2014 Via Giusti, Pinot Noir, Giusti Ranch, Estate, Russian River Valley.
The seriously endowed and beautiful estate Via Giusti Pinot Noir flows seamlessly across the palate with a bold dark fruit character and sweet french oak notes that remind you of the better Russian River classics, including Willams Selyem, Martinelli and Rochioli with loads of joyous blackberry, cherry, plum and smoky French oak shadings, it’s brilliant and showy effort. Kurt Giusti, vintner, has deep roots in the Russian River and his family has been a fixture here since 1875, though very under the radar compared to the mentioned wines and a new label to discover, especially this enticing 2014 estate Pinot, a 300 case production wine made from vines on the ranch grown on the Goldridge and Franciscan sandy loam soils, Giusti’s impressive offering comes in at about 14.5% and was made from clones 115, 667 and the dark 777 and was aged 16 months with about 40% new French oak used. Kurt recent brought in winemaker Dylan Sheldon, a veteran who has elegant sensibilities, especially with his own label wines, it’s looking like a perfect match and while he didn’t start this one he helped finish this vintage, and going forward you can expect even further refinement and lift in these wines. A deep hue in the glass is sexy and the length here is extraordinary with lingering kirsch, vanilla and rose petals that add to the seduction found on the full and racy palate that includes black cherry, plum, huckleberry, cola bean, anise, sweet tobacco leaf, a hint of earthy loam, mineral and cinnamon(y) baking spices. There is a copious amount of vinous texture and while overt it has a bright intensity which delivers a focused experience and heightens the enjoyment in this wine that has blossomed in the bottle, it should age gracefully for another 5 to 10 years, even if it is delicious and an opulent Russian River Pinot right now.
($69 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2015 Cameron Winery, Pinot Noir “Arley’s Leap” Willamette Valley, Oregon.
John Paul is an Oregon legend and his wines just as legendary, especially his Pinots, like this one from A slightly younger vine planting within Abbey Ridge vineyard, that was planted in 1990, and Cameron Winery, part of the Deep Roots Coalition is sustainably farmed, non-irrigated and has been fanatically Burgundy influenced, since Paul started producing wine here in 1984. He uses mainly Dundee Hills fruit, the estate Clos Electrique and Abby Ridge, as well as a newer parcel in Ribbon Ridge, his Clos Electrique and his Abby Ridge bottlings are his top old vine cube’s, but his regular Willamette Valley, Dundee and Reserve offerings are stunning as well, with this Arley’s Leap being new to me, and one I was thrilled to get my hands on! The eponymous hero, on the label, was Bill and Julia Wayne’s old dog Arley, who survived a jump from a second story balcony when startled by a cat. Abbey Ridge is one of the highest vineyards in Dundee and is picked relatively late, it’s farmed pretty much all organic and allows for deep flavors and complexity, it’s significantly cooler and with it’s Jory soils, which are volcanic based there is a lot of natural acidity that helps with balance and gives these wines tremendous aging structure along with a slightly exotic character. 2015 is looking like an outstanding vintage in Oregon and John Paul took advantage of the year to craft an amazing set of wines, and in my opinion, this Arley’s Leap is a sleeper, in particular it’s a earthy dark beauty that is wonderfully expressive and intriguing. This 2015 shows the years ripe personality, at 13.9%, but thrills for it’s brilliant energy, tanginess, a porcini note, forest floor and rustic charm that resembles a fine Nuits-Saint-Georges! This stuff entrances with a heady mix of plum, black cherry, strawberry, dusty red spices, minty herbs, crushed violets and a touch of leather adding to the dense kirsch, currant and wilted rose petals, making for an amazing palate and bouquet, it’s very much sex in a bottle as only a great Pinot can be! Paul employs traditional Burgundian winemaking and subtle well integrated French oak, it’s as good as it gets, drink over the next decade, it will fascinating to see how this ages!
($46 Est.) 94-96 Points, grapelive
2017 Skylark Wine Company, Rosé of Grenache, Pink Belly, Mendocino County.
Skylark’s Pink Belly is always a favorite Rosé of mine, since the 2007 vintage (their first) I have always had it and it just gets better with each vintage, with this 2017 really setting a new standard for quality and thrill, even after such a lovely fresh vintage in 2016. Robert Perkins, winemaker and John Lancaster (wine director at Boulevard Restaurant in San Francisco) are the men behind the label and are two of the nicest people, and talented, as you could ever meet, craft small batch wines with a core focus on Rhone/Languedoc style offerings including this Tavel like 100% Grenache Pink Belly Rosé and their Corbieres influenced Red Belly which is a gorgeous Carignane, Grenache and Syrah blend that melds a fruit forward palate with earthy tannins and dusty spices perfectly. The Pink Belly almost jumps out of the glass with it’s delicately pale salmon/pinkish hue and floral tones, it’s vibrantly crisp with tart cherry, watermelon and racy citrus fruits, steely mineral, lavender, rosewater and a little bit of jolly rancher and bubble gum, which is not sweet and is balanced out by a touch of wet stone and brisk acidity, it lingers with strawberry essences. Perkin’s employed a whole cluster pressing here and fermented the Grenche lots separately then blend together after primary are done, the fruit comes from two Mendocino sites, one at Kurt Ashurst’s Grenache vineyard in Hopland, our first pink vineyard, but to meet the demand of this tasty wine, Skylark added fruit from Charlie Sawyer’s stellar Grenache site above Ukiah, where they get their main Grenache Noir grapes for their Red Belly. Everything makes it a great poolside quaffer or porch-pounder, in my case a beach at sunset pounder! This 2017 is more expressive and upfront, but still is very dry and refreshing, it should be great for the long warm days of Summer and still tasty until next winter’s chill, don’t miss this stuff!
($19 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2017 Arnot-Roberts, Rosé of Touriga Nacional, California.
Duncan Arnot Meyers and Nathan Lee Roberts, the minds behind California’s Arnot-Roberts winery, craft a bunch of awesome tiny production wines, everything from Pinot Noir, Syrah and Cabernet to Trousseau Noir and this unique Rosé, which is 100% Touriga Nacional, that Portuguese red varietal found in Port, from Lake County mostly with the bulk coming off the Luchsinger Vineyard usually, a site that was planted in 1999 on volcanic cobble over ancient riverbed stones at about 1,400’ in the Clear Lake AVA west of Kelseyville, where they also get some of their Trousseau. This has become a cult, must have, dry Rosé each year, much in the same way most of us in the wine business need Domaine Tempier Bandol Rosé, it’s a real wine geeks wine! Brilliantly cool on the nose with light red fruits, floral notes, mineral and spice notes leading the way to a delicately crisp palate of tangy cherry, strawberry, dusty red spices, steely/flinty wet rock, citrus brightness along with unripe watermelon and rosewater. This wonderfully dry and vivid Rosé is one of the most complete and pleasing pink wines in California, drink up and get while you can!
($28 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2016 Vincent Gaudry, Sancerre, La Constellation de Scorpion, Loire Valley, France.
This Sancerre from Vincent Gaudry was recently renamed to La Constellation de Scorpion, it’s the cuvée formerly known as “Esprit de Rudolf” it’s a certified Biodynamic single old vine parcel grown on flinty Silex soils which is barrel fermented & aged in French oak. Gaudry was the first Biodynamic producer in Sancerre, and this wine is crafted in the same way as the classic Dagueneau Pouilly-Fume’s are, it’s an intense Loire Valley mineral driven Sauvignon Blanc with is naturally imbued with density and volume on the palate. Gaudry has blocks that are massale selections with 90 year vines, he also does a basic stainless steel tank version plus an exceptional whole cluster Sancerre Rouge (Pinot Noir) that is mind-blowing, this is a label and winery to discover and follow, and is now imported by Floraison Selections. This Sancerre starts with a certainly austerity and a hint of volatile acidity with a faint polishy note before opening up on the richly textured palate gaining immensely with air, it becomes a highly rewarding wine that is both leesy and steely with round peachy fruit, sizzling lemon/lime and with notes of quince, gooseberry and white melon along with flinty smokiness and garden herbs. As this Gaudry cuvee La Constellation de Scorpion warms it fills out and gets even better, it is an impressive Sauvignon Blanc with it’s own personality, this is a wine that could not be from anywhere else! Given the style and quality, it’s remarkable that it’s not at a higher price point, as it compares well against Bouley and Cottat!
($33 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2014 Le P’Tit Paysan, Petite Sirah, Monterey County.
One of Monterey’s sleeper wines and best values, Ian Brand’s Le P’Tit Paysan Petite Sirah is an extremely pleasing full bodied red with lots of unique personality and balanced terroir driven character, which includes an inner energy (lift) and subtle refinement. This brilliantly purple/garnet hued Petite Sirah (Durif) was fermented with partial whole cluster, about 30%, getting a long cold soak for gentile extraction with lees aging in barrel, Brand using mostly neutral, used French barriques, for 11 months, and some bottle resting before release, allowing for a wine of graceful tannins and the utmost purity. This Petite comes off Pierce Ranch Vineyard in the San Antonio Valley, it’s a site that gives warm days and cool nights, perfect for getting even ripeness with lower sugar levels, in fact Brand had his blocks picked at a very lively 22 Brix or below, but still has textural density and lush mouth feel and length with an intriguing low natural alcohol. The area’s limestone, shale and decomposed granite soils add to the wines quality and gives a stony influence, which reminds me somewhat of a Northern Rhone Syrah, similar to the Halcon Vineyards Yorkville Highlands version, it’s one of few other recent examples of Petite Sirah that takes this stylistic path, which I am thrilled about! This Le P’Tit Paysan Petite Sirah, with 2% Counoise, is deeply colored and with a nose of dark floral tones, wild sage, black fruits and mineral charm before leading to it’s full bodied and structured palate of blackberry, racy currants, tree picked plum and sweet kirsch along with a touch of chalk and flint, minty anise, cedar and incense. While full and firm as you’d expect from this grape, this wine is evolving and gains a satiny vinous side, lingering with blueberry and violets, though stays focused and bright throughout, it also is wonderful with robust and rustic cuisines, plus it was beautiful with hard cheeses and cured meats, this is a hard to beat for the price offering from a talented winemaker, drink for the next 3 to 5 years.
($22 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2015 Domaine de L’Ecu, Folle Blanche “Marguerite” Vin de France, Loire Valley, France.
A unique estate 100% Folle Blanche, fermented and raised for 9 months in stainless steel tank on the lees with absolutely no sulfur additions, making for an intriguing, fresh and unique Loire Valley white from one of Muscadet’s best wineries, Fred Niger’s Domaine de L’Ecu. Folle Blanche, normally found in the Cognac region and used mostly as a fine brandy grape in both Armagnac, where is is regarded as the best for single varietal bottlings and in the blends of Cognac, with Colombard and Ugni Blanc. Interestingly, Fred uses his Folle Blanche in his (Cremant) Sparkling wine mainly as there is almost nobody that does a varietal Folle Blanche still wine anywhere, though my friend Bradley Gray, a wine PR professional, writer and a long time wine enthusiast, turned me on to some Louis Martini Folle Blanche in the nineties that was made from 100 year old vines and only available by request at the Martini tasting room on special times of the year when they were dumping end of vintage wines, it was a rare treat to taste that, though I fear now that particular vineyard is no more, if memory serves me. L’Ecu’s Folle Blanche Marguerite feels a bit skin contact like with a load of tanginess and a tide pool’s worth of briny seashore leading with it’s saline and oyster shell elements before revealing a light palate of racy green apple, lemon/lime and unripe tart peach, it’s a bright zesty unfiltered pale yellow (cloudy) white that is unique in a happily awkwardly/odd, but intriguing way. This is a very geeky wine that needs food to absorb it’s slightly sour tart profile, it’s severe on it’s own, it would be better with cuisine, I can see it going well with Chèvre and or intensely fresh small oysters and exotic sushi like Uni. This is not a crowd pleasure and will only appeal to the lovers of weirdness, but it’s well made and scratches an itch of a small niche of adventurers.
($28 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2016 Florian Roblin Vigneron, Pinot Noir/Gamay, Coteaux du Giennois Rouge “Champ Gibault” Loire Valley, France.
This appellation on the eastern edge of the Loire Valley northeast of Sancerre produces almost equal amounts of light-bodied red and white wines, with a small portion of dry rosé as well. The 2016 Champ Gibault Coteaux du Giennois Rouge is 80% Pinot Noir, 20% Gamay, that is native yeast ferment then aged in neutral wood as well as some raised in stainless steel tank, making for a very pretty and detailed wine. The Roblin Champ Gibault Coteaux du Giennois Rouge 2016 is pure and Pinot driven, it feels and tastes like a minerally Burgundy with just a hint of bright and Juicy Gamay, it’s delicate and natural with layers of floral and light red berry notes. The round of silky palate shows a textural array of cherry, raspberry and strawberry along with a touch of chalky stones, vibrant acidity in the form of lift and lightness, adding wilted rose petals, faint wood vanillin and snappy spices. This Wine impresses for it’s subtle and satiny personality, it has a lot of class and style, especially for the price, it’s lovely ruby/garnet hue is seductive in the glass and the Pinot structure, flavor profile and elegant form delivers a wonderful and expressive performance worthy of any wine enthusiast’s attention. Drink this graceful beauty over the next 3 to 5 years, it certainly is going to be great warm weather red to enjoy with picnics, Summer meals, but don’t sell this lighter red short, it will provide a wonderful experience even on more serious occasions.
($25 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2015 Anne-Sophie Dubois, Fleurie, Cru Beaujolais “Clepsydre” Cuvee, France.
One of the newest stars on the Beaujolais seen, Anne-Sophie Dubois makes deeply pure and flavorful expressions with this one from the Cru Fleurie that gives wonderful floral perfume and a vintage, in 2015 that is ripe and concentrated, but with elegant class and texturally beautiful. The Clepsydre, named after an ancient water clock, once used in old Egypt, because Anne-Sophie believes it needs time to fully develop and blossom, is grown on pink granite soils, from a 60+ year old plot of high density vines, which gives a stylish mineral streak and heightened aromatics, she destemmed this 100% Gamay, with native yeast, cold ferments and neutral cask (4-7 old barrels) aging for about 13 months, all unfined and unfiltered. This 2015 is hedonistically dark in color with a black/purple saturation in the glass and a clear bouquet of violets and red rose petals which leads to a full palate of black plum, sweet cherry, strawberry and lingering tangy currant with a hint of walnut, mure and star anise. This is a weightless sensation that hides the density of mouth feel and a burst of energetic natural acidity that brightens the whole wine, everything is gloriously seamless and it’s personality and charm is quite additive, Dubois, imported by Thomas Calder (Pruf Rock) and Sacred Thirst, has a lovely touch with Gamay and this Fleurie is almost to Dutraive quality! This is a winemaker to keep an eye on, and if you are a Gamay fan you’ll want to explore her wines, especially this one, it should go for a decade with ease, I love this stuff!
($28 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2016 Domaine Rimbert, Saint Chinian Rouge “Le Mas au Schiste” Languedoc, France.
Jean-Marie Rimbert, a “Carignaniste” for being a staunch supporter the Carignan in the Languedoc’s Saint Chinian region is one of the area’s most renown and a benchmark producer, crafting organic wines from the Berlou Cru, a highly regarded site due to its high elevation and it’s mineral intense brown schist soils that mark these terroir driven wines from steeply terraced vines. If there ever was an iconic producer, Rimbert is without a doubt one of them, his AOC bottlings can be profound experiences, plus he has a wonderful humble nature and wit, he also makes playful Vin de France wines that are gut busting funny and good, especially his Cousin Oscar, a 100% partially carbonic Cinsault that is named for a randy woman chasing relative, it’s become a cheap cult classic! Back to the top wines, the two that stand out are Rimbert’s Saint Chinian Rouge “Les Travers de Marceau” which is all tank raised and includes some chewy/dense Mourvedre along with a core of Carignan, Syrah, Grenache and Cinsault, plus this neutral wood aged “Le Mas au Schiste” it’s made from old vine Carignan, Syrah along with some Grenache, it showcases the soils and has a bit more textural feel from the 10 months in wood. This 2016 Rimbert Le Mas au Schiste is wonderfully ripe and deeply colored with a pretty purple/garnet hue in the glass with a mix of violets, earth, flinty/mineral and blue fruit leading the way on the nose and entry with layers of blueberry, plum, black cherry and marionberry on the medium full palate along with snappy herbs, chalky stones, pepper, cedar, acacia flowers, anise and a touch of rusticity. There’s so much to love here, and it’s clearly detailed with an inner brightness making it an entertaining and impressive Rhone like red, it is drinking superbly now and should go another 3 to 5 years easy, most likely even longer.
($24 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive