2004 Bodega Lopez de Heredia, Vina Tondonia, Rioja Reserva, Spain.
Unbelievably dreamy, refined and old world at it’s best the 2004 Lopez de Heredia Vina Tondonia Reserva is silky and lightly earthy with mature elegance, it gave a Margaux like performance recently. I only wish I had more now, though I hear the 2005 is even better still! One of the great wines of Europe, this Rioja has a nice play between it’s old school rustic nature and extended aging polish with ultra fine tannins showing layers of black cherry, mulberry, currant, mission fig, caramel and sandalwood as well as a hint of leather, cedar and chanterelles. Warm and almost creamy with a whisper of tannins on the medium/full palate the 2004 is ripe and lush in feel, but still with an underlying bullet proof structure that will see this go on another decade without much overall change. Interestingly this wine comes across subdued and passive when tasted on it’s own, but absolutely magical when explored with cuisine, it has that same sense of purpose and charm that you find with an older Burgundy or Bordeaux, it really gains in style and turns on the personality with food, becoming more lively and expressive. Vina Tondonia was founded in 1877, with 141 years of winemaking over four generations of the López de Heredia family crafting majestic and age worthy wines here, especially these long wood raised Tempranillo based Reservas, plus their long oak aged white made from Viura and Malvasia, which somehow even after 6 to 10 years in cask seem intensely fresh. The 2004 Vina Tondonia Reserva is made from Tempranillo (75%), Garnacho (Garnacha/Grenache) (15%), Graciano and Mazuelo (10%), all from their estate vineyards and was aged in oak for 6 years with racking twice a year then rested in bottle for almost another 7 years before release. The 2004 is really in a good place, picking up dried flowers, kirsch and vanilla that linger along with the glycerin textural nature that leaves an opulent aftertaste, again as mentioned have with food to get things rolling here, I imagine it would be great with duck breast, a lamb shank, prime rib as well as hard cheeses and hearty/thick stews.
($33 Est.) 92+ Points, grapelive
2015 Evening Land Vineyards, Pinot Noir, Seven Springs Estate, Eola-Amity Hills, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
The wonderfully textured and elegant Seven Springs Pinot Noir by Evening Land stands out for it’s mouth feel and delicacy of flavors, it shows far more subtly than I would have expected, it’s a wine that grows on you over time, you pick up more and more with each sip and every minute. After about half an hour I seriously got a huge smile coming back to this 2015 Seven Springs, it truly elevated it’s presence in the glass to a level and character of a Premier Cru Gevrey-Chambertin, reminding me of Gerard Raphet quite a bit with it’s dark fruits, mineral notes and Burgundy like silky sexiness. Evening Land under Raj Parr and Sashi Moorman has seen this winery smooth out it’s style, making less flashy wines and pushing for more graceful wines and focusing on terroir, they are joined by Ben DiCristina, who is doing the day to day winemaking, with himself coming from a background at Sine Qua Non, like Maggie Harrison of Oregon’s Antica Terra and Oregon’s J. K. Carriere, a little known label making great Willamette Pinots. The historic Seven Springs vineyard was planted by Oregon wine pioneer Al MacDonald back in 1984, it sits on an east-facing slope, protected from the heat in the Van Duzer gap, set on the distinct iron-rich and rocky, volcanic soils of the Eola-Amity Hills, it’s a Cru site that shows it’s pedigree in this Pinot perfectly. As the winery puts it, this wine is vineyard made, it’s built around a core of own-rooted, old vine Pommard and Wädenswil clones that give a classic Oregon profile here along with that nod to the Cote de Nuits with a background of earthy and savory elements. Beautiful and lengthy this 2015 enjoys a slow wake up call unfolding in it’s own time to reveal layers of blackberry, plum and a sold core of black cherry along with an inner perfume, not overt, of rose petals as well as a mix of red spices, bitter herb, tea, wild mushrooms, anise and a touch of smoky oak, all delivered with a satiny seamless ease. This is a wine to take your time with, be seduced over a long meal with friends, it’s got a lot of pleasure to offer, especially with cuisine and it drinks with more maturity than I would have expected from it’s age, which is not unwelcome at all, it’s a bonus! I think there is more to come over the next 3 to 5 years too, best from 2020 to 2025.
($33-45 Est.) 93+ Points, grapelive
2017 Joyce Wine Company, Pinot Noir, Gabilan, Monterey County.
One of the best wines coming out of Monterey County, the Joyce Gabilan Pinot is an exotic and gorgeous offering coming from a special site that is nick-named the “Danny’s Vineyard” it is farmed by the Franscioni brothers, called by the family as such in honor of their late father, it’s located on the higher east side of the Salinas Valley, subjected to the strong marine influence cooling from of the Monterey Bay. Set on decomposed granite and limestone soils, similar to Chalone, and getting great exposure making for a generous and ripe Pinot, but with lifting vitality, allowing for more whole cluster which adds to the wonderful complexity. This 2017 Gabilan shows warm red fruits, spice and nervy tension that comes from the partial stem inclusion, this medium/full bodied Pinot is textured, lively and perfumed holding it’s own against some elite company in the top end of California Pinot Noir. Russell Joyce and his team have been kicking at the door of the big time in recent years and will this set of 2017 wines they have arrived in the top echelon of producers joining the likes of Morgan, Pisoni (Lucia) and Roar at the pinnacle of the small producers making small lots of Pinot Noir in Monterey. Even better still is the quality to price ration, especially with their single vineyard Pinot bottlings, like this Gabilan, this is a wine that will happily surprise serious Pinot fans. The detailing here is fantastic, it’s a wine of clarity and personality with textural and focused palate that has refined silkiness, mineral tones and a lively punch of acidity. With layers of black raspberry, plum, pomegranate fruit aiding to a core of cherry and strawberry as well as sweet rose petals, savory herbs, tea spices and delicate wood notes. The bright ruby and garnet color hints at the dreamy quality to come and the exciting array of flavors mouth and lingering aftertaste are seducing. Joyce used mostly used French oak aging here and 40% whole cluster fermentation, employing gentile extraction and just under a year in barrel before bottling to keep things pure and fresh, this Gabilan is utterly compelling, impressive and distinct, it’s not to be missed, drink over the next 3 to 5 years.
($45 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2015 Avaler Wines, Cabernet Sauvignon, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County.
Avaler is collaboration between two friends, Dylan Sheldon of Sheldon Wines and Jon Phillips of Inspiration Vineyards and is a label focused on small lot value wines like this Dry Creek Cabernet Sauvignon that shows lots of vintage ripe flavors and richness. The Avaler Cabernet Sauvignon comes from the Gallaway Vineyard in Dry Creek Valley Ava and was fermented in open-top fermenters and aged for about two years in a combination of mostly used casks with some limited new European oak and a touch of new French barriques that adds a touch of class and a creamy, smoky sweet toastiness. While the 2014 was a bit lighter in frame and darker in profile, this 2015 reveals a fuller character, though with the same 14.3% natural alcohol, and is loaded with Sonoma style red fruits and gives an opulent mouth feel with thick sweet tannin, glycerin and a full body lushness. This wine offers an exceptional value and purity of varietal, it’s 100% Cabernet Sauvignon and delivers on it’s promise of quality and depth that starts with it’s deep color in the glass and inviting bouquet of floral tones, cassis and vanilla bean, it shows layers of blackberry, plum, raspberry, currant jelly and cherry fruits along with a touch of sage, anise, pipe tobacco, cedar and mocha. There is a lot to admire here, especially given the modest price, and the hand-crafted winemaking, it’s packed with expressive fruit and is pretty and generous on the palate with a long refined finish, it is mouth filling, pleasing and picks up even more with robust cuisine, in particular grilled meats, steak and wild mushroom dishes. Easy to love young, this Avaler Cabernet is a fun Fall offering, but has the grip and structure to age a 3 to 5 years with ease, in fact I might want to hide a bottle or two for a while longer, as it has the potential to reward some patience.
($25 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2016 Halcon Vineyards, Syrah, Alturas, Halcon Estate Vineyard,Yorkville Highlands.
Paul Gordon’s Halcon Alturas Syrah has become one of the state’s best wines and is one of the great values in California wine, it’s a gorgeous example of cool climate Syrah and this 2016 version is exceptional with classic Cote-Rotie style. According to Gordon, the Halcón Syrah was picked October 8th, with an average of just 1.3 tons per acre harvested, these tiny yields help explain this wine’s concentration and depth. The Alturas, like Cote-Rotie, includes about 4% co-fermented Viognier in this vintage, with the Syrah coming from various parcels of the Halcón vineyard, which is planted to predominately the Chave (Hermitage clone) selection. As with all the Halcón wines, there was no inoculation for primary nor secondary fermentation, using all native yeasts, Paul adds “We slightly increased the level of whole-cluster to 50% (compared to 40% in 2015) and used 20% new oak in the form of a single 500L French puncheon” with the winery making only 250 cases of this beautiful wine that were unfined and unfiltered, coming in at 13.5% natural alcohol, making for a dark and intriguing wine that has fine balance. The ’16 Alturas is really a continuation of the style that was wonderfully executed by the talented Scott Shapely, their consulting winemaker, who also does Roar. Gordon noted he was struck how close their Yorkville Highlands weather was to the (very classical) ’16 Cote Rotie year, though a low yielding year for Halcon due to a cold May. The Alturas starts with a mix of blue fruits, violets, cassis and stemmy spiciness with a lovely purple/black core color that reflects a deep garnet around the edges in the glass. The body fills out on the palate getting very full in the mouth, there is a sense of impact and opulence that is very seductive, though everything stays focused and this 2016 has plenty of energy to keep it fresh. The impressive depth of layers includes blackberries, boysenberry, plum and currant fruits along with additional elements of peppercorns, licorice, a hint of wild herbs as well as a hint of caramel, kirsch and mineral notes. Even with the high level of whole cluster and stems, this vintage is wine of sublime elegance and length and makes for a good contrast to their Elevación, their new 100% Syrah, 100% whole cluster cuvee, both of which are very sexy wines, they both look forward to long term rewarding drinking, a good decade at least.
($32 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2016 Brick House Vineyards, Gamay Noir, Ribbon Ridge, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
The true Gamay Noir by Brick House is a rare and beautiful treat, Doug Tunnell has been making this since 1995 and has been a champion of the grape ever since, crafting it in a non carbonic traditional fermentation that gives it a more subtle and Pinot like character. This is textural and delicately fruited Brick House Gamay comes from their Ribbon Ridge estate vines set on the marine sedimentary soils of the region, and even in a ripe vintage as this 2016 certainly is, this wine shows wonderful vibrancy, highlighting the grape’s great natural acidity. The brilliantly garnet hue with hint of purple and bright edges in the glass is visually pleasing, but it’s fine medium bodied palate that really shines with layers of earthy dark fruits, spice and hints of crushed flowers, minty herbs and walnut/cedar notes. Brick House, founded in 1990, is all biodynamic and certified as such, and the vineyards are alive with bio-diversity that Tunnell believes sets his wines apart, especially his amazing Pinot Noir(s) which are legendary and Oregon classics, but one shouldn’t over look his Chardonnay, one of the best in the Willamette Valley and of course his unique Gamay. This 2016 Brick House Gamay Noir Ribbon Ridge estate shows deep black cherry, cranberry, plum and a hint of blueberry fruits along with a touch of cinnamon, anise after air in the glass adding these details to the first impression mentioned above, it’s a satiny wine that flows with seamless precision in the mouth and lingers on finish in graceful elegance. This is lovely stuff that drinks beautifully right now, it’s hard to say if you should age it further to be honest, but it should go at least 3 to 5 years with no problem, it has elements that remind me a little bit of some of the greats from Morgon like Foillard even though this is a more singular and distinct wine of place. It’s a very individual expression with Tunnell’s signature written all over it, it’s always hard to get, but worth the search, drink up!
($28 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2015 Malat, Pinot Noir, Estate, Kremstal, Austria.
While known for his exciting Gruners, Michael Marat’s pet project is his Pinot Noir, which he farms organically from a 25 years vineyard site near the Gottweiger Berg (Cru) on a mix of sand, loess and Danube gravel soils, it’s all dry farmed and hand tended. Pinot Noir found it’s way to Austria as early as the 12th century with Cistercian monks first planting in the Thermenregion and it slowly spread throughout the country. Malat ferments his 100% estate Pinot in stainless steel vats using native yeast and then racks to large neutral oak casks for malos and aging, it sees about a year in the wood before bottling, allowing for a fruit forward and easy to love style to show through. This 2015 is satiny smooth with a touch of spice and smoke to go with a core of creamy cherry, plum and red berry fruits in a medium bodied wine that excels for it’s lush and easy form, while having enough complexity and energy to keep your full attention adding hints of earth, wild mushroom and a mix of mineral and baking spices.
