New Reviews – Reviews – January 2022

2017 Weingut Carl Loewen, Riesling Trocken, Longuicher Maximin Herrenberg 1896, Alte Reben, Erste Lage, Mosel Germany.
I’ve long been a follower and fan of the Carl Loewen wines, but I have say since Christopher Loewen took over they are some of my absolute favorites, with this Old Vine Longuicher Maximin Herrenberg Dry Riesling being one of the wines I try to get every vintage, as it is seriously close in quality to the GGs, but almost half the price, it is a killer bargain for what is in the bottle. The 2017, I somehow missed and just found now, is gorgeous crystalline wine that is developing nicely. The historic Weingut Carl Loewen estate dates back to 1803 when a set of vineyards and buildings that was formally owned by the Maximin order, much the same way the famous Maximin Grunhaus (Von Schubert) started after the Church’s lands were sold off to fund the secular Napoleonic government, and this sale included Loewen’s prized, ultra steep, Longuicher Maximiner Herrenberg, one of the Mosel’s greatest vineyards, where this wine was born. The soils here are unique with a combination of Devonian era slate (red) with a band of red iron and volcanic veins running through these vineyards, which Christopher notes that this band of soil runs between Urzig and Longuich that which is very rare in the Mosel and adds to distinction of these amazing wines. This 2017 is lightly golden in the glass with delicate florals, smoky slate and the palate is vinous and rounded, but the early fat fat this vintage had has largely turned into a thrilling sex appeal with highly attractive layers of tangerine, apricot, quince and a touch of tropical fruit that is perfectly accented by wet shale, a salty note, tangy peach pit, apple skin, key lime, clove spice and a decedent leesy yeasty finish. This wine is really coming into its own and as it warms in the glass it gets more and more interesting and has a thrilling impact, it doesn’t get much better than this, instead of severity and or brutal force, there is a heightened sense of pleasure and beauty to be admired here.

Christopher Loewen, who’s brought in a new sense of passion and organic farming to the famous Weingut Carl Loewen after taking over the winemaking here new, has a set of offerings that are brilliant Rieslings, absolutely world class stuff, especially his gorgeous dry styles, including this Maximin 1896 Herrenberg Alte Reben Trocken Premier Cru (Erste Lage) that has the class, mineral intensity and elegance of a Grand Cru Chablis, but with the slate driven terroir of the Mosel. The GG’s and the 1896 Feinherb here are without question some of the best Rieslings in Germany, but when you get into the basic and Premier Cru stuff, you see some outrageously good values, like this one and the Kabinett bottlings, none of these wines should be missed. The Maximiner Herrenberg vineyard, as mentioned in my prior reviews and as well noted was originally planted in 1896, making it the oldest ungrafted Riesling vineyard in Germany and is now farmed by Loewen using organic methods. Loewen carefully sorts the grapes here as to not have botrytis in the dry wines with this parcel being in the lower slopes, set on red slate soils, closer to the Mosel river, where they benefit from reflective light from the river that adds to the full ripeness. Using modern natural methods in the cellar, Christopher, the grapes are all whole cluster pressed, and Loewen is careful not to move the pomace so to not get bitterness or harsh phenolic flavors, then the juice, according to the winery, is “browned” or oxidized pre-fermentation to stabilized the wine and get away from reduction. All of Loewen’s ferments are “Sponti” completely natural without addition of enzymes or nutrition, with these single vineyard wines, Christopher notes, are individually block picked with the above treated juice going directly into classic Fuder barrels (German oak) which average 25 years old to age. With the dry wines seeing about a year on the lees in these large oval casks to allow depth and complexity to develop before bottling, these wines are stunning in any vintage, but the string of years, 2016 through 2020 are extraordinary and should be on any Riesling lovers radar and wish list!
($48 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

2019 Bow & Arrow, Gamay, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
This 2019 version of Bow & Arrow’s Gamay is one of my favorite vintage’s to date with tons of energy and stemmy crunch, it shows off deep black fruits, hints of violets and zesty orange rind along with racy acidity, mineral notes and is led on the medium bodied palate by blackberry, tangy sour cherry and plum fruits that are accented by hints of loam, leather and fennel. Bow & Arrow and winemaker Scott Frank go their own way, focusing on cool climate natural wines made from more humble grapes and sites, including this Gamay, and they use a different template to explore this different, simpler side of the Willamette Valley. Instead of Burgundy, Frank adds, he pays homage to the refreshing and decidedly working class wines of France’s Loire Valley and the wines show a rustic edgy quality and are incredibly value priced confiding the small batch and handcrafted effort that goes into them. Frank says, even after one of Oregon’s great contemporary Pinot Noir and Chardonnay masters, John Paul of Cameron Winery, drafted him to be his unproven assistant winemaker in 2007, the thought of bottling Loire Valley varieties, like Chenin Blanc, Melon de Bourgogne and Sauvignon Blanc was never far away, and his interpretation of Gamay is based on his Loire experiences, in particular in areas like Touraine and Cour-Cheverny.

The Bow & Arrow Gamay is faithfully produced using old school traditional methods with carbonic whole cluster permutations and native yeasts with exceptionally low SO2, or without sulfur added in the process which includes cement vats and used very old barrels. This wine is without pretense and even carries its rawness with a certain pride, with the 2019 having a touch of funk, stemmy bite and brett, though not enough to be off putting, it just adds to the complexity and soulfulness of the whole experience. The Hughes Vineyard, Located in the South Salem hills, an area Frank feels holds some of the best untapped potential in the valley set on Jory and Nekia soils south of Salem, with Ed and Kathy Hughes farming this 27 year old site that provides Bow & Arrow with Gamay for this Willamette Valley bottling and some Pinot Noir for a single vineyard offering. These vines at an elevation of near 700 feet, the winery notes, are own rooted and have been dry farmed using sustainable methods from the beginning. The aspect here is slightly Northernly facing which translates in a light, with more cool climate natural acidity and a savory expression of the varietal, which this 2019 shows with exceptional clarity and with an earthy effect, making for old world style wines. In recent years I have grow fond of the Bow & Arrow Air Guitar, which is a blend of Cabernet Sauvignon and Cab Franc, like seen in Anjou and the Rhinestones, a blend of Pinot Noir and Gamay, which I think is the signature wine of the winery, both of which I highly recommend, along with this 100% Gamay.
($23 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2021 Lepe Cellars, Rosé of Sangiovese, San Antonio Valley AVA, Monterey County.
One of the first out of the gate in the 2021 vintage is a tasty Rosé of Sangiovese from Miguel Lepe at his personal label Lepe Cellars, it is a bright and mineral focused dry Rosé that bursts from the glass with racy ruby grapefruit, strawberry, sour cherry and hibiscus leading the way with hints of rosewater, saline infused stones and watermelon. This wine is going to be a hit, maybe the best version Lepe has done, it delivers vivid clarity and has the perfect delicate color with mouth-watering natural acidity, all true to Sangiovese’s nature and personality, it reminds me of some of the best Italian Rosatos, but even more vibrant and refreshingly dry. This wine has some fun times ahead, though delicious now, it will provide great companionship to those having sea food, steamed claims and mussels in spicy broth as well as basil based dishes and Ahi tartare. Miguel, who is the assistant winemaker at Wrath and formerly a winemaker at Figge, has gained a strong following for his own wines in recent years and his downtown Carmel by the Sea tasting room is a very comfortable way to explore his wines.

Miguel’s latest lineup is a very pleasing collection of finely crafted wines and he has some even more exciting stuff in the works, like a soon to be release set of Pet-Nat’s, including a Sangiovese sparkler that has been disgorged for clarity, but still has a slightly cloudy strawberry appearance, as well as a Sauvignon Blanc bubbly in a more raw natural form, and he is planning on doing a Gamay next year, so a lot of exciting stuff for Lepe. In the here and now, I really enjoyed the 100% Petit Verdot bottling with its deep color, its spicy menthol, dried flowers and red currant led full bodied palate, and this all stainless Rosé of course. Lepe did a direct press into stainless tank with about two hours of full skins to get that beautiful light pink hue and aged it for only a few months, as mentioned, 100% in stainless, before bottling in December to keep all the energy and vitality here. The grapes come out of the warmer southern section of Monterey County, in the San Antonio AVA, which was established in 2006, though it first saw a planted vineyard as far back as 1771, when the Mission San Antonio de Padua was built, making it one of the oldest growing regions in the state. It sees warm days and a climate similar to the west side of Paso Robles, benefiting from the cooling effects of nearby Lake San Antonio and the Pacific Ocean to give ripeness and balance, which this Rosé shows.
($28 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2019 Jolie-Laide, Grenache/Syrah/Mourvedre/Viognier, Shake Ridge Vineyard, Amador County, Sierra Foothills.
The gorgeous 2019 Sierra Foothills Rhone style blend from Scott Schultz and his personal Jolie-Laide label is pure and transparent with a classic Gigondas or Vacqueyras feel and profile with a Grenache led full bodied palate of crushed mixed berries, including boysenberry, plum, pomegranate and a touch of blueberry compote, along with graphite, earth, anise, mocha, peony florals and lingering kirsch. At Jolie-Laide, most all the grapes were all crushed by foot trodding and fermented 100% whole cluster, with nothing more than gentle punch-downs throughout and indigenous yeasts, with aging be done in used French oak barrels, all to allow the great terroir, like here in this GSMV, to shine through. Shake Ridge Ranch Vineyard is an epic site and is farmed by the Ann Kraemer, a pioneering legend in the Sierra Foothills, who has been a consulting viticulturalist for Domaine Chandon, Swanson, Cain, Calera, Paul Hobbs, and Shafer, to name a few. The Shake Ridge Vineyard is set on geological wonderland of soils with schist, Mariposa slate, greenstone, and marble, plus the are big chunks of quartz that litter the ground. The Sierra Foothills has a warm climate, but here at this elevation it sees a huge day to night swing with the vines getting a nice cool rest during the dark hours, helping them retain natural acidity, which is evident here is this vintage and the natural alcohol is low, remarkably just 13.2% in such a concentrated and densely packed wine.

Jolie-Laide is Scott Schultz’s one-man operation based in a Sebastopol and while having gained a reputation for geeky cool wines in recent years, his Syrah is nothing but old school traditional and with loads of class and distinction with a clean and transparent profile. As mentioned in my prior reviews, Scott moved to Napa from Chicago in 2007 with mostly fine dinning experience in the restaurant business on his resume which led him into a position at famous chef Thomas Keller’s Bouchon Bistro in Napa’s Yountville, where he became head of their wine program and fell in love with California wines. He worked with Arnot-Roberts and Ryme Cellars, two modern new generation wineries, before joining Pax Mahle at Windgap and Pax Wine Cellars, where his talents have helped produce some of California’s best loved Syrahs. I must say this Grenache, Syrah, Mourvedre and a small amount of co-fermented Viognier is really drinking fantastic right now, but is still beautifully fresh and vivid, giving me the impression that it will age another 5 to 10 years, it is easy to love, though very serious too. Earlier this year I enjoyed Schultz’s Gamay Rosé and his delicious Melon de Bourgogne white, each wine in the Jolie-Laide lineup highlights a sense of place. I was a little late getting into these wines and I am thrilled by what I’ve tried, making me happy I joined the mailing list. The Jolie-Laide wines just keep getting better and better, with the lineup expanding to include some outstanding stuff, in particular I recommend their red wine offerings, this dark colored and well balanced Shake Ridge Grenache/Syrah/Mourvedre and Viognier for sure, plus his Gamay, the Jura inspired blend, the Freisa, and the Syrahs.
($38 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2019 Turley Wine Cellars, Zinfandel, Juvenile, California.
One of California’s best Zin values and a great way to start your journey into the fabulous collection of wines at Turley Cellars, the Juvenile bottling, comes from vines that range in age from about 6-25 years, and, as the winery notes, are pulled from a selection of their best vineyards across California, including the famous Hayne, Pesenti, Salvador, Vineyard 101, Fredericks, and Kirschenmann sites from Paso Robles to the Napa Valley, as well as Amador and Lodi. This 2019 is wonderfully balanced with expressive fruit and nice natural acidity, its ripe core includes crushed raspberries, black currants, plum and juicy kirsch along with hints of fresh ground pepper, deep violet and peony florals, dried herbs and dark cocoa. Full bodied and quite luxurious in mouth this vintage is full of pleasure and is easy to love, easily hiding its potent natural alcohol (15.3%) and it has velvet covered muscles with supple tannin and an elegant finish, not unlike youthful Chateauneuf du Pape reds, but proudly Californian to be sure.

The Turley Juvenile, made by Tegan Passalacqua and his team is sourced from close to 27 vineyards, mostly all organic and sustainably farmed and is traditionally fermented using fully de-stemmed Zinfandel grapes and native yeasts. Turley notes that the Juvenile is actually composed of a variety of young vines that have been replanted in several of their old vine sites. They tag the younger vines then pick them, which is done separately and make they make each a distinct wine in separate lots, and blended to taste and style later. Turley has been hand crafting this Juvenile since 1999 and the recipe hasn’t changed too much, though certainly under Passalacqua’s vineyard and cellar guidance Larry Turley’s wines have continued to rise in quality, highlighting the care and extreme effort he has put in here since taking over the winemaker duties. The dark garnet hued Juvenile Zin, following the classic single vineyard wines, saw about 12 months in 80% French and 20% American oak with 95% being used barrels and just 5% new here and the Zin was bottled unfined. These 2018 and 2019 wines are outstanding, I highly recommend grabbing what you and or joining their mailing list for upcoming releases.
($25 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2019 Monte Rio Cellars, Mission, Lodi, California.
Still very fresh and lively with a range of spicy and floral aromatic, the ruby/orangey colored 2019 Mission grape red from Patrick Cappiello, the famous New York Sommelier and Pax Mahle of Pax Wines, famous for his outstanding and iconic Syrah bottlings, under the Monte Rio Cellars label is an all natural throwback winery focused on classic old California grapes and vineyards, is a lighter colored, slightly rustic and earthy wine that is as this bottle suggests a gulpable quaffer with a certain historic charm. This distinctive dry and low alcohol red shows layers of dried cherries, dusty raspberry and tangy tree picked plum fruits, a red pepper spiciness, a hint of funk and leather, along with orange rind, garden herbs, rose oil and sprigs of lavender. This is a fine effort and nice vintage to explore the Mission grape, this rare old grape, also known as Listan Prieto, that originally came to the new world with the Spanish missionaries, hence the name it goes by here in California. The grape, a very minor one in Spain, first got planted down in Chile back in the 1500s, where it is called Pais and eventually made its way north all the way to Sonoma by the late 1700s and early 1800s, it seems to have grown best in southern California, where it was made into California’s first commercial wine, as well as in the Lodi area, where it still thrives today, like here at the Somers Vineyard that supplies fruit for some of the best examples I’ve tasted. The Monte Rio Mission is best served with a slight chill, much the same as a Beaujolais and is perfectly suited to picnics, simple foods and or beach time with friends.

The 2019 vintage Monte Rio Mission, bottled in normal 750ml and in this retro jug 1.5L bottle was made from 80 year old vines at the organic Somers Vineyard in Lodi and was 100% whole cluster fermented and aged for about 6 months in neutral barrels. It saw a full carbonic maceration for 10 days in stainless steel vats before being pressed into a combination of concrete and stainless steel tanks for 7 days to get through primary, with absolutely no sulfur used in the winemaking and an all natural indigenous yeast fermentation before in was put to the very old oak. I have really enjoyed these last few vintages from Monte Rio Cellars, these no pretense offerings are fun and unique wines, with their Zinfandel, Petite Sirah and this Mission grape red being some of my favorites from these guys. I had saved this bottle, because I liked the look, and even reviewed the 2020 version before this vintage, though it was in no way inferior and was very smooth on the palate and maybe with a more exciting nose, which has a bit of cinnamon jolly rancher and rose petals to enjoy. As noted before, it is likely that the Mission grape was first planted for trade production at the Mission San Juan Capistrano in 1779 and it is thought in 1783, the first wine was produced in Alta California emerged from this mission’s winery, about a hundred or so years before Zinfandel arrived in the state. Never always loved as a wine in the past, Mission has made a comeback in recent years and the Mission by Monte Rio, that comes in at just 11.5% natural alcohol, is juicy and very enjoyable.
($23 Est. for 750ml) 90 Points, grapelive

2019 Domaine Weinbach, Riesling, Vin d’Alsace, France.
The baby Riesling from Weinbach is a killer value and exceptional wine, crisply detailed, but with opulent texture and balance showing a real presence in the glass with apricot, white peach, melon, a crunch of apple and zesty lemon/tangerine citrus fruits along with spicy clove, verbena, chamomile, salty wet stones and touch of round leesy brioche. The aromatics are delicately floral with a wisp of jasmine and orange blossoms along with a mineral tone, not to be confused with petrol fumes and subtle a earthiness that is wonderfully appealing in this stylish dry Riesling, it is always a treat to have a Weinbach and this is no exception. Women and nature have always played a big part of the success at Weinbach, which continues today.In recent years, Catherine Faller took over the leadership of the winery, made famous in a large part by her late mother Collette who brought the winery to the very top of wine world and her late sister Laurence, who was the winemaker for many years before sadly passing away at the young age of 41, and has kept the estate in the elite of Alsace wineries, along with her sons Eddy and Théo, who lead the next generation at this historic domaine.

The grapes for the basic Riesling are all organic and or biodynamic, they are all hand picked from parcels in the Valley of Kaysersberg, home to Domaine Weinbach with sandy silt soils on granite pebbles that give this wine its mineral focus. The grapes growing in this terroir, which is a bit warmer and sees lots of sun ripen a lot earlier, which the winery notes, produces wines with complex aromatics and a potent concentration, though there is loads of zesty acidity, meaning there is lots of depth and fruit density in most years, which this 2019 coming in about 13.5%, making for a rich supple body, though very dry with a touch of bitter almond coming from the phenolic extract. The 2019 saw a gentle whole cluster press in a Champagne style pneumatic press, then a spontaneous fermentation with indigenous yeasts, that the Faller’s believe add an element of the terroir, enhancing the depth and complexity in the wine, in old oak vats. The basic Weinbach Riesling sees eight months on the lees in the large neutral wood barrels, which is just about perfect to mature this outstanding Alsatian white, and like all of the Weinbach offerings, this is an all vegan bottling, it goes great with a wide array of cuisine too, from cured ham to Cajun spiced shrimp or crayfish.
($30 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2016 Domaine L’Austral, Saumur Saumur Puy-Notre-Dame Rouge “Vigneaux” Loire Valley, France.
The exceptionally perfumed and pure old vine Saumur Puy-Notre-Dame Rouge “Vigneaux”, which is 100% Cabernet Franc, from Domaine L’Austral was macerated in vat on the skins for about seven days and then fermented and aged in concrete eggs for 18 months, making for a wine that drinks like a fine Burgundy or Barbaresco, but with true Cab Franc varietal character. The delicacy and depth is quite stunning here, the nose draws you in with violets and rose oil, with heavenly layering on the weightless palate of black raspberry, ripe currant, plum and kirsch along with chalky stones, wild herbs and classic bell pepper notes. Unlike the tannic and animal laced old school Chinon, this Saumur is all about grace and sublime clarity, it is a stunning wine of gorgeous detail and absolute purity that feels wonderfully textural, lingering on and on with echos of the fruit and florals. The Les Vigneux, an outstanding value, is a from 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 the former Tour Grise estate, which obtained full biodynamic certification back in 1998, this wine clearly shows this fabulous vineyard at its mature best.

La Tour Grise estate, now know as Domaine L’Austral, 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, and Philippe Gourdon originally 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 in Gourdon and in the new owners, Pauline Mourrain and Laurent Traubat have faithfully made these wines their own, but continue in the prior owners footsteps, under the L’Austral label. Pauline and Laurent have employed 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, with this one seeing only those concrete eggs, and used French oak to age these wines. The L’Austral wines are all naturally vinified, with long maceration(s) and indigenous yeast fermentation(s) and then 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 also give these Cabernet Francs and Chenin Blancs grown their striking characteristics. Domaine L’Ausral does a fabulous collection of hand crafted wines, including this awesome Vigneaux, as well as a delicious selection of Chenin(s), a cool sparkling wine and even a full carbonic Cab Franc that is wonderfully quaffable, I highly recommend them all!
($30 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2019 Corral Wine Co, Sauvignon Blanc, Zabala Vineyard, Arroyo Seco AVA, Monterey County.
Very much like the premier release 2018, the new Corral Sauvignon Blanc was fermented and aged in stainless and is just as excitingly vivid, zesty and pure, as the last one, making it a great Summer sipper and a white that goes great with lighter cuisine, especially delicate fish, goat cheeses, salads and picnic foods. The nose again is striking with gooseberry, wild herbs, white flowers and citrusy, with a touch of guava in this vintage and with a bit more density and presence on the tangy refreshing palate with loads of lemon/lime, white peach, quince and melon fruits. A bright pop from the natural acidity as well as some mineral, saline and wet stone elements make it even more compelling. It has been very interesting to see, as mentioned last time I was reviewing this wine, a Monterey County renaissance of Sauvignon Blanc, it is an amazing turn around for this grape locally, in which a flood of dull wines had made Savvy B a hard pass, it’s a trend I admit I didn’t see coming at all, especially with all the cool alternative grape varietals doing so well here, like Vermentino, Picpoul, Grenache Blanc, Melon, dry Riesling, even Arneis and especially Albariño showing incredibly here. So it is good to see some focused efforts put into the grape and having wines like this one, which is superb with soft cheeses and or grilled shrimp to quaff around with. As I noted before, local winemaker and vineyard guru Ian Brand really thinks we are just beginning to see this grape’s potential in Monterey, especially in Arroyo Seco, it just needs some TLC, in a way it (this wine) reminds of how good some South African coastal climate Sauvignon Blancs can be, like those of Neil Ellis.

The Corral Wine Co., started by Larry Bell, is a family run micro (craft) winery in Corral de Tierra, set in between Carmel Valley and the Salinas Valley, that has a few acres of Pinot Noir vines and has just released their first estate Pinot Noir, which is a beauty as well (more on this one soon) and is available at their newly opened tasting room in the Carmel Valley Village. They have also done a nice job with their Zabala sourced Chardonnay, to go with this tasty Sauvignon Blanc. This wine in the 2018 vintage, was the debut for winemaker Adrien Valenzuela, at Corral, who has been patiently waiting for his chance to show of his cellar skills outside his day job at Constellation Brands in Gonzales. A Salinas and Monterey County native Valenzuela, is one of hugely talented new generation of home grown local winemakers, who was studying biology and nursing, took an internship at Estancia and caught the wine bug. His first solo wine that he made in his garage was a hit at the Mid-State Fair, taking a Gold Medal. As mentioned before, young winemakers have a tough road to success and there are many roadblocks along the way, so it is great to see young people taking their chance and making it in this business. The lineup at Corral is well worth checking out, from this Sauvignon Blanc to their set of Pinots, as well as a deeply colored and full bodied Petite Sirah, I highly recommend trying the full collection. This 2019 Zabala Sauvignon Blanc by Corral is an interesting white, grown on an alluvial wash, ancient river bed and extremely rocky soils, with crisp dry details and mouth watering freshness, it makes for a nice change from the generic versions coming in from New Zealand and its heightened Musqué clone aromatics just adds to the wine’s personality and charm, it is nicely done and it is worth checking out.
($28 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

2017 Weingut Georg Breuer, Riesling, Rauentaller Nonnenberg “Monopol” Rheingau Germany.
This 2017 Rauenthaller Nonnenberg, that was sourced from Breuer’s all organic monopole vineyard site, was fermented with native yeasts and traditionally aged in old wood, is one of the winery’s top dry bottlings and one of my favorite Rheingau Rieslings, with this vintage showing a wonderfully concentrated and balanced drier palate, highlighting the ripe, almost plush nature of the vintage in the region. While I love the Breuer Rudesheimer Berg, slate driven, offerings, especially the Roseneck and the mighty Schlossberg, this Rauenthaller Nonnenberg Monopol is iconic and uniquely distinct in their lineup of dry Rieslings with its textural depth and earthy complexity, making it one of the great wines of the region. This 2017 has really come together nicely, getting much better after a few years in the bottle showing an array of citrus and orchard fruits with layers of tangerine, yellow peach, apricot, apple and tropical fruits along with dried honey, an earthy stony and mineral core, as well as having an inner energy, zesty but smooth acidity and fine floral aromatics. I am always impressed with the transparency and rustic charms in these Breuer wines and I have really loved my visits to their tasting room in downtown Rudesheim, both times, back in 2009 and more recently in 2016, when I got to taste through a great selection of their wines, including a few older vintages of this Nonnenberg. This vintage is nicely expressive, lightly spicy and deep, giving a generous mouth feel and lingering saline quality, making it great with classic pairings and with just enough residual sugar to stand up to a little heat, great with Asian cuisine and or poultry dishes.

The Weingut Georg Breuer, now run by Theresa Breuer, was one of the key members of Charta, an organization founded before the VDP started their Dry classifications, formed to promote a drier style of Rheingau wine and were proponents and leaders of this style of wine to great effect in the region. Theresa’s late father, Bernard, believed that the Rheingau was perfectly suited to producing very fine, elegant and flavorful dry Rieslings, and he has been proven right, especially in recent years and by his talented daughter. Bernard, as mentioned in my prior reviews, was also a strong advocate for a vineyard classification system based on geology, historical precedent, and the quality of wines, he also is credited with discovering the potential of the Rauenthal zone, which has become one of the top crus in the Rheingau and in particular the incredible Nonnenberg Monopole site. Theresa Breuer, the director of Weingut Georg Breuer, has taken a more natural approach to her wines and has gone holistic in her farming of her estate vines looking for physiological and aroma ripeness, which she feels are more important than must weight numbers and the grapes are only picked when Theresa and her team feel the fruit is perfect, giving the wines a sense of delicacy, earthy transparency and elegance, rather than power or overtness. This Nonnenberg Monopole, a unique geological area is a South facing site, with deep Phyllite soils with a covering of gravel deposits, always has a lovely perfume of white flowers and a parade of citrus and stone fruits that leans on the yellow spectrum of flavors, as this 2017 shows perfectly. While waiting for the Covid pandemic to subside, I’m dreaming of returning to Germany and getting back to Rhein wine growing area, with this wine transporting me back there.
($60 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2019 Jean-Paul & Charly Thevenet, Morgon “Vieilles Vignes” Cru Beaujolais, France.
The 2019 Thevenet Old Vine Morgon is vibrant and zingy with loads of natural acidity, mineral notes and subtle fruit density, highlight the lively personality of the vintage that reminds me of 2010 and 2014, or a more classic year, but as it opens it turns on the charm and gets much more rounded and exciting with dark fruits bursting from the glass with air. Thevenet just makes one wine and only 2,000 cases per year are made, making this a treat, especially with the demand for top notch Gamay these days. The Morgon Vieilles Vignes, which shows a delicate floral note, pecan husk, crushed raspberry and earthy elements on the nose, then reveals zesty currant, plum, strawberry and citrusy fruits on the taut medium bodied palate. The old vine concentration shines especially when you give this wine time to awaken and it gets more entertaining and pretty, losing some of its rustic sharpness with food. There is more of a reserved quality here and a savory edginess that time with resolve, so if you do lack the patience it deserves (like me), I suggest decanting and a leisurely meal to allow all the best comes out here. The Thevenet’s employ long fermentations in cement cuve, with 100% whole clusters, for 15-25 days at low temperatures to allow for longest skin contact possible, delivering depth, extract and firm tannins. Made with all indigenous yeasts, with punch downs and pressing uniquely only after primary fermentation is complete and then it is aged on the lees for about 8 months in used Burgundy barrels. This is pure and raw in style, but the fruit ultimately leads to pleasure here and it is vivid terroir driven example of the Morgon cru.

One of Kermit Lynch’s original Gang of Four, and known as “Paul-Po” among friends, Jean-Paul is a reserved yet fun-loving third generation winemaker who along with his son make some of the best Gamay in the world. This old vine Morgon, the only wine they focus on at this famed Beaujolais estate comes from two parcels, one from 110 year old vines planted, as Kermit Lynch notes, before WWI and another plot that is 45 years old, set on decomposed granite and sandy soils. Thevenet farms this small five-hectare domaine with his son, Charly, who also makes his own fabulous Gamay from the neighboring Grand Cru Régnié, and who has taken over the helm here in recent years. Charly is a rising star with huge charisma and who is staunch advocate of natural wine just like his father, and since 2008 the two have taken the domaine to the next level by adopting all organic and biodynamic viticultural practices here, adding to the quality and intensity to this Morgon bottling. It’s well noted, that In the early 1980s Beaujolais was flooded with mass-produced, over-commercialized wine, destroying the reputation of this once highly regarded region that was once the equal to Burgundy, but the push back came when winemaker and viticultural prophet Jules Chauvet influenced a generation to return to more traditional holistic practices and love of their land. Jean-Paul and three other local vignerons, Marcel Lapierre, Guy Breton, and Jean Foillard, as Lynch famously chronicled, soon took up the torch of this “natural wine” movement, with Kermit dubbing them the Gang of Four, and the rest is history, and Beaujolais has never been better. Of course there are many other great producers here, but you’ll never be a miss when you get a bottle of this wine, with Thevenet’s 2019 being a classic.
($40 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2019 Brovia, Langhe Freisa DOC “La Villerina Secca” Piedmonte, Italy.
In recent years Freisa, a local rarity, has made a comeback from obscurity to be a darling of the Piedmonte region as top producers like G.D. Vajra, Vietti and Brovia put their talents to it. Freisa, a close but little-known relative of Nebbiolo has some similar characteristics, got popular in the 1800s and was used for sparkling, still and sweet wines and there are two major clonal varieties of Freisa-a small berried clone known as Freisa Piccolo which is more widely planted, and used here, and a larger berry Freisa Grossa or Freisa di Nizza, which is not known to produce any wines of merit. This perfumed, vibrant and delicious organic Brovia Freisa comes from the Barolo region and their estate vines in the Castiglione Falletto area, set on the historic clay and limestone soils. This 2019 La Villerina Secca Langhe Freisa DOC is mineral intense and chalky with a weighted rose petal bouquet and with a fresh medium bodied palate of strawberry, crushed spicy raspberry and Italian cherry fruits along with dried herbs, candied orange peel and white licorice. The Brovia wines are vinified in the classic style, especially the higher end Barolo wines, with all the grapes being fully de-stemmed and then lightly crushed before going into the cement fermentation tanks, all with native yeasts. The length of the fermentation period depends on the grape variety but the Nebbiolo for various Barolo cuvées can extend as long as a month or more, while the Freisa is a shorter period to retain fresh fruit detail and aromatics. The Baroli are aged for at least two years in mainly large format casks of Slavonian and French oak, while the Freisa sees just the stainless steel, which is usually an elevage of 6 to 12 months, with the wine staying on the lees through malo-lactic fermentation with the Freisa getting a racking to another tank to clarify before bottling. The Brovia wines are all bottled unfined and without filtration, then released only after the wine is matured in bottle for an extended time, for the Freisa it is typically again 6 months to a year, with the Barolo coming to the market after an additional 18 to 24 months of bottle-aging.

The famous Brovia estate, now run by Elena Brovia, was originally established in 1863 by Giacinto Brovia, who founded the winery in the village of Castiglione Falletto, in the heart of the Barolo district. The family has been continually engaged in the growing of grapes and the production of wine since that time, through many up and downs and have emerged as one of the top properties with a focus on traditional Barolo and native varietals, like Nebbiolo, Barbera and this rare Freisa, as well as notable efforts with Dolcetto and Arneis. The Brovias have concentrating their efforts in their home village of Castiglione Falletto and the neighboring Serralunga d’Alba. Brovia has an elite collection of parcels in a variety of the best crus in this part of Piedmont, including awesome plots in Rocche, Villero and Garblét Sue, which, as the winery notes, are all in their home district of Castiglione Falletto, as well as Brea, located just down the road in Serralunga. These different vineyard plots, Brovia adds, represent a range of soil types, from heavier clay to friable limestone, which goes from heavier fruit density to a more structured and tannic wine. The family is extremely conscientious of nature and the environment and as winegrowers they farm organically, though without being formally certified they are passionate about being sustainable and holistic in their methods, both in the vineyard and in the cellar. With some digging around I found that plantings of Freisa in the Piedmont region date back to at least the 11700s, but it is believed to have been there much longer, and ampelographers believe that the grape likely originated in Piedmonte, in the hills between Asti and Turin. It was only recently that DNA profiling by the UC Davis revealed that Freisa has a parent-offspring relationship with Nebbiolo, as mentioned above. I’ve been a fan of Brovia for a decade or so now, especially their Nebbiolo and Barbera based offerings, but now that I’ve had this Freisa for the first time, it moves right up to the top of my list, this was an unexpected pleasure not unlike when I had the Kye Freisa from Giuseppe Vajra for the first time, this was a lovely experience and it is a wine that can be enjoyed with a wide range of foods, I highly recommend it.
($35 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2020 Filipa Pato & William Wouters, Baga “Dinamico” Vinho Tinto, Bairrada D.O.C., Portugal.
One of my favorite producers in Portugal, Filipa Pato, along with her husband, Belgian sommelier and restaurateur William Wouters, make what they call vinhos autênticos sem maquilagem, which translates to ‘Authentic Wines Without Makeup.’ and use only ancient native varietals like Baga, the grape in this lovely little red wine wine from her home region of Bairrada. The no wood Dinamico Vinho Tinto is deliciously fresh and a ridiculous bargain, it delivers a ripe and vibrant array of racy red fruits on the medium bodied palate, along with zingy acidity, like a Gamay or Pinot Noir, spice and mineral notes, it way over performs for the price, which puts in with some generic and or bland stuff, making this wine even more attractive. The 2020 version has brandied cherry, plum, strawberry and earthy cranberry fruits, as well as a touch of saline, leather, all spice, blood orange and dried lavender notes. Filipa could be considered a star in the wine world along the lines of a Arianna Occhipinti or Elisabetta Foradori, working her estate with biodynamic practices, and with very minimal-intervention or natural winemaking in the cellar and with a focus of local and historic grapes to the region. The use of different sites in this wine helps round out the personality with the clay and limestone soils producing Baga with lighter tannins and more depth of concentration, whereas the schist-based soils produce firmer tannins and some highlight the spice and mineral dimension. This is certainly a wine without make up, it is raw and pure with good balance, for those that like old world and authentic regional wines will very much enjoy this Dinamico Vinho Tinto and I highly recommend Pato’s wines.

The 100% Baga “Dinamico” Vinho Tinto, Bairrada D.O.C. by Filipa Pato is sourced partially from Filipa and William’s estate vineyards in Ois do Bairro, and partially from other growers in various villages in the Bairrada zone. For this cuvée Filipa uses 100% handpicked and fully de-stemmed grapes that are all organic with native yeast fermentation employed and it is raised entirely in tank with a very gentle extraction to promote absolute purity of terroir and varietal. Filipa, who is intensely passionate about her region of the unique varietals here, like this Baga, as well as Bical, Cercial and Maria Gomes, the main local white grapes found in Bairrada, does a beautiful series of single varietal wines, plus some amazingly tasty sparkling wines that include a blend of these grapes, especially good is her 3B Extra Brut Rosé. Pato use of various plots throughout the Bairrada appellation and of individual terroirs make all of her wines very singular and distinct, with this one highlighting the Atlantic continental climate and nature exceptionally well. The soils here, in the Bairrada DOC, set slightly inland are mainly of the limestone and clay types, but with some schist and alluvial areas too, all of which Baga enjoys and helps give the Pato wines their complexity and noted age worthy (longevity), in particular the thin-skinned Baga grape wines, which sometimes are compared to a combination of Nebbiolo and Pinot Noir. This vividly ruby/garnet Baga is a crisply dry red wine that has plenty of charm and flexibility for cuisine options, going with lots of dishes from pizza/pasta to grilled octopus, and it can be served with a slight chill too for outdoor dining or sipping. For a little more seriousness, depth and distinction try Pato’s single cru versions as well, they can pretty special, in particular the amphora raised Post-Quercus bottling.
($16 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2019 Yann Chave, Crozes-Hermitage Rouge, Classique, Northern Rhone, France.
My very first quality Crozes-Hermitage was this Yann Chave’s basic no oak version and it really opened my eyes to Northern Rhone Syrah and I quickly became a huge fan of this region and still am today, it is one of my go to areas for great value in Northern Rhone Syrah with many delicious options, like this one, plus the wines of the other Chave (Jean-Louis), Yves Cuilleron, Alain Graillot, Saint Cosme and Vincent Paris to name a few. So, coming back to Yann’s Crozes always brings a smile and a delight to the senses, especially in vintages like this dark purple/ruby 2019 with its gorgeous and pure bouquet and palate of blue fruits, violets, earth and spice. The full bodied mouth feel is vinous and shows boysenberry, blueberry, damson plum and creme de cassis along with camphor, iron, fresh cut violets, anise and cracked peppercorns accents in a youthfully firm, but fruit forward and joyously expressive wine.Yann took over from his father, Bernard Chave, and released his first solo effort in 2001, when the name of the Domaine also changed to Yann Chave, he instantly became a star and gained a cult like following with Syrah enthusiasts. While at that time, mostly what we saw coming from Crozes was pretty rustic and lean, but Chave’s wines had a richness and depth that set them apart and pushed the region to make higher quality stuff. He also has a tiny section of vines on the legendary Hermitage hill, though those bottlings are unicorn wine and almost impossible to find, while this one is a bit easier to get and a superb value.

Yann Chave’s The traditional (Classique) Crozes cuvée, 100% de-stemmed Syrah, is produced from vines grown around the three villages of Mercurol, La Roche de Glun and Pont de l’Isère with large round pebbles over loess soils. There are several plots of Syrah used here and they were planted at different times, but the winery says the average age of vines is close to 20 years. The farming of all of the Yann Chave vineyards is done with organic methods and the leaves of the canopy are trimmed around the fruit clusters for optimal exposure to sunlight, and grapes are harvested by hand and these picks are late to give ripe density to the wines. As with Yann’s white wines, he does not use selected yeasts, relying on indigenous yeasts to ferment his reds. Grapes as mentioned, are de-stemmed, and Chave then allow the vinification temperature to warm up gradually from 20° to 30°C, which he carefully maintains to achieve optimal extraction and coax out beautiful aromatics from the Syrah. Vatting or maceration lasts about three weeks on average, with pump-overs done twice a day, and Chave always tries to wet the whole surface of the cap. The aging is very shot on this Crozes-Hermitage lasting only a few moths and is exclusively in tank to preserve the fresh fruit character and avoiding any wood influence. This inky dark purple/black Crozes will appeal to Northern Rhone fans certainly, though it will equally impress even new world wine drinkers and it gets better and better in the glass, it is an exceptional vintage to stock up on and have with a robust winter meal.
($32 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2018 Tablas Creek Vineyard, Le Complice, Rhone Blend, Adelaida District, Paso Robles.
A wine that I have not tried before the Le Complice Rouge from Talbas Creek in Paso Robles is a classic California Rhone that is uniquely different from their flagship Esprit de Beaucastel Rouge that features Mourvedre more dominantly. While this Le Complice is an alternative Chateauneuf style blend of 60% Syrah, 24% Grenache and intriguingly 15% Terre Noir, one of the rarest Chateauneuf du Pape red grapes, and one that provides a bit of ying and yang to the heavy dose of the dark fruited Syrah here, as it is lighter and brighter toned, meanwhile the Grenache adds some forward fruit density and hedonism, all making this wine incredibly attractive, elegant and complex on the palate. The rich palate of black raspberry, plum, pomegranate and blueberry compote fruits has a lively energy behind it and the layering is especially beautiful and it show a real nuanced delicacy with a fine mineral detail, brambly spice, a touch of earthiness and well judged oak framing with a full bodied texture, as well as excellent length. With some air the nose opens up delivering some dark florals, a hint of graphite, pepper and anise that also echo in the mouth and linger on with a bit of fig and creme de cassis. The Syrah allows the other grapes to really lift this wine and it is absolutely brilliant as a total package, making it a delicious version to enjoy with robust cuisine.

The Tablas Creek Vineyard 2018 Le Complice, is the third vintage of their first new blend in a decade, and interestingly one that doesn’t rely on Mourvedre, it celebrates, as the winery puts it, the kinship between Syrah and the vineyard’s newest red grape, Terret Noir. In French, the winery adds, Le Complice means, roughly, “partners in crime” with the note that although the Syrah is dark and the Terret light, both share some common characteristics, including wild herbs and black spice, and Terret’s high acids bolster (the) Syrah’s tendency, what Tablas says, toward stolidity. Tablas explains that they added some Grenache for mid-palate fleshiness, which I noted above, and there was a touch of Roussanne, that was co-fermented with a Syrah lot, but it didn’t equal a percentage. The grapes for the Tablas Le Complice were grown on their Regenerative Organic Certified™ and biodynamic estate vineyard in the Adelaida District AVA and the wine, which was fermented in separate varietal lots was blended after 9 months and raised for close to 10 months in large French oak foudres. There is a lot to love here and shows the quality and flexibility of Tablas Creek in crafting some ultra small lot bottlings that shine with vastly different combinations of varietals and percentages, it highlights the terroir and vintage perfectly, it should drink nicely for years to come as well.
($55 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2019 Sheldon Wines, Tempranillo Brut Rosé, Luc’s Vineyard, Fountaingrove AVA, Sonoma County.
Super crisp and bone dry this 2019 Sheldon Brut Rosé, made from 100% Tempranillo and has a nice cut of tartness and fresh acidity to go with an array of citrus, red apple and strawberry fruit along with hints of stones and subtle leesy brioche. This is very tasty and refreshing going great with steamed mussels, oysters and crostini bites with a variety of toppings, it also works beautiful as a starter aperitif with its low alcohol feel and brisk nature. Unlike some frothy Pet-Nat bottlings, this Tempranillo Brut Rosé was hand made done with Champagne method and the mousse is energy filled with small bubbles, a luxurious creamy beading, but still naturally racy and mouth watering. The Brut Rosé is a very limited bottling with only 50 cases made in this vintage, with Sheldon just releasing the new 2020 version now on their website and mailing list.

Sheldon Wines says this zero dosage sparkling wine is made in the traditional method by hand from a tiny organic vineyard in the Fountaingrove AVA in Sonoma County, in the cooler hills around Healdsburg, that is set on rocky soils and Sonoma volcanics. Winemaker Dylan Sheldon, who is getting close to his 20th professional vintage, has to hand riddle each bottle of his Brut Rosé 200 times during the process, as he notes, taking it from still wine to sparkling to coax this elixir into being, as we now see it in the bottle. Sheldon has taken his own path as a winemaker and has focused on unique varietals and a lower alcohol style, even before it was all the rage, he has in particular championed cool climate Grenache and he makes one of California’s best versions of Graciano, the rare Rioja grape that he is doing as a still and sparkling red, as well as some intriguing field blends, Sangiovese, a tawny Port and he is even exploring Frappato, the signature grape of the Vittoria region of Sicily.
($30 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

2020 Vincent Paris, Syrah, Vin de Pays des Collines Rhodaniennes, Northern Rhone, France.
The basic 2020 Vin de Pays des Collines Rhodaniennes Syrah from Vincent Paris is a bright and fresh wine that is round and earthy with a salty and stony core with vibrant blue fruits, spice and a soft easy texture, making it a wine to just enjoy young and with pretense. The 2020 is less elevated and serious as some of the other recent vintages, especially the string from 2016 to 2019 which were much closer to being a true baby Cornas or like his Crozes-Hermitage, but still very nice and a great value. This all tank raised Syrah comes exclusively from young organic Crozes Hermitage vines and set on alluvial soils with a lot of galets roulés scattered the vines, which absorb heat and that restore the soils in the evening. This electric ruby hued vintage, which gets more entertaining with air, opens up with boysenberry, fresh currant, juicy plum and tart cherry fruits, along with a mix of spices and wild herbs, all lifted by zesty acidity, mineral notes and subtle floral tones in a wine with a lighter frame, velvety tannins and a medium body.

Vincent Paris, as I have noted in my prior reviews, is a native of Cornas and one of the new superstars in the region, joining legends and cult heroes like Clape, Allemand and one of my other favorites Domaine Lionnet to name a few. Vincent inherited most of his vines, which are mature and well cared for, including a fabulous plot well over 100 years old, from his grandfather and he also rents vines from his famous uncle and Cornas vigneron Robert Michel. These ideal biodynamically farmed vines, which are set in various parcels along the southeast facing Cornas slope, these include the steep set that make backbone of two of Paris’ most famous bottlings, his Granit 30 and Granit 60, they take their names from the slope and grade in these vineyards and average vine age, respectively. His famed Geynale single Cornas parcel wine, La Geynale, is comprised exclusively of old vines in Genale that were planted in 1910, making for a wine that is highly prized and almost impossible to get. I highly recommend checking out these terroir driven and soulful Paris wines, in particular his Granit 30 Cornas, which is one of the great values in the collection, and this highly quaffable Vin de Pays des Collines Rhodaniennes Syrah, which was 100% de-stemmed and aged in vat for nine months, there’s a lot to admire here.
($18 Est.) 87 Points, grapelive

2016 J. Rochioli, Pinot Noir, West Block, Estate Grown, Russian River Valley.
Sometimes, you pull a special bottle out of the cellar, just because, and the experience takes on a life of its own, taking an unremarkable Tuesday evening in early January to almost unimaginable heights and this West Block with its sensual palate and hedonistic fruit density did just that. The 2016s are turning out to be epic here at Rochioli and the West Block is a luxurious example of the vintage in its best form with an outrageous deep color, powerful fruit concentration and structure, but with layer upon layer of silky flavors that include classic Russian River black cherry, along with crushed raspberry, sweet plum and some blueberry fruits that are wonderfully accented by wilted rose petal, a hint of loamy earth, sandalwood, cola bean and shaved vanilla. This wine really engages the senses with its opulent richness and complexity, it easily overcomes the influence of the toast sweet oak that provides the framework to show off the gorgeous fruit here and it impresses for its textural pleasure and length. Sometimes it is different to put into exact words just how good a wine is, and this is the case here, with this 2016 West Block, it brings a massive amount of quiet joy that is hard to explain, but thrilling to endure, this Pinot is simply spectacular from start to finish with energy and impact, it is not a copy of anything else, it is a singular wine that couldn’t be confused for anything but a Rochioli. Of course this is not news for those that are on Rochioli’s mailing list, they are the lucky ones when they open their bottles and I wish I could afford and be allocated cases of this stuff, these wines has a long life span and I am always amazed by just how great they are when allowed to mature properly, and while this 2016 is a tad early to open, it was almost absolutely perfect, though I would say it will go easily another ten to fifteen years more. This bottling is one of the wines that truly put California on the map during the 1990s and it lives up to its glorious reputation, it is still one of the state’s benchmarks and most prized.

I’ve always been a fan of Rochioli’s West Block, sourced from vines originally planted back in 1969 and with a newer section parcel that saw a more recent re-planting in 2008, with it’s heritage selection of clones, it always delivers an incredible dark ruby/garnet hue in the glass and intense full bodied depth, making it one of the California’s great wines. 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). As noted before, 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 original West Block selection clone, which is now regarded as a California heritage clone, known by some as the Rochioli clone, was most likely the old Martini clone, which was mainly replaced by modern Dijon selections in the mid to late 90s, but has proven to be truly special, as witnessed here in this amazing wine!
($125-185 Est.) 98 Points, grapelive

2019 Sandlands Vineyards, Syrah, Soberanes Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands.
Winemaker Tegan Passalacqua crafted a beauty with his 2019 Soberanes Syrah from the Santa Lucia Highlands, though with only a mere four barrels produced it will be a prize for those lucky enough to be on the Sandlands mailing list, it delivers a gorgeous array of blue and black fruits, spice, feral meaty notes and perfumed florals in a style that unmistakably Californian, but with a nod to the northern Rhone with pure varietal character and low natural alcohol. Soberanes, set over the next ridge from Garys’ Vineyard, but higher up, just might be the most exciting plot in the Santa Lucia Highlands right now and is planted with an excellent selection of clones, like the Alban clone, which is originally from suitcase cuttings from Cote-Rotie, for Syrah. This is a very primary young wine, so it needed time to open up, but when it did, wow, this is awesome stuff, it gained incredible dimension, aromatics and an intensity of detail that is spellbinding with layers of blackberry, boysenberry, plum and currant fruits that are accented by violets, peppery sage, cedar, flinty mineral, sanguine, bacon fat, grilled fennel, kirsch and espresso bean. The purple/garnet hued Sandlands Soberanes Syrah joins an elite group of sexy cooler climate Syrah bottlings in California that includes the Pisoni family’s own versions of Soberanes, both Jeff Pisoni’s Lucia and his wife Bibiana Gonzalez Rave-Pisoni’s Cattleya, plus Pax’s excellent collection of single vineyard Syrahs, Piedrasassi, Halcon, Filomena, Jolie-Laide, Samuel Louis Smith, Lagier-Merideth, Peay, Desire Lines Wine Co and Drew to name a few.

The Soberanes Vineyard, impeccably farmed by the Pisoni family, is planted on the Santa Lucia Highlands well drained Arroyo Seco sandy loam soils, and riddled with chunks of quartz and granite, that along with the cool ocean breezes coming off the deep cold water in the Monterey Bay, create near perfect growing conditions for exceptional Syrah. Each vintage of this Sandlands Soberanes Syrah seems to get better and better with more complexity and nuance coming out as these vines come into full maturity. Passalacqua himself seems in awe of the fruit quality here noting that he he sees a reoccurring theme in this wine with a classic rotation of lavender, graphite, dark berries and smoked meats showing up each year, with this 2019 having more of a medium body, but with an exceptionally long and structured finish, which I agree, quite amazing to is the concentration for a wine with just 12.8% alc. Tegan, who is the head winemaker and vineyard manager at Turley, used whole bunches and employed native yeasts in the fermentation achieved a semi carbonic like effect here, giving the wine a supple mouth feel and smooth tannins. The Soberanes Syrah was raised in used barrels for about a year before bottling, with everything done to promote transparency and keep the wines natural energy, this vintage is stunning and as pure as it gets and it certainly looks forward to a long life and even more excitement looks a given with additional age. There is a no pretense and rawness to these Sandlands wines that is completely seductive, they are unapologetic old school California wines that highlight terroir and transmit the individual nature of each vintage, in particular look for their Carignane, Zinfandel, Mataro and this Syrah!
($35 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

2019 Weingut Peter Lauer, Riesling Feinherb, Fass 9 Kern, Ayler Kupp, Saar, Germany.
I’m always thrilled to try the wines from the Peter Lauer estate in the Saar , as winemaker Florian Lauer is one of the region’s best and the wines all show a crystalline purity and are mineral intense with lots of dry extract, but with a divine sense of lightness to them, and this off-dry Fast 9 Kern, Riesling Feinherb, is no exception. For Lauer, the large size of Ayler Kupp Lage (vineyard) gives it many different terroirs, as he puts it, rather than a single, defining character. With subtle changes in soil composition, exposition, altitude, and micro-climate as well as vine age all play influential roles, giving each wine their own soulful expression as is on display here with the 2019 Fass 9 Kern, which comes from a vertical parcel of old vines, showing smoky slate influence and a pleasing roundness from the concentration of fruit, but with loads of fresh acidity, all which makes this Riesling feel and drink on the drier side. There is a racy array of citrus, green apple and tart apricot fruits that lead the way on the palate here along with quince, wet shale, muskmelon, rose oil and with a bit of saliva inducing salinity. These modern Feinherbs are serious efforts, they are really fabulous wines with depth, generous mouth feel and structure with zesty acidity keeping things lively and fresh, especially these Saar Rieslings by Lauer.

The winery notes that “Kern” is named after the 19th century industrialist that cleared this more-western part of the Ayler Kupp Vineyard, it is a small parcel that spans the entire top-to-bottom reach of the Kupp. The vines are old here, well over 70-years-old with mostly slate intense soils. Coming into the winery the golden Riesling grapes are whole-cluster pressed directly in a gentle pneumatic press, with the juice occasionally pumped back in for a short maceration with the skins. Florian Lauer does his Riesling fermentations with native yeasts and is committed to very natural style with no fining agents or any other additions are ever added, except a touch of SO2. The Lauer wines see a fairly short aging period with elevage in a combination of vessels, with the majority done in stainless steel, but also fiberglass vats and with most of the Cru trockens going into traditional Fuder oak casks for 1-6 months, with varying time on the lees, depending on the cuvée. The wines at Peter Lauer are lightly filtered with diatomaceous earth, and for those that quite particular about it, all wines are completely vegan. This 2019 Fass 9 Kern wears its residual sugar nicely, it gives this brilliantly balanced Riesling Feinheb a less severe personality, it’s less fruity than a Kabinett, coming across crisply dry, making it easy to sip and even more exciting with food, excelling with things like lighter curries and or sushi.
($45 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

2017 Tenuta Tascante, Contrada Rampante, Etna Rosso DOC, Sicily, Italy.
The 2017 Tenuta Tascante Contrada Rampante is warmly ripe and spicy, highlighting the year’s heat and the terroir influence here in Mount Etna with its lava and basalt based soils and the elevation allowing a depth and finesse here that is very alluring and enjoyable. The fruit concentration is pure and lush here with a silky medium/full bodied palate of brambly raspberry, racy cherry, wild plum and candied orange rind, dried red peppers, anise, crushed stones, Thai basil and delicate floral notes. Made from 100% Nerello Mascalese, the most noble of Mount Etna’s varietals, with all the grapes being grown sustainably and the vines are hand tended, with the Contada Rampante being planted in 2000 and just entering full maturity. This Cru bottling by the Tasca family and Tenuta Tascante was crafted by Stefano Masciarelli, the winemaker here using all de-stemmed grapes and fermented in tank with a selected yeast with a gentle and cool maceration to promote clarity and give the wine a less rustic or earthy personality. This ruby/garnet hued wine is very polished and smooth, it is delicious effort that will certainly appeal to newcomers to this region’s wines.

Mount Etna, which is Europe’s largest active volcano, is the Island’s most significant landmark, it is located on the eastern side of Sicily and is home to some of Italy’s best terroir driven and nuanced wines. The Contrada Rampante (Cru) single vineyard is located in Sicilies Castiglione di Sicilia, between Passopisciaro and Randazzo, in maybe the Volcano’s best grape growing zone, on the Northern side of Mount Etna, where the vines see cooler conditions and the grapes show a finer balance and complexity, it’s why these wines are nicknamed the Burgundy of the south or Sicily. This vineyard that has large dry-stone wall terraces at an average slope of 4.7% with soils that were formed between 4,000 – 15,000 years ago, the Etna DOC is divided into 132 Contrade, or wine districts, with each Contrada being characterized by its soil components and the age of the lava underpinning of each site. Masciarelli did his best here to make this wine appealing to a wide range of wine lovers, but to also wanted it to be expressive with a sense of place, and to achieve this he aged this Contrada Rampante in large Slavonian oak casks for a full 12 months and kept it in bottle for another year in the cellar before release. There’s a lot to like here and this wine is a great way to start exploring the wines of Mount Etna, with this wine’s poise and polish makes it easy to love, especially with Sicilian inspired cuisine and or hard cheeses.
($45 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

2001 Chateau Charmail, Cru Bougeois, Haut-Medoc, Red Bordeaux, France.
The Chateau Charmail is an old estate that dates back to the later have of 17th century and is located in the Haut-Medoc region on the Left Bank of Bordeaux’s famous the Gironde river and is planted to Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and a small quantity of Petit Verdot. The soils here are largely made up of classic gravel and clay that most common on this side on the river, which along with the mild climate, are perfectly suited to grape growing, allowing Cabernet Sauvignon to get fully ripe and structured as shows in this beautifully drinking 2001 vintage. Opening this 20 year Bordeaux, which is more of a value, rather than a prestigious growth, brought the best kind of surprise in that is impeccably cellared and had a perfect cork and fill as well as being wonderfully fresh and fleshy with a classic nose of mulberry, creme de cassis, cedar, pencil lead, subtle floral notes and loamy earth leading to medium/full bodied palate of blackberry, dark currant, kirsch and plum fruits that are accented by tobacco leaf, black olive, graphite, anise and a touch of vanilla. Things just kept getting better and better as it opened gaining some nice secondary character with a fine mineral elegance emerging and the vintage’s purity and lift really shines through, it lingers on and on, making for an impressive performance for a wine that mostly was drunk young, delivering pleasure way beyond its price, both new and now.

This 2001 Chateau Charmail was made up of a blend of close to 55% Merlot, 30% Cabernet Sauvignon and 15% Cabernet Franc, plus I believe a tiny fraction of Petit Verdot, which Charmail has planted more of in recent years, along with a bit more Cabernet, that is always clearly present in the profile regardless of percentage in the final blend of the property’s Grand Vin. The soil types here in the Haut-Medoc consist mainly of gravel and clay, along with sand and colluvial sediments. This combination, the winery suggests, is what gives Charmail wines their balance and distinctive qualities, with wines having a subtle elegance from the stones, a sense power and concentration from the clay, which also gives richness to the body, especially with Merlot. Chateau Charmail has moved towards sustainable farming and has refined its techniques over the years, according the winery, to get the best out of their vines and now everything is hand tended and picked, then after the sorting table, where only the best grapes are selected, the fruit is handled in a very gentle manner and by gravity only, so that no pumps or screws damage the grapes as they are fed into the tanks for a slow and cold maceration and fermentation. cold skin contact, developed on the estate, serves to extract from the grape skins all the components that will ensure an optimal tannic structure in the wines. The aging on this Haut-Medoc lasts 12 months in barrels, all of which are, of course, French oak, but with only one third of which are new. I’ve always been a fan of 2001s and this Charmail certainly confirms my views and made for a compelling experience.
($40 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive