Grapelive Lastest: Corralitos

Corralitos Wine Trail

mission.jpgI found myself completely free on a lazy, mostly sunny Saturday and ready for a short drive, so I breezed through Carmel, took in the beach watching dog walkers and surfers then watched the rising sun reflect of the old walls of the Carmel Mission. On a whim and with an old friend in tow I headed north to re-visit my happy wine hunting grounds in the south Santa Cruz Mountains and see the vineyards getting their finishing (pruning) touches before the new season on the vine and the bud break. After a couple of weeks of rain the sun etched a smile on my face and turned my cheeks pink as we twisted and turned our way towards the little hamlet of Corralitos, that used to be more famous for country old world sausage that classic Burgundian style Chardonnays and Pinot Noir, plus now emerging as a new hot spot for Syrah. The landscape is full of scrub oak, orchards and redwood groves set in rolling hills with a peak at the ocean. It was magic to see the glistening Pacific in the distance, with lush green hills all around and with the sloping vineyards making it just that much more special. I really like this place, and I admire the wine made here a lot.
afv.jpgThings have changed around here with world class wines being turned out here, going from orchards and small farms, which remain unfettered still, with the addition of quality wine estates and the wine geeks, like me buzzing through the hills and redwoods to find them. I have waxed about Alfaro Family Vineyards and Windy Oaks Estate so much my old friend was getting antsy to be there all ready and taste their wines, or it could have been my driving, but either way, she was blown away with the quality and beauty of the place, and she had been living in Italy, so it made it all that much more impressive.

wovineyard.jpgI have been saying for a few years now that this was the next big find and that the wines here were going to be a big deal, like the Santa Lucia Highlands and the guys like Pisoni and Franscioni. I feel that Richard Alfaro, Alfaro Family Vineyards and Jim Schultze, Windy Oaks Estate will get that kind of reputation and lead a rush to the area. Now, I’m not alone, with critics and wine big shots finding their way here to see what is happening, plus both Alfaro and Schultze have been collecting gold and silver medals like I collect grey hair, especially the San Francisco Chronicle which has some of the best wines in California gathered for blind judging. Well it couldn’t happen to better or more passionate people and talented wine-makers, as they continue to turn out unique and terroir driven wines that rival the best from anywhere.

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Alfaro Family Vineyards
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alfaros.jpgStopping at Alfaro Family Vineyards is a great way to stretch the legs after the drive and feel the laid back nature of the place, being so close to Santa Cruz it could be no other way. The casual earthy feel and the warm smiles are welcome and refreshing, giving little hint of the seriousness of the wines being served. Richard who is always ready to give complete vineyard tours, either in the truck or the ATV, gives a running dialog of almost each row of vines and has an endless supply of stories that remind me of “ A Year in Provence”, in a Santa Cruz tweaked version of course, all witch shows his passion and provides humor to the quiet and pretty landscape going by. His wines offer some of the best value in premium wine there is, with some stylish and complex wines starting under $20. Then there is his select estate vineyard wines, these are amazingly layered efforts that will stun any wine enthusiast, especially his Lindsay-Page Chardonnay, which for me is one of the best Chards in California, regardless of price and I would say it can hold its own to most Chassagne-Montrachet and even some Puligny-Montrachet, such is the class and depth I find in it. They were pouring the 2007 version, and it is just getting better and better. Note I have rated this wine 95 Points for the 2006 and at first rated the 2007 about 93-94 Points, but I am thinking given a bit of age, I may have to change that and rate it higher, as it is now on par with the 2006 easily!
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brandytaste.jpgRichard’s Pinots are all lovely and ripe, all garnering low to mid nineties scores and I was impressed with his entry level “A” Pinot this time, this was the new 2007 release and it showed elegant bright fruit, good depth and should get even better once the wine settles into place. The 2006 Lindsay-Page Pinot shows very ripe sweet plumy fruit and has a long creamy finish with smoky vanilla oak shadings. This was a great way to start the afternoon. Then we tried the Syrah, wow, this may end up Richard’s star wine, regardless it is a big success to me with classic Rhone character. The cool climate gives a dark purple color and a perfume of violets, game and intense black fruits with a cayenne note. The palate is full of red and black fruits, currants, cherry liqueur, white pepper and savory game and sweet herbs, finishing with smoke, chocolate powder and vanilla toasty goodness. As a heads up look for his 2006 Ryan-Spenser Syrah coming out soon, this promises to be an intense monster Syrah with great depth and stunning power, I tried it in barrel at was blown away, I will bottle review it soon, so stay tuned!

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Windy Oaks Estate
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wotaste.jpgThe Pinot Noir grape captured Jim and Judy Schultze heart and they remain spellbound to Burgundy, the spiritual home of this magical grape and still the ultimate goal post for Pinot nuts. Remarkably they found a spot, planted a vineyard, worked hard in the traditional Burgundian ways and came up with a wine that shocked me, and the world, with real burgundy class and elegance with flavors that screamed Chambolle-Musigny. I was working with Jacques Melac, a French wine expert, at the time and we tried Jim’s first Pinot, the 1999 Vintage and bought it on the spot! Jacques and I had recently finished a marathon Burgundy tasting so we really were stunned by Jim’s effort and I’ve been a fan ever since.
Nothing in the following years has changed my mind about Windy Oaks; this is classic and delicate Burgundy like wine with some interesting unique characters that are developing over time with vine age. Jim employs old world winemaking and lets the wine be as natural as possible without filtration or fining, which adds to depth and complexity of his wines. Even though his wines don’t tend to be dark, they are deep, rich and long finished. He says long fermentations bleed pigment, but add flavor and perfume, so don’t fret about the lack of color, and let the wine make its impression on the palate.
wobarrels.jpg Jim is going to with the 2007 vintage have about 10 different bottlings of estate Pinot Noir all from separate blocks and he has a wild yeast Pinot and a whole cluster pressed Pinot as well, plus the Estate Cuvee from mixed blocks. We tasted four Pinots, all different and all wonderful in flavor and texture with depth and interesting character. Somewhere in my mind I recalled visions of the Willamette Valley, Oregon and memories of wines from the Cote de Nuits, Burgundy when tasting Jim’s wine, though they all had their own distinct profiles.

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wo2006henrys.jpg2006 Windy Oaks Estate Pinot Noir “Henry’s Block” Schultze Family Vineyards, Santa Cruz Mountains.
Jim and Judy Schultze are making some of the finest Pinot Noir you’ll ever taste from their tiny Estate in the South Santa Cruz Mountains and this one is just a dream like gem that offers flavors that seem more of a cross of Oregon and Burgundy that what you’d normally find in the central coast. The color is delicate and glows a light ruby in the glass, but the flavors and deep and the finish goes on forever. My first impressions were of Chambolle-Musigny (Burgundy, Cote de Nuits) and Dundee Hills, (Jory soils of the Willamette Valley, like Domaine Serene) though this wine as t opened up got richer and showed its own unique character. There are lush plums, raspberry, savory currant and bing cherry fruits with subtle sweet French oak, exotic Asian spice and dried roses. This is without a doubt one of the best 2006 vintage Pinot Noirs I’ve had and should even get a bit better in a year or two, while not a modern Syrah like Pinot, it is a classic beauty. ($49-55) 94-95 Points, grapelive

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woestate07.gif2007 Windy Oaks Estate Pinot Noir “Estate Cuvee” Santa Cruz Mountains.
This wine is one of my go to Pinots every vintage, as it gives a lot of bang for the buck and it is a rare gem, being not so easy to find, it makes a of people take notice of the Corralitos area of the South Santa Cruz Mountains! The 2007 vintage is shaping up to be the vintage of the decade for Pinot Noir, and this new release from Windy Oaks and the Schultze family is a good bellwether, and I think we are going to really enjoy 2007 greatly, though I think my wallet is going to be lighter, as I will be buying a bunch! The Estate Cuvee has youthful zest and sweet tangy dark fruits, with a full rich palate and lots of grip. This Pinot shows loads of fruit ranging from cherry, raspberry, plum to mountain raspberry and cranberry, plus some strawberry rhubarb pie notes. The wine has good depth all ready, but still could use some cellar time to fill out even more. Everything thing is there and the acidity is in perfect balance with the fruit, with good oak shadings giving gentle vanilla, smoke and mocha flair. ($36-40) 92-93 Points, grapelive

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wodianes06.gif2006 Windy Oaks Estate Pinot Noir “Diane’s Block” Schultze Family Vineyards, Santa Cruz Mountains.
Don’t be fooled by this wines light almost rose like color, or better yet, just close your eyes and take it in without even thinking, as it is a French inspired joy with elegance and charm. This wine is beautiful and delicate throughout with lush strawberry, cherry and creamy raspberry fruit, light touches of cured pork, mineral, roses, lavender and vanilla. This wine has all the classic easy style of a lovely Burgundy, but remains true to its own terroir. This is an artist’s wine and a wine that makes you smile and reflect on beautiful things. With soft layers and just enough lively acidity to lift the flavorful fruit, this is a wine to drink now and enjoy, though it will gain some body with another year or so of cellar time and take on some smoky sweetness. The 2006 vintage had much less natural pigment to hold color, but the flavors are all there and unfold in pretty and velvet like layers giving lots of pleasure, so don’t be fooled and get some while you can. ($45-50 Est.) 92-93 Points, grapelive

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wovines.jpg2005 Windy Oaks Estate Pinot Noir “SBC” Schultze Family Vineyards, Santa Cruz Mountains. (Special Burgundian Clone) *Late Release
This Pinot is a massive and unique creation, from rare Vosne-Romanee cuttings and one clone. Vosne-Romanee is a small village in the heart of the Cote de Niuts, north Burgundy and is the fabled home of some of the great Pinot Noirs. Jim Schultze personally hand tends this small block, and his eyes go slightly wild with glee when he talks about these vines that he has nurtured along and lovely cares for. This is his most time consuming and artful wine, with only a barrel or so making it to bottle, last year only 25 cases were made. This Pinot which is very different from the rest of his wonderful line up, spends over 2 years in French oak and then is held in tank a further year before bottling. The wood gives a solid frame to showcase this wine’s depth and full weight, though let it have plenty of air as it takes lots of time to reveal itself. At first there is classic reduced red berry and smoky oak notes, but with a few swirls it bursts into life with wildflowers, violets, and perfume that lead to an explosion of fruit on the palate. The “SBC” is an intense and edgy wine that should really be put in the cellar for another 4 to 5 years to really get all of it perfect, but it is an amazing wine that has layer after layer of lush flavors and has silky fruit that goes on forever and a day. The core is made up of tangy black plum, cherry and a mix of strawberry and raspberry fruit, with rose oil, fennel, sage, truffle and coffee bean deep in the background. It would really be interesting to re-visit this wine in 5 years, I hope I get that chance, I only wish I could afford some. ($95 Est.) 94-96 Points, grapelive

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apnoir.gif2007 Alfaro Family Vineyards Pinot Noir “A” Estate, Santa Cruz Mountains.
This new release has plenty of tasty fruit and texture with lots of bright youthful acidity making everything feel balanced and lighter than is the case, given time this wine will fill out and be bold shouldered. The fruit is lush and tangy with lots of plum, cherry and cranberry that expand on the palate with some tangy red currant, mint leaf, allspice and soft oak notes. Really zesty now and pretty making it a gem with salmon and light meat dishes, it will smooth out and sweet up with time, enjoy it now and for the next 4 years. ($20-24 Est.) 89-90 Points, grapelive
*Will get better in the next 4-6 months, no question.

Grapelive: Wine of the Week

andromeda1.gif2006 Sean Thackrey “Andromeda” Pinot Noir, Devil’s Gulch Vineyard, Marin County.
This was my first chance to try this rare and beautiful wine from the unique and brave winemaker Sean Thackrey, who has become a legend by making funky hand crafted wines. He makes wine in a natural and “In nature” style and his barrels live in the elements at his home on the Sonoma Coast near Bolinas. This wine is full of flavor and has rich classic Pinot fruit, with sweet plum, cherry and red berries. The wine has remarkable depth and is bursting at the seams like a great Burgundy. This turned out to be my favorite of Thackrey’s impressive portfolio for its complexity and the pleasure it gives. This Pinot is a stunner, with texture, spice and lots of exotic touches going on and nice acidity that lifts the flavors and gives it a freshness. This wine has a round velvet finish that shows pretty French oak at its sublime best. ($60 Est.) 94-95 Points, grapelive

*Can be ordered through Rancho Cellars

Call Jacques, Rancho Cellars 831-625-5646

Grapelive Lastest: Vinitaly 2009

brandy1.jpgVinitaly

Verona, 2009
Grapelive will be covering Italy’s top wine event for the first time, and is very happy to introduce our new reporter that will be at this years Vinitaly: Brandy Falconer. Brandy is starting her wine career after years of international travel and living in Italy. She has lived in the fast lane and comes from a famous Motorsports family, her dad Ryan is a legendary engine builder who has made Indy 500 winning motors and has success in almost every form of racing, and Brandy grew up with all the speed at racing tracks around the country. She has been a huge wine enthusiast and will be a big hit here and at whatever else she decides to do. We are very happy to have her on board for Vinitaly 2009 and hopes she sticks around to write about her future wine adventures as well. So stay tuned and check in for her columns coming soon.
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Brandy Falconer is a wine enthusiast and seasoned world traveler.
Discovering her love for great wines living on California’s scenic Central Coast, Brandy got to experience the best offerings from California and the world over.
Her professional interest was sparked after taking wine classes in Carmel (at Carmel’s Rancho Cellars) under the tutelage of now Master Sommelier, Alpana Singh.  Enjoying the cultures of Europe, she has traveled extensively throughout the continent, and has also spent two years living in Italy.  Brandy’s new-found passion for Italian wines created opportunities for knowledge-building experiences that would redirect her interests to a more serious level.
Ready for a fresh challenge, she has decided to combine her love for wine with a passion for educating enthusiasts to create a new career path.  It was a natural progression that now has Brandy studying in Italy and Europe in preparation for Sommelier courses later this year.  Truly a story of following one’s passions, Brandy’s enthusiasm for discovering great wines is paving the way toward an exciting new venture.
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logo2004.gifVinitaly 2009

Vinitaly this year focuses on “the world we love”: wine first of all but also quality, territory, the environment and its protection, people and human challenges, villages and their history… Vinitaly is all this: the place where every year people who love this world come together.
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logo_gaja.gifGAJA celebrates its 150th Anniversary at VINITALY, with a great tasting! 1859 – 2009: an important anniversary celebrated at the 43rd Vinitaly in the company of wine-lovers and everyone who admires the person defined as the “Admiral of the Italian Wine-Growing Renaissance”: Angelo Gaja.

This year, in short, sees the Gaja family celebrate 150 years of dedicated wine-growing following the foundation of the Cellar in Barbaresco in 1859 – and, of course, Vinitaly is the ideal setting.

Saturday 4 April: the Europa Convention Centre will celebrate 150 years of this great company: intense years rich in history, anecdotes, changes and even more changes in the world of wine, in the company of Jancis Robinson, the well-known British wine journalist, wine writer and TV presenter who will animate the debate and a tasting of wines selected by the company itself: participation at the event is against payment and places will be on sale in coming weeks: all proceeds will be donated to charity.

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Italy at Vinitaly
This is the area that Vinitaly dedicates to the Regions so that they can present their territories, olive oils and wines through promotional activities as well as initiatives organized on individual stands during Vinitaly.

This privileged showcase ensures a complete panorama of the multitude of distinctive features characterizing Italian regions and their unique status in the world.
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4,200 reasons for visiting Vinitaly 2009! Italian and international exhibitors over a net area of almost 80 thousand square metres promoting their best production in an overview of the most prestigious wine-growing and wine-making traditions.
This area is equally joined by a further 10,000 sq.m. dedicated to everything else involved in the world of wine: technical tastings, food & wine pairings, high cuisine and much more…
Yet Vinitaly especially promotes business opportunities: the 5-day exhibition ensures more contacts than usually achieved throughout the year thanks to direct matching action: the on-line Buyers Club, the Large-Scale Distribution Buyers Club, workshops and targeted tastings are evident examples.

Grapelive Lastest

bradsevent.gifClassic Cab Tasting!
I just heard about this charity tasting in Sonoma, featuring some classic Californian wines that sounds awesome. It is for a great cause and the line up is fantastic. Please check it out!
The event will begin at 5:30 pm on Saturday, April 18th with a reception featuring Chardonnay from Gundlach Bundschu Winery and live guitar music by Gerard Serafini of Sonoma Valley Music.  An informal “pizza party” will follow the tasting, with gourmet pizzas prepared by Sheana Davis of Epicurean Connection. Little Vineyards will provide the live music and wines for the dinner.  Riedel is providing glassware. Wine collector Douglas Mo graciously donated the “Cult” Cabernets to the VOM Teen Center.
All proceeds benefit the Valley of the Moon Teen Center. Valley of the Moon Teen Center is a tax exempt 501c(3) non-profit organization seeking to provide a safe and friendly environment where teens can develop self confidence through encouragement of their potential for becoming productive citizens. The Teen Center is open 3pm-7pm, Monday through Friday. For more information, see www.vomteencenter.org
Tickets for the Cult Cabernet Tasting Event are $200 each, and are available by calling (707) 694-4542. Contact Gray Matters, Bradley Gray, Public Relations.

Grapelive: Wine of the Week

rochioli3corners.jpg2005 J.Rochioli Pinot Noir “Three Corner’s Vineyard” Russian River Valley.
This amazing complex Pinot Noir has deep layers of flavors and a heavenly earthy essence that makes this wine seem on the level of a fine Musigny. I was enthralled with the truffle like edge and the dark fruits that shine on the rich palate. There is the classic Russian River flavors of black cherry and cola bean, but is goes much deeper than most and gives sweet plum fruit and mocha on the finish. The French oak use on this wine is much more subtle than most Rochioli bottlings and though I always love the Rochioli style, this Pinot is a different beast all together and I think it will only get better and more classy as time goes on. Smoky vanilla and creamy raspberry linger on and on, giving and wonderful finish that brings you back to the bottle for more. This is a stellar effort and a wonderful surprise in the awesome Rochioli line up. *Note this wine is available only to Rochioli wine list customers, which is really sad. ($80+ Est.) 95+ Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Week

soter.gif2006 Soter Pinot Noir “Mineral Springs Vineyard” Yamhill-Carlton, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
This is a Pinot Noir of depth and perfume that has so much going on it reminds of a great Burgundy in a top vintage, but a wine that can be enjoyed young with ripe and smooth tannins and rich body. There is wild flowers, violets and bramble berries on the nose, and lush red fruits on the palate with some dark plum and black cherry leading the way. There is beautiful balance and texture all ready, with sweet, vanilla smoky French oak toastiness giving added luster to this wonderful Pinot Noir. What a vintage! And what a pretty wine, I can highly recommend this little beauty. ($60-65 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
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Limited, coming to Rancho Cellars! 831-625-5646

Grapelive Lastest

kerry09gl1.jpgThe past year brought many highs and some pretty bad lows, but now it is 2009 and we can look to the future. There is no getting away from the fact that the wine industry has suffered a massive down turn and that it may have changed forever as a result of the crash of 2008, but we must look forward and make hard choices if we want to continue. I have suffered, we all have suffered and it looks set to be a grim year ahead, though I think and hope things will stabilize and see some growth by summer. On the brightside of things, of which I am always looking for, seems that there is some great wine coming available and that there are some real values out there for us wine lovers. On reflection, I had some fun times and great wines in 2008, with a couple of wines that will always stick out, The 2001 Harlan Estate, The 2006 Beaux Frères Upper Terrace Pinot Noir, The 2005 Chateau Beaucastel Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc, and both the Roar and Pisoni Estate 2006 “Pisoni Vineyard” Pinots, all mind-blowing wines that stunned me with their level of greatness. Then there were my pet favorites and wines I could drink often, like the Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and Syrah of Richard Alfaro, of Alfaro Family Vineyards, who’s wines and estate just get better and better each vintage. Looking back, I do have some fond memories from the past year, but I must be honest and say I am happy 2008 is gone.
So, looking forward, I think people are going to be able to enjoy many great wines at great prices, all ready I’ve been tasting some fantastic wines that are both of quality and super values. I recently sat in at a tasting of French wines imported by the famous, and folk lore hero, Kermit Lynch of Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant in Berkeley, California, and I was left with a big smile on my face at the level of quality and true sense of terroir his wines showed, and these for the most part were value priced wines. Kermit Lynch only brings in family estates where he becomes friends with and who make “real” wines, meaning it is a sense of pride in place and love of the land that is their reason in being, Kermit is turned off by huge gleaming stainless steel tanks and thousands of small barrels, he is more concerned with the people and soil and that they make small lots of wine that carries that essence into the bottle. These wines are made traditionally, but with clean winemaking, so they are not overly funky or off putting in anyway, in fact they taste in most cases more pure and natural with clean flavors and balance. A few years back Kermit wrote his story, a book called “Adventures on the Wine Route, A Wine Buyer’s Tour of France” (The Noonday Press, 1988) a tale of his travels and stories of winemakers there, and one of my favorite wine books. Long with his great selections of wine of course, you should pick up a copy of his book, and read my latest reviews of some his wines.

Grapelive: Wine of the Week

cahours.gif2006 Clos La Coutale Cahors, Red, Southwest France.
Just when you think the French have lost it, and the Argentina makes the best Malbec, you find this beauty to prove you wrong! Kermit Lynch, the old devil finds these family estates and brings in wines that will surprise you, and this is one that is going to blow you away in its price point. This Cahours is about 80% Malbec and the rest Merlot and it is full, lush and creamy on the palate with rich plum and cherry fruit with depth and balance not usually found in the area. This wine blows away Bordeaux wines in the $30-40 range and goes up against those Argentine gems as well. You can find this wine at Kermit Lynch in Berkeley or at Rancho Cellars in Carmel, Ca and I recommend you do! With its layers of sweet red fruits, savory cedar notes, ripe tannins and class it will be a great find. ($16 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Week

kunin07.gif2007 Kunin Pape Star Red, Central Coast, Rhone style red blend.
Seth Kunin has nailed it with this beautiful and textured Chateauneuf-du-Pape style blend of Grenache, Syrah and Mourvedre. This wine is a steal and shows real class and balance giving great bang for the buck. The flavors are bright and pure with lush layers and a long clean finish, marrying the ripeness of California with the spice and mineral notes of the old world. This pure red has plum, black cherry, grenadine, red berry and kirsch with touches of clove, lavender, fennel and pepper. Everything is tight and crisp at first, but it really opens up with some air, making it big and round with intense Chateauneuf presence. ($20 Est.) 92+ Points, grapelive

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Grapelive: Wine of the Week

samsara-alder.jpg2006 Samsara Syrah “Alder Springs Vineyard” Mendocino
Chad Melville’s Samsara label is really blowing minds and this wonderful Syrah certainly will bring in new fans. On a departure from his normal Santa Barbara & Santa Rita Hills, the Alder Springs from the North Coast is a beautiful wine with great depth and balance. This wine is full and round with a pretty nose of perfume and violets leading to ripe fruits of blackberry, plum and raisin, mixed with pepper, Asian spices and cassis, finishing with mocha and coffee bean. Subtle oak use gives hints of vanilla and cedar that gives some creaminess and perfectly lifts the fruit here. This is a classy Syrah that reminds of Northern Rhone versions and gives lots of pleasure and showcases the winemaker’s talent and easy touch. ($40 Est.) 93-94 Points, grapelive

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