2017 Bodega Cooperativa Cristo del Humilladero, Garnacha, “Granito del Cadalso” by Dani Landi & Fernando Garcia, Sierra de Gredos, Vinos de Madrid, Spain. The Granito de Cadalso is made at the local co-op, Bodega Cooperativa Cristo del Humilladero, which was founded by the vineyard owners and growers back in 1956, it is a historic town cellars in the Sierra de Gredos region, in the high plateau above Madrid, this area is one of the world’s hotspots for delicate Garnacha. The owner of the Co-Op is wine enthusiast Ricardo Moreno, who is a a partner in the now famous Comando G winery, with winemaker Fernando Garcia, which is literally a couple does down the street as well as friends with the talented Daniel Gómez Jiménez Landi, aka Dani Landi, who was maybe the first of this new generation to gain world wide acclaim for the Gredos zone, and Moreno unlisted these two stars to make a few wines to help up the image of the Co-op, an approach that has already paid dividends with critical acclaim and a new distribution deal with Landi and Comando G’s importer, Eric Solomon of European Cellars.
Having had both Comando G and Landi wines, along with my favorites, Alfredo Maestro and 4 Monos, I have been a huge fan of this area for more than a few vintages, so I was excited to finally get a bottle from the Bodega Cooperativa Cristo del Humilladero, which is from mostly organic vines, some of which are between 20 and 70 years old set on sandy, granite soils, hence the name, at about 1,000 feet above sea level with a hybrid continental climate, but with cool night temperatures that really helps these wines retain freshness and vitality in what is pretty arid conditions. Part of the reason the co-op is doing these series is the keep this farmers in cash, so they don’t sell up and convert the land to condos or housing tracks which has threatened about 80% of the vineyard area and putting the regions traditional history at risk.
The 2017 Granite del Cadalso, a beautifully pure and soulful example, was fermented and aged in concrete with a 15-20 day maceration with regular remontage, and it shows all the lovely layers that have set this region apart, giving fresh detail that highlights this vintage as well as the terroir with a medium full palate of red and black fruits, spice and stony elements. The main palate shows macerated cherry, raspberry, strawberry and tangy plum, adding hints of black currant jelly, anise, chalky, but silky tannins, lavender and fresh cut herbs. This non oaked Garnacha is a wonderful gateway wine to this region and a classy and authentic effort, easy to love and stylish enough to surprise a few palates. ($20 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2010 Le Vieux Donjon, Chateauneuf-du-Pape Rouge, Rhone Valley, France. I started follow this estate in the late nineties and have always been a fan of their traditional style, though in some vintages they can come off as quite rustic and meaty, but always seem to come around with air and food with impressive depth and dark fruits. Le Vieux Donjon was actually formed more recent than perceived, coming together in 1979, with the marriage of two wine growing families, when Lucien and Marie José Michel tied the knot, and those generational holdings they both had were combined to form the modern Le Vieux Donjon estate, that currently covers fourteen hectares of vineyards in prime locations. The Michel’s vineyards, which are farmed all organic, are primarily in the North and Northwest of the AOC, but they also have small plots in the Southwest and East set on mainly limestone and reddish clay, and are studded with the famous galets roulé, the round, rust-colored river stones which were left behind after the retreat of the ancient Alpine glaciers which once covered the region.
In more recent vintages the style has evolved, especially as the years have gotten warmer and riper along with a much cleaner approach in the cellar, and while some wish for the old bretty days, like the old Beaucastel were as well, the wines have not lost their soulful expression, and in fact are the best I’ve tasted, especially since the 2007 vintage, and this 2010 is absolutely stunning today, and at almost nine years old, still shows youthful freshness, detail and a gorgeous dark purple/garnet color, it will certainly continue it’s greatness for another decade easily. Fermented in concrete, then aged in foudre (for at least 16 months) the Le Vieux Donjon Chateauneuf-du-Pape Rouge is always a blend of about 75% Grenache, 10% each Mourvèdre and Syrah along with about 5% Cinsault, and though weighty and above 14.5% natural alcohol it always remains skillfully balanced with a sense of vibrancy, tension and a nice mineral tone.
There is a lot of buzz around Le Vieux Donjon right now, as the ex-Robert Parker reviewer Jeb Dunnuck hailed the 2016 version the greatest vintage ever by the estate, giving it 98 Points and saying it might be his wine of the vintage! So it was fascinating when this 2010 Le Vieux Donjon showed up in a blind tasting this last week, Feb. 2019, to see what a bit of age looks like and for me personally to re-connect with this wine after missing a few years of it, and it certainly lived up to the hype and was just barely edged out for best of the night honors, by an insanely perfumed and deep Saint-Joseph, though not by much!
My first impression of this 2010 was that it must be heavier in Syrah and or Mourvèdre as it had a much dark presence in the glass than one would expect of a Grenache based version, and that transitioned to the palate as well with black violets, dark meaty tones and tar notes coming through along with layers of boysenberry, plum, black cherry and briar laced vine picked raspberry fruit, adding hints of black licorice, warm stones, light cedar and savory herbs (garrigue/sage/lavender), plus a touch of pepper. The body is still surprisingly lithe and not as dense in mouth feel. That said though, age has brought some over all silkiness to the tannins, it opens in time to a medium fullness that is hedonistic, without ever being excessive, or flabby, it is a beauty right now, making me think it’s in its prime, the perfect drinking window seems to be open on this Le Vieux Donjon, if you have it, lucky you, as it is close to perfection. A big thank you to Lee Lightfoot for pulling this out of his personal cellar and sharing it. ($70-80 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2014 Domaine Jérôme Gradassi, Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc, Rhone Valley, France. As mentioned in my earlier reviews, Jerome Gradassi Chateauneuf is one of the most exciting new producers of this historic region I’ve tried in years, and his wines are an amazing value in tiny production handcrafted old vine Chateauneuf-du-Pape. Gradassi is much more famous for his Michelin-starred L’Isle Sonnante restaurant located in Avignon (which he sold in 2003), but after taking over a parcel of ancient Grenache that was once his grandfathers, plus plots of Mourvedre and a little bit of Clairette vines, he has taught himself how to make wine, with promising results. Gradassi has been very much influenced by the area’s legacy of hard work and tradition, and through trial an error, Jérôme has gone down the natural winemaking path in his very rustic cellar which had included ancient concrete vats which sit below ground level so grapes had to be shoveled down through a window, though I think now he is using the old Domaine du Remparts facility to make his wines.
The exceptionally rare Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc, by Gradassi is mostly all Clairette Rose (a natural mutation of the Clairette Blanc clone with a pinkish tint, with maybe a tiny percentage of Grenache Blanc though not necessarily, it’s an ultra limited bottling and somewhat a unicorn wine, and almost impossible to get, so I consider myself lucky beyond belief to have got a few bottles of this 2014 version from Martine’s Wines, Gradassi’s importer out west. Only about Only 420 bottles were made of this all stainless steel fermented and aged Blanc, and from what I gather it was whole cluster pressed and kept cold, with indigenous yeasts, all from organic grapes in Gradassi’s northern site in Chateauneuf. The vines sit on clay and sandy soils over limestone and are at about 400 feet of elevation, which allows for more natural acidity and aromatics, especially in this Blanc.
These 2014 Gradassi Clairette Rose (or Gris) is one of the most unique Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc(s) you’ll find, it’s slightly oxidative, not unlike Marsanne with peach and apple notes along with hints of tropical fruit, quince and lemon/lime aa well as adding dried herbs, white flowers and wet stones with a pale golden/yellowish hue in the glass. I really enjoyed this quick maturing white and hope to again get some of the new vintages if it comes available, which is not always a guarantee as so little is made, but Gradassi’s red is available and it’s even better, so I console myself in that, and I have a few bottles of the glorious 2016 vintage in my collection. ($52 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2018 Joyce Wine Company, Rosé, Gamay/Grenache “Turbidity Current” Monterey County. Joyce’s 2018 Turbidity Current Roséis a dry and bright version, crafted this year from 63% Grenache and 37% Gamay from Monterey County vines and highlights the nature of the vintage, which is one of the best in recent memory, allowing good fruit dimension and substance, but with fresh detail and tangy acidity. The Gamay really adds pop, while the Grenache gives finesse and presence in the glass, making for a unique California Rosé experience with brisk youthful detail, tart cherry fruit and mineral charm.
Russell Joyce and his team are thrilled with their 2018 vintage wines, and what I have tasted I can see why, this might be the best vintage for Monterey in my lifetime, certainly in the last decade, the fruit detail is impressive and the balance in even such an early stage is amazing, in both reds and whites, these are going to be incredible wines, and to get an insight into them, you can start with Joyce’s latest Albarino, their Dry Riesling and this lovely pink wine. All these are now available at their tasting room and remarkably drinkable already, and should only get better in the coming months.
The crisp 2018 Turbidity Current Rosé starts with zippy citrus and the mentioned sour red cherry, plum water and crushed raspberry fruit along with rose oil, spring herb, steely tones and a touch of wet stone, all of which makes for a lovely sipping wine that will be great for the warm days to come. There’s a lot to get excited about at Joyce right now and coming in the future, their 2017 single vineyard Pinots are stunning wines, as is Joyce’s Syrah(s), which are sometimes overlooked and should not be, their old vine Chenin Blanc is a savvy white that is not a wine to miss, and it is a good time to discover all these. This Rosé, will it’s near play between fruit and acidity with it’s delicious lightness and tension will most definitely enjoy its time with the local cuisine and the beach! ($22 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2016 Domaine de Gouye, Saint-Joseph Rouge, Vieilles Vignes, Northern Rhone, France. The old school and traditional Domaine de Gouye, which was established as an estate winery back in 1933, is run by Philippe Debos a low key third generation vigneron from the tiny village of Saint-Jean de Muzols that makes some of the most glorious Syrah (and only Syrah) from his 30 acre parcel of Saint-Joesph vines that you will ever taste, especially this gorgeously perfumed 2016 old vine. The horse and plowed vines and sustainable farming on these wind swept granite hillsides provide the raw material for greatness, and thanks to Sam Smith, head winemaker at Monterey’s Morgan Winery, who did a stint in the Northern Rhone with Francois Villard, and who knows his stuff when it comes to cool climate Syrah, for sharing this special bottle with me, as I had never had this producer before, I really thought I was trying a prestigious Cote-Rotie, you know the type, that unicorn kind of thing, so good was this bottle.
According to Debos’ importer, North Berkey imports, Philippe Desbos selects fruit from his oldest Syrah vines, some as old as 100 years, for this special cuvée, all hand harvested and carefully sorted preserving the whole bunches. The estate’s same non-interventionist approach in their ancient cellar applies, all the fruit is crushed gently by foot, 100% whole cluster, and after a long maceration and primary fermentation with no added sulfur, Debos uses his one hundred and thirty year old vertical press, with the wine then aged in neutral barrels for a year or so. Philippe adds, at Domaine de Gouye, winemaking follows time-tested tradition not because it’s romantic but because it’s the most efficient, and the results speak for themselves, this 2016 Old Vines Saint-Joesph is incredible and sexy with exotic violets, spice and seductive delicacy of form with layers of black and blue fruits.
Tasting it blind, as mentioned had me convinced I was experiencing one of Cote-Rotie’s rarest bottlings, Jamet, Lavet, Rostaing, Villard and others came to mind, so beautiful was the bouquet and the length, it was amazing to find out this was a Saint-Joseph and a wine that is truly affordable!
The palate on Debos’ Vieilles Vignes 2016 is heighten by the stems and natural freshness of the vintage showing fabulous detail and purity with Blackberry, boysenberry, blueberry, damson plum and currant fruits adding subtle kirsch and creme de cassis along with crunchy mineral, peppercorns, liquid violets, anise and a faint hint of camphor and leather/earthiness. The tannins are remarkably refined, though structured and the wine stays spot on throughout, this is outrageously good stuff, and a winery that is now firmly on my radar, if you want a deal, find this bottling, and drink it over the next 3 to 5 years, it is stunning Syrah and a brilliant effort. The nose alone is worth the price and the texture just adds to the pleasure, this Domaine de Gouye Old Vine St. Joe really leaves a dramatic impression and an impact on the senses while still being authentic and terroir driven, wow, yup I want more. ($40-45 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2017 Envínate, Vidueño de Santiago del Teide, Ycoden-Daute-Isora DO, Tenerife, Canary Islands, Spain. Founded by wine college students in 2005, Envínate (which means “Wine Yourself”) is the brainchild of four friends and winemakers from very diverse regions in Spain including Roberto Santana of Tenerife, Canary Islands, Alfonso Torrente of the Ribeira Sacra in Galicia, Laura Ramos of Murcia and José Martínez who is from Almansa. Santana has been thrust into the spotlight and is the unofficial leader with the main bodega in the Canary Islands, the winery’s main area of focus, where they craft intriguing wines from the volcanic soils on these remote islands off the coast of northern Africa, and where in recent years they has brought world attention to local grapes such as Listan Blanco, Listan Negro and Listan Prieto, also known as the Mission grapes.
The Vidueño de Santiago del Teide, grown in the Ycoden-Daute-Isora DO, and according to the winery is sourced from a tiny parcel of old-vine, untrained pie franc Listan Blanco and Listan Prieto. Thought to be about 50/50 red and white grapes it is a lighter and fresher style than the rest of the lineup. This co-planted parcel is all hand-harvested, destemmed and then this natural wine is macerated for 15 days in an open vat, then transferred to three well used neutral small French barriques, where it aged for 8 months on fine lees without battonage (stirring) or with any added sulfur, it is also unfined and unfiltered, again there’s no added SO2 even at bottling.
This latest version of Vidueño is seductive for it’s smoky strawberry notes, high tones and mineral focus, it is a very high elevation volcano wine that shows a finessed presence in the glass with delicacy, vivid flavors and smooth tannins, it’s Envinate’s Glou Glou offering, meaning it’s extremely easy and quaffable. Bright red pepper, warm rock, dried rose petals lead the way before this light ruby wine takes off on the medium bodied palate with strawberry, pomegranate and cranberry fruits forming a spicy core with vivid volcanic intensity pumping through, though a touch earthy the Vidueño gains a nice textural feel, this is never going to be a main stream crowd pleaser, but it’s ultra cool and I love it. Considering it is half white grapes, it has some grip and dusty dry tang, this is vivacious juice from Envínate with a touch of leathery earth, bright acidity and a saline note that straddles a savory nervousness, but stays wonderfully playful, it’s especially good with food and gets even better with air and with a slight chill. ($37 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2017 Alfredo Maestro, Tinto Fino (Tempranillo) “Viña Almate” Peñafiel, Valladolid, VdT Castilla y León, Spain. Alfredo Maestro Tejero, a rebel winemaker who’s family came to Peñafiel, not far from Madrid in Valladolid, from the Basque Country, is now one of Spain’s most well known natural winemakers. After growing up with vines, it seemed always in the cards that Alfredo would become a winemaker and in 1998 he started making wines from local old vine vineyards, mostly neglected, but 100% organically farmed, and after self teaching himself to make wine traditionally, he converted to 100% natural in 2003, and in the cellar he adds zero to his wines, no additives whatsoever, including sulfur.
The Viña Almate, named after the man himself (the first two letters of his three names) is his highest production wine, his regional cuvee is all hand crafted with whole-cluster fermentation with native yeasts in stainless steel with a 12-15 day maceration, then raised over winter in vat and bottled before the Spring, all unfined, unfiltered. This 100% Tinto Fino (Tempranillo) cuvée is made from fruit sourced from various plots in Valtiendas (Segovia), as well as in Peñafiel (Valladolid) from vines set on mainly clay-calcareous driven Alluvial soils of the region, coming from vines up to 80 years old at between 700 and 1,000 meters, that gives the wine its freshness and structure.
Alfredo’s 2017 Vina Almate is a deep ruby/garnet in color and while earthy and fresh has a dark sense violets and a ripe palate showing black cherry, plum and vine picked wild berry fruits that have a bramble and briar character with a light dusting of dried herbs and spices with hints of tobacco leaf, anise and grilled orange peel. This young Tempranillo is transparent and highly quaffable turning silken and a touch creamy with air, making it wonderfully enjoyable and fun in the glass, perfect for sipping and bistro dinning. Unlike the smoky inky Ribera del Douro or American oak marked old school Rioja, this is a naked version of this grape and it serves a clever natural niche with its purity and lightness of form, drink it up, not need to wait. ($18 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2017 Laurent Herlin, Method Ancestral “Cintre” Rosé of Cabernet Franc, Loire Valley Sparkling Wine, France. New to America, the Herlin wines from the Loire are all natural bottlings that mostly are Cabernet Franc based from in and around the classic area of Bourgueil with it’s mix of sand, gravel, Silicieous Clay, Limestone and Tuffeau soils, they work all organic and without any chemical additions either in the vines or in the cellar. Laurent Herlin has been working without any chemical inputs since 2009, and has gone the natural wine route making clean, focused and dry versions of highly quaffable wines. Recently picked up and imported to the West Coast by long time natural wine specialist and natural wine evangelist Nadia Dmytriw at Floraison Selections, her company that hand picks a great group of top French natural wine producers, that includes Pierre Gonon in the Northern Rhone, Domaine d’Ourea of Vacqueyras, Domaine Serol of Cote Roannaise, Chateau des Rontets of Pouilly-Fuisse (Burgundy) as well as an awesome set from the Loire Valley like the famous Domaine de L’Ecu, Sylvain Dittiere, Vincent Gaudry as well Laurent Herlin.
The 2017 Pétillant Naturel style sparkling Cabernet Franc Rosé “Cintre” is a vividly dry bubbly crafted completely method ancestral with absolute 0 RS (residual sugar) and low natural alcohol with almost no sulfur, except what happens in the process itself, making for a stingingly brisk and expensive Rose sparkler. The fresh and crystal clear palate is minerally and citrusy, but opens to reveal a layer of sophistication and stylish notes with hints of tart cherry, a wisp of strawberry, rosewater, bitter melon, herbs and a hint of light brioche. Ripe enough as to not has any greeness, but still with electric laced acidity, this Laurent Herlin Cintre is a lovely and fun refreshing version of a Loire Valley favorite with a bit of elegance and grace, with is not always the case with the foamy mousse Pet-Nats. This would be great anytime and anywhere, super as an aperitif or with brunch, it stand up to most dishes and would be awesome for picnics and beach parties. This bone dry Cintre Rosé bubbles is tasty, drinking wonderfully right now, I will have to stock up for warm Spring days, and I suggest searching out this exciting producer, I am looking forward to exploring more of his wines, especially his classic Bourgueil offering, as well as his Glou Glou Carbonic Cab Franc too. ($24 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2017 Arianna Occhipinti, SP68 Rosso, Terre Siciliane, Sicily, Italy. There is always great expectations when I get the latest Occhipinti, and this new SP68 Rosso does not disappoint, it has all the seductive earthy qualities and beautiful fruit expression that Arianna is famous for, it is a pure and charming effort. The hard working and humble Arianna Occhipinti, who made her first (home) vintage at the age of 21, is the epitome of grit and determination, her success is or was almost unimaginable in the region of her birth and gives her an almost mystical aura. Her wines are some of the most sought after in the natural and organic wine world, she has made Frappato an almost household name, pretty amazing for such a young person to have achieved. Arianna was mentored by the icons and legends of natural wines, Elena Pantaleoni of La Stoppa in Emilia-Romagna and Elisabetta Foradori of Alto Adige fame, both heroic women winemakers. That said, her wines are not just natural wines or is their appeal for a limited group, they are fresh, energetic and made with passion and down to earth charm that has won (her) fans from almost every corner of the greater wine world. I personally have found her wine from my little California hometown to the tiny little Swedish village of Vaxjo, across the world away! Considering how little wine she makes and the enthusiasm of her fans, it seems remarkable, such is her following.
As Arianna, in almost poetic terms, tells it, everything begun fifteen years ago in the ”Fossa di Lupo” area. In the Vittoria region of southern Sicily, and for Occhipinti, a magical place where the land in the evening becomes reddish and is brushed by the Ibleian winds, it’s here where a little known country road, number 68, hence where her line of SP68 wines gets their name. It’s a county lane like many others, but with a special past, and present for her, its route travels by the small piece of land where she got her start, though fas far back as three thousand years ago it connected Gela to Kamarina, it travelled- as it still does – through the Cerasuolo di Vittoria, becoming the Strada del Vino, this is one of most important winegrowing zones in Sicily, from Caltagirone continuing to Catania and Lentini. Historical for the locals as it was the path of trade and life in this area. There, again as she sees it, squeezed between heaven and earth was the place that gave her the chance to show her talents to the world and she took off like a rocket, and while once regarded as the princess of natural wine, though now she has developed far beyond that niche and limited box, and her wines treasured far and wide, especially her signature “Il Frappato” bottling, though I always adore her SP68 Rosso a mini version of Cerasuolo di Vittoria made from both Frappato and Nero d’Avola.
The Occhipinti SP68, an IGT not a DOC, is labeled Terre Siciliane and is a cuvee of 70% Frappato and 30% Nero d’Avola that is grown on the red sand and chalk driven soils over, what Arianna calls, sub Apennine limestone rock. The vines used are at least 15 years old and densely planted and the grapes are all organic, as you’d expect, and the winemaking is careful, pragmatic, precise and minimalist without any chemical intervention in the vineyard or in the cellar. Occhipinti employs a gentile touch with only indigenous yeasts and a about 15 days on the skins with everything done here in concrete, with aging again in cement vat for 8 months before bottling unfined and unfiltered with virtually no added SO2, all to preserve purity, rawness and translucent flavors.
This wine, and her others have inspired dozens, hundreds and maybe thousands of winemakers from all over the globe, and her wines can now be found in most chic wine bars and speciality wine merchants, in fact her impact has seen her become a superstar with sommeliers, wine critics, hipster wine influencers and even elite collectors, but it is also remarkable that she has such a following from her peers and the regular everyday wine buyers that continues to surprise the wine community and industry. I must admit to being a big fan and have been for many years, Occhipinti’s wine occupies a special place in my heart, I am always filled with joy and expectation when I drink them, they are not blockbusters, but rather soulful, playful and most of all truthful wines that elicit a sense of seriousness without an over thinking drama about them, there is a feeling of peace and pleasure in them I find wonderfully compelling.
The the pale blue/crimson hued 2017 is fresh, showing a hint of reduction and earthy tones at first before opening up to its pretty fruit and spice showing its core Frappato driven character with sweet strawberry, plum, cranberry and unique lingonberry note as well as wild herbs, basil, pepper, anise, saline and brandied cherries. The mouth feel is smooth and easy, its medium weight (like Pinot Noir) is both refreshing and substantial giving a sense of completeness, complex and sensual charm in a lighter framed and racy wine. Air just opens the bouquet further with florals and mineral sensations, and while less sharp than Gamay, it is stylistically similar and can be enjoyed with a slight chill and it will, like Pinot go with lots of cuisine options, enjoy this new SP68 over the next 2 to 3 years, it’s vivid, easy and lovely. Occhipinti is a star, and her wines a reflection of her place and person, it is hard not to, after sipping her wine, book a flight to Sicily, especially this SP68. This new release is a gateway view to the vintage, which looks to be an impressive one for this part of the island and I look forward to tasting her other bottlings. ($30 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2017 Cruse Wine Company, Monkey Jacket, North Coast. A unique inter-regional blend of black grapes, Cruse Wine Co.’s 2017 Monkey Jacket is a cuvee of Valdiguié, Carignan and Tannat, a truly eccentric wine that intrigues with a play of darkness and light with a juicy center holding the two sides together, it is a fun and mysterious red that has some exotic spicy tones, fruit, spice, hints of earth and supple tastiness.
The Cruse Monkey Jacket has a feel that reminds me of the Southwest of France, like Fronton with it’s Negrette like feel and juicy/earth/spice combo, and it makes for an interesting quaffer. Cruse is more known for his super sparkling wine in both traditional method and his Pet-Nats, but this latest vintage of red wine releases have impressed, especially his Carignan and Valdiquie bottlings, along with this one that combines both Carignan and Valdiquie as well as having the rare Tannat grape added to the mix.
The lighter ruby/garnet color and freshness helps curb some of the earthy/savory funkiness that provides the complex background and its more medium weight and lower alcohol make it easy to drink, it benefits also from a slight chill as a Beaujolais does. Plum, wild cherry, strawberry and blueberry fruits lead on the vibrant palate before that groove of pepper, minty herb, truffle/earthy and game comes out along with a hint of dried flowers and touch of cayenne. ($25 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive