2010 Robert & Bernard Plageoles, Le Duras, Gaillac, France.
There is an amazing long history of winemaking and native grapes in Gaillac, in southwest France, it was first recorded by the Romans more than 2,000 years ago, though the region is somewhat a mystery. The Duras grape is a red variety that was recently DNA tested and found to have some related history with Petit Verdot and Trousseau, most likely being a parent grape to both. It is extremely rare now, as most of the old native grapes were lost to phylloxera in the 1800’s and then to fashion, as better know grapes were planted, but Duras survived and is championed by a tiny few vignerons in the Gaillac region. Robert Plageoles and Bernard his son, are making a 100% Duras wine, an all natural red in the new wave style of natural wine, and it is truly unique and seriously good with interesting rustic textures and spicy. Robert is also a local vine historian and has even written a huge volume of local Gaillac wine through the 2,000 years, including a catalog of all the know types of grapes that were originally found in the region. The 2010 Plageoles, Le Duras, Gaillac is darkly colored and rich in ripe fruit and savory spices with hints of dried flowers, lavender, red berries, plum sauce and red pepper. This wine proved to be the most interesting of three I tried of Plageoles recently and I am glad it will be available in the US soon, it is being imported by Charles Neal. This is a most for any wine geek and natural wine lover, and for the curious few that are looking for something outrageously different and fun.
($22 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2009 Hilberg-Pasquero, Barbera D’ Alba DOC, Piedmonte, Italy.
Michele Pasquero’s unique expression of Barbera is gaining him praise and making his Hilberg label a hot item these days, and I finally got a chance to try his wine and I was not disappointed at all, this is a brilliant Barbera. The 2009 Hilberg-Pasquero, Barbera D’ Alba is a stylish wine with an artisan touch, with a nose that is full of roses, herbs, mineral spice and dried currants leads to a sweet and savory palate that features an almost Nebbiolo like structure and with a briar and tarry essence. The mouth is full of red fruits, lavender oil, licorice and plum sauce notes, it gains in fruit as it opens with blackberry and cherry coming forward, but it stays refined, vibrant and elegant all the way to the zesty and spicy finish. This is not a dark purplely Barbera, it is more subtle and wily in its charms, without question a very intriguing wine from a passionate and talented winemaker. I am a huge Barbera fan and love Altare, La Spinetta, Grosso and Vietti versions to name a few, but this Hilberg is right up there and one I’ll be re-visiting often I’m sure.
($24 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2010 Domaine Daulny, Sancerre “Le Clos de Chauden” Loire Valley, France.
Etienne Daulny’s Sancerre “Le Clos de Chauden” is an impressive and stunning Sauvignon Blanc that merits lots of attention and high praise with almost Dagueneau like complexities and better still is the price and ease of drinking right now. The is a lovely richness to this wine that makes it stand out, but still has plenty of fresh tension and acidic backbone to thrill anyone with outstanding mineral and chalky layers that fit sublimely with the laser sharp citrus fruit. The nose has a wet stone and floral expression leading to a crisp palate of lemon/lime, gooseberry and tropical essences while that stoney mineral streak shows throughout with notes of grapefruit and apple linger on. This Sancerre is pure and vibrant with classic intensity and energy, this is a great Loire white that I highly recommend looking for. Another brilliant wine discovered by Charles Neal, importer, who is on a roll these days with a great lineup of estate made European wines by artisan winemakers.
($25 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2010 Domaine des Coteaux des Travers, Rasteau, Reserve, Cotes du Rhone Villages (Robert Charavin) France.
This amazing Rasteau captures the terroir and vintage in a beautiful snapshot and is a remarkable value, drinking impressively right now. Domaine des Coteaux des Travers has been making some fantastic wines of late and this Rasteau Reserve is showing wonderfully with lively red fruits and anise that explodes across the palate while lavender, blueberry and pomegranate all add to the beauty of this Rhone red that is made up of mostly Grenache, but has a good dose of Syrah as well. The mouth is full and ripe with smooth tannins and juicy acidity providing clear vivid focus to the richness and depth. The boysenberry and melted black licorice are highlighted throughout, but really persist on the finish, making this wine really stand out. Another great find by importer Charles Neal, and one you should search out and stock up by the case full.
($16 Est.) 92+ Points, grapelive
2008 Domaine Andre Bonhomme, Vire Clesse AC, Vieilles Vignes, White Burgundy, France.
This is a crazy good White Burgundy from the Vire Clesse and a Domaine to remember, with out question a star, as this 2008 old vine wine shows, it is easily as good as much pricier examples from Chassagne and Puligny. With new talents emerge in Burgundy, like Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey, Christophe Buisson and Alix de Montille there is a lot of exciting whites gaining attention these days, and I think Domaine Andre Bonhemme is a great producer, if not too new, to keep an eye on, especially as the 2010 vintage is coming into stocks, though this lovely 2008 is not a Chardonnay to miss, especially at this price. This 2008 Domaine Andre Bonhommie, Vire Clesse, Vieilles Vignes is a brilliant wine with a nose of white flowers, brioche, wet stones and apples come before a rich palate of pear, lemon and golden fig with hints of hazelnuts, kiwi and chalky minerals. A touch of matchstick and toasty oak plays a very subtle role, almost missable in fact behind the beautifully textured fruit and mineral essences, plus the citrus fresh acidity that still holds things together in a tightly knit way, but still allows good length and richness to show through. It doesn’t get much better than this, find it and drink over the next 2-3 years, imported by Charles Neal.
($26 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2011 Cecilia, Ansonica, Elba DOC, Tuscan Island White, Italy.
This beautiful and super rare wine comes from the tiny Tuscan Island of Elba, famous for being the place of Napoleon’s exile. Ansonica is the local name for the Insolia grape, a varietal found on Sicily mostly and it makes for an exotic and flavorful wine. The Cecilia Ansonica is perfumed with tropical flowers, saline and mineral spices with hints of honeysuckle and guava before a palate of peach, apricot and tangy lemon/lime with a clear mineral streak and flowing crisp finish of pear and nectarine. Elba is a small Island and the vineyards are rugged and sparse, but these whites are in high demand and we don’t find many in the US, so it was thrilling to sample such a wine and fine example, they are pure passion in a glass.
($26 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
N.V. Barone Pizzini, Pievalta “Perlugo” Extra Brut VSQ, Sparkling, Castelli di Jesi (Verdicchio) Le Marche, Italy.
This sparkler is utterly spellbinding and rivals any top Champagne, I can not begin to tell you how good this fine bubbly really is! I had never had sparkling Verdicchio before, and wow, this is fantastic with wonderful depth, richness, life and complexities on offer, and I can tell you I’ll be drinking as much of this as I can get. Barone Pizzini has a main property in the “Champagne” region of Italy Franciacorta, but it is this amazing Le Marche estate and it’s Extra Brut Sparkling Verdicchio that has blown my mind. The Perlugo is made from biodynamic vineyards at the Pievalta estate, in heart of the Castelli di Jesi zone and is handcrafted to perfection. The chalky soils and small yields adds to the dramatic intensity and vibrancy in this elegant bubbly, and Verdicchio comes to life loaded with nutty aromas, citrus, green apples and mineral tones all of which plays well in a fine sparkling wine where these along with pretty yeast, brioche and fig notes come in too, making for a glorious wine. This has to be one of the best kept secrets of the sparkling wine world!
($35 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2009 Az. Ag. Grillo, Schioppetino, Friuli, Italy.
This grape, Schiopettino, dates back to 1282 at least in Northeast Italy and was nearly extinct until recent years when heritage vines made a comeback in the region, it is known as “Gunshot” or little crack in Italian. I had not tried this variety before and found it charming and spicy with dark color and sexy aromatics making it all that much more appealing. The 2009 Grillo, Schiopettino starts with a violet perfume and red pepper before a lively and firm palate of plum, cherry and dried currants again with a cayenne spice and chalky mineral streak. Tannins are solid, but refined while a nice touch of acidity keeps these fresh and vibrant making for a real food friendly wine that has nice balance of fruit, spice and structure. This rare red is not going to be an easy find, but in case you happen across it, get a few bottles and enjoy them over the next few years, it is an intriguing wine that is sure to give a lot of pleasure.
($26 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2010 Brewer-Clifton, Chardonnay Sta. Rita Hills.
It really is hard to image a better or more interesting Chardonnay in California than the Brewer-Clifton Santa Rita Hills, without question it offers the best value I’ve seen this year for sure. Steve Clifton and Greg Brewer really lead the way these days, making ever greater wines and refining their styles and taking more control in the vineyards which is making a huge difference. Greg Brewer, has to be considered a Chardonnay master and innovator, especially his dramatic Diatom Chardonnays that see no oak at all, but it is his Brewer-Clifton wines we are talking about here and this lovely Chassagne like Chardonnay that has grabbed my attention. The Chardonnays in the Brewer-Clifton lineup use no new oak and do not see extended lees contact or stirring, but they give plenty of richness and depth showing the true nature of the terrors and a lovely pureness. The 2010 Brewer-Clifton, Chardonnay Sta. Rita Hills is a cuvee of great vineyard sites including the famed Mount Carmel Vineyard, 3-D Vineyard (owned by Brewer-Clifton) and other quality vines, it shows pretty white flowers, lemon and white peaches along with apple and pear fruit at the core with a touch of pineapple and a nice mineral laced core. The subtle oak smoke and vanilla add to the mix, but the wine feels clean and vivid with a Premier Cru Burgundy energy and elegance. Lingering lemon, fig and melon notes highlight the vibrant nature of the wine and it is hard not begging for more.
($30 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2005 Au Bon Climat, Pinot Noir “Nielson Vineyard-Santa Barbara Historic Vineyards Collection” Santa Maria Valley.
This newly released vintage gem from the Godfather of Santa Barbara Pinot Noir, Jim Clendenen is a stylish and aged wine that is at it’s best right now with mature flavors and beautiful texture. The famed winemaker, the Mind Behind, of Au Bon Climat is releasing a handful of Pinot Noirs from old vine sites he is calling “Santa Barbara Historic Vineyards Collection” and I was lucky enough to sample a few, with this wonderful Nielson Vineyard wine coming out on top. I must say, I wasn’t much of a fan of this vineyard in the past, but now with some age lots of elegant flavors have emerged and I marveled at the beauty and grace of this Pinot Noir. The 2005 Au Bon Climat, Pinot Noir “Nielson Vineyard-Santa Barbara Historic Vineyards Collection” Santa Maria Valley starts with strawberry jam, black tea spices, mineral essences and dried roses before leading to a silky mouth of red currant, cherry and dusty plum fruit while sweet herbs, anise and violets add to the complexities. There are notes of subtle wood, dried apricot and earthy porcini as well and the finish is long and remarkably fruit filled, but I still think you should buy this wine to drink as soon as possible as it is as good as it will get right now and totally enjoyable, a superb effort.
($54 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive