2012 Neighborhood Vineyards, Pinot Noir, Ruinenlust, Enchanted Hill Vineyard, San Simeon.
From vines adjacent to the famed and majestic Hearst Castle comes Neighborhood Vineyards Ruinenlust Pinot Noir, this cool climate Pinot shows lush texture and full flavors, that you would expect of central coast wines with a deep ruby/red hue, silky and lush mouth feel and long lingering finish. With consulting help from ex Tantara winemaker Jeff Fink, Neighborhood Vineyards has put together a strong two wine lineup of 2012 Pinot Noir, and owner/winemaker Elly Hartshorn is planning to revive San Francisco’s wine growing tradition, she has planted a Pinot Noir vineyard in the City and it should be online in a few years, her Alemany Farms Vineyard is the talk of the town and we are looking forward to seeing this project take shape, she has a block of 828 clone in the ground since 2013 and we should be getting some fruit this fall, though we will have to wait for a production wine for another 3 to 4 years, but it is very exciting, especially after tasting her last set of releases from sourced grapes. Elly’s 2012 Ruinenlust Pinot with it’s beautiful fabric label and it’s Turkish Kilim artifact symbols plus a natural wax capsule make the package really stand out, but what’s inside the bottle is just as impressive and it expresses terroir, elegance and rich layers from start to finish with lovely fruit, spice and cedar wood. The palate expands nicely, but never feels heavy or overly dense, and at 13.8% alcohol it is a refined effort with glorious detail and grace showing black cherry, plum and raspberry fruit, minty/fennel, vanilla, hints of smoke, Asian spice/tea and cola bean. This polished and easy drinking Pinot is really hitting it’s stride and should drink nicely over the next 3 years, this is a winery to watch and get on board with ASAP! Be sure to keep an eye out for Elly’s Cabernet Franc from Paso Robles and her upcoming Albarino, both are super wines as well!
($30 Est.) 92+ Points, grapelive
2013 Field Recordings, Tempranillo “Ventucopa” Santa Barbara County.
Andrew Jones’ is making some of the best value wines in California and his Tempranillo offerings are some of the best varietal Tempranillo you can get, especially this new Field Recording release from Ventucopa in Santa Barbara. The Ventucopa is a juicy version of Tempranillo with dark fruit, a bit more acidity than the Paso Dead End Ranch, but showing lush texture and real harmonic flavors that dance on the palate and linger on the finish, this is really lovely stuff and drinks great right now. This Tempranillo is somewhere between a Joven and Crianza (Rioja) in style, in fact, it feels like a Chianti Classico with deep color, but with bright cherry and plum fruits. This entertaining red is one of many from Field Recordings, and you should be sure to check them all out, in particular Jones’ Sauvignon Blanc, Chenin Blanc and his main wine the Fiction Red Blend are of the highest interest and give lots of pleasure, especially for the price. The Ventucopa Tempranillo starts with that garnet/ruby hue, a hint of spice and perfume, leading to a fruit driven mouth with morello cherry, fresh picked plum, minty herb, mineral, aromatic shrub, tangy dried currant and cedar as well as picking up some baking spice and raspberry on the finish. I think it would be fun to hold a few bottles for a few cellars in the cellar, though it wouldn’t be easy as it drinks so good right now, I highly recommend visiting as many Field Recordings wines as you can, they really are super wines and this Tempranillo might be the sleeper in the bunch, drink this Spanish themed red between 2015 and 2020.
($17 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2012 Saladin Cellars, Cabernet Sauvignon, Howell Mountain, Napa Valley.
This brand new release from Saladin is an outstanding deeply colored and flavored Cabernet with a purple/black core, wild spice and ripe flowing layers from a tiny sloping vineyard on the famous Howell Mountain, it is hard not to love this new California wine. A new and sensational effort by a father and son team that were inspired by the wines of Randy Dunn, this Saladin Howell Mountain is a big and rich Cabernet that shows the quality of the vintage and the unique Howell Mountain terroir with tangy currant, cassis, plum and blackberry fruit, smoky oak sweetness, briar spice, pipe tobacco and acacia flowers. A tannic backbone and restrained alcohol, under 14%, and generous body make this a wonderful Cabernet to enjoy now and for many years to come, if you are looking for a great small production Napa Cab, only a few barrels made, that is not $200 a bottle, you should be looking at Saladin’s latest Howell Mountain, it’s a winner! This wine fills out nicely on the palate, good solid feel, density and it has a wonderfully long and complex finish with peppery lavender, sage, vanilla and mocha notes along with lingering blueberry. There looks to be a long drinking window here, but I wouldn’t be afraid to enjoy it in it’s youth either, though it should pick up more interesting detail and refinement in a few years, drink from 2016 to 2026.
($65 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2013 Lucia Vineyards, Chardonnay, Santa Lucia Highlands.
The fabulous Lucia SLH Chard 2013 is one of the best yet from Jeff Pisoni, he seems to get better each vintage and of course the vineyards without question are getting better with superb farming by the Pisoni family. The SLH is a blend of select Pisoni farmed sites, it all adds up to a rich and layered Chardonnay with a cool streak of acidity and mineral tones, especially true of this fabulous 2013 vintage, (I was slightly surprised and disappointed last year when I tasted 2012’s and found sweet notes mixed with a hint of under-ripe almost veggie notes in quite a few wines from the region), happily this is not the case in 2013 versions, the year seems as close to perfect as you can get in the Santa Lucia Highlands with Pisoni’s Lucia being one of the best set of wines available. The balance is fantastic in Lucia’s latest releases and the quality for price in the Santa Lucia Highlands generic wines is great, if you were tasted blind again top $75 to 100 Chardonnay and Pinot, you would see just how good theses are, and you can see how accomplished Jeff Pisoni is as a winemaker, the ex Peter Michael man is really a huge talent. The SLH Chardonnay starts with bright citrus, white flowers, steely notes and opens to pear, white peach and apple fruits, clarified cream, saline, clove spice, river stones and honey butter/vanilla. This is impressive and the cut of lemony acidity keeps this full bodied effort fresh and dynamic, it drinks like a fine Chassagne and has a nicely lingering finish, best from 2015 to 2018.
($45) 92 Points, grapelive
2012 Baxter, Pinot Noir, Oppenlander “Whole Cluster” Mendocino.
Phillip Baxter, based in the Anderson Valley, joins an elite list of winemakers crafting beautiful Pinot Noir, and his gorgeous 2012 Whole Cluster a new benchmark for sheer beauty, class and quality, one of my top picks from the vintage and an absolute stunner. Baxter trained in Burgundy with Pascal Marchand at Le Domaine de la Vougeraie and has put that to good use, even though in this case with his Whole Custer, it was a totally new experiment, but a hugely successful one, and his talents are on show throughout his impressive lineup of Mendocino and Anderson Valley offerings. The Oppenlander Whole Cluster stands out, it is like a Grand Cru, majestic and regal, somewhat like Burgundy’s Bonnes-Mares Grand Cru does in a lineup up great Crus, it just has that something extra and flamboyantly shows it off. The 2012 Baxter Whole Cluster Oppenlander Vineyard, a cool climate site, starts with violets, rose oil, liquid minerals and is bursting with red fruits in the nose which is incense laced and wonderfully perfumed and spicy leading to a refined, but open knit palate of tangy plum, black cherry, fresh squeezed raspberries, briar, cinnamon and pomegranate along with sappy notes, loam and cola bean. There is a fresh streak of flowing acidity, but an extraordinary texture and well ripened tannins, the stems have melded in perfection to the soul of this wine, leaving a heavenly mouth feel and finish. The structure is sound, the balance superb and while long and silky, it has vibrancy and life, this will gain with a year or so in bottle, though no waiting is needed, drink from 2015 to 2020, this is outstanding Pinot Noir and Baxter is a name to write down in bold letters, you will want this wine!
($60 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2012 Domaine Charvin, Chateauneuf-du-Pape, Rhone Red, France.
Charvin is always one of my favorites and the 2012 is no exception, this is gorgeous stuff, one of the purest and most beautiful Grenache expressions on earth and without question one of the top Chateauneuf’s of the vintage. The Domaine Charvin is 85% Grenache, 5% Syrah, 5% Mourvèdre, and 5% Vaccarèse, fermented and raised in cement vats and is crafted from three Lieux-Dits plots in mostly sandy limestone and loamy soils with some loose rocks or Galets, these vines average over 45 years old, no oak is used and the wine is bottled unfined and unfiltered to capture the essence of terroir and keep freshness. Laurent Charvin is certainly a wonderful winemaker and this vibrant 2012 is everything that he aims for, balance, lush character and vivacious personality showing ripe density, spice, sweet fruit and layers of pleasure as well as a mix of complex savory and mineral tones. The nose is bright with acacia flowers, pepper, chalk and kirsch leading to a vivid palate of boysenberry, pomegranate, strawberry preserves, black cherry, just picked plum and tangy currants along with warm stones, minty herbs, anise, lavender/garrique and hints of iron, saline and umami. The finish is detailed and lingering, leaving sweet crushed berries and has a touch of rustic dustiness, this is a fantastic Rhone wine, it totally rocks even now in it’s infancy, if you own this you are a very lucky person indeed, if you love Chateauneuf or want one of the world’s great Grenache driven wines, then you must get this, drink from 2016 to 2022, Charvin, imported by Weygandt Selections, absolutely killed it in 2012, this is a stunner!
($75 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2011 Louis Barruol, Cote Rotie “Neve” Rhone Valley, France.
Another negociant masterpiece from Louis Barruol, the talent behind Chateau de Saint-Cosme, he certainly has a gift for Syrah and the special cuvees he does for Kermit Lynch are glorious expressions, especially this Neve Cote Rotie. Louis finds unique 100% Syrah parcels in Cote Rotie and makes small lots of each, and Kermit decides whether to bottle, unfined and unfiltered as is, or if it should be blended with another small parcel lot, but each bottling is unique and full of character. The Neve is from 30 year old vines grown on the classic schist slopes of Cote Rotie, there is no Viognier in the vineyard and none in this wine, this is pure Syrah, potent and full bodied with terroir and Barruol magic, he uses stems and ferments in cement vats before raising the wine in used barrels. The Neve 2011 is a beauty with loads of blue and black fruits, peppery spice, loamy earth and a deep blue/black core both in hue and flavors plus an exotic perfume of violets and amaro herbs. Even with the stems, Barrel has managed a stylish, elegant and smooth Syrah, much in following with classic Cote Rotie, it is not as gamey or nervy as Cornas or as powerful as Hermitage, but it shows layers of pleasure, refinement and density with vivid fruit, focus and nice vintage vibrancy. The nose starts with that violet tone, but also has savory and herbal elements leading to a lush palate of blackberry, boysenberry, blueberry and damson plum fruits along with hints of coco powder, classis, white pepper, tar, minty herbs, licorice and dried currants as well as a mineral/graphite streak, camphor, bacon and sweet kirsch. This is an excellent example of Cote Rotie and it should get better in bottle over the next 3 to 5 years, drink from 2017 to 2024.
($72 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2013 Anthill Farms, Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast. The latest Anthill Farms Pinot, the Sonoma Coast is a beautiful and almost delicate with dreamy texture and light to medium in body, with alcohol at 13.4% and smooth layers of pure fruit. This is very elegant and classy juice, pretty and nicely vibrant, it shows bright cherry, raspberry, plum and strawberry fruits with spice, cinnamon, hints of stony/mineral, tea and saline notes. This is not overly complicated or complex, but so delicious and alluring you’ll fall easily for this beautiful and savvy Pinot Noir, a lot of credit to Anthill Farms for crafting such a lovely restrained wine. The Sonoma Coast is a lush and balanced effort with soft ripe tannins, lifting acidity making for a pleasing wine that just does everything right, these 2013 wines are very impressive and I highly recommend trying to find a few bottles, they usually are difficult to find, but worth the search and effort to find them. This seems to be drinking well young, but should gain over the next year or so in bottle, drink from 2015 to 2018. ($42 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2012 Duemani, CiFRA Cabernet Franc, Costa Toscana IGP, Italy.
This all biodynamic Cabernet Franc from the Tuscan coast region, not too far from the famed Bolgheri area and is hand crafted by Luca D’Attoma, one of Italy’s best winemakers. D’Attoma consults for many top estates in this area including Tua Rita, Fattoria Le Pupille and Tenuta I Geppi just to name a few, but his biggest claim to fame was making the great and acclaimed wines at Le Macchiole that rivaled Sassacia and Ornellaia, especially his Messorio, a 100% Merlot that could be compared to Petrus! D’Attoma believes in biodynamics in his farming at his Duemani estate (Demeter certified) which he runs with his partner Elena Celli, he employs mostly natural winemaking practices and on most of his reds he uses a combination of cement and French oak, but this CiFRA is 100% Cabernet Franc that sees no oak at all, it might be the purest form of Cabernet Franc outside the Loire Valley, and it lacks for nothing, this is a glorious and seductive wine. Luca D’Attoma, an ex Rugby player, is truly gifted and this wonderful 2012 Duemani CiFRA Cabernet Franc is utterly stunning with gorgeous deep fruit, spice, texture and vibrancy, this is a wine that has soul and personality, and is most certainly a terroir wine, you get the impression of it’s varietal character, but it sings in Italian and is darkly sexy and compelling with black cherry, blackberry, tangy currants, dusty plum and huckleberry fruits with hints of loamy earth, pepper, herb and iron/mineral notes along with a touch of leather, cedar and black olives in a dense, but lifting medium weight frame, well integrated tannins and satin/silky mouth feel. This Cabernet Franc is stylish, elegant, supple and perfectly understated, I was left very impressed and want more, drink this fantastic Tuscan coast red between 2015 and 2020, imported by A.I. Selections, and just hitting the shelves now, this is a superb value, I highly recommend searching this one out, and now!
($32 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2013 Les Voleurs, Pinot Noir, Sonoma Coast.
A brilliant and racy Pinot Noir showing ripe silky fruit and vibrant intensity, giving pure Sonoma Coast character. Sourced from great cool climate site and artisan crafted the San Francisco based Les Voleurs and winemakers Matthew Purdon, UC Davis trained and Keith Crowell who brings a background of craft beer and sake, make some well judged wines like this seductive Sonoma Coast Pinot. The latest release is lush with nice perfume, opulent cherry, juicy plum and raspberry, plus mineral, dried roses and spices along with soft wood notes, slightly smoky sweet vanilla that all combine in a pleasing way. Les Voleurs also makes a very nice Chardonnay, a Rose of Pinot Noir and a single vineyard series, all of which are worth checking out, but for the best value and stylish complexity you must opt for this Sonoma Coast Pinot Noir. Along with Ed Kurtman of August West and Sandler, Von Holt and Cellar 33, Les Voleurs is one of many handcrafted wines being made right in San Francisco, and list keeps growing. Drink this Pinot Noir over the next 3 to 5 years, best from 2015 to 2020.
($32 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive