Monthly Archives: February 2019

Grapelive: Wine of the Day February 8, 2019

2017 Samuel Louis Smith, Chardonnay, Spear Vineyard, Sta. Rita Hills. -photo grapelive

2017 Samuel Louis Smith, Chardonnay, Spear Vineyard, Sta. Rita Hills.
Sam Smith’s gorgeous Spear Chardonnay is a revelation in California Chardonnay for this vintage, it rides the line between restraint and opulence to perfection with an exotic nose, smooth layers as well as lifted vibrancy, striking detail and precision.
Smith who is from the Santa Barbara area, and having worked there, knows where great grapes are in the region, and this brilliant wine shows this knowledge in its full scope as well as his judgement and talents in the cellar. He is Morgan Winery’s head winemaker, and in recent vintages raised the game there, making some of the best Pinots and Chards ever made by this famous Monterey label. Sam Smith’s own label, Samuel Louis Smith wines is all about handcrafted quality, all very small batch stuff mostly from single (Cru) sites in the Central Coast, from Santa Barbara County to the Santa Cruz Mountains, focused on Pinot Noir, Syrah and Chardonnay(s) like this one. I’ve been lucky enough to have had a few vintages of Smith’s wines, each one I’ve tried has impressed me with balance, texture and depth, especially his 2017’s, which are some of the most interesting and seductive I’ve tried from this year.

Spear is a vineyard in the northwestern zone of Sea. Rita Hills, it is really an under the radar site that is coming into its own, I have had a few Chardonnays from this north facing (cool climate) hillside and clay soil site in recent years, again all of which, while diverse in styles showed huge potential, including Sam’s here as well as Greg Brewer’s Diatom and the estate wines crafted at Spear. According to Spear, these are amongst the highest elevation plantings in the famed appellation. Peaking at 900’ above sea level, there are currently 34 acres in production representing six different grape varietals on a multitude of diverse clonal, rootstock, orientation, elevation and soil combinations. With the Chardonnay plots being planted to clones: 4, 95, 96, Wente & Mount Eden, all farmed certified organic with, as the grower puts it, viticultural practices obviate the use of inorganic fertilizers, pesticides or herbicides. Spear is owned by Ofer Shepher, who also owns the famous Gnesa Vineyard, and he has truly been inspired by the Santa Rita Hills and is dedicated to growing the best grapes in the region and as he puts it, have wines (made from his grapes) taste like where it came from, and Sam’s Spear certainly does that!

The Samuel Louis Smith 2017 Spear Vineyard Chardonnay is on the level of some of the best in the state, this vintage has the qualities you’d find in wines like Rhys, Ceritas, Arnot-Roberts, Brewer-Clifton, Sandhi and Littorai to name a few, it shows fantastic definition and length, this is great stuff and a superb value, the quality to price ratio is exceptional, it is a wine that reflects the best in California. The Spear Chardonnay, ripe and full on the palate, but with nice acidity, it weaves complexity from start to finish, all the while having the finesse that Burgundy fans would appreciate. Smith, who credits the place for the quality here with soils of both sedimentary clay loam and white beach sand make it a rarity in the appellation, used native yeasts, starting in stainless, but finishing both primary and partial malos (85%) in barrel, 55% second fill Francois Freres barriques with a nine month elevage, finishing with a refreshing 12.5% natural alcohol, then bottled unfined and unfiltered. The result is glorious with bright citrus, honeysuckle and a touch of tropical fruit, with the clay soils allowing an impression of density without being heavy, it shows serious palate impact with classic peach, apple and pear fruit at it’s core and a touch of mineral, smoky/toast, butterscotch and wet stones. Already drinking well, this pale golden wine should age nicely too, though I can hardly imagine a reason to wait, and it should provide lots of joy with sea food and or poultry, in particular fleshy white fish, crab, lobster and shellfish or soft cheeses.
($37 Est.) 94+ Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day February 7, 2019

2017 Bow & Arrow, Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley -photo grapelive

2017 Bow & Arrow, Pinot Noir, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
Crafted from selected vineyard sites, mostly organic or biodynamic the Bow & Arrow Willamette Valley Pinot Noir is always a bright and delicious natural expression with fresh fruit detail and mineral charms. Scott Frank, owner and winemaker at Portland’s Loire Valley inspired Bow & Arrow is making some stylish wines and his 2016 and 2017 offerings are some of his best yet, this is a winery to discover for value and for the authentic character of each wine, especially Frank’s Gamay based wines, but his series of Pinot Noir(s) are not to be overlooked, especially this regional blend that way out performs for the price.

Frank wants to make humble wines and since moving here from New York in 2001, he has explored the Willamette looking for unique vineyards and varietals to make wine from in his place in Portland, with Loire Valley grape varieties like Melon, Chenin Blanc, and Gamay that were planted in the Willamette Valley decades ago, being of special interest to him, along with Pinot Noir, some of which he uses in a signature blend with Gamay called Rhinestones as well as Cabernet Franc, Cabernet Sauvignon that he blends in a small amount into a Franc based wine like they do in Anjou (Air Guitar) plus a Sauvignon Blanc that he does in a Pouilly-Fume style, aged in used French Oak.

Bow & Arrow goes for mostly neutral wood, native ferments and ultra low SO2, all to make as Frank puts it, humble country wines that are easy to drink and easy on the wallet, but these are also serious and can be exceptional. Scott got his winemaking stripes at the legendary Cameron Winery under the guidance of Joh Paul, who helped Frank really get a feel for the region and the underlying soils that make this area so special.

This Willamette Valley 2017 Pinot is super tangy juicy with loads of wild strawberry, cranberry and tart cherry fruits along with brisk orange rind, red apple skin and cinnamon spice, it is vibrant and almost electric on the lighter framed palate, it is very lifted and crunchy adding tea notes, chalk dust and floral tones with air. Best with a slight chill and certainly with food, this 2017 should fill out over time, but will not ever be as ripe and lush as the 2015 and 2016 vintages, though it is much more in line with what Scott is after in this little wine, as he is looking to craft a Glou Glou wine with this bottling. Mission complete with this easy quaffer, as it delivers eye popping energy and zest, very much in the modern natural wine mode, and it’s a fun picnic and or bistro wine that plays easily with Spring and Summer cuisine, fans of light reds with gripping acidity will love this edition, drink over the next 2 to 3 years.
($20 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day February 6, 2019

1983 La Rioja Alta, Rioja Gran Reserva 904, Spanish Red -photo grapelive

1983 La Rioja Alta, Rioja Gran Reserva 904, Haro, Spain.
One of Spain’s most iconic producers, Bodega La Rioja Alta was founded by top growers in the high elevation La Rioja Alta zone back in 1890 to craft high quality red wines for export, as Bordeaux and most of France was trying to recover from the devastating phylloxera plague, and since then has become one of the wine world’s most prolific wine estates. As the winery notes, in 1904, La Rioja Alta absorbed Bodegas Ardanza, and gained access to some of the finest and historic vineyards in the Rioja Alta district, and this luxury 904 bottling commemorates this important milestone, and it’s a wine that can easily be compared to the great wines of the world, especially in great years, such as the one I got to taste recently, these are wines of amazing pedigree, class and longevity, rivaling top Chateaux of the Medoc.

The 904, is usually mainly Tempranillo (90%) from the villages of Briñas, Labastida and Villalba along with some old vine Graciano, the wine is fermented in stainless steel with careful selections and cool temperatures then moved to used American oak barrels for natural malos, which can take almost a hundred days, this elevage is very lengthy and includes racking every six months, lasting around 4 years in cask before the final blend is chosen. They bottle the top cuvees unfitted and without fining, allowing them to sure sublime purity, and this gorgeous 1983 is an excellent example of this! La Rioja Alta coppers their own barrels, tailoring the wood to their needs, much like Gaja, the famous Piedmont Barbaresco producer does. La Rioja Alta is a large winery with some 50,000 barrels in their caves, but the attention to detail and quality of each wine shows their passion and commitment to quality.

Getting to dig into history in the bottle is a wonderful treat, a huge thank to Michelle Ross of Pisoni Vineyards for bringing this bottle to share with us at our tasting group’s blind Spanish red tasting (January 2019) it was a quite a treat and experience, and it must be said this bottle was in near perfect condition, a truly stunning wine. I’m grateful to get to report here on this glorious Rioja, it showed remarkably freshness and detail, still vibrant and full of life with luxurious layers of perfectly mature flavors showing black cherry, mulberry, fig paste, reduced plum and currant jam fruits along with a hint of earthy forest/wild mushrooms, plus floral notes both dried and freshly cut, cedar, vanilla, coconut and a light dusting of spices and herbs adding cured ham, anise and sweet pipe tobacco. The textures are opulent and refined, the mouth feel is exceptional with a medium weight dreamy palate, this 1983 is just rocking right now, though still has structure and could go another for decade maybe, though I think it is in its best form right now, it is absolute brilliant.

While is not easy to find these older wines, the current releases of this 904 are awesome and at around $65 a bottle, they are ridiculously well priced for collectors and those looking for serious cellar options that you can drink even in their youth, also, you should not miss their regular Reservas, in particular look for the Vina Ardanza, it’s an insane value.
($150-200) 96 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day February 5, 2019

2018 Small Lot Collection by Russell Joyce, Gamay Noir, San Benito County, California -Photo grapelive

2018 Small Lot Collection by Russell Joyce, Gamay Noir, San Benito County, California.
Winemaker Russell Joyce of Monterey’s Joyce Wine Company has branched out to explore with an exciting new personal project and label focusing on interesting vineyard, varietal and or unique blends and has bottled his initial debut with a stylish 2018 single vineyard Gamay Noir that will be released early this Spring of 2019 and it’s a killer wine. Inspired by the wines of Lapierre, Foillard, Sunier, Dutraive and others making thrilling Cru Beaujolais Russell has been searching for a few years to find a true Gamay Noir vineyard to source from that offered distinct and classic flavors, and he found it in a small parcel of vines in San Benito County, though he is keeping a secret as to its exact location, with good reason as this might be the best California version I’ve tasted, right up their or better than wines like Pax, Raj Parr, Arnot-Roberts as well as with those great examples by Oregon Gamay heros like Brick House and Bow & Arrow!

Russell went for a natural approach with 100% whole cluster and full on carbonic maceration in a sealed stainless tank with native yeasts before raising in just 4 months in neutral French oak barrels, with only the tiniest of a dose of sulfur, to allow for purity, freshness and transparency. This 2018, which I tried from tank, cask and now bottle (tasted four times) is going to rock those lucky few that get it, as only 200 six pack cases were made of this inaugural vintage. This Gamay shines in the glass with a beautiful ruby/garnet hue and bursts on the palate with varietal force showing sweet plum, juicy red berry and candied cherry/strawberry fruits with just a hint of jolly rancher and cotton candy along with some nervy stemmy/herbs, spice, with air it gains a hint of chalk and mineral without any trace of wood, this is wildly impressive first time effort with this grape in a red wine, though Russell does use some Gamay in his Joyce Rosé and has for a few vintages, and the packaging is gorgeous in a nod to the great wines of Morgon with a simple label and a small bright red wax capsule.

This ultra vivid small lot Gamay will be highly allocated, but if you are interested in getting some, you can beg to be put on the list if you visit the Joyce Vineyards tasting room in Carmel Valley or by emailing Russell at, there is a strict limit of up to 6 bottles for those on their mailing list as supplies or pre-arrivals last. Joyce is riding high right now with a fantastic selection of current releases, especially his 2017 single vineyard Pinot Noirs and his 2017 Tondre Syrah, a dry and lush Chenin Blanc from Massa Estate, the former historic Durney Vineyard in Carmel Valley, along with a set of refined neutral oak aged Chardonnays, with his new Escolle Vineyard, Santa Lucia Highlands version drinking fantastic too. Gamay freaks, like me, are going to want this flamboyantly intriguing, vibrant and clean example, it should be fantastic on release and has all the right stuff and fruit core to age, and it should develop a more savory/earthy character with another few years in bottle if you had the patience to do so, which I doubt as this stuff is so damn good and quaffable even right now.
($38 Est.) 92+ Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day February 4, 2019

2014 J. Bookwalter, Merlot, Book Club Select, Columbia Valley AVA, Washington State -photo grapelive

2014 J. Bookwalter, Merlot, Book Club Select, Columbia Valley AVA, Washington State.
One of Washington State’s top producers, J. Bookwalter is known for their Cabernet Sauvignon, but like Leonetti do a fabulous Merlot, and with its striking deep color and ripe richness, these wines are hard to resist, especially their Wine Club release Book Club Select from the renown Dionysus Vineyard, which is a site of special character, as the winery notes, it has been long chosen for its perfume and refined tannins.

Bookwalter was founded back in 1982 by Jerry Bookwalter, with a long background in agriculture, who had moved to the area, Eastern Washington, back in 1976, and from 1976 through 1982, Jerry helped manage the plantings of three iconic vineyards – Sagemoor, Bacchus and Dionysus, as well as later became vineyard manager of the famed Conner Lee Vineyard which remains the largest source of grapes for J. Bookwalter wines. These vineyards helped put Washington on the map and have been the source of great fruit for many other celebrated wineries.

J. Bookwalter is now run by John Bookwalter, who is the tenth generation to be involved in the family farming business and has taken the Bookwalter label to new heights in recent years, having hired world-renowned consulting winemakers Zelma Long and Claude Gros to raised the quality and the profile of this outstanding label and in he was able to bring on the celebrated Caleb Foster, who is recognized as one of the top winemakers in the United States, who since 2014 has lifted the winery to new heights.

The Dionysus Vineyard is located together on the dramatic banks of the mighty Columbia River on the southwest facing hillsides where ice age floods exposed the various ideal gravel beds, and on this steep gravelly hillside it makes for intense and powerful Merlot, but with Pomerol like finesse even though it is opulent and new world dense. Foster has been making wine in the region since 1992 and has an amazing understanding and touch with the grapes grown here, with this 2014 Merlot being one of his first start to finish wines for Bookwalter, and his talents, clearly showing here, have really paid off for the winery.

This 2014 feels remarkably fresh in the glass and it takes a few minutes to unfold with sweet blackberries leading the way along with espresso bean and bitter coco before opening up on the expansive, but tightly wound palate, giving black cherry, anise, incense, cedary wood notes and lingering creme de cassis. Air time leads to more complexity and roundness adding earthy mulberry and smoke, and even at about 14.8% natural alcohol it somehow stays lively, never getting bogged down or feeling hot, and the tannin structure is more in line with a Cabernet Sauvignon based wine, it’s impressive and needs robust cuisine to compliment its depth and fullness of flavors. I can imagine this wine aging 10 to 15 years easily without losing a thing, though the window is starting now even, but I suggest decanting and or a hearty meal to allow this Merlot to show it’s best.
($45 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the day February 3, 2019

2015 Workman/Ayer, Viognier “Abroachment” Lodi, California -photo grapelive

2015 Workman/Ayer, Viognier “Abroachment” Lodi, California.
The crisp, but ripe 100% Viognier “Abroachment” by Workman/Ayer comes from a really exceptional vineyard site and was crafted using only stainless steel and it was all non malo-lactic allowing for a less thick and sweet version of this aromatic grape. With a little age now, this 112 case production Viognier is showing it’s full potential and is in its prime drinking window with nice maturity showing and a pretty texture. Led by Michel Ayer, who oversees the winemaking, continues to impress with this boutique micro winery, the Workman family, his partners, have a long and broad history in the northern California wine business, while the Ayer family has deep roots in agriculture both in Iowa and in California.

These two families have come together to produce small lots of Rhone inspired wines from some California’s finest vineyards, mostly in the Santa Barbara area, but a few from old vines in Lodi under their Workman/Ayer label. Not a shy wine at all, time has allowed things to evolve nicely allowing loads of honeysuckle and apricot jelly to shine through along with hints of orange, peach and melon fruits as well as fig, clove and dried ginger notes. The 2015 Abroachment is a Viognier that fans of this grape in California will adore with plenty of up front perfume and fruit, it is not going to take you Condrieu, but it’s pretty fun!
($20 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day February 2, 2019

2016 Bodega Lanzaga “LZ” by Telmo Rodriguez, Rioja, Spain -photo grapelive

2016 Bodega Lanzaga (Telmo Rodriguez) “LZ” Rioja DO, Spain.
One of Spain’s best winemakers, Telmo Rodriguez, who In 1998, returned to Rioja, after making wine in the Rhone at Jean-Louis Chave, and Bordeaux, more experienced and loaded with enthusiasm, wanting to explore a new era of Rioja wine. Besides crafting his family’s famous Remelluri estate, he is producing a signature line of wines made in his ancient cellar from purchased grapes within the region, which includes his Bodegas Lanzaga lineup, made from all organic vines. Telmo’s entry level bodegas Lanzaga bottling, which is the unoaked LZ , made as a Joven, is produced with a blend of old vine sites of head-pruned Tempranillo, Garnacha and Graciano in the Alavesa zone, and from the village of Lanciego. It is a star value offering with a Cotes-du-Rhone like feel, and though it’s a pure Rioja, but one with Telmo’s unique personality and charm showing through.

The LZ, according to Telmo, who is very much a student and admirer of the regions history, is a tribute to the village grape growers of the 1920’s, who fashioned fresh wines like this. it’s a wine fermented in small concrete tanks with selected grapes from, as mentioned, local organic vineyards in the village of Lanziego. With LZ, Rodriguez and his team want to keep alive that memory through this wine. The vines for this little red are located at an altitude of 500 to 700 meters, and set on two types of soils, both of continental origin from the tertiary era, with sandstone and marls (limestone/clay) which gives this wine its vitality, Telmo, to express the true terroir here used native yeasts and raised this LZ with just 6-7 months of aging in concrete tanks.

This 2016 is very dark in the glass with black and blue fruit notes and a mix of floral tones, mineral and spice on the nose that leads to a medium full vigorous palate that again reminds of the Rhone, similar to Vacqueyras, gaining pepper and anise with air, as well as layers of kirsch, racy currant and lavender. The texture is stylish, far more becoming than the price would suggest and the length is even more impressive, this is absolutely delicious stuff, both as a bistro sipper and or with rustic cuisine. Telmo is one one of the world’s most iconic winemakers, known for taking his own path, and while he makes some Grand Cru class stuff, you should not mis his basic LZ, it’s a tasty treat and an insane bargain, I can see a few more cases of this in my own future.
($16 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day February 1, 2019

2013 4 Monos, Garnacha “La Danza del Viento” Sierra de Gredos, Spain -photo grapelive

2013 4 Monos Viticultores, Garnacha “La Danza del Viento” Sierra de Gredos, Vinos de Madrid DO, Spain.
Maybe the boldest expression from these guys and girl at 4 Monos, gang of monkeys, Javier Garcia (also the head winemaker at Méntrida icon Bodegas Jiménez-Landi), co-winemaker Laura Robles, wine-lover David Velasco, and vineyard holder David Moreno. One of the most limited wines from 4 Monos is their Danza del Viento Molino Quemado, it iis from a single parcel named “El Canto de las Brujas” a west-facing plot of 75+ year old Garnacha in the village of San Martín de Valdeiglesias that was planted on rocky granitic soils with gneiss and some pink granite similar to Fleurie in Beaujolais.

The 4 Monos employ old school techniques and focus on natural winemaking with very little sulfur and mostly neutral oak casks, they specialize in old-vine Garnacha, with this one being 100% Garnacha. The grapes used for the Danza del Viento-Molino Quemado were 80% whole-cluster with stems and 100% whole berry cold macerated and 100% wild yeast fermented with a long 50 days maceration on the skins, then it was raised in used 300 and 500 liter barrels for 13 months.

The color of Pinot, the La Danza del Viento 2013 with it’s light garnet/ruby hue is tightly wound and takes a bit of time to unfold in the glass with earthy, lightly funky with a touch of VA, notes on the nose giving way to macerated cherry, strawberry and tangy plum on the light, but structured palate, it takes on a elegant delicacy and intrigue that seduces completely, adding a touch of leather, minty herb and dusty tannins, as well as a rich satiny texture, that certainly remind you this is a natural old world wine, but that only add to the whole thrilling experience, this is wildly amusing wine. Dried herbs, chalky stones and sweet flowers come through with extended air in this pretty wine that delivers on its potential and promise.

4 Monos, along with Comando G, Alfredro Maestro and Jimenez-Landi are leading lights in this area above Madrid, helping made lovely Garnacha from the Sierra de Gredos some of the most interesting and sought after wines in Spain, and after a few vintages I highly recommend discovering them. These wines, from Gredos, are revolutionary and have won fans around the world, don’t miss them.
($42 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive