Grapelive: Wine of the Day December 21, 2018

2015 Field Recordings Verdot Santa Barbara County -photo grapelive

2015 Field Recordings, Petit Verdot, Happy Canyon, Santa Barbara County.
This fun, dark fruited and unique bottling from Andrew Jones at Field Recordings is primarily Petit Verdot 76%, but with 12% Cabernet Sauvignon and intriguingly 12% Carignan, sourced from sites within the Happy Canyon AVA, near Santa Ynez in Santa Barbara County makes for a wonderfully California only style of wine. Very dark, almost inky with a deep sense of fruit with a unique black fruit profile with the perfume, color and spice of Petite Sirah, the tannin and currant notes of the Cabernet along with a bright juiciness and crunchy character of the Carignan, making for a gripping, but mouth filling wine with black cherry, blackberry, plum and briar laced boysenberry along with dried flowers, cedar, anise and light toasty oak shadings. Field Recordings makes a real interesting set of wines with many rare varietals featuring along with more classic stuff, based in Tin City in Paso Robles, this is an under the radar winery that makes for a great sideline visit when in the area, you’ll find something for every palate here, from Chenin Blanc to this full bodied red blend, as well as a wonderful Cabernet Franc and even a 100% Tannat! I picked up this bottle, the Chenin and a Rose of Valdiguie on my recent visit to Field Recordings and it was great to catch up with Andrew Jones, winemaker, and seeing his winery, there is even more cool stuff coming out soon, I can’t wait to visit again soon.
($25 375ml-Half Bottle) 90 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day December 20, 2018

2017 Domaine Camille et Mathieu Morgon Cru Beaujolais -photo grapelive

2017 Domaine Camille et Mathieu Lapierre, Morgan, Cru Beaujolais, France.
One of the modern world’s most iconic wines, the Lapierre Morgon continues to be both the standard barer for the Morgon region of Beaujolais and for pragmatic natural wines. One of the first and most successful on the world stage, the Lapierre Morgon is one of the most highly sought after and prized wines in the world, the late Marcel Lapierre was a legend and followed a holistic approach in the vineyard and his kids Camille and Mathieu continue true to his beliefs farming close to biodynamic levels of organic and natural farming and using natural yeasts and exceptional low sulfur additions, in some cases with no sulfur added at all, all in the quest to transmit the purity of terroir and the most vivid form of Gamey Noir. The 2017 vintage is bright, fresh and thrilling, it rivals the best vintages for clarity with vibrant cherries, violets, fennel and a light walnut note leading the way before opening up to a deeper, dark sense in the glass with plum, blueberry and black raspberry fruit coming alive in the crisp medium bodied palate as well as hints of earth, spice, mineral and savory tones. This cuvee, the standard “S”, with a light sulfur addition, this is not the normal Kermit Lynch offering that sees no sulfur and marked “N”, it is from the estate’s 60 year old vines set on the gravelly pure granite soils of the Cru, it was whole cluster fermented with the mentioned indigenous yeasts only and on the fine lees in old Burgundy barrels where the wine is raised for just under a year, then bottled unfined and unfiltered. This version is slightly less expressive and fruity versus the cuvee “N”, but still absolutely glorious Gamay, translucent and this 2017 is drinking fantastic right now, I have had it out of both 750ml and magnum already and I am very impressed, the quality and pleasure make this dark garnet and ruby hued wine is an authentic and fun example of the grape and place, absolutely irresistible from start to finish, I love this year a lot and I cannot wait to try the cuvee “N” and the limited reserve bottling Cuvee Camille too.
($38-44 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day December 19, 2018

2015 Ian Brand La Marea Old Vine Grenache Besson Vineyard -photo grapelive

2015 La Marea, Old Vine Grenache, Besson Vineyard, by Ian Brand, Santa Clara County.
Just named 2018 Winemaker of the Year in the San Francisco Chronicle, Monterey’s Ian Brand is one of the region’s most interesting characters in the area, known as a soil freak and a vineyard whisperer, who’s wines are now known and respected far and wide! The latest Ian Brand Grenache release, is his 2015 Old Vine Besson Vineyard under the La Marea label, it is a gorgeous medium bodied and vivid red wine from a unique spot that lies between three regions, Santa Cruz Mountains, San Benito and Santa Clara on an ancient river bed and was planted over one hundred years ago, this vineyard Vineyard sits just shy of the Santa Cruz Mountains appellation, on the ‘Hecker Pass’ a gap that cuts a path to Santa Cruz from Gilroy. Planted in 1910, this historic Besson vineyard was brought to fame years ago by Bonny Doon’s Clos de Gilroy, these head trained mature vines makes for wonderfully expressive Grenache(s) and transmits it’s terroir beautifully through its gravelly/stony dirt and hardened clay/loam soils, not forgetting its all dry-farmed and organic. This one forgotten vineyard is now one of the hottest places in the central coast for old world style Grenache with amazing life, delicacy and complexity, while still being a great value and easy to love and Ian Brand does it style and transparent grace with his 2015 showing the vintages warm and concentration in a refined and almost raw presentation of flavors, it’s a serious wine, but with a lighter touch and focus, and while youthful it has a sense of sophistication and class in the glass, similar to Spain’s Garnacha hot spot Gredos de Sierra, as made by 4 Monos, Daniel Landi, Comando G and Alfredo Maestro. In California, Grenache’s star is rising with wines from many producers and regions giving this grape a spot among the states elite wines with many different forms from powerful/dense examples from Saxum, Sine Qua Non, Stolpman, Sans Leige to the more earthy/lighter examples like Sheldon, Tribute to Grace, Pax, Birichino and this La Marea version by Ian Brand that has a zesty freshness and bright spicy nature. The 2015 starts with dusty raspberry, floral tones and a spicy herb note, opening up to layers of tart cherry, guava, minty anise, warm stones and a hint of earth before a core of strawberry, plum and pomegranate awakens in the mouth along with a faint trace of wood, Ian used only neutral French oak here to allow this site to shine through without any distraction as well as allowing a natural lift from acidity and subtle ripe tannins. This wine seems brisk and gripping, but cuisine changes everything bringing a much more textural impact and darker fruits, this wine has even greater potential in the coming years, best to give it another 2 to 3 years, or be sure to have with robust foods. Brand’s new set of releases is brilliant and this one is a sleeper in his latest series, be sure not to miss it, but also look for his 2015 Monte Bello Road Cabernet Sauvignon, a Margaux like beauty that has the authentic feel of Corison and terroir markers similar to Ridge, from just down the road, as well as Ian’s 2016 Bates Ranch Cabernet Franc, which is a pure California version of Franc, somewhat between Loire and Bordeaux in style, but with a polished California opulence, it is one of the best wines for the money you can find! If you are a Grenache freak, you’ll want to discover Brand’s La Marea, especially this one with its pretty ruby/garnet hue and its lingering savory edge and his sweet(er) and chalky Chalone AVA Brosseau!
($38 Est) 93 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day December 18, 2018

2016 Inspiration Vineyards Grenache Ceja Farms Sonoma Valley -photo grapelive

2016 Inspiration Vineyards, Grenache, Ceja Farms, Sonoma Valley.
Santa Rosa’s under the radar winery Inspiration Vineyards, located in the new Olivet District, has just released a very full bodied and generous Grenache, coming off Ceja Farms in Sonoma Valley, a site that I have enjoyed in Sheldon Wines in the past, it is a bit of a cooler vineyard that highlights the fresher side of this grape, but 2016 was ripe and lush too, making for a compelling and fruit forward wine. Jon Phillips winemaker and proprietor of Inspiration Vineyards, a Sonoma based micro winery with a few old vine Zinfandel estate vines, with the help of Grenache freak Dylan Sheldon of the mentioned Sheldon Wines have teamed up to make an intriguing set of new releases, all are wonderful values and easy to love with very hedonistic pleasures, especially this new 100% Grenache bottling. This vintage is very expressive right out of the bottle with a initial sensation that rinds you of a juicy Zin before settling into a more complete Grenache like wine with lush plummy fruits that include raspberry, pomegranate, sweet cherry and racy strawberry fruits with an array of spices, floral tones, soft wood/mocha notes and liqueur. Only 2 barrels of the 2016 Grenache were made with just 50 cases released, making this limited wine a pretty good deal at under $30, and its flamboyant personality will make it a real crowd pleaser too, its 14+% alcohol gives a the impression of richness and body, while still having an energetic character and nice balance.
($29 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day December 17, 2018

2017 Cave Yves Cuilleron “Lyseras” Saint-Joseph Blanc White Rhone Blend -photo by grapelive

2016 Cave Yves Cuilleron, Sant-Joseph Blanc “Lyseras” Northern Rhone Valley, France.
Since 1987 Yves Cuilleron has run the family estate, which dates back to just 1947, making wines from mainly Condrieu, Saint Joseph Rouge and Blanc, Cote Rotie, Saint Péray and a series of Vin de Pays from the Collines Rhodaniennes, all in traditional northern Rhone style from many select parcels and Lieu-Dits and is now based in a modern winery in the town of Chavanay. He has become in this short time one of the most influential winemakers of his generation and of the region, crafting excellent examples of Syrah in his reds along with Viognier in Condrieu, that are regarded as some of the very best there is, but I love his Marsanne and Roussanne village blends from Crozes-Hermitage and especially his Saint-Joseph , like this one! The 2015 and 2016 vintages in particular are spectacular for Cuilleron, with the 2016’s showing just a little bit more finesse rather than the 2015’s power and fleshy nature, that said it is tough to chose between them and neither should be overlooked. The vineyards for this Lyseras are situated in the winery’s home village of Chavanay with an east-southeast exposure, that allows for ripe flavors and expressive/complexity of flavors that are led by the higher percentage of Marsanne. The soil is a mix of sand and granite, which transmits both the mineral and fruit elements in the wine and delivers a softer texture than the more serve granite parcels. Both Marsanne and Roussanne are used in this Saint-Joseph Blanc blend, unlike its sister 100% Roussanne version “Digue”, an absolutely awesome wine too, though both of the wines are barrel-fermented and barrel-aged with an elevage of about nine months, making for a richer and rounder style white with serious palate impact and pleasure, while still being thoughtfully balanced and lively. Typically for his whites, Cuilleron uses native yeasts and natural full malos in the barrel, depending on the vintage of course and in better years the wines see a healthy dose of newer oak, though the wines never seem too flashy or heavy handed, but rather opulent and long on the finish as is this lightly golden hued 2016 Lyseras. Starting with a spiced apple/pear note the Premier Cru Burgundy class Lyseras picks up a mix of candied citrus, peach/apricot, clove, bitter almond, dried ginger and creme brûlée along with a mouth filling oiliness and decadent feel, while a subtle racy side emerges too almost with the intensity of tannins along with some melon, steely flint, wild herb and shaved vanilla. Air allows a white blossom to come forward and a more zesty citrus like energy to flow, adding some exotic spice, waxy butterscotch and tropical fruit and floral notes. More delicate and graceful than the more massive Hermitage Blancs, you still get all the thrill and character making for a really serious wine and a class act in the glass, especially pair with just the right cuisine like butter finished lobster tail and creamy white fish, as well as soft cheeses. The vitality never leaves the medium/full palate here in Cuilleron’s Saint Joseph Blanc “Lyseras” and it is a real impressive effort, impossible not to be seduced by its layered array of details and depth, especially for the price, drink this one over the next 3 to 5 years, though I wouldn’t bet against this lasting a good decade or more.
($28 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day December 16, 2018

2017 Theopolis Vineyards, Pinot Noir, Yorkville Highlands, Mendocino County.
Theodora Lee’s latest Pinot, the 2017 Yorkville Highlands, is her lightest and freshest red, but don’t let that fool you, it is a complex and charming Pinot, again crafted by Ed Kurtzman, formerly of Roar, with beautiful ripe personality this is an another quality effort from this small Mendocino County winery best known for their estate vineyard Petite Sirah. This vintage of Theopolis Yorkville Highlands Pinot Noir was fermented using native yeast and then raised in toasty French oak for just about a year, with about 25% new barrels employed. It follows my prior experience with this selection from recent years with a subtle floral perfume, ripe fruits, juicy on the medium bodied palate, though very smooth and satiny in the mouth. This new release is 14.2% natural alcohol and generous without being hot or flabby with just enough bright acidity to make the flavors pop with it’s crimson core and bright ruby edges this Pinot delivers layers of black cherry, raspberry, plum and a touch of cranberry fruit with soft textures and adding rose oil, sweet herbs, smoky vanilla as well as a nice mineral tone. Look for this wine to fill out over the next 2 or 3 years and adding some complexity to the mix, as with air this young wine gained detail and character over the course of a few hours and was really good with mixed cuisine including hard to pair veggies, leaving everyone and myself impressed, it is a very solid effort and a wine to look forward to in the new year.
($42 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day DEcember 15, 2018

2013 Baxter, Nebbiolo, Fox Hill Vineyard, Mendocino County.
The under the radar Italian varietal scene in Mendocino County has taken a new turn with some very interesting and serious versions of Northern Italian grapes, including Piedmont’s classic Barbera, Dolcetto and Nebbiolo, and this Baxter, a winery better known for its Pinot Noir, crafting a beauty of a Nebbiolo from Fox Hill Vineyard and the 2013 vintage that is just now starting to take shape giving true varietal character while being a unique California wine. Baxter’s Pinots have thrilled me since I first tried their lineup of 2012 wines and especially their whole cluster bottling, but this 2013 is the first non Pinot offering I’ve tried from Phillip Baxter and while it needed a good three or fours to full reveal itself, this deep and tannic wine comes good with wonderfully pure fruit, brisk acidity and plenty of herbal and savory elements that certainly give the impression of the Langhe, though with a bit more ripeness and thickness on the palate as well as a long creamier finish. The layers of flavors impresses with round bing cherry, plum and boysenberry fruits, as well as minty/tangy basil, menthol and anise along with hints of leather, wet earth, lavender and dried roses, picking up some candied peach, citrus rind and cedar too in a complex red that shows a bit of brick around a core of garnet in the glass. According to Baxter, Fox Hill Vineyard, most known itself for the grapes it supplies to Italian style wine specialist Idlewild Wines, another winery not to miss, has a wonderful collection of indigenous Italian varietals, being perfect blend of hot and cold, the vineyard is ideally situated to grow great Nebbiolo and the owners planted three clones grown on the vineyard, those being Lampia, Michet and Bra versions. They also grown the mentioned Barbera and Dolcetto as well as the white grape Arneis, the site is located on the Eastern edge of Mendocino County, on the gentile bench land of the Ukiah valley just off the redwood highway with cold nights and warm days allowing ripe flavors, soft tannins and still having fresh acidity that give the wines complexity and freshness, and that is highlighted here in this 2013 Baxter, a wine that needs time and food still to show it’s best. Phillip makes his wines old school using native yeasts with hand punch-downs after a long cold soak and extended maceration, with this Nebbiolo seeing just old wood, he produced just a few barrels of this wine, which as he says, enjoyed an extra-long barrel aging or elevage, after a soft basket press, for about 30 months to allow the wine to soften and to steadily allow it to develop it’s full range of flavors. Suggesting to lay his 2013, and the just released 2014 down if possible for another couple of years, which I agree, maybe 3 to 5 would be better yet, or at least decant if enjoying sooner. Baxter thinks it would be fabulous paired with either fresh mushroom linguini or pork roast, while had with a winter selection of roasted winter veggies, polenta and an earthy beet ravioli combo, which brought out a more exotic fruit sense in this one and allowing the wine to fill out completely on the medium/full palate adding to the pleasure of its experience.
($42 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day December 14, 2018

2017 Morgan, Chardonnay, Double L Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands.
The groove is back at Morgan, and with the talents of Sam Smith in the cellar the last two vintages have been exceptional putting Dan Lee’s winery back in the top echelon in the Santa Lucia Highlands, in particular are Smith’s versions of the Double L Estate Chardonnay from the home ranch that was planted back in 1997. Especially this absolutely stunning 2017 vintage, which is an upcoming release, and is maybe my favorite young Chardonnay ever from the Highlands, more than matching the best stuff from the elite guys there, including Jeff Pisoni’s wonderful estate and Lucia bottlings as well as the best from Roar and their famous Rosella’s Vineyard, and others. I was lucky enough to run into Smith post harvest to taste this wine and a few from his own label, Samuel Louis Smith Wines, that is also a great set of 2017 offerings with a recently reviewed duo of Syrah from the Santa Cruz mountains and a Pinot Noir from Albatros Ridge in Carmel Valley. Smith and his team at Morgan, carefully hand sorted the Double L grapes then they were gently whole cluster pressed to yield the highest quality juice, according to Morgan,  with barrel ferments starting with Montrachet yeast in French oak, with between 15%-30% new Burgundy barriques being used to raise this Chardonnay along with a combination of used oak. About 90% of the lots go through malo-lactic fermentation, with just 10% non malo to preserve crispness and Smith uses lees stirring or batonage to expand the wine’s glycerin and give the wine a touch of rich density and presence without overt or flabby. When you think of Monterey’s history in premium wine, Morgan pops up more than a few times from their beginnings back in 1982, at almost the same time as Talbott came into being, with Dan Morgan Lee as the owner/winemaker, who then created wines under the St. Vrain brand until switching to Morgan Winery in 1986. Adding Joe Davis as head winemaker and focusing on Pinot Noir and Chard, instead of Cabernet Sauvignon, which they made from Carmel Valley grapes and Sonoma Sauvignon Blanc made a huge difference with Davis crafting some world class stuff into the mid nineties, especially his reserve Pinot that included some Pisoni Vineyard fruit. Then there was a good run of wines, but certainly the addition of Sam Smith has raised the game here as the new 2017 Double L Chardonnay clearly shows, it’s impressive right from the start, even from the nose alone you just know you are tasting something extraordinary with striking minerallity, citrus blossom and delicate oak shadings leading the way to the medium/full palate. The Lee family estate Double L Vineyard is all organic, was certified in 2002, though it has always been farmed that way from the beginning, it’s a site that gets plenty of cool ocean influence, it was named the Double L (Double Luck) in honor of Dan’s twin daughters, it was planted to multiple clones, on the Highlands sandy loams, to get the most complex flavors as possible from this Cru terroir, with nod to some of the most renowned Burgundy legends the farming was done in a holistic way that seemed the best way to get the results Lee dreamed of in this wonderfully sloping hillside location. Back to the gorgeous 2017 edition, it has incredible mouth feel without being heavy and it has dynamic layers of fresh picked gold delicious apple, bosc pear, vivid tangerine/orange, lemon curd and inviting white peach as well as hits of tropical fruits, creme brûlée, steely/stony elements, melon fleshiness, hazelnut, clove and saline before the rich wood notes return with a touch of cream and vanilla. The inner brightness and vitality is irresistible and those cool marine breezes and fog keeps that lively acidity in play all the way throughout, it’s hard to get me this excited for many Chardonnays, but this one rocks, and Smith tells me he thinks the 2018 will be even better, which is awesome, even if it is hard to imagine improving on what is close to perfect in California Chardonnay! This is a sleeper wine, and I bet it will fly under the radar, but it seriously deserves your attention, it’s in league, though not the same as, with some heroic wines, like those of Ceritas, Sandhi, Littorai and the likes! There is also, a single clone version called Clone 15 that is bigger and more luxurious too, though I haven’t gotten around to that one yet, and I honestly think this regular Double L is as good as I could ever hope full, it’s energy and complexity of detail, while being totally seamless is mind-blowing, it should go a decade with stellar and graceful ease.
($44 Est.) 96+ Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day December 13, 2018

2014 Marie Courtin, Resonance, Extra Brut Blanc de Noirs Champagne, Sparkling Wine, France.
The vital and elegantly lifted Courtin Extra Brut Resonance is a 100% Pinot Noir Blanc de Noirs that was fermented and lees aged in stainless steel with no dosage which gives this beautiful Champagne an intense and structured feel and crisp restrained nature, making it wonderfully pure and deliciously entertaining. Dominique Moreau, winemaker/cellar master at Champagne Marie Courtin, is crafting all biodynamic/organic grower fizz from a single vineyard in the Cote de Bars zone of the southern most part of the region, not too far away Chablis, set on the same Kimmeridgian (limestone) soils using a massale selection of old vine grapes that were planted in the 1970s. This warmer area allows for ripe fruit, light or non dosage and add to the textural pleasures of these sparkling wines made by Moreau, and while the domaine is rather new with the first release coming in 2005 this tiny estate is already highly regarded and sought after, with her offerings joining the likes of Mousse, Cedric Bouchard and Jerome Prevost as a rising star(s) in region doing an extremely dry racy style of mineral driven and terroir bubbly. Glorious with food, in particular briny oysters, seafood, caviar and or creamy cheeses like Epoisses! Briskly focused the 2014 Resonance has tight layers of citrusy fruits with lemon/lime, white peach/cherry, chalky details, steely mineral notes and with a vibrant mousse along with a slow reveal of richness and leesy nutty brioche. This very exciting stuff, more delicate than overt, with good acidity keeps things laser sharp and brilliantly vivid on the zesty palate, if you like more opulent/fleshy or generous Champagnes this might be a shock to your system, but there is no denying it’s class and quality, it’s a style I find thrilling and this Marie Courtin is one of my favorites.
($57 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day December 12, 2018

2017 Joyce Wine Company, Syrah, Tondre Grapefield, Santa Lucia Highlands.
Russell Joyce’s beautiful new releases continue to impress and this latest Syrah effort from Tondre Grapefield in the Santa Lucia Highlands is one of the best pure Syrah wines to date from the winery and the region putting it up in same league as Roar and Lucia with maybe a slighter lighter touch, but with absolutely gorgeous detail and medium bodied texture. 2017 is proving a great vintage for Joyce, adding to their stellar run of recent vintages, and while their Pinot Noir lineup is exceptional, digging deeper into their set up wines brings a lot of unique treasures including their fresh dry Riesling, a crisp Albarino, an awesome old vine Chenin Blanc and this perfumed and delicately spiced Syrah, this a winery on a great run and on a high. This vintage saw a bit more whole cluster than prior versions, maybe 30% or more in total, but the stems are wonderfully muted behind the amazing purity of fruit and floral notes with a layering of blackberry, creme de cassis, sweet plum and blueberry compote along with an array of herbs de Provence, peppercorns, anise, violette pastel and a light sense of earth, mineral and cedar. Joyce used small open top fermenters where they were cold soaked for about a week before fermentation began naturally with native yeast, with primary fermentation going for a couple of weeks before it was pressed to barrel. The Tondre Syrah, which has a stylish and rich mouth feel was raised in 100% neutral French oak barrels where it finished malos and the wine was left to age sur lie for close to a year before being bottled unfined and unfiltered to preserve its fresh and natural flavors, very much in classic northern Rhone style, and I love this stuff, it is a wonderful value too, and should get even better over the next 3 to 5 years, this brilliant red is one to stock up on. There is a lot to admire in this and all the current releases at Joyce, and things are even more exciting for the years to come, look for some really limited bottlings next year, Monterey County’s new generation has come of age, no question!
($28 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive