the hillside Monopole Clos Windsbuhl Vineyard, set on calcareous marl, rich in chalky limestone and clay soils, very much the same as the Rosacker Grand Cru that sits just below and is the source of Alsace’s most famous cult wine, the Clos Sainte Hune Riesling, were used to produce this wine that saw a full 18 months on the lees in 40 year old French oak casks. I will note that Pinot Gris and Alsace have had their stars fade in recent times, but this wine, along with Domaine Weinbach’s Pinot Gris Altenbourg and the Marcel Deiss Mambourg Grand Cru, which is made Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and Pinot Noir (with no skin contact) are wines that will thrill even the most jaded of wine enthusiasts, and when aged, even more so!

Domaine Zind-Humbrecht has been making some of Alsace’s best wines since 1620 with an unbroken lineage of Humbrechts making the wines here. Olivier Humbrecht, is the General Manager of Domaine Zind-Humbrecht, is the second winemaker in the world to attain Master of Wine status, and is now joined by California winemaker Morgan Twain-Peterson of Bedrock Wine Company in this extremely rare community. Domaine Zind-Humbrecht came by its current name in 1959 when Leonard Humbrecht married Genevieve Zind and through the 60s and 70s Leonard invested in top sites expanding the wineries collection of Grand Cru parcels, making an already world renown property even better, and under Olivier things have only got better still, in fact by the late 90s these wines were as sought after as many prized Burgundy and Bordeaux estates. When I was wet behind the ears in the wine business, selling collectable wines, Zind-Humbrecht Grand Crus were highly coveted and received near perfect scores, making them almost unicorn offerings that were highly allocated and when you opened a bottle for people it was like driving up in new Ferrari! Zind-Humbrecht’s Rangen, Hengst and especially Brand, in Turkheim, Grand Cru Rieslings are legendary wines, not far off Trimbach’s iconic Clos Sainte Hune, mentioned above, but maybe lesser known is their Clos Windsbuhl lieu-dit in Hunawihr, where this wine comes from, it’s like all of Zind-Humbrecht’s sites, all farmed to organic and biodynamic principles and with exceptional low yields to promote richness and concentration, while retaining energy and natural acidity. I tasted this fantastic and expressive 1998 Clos Windsbuhl Monopole along side the slightly more subtle, but almost equally good, Rotenberg Vineyard, also from 1998, that is named for its red, iron-rich soils, and with its cooler climate shows a bit more taut character, both delivering world class performances. This wine restored my faith in Pinot Gris and that of the region, after years of tasting mediocre stuff it is great to see more serious versions of this grape re-imagined and or in this case finding an aged treasure, I would easily recommend this terroir driven wine, regardless of vintage, but if you see this one, I’d grab it!
($55-120 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

2020 Folk Machine, White Light, Blended White Wine, California.
The Healdsburg based Hobo Wine Company and their Folk Machine label makes some very cheap and cheerful wines and this White Light California white blend is one of my favorites, with its brisk citrus and peach led fruits and light bodied palate it performs everything that is promised and is wonderfully refreshing, a great Summer sipper for warm days and picnics. Hobo Wine Company started with just a few barrels of Zinfandel and has blossomed into more than a handful of labels and more than a 1,000 barrels of wine, made from a vast array of varietals every year, vintage permitting, but still their signature wine is their Hobo Zinfandel, Branham Vineyard, from the Rockpile AVA, just northwest of Dry Creek Valley, near lake Sonoma. Their wines range from the Zin to eccentric grapes like Aglianico and Friulano, which is the dominant white grape here in this White Light blend, and includes Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Cab Franc, Gewürztraminer, Chenin Blanc, Charbono, Riesling, Valdiguie and Verdelo too. Sometimes, I forget, just how fun it is to have a sunny day wine that doesn’t need too much attention and that is easy on the wallet, which this White Light does and well.

Folk Machine, part of the Hobo Wine Company, is a small California label made by Kenny Likitprakong, who also makes the critically acclaimed Ghostwriter lineup, mainly featuring elegant low alcohol Santa Cruz Mountains Pinots and Chards and who along with his wife Lynn Wheeler bottle a bunch of other brands, including Banyon and Camp Wines. The 2020 White Light is a unique blend of 51% Tocai Friulano from Mendocino, 22% Riesling from Arroyo Seco, in Monterey County, 22% Verdelho from Suisun Valley, just east of Napa Valley and 5% Sauvignon Blanc from Potter Valley. Everything was picked at the beginning of the season, or a bit less ripe than most, with brix numbers ranging from 19˚ to 21˚ with the final wine coming in at just 12.5% natural alcohol, to keep things vibrantly fresh and dry. Kenny and Lynn, note that each variety was fermented individually in stainless steel tanks with indigenous yeasts and kept at a cool temperature, after which, when the fermentation was complete they lightly filtered the wine and left it in stainless steel to age a few months before bottling the following Spring. If you are in the need a easy quaffable white at a great price point and less boring than New Zealand SBs, you’ll be well served to grab the latest Folk Machine White Light.
($16 Est.) 88 Points, grapelive

2020 Domaine Arnaud Lambert, Saumur Blanc, Clos de Midi, Brézé, Loire Valley, France.
The Domaine Arnaud Lambert based in Saint Cyr en Bourg – Brézé is making some of the finest Chenin Blancs in the region and the latest Clos di Midi is a fresh, bright and energy filled version that shows mineral driven intensity and an ever expanding textural pleasure on the medium bodied palate with classic white peach, citrus and green apple fruits, wet stones, delicate herb and spice with just a hint of honeycomb and melon. This is a wine that can be really enjoyed now, its youthfulness is not a penalty at all, such is the quality and completeness here and its dry nature and chalky salty element makes it very cleansing and excellent with food, while still joyous as a solo sipper, especially for the Chenin enthusiasts. This was the first time I’ve had this wine under this label and I was incredibly impressed by Arnaud’s touch and subtly here, this is an exceptional value for what you get in the glass. Lambert also does sparkling Crémant de Loire Blanc, which has 75% Chenin and 25% Chardonnay in the blend to add richness and depth and a Cabernet Rosé bubbly that also uses fruit from the Clos de Midi, as well as elegant examples of Cabernet Franc, but it really is all about the dry Chenins, especially the Clos or Cru bottlings, like this beautifully detailed and crisply focused version.

Arnaud Lambert, who began as part of a father and son team with his dad Yves, made a name for himself when he took over at the historic estate of the Château de Brézé, one of France’s great properties and one that the French royals, as noted by the winery, used to exchange wines of Brézé annually for Château d’Yquem Sauternes. I have had a few outstanding wines from Château de Brézé over the years, so it was exciting to see Lambert’s personal offerings and get insight to his direction as a vigneron. I understand that Lambert is pushing the appellations of Saumur and Saumur-Champigny to invest in quality and focus on individual terroirs and lieu-dit sites, as he does, like in this wine. The goal is to re-discover the regions premier vineyards and exploit its full potential through organic viticulture and less-is-more, precise winemaking, which he himself adheres to. Brézé is a unique site due to its relatively high elevation and Tuffeau, the chalky limestone soils here that gives these wines their distinct character. The all organic Clos de Midi, a southeast facing parcel that was planted in 1985, was fermented using Indigenous yeasts and was done in 50% in stainless steel tanks and 50% in older Burgundian barrels, after which is was aged for 12 months. Thanks to Nate at Elroy’s Fine Foods and Wines in Monterey for showing me this 2020 vintage, I highly recommend chasing down a few bottles of this one as well as the sparklers.
($30 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2004 Chateau de Fonsalette, Cotes du Rhone Reserve, Rhone Valley, France.
What an amazing treat and surprise when this wine awaited me at a meet up of wine professionals, I was a party crasher and I must thank some very gracious people for allowing me in and I savored every sip of this wonderfully aged and beautiful 2004 Château de Fonsalette Côtes du Rhone Réservé. This slightly cloudy ruby/brick hued old Fonsalette which had me spell bound with its delicacy and with its pretty mix of secondary characteristics and the raw transparency of its flavors, it was really captivating last night. The nose was everything you’d want with the combination of earthy red fruits, dried flowers, olive paste, dusty spices and autumn leaves, which leads to a finely structured medium bodied palate that still has the tension between fruit and savory elements showing whole cluster crunch and herbal notes that nicely accent the raspberry, strawberry, blueberry, stewed plum, that gives notice that this wine is mature and peaking now, as well as dried fig, pepper, anise, cigar wrapper and cinnamon, tea spice, old leather, faded lavender and lingering kirsch. Made from 50% Grenache, 35% Cinsault and 15% Syrah, the Fonsalette saw a whole bunch fermentation, with each grape done in separate lots in enamel vats with the maceration lasting just under two weeks, after which the wine rests in the vats for 4 months before the Grenache and Syrah go into used French oak barrels and casks of various sizes and the Cinsault, which adds a juicy pop or heightened lift and freshness, goes into large 600L cask for 12 months, all before blending and bottling. This non hyped vintage is drinking with Burgundy like grace and is heavenly, it continues a tend of my year, proving Cotes du Rhones can age and be stunning in their old age. Again a huge thank you to Savannah Riedler of the famed Post Ranch Inn for sharing this wine, anyone staying there might want to explore their list, this one is drinking so good and there is a few more in their cellar.

Château de Fonsalette was purchased by Emmanuel Reynaud’s grandfather, Louis Reynaud, in 1945. It holds 300 acres, 30 of which are planted with Grenache, Cinsault and Syrah for reds, and Grenache Blanc, Clairette and Marsanne for whites, making it one of the three estates owned by the Reynaud family included the famed Rayas, as noted and the exceptional value Château des Tours. Most of the Chateau de Fonsalette’s fame in the USA comes from mainly the 100% Syrah cuvee Cotes du Rhone and this Reserve Rouge, is located near Châteauneuf-du-Pape, near the village of Lagarde-Paréol in the Côtes-du-Rhône appellation, and is a remarkable contrast to the 100% Grenache in the Chateau Rayas, one of the world’s greatest wines. When the legendary founder of Château Rayas, Jacques Reynaud, one of the legends of Chateauneuf, died suddenly in 1997, his wife asked their nephew, Emmanuel Reynaud, who was already making wines at his father’s Château des Tours, based in Vacqueyras, to take on the winemaking at both Château Rayas and Château Fonsalette, and he has made these wines some of the most collectable and sought after in the wine world. In the early 2000s I had the chance to try and drink the many wines from Chateau Rayas and was lucky to sit in with Rayas’ legendary importer, Martine Saunier and taste throughout the range of these fantastic wines, an opportunity that I will certainly cherish, especially now that the prices of Rayas and Fonsalette are way beyond my means these days. Finding some older bottles is one of the wine world treasure hunts that is well worth it, though I certainly highly recommend chasing down the excellent Château des Tours bottlings, the Vacqueyras in particular, but also the regular Rouge, they are absolutely delicious and way over deliver for the price. While people think of Chateau de Fonsalette as the second wine of the iconic Rayas, it is a unique and singular wine in its own right, as this 2004 showed!
($125-250 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2019 COS, Pithos Bianco, Terre Siciliane IGT, Sicily, Italy.
From the Vittoria region of Sicily and set on a combination of sedimentary clay, Sandstone and chalky Limestone soils comes COS’s Pithos, greek for amphora, Bianco that as the name suggests is a white wine made in the large terra-cotta pots as done in ancient times and like still done in the Republic of Georgia, where COS got the inspiration. Macerated for close to two weeks with whole berries and aged on the skins this incredible dry wine shows a unique, intensity and powerful structure from the extract and is wonderfully textured on the zesty palate. Made from 100% of the Grecanico grape, a local variety of Garganega (of Soave fame), quite rare, but remarkably well suited to the southern tip of the island, where it gets a cooling ocean influence and breezes that help retain a salty freshness. This single vineyard wine was sourced from the estate’s Fontane vineyard that sites at 230 meters elevation above sea level and see a cooling influence and has iron rich red sandstone, clay and sand which helps gives layers of . It’s been well documented that Sicily has a long history of winemaking, which dates back to the 8th century BC when the Greeks first planted grapes in the eastern part of the Island, though in recent years there has more hype for the volcanic soils of Mount Etna and the Nerello Mascalese red grape and Carricante white grape, while Vittoria is home to a few outstanding wineries of its own, including those of the Occhipinti family!

Azienda Agricola COS was founded back in 1980 by three friends, Giambattista Cilia, Giusto Occhipinti, and Cirino Strano, but is led by the dynamic personality of Giusto Occhipinti, uncle to superstar Arianna Occhipinti, who was pushed COS towards natural winemaking and all organic with all of their vineyards being certified Biodynamic and has gone away from small oak barrels and stainless steel, now concentrating on cement vats, large neural botti and the 440-liter, Spanish made, terra-cotta amphora, as used in this wine. The Pithos, made from Grecanico, was hand crafted using a low sulfur vinification and with a skin contact fermentation in amphora employing Indigenous yeast and then raised on the skins solely in the clay amphora for close to 7 months before being drained and bottled. The winery explains that the long skin contact and amphora, which allows movement of the lees, provides an additional level of complexity that can be seen clearly in this exotic white wine. Mostly acclaimed for their red wines, made from local varietals, COS is probably best known for their Cerasuolo di Vittorio as well as the Pithos Rosso, a Cerasuolo di Vittoria aged exclusively in amphora instead of oak, made with the Frappato and Nero d’Avola grapes, though COS does a beautiful selection of whites. These are made from Zibbibo (the local Muscat) and Insolia, that are sometimes blended with the Grecanico too, with the Zibbibo, a highly aromatic grape, also getting the Pithos treatment, made in Amphora, I highly recommend discovering all of the COS wines.
($35 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2019 Mullineux, Old Vines White Blend, Swartland, South Africa.
The husband and wife team of Chris and Andrea Mullineux at Mulineux & Leeu Family Wines in Swartland wine growing region of South Africa are making some of the most compelling wines in South Africa, with American Andrea now a full recognized international superstar winemaker, especially for her outstanding terroir series of Syrah bottlings, but it would be a crime to overlook their whites, which are incredible in their own right, with this Chenin Blanc based Old Vines White being one of my favorites in the lineup. The 2019 Old Vines White is a beautiful and textured version made from 74% Chenin Blanc, or Steen as it is known as here, 8% Clairette Blanche, 7% Viognier, 6% Grenache Blanc, 2% Semillon, 2% Macabeo, a rare Spanish varietal found in the Catalan regions and 1% Verdelho, also found in Spain and in Portugal. The palate is full and supple with a regal presence and mouth feel that is creamy, but still exceptionally vivid and vital with a seamless layering of flavors including peach, lemon, melon and waxy pear fruits along with verbena, honey, hazelnut, white flowers, spicy/herbal clove and a touch of butterscotch.

The Swartland region, as the winery notes, is blessed with an abundance of old vine Chenin and they use this classic Loire Valley varietal as the backbone in the Mullineux’s white blend. Then they add several small parcels of Mediterranean varieties for complexity, balance and aromatic lift, all of which prove sublime in this wine. It should be noted that Chenin can be used in blends to great effect both here in South Africa, where I have enjoyed it blended with Palomino and it France, where I love it in the famous Mas de Daumas Gassac Blanc from the Languedoc. The grapes for the Old Vines White come into the cellar from sites in different parts of the Swartland, some from the stony Shale and Schist based soils of the Kasteelberg, the decomposed Granite of the Paardeberg and the rolling, iron-rich hills west of Malmesbury, this gives additional complexity in this tasty stuff. The golden and straw hued Old Vines White was, very much like classic white Burgundy, hand crafted and saw a natural fermentation in barrel with indigenous yeasts and the wine was aged for close to a year in the French oak of which were about 20% new and then bottled unfined and unfiltered. These Mullineux wines, like Sadie Family and Badenhorst, are really worth searching out, and this one is a fabulous way to start!
($34 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2018 Domaine des Lises, Crozes-Hermitage Rouge, Northern Rhone, France.
Maxime Graillot of Equis, who also now makes the wines at his famous father’s Alain Graillot, has crafted a full bodied charmer of a Syrah from his Domaine des Lises in Crozes-Hermitage that is bursting with ripe black and blue fruits, ultra silky tannins and a mouth filling plush sensation, adding hints of violets, sweet herbs, licorice, cassis and a touch of pepper and cedar. This 2018 is surprisingly luxurious and supple, making it a wine that is ready to drink young, no cellaring required here and it so easy to quaff, you’ll almost think it is a new world wine, though with food and air the true nature and terroir come through with subtle earthy accents. This a more impactful version of Maxime’s Crozes-Hermitage than normal and big step up from the the other Equis Syrahs, which are food friendly quaffers.

The Domaine des Lises 2018 Crozes-Hermitage, made from 100% Syrah, comes from an organic 40 year old parcel in the lieu-dit of “Les Picheres” set on the regions classic rocky gravel soils, which is less than 2km from the renown estate vines of Domaine Alain Graillot. Maxime employed a traditional approach here, using about 30% whole-cluster and native yeasts with ripe, late picked grapes and he aged this vintage in well seasoned old French oak barrels for close to a year. This is a very forward and opulent year, with the expressive plummy fruit core and a finished natural alcohol of 14.5%, this is a bigger framed wine than typical of the region and vintage, a bit more like a modern Cote-Rotie, so it offers a lot for the money and should impress a crowd easily with its lush boysenberry, damson plum, blueberry, sweet kirsch liqueur and fig layers.
($30 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2017 Guimaro, Mencia, Finca Meixeman, Ribeira Sacra DO, Galicia, Spain.
One of my favorite wines and favorite people, Pedro Rodriguez’s Guimaro Mencia bottling always bring smiles and offer authentic and terroir driven flavors that capture the soul of their region with pure drinking pleasures and this 2017 Meixeman Cru provides an earthy complexity and depth of fruit that transports you to this remote and ancient growing region in Spain’s wild Ribeira Sacra. Founded in 1991, Guimaro has now become an iconic winery within this small appellation in Galicia, and vigneron Rodriguez, who was mentored by the legendary Raul Perez, the Godfather of Mencia, has grown into his status has as one of the top winemakers in the Ribeira Sacra with a rebellious smile and with lots of classic heavy metal! I have been lucky enough to have spent some time with Pedro, on occasions he was visiting the Bay Area and have done some tastings with him and I really enjoyed his laid back nature and joyous love of life, it was impossible not to be caught up in his passion and humor. His hard work in the vines, really make these wines what they are and when you see the difficulty of hand tending the steep sites, you’d not believe you were looking at Spain, as the Ribeira Sacra “the sacred blanks” looks more like the steepest sections of the Mosel and there are places without any roads, some only accessed by small boats and by foot trails, it is not easy and historically none to profitable to farm these incredible vineyards. This Meixeman starts with a hint of reduction with earth and dark fruits leading the way, it quickly gains itself in the glass, becoming almost Nuits-Saint-Georges like in taste and feel with, a smooth medium body and layers of black cherries, tangy currants, wild plum fruits along with a crunch of mineral, grilled herbs, dried flowers, a touch of peppery spice, leather, woodsy notes and anise.

The Guimaro Finca Meixemán, as the winery notes, comes from a single old vine parcel of 72 year old Mencía vines that are set on schist soils up at about at 450 meters above sea level. This is the original family-owned Cru that started the Rodriguez’s estate and has a special place in their hearts, and in mine too, as I have always been thrilled by this particular wine and it was one of the first I tried from Guimaro. This special cuvée, according to Rodriguez, gets a unique vinification process that is specially tweaked to get the most out of these grapes, more like a traditional old school Burgundy. For the Mexican, in most vintages, the grapes are foot-trodden, with a partial 40% whole cluster and native yeast fermentation in an open top cono or conical wood fermenter. The maceration period is quite long with an extended period on the skins and raspónes, with no additions and almost no sulfur and then this Mencia gets aged for 12-14 months in neutral 225 liter French oak barrels. Pedro works his vines with organic methods and his wines are crafted with natural techniques, everything is done to make his wines have a sense of place and are ultra transparent in style with a feeling of raw openness or nakedness, nothing is covered up or manipulated here. Mencia, the main red varietal in the Ribeira Sacra, as well in the famous Beirzo region where it can be more rich and powerful, is a grape that has elements that will remind you of Syrah, Pinot and Gamay, especially here in this cooler Amandi zone that influenced by the Atlantic Ocean and the granite and slate based soils and elevation, where it retains loads of zesty natural acidity. Historically, since Roman times, the most famous Galician wines come from this Amandi area with its steep south facing hillsides above the Sil River, and tasting this Guimaro Meixeman you can see why. I highly recommend searching out these Guimaro wines from their basic tank raised Tinto bottling to their Cru Mencia wines, like this Meixeman and the Camiño Real, plus I love Pedro’s Vino Blanco, made from Godello.
($40 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

Grapelive.com Reviews – July, 2021

2012 J. Rochioli, Pinot Noir, River Block, Russian River Valley.
The seriously luxurious 2012 River Block Pinot Noir from Rochioli is one of California’s Grand Cru bottlings with amazing depth and richness, it shows the classic estate character that makes these wines so compelling and sought after, displaying black cherry, raspberry, plum and fig fruits, along with a sweet/smoky kiss of toasty French oak, rose petals, tea spices, cola bean and a lingering touch of tangy blueberry. This wine has a real purpose and presence in the glass and the bit of age has brought out more complexity and allowed the wine and wood elements to become integrated and seamless, the satiny mouth feel is complete seductive, it is a wine that is everything you’d want from a pure California legend. While there are a whole cast of new generation stars and wine that may have more delicacy and nuance, Rochioli still is as good as it gets, these single vineyard or single block wines are incredibly sexy, especially this River Block with its sensual palate and hedonistic fruit density. I find they need almost tens of age to fully reveal their inner beauty and balance, and this 2012 is just starting to unwind and give its best, I can imagine this vintage drinking well if not utterly brilliant for another decade with ease. Originally known as Fenton Acres, the Rochioli names came into being in 1983 as Tom took over the winemaking here and in 1987 they released the first estate wine, the 1985 Rochioli Pinot Noir and the rest they say is history, going on to be one of America’s greatest estates, know primarily for these Pinots, but also with fabulous Chardonnays, an old vine Sauvignon Blanc and even still producing a Valdeguié (once known as Napa Gamay), which I absolutely love and covet.

Joe and son Tom Rochioli are second and third generation Italian farmers and pioneers of Russian River Pinots, they have always believed it was the grapes and individual sites that make the best and most intriguing wines here on their historic estate that sits on sloping hillsides on the bench lands above the near by Russian River, which sucks in the cool Pacific Ocean air, not far from Healdsburg on the famous Westside Road. Because of, the winery notes, the diverse terroir across their 140 acres under vine, Tom, now at the helm here, and his winemaking team ferment each block separately in traditional fashion using a mainly hands off approach, they firmly believe the wine is made in the vineyard and it should not be messed with in the cellar. While this is a common practice in Burgundy, and in California in modern times, Rochioli was one of the first premium Pinot Noir house to employ this a micro-batch hand crafted method. Tom, like his dad, believes that the unique differences between the diverse soils and clonal diversity can be tasted in every terroir here and adds to the regal distinction in each cuvee in the collection and sets their the Russian River estate apart. The River Block, dates back to the late 1980s, was planted using the original West Block selection clone, which is now regarded as a California heritage clone, was most likely the old Martini clone, but regardless it delivers a dark color, dark garnet with ruby edges and impressive structure here, as this sublime example shows. These mailing list only wines from Rochioli remain rare treasures and should be celebrated, finding them is difficult, but oh so rewarding. This winery has to be on any Pinot fans bucket list to visit when in the Sonoma County region and while not cheap, I highly recommend trying these single vineyard wines if you get the opportunity, it should be noted, they seem like remarkable values when compared to Grand Cru Burgundy!
($150 Est.) 96 Points, grapelive

2019 Anne-Sophie Dubois “Les Cocottes” Fleurie Cru Beaujolais, France.
How Anne-Sophie Dubois remains under the radar, especially after tasting her 2019s like this gorgeous Les Cocottes Fleurie, is a mystery, these Gamays are enthrallingly beautiful wines that rival Chambolle-Musigny and Morey-Saint-Morey Burgundies with sublime aromatics, silken textures and lively details with this Cru Beaujolais showing a brilliant dark fruited medium bodied palate. Dubois, a studied vigneron and artist, she drew all of the artwork on the labels, based in Les Labourons call Fleurie home these days even though she grew up in the Champagne region and learned her gifted winemaking skills in the Cote de Beaune’s Volnay appellation, and she grew an appreciation for elegance and subtlety from her experience there. She has applied her considerable talents on her tiny eight hectares in the heart of Fleurie, all of which are now organically farmed, and with the vines, some over 60 years old, these parcels show loads of terroir personality and concentration. The expressive whole bunch, carbonic style and electric ruby/magenta Les Cocottes has a bright inner intensity, but is graceful, perfumed with dark florals and is texturally satiny with Fleurie’s classic strawberry, plum and red currant fruits, as well as a dusting of spices and herbs, adding a touch of mineral crunch and a walnut husk note. This is exceptional Gamay and I could possibly give bit consideration for a dessert island wine, it is that delicious!

Up until the 2015 vintage all of Anne-Sophie’s Fleuries were 100% de-stemmed and fermented in a Burgundian-style fashion with a nod to delicacy and elegance, though this Les Cocottes, her “little sweetie(s)” is different from her usual style, she crafted this Fleurie with 100% whole cluster and using a carbonic maceration, making it her most flamboyant offering, and it is one of my favorites in her stunning lineup, along with her more traditional L’Alchimiste, her signature bottling. Anne-Sophie uses a combination of cement vats, stainless and neutral French oak casks, which each wine demanding an individual approach to bring out the singular parcel’s soulful characteristics with this Les Cocottes coming from Fleurie’s unique pink granite soils, which brings out that heavenly nose of violets, peony and sticky lavender and round profile. As the 2019 opens it gains complexity and the stems add some good contrasting savory and earthy elements that is very seductive, while remaining amazingly drinkable and exciting, very much in league with Dutraive and Lapierre, two of the regions most legendary producers. This is remarkably impressive Beaujolais and when you realize that Anne-Sophie has only been doing this for about 10 years now, you got to admire her work even more. These 2019s are getting pretty scarce now, I’m glad I got a few bottles tucked away, but I highly recommend searching them out, they are classy wines that take Gamay beyond most expectations, with this Les Cocottes proving to be a stylist ready to drink version that can be served with a range of cuisine options and is best with a slight chill, it is a highly entertaining quaffer, perfect for the Summer season.
($33 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2018 Sandlands Vineyards, Zinfandel, Lodi, California.
The wonderfully balanced and beautiful Sandlands Lodi Zinfandel comes from owner and winemaker Tegan Passalacqua’s own Kirschenmann vineyard, a historic site that is located on or near the Mokelumne River, this is just outside the town of Victor, set east of Lodi in the Central Valley of California. The soils are from the ancient erosion of the Sierra Nevada mountains that tower up to the east that over the years have deposited deep granitic sand and loams. This historic old vineyard, which is lovingly cared for in organic fashion and with classic old school head training, was originally planted back in 1915, and is all on its own roots, while primarily old Zinfandel, there is also a small mix interplanted Carignane, Cinsault, and Mondeuse Noir scattered within the vineyard. This is a special sand unique place and wine, many who have had the Turley Cellars version would agree, and Tegan’s own, which is humbly label just as a Lodi Zinfandel, is an outstanding California red wine of grace and complexity that is pure pleasure in the glass. The Sandlands 2018 Zinfandel gives classic layers of black raspberry, dusty plum, kirsch and a light spiciness along with dried herbs, subtle dark floral and wood notes, what a joy on the full bodied palate this wine is, it seduces completely with its fabulous textural quality and length. This dark purple/garnet Zin tells a story with each sip, revealing its past and present, its terroir and all the while delivering a top notch performance, what more can you ask of a wine?

Passalacqua, as noted many times here, is one of the state’s great winemakers and vineyard managers with an exceptional touch and an encyclopedic knowledge of vines and California’s rich history of wine. His talents are recognized with his efforts for Turley Wine Cellars, but intriguingly these fantastic Sandlands Vineyards wines remain some of the greatest values in California and somehow fly under the radar, these are incredibly delicious wines that hand crafted and made using a minimalist approach with mainly whole cluster and native yeast fermentations and aged in neutral (used) French oak barrels. This Zinfandel, sourced from these silica rich, white sandy soils, which have helped keep these ingrafted vines from dioceses and phylloxera over the more than one hundred years they have been producing grapes, really is a stunner, it reminds me of favorite Ridge, Bedrock and of course Tegan’s Turley wines. I had this wine in a grouping of outstanding Rhone varietal wines that included multiple vintages of Chateauneuf du Pape from highly regarded producers and this old vine Kirschenmann Zin not only held its own, it regally matched them for quality and complexity, while that might be surprising for some, it certainly wasn’t for me as I have long been a fan of this grape and now this producer. This 2018 is ripe and silky lush, but very well judged, at 14.4% natural alcohol, it is not heavy or jammy, again this is an impeccable bottle of California wine that will long been admired by those lucky enough to have a few bottles!
($32 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2019 Inspiration Vineyards, Rosé of Zinfandel, Little Red Vineyard, Russian River Valley, Sonoma County.
A fun Summer wine, made from Russian River Valley Zinfandel, the Inspiration dry Rosé of Zinfandel is bright and juicy with crisp layers of raspberry water, sour cherry, strawberry and watermelon fruits along with a hint of mineral, spice and tangy citrus as well as a lingering caramel note that gives a sense of roundness and body without any sweetness. This is good example of dry Zin Rosé, that can be very difficult to make with balance between ripeness and vibrant acidity, finding that point is like dancing on the top of a pin, and this one just about gets it perfect and is a refreshing and pleasing wine. I normally pass on Rosés that are made from Syrah, Merlot and or Zinfandel, as they typically don’t have the energy and profiles I go for, but this one impresses and offers a good value, it is easy to sip on and brought a sense of peace.

Jon Phillips, winemaker and owner of Inspiration Vineyards has really raised the game at this popular winery in Santa Rosa, both the wines and the packaging have really got exciting over the last few years and this latest set from the 2018 and 2019 vintages seem like a step up even further, especially with their signature Zinfandel bottlings. This pink Zin comes from a small family vineyard on the famous Olivet Road in the Russian River Valley, an area renown for Pinot Noir and old vine Zinfandel vines that sees warm days and cool Pacific Ocean influenced nights that can see the coast fog that flows up the Russian River making it perfect for growing exceptional quality grapes. The Rosé of Zinfandel, which was whole cluster pressed and saw a short period of skin contact and then raised in neutral French oak, coming in at 12.1% natural is ready to enjoy with BBQs and picnics, drink now. I highly recommend checking out some of the other wines in the Inspiration collection too, like their Russian River Pinot, Syrah, the old vine Estate Zin and the hedonistic Dry Creek Gallaway Vineyard Zinfandel.
($19 Est.) 87 Points, grapelive

2018 Pax Malhe, Syrah, Castelli-Knight Ranch, Russian River Valley.
The 2018 Pax Castelli-Knight Syrah marks the 18th Vintage that Pax Mahle has been working with this exceptional site in the Russian River and the exceptional people that own this vineyard and farm this unique ranch. The bright orange Haire Clay soils that cling to the slopes of this vineyard allow for a retaining of freshness while also allows for a depth of flavors, that Pax describes, as other worldly for California Syrah, which is influenced by the cooling influence of the Pacific Ocean. While young and remarkably fruity for a newer Pax Syrah, this 2018 Castelli-Knght bursts from the glass with loads of blue and black fruits, dark flowers, minty herbs and loads of spice and on the palate things start off very primary, but it opens up to reveal classic layers of boysenberry, blueberry, sweet kirsch, plum and creme de cassis, along with peppercorns, subtle iron mineral notes, whole bunch crunch and anise. I think I should have waited another few years on this one, but it certainly has lots of appeal, especially with food.

The Castelli-Knight Ranch Russian River Syrah is 100% varietal, 100% whole cluster, 100% indigenous yeast and 100% aged in used 500L French oak puncheons for eleven months, with foot trodden bunches and exceptionally low sulfur, all to be as natural and as pure as possible. Pax says, of his Castelli-Knight Ranch Syrah, that it is rich but balanced, flavorful without being too heavy and of course all the while tasting like Syrah grown on a steep hillside, adding that it is also, very enjoyable and approachable on release, though intense enough to be guaranteed to improve with cellar like every other Castelli-Knight Ranch before it. Pax, rumor has it has it, with a partner, purchased the Halcon Vineyard in the Yorkville Highlands, which in my opinion might just be the most interesting site for Syrah in California, most notably for lovers of Cornas and Cote-Rotie wines and I am excited to see what Mahle’s talents will bring to this spectacular vineyard. I am a huge fan of Pax’s Alder Springs Syrah bottling, and it remains one of my favorite Syrahs in California, though this Castelli-Knight isn’t too far behind, it is a good time to invest in the state’s best Syrah wines, and Pax’s are firmly on the list of must haves.
($60 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2016 Chateau Cabrieres, Chateauneuf du Pape “Les Silex de Cabrieres” Rhone Valley, France.
The pure and fruit forward Les Silex de Cabrieres Chateauneuf du Pape Rouge is an all tank raised version from Chateau Cabrieres that is made up of 80% Grenache and 20% Syrah from mainly younger vines set on a calcareous plateau that has a scattering of the classic galets, the large round river stones that give some of these Chateauneuf sites their signature look, with a base of clay, sand and limestone soils. This bottling is showing very nicely with primary red fruits and subtle earthy elements, spice and dried dark florals, it isn’t a Chateauneuf to bury in the cellar it is for immediate pleasure and this highly regarded vintage makes it even more compelling with briar laced boysenberry, tangy currant, dark strawberry and juicy plum fruits of the fresh Grenache leading the way, pushed up by the light gamey and truffle notes from the Syrah, giving this easy Rhone some added complexity, it finishes with good fruit concentration and roundness, especially joyous considering it was aged without any wood. This Les Silex de Cabrieres Chateauneuf du Pape is pretty attractive and makes for a quality fresh example, in particular it has the stuffing and opulence to go great with meals and or will a range of hard cheeses. With air and time in the glass a deeper sense comes through along with hints of tar, licorice and savory tones adding a bit of extra dimension here, which maybe highlights the focus on the growing of the grapes from this single vineyard location of the northern area of Châteauneuf-du-Pape zone, which has a slightly cooler climate that adds to the vibrance of this wine.

The Chateau Cabrieres, run by the Arnaud family, with the famous winemaker and consultant Philippe Cambie over seeing the production here, employed an inox, all stainless fermentation here with micro-oxygenation to bring out soft fruitiness in this more clean and sleek Les Silex de Cabrieres Chateauneuf du Pape Rouge bottlings, helping it develop its soft texture and supple medium bodied palate. The upper end cuvees here at Chateau Cabrieres see classic cement cuves and some small barriques and come from much older vineyard selections that include more Mourvedre as well as small does of more legal varietals in the final blends, unlike like this modern style Les Silex, which is more for youthful consumption and much less brooding in nature. The grapes used in the Silex were all de-stemmed and saw a 20 day maceration and fermentation before being raised, as mentioned, in tank for close to six months, where it gets the blasts of oxygen, before being bottled with a light filtration, again to promote an ease of use style. I had not had these wine before and I enjoyed the dark garnet colored 2016 very much and can imagine having a few more bottles over the next 3 to 5 years, for a prestigious region wine, it is very non pretentious, very much more like a quality Cotes du Rhone with its personality and more a bistro country offering, rather than a collectable bottle with its bright flavors and ripe/sweet tannins. The property has been in the Arnaud family for many generations and has a historic castle in the middle of the estate with the winemaking here dating back to 1344 at least, though there is some evidence of early Roman efforts happening here too. Many thanks to friends Maddie and Martin, who visited Avignon and brought back bottles to share.
($35-50 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2015 Boony Doon Vineyard, Le Cigare Volant, Rhone Style Red Blend, California.
When our local industry tasting group met up to taste and discuss Rhone varietals and the state of Rhone style wines in California, we could not possibly miss a chance to taste one of Randall Grahm’s Cigare Volant bottlings and in this case I pulled my last bottle of his 2015, which is drinking awesome right now as it comes into full maturity and showing an elegant array of red fruits, spice and picking up a nice potpourri of dried flowers and snappy herbs. As the wine, made from 57% Grenache, 17% Cinsaut, 16% Mourvèdre and 10% Syrah, opened up it gained richness and a deeper sense of being with black raspberry, plum, pomegranate and fresh picked strawberry fruit core settling in along with touches of wood notes, chanterelles, lavender and cinnamon spice. After sending a note to Randall to tell him this 2015 is in a good place and held its own against a few tasty Chateauneuf, he replied that, the ’15 Le Cigare Volant was the first, last and only vintage that did not contain any wine aged in upright tank(s), adding that It was a blend of used French puncheons and demijohns, the glass carboys that Randall used mainly for his rare Le Cigare Volant Réserve(s). The end of the original Le Cigare Volant line after the 2017 vintage seemed a to be a time of mourning for a very special and innovative wine, these were wines of pleasure and complexity and inspired a whole new way to think about California wine, they will be missed. I have been a long time fan of Grahm’s wines and have really enjoyed his small batch alternative wines in the last 10 years, especially his stunning white wines, which never get the attention they deserve, his Le Cigare Blanc, the Reserve Blanc and Picpoul are some of the best white wines in California.

The name “Cigare Volant”, Randall says of his iconic creation, and the term “Rhône Ranger” are arguably, in his words, quite brilliant for their vivid memorability, but they may also carry with them a certain tragic flaw or two, though he may be harder on himself than needs be and we owe his vision and risk taking a huge bit of gratitude. In the end he felt boxed in, I think and craved something new, and now after the sale of his Bonny Doon label he starting a new planting project to create 10,000 new varietals at his own Popelouchum estate in San Benito’s San Juan Bautista, as well as continuing with some heritage Rhone grapes, including the rare Grenache Gris and the ancient Serine Syrah clone. Back to the past, Randall explains, the term “Le Cigare Volant” makes reference to the crazy (but effective) ordinance adopted in 1954 in a village in Châteauneuf, which by decree prohibited the landing of UFOs in their vineyards! In fact it still is in the wine law of the region. Grahm continues that “Flying Cigars” are the French term for cylindrically shaped unidentified flying objects (UFOs), hence his play on this with his Le Cigare Volant label name and artwork. Randall adds, to help contextualize what would be an “American Rhône,” the name alludes to Châteauneuf-du-Pape in a sly, ironic way, which was his intention all along. In brand new news, Randall has just entered into a new partnership with the Gallos, of all people, to craft an interesting new line of wines using the creative genius of Grahm’s brain and the business and vineyard resources of America’s biggest family owned winery, and this unlikely pair will release their first offering, an intriguing Tibouren and Cinsault Rosé bottling under the new The Language of Yes label, it should not be missed! The 2015 Le Cigare Volant is still out there in the wild, I highly recommend chasing it down if you can, it is in a nice place right now, Bravo Randall, and good luck with your new project!
($45 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2020 Jolie-Laide, Clairette Blanche, Martian Ranch, Santa Barbara County.
Scott Schultz’s new Clairette Blanche is an absolutely beautiful white Rhone wine with clear and delicous layers of stone fruits, melon and racy citrus oil that feel lush and graceful on its medium to full bodied palate, but backed up nicely by mineral tones and bright acidity, this is a very alluring Summer wine. This Clairette Blanche, or Clairette grape, which is one off the rare Chateauneuf du Pape white grapes and also found in the prestigious areas of Provence, including the Cassis AOC and in the Bandol AOC, where you’ll find it in some of the region’s most desirable wines like Clos Ste Magdeleine and in the fabled Domaine Tempier Bandol Blanc, and is now showing huge potential here in California, where it has been championed by Tablas Creek, who brought the best clones from Chateau de Beaucastel in Chateauneuf du Pape, where it has been a bit of secret sauce for their awesome Chateauneuf Blanc for years, as well as Randal Grahm of Bonny Doon fame, who believes it and Vermentino have big promise here. The Jolie-Laide version has some of the French soul to it, but with California clarity and ripe sunny flavors, opening to fresh picked apricot, white peach and tangerine as well as having some excellent dry extract, saline and hints of wet stones, making it delightful with a range of cuisine choices as well as easy to sip on its own, it is very impressive stuff.

The Jolie-Laide Clairette Blanche was, as Schultz explains, all whole-cluster pressed, settled then racked to a combination of stainless steel and neutral barrique for fermentation and moved to all neutral French oak Burgundy style barriques to complete full malo-lactic conversion during its 6-month elevage on the fine lees. Schultz adds that all the grapes were hand picked from organic vines at the biodynamic Martian Ranch Vineyard in Los Alamos, as he calls a bucolic site set on Chamise Series (sandy loam) soils and has a very similar warm climate to the South of France, but with a good cooling influence from the Pacific Ocean which allows for exceptional balance and freshness, as this wine shows in spades. This Clairette is still lively and youthful, primary in flavors, but you can see it will evolve wonderfully well with more floral details that are just starting to appear and hint of honeycomb or waxiness, plus some spicy elements that really reminds you of the grape’s origins. Schultz notes that typically the grape is used as a blender in most Chateauneuf whites to bring acidity to the sometimes fatter varieties, like Roussanne, but can be found in some iconic mono-varietal cuveés of top houses, as he adds, like Chateau Prefert et al. Clairette, as Scott goes on, as it’s often called, can make everything from sparkling, light and crispy or left to hang longer for a richer and more complex style of wine, like his own, which I highly recommend! I was late getting on the Jolie-Laide list, but these latest two release offerings have been awesome!
($28 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2019 Ryme Cellars, Fiano, Russian River Valley.
The golden/yellow Ryme Fiano is a delicious and impressively structured white wine with a beautiful mouth feel along with an array of sunny flavors that include peach, apricot, Sorrento lemon and honeyed pear, as well as round leesy notes, citrus blossom, wet and salty stones. While expressive, this 2019 Fiano stays very crisply detailed and bone dry, it is very faithful to its classic Southern Italian cousins and is another exceptional California version of a top quality example of an Italian grape or Cal Ital, that have really come a long way in recent years. The Fiano comes from the Bowland Vineyard, which Ryme notes, is located just off of Barns Road in the Russian River Valley and benefits from the cooling influence of the Pacific Ocean and the regions warm sunny days. I have not had a better California Fiano than this one and it goes beautifully with a range of foods, including soft cheeses, sea food and especially with grilled spicy shrimp and pasta, it gets even better as it opens and keeps its nice acidity throughout. This medium bodied white is drinking fantastically well right now, I’m glad I gave it the extra six months in the cellar and love where it is at and the pleasures of its supple form and gaining maturity.

Ryme’s 2019 Fiano, made by the talented couple of Megan and Ryan Glaab, was whole-cluster pressed to neutral French oak, after which the wine completed both primary and malo-lactic fermentation(s) with only spontaneous native yeasts and bacteria. It also saw, as the Glaab’s note, close 10 months in barrel before being bottling, with the wine resting on its fine lees. I have been blown away with Ryme’s latest collection of releases, this is a label to follow, in particular I am thrilled by their lineup of Cal Itals like their Aglianico(s), the Vermentino(s), both with and without skin contact and the totally unique Sangiovese and Friulano blend, a wine that should be served slightly chilled and enjoyed with friends, as well as the very in vogue Ribolla Gialla white. Fiano, an aromatic varietal, is an ancient white Italian wine grape that is grown primarily in the Campania region of Italy and most famously in the Avellino zone, where there is the prestigious Fiano di Avellino DOCG, though Fiano is also found on Sicily and as far away as Argentina and Australia. The grape’s emergence in California is very welcome and it now has a home here with quality plantings in Dry Creek Valley, Paso Robles and here in the Russian River, to name a few places in thrives. This vintage is sold out at the winery, but I hope the new vintage will be out soon, get on their list!
($36 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2019 Sandlands Vineyards, Cinsault, Lodi, California.
The latest 2019 Cinsault from Tegan Passalacqua is wonderfully textural and fresh with lovely aromatics, it shows fine detail and layers of smooth red fruits and drinks as silken as a Pinot Noir, this is impressive stuff. This Cinsault, one of the Chateauneuf du Pape grapes and a minor player in the Bandol Rosé and Reds, shines on the medium bodied palate with bright spiced raspberry, cherry, plum, pomegranate and tangy/freshy red peach fruits along with a touch of whole bunches/carbonic like creamy roundness along with dried herbs, peony floral notes, a light bit of sandalwood and a faint earthy stony savoriness. The Bechthold Vineyard, as Tegan Passalacqua notes, was originally planted back in 1886, this Cinsault vineyard is the oldest of its kind in the country—perhaps even beyond. The vines are gnarly, head-trained and planted on their own roots dry-farmed in deep, sandy soils., making for a distinct California wine that is terroir driven and always delicious. This 2019 Cinsault is a beautiful ruby color and easy to quaff, it is a lighter style red wine that drinks drinks with more presence in the glass than expected, especially for a wine with a mere 12.3% alcohol, providing lots of smiles, and while super now, it should be even more compelling in 3 to 5 years too.

Sandlands Vineyards, the personal project of Tegan, who is the head winemaker and vineyard manager at the famed Turley Cellars, and his Olivia is a must follow label, especially for those that want to taste California wine history. Their line-up of wines, as they note, includes some the forgotten classic California varieties, like this Cinsault, but also includes the Mission grape, Carignane, Mataro, Chenin Blanc, Grenache and Zinfandel field blends from old vine vineyards. These wines come primarily from vines grown in decomposed granitic sand soils from regions and vineyards that have been family farmed for many generations, as the Passalacqua’s add, but have remained the outliers of California viticulture. These, in some cases are historic, sustainable or organic, and are primarily head-trained, dry-farmed and own rooted. The vineyards, like the Bechthold Vineyard, used in this wine, they work with, which take you back to California’s roots of exploration, wonder, and hard work, all of which shows through in the Sandlands lineup. This Cinsault, which is at its best when served slightly chilled, was made in old school tradition with whole cluster and native yeast fermentation with gentle hand crafted care and was raised in well seasoned used French oak barrels. There’s a lot to love and admire here in the fairly priced Sandlands small lot collection and I highly recommend getting on the list, especially as Tegan is about to release some new stuff soon!
($28 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2019 Etheric Wine Workshop by Grochau Cellars, Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
The all natural Etheric Wine Workshop Pinot is electrically vivid in hue, it is surprisingly a deep magenta/purple and ruby in the glass and it drinks best with a good chill on it, making it sublime with Summer weather and easy to enjoy with a mix of earthy blue and red fruits, mineral notes, a touch of herbal (stems?) elements, opening to fresh cherries, blueberry/cranberry and blood orange. While tangy and juicy, it also shows a round carbonic like textural quality, much like a Gamay in style, it is delicious stuff from John Grochau, who makes an excellent set of Willamette Valley Pinots, as well as some other interesting things like Melon de Bourgogne, Albarino, Gamay and his unique Glou-Glou inspired natural Convivial carbonic wines, including a Barbera and Tempranillo, as well as a sparkling Riesling. The ex professional cyclist turned winemaker, Grochau, says this wine was made with minimal intervention, but lovingly intentional and adds that it needs to be served chill AF!

This 2019 Grochau Cellars Etheric Wine Workshop Willamette Valley Pinot Noir was fermented with all native yeasts and with whole bunches with exceptionally low sulfur and a short aging period to allow for absolute purity of form. The 2019 vintage shows a ripe fruit profile, but finished with a nice low 12.8% natural alcohol and zippy acidity to keep things vibrant and make for a more refreshing and transparent wine. Additionally, Grochau used 80% concrete vat, 20% French neutral oak barrels for the elevage, which lasted close to just 4 1/2 months then quickly bottled unfined and unfiltered. John calls this his ode to natural wines, but crafted with attention to detail and a focus on quality, this 2019 delivers on the palate and while authentic or raw, there is a lot of beautiful details that come through as well. Light violet florals mixed with a touch of leather adds to the pleasure here and it should be noted that some quality vineyard sites were used to make this wine, including the Zenith Vineyard, the Red-Wettle Vineyard and the Ribbon Springs Vineyard, all of which adds to the complexity in a no pretense Pinot!
($20 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2018 Drew Family Wines, Pinot Noir, Wendling Vineyard, Anderson Valley.
Winemaker Jason Drew, who is at the top of his game and one of California’s best Pinot Noir producers, considers the Wendling Vineyard one of a handful of “Grand Cru” sites in the Anderson Valley, and tasting his 2018 version is enough to convince me of just how right he is, this is an exceptional bottling and a thrilling wine of complexity, energy and beautiful from start to finish. I’ve been saying for years, that Drew is right at the top when it comes to cool climate Pinot and every year he continues to blow me away with the quality of his wines, especially his Fog Eater, Morning Dew Ranch, the Estate Selections and this outstanding Wendling Vineyard. The vintage, which was cool and mild with a late pick, is just starting to reveal its greatest and depth, gaining dark fruit intensity with every sip, but with racy acidity and a subtle floral bouquet shyly unfolding, this wine is just beginning its journey into greatness with the potential to really evolve to legendary status in another 5 to 7 years. The palate is a Burgundy lovers jam with glorious vibrancy and transparency showing elegant layers of black cherry, earthy plum, tangy huckleberry, blood orange and currant fruits along with a mix of spice, herbs, tea leaf and a light smoky wood note from the well judge use of classic French oak barriques. This Wendling is a daily deep in color Pinot with a dark garnet hue in the glass and is excitingly lengthy on the aftertaste, plus while proving some youthful grip and savoriness, it flows with silken grace and has, after opening up, an incredible mouth feel, this stunning stuff, that should be excellent with a range of foods from grilled or blackened salmon to seared duck breast in cherry reduction.

The Wendling Vineyard Pinot Noir saw 100% native yeast along with close to 45% whole cluster fermentation with the usual daily hand punch downs and long maceration period before going to barrel to age. Jason only gravity racked this wine twice and is extremely gentle throughout the process and the elevage lasted about 11 months in the barrel with 25% new French oak being used in this vintage, which as mentioned, is perfect in this 2018 edition. Sitting in the deepest end of the valley, in the most northwest part of the Anderson Valley, the Wendling Vineyard, which is just eleven or so years old now, is on a 450ft high slope with well draining rocky soils that include the Ornbaun, Wolfey and Bearwallow complexes.These hillside or mountain type soils are mainly weathered rock and have a base of sandstone, this Jason Drew says, along with the cooler coastal temperatures provides for low to moderate yields, giving a darker and intensely structured Pinot Noir with naturally low alcohols, as this wine at 13.3% clearly demonstrates, in the best possible way. Wendling is planted to several exciting suitcase Burgundy and Dijon clones, with Drew’s sections including an alleged DRC clone and a La Tache selection. Drew, who started his label in the early part of the mid 2000s down in Santa Barbara County after working with Bryan Babcock, has made his home in Anderson Valley and in the cooler western zone of Mendocino Ridge and has excelled here in this unique terroir, making some of the most compelling and authentic wines in the state, I highly recommend getting on his mailing list and exploring his whole lineup from Chardonnay to Syrah, and all the small lot Pinots! This Wendling looks to have an extended pleasure window and should drink well for more than a decade.
($70 ESt.) 95 Points, grapelive

2019 Arnot-Roberts, Syrah, Sonoma Coast.
One of my favorite wines from Duncan and Nathan at Arnot-Roberts is their gorgeous cool climate Sonoma Coast Syrah which slows loads of whole cluster and Northern Rhone character with a beautifully inviting dark purple hue in the glass, a layered medium bodied palate that features brambly spices, boysenberry, damson plum, black currant and bright kirsch notes as well as cracked peppercorn, olive tapenade, tar, licorice, mineral tones, camphor and a light cedary note. The crunchy herbs and umami adds dimension and the vintage’s natural acidity keeps everything riveting and crisply detailed, this year could easily be mistaken for an Alain Graillot Crozes-Hermitage-Hermitage or Domaine Jamet’s entry level Cotes-du-Rhone Syrah, which is, if you know me, high praise. This wine, even on day two is impeccably fresh and vibrant, gaining more floral aromatics and subtle earthiness, it is exceptional with food too, it truly is a great California version of this style Syrah, joining the likes of Ojai, Drew, Pax, Halcon, newcomers Desire Lines and Samuel Louis Smith, as well as Piedrasassi, to name a few. Arnot-Roberts has a fine collection of hand made wines, this one is not to be over looked, but I advise checking out their Trout Gulch Chardonnay, their Falanghina, their Touriga Nacional Rosé, one of the most sought out dry pink wines in California, and their fascinating Jura inspired Trousseau Noir.

The Arnot-Roberts Sonoma Coast Syrah comes from four unique sites, these include the Clary Ranch, where they also do a incredible cru single vineyard version, Que Syrah, Baker Lane and Solas vineyards, that as Duncan Meyers says, provide consistently distinct fruit that is loaded with intense character and concentration, which this 2019 shows to near perfection. Duncan goes on, adding that the long slow growing season near the edge of the continent allows for complete ripeness at lower than average sugar levels, resulting in a wine of deep color that has generous fruit character with an undercurrent of earth and spice, as well as having lovely balance and energy. The winery notes that for this wine, the vineyards are harvested and fermented separately using whole bunches without de-stemming, mainly native yeasts and upon completion of native primary fermentation the wines are basket pressed to a mix of neutral French oak barrels and concrete vats for an elevage that lasts about a year before the final blend is done and bottled. This Syrah, that is best served with simple meaty dishes, continues to way over deliver for the price and is one of the best values, especially since you can drink it young and not feel it should have stayed in the cellar long or with much pain in the wallet area!
($40 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2020 Morgan Winery, Rosé of Pinot Noir, Double L Estate Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands.
The just released Double L Rosé maybe a one off wine and considering the fires that swept through the region in this vintage, it might be the best Pinot Noir you are going to find in this disastrous growing season, this one is fresh, delicate and a nice treat for Summer showing sour cherry, strawberry, rosewater, saline, mineral and a kiss of ruby grapefruit, very much in the style of Marsannay Rosé from Burgundy. A bit of swirling and air brings a nice texture to this pretty ultra pale example of pink Pinot from Morgan’s Dan Lee and his winemaker Sam Smith, who has really stamped his signature on the last two vintages, raising the quality dramatically here at this long time Monterey classic winery. It should be noted that Morgan also does a Tavel (Rhone) inspired Grenache Rosé as well, that wine is a yearly mainstay in the lineup, but this rarity is more subtle and less fruit forward, with this Double L Rosé of Pinot showing a more austere, serious or cool personality, both pinks will find a lot of fans. I was happily surprised to see this Pinot Rosé at Morgan’s tasting room, joining their exciting 2018 Double L Pinot Noir, which is one of their most compelling versions yet.

The organic and cool climate Double L Vineyard, in the northwest end of the Santa Lucia Highlands is one of the region’s Grand Cru sites, producing fantastic Pinot Noir and absolutely world class Chardonnay, along with small parcels of Riesling and Syrah, both of which have seen an incredible jump in quality in the 2018 and 2019 vintages under the guidance of Smith. Morgan’s latest releases are wonderfully expressive and complex wines, if you’ve not had them lately, you are missing some very special stuff. This brilliant and shiny new Pinot Rosé was crafted from slightly early picked and ultra carefully sorted clusters, as Morgan knew they weren’t going to be able to make any estate or SLH Pinots, they took extra care to find the best grapes possible to make this wine and did a direct pressing without any soaking of the skins in stainless steel tank before the wine was aged eight months in neutral French oak barrels. The Morgan Double L Rosé of Pinot Noir did not see malo-lactic, to keep its vitality, making it unexciting wine to enjoy as the Rosé season hots up. I hope this version is not just a one off, though I can’t imagine in a good year them using such great Pinot to make a Rosé, but fingers crossed, I recommend getting this while you can.
($30 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2020 Storm Wines, Sauvignon Blanc, Presqu’ile Vineyard, Santa Maria Valley.
The bright and spicy Presqu’ile Vineyard Sauvignon Blanc from Storm Wines is wonderful fresh and unique with a profile that both delicious and excitingly distinct with a range of lemon/lime, lime blossom, melon and unripe peach along with some set stones, sliced jalapeño and spearmint. This light to medium bodied Sauvignon Blanc takes your palate on a thrill ride and is full of zesty intensity making it perfect with shrimp or fish tacos as well as goat dish dishes. As it opens this 2020 Presqu’ile Sauvignon Blanc gains a nice mouth feel and depth while retaining vibrant natural acidity and its crisp bone dry personality, lingering on nicely with classic gooseberry. It is quite additive and far removed from most Sauvignon Blancs in both the old world and here in California though obviously true to the varietal. Storm explains that the diverse soils and microclimates within Santa Barbara County, including the SantaYnez and Santa Maria valleys make it a region with endless possibilities, especially for Sauvignon Blanc, which was pioneered here by Fredrick Brander as far back as the late 1970s. I have really enjoyed the latest releases from Storm, especially the Gamay and the 2019 Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir, so I was excited to try this new Sauvignon Blanc and I recommend checking them out.

Ernst Storm, who founded Storm Wines in 2006, grew up in South Africa and completed his studies at Elsenburg Agricultural School, one of the most celebrated wine schools in the world and is located just outside the town of Stellenbosch in the Western Cape. After completing his final year, Ernst worked as a winemaker in the Stellenbosch region and also spent two harvests in the cooler Walker Bay region in South Africa, while consulting on a few smaller projects with his brother Hannes, who is making some exceptional Pinot Noir. But Ernst really fell in love with California and has worked throughout the state, finally settling in here in the mid 2000s. In recently years Ernst has gained a fine and deserved reputation for making elegantly balanced wines from Pinot Noir and Sauvignon Blanc. Santa Barbara County has a Mediterranean climate that in a way shares many similarities with that of the Western Cape, in his native South Africa, giving him an even more of a connection and feeling of home. The Presqu’ile Vineyard is located on the Solomon Hills on the Southern edge of the Santa Maria Valley and cooled by Pacific Ocean breezes, this Ernst says, coupled with old marine floor soils makes this site perfect for growing cool climate and aromatic Sauvignon Blanc. For this 2020 vintage Storm employed a cool and quick fermentation and it was aged for 6 months on the lees in 100% Acacia wood that adds texture while retaining absolute purity. In the next few months, it will be good to have this Sauvignon Blanc around to quench the thirst on the warm days and evenings.
($35 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2018 Domaine Moreau-Naudet, Chablis, White Burgundy, France.
Virginie Moreau, who has bravely carried on after the tragic death of her husband Stéphane in 2016, along with her winemaker have continued the excellence found at Moreau-Naudet and this gorgeous 2018 regular Chablis AOC bottling is a stunningly pure terroir driven wine of class, substance and detail with lovely mineral tones, classic lemon, green apple and peach fruits and incredible texture, this Chardonnay way over delivers for the price. Subtle aromatics, that highlight the wine’s stony nature, nice refreshing acidity and secondary elements that include saline, melon and hazelnut all contribute to the depth and pleasure in this vintage. This sublime pale straw colored Moreau-Naudet Chablis proved to be excellent as both an aperitif and main event wine with an array of cuisine from an appetizer of seared scallops to a primary tuna dish, it even got better and more rounded with air, but kept it’s fabulous crisp focus throughout.

The Chablis AOC, in the brilliant Moreau-Naudet lineup, is the only wine in their cellar that sees any new oak, with this cuvee providing the seasoning for those barrels which end up in the Premier Cru program after the first fill. Even so, as Moreau-Naudet’s importer Grand Cru Selections notes, it is always just a few new barrels that are being added to replace far older ones and actually only constitute a small percentage of the final blend, and of which you really cannot notice, especially in this 2018. The fermentation at Moreau-Naudet is always natural and spontaneous with indigenous yeasts, followed by a long maceration and elevage on lees, with a fantastic result in the wine’s textural quality and richness. The wine is usually aged for an average of 18 months depending on the vintage in a combination of stainless steel and 600-liter French oak barrels, with a majority of the Chablis AOC cuvee, typically two-thirds, sees just the stainless. There is a lot to admire at Moreau-Naudet and while the Premier Cru and Grand Cru are exceptional offering and highly sought after, I recommend not missing out on the regular Chablis bottling!
($40 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2019 Sheldon Wines, Sparkling Graciano, Luc’s Vineyard, Fountaingrove AVA, Sonoma County.
The Sheldon Sparkling Graciano is a deeply dark and aromatic Brut style bubbly with a full body and a creamy lightly foamy mousse, this is an exotic and inky purple wine that has layers of blackberry, plum, cranberry and Italian cherry fruits along with racy spices, crushed flowers and a touch of savory elements as well as moderate tannins that hold this tasty stuff together. The Sheldon’s have been making various versions of sparklers over the last decade, usually doing something different each vintage with this dry Sparkling Graciano being a rare edition, coming after their Tempranillo Brut Rosé, and it is my favorite so far! Elegant and full flavored red sparkling wines are not too common, and especially when made from such a rare grape such as Graciano, a grape originally from the Rioja region in Spain. For this bubbly, the Sheldon’s used one of their barrels of Luc’s Vineyard Graciano as the base for this wine, it was picked at normal red wine ripeness and saw native yeast fermentation and a full maceration to extract its vivid pigment and depth of flavors. The 2019 Sparkling Graciano can be sipped and enjoyed as you would a red wine and with hearty cuisine or be a celebratory wine for toasting a special event, though best as a starter course wine with charcuterie and or antipasti.

This single barrel of red sparkling Graciano, winemaker Dylan Sheldon says, was created using, what he calls a Traditional Method technique, but with a pop top, like a Pet-Nat, while using an extraordinary non-traditional grape varietal. Lots of loving care went into making this hand made Rouge de Noirs style bubbly that shares more in common to Australia’s dry Sparkling Shiraz than any French fizz with only about 24 cases made, making it a very fun rarity that can be very addictive. This wine was sourced from the Luc’s Vineyard, located in the new Fountaingrove AVA, which sits in the hillsides between Healdsburg and the Chalk Hill appellation, it is an organically farmed small hand tended family vineyard. The Sheldon’s, who love Graciano, have been getting every grape gown here for many years now, and they produce some of the most compelling, ultra small lot and elegant wines I’ve tried from Sonoma County from this tiny volcanic soiled plot, including a stunning Grenache, a few different versions of Tempranillo, an aromatic Syrah and one of California’s best Graciano reds available, plus this tasty sparkling treasure! While some will think of this wine as a California Lambrusco, it is much more complex and more perfumed without any of the Italian rustic or gamey quality. It’s an awesome time to discover Sheldon’s collection of wines, especially now that they’ve just released a brand new 2020 Rioja style Luc’s Vineyard 50% Graciano and Tempranillo Dry Rosé or Rosado, which I can’t wait to get my hands on!
($30 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2020 Martha Stoumen, Nero d’Avola Rosato, Benson Ranch, Mendocino County.
The latest Nero d’Avola Rosato by Martha Stoumen is crisply dry Rosé that is a heavenly refresher and its bright tanginess is a welcome relieve to these warm if not hot days and it has plenty of extract and substance to go with food as well. There is a glow to this vivid pink wine that is utterly compelling and inviting and steely palate unfolds with sharp details with zesty ruby citrus, wild unripe peach, cherry and strawberry fruits, a nice crunch of herbs, a touch of rosewater, spice notes, and salty wet rocks. Nero d’Avola, the classic Sicilian grape of the Vittoria region, where it is made as a solo varietal DOC wine, as well as being traditionally blended with Frappato. For her Nero d’Avola Rosato, Martha uses 100% whole clusters (stems intact) that see a foot tread and loaded into the press to macerate overnight before being pressed in the morning, allowing the extract of phenolics and pigment. The juice then is fermented naturally and aged in neutral tanks for 6 months, before being bottled unfined and unfiltered. This wine got better and better with every sip, and with the air and the warming the Rosato gained a presence and mouth feel in the glass, it met all my expectations and then some with juicy watermelon and tart rhubarb/cranapple adding an interest and playful side. There is a lot to love in the current set of Martha’s wines, with her Zinfandel, Carignane and signature Nero d’Avola red, being some of my favorites along with the Rosé bottlings and her new Vermentino.

Martha calls this wine her Vino di una notte… This, she says, translates to ‘one night wine’ and refers to the technique of crushing grapes and leaving them to macerate on skins (and in her case, with the stems as well) in their own juice overnight, adding color, texture, and complexity. Stoumen adds that she loves using this technique with the Nero d’Avola because it produces a wine that falls between rosé and a red wine, as she continues, it is zippy and bright like a rosé but textured and robust like a red wine. Stoumen racked the pressed juice off lees before fermentation began and then once again toward the end of fermentation, but there is still a touch of natural sediment in the bottle, which shouldn’t bother any fans of quality unfiltered wines. The farming at Benson Ranch also adds to the complexity of this wine, with all Dry farmed vines that are set on well drained gravelly loam soils, making for grape berries that are small due to water scarcity and have a higher skin to juice ratio, adding that intensity that shines in this Rasato. The Benson Ranch is located in Ukiah, Mendocino County on gentle hillsides and Stoumen sources her Nero d’Avola from these 14-year-old head trained, that are as mentioned, dry farmed and to organic principles, meaning everything is done without the use of pesticides, herbicides, and synthetic fungicides. Stoumen does make this wine every vintage, so when she does it is a rare and delicious treat, so I recommend not waiting around, this and her lees aged Nergoamaro Rosato are two of the most exciting Rosé offerings out there, don’t miss either, especially this one!
($35 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2018 Desire Lines Wine Co, Syrah, Shake Ridge Ranch, Amador County, Sierra Foothills.
If you’ve not discovered Cody Rasmussen’s wines yet, you really should do your best to change that and especially his Desire Lines Wine Co Syrah bottlings from Griffin’s Lair and this awesome Shake Ridge Ranch Vineyard version, a wine that is uniquely Californian and full of terroir expression with an inky and sexy color, incredible energy and depth of dark fruits, these are some of the greatest values in the state. I first tried Rasmussen’s Shake Ridge Ranch Syrah with his 2016 release, and I was blown away, but this 2018 takes it too the next level, his diligence and a slight tweaking of the winemaking to better get a grip with this amazing vineyard site has really paid off here. For the 2018 vintage, Cody adjusted the use of whole cluster, plus adding a tiny amount of co-fermentted Viognier, a la Cote-Rotie, and the elevage, adding a touch of new wood, to get the best out of the site and you can see the glorious results in the glass with deep layering on the full bodied palate that shows blackberry, sweet plum, kirsch and blueberry compote fruits, plus creme de cassis, anise, sandalwood, dark florals, smoky mineral, brambly spices, light herbal notes and an underlying tannic backbone that feels muscular, but perfectly integrated. This is a wine that is just coming to life and it is absolutely brilliant, it especially gets rocking with food, in my case it went fabulous with marinated flank steaks and rosemary roasted potatoes and veggies as well as hard basque cheeses. This deep purple hued and powerfully structured 2018 saw the use of a large Taransaud barrel, which adds a luxurious toastiness to this already well polished and opulent effort, this wine has embraced its expressive nature without being over the top, it way over delivers for the price and is one of the bargains of the year so far.

Cody and Emily Rasmussen started their own micro-winery and label, Desire Lines Wine Co. with a small batch of Syrah in 2014 and now has a wonderful collection of dry Riesling, a Mourvedre, a Carignan based blend, a Cabernet Sauvignon and the mentioned Syrahs, which are the signature wines of the winery. Rasmussen, who is a winemaker at Morgan Twain-Peterson’s famous Bedrock Wine Company, has been searching out unique vineyard sites in California and this Shake Ridge Ranch Vineyard is truly a great location and is farmed by the Ann Kraemer, a pioneering legend in the Sierra Foothills, who is also a consulting viticulturalist for Domaine Chandon, Swanson, Cain, Calera, Paul Hobbs, and Shafer, to name a few and set on geological wonderland of soils with schist, Mariposa slate, greenstone, and marble, and as Rasmussen notes, within the vineyard rows at Shake Ridge there are big chunks of quartz that litter the ground. The Sierra Foothills has a warm climate, but here at this elevation sees a huge day to night swing with the vines getting a nice cool rest during the dark hours, helping retain natural acidity, which is evident here is this vintage. This vineyard is planted to classic Rhone Varietals and has become a mecca for winemakers with Rasmussen getting certain blocks of Syrah with two genetic clones going into his Shake Ridge Syrah, with a clonal split of Syrah Noir and clone 470, with this year’s wine seeing more of the Syrah Noir than in prior efforts, along with the small percentage of Viognier, which Cody says helps color and aromatics. Made with each parcel getting its own amount of whole cluster from 30-100% and all native yeasts, it got a cool and gentle maceration with a wet cap and daily hand punch-downs before pressing to a combination of one new 500L puncheon (making for about 30% new) and used French oak barrels for aging. There is a lot to admire here and this Shake Ridge Syrah looks like it has a long and gorgeous life ahead of it, as I said, this is a great time to get these wines.
($36 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

2018 Tablas Creek Vineyard, Tannat, Adelaida District, Paso Robles.
The beautifully dark and blue fruited Tablas Creek 2018 Tannat is Tablas Creek’s seventeenth bottling of this traditional Basque grape from South-West France and one of the best I’ve tried with deep layers and fresh details from this remarkable vintage that gave beautiful fruit concentration, lively acidity and heightened aromatics, making this wine exceptionally delicious. With a reputation of being a rough and tumble grape, Tablas’ version is impeccably charming, while retaining the firm, Cabernet like, framework and varietal markers that make Tannat what it is, it shows a fine balance of fruit and savory elements with blackberry, blueberry and tangy wild plum leading the way on the full bodied palate along with hints of dried lilacs, Turkish fig, dusty spices, anise and cedar notes. Built to survive a few decades, the Tablas Tannat is drinking fabulous in its youth, adding a bit of mineral, saline, bitter coco and menthol, all of which brings memories of some of my favorite Iroulèguy wines, like those of Domaine Ilarria, imported by Charles Neal Selections. The Tannat grapes were 100% de-stemmed and fermented using native yeasts. As Tablas notes, as they have for many years, they blended in a tiny of Cabernet Sauvignon, making the final wine a 97% Tannat and 3% Cabernet blend. It then aged it in one large foudre and a mix of new and older smaller French oak barrels for close to 24 months before bottling, after which it was rested in the bottle for more than 6 months prior to its release. Tablas Creek, known for bringing those Chateauneuf du Pape grapes over, also brought Tannat cuttings, and we are all the better for it.

Tannat, originally from the southwest of France, is mainly found near the French Pyrénées and French Basque country and is a powerful dark skinned varietal that has found a welcoming home here in California, as well as in Uruguay, where it is celebrated as their national grape. The wine made from Tannat is notable for its very high tannin levels and is often blended with Cabernet Sauvignon, Malbec and Cabernet Franc and found most notably in the Madiran AOC, though almost quite famously Tannat is also produced in Irouléguy, and it can also be used as a minor grape in the mostly Malbec wines of Cahors. Tannat known for its earthy rustic character and fiery tannins and is best served with robust cuisine choices, while the French versions remain a bit chewy and full of grip, the grape here in California has largely been tamed from giving a harsh performance, while still being dense, meaty and structured, making it very compelling on its own, but also great in blends. Interesting, the grape has brought out innovation in winemaking techniques, as witnessed back in 1990, when Madiran winemaker Patrick Ducournau experimented with adding controlled amounts of oxygen aeration into Tannat while fermenting it, to achieve softer results, and ended up developing the modern winemaking process of micro-oxygenation! Those that love the modern versions of Paso red blends will now find many contain small portions of Tannat, and they are the better for it, and this almost solo effort is a great way to discover this grape, though as mentioned I’d be sure to have a hearty meal with it, in particular a rack of lamb, wild mushroom dishes and or hard sheep’s cheese.
($40 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2018 Alfaro Family Vineyards, Chardonnay, Lindsay Paige Vineyard, Estate Grown, Santa Cruz Mountains.
This wine continues to be one of the greatest values in California Chardonnay, coming from Richard Alfaro’s flagship Lindsay Paige Estate Vineyard, it delivers a rich and rounded full bodied mouth feel and excellent crisp detailing with lively freshness, mineral notes and a long creamy finish. The 2018 is hitting its stride right now, all coming together and flowing seamlessly across the palate with white flowers, lemony brioche and apple, pear and peach fruits as well as perfectly judged oak, which gives this wine an elegant and opulent frame with hints of toast and butterscotch/vanilla. This vintage is pure and is exceptional with food, especially with roast herb crusted chicken, which I enjoyed it with, though it would be even better with lobster, crab cakes and or soft double cream cheeses. Alfaro has a well earned reputation has a great grower of Chardonnay, though not enough credit is given to his own lineup and these Chardonnays remain somewhat under the radar, in particular his own Trout Gulch version, his special Mary Katherine Chard, named for his wife, which includes his Kongsgaard clone parcels and this Lindsay Paige, named for his daughter. With air this pale golden/straw hued Chardonnay adds more complexity with hints of wet stones, saline and honeysuckle coming through and the fruit density impresses, while everything stays briskly focused. Just 200 Cases of the Lindsay Paige Chard was produced, with most of it going to Alfaro’s mailing listened wine club, both of which I recommend joining to get these awesome wines.

In recent years, Alfaro has had his son Ryan, a confident winemaker in his own right, getting more and more involved in the family business and bringing a renewed energy and passion to the estate. Ryan, who studied in New Zealand and spent a year being mentored by California legend Adam Tolmach of The Ojai Vineyard, has started his own label, Farm Cottage Wines that has created a big buzz with the first release of a Trout Gulch Pinot Noir, a wine I absolutely love and reviewed here a few months ago. The Alfaro’s farm with incredible care and work in sustainable and mostly organic fashion with a result of some fantastic grapes that are in high demand, in particular their Trout Gulch Chardonnay that goes to some of California’s most exciting winemakers, like John Raytek at Ceritas, Duncan Meyers at Arnot-Roberts as well as Jamie Kutch, all of which make thrilling examples from this awesome site. The Lindsay Paige Chardonnay was classically done with hand-crafted care with barrel fermentation and aging, with this cool climate wine seeing full malo-lactic conversion and fine lees contact in French oak barrels, 25% new, for close to 10 months. The 2018 vintage, a long cool growing season with wonderful concentration and plenty of natural acidity really pushed this Lindsay Paige Chardonnay to the next level and gives this wine a real presence and structure, it should drink well for many years to come, though it is so good now it mostly likely won’t be around for those that like their Chardonnay with some age. Luckily, I am almost certain the just released 2019 will be just as delicious if not more so! Don’t forget to check out Richard’s beautiful Pinots, which are smoothly elegant and fruit forward, and the racy and dry Alfaro Gruner Veltliner.
($30 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2018 Violin, Pinot Noir, Sojeau Vineyard, Eola-Amity Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
Brand new to me is this exciting Oregon producer from Amity, Violin Wine, a Pinot Noir focused label by winemaker Will Hamilton that was established in 2013 and is making small lot single vineyard wines, like this beautiful Sojeau Vineyard Pinot Noir from vines in the Eola-Amity Hills AVA of the Willamette Valley. The 2018 Sojeau Pinot shows clear red and blue fruits, lovely floral notes and fresh acidity with a beautiful texture and exceptional length, everything is crisply detailed and elegant from start to finish. Round layers of black cherry, vine picked wild berries, plum and tangy blueberry mingle with seeped rose petals, orange/hibiscus tea, delicate spices and a touch of shaved vanilla all come through on the vivid medium bodied palate. Before starting Violin Wine, Hamilton spent several years making wine at Walter Scott, one of the Willamette Valley’s elite producers and cut his teeth making some of the most sought after wines in Oregon, so it is no surprise that his Violin Sojeau Pinot is so good. This dark ruby/garnet hued 2018 Sojeau was blended from two fermentation lots, which Hamilton says, included one barrel of 100% de-stemmed grapes and three barrels that were done with about 20% whole cluster and blended together before bottling.

The Sojeau Vineyard is farmed by Dennis and Thelma Peseau, it is their personal vineyard that, Will explains, (it) is up at about 700 ft above sea level and crests a boulder strewn rocky outcropping set on Jory volcanic soils, adding that it is on the high Western flank of the Southern Eola-Hills with a view over the Van Duzer Corridor and is planted to three clones, Dijon 115, Pommard and Wadenswil. Planted in 2007 this vineyard is just coming into its and Hamilton says the wines from here give an elegance and tension not always found in the new world, he gets particular blocks of all three clones and co-ferments them, adding that the wines lean toward a red fruit profile, with an enticing aromatic quality with spicy red fruits, flowers, and an earth-driven edginess, which I can certainly see in this 2018. This vineyard is the main source of grapes for the Violin label and this site makes Hamilton very optimistic about the future of Pinot Noir in the Willamette Valley, and he says it creates wines of extreme balance and intrigue, again I would find that hard to argue with considering how delicious this wine is. Looking for elegance and transparency in his wines Hamilton, who made only 95 cases of this Sojeau, aged this vintage on lees for 14 months in one new barrique and three previously filled used French Oak barrels. This Sojeau Pinot is massively appealing and impressive in the glass, I highly recommend this brilliant wine and exploring the Violin lineup as soon as possible.
($55 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2018 Dirty & Rowdy, Mourvèdre, Enz Vineyard, Lime Kiln Valley AVA, San Benito County.
The seductively dark and sultry Enz Vineyard Old Vine Mourvèdre is really coming to life right now with an exciting mix of deep fruit, texture and a stemmy savory rush of meaty and earthy elements, all perfectly capturing the essence of the grape, most famously found solo in the powerful Bandol wines in France’s Provence region and this unique California terroir in the wilds of San Benito County. In recent years you’ve seen some great wines from this vineyard, especially Ian Brand’s Mourvèdre and this Dirty & Rowdy bottling which is particularly thrilling in this near perfect vintage on the Central Coast, it is located in the Lime Kiln Valley AVA not far from the Cienega Valley at about 1,200 feet above sea level and set on combination of limestone and granite soils with a smattering of sandy and rock. This purple/garnet wine opens up with a concentration of black and red fruits, some raw tannins, wild herbs and gamey notes and with a few swirls you find some sweet florals, a touch of chalky stones, a sanguine quality and tapenade with layers of boysenberry, plum, dried cherries and wisps of sage, blood orange licorice, bacon and cedar. This wine retains the freshness of year’s long cooler growing season, but still pleases with ripe character and impresses for its dense mouth feel, though without question this wine benefits from food to smooth out its rustic grip, best to serve with some serious proteins.

The single varietal (100% Mourvèdre) Enz Vineyard, about a hundred years old now, which is farmed with sustainable and organic methods was fermented in an old school and natural manner with 100% whole cluster and all indigenous yeasts without any manipulation, all to allow the year and vineyard to shine through in an authentic and openly transparent way. There’s no new oak used in the Enz Mourvedre either, just well used neutral French oak barrels and no fining or filtration is done, plus almost zero sulfur is added in the winemaking process. While there is no polish here, this is a stunning effort for those that love Mourvèdre in its most naked form, it reminds me of some of my favorite Bandol wines, especially the classic meaty examples by Château de Pibarnon. The whole bunches add a degree of feral funk, in a good way and give this wine an added dimension on the full bodied palate and should continue to evolve in the coming years as well as the core of fruit, this Dirty & Rowdy Enz Mourvèdre has loads of personality and potential. As to pairings, there’s lots to enjoy this stuff with, I would suggest a more robust cuisine like lamb, grilled steak and or hard sheep’s cheeses. That said I had it with a spicy pasta and while not an exceptional pairing for this Mourvèdre, it went remarkably well and handled it with surprising grace. Dirty & Rowdy, a Mourvèdre minded winery, also has a very cool collection of other wines from a set of “orange” style skin contact whites and Rhone red blends that are well worth searching out, plus I absolutely love their Mendocino Barbera, it is an awesome California version of this Piedmonte grape. This no pretense winery is a label to follow, I highly recommend getting on their mailing list, these wines have a fanatical following and sell out quickly.
($47 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2020 Jolie-Laide, Gamay Rosé, Witters Vineyard, El Dorado County.
The delicately pale pink Jolie-Laide Gamay Rosé is vividly fresh and crisply refreshing with bright fruit detail and has a tangy pop to it with tart cherry, strawberry, red peach, citrus and a steely mineral charm, this is impressively delicious. As it opens there is plenty of vigor and zesty acidity to balance the Gamay’s natural fruitiness and it adds a touch of spice, floral tones, wet rock and anise, making it easy to love with a bone dry profile and a layer of complexity that makes you pay attention. Inspired by a trip to Beaujolais many years back, as Jolie-Laide winemaker Scott Schultz notes, Steve Edmunds, who might be the first in California to do a serious true Gamay and a Rosé of Gamay Noir under his Edmonds St. John label, and Ron Mansfield took the great risk of planting the first known true Gamay Noir in the state, high up in the Sierra Foothills where they found some granite and quartz soils, all of which paid off eventually as Gamay finally got the love it deserves. Jolie-Laide’s Spring releases, with a new set of artist labels are all very tasty, in particular their quaffable Freisa, a gullible Piedmonte inspired red and the racy Melon de Bourgogne.

The Gamay was grown at 3300 feet up in the Sierras on deep volcanic clay loam and quartz at the Witters Vineyard, in fact it’s one of the highest vineyards in California with hot days, but very cold nights that helps retain good freshness and balanced flavors, which Scott wanted to highlight here with his Rosé. The achieve his goals with the Gamay Rosé, Schultz made sure to pick the grapes early to preserve vibrant acidity and employed a cold whole cluster pressing to a unique set of vessels, a combination of stainless, concrete, and neutral oak. After a short skin maceration there was a short wait for a natural spontaneous fermentation. The Jolie-Laide Witters Vineyard Gamay Rosé was then raised for six months before bottling to capture all of its exceptional vitality, this is a wine I should have bought more of, especially for the warm days ahead. As Rosé season heats up there is a lot of great choices to satisfy your thirst for quality dry pinks, and this Jolie-Laide joins a fun new and riveting set of wines and producers to explore. Based in Sebastopol Jodie-Laide does a nice collection of small batch wines, you’ll need to be on their list to get them as these limited offerings sell out within days of release, luckily a few stores get some bottles, act fast to get some, don’t delay get on it!
($28 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2019 Vincent, Gamay Noir, Bjornson Vineyard, Eola-Amity Hills AVA, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
I just got turned on to Vincent Wine Company by a friend who has just started her label up in the Willamette Valley and was telling me of some of the up and coming and cool wineries to check out and the Gamay has loads of personality and very naturally styled with zesty pure fruits and a touch of raw savory tones with fresh strawberry, plum, cranberry and macerated cherries leading the way on the light and tangy palate. Vincent Fritzsche, who focuses on single vineyard Pinots, launched his winery in 2009 after working in both California and Oregon, is now based in the Eola-Amity Hills and has a delicious collection of wines, all of which are incredibly well priced, especially this one. This unfiltered ruby hued Gamay, best served with a chill, opens nicely with floral detail, some blue fruits, earthiness, a herbal crunch and an almost old work funk, reminding me of Clos de la Roilette Fleurie, impressive, less fruity and fun stuff that goes well with simple cuisine. Vincent does a single vineyard Pinot from the Bjornson Vineyard, as well as this Gamay, which is located in the winery’s home base Eola-Amity Hills AVA on iron rich gravelly soils, much like the prestigious Zenith Vineyard, which Fritzsche also sources, for his top Pinots.

Fritzsche employs a natural and traditional winemaking with all of his wines, with his Gamay seeing partial whole cluster, vintage dependent, non carbonic fermentation with gentle pileage and an all native yeast primary, allowing things to get going before doing daily punch downs and a light wetting of the cap during the maceration. Once dry, usually after 18 to 24 days the wine is pressed and settled for close to three days before going into well used barrels, some up to ten years old, with the elevage lasting about a year in the oak. Very little is done in the cellar, except for ultra small doses of sulfur for stability as these wines are bottled without filtration. Vincent gets a lot of attention for the Pinot Noirs, but I also hear his Chardonnay and in particular the Pinot Blanc are not to be missed either, and I look forward to digging into them soon, and especially as this Gamay proved to be very delightful over the course of the evening, getting more and more pretty as it opened completely. Working with vineyard sites that are truly sustainable, if not all organic and or biodynamic, Vincent is looking to let the vineyards speak for themselves, like this Bjornson Vineyard, which is located almost next door to the famous Seven Springs Vineyard and set on classic Jory (volcanic) soils, which Vincent says gives soft tannins, vibrant acidity and more spice and flowery profiles, evident here in the Gamay. This is an exciting winery to start following, joining a ever expanding set of new generation labels in Oregon that are hand crafting wines of passion and terroir.
($25 ESt.) 90 Points, grapelive

2019 Turley Wine Cellars, Zinfandel, Sadie Upton Vineyard, Amador County.
This incredible, deeply purple and delicious full throttle Zinfandel was the perfect wine to celebrate my all American 4th of July, coming from the historic Sadie Upton Vineyard in Amador County that was planted back in 1922, not far from Plymouth, it shows the old vine concentration and ripe flavors you’d expect from Turley, along with a vibrant array of spices and the vintage’s lively nature. Hedonistic, dense and opulent in style, this 15% plus Zinfandel has textural pleasure in spades with a lush mouth feel and a depth of black and red fruit flavors with layers of brambly black raspberry, plum, mission fig, creme de cassis and candied cherry along with snappy spices, floral tones and cedar in a wine that has much in common with big Chateauneuf du Pape(s), it is an unabashed flamboyant joy in the glass. The Sadie Upton Vineyard, Turley notes, came to life in the middle of Prohibition, when a young woman decided decided to get it done while her husband was away working for the railroad, a then 21-year-old Sadie Upton planted this site all by herself, this gumption, as Turley puts it, and tough character shown by Sadie still shows her now 99 year old vines. This 2019 Sadie Upton Zinfandel opens up nicely and gained a bit of savory elements and a touch of irony red spice, it was fabulous with a range of holiday foods, in particular some BBQ chicken and a tomato basil pizza, as well as mixed cheese plate.

Turley Wine Cellars, one of California’s most desirable labels and one of the top Zinfandel producers, was founded in 1993 in Napa Valley by Larry Turley, the ex emergency room doctor and flying enthusiast, who up on farms in the south, where gained a huge respect for the land. Now, with winemaker Tegan Passalacqua leading the efforts, Turley hand crafts about 50 different wines each vintage from more than 50 unique sites across California, with some vineyards in the collection dating back to the late 1800s and early 1900s, making them well over a hundred years old. Passalacqua has raised the game here at Turley and they really respect the history of these vines, putting a lot of effort into the care of these old vines, relying on organic farming and preserving these old vine vineyards with California’s classic varieties, asTurley says, they aim to both create and preserve California’s unique winemaking culture and traditions. Turley, looking to the future has put together an impressive team, with Larry’s daughter, Christina Turley, who joined the winery full time in 2010 leading the sales and marketing efforts from the Napa headquarters in Saint Helena. Turley, a visionary, brought a few lesser known properties in California’s Zin locations over the last couple of decades, like their Pesenti site in Paso Robles and more recently the Karly winery in Amador County, both of which have huge benefits in terms of access (for customers) and quality to the lineup, like this Amador County Zinfandel shows! Not a one trick pony, Turley, known mainly for their Zins and Petite Syrah, also does Cabernet Sauvignon, a great Cinsault, a cool field blend red and Grenache, so be sure to check out these stunning 2019s!
($49-67 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2015 Le Miccine, Chianti Classico, Gran Selezione, Giaole in Chianti, Tuscany, Italy.
Paula Papini Cook’s fantastic 2015 Gran Selezione Chianti Classico, her top estate bottling, is wonderfully pure, richly dense and smooth in structure, highlighting the ripe and opulent vintage in the region, showing beautiful dark berries and floral aromatics along with sweet and savory elements, including tobacco leaf, cedar, dried Turkish fig and anise that all linger on and on. With some air in the glass this dark garnet and crimson Sangiovese opens further and becomes even more compelling adding kirsch, lilacs, plum, strawberry and currant to the full bodied palate, all of which gives this wine an incredible sense of completeness and makes for an excellent companion for the evening, especially brilliant with meat dishes, pasta and or firm pecorino cheese. This Gran Selezione by Le Miccine is everything you’d want in a premium example of the region’s main grape Sangiovese. Paula Papini Cook has really turned Le Miccine, her grandparents ancient estate, into one of Chianti’s best and desirable labels with lovely set of hand crafted wines from vineyards she farms with all organic methods.

The Le Miccine Chianti Classico Gran Selezione comes from, as Papini Cooks explains, a premium selection of grapes from a single vineyard on the estate in the Tuscan hillsides of the Giaole in Chianti zone. This wine saw a very different program than the regular Chianti Classico, it was made exclusively from 100% Sangiovese, with none of the other local grapes and it was aged 30 months in oak barrels, more like a Brunello, with an extra 6 months in bottle before release. There are a whole new set rules for these Gran Selezione Chianti Classicos, with the minimum requirement for Sangiovese has been increased to 90%, from 80%, and there cannot be an international varietals in the blend, only allowing the remaining 10% to grapes that are native to the Chianti Classico area, namely Canaiolo, Colorino, Malvasia Nera and Mammolo, plus a couple other extremely rare varietals. As well as that there now are 11 special permitted subzones, or cru like historically recognized towns and regions, that can be used on the labels, these include now the formally designated Unità Geografiche Aggiuntive(s) of Castellina, Castelnuovo Berardenga, Gaiole, Greve, Lamole, Montefioralle, Panzano, Radda, San Casciano, San Donato in Poggio and Vagliagli.
($55 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2020 Stars & Dust, Rosé of Mourvédre, Kaerskov Vineyard, Los Olivos District, Santa Ynez Valley.
Nikki Pallesen’s, formerly of Liquid Farm, new label Stars & Dust is just launching with a set of Rosé bottlings, one made from 100% Grenache and this one, which is crafted from 100% Mourvédre and done in a dry Bandol inspired style with a serious demeanor and a racy intensity that grabs your attention. Pallesen says of her new project’s first releases, that her Rosé Twins are two distinctly different wines coming from two different Rhone varietals, two different vineyards and two different AVA’s (albeit only 20 minutes away from each other, as she notes), though they are very fraternal and have almost the same delicately pale hue with primary notes and aromas that, she says, are shockingly alike, with any trying or intention to do so in the winemaking. She notes that in her tastings, that the Grenache Rosé has begun to take on its own personality and is getting more open and fruit forward, as you’d expect, and I found the more brooding Rosé of Mourvedre absolutely a thrill in the glass with lovely palate intensity showing blood orange, ruby grapefruit, tart cherry, subtle watermelon, and garden strawberry fruits, loads of mouth watering saline, chalky stones, rosemary, rosewater and a hint of fennel. This Rosé gets better and better with every sip, it is definitely one of my favorites of the year so far and Pallesen has done her usual magic with this one, it is very addictive, as she did with the Liquid Farm Rosé, where it was known in the industry as Pink Crack! As, mentioned here, California is killing it with unique and high quality Rosé and this Stars & Dust joins an impressive set of wines, like those of Bedrock, Arnot-Roberts, Tribute to Grace, Martha Stoumen, Big Basin, Ryme and Filomena to name a few that have really stood out!

The Stars & Dust Rosé of Mourvedre was whole cluster pressed, non saignée and saw a short maceration to achieve the fresh detail and gentle extraction of its light pink color with a cool stainless steel fermentation before an elevage in neutral French oak barrels for six months. There is plenty of ripeness and extract to provide complexity and pleasure here and as this wine turns on the charm with some air time it gains a presence on the palate and impresses texturally as well, while maintaining its natural acidity and steely character. Not quite as full bodied as the famed Domaine Tempier Bandol Rosé, this wine clearly is within a whisper of the quality of the famed Provence legend and reminds me a little bit of the famous Clos Ste Magdeleine Cassis Rosé, one of my all time favorite dry pink wines. The Los Olivos District AVA, which was recently formed in 2016, is in the Santa Ynez Valley, mostly formed from an area between the Santa Ynez River, between the Purisima Hills above Solvang and set on on a broad alluvial terrace plain with well drained soils with gravel, Orcutt sandy terraces, clay loams and the locally unique complex of Positas-Ballard-Santa Ynez alluvial deposits. The climate here is heavily influenced by maritime conditions and a long growing season with some warm Summer days helping the Mourvédre, a late ripening grape, flourish here. Pallesen only made 80 cases of her Tierra Alta Vineyard Rosé and just 100 cases of this Kaerskov Vineyard Rosé of Mourvédre in this vintage and considering her success and fanatic following of the Liquid Farm Rosé, I’m sure, these will sell out fast, so I highly recommend getting on her mailing list at Stars & Dust. There are al lot more things expected to come out under the Stars & Dust label over the course of the next year or so with a rumored or hotly anticipated Chardonnay release.
($26 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2019 Abbazia di Novacella, Sylvaner, Valle Iscarco DOC, Alto Adige, Italy.
The brilliant pale gold and surprisingly dense Abbazia di Novacella Sylvaner really impresses on the palate with a mix of apple, apricot and citrus fruits, vivid mineral tones, a light perfume of white flowers, a hint of bacon, wet rock and snappy herbs, all making it a beautifully balanced effort with a real presence in the glass, giving more expressive old vine versions from Alsace and or Germany a real run for their money. Located in the sleepy little burg of Novacella, the all organic Kloster Abbazia di Novacella, in the Isarco River Valley not far from Trentino was founded way back in 1142 by the Augustinian Order of Canons Regular, who as monks still run this winery and farm with a commitment to quality and sustainability. The abbey’s reputation as a winery is world renown, especially highly regarded for the white wines, like this Sylvaner, as well as their Gruner Veltliner, Pinot Grigio, Sauvignon Blanc and in particular the Kerner. In fact Abbazia di Novacella turned a lot of heads in 2009, when Italy’s influential Gambero Rosso named Celestino Lucin, the Abazzia’s enologist, Winemaker of the Year. The Sylvaner grape, a natural crossing between Traminer, the parent of Gewurztraminer, and the “hunnic” variety lnown as Österreichisch-Weiß, which translates to “Austrian White”, it (Sylvaner) is thought to have originated in eastern Austria, Hungary and or Romania, but has found more fame in the Franconia region of Germany where it can be labeled with the famous Grosses Gewachs (GG) cru designation, though also highly regarded in Alsace and here in the Alto Adige.

The 100% Sylvaner is sourced from Bressanone valley basin, in the northern zone at between 650-750m elevation and set on the region’s glacier formed Morainic deposits, which are composed of mica schist, para gneiss and quartzite soils, with a warm and sunny mostly southern facing exposure. The Sylvaner’s fermentation and aging was done in mostly in stainless steel tank, but a third was raised in acacia casks, and on the lees, for six months. Way up in the Dolomites, Alto Adige is the northern most wine region in Italy and very close to the Austrian border, it is a place with a long history for wines and an area noted for its German culture and language. The Alto Adige has many distinct growing areas with the red grapes like Lagrein, Schiava, Pinot Nero and Teroldego grown mainly around the city of Bolzano, south of Trentino, and in fact one of Italy’s warmest cities, with white varietals such as Kerner, Manzoni, Pinot Grigio, Müller Thurgau and this Sylvaner coming from vines in the north, near Bressanone, the Isarco Valley. Not far from the picturesque Lago di Caldaro (Lake Kaltern) this part of the South Tirol is home to some fabulous wineries of note, like Manincor, Terlano, Kofererhof, Foradori, St. Michael-Eppan and Abbizia di Novacella to name a few. With a string of great vintages, I highly recommend chasing down some these wines. It was great to re-visit the Abazzia di Novacella wines after a few years of missing them and this 2019 Sylvaner was a stand out in their dry whites, and an outstanding value, though I am also fond of their light strawberry flavored Schiava and the deeper dark berry and earthy toned Lagrein.
($22.50 ESt.) 93 Points, grapelive

2020 I. Brand & Family Winery, Skin Contact Pinot Gris, Eden Rift Vineyard, Cienega Valley AVA, San Benito County.
The brilliantly cooper hued skin contact Pinot Gris is one of the biggest successes for this 2020 vintage in Ian Brand’s set of new releases with its beautiful color in the glass only the beginning in this intriguing Romato style wine that is well rounded, complex and smoothly textured showing off a compelling play between lush and savory elements. This is my favorite vintage of this wine so far, the mouth feel is absolutely divine and the fruit is more crisply detailed with pink apple and apple skin, a touch of strawberry and peach as well as some zesty citrus, all of which come together along with saline rich wet stone, a bit of almond paste, phenolic grip or extract and a subtle earthiness that really works in making this wine that much more interesting and good with a range of cuisine choices. Romato, a word that means copper in Italian, is a term used for the classic versions of this slighter fresher example of “orange wine” that hugely successful in the northeast of Italy close to the Slovenian border, with Gravner, Skerk and Radikon being iconic producers from there. Ian’s Pinot Gris was fermented on the skins for 4 days, and then aged a short time in neutral barrels, which left the color so inviting and additionally gives the wine its structural tannin as well as supple mouth feel, it is wine that goes well with Uni, chicken skewers, smoked salmon and or ceviche. The rise of alternative wines from white or Gris grapes has been a remarkable feat in California and looks to beat the fad or trendy label some critics have put out there, these wines are here to stay.

Ian Brand has been working with many of these unique sites and has found some real gems in Lyme Kiln Valley, like the Enz Vineyard as well as in the Cienega Valley, which became an AVA in 1982 and is located in the cooler western side of the San Benito County, an area that is interestingly home to some of the oldest Pinot Noir vines in California, so it is not surprising that Pinot Gris does well here, especially with the combination of granite and limestone soils found in this part of the valley. At approximately 1,100 feet up above sea level, and with a cold air gap to the Ocean, it sees lots of sunny days, making for warm ripening conditions and well rounded wines. The valley floor is divided by the famous San Andreas fault, and the region does shake quite a bit, and there is plenty of micro climates to chose from, and a surprising amount of unique varietals to be found here with everything from the mentioned Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris, to rare Negrette and Cabernet Pfeffer along with old vine Zinfandel and Carignane, as well as lesser known Italian grapes like Freisa and Arneis, which Ian now does to great acclaim. Pinot Gris (Grigio) had become a much reviled grape, with thousands of boring, bland and or sweet versions out there, but has been resurrected in recent years by wines like this. In Ian’s collection of rarities, this one shouldn’t be missed, as well as his Melon, in the whites and his famous old vine Enz Mourvedre, the Grenache(s), the Cabernet Sauvignon(s), especially the Fellom Ranch Vineyard, and the Cabernet Franc(s) in the reds, all of which are showing fantastic right now.
($30 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

Grapelive.com Reviews – June, 2021

2020 Martha Stoumen, Mendocino Benchlands Red, Mendocino County.
The fresh and spicy 2020 Stoumen Benchlands feels juicy, vibrant and dry with crushed raspberry and peonies leading the way on this attractive and lighter framed 40% Petite Sirah, 37% Zinfandel and 23% Nero d’Avola blend that is perfect medium bodied wine for pasta, pizza and especially outdoor dinning with smooth dusty tannins and zesty natural acidity. An easy to love quaffer, the latest Benchlands includes a high dose of carbonic Petite Sirah which Martha handled with her more delicate touch, as well as the usual Zinfandel, which gives this wine its California sunny personality and her signature Nero d’Avola, the Sicilian grape that adds complexity and a dark earthy charm, with all the grapes coming from three sustainable/organic Mendocino sites set on stony benchland, hence the name on this wine, valley floor uplifted soils with mainly gravelly/sandy loams. Stoumen says this wine was inspired by the Italian farming tradition where grapes were planted on the poorer soils and you can feel it here on this latest release with its fruit forward nature and slightly rustic character, it is an honest and good drinking wine with a simple array of red fruits, a touch of iron, a light crunch of herbs, blood orange, pretty florals and a lingering tanginess. Think of this wine as a no pretense, fun companion, one to be poured with happy friends around a campfire or sitting by a lake, it is a superb Summer red, like an Italian country wine and or a Carignan based Corbieres, from France’s wild Languedoc.

The Mendocino Benchlands, a red blend, that Martha resurrected in 2019, her original vintage was in 2015, it was brought back as a result of a new vineyard she started leasing and farming in Mendocino County called the Chiarito-Ling Vineyard, where Stoumen gets her Zinfandel and some of her Petite Sirah. This vintage deviates from the 2015 and 2019 vintages, as Martha says, a smidge, because in 2020 she also added some carbonic maceration Petite Sirah to bring some blue fruit to the blend, which shows up after the wine has been open a white and with food, adding a some delicious blueberry and plum. The other two vineyards, the Benson Ranch vineyard, in Ukiah, provides a little extra Petite Sirah, while the Nero d’Avola comes from 33 year old vines at the Fox Hill Vineyard, located on the Talmage Bench in Mendocino County, which is most likely the oldest Nero d’Avola vines in California. The ripe and lively Benchlands Red comes in at just 12.5% natural alcohol and never gets dull in the glass which has an inviting garnet/ruby/strawberry hue, it is also very low in total SO2 and Stoumen notes it is, like all of her wines, vegan safe. The grapes were fermented separately in small batches, with whole cluster employed for the Zin and Petite, though all de-stemmed for the Nero. All of lots were pressed prior to dryness and then barrel aged in all neutral French oak for 6 months off lees and then bottled unfined and unfiltered. Martha suggests, and I agree, to enjoy this Benchlands young and chilled, drink over the next two or three years. There’s a lot to like in Martha’s latest set of releases, especially her new Vermentino, her Rosato of Nero d’Avola and this one, be sure to check them out.
($30 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2017 Aeris, Bianco, Centennial Mountain Vineyard, Sonoma County.
From the proprietor of Rhys, Kevin Harvey, the famous Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot Noirs producer, comes this new project Aeris, with Italian and Sicilian grapes as the core mission behind the new label that will based in Sonoma, but with some of their wines being sourced in Sicily as they get started. This was the first Aeris I got to try, it is 100% Carricante, a Sicilian varietal found mostly on the volcanic slopes of Mount Etna, where it makes one of the most compelling white wines you could ever want, with this 2017 showing pure Carricante charm and grace, making for an exotic California version, maybe the only one. The is brilliant clarity of form and a nice rounded balance here in the Aeris Bianco with a striking mix of citrus and stone fruits, light spices, refined floral detail and a stony element too, all coming together very well, it really isn’t too far off some of the Etna classics, like Terre Nere. This is an early enjoyment style wine that should be enjoyed in its expressive youthful form, especially as this 2017 is a slightly lower acid vintage, though I hear the 2018 and 2019s are big steps up with more mineral intensity and more natural acidity benefiting this wine in perfect conditions for exceptional quality, not that this one isn’t exciting and its opulence is very attractive. The medium bodied and done dry palate reveals orange blossoms, tangerine, white peach, a touch of dried pineapple, crystallized ginger and honeydew melon along with a touch of earthy loam, saline infused rock and hint of lychee, making it compelling with Mediterranean and or Moroccan cuisines, from grilled octopus to lemon chicken and couscous.

The philosophy, behind Aeris, is rooted, literally, on expressing the unique character of their native Italian varieties grown in a completely new viticultural area, Centennial Mountain, which has some ancient volcanic influence itself, and Italian traditions. The site is not far from Lake Sonoma, just outside of the Dry Creek Valley AVA, on iron rich rocky soils with long warm sun-kissed Summer days and hillside vines. The core ideas, Harvey and his winemaker Jeff Brinkman, include organic farming, old world natural winemaking utilizing indigenous yeasts, without the use of nutrients or other additives, and the aging, which is done with the extensive use of large neutral oak casks to promote purity and transparency. The primary fermentation for the Aeris Bianco, according to the winery, was done in temperature controlled stainless steel tank to capture and preserve the delicate aromatics, after which the wine was raised in a combination of the large casks and a few stainless hogshead size barrels for about 12 months. Carricante, especially in the hands of Rhys’ talented winemakers, looks to have bright future here in California, and I’m excited to see what they do also with their new red grape Nerello Mascalese, another Sicilian and Mount Etna varietal, as well as their Nebbiolo. As I have mentioned in recent reviews, the Cal Itals, wines made from Italian grapes, have really come of age in the last ten years, especially Ryme Cellar’s Aglianico, Fiano and Vermentino, Martha Stoumen’s Nero d’Avola and Negroamaro, the Giornata Luna Matta Vineyard Nebbiolo and Barbera, Arnot-Roberts’ Falanghina and the Matthiasson Ribolla Gialla, to name just a few. It is a great time to discover these dynamic wines, and I am looking forward to seeing how these Aeris offerings develop, there is a lot to love in this well crafted Carricante already.
($39 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2019 Ovum Wines, Old Love, White Wine, Oregon.
The Ovum Old Love dry white wine is a blend of grapes that sing in the glass with a range of heady and perfumed scents along with a brisk salty palate that will remind people of the beautiful and textural mixed varietal Alsatian wines of Marcel Deiss, Marc Tempe and Albert Boxler’s Edelzwicker Réserve, which is a different blend every year, like Ovum’s Old Love. The Old Love is about 45% Riesling, 35% Gewürztraminer, 10% Pinot Blanc and 10% (Dry) Muscat, though maybe 1% is other varietals depending on the year and what is co-planted in the vineyards, which are located throughout Oregon on a unique combination of soils, it is certainly one of the most eccentric of the state’s white wines and the better for it. The 2019 Old Love is fresh and lively with green apple, white peach, tangerine and dried apricot fruits on the lithe and crystalline palate, which is racy, saline and mineral laced with a bracing kick of acidity and showing hints of wet stone, ginger, rosewater and wild herbs. This white gives quite a rush to the senses and has a feeling of grip to it with crisp extract lingering well on in the aftertaste, very impressive and a great wine with food, in particular white fish, poultry, light pork dishes and even fresh briny oysters. The straw and light golden Old Love white keeps you guess throughout the glass, but drinks impeccably well balanced and rewarding without any obvious varietal domination taking charge, it truly is a wine that is better because of the sum of all parts, consider me intrigued! I am looking foward to exploring the rest of the Ovum lineup and the new vintages that have just now been released.

Ovum Wines, which was founded in 2011 by Ksenija Kostic House, the winemaker and her husband John House, is a label dedicated to showcasing vineyard sites and vintage through white wines, like this Old Love white wine. Ovum is solely committed to the production of these white wines, which mainly consist of aromatic varietals, including Riesling, Gewurztraminer, and Muscat that are fermented with native yeasts and aged in a combination of Amphora, neutral barrels of acacia wood and French oak, as well as partially in cement egg and some larger format Austrian casks. The Big Salt white, a different Ovum bottling, sees some extra skin contact and is fermented in separate lots, while this Old Love looks to be a co-ferment with minimum skin contact, while the Ovum Big Salt sees those separate ferments with extra skin contact. The Old Love is from vineyard sites, at least 10 different organic and sustainable vineyards that are all over 30 years old and set on a range of volcanic ash, basalt, marine sediment, alluvial, serpentine soils, with altitudes between 250 ft to over a 1,000 ft and with a collection of AVA’s from the Rogue to the Columbia Gorge, as well as the Dundee Hills in the Willamette Valley. Ksenija, I believe, for this Old Love white, co-fermented the different grapes, which saw a cold direct press into stainless steel for a natural yeast fermentation, or Inox, before seeing a 60 day elevage with 40% staying in tank, with 60% moving into Amphora, Austrian (oak) ovals, neutral French oak and Cement Egg for an extended 6 months before bottling. I’d been hearing the buzz about these Ovum wines and I’m thrilled to have finally opened one and I will without question get many more, especially at the prices, which seem insanely low for the quality!
($24 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2017 Domaine Bernard Levet, Cote-Rotie, Amethyste, Northern Rhone, France.
The warm year really shows here and the 2017 Bernard Levet Cote-Rotie cuvée Amethyste, 100% Syrah, is very opulent and luxuriously textured, it is surprisingly open knit in a departure in style from most of the Levet wines I’ve tried, which are usually much more lean and tightly wound when young, this lush version with be a crowd pleaser with those that open this one in this time frame with supple tannins and concentrated fruit density. This cuvee Amethyste is new to me, and it has only been imported since 2015, I usually enjoy the Levet La Chavaroche and the Les Journaries, which is always from the old vine plot at the La Landonne lieu-dit, one of Cote-Rotie’s premier sites, and my first impression is positive and my initial thoughts also reflect what importer Rosenthal says of the Amethyste, that it is a wine that is less severe and savage in nature and more open. This vintage was a hot year too, adding to the sense of ripeness on the smooth full bodied palate, delivering rich chocolaty dark fruits with blackberry, damson plum, sweet cherry and blueberry compote, all accented by delicate florals, a light smokiness, dried herbs, spices and creme de cassis, as well as anise, a hint of meatiness, mocha and lingering boysenberry and toffee notes. Fermented with about 60% whole bunches, with no Viognier, the dark purple/garnet Amethyste is an elegant and seamless Cote-Rotie, maybe missing a little of the excitement of their top bottlings, but a wonderful value.

The Levet Cote-Rotie(s) are uniquely fermented and aged with most vintages seeing a traditional partial whole cluster and with selected yeasts being employed during an almost month long maceration with gentle hand punch downs. The winery explains that they do their primary Syrah fermentation in epoxy lined cuves with the cuvaison lasting at least three weeks while malolactic fermentation normally finishes by the end of the year. They then rack the wine into large oak barrels where it spends a few months, after which, at the beginning of the second year, the wines are moved into demi-muids, a medium sized oak cask with about 15% of which are new. Then for the third year, the Cote-Rotie(s) are racked again and left to complete their barrel aging in a mixture of demi-muids and smaller barrels, with them seeing a totally elevage of 36 months before bottling with a light fining, but without filtration. The Domaine Bernard Levet has of 3.5 hectares of vineyards, all of which are located within the boundaries of the town of Ampuis, in the Cote Rotie appellation, all in prime zones, making for a tidy collection in this historic terroir with their vines consisting of six separate parcels, including their signature “Chavaroche” in Cote Brune with a southwest exposure and an average age 40 years, plus Landonne old vines, Font Jean, Les Craies, Mollard and the Moulin, one of the most famous parcels that is situated just below Guigal’s La Turque. Levet, founded under this label with the 1983 vintage is run by Nicole and Bernard Levet with their vigneron daughter Agnes now doing most of the heavy lifting here and continues the excellence that has made this winery one of the savviest of the region to collect.
($55 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2018 Domaine Jean Foillard, Fleurie, Cru Beaujolais, France.
The fresh and lively 2018 Fleurie from Jean Foillard is a very pretty and delicate wine of great class and character, but less fruit forward than the 2015, which was the last vintage I reviewed, and 2009, which really were mind-blowing wines, though this one will sneak up on you, with air it really comes alive with vivid layers, smooth textures and beautiful floral details. The fruit is bright and tangy, highlighting the vintage and the Gamay’s inner nature, pushed up by the wine’s natural acidity and mineral tones with tart plum, strawberry, currant and red peach all revolving on the medium bodied palate along with crunchy herbs, anise, a bit of lilac and rose petal, as well as a touch of dark walnut. The color is a warm ruby and garnet at its core, very alluring in the glass and the bouquet is a bit more expressive that the Morgon bottling, for which Foillard is much more famous for, but this wine always seems a tad more elegant, where as those Morgon’s are more dense and have more of a gripping presence. Jean Foillard, who took over his father’s domaine in 1980, is a legendary Cru Beaujolais producer and, as mentioned, famous for his stylish wines from his vineyards in Morgon’s famous Côte du Py, the prestigious slope outside the town of Villié-Morgon, but he also has this tiny parcel in Fleurie that makes for maybe his most exotic and perfumed bottling, as this one is beginning to show, and it should evolve nicely over the next 3 to 5 years and last at least another decade.

The Foillard Fleurie is made exclusively from a single hectare and sourced from two lieux-dits, Grille-Midi and Champagne (where top Dutraive’s, the king of Fleurie has his best parcels), of organic 20 to 70 years old vines set on the mentioned pink granite and sandstone that give this Cru its unique personality and heightened perfumed character. Made using whole cluster and native yeasts, the Fleurie macerates and ferments for about a month before being pressed to used Burgundy barrels for close to 9 months. Foillard also choses to hold back his Fleurie in the cellar, in bottle for an extra year, so when his Cote du Py, his signature wine comes out the very limited production Fleurie is on the previous vintage, making it always a touch more polished and elegant on release. As I have mentioned in prior reviews and noted by Kermit Lynch, the famous importer that brought great Cru Beaujolais to America’s attention, Foillard was greatly inspired by natural wine guru Jules Chauvet, a traditionalist who defied everything that the more commercial brands were touting in the region and wanted to go back to pre-industrial organic farming and not use chemical additives in the cellar. Jean and three other local vignerons, Marcel Lapierre, Jean-Paul Thévenet, and Guy Breton, soon joined in on the movement, this became the Gang of Four, who along with Dutraive, brought fame to this region that at the time had lost its reputation and was known more for generic wines at the time. These days, there is a generational change happening with great potential already on display by Jean’s son Alex, as well as Matthieu Lapierre, Charly Thevenet and Justin Dutraive all being impressive talents in their own right.
($50 Est.) 92+ Points, grapelive

2020 Filomena Wine Company, Cabernet Pfeffer Rosé, Enz Vineyard, Lime Kiln Valley, San Benito County.
Rosé in California has officially reached the next level with many absolutely delicious and outstanding versions out there with the 2018s, 2019s and these new 2020s providing perfect conditions for some amazing dry pink wines, with some unique and rare varietals coming into play, like this fabulous Filomena Rosé made from a California rarity, Cabernet Pfeffer grown in the wilds of San Benito County at the Enz Vineyard in the Lime Kiln Valley AVA. The 2020 Filomena Cabernet Pfeffer Rosé, handcrafted by Luke Nio, who is a winemaker at Morgan Twain-Peterson’s Bedrock Wine Company, is bright and minerally crisp with excellent acidity and zesty fruit layers showing tart plum water, cherry, currant, pink citrus and salty wet stone, along with a touch of dried lavender, Asian spice and extremely delicate floral notes. Cabernet Pfeffer, also known as Mourtou, is a distinct varietal that was a late 19th-century crossing of Cabernet Sauvignon and an unknown vitis vinifera vine and was often confused with Gros Verdot, though it is now known to be an unrelated grape and Pfeffer is almost entirely found on the central coast, though a few vines are in some heritage vineyards in the Sonoma and Napa valleys. In the past I’ve had a few examples of Cabernet Pfeffer, like Nicole Walsh’s (winemaker at Bonny Doon) Ser and Ryan Kobza’s (assistant winemaker at I. Brand & Family Winery) Kobza Wines, who does it as both a Rosé and as a red wine, but Nio’s effort really is an eye opener.

Filomena Wine Company is a new and exciting label with a tiny production with a focus on Syrah, along with one of my new favorite wines made from the rare Austrian varietal Saint Laurent, which I have reviewed here at grapelive.com and this Rosé, which is an all new wine for Nio. Sourced from the Enz Vineyard, most famous for old vine Mourvedre that was planted back in the early 1900s, the Filomena Cabernet Pfeffer comes from this historic site that sits about a 1,000 ft above sea level, it is an all organic and dry farmed vineyard in the Gabilan Range that is set on limestone. Rio brought these grapes in nice and cool from a night time pick and he did a gentle foot-trod, allowing for skin contact to last overnight. Then the Cabernet Pfeffer was whole cluster pressed to stainless steel where is saw an indigenous yeast fermentation and a short lees aging. The results are as impressive and they are refreshingly tasty, putting this Cabernet Pfeffer dry Rosé into the same league as some of my must have examples, right up there with Arnot-Roberts Touriga Nacional Rosé and the Bedrock Ode to Lulu, the Mourvedre based pink that is a Bandol style Rosé and tribute to the matriarch of Domaine Tempier. As mentioned California is doing some thrilling Rosé wines, as good as anything from anywhere, from Tablas Creek’s fine examples made from Mourvedre, Grenache, Cinsault and other Rhone varietals, Angela Osborne’s Tribute to Grace Grenache Rosé to Martha Stoumen’s Italian inspired versions that include an extended lees aged Negroamaro and her vivid Rosé of Nero d’Avola, to name a couple. This latest set from Filomena are star quality offerings and I highly recommend getting on Nio’s mailing list and grab these wines, his Griffin’s Lair Syrah is top notch northern Rhone style wine too, do not miss these.
($22 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2018 Intent, Pinot Noir, Home Block, Anderson Valley.
The 2018 Intent Pinot Noir, 100% Pommard clone and all biodynamic was sourced from Filigreen Farm, which is situated on the valley floor of Anderson Valley on sedimentary soils. The biodynamic gardens and vineyards at Filigreen Farm are devoted to the valley’s specialty, Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris grapes, and the Intent Pinot comes off their Home Block, as winemaker Patrick Callagy notes, a parcel with some of the oldest vines on the property. This unique estate is Demeter certified biodynamic, no mean feat and this wine shows the quality and life from these carefully farmed vines. This latest Pinot from Intent, a new label for me, saw a gentle non intervention native yeast fermentation and about 15 months in neutral oak, with just 61 cases produced, all unfined/unfiltered. Coming in at just 13.3% alcohol, this Intent Pinot shows off the vintage with exceptional fresh detail, even ripeness and vibrancy giving an array of cherry, crushed spiced raspberry, plum and earthy/tart cranberry fruits along with black tea, sassafras, baking spices, blood orange and light herb notes. The mouth feel is very alluring here, with air and time in the glass and this ruby/garnet Pinot just gets more complex with each sip, adding a rose petal, floral dimension too, impressive and certainly worth searching out Pinot lovers that want to explore an up and coming producer and are cool climate enthusiasts.

Patrick Callagy, a California Culinary Academy trained chef and turned winemaker, has launched his personal project Intent Wines with a solid set of initial offerings including a Pinot Gris, a Syrah and this lovely Home Block Pommard Clone Pinot Noir. Patrick met winemaker Eric Sussman in 2002, post graduation, when Sussman started his now famous Radio Coteau winery, helping out with that harvest and after a few years of extremely long hours, Callagy’s curiosity/persistence paid off when he became Radio Coteau’s first employee, gaining loads of wine growing and winemaking experience. Fast forward a few years, Patrick started the Intent brand with the 2017 vintage, bravely starting his own label in 2020, considering the difficulty of getting stuff done in the middle of the COVID pandemic, which Callagy says, it’s been challenging year to say the least, but one he survived and we are rewarded with these cool new wines. The focus here is to source from, organically grown, or as Patrick explains, correctly farmed sites, which is where his Intent name comes from. I’m excited to see how this naturally styled wine develops, as it gets so good with air and pleases the senses with silken texture and lingering red fruits and I am looking forward to popping the cork on Patrick’s Pinot Gris, especially as I find the Anderson Valley provides an Alsatian quality to the grapes here that is very compelling.
($42 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2000 Chateau Pipeau, Saint Emilion Grand Cru, Red Bordeaux, France.
Pretty, but fading, this Chateau Pipeau 2000 shows a lovely array of dried flowers, red fruits and light cedary notes and a delicate velvety mouth feel, best to drink these bottles up if you have them as I am comfortably certain it is at the edge of the mountain top looking into the abyss and ready for the long good night. The color is still bright garnet at first, though after twenty minutes you see a slight brown tone emerge and a sous bois and earthy truffle presence takes over and the fruit dies away in stages. Before that happens things are serene and joyous on the palate with dusty plum, red berries, cherry and strawberry fruits unfolding with sandalwood, bay leaf, chanterelle, porporri and loam in a pure and silken fashion. I have been unconvinced by 2000s, feeling they have never lived up to the hype, especially the top wines of the Medoc, though that said I have found the right bank wines to be much more pleasing with Saint Emilion my favorite in this vintage. I have long said I prefer 2001s overall when it was a choice between Bordeaux 2000 and 2001, and while this wine is very nice, I am staying with my views and holding tight on my own opinion and have started to put my money where my mouth is, buying up a few less fanciful 2001s to enjoy now, this one being an exception and one I was happy with, even with the short drinking window once the cork was pulled.

The Grand Cru Saint Emilion estate, Chateau Pipeau, is a large, 25 hectare, Right Bank vineyard and is planted to about 90% Merlot, 5% Cabernet Franc and 5% Cabernet Sauvignon with many different parcels within the region. The terroir here is a mix of sand, gravel and clay soils which is pretty classic here in Saint Emilion appellation, which also has areas of limestone that provides more structure and quality, while the deeper clay gives a deep sense of fruit and concentration. Pipeau does their fermentations in temperature controlled stainless steel tanks using selected yeasts with the the wine seeing both primary and malo-lactic fermentation in the stainless vats before barrel aging in about 70% new oak for an elevage of close to 14 months, depending on the vintage. In some years, especially ripe years, a portion of the Cabernet Sauvignon will be aged in just stainless to add freshness and raw tannin to create more balance, which could be the case in a year like 2000, and most certainly in years like 2003, 2005 and 2009. Since 2000, Chateau Pipeau has become a popular address for quality and fair priced wines, savvy buyers have stocked up on Pipeau, they have gained a reputation for soft and elegant, fruit forward wines for mid term aging, and you can see why when you drink these attractive Saint Emilions, just be mindful not to hold them too long, my feeling is they are best between 5 to 15 years old.
($55 Est.) 87 Points, grapelive

2019 Ryme Wine Cellars, Rosé of Aglianico, Heringer Vineyard, Clarksburg AVA, California.
One of my favorite wineries in recent years is Ryme Wine Cellars, with winemakers Megan and Ryan Glaab, who are crafting an awesome collection of fun offerings with an accent on Vermentino, Cabernet Franc and Aglianico, like in this savvy Rosé, as well as a quaffable Sangiovese and Friulano blend, plus a couple of speciality sparklers that are deliciously unique. Ryme is a collaboration of this husband and wife team that are blessed with old world sensibilities, using traditional and mostly natural methods as well as having an admiration for California’s terroir, history and, as they put it, its sunny disposition. Their portfolio of wines has grown gradually and organically since their founding back in 2007, which actually began with a single ton of Aglianico grapes. This bone dry 2019 Rosé of Aglianico is bright, vividly fresh and steely toned with loads of acidity and zesty crisp fruit, this is precise and wonderfully judged wine that is perfectly matched for these warm summer days with sour tart cherry, strawberry, grapefruit/citrus, briery spiced raspberry water, bitter herbs and a hint of rosewater. At first this seems lithe and vibrantly light, but it has some grip and intensity and gains presence with air making it easy to sip, but also brilliant with food, especially seafoods, picnic fare and or a cheese plate. Let Summer begin, and I highly recommend getting these Ryme Aglianico(s) from this Rosé to their deep and tannic red versions, along with their Pet-Nat style crackling Aglianico bubbly!

Ryme has searched out many different vineyard sites for their set of Aglianico red wines, mostly from warm areas to get this powerful grape ripe, but they needed a cooler site to do this exceptional Rosé and after a bit of searching they found the spot. The Heringer Vineyard, which is located in the Clarksburg AVA, known for old California Chenin Blanc and that has a climate well suited to provide natural acidity. With its stony, rich alluvial soil, modestly warm days, as Ryme puts it, and the cool breezes winding through the nearby Delta, the Heringer Vineyard site has the perfect conditions to do this lovely dry pink wine. The Glaab’s note that the Aglianico struggles here to accumulate much sugar and rather than dark and brooding, as it usually is, especially in Campania, Italy where the grape is mostly at home, the fruit retains more delicacy and brightness. At just 20 brix and very high acidity, Ryme brought these grapes into the winery where they were immediately cool whole cluster pressed to minimize its color extraction and it was fermented all naturally without additions in stainless steel and aged a short time neutral wood. As noted in my reviews, I have been highly impressed with Ryme’s efforts with this grape, known as the Barolo of the south in its home country, because of its Nebbiolo like character and this delicately pale Aglianico Rosé is now firmly in my must have wines and I am putting my order in for the latest release right now!
($25 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2018 Halcón Vineyards, Esquisto, Yorkville Highlands, Mendocino County.
The Esquisto Rhone blend from Halcon is Grenache based and made with about 40% of whole cluster and is wonderfully deep and spicy with good does of Mourvedre and Syrah, what this tiny high altitude estate is most famously known for. For the 2018 Esquisto, the final blend ended up 60% Grenache, 20% Mourvedre and 20% Syrah, and it was fermented using indigenous yeasts and a cool maceration period with hand punch-downs before being pressed to used French oak barrels for close to a year. Paul and Jackie Gordon own and farm the renown Halcon Vineyard with great care and holstically, modeling their wines after the great wines of the northern Rhone with a focus on Syrah, though they added some parcels of Mourvedre, Grenache, Roussanne and Marsanne to fill out lineup, with this excellent and unique Esquisto being their only blended red offering. The British ex-pat couple split their time in the vineyard with their day jobs, with Paul working in high tech, whilst Jackie works part time in real estate that allows her more flexibility to be a hands on winemaker for Halcon’s many wines. In the last half a dozen vintages Halcon has become one of the most exciting labels in California with wines that are thrilling examples of northern Rhone inspired beauties that will remind many of the greats from Cornas, Cote-Rotie and Hermitage. This 2018 Esquisto is alluringly dark purple in the glass with edgy spiciness that grabs your attention with an array of grilled herbs, blue fruit and lilacs on the nose that leads to a a ripe, but chiseled palate with brambly black raspberry, ollalieberry, plum, pomegranate and kirsch fruits, rosemary like wild sage, pepper, mineral and meaty notes, a touch of cedar, anise and lingering creme de cassis. This is wine with depth and richness, boding well for midterm aging, it also highlights the season’s long cool growing season with balancing juicy acidity and some robust tannins that need some air and food to fold in and be best enjoyed, impressive and unique stuff that went awesomely with herb crusted roast chicken. While Grenache based, this Esquisto is not a softy, it reminds me somewhat of the brilliant efforts of Domaine Gramenon, who’s stylish Cotes du Rhone offerings, even Grenache led, are often more Syrah like, especially in profile.

This amazing small estate is located in the Mendocino County’s higher elevation appellation of the Yorkville Highlands, once thought to be better for Pinot Noir, Halcón Vineyards overlooks the Anderson Valley and the Pacific to the west. This vineyard is remotely high up sitting at 2500ft and it is one of the highest vineyard sites in California, which has certainly contributed to the iconic nature of these wines. The northerly location, north of Sonoma, the cool Pacific Ocean influences and altitude combine to produce a climate remarkably similar to the Northern Rhône region of France, as Gordon points out often, and with some glee, in fact a climate map typically shows his vineyard is slightly cooler than the famous village of Ampuis, near Cote-Rotie. Yorkville Highlands is located on the central belt of the Franciscan Complex, as these soils are known, which is comprised of heavily metamorphosed sandstone, which Paul adds is about a hundred million years old, and the Halcón Vineyard itself sits atop a geologic band known as (the) Yorkville Complex, for those that geek out on geology, a rare soil type based on fractured shale, mica-schist and quartz-rich rock, which is non too different than what you’d find in the upper part of the Rhone. Syrah is obviously the main varietal at Halcón and it is the Gordon’s obsession and passion, which they farm with total commitment that shows in the quality of their wines. The Gordon’s have some, of what they call, heritage clone selections of Syrah here that are originally from both of the most classic areas for this grape, Hermitage and Côte-Rôtie. They feel that they have some of the best genetic material available, some of which are rumored to be legendary Chave Hermitage clones. On a warmer and more protected south facing slope, there is a small planting of Grenache and Mourvedre that the Gordon’s have been experimenting with to good effect in this Esquisto. Halcon follows a rigorous organic regime in the vineyard, spraying only fundamental sulphur (a natural element) without copper additions and the fertilization is done from organic compost only. As for pests, the rodent control, Gordon says, is courtesy of the resident owls, hawks and bobcats. I am a huge fan of these wines and they are outrageously well priced for the thrill they provide and the quality in the bottle, don’t miss them!
($35 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2020 Ruth Lewandowski Wines, Rosé Cuvée Zero, California.
The really dark and raw Rosé Cuvée Zero from Evan Lewandowski at Ruth Lewandowski Wines, who is famous for hand crafting some of California’s best examples of natural wines, is not your easy going and frivolous Rosé, and it won’t make into poor side glamor photo shoots with bikini glad wine influencers, and that is really okay, as it is more like a rustic Rosé Lambrusco with a severely dry, tannic and funky personality. Made exclusively from Portuguese varietals with 60% Tinta Roriz, 28% Souzão and 22% Touriga Nacional which saw a bit longer skin maceration and tannin extraction and fermented with all native yeast with zero additions, sans soufre and zero f@ck given! This stuff is a shock at first but gains chard and texture as it opens up, more suited to a campfire and robust cuisine, like thick cut salami and gamey wild boar sausage with an edgy profile of austere red berries, orangey citrus and with a hint country Basque style cider, sanguine notes and dried flowers as well as a lingering tart cherry and sour strawberry element, that all seem to be much more cohesive after a few sips and the food of course. This is not a wine that will conform to the norms and is unapologetic in its animalistic boldness and unfiltered cloudy appearance, but it grew on me and I now have an understanding of its counter culture appeal, especially for those that embrace the funk and don’t what to fall in line with the more generic porch pounders. While this one is not an absolute favorite, I have really enjoyed the latest releases from this winery and especially like the Feints and Boaz reds.

Matthew Rorick farms one of the most compelling sites in all of California, according to winemaker Evan Lewandowski, who gets fruit from the Rorick Heritage Vineyard in Calaveras for this Rosé Cuvée Zero, (it’s) a high altitude site set on super unique soils and steep slopes helps to produce extremely particular fruit. The Tinta Roriz (aka, Tempranillo) grapes from RHV were picked and direct pressed to form the delicate, spicy, snappy strawberry component for Evan’s wine, with the Souzão and Touriga Nacional coming from Mendocino’s Fox Hill Vineyard that is planted, as the winery notes, nearly all to Italian varieties. These tiny Portuguese block is the exception here with the Souzão and Touriga Nacional primarily just used in production of fortified wines, which as Evan reminds us, they do at home in Portugal too, being part of Port wine. He adds that these two are meaty, herbal, tannic and intensely colored varieties, which are intriguing to Lewandowski and add a more savory and earthy dimension to this gripping and almost feral dark pink wine. Lewandowski clearly wasn’t, as he explains, going for a light and easy Rosé, saying It’s not just for porch pounding or deck drinking, it is entirely a different sort of wine, much more serious, a bit savage to be honest with a bit of funk and really benefits from food, it is not your Grandma’s sweet and fruity Lancer or Mateus. By the way, there is no person named Ruth, the name comes from the book of Ruth in the Bible’s old testament and refers to the line that from death there is life and part of Evan’s belief in regenerative and holistic farming along with the life cycles of yeast and bacteria, which is necessary in the natural process of winemaking and the resulting wine.
($25 Est.) 86 Points, grapelive

2019 Pax Wines, Mondeuse Noire, Bearg Ranch Vineyard, Fountaingrove AVA, Sonoma County.
The Pax Mondeuse is wonderfully dark and seriously inviting with crushed lilacs, grilled herbs, black plums and Asian spices which all echo on the medium/full bodied palate along with some whole bunch excitement and bright berry fruits that rotate in the mouth with wild blackberry leading the way along with a touch of açaí and pepper notes, making for a very entertaining naturally styled red wine with some raw earthy elements and rustic tannins. There are a couple of very interesting Mondeuse wines in California at the moment, with Jaimee Motely’s from Santa Maria Valley grown Mondeuse and Lagier-Merideth’s Mt. Veeder Estate in Napa Valley with its mountain fruit intensity being two I’ve really enjoyed in recent vintages, so I was excited to get Pax Mahle’s in my glass and I very much enjoyed his version. Pax employs lots of whole cluster fermentation(s) with organic grapes that are all done with indigenous or native yeasts without any additions and extremely low or no sulfites used except for a tiny amount just prior to bottling depending on the vintage with the Mondeuse seeing only well seasoned used French oak for its elevage to promote purity and fresh detail. Air brings even more pleasure and heightens that floral intensity and brings out a smooth textural quality, while keeping its spicy character and adding a touch of green olive, toffee and a light sense of cedar. The Bearg Vineyard set on Sonoma volcanics and well draining soils is a hillside site that sees a bit of cooling Russian River influences that helps with retaining zesty acidity, as this nicely balanced 2019 Mondeuse displays.

Only 56 cases were made of Pax’s rare Mondeuse Noire, which is a dark skinned alpine grape and produces a deeply colored wine with lots of earthy and spices flavors, as well as having a heady violet and peony bouquet and has some similarities to Syrah, but a bit lighter and more tangy. Mondeuse Noire, or just Mondeuse to most people, is a red French wine grape variety that is grown primarily in the Savoie region of eastern France, high up and close to the Swiss border. This Pax is a delightful example and will surprise some old world fans of this grape as it compares well with Savoie’s best producers, it reminds me a bit of the excellent Savoie Chignin Mondeuse “Vieilles Vignes” by André et Michel Quenard. The grape can also be found in Argentina, Australia, California, Switzerland and freakishly as well as on Sicily. Most European plantings of Mondeuse Noire were devastated during the phylloxera epidemic in the late 1800s which nearly wiped it out, but the vine has recovered, though not to the percentage of acres it once enjoyed and it remains extremely rare and unique in California. It has a few acres in Sonoma, but was most successful in Santa Maria and was brought to wine drinkers attention by the late great Jim Clendenen of Au Bon Climate, who for many years bottling a single varietal version as well as a 50% – 50% blend with Pinot Noir, which was the first wine I ever tried in California with Mondeuse. Pax uses the Bearg Vineyard, in the Fountaingrove AVA near Chalk Hill, for some of his rarities like one of his Gamays, his Trousseau and this limited Mondeuse Noire bottling. Obviously known mainly for his incredible Syrah offerings, Pax has shown some flair with his alternative efforts and I highly recommend exploring his vibrant collection of natural wines and enjoy them with friends and simple foods.
($42 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2019 Sheldon Wines, Grenache, Luc’s Vineyard, Fountaingrove AVA, Sonoma County.
I had high expectations for Dylan Sheldon’s latest Grenache from Luc’s Vineyard, especially after the showing of the previous vintage and the other offering from this site, all of which were fantastic, including the exotic Graciano was well as the Syrah and the Tempranillo, and this 2019 Grenache far exceeded my anticipated joy with beautiful ripe dimension and sublime balance, it is one of my favorite versions to date. The Luc’s Grenache is a deep ruby/garnet color with hints of magenta and richly flavored with classic varietal sex appeal, it shows fresh black raspberry, briery boysenberry, plum, pomegranate and sweet strawberry fruits, as well as exciting spiciness with a mix of cinnamon, dried lavender and peppercorns as well as some whole cluster pop and a touch of lingering florals and anise. Winemaker Dylan Sheldon of Sheldon Wines, which was founded in 2003, is well studied in Grenache and along with Ian Brand, Angela Osborne of tribute to Grace and Scott Shapley of Flywheel Wines is one of these generation that goes for a lower alcohol style and is in search of natural purity rather than a jammy or heavily extracted style, more like the Garnachas of the Sierra de Gredos, like from Comando G, in Spain instead of Chateauneuf du Pape. Made uses whole bunches and with a spontaneous yeast fermentation, the Luc’s Grenache sees daily punch downs and a cool maceration before a soft pressing and racked to just two well used French barrels where it was rested for just under a year. This is a gorgeous Grenache that thrills the senses in every way and is tremendous value for the pleasure and depth here, it comes in at just 12.9% natural alcohol, but the mouth feel is opulent and sensual, it should age well for the next three to five years too.

The tiny backyard Luc’s Vineyard, where this fabulous Grenache is sourced, is located in the Fountaingrove AVA not far from Healdsburg and the Chalk Hill AVA, is planted on a west-facing hillside on Sonoma volcanics with iron rich and rocky soils. The first attraction to this site for the Sheldon’s was the small parcel of Graciano, which to the best of their knowledge, this is the only Graciano being grown in this part of Sonoma County, and as there are only about 30 acres total in the State, though there is more going in, with its success in Paso Robles, it is as Dylan puts it, a rare creature indeed. But, as a Grenache freak first and foremost, the Grenache vines sealed the deal to take all the fruit from this home vineyard and it has become the Sheldon’s signature site and the source of their best wines, like this stellar Grenache. The Luc’s single acre vineyard, according to Sheldon, is on a bi-lateral cordon trellis and tends to produce around 2.5 tons total, so these wines are wonderfully concentrated and extremely limited. The vineyard, founded by a huge Rioja fan, is split almost equally between between Graciano, Grenache and Tempranillo, all of which are found in Spain’s Rioja region, plus Syrah, it was first planted in 2010, it is all hand tended with holistic practices and has been organically farmed since day one. The latest set of wines at Sheldon are without question some of their best efforts to date, they all show beautiful aromatics, and include some rare and unique gems, including a sparkling red made from Graciano and a dynamite carbonic style Sangiovese, so it is a great time to explore this collection if you haven’t done so yet, but be sure not to miss this Luc’s Grenache. Just 36 cases of the Luc’s Vineyard Grenache are going to be released into the wild, so I recommend being quick and greedy in getting it and it is available direct from the winery through their website.
($38 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

2020 Fair Moon Wine, Skin Contact Pinot Gris “Sunshine Effect” Holmes Gap Vineyard, Van Duzer Corridor, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
A fresh and naturally made skin contact Pinot Gris by debutante winemaker Jessica Wilmes, after years as a harvest gypsy, who has found a home in Oregon’s Willamette Valley has recently released her first ever wine under her own Fair Moon Wine label with this “Sunshine Effort” bottling, inspired by some of the world’s most intriguing skin contact white wines, known as orange or Ramato wines like those of Gravner, Radikon, Skerk and Zidarich in northeastern Italy, as well as a few closer to home, like Oregon’s Cameron’s skin contact versions. The color is fascinatingly dark pink/ruby and incredibly inviting, especially for wine geeks and lovers of skin contact whites and this Sunshine Effect is more red wine like in dry extract, savoriness and with some rustic tannin giving this earthy wine some structural firmness to go along with the ripe fruit which leans to red apple, orange rind, strawberry and sour cherry. The wine, which has a hint of basque dry cider, is made to be a raw, without fussiness and is freshly quaffable, it is a bottle you can put in a cool stream while skinny dipping and or have in a quiet forest meadow surrounded by tall redwoods, it is less at home at a white table cloth restaurant under the spotlight of expectations, it is much more happy in nature as I obliged with by enjoying it with a cool salty breeze and a remote beach along with a piece of crusty bread and stinky farm cheese. This proved to be a simple and pleasing combination with the environment and setting being a wonderful pairing for this wine, with its feral meaty and dusty herbal notes as well as the light sediment here not impeding the sense of joy and amusement provided by this simple, but unique Pinot Gris. As the wine gets air and warms in the glass it gains a smooth texture and adds some dried flowers to the mix, making it nicely refreshing, especially with a bite of cheese and or grilled prawns, smoked trout or steamed crayfish I imagine.

Fair Moon Wine is an ultra small-production micro winery, the looks to hand-craft unique tiny lot stuff with natural-driven winemaking, with, what Wilmes playfully adds, happy palates in mind. She is motivated by her own experiences, which have included years chasing harvest intern jobs, having to live out of her trusty Toyota Tundra truck and long hours for little pay, which has made her grateful for fleeting moments of calm. This has led her to make wines that are fun, quaffable and flavorful, for what she hopes will be enjoyed during everyday adventures or periods of total relaxation with friends and with lots laughter. Jessica’s first vintage highlights this pleasure seeking passion with skin-contact Pinot Gris, sourced from the cool climate Holmes Gap Vineyard nestled in the Van Duzer Corridor in the Willamette Valley with mainly marine sedimentary soils. The name, Sunshine Effect, originates from, as Wilmes explains, the daily moving of the fermenter outside into the sun to kick off fermentation. Wilmes allowed her cool macerated Pinot Gris to go all with spontaneous yeast fermentation, with absolutely no additives, with short term aging in a single neutral French oak barrel and bottled unfiltered and unfined. This delightful reddish glowing wine, Wilmes says, is a wine that would flirt with you, bring good times and would always wear twirly dresses if it was a human, I can see that! Digging into modern natural wines can be a painful task at times with lots of weirdness out there, something that Wilmes herself admits and while she embraces the funk and doesn’t shy away from it here, she also is not a fan of seriously flawed or is driven by pure dogma over the goal of making a wine of balance. Only a barrel of this was made and it is available direct at fairmoonwine.com and is also found in a few spots in Portland that feature orange wines. Playing on the edge of a knife’s blade is not easy, especially for a winemaker not born into wealth, so hats off to Jessica for going for it and largely succeeding here, I admire this first effort and look forward to seeing what’s next!
($28 Est.) 88 Points, grapelive

2016 G.D. Vajra, Barolo DOCG “Albe” Piedmonte, Italy.
This is a fabulous vintage to stock up on for Barolo, and for an outstanding value this G.D. Vajra Albe is a top choice, it is drinking absolutely delicious with fantastic purity of flavors, showing classic Nebbiolo presence in the glass, but with the grace of a fine Pinot Noir. Giuseppe Vajra, who took over the winemaking from his legendary father Aldo in 2008, has become one of the best in the region with a stunning collection of Cru Barolo and an excellent set of regional wines that includes one of the best dry Rieslings outside of Alsace and Germany, along with a brilliant Dolcetto that comes from two awesome Barolo sites, an age worthy Barbera Superiore, the exotic Kye Freisa and two lovely easy to love Langhe Nebbiolo bottlings that are made to be enjoyed young. This beautiful Albe Barolo starts with its bright ruby and dark brick hue and expressive aromatics with dark berries, rose petals, tar and wild minty herbs before leading to a nicely structured medium to full bodied palate with good fruit density, velvety tannins and fine length. There is a wide array of expansive elements that unfold in clear detail including Italian cherry, damson plum, briar laced raspberry, balsamic strawberry and tart currant fruits along with earthy notes, anise, mineral and a light sense of cedar. This is a polished and luxurious Barolo that always way over delivers for the price on offer here, especially in vintages like this 2016, which follows top efforts in 2010, 2011 and 2013. I love the 2016s a lot and think it will go down as a legendary year for both enthusiasts and patient collectors, there’s sublime depth and a seductive opulence even in the youthful stage these wines are in.

The Vajra wines are outstanding, especially his latest set of Baroli, the four from his family estate, Bricco Delle Viole, Coste di Rose, Ravera and this Albe, plus the three he does under the Luigi Baudana label. These Nebbiolo offerings are regal and wonderfully balanced, each showing the unique nature of the terroirs where each is sourced, capturing the essence of the pace to perfection.The Albe Barolo is the blend of high-elevation Barolo DOCG Cru vineyard sites with different hillside parcels set on various slopes with different exposures that allow for ripe fruit and good natural acidity, all are high quality and organic vines which have sandy soils over clay and limestone marls. Giuseppe’s vinification of his Albe Barolo was carried in custom vertical tini fermentors with gentle punch down and cap pump-overs, seeing a long cool maceration period that lasts up to four months. After which this wine sees a spontaneous malolactic fermentation in stainless steel vats before aged for 18 months in large Slavonian oak casks of various sizes with only one gentle racking before its final blending and being bottled. It should also be noted that Aldo Vajra, back in 1971, was one of the earliest to promote organic farming in Piemonte, a tradition that continues today with a passion and the Vajra family has employed a holistic approach throughout their holdings and intensely monitor the environment to improve the quality of the grapes and proven these ideas and methods are the successful path forward, with wines like this highlighting this point. If you are looking for exceptional Nebbiolo enjoyment this is a label to search out, I’m a committed fan of the wines here and the people behind them, I can’t recommend this wines high enough!
($40 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2018 Envinate, Benje Blanco, Vinos Atlanticos, Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain.
The 2018 Benje Blanco, made from 100% Listan Blanco, also known as Palomino, the white Sherry grape, is salty and slightly oxidative with racy stone fruits, citrus, dried mango and wet smoky shale notes, making it wonderfully crisp, dry and spicy with hints of orange and zippy acidity. This wine really needs food to shine in its best light, it goes intriguingly well with grilled shrimp tacos, ceviche and or rustic creamy/tangy goat cheese. The golden/yellow Benje Blanco is, as the winery notes, sourced from several old-vine, untrained pie franco (ungrafted and free standing) parcels of Listan Blanco and volcanic soils, which make up the whole island chain here. Each parcel is hand-harvested and vinified separately in a mix of concrete tank and small bins with most of the grapes being direct pressed off of the skins, though about a quarter are skin contact fermented with about three weeks of maceration. The dry Benje Blanco is then raised on the lees for 8 months in a combination of concrete and neutral French oak without battonage (no stirring of the fine lees) or with any added SO2.

Envinate, founded back in 2005, consists of four friends and winemakers from very diverse regions in Spain including Roberto Santana of Tenerife, Canary Islands, Alfonso Torrente of the Ribeira Sacra in Galicia, Laura Ramos of Murcia and José Martínez who is from Almansa and is now one of the critically acclaimed wineries in Spain, based in the Canary Islands. The winery’s main area of focus are these natural style wines from this island of Tenerife, where they craft intriguing wines from the volcanic soils on these remote islands off the coast of northern Africa, and where in recent years they has brought world attention to local grapes such as Listan Blanco, Listan Negro and Listan Prieto, also known as the Mission grapes. The Canary Islands were important stop for trade with the new world and an outpost for the Spanish colonists and missionaries that were headed for South America, so naturally grape vines were brought here, probably as early as the 1500s, though certainly in the 1700s. Envinate has a unique collection of offerings, as I have been a fan of for many years now, with their Listan Negro, from here on Tenerife and their Ribeira Sacra Mencia reds being the big stars in the lineup, though the whites, like this one, which should be enjoyed in their youth, are pretty exciting too.
($30 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2018 Domaine Monier Perreol, Saint-Joseph Rouge, Northern Rhone, France.
This 2018 Domaine Monier Perreol Saint-Joseph is stunningly gorgeous stuff, wow, it way exceeds expectations, which were high, and shows Syrah Ian its most flattering light, it is wonderfully perfumed, elegantly structured and full of terroir personality with classic layers of blue and black fruits, savory meatiness, spice, anise and evocative florals. This is a vintage to stock up on, with the generous ripeness of the sexy 2016s, but with inner energy and freshness of details with this Saint-Joseph delivering beautiful boysenberry, blueberry, damson plum and kirsch fruits, plus added sweet dimensions including creme de cassis, liquid violets and fig along with a sultry savory contrast, with black olive, camphor, sanguine, mineral and dried herbs, finishing with a nice vibrantly crisp acidity and a weightless lingering of fruit. This medium to full bodied effort is seriously close to perfect in all areas, I mean, if this was labeled Cote-Rotie and priced twice as much, you’d say yes please and be thrilled to drink this fabulous wine, so at this price, you’ll want to chase this down. This release, divinely and vividly purple, is one of my favorites from this domaine, it comes from hillside plots that average between 15 to 30 year old vines set in mostly granite based soils with some loess and loose pebbles, which really brings out the soulful expression in this wine, it reminds me of the 2010, a wine that really caught my attention and turned me into a fan of this winery.

Jean-Pierre Monier is becoming a legend, his small estate, founded in 2001 produces just about 2,500 cases annually, and his Saint-Joseph is among the elite from this region, including the likes of Gonon, Chave and Yves Cuileron, with vines farmed with certified biodynamic practices and wines made in a traditional style, which is less edgy than some with all of his Syrah being de-stemmed to promote the grape’s prettiest side. Starting with the 2008 vintage, it should be noted, Jean-Pierre Monier entered into a partnership with Philippe Perréol to combine their resources in order to meet the increasing demand and make better economic sense. Perréol works his vines just like Monier and their’s is marriage of total harmony, lucky for us Syrah lovers as this allows for the price to be so reasonable. While Northern Rhone enthusiasts will have coveted these wines for years, most people will have a bit of trouble finding them, but famous Rhone importer Kermit Lynch is bringing Monier’s wine to the US and they know just how good these wines are and has done a lot to promote this underdog producer, I highly recommend following Kermit Lynch’s newsletter and grabbing what they have left of Monier’s latest offerings, especially this one. In the cellar, Jean-Pierre ferments his reds in temperature-controlled cement cuves and employs daily hand pumpovers until primary is done, then after a gentle pressing the wine is racked into used or seasoned tonneaux (oak barrels) for the regular Saint-Joseph cuvee, where it sees a year of aging. This is a total blessing in the glass, it gets better and better with every sip!
($40 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2016 Poe Wines, Sparkling Pinot Meunier Rosé, Van Der Kamp Vineyard, Sonoma Mountain.
This new disgorgement of pure Meunier is an outstanding Brut style bubbly from Poe Wines with a gorgeous and seductive delicate color, mineral intensity and luxurious mouse showing round and earthy flavors that make this sparkling Rosé very distinct. Showing a mix of tart and savory red fruits with cherry, strawberry and raspberry water leading the way along with leesy brioche, blood orange rind and wet stones. Winemaker Samantha Sheehan, of Poe Wines, makes a lovely set of handcrafted wines that were inspired by her travels to Europe and especially her time in Champagne and Burgundy, she produces traditional Champagne method sparkling wines, a Rosé, Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, and even a nouveau from Pinot Noir as well as a limited set of Vermuth(s) all of which are outstanding and individual bottlings. As noted in prior reviews of Sheenan’s unique Pinot Meunier offerings, Meunier accounts for a third of the vines planted in the Champagne region, though incredibly rare here in California with only some small plantings in Sonoma County, Carneros and Monterey County that I know of. Until recent years, Meunier didn’t have a good reputation, but that has really changed in Champagne with stellar versions of single varietal bottlings proving the quality of this grape. Historically Meunier served the purpose of providing early ripening fruitiness and mouthfeel to the wines of the Champagne region that sometimes suffers from poor weather, though in recent years Meunier has become cool kid in town and some of the best grower producers are using it to craft awesome versions, in particular Benoit Déhu, Cedric Mousse and Aurelien Laherte of Laherte Frères Champagne, which this wine remind me of, which is high praise.

The Pinot Meunier from the Van der Kamp Vineyard that lies at the very top of Sonoma Mountain, on a mix of soils, including Sonoma volcanic (which gives some nice mineral and spicy influence here) and gravelly stones, at close to 1,400 feet elevation, it looks down on the historic little town of Glen Ellen to the east and the Bennett Valley to the northwest. The vintage, grower producer style, Meunier Rosé bubbly was fermented in neutral French oak barrels with 100% native yeasts and without the addition of sulfur. Samantha adds that after primary fermentation, she kept the sulfur extremely low and allowed this Rosé to rest for the next 11 months in barrel before putting it into bottle for sparkling fermentation, where It was aged another almost three years on the lees before being disgorged. This Sparkling Rosé by Sheehan hits all the right cords and is one of the best grower fizz style hand crafted wines available, joining Michael Cruse and Caraccioli in the Champagne style elite, here in California. The latest Meunier is certainly alluring and complex with fine balance and lingers well on the finish, gaining depth and layering with air, really goes great with food and should be enjoyed during a meal, it has the structure and presence to hold up to many cuisines. The mouth feel is generous and the bubbles are very fine allowing this Meunier to show all of its character and purity, even letting a faint floral perfume come through in this beauty of a bubbly, there’s a lot to enjoy here. In recent years, Sheehan has excelled at these Sparkling wines, especially when using these organic Van Der Kamp grapes, like in this pure Meunier, but I also highly recommend her exceptional Chardonnay and Pinot Noir as well, in particular I suggest trying the Manchester Ridge, cool climate, examples as well as her still version of Meunier.
($42 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2019 Cameron Winery, Pinot Noir, Ribbon Ridge, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
The velvety Ribbon Ridge Pinot From John Paul, the Oregon legend, at Cameron Winery starts with some classic earthy funky reduction on the nose, but opens beautiful with its exceptional dark and deep color in the glass and seamlessly unfolds on the medium bodied palate with silky dark fruits led by black cherry, along with tart currant, plum, briar laced blackberry and creamy oak notes. The textural quality and mouth feel impress here as this wine opens, usually these young Cameron’s can more wound up and hard, so this Ribbon Ridge Pinot Noir welcomes youthful drinking, especially after the nose blows off and the wine gets a few swirls, though it really excels with food and gains depth, complexity and adds a full sense of completeness. I had thought this would be lighter and brighter in form, though it adds rich details over the hour or so I had it open and is very poised, making it a beautiful value for fans of this winery and those that are familiar with Paul’s style, which is very old world influenced. The wines from Ribbon Ridge are known for being deep and powerfully structured and the upper echelon of producers here, like Beaux Freres, the late Patty Green, Brick House, and Cameron, make wines that are built to last, they are very much collectable wines to cellar with most getting better over a decade or more. This vintage has a lot of appeal and I can’t wait to see how the rest of the Pinots perform, especially Cameron’s top bottlings like the iconic Clos Electrique and one of my personal favs, the Arley’s Leap, a wine I always save my pennies for and put away for a few years!

Cameron sourced the grapes from the White Oak Vineyard in the Ribbon Ridge AVA from the region’s marine sedimentary soils and hillside parcels that allow for deep flavors and the notable darker hues these wines always seem to have. Each of Cameron’s vineyards, all of which are dry farmed and use sustainable practices exhibit, as the winery notes, the area’s unique terroir and therefore show individual characteristics when done as solo site efforts, which Cameron does, so depending on your taste, preferences for either can vary significantly, with this wine is an interesting single site expression that nicely contrasts its ripe fruit with spicy and savory elements. Alan Foster, who grows the grapes at White Oak Vineyard, has added blocks of special Martin Ray clones of Pinot Noir, and John Paul, who brought some of Mount Eden’s cuttings to Oregon, says his fans should really stay tuned for some incredible wines from this site in the future.This 2019 just feels right and elegant, even now, though it should develop more floral intensity with another year or so in bottles as it only hints with faint rose petal notes in the background, though mostly hidden behind the forest floor and truffle earthiness. The celery wood, vanilla and brambly spices are well judged here and a good sense of refined natural acidity, plus the low alcohol, at 12.4% give this wine a Burgundy like grace. All of the wines are fermented with the indigenous yeasts in open top tanks aged in small oak cooperage for a minimum of 18-20 months, with this one seeing mostly used barrels. Cameron has a great set of wines with some of the Willamette Valley’s most sought after Pinots, plus Chardonnay, as well as their wonderful Italian inspired collection of whites and the awesome Nebbiolo, it is a great time to explore these wines.
($30 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2018 Morgan Winery, Syrah, Double L Estate Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands.
Throughout Morgan’s latest releases there’s tons to get excited about, almost every wine in the lineup has seen a big jump in quality with the 2017, 2018 and 2019s, no small part of that can be credited to the arrival of winemaker Sam Smith, who’s brought the best here and his touch with Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and in particular this Syrah is now on full display. Morgan has long been a top winery in Monterey, but these new wines are next level stuff and it is a great time to re-discover this label. This 2018 Double L Syrah, which for the first time has partial whole cluster, is strikingly aromatic and thrilling in the glass with crushed violets, meaty dark berries, a touch of smoke, camphor, green herbs and peppery spices leading to a medium to full bodied feeling out with elegant and vivid layers of boysenberry, damson plum, mulberry and creme de cassis along with touches of wild sage, earth, bacon, brambly cinnamon, black olives, vanilla. This cool long growing season adds a certain freshness here, but look forward to this wine to gain dimension with age and note this wine is at its best with hearty food and best when decanted for an hour.

The grapes for Morgan’s Double L Syrah are all hand-picked from their organic home ranch vines and carefully sorted for, as the winery puts it, optimal flavor and acidity. These are the very last grapes to come in for Morgan and show the regions cool climate and sandy loam terroir character with a deep color, depth of complexity and moderate alcohol with this full bodied wine coming in at just a tick over 14%, but with loads of bright intensity. After coming into the winery most of the grapes see de-stemming 90% leaving about 10% as whole bunches, the must is then fermented using native yeasts in small open-top tanks with the wine seeing foot trodding and hand punch downs until being pressed when dry. In an effort to promote purity and still have smooth textures the Double L Syrah was aged ten months in luxurious French oak with close to 25% being new. This is my favorite vintage of this wine to date, this is lusty stuff that joins some of the elite Syrah offerings in the state and especially here in the Highlands, like Lucia (Pisoni) and Roar and sits equally in terms of pleasure to their Chardonnay and Pinots. Just 200 cases of the Cote-Rotie like and invitingly dark purple 2018 Double L Syrah were made, so I highly recommend getting some before it sells out, this wine is truly outstanding for the price.
($44 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2020 I. Brand & Family Winery, Arneis, Vista Verde Vineyard, San Benito County.
The crisp and pretty 2020 I. Brand & Family Arneis shows fresh lemon/lime and melon fruit along with orange blossom, white licorice/fennel and light leesy almond note, adding some stone fruit fleshiness and opulence with air. Arneis is an extremely rare grape here in California, originally from the Piedmonte region of Italy, where it has seen a remarkable recovery from an almost extinction in its native land, with only a few acres planted in the state, so it was a brilliant surprise to find a bottling so close to home. Even better, because it was made by Ian Brand, who’s wines are now some of the best on the central coast and this 2020 Vista Verde Arneis does not disappoints with some of this varietal’s classic taste elements and a beautiful textural quality that actually surpasses many of its cousins in Roero, where it most famously grows best. The Vista Verde Vineyard, in the San Benito County, is most famous for suppling William Selyem with Pinot Noir for their Central Coast bottling and is set on gravel and pebbles, laced with calcium, it sees a cooling influence thanks to inflow breezes off the Pacific Ocean, allowing for a lengthy growing season, making for ripe and balanced grapes. Brand’s version, which is a pale straw/yellow finishes smooth and lingering, but with dry phenolic vitality, wonderful with soft cheeses and or white fish dishes, this wine and his Melon de Bourgogne are taking his white wines to the next level, both equally delicious and exciting.

Arneis, which dates back most likely to the 14th century is first recorded by name in 1877, it’s name in local dialect means little rascal, has also been called Nebbiolo Bianco, though it has no genetic relationship to the notable Piedmontese red wine, but the two grapes do share a close historic relationship. It has been noted, that for centuries, Arneis was blended into Nebbiolo wines, being used to soften the tannins and harshness of powerful Nebbiolo grape, most historically in the wines of the Barolo region, before the practice was banned for the DOCG wines that must be 100% Nebbiolo. Arneis was often interplanted in the Barolo vineyards to lure the birds away from the Nebbiolo, as it has a much sweeter scent and saved the prime money making Nebbiolo from a starling feast. Arneis is known to be difficult to grow, with low acidity it needs to be picked at exactly the right time, and is susceptible to mildew, which is probably why it has its little rascal name, though it can be awesome, especially by the likes of Vietti, Ceretto and Bruno Giacosa. There is small plots of Arneis in Sonoma County and Santa Ynez, where it has been used to good effect by Steve Clifton at Palmina, as well as some in the Willamette Valley in Oregon. Ian’s example takes this grape up a level or two and I hope he continues to make this fabulous wine. Ian Brand continues to produce a fantastic collection of unique wines from lesser known and underdog sites throughout the Central Coast and his latest set of offerings are some of his best yet, be sure to look for the Enz Mourvedre, the Cabernet Franc(s), the Massa Estate Cab, the old vine Grenache and Ian’s whites, especially this rare one.
($30 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2016 Cave Caloz, Cornalin du Lieu-Dit Les Bernunes, AOC Valais, Switzerland.
The Cave Caloz winery is one of my favorites and I was thrilled to see this exceptionally rare bottle on the shelf of a local market, and it did not disappoint, this single parcel 2016 vintage Coranlin by Conrad Caloz and his vigneron daughter Sandrine, who runs the show now, is a deeply flavored and elegant wine that is drinking fabulously well right now. I have been following Conrad’s and Sandrine’s efforts for many years now after tasting their collection of fantastic offerings at a Rosenthal trade tasting in San Francisco, I almost never miss a chance to grab a bottle when I see this small family winery’s wines. Grown on impossibly steep rocky slopes and at high-altitude with a mix of various size stones and underpinned by glacial deposits (moraines) and limestone soils, the vineyards here have been celebrated since pre Roman times with Caloz’s Les Bernunes being set in unique micro-climate and was, as Rosenthal notes, the first vineyard cited in the ancient historical records of the Valais region and is a special Cru located on the high slopes sitting between the villages of Sierre and Salquenen, planted to the Savagnin (Jura) white grape, known locally as Heida-Paien, and the Cornalin, in this wine. Once thought to be from the Valle d’Aoste in the Italian Alps, the rare Cornalin grape, grown mainly here in the high elevation Swiss region of Valais, is also known as Humagne Rouge and or Petit Rouge, and which it turns out is the offspring of ancient local varietal of Rouge du Pays, a peasant grape that was believed to have mystical healing powers. Well deserved, I learned that in 2019 the Cave Caloz winery was named Vigneron BioSuisse de l’année (Organic/Natural Swiss Winemaker of the Year) which highlights the commitment of this estate and a noteworthy achievement for years of passion and hard work.

The Caloz family “Les Bernunes” vineyard and its warm exposure allows the Cornalin rouge grapes to fully ripen, and their version produces a lovely perfumed example and this purple and deep garnet hued wine has the structure and elegance of a fine Bordeaux with a medium full body and a refined tannic or old world rustic charm. This brilliant vintage shows delicate floral intensity on the nose along with forest berries and exotic spices before engaging the palate with black cherry, loganberry, garden strawberry and tart huckleberry fruits along with mineral tones, dried violets, dusty cinnamon, sandalwood and cedary spices. This wine, which comes from all organic grapes that are all hand tended, saw a spontaneous native yeast fermentation in small stainless steel vats and was cold soaked all de-stemmed for a few days, then got gentle pump-overs during the maceration and primary fermentation before tank aging, as well as some large Demi-Muid (French oak casks) elevage. In recent years the Cave Caloz estate has gone through full biodynamic certification and practices holistic treatments throughout their vineyard sites. Caloz works as natural as possible in the cellar, also uses very low doses of sulfites with the reds only seeing any SO2 after finishing malo-lactic fermentation and the reds are all bottled unfined and unfiltered, both of which are to promote freshness and purity, which this Cornalin beautifully displays, with this 2016 just starting to mature into its best window with a glimpse of secondary elements and a regal silkiness of mouth feel. These Caloz offerings all treats to behold, sadly super hard to find and not cheap, because of the strength of the Swiss Franc, they are worth your time and money to track down, in particular their Fendant (Chasselas) La Mourzière, Heida-Paien (Savagnin) Les Bernunes, the Pinot Noir and this very pretty Cornalin. This was one of the most pleasing wines of the year so far, from start to finish it never put a foot wrong and it really provided everything that was needed, bravo and merci Sandrine!
($53 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2019 Tablas Creek Vineyard, Vaccarèse, Adelaida District, Paso Robles.
I was thrilled to get this exciting new wine from Tablas Creek, made from the rare Chateauneuf du Pape red grape Vaccarèse, as it is a grape I’ve never had as a solo varietal wine, in fact I don’t know if there has ever been one made in France, let alone California. This Vaccarese is Tablas Creek’s first (and California’s first-ever) varietal bottling of this rare Rhone blending grape, it was propagated here at their estate in Paso from budwood cuttings that came from the Perrin Family’s famous Château de Beaucastel not far from the historic town of Avignon in the southern Rhone Valley. With little palate reference to go on, I found this Vaccarèse with its beautiful purple and ruby color like a mix of Carignan (deeply hued) and Cinsault (good bright acidity) with a certain amount of tanginess and a lively medium body with dark fruits including blackberry, cranberry, tartly fresh wild plum and Italian cherries along hint of juniper berries, cigar wrapper, resiny herbs, cedary spices and a light sense of peony and porporri florals. This Vaccarèse really grew on me as it opened up, gaining a pleasing textural grace, while still remaining its vitality and taut form, it adds touches of earthy, chalky mineral notes and played well with the meal, in fact it was delicious with food, in particular with a plate of pasta with basil and hard sheep’s cheese.

Tablas Creek, which has brought us in California so many gifts in the form of almost all of the legal Chateauneuf grapes, plus a few others from the Southwest of France, including Tannat, the dark and tannic Basque grape, famous in fiery wines of IIrouléguy. Vaccarèse, as noted above, is a little-known blending grape native to the south of France with less than 30 acres planted in its homeland, making it is one of Chateauneuf du Pape’s rarest varietals, like Terret Noir, which Tablas also has here in Paso, and there is only two-thirds of an acre of Vaccarèse, and Tablas’ 2019 production was just 160 cases. The winemaking was kept simple and traditional to show off the grape’s pure flavors and what terroir influence it is marked with, all of which delivered a freshly detailed and entertaining wine that has a nice refined balance and moderate alcohol coming in at about 13%. The Vaccarèse looks to have a tons of promise and potential with this wine over performing to expectations, in my case, and I hope it makes it into the varietal wines collection on a full time basis and I look forward to seeing it added to the blend of some of the other wines. These is a lot to be grateful to the Haas family for, I honestly think Tablas Creek has played a huge and beneficial part to modern California wine, it is a legacy that will live on for generations, and I personally want to say Thank You, especially after enjoying this new Vaccarèse!
($35 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2019 Storm Wines, Gamay, Presqu’ile Vineyard, Santa Maria Valley.
The bright and savory toned 100% Gamay from Ernst Storm at Storm Wines is a more serious and less frivolous style example of this grape and has quite a dry tangy impact on the palate, but becomes more open as it unfolds with air in the glass revealing a core of zesty red fruits, orange peel, floral notes and wild herbs. Ernst says he used traditional methods here on his Gamay, meaning he treated it very much like his Pinot Noirs with mainly de-stemmed grapes and gentle pressing with daily punch downs employed with cool maceration and aging in mainly neutral French oak barrels to allow the varietal to show its purity and elegant side. This long cool growing season gave solid structural form and tart fruit on the medium bodied palate with non of the bubble gum fruitiness of carbonic maceration and it shows a mix of red berries, plum and cherry along with a touch of strawberry, anise, umami and mineral. There’s plenty of zippy acidity to keep things cooly fresh, though it is best served slightly chilled and with simple foods. There are some really good Gamays out there these days with this Storm joining Arnot-Roberts, Pax, Joyce and Pence, to name a few, all being quality California versions. On day two, as a side note, this Storm Gamay really turned on the charm and took on a lovely silkiness and extra length on the finish, making me want to hold my other bottle for another year or so, impressive.

Storm has been gaining a lot of attention for their Pinot Noir and Syrah, but in recent years has shown a real gift with Sauvignon Blanc, making some of the best examples on the Central Coast, especially the Kingsley Vineyard in Los Olivos and the Presqu’ile Vineyard, like this Gamay, coming from the Solomon Hills AVA in the Santa Maria Valley. Ernst Storm, originally from South Africa, has found a home here in Santa Barbara County and was easily embraced by the local community. His brother, Hannes, makes wine in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley area of South Africa under the Storm Wines SA label, and it was his wines I tried first, which led me to search out Ernst’s stuff, with both brothers showing a gift with Pinot Noir. Storm has become quite attached to the Presqu’ile Vineyard, located, as mentioned in the Solomon Hills zone on the Southern edge of the Santa Maria Valley. The cool Pacific Ocean breeze coupled with old marine floor soils, Storm says, makes this site perfect for growing his cool climate Sauvignon Blanc as well as this Gamay. The Sauvignon Blanc 2020 bottling, which he is just releasing was aged for 6 months on the lees and uniquely in 100% Acacia wood barrels, giving texture without oaky influence. When, back to this vividly ruby red Gamay, you compare it stylistically to Cru Beaujolais, it is more Sophie Dubois like, rather than Lapierre. These Storm offerings are wines to search out, especially the regular Santa Barbara Pinot as well as the Presqu’ile Vineyard efforts.
($38 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2015 Giacomo Borgogno & Figli, Langhe Freisa DOC, Piedmonte, Italy.
The historic Giacomo Borgogno & Figli winery, which was founded back in 1761, is one of the best and most famous Barolo producers, makes a gorgeous collection of Nebbiolo wines, but in recent years they’ve added two alternatives in the form of their lovely white Timorasso DOC Derthona and this delightful Langhe Freisa. Borgogno is all organic these days and continue to employ old school and traditional methods in the cellar, which are cooly located underground, with long spontaneous or natural fermentation(s) in concrete tanks without the use of selected yeasts, and with long elevage(s), exclusively in large Slavonian oak casks. This 2015 Freisa, a rare local varietal that is believed to be a parent grape to Nebbiolo, shows a very similar profile here, it is not as exotic and or as perfumed as G.D. Vajra’s fabulous example, but is absolutely delicious in its own way with rose petals, brandied cherries and the grape’s classic macerated strawberry core of fruit along with hints of earth, spice and a light sense of cedary oak. This wine certainly gets better with air and its florals and complexity gain dramatically as it opens in the glass with extra layers coming alive with each sip.

Freisa grapes come into the Borgogno cellar and are all carefully sorted, de-stemmed and then pressed gently to preserve all the freshness and purity. This is, as with the Nebbiolo, followed by a spontaneous indigenous yeast fermentation in large concrete tanks, at cool temperatures for about 12 days. After a soft pressing the wine is gravity racked into the large Slavonian oak barrels for 10 months of aging, after which the Freisa is rested at least four months in bottle before release. Freisa has caught the attention of American winemakers and has gained some acreage here in California with a small vineyard in San Benito County providing some of the best examples to date, with impressive bottlings by Pax Wines and Jolie-Laide coming out this year, both of which are done in a very natural style, making for wonderful quaffers. I first experienced Freisa many years ago, but it didn’t impress me much until I tried Vajra’s stunning Kye bottling, and now you are seeing many more good examples, like this one and Vietti’s Vivace which has partial whole cluster, that adds some intriguing pop. This Borgogno Freisa has a medium full body and is a structured ruby colored wine that is really best with hearty food choices, it is a very solid choice to help discover this grape and a very nice value.
($30 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

1972 Domaine Jean Grivot, Clos de Vougeot, Grand Cru, Red Burgundy, France.
What an amazing surprise, this lovely and super delicate aged Burgundy way over performed for expectations with remarkably sweet fruit for a vintage that was not supposed to be one of merit, it shows each bottle and especially particular vineyards can do magically things if conditions are right. This 1972 Jean Grivot Clos de Vougeot Grand Cru was made from vines at the time were planted pre 1919 and probably were much older than that, which might help explain why this bottle held on so well and was so delicious. This wine, the better part of fifty years old, opened up with strawberries and cream, leading to a light palate of cherry fruit, dried rose petals, autumn leaves, a hint of bacon, minty herbs and mushrooms. The color began with a glowing ruby hue, and while brown edges showed up quickly in the glass the Grivot Clos de Vougeot held on for close to an hour before fading into stewy sous bois and collapsing, though not before giving otherworldly smiles and drinking pleasure only an old Pinot can give. Made using classic methods with all de-stemmed grapes and a percentage of new oak, Jean’s 1972 Clos de Vougeot overcame a very mediocre year to deliver a lot of joy, though fragile in nature, some of its life taken away by decanting to remove the heavy sediment.

The Domaine Jean Grivot is among the most notable names in Burgundy, with its modern history being stellar with Étienne Grivot’s wines being some of the greatest of his generation. He and his wife Marielle took the helm here from Étienne’s father Jean Grivot in 1987 and put this winery on the map, but certainly they were given some outstanding vineyard sites to work with and some fine efforts in the cellar. These prime sites include parcels in Clos de Vougeot, Echézeaux, and Richebourg Grand Crus, plus some fabulous Chambolle-Musigny, Nuits-Saint-Georges and Vosne-Romanee acreage, that are of exceptional pedigree, like Les Beaux Monts and Suchots and maybe the signature wines now. The Grivot family has just moved into new generation with Étienne and Marielle’s daughter, Mathilde taking over in 2017 and has given this historic label a fresh approach, though remaining faithful to traditions here. Grivot’s Clos de Vougeot rows were acquired by Étienne’s grandfather, Gaston Grivot and located in the middle band and continues to the lower wall, that is between Musigny and Grands Echezeaux. It’s not often someone pulls out an old beauty like this on a Tuesday night just for kicks, so a big thank you to Jacques Melac for a memorable night!
($125 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2016 Domaine de L’Oiselet, Vacqueyras AOC, Rhone Valley, France.
The 2016 L’Oiselet Vacqueyras is brilliantly focused and layered with rich and opulent dark fruits, this drinks very close to a top Chateauneuf du Pape in style, led by concentrated Grenache, making it very impressive and heady in the glass. Located at the foot of Mont Ventoux and of the Dentelles de Montmirail, the Domaine de L’Oiselet sits right in the middle of the Vacqueyras appellation, on a rocky plateau that has the classic clay and limestone soils with a warm exposure, all of which allows a deep ripening of the grapes. This Vacqueyras opens with crushed red berries, creme de cassis, anise, fig paste and a dusting of peppery spices with a soft tannic structure and a mouth filling roundness adding sweet dried flowers, chalky stone and a mocha note.

This luxurious wine is all from organic grapes with mainly Grenache being used here at L’Oiselet along with small portions of Syrah, Mourvedre, Carignan and Cinsault usually which are all fermented together in tank. I’ve always enjoyed Gigondas and Vacqueyras and think, especially Vacqueyras, they are wonderfully complex and expressive wines that are great values, with this L’Oiselet 2016 being a poster child for this point. This full bodied wine, coming in at 14.5% natural alcohol, is best enjoyed with robust cuisine and will go great with BBQ and lamb dishes. I look forward to seeing the 2018 and 2019 versions of this wine as well, but as long as this vintage is available it will be hard to resist and I recommend grabbing a few bottles which should go on drinking well for another 3 to 5 years.
($30 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2016 Le Miccine, Carduus, Rosso di Toscana IGT, Italy.
The beautiful and silken dark garnet Carduus Rosso di Toscana is a special 100% Merlot cuvee from Paula Papini Cook of Chianti Classico’s Le Miccine that aged in French “hogsheads” 330L barrels and comes off these Gaiole estate’s old vines and mostly calcareous soils. This is a luxurious and smoothly textured wine, making a fine example of Tuscan Merlot and it is very rich and elegant with seamless layers of blackberry, plum, currant and cherry fruits along with cedar, pipe tobacco, anise, vanilla and delicate florals. This wine is very pleasing, especially in mouth feel and gains dimension with food, adding a regal presence and weight on the palate without heaviness along with a touch of loamy earth. The structural side is based around some opulent and ripe tannins that are incredibly well integrated, talk about soft power, that is how I’d explain it, this is a lovely vintage of Le Miccine’s Carduus and one that will be very memorable for this estate that just gets better with almost every year. Paula Papini Cook, the French Canadian winemaker, who after studying in France, where she also worked, and Spain, came to her grandparents sleepy Le Miccine Chianti estate, better known for olive oil than wine and turned it into a winery of high quality that has garnered great critical acclaim.

Since taking over her family’s ancient property, named after the small local donkeys that used to be the means of hauling trading goods through these hills, Paula Papini Cook has turned Le Miccine into a force in this part of Chianti Classico with a studied and delicious collection of wines. She set about rejuvenating the vines here and going all holistic and organic has brought lots of energy and charm to these wines, along with her natural gift as a winemaker, which is considerable, especially evident after tasting her latest set of wines and in particular her Chianti Classico Riserva, from this same 2016 vintage, a year that looks set to become legendary. Maybe it is her experience in Bordeaux, where she worked in Fronsac, that has helped here in this Merlot, this is a graceful effort and it should provide smiles for many years to come. Merlot has a long history here in Tuscany, and it makes for some of the most sought after wines here, like Masseto by Ornellaia over in Bolgheri as well as just down the road at Castello di Ama, who’s Merlot single vineyard offering is a cult classic. While not yet on that level, the Le Miccine Carduus is an exceptional value by comparison and not a wine to be overlooked, it’s not far off the fabulous set of Sangiovese based wines here. Le Miccine is well worth searching out, though still hard to find in the States, but the winery does ship direct and at reasonable prices.
($40 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2019 Farm Cottage Wines, Pinot Noir, Trout Gulch Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains.
Ryan Alfaro’s Farm Cottage Wines is a great new addition to the local scene in the South Santa Cruz Mountains with his fabulous debut Pinot Noir release from his family’s Trout Gulch Vineyard, a great cool climate site above Aptos, most famous for some outstanding wines, especially the Chardonnays by Arnot-Roberts, Kutch and Ceritas, as well as his dad’s Alfaro Family Vineyards version. This small batch and limited 2019 Trout Gulch Pinot Noir was done with 100% whole cluster, native yeasts and aged in used French oak, it’s a wonderfully expressive stem inclusion wine that delivers tons of excitement in the glass, highlighting the energy and beauty of this vintage and finishes with exceptional length. I love the bright pop of flavors and textural quality of this Trout Gulch Pinot with its layering of black cherry, tart plum, pomegranate and brambly raspberry fruits that are accented by edgy herbs, grilled blood orange, rose tea, briar, a delicate earthiness and very pretty dark florals throughout on the medium bodied palate. I am personally a fan of whole bunches and lightly stemmy wines, knowing that over time this produces heightened aromatics, complexity and depth, and Ryan has judged this to near perfection, allowing for ripe and silken fruit to lead here, this Pinot is especially joyous with food and handled some Corralitos Market (a must visit, old school local treasure) Canjun Sausage and tomato based spicy pasta sauce exceptionally well.

I’ve been a long time fan of the Alfaro Family Vineyards and Ryan’s dad Richard Alfaro, who’s estate in Corralitos is a must for those seeking out great values in both Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, as well as specialties like the winery’s Gruner Veltliner and the new 100% estate Malbec. Ryan joined his dad in the cellar in recent years, after doing a stint with California legend Adam Tolmach at Ojai Vineyards and studying wine in New Zealand. He has brought a lot of passion to the family business and put a lot of hard work in too get to this point, with Ryan’s personal project Farm Cottage Wines being a natural extension to these efforts at this small Corralitos estate. The Alfaro’s who have been leasing the Trout Gulch site for many years, finally purchased this vineyard outright this year and this wine is a fantastic way to celebrate. Seeing what Bradley Brown of Big Basin Vineyards has done using Alfaro grapes, employing 100% whole cluster, I can state this method works well and produces stunning wines, also, it is worth noting my friends at Windy Oaks also do some whole cluster to great effect in the region. Trout Gulch, planted in 1980, gets loads of cool Pacific air and is uniquely set only a few miles from the ocean with an almost Clos effect from the redwood trees lining most of this 16 acre dry-farmed hillside vineyard. Sitting at 750 feet above sea level with well-draining sandy loam soils, Trout Gulch, with Heritage Wente Chardonnay and Mt Eden Pinot Noir clones really is a jewel, as this vividly ruby Pinot clear demonstrates, get a few while you can!
($35 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2018 Domaine Francois Merlin, Saint-Joseph Rouge, Northern Rhone, France.
The Domaine Merlin, based in St-Michel-sur-Rhône since 1989, a commune just south of Condrieu, is a small producer focused on Syrah and Viognier with good holdings in Condrieu, Cote-Rotie and Saint-Joseph, where this beautiful wine comes from, it is a stylish and pure example of Northern Rhone Syrah that delivers a fine performance in the glass and is a stellar value. The Saint-Joseph Rouge is made from various small plots with a mix of sandy soils and granite, with a bit of limestone and was all de-stemmed to promote elegance and opulence in the wine, which was easily achieved here in this 2018 version. The wine saw a short cold soak maceration and gentle hand punch downs while fermenting after which this dark purple/garnet Syrah is raised in a combination of wood casks with about 20% being new 228L barrels with the majority seeing neutral oak in various sizes to allow for freshness and balance to shine here. This is quite impactful Saint-Joesph in the glass with more than expected density and presence, in fact it is almost as impressive as the winery’s top Cote-Rotie with loads of blue and black fruits, delicate spices, perfume and textural pleasures. This is solid stuff with a classic medium to full bodied palate with lush layers of boysenberry, damson plum, kirsch and cedary wood notes, a touch of feral/earthy savoriness (the good kind of Syrah funk) and pretty violets, adding hints of anise, flinty mineral and a lingering sense of creme de cassis.

In my review of the Domaine Merlin Cote-Rotie, I noted that, Francois Merlin, a largely self taught winemaker, who has been joined full-time by his son Laurent in 2013, is a serious vigneron that studied under the legendary Rene Rostaing. I found he has gained an admirable reputation as a grower producer in the Northern Rhone, with Decanter Magazine really loving these wines, and with a tidy collection of high quality parcels, some that he planted himself from ancient massele (syrah) selections, including Serine clone, notably in Cote-Rotie as well as here in Saint-Joseph. Laurent uses mostly organic and sustainable methods to farm his family’s challenging, mostly steep, sites which are set on the region’s mostly decomposed granite soils with areas of gneiss, gravel and schist. The Domaine gets exceptionally small yields from their vines and the concentration of fruit is utterly sensual and divine. Francois credits his son Laurent, for playing a big part in the vineyards, that has taken the quality to the next level, and this 2018 Saint-Joseph is proof. In the small cellars Francois employs some Burgundy style small barriques, plus a few puncheons and large 600L casks that range from toasty brand new to six year old casks, used in combination to achieve a studied balance in his reds. With extended air, the 2018 Merlin Saint-Joseph gains depth and richness, but stays gracefully detailed and it is at its best with food, be sure to look for this bottling as it offers a ton of quality and personality for the price, this is a producer to add to your watch list, especially for Syrah lovers.
($26 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

Grapelive.com Reviews – May, 2021

2020 Hundred Suns, Space Cat Pinot Noir Rosé, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
The crisp Summer refresher, the Space Cat Rosé by Hundred Suns Winery is a dry Rosé made from 100% Willamette Valley Pinot Noir crafted to excite the palate in flavorful way that is impactful versus dull with bright mineral intensity and fairly remarkable depth of flavors with raspberry water, sour cherry, juicy watermelon, zingy citrus, orange tea spiciness and hints of rosewater. This wine strikes a fine balance between the lean or too light and full flavored and weight styles with a substantial structural feel, and its layers flow impressively and makes for a wine that can go with a wider array of foods as well as drinking quite nice all by itself, its vivid acidity and wet stone element keeps things lively and less fruity. Grant and Renée at Hundred Suns Winery are killing it right now and their lineup is full of lusty stuff, especially their single vineyard Pinots, like the Shea and Sequitur Vineyard(s) bottlings, as well as the devastatingly delicious Gamay and this fun Space Cat Rosé, which sadly sells out too fast. As I have suggested in my reviews of Hundred Suns, getting on their list is a must, which benefited me in getting this very limited release.

Grant Coulter and Rene Saint-Amour’s Hundred Suns Winery, based in McMinnville, is one of the most exciting labels in Oregon these days and as noted here, Coulter’s experience with Beaux Freres, as head winemaker, has made him one of the state’s most sought after Pinot Noir producers crafting many excellent examples from his Old Eight Cut cuvee, one of the best values in Pinot Noir (and now Chardonnay too), to the mentioned special single vineyard collection. In recent years Grant and Renée have planted their own vineyard and Grant has taken on the winemaking at the very impressive Flaneur Winery as well, where he hand crafts Pinot, Chard, Sparkling and a bit of Meunier. Also they have released a couple of interesting Rhones too, with an Oregon Syrah and a Washington State Grenache, both of which are wonderfully tasty. The wines here are all made with unique to themselves methods with various levels of whole cluster and vessels employed for fermentation and aging with even some amphora used, making for some intriguing textural wines. I missed out on the early versions of the Space Cat Rosé, so I’m glad I grabbed a few bottles of this 2020, which I plan to covet for the warm days this year!
($20 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2019 Tablas Creek Vineyard, Counoise, Adelaida District, Paso Robles.
The freshly vivid and medium bodied Tablas Creek single varietal bottling of Counoise, one of the rare Chateauneuf du Pape grapes, drinks very well with a crisp and bright character that is kind of like the Gamay of the Southern Rhone, best served slightly chilled, with lively acidity and tart dark fruits, it was a perfect foil to some powerfully ripe/dense Chateauneuf du Pape, Gigondas and earthy Northern Rhone Syrah(s) last night. The 2019 Tablas Creek Vineyard Counoise, according to the winery, is Tablas Creek’s tenth varietal bottling of this traditional blending grape from the Southern Rhone and like their Cinsault is on the lighter side with an array of vibrant blueberry, cranberry, tangy cherry and plum fruits along with some baking spices, delicate florals, a touch of chalky mineral and clove spiced fig on the finish. This 100% Counsoise is a great Summer red that goes nicely with a range of food choices with Tablas whetting the saliva glands and appetite suggesting herb crusted pork loin, roast chicken, veal and my favorite choice, spicy sausages, as I like this would be awesome with Cajun versions!

The Tablas Counoise is sourced from estate vines in Paso’s Adelaida District on the westside where there is that fantastic limestone soils and the Templeton wind gap that allows a cooling influence to this warm region and promotes balance in these wines, the Counoise ripens late and never gets to heavy in natural alcohol, which makes it perfect to blend with the more dense varietals, especially the Grenache and Mourvedre. The 2019 vintage, which like 2018, provided perfect conditions for exceptional quality of fruit, with a slightly cooler and longer season with mostly a bit less fruit on the vine made for some fabulous intensity of flavors, which this ruby red Counoise shows with some flourish. Tablas went with very clean winemaking on this wine with stainless steel and cool fermentation and then aged this red in neutral French oak to preserve its zesty personality, it was also bottled in screwcap to let you it is meant to be enjoyed in its youth and capture the pure detailing in this fun and tasty wine. The 2019 Tablas Creek Counoise finished with 13% natural alcohol and is easy to enjoy, but still quite serious and well worth your attention, and it will give added incentive to visit Tablas Creek and or join their wine club, as they get first shot at this limited offering.
($35 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2018 Chateau de Saint Cosme, Cotes du Rhone “Les Deux Albion” Rhone Red, France.
The incredible and ultra affordable Chateau grown bottling of Cotes du Rhone, Les Deux Albion, is a classic full bodied and meaty Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre blend from Louis Barroul at the famous Chteau de Saint Cosme, this 2018 is a vintage with impressive wow factor, coming at a Chateauneuf like 15% natural alcohol and with wonderful fruit density this GSM will confidently drink with wines three to five times the price! This 2018 starts with a heady peony and violet perfume along with some Syrah and Mourvedre earthy/leathery notes as well as thick black and red berries before opening up to a opulent mouth filling palate of boysenberry, pomegranate, damson plum and kirsch as well as tar, licorice, sticky lavender, sandalwood and peppery spices. The weight is well concealed within the graceful texture and inner vibrance of this delicious Cotes du Rhone. This wine really compares well with the estate’s Gigondas, a legendary wine, especially in this vintage, making it an exceptional value, I’m glad I bought myself a few bottles of this gorgeous and complex Les Deux Albion, it should drink nicely for a decade or more!

The 2018 Chateau de Saint Cosme Cotes du Rhone Rouge Les Deux Albion was crafted using 100% whole cluster and native yeast in its fermentation with the Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre being all co-fermented together in a combination of cement and wood vats with a lengthy maceration. The wine was aged in the same combination of vessels, both well used and imparting minimal influence on the wine’s personality with the terroir being the main factor in the Les Deux Albion’s flavor profile and that is from the vines which are set in the classic hardened clay hillside soils including their ancient alluvium, limestone marl and pebbles. Saint Cosme has been a notable wine producing site since Roman times at set on the original Gallo-Roman villa that still has ancient vats cut into the limestone and the Barroul family has owned it since 1490. The estate still is over looked by its Chapel of Saint Cosme, where it got its current name, and is in the shadow of the Dentelles near Gigondas and Vinsobres. This higher elevation zone has a higher percentage of Syrah and it thrives in the cooler parts of Gigondas and especially well in Vinsobres, which recently gained a full AOC, and where Saint Cosme has their Chateau de Rouanne, a property that is making waves in the region. While the 2016 and 2017 vintages were awesome, this 2018 might be even better for the Les Deux Albion Rouge, don’t miss this great stuff!
($25 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2018 Diatom, Chardonnay, Santos Road, Sta. Rita Hills.
The beautiful no wood “inox” Diatom 2018 Santos Road Chardonnay, by Greg Brewer, the winemaker at the famous Brewer-Clifton, is a single Hyde clone wine, is sourced from a tiny and unique sandy parcel within Brewer-Clifton’s 3D Vineyard, which sits along Santos Road in the Sta. Rita Hills, hence the name here. I had given this wine a little cellar rest and it has done nicely to allow more texture and complexity to develop, while retaining its brilliant vibrancy and pure essences, it might be my favorite bottling of these exotic Diatom Chards with its impressive array of yellow fruits, including a mix of citrus, stone fruit and delicate tropical notes, wet stones, white flowers and steely/mineral tones. There is a no oak, non-malo briskness and tangy edge to start, but things deepen with air and warmth with this Santos Road Chardonnay adding impressive mouth feel and at 14.5% natural alcohol this wine has ripe impact on the palate, though it stays very vivid and feels gracefully balance, making it delicious with a range of cuisine, in particular this wine would be fantastic with Sushi, especially clear fresh cuts of Toro (creamy fatty tuna) and or crab dishes. This Santos Road comes alive with an electric shock of lemon/lime, Asian pear, kiwi and green apple in a flourish of an exciting cascade of flavors.

Brewer’s Diatom Chardonnay collection are his personal project and are some of the most interesting versions of California Chard out there, this limited and hand crafted wines are a set of no compromise offerings that are very different from his Brewer-Clifton bottlings. The Diatom fermentation(s) are done at very low temperatures using only small stainless steel tanks, with special yeasts and, as noted, no malo-lactic conversion. The movement of the wine is done with exceptionally short hose travel to ensure precision and focus, they are, again as mentioned above, all inox (stainless tank) wines, made without any oak at all, Greg really is looking to present these wines with an intense purpose and spends much of his time in the vineyards watching the grapes, only picking when the grapes have reached perfect development of flavors, regardless of internal sugars, so some vintages will have exceptionally low alcohol in the 12% range and others sometimes as high as 16%!. But, when you taste Diatom, as I’ve mentioned over the years, in my opinion, you get a tour of the zen like focus of Brewer’s mind, these are precision wines that channel the inner purity of Chardonnay (grapes) down to it’s core essence, they are unlike any other Chardonnays. The 2018s and the current 2019s look to be some of the best yet from Diatom, benefiting from near perfect conditions, with their long cool growing seasons, allowing these Chardonnays to deliver brilliance in the glass.
($40 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2012 Domaine de Monardiere, Vacqueyras, Vieilles Vignes, Rhone Red, France.
This wine has matured and is drinking at peak expressiveness with pure and lush layers of ripe and heady fruit, very much in the mold of a classic Chateauneuf du Pape, it is full bodied and densely textured, rather surprising for a Vacqueyras, especially in this price class, adding to the sense of quality and shear pleasure coming from the glass of this old vine Rhone. This wine gives a hedonistic performance, it starts with its inviting garnet/purple color with edges that are beginning to show a hint of orange/crimson and a nose of florals and sweet red fruits with a touch of spice and earth that leads to a opulent palate of crushed brambly raspberries, plum, boysenberry and sweet kirsch along with dried roses, snappy herbs, anise and a hint of leather. This is a flamboyant Rhone that certainly makes an impact and is best with robust cuisine choices, with its thick fruits and silken tannins I would suggest enjoying it with lamb kabobs, grilled tri-tip and or wild mushroom dishes. There is a complex array of flavors here, but this Monardiere Vacqueyras is simply a wine that provides big smiles, especially for Grenache fans, even though the final blend here was 60% Grenache, 20% Syrah and 20% Mourvedre.

The Vache’s, Martine and Christian, bought this estate from Monardieres back in 1987 and began their own journey into becoming a top producer here in the Vacqueyras AOC, and with a lot of hard work, investment in the cellar and converting all the vines to organic, their wines have become some of the region’s most desirable, as this Vieilles Vignes shows. This Monardiere Old Vine Vacqueyras saw 100% de-stemmed grapes that ware fermented using indigenous yeasts, with a maceration and extraction period of almost three weeks with gentle daily punch-downs to showcase the terroir and vintage. The Vache’s traditional approach included them aging their Vacqueyras cru from 12 months in a combination of tanks, especially revealing in the Grenache and a few lots in barrels to add richness and soften tannins and then chosen, blended and bottled, without fining or filtration to capture every nuance of this wine’s soul in the bottle. The Monardiere lineup includes a Vacqueyras Rosé, this lavish Old Vine Vacqueyras (Vieilles Vignes) and the single vineyard Les 2. I recently reviewed and loved their 2010, a vintage that seemed youthful by comparison and a touch more brooding, and I recommend drinking up this 2012s, as they are at their best right now.
($35 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2019 Weingut Leo Alzinger, Gruner Veltliner, Durnstein, Federspiel, Wachau, Austria.
The brilliantly clear 2019 Durnstein Federspiel Gruner from Leo Alzinger is a near perfect example of this region, grape and style with classic brisk citrus led flavors that include lemon/lime, white peach and green apple fruits and wet rock, saline, almond oil, a touch of leafy herbs and verbena. This light bodied Gruner is more complex and shows more depth than first impressions give, but is still lacy and refreshing at its core, it is very delightful and vibrant, highlighting the highly regarded vintage here in the Wachau, along the Danube to the west of Vienna. The Leo Alzinger winery is located in Unterloiben, just across the street from the legendary Emmerich Knoll and the wines here, first introduced to me by famed importer Terry Theise, are some of Austria’s most exciting wines and this one continues that trend of excellence, these current releases are crystalline and riveting offerings, especially the set of Gruners from the steeper parcels. Alzinger’s Grüner Veltliner, according to winery, is cultivated on the lower, silty, loess based plots, which allows pure and ripe profiles as this beauty shows, and the aromatics, while subtle, are lovely gaining nice floral notes as it opens in the glass.

The 2019 Alzinger Dursten Gruner Veltliner comes from multiple sites within the Durnstein, set on a combination of clay mixed with gneiss, mica schist, loam and sandy gravelly soils, all of which adds to the depth here and the cool climate allows for greater retainment of zesty acidity. Alzinger crushes whole cluster with a short maceration, and it should be noted Alzinger encourages a bit of skin contact, then allows the must to settle for 24 hours, dropping any green tannins out. I was told and understand Leo used natural yeast with a spontaneous fermentation in stainless steel vats and the short elevage was done employing mostly stainless steel tanks, but with a small amount of neutral Austrian oak to add to the roundness and presence on the palate. The Danube River’s influence is felt on the terroir driven character here and this wine is a true expression of place, I am again incredibly impressed with what is on display in this fine Gruner and I am thinking I’ll want quite av few more bottles for Summer. The value here is fabulous and the winemaking is pristine, I can’t wait to enjoy my next bottle with oysters and or steamed claims, as well as with grilled artichokes. Not only does Alzinger do fantastic Gruner, he also produces stellar Rieslings too, equally as profound and powerful, in particular chase down the Ried Steinertal Smaragd, this winery is one to follow, and don’t miss these 2019s!
($25 Est.) 93 Pointsgrapelive

2018 Laura Lorenzo – Daterra Viticultores, Portela do Vento Blanco, Ribeira Sacra, Galicia Spain.
The 2018 Portela do Vento Vino Blanco is a stunning white wine from the incredible Laura Lorenzo, this wine is gorgeous with the class and complexity of Grand Cru Burgundy, but with its own unique character and with beautiful aromatics, this medium bodied wine, made from a blend of Ribeira Sacra grown Godello, Palomino, Doña Blanca and Colgadeira, none of which are household names, but combine here to remarkable effect. Lorenzo’s natural and organic offerings are some of the most compelling in Spain, with her hard and back breaking work in these remote vineyard sites really paying off, and while known for her Mencia based reds, her whites are equally outstanding and this 2018 is one f her best that I’ve tried, with its heady perfume, textural grace and depth just heavenly in the glass. This Portela do Blanco comes from plots in the Amandi and Val do Bibei zones set on sandy loams and granite based soils that show in this wine’s intense mineral tones and wet stone element, with vines that range from 25 to 80 years old at elevations above 500 meters on steep slopes look more like the Mosel than you’d imagine. This brilliant wine shows layers of crisp apple, pear, peach and racy citrus fruits with orange blossoms, jasmine and a touch of waxy detail along with zesty herbs, verbena, citron and hazelnut. A light golden yellow hue captures your attention, but it is the sublime mouth feel and steely core that impresses most here, it has many facets that will excite those that love Chablis, though slightly more exotic in nature like a Marcel Deiss field blend meets a South African old vine white, which are Chenin heavy, and makes sense when you know Lorenzo did a stint at Sadie Family, under the mentorship of the legendary Eben Sadie.

I have been following Laura’s wines since she was at Dominio do Bibei and was an early fan of her own label Daterra Viticultores, which was founded in 2014 with a set of small lot wines from the Ribeira Sacra, she has now enjoyed a string of successful vintages and is an international star. Lorenzo hand crafts a range of wines, mostly from a Ribeira Sacra set of small vineyards as well as in Valdeorras, and her Portela do Vento wines are regional blends exclusively from the Ribeira Sacra “Sacred Blanks”, while her Erea, Gavela, and Azos series are single village wines, and she also does a set of single parish or vinos de parroquia wines. All of Laura’s wines are transparent and highlight this regions fascinating terroir, with its cool Atlantic climate and mixture of slate, sand, schist and granite soils all showing through in these intriguing wines. The Portela do Vento Blanco, as the winery notes, comes from several parcels of native white varieties primarily from the Amandi (south-facing young vines) as well as Val do Bibei (north & northeast-facing old vines) subzones, all hand tended head trained vineyard sites, with organic and holistic farming methods employed. This dry white wine saw, according to Lorenzo, all the de-stemmed grapes go into both some used chestnut barrels and some terra-cotta amphora for a wild yeast fermentation with 5 days of skin contact before being raised for about a year in the same vessels and bottled unfined and unfiltered. This wine charms with every sip and goes fabulously with a wide array of foods, but especially with briny sea foods, I highly recommend it with shellfish, though it goes lovely with soft cheeses and even curried greens. This region has a long history in wine, with the Romans coming to this green, northwest corner of Iberia over 2,000 years ago, and they were the first to terrace these picturesque slopes and plant grape vines in Ribeira Sacra and while almost forgotten, but wines like this make it one of the most exciting wine regions in the world.
($35 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

2019 Samuel Louis Smith Wines, Syrah “Serine Sauvage” Coastview Vineyard, Gabilan Mountains, Monterey County.
The spine tingling beautiful and opaquely purple Serine Sauvage Syrah by Sam Smith is a cool climate and mountain wine that thrills the senses with violets, peony and feral earthy elements on the deep bouquet along with grippy black and blue fruits, leading with briar laced boysenberry, damson plum and tangy blueberry on the medium to full bodied palate that is accented with snappy peppercorns, wild sage, tapenade, cedar, creme de cassis and anise. This is classic northern Rhone style Syrah with fantastic purity and whole cluster crunch, influenced by granite soils and hillside vines, which are set up in the Gabilan Mountains that see cooling winds off the Monterey Bay allowing for gorgeous fruit density and opulence, while retaining vibrant acidity and elegant lower alcohol.as Sam’s Serine Sauvage shows divinely with just 13.3 % natural alcohol in a wine that has tremendous depth and presence in the glass with solid structural tannin, all of which makes for a wine with great potential to age. Smith’s latest set of releases are highly appealing wines that are sensual and brilliantly balanced, I especially love his Spear Vineyard Chardonnay, which is absolutely one of my favorite California white wines, as well as his Montanita de Oro Pinot Noir and both of his Syrah bottlings, the Santa Cruz Mountains Sandstone Terraces and this Coastview Serine Sauvage, which is extremely limited with only 35 cases made and looks to be a wine club only wine. So it looks to be a good time to get on the list here at Samuel Louis Smith Wines, these hand crafted small lot wines are well worth searching out.

Sam Smith, who is the head winemaker at Monterey’s Morgan Winery, first starting getting attention while a winemaker at Margerum in Santa Barbara County and many of his early (own) wines were sourced from top sites in the Sta. Rita Hills. Smith’s efforts at Morgan has transformed this label, putting the new lineup right up there with some of very best of the Santa Lucia Highlands, especially the 2018s from their organic Double L Estate Vineyard with his single clone wines being some of the most desirable of the vintage with the Clone 96 Chardonnay and especially the Pinots, which show luxurious flavors and textural excellence. Sam has a passion for Syrah and has done a pilgrimage to Hermitage and the surrounding spiritual home of Syrah, Cornas, Saint-Joseph and Cote-Rotie, where he was clearly influenced by the likes of some of the regions legends, Alain Graillot, Francois Villard and Pierre Gonon, to name a few. In recent years, cool climate Syrah has seen a renaissance and a change of generation has brought a wealth of great choices and Sam’s wines are some of the best out there, joining Halcon, Desire Lines, Drew, Big Basin (who also does a sublime version from Coastview), Pax, Jolie-Laide and Greg Brewer’s new Ex Post Facto. The 2019 Serine Sauvage, named for the ancient historic Serine clone of Syrah and Sauvage for the grape’s wild nature, was fermented 100% whole cluster with indigenous yeast with a gentle foot trod and daily pump-overs in a small bin before being aged just over a year in neutral French oak barrels. A big thank you to Sam for giving me a sneak preview of this delicious and perfumed wine, though it did reduce me to begging for any bottles not spoken for!
($45 Est.) 96 Points, grapelive

1998 Chateau Pichon Longueville-de-Lalande, Reserve de la Comtesse, Pauillac, Red Bordeaux, France.
Well that was fun, the second wine of Chateau Pichon Longueville, one of the super second growths in the famed Pauillac zone of the left bank, this Reserve de la Comtesse 1998 is drinking really nicely and while a touch lean and green, it opens up and provides plenty of well preserved dark fruits, some chewy tannin and a graceful finish. Even better with food and time in the glass, the Reserve de la Comtesse gains aromatics and shows secondary evolution in all areas of the medium bodied palate, but remains firm and in no signs of crashing any time soon with blackberry, plum, hoisin, a elegant porporri of dried flowers, a touch of graphite, cedar, tapenade, lingering kirsch and some loamy earth. You can see some pretty stuff here, but I imagine the Grand Vin is miles better with more depth and concentration, though that said, I was impressed and somewhat surprised that this wine was in such a pleasing place. The Pichon Longueville-de-Lalande wines are now all organic and converting to biodynamics with the grapes being vinified in stainless tanks before seeing close to 18 months in barrel with up to 50% new oak used, with this Reserve de la Comtesse seeing significantly less new oak in most years.

The Chateau Pichon Longueville-de-Lalande sitting in good company set in the famous Pauillac, maybe Bordeaux’s most famous appellation, in Cabernet Sauvignon country and much sought after thanks to its prime terroir and gravelly soils, it is home to three of the region’s fabled first-growth châteaux, with Chateau Lafite-Rothschild, Chateau Mouton-Rothschild and Chateau Latour being the headliners here along with a bevy of other notables, including Pontet-Canet and Lynch-Bages and both Pichons. Perched on the left bank of the Gironde River north of the city this area gets the warmth and allows for more Cabernet Sauvignon in the final blends, with Chateau Pichon Longueville-de-Lalande traditionally having about 45% Cabernet Sauvignon, 35% Merlot, 12% Cabernet Franc and 8% Petit Verdot, until recent times when they added much more Cabernet Sauvignon, to bring it up to 65% of their total plantings. The Reserve de la Comtesse, which made its permanent debut in 1973, typically is more Merlot (based) than the Grand Vin, but this 1998 is showing more Cabernet Sauvignon in profile with a good backbone and currant laced character. This Chateau has a checkered past with some big hits and a few misses, but I’ve had good fortune with them, especially the Grand Vin, which was classified in the famous 1855 Medoc rankings, as mentioned, scoring a coveted Second Growth, which is a proud badge to wear, even these days.
($145 Est.) 89 Points, grapelive

2017 Weingut Dr. Loosen, Riesling Trocken, Graacher Himmelreich, Alte Reben, VDP Grosses Gewächs, Mosel, Germany.
The 2017 Dr. Loosen Graacher Himmelreich Old Vine GG is wonderfully pure and generous, absolutely a Grand Cru dry Riesling with brilliant clarity of terroir influence and depth showing awesome vintage concentration and dry powerful extract, this is classic Loosen at their impeccable best. Ernst Loosen, who took control of his family’s over 200 hundred year old Mosel estate in 1988, with incredible steep slate vineyards of un-grafted old Riesling vines, set in some of Germany’s most historic and prestigious sites, has elevated the reputation of this grape maybe more than any other person and his wines are always a fabulous treat to experience, especially his Cru offerings, like this gorgeous Graacher Himmelreich Alte Reben GG. This crystalline and steely Riesling opens gracefully in the glass with slate driven intensity on full display, pumping out layers of crisp green apple, tangerine/kumquat, lime sorbet and tart apricot, all accented by verbena, wet shale, spearmint and chamomile. With air this impactful Riesling gains leesy richness without losing its chiseled detail and adds a smoky flinty element and peachy fleshiness, everything follows nicely into place and makes for a seriously joyous wine that goes insanely well with crab cakes, sushi and or baked ham.

The Graacher Himmelriech, what Loosen calls the “Kingdom of Heaven”, is located above the small village of Graach, which that lies between Bernkastel and Wehlen. This vineyard’s steep, southwest-facing slopes and deep soils produce wines that the winery says combines the elegance of Wehlen with the rustic strength of Bernkastel with Loosen’s parcels being all well over 100 years old. This vineyard, one of the world’s greatest Riesling sites gives these wines their signature minerality, born of the abundance Devonian blue slate here, these profound wines from Graach have, as Loosen notes, excellent aging potential and will improve in the bottle for many decades, which I certainly have no doubt of and this open knit vintage has the benefit of early enjoyment as this bottle proved. The 2017 Loosen Graacher Himmelreich Grosses Gewachs was fermented with indigenous yeasts, or “sponti” in traditional old 1,000-liter Fuder casks of German oak and matured on the full lees for close to 12 months, sans bâtonnage (not stirred) to preserve its sharp transparency. Loosen farms with sustainable methods and handles the wines with extreme, gentle care in the cellar and their lineup of Dry Rieslings are the result of the careful attention to detail from the vine to bottle and should not be missed, while the classic Prädikat stuff, from Kabinett to Auslese remain some of the standards of their class, with the Ürziger Würzgarten Kabinett being one of my favorites and one of the greatest Riesling values ever made! I can’t wait to see the 2019s, which I hear are going to be legendary!
($50 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2019 Filomena Wine Company, St. Laurent, Ricci Vineyard, Carneros, Sonoma County.
This has to be one of the best new wines to emerge in the last two years, made from this rare Austrian grape by Luke Nio, who is a winemaker at Morgan Twain-Peterson MW’s Bedrock Wine Company, the Filomena St. Laurent is a ridiculously good red wine with ultra fresh dark fruits, beautiful floral aromatics and some whole bunches vibrancy and lift, this is such tasty medium bodied stuff I can’t imagine not have a few bottles around now, especially this 2019 with its supple tannins and racy black cherry and cranberry fruit along with its bright cinnamon spiciness and mineral tones. This wine drinks like a Corbieres meets Fleurie, but with California ripe purity, though with wonderfully low natural alcohol at just 12.7 % and its fresh carbonic like creamy texture. Nio, now the cellarmaster at Bedrock, has been into wine throughout his life, being brought up near some 100 year old Alicante Bouschet vines in Sonoma and going to UC Davis, he’s been a wine traveller doing harvests in New Zealand, at Hawkes Bay, where he gained a love and insight into cool climate Syrah as well as doing stints throughout Sonoma, including being mentored by Richard Kasmier of Kaz Winery, who was doing natural wines before it was cool to do so, all of which has paid off now he has his own micro label and hand crafting his delicious Filomena offerings. I loved last year’s version of this St. Laurent too, but this year’s edition has cemented my thoughts and I could smash through a few cases of this very easily! The nose of this purple/garnet St. Laurent gives an array of peony and violets as well as crushed brambly blackberries with these echoing throughout and lingering on the dry finish, the light dusting of pepper, hints of anise and loam add complexity to this delightfully fun wine.

The St. Laurent grape, extremely rare here in California with only a few acres planted, has roots in Austria, but is also found in Germany and in the Czech Republic, it is a highly aromatic dark-skinned variety that has a slightly earthy almost Cabernet Franc like profile at home, Its origins are still uncertain though it is widely believed to be a crossing of Pinot Noir and so far an unknown second parent (grape). In Austria, St. Laurent is the third most popular red grape variety after Blaufrankisch and Zweigelt and is primarily grown in Lower Austria and Burgenland, while in Germany, where it is known as Sankt Laurent, it is extremely rare as a single varietal wine and is commonly used as a blender and or in Rosé. Also, St. Laurent was crossed with Blaufrankisch to create Zweigelt, which has gone on to become much more popular than its parent, though St. Laurent has been making a comeback with a few serious versions turning some heads, like Vincent Brundlmayer’s (Weingut Brundlmayer) excellent example. Luke has really made St. Laurent his own, it was fermented with about a third whole cluster, using native yeasts with a semi carbonic primary in tank before a gentle foot trod and a a pressing at dryness, after which the wine was racked to a combination of stainless barrels and large French 400L puncheons. The St. Laurent was raised for nine months before being bottled unfined and unfiltered without any additions or as Nio says, no shenanigans, with ultra low sulfites to preserve all of the wine’s natural flavors and freshness. Filomena does three wines, this awesome, value priced St. Laurent, and an intense and powerful cool climate Griffin’s Lair Syrah, which is aged five years before release, plus a brand new Rosé of Cabernet Pfeffer from the Enz Vineyard, made famous in recent years by Ian Brand and Dirty and Rowdy with their Mourvedre(s), all of which are very limited and exciting efforts not to be missed.
($24 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2018 Bucklin, Anne’s Field Blend, Upper 5th Vineyard, Old Hill Ranch, Sonoma Valley.
The beautifully full bodied and deeply colored Bucklin Anne’s Upper 5th red is an unique co-ferment field blend of five grapes, mainly old vine Zinfandel 67%, plus Pelousin 19%, a French variety, thought to be from the Rhône-Alpes region, best known its crossing with Syrah resulting in Durif (aka Petite Sirah), Petite Sirah 8%, Carignane 3% and French Colombard, a white grape used in Cognac, that come from a 100 year old plot that is all inter-planted with a collection of fruit and nut trees and is farmed with great care and with holistic methods. Named after Will Bucklin’s mom, Anne Teller, who’s been farming grapes here in the Sonoma Valley for many decades, starting in the late 1970s and early 1980s when she and her husband Otto purchased the Old Hill Ranch property, one of California’s most historic vineyards that was the first site to be planted to Zinfandel in the 1880s. Richly textured and lush with supple tannins this 2018 Anne’s Zinfandel Field Blend displays a classic array of raspberry led fruits with juicy plum, currant and sweet cherry along with nice floral and spice accents, toasty oak cedar, vanilla, a touch of anise and lingering framboise. The Old Hill Ranch has supplied grapes to some fantastic wines over the years, maybe most notably the legendary Joel Peterson’s Ravenswood, which are iconic Zinfandels that are fabulously age worthy bottles.

Known mostly for the Ancient Zin blend and the Bambino young vine Zinfandel from the original Old Hill Vineyard, Bucklin does a small lot collection of bottlings that wine enthusiasts should really take note of, like this Anne’s Field Blend as well as the Rosé, the Mixed Whites, the Ancient Grenache, the Otto’s Grenache and Bucklin’s delicious Cabernet Sauvignon. All of these wines are available on their website and remain some of the best under the radar Sonoma Valley wines out there and I highly recommend checking them out. Will Bucklin’s Zin based wines are right up there with some of the greats of Zinfandel, so lovers of Turley, Biale, Ridge, Sandlands, Brown Estate and Bedrock, to name a few, will want to get these incredibly well made and outstanding value wines all from one of the state’s great heritage vineyards. The Bucklin wines are hand crafted using traditional methods with exceptional care and treatment of the grapes from the vines to the bottle with the wines seeing about a year in mostly used French oak barrels to allow the vineyard to show through in the wine. The 2018 vintage is really turning out to be a wildly compelling year with dense fruit concentration, but with sublime balance and mouth feel, a nice cut of natural acidity helps lift the flavors and gives an exciting pop. These recent Bucklin releases are tasty treats to enjoy over the next 5 to 10 years and go great with hearty foods, especially Summer BBQs, don’t miss them.
($32 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2020 Paix Sur Terre, Picpoul Blanc, Glenrose Vineyard, Adelaida District, Paso Robles.
A new winery for me, the Paix Sur Terre label, made by Ryan Peace, located on Vineyard Drive on Paso Robles’ westside, made this really tasty and vibrant Picpoul, one of the rare Chateauneuf du Pape (Rhone) white grapes that is most famous for the Languedoc’s zesty Picpoul de Pinet, which still is one of the south of France’s best values in white wine and a grape that is showing a real promise here in California, especially here, where it enjoys the limestone soils. Tasted blind, I seriously had hilariously wrong guesses trying to figure it out, though it did let help me see the aromatics and slight fruitiness, as well as the wine’s nice mineral element. Peace started Paix Sur Terre in 2010 and is producing some very compelling wines with an intriguing collection of whites and reds, including this delightful Picpoul, as well as single varietal Ugni Blanc, Counoise, Clairette Blanche, Syrah and Mourvedre along with a set of Rhone red blends featuring Grenache, Mourvedre and Cinsault, to name a few.

The Paix Sur Terre 2020 Picpoul Blanc, sourced from the Glenrose Vineyard and two distinct parcels on the property, one on the warm southern exposed summit, and the other from the much cooler east-facing ridge line, providing a ying and yang of ripeness that gave it more complexity and zippiness. The Picpoul fruit was picked at night to retain freshness, then the cool grapes were whole-cluster pressed, as the winery notes, to stainless steel tank and fermented with specially select (the) Champagne yeast culture. After fermenting the Picpoul to dryness, the wine was then racked off the lees to a stainless steel tank and the aged for just two months before bottling with a gentle sterile filtering for clarity. Everything here was done to promote freshness and sharp detail, making for a crisp and bright white wine that goes great with Summer cuisine and is perfect for a variety of sea foods and especially shellfish dishes. This 2020 is ripe and gains roundness with air, while still retaining an inner energy from its natural acidity with white peach, lemon/lime, melon and a touch of tropical fruit along with a fine chalkiness, wet stones, citrus blossoms and tangy herbs. A big thank you to my friend Marc Takahashi of the Pebble Beach market who introduced me to this winery and wine, he is a big fan of Ryan’s wines, as now I am as well!
($32 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2017 A. A. Badenhorst Family Wines, Grenache, Raaigras, Swartland, South Africa.
The 2017 Badenhorst Grenache is delicious stuff, at first is earthy and raw, but it opens beautifully and gains a lovely floral perfume and supple red fruits along with dusty spices and ends up with an expressive deep fruited personality. Badenhorst and the vines are located on the northern side of the Paardeberg mountain, which is a granite outcrop with three distinctive types of decomposed granitic soils, Paardeberg, Lammershoek and Lemoenfontain all of which are very old and give these wines there unique terroir profiles. The Raaigras Vineyard was planted in 1952 and has a cooler south facing slope that allows for a bit of restraint in natural alcohol, which shows here, it finished with just about 13% and this ruby/garnet hued 2017 Grenache feels lively and fresh in glass with layers of brambly raspberry, juicy plum, strawberry and kirsch fruits as well as cinnamon, minty herb, anise and some peppery spices with silky tannins and very low oak influence. This Grenache will be best enjoyed with a hearty meal and or hard cheeses to allow the fruit core to really shine through in this medium bodied wine. Badenhorst, one of the leaders of modern South Africa’s natural styled wines has put together an amazing collection of wines that showcase the best and most alluring qualities of the Swartland region, maybe one of the world’s most unique wine zones.

Famed South African winemaker Adi Badenhorst, founded the Badenhorst winery along with his cousin Hein back in 2008 when they purchased their Kalmoesfontein farm in the Paardeberg area of Swartland. Together they restored the ancient and run down cellar, that as they put it, had been neglected since the 1930′s, where they now make some of the most compelling natural wines in the country. These vineyard sites on the Kalmoesfontein farm consist of very old bush-vines, with a host of interesting parcels like those planted to Chenin Blanc, Cinsault and Grenache, all of that average close to 50 years old. The estate is host to an array of varietals, including Chenin Blanc, Clairette Blance, Roussane, Grenache Blanc, Grenache Gris, Colombard, Grenache, Cinsault, Shiraz and Tinta Barocca, to name a few, and are un-irrigated and farmed as holistically (employing natural organic methods) as possible. This tasty Raaigras Grenache, according to the winery, was 100% de-stemmed and it was fermented in an old foudre using all native yeasts, with the wine seeing daily pumped overs. After going almost dry the wine pressed and was racked gently to large 500L puncheon(s) where it was aged 14 months on the full lees, then bottled unfined and unfiltered. In recent years I have really enjoyed the Badenhorst wines, like this one, though especially their fabulous Cinsault and Tinta Barocca bottlings, and I highly recommend chasing them down.
($48 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2018 Pax Mahle, Syrah, Alder Springs Vineyard, Mendocino County.
The exceptional 2018 Alder Springs Syrah by Pax Mahle is truly world class stuff, fantastically pure and with beautiful layers it is one of the best yet from this Syrah specialist with a full bodied palate of dark berries, damson plum, black cherry and currant fruit, wild, almost feral, earthiness, cracked peppercorns, mission fig and with a deep perfume of crushed violets and anise. The 100% whole cluster and native yeast fermentation gives this wine its sexy excitement and makes for its great balance of fruit and umami and heightened sensual appeal, much the same way that the great wines of Auguste Clape, Thierry Allemand and Domaine Jamet do, in fact this vintage is wanting for nothing when compared to those wines. This vineyard, planted to Syrah in 1997, was the first place Pax ever got grapes, it is located about 150 miles north of San Francisco and lies just 12 miles from the Pacific Ocean, it is set on steep slopes with many unique micro climates with mainly fractured sandstone soils. Alder Springs Vineyard, along with Griffin’s Lair in the cool windswept Petaluma Gap, are my favorites in Pax’s lineup usually, but I was blown away with this release of the Alder Springs Syrah, it really shows what a great place this vineyard is and what an awesome terroir it is for this grape. This dense and opaque purple 2018 Alder Springs Syrah is a divine nectar, particularly for Syrah enthusiasts (like me) and potentially perfect, it deserves to be decanted and be a center piece of a fine meal, which I didn’t respect, by having popped its cork with a take away pizza, but it soon forgave me by opening up in the glass with majestic and profound grace, making for a thrilling evening.

The Alder Springs Syrah was made using the full bunches and with stem inclusion, all standard practice here at Pax, and it was raised in neutral large sized French oak puncheons to capture the nuance of the vintage, with was long and cool, perfect for this style of wine and to allow a real sense of place to shine through. These 2018s look to have fabulous aging potential and I was incredibly impressed by how good it was now, with air this Alder Springs just got better and better, with sublime mouth feel and gained aromatic intensity, as well as complexity over the hour or so I had it open with added floral dimension and a finish that went on and on featuring creme de cassis, herbs de Provence and touch of cool climate tapenade. Pax Wines, founded back in 2000, is led by Pax and Pamela Mahle, and has been a huge force in making Syrah as serious as it is in California these days, especially in the classic Northern Rhone style, hand crafting many small lot and single vineyard cuvees from organic and cooler climate sites in northern California. In recent years, besides these awesome Syrah bottlings, like this outstanding Alder Springs, Pax has been exploring a selection of esoteric varieties, like Trousseau, Trousseau Gris, Charbono, Valdiguie, Mondeuse, the Mission grape (aka Listan Prieto) and especially Gamay that he says showcase the great diversity of California wine. Mahle has also adopted a very non intervention or natural winemaking style, adding that from the vineyard to the cellar, Pax Wines employs sustainable approach with a holistic winemaking style. This means that all of Pax’s grapes are grown using organic or biodynamic vineyard practices, plus ultra low sulfites and no unnatural additions are used in the winery. Pax has nailed these 2018s and this one is the real deal, lucky are those that have a few extra bottles to savor and cellar, it should get even better in 3 to 5 years too, sadly patience wasn’t a virtue I was born with!
($55 Est.) 96 Points, grapelive

2018 Weingut Willi Schaefer, Riesling Trocken, Graacher Himmelreich, VDP Grosses Gewächs, Mosel Germany.
The Willi Schaefer Gaacher Himmelreich GG is a unicorn wine, maybe one of the rarest bottles you’ll see of a current release by this winery and I feel incredibly to have got one, this Dry wine from one of Germany’s great vineyards and greatest producers is a treasure. Based in Graach, Willi Schafer has a fabulous collection of vines with south-to-southwest exposition, these parcels have great sun exposure all day as well as access to a natural spring that runs through the hillside, guaranteeing good water supply even in warm vintages. This GG is deeply mineral laced and shows a tight array of tart apricot, green apple, white flowers and zesty citrus fruits, flinty spices, wet rock, a touch of lees and almond paste. This is not as expansive and generous as the Schaefer Spatlese offerings are and this wine is nervy serious, though its personality really changes as it gets air and a bit more warmth in the glass, it impresses much more with food and time to unwind. The Romans knew the benefits of Graach’s sites and cultivated vines here in ancient times helping create the reputation for quality that has stood the test of time. In the Prussian times too this area was producing some of the world’s most expressive and prized wines and their classification of the Mosel vineyards from 1816 to 1832 indeed gave Graach’s vineyards, like the Himmelreich the highest ratings. Schaefer known for their classic Prädikat wines, Kabinett, Spatlese, Auslese and Beerenauslese does an ultra small batch of Trocken, with this Graacher Himmelreich VDP Grosses Gewachs (Grand Cru) being the ultimate find in dry Mosel offerings, right up there with Dr. Lossen and Maximin Grunhaus, but far more limited.

According to the famed importer and Riesling guru Terry Theise, Schaefer is absolutely, without question, one of the greatest producers in Germany with Riesling that is crystalline, ethereally complex and limpidly clear, they have a quality of calm, these wines I will add are joyous and happy, you cannot be a wine lover without celebrating in them. This small family estate which dates back to 1121 and only does Riesling is a benchmark for the Mosel and are coveted not just by collectors, but by other growers. The Schafer’s plots are located on steep weathered Devonian slate (soil) slopes and consist of up to 100-year-old, ungrafted vines. Theise also notes that Himmelreich is buoyant, more floral, lighter in texture and is open from day one, all of which is hard to argue with and these qualities also make Graacher Himmelreich a superb source for Schaefer’s elite dry wine. In 2015 Christoph Schaefer took the helm of the winery from his illustrious father and together with his wife Andrea continue to run it with the highest level of quality. Christoph and Andrea met while studying oenology-and viticulture at university, the famous Geisenheim, where Germany’s top winemakers get trained. Christoph joined his father Willi back in 2002 so his experience and the transition was seamless guaranteeing that these wines remain some of the world’s most coveted, with this 2018 GG being a shinning star! I highly recommend putting this away for another 3 to 5 years and let it get some secondary elements going here, which I believe will transform this GG into a beautiful swan of a wine, patience will certainly be rewarded, in the meantime drink any and all of the Schaefer Kabinett(s) and Spatlese(s), from the Graacher Domprobst and Graacher Himmelreich you can get!
($65 Est.) 93-95 Points, grapelive

2019 I. Brand & Family, Pinot Noir, Enz Vineyard, Lime Kiln Valley, San Benito County.
The 2019 Enz Pinot Noir, yes Pinot, is one of my favorites in the I. Brand & Family lineup, and while this vineyard is legendary for its old vine Mourvedre, the dry farmed and small yielding Pinot Noir vines here produce a singular and thrilling example of Pinot that surprise for its energy and beauty, especially when fermented with some whole cluster and native yeasts. This is the first public release of Pinot Noir from Ian Brand, who has made many delicious Pinots for other people over the years, but who long resisted doing one one under his own label, preferring to focus on his Rhone style wines, in particularly his divine old vine Grenache and Mourvedre bottlings. This 2019 vintage, with its longer and cooler growing season made for almost perfect conditions for this Enz to shine with elegant lower natural alcohol and depth of flavors with layers of black cherry, raspberry, pomegranate and strawberry fruits, delicate florals, sage/lavender, peppery notes, orange tea and faint wood toastiness and a touch of toffee, all in a silky medium bodied Pinot Noir that is tasty and vibrant in every way. A few years back, I had Randall Grahm’s Bonny Doon version and I absolutely loved that Enz Vineyard Pinot, and knowing Ian helped farm this site in Lime Kiln Valley I asked him about the terroir here and frankly asked him, with as good as this wine was that he hadn’t done one himself, only to learn he had, though just not under his own label (yet), and that it also was fabulous stuff, so I’m really glad now that this wine has found a spot in his collection, a place it deserves. With air this wine, which is only a restrained 13.2%, really turns on the charm, it is very expressive with a little whole bunch pop, a bit Grenache like, and adds a nice sultry earthiness in contrast, making for a balanced food friendly wine.

Ian Brand, as I have called him, (is) a vineyard whisperer and has chosen to search out, as he puts it, remote and challenging vineyards, with hard depleted soils, in areas that have intense sunlight that are tempered only by the coastal breezes of the central coast. These vineyards, he adds, are capable of producing only the most idiosyncratic wines, which is certainly case with his Enz Vineyard wines, the Mourvedre and this dark ruby colored Pinot Noir. The Enz Vineyard, originally planted in 1895, with its famous Mourvedre planted in 1922, is a magical dry farmed and organic site not far from the famous Mt. Harlan where Calera and Eden Rift are, in the Lime Kiln Valley AVA, which was formed in 1982 with similar soils that are combination of limestone, dolomite and a touch of decomposed granite with a sandy/gravelly loam covering. This wine appeals to me, it is wild and unashamed California Pinot Noir, it is not ultra cool climate stuff, nor is it Burgundy like, and the better for it, it is a wine that defies expectations and rewards the adventurous. Brand, who is a practical and low intervention winemaker, uses gentle winemaking methods, going for vineyard expression over flashy techniques employs native yeast fermentation, hand punch-downs and foot trodding being the norm and he raises his wine mostly in well seasoned French oak. In recent years, Ian has taken on some new challenges and started producing some wines that push the boundaries, he just released a hibiscus infused Sauvignon Blanc Piquette (Pet-Nat lite) sparkler and a Ramato style skin contact Pinot Gris, a fine set of Cabernet Franc(s) as well as a long lees aged Melon de Bourgogne, all of which intrigue. If you haven’t yet had Ian’s wines, it is a great time to discover them and this Enz Pinot is one, I recommend not to overtook.
($38 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2019 Maison Leroy, Bourgogne Gamay, Red Burgundy, France.
One of the more fun wines I’ve had in recent weeks and while not cheap, this dark and vibrant Gamay from the famed Domaine Leroy delivers a performance that will make me get a few more bottles and is a very smile inducing wine with tasty and crunchy black fruits, floral notes, spice and nice earthy tones. It was hard to find out much about this wine from the legendary Madame Bize Leroy, but I am seeing that it is the first ever US release of a Leroy Gamay with grapes coming from the Cote d’Or and it has all the hallmarks of a whole bunch and carbonic fermentation as it shows expressive fruit and aromatics. The palate is lively, with zippy acidity, but still round and ripe with a lingering softness, this Leroy Bourgogne Gamay flows seamlessly in the mouth with layers of dark plum, pomegranate, sweet strawberry and candied cherry fruits along with a touch of savory elements, snappy and minty herbs, crushed violet and lilac flowers, saline infused stones, a hint of walnut and anise. This is a very pleasing example of Gamay which I originally believed was from the clay and limestone soils of Burgundy rather than the granite based soils of its southern neighbor Beaujolais, though some outlets of this wine are calling it a Beaujolais sourced bottling, which is surprisingly allowed, regardless of this conflicting information, I found it wonderfully balanced and focused with classic varietal purity.

Lalou Bize-Leroy, one of the most powerful women in the world of wine, who once ruled over the Domaine de la Romanee-Conti, presides over the Domaine Leroy, which has one of the most elite collection of sites in the Côtes de Nuits, with some of greatest Grand Cru parcels and her Maison Leroy line buys grapes from top growers from across the Burgundy region. Those lucky enough to get a few of these rare wines with tell you these are heavenly age worthy wines of prestige and elegance and of the Leroy’s I’ve been graced with trying, which has not been many, I was mesmerized by the regular AOC Vosne-Romanee bottling as well as a once in a lifetime taste (a tiny one) of the majestic Musigny Grand Cru from a well aged vintage cellar direct bottle that a very generous stranger shared with me.This offering is different than a Bourgogne Passetoutgrain, which must consist of at least a third Pinot Noir, though usually come with more than 50%, and usually are made in a more traditional method with mostly de-stemmed grapes, while this feels like whole cluster and doesn’t need as much aging to be enjoyed. Leroy is known for their more natural style with almost all of their vineyards seeing the use of Biodynamics, and low-Intervention winemaking, and are even listed as Vegan safe. The Bourgogne Gamay is a new A.O.C. designation that was instituted in 2011, it allows for the Bourgogne on the label and it can include grapes sourced from one of the Beaujolais Crus, and may have some Pinot Noir blended in, which is going to confuse many consumers, and me, to be honest, but that said I very much liked this wine.
($60 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2018 Jim Barry, Assyrtiko, Clare Valley, Australia.
While famously known for their red wines and especially their legendary The Armagh Shiraz, which has been an Aussie icon since it was first released in 1985, it is lesser known that Jim Barry does an exceptional selection of white wines, with their Riesling collection being absolutely outstanding and now they have this equally compelling Assyrtiko, it is a star in the lineup and this 2018 is a stunning wine. I first tasted the Assyrtiko at a trade tasting a few years ago, and I have been waiting what seems ages now to get a take home bottle of this Greek varietal that is now planted on the Jim Barry estate in Australia’s Clare Valley, and it did not disappoint and is even better than I had hoped with crisp bone dry detail, fresh mineral focus and a vibrant array of lemon/lime, white peach, salty stones, apple skin, citrus blossom and a touch of hazelnut. I can’t wait to try the latest 2020 release when it comes out, from everything I hear it is another step up and that would seems understandable as the vines get into full maturity here this Australian Assyrtiko should get more deeply layered and complex, though I love this very much and highly recommend it, in particular with oysters, grilled shrimp and or with marinated goat cheese, an Aussie specialty.

Peter Barry, while on vacation to the Greek Islands in 2006 came across a tasty white wine on Santorini and became obsessed with Assyrtiko and thought, since the Riesling was so good at home, he could bring some cuttings back and see what happens, so after some careful research over a few years and a few headaches, he got his original Assyrtiko cuttings from Santorini, Greece planted in the Clare in 2012. An interesting side note, did you know Australia has one the highest populations of Greeks outside of Greece? It’s true, with close to 400,000 people of Hellenic/ Greek ancestry living down under. These vines were, as the winery explains, planted on the south side of the ridges where the soils are thinner and the vines are naturally de-vigorated, making for smaller yields, allowing the true character of the Assyrtiko to develop. In the cellar, the Assyrtiko saw a combination of stainless steel and oak aging with a portion of Assyrtiko, as the Barry’s add, being fermented in a seasoned, well used large barrels and aged on lees before the final blend is put together to add texture, depth and complexity to this intriguing wine. I am a huge fan of this wine, which I think is a fantastic success story and I hope that someone in California gives Assyrtiko a try too. This ultra pale, 12% alcohol, Jim Barry Assyrtiko is a serious Summer wine and a great alternative to some of the more generic bottles out there.
($35 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2016 St. Innocent, Pinot Noir, Freedom Hill Vineyard, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
One of Oregon’s classic wines, St. Innocent makes profound and age worthy Pinot Noirs that remain some of the greatest values in American wine, with this Freedom Hill bottling being one of my favorites with its Burgundy like structure, as this 2016 showcases. I am not surprised that this 2016 is so solid and still firmly gripped by taut and tight or walled in fruit, as I had a 2000 vintage of St.Innocent recently and it was still youthfully fresh and showed almost no signs of age. But, that said, with most of the Willamette Valley’s 2016 Pinots were ripe and very lush, you’d think this would be a little more open knit and fruit forward by now. This 2016 Freedom Hill Vineyard, sourced from selected blocks of mainly Pommard and Wadenswil (Old Swiss Clone) as well as a little 777, which gives this version a deep color, set on marine sedimentary soils of the western valley’s Coastal Range with this site being just about 10 miles southwest of Salem in the foothills up at around 550 feet, with warm days and cool nights it provides excellent conditions for serious Pinot Noir. This densely packed Pinot is slightly reduced still, but flows nicely once it gets some air with dancing layers of blackberry, currant, plum and cranberry fruits that revolve around a deep core of cherry along with black tea, delicate florals, a touch of charred cedar, shaved vanilla. The smoky wood notes fade nicely into the background as this wine unfolds and the textural quality becomes much more impactful on the medium bodied palate in this studied and well crafted Pinot Noir.

Mark Vlossak of St. Innocent, is one of the state’s best winemakers with many outstanding vintages under his belt, and is of one of the Willamette Valley’s legendary generations that includes the greats like Ken Wright, Doug Tunnell (Brick House) Mike Etzel (Beaux Freres) and John Paul of Cameron Winery to name a few, who all set the world a light with their early to mid nineties wines, especially with the 1994 and 1998 vintages, which were wines that cemented the region’s place as one of the world’s great Pinot Noir terroirs. Vlossak employs old school methods to craft his wines, using carefully sorted100% de-stemmed grapes and indigenous yeast fermentation, with this Freedom Hill being done in a combination of 4 and 8 ton stainless steel fermenters without any added SO2 at cool temps. The wine is then gently pressed and racked to French oak barrels where it is raised for 16 months with 30% of the barrels being new, after which the wine gravity bottled unfined to preserve all of the wine’s purity and nuances. This 2016 has a long life ahead of it, I’m convinced it will be a modern classic and see it getting much better in the bottle over the next decade, so if you have this wine, I would suggest holding on to it for another five years before pulling the cork and if you can’t wait I highly recommend decanting it and be sure to have plenty of time to enjoy it, and especially with matching cuisine, which should be on the more robust side. I will also note that this 2016 Freedom Hill really turned on the charm and got much more aromatic after a full 24 hours, and the after taste vastly lengthened, making for a stunning performance.
($40 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2019 Waxwing Wines, Pinot Noir, Deerheart Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains.
I had been thinking about the Santa Cruz Mountains wine region and just heard about the passing of one of the region’s legends, David Bruce, who I was lucky to have done tastings with with in the early 2000s, so I thought it would be a good tribute to him to open this Waxwing Deerheart Vineyard Pinot and it was a great way to remember him and look toward the future he helped create. Scott Sisemore, winemaker at Waxwing Wines, who has been more aligned with the Santa Cruz Mountains in recent vintages with this Deerheart Vineyard, a vineyard located just 5 miles from the Pacific Ocean and the Lester Vineyard in Corralitos, also home to Richard Alfaro’s Alfaro Family Estate and Jim Schultze’s Windy Oaks Estate. There are fabulous and unique Pinot terroirs scattered throughout the Santa Cruz Mountains, and Deerheart looks like an exciting site, especially after tasting the latest releases from here by Scott, with this 2019 showing a remarkably deep color and richness on the palate with an opulent array of dark fruits and a lush silky mouth feel, it almost reminds me of a Merry Edwards, Martinelli, Lymar and or a Rochioli Russian River Pinot with the black cherry, plum and raspberry core, along with delicate baking spices, sweet tea, mocha/cola and rose petal florals. This is a bigger framed Pinot, more seductively curvy in style than many would expect, but not without poise and or grace with a soft sense of acidity and as it has potential, with its substance, to age well.

Sisemore started working with Bob and JoAnn Larsons’ Deerheart Vineyard in 2017, and even though it is a young vineyard, planted 2013, it made a huge impression on him and the wines have been excellent. The Deerheart Vineyard is on the western slopes of the Santa Cruz Mountains set between San Gregorio Beach and the La Honda Open Space Preserve where it gets cool breezes and lots of afternoon sunshine that have given these wines their distinct ripeness and supple body. The vines are a combination of clonal material with mainly Dijon selections, these include four blocks with 667, 777, 828, 943 and 459, along with a little of the old Swiss clone, Wadenswil (also known as clone 2A) that allows complexity and diversity of flavors. In an effort to highlight the luxurious nature in this Pinot Noir, Sisemore used 100% de-stemmed fruit, a week long cold soak and fermented this Deerheart Pinot Noir in a wood open top (upright) fermenter, with two or three daily punch-downs and pump-overs before aging it for 10 months in around 40% new French oak that adds a a toasty/sweet element and the creamy finish. Waxwing released this 2019 Deerheart Pinot Noir just before the 2020 Holiday season, with only about 100 cases available, so it should go quickly. Interestingly Sisemore made this version at FEL winery in Sonoma, where they have a fantastic cellar and are well known for their touch with Pinot Noir and offered Scoot a place to give this one some extra love and care. The Waxwing lineup always includes a few new things and in the last few years I have found a lot to like here at this micro winery, with this wine being one of the stars in Scott’s excellent set of small lot wines.
($55 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2018 Drew Family Wines, Syrah, Valenti Ranch Vineyard, Mendocino Ridge.
Always a favorite of mine the Drew Valenti Ranch Syrah, is a beautiful and chiseled wine that is heavily influenced by its terroir, with the cold Ocean, the elevation and the gravelly loam and sedimentary soils giving this unique site its personality and soulful expression, with this 2018 version delivering a striking performance in the glass with a delicious array of classic Syrah flavors and whole cluster pop. The long and cool growing season of 2018 really makes this vintage a classic with super vivid and racy detail, it shows a complex range of dark fruit and savory elements on its medium bodied and lively palate with nicely flowing layers of briar laced vine picked blackberries, wild plum, tangy currant, blueberry and a bright kirsch note along with peppercorns, crushed violets, cinnamon, minty and tarry anise, a faint meatiness, plus a touch of coco, spring herbs and cedar. The color is wonderfully inviting with a dark garnet, almost opaque hue and purple edges and this wine’s youthful vitality makes it a compelling companion with many food options, with lamb and medium rare steak being ideal choices, though it was awesome with lasagna last night, and I can see it going great with spicy roast chicken and chickpeas or just with some Spanish sheep cheeses. As mentioned here, Jason Drew, the winemaker and vigneron at Drew in the western end of the Anderson Valley, is one of the best (in California) and his wines never fail to impress, these non flashy efforts are impeccably made and almost perfection in taste and feel with a wonderful play of energy, fruit, umami and textural pleasure, these wines should never be missed, especially this sublime Valenti Syrah.

The organic Valenti Ranch Vineyard sits just six miles from the Pacific Ocean on what Drew says is a mid elevation windswept east facing ridge, it is up at between 1,300 -1400 feet, which makes for a classic style cool climate Syrah. The winery notes that, the constant maritime winds coupled with thin marginal soils of oceanic sedimentary origins, lends itself to naturally lower yields and gives the grapes a greater intensity, depth and fruit (or flavor) development at lower sugar levels and allows for restrained alcohol and a vivid acidity, all which makes for a structured and very northern Rhone like wine. The Drew’s have been working with this vineyard for 13 years, and now do all of the farming here, which is planted to some exciting suitcase selections including an alleged Chave selection (Hermitage clone), along with parcels of Durell clone in this Syrah block. The Drew Valenti Syrah saw a 100% native Yeast and a 75% whole cluster fermentation, a cool maceration period to extract pigment and preserve those lovely aromatics, and was raised in all neutral French oak barrels that lasted about 15 months, with just two gentle gravity flow rackings and finished at just 13.2% natural alcohol. The winemaking here is studied and transparent, making for a Syrah of exceptional purity and crunchy details, Jason has mastered is art and craft, and while known for his Pinot Noirs, which are some of the best being made in California, his Syrah offerings are just as thrilling and prove, like Halcon, Pax and newcomers like Desire Lines Wines, as well as Adam Tolmach of Ojai Vineyards and Sashi Moorman of Piedrasassi, that the state can rival the best from Syrah’s spiritual home in the northern Rhone Valley. This Valenti Syrah is fantastic stuff, drinking great even now, but has a good long life ahead of it, I recommend grabbing some while you can!
($55 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2020 Monte Rio Cellars “Pinkette” Rosé Piquette, California.
The strawberry/ruby and dark pink Pinkette from Monte Rio Cellars is slightly fizzy reminding me of a lighter version of Lambrusco with more flavor and intensity than I had expected from this Rosé Piquette, an interesting new California interpretation of an ancient method style sparkling wine, which for a lack of a better explanation will call Pet-Nat 2.0 or a Glou-Glou Fizz. Patrick Cappiello, the famous Sommelier behind Monte Rio Cellars, a small micro craft winery in Sonoma County, explains that Piquette was started many decades ago by vineyard and winery workers in France who discovered that by taking the grape must out of the press and adding water, they could start a second fermentation, which results in a fresh, low alcohol, slightly sparkling wine. Cappiello adds, that over the past few years these style of wines have seen a big resurgence here in the United States and this 2020 vintage is his second harvest making them, of which he did two, one white made from Vermentino, Chardonnay and Melon de Bourgogne and this reddish/pink version crafted using an interesting combination of Gamay, Trousseau Noir and Trousseau Gris. More full flavored and almost meaty than you’d think the 2010 Pinkette shows a rustic and raw quality that is very appealing and it is much less foamy than a Pet-Nat with tart cherry, strawberry and plum water along with racy spices, sage/herb, mint and citrusy Moro orange zest, all of which makes for a refreshing more chilled red like than a delicate Rosé.

The Monte Rio Cellars wines are made in a partnership with Pax Mahle of Pax Wines, famous for some of California’s best Syrah offerings, as well as a series of natural style wines, so these wines are done using some of the same sources as he uses, with these vineyards, all organically farmed, Alpine Peaks for the Gamay and Bearg Ranch suppling the Trousseau Noir, plus Fannuchi giving the splash of the Trousseau Gris for this Skull Pinkette. For actual winemaking, according to Cappiello says, water is added to the grape must and is steeped for two days before it’s put into stainless steel barrels, with some unfermented Chardonnay (grape) juice added to assist a indigenous yeast fermentation. Then after primary is done, the wine is rested for five months in the steel barrels before another little bit of unfermented juice is added on the day of bottling to start second fermentation in bottle. These Piquettes have zero sulfur added and the finished alcohol is just 7% natural alcohol, making them lively, refreshing and surprisingly dry. This Pinkette is easily quaffable and fun stuff, it will be a smiles with BBQs and picnics, and like mentioned its Lambrusco like character makes it great with salami and cured meats. I honestly found this much more fun than most Pet-Nats and its less frothy spritzy light frizzante is more appealing to me, and I admit, I was more impressed that I that I would be. I have really enjoyed the last few vintages from Monte Rio Cellars, especially their old vine, whole cluster Zins, as well as their Skull series of wines, the Mission grape red and now this one too, all of which are old school and natural wines that are priced extremely well for their limited quantity.
($20 Est.) 88 Pointsgrapelive

2019 Clos Cibonne, Tibouren “Cuvee Speciale” Rouge, Cru Classe Cotes de Provence AOP, France.
This Clos Cibonne Rouge, from the Cotes de Provence region and made with the rare ancient Tibouren grape, is one of the coolest and most unique wines in France, it is a medium bodied wine with firm tannins and vibrant acidity that shows an almost Nebbiolo, though more delicate, like character, it is impossible not to be thrilled here, especially when it is as tasty as this 2019 version is. We have much to thank this estate for, especially their incredible and iconic Rosé, which is extended lees aged under flor, like sherry and made with this unique varietal that they helped resurrect. It was Clos Cibonne’s André Roux who, in the 1930s and with a leap of faith, planted his estate almost exclusively to Tibouren, instead of the more common imported Grenache and Mourvedre that came to the region in the 1800s, also creating these iconic labels which remain unchanged to this day. This Tibouren revival, according to local lore, ignited an era that brought fame for the Rosés of Clos Cibonne, which led to their inclusion in a 1950’s classification of 18 Cru Classés in Côtes de Provence, which is still going strong today. André Roux, the winery adds, was also instrumental in the creation of the Côtes de Provence appellation in 1973 and responsible for the inclusion of his beloved Tibouren grape into the region’s list of official and accepted grape varieties. This riveting aromatic 2019 Rouge is bright, crisply detailed and starts tight and youthful with tart cherry, plum, cranberry and currant fruits along with a slowly developing, but deep perfume with rose oil, geraniums and lilac notes as well as an array of spices and warm climate herbs with hints of rosemary, thyme and lavender(y) sage. This wine is ever changing in the glass with a surprising grip and release that, especially with food and slightly chilled, allows a seductive textural mouth feel, an absolutely fantastic experience.

The Tibouren grape is believed to be an ancient variety, maybe originally grown in Mesopotamia, that was propagated by the Greeks, though it is odd that it doesn’t look to have survived in their own territory, before being transported by the Romans to Italy, where it found a great home in the Liguria region just south of Genoa and not far from Portofino, where it is known as Rossese and makes some of the most underrated and divine wines in Italy. In an interesting side note, legendary American winemaker and Rhone Ranger Randall Grahm of Bonny Doon fame, loves this grape and is planting California’s first plot of it at his new Popelouchum estate vineyard near San Juan Bautista, and it is widely known he loves the wines of Clos Cibonne and intrigued by this wonderful grape. Clos Cibonne has became synonymous with Tibouren ever since it received special permission from the Provence appelation governing body to list the grape on its labels and as noted, allowed Clos Cibonne in the elite Cru Classe group there. The estate’s vineyards, all farmed organically and set on clay and calcareous soils are located a stones throw from the blue Mediterranean sea, a mere 800 meters from this famous coastline and are surrounded by hillsides that faces the sea, a perfect southern exposure to capture the sun in what is a natural amphitheater. This provides conditions and an air circulation that is perfect getting the Tibouren ripe, but also keeping refreshing acidity that leads to their wonderful balance and vivacious personality. After the Tibouren grapes are harvested, all by hand, they are directly cool pressed and fermented in stainless steel, then the Rosé wines are then aged under fleurette (as explained by the winery, as a thin veil of yeast, known as Flor, similar to what is seen in Sherry or even some Jura wines that protects the wine from oxidation) in 120-year-old oak casks, 5,000L foudres for one year, while this one (the red wine) crafted from 90% Tibouren and 10% Grenache, was macerated for under a week and then saw a short lees aging, usually just 4 to 6 months, in used barrels. This is so good, I want more, it is fabulously geeky stuff that rewards the adventurous.
($30 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2019 Lucia Vineyards by Pisoni, Pinot Noir, Santa Lucia Highlands.
This 2019 Santa Lucia Highlands cuvee by Jeff Pisoni is stunning in the glass with pure regional character and depth of flavor, it way over performs for the price and shows the greatest of all of his family’s Cru vineyard sites with this edition seeing 52% Pisoni Estate, 18% Garys’ Vineyard and 30% from the Soberanes Vineyard grapes, with a lot of the famed Pisoni clone as well as a savvy mix of dijon and heritage selection that add to the complexity here. 2018 and 2019 were exceptional years for Pinot Noir in the Highlands with their long mild (cool) growing seasons and deep flavor development make them two of the best years I can remember, and as the wines come out these 2019s are showing fabulously well and may go on the eclipse the fantastic ’18s, this is true with this Lucia SLH bottling, which could be my favorite ever version of this offering, a wine that I have loved since its first release. The dark ruby color is vivid and inviting, everything about this wine excites the senses and tells you this is a Pisoni Pinot Noir, it starts with a beautiful bouquet of red berries, cut flowers, a delicate spice and a smoky sweet toasty oak note, which leads into a rich and medium bodied palate with brambly black raspberry, dense cherry, plum fruits along with a touch orange and red apple skins as well as vanilla, cola bean, wild fennel, tea spices, sandalwood and echos of the lovely florals. The be honest this regular Santa Lucia Highlands is not far off the single Cru wines and it should age well with its natural acidity and concentration, it also can be enjoyed right now, especially with matching cuisine, I can see it playing well with lots of dishes, ranging from blackened salmon to seared ahi (blue-fin tuna) and or duck breast, as well as meat and poultry. Pisoni employed about 20% whole cluster and native yeast fermentation for this 2019 vintage and was aged in 40% new French oak for just under a year before bottling, this all allowed the grapes to show off their very best and is perfect for the years’ fruit profile, this is nothing short of brilliant.

The 2019 Lucia Vineyards Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot Noir comes from grapes, as noted above, grown exclusively from the Pisoni, Garys’ and Soberanes Vineyards, making it, as the winery says, a wonderful representation of their estate vineyards, each block for this wine is cultivated to the same high standards that the Pisoni family led by the lregenday Gary and his older son Mark Pisoni have set. The younger brother Jeff, the winemaker, who is now one of California’s top guns, uses select vineyard blocks to craft this wine, with designated lots of free-run wine and hand-select barrels used in the blend, which Pisoni hopes, creates a “world-class” appellation blend. The Pisoni wines really capture the soul of the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA that the family helped create and has been farming since 1982, when Gary planted the first experimental parcels at his remote estate. The Santa Lucia Highlands set in the western mountains of the Salinas Valley, it is a higher bench above the Salinas River in the famous Steinbeck country with mostly sandy loam soils that allow for the opulent richness of fruit in the Pinots. This hilly range of gentle slopes faces east, receiving the gentle morning sunshine, while always getting a cooling influence from the deep Monterey Bay and its underwater canyon of ultra cold water. The Salinas Valley naturally channels that cool breeze from the Pacific Ocean which refreshes the vines and leads to the area’s long growing season, one of the longest in the state. The Santa Lucia Highlands owe much to the pioneering spirit of the Pisoni family and their 2019s perfectly reflect the regions best qualities for growing distinct Pinot Noir, as well as Chardonnay and Syrah, a grape that I think does almost as well as the Pinot here, especially at the Soberanes Vineyard. This is the 21st vintage from Pisoni under their own label and one of their most seductive and desirable, making for a not to miss collection of small batch wines and these new releases will sell out fast, so don’t wait too long, and be sure not to overlook this one!
($49 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2019 Ruth Lewandowski Wines, Boaz Red, Testa Vineyard – Zero, Mendocino County.
The alluring and deep colored Boaz Red is made from old vine Carignan, mostly, plus some very old vine Grenache and good dose of what Evan Lewandowski, the natural winemaker his Ruth Lewandowski Wines calls the sexiest Cabernet Sauvignon (fruit) he’s seen, all from Mendocino’s organically farmed Testa Vineyard, a real hot spot for exceptional Carignan, which drives this outstanding red blend. The Carignan is all from vines close to 100 years old and its just awesome here in this wine with loads of blue and black fruit, touches of spice, loamy earth and beautiful floral notes. The Testa Vineyard, a sixth generation family run site, has been farmed since 1912 and is close to Ukiah in the Redwood Valley area of Mendocino County, and is set on a combination of sandy loams, alluvial deposits and sedimentary (rocky) soils. This Boaz really impresses with its 76% Carignan, the 13% of Cabernet Sauvignon and its 9% Grenache all playing influential roles here, it reminds me a little of Maxime Magnon’s awesome Corbieres and even a bit of Laurent Vaillé’s famous Grange des Pere, which is a blend of 40% Syrah, 40% Mourvèdre, 10% Cabernet Sauvignon, 10% Counoise! This Boaz goes extremely well with robust foods and simple meat dishes as well as woodsy wild mushrooms, hard cheeses and roast chicken over bitter greens.

Evan says his Boaz is from three parcels off the Testa Ranch and are picked together and co-fermented using 100% whole cluster and native yeasts without additions and or added SO2, all to produce a natural style wine, but one with a burly intensity, rich fruit density and with the nice acidity of this vintage, this is wonderfully balanced and laser focused with a structure that age. Lewandowski says to make his wines, everything is done to make them in the vineyard and concentrates on getting ripe and health grapes, so his job in the cellar can be as low intervention as possible and he adds that this is all started with healthy soils and holistic care in the vines. He is one of the most precise in his handling of the fruit, no short cuts and everything in the winemaking is clean and meticulously cared for, all of which shows in these wines, especially this robust and expressive Boaz, maybe my favorite of Evan’s lineup, certainly in this vintage it is. This wine is label Zero, as a reference to the fact that there was absolutely no added sulfites at any stage of the winemaking, nor at bottling, which was done unfined and unfiltered. If you are looking for what California natural wine can be, this one is a must, it is a killer bottle that opens nicely, when the tannins settle, with black raspberry, dark currant and kirsch along with anise, cinnamon and herbs de Provence, brilliant stuff.
($40 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2018 Sheldon Wines, Graciano, Luc’s Vineyard, Fountaingrove AVA, Sonoma County.
Dylan and Tobe Sheldon have been exploring the rare Graciano grape since the early 2000s, an ancient and obscure varietal, found in Rioja mostly, but it is also known as Tintilla and grown as far away as the Canary Islands and in the flaky white soils of the Sherry region in Jerez, and have been making some of the most compelling versions of this varietal in California, like this gorgeous 2018, a wine I have been sitting at their advice to allow it to fully develop, which it has, making it an absolute joy in the glass. I reviewed the 2019 and loved it, but this wine, from a similar vintage, has a deeper perfume with a bouquet of peony, lavender and lilacs lifting from this dark violet/magenta and ruby colored wine along with spiced berries and subtle minty herbs before leading to a medium bodied palate of silky black fruits including vine picked forrest huckleberry, plum, strawberry and Italian cherries along with a touch of earth, dusty cinnamon, an echo of florals, a iron/mineral element and a faint cedary note. The aromatics are so captivating at this stage it is hard to keep your core away from the rim to soak in all of this beauty which compares well to a morning walk in the flower garden when the smells are completely seducing and at their most intense and the textural feel is fabulous in a wine without any heaviness, it has the sensation I sometimes and hope to find in Vosne-Romanee wines, a heavenly sense of seamless balance and lengthy after taste, this 2018 Sheldon Graciano is addictive and wildly delicious. As I noted recently, the Sheldon Graciano joins a celebration of obscurity along with Luke Nio’s Filomena St. Laurent, Arnot-Roberts’ Trousseau, Michael Cruse’s Tannat, Martha Stoumen’s Nero d’Avola and Jaimee Motely’s Mondeuse, to name a few fun and rare offerings from lesser known grapes in California.

The small basket pressed Sheldon Graciano was hand harvested from the tiny Luc’s Vineyard in the Fountaingrove AVA, of Sonoma County, not far from Healdsburg, and fermented slowly in ½ ton open top bins, using whole bunches and indigenous yeasts resulting in a naturally lower alcohol, light to medium bodied red wine with heightened aromatics, plus a spicy pop and a divine textural quality. A effort was made to keep everything nicely fresh, starting with the grapes coming in ripe, but at a bit lower Brix (sugars) and the fermentation was kept cool to ensure all the striking details were preserved and no new wood was used, only well seasoned French Burgundy barrels were used in this Graciano’s elevage, which usually lasts about 12 months. This Sheldon Graciano, comes from a small home vineyard on the cool rocky hillsides between Healdsburg and the Chalk Hill district in the newly formed AVA of Fountaingrove where the Sheldon’s get small amounts of Tempranillo, Grenache and Syrah as well, all of which, especially this Graciano, are tasty and aromatic expressions that are impeccably hand made, with these 2018s being outstanding offerings. Graciano, which is usually blended with Tempranillo in Rioja wines, can be a great solo varietal and as mentioned here, has been gaining traction in California, with some newer plantings coming online in Paso Robles, where the grape thrives, even in some unlikely blends, on the westside’s limestone soils, interestingly some of these vines were a mistake, as they were supposed to be a new Monastrell clone of Mourvedre, but happily they are being embraced by the growers and winemakers there, as well as being grown in the Arroyo Grande and Edna Valley areas as well, notably by Verdad winery. There is a lot to love in Sheldon’s lineup these days and highly get on this micro winery’s mailing list and be sure to check out their Sangiovese, Grenache and this Graciano while they are still available!
($38 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2019 Cameron Winery, Pinot Blanc “Giannani” Willamette Valley, Oregon.
Fast becoming one of my favorite white wines in Oregon, the Cameron Giovanni made exclusively from Pinot Blanc delivers smooth layers of apple driven fruits, brisk citrus, peach flesh, mineral tones, wet stone, as well as a touch of honey, herbs and white flowers. This vintage is zesty and has a bit more acidity than the last two of three versions and feels a touch lighter in style, but still very compelling and gains a nice textural form with air, it shines for its varietal character and freshness, making it a good Summer white and impeccable with a range of food and cuisine choices, including creamy soft cheeses, shell fish and herb crusted or lemon chicken dishes. As I have been saying for a while now, Pinot Blanc is becoming one of the best white grape expressions in Oregon, especially this one, as well as the very stylish versions crafted by Ken Wright and the talented Kelley Fox, both of which come from the coastal range side of the Willamette Valley, like the famed Freedom Hill Vineyard on marine sedimentary soils, while Cameron’s comes from the red hills of Dundee on the classic volcanic Jory soils, that gives a unique individual character with a touch of spice and that mineral streak.

The Cameron Pinot Bianco (Blanc) or “Giovanni” as winemaker John Paul calls it, is fermented in cool stainless steel tanks, which the winery notes, typically is from 3 different lots of estate grown grapes that are from non irrigated vines with appropriately chosen cultures of aromatic yeasts, and bottled early after a short 6 to 8 months in its exuberant youth, to preserve vitality, usually in the early Spring, after harvest. John Paul, who’s Cameron Winery is one of best known and admired Pinot Noir producers in the Dundee Hills AVA of Oregon’s Willamette Valley, has been influenced and inspired by the winemakers of northern Italy, especially the wines of Friuli, Alto Adige and Piedmonte regions. In this case he brings a little bit of the Dolomites to us with his Giovanni, it shows the beautiful crisp details and mineral charm of some the top producers there, like Manincor and Terlano. The Italian style lineup at Cameron (what they call Cameronis) includes a fabulous Nebbiolo, that will certainly surprise and impress the Barolo and Barbaresco drinkers out there with its purity and classic Langhe personality, plus a collection of whites, including this 100% Pinot Blanc and the Friuli style Fruliano blend of Friulano, Pinot Bianc, Pinot Grigio and Auxerrois along with a small touch of Moscato, as well as the skin contact “Ramato” coppery Pinot Grigio. All of these are fantastic values and intriguing wines.
($20 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2018 Hundred Suns, Grenache, Elephant Mountain Vineyard, Yakima Valley, Washington State.
Grant Coulter and Rene Saint-Amour’s Hundred Suns winery, based in McMinnville, is one of the most exciting labels in Oregon these days and while Grant’s experience with Beaux Freres, as head winemaker, makes him a top gun in Pinot Noir, he also made their rare estate Grenache, which I was lucky enough to have tasted and had bottles of when I first met him at Beaux Freres back in 2008, so it was exciting to see his new take on Grenache with his own Hundred Suns, which is sourced from Elephant Mountain in Washington State’s Yakima Valley. This 2018 is a thrill ride of unique layers of energy filled red fruits and a feral earthy/savory edginess, it reminds me of the first time I tasted Christophe Barron’s Cayuse, No Girls and Horsepower Grenache wines, it is really an amazing wine with a full bodied palate and is texturally sublime, all accented by a racy array of spices, floral details and tangy herbs. There is a cascade of black plum, pomegranate, loads of strawberry and brambly raspberry fruits along with touches of briar, pepper, shaved cinnamon stick, kirsch, minty notes, cedar and warm roof tiles. Grenache freaks will go absolutely orgasmic for this dark ruby hued wine, it is an incredible version of this grape that will appeal to those that love some of rarities, it is more like what you would find in the Sierra de Gredos, rather that in the Rhone Valley, but with its own intriguing twist of character and with a singular charm.

This Hundred Suns Grenache comes from the Warden silty loam soils of Yakima’s Elephant Mountain Vineyard in the Rattlesnake Hills, set at good elevation and seeing a big swing in day and night temps here, allowing for beautiful fruit density and ripeness, but with good natural acidity and freshness, which Coulter really achieved here in his 2018 vintage, a long and cooler than average growing cycle. This stuff has 14.2% natural alcohol and feels wonderfully balanced with a pleasure inducing warm mouth feel that is elegantly silken without losing its vivid and lively personality. Grant took great care and put a lot of thought into this Grenache and he went with 100% whole cluster and a hybrid carbonic maceration in a sealed small fermentor, then after 20 days the still intact berries and clusters are pressed and allows to go through spontaneous indigenous (yeast) fermentation, after which it saw 12 months in terra-cotta amphora and then another five months in neutral french oak before being bottled unfined and unfiltered. All of this pain staking hand crafted technique pays off in the way this complex wine shows off in the glass and gives this impressive Grenache its distinction and makes it ever more alluring and seductive, it is especially good with food, where it deepens and gains a more profound impact and fruit truly excels. Sadly this 2018 Grenache is hard wine to find, I certainly wished I had bought a few more bottles, a mistake I didn’t make on their extremely limited Space Cat Rosé. The latest set of Hundred Suns is an impeccable collection of wines, with the Pinots and the Gamay from the 2019 vintage being unmissable and remarkable values, in particular the Old Eight Cut and the single vineyard Sequitur and Shea offerings!
($40 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

2019 Nanclares y Prieto, Albarino, Dandelion, Rias Baixas DO, Galicia, Spain.
Always a treat and a tasty one, the Nanclares Albarino Dandelion 2019 delivers a vibrant crisp apple led light bodied palate with zesty lime and light spritz, making so good with briny sea foods like sardines and or mackerel as well as oysters and claims too. There is a hint of saline, crushed wet rock and steely mineral, all of which give this vintage a nice contrast and it is very compelling, though less densely complex as the upper end Crus and the estate bottling that see more lees aging. That said, this little wine delivers everything it promises and is a fantastic value. As I have mentioned many times, Alberto Nanclares, based in the Cambados, started in the mid nineties just tending a vineyard in his semi retirement home as a hobby is now one of the greatest producers of fine Albariño in Galicia’s famous Rias Baixas region crafting an awesome set of single vineyard versions as well as his regional Dandelion cuvee and this outstanding example, known as the “Alberto Nanclares” or sometimes referred to as the “Estate” with the grapes all coming from the Val do Salnés sub zone. Nanclares brought the talented Silvia Prieto on board a few years ago now and has gone from strength to strength with her energy and commitment helping lift this label to new heights and expanding the range of wines with the additions of a few red wines, including an elegant and complex Mencia from grapes coming from the Ribeira Sacra.

The Nanclares y Prieto winery is now all organic and has added some biodynamiques to their practices, even employing compost from collect seaweed from the near by Atlantic Ocean, all which proves their dedication, in this humid region that is terribly difficult to farm without convention methods. But, the wines have really benefited from this extraordinary effort and they are unbelievably compelling wines, especially this one which saw natural winemaking in the cellar with only a tiny dose of sulfur and native yeast fermentation with no malos and 90% stainless steel and 10% used French oak cask being used here. The Dandelion cuvee, as noted in my prior reviews, is the freshest and most fruit forward of Nanclares’ Albarino(s) coming from 30 to 60 year old vines near Val do Salnés grown on sand and granite soils, right at sea level with locally historic pergola training. The organic grown Dandelion is fermented with native yeast, naturally, in stainless steel with no malo and bottled unfined and unfiltered allowing the complete capture of every nuance and terroir elements. Nanclares y Prieto, led by the humble and hard working Alberto Nanclares and his youthful and talented partner Silvia Prieto are one of best producers and super stars from the Cambados area of the Rias Baixas region. The Nanclares wines are all made from organic grapes and show the cool Atlantic influences. If you’ve not had these Nanclares y Prieto wines, you need really should, they are some of the most delicious being made in the Rias Baixas!
($20 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2018 Felsina, Chianti Classico DOCG, Castelnuovo Berardenga, Tuscany, Italy.
Sitting in between the amazing 2016 and the pretty and fresh 2017 vintages in style, the 2018 Felsina Chianti Classico is a solid effort with many attractive features and is lovely with food with classic Felsina Sangiovese density and purity, it shows a ripe smooth palate of red berry fruits, spice, dried flowers, a subtle earthiness and lingering kirsch notes. This vintage gives plenty for the money, but just doesn’t excite the senses as much as the last two versions, though its still very charming, again especially with a meal, it won’t take center stage or draw a lot of attention, it is more a companion, rather than a stand out. The 2018 gets better with air and ends on a high note with layers of plum, raspberry, strawberry and mulberry coming through along with grainy tobacco leaf, silky tannins, mocha/toffee, minty herb, licorice and a faint cedary note. This invitingly deeply crimson/garnet hued wine, always a favorite and a go to when I want some Tuscany or Sangiovese in my life, usually when I make pasta, as I did last night, it reminds me of driving through Chianti Classico’s beautiful hillsides with its old growth forrest, castles and sloping vines that capture the amazing light that makes this place so remarkable, it is like a magical kingdom, from Florence to Siena.

The Felsina Chianti Classico, 100% Sangiovese, was fermented and macerated in stainless steel tanks for almost two weeks with pneumatic (programmed) punchdowns and daily pump-overs. Once primary fermentation was complete the wine went into medium-size Slavonian oak barrels, and a small percentage into twice and thrice used oak barrels for 12 months of elevage, after which the final blend was chosen, or put together, and then bottled. As noted here many times, this wine comes from vineyards, as the winery notes, that are all located in the Castelnuovo Berardenga commune, in the southeastern part of the Chianti Classico appellation, as noted, to the southeast of Siena. Almost without exception, these vines are exclusively with a southwestern exposure, that delivers full ripeness, they sprawl across hilly slopes at an altitude ranging from 320-420 meters above sea level that allows a night time chill even in the heat of Summer, making for balanced and expressive Sangiovese. Geologically, again as the winery adds, these vineyards have distinct and individual underpinnings with an array of soils, with the higher parts seeing predominantly quartz and calcareous alberese mixed with alluvial pebbles as well as strataform sandstone and loams that add to the overall quality and complexity in Felsina’s lineup. I high recommend grabbing all the 2016s from Felsina you can find, this wine, plus the top Crus, Rancia and the Fontalloro and the Riserva Black label, that said, this 2018 won’t disappoint either.
($28 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

Grapelive.com Reviews – April, 2021

2019 Clos de la Roilette, Fleurie “Cuvee Tardive” Cru Beaujolais, France.
One of Beaujolais’ most classic producers, the Clos de la Roilette in Fleurie, run by Alain and Alexis Coudert, is a small estate that made traditional wines of old vine concentration, texture and complexity, but that are always wonderfully delicious with a bit of raw earthiness along with the granite influenced mineral tones. This 2019 Cuvee Tardive is beautifully round and silken with pretty floral detail, dark berry fruit and hints of spice, leather and walnut wood, the opulent and ripe medium bodied palate delivers crushed blackberry, plum, strawberry and kirsch as well as touches of cinnamon, anise, rose oil and orange tea. I loved the depth of fruit and ease of drinkability here, this is a fine example of elegant and pure Gamay from Fleurie, though these vines in particular are close to Moulin A Vent and have that Cru’s influence and muscle tone, it is really enthralling now, but looks to have substance and structure to age with studied evolution and grace. The deep garnet and ruby hued Tradive is really appealing and gets more and more interesting in the glass with its pure Gamay charm bringing many happy smiles, it is a tasty treat and a top value still in a world of ever increasing demand for these Fleurie and Cru Beaujolais wines and rising prices.

The Clos de la Roillette, is in fact not a “Clos” or walled vineyard (estate) and this Cuvee Tardive, is not a later picked wine, so the label is a bit misleading, though neither takes away from the pleasure in the bottle! This wine, the Cuvée Tardive, is always crafted using the estate’s oldest vines, which are now 80 plus years old, set on the heavy clay and granite soils, again just inside the Fleurie zone with a cooler northeast exposures, which allows this wine to preserve its fresh and lively acidity. The domaine Clos de la Roilette got its name from the prior owner’s prized race horse Roilette and the iconic yellow horse label remains a big part of this estate’s identity. Clos de la Roilette has been around more than a hundred years, but it was in serious decline and most of the vines had gone feral when the Couderts took it over in 1967, and after a lot of hardwork, they turned things around and have especially flourished under the guidance of Alain, who after joining the winegrowing team in 1984 turned the property into one of the region’s most admired producers. The Cuvee Tardive is 100% whole cluster with a spontaneous native yeast primary fermentation, it is done in open-top, neutral wood vats with, as the winery notes, the cap submerged for an extended maceration, that lasts for Tardive about 18 days. The aging or elevage is on the lees in old foudres, typically it is raised about 9 months in the wood before bottling with low SO2. These Clos de la Roilette wines are very authentic and joyful offerings, and these 2019s are exceptional, especially this attractive Cuvee Tardive.
($30 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2020 Pax Wines, Charbono, Lushsinger Vineyard, Lake County.
The fresh new Luchsinger Vineyard Charbono is vividly electric purple and tangy on the palate, made with 100% whole cluster and indigenous yeasts, it is a semi carbonic easy drinking red wine that shows a fun mix of bright blackberry, açaí and tart plum fruits and crunchy savory elements, mineral tones, floral detail, wild herbs and zesty acidity. This Glou Glou (quaffable) low alcohol Charbono was aged for just 5 months in large, well seasoned, French 500L puncheons to allow for a bit of leesy texture, but to preserve all of the vibrantl youthful form, it is like a California Cru Beaujolais and fans of Valdiguie will love this stuff that clocks in at about 12% natural alcohol, it is best enjoyed with a slight chill and simple foods. As the winery notes, Charbono, as it is known as in California is also known as Bonarda in Argentina, and thought to be originally from northern Italy, plus Douce Noire in France’s high alpine region of Savoie. This rare varietal has been here since at least just before WWII and was once highly planted in Napa Valley, and Pax says Charbono has a storied place in the history of California wine with styles over the years that have ranged from medium-bodied and snappy, as his version is done to richly extracted, almost Zinfandel like, and aged in flashy new oak barrels, as done by Toffanelli, one of the last to make in Napa from old vines in the Calistoga area. My first experience with Charbono came about by ancient, when I grabbed a bottle of Turley Charbono (ages ago now) thinking it was one of their Zins, and wow, I had to get more and went on a Charbono finding mission, finding a disappointing amount of options, but tasty ones, like Summers, at the time in the remote area between Napa and Knights Valley, so I was glad when Pax turned his talents to this remarkable grape a few years ago.

Pax Wines was founded back in 2000 by Pax and Pamela Mahle, this small California winery made a name for themselves with a stellar lineup of truly profound Syrah bottlings and helped start a wave of modern Rhone wines along side Copain, Big Basin and Drew to name a few and inspired many young winemakers, now Pax focuses on Syrah (still) and Gamay Noir from cool, coastal sites, as well as a selection of esoteric varieties, like this Charbono, Trousseau, Trousseau Gris and the Mission grape that showcase, as he puts it, the great diversity of California wine. From the vineyard to the cellar, Pax has become a proponent of natural wines and uses a holistic style of winemaking. This, Pax adds, means that all the fruit is grown using organic, sustainable, or biodynamic methods and no unnatural additions are applied in the winery, which all adds up to transparency and purity in the wines, which are more raw, much less polished than mainstream wines and they filled with their own personality, as his latest set of releases shows. This Pax Charbono is one of the first 2020 red California wines I’ve tried, and while nervous about smoke taint, this one shows no ill effects and is enjoyable I wish I had bought a lot more, and I’m really excited to try the rest of new wines, especially a brand new single varietal Freisa, the rare Piedmonte grape that smells and tastes of fresh picked strawberries and made famous in recent years by G.D. Vajra, who make one of the most impactful examples I’ve ever tried. After tasting Jolie-Laide’s version, I look forward to comparing it to Pax’s and of course I am equally geared up to try the latest Syrah and Gamay offerings as well, in these last few vintages there is so much to be thrilled about from this Sebastopol based winery and it is a great time to stock up, and or join Pax’s wine club, as they get first shot at these, moon phase label, value priced rarities!
($28 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2018 René-Jean Dard and François Ribo, Crozes-Hermitage Rouge, Northern Rhone, France.
The deeply purple and fresh 2018 edition of René-Jean Dard’s and François Ribo’s iconic natural wine styled Crozes-Hermitage is another no pretense and rawly delicious Syrah, it is always a wine to be thrilled to drink, and this vintage is everything fans of this small producer enjoy, it shows a pure and transparent medium bodied palate of classic earthy character with crushed violets, dark boysenberry, damson plum, black currant and kirsch fruits along with tapenade, peppercorns, a light Syrah funk, damp earth, flinty camphor, cedar and tarry black licorice. Not as dense in form as the warmer and ripe 2015, 2016 and 2017s, this 2018 is an energetic, fun and easy quaffer that might be a more entertaining wine in its youth, while the fruit is vibrant and nicely juicy still before the rougher edges, rustic details and a hint volatile acidity get more pronounced, these elements are well integrated now and add to the Dard and Ribo Crozes’ charm and complexity in their current state. This is a wonderfully delicious Syrah that absolutely could not be from anywhere else, it wears its terroir as a badge of honor and I wouldn’t change a thing here, it is a wine I could literally could drink almost everyday. Dard and Ribo have become one of the labels I covet and have become one of my rotation from the Northern Rhone along with Alain and Maxime Graillot, G. Gilles, Lionnet, Yves Cuilleron and Louis Barruol’s Sant-Joseph and Crozes Saint-Cosme bottlings, to name a few.

René-Jean Dard and François Ribo, who produce some of the most sought after natural Syrahs, are famously media shy and hermit like vignerons from Mercurol, north of Valence, founded their tiny Northern Rhone estate in 1984 with a small cellar and micro parcels of vines and a focus on non intervention wines. These humble winemakers, that have adult like following, are mostly known for the their reasonably priced Crozes-Hermitage and Saint-Joseph reds, also do a micro bottling of their “unicorn” Hermitage, which I have never seen available in California, as well as a nouveau style early release C’est le Printemps Crozes-Hermitage, a wine I reviewed at the beginning of the Covid lockdown last March, and not too far off the quality of its bigger brother, plus a Blanc made from Marsanne and Roussanne. As reported in my earlier reviews, the Dard and Ribo Crozes-Hermitage vines are all from organic plots, farmed without chemicals, mostly hillside, set on iron rich red clay soils with gravel and alluvial stones scattered throughout the vines, which give these wines true terroir character and this 2018 vintage shows the classic markers that this region is known for. Made with native yeasts and whole bunches with minimal intervention, Dard and Ribo commonly don’t use any sulphites (added sulfur) at all, although they are not driven by extreme dogma and really just want to make wines they themselves would enjoy without doing anything or thought toward anyone else’s expectations. With the following they have these Dard and Ribo wines take a bit of chasing, but the hunt is well worth it and rewarding.
($40 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2018 Nikkal Wines, Pinot Noir, Yarra Valley, Victoria, Australia.
The elegant, cool climate influenced, though slightly reductive Nikkal Pinot Noir is a barrel selection of Pinot Noir from three vineyard sites which, Nikkal Wines believes, truly captures the essence of the Yarra Valley region, an area of cool climate diversity and one of Australia’s best regions for Pinot Noir, as this tasty version shows with bright fruit intensity, silky texture and accented with delicate earthiness, spice and floral notes. This wonderfully expressive Pinot is luminous and vividly ruby in color with an array of red fruits on the satiny medium bodied palate, it starts with plenty of black cherry, garden picked strawberries, tart plum, cranberry and blood orange fruits, a light dusting of baking spices, aromatic tea leaf and herbs, along with a kiss of sweet toast from the French oak. The vigor and vitality is welcome, this Nikkal’s energy keeps everything flowing and racy, it stays fresh and entertaining in glass making it very easy to enjoy with many food choices, it takes on a deeper level of excitement with matching cuisine, it went especially well with grilled salmon and a salad. The reductive graphite and underbrush fades away with air, best to let this Pinot open for a short period of time to allow this to blow off and or decant, much in the same way you would with a young Burgundy, which this wine is not unlike.

This was my first try of a Nikkal Pinot and I was happily impressed with the quality and value, the packaging is also quite nice and I’d definitely enjoy this one again in the future, especially as I’m a fan of the Yarra Valley, which is not far from Melbourne, the Yarra Valley is also Victoria’s oldest wine region, dating back to 1838, it is one of the wine regions of the world that is on my bucket list to visit and explore much more in depth and in person. The Nikkal Pinot Noir Yarra Valley 2018 was sourced from three distinct vineyards, Upper Ngumby, at Steels Creek, Gist in the Christmas Hills, and the Willowlake in Gladysdale, they all play a significant role in making this wine more balanced and complex, giving this wine a core of structure as well as a sense of place. Winemaker Kate Goodman uses whole clusters and native yeast fermentation on her Nikkal Pinot, which adds to the thrill here with hints of pomegranate and its heightened bouquet. Each vineyard parcel of fruit for the Nikkal Yarra Valley Pinot is kept separate in the winery before and after fermentation with each lot done in small bins with each wine being matured in barrel for six months before the blending starts here. Then the final version settles in tank and then bottled, the faily short elevage is to promote its vibrancy of flavors, which shows in this 2018. There is a lot to like in this Nikkal Pinot and it is great way to start exploring the Yarra, this is a solid choice and the price here in the states makes it even more attractive.
($25 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2019 Sandlands Vineyards, Carignane, Contra Costa County.
I’ve been a fan of the Sandlands Carignane since I very first tried it and in fact it was the first Sandlands wine I got to taste, and I’ve been chasing bottles of it ever since, it is one of my favorites, though hard to get as the production is tiny and the demand for these wines always out strips supply. This grape, which doesn’t get the respect it certainly deserves, really excels here in the 2019 vintage, a smaller yielding year with a mostly long and cool growing season that allows for excellent flavor development and retaining an awesome freshness of detail with lively natural acidity as well as lower alcohols, similar in style, though maybe even better, to the fabulous 2018s that Tegan Passalacqua made here at Sandlands. The deep purple opaque old vine Carignane is at first crisply dry, tartly fresh and vibrant with a mix of zesty juiciness and savory crunchy elements with a medium bodied palate of crushed berries, plum, cherry and grilled orange fruits along with a nice mix of generous florals, spice and snappy herbs de Provence with just a kiss of cedary wood. As the wine opens, a more elegant and opulent side emerges and especially when matched with food it gains a beautiful roundness and textural quality, which is a common grace in these Sandlands wines, which are exceptionally well balanced and tasty efforts. The fruit really deepness with simple and or rustic cuisine, it matches well with BBQ, pasta dishes and wild mushrooms, at just 12.6% natural alcohol, it is a fun wine to enjoy with a slight chill, in much the same way you’d do with a Cru Beaujolais and the Sandlands Carignane is perfect for Spring and Summer outdoor dining. Carignane (or Carignan) is the main grape in the Corbieres region in France’s Languedoc, where you can find it in hearty reds and as a component in Rosé as well, it has a long history here in California, where it has long been part of field blends, usually picked and co-fermted with mixed blacks and as a part of heritage Zin blends.

As noted here in my reviews, and from the winery, Sandlands is the personal project of Turley Cellars head winemaker and vineyard manager Tegan and his wife Olivia Passalacqua. The line-up of Sandlands, as the Passalaqua’s add, encompasses many the forgotten classic California varieties, like this Carignane, plus Cinsault, Chenin Blanc, which is making a huge comeback and the extremely rare Mission grape, that are primarily grown on California’s decomposed granite (sand), from regions and vineyards that have been farmed for many generations, but have somehow, as Tegan puts it, remained the outliers of California viticulture. These vines are primarily old gnarly head-trained, dry-farmed and own rooted, with the vineyards Sandlands work with being sites that take us back to California’s roots. The wines here highlight the hardworking farmers of yesteryear and the honest and authentic wines of a different era, they pay tribute to the state’s fascinating history of rugged viniculture. Tegan Passalaqua’s Sandlands 2019 Contra Costa County Carignane, only 5 barrels produced was sourced from an old vine vineyard that was planted back in the 1920s in one of California’s most unique terroirs, it is set on what is classified as Dehli blow sand, that is made up of decomposed granite that has been deposited here by wind and water. Made using classic old school methods with lots of whole bunches, native yeast fermentation(s), with lots of gentle hands and feet being employed and aging or elevage being done in well seasoned (used) oak barrels. I know, these are unicorn wines and incredibly hard to get, but search them out, get on the mailing list and never miss a chance to enjoy them with friends, they are worth it! Carignane is a really compelling grape and I have been really thrilled by what this new generation of winemakers are doing with this grape here in California, especially in the wines of Ridge Vineyards, Broc Cellars, Liocco, Martha Stoumen, Desire Lines Wine Co., and in particularly here at Sandlands, keep an eye out for these tasty versions.
($28 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2015 Lindes de Remelluri, Vindeos de Labastida, Rioja DO, Spain.
When it comes to value in hand crafted small lot Rioja, the non estate Lindes de Remelluri bottlings by Telmo Rodriguez at his family’s Remelluri are top of my list and this particular offering is my absolute favorite and my go to wine. This 2015 version of the Lindes de Remelluri Vindeos de Labastida is wonderfully pure, deep in ripe flavors and gorgeous in the glass with its dark opaque purple/garnet color, it is incredibly inviting and seductive with impeccable layering of seamless Tempranillo led fruit, showing dense, but elegant blackberry, mulberry, plum and kirsch along with subtle earth, anise, chalky stones, cedar, plus pretty mineral and floral notes all in a taut full bodied wine that impressively lingers for minutes in the aftertaste. This wine way over delivers for the price, it is truly stunning from start to finish and is loaded with pleasure and damn near perfect Rioja in every respect, highlighting the massive talent that is Telmo Rodriguez, one of Spain’s leading lights and one of the world’s great winemakers. This wine was was fermented using all native yeasts in cool stainless steel tanks and then raised in barrel, 100% French oak for 12 months before bottling, then once in bottle it is rested a good amount of time in the cellar to mature as well. There’s a lot to process here as this beautiful Labastida opens up, it adds finer points and sensuality to its opulent profile with hints of pencil lead, minty herb, lilacs and delicate spices with the warm vintage giving a sweet tannin, allowing this wine to drink fabulously well right now, though I suspect it will continue to develop in intriguing ways for many more years.

Grown at elevation, from very old vines in the Rioja Alavesa zone, set on chalky soils, the Labastida shows wonderful depth, life from the cooler night time temps up here and the noted length, this Lindes de Remelluri is made from mostly ancient vine Tempranillo, though it likely has a good dose of Graciano and Garnacha as well, though Telmo is always coy with exact varietal content, preferring to speak only of place, rather than the grapes in the blend. Telmo is noted for making for a complex wines of sublime texture and detail, anyone not familiar with his wines should try them as soon as possible, and without question never miss the chance to taste his Remelluri Rioja Blanco, it might be the greatest white wine in Spain and truly unique, rivaling both classic white Burgundies and Hermitage Blanc. As noted in my earlier reviews, Telmo Rodriguez, one of the most iconic and best winemakers of his generation, having made wine at Jean-Louis Chave in Hermitage and at a few Chateaux in Bordeaux, returned to his family’s Remelluri estate back in 2008. He has accomplished himself as a champion of terroir over varietal and employs artisan craftsmanship in the cellar, with his wines hardly ever showing overt oak or aggressive alcohol, they always show distinctive purity and a sense of place, and these secondary wines known as Lindes de Remmelluri are magnificent expressions of Rioja, they are richly flavored and soulful wines crafted from old vine purchased fruit from vineyards that prior had got into the family’s main wine. These two vineyard select wines, this Labastida and this San Vincente, which is slightly more feral and raw, sourced from vineyards that used to go into the Remelluri Reserva, but that are now separated into these two new single vineyard bottlings. I always love these Remelluri Riojas, especially this one, I will certainly get a few more for myself and highly recommend it.
($26 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

2018 Brick House “Clos Ladybug” Casserole Red Wine, Ribbon Ridge, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
The delightful and elegant Clos Ladybug, by Doug Tunnell at the famed Brick House, is a unique blend of Pinot Noir, Gamay and a splash of Chardonnay in what is a tribute to the rare Bourgogne Passetoutgrain (Passe-Tout-Grains), which are made from a Burgundy grown blend of Gamay and Pinot Noir, these French versions are sometimes the region’s best values as well as best kept secrets, with Tunnell’s all biodynamic Willamette Valley example also being a great secret value in his beautiful collection of estate wines. This lighter and brighter Clos Ladybug is an easy to love and quaff red wine with nice acidity and silky textures with vibrant layers of tree picked tart plum, strawberry, cherry and red apple skin fruits, a light sense of cedary wood, wild herbs, delicate florals and mineral notes. The mouth feel is refined and smooth, getting nicely lush with air and while seemingly simple at first the Clos Ladybug opens up to reveal some serious depth and adds some welcome earthiness, saline stony elements and umami to the medium bodied juicy palate, making for a graceful and balanced wine that is best with a slight chill and served with less complicated meals. Founded back in 1990, Brick House continues to be one of the Willamette Valley’s most inspiring organic estates, renown for their Pinot Noir and Chardonnay wines and one of the first to plant and make true Gamay Noir in the state.

The traditionally made Clos Ladybug – Casserole is an all estate offering with 42% Pinot Noir, 53% Gamay Noir and 5% Chardonnay from fully Demeter certified biodynamic grapes at Brick House in the Ribbon Ridge AVA, with the region’s classic marine sedimentary soils and hillside vines. According to the winery, the idea behind Clos Ladybug came about in 2017 when owner and winemaker, Doug Tunnell and his cellar team noticed that there was a few small bins of Gamay and Pinot Noir leftover and were at a loss as what to do with them, when Tunnell, a huge Burgundy enthusiat, suggested that these leftover grapes be thrown together in a single fermentor. The Clos Ladybug was thus born for the first time, in a style very similar to those Burgundian ‘passe tout grains’ which are village-level Cuvees of Gamay and Pinot Noir, which the crew then decided to add a little Chard for good measure, thinking that would add a bit of texture, and nicknamed their creation a Casserole! So this dark ruby colored 2018 Clos Ladybug Gamay/Pinot Noir, with that tiny amount of Chard, is the second vintage here, it was a co-fermented wine done with gentle winemaking techniques and aged in what tastes like mostly used French oak barrels with just a hint of toasty sweetness. This wine will certainly keep a place in the lineup and is a fun way to get to know this pioneering producer, who’s outstanding Pinot Noir bottlings are some of Oregon’s greatest ever wines.
($30 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2000 Domaine Gramenon, Cotes du Rhone Rouge, Le Gramenon, Rhone Valley, France.
Another gem from a perfect cellar, the Le Gramenon Cotes du Rhone 2000 is drinking amazing with remarkable elegance and depth of flavors with plenty of maturity, but with lovely freshness, this little Cotes du Rhone is drinking better than a lot of top Chateauneufs at this point. The Domaine Gramenon was founded back in 1979 and has been a leader of biodynamic, organic and holistic natural wines in the region ever since, making this 2000 vintage an even greater and welcome surprise, that it has aged so gracefully and with impeccable clarity is a testament to the care in the vineyard and run the cellar by the Aubèry-Laurent family. The 2000 Le Gramenon shows Syrah like essences with waxy blueberry, violets and some savory elements, which is not uncommon for wines in this part of the southern Rhone, like Saint Cosme’s Cotes du Rhone, that is made from 100% Syrah, and the palate is mineral toned, softy tannic and medium bodied at this point in its life with an array of pretty red berries, a touch of stewed plum, that is very much in line with this wine’s age, light peppery spices, a touch of iron/meatiness, dried porporri and old cedar. This dark garnet/ruby (with just a hint orange on the edges) Cotes du Rhone opens nicely and holds on, it doesn’t crash into a sous bois or balsamic mess, instead the fruit stays sweet and even pairs well with hearty foods, which I maybe unfairly chose to match it with, in fact it never lost its sense of poise throughout the few hours I was sipping it.

Domaine Gramenon, based in the Vinsobres zone, as importer, the famed Kermit Lynch explains, is the authentic embodiment of the (natural winegrowing and no additions in the cellar) philosophies that the Laurents espouse, adding that, they do not merely champion (their) organic farming, but they incorporate the concept of sustainability into their daily lives by growing their own food crops and raising their own animals. The domaine bottles an AOC Vinsobres of course, plus many single cru wines from parcels, of mainly Grenache, but with lots of Syrah too, their own Côtes-du-Rhône Appellation vines, all of which are located around the domaine and set on clay and limestone soils with some plots seeing classic galets, the large river stones that are most notable in the Chateauneuf du Pape area. Domaine Gramenon, now led by Maxime François Laurent, uses gravity-fed tanks, cement and stainless to ferment, with indigenous yeasts and no additions, with exceptionally low sulfites (SO2) and age the wines in a combination of well used (neutral) oak demi-muids and foudres. As this very old Cotes du Rhone shows the wines has exceptional purity and lasting vibrancy and anyone that loves the Rhone, will want to explore the range of wines made here at Gramenon, I recommend, especially, the 100% Syrah Sierra du Sud Cotes du Rhone and the Ceps Centenaires La Mémé, that comes from 100 plus year old Grenache vines!
($40 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2019 Lucia by The Pisoni Family, Chardonnay, Soberanes Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands.
These 2019s from Pisoni are some of the most complete and complex bottlings they have ever produced, this is not a vintage to miss from them, and the Santa Lucia Highlands, with this gorgeous Soberanes Chardonnay being one of the top picks here, this profound wine is one of the best I’ve tried from the region offering amazing fruit density, fascinating textural layers, inner energy and length for days. While obviously known for their legendary estate Pinot Noir, the Pisoni Chards are now a match for the Pinots and in some vintages they are the best wines and this 2019 is a mind-blowing example with the same impact that the state’s best wines show, from Mount Eden, Littorai, Peay, Brewer-Clifton, Marcassin to the Morlet Family, Hanzell, Aubert and or Peter Michael, where Jeff Pisoni cut his teeth as a winemaker, this Soberanes rivals these elite efforts. This is a monumental version from a vineyard site that is fast becoming one of the top Crus in California, producing exciting Pinot Noir, outstanding Syrah, one of the secrets of the site, and incredible luscious Chardonnay, formed by various unique Burgundy and heritage clones, including the Old Wente Clone that adds intense concentration and depth. The Soberanes Chardonnay is beautifully bright and delicately perfumed with cascade of rich flavors on the broad and full bodied palate with orange blossoms, subtle sweet oak toast, wet stones and peach flesh revolving around a core of golden delicious apple, bosq pear and lemon curd fruits. The 2019 just keeps on going and going, it deserves a meal to enhance with it, especially something like a decedent lobster tail, and or at least a round of Époisses de Bourgogne, the famous pungent creamy cheese with its rind washed in brine and Marc de Bourgogne, the local pomace brandy, Burgundy’s version of Cognac.

The Soberanes Vineyard, set high up on the SLH bench, which again was farming partnership between Pisoni and Franscioni families, bears the family name of José María Soberanes, who marched from Mexico to Monterey Bay with the famed Portolá expedition, and his son Feliciano, who, as the Pisoni’s note, acquired the 8,900-acre land grant (here in the what became the Santa Lucia Highlands) as repayment for his loan of forty horses, fifty head of cattle, four oxen and some sheep for the journey. Cooled by the near by Pacific Ocean and the deep cold water of the Monterey Bay, and sitting adjacent to famous Garys’ Vineyard, the Soberanes Vineyard is set on the classic sandy loams, with soils, as the winery adds, that boast significant sub-soil boulders layered into the alluvial fan with a complex array of mineral deposits as well, all of which provides the vines everything they need to deliver absolute world class quality. The 2019, like the majestic 2018s, were formed by the long col growing conditions here allowing the deep flavor development and still having refreshing acidity, with the ’19s having maybe a slight edge with smaller yields and fabulous structure. Jeff Pisoni, the family’s hugely talented winemaker, hand crafts these wines from his state of the art facility in Sonoma, where is is still one of the most sought after consultants, using the best selection of the family’s grapes, which are also some of the best farmed in California. These hand picked Chardonnay grapes come in cool to the winery and are gently treated with only gravity flow of the juice with Pisoni using 100% native yeast barrel fermentations employing about 40% new French oak and with the wine being raised for close to 15 months before bottling. This wine shows its lees aging and really opens up with air with additional dimension coming out, it just awesome with a light hazelnut, lavish mouth feel and its brilliant vitality, this is stunning stuff.
($65 Est.) 97 Points, grapelive

2018 Bodegas y Vinedos Raul Perez, Ultreia, Saint Jacques, Valtuille de Abajo, Bierzo DO, Spain.
Raul Perez’s 2018 Ultreia Mencia based Saint Jacques from the Beizo region of Spain is wonderfully fresh and vibrant, perfect with a big bowl of spicy steamed mussels and pomme frites, showing bright dark berry fruits, nice acidity and mineral notes. I am a big fan of this bottling, which is juicy and easy to enjoy in its youth, somewhere between a Cru Beaujolais and a Crozes-Hermitage in style with blackberry, dark cherry and plum fruits along with a hint of dried flowers, cinnamon, anise and chalky stones. Some of the bigger wines from this area can take on a more dense, Cab Franc like character, but Perez’s wines are less heavy and give a more authentic Mencia profile with some rustic edges, but with an over abundance of charm. These Raul Perez wines, all made from organic grapes, are stylish efforts that showcase this region’s soils and climate, which is moderate and continental, a bit drier and warmer than the more coastal Ribeira Sacra and with more limestone and clay that gives the rich textural and deeper flavors. This medium bodied wine has loads of energy and fine tannins, making it wonderful with all kinds of foods, though it goes gracefully or better with more simple dishes, it is a nice companion to a range of hard cheeses, like Basque Idiazábal and or aged Manchego.

As noted in my prior reviews, the Raul Perez Ultreia Saint Jacques (mostly old vine Mencia) is multi vineyard old vine field blend style red from Bierzo’s Valtuille zone comes from vineyard plots ranging in age from 80 to 120 years old shows Mencia in a richer form than say the Ribeira Sacra, but includes inter-planted other varietals, including a small bit of Bastardo (believed to be Trousseau) and Garnacha Tintorera (Alicante Bouschet). As noted in my reviews and from what Perez has noted, he uses lots of whole bunches that keeps things well balanced and the fruit is contrasted by earthy, savory notes, bright spices and (crunchy) mineral elements. Raul Perez is a grand master of Mencia and the godfather of the Bierzo region with a huge impact on how this wine is seen world wide, clearly defining what it is and should be. His influence and generous guidance to young winemakers has launched a whole generation of Spanish talents with many on their way to super stardom. This Ulteia Saint Jacques is one of Perez’s entry level bottlings, but you’d be hard pressed to find anything lacking here, though his upper end cru stuff is out of this world. The Saint Jacques was about 80% whole cluster and fermented with indigenous yeasts in large wooden vats with maceration(s) lasting between two and five months, which is a long cool period, which adds to the dimension in this beautiful Tinto. The wine, after primary is then rack to an assortment of vessels to age with a combination of French casks including 225L, 500L, foudre and with some of the wine seeing its elevage in cement cuve, after which the Saint Jacques was bottled unfined and unfiltered. This vintage seems a touch lighter than the 2015, 2016 and 2017, but has a elegant roundness that is highly compelling, I recommend enjoying over the next 2 to 3 years.
($24 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2018 Cullen Wines, Dancing in the Sun, White Wine, Margaret River, Western Australia.
The light and fresh Dancing in the Sun white wine by the famed Cullen Wines in the Margaret River is an all organic and unique blend of of 54% Semillon, 43% Sauvignon Blanc and 3% Verdelho, it is an Aussie white Bordeaux like hybrid that is a delightful Summer quaffer. This is the first time tasting this blend, while I’ve loved their Sem/Sauv’s in the past, this Dancing in the Sun shows loads of bright lemony flavors and vibrant acidity with layers of citrus, tangy white peach, gooseberry and wild herbs along with wet stones, a touch of waxy apple and lingering lemon curd. The 2018 Cullen Wines Dancing in the Sun is vivid still and light to medium bodied with a nice balance of tart fruit and subtle textural creaminess that is starting to develop, it is more serious than the first impression and a wine that goes great with a range of cuisine, especially with lighter sea food dishes and goat cheese, as well as roast chicken breast. Vanya Cullen, who has been winemaking at her family’s Wilyabrup estate since 1983, and was appointed to Chief Winemaker in 1989, after which the world discovered just how good these Cullen Wines are. As Managing Director, which she rose to back in 1999, Vanya is a Bordeaux style specialist, crafting awesome Cabernet based wines as well as her white blends and if you haven’t tried these wines you really should.

One of the first premium estates of Margaret River area of Western Australia, Cullen Wines was established when the Cullen’s, Kevin and Diana, first planted vines in 1971 in the unique Wilyabrup area with its red ochre soils and up river Ocean influence. All of Cullen’s vines are certified biodynamic and were pioneers in this region with holistic farming and are even carbon negative, they are ultra sustainable and great stewards of their environment, all of which shows in their beautiful wines, especially the Bordeaux style reds and this lovely white. Wilybrup is a very noteworthy region in its own right, as evidenced in the Cullen efforts, all terroir driven with distinct flavors and its own climate, this place has been recognized as a world class zone, and notably when in 1999 Cullen Wines and Moss Wood, other fantastic estate here, held a sub region tasting event to celebrate the long history here and with a look to the future of the Cabernet Sauvignon and Chardonnay grown here, which predicted the greatnesses of the wines that have emerged since then. This Dancing in the Sun white wine with its Semillon, Sauvignon and Verdelho is a fun offering with beautiful crisp details, delicate florals and coastal saline, it delivers everything you’d want want in a white wine of this price, making it a wonderful value and shows off a region that is little known in the States.
($20 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2019 I. Brand & Family Winery, Melon de Bourgogne, Graff Family Vineyard, Chalone AVA, Monterey County.
The unique quince, bitter melon, saline and stony, mineral laced Melon de Bourgogne by Ian Brand is an austere and low alcohol white wine that pays homage to the Atlantic influenced wines of Muscadet in the western Loire, but with a modern twist and flourish, in a wine that transforms into a real beauty with food, especially briny dishes, perking up the aromatics, the fruit and softening the racy acidity. As a Muscadet fan, especially the wines of Frederic Niger at Domaine de L’Ecu, which are tasty with classic oysters and soft cheeses, they are salty fresh and leesy, so it was interesting to see how Ian would approach this wine, clearly he did his magic here and this is delicious stuff. Brand, who was one of the first to realize that what we once thought was Pinot Blanc here at Chalone was actually Melon de Bourgogne, the grape of Muscadet fame, and while some chose to continue to label it as Pinot Blanc, others chose to embrace the true identity and take wine winemaking steps to exploit the grape’s natural character, with a few nicknaming it Melon de Chalone, which I think is most fitting as these vines (and wines from here) are certainly distinctly their own and terroir driven. As this crisply detailed white gets air through it it stubbornly gains its leesy, skin contact texture and reveals tart peach, lemony citrus, wet stone and chalk from the classic limestone soils, as well as a touch of sour herbs, almond oil and verbena. This is non overt wine, serious with a purpose and a wine that will gain a select following with the wine geek crowd and it is going to be more compelling for the anti-Chardonnayers. When asked about his Melon de Bourgogne, Ian, with his dry humor says “ I think it worked out…” That it did and now I might have get a few more bottles for oyster slurping!

Known for his exceptional work with Grenache and Mourvedre, Ian Brand is a noted vineyard whisperer, finding and rejuvenating some lesser known or forgotten gems on the Central Coast, preferring out of the way and remote places to source his grapes, making a fabulous collection of no nonsense wines that offer tremendous value and rarity, with his Enz Vineyard Mourvedre being a huge standout. Ian is mostly thought of as a red wine wine guy, but I have always liked a few of his whites, in particular his versions of Albarino, which his sells under his La Marea label, which under he does his Spanish influenced wines, including two Albarinos (one with partial skin contact) and his Sierra de Gredos inspired Garnacha like Central Coast Grenache. Recently Ian added a classy Escolle Chardonnay and this Graff Family Vineyard Melon de Bourgogne to his top lineup of I. Brand & Family wines, both very worthy of your attention. The Graff Family Vineyards label wines were in later years were made by Ian, but now have been folded into Ian’s signature collection with a 100% Syrah, and Rhone Red Blend and this Melon all finding a good home here in the latest lineup. The Graff Family Vineyard, run by Phil Woodward, who was a partner in the famous Chalone winery along with the late Richard Graff, one of California’s historic figures and was set up to provide a trust to Graff’s children with proceeds still going to the family. I collect Ian’s Grenache and Mourvedre, but I must say I am falling for his Loire inspired Melon, which its 11.2% natural alcohol zestiness and his Chinon like Bayly Ranch Cabernet Franc, with its earthy intense palate, don’t miss these! There is a lot to like in Brand’s wines from the playful Le P’tit Paysan line, with the Rosé and Chateaneuf blend delivering bang for the buck to his Bordeaux like Bates Ranch Cab Franc and Montebello Road Cabernet Sauvignon leading his top offers, it is a good time check out these tasty efforts.
($32 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2016 Domaine Chambeyron, Cote-Rotie “La Chavarine” Northern Rhone, France.
The beautifully inky and elegantly textured La Chavarine by Chambeyron is a regal and luxurious Cote-Rotie with stunning Syrah purity, this is an outstanding wine that drinks amazing for being so youthful with supple tannins and remarkable depth of flavor. The Ampuis based Domaine Chambeyron, a solid performer in the appellation, really put everything together in their 2016s and this one really stands out with exceptional fruit density, mouth feel and a super long aftertaste with layers of blackberry, blueberry compote, damson plum, kirsch and creme de cassis which is nicely supported by subtle floral dimension, light peppercorn, fig paste and anise along with a touch of tapenade, cedar and a mineral/graphite note.

Offering some great value this Domaine does a tight collection of small production wines from Cote-Rotie as well as a Condrieu, plus a couple of entry level Cotes du Rhone bottlings, which I’m excited to try in the future, especially after tasting this gorgeous La Chavarine. The Domaine Chambeyron La Chavarine is a special cuvee coming off estate parcels in two of the best sites, it is sourced from the decomposed granite soils of the two famous vineyards of La Chavaroche in the Côte Brune and Lancement in the Côte Blonde, both with a combined average age of 50 years. The La Chavarine is whole cluster pressed and fermented in cement vats with indigenous yeasts in Chambeyron’s gravity fed cellars where it was handled with extreme care, with a small basket press and was then raised in large 400L casks. This is deep purple/black, heady and lush Cote-Rotie that is a stunning value too, drink this gem over the next decade!
($55 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2019 Beaux Freres, Pinot Noir “The Second Cousin” Willamette Valley, Oregon.
The entry set of wines at the famed Beaux Freres in the Willamette Valley’s Ribbon Ridge AVA are their Les Cousins Pinot Noir sourced from a wide selection of vineyards throughout the Valley and this unique The Second Cousin bottling that was produced solely from barrels (of Les Cousins) that showed a touch of Brettanomyces, a very curious and brave experiment from such a revered property, considering how evil “Brett” can be perceived, and as someone that is non to fond of it and flaws, I was surprised by how pure and enjoyable this elegant Pinot Noir is! Beaux Freres, like their awesome neighbor, Brick House, focus on biodynamics and were inspired by the wines of Domaine de la Romanee-Conti, Domaine Leflaive and Domaine Leroy in Burgundy and usually produce some of the greatest Pinots in Oregon, so it was interesting to see a winery like Beaux Freres take this kind of risk, but the results were exactly (with some luck for sure) what they had hoped, with the tiny amount of Brett adding some complexity and character without the aggressive almost roadkill like animal or overt barnyard flavors. This 2019 is silky smooth and vibrantly fresh with pretty floral notes, a kiss of sweet smoky toast, racy and youthful layers of black cherry, plum and raspberry fruits that are nicely accented by tea spices, blood orange, cinnamon, mocha, wild herbs and a lingering, underbrush and earthy mulberry note. This lighter framed and delicately perfumed Beaux Freres The Second Cousin is drinking well and round in its youth, maybe hiding the potential Brett nuances at this stage, but I am happy as it is more subtle and the expressive fruit is deeply pleasing as is the wines beautiful dark ruby color, which invites you into the glass.

With Beaux Freres founder Mike Etzel now concentrating on his own label and vineyard, Sequitur, the Beaux Freres winemaking team is now led by the second-generation here with Mikey Etzel and assistant winemaker Aaron Kendall, who have continued the tradition of hand crafting stunning wines, recognized, as they put it, a unique detail marking six of the barrels in the Les Cousins selections, which turned out to be, upon close inspection, a hint of Brettanomyces, or “Brett” as us wine geeks call it, peeking through the aromatics and the thought experiment started. As a yeast strain, Etzel adds, often considered a fault in wines, Brett can be a controversial topic, adding that, on one hand, in large quantities it can be quite unpleasant and distract from other features such as fruitiness, but when present in tiny amounts, as is the case here in 2019 The Second Cousin Pinot, Brett can add a fascinating element (their words, not mine usually, though I can agree in some cases) — a beauty mark of sorts, like on Marylin Monroe (my thought), they hope — that makes a wine distinct. For this reason, wine aficionados, sommeliers, and those who enjoy wines of unique character are often quite intrigued (or frustrated) by wines that show a bit of Brett. So Etzel and Kendall separated the lightly affected “Brett” barrels and bottled it, labeling it as The Second Cousin and released recently with the idea that you might be best served to enjoy it as soon as possible, rather than cellar it as you’d do with most of the other wines from this winery. I actually didn’t know about the Brett when I ordered this one, and being somewhat skeptical, I was very happy with the results and really like this Second Cousin a lot, it got better and better as it opened up and it was lovely with food. Now, if you wanted to really see Brett get funky, you might buy a couple bottles and save one for 3 to 5 years and then try it, as Brett usually grows or flourishes in the bottle, though I would be hard pressed to do that myself.
($35 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2018 Schlossgut Diel, Riesling Kabinett, Nahe Germany.
The basic Kabinett from Caroline Diel at Schlossgut Diel is one of the best buys you can find, this opulent off dry Riesling is a beautiful and wonderfully drinking wine, full of personality, brightness and mineral detail, making it so easy to love. With ever more charm and style, the Kabinett renaissance over the last decade has brought this category back into the limelight, and Diel’s exceptional version is one of the leaders with their examples being refreshing wines, but with depth and complexity usually reserved for the more elite wines in the collection with this 2018 being a sublime vintage. The ’18 Diel Kabinett, coming in at about 8.5% natural alcohol, feels generous on the palate, which hints at its residual sugar, though with its nice acidity and stony nature it drinks more dry overall and is layered with a range of fleshy stone fruit and crisp citrus, it has a mixed bouquet as well with pretty floral and crushed rock notes that leads to the light to medium bodied palate that is racy and clean at first. As you sip on this fine Riesling you gain a sense of the years density and depth of flavors that include green apple, tangerine, tree picked apricot and bitter melon fruits along with a steely element, light flinty smokiness, lemon zest, rosewater, wet stone, saline and a touch of tropical essences and spice. The lingering slight sweet finish is perfectly delightful and pleasing with any cloying effect and clears the palate with a wave of refreshment, making this Riesling great with an array of food choices and or Summer sipping. The Schlossgut Diel wines are crafted with incredible precision in large oak barrels, plus some concrete and in this case mostly in stainless steel tanks, as I have noted in my prior reviews, with a nod to tradition and focus on purity. This wine came from sites that were mostly quartzite and slate and was gently whole cluster pressed, followed by a spontaneous fermentation and extended maturation on the lees in exclusively stainless steel tanks.

Caroline Diel, who was just named Winemaker of the Year, by Falstaff, in Germany is well deserving of this prestigious honor and the wines at Schlossgut Diel are without question some of the most desirable in Europe, with her exceptional skills on full display in these last half dozen or so vintages, especially her majestic set of Rieslings, as well as her fantastic Pinot Noir, which rivals many top Burgundies, along with her now equally famous Sekt (Sparkling Wines) made from long lees aged Riesling, this luxurious bubbly is in a world of its own! Back to her Rieslings, like this entry level Kabinett, coming from vineyards around the famed Nahe estate that her father Armin Diel put on the map with his pioneering severely dry wines during the nineties and now feature some of Germany’s top Grosses Gewachs, like the incredible Goldloch Grand Cru, which compares well with Chablis’ Les Clos. The Nahe is one off Germany’s smallest regions, with a great diversity of soils fro slate to volcanic and gravels plus a warm climate and steep slopes, especially around Schlossgut Diel, making for a dramatic and picturesque setting for grapevines and a quality area for all types of wines, as witnessed by the stellar producers, like Diel, Donnhoff and others that make the Nahe their home. Caroline Diel, who took over the estate in 2012 after joining the cellar team in 2006 also has enjoyed winemaking stints at some famous places including Domaine de la Romanee-Conti in Burgundy and Château Pichon-Lalande in Bordeaux, as well as prestigious German vineyards such as Robert Weil, Toni Jost and Dr. Deinhard/Von Winning, adding experiences that have helped her develop her own style here. She is a graduate of the famous Geisenheim University in the Rheingau and you can tell she took her studies very seriously, her wines are compelling and impeccably crafted, I am a huge fan, and this one is a great way to start exploring her wines. I can’t wait to travel back to Diel, where I last visited at harvest time in 2016, and I highly recommend putting this estate on your bucket list!
($24 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2017 Piedrasassi, Syrah, Patterson & Sebastiano Vineyards, Sta. Rita Hills.
The wildly feral and savory 2017 Sta. Rita Hills Syrah from Sashi Moorman at Piedrasassi is one of California’s best and unique cool climate (Northern Rhone Style) versions with loads of whole cluster and stem inclusion intensity with deep fruit density, it shows dark berry pie filling, plum, creme de cassis and blueberry as well as vivid violets, tar, licorice, minty herbs and peppercorns along with an earthy and meaty shadow throughout on the medium to full bodied palate. This is a wine that will transport you to the legendary wines of Auguste Clape and Thierry Allemand, giving the same rustic thrill those Cornas wine deliver with a California twist of ripe warmth and a different set of soil influences here that inform you that this wine is from here, but still terroir driven and giving a sense of mineral character and with a touch of chalky stone, making for real Syrah enthusiasts treasure. Sashi has become one of the state’s most admired winemakers over the years, especially his work for Stolpman Vineyards and collaboration with Raj Parr at Sandhi and the Domaine de la Cote, as well as, now, the wines at Oregon’s premier Evening Land Vineyards and his own efforts here at Piedrasassi, where he specializes in Syrah, like this one, plus a little Mourvedre and even his own take on Vin Santo. I have been following the Piedrasassi wines for a long time and love the whole bunches and low intervention style here, these wines are some of the finest examples of Central Coast Syrahs available, especially the Rim Rock Rock Vineyard from the Arroyo Grande AVA and Bien Nacido Vineyard, Santa Maria, as well as the Santa Barbera County PS (entry level) Syrah, one of the best values around, and this one from the SRH’s Patterson & Sebastiano Vineyards.

The Piedrasassi wines embrace Syrah’s more funky and edgy side with all that entails, these are not crowd pleasing bottlings, unless like me you have lots of geeky friends of course then they are a huge hit with hints of camphor, robust stemmy notes and some raw tannins coming out of the squat (short) bottle, that was inspired by the shape you see in Giusto Occhipinti’s COS winery in Sicily’s Vittoria region. Moorman used tried and true old world techniques in the cellar with the use of indigenous or wild yeats, the heavy use of whole cluster and low sulphur in his fermentations that come naturally or spontaneously. Sashi, who loves cement vats for primary ferments, uses mainly large used French oak barrels raising his own offerings like this one. The grapes that go into his Piedrasassi are from mostly holistic or sustainably grown vines and with ultra careful sorting, both in the vineyard and back in the winery, with this 2017 being a blend of 80% from the Sebastiano Vineyard and 20% from the Patterson Vineyard, which Sashi has been using only for a couple of vintages now, but one that he thinks has great potential, lying on a cool north-facing slope of the Santa Rosa Hills, just above the famous Sine Qua Non’s estate vineyard. The highly regarded Sebastiano site was planted back in 2007 on clay based loam over limestone soils, with these Syrah vines, as Sashi notes, exposed to relentless Pacific winds that give the wines their aggressive nature and good acidity. The 2017 vintage finished with a heat wave and you’d expect it to be more fruit forward, but you’d be wrong here with this Sta. Rita Hills Syrah, which is much more briar laced, spicy, with loads of Umami and crushed rock along with zesty cinnamon and a touch of beef tartar. It would be well advised to decant this vintage and be sure to enjoy it with robust cuisine that allows the prettiness and purity of the fruit to come out, drink this impressive wine over the next decade.
($50 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2020 Ochota Barrels, Grenache “The Green Room” McLaren Vale, South Australia.
Much the same as last year’s version the low alcohol and naturally styled Ochota Barrels Grenache The Green Room delivers lots of drinking pleasures with its pretty and juicy red fruits, led by crushed raspberry, strawberry, pomegranate, plum and morello cherries, along with spicy and herbal notes, with a hint of earth, anise and a touch of whole bunch zestiness, mineral and floral tones. At just 11.2% natural alcohol this 2020 vintage is infinitely quashable and refreshingly bright in personality with supple medium bodied, not exactly what you’d expect from old vines in the historic old vine region of McLaren Vale, but oh so delicious and lovable. Sadly we lost the revolutionary winemaker Taras Ochota last year, after the 2020 harvest, but Amber Ochota, his wife will continue on, inspired by his life band passion, from their home on a tiny and steep sloped patch of land deep in the Basket Range of the beautiful Adelaide Hills wine region, where they have farmed and make some of the most intriguing Australian wines over the last decade. The Ochota wines were inspired by small family domaines that handcraft biodynamic wines in the south of France. like in parts of the Languedoc and the Luberon and the wines are made with native yeasts, with loads of whole cluster and ultra low sulfur to allow the grapes and vineyard sites to express themselves in their most natural and pure form. This vibrant and expressive Grenache, in true Glou Glou fashion is a perfect wine to enjoy with friends and great with simple meals and is tasty with a slight chill, making it great with picnics, BBQ and sunset quaffing.

The vividly ruby hued Ochota Barrels “The Green Room” Grenache Noir comes from classic old bush vines planted back in 1946 on a combination of schist and limestone in the McLaren Vale region of South Australia and was lovingly hand crafted using lessons learned over twenty years and inspired by small biodynamic wines in southern France with native yeasts, whole bunches and ultra low sulfur to allow the grapes to express themselves in their most natural and pure form. The Ochota Barrels story began, as legend has it and noted in my earlier reviews, on a surf trip, in late 2000 when the world traveling couple, Taras and Amber, were trekking along the west coast of Mexico in a Volkswagen fried-out Kombi (camper van), yes, like The Men at Work song. As they enjoyed the waves, sunsets and the remote nature of the peninsula, they thought about what was going to be their next big adventure and hatched a plan to make what they hoped would be a generation of beautiful holistic wines back home in South Australia. After, what Taras called, a misspent youth playing a Rickenbacker bass in various punk bands, he found wine, and he got an oenology degree from Adelaide University, one of the most prestigious wine schools in the world and made wine in France, Sicily and here in California, notably working for Kunin, Bonnacorsi, Arcadian, Schrader, Outpost and Hitching Post. The whole wine world is still morning the loss of Taras Ochota, who passed too young, at age 49 back in October of 2020, and we are all rooting for Amber, who just finished, with the help of friends and family her first crush without Taras, and I look forward to her future releases.
($38 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2018 Envinate, Migan Tinto, Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain.
The raw and spicy 2018 Migan Tinto is a beautifully complex and lighter style medium bodied red from one of the most remote and unique wine terroir in the world, it is sourced from two very old parcels of cordon trenzado (braided vines) Listan Negro (also known as a Mission grape and or Pais) on the volcanic soils of Tenerife in the Canary Islands, notably off the west coast of Africa. Most all of the Envintate wines are influenced by the Atlantic Ocean, the notable exception being the Alicante Bouschet based Albahra, that I recently reviewed here, that has the Mediterranean Sea nearby, and this Migan reveals a salty crisp element to go with that volcanic mineral rich character. This vintage is nicely ripe in nature, but there is a sultry earthiness that is compelling in this medium bodied effort with intriguing layers of pure Listan Negro, with its vibrant acidity, it is about the same weight as a Pinot Noir, and with fine grained tannins, this includes strawberry, briar laced raspberry, pomegranate and tart cherry/cranberry fruits along with pronounced red spices with cayenne and pepper flakes, iron, a hint of a gamey element (a faint bit of Bret) common in old world wines that is not unwelcome here as well as dried floral notes, snappy herbs and crushed rock. This distinctive wine is for wine geeks and benefits from savvy pairings, it is not going to be a mainstream crowd pleaser, but certainly hugely rewarding to those that either know this producer or their wines.

Enivante, winemakers Roberto Santana, Alfonso Torrente, Laura Ramos, and José Martínez, makes some of the most exciting wines in Spain and they make their wine in a very authentic and natural style, To achieve the goals of the winery, no chemicals are used in any of the Envínate vineyards, from the Canary Islands to the Ribeira Sacra, all grown with organic methods, all their grapes are hand harvested, the grapes are foot-trodden, and the wines are fermented exclusively with wild yeasts, with either partial or 100% whole bunches with stem inclusion. The raising of the wines is done in old well seasoned wood and or concrete vats, and sulfur is only added at bottling, if it is absolutely needed, usually just a small dose, all to allow the wines to speak directly from the vineyard sites. As noted, this Migan saw its two parcel blocks macerated and fermented separately with both the plots hand-harvested, foot-trodden with the La Habanera, the highest up on the volcano with sandy soils, seeing 100% whole clusters, while the San Antonio, the older set of vines that average between 90 to 120 years old, only getting about 15% whole cluster, both saw their primary ferments in large concrete vats, then the wine was pressed and racked into a mix of small 228L barrels and larger 600L neutral French oak casks for malolactic conversion and aging for close to 11 months. As I mention, this delicately ruby colored wine has a saline and smoky/stony personality, coming from its volcanic mountain underpinning, it gains a lot from air and food, I especially recommend spicy sea food dishes, like grilled octopus or calamari and or Middle Eastern cuisine.
($45 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2018 Chiara Boschis – E. Pira & Figli, Langhe Nebbiolo DOC, Piedmonte, Italy.
The youthfully fruit forward and fresh Langhe Nebbiolo from Chiara Boschis’ famous E. Pira & Figli Barolo estate is made from all organic vines at her Monforte d’Alba property and is truly a “Baby Barolo” with pure Nebbiolo character in an easy to enjoy (now) medium bodied style with pretty dark fruits, delicate earthiness, a bright acidity, subtly perfumed and with polished tannins. Coming from Chiara’s younger vines this 2018 shows plenty of ripe flavors and terroir nuance, making it quite an exceptional little wine and one you don’t feel guilty about opening on a Sunday night in April without any meal planned or the need for hours of decanting. This vintage is bursting with energy and vigor, but has a supple and elegant mouth feel with layers of brambly raspberry, damson plum, earthy mulberry, wild lingonberry and reduced cherry fruits along with minty mountain herbs, a hint of cedar, anise, irony mineral spice and dried violets. There is just enough rustic edges to remind you that this pure Nebbiolo, but over all there is a lovely balance and a sense of grace here, it brought lots of joy and smiles with its inviting aromas, complexity, fruit density and alluring deep garnet/ruby hue easily seducing this Nebbiolo lovers eyes, nose and taste buds.

I am a huge fan of Chiara Boschis, the first female winemaker in the Langhe, and her legendary Barolo offerings, especially her otherworldly Mosconi and Cannubi cru Baroli, when I get a chance to try them, plus I adore her incredible Dolcetto and Barbera wines and her Via Nuova Barolo, one of the great values in the region. This wine, made to be drunk in its youth, is also certainly worth searching out, it was traditionally fermented and then aged in small barrels to help soften the wine in a more quick fashion, but doesn’t take away from the quality of this excellent Nebbiolo. Once the brash (kick ass) youth who broke through the chauvinistic glass ceiling to hang out as equals with the Barolo Boys, Chiara now is one of the thought leaders in the Piedmonte region and has inspired countless women winemakers here in Italy and around the world, she endured a lot of bigotry to achieve her success, but now her wines are some of the most coveted in the world. It is also worth noting, Chiara Boschis was the first estate in Cannubi to convert to all organic farming, and her own efforts has led to a historic change in Barolo, in fact she has, in the last few years to convince the rest of the growers in this famous district to become organic as well, quite an achievement and one we will all benefit from. If this basic Langhe Nebbiolo excites as it does, I can only imagine how good the Barolo(s) will be!
($40 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2018 Alfaro Family Vineyard, Pinot Noir, Alfaro Family Estate Vineyard, Corralitos, Santa Cruz Mountains.
The beautifully deep 2018 Alfaro Family Vineyard Estate Pinot Noir, with its dark garnet and bright ruby color, is seductive and very pleasing on the silky medium/full bodied palate, showcasing the quality of Richard Alfaro’s vineyard and this part of the Santa Cruz Mountains, which gives lovely opulent fruit density and nice natural acidity all with complex ripe layering and refined alcohol levels, especially in vintages such as this that finished with 13.5%. This bottling is absolutely one of the tastiest to date and I admired the ease with the wine combined with food and also just how good it was all by itself, I couldn’t help but have an extra glass of this delicious stuff. The 2018 vintage with its long cool growing season has a lively energy to go along with fabulous fruit development and looks to be a classic in these parts, and I hear the 2019s are looking just as good, if not even better, so this is great time to stock up and or discover the Alfaro wines, especially the Pinots, like this one and the exceptional Chards, plus Alfaro’s unique and crisply mineral driven Gruner Veltliner. This Estate Pinot delivers a wonderful performance with layers of black cherry, raspberry, plum and Moro orange fruits along with sweet toast, mocha, baking spices, sassafras and rose petal tea notes. The smooth and elegant form is pure California Pinot from start to finish, and this Alfaro Estate Pinot is full of charm and personality. The estate wines at Alfaro have long been some of my favorites, with this one always being one I gravitate to, though I also love the non estate bottlings too, like their Garys’ and Lester Pinots, I mean there is a lot to enjoy in the Alfaro lineup!

At just over 14 acres, the main Alfaro Estate vineyard, was planted back in 1999 in the Corralitos zone of the most southwest corner of the Santa Cruz Mountains AVA with its cool Pacific Ocean influence providing fantastic growing conditions to make world class Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Richard Alfaro’s impeccably farmed Estate blocks of Pinot Noir vines here, contain nine distinct parcels, each, as Alfaro notes, one is graced with a different combination of clones and rootstock, including a collection 113, 114, 115, 667, 777 and 828 clones. The vine density here is really high at 1361 vines per acre, which gives lots of concentration and intensity, highlighted in vintages as good as this 2018, one of the best I can remember. This vineyard is on a south facing hillside between 500 and 650 feet in elevation on sandy gravels over loam and sandstones. The 2018 Alfaro Family Estate Vineyard Pinot Noir was traditionally fermented using de-stemmed ripe fruit, mostly in stainless steel with some small bin lots as well with cool maceration and then was aged 10 months in 40% new French oak, with just 317 cases produced. Richard Alfaro has gained a well earned reputation for his wines and his top notch farming in the last decade and now he has the talents of his son Ryan in the winery, after he has done stints in New Zealand and with Adam Tolmach, Ojai Vineyards legendary winemaker. Ryan has now also started his own label Farm Cottage wines, releasing a debut Pinot Noir recently and is someone to keep an eye on. The Alfaro’s also farm the old vines at Trout Gulch, where he sells grapes to Arnot-Roberts and Jamie Kutch, and their efforts here are thrilling, in particular the exciting also Chablis like Chards, these are not to be missed either.
($45 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2001 Chateau La Confession, Saint-Emilion Grand Cru, Red Bordeaux, France.
One of my all time favorite affordable vintages of Bordeaux, and a year that produced some awesome under the radar wines that are still drinking incredibly youthfully, as this very good La Confession is doing right now with a deep purple color, classic right bank aromatics, a beautiful sense of fruit density and a fresh vitality. This wine drinks like a three year old and takes a surprising amount of time to open up, but when it does it provides lots of pleasure, especially those looking for a more classic style without much flash or the more modern Saint-Emilion ripeness and or lavish oak. I can’t wait to dig back into this 2001 Chateau La Confesssion on day two as it really hits its stride and its maturity begins to show, I am impressed with how taut and structured this Bordeaux still gives, it certainly is way better when enjoyed with food and dishes like prime rib and duck breast, with meaty cuisine bringing out the depth of fruit and subduing the earthy elements that are in evidence in the background. The flavor profile includes blackberry, mulberry, plum and dark cherry fruits on the full bodied palate along with an array of accents that include a loamy earthiness, dried flowers, the only thing I can find that hints at this wine’s age, tobacco, cedar, a touch of green spice, black tarry licorice, pencil lead, leafy notes and a lingering creme de cassis aftertaste. The tannins are fine grained and still pretty robust, but not aggressive or harsh and there is a sense of lift from the natural acidity, all of which holds everything together, almost freezing the La Confession in time. I see a lot of people really talking up the 2004s right now, and by all accounts they are over performing and I have admired many from that vintage as well, though I still think these 2001s are fabulous wines and remarkable values.

The Château La Confession, run by Jean-Philippe Janoueix domaines, is vinified using most traditional methods, but includes, the partial use of small “cigar” shaped barrels in the aging of this Saint-Emilion Grand Cru Red Bordeaux to add a bit more opulent textural quality with everything done with careful hands to produce an elegant wine. The grapes are double sorted, de-stemmed, but not crushed and filled into small open top oak vats for an extended maceration and primary fermentation that lasts close to 30 days with hand punch downs and pump overs. The La Confession is a blend of about 70% Merlot, 28% Cabernet Franc and includes a tiny amount of Cabernet Sauvignon that is grown on the hardened clay and limestone soils of this region and it aged usually in 50% new wood though I would be hard pressed to see that in this wine, which is less overt and wonderfully balanced. Interestingly the winery says the wine is raised for just 6 months on the lees, in the oak, then moved to tank and blended from the small lots. The 2001 is notably less ripe than the latest vintages with 13.5% natural alcohol, while most later wines clock in between 14.5% and 15% and look to be more fruity, especially from 2005 on. There is about three thousand cases produced annually here at Chateau La Confession, which is a good amount, but still making it a bit exclusive, though very reasonable in pricing for the solid performance in the glass. Interestingly, a bit of research found that the 2001 was the debut vintage for Chateau La Confession and winemaker Jean-Philippe Janoueix, who bought this small vineyard and created the Chateau and that adds to the special nature of experiencing this wine, and while original reviews were mixed and the winery didn’t get much attention until their 2005 was released, I found this to be a solid and quality effort, especially at the price. I recommend checking this Bordeaux out, with many vintages available, including the highly rated 2016 and 2018 ones to focus on.
($45 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2019 Bucklin, Mixed Whites, Old Hill Ranch, Sonoma Valley.
Bucklin’s Old Hill Ranch Mixed Whites Sonoma Valley white wine is a totally unique blend of grapes and includes many varietals that were once much more popular in California than they are now, many that have almost been lost over the years and many that are in revival in the state and made with the same intention to make a field blend as with Bucklin’s classic Zinfandel blends that include close to nineteen different black grapes. This 2019 includes both aromatic and textural grapes, both fighting for your attention on the palate with lots of exotic floral notes and a lush mouth feel, but with fine balance and very moderate alcohol, at 13.2%, it is an intriguing white with fresh details and layers of peach, green apple, an array of citrus, lychee, delicate spices and liquid flowers. As this Mixed Whites opens the bouquet and body really synch up and everything comes together making for a very pleasing wine that can be enjoyed with many dishes including sea foods, Mediterranean cuisine, soft cheeses and Moroccan lemon chicken and couscous. The Muscat and Gewurz lead on the Mixed Whites bouquet with the jasmine, wild peppery spices and seeped roses, while the taste is nicely dry and with a touch of cleared cream and mineral in the background, gaining impact and roundness with air, this is delicious stuff from Will Bucklin.

The Bucklin Old Hill Ranch “Mixed White” block was established on the estate back in 2011, and it was, as Bucklin notes, planted as an ode to the unheralded white grape varieties found in many of Sonoma’s heritage sites and in the region’s historic field blends. The parcel (and the wine) include Muscat, French Colombard, Chasselas, and Clairette Blanc, that are from cuttings that came from the original vines at Old Hill Ranch, with the Gewürztraminer, Trousseau Gris and Riesling coming from the Compagni-Portis Vineyard, the rare Muscadelle was sourced from Casa Santinamaria, the Malvasia and Grenache Blanc were clipped from the Rossi Ranch and the Chenin Blanc came from Mike Officer at Carlisle. Bucklin adds that all the grapes were whole-cluster pressed, then the juice was fermented cool in stainless steel, to preserve the heady perfume and vibrancy in this lovely white wine. After primary fermentation is complete the wine is gentle moved to French oak, all neutral barrels, where it went through malo-lactic conversion and aged sur lie (on the lees) for 6 months before bottling. The results are impressive, and it is like stepping back in time and chance to taste California’s past, especially in this vintage, which highlights the full range of flavors and finer elements in this white blend. It is also a wonderful value too, considering that just three barrels were made, and a wine I recommend highly.
($28 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2019 Desire Lines Wine Co., Winds of Change Red Wine, California.
The new Winds of Change California Red Wine by Cody Rasmussen at Desire Lines Wine Co. is a pure and delicious offering that delivers a full bodied array of ripe dark fruits that feel smoothly rich in the mouth and is distinctly accented by snappy herbs and spices as well as hints of savory elements, mineral tones and delicate florals. The Winds of Change Red is sourced from mostly cool climate sites within the state and shows off its California profile of flavors with a flourish, with the main Syrah component being at this wine’s core and is the most obvious influence with deep blackberry, blueberry, wild plum and currant fruits along with touches of camphor, black licorice, peppercorns and iron notes. Rasmussen, who is an assistant winemaker at Bedrock Wine Company under Morgan Twain-Peterson, has really hit the ground running with his and his wife Emily’s Desire Lines Wine Co. small winery and is certainly one of California’s breakout stars with this latest set of wines being an exceptional set of fine efforts, especially his pure Syrah bottlings from Griffin’s Lair in the Petaluma Gap and Shake Ridge Vineyard, the amazing Amador County site farmed by Ann Kraemer, one of the best growers in the region, as well as Cody’s fantastic Cole Ranch Dry Riesling and the Carignan based Evangelho Vineyard Red, that like this one shows his Bedrock inspiration and shows off his talent for making pleasure filled fruit forward wines, but with a sense of balance, well judged use of oak, and nice contrasted with plenty of crunch and umami elements.

These Desire Lines wines has really left an impression on me since first tasting with Cody Rasmussen and they have just got even more complex and intriguing with the 2018 and 2019 vintages, they are impeccably hand crafted and authentic wines that should not be missed, all of which are impressively noteworthy, especially as mentioned the terroir driven Syrahs, but I highly recommend them all and this new Winds of Change Red is a fabulous value for the quality in the bottle. The final blend here in the 2019 Desire Lines Wine Co. Winds of Change Red ended up being 73% Syrah, plus 10% Mourvèdre, 8% Carignan, 6% Grenache and 3% Petite Sirah which saw a good percentage of whole cluster and was fermented with native yeasts. Rasmussen employs a minimal approach in the cellar, though very precise and clean, he focuses on beautiful fruit density, a supple textural quality, aromatics and allowing the vineyard sites to shine through, all of which is achieved in these new releases. This wine, as with all the reds here, saw its aging in neutral French oak barrels including small larger format puncheons, a vessel that works fantastically well with Syrah. The Rasmussen’s started their label with the 2014 vintage with a small batch of Griffin’s Lair Syrah and five vintages of sublime wines have followed, again I suggest getting some of these as soon as possible and join their mailing list to get future releases, because they will sell out fast. The fresh and dark garnet Winds of Change Red Wine opens up with air and gets better with every sip, it goes extremely well with simple and or rustic cuisine, but easily can be enjoyed with almost anything.
($22 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2018 Chateau de Pierreux, Bouilly, Monopole Reserve de Chateau, Cru Beaujolais, France.
The historic and regal Chateau de Pierreux estate, which sits below Mont Bouilly is now owned by the famous Boisset family, from Burgundy, and has 190 acres of Gamay within their Cru Beaujolais property with this wine being the best lot selection from their Monopole Brouilly parcel and is a solid, well made traditional, Burgundy style offering that drinks nicely with pure varietal and terroir character. This 2018 Reserve de Chateau Brouilly has a pretty floral bouquet and mineral toned red berry fruits that flow smoothly on the polished medium bodied palate showing black raspberry, plum, strawberry and vibrant cherry fruits, a light sense of spice, anise, cedar and chalky stones. As a big fan of Beaujolais and Gamay wines, it is very cool to see wines like this on wine menus by the glass, especially in unexpected places that normally have very generic offerings, so while this wine may not be as exciting as some of my favorite producers, it was a happy experience and fun, and it got better with food and air, bringing plenty of smiles, even hanging in their with grilled artichokes and an endive salad.

The Chateau de Pierreux, which dates back to the 13th century, is organically farmed using mainly biodynamic methods and treatments and makes two main Gamay bottlings, their regular Brouilly Château de Pierreux and this Réserve du Château de Pierreux, which is the signature wine of the domaine and imported to the states and widely available. The Pierreux vineyards, according to the winery, cover some varied terrain within the Brouilly appellation set on a combination of granite based soils, with a mix of sand, volcanic porphyry, some shale and even a little flint, all of which give these wines their complexity and depth of terroir influenced flavors. This wine, made by the very experienced Patrice Monternier, which was all de-stemed and saw about a two week Burgundian style fermentation, rather than the whole cluster approach, then was allowed a long cool maceration period, then was raised and matured for 6 months in large large oak barrels with a small percentage of new French oak, that is barely noticeable in the form of a kiss of sweet toastiness and the satiny textural quality. This Chateau de Pierreux Reserve de Chateau Bouilly is a great way to to start exploring Beaujolais and is especially appealing for the Gamay novice or newbie, plus it is well priced for the quality on offer.
($24 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2019 Envinate, Alicante Bouschet “Albahra” Chingao Vineyards, Vino de Mesa, Almansa, Spain.
The special edition of Envinate’s Albahra 100% Garnacha Tintorera (aka Alicante Bouschet, a red-juiced grape) is from a small organic and head trained Mediterranean influenced vineyard set on the Almansa region’s clay and calcareous soils, making for a deeply opaquely purple and seductively fruit forward and spicy red wine that is a pure joy to drink in its fresh youthful form. I love this vintage and this version of Albahra with its whole bunches vitality and crunchy black fruits, mineral tones, as well as its range of spice and subtle earthy elements with layers of boysenberry, currant, plum, pomegranate and tangy huckleberry fruits that are nicely accented by anise, peony floral notes, a touch of cayenne, cinnamon and chalky stones. This wine has lots of raw character and charm, it goes sublime with many food options from pasta to BBQ and or grilled meats. Interestingly, the Alicante Bouschet or Garnacha Tintorera grape is found throughout Spain, though almost never is made into a single varietal wine, which seems incredible, when the results, especially in this Envinate example, are so delicious! The grape has made a home for itself in parts of Italy and notably in California, where it is usually found in old heritage sites and used in field blends, though again rarely is the main component in any of the wines. It has played a background role in some of Ridge’s most tasty Zinfandels, plus it is found in parts of coastal Tuscany, as well as being a minor player in Mencia based wines in the Galicia region too. I certainly hope this grape gets more opportunity to shine as a solo effort, as it can be truly stunning, as it is here. There’s so much to discover and explore in the latest releases by Envinate, with each of their wines showing distinct terroir personalities from the volcanic hillsides of Tenerife to the slate and schist of the Ribeira Sacra, as well as the limestone of this warm Mediterranean spot in southern Spain. Rhone enthusiasts and or old vine California fans will love this wine.

Envinate’s winemaking is very low intervention and natural, relying mostly on vineyard work to produce their fabulous collection of unique wines, and while the world mainly knows about their stunning set of Canary Islands and Ribeira Sacra wines, which are both marked by their proximity to the Atlantic Ocean, this Chingao Vineyards Albahra bottling is one of my favorites and it is one of the greatest values in their portfolio. The Albahra Alicante Bouschet (Garnacha Tintorera) is all foot-trodden in vat with lots of whole cluster and sees a natural spontaneous (indigenous) yeast primary fermentation, with about 6-10 days of skin and some stems maceration, to extract all the sexy color and complex array of flavors, then wine goes through malos and is raised on fine lees in concrete tank for around 8 months. This wine, bottled unfined and unfiltered, is ultra low in sulfites (or SO2) and is always wonderfully vivid and pure with dark fruit, dusty, but fine tannins and a juicy vibrant appeal that makes it great with hard cheeses, rustic cuisine and a relaxed meal. I have been a long time fan of Envinante and especially their Listan based wines from Tenerife, one of the remote Canary Islands, the Spanish volcanic group of atolls off the coast of Africa that were originally planted to vines during the conquest of the new world and the missionary era between the 1500s and the early 1800s. Envínate, which translates to “wine yourself” is a trust of talented winemakers led by Roberto Santana, Alfonso Torrente, Laura Ramos, and Jose Martínez, who are four friends that met while at college, where they all studied enology at the University of Miguel Hernández in Alicante and even though they were from vastly different areas in Spain, they wanted to make wine together, which they have done with great success. I highly recommend locating this particular version of Albahra by Envinate, along with the normal yellow label bottling that is 70% Alicante Bouschet and 30% Moravia Agria, a high acid and extremely rare local grape, these are both exciting and unique reds.
($25 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2017 Domaine Berthaut-Gerbet, Fixin, Red Burgundy, France.
The beautiful 2017 Fixin by Amélie Berthaut at Domaine Berthaut-Gerbet is an outstanding red Burgundy with exceptional depth, a gorgeous satiny textural quality and ripe fruit pleasure, this wine certainly showcases the talent and or the skill of the winemaker from the vines to bottle guidance, this is an outstanding Pinot Noir. The palate is richly packed with pure Pinot fruit(s), plus a lingering delicate rose petal perfume that stays throughout and subtle complexities including baking spices, mineral tones, a touch of umami, fresh acidity and just the perfect amount of sweet smoky/toast. The mouth feel is top notch here and everything feels supple and opulent, it fills out wonderfully with air and has full medium bodied impact, revealing revolving layers of black cherry, raspberry, strawberry and plum fruits with a regal presence, exactly what you’d want from a Burgundy, highlighting the best qualities of this grape. If you are searching for your Burgundy Ah Ha moment in a value priced wine, then you should search out this Berthaut-Gerbet Fixin, I could defiantly get used to drinking this stuff. This dark garnet and ruby hued wine gets better and better with every sip and was impeccable with my Easter meal and drank with a flourish all on its own as well, every detail is clear and appealing in this vintage and I highly recommend keeping an eye out for this wine and or stocking up greedily on it. This basic cuvee was sourced from four parcels in small Lieu-Dits around the village of Fixin, these sites: Au Près, La Vionne, Clos du Villages, and Clos André are set on the region’s classic clay and limestone soils and have good exposures to allow even ripening and gives this wine its fruit density and lush profile. Amélie studied agro-oenology engineering in Bordeaux, then she did stints with Agnes Henry at Domaine de la Tour du Bon in Bandol and interestingly with the Dunn’s (the legendary Cabernet producer on Howell Mountain) in Napa Valley, all before moving home to Burgundy to run her own estate.

Amélie Berthaut, who started her own domaine in recent years, took over an impressive array of her family’s vineyards, these included some prestigious sites in Gevrey-Chambertin, Chambolle-Musigny, Vougeot, and Vosne-Romanée, as well as some fabulous parcels here in Fixin, which have become her signature wines. The vineyards that came from both her mother and father, were parts of different domaines Domaine Denis Berthaut and François Gerbet, and now they form the holdings of the newly-formed Domaine Berthaut-Gerbet. Fixin, in the Cotes de Nuits, is one of the most lesser known villages, but with Amélie efforts getting such awesome attention that is likely to change and in a hurry, especially after tasting this 2017 version of her basic wine, which is absolutely delicious and thrilling example of what this obscure village can produce. The youthful Berthaut, has gone from strength to strength and is looking to improve further, and she has hired her fiancé Nicolas Faure, a talent in his own right, who has worked for the famed Domaine de la Romanee-Conti, Prieuré-Roch and intriguingly under the famous Jean-Louis Chave in Hermitage, to be her vineyard manager while she focuses on the winemaking side, as well as running the business, which obviously makes sense. This is a winery to follow closely and with huge potential, but for now, it would be advisable to grab these wines before the price skyrockets. Berthaut focuses on Pinot, but does a tiny amount of Chardonnay, which is grown using mostly organic practices and lets the place and vintage dictate what she does in the cellar, she always uses native yeasts, with her primary fermentation in cement vats, but uses her best judgement on use of whole-cluster, from 0% to 100%, and how much new wood, though she limits that to 50% max, with this particular Fixin seeing between 12 and 18 months in 20% new oak. This wine way exceeds expectations and I can only imagine how good the Cru bottlings are, I’m excited to see and taste the next couple of vintages!
($45 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2020 Ruth Lewandowski Wines, Feints, Fox Hill Vineyard, Mendocino County.
The new Feints Cal Ital blend from Ruth Lewandowski Wines is, even as they put it, a totally unexpected wine made from mostly Piedmontese varieties, though with a small dose of Montepulciano as well, but what makes it so unique is that it has 30% Arneis, the white grape, in the mix with 33% Dolcetto, 15% Barbera, 14% Nebbiolo and the mentioned 8% of the Montepulciano, which makes for a serious fun fresh Spring time quaffer. This lighter styled natural wine starts with a bright vibrant cherry, crushed raspberry and strawberry fruit core along with a hint of grilled citrus, wild herbs, a sense of red peach flesh and floral aromas that all adds up to a red wine that deserves to be enjoyed with a chill and lots of laughter. There’s always something underlying in the Lewandowski wines that makes you forget about the worries of the day and you can tell that this wines, while simply pleasing are also serious efforts that are made with a commitment to quality, I am a fan of the Boaz most of all, it is a blend of old vine Carignan, old vine Grenache and Cabernet Sauvignon, it is one of the most powerful and intriguing of the natty wines in California. This friendly Feints has a lovely magenta hue in the glass and displays a clean and crisp personality, it drinks somewhat more like an Italian Rosato, but with enough complex dimension to go with a full meal, but especially good with picnics.

Winemaker Evan Lewandowski, who named his label after The Book of Ruth from the old testament and believes that (this) story of the circle of life and redemption, which includes the line “Death is, indeed, the engine of life…” encapsulates his own philosophies of farming (which are holistic) and winemaking (all natural), is one maybe the king of the modern American natural wine movement and has been an inspiration to a whole generation of young winemakers searching to explore their own paths in the wine world. His wines show a clean intensity and purity of form, these are not hippie, dirty or any flaw allowed wines, and there is no mouse or brett to be found here, in my own experience. For the 2020 Feints, Evan went full carbonic maceration, which gives this wine its juicy roundness and as Lewandowski adds, its punchiness, it was spontaneous co-fermented without any additions and a minimalist approach with only a few months of lees aging before being bottled up quickly to preserve its refreshing vitality. Lewandowski used all of the Piedmontese varieties found at the Fox Hill Vineyard, including as noted, Dolcetto, Barbera, Nebbiolo, Arneis and a hair of Montepulciano all of which are set on sandstone based soils, which Evan notes is very rocky and pebbly, with a large amount of quartz, all of which helps this site produce exceptional grapes with a mineral tone and ripe flavors, which shows here in an easy and enjoyable way. If you want to explore natty California or Glou Glou wines these Lewandowski bottlings are some of the best on offer.
($25 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2018 Waxwing Wines, Dry Riesling, Tondre Grapefield, Santa Lucia Highlands.
The latest set of wines by Scott Sisemore at Waxwing Wines is his best yet with his focus on mainly the Santa Cruz Mountains for his Pinots has paid off, especially his Lester and Deerheart offerings that are really good, but I also love his crisply focused Tondre Grapefield Riesling, the 2018 in particular, which is his driest and most interesting version to date and it really feels almost like a blend between an Australian and Austrian styles. This vintage, long and cool, allowed for more complex flavors and texture to develop, while retaining intense acidity and the Waxwing Tondre Riesling sets the saliva glands alight with mouth watering tanginess with a first impression of ripe (fruit density) giving way to the wine’s brisk zestiness with plenty of lime, green apple, bitter melon and canned peach before opening up with paraffin, almond oil, wild herbs, wet stones and verbena notes all coming out here, it all makes for a tasting white wine to enjoy with cured meats, claims and smoked trout. There’s some nice floral aromatics as well as some cool toned minerallity that shines through on this medium bodied Riesling that has just started to evolve with some secondary characteristics beginning to unfold here with a subtle oily creaminess, a touch of fleshy apricot and gun flint that bodes well for many more years of rewarding drinking pleasures.

Sisemore’s winemaking with his Riesling is very traditional with the grapes being whole cluster pressed and getting a full twenty-four hours for the juice to settle, to drop out the more aggressive phenolic extract or green bitterness before the Tondre Riesling is fermented in small upright stainless steel tanks. Scott care monitored the progress until the sugar and acidity were in balance, then he stopped the fermentation, the results speak to the quality in the bottle with just enough residual sugar to add charm without overt sweetness and this vintage’s acidity is well judged. The finished wine only saw about 5 months on the lees before bottling and it easily met the international requirements to be classified as dry with finished natural alcohol of 12.9%, much in line with German trockens. The Tondre Grapefield set on sandy loams, owned by Joe Alarid, added Riesling in 2006, while sadly large parcels of old vine Riesling in the Santa Lucia Highlands were being ripped out, including some beautiful vines at Sleepy Hollow, to make way for more Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. In recent years some very tasty wines have been made from SLH Riesling with Russell Joyce, who gets some grapes from Tondre as well, and Morgan Winery, who have their own plots at their organic Double L Ranch Estate, doing excellent examples, so it was no surprise that this Waxwing is such an exciting wine, it should drink nicely for another 3 to 5 years with ease.
($25 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2018 Birichino “Scylla” Old Vine Red Blend, California.
The 2018 Scylla California Red Blend is crafted from old vine sites within the state and made from mostly Carignane and Grenache, plus a dash of Mourvèdre, the wine, named after a sea monster from ancient stories, is wonderfully delicious and pure with loads of bright and spicy red fruit along with hints of herbs de Provence, dried sage, pretty floral notes and a with touches of earth and mineral elements. I mostly know Birichino for their exceptional versions of Bechthold Vineyard Cinsault, Enz Vineyard Pinot Noir and Mourvedre and especially their awesome Besson Grenache, from own rooted vines planted in 1910, but they also do some more fun and exotic stuff as well, including a Sparkling Chenin Blanc Pet-Nat and a rare 100% St. George bottling. This garnet/ruby hued vintage, the second edition of this Scylla Red, ended up being 50% Carignan and 48% Grenache along with 2% Mourvedre in the final blend, it shows ripe and smooth layers of boysenberry, sweet plums, pomegranate and cherry fruits that are accented by subtle cayenne, baking spices, mint, anise, crushed peony and loamy underbrush. This is an outstanding bargain and it drinks with a flourish and is quality stuff, it reminds me a lot of Maxime Magnon’s Corbières “Rozeta”, one of my favorite Languedoc wines, but with a distinctive California profile. Birichino has just released a few new wines that also have caught my attention, in particular a very limited Rosé Pet-Nat (Pétulant Naturel) of Cinsault and their Old Vine Montague Vineyard Carignane, from a parcel planted in the late 1920s.

Birichino was founded by Alex Krause and John Locke in Santa Cruz back n 2008 after years in the wine business and with decades, as they put it, of winemaking experience in California, France, Italy, and beyond. Like many small new generation wineries in the state, they are focused on putting out hand crafted limited production and affordable wines from organic or sustainable vineyard sites. The wines here are balanced with a studied natural feel about them, which they add, and have a mix of fruit concentration, savory contrast and are offerings of perfume, poise, and puckishness with refined alcohol, like this wine with its 13% natural alcohol. Birichino sources from a fabulous collection of carefully farmed, family-owned, own-rooted 19th and early 20th century vineyards, plus a couple, as the winery jokes, from the late disco era! Mainly these vineyards are in more moderate, marine-influenced climates of the Central Coast, looking for a vibrance of their raw materials and unique terroir influences. The Scylla Red Blend comes from Carignane grapes from Matt and John Shinn in Lodi’s Mokelumne River, Grenache from the historic Besson Vineyard in the Hecker Pass, between the Santa Cruz Mountains and Santa Clara, and Mourvedre from the Enz Vineyard in the Lyme Kiln Valley, part of San Benito County. Birichino’s winemaking relies on minimal intervention, as Locke and Krause most often employing native fermentation, with stainless or neutral barrels used for aging with gentle macerations, few racking and light fining, avoiding filtration altogether when possible. Birichino’s mission is to deliver wines that give pleasure and have a place at the dinner table and or at gatherings of friends, with this Scylla Red perfectly performing in this quest.
($20 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2016 Monsecco, Nebbiolo “Pratogrande” Colline Novaresi DOC, Alto Piedmonte, Italy.
The Monsecco Pratogrande Nebbiolo 2016 is an elegant vintage and a beautiful wine, its classic Nebbiolo personality and profile unfolding on the medium/full palate is impressive and makes for an exceptional value with pretty floral notes, layers of dark berry fruits, earthy elements, dusty tannins and lifting natural acidity. The hills of the Colline Novaresi are set on ancient glacial moraine with mineral rich veins, from volcanic influence and gravelly stones that give these wines a sense of spice, liquid rock and salinity, which this wine shows, along with Nebbiolo’s late ripening depth of flavor and high elevation freshness. There’s a lot to love in this 2016 edition, it is a vintage to stock up on, it has the complexity and seductive charm of some of the finest Piedmonte years, but without intensely powerful tannins, which are still here, though more subtle and refined, allowing this vintage to be enjoyed in its youth and still having potential to age. Monesecco’s Pratogrande starts with herbs, savory (gamey) elements, raspberry and wilted rose petals before leading to a mouthful of damson plum, mulberry, red currant, kirsch and anise, along with cedar, mint, underbrush and a hint of orange rind. With air the fruit comes alive and sweetens, it gains tremendously as it opens and especially with protein rich foods. This Nebbiolo is an absolutely delicious wine and a killer bargain at under twenty five bucks, fans of the more famous parts of the Langhe, will certainly need to check out these Monsecco offerings, which are very savvy buys.

These Nebbiolo wines of this region, which also go by the local name Spanna in the Alto Piemonte, are characterized by their fresh detail and mineral notes with lovely aromatics that comes from the old vines and the high altitudes. The Colline Novaresi DOC is set on the left bank of the river Sesia, just across the river from the Coste della Sesia Spanna area, home to more prestigious Ghemme DOCG zone, a long time home to fabulous Nebbiolo based wines, that are usually field blends containing some Vespolina, Croatina and Bonarda, two rare local varietals, and not too far away from Gattinara, Boca, Bramaterra, Carema, Fara and Lessona. The Monsecco Pratogrande is exclusively made from 100% Nebbiolo that was hand harvested from vineyards close to, but just outside of the Gattinara and Ghemme zones, all from steep slopes of hillside parcels and was aged two years in large Botte (Slovenian oak casks) and then another year in bottle before release. This wine sees a lighter maceration than the top Gattinara and Ghemme versions in search of purity and grace, that this 2016 delivers to near perfection, it gives plenty of fruit density as well as energy and supple textural opulence. The Zanetta family, the proprietors, here at Monsecco are committed to quality and hand craft wonderfully transparent wines that give a true sense of place, these are all estate and organic (grown) efforts that deserve your attention and are worth searching out, in particular this one, along with their other single varietal wines, including the Vespolina, Croatina and Bonarda (Uva Rara) bottlings, plus as mentioned the top Ghemme and Gattinara(s).
($24 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

Grapelive.com Reviews – March, 2021

2019 Broc Cellars, Love Red, North Coast.
Chris Brockway’s latest Love Red, a blend of old vine Carignan, Valdiguie and Syrah, is a Corbieres like, naturally styled and pleasing quaffer that is well, easy to love, with a fresh dark berry fruit profile, nice acidity, spice and with a delicate floral note. Broc Cellars is a small urban micro winery and winemaker Chris Brockway was a pioneer in California’s modern Glou Glou (natural wine) movement as well as one of the first to do Loire inspired Pet-Nat(s) in the state. The Love Red comes from a selection of vineyard sites in Mendocino and Solano counties, but is mostly based the Mendocino old vine Carignan and shows that grape’s main characteristics with vibrant black raspberry, plum, pomegranate and tangy cherry fruits along with a hint of peppery spice, dried herbs de Provence, crushed flowers, a touch of mineral, licorice and loamy earth. The medium bodied 2019 is pure and juicy, but zesty dry in feel, it went deliciously well with pizza and should be fabulous with picnic fare and an array of cuisine choices from hard cheeses to roast chicken, this is fun stuff to be enjoyed without pretense and with friends. I have always been a fan of Brockway’s wines and especially his Carignan based wines, along with his Chenin Blanc and Valdiguie Pet-Nats, as well as the lighter and bright Vine Starr Zinfandel, all of which show a talent for delicacy and low alcohol wines. All of Brockway’s Broc Cellars offerings are exceptional values, especially these Love series bottlings, that includes a white, a rosé, and this red blend.

The dark purple/ruby colored 2019 Love Red, which in this vintage was crafted from 77% Carignan, 15% Valdiguié and 8% Syrah grapes that were harvested early, as Brockway notes, to highlight the fruit and preserve the acidity in this wine, which adds to the taut zinginess here and makes this a red that can be served with a slight chill. In the winemaking, Brockway adds that the Carignan was fermented with a combination of whole cluster and de-stemmed grapes, while the Valdiguié and Syrah were 100% whole cluster, all of which gives a semi-carbonic effect. The Love Red was aged in a combination of neutral French oak barrels and concrete tanks with no additions and finished at 12.5% natural alcohol, making for a pure and focused wine that is made for drinking now, no waiting needed. Brockway sourced the grapes from three vineyard sites that employ sustainable, mostly organic and dry farmed methods that average 70 plus years with the Wirth Ranch, planted in 1948 in Solano County set between Napa and Suisun Valley, the certified organic Ricetti Vineyard, in Mendocino, is the main Carignan source, which was also planted just after WWII and Rosewood Vineyard, which also sits in Mendocino is the oldest of the vineyards, all of which have classic well draining California sandy loam and stony soils. The Broc wines always see spontaneous native yeast fermentations and ultra low to no SO2 in the wines with no new oak, all done to promote vivid flavors, which this Love Red delivers extremely well and highlights the quality of this vintage, I highly recommend it!
($22 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2018 Grochau Cellars, Gamay Noir, Redford-Welte Farm Vineyard, Eola-Amity Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
John Grochau’s latest Redford-Welte Gamay is a beautiful wine with loads of varietal purity and character, very much in the mold of a Thivin Cote de Bouilly Cru Beaujolais with a dark fruited profile, a crunch of mineral, an exotic array of spices and juicy acidity, making for a thrilling and well made effort that impresses with its complexity and structural quality. The 2018 vintage gave a few headaches and lots of stress, but in the end the wines here in the Willamette Valley turned out fresh and delightful, much better than what many thought, especially after some heavy rains came down in early September, causing some to pick early and lose depth, though those that rode them out were rewarded with some warm dry days that brought the vines back into good health and the grapes ended up with nice concentration, a depth of flavor and a bright inner energy, all of which comes through sublimely here in the 2018 Redford-Welte Farm Gamay. This version of Gamay from Grochau comes from the Eola-Amity Hills and all organic vines set on a combination of hillside soils with the volcanic Jory, red and iron rich and the Nekia complex series that are rocky, well drained and include colluvium from basalt and tuffaceous materials. The vintage gave Grochau a lovely medium bodied palate with layers of dark berries, plum, black cherry, strawberry and tart currant fruits along with racy cinnamon, bitter herbs, walnut, anise and liquid peony. I really enjoyed Grochau’s Twelve Oaks Estate Gamay as well, but I maybe leaning towards this Redford-Welte Farm, it is showing exceptionally well right now and is superb with food and a wide range of dishes, even pairing nicely with my mix of left-overs!

Grochau Cellars, founded in around 2002, has been working with sustainable family vineyards since day one and continues to produce high quality and transparent wines from sites throughout Oregon’s Willamette Valley and is especially known for an excellent set of Pinot Noirs, including John’s Commuter Cuvée, which is one of the state’s best values, as well as the single vineyard series, each with their own distinct personalities. I am a big fan of these wines and have followed John’s efforts since meeting him and tasting his wines at a trade show in San Francisco, where he and his wines really left an impression, and I have now got excited by his Gamay offerings, in particular this one from the Redford-Welte Farm, a certified organic vineyard the Eola-Amity Hills AVA that sits on an eastern-facing slope, which gives this vineyard a warm and ripe exposure and a pleasing textural mouth feel. The small berry size gave this wine a bit of grip, and while taut, there is an elegance here and aromatics are beautiful and floral with a subtle red spice and earthiness that is completely seductive in the glass. John Grochau, an ex-professional cyclist, was mentored in winemaking by the legendary Doug Tunnell at the famous Brick House Vineyards in Ribbon Ridge, where Grochau worked for four years, before striking out on his own. He took to winemaking like a duck to water and soaked up his Brick House experience, influencing him to work with traditional Burgundian methods and searching out organic and biodynamic grapes, and where he got to work with true Gamay, all of which paid off in spades. His authentic wines are all crafted with slow and natural fermentations, the use of whole bunches and lengthy elevage with well judged use of oak, as well as employing some concrete tank aging, all to allow the terroir and vintage to show through, as this tasty Gamay shows with some flair!
($25 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2019 Jolie-Laide, Fresia, Tres Pico Creek, San Benito County.
Scott Schultz’s latest collection of Jolie-Laide releases are a delectable set of hand crafted wines and one of the coolest of these is his beautifully aromatic and tasty Freisa from organic vines in the remote San Benito County, it is a totally unique Cal Ital bottling that show’s this rare varietals true characteristics, but in a style that is strikingly like a Cru Beaujolais in the mold of a fine Fleurie. This grape, which is a distant relative of Nebbiolo, comes from Italy’s famed Piedmonte region and has been making a comeback in its home region in the last 10 to 15 years, led by some fantastic versions made by Giuseppe Vajra of the famed G.D. Vajra in Barolo. The Freisa grape, which is native to the Monferrato and Langhe zones, is also a half-sibling of other Piemontese varieties including Vespolina and some other very obscure grapes, it is a daily deep colored berry with an intense blue-black hue on the vine and is known for its noted strawberry flavor, hence the name, and the Jolie-Laide example faithfully expresses that beautiful wild strawberry essence and core fruit. The garden strawberry led 2019 Tres Pico Creek Freisa is floral and with a touch or feral earthiness from the whole bunches and semi-carbonic maceration with a medium bodied palate that also reveals crushed raspberry, cranberry, pomegranate and plum fruits that are accented by zesty herbs and spices including cinnamon, rosemary, mineral tones and fennel notes. It’s been incredible to see in recent years the rise of fabulous California versions of Italian red varietals, I mean, I’ve been blown away with the quality and range of styles available and this wine is one of the most exciting, along with Ryme Cellars’ Aglianico, the Reeve, Odonata and Sheldon Sangiovese(s), Martha Stoumen’s Nero d’Avola and Negroamaro, as well as Giornata’s Barbera and Palmina’s Nebbiolo to name a few. Last year I loved the Jolie-Laide red blend of Trousseau, Gamay and Valdiguie, so I was thrilled to see this Freisa being offered, plus the new Clairette, which I will open soon and review as well, along with Scott’s 100% Gamay, the Melon de Bourgogne and a new Rosé, made from Gamay.

The Jolie-Laide Freisa is sourced from the Tres Pico Creek Vineyard, which was planted in 1994 and organically farmed by the Siletto family in San Benito, it is a site that has been gaining some serious gravitas within the natural wine community and has an intriguing selection grapes, including some lesser known Italian varietals like this one, as well as Gamay and other geeky goodies. This rocky site is set on gravelly loamy soils of an alluvial fan situated next to the Tres Pinos Creek where it takes its name, it is a well drained vineyard and has lots of good sun exposure along with cool nights that allow for ripe flavors, while retaining good acidity, that adds to the balance and smooth tannins found in Jolie-Laide’s Freisa. Freisa saw a huge surge in popularity in Piedmonte after phylloxera (which devastated most of Europe’s vines) in the 1880s and it is believed to have likely originated in the hills between Asti and Turin, though as Jolie-Laide’s winemaker Scott Schultz notes, it was often overshadowed by the more popular and more structured Nebbiolo, as well as the fruitier Dolcetto and Barbera wines of the region, though now, plantings of Freisa are on the rise again. Schultz adds that, akin to Nebbiolo, Freisa keeps its natural acidity and has a strong tannin profile, making it a wine that has plenty of aging potential. The garnet/ruby colored 2019 Jolie-Laide Freisa was traditionally foot trodded and fermented with native yeasts using 100% whole cluster with primary fermentation in concrete tanks. After going dry the wine was gently pressed from the cement to neutral French oak barrique(s) for about 12 months to soften the tannic profile, then the finished wine was bottle-aged for another 6 months before getting released to the mailing list. Scott Shultz, who works at Pax Wine Cellars, has worked also at Ryme and with Arnot-Roberts, is one of California’s youthful talents that is focused on interesting vineyard sites and mostly lesser known grapes, he doesn’t do a lot of wine under his Jolie-Laide label, but it is all compelling and transparent stuff, well worth searching out. There was only a tiny allocation available and will be super hard to find in the wild, but I would highly recommend joining their mailing list to get future offerings of this wine, plus the other limited production wines in Jolie-Laide’s lineup.
($30 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2016 Col D’Orcia, Rosso di Montalcino DOC, Tuscany, Italy.
The 2016 Col D’Orcia Rosso di Montalcino is a smashing full bodied and complex wine, proving that this vintage is one to collect and stock up on, this “Baby Brunello” certainly lives up to its name, in fact it is not far off the more expressive true Brunello, I would be hard pressed to know the difference in a blind tasting, such is the quality here. I was immediately impressed by the depth and density of the fruit with a gorgeous array of earthy dark berries along with classic Sangiovese purity and accents, including blackberry, mulberry, currant and kirsch, as well as anise, dried flowers, minty herbs, cedar, mocha and a savory cut of cigar wrapper. The mouth is fairly supple and there is a sense of ripe tannin, but this wine is pretty serious in structure and the natural acidity is well integrated and adds a polished freshness to this fine example of Rosso di Montalcino. There is so much to enjoy in this Col D’Orcia and like the La Torre Rosso di Montalcino, you get much more than expected and this deeply hued wine is remarkable for the price.

Col d’Orcia, which translates to “the hill overlooking the Orcia River”, is one of the original Brunello properties and the largest organic estate in the region, well known for traditional or authentic wines. The Orcia River marks the Southwestren border of the Brunello di Montalcino zone, where there is some volcanic influence in the clay and limestone soils and with warm exposures that adds to the concentration and richness of the Sangiovese Grosso (Brunello Clone) grapes. It is through Col D”Orcia’s efforts that in 1983 that Rosso di Montalcino became a DOC and their’s is an iconic example, which the winery notes, is made with pure (100%) Sangiovese grapes, released one year after the harvest to retain all the freshness and fruitiness of a young wine, but this is year that gave an added dimension to this Rosso and this is fabulous, especially good with hearty cuisine. This bodes well for the upcoming 2016 Brunello that should be legendary, but for exceptional value I recommend grabbing a bunch of these and enjoy them for the next 3 to 5 years!
($22 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2019 Pewsey Vale, Dry Riesling, Individual Vineyard Estate, Eden Valley, South Australia.
These Aussie Dry Rieslings are such quality values, especially this Pewsey Vale, with intense dry extract, delicate florals and zingy acidity these wines really are refreshing and awesome with a wide range of cuisine and dishes. Australia has some of the oldest Riesling vines on earth, with only a few sites in the Mosel with older parcels, and Pewsey has more than 120 years of experience and history with this grape, having planted their first vineyard back in 1847 here in the high elevation Eden Valley, high above the famous Barossa region, where there is plenty of cool air to refresh the ripening grapes. This winery saw, as they put it, a reinvigorated Pewsey Vale Vineyard in the 1960s to bring their historic vines to glory and putting a sharp focus on the beauty and diversity of Riesling in this unique terroir. This 2019 vintage of Pewsey Vale’s Individual Vineyard Estate Dry Riesling is wonderfully expressive and vibrant with a light and zesty palate that shows a classic steely array of flavors with lime, green apple, orange blossom, fresh picked tart peach, bitter melon, verbena, a touch of saline and wet stones. This Riesling is crisply dry and brisk, too much so for overtly hot spicy dishes, but fabulous with oysters, claims, garlic shrimp and or goat cheeses.

Pewsey Vale does four main Riesling offerings, all hand crafted by the talented winemaker Louisa Rose, who’s collection is a fantastic lineup that includes her Kabinett style Pewsey Vale Prima Riesling, the Contours Museum Reserve (extended aged), the 1961 Block Riesling, which is dry, but concentrated, and this ultra bargain Single (Individual) Vineyard Estate Dry Riesling, a wine that is one of my (less) guilty pleasures and a cool Summer refresher. Pewsey Vale offers up tasty suggestion of their own to go with this wine, including seared scallops, salt and pepper squid, Thai beef salad, or a tomato salad with pickled walnuts and fresh basil. It is great to feature some of Australia’s delicious Riesling and Ms Rose, both of which deserve much more attention, as these wines are sublime and sometimes overlooked, as are most of the whites from Oz, which are much better than most people realize, in particular these Eden and Clare Rieslings, along with the Old Vine Semillon from the Hunter Valley, the Sem/Sauvs from Western Australia, the Chardonnays too, like Leeuwin’s, as well as the “Sticky” tawny style Muscats, which are some of the most interesting sweet wines in the world. Pewsey Vale has been working with organic methods for quite awhile and began certification in 2013 and has now expanded into biodynamics for their vineyard sites, which may explain the energy and extra dimension I am seeing in the latest release, don’t miss these exceptional dry Aussie Rieslings.
($18 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2018 Domaine Paul Jaboulet Anie, Crozes-Hermintage Rouge “Domaine de Thalabert” Northern Rhone, France.
After a fabulous series of successful vintages for this Domaine de Thalabert Crozes, Caroline Frey’s Domaine Jaboulet has raised the game again with this 2018 version, helped by the year’s deep fruit characteristics and striking freshness energy with its natural acidity making everything pop perfectly on the medium/full palate along with an exceptional long aftertaste. As with the last five vintages I’ve tasted and a few which I have extensively reviewed here, this Domaine Paul Jaboulet Anie, Crozes-Hermintage Rouge “Domaine de Thalabert” is a northern Rhone, 100% Syrah, classic with a heightened aromatic perfume and an inviting deep inky color that leads to a remarkably pure cascade of flavors in the mouth, it shows notable layers of boysenberry, damson plum, kirsch, blueberry compote and creme de cassis as well as gorgeous crushed violets, delicate anise, earthy camphor, peppercorns, fig paste and black olives. The finish brings elegant echos of the core elements that are accented by subtle oak usage, nice mineral tones and graceful weightlessness with everything here seeming to be just that bit more lifted and thrilling to experience, this Syrah would be a great one to watch over the next decade, such is the impression it leaves. The recent rise of quality in Crozes-Hermitage really make these wines some of the best values in the region, with this one being an awesome Cru bottling, especially attractive at the price you can get it for. This wine deserves a bit more care in planning than I gave it, as it will be an excellent wine with a well thought out meal and time for it to open up completely, it is a bigger wine than first impressions give, so go with robust cuisine.

The famous Thalabert parcel, as I’ve noted in pas reviews, is located in Croze’s pebble-strewn granite soiled lieu-dit of Les Chassis, which has been owned by Jaboulet since its founding back in 1834 and is regarded as maybe the greatest set of vines in the Crores-Hermitage AOC, all organic and biodynamic. Frey uses partial whole bunches and well judged use of new wood, really putting the focus on the vintage and trying for transparency and luxurious texture in her recent releases, with this 2018 being a stunning wine, joining the 2016 as a favorite of mine. The Domaine Paul Jaboulet Aine, now owned by the Frey family, led by the talented Caroline Frey, has been an iconic estate in the Northern Rhone and one of the big three in the region along with Guigal and Chapoutier, most known for their fabled La Chapelle vineyard in Hermitage, Syrah’s most holy site! There’s been wines made here since pre-Roman times, but it was Antoine Jaboulet’s plantings in 1834 and focus on quality which really started to establish the area as one of the major wine producing appellations of the world, after he past the land was passed on to his two sons Henri and Paul, who’s name became company label. The Frey family, who bought the fade glory Jaboulet in 2006, have become big time players in premium French wine production having serious quality properties in Champagne, Burgundy and Bordeaux, which includes Chateau La Lagune in Haut-Medoc and Château de Corton André in the Cote de Beaune. Caroline, who studied in Bordeaux is one of France’s rising stars and has her hand in many projects, with even a biodynamic high elevation vineyard in Switzerland, of which I am excited to try the wines from. The Jaboulet lineup is full of quality efforts, but without question this one is a standout that is nearly impossible to resist, I know I’m hooked!
($40 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

2015 Lapo Berti, Barolo DOCG, Del Comune di La Morra, Piedmonte, Italy.
The Barolo from the Lapo Berti winery in La Morra is one of the most exciting tiny production wines in this famous region and stellar buy, with this 2015 being a ripe and soft tannined version, making it a serious Nebbiolo that can be enjoyed in its young. This traditionally hand crafted Barolo, that is sourced from small Cru parcels in the La Morra zone, delivers classic Nebbiolo flavors and a sense of place that lets you exactly what this wine is with beautiful supple layers of vintage’s dense and expressive fruit along with subtle earthy elements, sweet herbs, a light cedar/sandalwood note and a porporri of wilted flowers. The 2015 is more overt than the other vintages I’ve tried, but it is not full of heat and or no less event either with pretty black cherry, damson plum, raspberry and a touch of strawberry fruits, chalky stones, saline infused black licorice, amaro/liqueur and a bit of violets. I was convinced to add this label to my yearly rotation of Piedmonte wines by the fact that Oregon winemaking legend John Paul of Cameron Winery actually imports this wine and tries his best to secure the whole production in good years, such devotion, certainly made me more intrigued and I have not been disappointed, especially with the 2013 and this 2015 wines, and I am really excited to see what the 2016 is like, being from a vintage of note, it might be a Barolo worth patiently waiting for and stocking up on, while this 2015 is one to enjoy in the near term. This wine does open up with air, gaining a bit more of a rustic and pure Barolo character, which makes having some good food with it a must to appreciate its full potential.

The Lapo Berti Barolo, as noted, sourced from the Commune of La Morra, and from, notably, the two historic Cru parcels of Bricco Rocca and Fossati, which gives this wine some significant pedigree and prestige in its terroir. This old school Barolo was produced using natural winemaking methods and the carefully sorted and de-stemmed Nebbiolo grapes were fermented with indigenous yeasts with absolutely no additions during the process, seeing very low amounts of sulphites. The Barolo was treated to a gentile and cool maceration period to get a full extraction of flavor, but without a harsh upper cut of tannin, and the wine aged close to two years in neutral barrels in the cellar to allow the wine to develop its satiny mouth feel. According to the winery, the vines are set on the classic sandy marl (limestone and clay) soils, in prime hillside sites with perfect southern exposures, with Fossati giving the wine its inner beauty, textural pleasure and ripe tannin, while the Bricco Rocca brings a feeling of elegance, and in this vintage in particular a heavenly weightlessness, plus its focused detailing and minerality. This deep garnet Lapo Berti impresses for how wonderfully drinkable it is already, though I suspect this wine will firm up when it loses some of its baby fat and should prove nicely rewarding for a decade, if you don’t drink it all up, like I most certainly will. John Paul, who also makes a series of Italian style wines in Oregon’s Willamette Valley, as well as his famous Cameron Pinot Noir(s), including a fantastic example of Nebbiolo, is a noted Barolo enthusiast and searched out this excellent wine and brought it over at a very reasonable price, I highly recommend this singular Barolo.
($49 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2019 Martha Stoumen, Young Vines Red Wine, Venturi Vineyard, Mendocino County.
The Stoumen Young Vines Red is a tasty, juicy and freshly crisp dry red wine that reminds me a lot of crunchy Fleurie (Cru Beaujolais) and or a vibrant Ribeira Sacra Mencia with its vivid fruit and mineral tones, this is easy to love quaffer with a burst of crunchy red fruits, low alcohol and a country like wine earthiness. This is a new release and a new wine in Martha’s delicious collection of offerings that lean on her experience with native varietals, organic vines and natural winemaking in the old world to make a series of uniquely stylish California wines. The Young Vines Red is made from 99% Zinfandel and 1% non-co-fermented Vermentino, with the Zin vines being a selection of many diverse clones, which is interesting as not much time is spend on the different genetic material of this grape, when compared to Pinot Noir, except for the Primitivo clone, though there are very individual traits in the clones. Ridge Vineyards is really exploring them with notable research near their their Lytton Estate in Dry Creek Valley, they have a set of various old California clones, the Italian Primitivo and the original Croatian Tribidrag clone, so I was intrigued by what Martha was up to with this wine and the parcels she was farming at the Venturi Vineyard, and this wine is simply delicious. The palate is medium bodied in this dark garnet and ruby colored Zinfandel that presents itself with an old school and rustic character, not unlike the Frappato wines she helped make at COS in Sicily, with zesty acidity and a lighter dimension of flavors with a plethora pleasing elements, including crushed raspberries leading the way along with tangy plum, Moro orange, kirsch, strawberry/rhubarb, wild fennel, sage, a hint of old cedar, peppery spices and pretty floral detail to go along with the mentioned mineral and loamy earth notes. I am a fan of Martha’s wines, with her set of compelling reds, like her Nero d’Avola, the Carignan and her Zin based wines being my favorites to date.

The Venturi Vineyard in Mendocino County is a certified organic and dry farmed site that is set on a rocky hillside of, what Stoumen notes is Pinole gravelly loam soils in a beautifully forested area that sees warm days and cool night that perfectly ripen these grapes with remarkably low Brix. Stoumen adds that this vineyard has been planted to grapevines for over 100 years now, though these “young vines” of Zinfandel-related clones (Primitivo, Rockpile, Dupratt, Dempel) are less than 15 years old. The Venturi Vermentino, which is planted alongside the Rockpile clone block here, was harvested for the very first time in 2019 and was added, a la Cote-Rotie or old time Chiantis. Martha Stoumen explains that her unique mix of Dempel, Rockpile, DuPratt and Primitivo clones all bring a different voice to this wine, and suggests the resulting wine is more complex and structured, observing that as the wine opens it is full of spice, dark fruit, and taught tannins, which certainly I noted as well, though I found the tannin nicely supple, especially with food. A lot of thought went into crafting this wine, as revealed in the tech sheet, all the Zinfandel was whole-cluster, and co-fermented in an open-top stainless steel tank, with a few bins of grapes getting a foot tread to encourage the onset of its native yeast fermentation, while the remaining majority of the whole-clusters were loaded on top. During the early stages of the fermentation Stoumen employed gentle hand (and full body) punch-downs and some short pump-overs were used in order to limit extraction. After 10 days, the winery continues, the fermenting juice was racked and returned back to the tank (délestage) and it was air tight sealed for an extended maceration period. Then, after an additional 16 days, the wine was pressed and racked to five neutral oak barrels, where it was aged nine months before the final blending when a splash of tank raised Vermentino was added. This 12.5% Zin is a wine that can be served with a slight chill and enjoyed with hard cheeses, in particular I would go with an aged Pecorino and or a Basque sheep’s milk cheese, but also good with simple dishes.
($38 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2016 Paradigm, Cabernet Sauvignon, Oakville Estate, Napa Valley.
The 2016 vintage of Paradigm Cabernet Sauvignon, which is all sourced from the estate vines in Oakville, is a beautiful, opulent and luxurious wine, which you’d expect from a Heidi Barrett made Cabernet, and it has classic Napa fruit density, a deep purple hue in the glass and exceptionally long aftertaste with a cascade of black fruit on the full bodied palate along with a kiss of sweet toasty oak. This vintage, which is ripe and overtly expressive is one that Napa Valley Cabernet Sauvignon lovers will want to stock up on, and especially wines like this Paradigm, which is a savvy choice for collectors, as the price is not as outrageous as many wines in this quality class, which now tend to be closer to $250 to 300 a bottle. The Paradigm Cabernet delivers an array of flavors and opens nicely with lavish creme de cassis, blackberry, plum and sandalwood lead the way here along with pencil lead, licorice and smoky vanilla accents that flow with graceful polish in the richly packed mouth, while the firm tannins never intrude on the fun and pleasure delivered by this polished example of pure Napa Valley goodness. I will note, that this wine has more potential to come and I believe there is a more rewarding future ahead it, look for it’s best drinking window to come in a decade or so. Paradigm also makes four other wines of merit, these include a Merlot, Cabernet Franc, a new Vin Gris, a kind of Bordeaux inspired Rosé of Merlot and a Zinfandel which are all interesting and well crafted offerings, even though most will focus with laser like intensity on their Cabernet Sauvignon.

Paradigm Winery, founded in 1991, is owned and run by Ren and Marilyn Harris, who as noted by the their winery, have deep roots in Napa Valley, going back to when Marilyn’s grandparents immigrated from Italy to Napa Valley in 1890, while Ren’s family came to California in 1769. The pair themselves moved to Napa Valley full time back in the 1960’s and settled into their home in Oakville just east of where Paradigm is located. As I have noted over the years reviewing (and enjoying myself) the Paradigm Estate Grown and bottled Cabernet Sauvignon has been made by Heidi Barrett since day one, and the Paradigm winery is one of the great small estates in the Napa Valley, located within the Oakville AVA, home too many awesome vineyards and labels. Barrett, with her experience, including of course with Screaming Eagle, Dalla Valle, Grace Family, Hartwell and Vineyard 29 to name just a few, over the years, makes her one of the most respected winemakers in the Valley, Barrett knows a thing or two about putting a fabulous Cabernet together. Barrett, along with Cathy Corison, the first woman to be an owner and winemaker in the Napa Valley, as well as other pioneers like Celia Welch, Pam Starr, Helen Turley, Rosemary Cakebread, Zelma Long and Mia Klein to name a few, has helped the wine industry in California end its tired and caustic chauvinistic attitude toward women in leadership roles and elevated the respect for women winemakers in America. This 2016, which was aged in French Oak barrels for twenty months, and then rested nearly two years in bottle before release, is right up there with the magnificent 2010, the last one I reviewed, reminding me I need to keep up with this winery!
($75-92 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2018 Le Miccine, Chianti Classico DOCG, Tuscany, Italy.
The Le Miccine Chanti Classicos are some of my favorite wines, especially in vintages like 2016 and 2018, like this one, and I highly recommend searching them out, they can be hard to find at times, but can be ordered directly from the winery at very reasonable shipping rates, which is how I got my latest set of releases, from Gaiole in Chianti with love! This ancient property in an amazingly picturesque setting that hasn’t changed much in a thousand years is now run by the youthful talents of Paula Papini Cook, a French Canadian, who grandparents owned this old Chianti Classico estate and in the last ten years has risen up from obscurity to being a leading top notch label with a stellar collection of organic wines with a huge international following and richly deserved critical acclaim. The new 2018 Chianti Classico is beautifully aromatic, expressive, pure and bursting with fresh energy, it shows hard work in the vines and gentle handling of grapes in the cellar can achieve, this is instantly irresistible and additive stuff. There is fabulous clarity of detail and complex layers of vine picked blackberries, plum, mulberry, cherry and red currant fruits that are juicy fresh, rather than overtly ripe, with supple tannin, a seductive floral array on the bouquet, a light dusting of tangy and minty herbs, anise, cedar, earth and tobacco leaf. Everything is easy and seamless and makes for a seriously good companion with simple meals, especially traditional pasta dishes and roasts. Chianti Classico is full of distinctive vineyard sites and pleasure filled wines and Le Miccine should be on your list of must try wines, they are on my classic Tuscan rotation alongside the likes of Felsina, Caparso, Monteseccondo, Montevertine, Castello di Ama and Mazzei, to name a few.

The Le Miccine Chianti Classico “Normale” is an exclusively native varietal blend of traditional Sangiovese, Malvasia Nera and Colorino grapes grown with all organic methods and employing biodynamic elements and holistic practices to achieve the highest quality and terroir character. Papini Cook, who was trained in Spain and France, brings a worldly experience to this remote estate and her efforts have proved remarkable and this 2018 is the result of her vision and is maybe the best example yet, that I have tried, everything you’d want from a Chianti Classico is here, from nose to finish, including its inviting color, perfume and balance. The winery uses temperature controlled stainless steel tanks for primary fermentation and then the wines are gently pressed and racked to a combination of small French oak and large casks, with this one being raised with more neutral vessels and only aged a short time before bottling. Le Miccine, which is set in the Gaiole zone with vineyards that have beautiful hillside exposure that soak in the warm sunshine, but have cool nights to retain natural acidity and give near perfect hang time to fully develop the Sangiovese’s flavor profile. The deep soils here have hardened clay and it is an area that is also rich in limestone and strewn with pebbles that gives these wines their pleasing fruit density and Le Miccine’s elevation gives it a unique micro climate, which adds to the lovely vitality in these wines, while still having wonderful textures. This side of Classico is more southern, closer to historic city of Siena and is easily accessible from this more rustic and slightly less travelled part of Tuscany by car, which is how I toured the area on my visit, honestly it was one of the most awe inspiring trips I have ever taken and this wine takes me back to this amazing place. Don’t miss these Le Miccine wines, in particular the heavenly Riserva and this delicious regular Chianti Classico!
($25 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2016 Lynmar Estate, Pinot Noir, Russian River Valley.
The luxurious and deeply flavored Lynmar appellation series Russian River Pinot is a surprisingly energetic and balanced wine for such an opulent wine with its dense layers of black cherry, plummy notes and dark berry fruit seamlessly unfold on the rich palate filling the mouth right away and the lively acidity leaves a lingering weightless aftertaste. There is a lot going on here and this wine gains some floral dimension, spice, a touch of loam and mineral as well as a sweet toasty mocha kiss of cedary French oak, which works well in this style of wine that is in the same league as Rochioli, Martinelli and DuMol, to name a few. The 2016 vintage was not all that hyped, a bit similar to 2013, but have really outperformed in the bottle in my recent tastings and this Lynmar is a very nice bottle, thanks to Alex Lallos, an avid enthusiast, collector and long time wine professional for sharing it with me after he was impressed with it himself. In fact I was getting into this wine after it had plenty of hours to open up and I slowly enjoyed over another quite long period of time and it held up impeccably without any sign of giving up ghost. There is nice accents that come out as it opens further with sassafras or cola bean, fig and vanilla, as you’d expect as well as long echos of the core fruits and hibiscus, strawberry preserves and a tangy orange tea note. I recommend enjoying the Lynmar wines with a serious meal as they become much more interesting with food and I suggest either decanting or a slow approach to allow the wines to reveal the full profile of flavors, with this wine going nice with a herb crusted pork chop, a fine cut of beef and or blackened salmon.

The Lynmar Russian River Pinot Noir comes from the Estate’s main three Cru vineyards sites, the Quail Hill Vineyard, Susanna’s Vineyard and their Adam’s Vineyard, along with some grapes coming from Lynmar’s neighboring properties that, as the winery puts it, share their same viticultural philosophies and farming methods that promote small yields and high quality fruit. The vines here are quite diverse selection of genetic material with many unique clones and well as some modern classics with Dijon 114, 115, 667, 777, as well as heritage 2a, Beba, Calera, Mt Eden, Pommard, Swan, along with Lynmar’s QHS clone. Pretty much, per normal around here, the Lynmar Pinot sees a careful sorting and mostly de-stemming with this wine seeing about 25% new Medium-High toast French oak with the majority in a selection of one, two and three year old barrels, with everything done in a precise, clean and polished manner to make for a lush and ripe example of Russian River Pinot. Lynn Fritz, Lynmar Estate’s founder and owner, first purchased Quail Hill Ranch and Vineyards back in 1980, these are some of the oldest vines in the region and in the beginning the grapes were sold to star winemakers, including Etude’s Tony Soter and the legendary Merry Edwards. Lynmar started making wines under their own label in the early 1990s and produced small amounts of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, and since then, this property not far from the historic Joseph Swan has become one of the Russian River’s most coveted producers. This winery, one of the most modern in the area and all gravity fed is certainly an impressive place and the wines very distinctive, crowd pleasing and delicious, especially their Pinots, though their Chardonnay offerings have following as well.
($50 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2019 Storm Wines, Pinot Noir, Santa Barbara County.
Only 230 cases were produced of this beautiful deep ruby hued and silken Pinot Noir by Ernst Storm, a talented winemaker who grew up in South Africa, but is now firmly settled into the Santa Barbara wine scene and who is hand crafting a gorgeous collection of wines with some of the best Sauvignon Blanc on the central coast, as well as a killer Syrah, a Gamay and a stellar set of Pinots, including this fabulous new release. I was really excited to catch up with Ernst’s wines, which I hadn’t had in a while, especially as I had tasted his brother’s (Hannes) awesome Pinot, from Storm Wines in the Hemel-en-Aarde Valley region of South Africa, and this Santa Barbara County Pinot, sourced from all the vineyards Storm works with, all smaller unique sites, where the complexity of Santa Barbara’s diverse growing areas thrives, as Ernst notes, are some of the most varied on the West Coast, with an array of soils and tiny micro climates, all of which adds to the drinking pleasure in this 2019 vintage. Everything thing is is sublimely put together here with what tastes like some good whole cluster and the mouth feel is wonderful and caressing on the medium bodied palate with layers of black cherry, raspberry, pomegranate and Moro orange fruits that are supported by delicate spices, sassafras, a hint of sweet heirloom tomato, subtle and seductive florals and mineral tones. The aftertaste and energy alone will make your knees buckle in happiness, this is a compelling offering and whets the appetite for the rest of the Storm lineup and I can’t wait to pop the cork on the new Gamay!

This Storm Santa Barbara County Pinot comes from sustainable, organic and some biodynamic vineyards, the breakdown provided by Ernst shows that the perfectly ripened grapes were hand harvested from, 43% John Sebastiano Vineyard (Organic), 29% Cottonwood Canyon Vineyard (Sustainable), 16% Spear Vineyard (Organic), one of my favorite sites, in particular Samuel Louis Smith’s Chardonnay from there and 12% Donnachadh Vineyard (Organic), all of which are in cool climate zones with mostly sandy loams. I was originally blown away by Hannes’ Hemel-en-Aarde Valley Pinot(s), which I have rated right up there with top Burgundies, so this led me to Ernst’s wines and I am now a big fan of both brothers’ efforts, which are honest and transparent wines with exceptional terroir clarity and nuance. Ernst made this 2019 using about 10% whole cluster and a seven day cold soak with a gentle handling of the wine, including gravity flow and employing a small basket press. This vintage saw about of year on the lees in mostly used French oak with just 20% being in one new tight grained barrique, with the finished blend being bottled unfined and unfiltered to preserve all of the purity in this very balanced and lively wine. The winery explains that this 2019 Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir was crafted from a tight selection of Pinot clones with it having a combination of Dijon 113, 115, 667 and Pommard, which highlights the structural form and depth of flavors here. The 2019 is a truly inviting and alluring Pinot that will certainly drink nicely for another decade, but is delicious even now, especially with a relaxed meal that allows it to fully open up, I highly recommend exploring these new Storm releases, this one will not disappoint!
($40 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2018 Arnot-Roberts, Trousseau, North Coast, California.
The 2018 Arnot-Roberts Trousseau is a gloriously pale red with a soft ruby glow in the glass and is wonderfully delicate in its fruit showing elegant layers of crushed raspberry, sour cherry, strawberry and fleshy red peach all in a light frame and accented by an earthy and savory edginess, making this version very much like a classic Jura example, along the lines of Tissot, Ganevat (Pein Sud), Labet and Jacques Puffeney’s legendary Arbois. This vintage of Trousseau from Duncan Meyers and Nathan Roberts at Arnot-Roberts is one of the most complete and complex to date and really does this grape justice, absolutely proving they can make a wine on par with the old world, where they got the inspiration, I’ve reviewed and followed this wine since the 2011 vintage, often tasting it with Duncan at trade tastings and this one is without question my favorite, though I am hearing the latest 2019 release is even better! There’s a lot more going here than first meets the eye and air really brings out the full array of flavor(s), a mineral fineness and a beautiful textural quality in a wine that shares some elements with Pinot Noir, it gives up some floral tones and hints of wild fennel, tangy herbs, truffle and even an animal or gamey note, all which are best enjoyed with matching food choices and or alpine cheeses. The Trousseau grape remains a bit of a mystery in its origins and is thought to have a distant relationship to Petit Verdot, but has been in the remote and high elevation region of France’s Jura for longer than anywhere else that we currently know of, where it is the top red grape, though it is also blended with Gamay, Poulsard, another rare Jura (pale colored) varietal, and Pinot Noir, plus it is also sometimes a component in Crement de Jura sparkling wines.

Arnot-Roberts, founded in Healdsburg in 2001, has helped elevate many unique varietals including Trousseau, like in this post modern classic, Gruner Veltliner, soured from Richard Alfaro’s estate vineyard in Corralitos (Santa Cruz Mountains) and Touriga Nacional, from the Luchsinger Vineyard in Lake County, which they make one of the state’s best Rosé wines out of, in California. The Arnot-Roberts North Coast Appellation Trousseau, as revealed by the winery, is sourced from the three distinct vineyards; the mentioned Luchsinger, Bohan Ranch and Bartolomei, all of which have distinct soils and climate influences in these sites that results in a wine that shows their singular personalities. Duncan and Nathan harvest and ferment the each vineyard separately with whole-cluster and native yeasts, without de-stemming the grapes you can taste the stemmy crunch and punchiness, that adds to the thrill here. After the different lots of Trousseau are through primary fermentation these are gentle pressed and racked to barrel, they then aged separately in a mix of neutral (old)French oak barrels and stainless steel. Arnot-Roberts notes that the blending is done in the early spring following harvest, where to final blend is put into tank to settle, after which the wine is bottled without fining or filtration in early May. Trousseau is a thin skinned grape, with the winery adding that, this unique variety, that is heralded for its ability to make a wine that is light in color but packed with flavor, is in fact the thinnest they work with, and this wine showcases that to near perfection. I highly recommend getting on the Arnot-Roberts mailing list to get a chance at this one and as well as their amazing collection of wines, others to look for include their Trout Gulch Chardonnay, the Syrah(s), which are very Northern Rhone in style, as well as the mentioned Rosé of Touriga Nacional.
($35 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2019 Theopolis Vineyard, Theo-Parra’s Cuvee Cerise, Red Blend, California.
The newest wine in the impressive cast of characters at Theopolis Vineyards is Theodora Lee’s red blend called the Theo-Patra’s Cuvee Cerise, this is a special cuvée barrel selection of Mourvèdre, Syrah, and Petite Sirah, which is the grape that has brought such well deserved attention to this small family winery and their awesome terraced Yorkville Highlands estate vineyard that produces some of California’s most outstanding Petite Sirah grapes and wines, including her own and those of Halcon Vineyards, my absolute favorite example of this varietal in the state. While the Petite Sirah from Theopolis Vineyards is profound, this young red blend is more easy going and a real crowd pleasing effort that is fruit forward, sweet in toasty oak and smooth with a medium body and will go great with BBQ and meaty dishes. The palate is expressive with dark berries, plum and juicy cherry fruits along with the smoky vanilla, dried flowers, a light spicy note and a lingering dark chocolate and framboise note. I think there’s enough there to grow and fill out in areas that are a touch shy still and the oak should tame a little with some more time in bottle, so be sure to decant and or pair it up with foods that will compliment the core fruit.

This Theopolis Vineyards Theo-Patra’s Cuvee Cerise was crafted from small lots of Mourvèdre, Syrah that was co-fermented and the Petite Sirah that was picked and fermented separately all in stainless steel open top fermenters with the Petite Sirah getting about 35% whole cluster, which adds to the complexity here. The grapes were macerated and were manually punched down during the primary fermentation, then the Mourvèdre and Syrah was pressed and racked to small French barriques with just 15% being brand new medium/high toast, with this wine seeing about a year of elevage, while the Petite Sirah saw 12 months in neutral, well seasoned, French barrels, after which the two parts are put together in tank before being bottled. This wine is luscious and heady ripe with a robust 14.9% natural alcohol and is a tasty first blended offering, it delivers what is expected and gains a rewarding mouth feel and sweet tannin (the wine’s backbone), and as noted above you’ll love it even more with, as suggested by Theodora herself, spareribs, braised beef, roast leg of lamb and seared duck breast in cherry or a raspberry reduction sauce. I have really enjoyed watching this small family producer find its groove and seeing Lee’s considerable talent come to life, especially with the fantastic Estate Grown Petite Sirah!
($36 Est.) 89 Points, grapelive

2018 Weingut Selbach-Oster, Riesling Feinherb, Zeltinger Sonnenuhr “Ur” Alte Reben, MCM, Mosel Germany.
Beautifully dimensioned and concentrated with a dry Spatlese feel with an off dry creaminess of texture this special really old vine Riesling from the Selbach family highlights the quality of the vines and the house style to near perfection with crystalline mineral tones, slate driven terroir notes and lovely layered fruits with apricot, key lime, tangerine and crisp green apple all playing parts. It’s almost impossible as a Riesling fan, not to fall hopeless in love with these 2018s with their easy feel and subtly, they dance on the palate and are incredibly seamless wines, with this modern Feinherb from the famous Zeltinger Sonnenuhr vineyard being one of my favorites in Johannes’ awesome collection of small lot Rieslings that range from tangy dry to heavenly sweet, with this wine sitting somewhere between a classic Kabinett and the sweeter and denser Spatlese. The brilliance of Selbach’s wines are that they don’t try to thrill you like a roller coaster, they are wines that set out to please, and while they do require you to know what you want, they go about their mission like a Gisha, quietly and with impeccable care and grace. With an under appreciated sense of opulence, in their residual sugar and must weight, which makes them hedonistic and full flavored and less edgy in their acidity, these are not S and M versions of Riesling, and even though I do like there intensely dry examples of this grape, you have to admire these well crafted and gorgeous Selbachs, and I do very much and have for a long time. This 2018 opens to deliver its supple fruits with time in the glass glimmering with a pale golden hue and gives an additional contrasting array tangy and stony elements as well as delicate aromatics with hints of white flowers and rosewater accented by wet stone and flintiness, absolutely screaming Mosel from start to finish. This wine, coming from this single old vine parcel is an outrageous value with the potential to age, though it was too inviting to not try it now.

The Selbach winery is run by the Riesling maestro, Johannes Selbach, who along with his wife Barbara, and now with the increasing help of their kids, son Sebastian and daughter Hannah, manage their vineyards and cellar with total commitment to quality and their traditions that date back to the 1660s. Amazingly, according to the winery and Terry Theise, the famous Riesling guru who discovered and imported these wines to America, Selbach’s vines of which 55% are on their original rootstocks. With steep sloped holdings in Zeltinger Himmelreich, Schlossberg, and Sonnenuhr, plus a selection of fabulous parcels in Wehlener Sonnenuhr, Graacher Himmelreich and Domprobst, as well as others, few others offer such a top notch grouping of Cru sites. These vineyards set on the region’s most notable feature, the weathered Devonian slate and all hand tended, and are on mostly a contiguous sloping River slope that face south-south west to catch the sun and its reflection off the picturesque Mosel. Selbach without quest has some of most prestigious vine plots in all of Germany, and this Ur Alte Reben comes from some of the oldest vines in their area. Johannes is a passionate winemaker and he produces his wines in a combination of classic fuder and stainless steel, (with this one going into old fuder exclusively and getting lees aging) in a hands-off manner with no fining, and predominantly with wild yeasts to promote transparency and purity of flavors, all from carefully ripened grapes and with fanatical precision, the are wines of place and of joyous harmony. This Zeltinger Sonnenuhr, from vines well over 100 years old, is a celebration of the Mosel and a wine to be cherished, I found it perfect for my own birthday dinner, which was a meal including a spicy set of Asian dishes with my weakness, Singapore curried noodles! This is a stunning and luscious Riesling that is flexible in style, able to handle most any cuisine and some heat and still be comfortable with more traditional dishes or simple stuff.
($35 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2018 Domaine Saint-Damien, Gigondas “La Louisiane” Vieilles Vignes, Rhone Valley, France.
The Domaine Saint-Damien, founded back 1821 is a small family winery in the southern Rhone based in the famed Gigondas AOC and is run by Joel and Amie Saurel with their son Romain who is the current winemaker, this is one of the Rhone’s great properties and treasures, especially for me, these wines are some of my personal favorites, like this fantastic and nearly perfect 2018 old vine La Louisiane. I could hardly think of a better birthday treat to myself than this amazingly well drinking young Gigondas, this is exactly what I wanted and got, this vintage has more vitality and fresh detail than the warmer and more lavish 2017s, which don’t get me wrong were incredible wines too, it is just that extra sense of purity and the mineral notes really stand out here and there is excellent fruit dimension and definition that is fully on display here, these old vines give outstanding concentration without overt jamminess or heat of alcohol, in fact this 2018 delivers a performance that would rival the best from either Burgundy or Bordeaux for elegance, presence and complexity, while still be a soulful and ultra pleasure filled wine. Influenced by its terroir in the des Dentelles de Montmirail, the Domaine Saint-Damien, named for the Christian martyr, has vines set in the rocky hillsides on marls, a mix of limestone and hardened clay soils in terraced vineyards that get plenty of warm sunshine through the days and high elevation coolness at night that allows for perfect ripening of the grapes, which include mainly Grenache of course as well as Mourvedre, Cinsault and Syrah. This wine is beautifully proportioned and divinely textural revealing succulent layers of black raspberry, plum, pomegranate and a deep sense of creme de cassis along with violets, peppercorns, dried herbs, a hint of baked earth, cedar and anise accents that dance on the full bodied palate. This is riveting stuff that is surprisingly well integrated at this point, which makes it drink stylishly and with subtle rustic notes and this Gigondas should prove to be a stunning age worthy wine with its velvet covered muscles and underlying structure, depth and energy.

The Domaine Saint-Damien La Louisiane cuvée, comes from a special set of small parcels or a micro Lieu-Dit, set on the classic soils with some alluvial red stones, was crafted using 80% Grenache that was planted in 1942, 15% Mourvèdre planted in 1977, plus a tiny amount of Cinsault planted back in1951 and some Syrah as well, all fermented separately in cement vats and then blended after a cool primary fermentation and maceration, which lasts close to 6 weeks for deep extraction and intensity. Then the blended La Louisiane saw about a year in mostly used French oak barrels and was bottled unfined and unfiltered for a wine of richness and transparency and this 2018 is all that and more. Saint-Damien does a few unique bottlings, like this one and their famous Les Souteyrades, as well as a savvy old vine Cotes du Rhone, a cuvee Classique, a wine to stock up on, and now a Gigondas Rosé, a recently added treat to this awesome lineup. I have been highlighting the greatness of Gigondas for a long, long time, but in recent years the quality has skyrocketed here and this is a place to find some of the most desirable Rhone collectables, in particular these Saint-Damien offerings, along with Chateau de Saint Cosme by the legendary Louis Barruol, who makes a wine that I couldn’t possibly live without, Domaine Le Sang des Cailloux (the blood of the stone), Adrien Roustan’s little known, but outstanding Domaine d’Ourea, to name a few that has produced profound wines in current vintages, especially in the years from 2014 to now and in fact I hear 2019 and 2020 were great and I look forward to tasting those. These Gigondas wines give so much and ask very little, they are stunning wines for almost any occasion, both relaxed and or in a more serious setting, going sublimely with fancy or simply rustic cuisines, I even enjoy them with sheep cheeses and or pasta dishes as well, such is their flexibility and charm. Again, I really am taken with this 2018 Saint-Damien and the mineral tone it has, as well as the opulent mouth feel and its lively pop of spice and lingering kirsch note, don’t pass up a chance to try this opaque purple/garnet hued and top notch Gigondas!
($40 Est.) 96 Points, grapelive

2019 Casa Nuestra, Dry Riesling, St. Helena, Napa Valley.
The crisp and vibrant Dry Riesling by Casa Nuestra, a winery I featured yesterday I know, based in Napa Valley’s St. Helena appellation on the eastside off the Silvardo Trail and known as a great place to get old school and organic California wines, especially their Chenin Blanc, their Tinto St. Helena, yesterdays review, and this Dry Riesling, now one of the only examples coming from this area, and one of the most sought after too. I love this verbena and white flower scented wine that reminds me more of the star studded Aussie versions of dry Riesling, like the Clare and Eden area ones rather than the more classic German trockens, Austrian Wachau(s) and or the Rieslings of France’s Alsace region. This vintage is vividly fresh, but concentrated with tangy extract, which makes this white have some power, palate impact and it is graced with lovely aromatics and a nice spicy character, making it great with food, especially oysters and or like I had it with, steamed claims in a garlic, parsley and white wine broth. One of the best and most pure vintages for this wine that I can remember, and I’ve been a fan for quite a while, this 2019 Casa Nuestra Dry Riesling is light to medium bodied with the mentioned verbena note going with a range of brisk citrus fruits, white peach and tart melon that is all accented further by jasmine, wet stone, bitter wild herbs, chamomile tea, delicate spices and lemongrass. This Casa Nuestra Riesling has a lively acidity that keeps it superbly balanced and refreshing, highlighting the vintage and varietal character that delivers an exceptional example of this grape and this wine very compelling.

Gene Kirkham’s Casa Nuestra is a must visit winery, nestled in Saint Helena’s east side on the Silverado Trail, this is not the modern Napa mansion of castle, this is an old rustic farm house with a unique charm and eccentric flourish with goats and sheep near their tree shaded patio and a 50’s and 60’s vibe in the tasting room with odes to Elvis, folk musicians like Joan Baez, as well as poignant MLK pictures and other thought provoking memorabilia from Kirkland’s career as a civil rights lawyer, this is a fun and welcoming place to visit and the wines are unique, well crafted and vastly different than you’ll find at the neighboring properties! Kirkham’s love of Loire grapes, Chenin Blanc and Cabernet Franc, another wine that I picked up on this latest stop here, has even led him to be honored by the Knight’s of Chinon, and these wines are usually the wines that sell out fast, Casa Nuestra sells only direct to their wine club and list and what little is left sells in the tasting room. I try to visit every year when my schedule allows to buy the Chenin Blanc, it is a must try wine and not all that easy to get, in fact this time through they had already sold out of the 2018 and 2019 editions, though remarkably I was able to beg my way into a bottle of the 2017, which I thought I had missed out on. It is best to get on their mailing list and get into the wine club here. If you want to visit Casa Nuestra it is always recommended to call ahead, particularly now with Covid restrictions, but it is well worth it. California dry Riesling has made a huge comeback in recent years and there are many exciting producers to try, including Tatomer, Desire Lines Wine Co, Joyce, Union Sacre, Reeve, Cobb and Morgan to name a few, and this one is a classic.
($30 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2014 Casa Nuestra, Tinto St. Helena, Napa Valley.
One of my favorite Napa haunts and one of the Valley’s best kept secrets, Casa Nuestra Winery, which means “our house” in Spanish was founded back in 1975 by the Kirkham family and made their first wines in 1979 with their small batch bottlings of Chenin Blanc and Grey Riesling, or Trousseau Gris as it is more commonly called now, especially as it has no relation to true Riesling, being the first efforts to get released, and the Chenin is still a must every time I visit, along with their true old vine Dry Riesling and this wonderful historic red field blend, the Tinto St. Helena, made from a wild collection of varietals. These grapes, which were originally found at their Oakville plot, are set up at the Casa Nuestra St. Helena Estate in the same percentage with this plot going in the ground in 1992, it’s an intriguing mix of Carignan, Negrette, Napa Gamay (Valdiguie), Petite Sirah, Grey Riesling (Trousseau Gris), Zinfandel, and Alicante Bouschet, to name a few, plus I believe a touch of Refosco a rare Italian grape found in Friuli that is all co-fermented and aged together to make a rustic, deep flavored old school wine that is excellent with robust foods and or BBQs. This 2014 shows the cooler vintage and nice higher tone of fresh acidity is still wonderfully vibrant and adds to the drinking pleasure and heightens the experience, it is absolutely charming and is one of the best vintages I’ve had of this unique wine, though there is plenty of ripe details and it opens up and fills out to a full bodied and lush red with air and time in glass. This Tinto St. Helena unfolds in a smooth quaffable fashion with blackberry, dense cherry, plum and earthy mulberry fruits along with some sweet cedary wood, licorice, sage, dusty cinnamon and thyme spices, lingering with some delicate florals that are kept nicely in place by supple tannins that feel gentle and well polished.

Prior to the Kirkham’s buying this old farm/ranch, WWII hero Captain John Thomas Blackburn, planted the winery’s oldest Chenin Blanc parcel in 1961 and followed up with Riesling in 1970, both still in production today and usually wines I can’t resist taking home, as I did or tried to do yesterday, as there is limited reservations during Covid and mostly to their awesome wine club, lucky for me I met up with Hannah, who is the director of guest service and the wine club manager here and she took pity on a spontaneous traveller, who begs well enough to be let in to buy his coveted bottles. Her kindness and guidance on vintages was greatly appreciated and I left with a huge grin as I watched the beautiful winter mustard, in a fabulous yellow blur race by the window as I made my getaway, with a set of the Chenin, Riesling, this darkly delicious Tinto St. Helena and another of the cult followed wines here, their Cabernet Franc, which I look forward to trying at a later date. On day two, after being open without gas, there is more depth and fruit intensity here in this 2014 Tinto St. Helena and a decedent creme de cassis note becomes evident and I’m glad I had some left in the bottle to see the full expression to show itself, also giving hint to how well and interesting this vintage should age, at 14.3% natural alcohol, this version is well judged and has potential to go at least a decade more, if not closer to two, as there is more concentration than one might think, this is a great value for a small handcrafted Napa Valley effort of such tastiness. This is a winery, that is a post Covid, a must visit spot with an awesome location on St. Helena’s eastern side on the less traffic burdened Silverado Trail with picturesque surroundings and a welcoming feel of the Napa Valley of a different era with eclectic lineup of well made and handcrafted wines, it is well worth your time to discover this small family, even just for this wine, but I certainly suggest never passing up on their Chenin!
($45 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2019 Dirty & Rowdy, Barbera, Mendocino County.
The dark purple/garnet and juicy Mendocino County Barbera from Hardy Wallace and Dirty & Rowdy begs for a steaming mass of pasta and spicy fresh tomato sauce and or in my case that and a plate of spring zucchini, squash and country potatoes with hot link sausage, with a classic Barbera vibrance, mineral tone and exciting black fruits. The Dirty & Rowdy Barbera is remarkably well done and refreshingly low in natural alcohol, showing a rustic charm and lively acidity that makes it very Piedmonte like in its delightful and food friendly personality, it is wine that you can start as you start cooking and enjoy well past the last bite, in fact its only problem is that it goes down easy, too easy and makes you sad when the bottle is found to be empty on the table, a wine that leaves you smiling and wanting more. This 2019 vintage, Dirty & Rowdy’s first go with this grape, is full of crushed blackberry, tart currant, plum and black cherry fruits that is excitingly whole cluster crunchy and is accented with savory elements, herbs and a nice touch of tartness with hints of minty, anise and forest floor, woodsy notes. As it opens this fun wine turns up the jam with some pretty floral detail and a touch of lingering pomegranate, all the while just comfortable listening to your happy conversations without a needy desire to take your attention away from welcome moments of laughter, this is the best kind of company a bottle can be.

Dirty & Rowdy, founded in about 2010 by the Wallace and Graham family with Matt Graham and Hardy Wallace running this Mourvedre obsessed micro winery based in Sonoma’s little Eggs ’n Butter town of Petaluma and are one of the most successful natural wine labels in California with a following the the band Phish would be jealous of! Working with some of California’s most historic Mourvedre (Mataro) old vine vineyard sites, like the Enz Vineyard in Lyme Kiln Valley and Evangelho Vineyard in Contra Costa, along with another handful of quality organic or sustainable vineyards from Santa Barbara to Mendocino as well as the Sierra Foothills with its granite and Monterey’s chalky limestone at Chalone, all make these Dirty & Rowdy Mourvedre(s) serious and compelling wines, but far from a one trick pony they also do an incredible GSM (or MSG) blend, this new and absolutely delicious old vine Barbera, plus the hipster Orange wine and a fabulous Semillon. The wines are truly made in the vines with the winemaking playing a minor role, except in the case of orange (skin contact) wine that takes some careful attention, with Hardy using almost 100% whole cluster and all spontaneous wild yeast fermentation with zero additions in most cases to promote a rustic, raw and earthy purity. I really wish they had made more of this Barbera, as it sold out way too quickly for my liking, so be sure to grab as many as you can if you see it in the wild!
($38 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2013 Littorai, Pinot Noir, Mays Canyon, Sonoma Coast.
Ted Lemon, who is humbly and with great precision, is continuing to make some of California’s most beautiful Pinot Noir wines and his 2013 Mays Canyon is really coming into its own with gorgeous layering and striking detail, from an irregular and less hyped vintage, it is blossoming into a swan so to speak with a weightlessness, depth and lingering flavors that will remind many of some of Burgundies finest Premier Crus, outstanding stuff. Lemon sometimes gets left out of the current conversations about the top winemakers, but that seems absolutely insane when you taste one of his wines, and I was gently reminded of that myself last night as I sipped on this glorious Pinot Noir with its graceful medium bodied palate that unfolds with regal dimension, showing a fine array of black cherry, plum, cranberry and strawberry fruits along with a deep sense of dark flower perfume, delicate tea notes, sassafras spice, a touch of woodsy, earthy and sweet golden Chanterelles and blood orange. The texture, subtly and length in this 2013 Mays Canyon Pinot are of otherworldly quality and silken pleasure, and I can only imagine with mouth watering anticipation what stellar vintages like 2018 and 2019 will be like in 10 to 20 years, and I’m glad I got to see this wine start to show its true nature and potential, it is certainly in a fabulous place right now, it is not a showy or flamboyant wine, but of a wine of near perfection in a state of quiet poise and seductive charm.

The Mays Canyon site, as Lemon notes, is home to the Porter-Bass Estate, farmed to strict organic methods with biodynamic principles and set on coastal gravelly loam that is underpinned by sandstone and broken shales, its located on the western edge of the Russian River Appellation, near Guerneville, bordered by beautiful redwoods and just eight miles from the Pacific Coast. This Pinot plot used by Littorai was planted, or replanted back in 1999, and has a collection of clonal material that includes many unique proprietary clones along with sections of the Swan clone and 777 with vines to struggle to produce a meaningful crop, in fact this vineyard only averages about 1.6 tons per acre, ensuring concentration and a wealth of fruit intensity along with pure cool climate vitality and wonderful mineral tones. Littorai was founded in 1993 by Ted and his wife Heidi, after what could be called an already storied career with Lemon being the first ever American to be named a vineyard manager in Burgundy where he world at the legendary Guy Roulot in Meursault, plus stints at some of the best domaines in Burgundy, making wines at Domaine Georges Roumier, Domaine Bruno Clair, Domaine Parent, Domaine De Villaine, Domaine Delorme and the famous Domaine Dujac. Lemon, like Doug Tunnell at Brick House in Oregon, was a pioneer in American biodynamics and focusing on ultra cool climate vineyards on the west Sonoma coast as well as in the Anderson Valley, he is a firm believer in that the wine is made in the vineyard and that terroir is the wines soul. The cellar work is natural, gentle and promotes delicacy and elegance, which this ruby red and transparent 2013 Mays Canyon shows in spades, these are wines that should never be missed!
($99 Est.) 96 Points, grapelive

2018 Domaine Merlin Francois, Cote-Rotie, Northern Rhone, France.
The Domaine Merlin Francois of Lauent and Francois Merlin is totally new to me and this beautifully made Cote-Rotie was an excellent discovery and was perfect for celebrating the occasion, which was my 84 year old mother getting her second dose of the Pfizer Covid vaccine and a moment of great relief, taking a huge weight of stress and concern lifted, so a special bottle was indeed require and this one delivered a welcome and rewarding performance with deep layers of opulent dark fruits and an elegant textural mouth feel. Made in a polished and supple style the Domaine Merlin Francois Cote-Rotie is more Guigal like than say Jamet or Levet in style without the savory edgy thrill of the stemmy whole cluster versions, this is a not criticism, as the world is always a better place with an array of diversity and this wine is well crafted and pleasingly rich in depth with a full bodied palate of blackberry, blueberry, plum and dense fig fruit along with a kiss of smoky sweet cedary wood, anise, violette, mocha and lingering creme de cassis, making it a wine of hedonistic comforts rather than one of peaked excitement and great with meaty/gamey dishes. There is a subtle sense of mineral, spice and earth tucked into the background that adds complexity and reveals the purity of this Syrah and the granite slopes from where it comes from. This family winery is committed to putting the work in, in particular in the vineyard where these wines are really made, with Francois’ wife and younger son Julien also playing roles here. This property has been getting a lot more attention these days, as witnessed by their prestigious scores in Decanter Magazine in recent years, with this 2018, a classic vintage for Cote-Rotie, being a big stand out, and from my own experience with this bottle I can see why easily, this is a well rounded wine that looks set to get even better with age with potential to impress for another decade or more.

A little research has found that Francois Merlin, a self taught winemaker, who has been joined full-time by his son Laurent in 2013, is a serious vigneron that studied under the legendary Rene Rostaing and has gained an admirable reputation as a grower producer in the Northern Rhone with a tidy collection of high quality parcels, some that he planted himself from ancient massele (syrah) selections, in Crores-Hermitage, Saint-Joseph and here in Cote-Rotie as well, to name a few. Merlin, based in St-Michel-sur-Rhône since 1989, a commune just south of Condrieu, uses mostly organic and sustainable methods to farm his challenging sites which are set on the regions mostly decomposed granite soils with areas of gneiss, gravel and schist, looking for exceptionally small yields and the concentration of fruit, which his son Laurent playing a big part in the vineyard, having taken the quality to the next level. In his small cellars, Francois uses, interestingly, Austrian Stockinger 500L demi-muids for the aging of some of his wines, in particular the whites, while employing some Burgundy small barriques as well, with barrels that range from toasty brand new to six year old casks in combination to achieve a studied balance in his Cote-Rotie, while still being seriously luxurious in the glass. He does a very limited Condrieu, (Viognier) which is barrel fermented and aged, that sounds like a must try as well and a wine I certainly will keep an eye out for. For his Cote-Rotie 2018, which is 100% Syrah, Francois and Laurent used all de-stemmed and carefully sorted fruit that saw about 30 days of maceration and primary fermentation with daily punch downs and pumpovers after 10 days before being gently pressed to barrel for aging, which lasted over a year and a half before being bottled unfined and unfiltered. There’s a lot to like and admire here and I am ready to explore more of these Merlin wines, especially after enjoying this Cote-Rotie and its impeccable detailing and savvy pricing, with their Saint-Joseph and Crozes-Hermitage next on my wish list!
($49 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2018 Stolpman “La Cuadrilla” Red Blend, Ballard Canyon, Santa Ynez Valley.
The La Cuadrilla or the the crew’s wine, is a pure California gem from Stolpman with the grapes all coming from the the best parcels, as picked out by their super star vineyard manager Ruben Solorzano at their Ballard Canyon estate in the Santa Ynez Valley near Los Olivos, it is a rotating blend of varietals based around a majority of Syrah with this dense and fruit forward 2018 vintage ending up a unique combination of 70% Syrah, 15% Grenache and 15% Sangiovese. This deep purple red wine, crafted by Kyle Knapp along with his assistant Matt Nocas, who’s come into his own after Stolpman’s long time and founding winemaker Sashi Moorman stepped back from his role here, and the wines have found a new purity of fruit, while retaining the expressive whole cluster style with this latest vintage of La Cuadrilla delivering a power house of black fruit flavors, sweet tannin, a touch of Syrah funky meatiness, spice and a hint of cigar wrapper. The nose is full of crushed vine picked berries, deep florals and hint of espresso before a full bodied performance on the palate that unfolds with olallieberry compote, blackberry coulis, plum, dark currant (leaning on creme de cassis) and kirsch, accented by wild mint, anise, mocha, peppercorns, camphor and lingering pomegranate. This is effortlessly pleasing, especially for Rhone blend lovers and while mainly Syrah this wine is open and warmly supple more in the vein of a Vinsobres, rather than a northern Rhone and the Sangiovese adds an exotic and a vibrant note, though very much in the background, and it might be a more interesting addition either in a few years or maybe in a larger percentage in the future, still this is absolutely delicious stuff, especially good with robust cuisine and I can see it going fantastic with Korean BBQ! This years label features Ruben himself depicted inked up with the La Cuadrilla labels in honor of assistant winemaker Matt Nocas, who has one of the labels tattooed to his own forearm, from what I hear.

The La Cuadrilla is special project for Stolpman Vineyards, as they employ its dedicated, passionate vineyard workers year-round, they were looking for ways to pay them what they are worth and give them a sense of belonging, so in an effort to provide further stability to their families, the crew “La Cuadrilla” receives, as Pete Stolpman says, the profits of their (this) wine. This is something everyone can celebrate and support in the most rewarding way possible by buying and drinking this fabulous bottling, it is great that small family winery can provide this level of give back to their workers. Not only that, the Stolpmans gave the Solorzano and his wife Maria, who feeds and takes care of the crew here, four acres of Limestone hillsides to plant their own estate vineyard, where they have some tasty Mourvedre planted and make a stylish red blend called Para Maria, which can include some interesting Bordeaux varietals as well! The wines at Stolpman, under Peter Stolpman and his wife Jessica, have really evolved and now there are two distinct lines and collections, along with their joint project “Combe” Trousseau(s) with Santa Barbara native and renown Sommelier Raj Parr, with their new So Fresh labels taking on a new dimension and importance here with the Love You Bunches series exploding, especially their light bodied and juicy carbonic maceration Sangiovese. Kyle, who, as the winery mentions, survived a great white shark attack off the coast here in Lompoc, is a rising youthful talent, perfect matching the tone and direction here and again who is excelling in his own right as head winemaker. This vintage of La Cuadrilla saw 80% concrete and 20% stainless steel tank in the fermentation process with native yeasts and aged only in neutral, well seasoned, French oak with its elevage in large 500L Ermitage cask and puncheons to allow for this wine to be as natural an expression of place as possible. As noted above this wine is at its very best with food and friends, it is a wine that always gives a solid performance and a good vibe, it’s also a tasty value.
($24 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2018 A Championship Bottle, Broken Radios, Pinot Noir/Pinot Gris, Whistling Ridge Vineyard, Ribbon Ridge AVA, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
If you are interesting in exciting and rare Oregon obscurities, you’ll want to discover and get on this under ground winery’s mailing list, and especially intriguing is this Broken Radios rouge made from 60% Pinot Noir and 40% Pinot Gris! At one time this wine would be considered a sacrilege, I mean who would ever blend anything with Pinot Noir, let alone its wimpy cousin, right? Well we are in a new age and there is an explosion of co-fermetted wines using a high percentage of white grapes in the cuvee and while you may think it is weird, you should know that Pinot Gris, while often and maybe mostly is known for white wines, it itself is not a white grape in reality, it is serious almost as dark as Pinot Noir when ripe on the vine and name actually means Pinot GREY in French as Gris and Italian as Grigio, sometimes you see the clusters with a ruby/orange tint, but the last time I was in Germany at harvest you couldn’t tell the Gris from the Noir. That all means this wine is not as weird as it might first seem, much the same way we are discovering that some Grenache wines are a combination of Grenache Noir and Grenache Gris, a combination now being explored in California by Randall Grahm in his, post Bonny Doon project, Popechuum Vineyard. The Broken Records rouge is smooth and supple fruited with a dark ruby hue in the glass and has a very lush and opulent mouth feel that flows with mostly a comforting array of Pinot fruit with black cherries, plum and strawberry along with light flowery aromas, delicate spicy notes and a faint sensation of golden raisins that seems to fade away under the weight of the red fruit after the first sip. After the initial impression and looking for the exotic, this wine ends up drinking really nicely with a ripe silky nature and goes great with food picking up its game and being a superb team player with a variety of cuisines, I found it held its own with Sushi rolls, spicy tuna and chili crab were surprising delicious with this wine. This bottling is super hard to find, especially as there were just about 60 cases made, thanks again to Vinopolis Wine Shop in Portland for turning me on to this slightly geeky and wild collection of wines.

It was only last year I became aware of this unique micro winery that is based in the Willamette Valley of Oregon, that was inspired by the wines of Friuli in northeast Italy, with influences coming from the legendary wines of Kante, Vigna da Duline, Gravner and Radikon to name a few, though not just these orange wine greats as Championship Bottle makes some pure and crystalline whites that are full of mineral charms and vibrancy as well as wines like this Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris blend. There has been a move towards northern Italy in Oregon for decades with their Pinot Gris wines becoming well known and the state’s biggest success in white wines in then market place, but now Pinot Bianco (blanc) is proving to be even better and rarities like Fruliano are gaining traction here, anyone that has had Pinot legend John Paul’s Cameron winery’s Giuliano white blend with know just how good these wines can be, and Championship Bottle’s versions are lovely as well. The winery believes, Oregon’s cool climate and the unique soils of the Willamette Valley allow for the production, with their offerings being all hand crafted in tiny lots, of (mostly white) wine with texture, bright minerality and elegant acidity. At this moment, because of special circumstances, the Broken Radio is not steady member of the lineup here and they may not make it in future years unless we get lucky, but I love their exceptional Sauvignon Blanc called Lost Verses and the Silicone on Sapphire white blend even more and I’m excited to try their latest releases. This Broken Radios, from a site set on the marine sedimentary soils and sitting between the famous Beaux Freres and Patricia Green estates, was a co-fermentation of Pinot Noir and Pinot Gris on their skins, which the winery says, drinks like something in the world of Cru Beaujolais fan fiction (their words) while retaining a sense of spice and depth of black fruit that lets you know it’s from Ribbon Ridge. There was 25% whole cluster used in this one and it was aged exclusively in used French oak, seeing ten months of aging on its lees before being bottled without filtration. This harmonious and juicy wine comes in at just about 12.6% natural alcohol and Championship bottle, like Portland’s Bow & Arrow, offers something different from the mainstream, it’s exciting times for Oregon’s alternative varietals and wine styles.
($35 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2018 Moulin de la Gardette, Gigondas “La Cuvee Tradition” Rhone Valley, France.
In recent years I have been drawn to the wines of Gigondas and Vacqueyras for my Grenache geek fix rather than the more expensive Chateauneuf du Pape wines, especially as the quality gap has narrowed to a tiny fine margin in some cases and this 2018 Moulin de la Gardette, a new producer to me, is one that delivers that pleasure and value I am looking for in an authentic Gigondas with a rustic and sultry charming wine that captures the essence of both place and vintage. The dark berry fruited and complex 2018 La Cuvee Tradition has a blast of whole bunch crunchiness and an array of spices, herbs, earth and savory elements to chew along with that core of sweet and ripe fruit in a wine that enjoys freshness of form, more so that what we saw with the 2017s from the southern Rhone and the detailing seems sharper, making it wonderfully easy to enjoy with simple country foods and or sheep cheeses. The domaine Moulin de la Gardette is a fifth generation small family winery nestled on the hillsides of the Montmirail range and make their wines in the classic or old school way with whole cluster, which looks like 100% in this vintage, and native yeast fermentation in cool cement vats with a year or so of aging in large used foudres, all of which allows for a soulful expression of terroir to show up on these full bodied wines. The vines here are at least 50 years old, with some closer to one hundred, and they yield way under the regulations as well with most sitting on good slopes and set on the Dentelles’ mineral rich limestone and clay soils at good elevation that makes for powerful wines that retain a good dose of acidity from the heights cooler breezes and cold nights. Another reason to love Gigondas and Vacqueyras AOC wines is that they can be drunk young and still be aged, for those that are patient and love a more mature wine, in some cases for 20 years.

Moulin de la Gardette took on its current name in 1958 and has been run by Jean-Baptiste Meunier since 1990, a vigneron who has a great respect for nature and history, working with organic methods in the vineyards and who focused on minimal winemaking intervention in his cellars. After looking into the Gardette wines I learned that Jean-Baptiste studied winemaking in the Carcassonne and interesting in Napa Valley as well, along with stints within the southern Rhone, and now tends about 25 acres of vines, which includes mostly, as expected Grenache, along with smaller plots of Syrah, Mourvèdre and Cinsault. Meunier makes three wines, this flagship La Cuvee Tradition, his most limited old vine bottling called Ventabren and La Petite Gardette, that is made from Jean-Baptiste’s younger vines. There’s a lot to unravel in this latest release with its deep purple and crimson color inviting you in and a slightly feral note on the nose before opening up in the mouth with layers of boysenberry, wild plum, tangy black currant, pomegranate and a sweet kirsch note, plus a light dusting of pepper, black licorice, a lavender and violet porporri and a pop of stemmy intensity that gives just the right amount of bitter contrast to the fruit density. This Moulin de la Moulin vintage saw the standard blend of 80% Grenache, 10% Syrah and 10% Mourvedre and comes in at a weighty and pretty normal 14.5% natural alcohol for a wine of this concentration and impressive taste impact. I’m thrilled with the personality and quality of this Gardette Gigondas and will certainly get more and follow the up coming efforts of Meunier. The 2018 vintage is turning out to be one to stock up on in this part of the Rhone, with bit less hype, there are some stunning wine and great bargains, which this wine represents, especially as a young wine that looks to provide rewarding drinking enjoyment for another 5 to 10 years with ease.
($30 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

1995 Ridge Vineyards, Carignan, Oat Valley Vineyard, Cooley Family Ranch, Sonoma County.
I am still obsessed with these early to mid 1990s Ridge wines, especially the Zinfandel field blends and Carignan based wines, they are aging beautifully and holding on fantastically well, like this impeccable Oat Valley Ranch Vineyard 100% old vine Carignan that is showing its age, but still offering a full range of flavors, balance and an almost Bordeaux like profile with dark fruits, a hint of loamy earth, cedary spice, dried flowers and a graphite mineral note. This bottle came from an exceptional cellar, it never moved since it was bought as part of the Ridge ATP wine club, which offered out a special bottling not available to wine stores or restaurants, it had a perfect cork with not a hint of bleed and the color was perfect for a wine of this vintage with a bit of brown around the edges and with a dark garnet core. The nose is incredibly has a hint of reduction, but blows off quickly and opens to show the wilted flowers, red berries and the beginnings of some stewy plum and autumn leaves before the medium bodied palate comes alive with mulberry, baked blackberry, currant and dried cherries along with touch of underbrush, anise and bramble. The Oat Valley Vineyard Carignan retains that graphite and flinty element throughout though it never takes away from the overall drinking pleasure even with the slight fading of fruit and surprisingly, this fine aged example of this grape was superb with food, pulling out more pretty and supple fruit with my Saturday night pizza! This wine maybe deserved better, thinking it would have given its last true charm much better with a selection of hard cheeses and or a simple cut of beef, but oh well, it was still a wonderfully rewarding wine that was deservedly admired by me. For those who don’t know, Carignan is one of the Chateauneuf du Pape grapes common in the Rhone Valley, but maybe better known for its role in the wines of the Corbieres region in the Languedoc, where it sees its largest acreage of vines, though it is also found in most southern European counties, including Spain and Italy, Chile and Australia, as well as here in California.

The Cooley Family Ranch Carignan grapes were hand harvested and transferred to Ridge’s Monte Bello winery, as Lytton Springs (purchased by Ridge in 1996) wasn’t yet doing the Sonoma and Dry Creek bottlings, with this Oat Valley Vineyard sitting on the edge of the Sonoma and Mendocino county lines with soils that are a collection of iron and mineral rich rocky volcanic soils at a nice elevation that saw warm days and cool nights, allowing the perfect ripening of these grapes. At this time, Ridge’s legendary winemaker Paul Draper was leading the cellar team and his gifted touch certainly adds to the humbling experience to drink up some California history, with these vines being all pre-Prohibition plantings, making them over 80 years old at the time of this 1995 wine, which sadly look to have been entirely grated over to Bordeaux varietals in recent years. I was almost teary eyed as I was researching this wine, as these Carignan vines would be well over a hundred years old now, but unfortunately they are no more it would seem, only pleasure filled memories at this stage. Ridge has long been a champion of single vineyard site throughout California and has been heroic in trying to save the oldest and most unique vines and grape varieties, making wines of class and distinction since 1962, with a respect for nature and tradition in the vineyard and in the cellar. Ridge uses native yeasts and mostly de-stemmed grapes and ages in mostly long air dried American oak barrels that provide for more transparency and authentic terroir character and purity of flavors. Interestingly, 44 barrels were made of this Oat Valley Vineyard Old Vine Carignan, so hopefully there are a few more bottles out there for people to discover, but it also shows how awesome Ridge’s wine club is and how loyal the members are to soak up that much of a lesser known varietal!
($45 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2019 Sheldon Wines, Grenache, Ceja Farms, Sonoma Valley.
The sexy cool climate 2019 Sheldon Ceja Farms Grenache is as pure as pure gets with a ravishing electric ruby color, showing an inviting lighter look in the glass, but with an incredible burst of crushed raspberry, pomegranate, strawberry and plum fruits on the supply and spicy medium bodied palate with excellent fruit density, energy and silken tannins. The bouquet is intoxicating and there’s a wildly exciting thrill of sweet florals, candied cherries and herbal elements, plus just the right amount of subtle savory notes to keep your attention and just holding you back from the edge of unbridled hedonistic abandon. In other words, yes, this is exactly what Sheldon’s fans want from this small micro winery in Santa Rosa, and I’m happy to report this is just as good as their awesome 2018 is, if not better, making for a blast of Grenache goodness with all of it’s evil joys. I remember talking about Pure Grenache wines with Dylan in his early days as a winemaker and while he was inspired by the legendary Chateau Rayas and influenced by his stint at Chateau de Saint Cosme in Gigondas, when he was on his honeymoon with his amazing wife Tobe, he was also highly impressed with Aussie versions of 100% Grenache, as opposed to the classic GSMs, and in particular his passion for Turkey Flats Grenache, which this wine reminds me of. There’s hints of wild fennel, framboise, loamy earth and tangy sage that pull you away from the forward nature of the opulent fruity character in this lovely and textural Grenache that is somewhat also like the impressive Sierra de Gredos Garnacha wines that I’ve been geeking out on for the last few years, this is captivating stuff that should deliver comforting pleasure for the next 3 to 5 years with ease. I am thinking this Sheldon vintage is one of their best yet, it offers wonderful layers and each detail comes through perfectly, this is a Grenache that Pinots lovers will gravitate to and it will provide endless smiles for the grape’s fanatics, it will be great with smoky sweet flavors of BBQ this Spring and Summer!

Dylan Sheldon, who’s been making Grenache based wines since 2000, explains that this wine is one of his truest loves, the hardest and most watchful of work to produce, but the results are sinfully good with the grapes coming from this two-acre vineyard, set on rocky the alluvial soils, in the south end of the Sonoma Valley, close to Carneros and the Petaluma wind gap. The Ceja’s were skeptical that Grenache would work here, as Dylan notes this plot is largely surrounded by Pinot and Chard vines, it exists in an area most growers would consider a bit too cool to ripen Grenache, he wanted the delicacy and aromatics allowed by the slow ripening, adding that this Grenache tends to get an excellent long hang time, boosting flavor development and physiological ripeness, but with highly desirable lower overall sugars, giving Sheldon complexity and a heavenly lightness of being. There’s a lot of rewards to be found in these cooler climate style Grenache wines in California these days with Angela Osborne’s stellar Santa Barbara based Tribute to Grace versions, Ian Brand’s Brosseau, from Monterey’s Chalone Appellation, and Russell Joyce’s dreamy 12.7% natural alcohol old vine Besson Vineyard, all of which are, along with Sheldon’s two exceptional examples, fine expressions. The Sheldon approach with this Ceja Farms Grenache is to lightly crush on whole cluster to get things ready, after which they cover to fresh must with a CO2 blanket (dry ice) for a period of nearly 24 hours, for a nice little cold soak prior to the primary fermentation. Then this version sees something like four to six days of slow semi-carbonic maceration/fermentation before getting a gentlle de-stemming where Dylan leaves most of berries whole, then carefully and painstakingly lifted in mass to a different bin to complete the remainder of fermentation, before going into well used French oak barrels to complete malos and age just over a year. As loyal followers will certainly know by now, I’m a huge fan of these Sheldon nectars, and in these tough times for small family wineries, it is great to see the passion and commitment to quality payoff with their exciting set of new releases, which includes this one, that will be offered out very soon.
($38 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

2019 Weingut Donnhoff, Riesling Kabinett, Niederhauser Klamm, Nahe Germany.
These 2019 German Rieslings, at least the ones I’ve tried so far, are absolutely charming and unbridledly joyous in their youth, especially these modern high quality Kabinett level wines, which are enjoying a serious renaissance in popularity and have never been better, with Cornelius Donnhoff’s impeccable versions being huge standouts, especially this Niederhauser Klamm with its crystalline purity, slightly off dry personality and beautiful yellow fruits. The lightness, but underlying complexity make this easy to love and flexible Kabinett is everything you could ask for and more with the slightly drier than normal sweetness (RS) level makes for a refreshing and smooth Riesling, with a hint of creamy texture, rather than sugary, and a nicely crisp finish that goes great with lots of different foods, from Asian to classic German fare and or sea food. Delightful as an aperitif as well, the 2019 impresses from start to finish, delivering a stellar performance for this re-imagined category with distinct terroir, mineral notes and layers of racy citrus and peachy stone fruits with delicate spiciness and a very pleasing mouth feel, this Niederhauser Klamm Kabinett is open and expressive, less slatey (flinty) intense and coldly precise than Donnhoff’s Oberhäuser Leistenberg, but every bit as compelling and age worthy. There are lime, apricot, tart apple, minty herbs, wet stone and melon sensations that come out as you sip this fine example from one of the Nahe’s greatest estates and one of the world’s best winemakers, there is no better time than now to explore full collection of Donnhoff, from their powerful dry (Trocken) wines to their heavenly balanced sweet offerings, there is no better lineup of Rieslings on earth. Donnhoff is one of my “desert island” wines, these are Rieslings that I cannot imagine living without, honestly life is too short and precious not to have a few bottles of these around at all times!

It’s well known that the Donnhoff family is committed to the exceptional and this is a winery that never rests on its laurels, there will never be any rust here and the hard work and the down to earth grit continues here with a never ending attention to detail in the cellar and back breaking work in the vineyards, all of which are truly Grand Cru sites that have an amazing array of different soils and characteristics. The Niederhauser Klamm, a VDP Grosse Lage site, is set on a combination of volcanic porphyry, loam and loess based soils, with some weathered dark slate as well, which gives this wine its ripe outgoing nature, light spicy and exotic elements, this is a delightful little Kabinett that shows the quality of place and the talented touch and gentle guidance from vine to bottle by Cornelius and his team. All the vineyards are immaculately farmed, everything is done with care hand tending and to organic principles at this famous property, and while a small region, the Nahe is incredibly diverse from its upper to lower areas, with Donnhoff having some this river regions most dramatic and complex sites. Klamm sites next to the legendary Grand Cru Hermannshöhle, one of the world’s most prized vineyards and that pedigree certainly shows here, this wine is a class act. The 2019 Niederhauser Klamm was fermented and matured in both stainless steel and large oak casks that allows for transparent delicacy and to give these wonderful wines their underlying substance. The Nahe, which runs into the mightly Rhein at Bingen, is actually a family warm region and gets lots of sunshine that the vineyards soak up and allows for the Riesling to get a full development of phenolic ripeness and depth of flavors, which especially shows in the densely Grosses Gewachs that are some of the most sought after dry white wines in the world, blowing away many top white Burgundies that sell for two or three times the price! For everyday value and succulent pleasure these Donnhoff Kabinett(s) are insanely rewarding wines, don’t miss these brilliant 2019s!
($28 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2018 Laura Lorenzo – Daterra Viticultores, Camino de la Frontera, Vino Tinto, Los Arribes del Duero, Spain.
The unique and outstandingly expressive Camino de la Frontera, made from incredibly rare local varietals including Juan Garcia, Tinta Madrid and Rufete from a high elevation vineyard in Fermoselle is crazy delicious with deep layers of blueberry, pomegranate, açaí and earthy currant fruits, but with racy acidity, a nice umami crunchiness, spicy notes and mineral elements in a wonderfully soulful and balanced wine. To explain this exotic field blend red wine from Arribes del Duero, you’d have to imagine some amazingly different wines blended together, I am seeing elements of classic Northern Rhones, along with characteristics you find in the red wines of the Alto Adige, as well as something like the Frappato and Nero d’Avola blends in Southern Sicily in the Vittoria region! Laura Lorenzo is one of the most heroic and iconic winemakers in Spain these days and her Daterra Viticultores label is one of the most intriguing in the wine world with a star studded lineup of natural style wines from some insanely difficult to farm sites in the remote wilds between the Ribeira Sacra, mainly in the Val do Bibei and the Valdeorras zone, along with some parcels just farther a field, all in steep and backbreaking terroirs set on this area’s granite, slate and sandy soils. Lorenzo first burst onto the wine scene through her work at Dominio do Bibei, one of the first of the new generation Ribeira Sacra producers, this is when I first experienced her wines and I became an instant fan, these Mencia bottlings were fantastic and captivating wines and kept me following this very interesting winemaker and personality, when she started her own winery with the 2014 vintage. Laura, who worked with South Africa’s legendary Eben Sadie and at Argentina’s Achaval Ferrer, both of which can be seen in the influence of her wines, hand crafts wines of raw authenticity and inner beauty, with this dark purple/garnet and ruby edged 2018 Camino de la Frontera, from a difficult cool and wet vintage, being a favorite of mine of her current releases.

The vivid and floral (violet) toned Camino de la Frontera Tinto comes from an ancient parcel with vines that are well over a hundred years old at 650 meters above sea level, it is a northwest-facing vineyard set on mostly granite in the Parque Natural de Los Arribes del Duero, in the Zamora zone. As noted by her importer Jose Pastor Selections, this field blend, planted to mostly Juan Garcia, Tinta Madrid (aka Tempranillo), and Rufete also has a tiny amount of other indigenous varieties, with Bobal, Mencía and some Bastardo also, to name a few, all of which give this wine its own flavor profile and complexity. This exciting and excellent wine, even after the mentioned cool, wet & humid summer, turned out to be a wine of surprising depth and is rustically rewarding. The grapes, which are all organic, were hand-harvested then traditionally foot-trodden using about 50% whole-cluster and 50% de-stemmed in this year, with as per normal with Laura’s natural wines, was wild yeast fermented. Lorenzo, who believes in transparency and wines that deliver textural pleasure, used a combination of large French oak and a 1000L chestnut wood foudre to ferment in and then this Camino de la Frontera Tinto was raised in the same vessels for 11 months. As expected in wines like this there was no manipulation during the winemaking process here and Laura’s wines see only a small dose of SO2 with all of her wines being unfined and unfiltered to preserve purity as well as showcase the individual terroirs and every distinct nuance to be found in the finished wines. This is compelling stuff and perfectly delivers everything I love about these Daterra Viticultores wines, which are sultry, earthy seductive and celebrate a sense of wildness that captures the essence of this region and the Galician cool Atlantic climate and rugged charms. Laura Lorenzo, who is a must follow producer for natural wine fans and Spanish wine enthusiasts, stands over six feet tall, towers above most of the natives and who once had dreadlocks, makes quite an impression as do her exceptional wines, don’t miss them, especially this one.
($30 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2016 Ca del Baio, Barbaresco “Asili” DOCG, Piedmonte, Italy.
There’s so much to admire here in the deep ruby/garnet 2016 Asili Cru Barbersco by Ca’ del Baio, this stuff has raised the game here at this winery with beautiful sweet fruit density, polished tannins and classic Nebbiolo character, this a youthful stunner from this famous vineyard and region. I am a huge Piedmonte fan and have a soft spot for Barbaresco, as well as this Asili vineyard, which I have been drinking since first discovering it through the glorious 1996 bottling by Ceretto, and this Ca’ del Baio version is a thrilling example that should continue to get more impressive over the next 15 to 20 years, though absolutely delicious even at this very early stage. Barbaresco, a small appellation when compared to its famous neighbor Barolo, is located near the towns of Neive and Treiso which was born back in 1894, became a DOC in 1966 and got its DOCG finally in 1980, it gained fame worldwide due to the efforts of Gaja, maybe the most important producer and especially Angelo Gaja’s top three cru versions; his Sori Tildin, Sori San Lorenzo and Costa Russi, that are some of the most valuable and sought after wines in the world. This Asili, which is on the primary calcareous marls and clay along with veins of rare minerals sits up about 250 meters above sea level on a warm hillside that allows for incredible richness and complexity with this Ca’ del Baio showing all of the best inartistic flavors of this special terroir with a seeped rose petal bouquet and the vintage’s opulent fruit, highlighted by crushed raspberries, black cherry, damson plum and dense red currant that is accented by light game, earth, black licorice, a touch of lavender and wild mint, as well as faint cedar and lingering kirsch. This is fabulous Nebbiolo and is a savvy value and perfect for budget collectors or enthusiasts.

Giulio Grasso’s Ca’ del Baio, which was founded back in the early 1920’s, but didn’t start making wine under their own label until 2004, having previously sold grapes to the coop, Produttori del Barbaresco, is an eco friendly small family winery in Treiso, in the Langhe hills near the border of Neive and close to Barbaresco itself, making a range of fine Barbaresco as well as Langhe Nebbiolo, Chardonnay, Riesling, Moscato d’Asti, Barbera and Dolcetto. The traditionally crafted Asili Barbaresco, 100% de-stemmed grapes was fermented with maceration on the skins for up to 30 days in stainless steel tanks at controlled temperatures to preserve aromatics and fresh detail. After being pressed to a combination of large oak casks and smaller French barrels the Ca’ del Baio Asili Barbaresco was aged 24 months before bottling. The Grasso’s are gentle and transparent in their winemaking, looking for purity and nuance, which leads them to try to employ only indigenous yeasts when possible and have low sulfur in their wines, along with their sustainable vineyard practices, (they) are looking to make as a natural expression as possible. The Ca’ del Baio’s parcel at Asili is from vines that were planted between 1957 and 1999 and are on a near perfect southwest facing slope on the the mentioned classic soils which include the blue marls and clay that allows for the supple and ripe fruit detail and refined tannins. As noted in my prior reviews, this is a winery on the rise, in 2016 Giulio received a great honor, he was named “Viticulturist of the Year” by the very prestigious Gambero Rosso Italian Wine Guide and these 2016 Barbarescos are next level offerings that should not be missed! Ca’ del Baio is on my watch list and I highly recommend these wines, especially this Asili, plus their Pora cru and Autinbej cru Barbarescos.
($42 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

2014 Domaine Jean-Marc Boillot, Volnay, Cote de Beaune, Red Burgundy, France.
The lovely 2014 vintage Volnay from the Jean-Marc Boillot domaine, a small winery founded back in 1984 and based in the famous town of Pommard, is a brilliantly elegant example of red Burgundy from this often underrated zone in the Cote de Beaune with smooth and luxurious texture and a pure layering of classic Pinot fruit, making for a very compelling and enticing wine. With flavors that feel bright and vivid this Boillot Volnay is still youthful in form with just a hint of reduction that needs a few moments to blow off and allow the more pretty floral elements to shine, while the ripe and supple medium bodied palate is evolved enough to be gracefully rewarding, in a way that reminds you clearly why Burgundy is so special with black cherry, red raspberry, blood orange and earthy strawberry fruits along with delicate briar notes, baking spices, rose petals, a touch of cedary smoky char and a fine mineral tone. This domaine, which is especially noteworthy for its exceptional lineup of white Burgundies, was one of the first Burgundies that I myself started buy with regularity and in particular, being that I was not ever over loaded with cash, I stocked up on the lesser known bottlings like Boillot’s Montagny and Rully Bourgogne Blancs that were and still are awesome values! That said, I have also been a fan of this winery’s red wine efforts, with this basic Volnay being one that certainly has been on my go to list since the 1999 vintage, plus when I was flush with a few extra dollars, I bought Boillot’s gorgeous Puligny-Montrachet(s) with their Premier Cru Les Referts being a favorite.

Domaine Jean-Marc Boillot was born from a family squabble, with Jean-Marc setting out on his own, leaving the historic Henri Boillot estate after disagreeing with the direction of style, which was trending to bigger and extra fruit extraction that went against the lighter and more finessed ideals that Jean-Marc preferred. As he got his own label up and running he became the winemaker for well known and admired Olivier Leflaive and took over his grandfather’s small cellars in Pommard, where he made a name for himself over the following decade. It should noted too, that Jean-Marc’s maternal grandfather was the late legendary Etienne Sauzet, who’s Montrachet’s are some of the most fabled wines ever produced, from whom he also inherited some exceptional parcels and was an inspiration to the young vigneron, so you can see why his white wines are his jewels and higher admired worldwide. This gemstone ruby red 2014 Volnay comes from Pinot Noir vines in a small single plot in the Les Pasquiers Lieu-Dit that is set on the region’s clay and limestone soils and was traditionally crafted using carefully sorted and de-stemmed hand harvested grapes. After the gentle crushing the Volnay was cold soaked in tank and saw an almost three week maceration and then allowed to warm for primary fermention, after which the wine was pressed and racked to small barriques with close to 25% new oak where it was raised for just over a year before a light filtration and bottling. The classic style and terroir driven character in this red Burgundy makes for a fine example of pure Volnay and with air its silky mouth feel and opulence takes over and a little patience pays off nicely. Opening this bottle brought back happy memories and I am now more excited than ever to taste the latest releases from Domaine Jean-Marc Boillot.
($58 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2013 Sky Vineyards, Zinfandel, Mt. Veeder, Napa Valley.
Lore Olds’ Zinfandels are rare and compelling wines that in some vintages transform into the profound, these wines are rawly authentic and honest efforts, but with age can provide a surprising elegance and complexity, as this 2013 showed last night, making for glorious unexpected evening of vinous enjoyment. I have found over the many years I have been enjoying Zinfandel that, California’s grape, can be truly extraordinary with age and there is a point when some, especially those from mountain sites, turn from flamboyant fruity to almost Bordeaux like, as this wine is doing right now, reminding me of a fine Saint-Julien with one of my favorites, Leoville Poyfrerre coming to mind, with a lovely sense of dark currant, loam and mineral going fabulously well with the briar laced classic raspberry core. Anyone who’s had 20 to 30 year old Ridge or Joel Peterson’s well matured Ravenwoods, with his early 90’s single vineyard stuff in particular, that he sometimes pulls out at trade tastings, will certainly attest to how awesome Zin can age, and this 2013 Mt. Veeder Sky, an odd and unheralded year, is really coming into its own. I was making some Sunday night fettuccini pasta with a spicy sauce that included saffron/smoked mussels on a whim, which needed a nice comforting bottle to spend the night with and I decided to pull this bottle out, and even though the flavors were quite vibrant with a mix of heat from red pepper flakes and lightly briny/fishy, this Sky Zin provided some sublime companionship with a stunning performance. The Sky Zin starts more subdued that many of its contemporaries, though with the grape’s notable raspberry essence being present, it takes on the mentioned currant, as well as plum and black cherry fruit, along with dried acacia flowers, a touch of cedar, anise, earth and cinnamony spices. This wine takes a few minutes to wake up in the glass with well integrated tannins and feels supple in the mouth, filling out to a perfectly portioned medium bodied with non aggressive acidity and a welcome low 13.4% natural alcohol. The quirky and rustic Sky Zinfandels have certainly impressed me over the years, after being turned on to them by my writer friend Brad Gray, who many years old got a remarkable interview with Lore Olds and his daughter, for Sonoma Magazine, both being media shy and hermit like up at their spectacular vineyard up on the southwestern face of Mount Veeder in the Mayocamas mountain range, and more recently by Kermit Lynch Imports salesman Matt Gerloff, who as a family friend of the Olds, has worked many vintages there, as well as battling swarms of wasps, rattlesnakes and the devastating recent fires.

The no nonsense and naturally hand crafted Sky Zinfandels are California treasures and should be on any Zin fans radar, they are unique wines that are terroir driven and offer a ton of soulful personality that activates the way back machine, these are true old school charmers. Sky Vineyards also does a fine Syrah, that also should not be missed with deeper fruit intensity and meaty quality, but also with a sense of grace and with a lovely violet perfume and a spicy pepper and wild sage note, plus a very rare Rosé, which I’ve only been lucky enough to have had but once! Sky Vineyards, founded back in 1973, set high up between the Napa and Sonoma valleys, resting as the Olds put it, on the picturesque crown of Mt. Veeder that is open to the expansive sky, where it gets its name and provides the inspiration for Lore’s beautiful artwork that grace the brilliant labels. The small family estate has fourteen acres of vines, as they also note is planted at an elevation of 2100 feet on their sun catching eastern-facing hillside where the Zinfandel and Syrah grapes enjoy plenty of sunshine and are refreshed by fog laced evenings that ripen these mountain grapes perfectly with an added terroir influenced intensity and structure. The reddish volcanic soil, this special climate and unique physical characteristics of the Sky estate come together along with the Olds respectful and gentle touch help makes wines that are distinct and have a sense of place. Sky uses holistic methods and is very green in practice, they are off the power gris, using only solar power, with sustainable practices, that includes, the use of permanent cover crops, dry farming all the vines, with promotion of birds and beneficial insects to minimize pests, plus a minimal use of water as well. In making the wines themselves, Sky is basic and traditional with hand-harvested grapes and mainly native yeast fermentation in open top one-ton bins that includes a workout of hand punch downs three times a day. After primary fermentation the wine is basket press-pressed into and aged in mostly well seasoned French oak barrels, all to capture exceptional purity and transparency. After have an extra glass or two of this beauty, I am looking into getting a few more bottles, luckily Sky is offering a few more bottles of this vintage and they are offering it at a special discount, so I highly recommend checking them out, plus the current 2014 and 2015 releases, which are also nicely priced and getting on their mailing list! It is a great time too support our hard working small family wineries that have been going through a cascade of tough times.
($39 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

Grapelive.com Reviews – February, 2021

2000 Domaine Gramenon, Vinsobres Cotes du Rhone Villages “Les Hauts de Gramenon” Rhone Valley, France.
The beautifully tertiary and mature 2000 vintage Les Hauts de Gramenon by Domaine Gramenon is on its last legs, but was surprisingly pleasing, lovely and complex last night , making for a hugely rewarding experience in an old Rhone and naturally made wine. Gramenon was originally brought to the United States by Bobby Kacher at Robert Kacher Selections, who took a chance on these natural wines by the Laurent family in the wilds of the Vinsobres area of the Southern Rhone Valley, which sits higher in the region, well north of Avignon, at good elevation, which only just received its AOC the status and became a “Rhône Cru” in 2006, though well known for its high quality for centuries. The wines here in Vinsobres must contain at least 50% Grenache and 25% Syrah and/or Mourvèdre to be labeled Vinsobres and usually do contain a healthy dose of Syrah, which can produce unbelievably gorgeous and haunting wines as seen in the bottlings by Chateau de Saint Cosme’s historic Chateau de Roanne and of course by the Laurent’s here at Domaine Gramenon. This dark garnet with burnt orange edges 2000 starts with earthy intensity, dusty porporri and dried red fruits with touches of leather, anise and a sensation of autumn in the glass, but beyond the obvious age the palate is still lively and the layers of strawberry, raspberry and blueberry fruits have a quality ripe sweetness that matches the savory elements well, especially for the first half an hour or so before the ever present signs of decay and sous bois notes take the stage. Even then the wine holds on bravely and with some exciting flair even, very impressive for a wine that should have been drunk close to twenty years ago.

Domaine Gramenon is now lead by the talents of Maxime François Laurent, who has grown into the role here magnificently and who has made a name for himself in his own right with a series of personal wines and who is admired for his perfumed and fresh wines here. He grew up fast after the sad and untimely death of his father in 1999, after which this estate has gained a huge following and now a significant part of the awesome selection of Rhones in importer Kermit Lynch’s star studded portfolio, and these Gramenon offerings, especially in recent years have developed a fanatic following. While getting his feet wet here, Maxime’s mom Michele Aubery-Laurent played a huge role in running this small estate after her husband passed and much credit to her is deserved for the quality and style here, working the vineyards with total commitment to organics and biodynamic methods. This wine has evolved into a beauty, though I must admit I would have preferred drinking it maybe ten years ago in its true glory years, but grateful it was still brilliant even now, crafted from mostly Grenache and Syrah grapes that saw partial whole cluster and nature yeast fermentation in mainly cement vats. In this period these wines saw little oak and raised in the tank, though a portion did get some time in demi-muid(s) and small barrels when needed, especially the darker and meatier Syrah. Nowadays, Maxime employs more barrique in the aging of his wines, that normally see lees than a year of elevage before bottling, though still having the concrete as the main vessel to mature these fabulous wines. I’ve really enjoyed exploring some very old Cotes du Rhone and Gigondas recently with these Gramenon efforts from 1998, 1999 and 2000 all being joyous and fine examples, making me seriously want to stock up current releases!
($35 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2019 Cruse Wine Co., Valdiguie, Rancho Chimiles Vineyard, Napa Valley.
Valdiguie, once thought to be Gamay in California, has been in the state for a long time and makes for a very interesting wine that can give you the impression you are drinking a fine Cru Beaujolais and in this Cruse Ranch Chimiles version you an extra dimension with jazzy briar spiced crushed raspberry, mineral notes, spring florals and a lovely deep purple/ruby color. This 2019 vintage shows the years extended cool growing season and long hang time with a concentrated and textured palate, but with a juicy fresh personality, a quality that makes Valdiguie so playful and joyous, this is a highly quaffable with its layers of dark fruit, a lighter medium bodied feel with smooth burst of acidity that is in no way aggressive, just giving crisp detailing and keeping things exciting. Michael Cruse, known for his incredible sparkling wines from his leesy and sophisticated methode champenoise Ultramarine, that has a cult following, to his delightfully unique Pet-Nats, one that is made of St. Laurent, a rare Austrian grape in a Blanc de Noirs style and one, like this wine, made from Valdiguie in a Rosé, which is absurdly good too! That said, Cruse does a quality and intriguing set of still wines with varietals ranging from Syrah to Tannat, that originally comes from close the Pyrenees in France’s southwest and most famous in the fiery tannic red wines of Madiran and Irouleguy, in the French Basque region, as well as a brand new Petite Sirah, a red blend called the Monkey Jacket and this delicious Valdiguie. Time and air brings out more complexity and suppleness of fruit adding a delicate savory earthiness, herbs, anise, porporri and a nice cranberry element.

The Cruse Valdiguie, also known as Gros Auxerrois and or Napa Gamay, was hand crafted with an old world sensibility with the feel of whole bunches and a carbonic like indigenous yeast fermentation in tank and then raised in a combination of well used small barriques and larger French oak puncheons with a minimum dose of sulfur, in a style, that again reminds you of a traditional Fleurie or Morgon. There is plenty to admire here and Cruse is certainly one of California’s new stars and I highly recommend jumping on his new set of releases, these wines sell out fast, especially his bubbles, which are highly coveted, and I also suggest grabbing the Tannat and this Valdiguie while you can. Planted back in 1972, the Rancho Chimiles vineyard is located in the Wooden Valley, northeast of the town of Napa, its a special terroir with warm sunshine, but the area is cooled by evening breezes and fog from nearby San Pablo Bay that allows these grapes to get ripe, but with balance and gives the wines a welcome finesse. The Cruse lineup is fresh and fun, all of which are very expressive, vivid and transparent, these wines are made to be enjoyed without fussy over thinking of every detail, they offer generous fruit and opulent textural pleasure with a distinct ease of use that brings lots smiles and comfort. The Rancho Chimiles Valdiguie is one of the nicest examples of this grape out there and joins a select group of producers that make quality single varietal versions, including Broc Cellars, Wilson Foreigner, the Martha Stoumen and Las Jaras collaboration sparkling red (Valdiguie), Rochioli and Folk Machine to name a few. This 2019 edition of Michael Cruse’s Valdiguie is very inviting stuff with its lingering kirsch and violets that goes well with a variety of simple cuisine and is great with finger foods, cheese and cured meats, drink this over the next year or so.
($32 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2019 Domaine des Rémizières, Crozes-Hermitage Rouge, Northern Rhone, France.
What a stunning color, this 2019 vintage is one to get really excited about in the Northern Rhone and this Domaine des Rémizières Crores-Hermitage is a deliciously fresh example with this striking purple hue and a medium bodied palate that is pure and pure gets for a young Syrah, it is a super tasty value as well, especially for the quality. This winery, which is known for their solid range of Northern Rhone bottlings usually sits nicely in the middle of road with wines that might not have the riveting excitement of more famous producers, but deliver authentic terroir character and clarity of form, these are workmen like efforts, though in vintages like this they can rise up and surprise, as this wine does, making it worthy to stock up on and a savvy buy. That said, the top Hermitage here are special wines for this third generation family run winery that was founded in 1973 after years of suppling grapes to the local co-op as most did back then in part of the Rhone, with both their white Hermitage and red versions being highly sought after. Based in Mercurol, this domaine is now run by Philippe Rémizières and his two children Emilie and Christophe, who have 36 hectares of vines scattered through Crozes-Hermitsage, Cornas, Saint-Joseph and the noted small parcels on the famed Hermitage hill, not too far rom the legendary La Chappelle, all of which have been farmed to organic minded based sustainable methods, with the cellar seeing very traditional winemaking.

This 2019 Crores-Hermitage Rouge, 100% Syrah from young vines that average 20 years old and set on gravelly clay and limestone based soils which brings out a warm ripe personality in this wine and this one delivers plenty of pleasing fruit with pretty layers of boysenberry, damson plum, black currant and vivid kirsch along with supple textures as well as hint of olive tapenade, black licorice, cedar, sweet violets and a touch of savory earthiness. The winemaking was low key here, with this Syrah seeing a closed tanks, including some cement vats and temperature controlled primary fermentation with de-stemmed grapes, getting about three weeks of maceration and then being raised for nine months to a year in used large oak foudres, all to promote this wine’s sense of place and clean flavor profile. This is a year to focus on in, if this wine is anything to judge such a things, it shows beautiful definition and is nicely expressive, it reminds me of some of the Maxime Graillot’s Domaine de Lises entry level bottlings like his Equinoxe. With air the bouquet gets better and more deeply floral and the mouth feel is elegant and poised, but still lively, lingering on with its dark fruits on the finish, making a comforting and admirable wine to enjoy over the coming two or three years. Overall, Crozes is a place to look for exceptional bargains with many wines way over delivering for the price and this one excels in that regard and it is a great way to get your feet wet with this region and the Domaine des Rémizières’ honest and transparent lineup.
($18 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2016 Thistledown “The Vagabond” Old Vine Grenache, Blewitt Springs, McLaren Vale, South Australia.
The rich and full bodied (The) Vagabond Old Vine Grenache is a wine of serious hedonistic appeal with opulent ripe layers and pretty floral accents and with a smooth luxurious tannic structure, making this a wine with a ton of wow factor for an incredibly low price. The Blewitt Springs terroir is one of the most significant in South Australia and made famous by the legendary Clarendon Hills bottlings of the late 90s and early 2000s, and its high elevation location and deep sandy soils over a core of ironstone makes it a perfect area for profound Grenache, which has been growing here for close to a hundred years, it’s an area that marries the complexity and density of Chateauneuf du Pape and the sweet fruit intensity of California cult stars Saxom and Sine Qua Non. This 2016 The Vagabond is very singular and impressive offering, which has been getting a ton of buzz at home with great reviews, is a special limited wine that was produced by Thistledown wine company, which was founded by two Masters of Wine in 2010, Giles Cooke MW and Fergal Tynan MW, who along with winemaking talent Peter Leske, make hand-crafted small-batch wines that highlight some of Australia’s most prized regions and distinctive sites. Without knowing the details, I took the plunge here, because the price seemed ridiculous for the pedigree and I only wish I had got a few more bottles of this stuff! The main profile here is one of immense flavor with classic, for Blewitt Springs, character showing raspberry jam, strawberry, pomegranate and dense plum fruits along with an array of spice and herbal notes, there is melted black licorice, menthol, pepper and crushed flowers as well in this deep Grenache, that Cooke and Tynan say was influenced and inspired by old world Spanish Garnacha(s) and Rhone wines.

The Thistledown Australia project obviously relies on the highly regarded Peter Leske, he is a well-known face in Australia wine circles, and his experience working for the likes of Nepenthe, Grosset and Domaine Dujac in Burgundy made him a perfect partner and a solid base from which to make these interesting wines, like this Old Vine Grenache. It is noted by Thistledown, that in 2012, Leske took over the old Nepenthe winery located in Lenswood, Adelaide Hills and re-named it Revenir, where he makes his own wines and those of Thistledown. The winery is, as Cooke and Tynan explain, very well equipped with all the toys needed to make brilliant small batch wines, making it this a perfect home for Thistledown project. The mission here was to create unique bottlings that showcase Australia at its best, pulling away from the stereotypes and focusing on authentic terroir driven wines, these include a series of varietals and blends from Merlot to Shiraz and Grenache Blanc to dry Riesling, all from different regions. They also produce some very rare Aussie versions of Zibibbo and Nero d’Avola, which are Sicilian grapes as well as a classic GSM, all of which sound interesting, and after tasting this The Vagabond Old Vine Grenache, they make my mouth water, I can only hope some of them make over here to California. This wine was sourced from a single 70 year old bush vine and dry farmed parcel in the famed Blewitt Springs sub-region of McLaren Vale and was fermented in a combination of cement and small bins with partial whole cluster and all indigenous yeasts, after which the wine was raised in both cement eggs and French oak puncheons to allow the purity of place to shine though. This Grenache, which shows a hint of subtle stem inclusion, gets better with air and much better with food, especially hearty BBQ dishes.
($15 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2016 Adega de Penalva “Indigena Blend” Vinho Tinto, Dao, Portugal.
While I try to avoid co-op made wines and focus on small family estates, it is impossible to do so all together and especially when the wine is as delicious as this well made and irresistible deeply purple hued and medium bodied Portuguese red blend from the picturesque Dao (DOC) region with its granite hillside vineyards above the river. The price and grapes lured me in and I was not disappointed in this Adega de Penalva Indigena Blend Vinho Tinto in any way shape or form, it is impeccable stuff, made from 40% Touriga Nacional, 30% Tinto Roriz (A clone of Tempranillo) and 30% Jaen, which is the Portuguese name for Mencia, that was all hand harvested and de-stemmed and then fermented and aged in a combination of stainless steel and concrete tanks. This is pretty stuff with dark florals and a jazzy spiciness with smooth layers of ripe fruits including blackberry, plum, morello cherry and tartly fresh blueberries, plus snappy herbs, mineral tones, a hint of earth and lilacs. The tank raised 2016 vintage Vinho Tinto is still vibrant and crisply detailed with a nice burst of natural acidity and a well judged balance between ripeness and refined alcohol, coming in at 12.5% it feels vinous, but not heavy, making it easy to quaff and very good with an array of food choices.

The very noteworthy Adega de Penalva has a solid reputation for quality and value, it is thought of, as one of the top cooperative producers in the Dao region, which certainly seems well justified when you taste this wine, a remarkable bargain for the level of pleasure and purity it delivers in the glass. The 2016 vintage is drinking quite impressively and I see that this Adega de Penalva Indigena Blend is being discounted as the new release is out from Penalva’s importer, Skurnik Wines, making it an even more savvy wine to stock up on, as it will drink nicely for another 2 to 3 years with ease, though immediate use is advised! This tasty stuff opens up further with air and adds a few charms to its performance and again it is complimentary to a variety of dishes from simple burgers, hard cheeses and cured meats to rustic seafood stews, there’s a joyous supple texture and an underlying vitality, which is helped by the good dose of Jaen (Mencia) that gives a lot of personality to this wine. Portugal relies on co-ops for close to 80% of the country’s wine production, estate wines are a rarity here, and while that looks a bit depressing, there are a ton of happy surprises from these operations, like this one from Adega de Penalva, and when you are looking for insane value in old world wine, you can find it here, with the Dao in particular a place to look!
($13 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2018 Foradori, Teroldego, Vigneti delle Dolomiti, Alto Adige, Italy.
Elisabetta Foradori is one of Italy’s greatest vignerons and a leading light in the world of what we call natural wine and her signature Teroldego bottlings some of the country’s most sought after and prized wines, with even this, her entry level or basic version of this unique varietal being a fabulous effort and this 2018 vintage is a classic version of this dark and intriguing grape. Elisabetta, who took over her family’s estate at a young age after the unexpected death of her father, focuses on holistic and biodynamic farming and her estate has become a total sustainable farm and regenerative with a deep respect of the land and environment which honors the land and history of the region of Trentino in the high elevation wine zone of the Italian Alps. Over her winemaking career, Foradori has explored her techniques and styles, which have evolved over the last decade and she fine tuned how she approaches her wines with the wines relying less on small barriques and new oak and employing indigenous yeast and whole cluster fermentations and using special amphora for some of the wines. The deep purple and dark crimson 2018 Foradori Teroldego Vigneti delle Dolomiti IGT Rosso was spontaneously fermented from all hand harvested 100% Teroldego grapes and saw mostly de-stemmed berries with a limited amount of full bunches sourced from estate vines set ion the sandy soils and Dolomitic limestone in the Campo Rotaliano area with a small portion still farmed in the historical pergola-trained method. This bottling, the main wine of the winery, which has been produced at Foradori since 1960, was raised in a combination of cement tanks and used oak foudres for just about year, and was made to express varietal character, purity and transparency of the Teroldego without any additional sulphites being used in the winemaking process and only sees a tiny dose just before bottling to guarantee freshness and stability for shipping.

This latest release shows a subtle floral bouquet and a fine mineral element to go along with elegant layers of racy red fruits, a dusting of spices and a supple textural mouth feel on the medium bodied palate of this 2018 vintage that delivers wild plum, vine picked and brambly raspberry, tangy currant and big cherry fruit that is accented with mountain herbs, minty anise, crushed stones, a touch of earthiness and as well as a bright burst of natural acidity that keeps everything taut and fresh. This is a wine that loves food and gets significantly better when paired with matching cuisine, but provides good companionship with pasta dishes and or pizza, which I had it with this time around. The opulent and ripe tannin is present, though never aggressive, leaving an impression of silkiness and it has a lovely lingering aftertaste. The Teroldego grape is an ancient varietal that seems to be only suited to this picturesque landscape and is almost unknown outside of its native Alto Adige and was first mentioned in documents back in the 1300s, and like Lagrein, which is also found almost entirely in this remote mountainous part of Italy. In an effort to get the best of the Teroldego grape Foradori has created plantings that include fifteen diverse clones that provides Foradori with better genetic selections and more depth of flavors in this rare grape. The recent use of DNA mapping of grape varietals has shown that Teroldego has distant relationship to Syrah and Pinot, though also maybe linked to the far East, most likely it was a natural crossing of grapes with some European wild vines and vines that came from as far as Georgia and as close as Croatia. Foradori’s efforts (in clonal diversity) have reduced yields and berry size as well as having a heightened aromatic quality, all of which give her wines their beauty, concentration and complexity. It’s always a treat to drink Foradori’s Teroldego wines, especially this one that offers such a great value, though I must say her whites are easily just as compelling with her Manzoni Bianco and Nosiola Bianco both being stunning, as well as the Fuoripista, the “orange” version of Pinot Grigio. If you’ve not tried any of the Foradori wines, now is a great time to explore them, with Elisabetta’s latest Teroldego being a sublime starting point.
($28 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2018 Sling | Stone, Pinot Noir, Knott Family Vineyard, Monterey County.
One of the breakthrough labels of last year, the Sling | Stone wines by Francisco “Junior” Banuelos continues to impress with a fabulous set of Pinots, Chards and Syrah from the 2018 vintage, with his beautiful Knott Family Vineyard Monterey County Pinot being one of my favorites, with this bottle, opened this weekend, showing outstandingly well with everything coming together nicely and with the fruit stealing the spotlight. The 2018 Sling | Stone Monterey County Pinot starts with fruit forward and floral presence in the glass, its pretty ruby/garnet color making it even more inviting, with layers of black cherry, plum, raspberry and sweet fig fruits along with stylish spice, mineral and well judged use of new oak, about 20% of the toasty French oak barrels being new, while the rest was seasoned used barriques that allow for the transparent flavors to lead the way and helping to promote the wines silken texture with just the right amount of vanilla, smoke and fig accents. This 2018 is vibrant and has lots of energy, but delivers a deep sense of richness and is finely tuned, making it wonderfully appealing and rewarding with matching food pairings, those that love the Santa Lucia Highlands will find joyous similarity in style with this one, even if not coming from the region itself. After a few hours of being open, things get even better here, with hints of blueberry, rose petals, a touch of pomegranate, a fine savory/earthy element and tea spice come through, all adding to the feeling of opulence and refinement and shows Junior has very good understanding of this grape and a gentle touch in the winemaking.

Banuelos, who is an assistant winemaker at Odonata Winery based in the Santa Lucia Highlands on River Road under Dennis Hoey, who has obviously been a huge influence and mentor for this label, has received well deserved critical acclaim for his small lot wines, especially his Syrah and even in these difficult times has shown he has the talent and work ethic to be a success. The Sling | Stone Wines, named as a reference to David v Goliath, which I believe highlights the struggle for the underdogs in the wine business and especially for those that don’t come from a privileged background and or how hard it is for people of color to make it in this business. I am excited for Junior and his upcoming set of Sling | Stone 2019s as well, which looks like a stellar vintage that just might eclipse the gorgeous 2018s, which was a killer years for the Monterey region with a long cool growing season that perfectly ripened the area’s Pinot Noir with complex depth and fresh natural acidity, which clearly shows in this Knott Family Vineyard Pinot. The Sling | Stone wines are very limited bottlings, but well worth chasing down and I highly recommend Junior’s other work with Hoey at Odonata, which has cemented its place in recent years as a must visit small family winery with an excellent collection of unique wines from their exciting and fun Sangiovese(s) to their serious efforts with Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet Sauvignon, as well as Odonata’s own Pinot and Syrah, which are all tasty treats. The Sling | Stone wines are made with artisan flair and Junior is working with native yeasts and employs some whole cluster, which is more present in his latest Tondre Grapefield Pinot than this one, so the savvy enthusiasts will probably opt for both versions, which I would encourage, no question. Being a native of the Monterey wine country, it is a great to see so many exciting new wines come out from a new generation of local winemakers that have really raised the game here, including Junior Banuelos’ Sling | Stone’s tidy and tasty lineup.
($35 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2018 Alfaro Family Vineyards, Malbec, Ryan Spencer Vineyard, Estate Grown, Santa Cruz Mountains.
The Alfaro Family Vineyards, based in Corralitos in the southern zone of the Santa Cruz Mountains and founded by Richard and Mary Kay Alfaro back in 1998, is widely known for their incredible coastal cool climate Chardonnay and Pinots, but they have a few other surprises to offer from their impeccably farmed and beautiful hillside vineyards, including a fabulous Gruner Veltliner, a elegant Merlot and this inky, spicy and dark fruited Malbec, the fickle and tricky to grow alternative Bordeaux varietal that was originally from the southwest of France in the its historical home in Cahors. After a few disappointments with other grapes, especially a block of Albarino that got scorched in a heat wave in 2017, Richard focused his attention on his small plot of Malbec at the Ryan Spencer Vineyard, not far from some of the Syrah vines on the estate and the results are impressive with this cool climate version of Malbec, also known in the Loire Valley, where it also is commonly found as Côt, is a nicely concentrated and deeply flavored wine with a unique profile that includes layers of black cherry, forest floor, crushed tart blackberry, plum and a mix of sweet and savory herbs and spices along with a luxurious does of toasty French oak that helps polish and smooth out the tannic edges. The 2018 Ryan Spencer Malbec was carefully sorted and de-stemmed before a cool primary fermentation and then aged for 10 months in 50% new oak, everything done with a nod to both classic Bordeaux and the expressive Argentine versions that have brought this grape world wide fame in the past 25 years. The Alfaro Malbec is skillfully made and has a fresh underlying personality, coming in at a ripe 13.5% natural alcohol, it never feels heavy or hot, being well structured and having a fine cut of acidity from the close proximity to the Pacific Ocean only a few miles away.

The latest set of estate and Trout Gulch wines from Richard and his son Ryan, who has gained winemaking experience with stints in New Zealand and along with the legendary Adam Tolmach at Ojai Vineyards, are delicious and very serious offerings with the Alfaro Chards, as mentioned, being outrageously good and wonderfully stylish efforts, no one should miss the Alfaro Lindsay Page Chardonnay and the Trout Gulch Chardonnay, both of which are killer values and bright stars in this vintage collection. Besides the limited, only three barrels were made, Malbec, Alfaro has crafted some lot goodies from purchased grapes, like his Garys’ Vineyard and Rosella’s Vineyard Pinot Noir(s) along with a powerful single vineyard Bates Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon. While styled traditionally, the single varietal 2018 Malbec opens up and sheds its toasty sweet wood influence quickly in the glass to reveal the grape’s blue fruits, a delicate floral essence and an earthy note adding round mouth feel with air. Lingering herbs de Provence, anise, loamy stones, bitter coco and tart currants make for a dimension of complexity on the finish, in what is a robust example of Malbec that is at its best with hearty and meaty cuisine, though also quite nice with hard cheeses. In Roman times, Malbec was one of the great red wines of the world with black and fiery Cahors versions getting shipped throughout their empire, in fact it was the trading efforts with Cahors wine that helped Bordeaux become a thriving port city and gave the locals the idea of planting grapes there! Malbec was one of the most important grapes in Bordeaux up until 1956 when a huge frost killed off almost 75% of the Malbec and it wasn’t re-planted in large acreage, thus it turned into a minor blending component. Cahors has seen a rise in popularity in the last decade with many excellent wines, but it is all about the high elevation Mendoza Malbecs, like those of Catena, that have captured the hearts of Malbec lovers and this Alfaro version is an interesting California bottling that this grape’s fans should check out!
($40 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2018 Sandlands, Syrah, Santa Lucia Highlands.
This Sandlands Syrah has been a favorite of mine from the first time I tried it, and the 2018 vintage is in my opinion the best yet, with gorgeous black fruits, its deep violet perfume, its beautiful and inviting purple/garnet hue all revolve around a lively medium bodied palate with incredible textural impact. Tegan Passalacqua, who is widely admired for his own farming and of his impeccable winemaking at Turley Wine Cellars really understands the pleasures of mouth feel and this wine highlights this to perfection, as well as having a fantastic balance or contrast between Syrah’s savory/meaty side and the density of fruit, this creates an endless thrill of the grape’s old world rustic elements and the sweet opulence of its California fruit. The latest Sandlands releases are a studied and brilliant set of small production wines, with quite a few extraordinary efforts, including this one, of which just four barrels were produced and sourced from what Tegan calls, the Soberanes Vineyard that is impeccably farmed by the Pisoni family, planted on the Santa Lucia Highlands classic sandy loams, riddled with chunks of quartz and granite. This vineyard has become a star in the region, joining the top family crus from Pisoni and Franscioni, a collection of greatness including the legendary Pisoni estate, Rosella’s, Sierra Mar and the Garys’ Vineyard, and while known for the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay here, Soberanes has some of the best Syrah fruit in the state, as evidenced by this awesome example. The Sandlands 2018 version showcases the year’s long cool growing season with precision and Northern Rhone like character in its low alcohol as well as its depth and complexity that are just beginning to unfold with fabulous layering of flavors, rich detail and supple tannins with blackberry, boysenberry, plum and racy currant (cassis) fruits, along with bramble, pepper, crushed violets, a touch of welcome umami, almost bacony and anise. The Alban clone Syrah, planted at Soberanes, which I’m told was originally sourced from Cote Rotie, along with some rows of Hermitage (Chave?) clone, which is also included in this wine, plus the terroir here, always seems to bring out the most seductive of Syrah’s side, while delivering impressive structure, I personally think the Syrah offerings from this site are special and in some cases better than even the Pinot Noir, with Tegan’s being one of the most desirable.

The Sandlands Vineyards label is, as mentioned, the personal project of Tegan and his wife Olivia Passalacqua, a micro winery that sells most of its wines through direct sales on their mailing list, which I highly recommend trying to get on. Their line-up focuses on, as Passalacqua notes, the forgotten classic California varieties, From the Mission grape to Cinsault, and primarily grown on sandy soils with mainly ancient decomposed granite, from regions and vineyards, than Tegan adds, that have been farmed for many generations but have remained the outliers of California viticulture. The most acclaimed efforts in the lineup at Sandlands that I have tasted so far include their old vine Mataro (Mourvedre), which I put away to age, the Carignane, a wine that should not be overlooked, the Trousseau, the Chenin Blanc(s), Grenache and of course the Zinfandel from Passalacqua’s own Kirschenmann Vineyard in Lodi, to name a select few. Most of the vineyards that Tegan sources from are organic and his winemaking is all about letting the vineyards speak for themselves, which I might describe as gentle and transparent, seeing natural fermentation(s) and a well judged use of oak, with this Syrah showing excellent purity without any pretense or endowment. There are some really sexy Syrah wines out from this vintage and they certainly are some of the best values in California, with the likes of Pax, Drew, Halcon, Lucia (by Pisoni), Cattleya, Peay, Andrew Murray, Piedrasassi, Samuel Louis Smith, Storm and Anthill Farms making spectacular Syrah wines, all killer values too. I’m also excited by the upcoming 2019s from Sandlands, as everything I’ve heard or tasted so far makes me think it will be an even better vintage and one to really stock up on, especially as a huge many of areas of California, especially in Monterey County, saw horrific smoke taint in 2020, so there will be slim pickings of quality red wines, making these 2018s and 2019s even more in demand than usual. With the Sandlands Syrah coming in at 12.8% natural alcohol, it has a cool climate freshness, but still is expansive and looks to have a long life ahead of it, making me wish I had a few more bottles of this stylish wine.
($45 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2017 Ryme Cellars, Aglianico, Luna Matta Vineyard, Paso Robles.
Ryme’s Aglianico collection is simply stunning and some of the best versions of this grape in California, if not the best and are wines that really stand out with this extended aged Luna Matta Vineyard being at the pinnacle, with its dusty firm tannins and intense palate, which also does a too good of a job of bringing its Campania inspired profile to life! The black and leathery Aglianico thrives in warm zones and Ryme’s winemakers, the talented husband and wife team of Megan and Ryan Glaab, have done a masterful job in getting the very best out of this grape, known as the Barolo of the South, in reference to the Aglianico’s similar characteristics to the famous Nebbiolo, and found a California sweet spot with it, making a bold and powerful wine that is also graced with our sunny opulence of fruit. While I admit to love Ryme’s other Aglianico, the Camino Alto, from the Sierra Foothills more, this Luna Matta Vineyard is more true and it certainly has more profound presence in the glass with a much more old world style of experience on the dense and gripping palate, it reminds me of the very best Taurasi DOCGs, giving me the same thrill I had when I had Feudi di San Gregorio’s mighty Serpico for the first time. The Ryme 2017 Luna Matta, coming from a warm ripe vintage with small opaque thick skinned berries was whole cluster foot trodded and saw a spontaneous natural yeast fermentation with a gentle and deep extraction period with daily punch-downs, after which the Aglianico was aged an astonishing 30 months in used French oak barrels to allow for complete integration of its fruit, savory elements, including a subtle smokiness and maturity of its fiery and chewy structural tannin, which still make their point clear when you sip this awesome wine. Finally California is breaking out with its Italian grapes with many producers finding a sweet spot with them, it is a great time to explore these wines, with Ryme being a must. Potentially, there is a lot more to come here with this taut 2017 Luna Matta Aglianico, I might suggest putting a bottle away for 5 to 10 years, it will almost assured to bring even more rewards, patience might pay off greatly with this one.

The Luna Matta Vineyard, on the west side of Paso Robles, is an all organic site on the region’s limestone soils and refreshed by cooling influences from the Templeton Gap, but still basks in the heat of Summer that the rough and tumble Aglianico loves, soaking it all up, but still retaining some lively acidity to cut a fine balance, which this fabulous Ryme example delivers, while also being very true to the varietal’s inner personality. The nose is still restrained with dusty spices, dried cherries, a touch of iron and is subtlety floral, it leads to a full bodied mouth of dense red fruits with huckleberry, tart currant compote, plum and raspberry layers that are accented by hints of game, leather, cayenne, cinnamon and melted black licorice as well as raw beef, cedar, kirsch and violets. This wine will rock you back in your seat, like a youthful Cabernet Sauvignon, but intrigues with a sense of the exotic and charms with a rustic edginess that is sometimes lost in the modern world, but is welcome here, especially with robust cuisine. Megan and Ryan have done a lot to promote Italian varietals in recent years and I adore their whites too, with their Vermentino, that brings a bit of the Mediterranean to us and their mineral driven Fiano, also a Southern Italian grape, that dances on the palate with lovely stone fruit. In the latest releases, Ryme has raised the game with their Italian selections, in particular, these Aglianico bottlings, led by this alluring purple/garnet Luna Matta, are outstanding efforts, including the Rosé of Aglianico and the mentioned Camino Alto, which might be my personal favorite version of this grape I’ve tried to date, from anywhere, including its historic home in Campania. Ryme also does a fun lighter Sangiovese based red, a co-ferment with 20% Friulano, that I reviewed (here at grapelive.com) not long ago along with their sparkling Vermentino and a Ribolla Gialla, an exciting white wine I hope to explore soon. I recommend discovering these Ryme offerings sooner versus later, plus while the Italian inspired stuff are stellar, don’t over look their Cabernet Franc and their Crackling Carignane Pet-Nat, when available!
($60 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2018 G.D. Vajra, Langhe Nebbiolo DOC, Piedmonte, Italy.
One of the best pure Nebbiolo values out there the G.D. Vajra Langhe Nebbiolo, especially the 2016, 2017 and now this 2018, which offer tremendous drinking pleasure and a full array of the grapes best qualities in an approachable, ripely flavored and supple tannined wine, it is a no guilt, everyday, well made baby Barolo. The 2018 is fresher and more zippy than the 2017, but with very pretty aromatics and a palate that builds as it opens, ending not far off the richer vintages and it’s performance gets remarkably better with food, where its acidity fades a little and the core of fruit comes out in a shining fashion with layers of black cherry, wild strawberry, plum and baked peach fruits along with a delicate earthy/savory kick, minty herbs, anise and a mineral tone, all of which goes nicely with the heightened floral notes and lingering saline/stony element. When you want exceptional Nebbiolo, this address is one to look to, not many wineries over the last decade has a string of Barolo greatness as top notch as Vajra with Giuseppe Vajra leading this label to super stardom since his breakthrough vintage in 2008. Not a one trick pony, Vajra does a fabulous collection of wines from Dolcetto to Barolo, and Giuseppe’s dry Riesling is maybe one of the best outside of Germany and France’s Alsace region, it is certainly on my must have list along with Vajra’s Cru Barolo, in particular the monumental Bricco Delle Viole, from one of Barolo’s highest elevation sites that also is one of the zone’s latest picks, which adds to the complexity, depth and Grand Cru Burgundy like elegance. While not quite on that level, the basic Nebbiolo still gives way more than expected, much like Vietti’s Perbacco Nebbiolo, La Spinetta’s Langhe Nebbiolo and Borgogno’s No Name Nebbiolo, all of which are savvy choices for the money.

Giuseppe’s father Aldo was a visionary and passionate about finding the coolest climate spots in Barolo, working with organic methods and he was committed to honor the land, the history and the local traditions, while embracing modern technology when it allowed his grapes to be their very best without compromising his ideals. In Giuseppe’s time in charge here, he has added to family’s collection many unique wines and raised the game dramatically, bringing world wide acclaim to the Vajras, cementing this label as one of the region’s blue chip properties. From top to bottom the Vajra lineup is an awesome set of Piedmonte wines, they are impossible to resist, like this one, along with their sublime Coste di Vergne and Fossati Dolcetto, which is from a unique selection of clones and grown in top Barolo vineyards and I never miss a chance to drink Vajra’s Barbera Superiore, it is a wine that deserves way more attention that it gets! The Langhe Nebbiolo, is what Giuseppe calls, his quest for the innocence of Nebbiolo, (and) its purest expression, coming from young estate vineyards close to the winery that range from 10 to 25 years old, it sees a gentle and long maceration so to retain lift and energy, as well as promote its aromatics in this beautiful wine. The vines get total holistic care with the biodiversity extending to the near by forest and neighboring fields to create the best environment possible, this hard work and partnership with nature has paid off in real quality showing up in the bottle. This little Nebbiolo was fermented and aged in stainless steel primarily with some vintages getting a touch not neutral oak if warranted, though everything is done to give crisp, authentic and pure details, which this 2018 delivers, enjoy it over the next 3 to 5 years. The ruby red Vajra Langhe Nebbiolo is great way to get to know this winery and it is real a bargain, it is well worth searching out.
($25 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2017 Viticoltori De Conciliis, Aglianico “Donnaluna” Paestum, Campania, Italy.
The well crafted, ripely pure and slightly lighter bodied artisan styled Donnaluna Aglianico by the noted jazz fan Bruno De Conciliis at the De Conciliis Estate, which is located in the beautiful and remote Paestum near Cilento at high elevation in the coastal zone of Campania region, making for a wine that shows off the more elegant side of this ancient and usually gritty tannic varietal. Bringing a medium bodied palate of classic dusty/meaty dry Aglianico flavors, the 2017 De Conclilis Donnaluna reveals black cherry, plum, brambly raspberry and raw mulberry fruits, briar spiciness, hints of iron, dried wild flowers, a touch of cedar and anise, all of which reminds you why this grape is often called the Nebbiolo (Barolo) of the South and why this Donnaluna offering is so popular, it delivers a lot for the money, especially in a vintage as detailed as this. This dark garnet, almost opaque with a touch of brick on the edge, wine opens nicely and quickly resolves its tannin and leathery earthiness in the glass to allow the core of dark berry fruit to stand out and the texture comes across as polished, smooth and pleasing with a finish that lingers with an echo of the nose and a touch of kirsch as well as tangy burst of orange rind. Paired with a delicious Lasagna and winter salad, the 2017 De Conciliis Donnaluna Aglianico behaved remarkably well bring out the best in the wine and the food with a certain rustic charm that is hard to resist, this producer always seems to hit the spot, spotlighting the quality of this Mediterranean kissed region.

De Conciliis, founded in 1996, specializes, in what the winery calls, fruit-forward full flavored wines, mostly made from Aglianico, which, in the warm climate of the Cilento DOC, gives wines that are somewhat more accessible. The Donnaluna is more of a basic entry level wine, performing its duty well as a gateway to the lineup here, but the De Concilis signature red is their 100% Aglianico ‘Naima’ (named for the John Coltrane tune) which is powerful and cellar worthy bottling. Fermented in stainless steel and aged a year, with 50% in stainless and 50% in used large oak casks to promote a fresh and transparent profile. The winery has gone down the organic method for many years and looks to be all biodynamic in the near future, and De Concilis has been energy self-sufficient since 2007, thanks to solar panels. In addition, the winery notes, it is implementing more intensive water recycling methods, that is important with the arid climate here making water a scarcity to be used with restraint. The terroir here is dominated by its soils, with a combination of sandstone, soft marls, and sandy shales and calcareous clay that brings out the depth of fruit, especially in this wine. The name “Donnaluna” again is a nod to a jazz theme, and is a play on the Charlie Parker / Miles Davis bebop jazz standard “Donna Lee”, and for their unique sparkling Alianico, De Conciliis uses the Selim name, that being Miles (as in Miles Davis) spelled backwards. De Conciliis also does a gorgeous set of white wines which should not be overlooked with a brilliant set of Falanghina(s) and Fiano(s) that are just as impressive as their Aglianico(s).
($25 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2019 Stolpman Vineyards, So Fresh “Love You Bunches” Sangiovese, Santa Barbara County.
The latest version of Love You Bunches from Stolpman’s So Fresh lineup, which they have created to now be an exciting separate collection and for which there is a whole new tasting room, is a delicious and non pretentious lighter style and juicy red wine made from a gentle carbonic maceration of Sangiovese, making for a fun quaffer that is great with a variety of cuisine. This is very flavorful and ultra clean Sangiovese with a dry, but fruity presence in the glass, with a vivid ruby color, light florals and lots of zesty snap to its low alcohol and crisply detailed personality with straightforward crushed strawberry, morello cherry and spiced raspberry fruit along with a light dusting of wild herbs, fennel, cinnamon, plus a burst of pomegranate and citrus punch. This is a wine that the winery suggests, like a young Beaujolais, should get a slight chill and drunk with simple dishes and without having to overthink it, it is for refreshing the mind, rather than adding a burden to a place place crowded by the worries of our times. Stolpman began producing Carbonic Sangiovese in 2013, according to the winery, in an effort to make a fresh, delicious version of Sangiovese, and it was enough to convince them keep exploring the techniques on this grape, until they dialed it in, creating Love You Bunches, the name being a play on the use of whole clusters, in 2016. With Sangiovese, a grape, that is both highly tannic and high in acid, Stolpman adds, can in a one-two combination can produce a whopping blow to the palate, so like a few other California producers have opted to go the whole bunches and Carbonic route with successful results, as this 2019 shows with exceptional clarity. The 2018 and 2019 vintages gave edgy high toned wines, though I kind like the racy quality here, but Stolpman says the 2020 will give a more seductive textural mouth feel, while still showing the dynamic energy, adding another welcome dimension, which I am looking forward to taste as soon as possible.

These So Fresh Wines have really taken off in recent years and the lineup now includes many unique bottlings from which to chose with a couple of very different Syrah(s), a Rhone field blend of own rooted Mourvedre, Grenache and Syrah, the “You planted God Damn Gamay?” GDG Gamay, which certainly has a feverish following and this original So Fresh Love You Bunches, all of which pay tribute to the Glou-Glou (Gulp up) style of natural or peasant wines of the European country side with lots of whole cluster, native yeast and carbonic macerations and almost all tank aging to promote vibrant freshness and youthful drinking pleasure. Most all of these Stolpman So Fresh offerings are from organic vines and see no overt winemaking gimmicks, they are all wines that rely on purity at its most basic, these wines deliver exactly what is promised and illicit huge grins and easy laughter. The Love You Bunches is a nearly perfect picnic wine with about 12.5% alcohol and its natural acidity it can provide a bit more depth than a Rosé for an array of foods, without feeling heavy or requiring a substantial nap after a few glasses, in fact Stolpman bottle the So Fresh Love You Bunches in magnum as well as, which honestly makes good sense as it goes down pretty darn quickly. The Stolpman team explains, that their carbonic fermentation, by allowing the grapes to ferment whole, un-crushed in a sealed tank makes for a red wine containing only a fraction of the tannin, of which is more obviously present in a traditionally fermented red wine. In this way, the Love You Bunches is crafted without the threat of being an overly tannic wine, meaning that Stolpman can pick earlier, at lower sugars (or Brix) and higher in refreshing acidity. Notably, because there is no need to wait for integration or softening, Stolpman bottles the Love You Bunches a la a Nouveau style within a few months of harvest, as they put it, locking in the fresh, un-oxidized profile. The 2020 in fact is now available and this 2019 is sold out at the winery, so you best get your orders in fast as this So Fresh offering goes fast. While being the classic Chianti grape, the crunchy/juicy Love You Bunches Sangiovese is truly a distinctly California expression.
($24 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

1999 Domaine Brusset, Gigondas “Le Grand Montmirail” Rhone Valley, France.
When a friend of mine found and purchased a savvy cellar of vintage Rhone wines I became obsessed with finding some bargain gems in his set of wines that didn’t seem to have any re-sale value at this stage and wow, did we ever, with every bottle so far being absolute winners, especially this stunningly perfect Domaine Brusset Gigondas from one of my favorite southern Rhone vintages, 1999, which has proven to be way better than expected. Domaine Brusset, one of the great stars of the Gigondas region and farmed all biodynamic, is set on the higher part of AOC in the shadow of the Dentelles de Montmirail Massif mountain range with parcels of old bush vines mainly consisting of Grenache, but with high percentage of Cinsault, which always seems to deliver freshness and brightness to the wines here, as well as Syrah and Mourvedre, that adds a meaty structure and savory depth to these beautifully classic wines. While top Chateauneuf du Pape wines are known to age, though Cotes du Rhone Villages are not supposed to be notable cellar candidates, but I have found that both Vacqueyras and Gigondas, like this gorgeously compelling Domaine Brusset example, can and do age well and in some cases, they are even better than the more well known Chateauneufs! This 1999 Brusset Le Grand Montmirail Gigondas, which it should noted, had a fabulous cork with not a trace of bleed and was pulled easily from the bottle, which was a great sign and start, that gave me a huge sense of relief and set my expectations through the roof and I was not let down, the wine poured into the glass with its nearly youthful looking purple/garnet hue and a wonderful array of natural scents from the Rhone Valley with an earthy, spicy, burnt orange rind and delicate dried florals that hinted at its welcome maturity. The palate was fine and still excitingly raw with layers of blackberries, boysenberry, baked strawberry, wild plum, dusty fig, preserved blueberry and a tangy marmalade element to the fruit, along with just right amount of funk, leather, an iron rich mineral/beef broth, anise, herbs de Provence and lingering creme de cassis. There’s a dry extract feel with a touch of gritty tannin, a prominent feature of 1999 wines, that gives a sense of firmness that seems to melt away when food enters to picture and there’s a vibrant lift that keeps this well crafted Gigondas light on its feel, making for a joyous experience and focuses your attention on the purity of the flavors.

The 1999 vintage, placed between the critically acclaimed 1998 and much over hyped 2000, was a year that almost got lost, it wasn’t an easy vintage nor were all the wines that impressive, but there were many that over performed, as this wine from Domaine Brusset has done, plus I have always thought the 1999 Vieux Telegraphe, Mourvedre influenced, Chateauneuf, was one of the greatest of the nineties, and has led me to search out other wines from this often overlooked year. Domaine Brusset, founded by the late Andre Brusset, who established this family estate in 1947 and who passed away in 1999, making this a wonderful tribute to his leadership here, does sublime lineup of red wines from different Cotes du Rhone zones, including of course Gigondas, plus Cairanne, where the winery is based, as well as Ventoux, basic Côtes-du-Rhône and Rasteau. Today Andre’s grand son, Laurent Bresset runs the property and oversees their fantastic selection of vineyards, which as per normal here are 90% dedicated to the production of red wines, with just a small collection of white grapes including mainly Grenache Blanc, but with tiny amounts of Viognier, Roussane and Clairette Blanche. The Brusset Gigondas Le Grand Montmirail cuvee, as noted is a blend of Grenache, Syrah, Mourvèdre and Cinsault, coming from what the winery calls a stony terraced vineyard site with alluvial soils and that is facing fully south to capture all the warm sun, offering a bit of protection from the cool Mistral winds. The Brusset winemaking is basic and traditional with their Gigondas Le Grand Montmirail seeing all de-stemmed (organic and carefully hand sorted) grapes, a native yeast fermentation and was aged in a combination of cement vats and older demi-muids (lager oak cask) to allow this wine to show off its terroir without the wood be too influential in the wine while still giving a roundness and smooth finish to this stylish effort. While finding this Brusset 1999, will certainly at this point, be a difficult find I highly recommend chasing down the 2015 and 2016 releases, which each Gigondas selection being the main focus, but for even great value look for their Cairanne, Rasteau and the outstanding vat raised Ventoux, which is always a killer bargain, made with the addition of Carignan and a co-ferment of the white Clairette, it is not far off the quality of the higher end Cotes du Rhone Village bottlings. The supple young wines at Brusset are to be admired and drunk freely, but they have solid aging potential, as this 1999 Le Grand Montmirail Gigondas clearly shows, it even got better on day two, which was an even more of a treat, confirming its rewarding poise.
($40 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2018 Veronica Ortega, Mencia “Quite” Valtuille, Bierzo D.O. Spain.
The lively and well crafted entry level Quite Mencia from the talented Veronica Ortega is a pretty, pure and highly enjoyable with layers of earthy dark fruits, delicate spice, mineral and bright acidity, it is a great alternative red to anything in this price range. The fresh light to medium bodied 2018 Quite Bierzo is a brilliant dark garnet in the glass and it reveals an array of blackberry, plum, cherry and currant fruits along with touches shaved cinnamon, minty herbs, anise, leather and a dark floral element, all is very compelling and held together with a satiny ripe tannin structure that feels almost Pinot like in mouth feel and in its vibrancy of flavors. Mencia is the star grape in this region of Spain, in the northwest of Castilla y Leon, as well as in Galicia’s Ribeira Sacra to the west near the Atlantic Ocean. The climate here makes for a denser and some profound versions of this grape and has made the career of some of Spain’s best winemakers, including Veronica Ortega, who was mentored by Raul Perez, the most famous of all of the local producers and who’s wines are absolutely legendary and have helped put this remote area into the spotlight along with outsiders Telmo Rodriguez and Alvaro Palacios playing no small part putting Mencia on the map. The Bierzo region was founded in pre Roman times, though the Romans expanded the wine growing here and gained attention when Cistercian monks moved here and set up wine production, but the vineyards were devastated in the 1800s by phylloxera that pretty much wiped all of vines out. After these vineyard sites were re-planted on the limestone, slate and clay based soils it took a very long time to re-discover the glories of this place and especially Mencia, which can be easily compared to Cabernet Franc, with wines that the soul of Chinon and the opulent character of Saint Emilion, though Veronica’s wines tend to be more racy and show a raw transparence, as this new release shows.

Veronica Ortega, originally from Cádiz from near the Sherry area, settled in Bierzo about a decade ago, and immediately went to work on developing her skills and understanding the terroir working under Raul Perez, later she acquired a few old-vine Mencia parcels near the village of Valtuille de Abrajo on sandy and clay soils that she made into her home base. She has developed into an important voice for this region and her series of wines has evolved over the years with her signature ROC lineup being the most intense, while the Quite Mencia offers a great value and shows the grape in its more quaffable form and is a great way to start getting to know Bierzo. The Quite Mencia is all de-stemmed now and sees a combination of natural yeast fermentation in stainless steel tanks and sees both neutral barrels and amphora in the short aging period, getting about 8 months in total. The sandy soils at elevation, around 500 meters up, and mature vines that average more than 80 years helps give this wine its personality with this vintage being less hot, allowing for a lower alcohol freshness, with this Quite 2018 coming in at 13%, making it wonderfully flexible with food and it can provide lots of smiles with your favorite Tapas as well. As with most producers here, Ortega farms her plots with all organic methods and all her vines are dry farmed with mostly old vines that are classic head trained or bush vines. Ortega’s Quite started with her 2012 vintage and she continues to carve her own niche and following, adding a new style called Kinki in recent years that is a carbonic, whole cluster and natural yeast version of Mencia that is kind off like a Cru Beaujolais, which I hope to try, as it is very hard to get here in California. The Quite Bierzo Mencia is more easily found and well worth the price, that last time I had it, in the 2014 vintage, I was impressed and this 2018 is even more fun and in my opinion up a notch in quality.
($18 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2018 Le Piane, Maggiorina, Vino Rosso, Alto Piedmonte, Italy.
The lovely and vigorous Nebbiolo based wines of Le Piane, a small artisan producer in the Boca zone of Northern Piedmonte, in the highest area of this famous wine growing region that is set between the Valle Sesia and Lake Orta, nestled in the foothills of the Lower Alps. The wines here, once a very remote, out of the way, place were chewy, rough and rustic, are now some of the most sought after and coveted wines in the world, with Le Piane being one of the stars, especially with their top Boca DOCG bottlings, which are exceptional and rival their more famous cousins in Barolo and Barbaresco. The 2018 Le Piane entry level Maggiorina Vino Rosso is wildly enjoyable, fresh and brings a pleasure filled array of flavors to the medium bodied palate with a touch of exotic fruit and spices from the unique blend of grapes in this stylish offering, which include the classic varietals of the Boca and Colline Novarese, Nebbiolo, which is called Spanna localy, Vespolina and Croatina. This vintage is bright and vividly floral in nature with layers of morello cherry, guava flesh, tart raspberry, strawberry and a touch of wild red peach fruits along with a range of spices, mineral, amaro herbal notes and anise. This red wine is extremely well balanced and the tannins melt away in the mouth with silky grace and the ruby, almost Pinot like hued Le Piane Maggiorina opens up to reveal liquid roses and its seductive delicacy makes it a real charmer.

The Boca area is underpinned by its special soils, which are glacial gravels over porphyry (rock) of ancient volcanic origin, that along with the Alpine cool nights make this terroir incredibly compelling and in recent times the these wines have taken on a much more serious significance with many wines getting world wide attention, with Le Piane being one of those in the spotlight and showing why these wines are must have efforts for Nebbiolo enthusiasts and savvy collectors. The Maggiorina Rosso, which is named after the traditional four cane goblet style vine training system that was historically employed here, is a true old school field blend made from about 40% Nebbiolo (Spanna), 40% Croatina, 5% Vespolina and at least 9 other local and rare varieties including some whites grapes that all inter-planted and co-fermented from vines that range from 40 to 100 years old. To keep things pure and vibrant this Le Piane Maggiorina was fermented and aged completely in stainless steel with a short maceration and primary fermentation that gently extracts the substance, with the skins in contact with the juice for just under a week, of this lighter style red wine. The Maggiorina Rosso is made to be enjoyed in its youth and is fabulous with food, from pasta to simple country foods, it is well made and crisply detailed, perfect for easy quaffing. While the more heavily Nebbiolo influenced Boca DOCG wines being the winery’s claim to fame, and of which, I wish I could afford to stock up on, I do really excited by this great value too and it is a great way to start your exploration of the intriguing Northern Piedmonte wines.
($22 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2018 Halcon Vineyards, Syrah “Elevacion” Estate Grown, Yorkville Highlands, Mendocino County.
Paul Gordon’s Halcon Vineyard, which sits at 2,500 feet up about the Anderson Valley on unique schist soils in Mendocino’s Yorkville Highlands, is one of the greatest Syrah sites in California and his wines are too, especially the two Syrah bottlings, the Cote-Rotie inspired Alturas Syrah and this unbelievably good Elevation, a micro bottling of 100% Syrah from a heritage clone. As noted by the winery, the Halcon estate, which has about 15 acres of vines, mainly tightly spaced Syrah on a steep sloping hillside, but with tiny amounts of Viognier, which is co-fermented into the Alturas Syrah, a la Cote-Rotie, as well as parcels of Mourvedre, Grenache Noir, along with some Roussanne and Marsanne, that now are being used to make a small lot white wine that will soon be released for the first time. Gordon had told me these 2018s were special wines from a long cool vintage that pushed this already cold climate site to the very edge, with conditions that allowed for deep complexity, from the long hang time, but the extreme late harvest and low sugar concentration made for some nervous days and nights waiting to get the grapes in. That said, these 2018s are spectacular and are what I consider profound offerings, in particular I am thrilled with this pure and exceptional Elevacion, a limited release that will only be made in the best of years, and I also highly recommend the Halcon Tierra Petite Sirah from purchased fruit coming from the terraces of the Theopolis Vineyard, Theodora Lee’s awesome vineyard that produces some of the most compelling Petite Syrah I’ve ever tasted. The Halcon Elevacion shows intense northern Rhone character, beautifully elegant, but with a edgy whole bunches profile that reminds me of the very best from Cornas, especially the fantastic wines of Thierry Allemand, G.Gilles, Auguste Clap and Vincent Paris’ 60 Granit, though Gordon says he was inspired by Cote-Rotie wines from around Ampuis, like Domaine Jamet and Bernard Levet, this wine certainly lives up to all this build up, with a fabulous and inviting opaque black and purple hue and a riveting bouquet of earthy dark berries, perfumed violets and bacon(y) meatiness that leads to a full bodied palate of blackberry, damson plum, creme de cassis, graphite, vibrant herbs from of the stem inclusion, a crunchy mineral note and a light sense of cedary wood, anise and a lingering echo of blueberry compote and the (crushed liquid) violet floral element. The wow factor is off the charts here, and sadly, there definitely is almost no way to put words down that truly give justice to the quality of this peppery and gripping Elevacion Syrah, it’s a wine that takes California Syrah to the next level, much the same way Cayuse, by Christophe Barron, in the Rocks district of Walla Walla in Washington State, did for that region in the early 2000s!

Paul and Jackie Gordon of Halcon Vineyards, who have had some serious help in their early years, with Wells Gutherie of Copain and Scott Shapely of Roar, more recntly, having played vital roles getting this label to the outstanding place it is, make wines that influenced by their deep love of the classic old world offerings, as mentioned, from the Northern Rhone, where they have travelled many times. Over the last few vintages, Paul Gordon, himself has guided the Halcon wines to bottle, he is, as he notes, committed to the most transparent possible expression of the Halcón Vineyards terroir. He will tell you, that he and his wife Jackie believes that wine is made, first and foremost, in the vineyard, and they follow a non-interventionist approach in the cellar, employs 100% natural yeast, partial to all whole cluster fermentation, with zero enzyme additions, there are no adjustments to alcohol or acids in the Halcon wines and the judicious use of new French oak, with this Elevacion Syrah seeing just about a year in a large neutral Puncheon, plus the wines get only a micro dose of sulphites or SO2, so the wines stay vivid and freshly focused. The 2018s have a nice sense of energy and good natural acidity with a slowly unfolding parade of flavors, which are set for long and very rewarding lives ahead, I can clearly see this Syrah getting even better and fuller over the next 5 to 10 years, patience will pay off with these new Halcon releases, especially this one. The structure and tannin of the Halcon Elevacion Syrah give this vintage an underlying power, much like the smooth feline tension of a leopard’s muscles and it should be paired with simply prepared and robust cuisine, it would be magic with rustic Lamb dishes and or prime rib, as well as hard cheeses and wild mushroom dishes. There is lots to admire about this wine and the current releases, and I am hearing that the upcoming 2019s are looking good too, and Paul thinks they will eclipse these awesome 2018s, which would be mightily impressive if so, but I am excited to find out and am eagerly awaiting to get my hands on them in the Spring. The cool temperatures here, which mimic those of Cote-Rotie over a growing season, give these grapes that long hang time, and the rocky – schist soils get the vines to dig deep and allows for enough stress to deliver expressive varietal character, and up at this site, there are crisp daytime breezes that provide refreshment for the vineyard throughout the year. Gordon adds, the finished alcohol is a modest 13.3%, making it remarkably well balanced, even at this early stage and this Elevacion is a standout to get while you can, it is absolutely beautiful, with a nice cut of savory stuff inside and it is wildly delicious, plus it is ridiculously reasonable in price, it could be the best red wine for the money in the new world!
($38 Est.) 97 Points, grapelive

2019 Bow & Arrow, Rhinestones, Johan Vineyard, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
One of Oregon’s most unique and tasty wines, Bow & Arrow’s Rhinestones is an all natural and organic blend of 65% Pinot Noir and 35% Gamay Noir coming from the Johan Vineyard, a biodynamically farmed site in the Willamette Valley and fermented with lots of crunchy whole cluster, making for a darkly ripe and spicy wine that took its inspiration from the Loire Valley’s Cheverny region of France. Scott Frank, owner of Bow & Arrow, the urban Portland micro winery, is committed to producing artisan, fun, eccentric and delicious bottlings with a nod to the old world and with a modern twist in some cases and this Rhinestones is his unassuming signature wine, and one that can you on a thrill ride of flavors, as this new 2019 release does with bright punchy layers of black cherry, plum, lingonberry and bramble berry fruits, racy peppercorns, cinnamon stick, dark wood, floral notes and an earthy intensity that is very appealing in this medium bodied red. Like the Cheverny wines, where by law, the red wines must be a blend of Gamay and Pinot Noir, Frank follows suit with this stricture in his Rhinestones, with all the grapes being Pinot and Gamay, though the percentage will change a little depending on the year’s best offering in the vineyard, with this 2019 getting a bit more Pinot Noir as their quality was outstanding and gave an impressive structure and depth here. In some years, this wine can rival the best wines in the region and this 2019 really shines with an exciting dense mouth feel and a warm forward personality, a bit less edgy than the last two years, but still is its flamboyant and devilishly pleasing, especially with simple foods and with its quaffable low alcohol easiness.

The Bow & Arrow Rhinestones, is as Scott Frank notes, a blend that solely determined by nature and vintage, with the grapes brought into the winery cold and freshly picked, using as mentioned the whole bunches and stem inclusion with all native yeast fermentation. Frank, after primary seeing a semi carbonic maceration was then aged in a mixture of concrete and old barriques. This wine is the flagship of the Bow & Arrow (Portland based) operation according to Frank, who adds that it communicates what Bow & Arrow is all about as much as anything he makes. The winery focuses on transparency and raw authenticity with this Rhinestones, as they put, being an effortlessly drinkable effort, but a wine that rewards detective work if you’re in the mood, which I always seem to be, this is a wine that I try not to miss. A few years back, I ratted the Bow & Arrow at 96 Points, and this vintage is almost an equal and a wine to discover if you’ve not yet tried Bow & Arrow. The latest set of wines are all very interesting and quality efforts, I also recommend exploring their Air Guitar, an Anjou (Loire Valley) themed red blend of Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, the crisp and salty fresh Melon de Bourgogne, an oyster companion white wine, also from the Johan Vineyard as well as Bow & Arrow’s pure and rustically style Gamay and Frank’s Sauvignon Blanc, which is a lovely Pouilly-Fume influenced version. Oregon is really flying high with tons of exceptional stuff on offer, from studied classics to some decidedly quirky bottlings, which I would say that Bow & Arrow fits in, these are some honestly different or alternative wines, but wonderful values too.
($24 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2019 Le Miccine, Rosato di Toscana “P” IGT Rosé, Gaiole in Chianti Classico, Italy.
Paula Papini Cook’s P Rosato di Toscana Rosé of Sangiovese from her all organic estate grapes at the historic Le Miccine, which is set in the forested hills of Gaiole in Chianti Classico is a bright and crisp effort with tart cherry, strawberry, peach and zippy citrus fruits, a soft texture, earth, dried herbs, mineral and rosewater. Light and delicate this pale easy dry Rosé has an orange/ruby pink color and has plenty of Sangiovese’s natural acidity, though everything is very elegant and round in style and lingers with a hint of caramel and summer melon. I am a huge fan of Papini Cook’s wines here at Le Miccine, especially her stellar Chianti Classico Riserva bottlings over the last five releases, in particular I was absolutely smitten with he 2013 and 2016 wines, superb vintages in the region, as well as the estate’s basic Chianti Classico and the single varietal Merlot Carduus, a wine that like Castello di Ama’s that shows this grape does fabulous well in Tuscany. Le Miccine estate has been an important part of the Chianti countryside since ancient times and served as a way station for travellers, usually produce traders and their donkeys to rest, where there was shade, a spring and refreshments. The name Le Miccine itself comes from the local dialect (a word) that means small female donkeys, taken of course from the service they provided over the hundreds of years of this route being in use. The vineyards at Le Miccine came later as the fame of Gaiole’s wines became widely known and that the terroir’s promise was cemented, they were initially planted in the sixties and that is when the estate began to produce wines. Though quite popular, the Le Miccine never reached their potential until Paula Papini Cook came here and revitalized the vineyards and set up her family’s cellars to compete with the legendary neighbors. I wrote about Le Miccine recently, reviewing the awesome Chianti Classico Riserva 2016 and will continue to follow the wines from this spot and the talented Papini Cook, who was trained in both France and Spain before coming to her family’s sleepy remote winery.

The Le Miccine winery has a special micro climate that enjoys warm long days and cool nights that helps ripen the classic native grapes here, Sangiovese, including a handful of different clones, Malvasia Nera and Colorino, along with the Merlot, making for wonderfully complex flavors and depth. The wines at Le Miccine, as Papini Cook, the youthful Canadian born and internationally trained winemaker explains, are carefully managed in stainless steel tanks until the (cool) fermentations end to preserve purity and freshness with temperature control and a lengthy gentle maceration. The wines are then pressed to a combination of vessels depending on the varietal and vine age with some aged in French oak barrels, and or large neutral (used) oak casks for optimal oak integration and balance in her wines. Le Miccine wines are produced exclusively from grapes grown organically on the property. The Rosé, which is usually reserved only for guests of the property, as is Le Miccine’s well known and admired olive oil, but can be ordered in a sampler set, which I acquired, that can be delivered to the United States directly from the winery’s cellar, when you visit their website. The all stainless Rosé is bright and simple, but it hit the spot with pizza on a nicely warm evening, but certainly it would be more refreshing on a Tuscan Summer day and native cuisine. It was my National Pizza Day wine, as I had felt like something cooly natured and a bit lighter to go with my toppings, it did the job very well and without pretense. Papini Cook’s hard work and passion has lifted Le Miccine and has made this small family estate one of the most exciting properties in these beautiful Chianti Classico hillsides, joining some of the elite labels in the zone. The Le Miccine wines are now award winning efforts, written about in many wine journals and very highly recommended by Decanter Magazine, where I first read about this Chianti, which is distributed internationally, including being found in restaurants world wide, as well as cities such as Montreal, New York, Auckland, Hong Kong, Shanghai, Beijing and in Europe. Again, while these wines are not easy to find, the main three stand out offerings can be found with a motivated search, and I cannot wait until travel is back to normal so I can finally visit in person!
($25 Est.) 87 Points, grapelive

2010 Domaine la Monardiere, Vacqueyras Rouge, Les 2 Monardes, Cotes du Rhone Villages, Rhone Valley, France.
The nearly perfect and in peak condition, Vacqueyras Les 2 Monardes, by Martine and Christian Vache at Domaine la Monardiere put on a great show in the glass last night with crisp details and lovely maturity of flavors with seductive layers of ripe Grenache led red fruits, subtle earthy/savory elements, polished structural excellence and a beautiful array of spice, florals and a faint meatiness that impresses on the full bodied palate. I haven’t experienced the Vache’s wines to much and so this find was truly a brilliant discovery, it came to me through a friend that bought an incredible cellar full of top Rhone wines, where the wines were stored in pristine condition and of which had some gems that would not bring top dollars at auction, but offer an outstanding drinking value with just the right amount of age to bring out their full potential, as this La Monardiere delivered last night. In recent weeks, I’ve tried so even older (Rhone) stuff from the same cellar that also brought intense pleasure, so I was really excited for this one from a stellar vintage in the southern Rhone Valley, and I was not disappointed, this special Lieu-Dit Vacqueyras way over performed with classic, very Chateauneuf du Pape like presence, showing brambly boysenberry, dried sweet red cherry, pomegranate, black fig, strawberry preserves and racy currant fruits, wild herbs, crushed flowers, a hint of game (as the good dose of Syrah comes alive with air) and loaminess, as well as framboise, mint, pepper and anise. With time and food, this beautiful Domaine la Monardiere Les 2 Monardes adds dimension, depth and length with everything hitting the right notes and lifting this Vacqueyras to the next level, I am also excited to check out the wineries latest releases, especially from the 2016 vintage, that should be awesome and could be just as desirable in 10 to 15 years as well, like this 2010 is proving.

The Vache family bought this estate from Monardieres back in 1987 and began their journey into becoming a top producer in the Vacqueyras with a lot of hard work, investment in the cellar and converting all the vines to organic, which clearly paid off with their wines, they have found a sweet spot in their style that appears so well in the riveting results of their two main bottlings, with this one in particular being everything you’d ever want from a Rhone red wine at a very reasonable price. The Les 2 Monardes was crafted from 70% Grenache and 30% Syrah from vines of an average age of 40 years, with this Lieu-Dit planted in chalky grit (limestone) and sandy clay soils in the Vacqueyras AOC. The Grenache and Syrah grapes are all hand-harvested, with impeccable and careful sorting to only get the very best of the estate fruit for this wine. This version saw 100% de-stemmed grape berries that was fermented using spontaneous natural yeasts, with a maceration and extraction period of almost three weeks with gentle daily punch-downs to showcase the terroir. The Vache’s traditional approach included them aging their Vacqueyras cru from 12 months in a combination of tanks, especially revealing in the Grenache and a few lots in barrels to add richness and soften tannins and then chosen, blended and bottled, without fining or filtration to capture every nuance of this wine’s soul in the bottle. The Monardiere lineup includes a Vacqueyras Rosé, an Old Vine Vacqueyras (Vieilles Vignes) and this single vineyard style Les 2 Monardes, all of which should be on your radar if you love Rhone wines, and are Grenache fans. These artisan offerings from the Vache family show what Vacqueyras can do in the right hands and they, for all of the wines, they work with lower than the legal limits with very small yields to get serious concentration and express a powerful profile, while employing mostly cement vessels to promote transparency and freshness, which is highlighted in this spectacular Rhone red.
($35 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2018 Martha Stoumen, Negroamaro Rosato, Benson Ranch Vineyard, Mendocino County.
There’s a time, when you taste something special, it takes you back to cherished memories and moments that bring unashamed joy of life, touch and smells, this serious and unique Rosé by Martha Stoumen is that kind of wine, inspired by what Martha says was a crisp, but warm Fall day on the rocky Mediterranean coast and made from a rare southern Italian varietal it is a barrel fermented and extended lees aged Rosé that delivers a fascinating complexity and substance, not usually found in pink wines. I would compare this to the glorious wines of Clos Cibonne, the Provence Tibouren based Rosés that are aged on the lees under a layer of Flor, similar to Sherries, but somehow remain intensely fresh, vibrant and mineral driven, which this Negroamaro Rosato 2018 that Martha recently released does, though without Flor, sourced from vines in the Mendocino. The 2018 Stoumen Negroamaro Rosato has a sensational presence in the glass with dusty dry layers of ruby grapefruit or Moro orange, tart cherry, strawberry and pomegranate water along with bitter herbal notes, distilled rose petal, lavender essence all framed by steely cool mineral tones and saline infused wet stone as well as having a graceful roundness of texture that really sets this Rosé apart from almost any other California version, with the exception of Randall Gram’s Reserve Vin Gris that also saw lees aging, though instead of barrel like this one, it was aged in glass carboys. The color is vivid and totally alluring with a stunning bright orange/pink hue that captures the sun and invites sip after sip, though this wine really excels with food, having a good depth and flexibility of flavors, I found it positively well behaved with the pungent, but oh so good, La Tur, the Italian soft stinky cheese and a sourdough baguette on a sunny February day and can easily see it holding up well with steamed mussels, or even more robust cuisine choices. I love La Tur, though usually it can be a bit strong for lighter wines, but was brilliant with this one, it’s a fantastic earthy/tangy cheese made with combination of cow, goat and sheep’s milk.


Martha Stoumen, is a great addition to the modern California wine scene and her talents are as transparently clear as her natural styled wines with her pure and rustically styled collection of southern European (Country) influenced offerings, including her signature Nero d’Avola that pays tribute to her time at the famous COS Winery in Vittoria Sicily, as well as her fabulous Carignan and intriguing low alcohol and whole cluster Zinfandel, to name a few of my favs of hers. Stoumen, based in Sebastopol, has been looking for a way to express herself by searching out old and organic family vineyards to make her wines, which has led her into grower partnerships, like her plots at Benson Ranch with rare or lesser known grapes being a core to her success, along with a studied artisan flare and hard work, with a slight focus on Italian varietals like this Negroamaro. There’s a lot to love in Stoumen’s lineup and she has also teamed up with natural wine specialists Las Jares to make a dark Valdiguie Bubbly, a California Lambrusco or Pet-Nat that is from organic and dry farmed 70 year old vines. For this Negroamaro Rosato, Martha helps farm the grapes at the Benson Ranch in remote Mendocino County, with dry famed 15-year-old vines set on a rocky, gravel and loam plot that sees no pesticides, herbicides or synthetic fertilizers. Stoumen says that the Benson Ranch Negroamaro grapes has such incredible concentration that she ages this wine, not according to its category (Rosé), but by what the fruit in this unique parcel dictates. Adding also very unique for Rosé, that her team barrel fermented and aged this wine, as mentioned above, on the fine lees, after they did a good old fashioned foot treading and an overnight maceration on the stems and skins, which adds to the complex nature of this wine, providing an textural quality and a refreshing minty bite. This wine, is an enthusiast Rosé, worth every penny and great for anytime of year.
($42 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2009 Charly Thevenet, Regnie “Grain & Granit” Cru Beaujolais, France.
I featured this wine upon release, and stuck a few bottles away to explore later with this one my last and opened almost a full decade from when I first tried it and it was glorious with excellent detail and perfect maturity on display still, remarkable stuff, especially considering I hadn’t really thought about cellaring this and it saw less than ideal conditions for aging. I had been a big Cru Beaujolais fan fan prior to the vintage of the century, 2009, as I was converted by Kermit Lynch in the early 2000s, when he introduced me to fabulous wines from Thivin, Diochon, Thevenet (Charly’s dads), Foillard, Breton and of course the late great Marcel Lapierre. But for the rest of the wine world, the 2009 vintage changed everything for the Beaujolais region, these flamboyant and insanely rich Gamay wines had their breakout moment, and it also marked a generational change, with the spotlight coming down on some of the youthful talents, including the young Charly Thevenet, who debuted his own label just before this exceptional vintage. His wine, from a lesser known Cru – Regnie, and called Grain & Granit made a brilliant start for his start up label and Kermit Lynch brought a bunch of it and I was able to one of the first in California to try it. I originally was impressed and gave it 93 Points, and I am still impressed, it has remained fantastically solid in structure and has not lost any of its charm over the years with macerated strawberries, candied cherries and plum fruit still going strong, though with the signs of age melding them together and showing a touch of baked raspberry preserves, fig paste and dried potpourri along with some delicate dusty spices and earthiness. The year’s low acidity and heady ripe fruit is clear and present, but this wine has held up well and there is a gorgeous silken mouth feel, much like an aged Burgundy. This ruby/brick hued effort hints at its age, but is a fine, well crafted Regnie has survived my terrible abuse (bad cellaring, all my own doing) and delivered a stunning performance, I can’t wait to get a few of Charly’s newest releases.

As noted by Kermit Lynch, Charly, growing up the son of a famous “Gang of Four” Morgon producer in the legendary form of Jean-Paul Thévenet, the young Thévenet was exposed quite early on to traditional, Jules Chauvet inspired natural viticulture—a philosophy that his father and friends, Jean Foillard, Marcel Lapierre, Guy Breton helped to resurrect in Beaujolais in the early eighties, working with organic grapes, whole cluster, native yeasts and no chemical additions. Though only in his twenties, Charly had already started, what Lynch, one of the most renown talent spotters, especially in the Beaujolais area, calls a dynamic career with stints with the family winery and experience under the guidance of Marcel Lapierre, who gave him some added confidence and maybe a few secrets. He purchased a parcel of eighty-year-old Gamay vines in Régnié, west-southwest of his hometown of Villié-Morgon to set out on his own and start on his own path, now ten years on he has re-joined his family winey, taking over as well as continuing on with this personal project which has developed a serious following. Régnié is a terroir enjoying something of its own renaissance in recent years, especially Julien Sunier’s example, as well as other talented growers like Charly, and his dad’s long time friend, Guy Breton. In fact, Regnié has joined the short list of Grand Crus in the Beaujolais, according to Kermit Lynch again, it is wonderfully located on a plateau of seabed stone, making it unique, in the foothills of the Côte du Py, which it noted to give a fruit forward, but with lively acidity, maybe less granite intense than other Crus. Charly uses biodynamic farming techniques in the vineyard, never adding synthetic herbicides, pesticides, or fungicides to the vines, and like Lapierre, he harvests late, with an aggressive sorting of the grapes, adds minimal doses of sulfur dioxide. The natural fermentation starts in cement and Thevenet then ages the wine in used Burgundy barriques, he and bottles his wines unfiltered, if you love Gamay and or Cru Beaujolais, you should search out Domaine Thevenet Morgon and Charly’s own Regnie, these are rewarding beauties!
($35 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2018 Alain Graillot, Crozes-Hermitage, Northern Rhone, France.
One of the world’s standard barer wines, the Alain Graillot Crozes-Hermitage, one of its finest slash purist Syrah wines and a tremendous value for the cost, this 2018 version proving that with a cool toned flourish with vivid black fruit, spice, camphor and lively acidity. This vintage, not as dense as 2015, 2016 and or as ripe as 2017s were, makes for a more studied classic version with its purple/black and ruby edged hue and layers of blueberry, boysenberry, damson plum and kirsch fruits along with a touch of raw meat, graphite, peppercorns, Dutch salted black licorice, Olive paste, violets and minty Asian herbs. Why do these Graillot wines make our Syrah lovers hearts sing, maybe it is the Burgundy like sensibility and terroir character they deliver, especially now with Alain’s sons Maxime and Antoine running the famous estate and hand crafting the wines to honor their father, you can almost feel the pride they have in each of the wines. The legendary Alain Graillot established his winery back in 1985, who after working with the venerable Jacques Seysses (who has inspired many winemakers) at Domaine Dujac, came back to his home in Crozes-Hermitage to push this once rough and unloved region to new heights, helping raise the game here to levels that put it on par or worth mentioning alongside with its more fabled neighbors like Saint-Joseph, Cornas, Cote-Rotie and the spiritual hue of Syrah, the sacred hill of Hermitage itself.

The 2018 Alain Graillot Crozes-Hermitage has all the right stuff to reward the enthusiast and it will please for years to come, especially with the underlying substance and extra vitality it has going for it, not that many will have the patience to wait. As per normal, the Alain Graillot Rouge, 100% Syrah, of course, was fermented using 100% whole clusters in a concrete cuve with all native or indigenous yeasts all from organic grapes grown gravelly and stony granite based soils from 30 year old vines in Graillot’s La Chene Verts parcels. Everything done in a nod to tradition and to promote clarity of flavors, but you can sense the attention to detail and careful hands in the making of this wine with a gentle guidance to bottle after seeing a year of so in all used or low influence (Burgundy sourced) French oak barrels, which allows this Syrah to show its transparent charms. Considering the whole bunches, this wine delivers a level of refinement that few Crozes can match, while hinting at Syrah’s natural funkiness and the wine has an opulent medium bodied palate with graceful tannins. As this vintage slowly opens up with air and time in the glass it gathers its aromatic quality and depth, it seriously changes dramatically as it fully unfolds, adding dimension and presence to an already very confidently impressive wine. Drinking the Graillot’s Crores-Hermitage offerings are always a treat and this bottling in particular highlights that truth, this 2018 is a rock solid wine. Enjoy this vintage with rustic cuisine, it goes brilliant with lamb, wild mushroom dishes and or short ribs, and over the next 5 to 10 years.
($45 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2019 Sheldon, Graciano, Luc’s Vineyard, Fountaingrove AVA, Sonoma County.
The beautifully detailed, spicy, dark fruited and delicately perfumed Sheldon Graciano, from a home vineyard on the cool rocky hillsides between Healdsburg and the Chalk Hill district, is one of the best yet examples of this Rioja grape in California with ripe flavors, opulent sweet tannins and a smooth low alcohol style. The brilliantly gleaming garnet/purple and ruby color and seductive bouquet are wonderfully inviting and the medium/full palate presents vivid layers of vine picked raspberry, black cherry, plum and garden strawberry fruits, all of which, is accented by an array of spices, mineral and a light earthy character with hints of cinnamon, wild flowers, herbs de Provence as well as forest floor, a cedary elements, loam and tangy sage. Graciano, usually blended with Tempranillo in Rioja has been gaining traction in California, with some of the plantings coming online in Paso Robles, where the grape thrives, was done by a lucky mistake, as they were supposed to be a new Monastrell clone of Mourvedre as well as being grown in the Arroyo Grande and Edna Valley area as well, but the Sheldon’s who have loved the Graciano grape a long time have sourced fruit from Ripkin Vineyard in the Lodi area and from this tiny parcel in Sonoma County, where the varietal does exceptionally well, as this 2019 vintage shows. Over the last decade, the Sheldon’s have explored many different styles with their Graciano, from Rosé to a dense red wine, and even two different sparkling versions, including the just released Brut Noir bubbly made from lots of macerated (skins) Graciano, making a dark red sparkling Graciano that is similar to Sparkling Shiraz and or high end Lambrusco! This Sheldon Graciano joins a celebration of obscurity along with Luke Nio’s Filomena St. Laurent, Arnot-Roberts’ Trousseau, Michael Cruse’s Tannat, Martha Stoumen’s Nero d’Avola and Jaimee Motely’s Mondeuse, to name a few fun and rare offerings from lesser known grapes in California.

The rare and limited 2019 Graciano red wine by Dylan and Tobe Sheldon, which is due out soon, was made in a traditional and transparent way with just two barrels being made with indigenous yeast spontaneous fermentation and cool maceration with classic foot treading and small basket pressing to neutral, well used or seasoned French oak for just about a year. The Sheldon’s note that no new wood was harmed during the winemaking process and that this new Graciano was bottled unfined and unfiltered to preserve every nuance from the vineyard and to highlight the purity of the finished wine. In an effort to make a varietally honest wine, the Sheldon’s went with about 50% whole cluster and made sure the fermentation went smoothly at low temperatures to retain the more delicate aromatics that this wine delivers with a sensually that makes this wine additive. Dylan Sheldon, the winemaker, says that to him, this ancient and rare varietal is uncommon to find as a solo varietal in its homeland, in the Rioja region of Spain, but the ones that are done as a single varietal wine has always intrigued and inspired him to do a Graciano here in California, which he has done for more than a decade with great and geeky success, again, as this example does with a flourish. This vintage come in at just 12.5% natural alcohol, which allows this wine to easily enjoyed and is excellent with a variety of food, though obviously fantastic with basque cheeses and or an array of Tapas. The Luc’s Vineyard, all organic, is planted on a west facing hillside on volcanic soils, that give this wine its iron rich and spicy personality, adding red pepper and pomegranate notes after getting air. To the best of Dylan’s knowledge this might be the only Graciano vines in this part of Sonoma County, and notes that there are only about 30 acres in total in the whole State, making it a unique treat that I highly recommend. The Sheldon’s vastest set of wines is an awesome collection of offerings, especially interesting are their micro lots of Sangiovese, Tempranillo, Syrah, this Graciano (both 2018 and 2019 editions) and the Grenache bottlings that are this wineries signature wines.
($38 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2019 Chateau Pradeaux, Bandol Rosé, Provence, France.
The beautifully balanced and dry 2019 Pradeaux Bandol Rosé (Cuvee Classic) is richly concentrated and has a serious palate impact showing layers of bright and tangy cherry, racy ruby grapefruit, blood orange and distilled strawberry fruits with loads of extract, delicate spices and a stylish rounded mouth feel, very impressive and definitely one of the vintage’s best examples of Bandol Rosé I’ve tried, along with the Clos Cibonne Cotes de Provence Rosé. Pradeaux’s winemaker Etienne Portalis has really raised the quality of Chateau Pradeaux, which has been a top estate in Bandol since 1752, to the next level in recent years and is one of region’s best talents, making profound wines throughout his lineup, especially his late release, extended aged Bandol Rouge, crafted using 95% old vine Mourvedre, as well as his expressive set of Rosé bottlings, including this classic all estate grown example. This year’s fabulous version opens up easily on the smoothly dense medium bodied palate and reveals an extra dimension of flavors and stays impeccably focused from its lightly floral, rosewater, crushed raspberry and earthy nose to the lingering tart, kirsch and saline finish, making it a regal and highly enjoyable wine. The Château Pradeaux, imported by Rosenthal Wine Merchant, is located near the small town of Saint Cyr-sur-Mer, and is set close to the Mediterranean Sea, between Toulon and Marseilles and has been. The estate is owned by the historic Portalis family, who have been wonderful guardians of this property since before the French Revolution. This Bandol Rosé can be a refresher, as it was for me on a warm winter afternoon and it is flexible enough to go with a variety of foods, especially mussels in a spicy broth and or with farmhouse cheeses.

The Pradeaux wines are all artisan and hand crafted offerings that are reflections of the attention to detail, sense of pace and the hard work from the brothers Portalis, Etienne and Edouard, who have taken the reins of the domaine here from their parents Cyrille and Magali Portalis is recent years, though they remain central figures at Pradeaux. The majority of the vineyards at Chateau Pradeaux is planted to Mourvèdre, which were brought to the region in a bigger way in the late 1800s and early 1900s, and is the primary grape in all the wines here, though the Château Pradeaux Bandol Rosé is, as Rosenthal and Pradeaux note, composed of Cinsault as well as Mourvèdre, which gives this beauty its lively natural acidity, while Mourvèdre gives power, wight and structure to this exciting Bandol Rosé. The Pradeaux pink wine sees a short maceration on the skins, to give this wine its pale and vivid hue, after whole cluster (direct press, non saignée) pressing the juice is then fermented at low temperatures, which the winery adds, to retain freshness, zesty fruit and its pretty bouquet. The Chateau Pradeaux Bandol Rosé is aged 100% in cement cuves, where it gets its leesy depth and the wine is normally bottled in late spring of the year following the harvest. I am a huge fan of the Pradeaux wines with their transparent form and traditional terroir driven character, with this wine always being a fantastic choice and represents a great value in this legendary region, rivaling some of much more expensive Bandol offerings, including the famous Domaine Tempier and Domaine Gros Nore to name of few. This Pradeaux Rosé is a blend of Cinsault (50%) and Mourvèdre (50%), and as the winery explains, its slight orange tint comes from the latter cépage and this effort is done without any Malo-lactic conversion to show off its vigorous and vibrant nature. This 2019 is one of the best and age worthy vintages I can remember, it should stay rewarding for many years, and it proves that Rosé can be and in some cases cellared, this is one to search out and enjoy with substantial cuisine and a hearty meal.
($30 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

2019 Pax Wines, Charbono, Luchsinger Vineyard, Lake County.
One of the Pax wine club rarities, the juicy tart 2019 whole cluster carbonic Charbono is a fun lighter style low alcohol red wine, it’s dark color belies the fresh and citrusy character the wine actually delivers on the palate, making it delicious with picnics, spicy foods, taco Tuesdays and just plain Jane Pizza night. Pax, who is known for his profound Syrah bottlings, is also a fan of natural wines and does a series of refreshing highly quaffable wines from unique varietals, like this Charbono, plus Trousseau, Mondeuse, Mission, Gamay and Trousseau Gris to name a few of these cool alternative offerings, sadly there is a fanatic demand for them and they can be hard to find, unless you get on Pax’s wine club, which I highly recommend doing. I had to rely on the kindness of a friend who joined up recently to get a chance to try this one, for which I am grateful and I really enjoyed the interesting play of dark fruit and zesty tang in this 2019 Charbono, I can honestly say I have never had a wine with such a stark contrast of flavors from crushed blackberries to eye popping grapefruit, but there is a familiar tone to this wine that reminds me of some of the natural wines of the Loire Valley, like Cheverny and or a carbonic Pineau d’Aunis from the Touraine region. The 2019 Pax Charbono starts with dark berries and floral notes and opens up on the light bodied palate with fresh tree picked plum, sour cherry, blueberry and cranberry fruits, crunchy whole bunch pop with mineral tones, wild herbs, preserved mixed citrus and Turkish delight jellies, saline and a bit of savory earthiness all in a saliva inducing dry and crisp red wine. Charbono is an intriguing grape, I first became aware of through one of its best expressions I know by Turley Wine Cellars and more recently through Vince Toffanelli’s signature bottling from his old vines in Calistoga. This wine was made from vines set on rocky volcanic (red) soils in Lake County, the Luchsinger Vineyard, which also supplies Arnot-Roberts for their Trousseau and Touriga Nacional for their spectacular Rosé.

The Pax club wines are made with almost no SO2 (sulphites) and are what the Europeans call Glou-Glou (poundable) wines, they are all about honest drinkability and have no pretense about them, I especially loved the Mission, aka Pais or Listan, this electric ruby colored Charbono and a Valdiguie that was offered a few releases ago. Pax Mahle, who shows off his funky side on these wines, uses whole cluster and carbonic fermentations with spontaneous yeasts and doesn’t fuss over them, usually without any wood being needed and raised in tank or cement cuves, to preserve bright flavors, with grapes that are ripe enough to achieve pleasing personalities, but with lower sugars and loads of natural acidity. The Charbono grape, like Zin and Petite Sirah, has a mysterious past, though it is now believed to have come from the alpine vineyards of the Savoie region of France, where it is known as Corbeau, it is now mostly planted in Napa Valley, where it is known as Charbono, and in Argentina, where it is called Bonarda, not to be confused with the two different Bonarda grapes from northern Italy. Durning the Wind Gap era, Pax started experimenting with this approach and it has carried over to these bottlings as well as the entry level North Coast Syrah in his current set of wines, as well as for the Monte Rio Cellars stuff he does with Patrick Cappiello. There has been an underground movement to take these exciting quaffers to the next level, with some notable efforts by the likes of Stolpman, with their carbonic Sangiovese “Love you Bunches”, Ryan Stirm’s Rose de Peru (Mission), Las Jaras, Martha Stoumen, Michael Cruse, Jolie-Laide, Sandlands’ Cinsault and Mission, Broc Cellars and others. The simplicity and rawness is the point and purpose for these wines, no over thinking it and they do that well, they are full of delightful energy and bring much needed smiles, laughter and ward off the intensity of life and the heavy darkness of our times. While I am in awe of Pax’s impactful Syrah(s) and think they are some of the most compelling wines in California, which I suggest you not miss, I also like to geek out on these counter culture and slightly funky or rustic offerings.
($24 Est.) 87 Points, grapelive

2018 Drew Family Cellars, Syrah, Perli Vineyard, Mendocino Ridge, Mendocino County.
Just when you thought the Drew wines couldn’t get any better, along comes this 2018 Perli Vineyard Syrah and it is just magnificent in every way with gorgeous layering of texture and delivers a dark and complex seduction on the supple, Guigal Hermitage like feel, showing a cascade of blue and black fruits, mixed spices, pretty violets and an exceptional lingering finish highlighted by creme de cassis, anise and a teasingly simmering sultry earthiness. This wine is absolutely brilliant, its structure is impressive for its velvety opulence, but it has an underlying firmness that is like a leopard in motion with satiny power and grace, and as fantastic as Drew’s Pinots are, Jason Drew’s Perli Syrah is just as desirable and is one of my favorite bottlings from this small family producer based in the western edges of the Anderson Valley. The Perli 2018 is pure sexy Syrah in the glass, inviting from its purple/ruby color to the outstanding aftertaste, plus all in between, showing blackberry, damson plum, currant jam, tangy blueberry and kirsch flavors that leads the energetic array in the mouth along with cayenne (peppery) spice, licorice, light cedary wood, Greek olives, a cool tone of iron/mineral, crushed flowers, espresso and burnt embers. The 2018 vintage is outrageously good at Drew, and most of California for that matter, and his latest Perli Syrah is definitely spotlights this long cool growing season with a polished, almost silky, personality and fully developed (ripe) varietal characteristics that excites all the senses, making it both thrilling and elegant, especially when enjoyed with robust cuisine that brings out even more flourish. This is obviously a wine that has potential to age gracefully for two decades, but can still be opened even now without any penalty or fear of missing its best side, it is ultra delicious even in its youth, truly impressive stuff.

The Perli Vineyard, as Drew notes, comes from hillside vines that were planted about 20 years ago with the Syrah being the McDowell selection and the 877 clones, is 10 miles from the ocean and is perched at close to 2,200 feet above sea level on thin and steep north east facing slope. The Ornbaun soils here are a unique combination that gives this wine its soul, consisting of shale, fractured sandstone and rhyolite with some sandy loams. The McDowell selection, as Jason adds, is notable as it is the oldest field selection of Syrah in North America, brought into California to the San Jose Mission in 1880 and later planted on the McDowell Ranch in Mendocino County in 1902. This very lovely cool climate Syrah, with a nod to Cote-Rotie, is co-fermented with close to 5% Viognier in the traditional style of one of the Northern Rhone Valley’s most legendary places. The winemaking at Drew is always transparent and artisan in nature with a gentle touch to allow for a terroir driven profile with this Perli Syrah seeing 100% native yeast and 50% whole-cluster fermentation with just the right amount of fiery stem inclusion and was aged solely in a neutral French Oak Puncheon for 14 months. There is plenty of vivacious natural acidity to provide lift and balance in this 2018 version and while concentrated and fine tuned, the 13.8% alcohol shows that this Syrah has a serious punch and the grapes were picked at just the right time, as perfect and perfect can be, to make this sublime wine one of the best in the state. In my opinion, Syrah still is the unrivaled champion of the best red wine in California for the quality to price ratio, especially the Drew offerings, this Perli and the Valenti Ranch, which join a fabulous and diverse group of elite California cool climate Syrah producers, including wines by, Pax, Halcon, Piedrasassi, Andrew Murray, Desire Lines Wine Co., Sandlands, Cattleya, Pisoni, Roar, Samuel Louis Smith, Jolie-Laide, Stolpman, Joyce, Storm Wines, Lagier-Merideth and Big Basin, to name just a few. If you want world class Syrah, easily rivaling the best from France, California has it, and this Drew is one hell of a wine for the money, don’t miss it.
($48 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

2007 Domaine Gallety, Cote du Vivarais Rouge, Rhone Valley, France.
The Covid shut down has allowed me some time to dig through some older wines to review and some friends have got into the spirit and brought out some of their own forgotten bottles or stuff that had been over looked in the cellar, like this wonderfully matured, dark and savory Syrah and Grenache blend from Alain Gallety, of Domaine Gallety in the Ardeche, straight north from Nimes, and in the AOC of Cote du Vivarais, which came into being back in 1999. The 2007 vintage in the Southern Rhone was a big one and the wines are ripe and hedonistic, especially the more Grenache based reds, like in Chateauneuf du Pape, but the outliners with more Syrah are meaty and less fruity in concentration like this one in particular from Domaine Gallety. This wine highlights this, showing off its 50% Syrah in full force at this stage with layers of dark berry fruit, with some boysenberry, creme de cassis, bacon fat, leather, melted licorice, a hint of bullion cube, which is a product of the age beginning to show, dried herbs de Provence, kirsch and wilted violets. The natural robust personality (of this wine) feels impressive on the full bodied palate that still has some grip to it, its grainy tannin structure begs for some rustic or country cuisine and or a selection of hard cheeses. As this wine opens, its more pretty side flickers in and out with the floral notes and inner sweetness of fruit from the Grenache plays with the senses like a teasing fan dance, it always is promising more that it shows, but is still very much a complete and compelling wine. I have known about and tried many vintages of Gallety through importer Kermit Lynch, but I admit to not have not invested as much time and focus to Alain’s wines, which now seems a shame, as this one was very exciting and while Kermit Lynch has such an impressive portfolio of Rhones, Gallety should not be overlooked, as I might have done.

The Domaine Gallety was founded in 1974, young by Rhone standards and set in the remote Cotes du Vivarais, where as Kermit Lynch notes, the wines, of this area of Ardeche, stand as a gateway between the Northern and Southern Rhône and frequently see equal blends of the (two) noble grapes, Syrah and Grenache, which is what this wine is made of exactly. The Domaine farms 100% organic and makes just about 4,500 cases per year of mostly red, though they also do two very unique white wines which marry grapes of Chateauneuf and Hermitage with a blend of 50% Grenache Blanc, 30% Marsanne and 20% Roussanne. This wine, as mentioned, is 50% Grenache and 50% Syrah, and seems in this 2007 vintage to favor the Syrah with its opaque purple/crimson color and its iron rich, umami and beefy intensity leading the way. The grapes, all hand tended and harvested, are from vines set on classic clay and limestone soils with a cooler, wetter and windy climate that leads to a longer growing season that again favors the Syrah, hence it playing a bigger role here, with Alain Gallety using mostly traditional methods in the cellar with mainly re-stemed bunches and a long maceration and primary fermentation that usually lasts about 30 days before he racks the finally blend to used barrels, where the Cote du Vivarais Rouge ages about 15 months before bottling. Alain allows native yeasts to do the job and when he brings the grapes in they are gently crushed into cement vats for the red wines, while the whites get more stainless to preserve vitality and keep the Marsanne (in my opinion) from getting to oxidative, which it can do very easily. I’m convinced it is a perfect time to drink these 2007s before the fruit drops away any further and the meaty quality and unresolved tannin take away from the charms that are still on display here, drink now. This bottling of Cote du Vivarais Rouge, in any vintage, is worth searching out and will certainly appeal to those that like the more rustic and earthy style Rhones.
($30+ Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

Grapelive.com Reviews – January, 2021

2019 Monte Rio Cellars, Primitivo, Lodi, California.
A delightfully easy, fun and deliciously quaffable this new Monte Rio Cellars Lodi Primitivo from the all organic Shergill Vineyard is made from 10 year old Primitivo Clone (of Zinfandel) vines in this region famous for its Zinfandel wines, but with this one being of a new generation in style, with a lighter, low alcohol, natural and fresher manner about it and is a great addition to the re-imagining of California wines. This vintage perfectly captures the best of this kind of wine with lovely ripe fruit, bright acidity and loads of drinking pleasure with pure Zin crushed raspberry, pomegranate, fresh picked plum and tangy red peach fleshiness along with whole cluster pop with racy cinnamon, peppery notes, a touch of stemmy bite and delicate floral details, as well as some dusty tannins, lavender, earthy cedar and minty herbs. In recent years we’ve seen some very interesting versions of Zin with Monte Rio’s being an excellent counter culture example, coming in at just 12.5% natural alcohol and very low SO2, it joins another old world or old school inspired offering from Martha Stoumen, who’s Mendocino Zinfandel is similarly rustic and vibrantly charming, this are wines not to over think, but made to be enjoyed young with friends and every day meals. This 2019 Monte Rio Primitivo opens nicely and delivers a fine performance on the medium bodied, with a carbonic fermentation softness and showing playfully zesty edginess, perfect with Pizza and or BBQ chicken.

Monte Rio Cellars is owned by famous Sommelier Patrick Cappiello, who along with his friend and famed Syrah maker Pax Mahle produce a series of ultra small production, hand crafted and naturally made wines, most of which are Zinfandel, though they have started exploring rare varietals, including a bottling of Mission grape (also known as Pais or Listen) and a California hybrid known as Rubired. The wines, like this one are done using 100% whole cluster and see a Carbonic Maceration for 9 days in stainless steel, then are pressed into a concrete tank for 8 days, with no sulfur (sulphates) used in the winemaking, all with just indigenous yeast fermentation(s). This Primitivo was then aged 10 months in old wood barrels, with everything done to enhance transparency and intentional rawness of form to make these wines feel authentic in their profiles. I am really getting into these Monte Rio wines, they take an attitude adjustment and an openness of mind to understand and give yourself to their nakedness of spirit and character. Pax also does a lineup of wines that usually just go to their wine club that are in the same vein, with an interesting array of varietals from Trousseau Gris to Charbono, which may have been influenced by the Monte Rio’s success. The 2019s from Monte Rio Cellars are a significant step up and I highly recommend checking them out!
($20 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2018 Desire Lines Wine Co., Cabernet Sauvignon, Lichau Hill Vineyard, Petaluma Gap AVA, Sonoma County.
Cody Rasmussen’s Desire Lines Wines Co. label is certainly one of the coolest and best new wineries to emerge in the last few years and his latest set of wines are absolute gems with his Syrah bottlings being some of the best in the state, but I just discovered his Cabernet Sauvignon and it is also a killer wine, especially interesting coming from this unlikely place, its dark and pure flavors a joy on a cold January night. The Lichau Cabernet Sauvignon is deeply saturated with an almost opaque black/purple and garnet tinted color which is ultra compelling and the nose is a classic mix of black fruit, floral notes, a light wood toast and chaparral that leads to a very youthful, but surprisingly supple tannined full, bodied palate that comes through in dense layers of blackberries, creme de cassis, plum and cherry fruits along with licorice, cedar, minty herb, a touch of vanilla and with some earthy loam and graphite. The vintage, long and somewhat cool, allowed for a smoothing of the structural elements, fresh detailing and gave well developed ripe fruit complexity, all adding up to a powerful and graceful example of Sonoma Cabernet Sauvignon that delivers a top notch performance in the glass and making for an exceptional value for this grape and it is just beginning its evolution and should only get better and better over the next few years or the decade head. With some air and food the 2018 Desire Lines Wine Co. Lichau Cabernet behaves impeccably and its raw grip fades into a luxurious richness, much the same way you’d expect and want from a big red wine and there is a lot to admire here, especially the constant play between hedonistic fruit and savory notes and a lingering sensation of acacia flowers and blueberry. Fans of Mountain California Cabernet will love the rustic and or old school style, but it is still a quite polished and pretty really and am reminded of wines like Mount Eden and Chappellet, which is a good thing.

Cody Rasmussen and his wife Emily started this micro (family) winery in 2014 when they made their first wine, a Mendocino Syrah from the Eagle Point Vineyard, before creating a more wide set of wines over the next few vintages, which include a fabulous Griffin’s Lair Syrah, an expressive dry Riesling from Cole Ranch, a juicy Carignan blend from old wines in Contra Costa County, a pure Mourvedre and another gorgeous and opulent Syrah from the much heralded Shake Rigde Vineyard in the Amador County, as well as this impressive single vineyard offering. Rasmussen, who is the assistant winemaker at Bedrock Wine Company under the guidance of Morgan Twain-Peterson MW and one of the great wine minds of California, and has a fantastic selection of top vineyard sites to work from. His own label wines have the quality and refinement that you see in the highly regarded Bedrock wines, but still have a unique distinction and show his own personality as well as the individual terroir characteristics, which is clearly on display on this wine. Rasmussen says he didn’t intend to make a Cabernet when we started Desire Lines, but just by chance along a hiking trail, the Lichau Hill appeared to him and he was intrigued by this remote vineyard. So in 2018, he followed up on his instincts and got grapes from Lichau, which is set on Sonoma Mountain’s western side with a southwest facing and a mix of rocky soils, along with a slightly cooler coastal influence. The Lichau Vineyard, as Cody notes is thoroughly singular, it has the only Cabernet Sauvignon planted within the Petaluma Gap AVA, and at a good elevation, it misses most of fog and gets warm enough to fully ripen the Cab grapes, proven here beautifully in this 2018 version. Rasmussen fully de-stemmed the Cab clusters, but he did not crush the berries, fermenting them on the skins for thirty days in tank, and then he aged the Lichau for about 15 months in 225L French oak barriques with 40% new oak. This is a wonderful effort and a great addition to the Desire Lines stellar lineup, I highly recommend it and all of the wines, this is winery to watch.
($45 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2018 Flaneur, Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
One of the new labels in the Willamette Valley has has impressed me in recent years, Flaneur, based in Carlton, is an up and coming winery that has some exciting wines to discover and this beautiful and dark, black and blue fruited basic Willamette Valley cuvee is definitely one to search out, it offers a lot of quality and value for the price. Flaneur Wines was founded by the ambitious Marty Doerschlag who has amazingly, and quickly made his winery a force to be reckoned with and his team looks to be an all star cast, including winemaker and vineyard manager Grant Coulter, who I’m known since 2008 when I visited Beaux Freres and have been following ever since, the ex Beaux Freres man was drawn to this winery by the mission to produce small lot hand crafted wines all coming from organic and sustainable vineyard site as well as putting his artistic stamp on the wines. The 2018 Flaneur Pinot starts with English rose, red berries and cedary spices and opens up with beautiful detail on the smooth and silken medium bodied palate with rich layers of briar laced raspberry, plum, red currant and a deep core of black cherry fruit that everything revolves around with touches of tea spices, cinnamon, mineral tones, snapping herbs and a hint of toasty wood. The 2018 was native yeast fermented and saw just about 5% new French oak, with the balance being aged in well seasoned used barrel and got a gentle cool maceration to preserve purity, freshness and aromatic quality.

This 2018 vintage has lots of elegance and energy on display and they have a graceful sensibility with this Flaneur showcasing the year’s best characteristics and delivers its flavors with a exciting flourish, especially after opening up and getting air, it is joyous to experience even in its youth and can be enjoyed now and it should provide pleasure for another 3 to 5 years with ease. The Flaneur winemaker, Grant Coulter has really become one of Oregon’s top guns and as noted in my reviews, his own label Hundred Suns Wines is one of my big favorites, especially his whole cluster style Pinots and his awesome Gamay, which I highly recommend to anyone reading this and his offerings here at Flaneur are just as stylish and desirable. Grant, who is originally from Monterey County, has worked for Eric Hamacher, another California talent to move to Oregon as well as for the legendary Mike Etzel, where Coulter rose up to be head winemaker at the famed Beaux Freres, where he made some profound wines. Flaneur also does Chardonnay, which I hope to dig into in the near future as well as a grower producer style Champagne method sparkling wine, again I can’t wait to try it, especially since it is an Extra Brut with an ultra dry style, which is my kind of bubbly. This deeply colored dark ruby/garnet 2018 Flaneur Willamette Valley Pinot, that was sourced from a variety of cool climate sites with a mixture of the region’s zones and a combination of soils, is easy to love and a great value, be sure to keep an eye out for it and getting onto their mailing list to see their more limited offerings.
($25 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

1998 Domaine Gramenon, Cotes du Rhone Rouge “Sierra du Sud” Rhone Valley, France.
I was excited when I learned that a friend had acquired a perfectly cellared collection of Rhone wines, and while I couldn’t afford to grab some of the super gems and unicorn wines, I could get some under the radar and frankly some unsellable bottles that by all rights should be long dead, but so far they’ve all proved outstanding, especially this gorgeous and very much alive 1998 Domaine Gramenon Sierra du Sud Cotes du Rhone. This wonderful surprise from the late Philippe Laurent, who was killed in a car accident a year or so after making this wine, and his wife Michèle Aubèry-Laurent, the founders of this small organic family winery that has gained more notoriety in recent years with Michele’s talented son Maxime François Laurent continuing the traditions of the estate and bringing a spotlight to this exceptional estate. Gramenon, based in the northern zone of the southern Rhone around the new hotspot of the region Vinsobres, established in 1979, is not an old property, but the wines are very serious and impeccably made in a very natural style, the quality here was so good that famous importer Kermit Lynch, in Berkeley California took them on and has brought these humble hardworking vignerons no small about of fame and an enthusiast following in America. This 1998 Sierra du Sud was a special 100% Syrah cuvee from a selection of what was then some younger vines set on a complex series of soils with a combination of clay, limestone, along with gravel, galets roulés (large round river stones) and sand, making for deeply flavorful and fabulously textured wine that has not succumbed to age, in fact this Gramenon is fresher and drinking better than some top Chateauneuf du Pape bottlings from the same vintage! This dark garnet hued (with barely a hint of orange on the edges) Sierra du Sud shows a remarkable freshness and lively nature (for its age) and held up all night gaining mouth feel and intriguing floral aromatics as it opened, very impressive. It unfolded with pure layers of blueberry, cassis, dried violets, delicate truffle or wild porcini, a light dusting of chalky stones, peppercorns, licorice and some savory earthiness that doesn’t override the pretty fruit core, but provides a sultry and sensual appeal with just a faint whiff of sous bois or a meaty element and lingering kirsch notes. While warmer and softer in style, especially at this stage of life, this authentic and elegant wine is not far off a Cote-Rotie in class and in drinking pleasure.

The Domaine Gramonon does a vast array of unique bottlings, most are focused around their main grape Grenache, but they also do a couple of single varietal Syrah(s) with this Sierra du Sud being one, labeled as a Cotes du Rhone, similar to Chateau de Saint Cosme, the famous Gigondas producer that has vineyard holdings in Vinsobres too, and who’s basic Cotes du Rhone is also 100% Syrah, as well as Gramenon’s other Syrah Côtes-du-Rhône “Emouvante” which I haven’t yet tried, but will certainly look for. This estate is all about sustainable farming and live a holistic lifestyle, which they have, as Kermit Lynch notes, incorporated into their daily lives by growing their own food and raising their own animals, being in partnership with their land and nature. This area of Rhone is cooler and the wines are more edgy than in the southern zones which allows the Syrah to shine here and making their Grenache wines more distinct and fresh feeling, these conditions and terroir make for long lived wines, even ones that were never purposed for long term aging, like this Gramenon Sierra du Sud Cotes du Rhone. I have been a fan of Gramenon for just over a decade, after being introduced to the wines by Kermit Lynch and I have always adored this Sierra du Sud bottling, it has been a favorite from the Laurent family, along with their amazing old vine Grenache and the delightful “Il Fait Soif” by Maxime Francois Cotes du Rhone, a blend of 70% Grenache, 20% Syrah and 10% Cinsault, a wine that is great place to start if you want to get into these wines. Gramenon has been farming using biodynamic practices since 2007 and have always been organic, though they finished certification in 2010 with their vines all being traditionally trained with mostly head training and dry famed with small yields that make for concentrated wines, but with crisp detailing. The winemaking at Gramenon is very old school and the wines are more made in the vineyard, rather than the rustic cellar with a minimalistic approach and with low SO2 additions, in some cases without any sulphites being added at all, even in their most prized bottlings. The Sierra du Sud was fermented with partial whole cluster and some stem inclusion with native yeasts in concrete vat with a gentle 10 to 12 day maceration before being aged in a combination of tank (cement) and old barriques for just under a year, usually about seven months. This wine, like all the wines at Gramenon was bottled unfined and unfiltered, to preserve its true personality and charm, which it continues even after more than twenty years to near perfection and utter brilliance, great cellaring (a must with low sulfur or natural wines) brings huge rewards.
($38 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2018 Alfaro Family Vineyards, Pinot Noir, Trout Gulch Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains.
The satiny, beautifully dark ruby hued and opulent 2018 Trout Gulch Pinot Noir is a classically styled version with rich layers of dark fruit, light spices, subtle earth notes and impeccably well judged use of oak, giving this wine its soft and luxurious framing, all of which highlights the quality of the grapes from this vineyard and the precise winemaking by Richard Alfaro at his Alfaro Family Vineyards. These 2018s are incredible for their depth and vibrancy with this Trout Gulch Pinot being a stand out in Alfaro’s lineup with a complex array of flavors and textural pleasure, it delivers in all areas and is an outstanding value in a collection of great values, these are without a doubt some of the best efforts to date from this small family estate winery. This vintage shows a freshness of detail that is very compelling with black cherries, plum, fig and red berry fruits leading the way on the exciting medium to full bodied palate that is lifted by vital natural acidity as well as tea spices, blood orange, a nice floral element, a touch of sweet toasty oak, mineral tones and loam. This wine feels polished and excels with food, especially good with salmon, pork and wild mushroom dishes. Alfaro has really made this vineyard sing since he took over the farming here, with the Chardonnay and the Pinot Noir vines thriving and producing stunning wines, you can see why these grapes are so coveted, with the Chardonnay grapes finding their way into some of the most sought after wines in state, like the fabulous single vineyard bottlings by Arnot-Roberts, Kutch and Ceritas. I’ve been following Richard’s wines since the early to mid 2000s and have been thrilled with the evolution of the style and the maturity of the vines, that these wines their unique personality. With his reputation as a grower now cemented, I still find it amazing that Alfaro’s wine are such bargains, even now this estate remains under the radar with some real gems to discover here, especially his estate Chards, which are some of my all time favorites!

The Alfaro Family Vineyards Trout Gulch Pinot Noir was hand crafted using traditional winemaking methods, seeing a gentle handing of the grapes and a cool temperature maceration and primary fermentation in mostly stainless steel and then aged 10 months in 27% new French oak, in this vintage, with just 275 cases made. The Alfaro estate began back in 1997 when Richard Alfaro, a famous local baker, and his wife Mary Kay bought this property in Corralitos in the southern most zone of the Santa Cruz Mountains and planted their own vineyards. Richard, along with his son Ryan, who has completed internships in New Zealand and most recently with the iconic Adam Tolmach of Ojai Vineyards are focused on mostly estate grown terroir driven Chardonnay and Pinot offerings that they farm to sustainable and mostly organic methods, plus a selection of unique rarities including their awesome estate grown Gruner Veltliner, a new estate 100% Malbec, a Merlot and a peppery cool climate Syrah, as well as a few small lot wines from non estate vines, like their Garys’ Vineyard Pinot, their Rosella’s Vineyard Chardonnay and Pinot and a Bates Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon, to name a few top choices. The Trout Gulch Vineyard, planted back in 1980, is a 16 acre dry-farmed vineyard that is nestled on a coastal hillside and surrounded by redwoods in the Santa Cruz Mountains near Aptos only about four miles from the cold Pacific Ocean. The site, as the winery notes, sits at 750 to 800 feet above sea level and has well-draining sandy loam soils with a touch of clay that adds to the fruit density, while the morning fog and cool air makes for a long growing season and allows for racy acidity. Alfaro has twelve acres at the Trout Gulch Vineyard that is planted to the Robert Young clone of Chardonnay and just four acres planted to Pinot Noir with a heritage set of vines, that has a mix of the Mt. Eden, Pommard and Martini clones. These Monterey Bay influenced Trout Gulch wines are absolutely delicious, in particular this one, which is just one of Alfaro’s latest set of solid new releases, all of which, that I highly recommend. Now that the stay at home order has been lifted I look forward to visiting the Alfaro’s tasting room and picturesque vineyard soon.
($45 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2018 Bucklin, Zinfandel, Bambino Field Blend, Old Hill Ranch, Sonoma Valley.
The Bucklin Bambino is a wonderful Zinfandel based red that way over delivers for the price with this gorgeous 2018 being one of the best versions to date with layers of lively, but deep black fruits on the nicely balanced full bodied palate that leads with classic black raspberry, touches of spice, light floral notes and youthful vigorous energy. This vintage, longer and cooler than most in the Sonoma Valley really made this wine stand out for the excitement and depth of flavors, it is wonderfully layered and softly tannic, making it fabulous with food and easy to love as a young wine, even by itself and or with basque or artisan cheeses. Will Bucklin, owner and winemaker at Bucklin, sells his Old Hill Ranch grapes to some outstanding producers, like Bedrock Wine Co. and others, makes just a limited amount of wines under his own label with his Ancient Field Blend, coming from the historic heritage vines and this Bambino Zinfandel blend, coming from a young parcel, being his main two offerings. Will Bucklin and his wife Lizanne live on, and farm, the Old Hill Ranch, which his family purchased in 1980 and have been wonderful guardians of this special site that is one of California’s most treasured vineyards that was originally planted in 1852 and has arguably the oldest Zinfandel vines in the state if not the world. Located near Glen Ellen, Old Hill Ranch was founded by the name sake William McPherson Hill and who is credited with planting the first non-mission grapes in Sonoma, choosing an eccentric array of European varietals that he inter-planted at his property, these included a section of vines planted in 1856 of a mysterious black grape that was known at the time as “Black St. Peters,” which of course we know now as Zinfandel. This 2018 vintage Bambino Zinfandel, was hand crafted from vines planted between 1998 and 2000, using the same percentages of each varietal as the original Ancient blocks with 75% Zinfandel being used, but it is also co-fermented with some Petite Sirah and Alicante Bouchet as well as, maybe, a few other grapes, which adds to the complexity, as well as giving the wine its deep purple/garnet color.

Will Bucklin, who studied enology at UC Davis, has quietly become an influential winegrower in the Sonoma Valley and has some very worldly experience in his past, making wine around the world and here on the west coast. After his graduation Bucklin traveled to France for an internship at Chateau Lafite Rothschild, then he worked in Australia at Thomas Hardy and Sons, before coming home and taking a position at Navarro winery in the remote Anderson Valley, where he was, as he notes, infected with the Pinot Noir bug. So with Pinot on his mind he packed up and moved up to Oregon to become winemaker for King Estate, where he fine tuned his skills. After which, he was persuaded to take over the family estate, where he manages all aspects of the Ranch’s grape production and in 2000 he started his Bucklin label. Old Hill Ranch has more than 30 different grapes in the old vine section, and Bucklin’s Ancient Field Blend includes them all, with Zinfandel being the main one, but also has Grenache, Alicante Bouschet, Petite Sirah, Grand Noir, Syrah, Carignan, and Mourvedre to name a few, along with some white grapes too. Bucklin interestingly has Cabernet Sauvignon, that parcel, which dates back to 1983, is separate and goes into a very limited solo varietal wine. The Bucklin’s have had some rough times in recent years with both the major fires causing significant damage to the ranch and their home, though most all the old vines, to our great joy and relief have survived, so it is a great time to support this winery as they look to recover and the wines are a rewarding bonus. I love this version of Bambino with its array dark fruits, with, the mentioned brambly black raspberry, as well as plum, currant and kirsch that are accented by hints of wild sage, cinnamon, roasted herbs, cedar and cassis. This vintage is exceptionally pure and there is not a trance of overt oak, it feels well rounded and has a cool toned presence and at 14.2% natural alcohol it doesn’t get heavy or ponderous, while still being impactful, ripe and full of pleasure, these 2018s are really good, in particular I highly recommend this Bambino, its almost guilt free for your wallet, it will drink well for many years too.
($24 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

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