($26 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2016 Kelley Fox Wines, Pinot Noir “Ahurani” Momtazi Vineyard, McMinnville, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
One of Oregon’s talented new generation of winemakers Kelley Fox has released her latest Ahurani Pinot Noir from the biodynamic vines at Momtazi Vineyard in the McMinnville AVA, it’s a beauty, and In 2016 (as in 2015) Fox used 100% whole cluster, and it’s produced from blocks on the top of the tallest hill of the vineyard. This block selection cuvee is remarkably fresh and vivid in a vintage that some found warm and even over ripe in places, it highlights both place, the all organic and bio vineyard and the elevation that keeps it’s cool climate acidity, with Kelley employing only used French Burgundy barriques to express the purity of fruit, and at 13% it’s as refined and bright as you’d want, wonderfully balanced. Fox, after long stints at Eyrie and Scott Paul wines, started her own winery with the 2007 vintage and has gained a stellar reputation ever since and is one of the region’s rising stars with absolutely star quality wines with this offering of Ahurani being an exceptional value in her lineup, this is a list to get on, no question! The ripe and warm year really allows the use of whole bunch and stems here and it shows that the total harmony found here in this gorgeously detailed Pinot, Fox’s wonderful touch and judgement are also on full display too, as there is the perfect amount of tension and stemmy thrill to go with the graceful and silky fruit, this is a wine that grabs your attention and seduces you with purity of flavor, texture, subtle perfume and dreamy length. The palate is surprisingly complex and mouth filling considering the restrained natural alcohol and this Ahurani retains an energy and acidity profile that is fresh and vibrant that provides an excellent stage to show the vivid layers of black cherry, pomegranate, wild plum and strawberry fruits, liquid mineral, a touch of earth, sweet/minty Thai basil/herbs, peppery cinnamon and a heady mix of floral elements and woodsy chanterelles. Air and time in the glass allows this youthful Pinot Noir to gain an even more intriguing and engaging charm, it’s color seems to become even more translucent and glowing with a bright ruby and garnet core adding a touch of rose petal, a cut of orange tea and lingers with a nice play of spice and sexy blue fruits on the aftertaste. This 2016 is easy to love even now, but I can really imagine things developing further over the next 2 or 3 years in bottle. I am absolutely blown away with this latest set of Kelley Fox wines, this not a label to miss, especially her Pinot Blanc and this Ahurani Pinot Noir!
($35 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2015 Big Basin Vineyards, Pinot Noir, Alfaro Family Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains.
Bradley Brown’s Big Basin is one of the stars of the Santa Cruz Mountains, specializing in estate Rhone style wines, in particular his Rattlesnake Rock Syrah, one of the state’s best Syrah wines, but he also does a collection of Pinot Noir(s) and one of the most interesting is his Alfaro Family Vineyard. Richard Alfaro’s vines produces full flavored grapes with low brix, his cool site in Corralitos is one of the prime spots in the southern zone of Santa Cruz Mountains set on a hillside set on sandy loams, it’s a place highly influenced my the Monterey Bay with chilling fog and a long growing season that allows for beautiful deep color and fruit, but with Burgundy like acidity and low natural alcohols. The Big Basin 2015 Alfaro Vineyard Pinot is a bold and nervy version with ripe fruit and intense stem inclusion spiciness, it was made with 100% whole cluster, a long cold soak, with it being hand punched, and using only indigenous yeasts. Barrel aged for 18 months in French oak barrels employing a minimalistic approach with natural malos in cask and only a tiny amount of sulphur was added once they were finished and the wine was bottled unfined and unfiltered, which is very old school and gives the wine a purity of form and a lot of youthful and stemmy punch. This has layers of deep Pinot fruit with heightened sensations throughout with the ripeness of vintage being muted by the intensity of the nervy spice and the whole cluster complexity with a full and gripping palate of black cherry, briar laced raspberry, blood orange, plum and cranberry fruits along with peppered liquid roses, minty/herb tea, cola bean, bitter lavender, a hint of loam, stony/earth and a touch of sweet smoky oak. Impressive and with riveting impact this is a wine that will thrill the fans of Henri Gouges (Nuits-Saint-Georges) and or those that want kinky stem infused character, it’s less a beautiful or pretty Pinot Noir, but rather a unique and intriguing example, though it should develop into a more joyous and rewarding wine after a few years in bottle. This is is wine that gives you a lot to think about and while not for the faint of heart it’s got a ton of personality and I should note it really excels with cuisine giving a glimpse of it’s future self and inner sex appeal, drink this one in 5 to 7 years for best results, it just could be magical at that point.
($60 Est.) 92-94 Points, grapelive
2016 Hundred Suns, Pinot Noir “Old Eight Cut” Willamette Valley, Oregon.
Grant Coulter, who has made wines at Beaux Freres since 2007, and Renée Saint-Amour’s Hundred Suns Wines (a reference to the growing season that lasts a hundred days between flowering and harvest) is an exciting new winery in the Willamette Valley. Coulter, who’s from Monterey California, made wines and worked harvests from California to Australia and finished his degree in enology at Fresno State before setting off to work in Oregon with Eric Hamacher at his Carlton Winemakers Studio. He’s talents were rewarded and he worked his way up from intern to head winemaker at Beaux Freres between 2007 and 2013, before starting Hundred Suns Wines with Saint-Amour, who herself has worked for the Carlton Winemakers Studio as well, with Grant currently being winemaker and director of the estate vineyards at Flaneur Wines. These wines are crafted in small lots with minimal winemaker guidance, the grapes once harvested, their fruit is sorted with a high percentage of whole cluster used. They believe that through the use of stems we can amplify the purity of their fruit or to, in their words, weave complex aromatics into the final cuvées. They use only natural or native yeasts and microbes to complete the (fermentation) cycle without added enzymes, additives or nutrients. Wines are aged in mostly seasoned used French oak, as well as very small amounts of new barriques and or uniquely terracotta amphora vessels.This cellar selection includes diverse vineyards from the Willamette Valley including the renowned Shea Vineyard in the Carlton-Yamhill County with these grapes being in a block on marine sediment and sandstone with a single clone, 777, the biodynamic Sequitur Vineyard owned by Mike Etzel of the famed Beaux Freres Vineyard in the Ribbon Ridge AVA at an elevation of 425 Feet with great exposures that face South East on marine sedimentary (Willakenzie series) soils planed to clones that include Chalone, 943 and Rochioli, and the dry farmed and organic Bednarik Vineyard in the Coast Range set on marine sedimentary soils with Pommard clone. According to Grant all of the wines for this cuvée were fermented using native yeasts with the final barrel selection for this blend was about 35% whole cluster, which gives this wine an open fruit presence and a nervy stems influence, and it was aged for 10 months in oak barrels with 90% being neutral French oak and about 10% of new wood that were from the remote Jura region of France. The “Old Eight Cut” cuvee is a gorgeous, expressive and exotic wine that starts out like Mathieu Lapierre’s Cru Morgon! It’s wildly intriguing and I the whole cluster teamed with the vintage’s ripe nature combines to give a semi-carbonic almost juicy Gamay like start before gaining it’s Pinot Noir core with air in the glass, bursting with energy and overt dark fruit along with dynamic spices and sexy stem influence, mineral tones and bright floral notes. This (One) Hundred Suns Pinot shows medium bodied palate reveals black berry, racy currant, plum and black cherry fruits, minty herbs, violets, rose oil, cedar and a dusting of pepper, cinnamon, cayenne and tea spices that all thrill in the mouth and lingers on the finish, this is awesome and exciting wine, very different from the style at Beaux Freres, but with the same level of quality in the glass. I got to briefly meet Grant at BFV back in 2008 near harvest and was told then he was a rising talent from the guys there and that stuck with me, so I’m happy to report those rumors were true then and now and this is a winery to keep an eye on and one you’ll want to join their mailing list, especially to get this wine, no question, it’s a great value that should drink well for 5 to 10 years.
($30 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive