Grapelive: Wine of the Day February 9, 2020

2017 G.D. Vajra, Langhe Nebbiolo DOC, Piedmonte, Italy -photo grapelive

2017 G.D. Vajra, Langhe Nebbiolo DOC, Piedmonte, Italy.
The Vajra 2017 Langhe Nebbiolo is an absolutely beautiful wine with incredible depth of style for the price, in fact it is on par with some serious Barolo offerings and better than many 2014 Barolo bottlings that are on the market now at triple the cost! Delightfully generous, but vigorous, dry and full of intensity this is a wine of varietal purity with crushed roses, balsamic dipped strawberry and anise notes to go along with layers of briar laced raspberry, damson plum, orange and kirsch fruit as well as light notes of mineral/iron, incense and fresh saline infused chalk/stones. I’m a huge fan of the G. D. Vajra lineup and winery, especially the craftsmanship of Giuseppe Vajra, winemaker, has brought to the wines since I’ve been following them, which started with the 2008, now tens years on these are some of Italty’s best wines. The GD Vajra estate, fourth generation artisan Barolo producer is an example of elegant, pure, and expressive terroir wines, is found in Vergne, the highest village of Barolo in north- west Italy, where the vineyards sit at an altitude of up to 400 metres. The winery’s simple message is, they make wines that do not need to talk out loud or flex their muscles, they just ask them to touch the hearts of all, which I think is mostly has very well accomplished, especially in their Barolo Bricco delle Viole, Barolo Ravera, their amazing dry Riesling, the Dolcetto, the Kye Freisa and this awesome Langhe Nebbiolo. Produced from Cru sites in the Barolo area, this Langhe Nebbiolo is from young vines, including Bricco Bertoni, all hand-picked, with a long vinification and, as Vajra explains, extremely gentle, as so to retain lift and tension to this wine, which was achieved, this is a wine of class and vitality.

Vajra, who has farmed using organic practices since 1971, calls the 2017 a vintage of rich wines with plenty of energy and aromatics, and I agree, this version has plenty of density and ripeness coming in at a Barolo like 14.5% and has a balancing grip and freshness. This Langhe Nebbiolo was fermented and aged in a combination of stainless tank and neutral oak casks, it saw between 8 and 14 months of aging to develop its vinous and graceful mouth feel as well as to preserve the classic Nebbiolo character. That 100% Nebbiolo primary fermentation lasted for almost 3 weeks days in vertical vats, and then was followed by a natural spontaneous malolactic fermentation, with mainly that elevage being in the stainless, while a tiny amount of the blend saw some wood. Vajra, like most great winemakers, is humble and believes his wines are all made in the vineyard and those vines have been nurtured and the soil preserved by grassing and gets a cover crop, which they have for almost 50 years now. Vajra notes, it takes an incredible ratio of manual work per acre to produce the best grapes, adding that the farming at Vajra is a labor of love and a lot goes into monitoring and improving the biodiversity of both flora and fauna not just in the vineyards, but also in the winery fields and the near by forest, knowing all of this plays a part in the stunning quality of Vajra’s collection. Be sure to find and enjoy the current Vajra wines, in particular Giuseppe’s set of Nebbiolo wines, with this “Baby Barolo” one being one to certainly stock up on!
($25 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day February 8, 2020

2014 Mount Eden Vineyards, Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Santa Cruz Mountains -photo grapelive

2014 Mount Eden Vineyards, Estate Cabernet Sauvignon, Santa Cruz Mountains.
The 2014 Mount Eden Estate Cabernet Sauvignon is a beauty from start to finish, one of the finest I’ve tried in fact and it’s right up there with some of California’s best versions, reminding me of Corison and Ridge Vineyards in style with an elegance and authentic character showing layers of black fruits, a smooth tannic structure and subtle floral perfume. Mount Eden Vineyards is one of the longest running family estates in California that is famous for Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, but has always done a fantastic Cabernet Sauvignon. This historic winery is perched up at 2000 feet, with an eastern exposure above Saratoga and overlooking the Silicon Valley in the Santa Cruz Mountain Appellation, just about 50 miles south of San Francisco. Mount Eden was founded in 1945 and was one of the original “boutique” California wineries by famed vintner Martin Ray, who as mentioned focused on small lots of Pinot Noir, Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon. Since 1981 Jeffrey Patterson, the current owner along with his wife Ellie, has guided the winemaking and grape growing at Mount Eden, taking it to the very top in terms of quality making it an iconic producer. Patterson considers himself a winegrower, always crediting the place with its unique terroir for the sublime wines. He says he concentrates on wine growing rather than winemaking and he is obsessed with gentle and natural techniques in the handling of his grapes. Martin Ray purchased the first parcel of this mountaintop estate, which is now the site of Mount Eden Vineyards, back in 1943 and proceeded to plant special Burgundy (clones) Pinot Noir selections and Chardonnay vines with cuttings that came from Paul Masson’s La Cresta vineyard, now known as The Mountain Winery. Martin Ray, who grew up near Masson’s property met Paul Masson and developed a true friendship and Masson had great affection for Martin, as he had no sons of his own, and allowed him to work in the cellar and learn the art of making fine wine, this was pivotal to the future creation of Mount Eden.

Mount Eden’s estate as started by Martin Ray and now run by the Patterson family sites on a rugged mountaintop in the Santa Cruz Mountains with 40 acres of low-yielding Chardonnay, Pinot Noir, Cabernet Sauvignon, plus tiny amounts of Merlot and Cabernet Franc vines that go into the Cabernet Sauvignon bottlings. Interesting, separate from the relationship with Paul Masson, the heritage of Mount Eden Cabernet Sauvignon dates back to the 1890s, when the famed viticulturist Emmett Rixford of Woodside, California, obtained selected cuttings from Chateau Margaux in Bordeaux and it’s from Rixford’s famous La Questa Vineyard with these selections that were used to plant parcels at Mount Eden. The Soils at Mountain Eden are very thin with a dominant base of Franciscan shales, which are found in these coastal range vineyards, which suits these vines and adds to the concentration of flavors. The climate is cool, with the Pacific Ocean near by, especially for Cabernet, and influenced by the vineyard’s altitude and its proximity to San Francisco bay as well. The vines are trellised in a modern fashion, which promotes even ripening, with the long growing season adding refined tannins and complexity, along with nice natural acidity, which this 2014 shows perfectly. The Mount Eden Cabernet Sauvignon was fermented in small 1,000-gallon stainless steel tanks, with Patterson doing punch downs manually and macerated it, as he notes, for about ten days after fermentation completed, then was transferred into new Bordelaise chateau barrels where aged twenty-two months in the cellar. Beautiful in detail, this 2014 delivers deep blackberry, plum, cherry and currant fruits, plus accents of sandalwood, acacia flower, cedar, minty herb, pipe tobacco, iron/mineral and lingering vanilla, anise and creme de cassis. This fresh and lively unfined and unfiltered Mount Eden Cabernet was aged an extra two years in bottle prior to its release and it is a gorgeous wine that should go for another two to three decades with legendary potential!
($90 Est.) 96 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day February 7, 2020

N.V. Moussé Fils, Anecdote Lieu-Dit La Varosses, Blanc de Blancs Brut Champagne, Cuisles, Vallée de la Marne, France -photo grapelive

N.V. Moussé Fils, Anecdote Lieu-Dit La Varosses, Blanc de Blancs Brut Champagne, Cuisles, Vallée de la Marne, France.
Cedric Moussé’s beautiful Champagne collection, usually led by distinct Pinot Meunier bottlings, are some of finest grower producer offerings I’ve tried in recent years and his unique 100% single parcel, 100% Chardonnay and 100% organic Anecdote Lieu-Dit La Varosses is a gorgeous Champagne with ripe layers, rich leesy texture and mineral intensity. The Champagne Moussé, who’s estate grown vines include 80% Pinot Meunier, 16% Pinot Noir and just 4% Chardonnay, which obviously makes this Anecdote La Varosses are delicious rarity, is the first member of the Club de Tresor (the body that maintains and approves the famous Special Club Champagne expressions) to make a Spécial Club wine of 100% Pinot Meunier and the first Club member to produce a Rosé de Saignée Spécial Club. Focused on purity and textural quality, Moussé works almost exclusively with stainless steel when crafting his Champagne, with the exception of a small amount of Pinot Meunier destined for his rosé and all the cuvees undergo secondary (malolactic) fermentation that adds to the pleasure and vinous depth. Cedric Moussé, according to his importer Terry Theise, adheres to a ‘lutte raisonee’ approach to grape growing, practicing organic viticulture, using herbal infusions that, Moussé says, act as ‘vitamins’ for the vines, with cover crops proving nutrients, and zero pesticides or comercial fertilizers.

The latest Anecdote Lieu-Dit La Varosses all comes from the 2015 vintage, a warm and dense year that adds to the luxurious feel and ripe fruit complexity in this wonderfully detailed grower fizz, and as mentioned it was crafted from this tiny Chardonnay parcel in stainless steel with a full 48 months on the lees. The terroir here is quite special with this side valley, in the Vallee de la Marne, not all that far from Paris, has unique soils for Champagne that consists of a schist subsoil under the local “green” clay. This combination of climate and soils gives a remarkable freshness, even with these full malos and a lifted sense of fruit, especially in Moussé’s favorite Pinot Meunier versions, but also works to great effect in this Chardonnay sparkler, giving some generosity and structure as well as a salinity which makes everything pop in the glass. The current Anecdote shows loads of personality and refined charm with lemon, peach and bosc pear fruits, delicate floral notes, brioche, wet stones, clove and liquid mineral all supported by an exceptionally fine mouse and effervesce of tiny beading creamy bubbles. This is fabulous Champagne and a top value in limited production, hand crafted and stylish grower fizz with a serious presence, it is great on its own, but sensational with cuisine, be sure to look for this and all of the Moussé lineup! The Moussé Champagnes are still under the radar and priced way below their true value, those that love Jerome Prevost, Brouchard, Laharte and Agrapart will really be thrilled by these exciting Champagnes.
($50 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day February 6, 2020

2014 Ferren Wines, Chardonnay, Lancel Creek Vineyard, Sonoma Coast -photo grapelive

2014 Ferren Wines, Chardonnay, Lancel Creek Vineyard, Sonoma Coast.
The Ferren label wines I’ve tasted, which I’ve had just a couple of so far, have impressed me with the quality and depth of flavors, especially this Lancel Creek Chardonnay from a cool climate Sonoma Coast vineyard, it shows a deep fruit concentration and texture and vibrance, it reminds me of Ramey, Aubert, Littorai and Ceritas with rich character, but also graceful, showing fine details and length. Winemakers Matt Courtney and David Wherritt founded Ferren, a Sonoma Coast winery, in 2013, after an eight-year apprenticeship with the legendary Helen Turley of Marcassin and formerly of Martinelli, with a focus on mainly full-bodied and boldly expressive Chardonnays and elegantly transparent Pinot Noirs coming from cool climate Sonoma Coast vineyards. The Ferren Wines are made using, as the winery states, traditional Burgundian methods, using indigenous yeasts with the fermentations are carried out exclusively by native flora that arrive on the grapes from the vineyards without fining or filtration. The vineyards in Ferren’s portfolio are exceptional places to source top notch grapes, like this Lancel Creek, on the true Coast, which are all hand picked, with Ferren basing its pick dates with a nod to the potential for producing profound, age-worthy wines. All of their parcels are, as they note, farmed to the highest standards of sustainability and wine quality, adding that they are dedicated to doing tiny lots of artisan single-vineyard Chardonnay and Pinot Noir.

Lancel Creek Vineyard, planted by the late Ulises Valdez, one of the hero’s of California winegrowing, is perched above the tiny hamlet of Occidental on the remote true west Sonoma Coast. This secluded, two-acre site is set on the Goldridge soils that provides just enough nutrients and moisture for these densely planted vines to ripen fully with small berries, giving low yields of intensely aromatic and flavorful Chardonnay grapes, which shows in this Ferren Lancel Chardonnay. The Lancel Vineyard faces the Pacific Ocean, that crashes ashore a mere five miles to the west and certainly plays a role in the the wines made from this set of vines, the combining influences of the cold Pacific and the long warm days helps produce a wine of dense opulence and a studied balance, again this Ferren delivers it all with a finesse and poise. This 2014 version is really coming into its own with lush flavors and refined acidity allowing an unfolding cascade of apple, pear, orange/lemon, yellow peach and golden fig fruits along with touches of butterscotch, clove, honeysuckle and hint of smoky vanilla. Time in the glass reveals a more and more substantial wine and greater pleasure with this golden hued Chardonnay filling the palate with a fleshy mouth feel, it is best with cuisine choices that match up, including lobster, smoked salmon with crème fraiche and especially Époisses de Bourgogne, creamy cheese. The style here is pure California, similar to Wayfarer by Pahlmeyer, and it really works, this is a winery to watch and if you can locate this 2014, it will be worth your effort.
($75 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day February 5, 2020

2017 Morgan Winery, Pinot Noir, Double L Estate Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands -photo grapelive

2017 Morgan Winery, Pinot Noir, Double L Estate Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands.
The latest Double L Vineyard Pinot Noir is really an impressive wine from Morgan, one of Monterey’s best and longest running family wineries with the Lee family being great ambassadors for the region and especially for the Santa Lucia Highlands, where this Pinot was born, it highlights the vintage, the marine influence and the hard work in the vines, as well as giving wondrous joy and depth in the glass. This 2017, from the organically grown grapes from Dan Lee’s estate Double L Vineyard and crafted by the hugely talented Sam Smith, head winemaker at Morgan, shows beautiful clarity and rich fruit character, it’s one of the finest wines I’ve ever tasted from the winery, eclipsing the sublime early nineties versions that were made by Joe Davis, who was one of the first star winemakers in Monterey, which were the wines that brought fame to area and began the rise in the Santa Lucia Highlands. Smith’s joining of the team at Morgan has seen its wines get to the next level and I’m incredibly excited to see what the next couple vintages bring, I think they will even be better still, I see the 2018 and 2019 becoming absolutely legendary for Morgan and Monterey. This wine, just getting a full release, has already been garnering critical acclaim and you can immediately see why when seeing and tasting it, it shines ruby and garnet in the glass and the silky palate is layered with dense fruit delivering black cherry, raspberry, plum and wild strawberry along with some toasty sweet oak notes, nice briar and cinnamon spices, distilled rose petals, delicate earthiness and mineral tone. This wine, interestingly feels more evolved than than the 2016’s and some of the single clone 2017 bottlings, maybe proving the barrel selection and mixing of clones makes for a more intriguing example.

Morgan’s signature Double L Vineyard is in a prime spot with its location in the northern end of the Santa Lucia Highlands AVA, widely believed to be one the best spots for growing Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Planted to a variety of modern and classic clones, including some rare Burgundy selections, Double L is set on east facing terraces overlooking the Salinas River Valley. This near perfect north-south vineyard row orientation, according to the winery, provides optimum sun exposure and access to the strong afternoon ocean breezes that moderate the afternoon temperatures, they also thicken the grape skins, adding a structured tannic element and the long growing season concentrates flavors, while retaining good natural acidity. The Double L Vineyard has been Certified Organic since 2002, making it the first vineyard in the Santa Lucia Highlands to achieve both organic and sustainable certifications, again helping with flavor development and giving the wines an inner beauty and energy, which clearly shows in a vintage like this one and makes for vivacious fruit intensity. The 2017 saw just about of year in barrel with about 50% new oak being used, as per normal in this luxurious Pinot Noir, but thankfully the smoky oak has merged with the deep sense of ripe fruit allowing the true nature to shine through and there’s still a lot to come with potential to age 10 to 15 years easily. There is a lot to admire in Morgan’s current lineup with this one, being a study in opulence and style, and their 2018 Double L Estate Chardonnay, especially the Clone 96 version, being stellar wines and stars of the show, they are definitely worthy of being in your cellar.
($65 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day February 4, 2020

2017 Lucia Vineyards by Pisoni, Chardonnay, Soberanes Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands -photo grapelive

2017 Lucia Vineyards by Pisoni, Chardonnay, Soberanes Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands.
The rich and full bodied Soberanes Chardonnay from winemaker Jeff Pisoni, who makes the wines for his family’s labels, is a fabulous and showy wine, hand crafted with only 200 cases made and opulently layered this golden hued nectar is a beauty that thrills the palate. This Chardonnay comes from the highly regarded Soberanes Vineyard, the Pisoni’s and Franscioni’s latest vineyard project that was purchased back in 2007 and is looking like it can eclipse the famous Garys’ and Pisoni Estate for grape quality, it especially shows promise with Syrah, but of course Pinot is doing well, as well as the Chardonnay, which is heavy in Old Wente clone, that gives the amazing concentration that this 2017 Soberanes Chard shows. The site, next to Garys’ has an array of Chardonnay clonal material planted on 33 acres in the sandy loamy and rocky soils, it is very diverse and includes more than dozen different clones of the most renowned heritage selections from California and Burgundy, including what is believed to be a Montrachet clone, all playing roles that adds to the complexity and quality in the wines, as well as the cool ocean influence. Jeff Pisoni, one of the state’s best winemakers, has really hit a groove with his wines, these 2017’s are top notch, in particular the spectacular Pisoni Estate Pinot, his set of Syrah(s) and this Soberanes Chardonnay.

Made using carefully sorted grapes and a gentle whole cluster pressing and was (barrel) fermented and aged in 100% Franch oak barriques with 100% natural/indigenous yeasts, with what Pisoni says, was minimal stirring of the lees over the course of this Chardonnay’s 15-month slumber in the cellar. The Soberanes Chard saw elevage in 50% new oak, and malos completeld slowly without additions, which certainly shows on the nose and on the toasty sweet finish, plus giving the creamy lush texture, but overall it really has integrated exceptionally well even now in this wine’s youth and it is well balanced and remarkably lively, highlighting the well judged winemaking, the terroir and the natural acidity that shines through. The nose is full of honeysuckle, citrus and creme brûlée and leads to the densely packed mouth with layers of lemon curd, apple, bosc pear, golden fig, orange marmalade and peach fruits along with wet stone, a kick of saline, mineral tones, a hint of clove spice, tropical essences, vanilla and a faint honeycomb note. This is regal Chardonnay, right up there with Aubert, Peter Michael, Mount Eden and Kongsgaard and should be enjoyed with hedonistic and decedent cuisine, such as lobster and or salmon dishes. Drink this one over the next 5 to 7 years, this is flamboyant stuff and impresses with its presence in the glass.
($50 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day February 3, 2020

2017 Schlossgut Diel, Riesling Trocken, Burg Layen, Nahe Germany -photo grapelive

2017 Schlossgut Diel, Riesling Trocken, Burg Layen, Nahe Germany.
Caroline Diel’s latest wines are some of the best in Germany and everything I’ve tasted from 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2018, which she feels needs more time to reach its potential, have been absolutely gorgeous and one of the under the radar in the collection is her Burg Layen Trocken, with this 2017 version being impeccable, precise and full of character. Schlossgut Diel, a family owned winery, established back in 1802, is located in the lower Nahe on a steep south-facing slope, on the Burg Layen estate near Dorsheim, Diel’s Grand Cru Goldloch, Burgberg and Pittermännchen parcels make up some Diel’s prestigious holdings and are the source of Caroline’s top Grosses Gewachs bottlings, which are notably, three of the greatest white wines in the world. Diel’s father Armin was one of the biggest advocates for dry Rieslings and helped promote them throughout the world, and now Caroline leads that crusade along with her husband Sylvain, as well as showing off her outstanding Pinot Noir, her fantastic Sekt sparkling wines, which are as seductive as Krug, as well as her traditional sweeter offerings, with her Kabinett, Spatlese and especially her Auslese, a wine of pure opulence, density and finesse. The combination of great vineyard sites, dedicated vineyard management, which is as organic as possible and sustainable, plus Caroline’s meticulous winemaking makes Schlossgut Diel, along with Donnhoff, one of the Nahe region’s most sought after wineries. This Burg Layen Dry Riesling is one of my favorites, it offers exceptional value and has a distinct terroir and house style, it makes for a great place to start, if you’ve not tried Diel’s wines.

This wine, named for the castle, the Burg Layen is a pedigreed site, is set on mainly clay based soils that are accented by some flinty slate and well draining grave, makes for elegant Rieslings that are, as importer Terry Theise notes, capable of aging and that are widely adored by savvy Riesling drinkers, as I very much would like to be known as, and this 2017 is graceful, complex and crisply delicious. With subtle power and underlying intensity, the 2017 Burg Layen Riesling Trocken has crystalline minerallity, brilliant energy and layers of yellow peach, lemon, green apple, unripe apricot, quince and green melon fruits along with zesty spices, wet rock, salivating saline and delicate rosewater. With air the wine gains the vintage’s richness and mouth feel, while stay incredibly structured and with a seductive tension, this is a beautiful stuff that gives the thrill of the Grosses Gewachs, but can be drunk without guilt and or waiting. Caroline Diel uses carefully selected fruit that is, as she notes, either whole-cluster pressed or, if vintage necessitates, de-stemmed by hand so as not to break skins and warrant oxidation, and I can attest to the extreme sorting and attention to detail, as I witnessed some of practices when I visited the winery back in 2016. Fermentation at Diel is carried out spontaneously, using mostly indigenous yeasts in large German oak casks, stuckfass, doppelstuck, and sometimes in cement tanks for the drier (Riesling) wines and then aged extensively on the lees. This transparent dry Riesling has many years of pleasure ahead, but I would find it hard not to enjoy it now, especially with lightly spiced shellfish and or fresh sea foods.
($38 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day February 2, 2020

2017 Chateau de Saint-Cosme, Gigondas, Rhone Valley, France -photo grapelive

2017 Chateau de Saint-Cosme, Gigondas, Rhone Valley, France.
Louis Barruol’s Chateau de Saint Cosme Gigondas is one of the most iconic Rhone wines, certainly one of the greatest in terms of quality and value and one of my absolutely favorite wines, almost nothing comes close in terms of drinking pleasure for the money and this 2017 is just awesome, beautifully lush and richly textured, but with fine balance, spiciness and serious palate impact. As noted in my long history of reviews, the Chateau de Saint Cosme estate is located north to the village of Gigondas, and is one of the oldest wineries in the region, it stands on tan ancient Gallo-Roman villa which very probably already had its own vineyards, with the records showing that it was founded at least as far back as 1416 with Barruol’s family buying the famous site in 1570. Set in a slightly cooler zone of the appellation, Saint Cosme’s vines are on mainly the classic limestone marl and Miocene sandy soils, all wonderfully situated to produce profound wines, which this year’s Gigondas is, no question. There’s plenty of stuffing and structure, making for a wine with instant gratification, but that can age a long time in the cellar.

The latest main estate wine, Château de Saint Cosme 2017 Gigondas, was made using about 70% Grenache, 14% Syrah, 15% Mourvèdre and 1% Cinsault. Brilliant in detailing, this vintage has an underlying beauty and perfume, while still being dense and powerful, its’ a thrilling whole cluster version, which adds more dimension and a sultry earthiness that sets against the deep fruit perfectly, I honestly can imagine it getting better than this, in fact this wine blows away many Chateauneuf du Pape(s) that sell for two or three times the price. Layered with a core of vinous black fruits, this Saint Cosme Gigondas shows boysenberry, creme de cassis, dark plum, pomegranate and misson figs along with violets, cinnamon, dried lavender plus a touch of bitter chocolate, leather, cedar and black licorice. The inky purple hued 2017 edition, pretty much as per normal was aged for twelve months, getting about 20% in new oak, which I believe are puncheons, with close to 50% of the wine resting in casks used for 1 to 4 fills and 30% in concrete vat, giving it a well rounded mouth feel and exceptional purity. Barruol’s wines are always hedonistic and authentic in style, they and in particular this one never disappoint, especially with hearty cuisine, I suggest that you don’t miss this vintage!
($40 Est.) 96 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day February 1, 2020

2018 Samuel Louis Smith, Pinot Noir, Montanita de Oro, Monterey County -photo grapelive

2018 Samuel Louis Smith, Pinot Noir, Montanita de Oro, Monterey County.
The latest set of wines from Sam Smith’s Samuel Louis Smith label are stunning, I‘ve mentioned the gorgeous Chardonnay from the Spear Vineyard and most recently his Syrah, which I absolutely love, but you shouldn’t miss his Pinot Noir either, this 2018 Montanita de Oro, Monterey County, all from hillside vines, is outstanding. Sourced from two distinct vineyard sites, Pelio Vineyard in Carmel Valley set only 7 miles from Carmel Bay on shales and chalky stones with its cool marine climate delicacy and the Coastview Vineyard in the Gabilan Range, northwest of Chalone with a complex set of granite and limestone soils giving this wine depth and intensity of flavors. Smith who’s really making a name for himself with his fabulous efforts at Monterey’s famous Morgan Winery, especially with his latest Double L Estate wines, both the Chardonnay and Pinot Noir offerings are delicious and some of the most elite Santa Lucia Highlands wines to date, on par with the Roar and Lucia by Pisoni stuff. His own micro-négociant label, Samuel Louis Smith Wines, is one of the most exciting small lot handmade wines (boutique) collection on the Central Coast, with a focus on the Sta. Rita Hills and Monterey. Smith, who credits his experience making Pinot Noir wines in the Willamette Valley, cool climate Northern Rhone Syrah and as well as being a winemaker for Margerum in Santa Barbara County as giving him the understanding of terroir and insight to craft his wines has really shown his potential with these 2018’s!

This Samuel Louis Smith Montanita de Oro Pinot Noir, which saw loads of whole cluster, is vibrantly expressive and sensual with layers of black cherry, strawberry, plum, blood orange, pomegranate and tart cranberry fruits along with an array of spices, a touch of earth, mineral tones, light sweet toastiness and crushed flowers. I got to taste through the new releases with Smith and I, as mentioned, was thrilled by them, and throughout the last almost three years I have tried quite a few of Sam’s earlier wines, and they are exceptional as well, providing insight into how they develop with a few years of bottle age and they have impressed, especially the Radian Vineyard Pinot Noir and the Lafond Vineyard Syrah, both from fantastic sites in the Santa Barbara area where Smith was based before moving to Monterey. I must also mention, his Morgan Double L Estate 2017 Pinot, which is just released as well as is beauty and already creating a lot of buzz too, it is is great time to discover his wines, both the Morgan stuff, which includes some small batch single clone bottlings, like Pommard, DRC and in particular the Double L clone 96 Chardonnay, which is one of the best Chards I’ve tried this year in California, right up there with some of the state’s classics, as well as his personal wines, like this one. Textural and intriguing from start to finish, this Montanita de Oro Pinot, still youthful and vivid, with its balancing natural acidity has many years of pleasure in store, don’t miss it and get on Smith’s mailing list, these will go fast.
($42 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day January 31, 2020

2008 Spring Mountain Vineyard, Elivette Red, Spring Mountain, Napa Valley -photo grapelive

2008 Spring Mountain Vineyard, Elivette Red, Spring Mountain, Napa Valley.
A winery that is reviving itself is Spring Mountain Vineyard with a confident set of new releases, especially their lovely Sauvignon Blanc, but it is the history of the place and their re-release of some exciting library selections that has got a lot of attention, with their 2008 Elivette Cabernet based red being one of the nicest surprises so far. The Elivette was made from Spring Mountains Estate fruit and is comprised of 75% Cabernet Sauvignon,13% Cabernet Franc, 6% Merlot, 5% Petit Verdot and 1% Malbec and it shows its mountain structure perfectly, the fruit is well balanced, quite lively too, and the color is remarkably youthful and beautifully dark, making for a stylish drink and a wine that is putting on a great show in the glass. The historic Spring Mountain Vineyard is an 845-acre estate, with 225 acres under vine, that was once three separate estates each with its own vineyard and winery beginning in 1873, these make up collection of vineyard sites, including Spring Mountain Vineyards/Miravalle, Chevalier, and La Perla. Interestingly, below La Perla, and eventually added to it, was the first vineyard planted by Fredrick and Jacob Beringer in 1882. These terraced hillsides were planted in a wide assortment of grape varieties to support the Beringer brothers fledgling, but now famous, winery. The privately owned estate, with current ownership taking over the property in 1992 after its rise in modern times under Mike Robbins, who had the label from 1974 to 1992 and oversaw an incredible period that brought fame to this world class winery, is now comprised of four historic vineyards that were first, as noted, planted to vine in the late 1800s and only estate bottled wines are produced. This 2008 is lovely stuff with loads of pleasing personality on display, I’m glad to see this winery making a comeback in some ways and getting attention again, I was very impressed with this vintage Elivette, plus their delightful and fresh 2017 Sauvignon Blanc, which I enjoyed with soft cheese and grilled prawns.

Spring Mountain’s complex vineyard, once the setting for a prime time soap opera “Falcon Crest”, has vines are planted on 135 distinct hillside plots that rise from 400 to 1,600 feet above sea level on the eastern slopes of Spring Mountain with a stunning view of the Napa Valley. The weathered volcanic materials, sandstones, shales and sedimentary rock mountain soils make for small yields, less than two tons of grapes per acre typically, making for big shouldered wines that reflect terroir with intense flavors, though Spring Mountain is known for finesse and their supple tannin structure and bright acidity from the cool nights, leading to graceful long lived wines, like this 2008 is showing today. The unique qualities of each block, which are fermented and aged separately and then carefully blended to make the top cuvee, the Elivette. This Elivette was crafted to become the finest expression of the Spring Mountain Vineyard, and it shows brilliant layers of blackberry, blueberry, dark plum and kirsch fruits, creme de cassis, dried sage, tobacco, acacia flower, a touch of earthiness, smoke and mineral tones, finishing with anise, cedar and vanilla. An amazing string of winemakers have worked at Spring Mountain over the years and it has at many times been the equal of Napa’s greatest estates, mostly known for their Cabernet Sauvignon, this Elivette Bordeaux blend and Sauvignon Blanc, they have also made one of Napa’s most sought after Syrah(s) and now, in particular that White Bordeaux style Sauvignon Blanc. After tasting this 2008, which I tasted blind, I am even more interested to see what the 2014, 2015 and especially the 2016 versions of Elivette and the basic Cabernet.
($150 Est. “Current Release Price”) 94 Points, grapelive

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