2016 Theopolis Vineyards, Pinot Noir, Santa Lucia Highlands.
A new wine from Theodora Lee and long time Roar winemaker and Santa Lucia Highlands specialist Ed Kurtzman, the 2016 Santa Lucia Highlands Pinot is a small batch wine, only 110 cases from select sites in the Highlands, and it’s a gem of a Pinot Noir with lush and youthful flavors that showcases the vintage perfectly. This ripe unfiltered and unfined Theopolis SLH Pinot is vibrant and vivid hiding it’s 14.6% alcohol and density very well, in fact this pretty wine, fermented in small bins with gentile handling and aged in 40% 1 year old French oak that gives a hint smoky sweetness and 60% in well seasoned neutral barrels, and it drinks beautiful. The sultry and soulful Theopolis Vineyard Pinot shines brightly in the glass with a ruby/claret hue and seductive red fruits, snappy spicy notes, subtle earthy elements and ultra smooth/luxurious textures, starting with raspberry, black cherry, wild strawberry and plum fruits, light floral notes, briar/bramble, loam, baking spices, a touch of mocha and liquid rose petals. There’s a lot to like here and this is a winery to watch, I love their Petite Sirah from Theodora’s own estate vineyard best, but the whole lineup is an outstanding set of wines. This wine should gain mouth feel and silkiness over the next year in bottle, but certainly it will be a Pinot you’ll want to enjoy especially in it’s youth, I like it’s juicy lift and open nature, it will be best between 2018 and 2022 and will be a good food wine, in particular ahi tuna tartare, cajun style blackened salmon and earthy mushroom dishes.
($45 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2016 Agathe Bursin, Riesling “Dirstelberg” Alsace, France.
Brilliantly dry and dusty crisp the pale golden/straw hued 2016 Agathe Bursin Dirstelberg Riesling sings a sirens song with a haunting and alluring beauty with lithe vibrancy, textured mouth feel and mineral charms. I have been trying to get my hands on Bursin’s wines for years, they have been difficult to find in the states, especially in California, I had heard good things and I was not disappointed, a big thank you to Vinopolis Wine Shop in Portland Oregon for having such a good range of her wines, I know I’ll be ordering more, the style is brisk and sharp with loads of inner energy and delicacy of form, but with good dry extract and depth of flavor. Impressively austere in an age of over the top fruitiness, Agathe’s Distelberg is very lifted and tangy fresh with clear and transparent focus and intensity, grown on pink sandstone this Riesling reminds me of trocken (dry) Muller-Catoir (Riesling) from the Pfalz (also on sandstone) over the border in Germany in some ways with it’s chalky/stony elements and it’s lean profile. The nose is still shy at this point with citrus, saline, loam and faint rose water start things here before a light bodied palate of lime, white peach, spring melon, unripe apple, earthy loam and verbena as well as wet rock, briny/salty oyster shell and lemongrass. Picks up a bit of tangerine, tart apricot and spicy chamomile with air, but stays racy with lots of verve from fine acidity that pumps from start to finish in this great value single vineyard wine. Agatha Bursin has been making wine since 2000 and is proving herself to be a huge talent, and is an exciting small producer in the Alsace region, she tends and farms by hand and uses organic methods as well as leaning towards biodynamic treatments in the vines, as far as I can tell she is a traditionally minded winemaker and cares deeply for terroir expression in her lovely wine(s). This 2016 Distelberg Riesling is a soulful and wonderful with food, I really enjoyed it with sushi, but it would great also with oysters, mussels and clams and or cheeses, cured meats or as a aperitif even, drink over the next 3 to 5 years.
($22 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2015 I. Brand & Family Winery, Cabernet Franc, Bates Ranch Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains.
Grown on the dust reds soils of Bates Ranch in the Santa Cruz Mountains Ian Brand’s latest release of Cabernet Franc reveals itself as a sexy California version of this varietal with layers of flavors that are neither Bordeaux or Loire in inner resemblance, but offers a bit of each to the whole in this beautiful wine from one of Monterey’s huge talents. The 2015 I. Brand & Family Winery Cabernet Franc Bates Ranch Vineyard Santa Cruz Mountains starts with a deep garnet/red hue in the glass with a bouquet that shines with crushed violets/lilacs, green peppercorns, incense and earthy/leather notes along with a kiss of sweet/smoky oak before a medium/firm palate of black cherry, plum, red vine picked berries and a touch of crabapple fruit as well as minty herb, faint bell pepper, straw, iron dust/stoniness and anise. Still youthfully sharp and focused with juicy acidity this forceful wine has hidden reserves of depth and power, but unfolds delicately and with almost St.-Emillon charm and grace, it’s sweet ripe natural offset by it’s intensity and ridged tannin that somehow doesn’t over shadow the supple textured mouth feel and poise! Bright and lingering with an alluring sense of being and place this Cab Franc is a perfect bookend for Ian Brand’s more Chinon like Bayly Ranch Paicines, San Benito version of the same grape, it is hard to favor one over the other, though stylistically this one is prettier at this early stage, certainly I would want both around and I myself will get a few of each to see how they age. Brand is something of a vineyard whisperer and pays serious attention to dirt, as in soils, and his understand winemaking allows for terroir to be the driving force behind his wines, I am in awe of his Cabernet Franc(s), his Monte Bello Road Cabernet Sauvignon and his almost sold out old vine Mourvedre. Also, he is making quite a name for himself in the geeky world of Grenache and his latest old vine Besson Vineyard is must for Grenache/Garnacha freaks! With tiny production numbers, well below a hundred cases of each version Ian’s Cab Francs are get now bottings and you’ll need to track them down, now available direct through their Carmel Valley tasting room (831-359-9834) they should prove rewarding to the patient, best from 2018 to 2025, maybe longer, I intend to find out.
($38 Est.) 92+ Points, grapelive
2014 Pandol, Pinot Noir, Sta. Rita Hills.
Wow, this is getting better each time I taste it, Jenny Pandol killed it in 2014 with her fabulous Rita’s Crown (made with clones 777 and 115) Sta. Rita Hills Pinot Noir that has gained so much in the last few months that it is way beyond my own high expectations, it’s sweet and stylish palate has filled out without losing any of it’s fantastic energy and vitality! Only 200 Cases were made of this stunning vintage and at 13.4% this might be the best balanced of her last few vintages, it is singing right now with dusty rose petals, vibrant red fruits and clear mineralite and complex layers, it’s silky texture is heavenly and it’s lifted lively acidity gives a thoughtful peakiness, while remaining satiny smooth. The bright ruby/garnet hue is enticing as are the aromatics of wilted roses, Asian spices and pretty cherry cola that lead you to a full flavored palate of black cherry, plum and wild raspberry fruits along with strawberry liqueur, nutmeg, sweet fig and light toasty oak shadings, as well as a burst of blood orange, earth and tea spices. Lingering blue and red fruits, anise and saline add to the complexity found here, this is gorgeous and amazingly delicate/textured stuff! After almost ten vintages, this talented winemaker looks to be calling it quits to start a new adventure in her life, I wish her well and want her to know she’ll be missed in the wine world, she started by making small lots of Santa Cruz Mountains Pinot, from top sites like the Schultze Family Vineyards (Windy Oaks Estate) and Alfaro Family Vineyards, before moving to Ventura and sourcing from Rita’s Crown, next to Sea Smoke, in the Sta. Rita Hills, as well as doing a Carneros bottling in between. Limited amounts of 2012 Carneros as well as 2013 Sta. Rita Hills are now being re-released too, both very good and drinking well right now. This 2014 is her (Jenny Pandol) ending on a high note, thank you Jenny for such beautiful and soulful wines, I suggest heading to her website at www.pandolwines.com and getting this one before it’s gone, it looks set to be a rewarding wine for years to come, best from 2018 to 2026. (Note: This wine was tasted and reviewed before it’s release here at grapelive.com, and this review 10/23/17 was from two recently sourced bottles, and needed an updated comment, as the wine has got so much better it deserved a new/fresh look)
($45 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2015 Francesco Brigatti, Vespolina “Maria” Colline Novaresi, Northern Piedmonte, Italy.
Vesplina is a rare native grape to the Northern Piedmonte and is usually found in field blends in the Ghemme, Bramaterra and Boca zones of the Colline Novaresi and usually a small part player in reds that feature Nebbiolo and Barbera. Vespolina is like Ruche without the heavenly floral intensity, it makes for an interesting solo grape wine that has a similar feel to Nebbiolo, but lighter and brighter, though in a vintage like 2013 and 2015 it can be a bit more ripe and dense, as this beautiful version by Francesco Brigatti, this is a stylish and natural wine that is absolutely pure and delicious. Grown on sandy soils over clay, Brigatti’s Vespolina shows fine detail and fruity richness, it’s certainly full in flavors without holes anywhere on the medium bodied palate that shows brandied cherries, plum, minty herbs, light stoniness and mineral as well as spicy raspberry, cinnamon stick, basil/anise and finishes crispy/peppery with lingering kirsch and potpourri. Brigatti, is a new star of the Alto Piedmonte (A region that is on fire right now with a stunning array of wines) and his wines, the ones I’ve tasted so far have been brilliant efforts, and this one is a steal, it’s a high quality red that thrills and stays focused and brisk, there’s no wood used at all here, this is as mentioned just a briskly pure Vespolina, stainless tank fermented and aged, 7 months, it picks up terroir/earthy notes with air, but keeps the tangy fruit pumping throughout, best with food and slightly rustic cuisine, drink over the next 2 to 3 years.
($18 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2013 Vincent Girardin, Bourgogne Rouge “Cuvee Saint-Vincent” France.
After creating his own top Burgundy negotiant company from scratch with great parcels and wines throughout the Cote d’Or including many Grand Crus, the Santenay born Vincent Girardin sold his company in 2012 and has gone into semi-retirement, but long time winemaker Eric Germain continues to produce gems for the Maison Vincent Girardin and the company keeps moving forward and remains a top value label for high quality Burgundy in all price ranges. I was a huge fan in the early years and was a happy customer until about the mid 2,000’s, so after a long spell it was nice to taste a new vintage and have it taste so lovely, elegant and fresh in detail. Imported by Vineyard Brands, Vincent Girardin excels in small lot wines, especially Cru white Burgundy, their old vine parcels in Corton and Batard-Montrachet are always stunning, but also their value priced reds are worth searching out, in particular the Cuvee Saint-Vincent Bourgogne Rouge offers a lot of style for the price and this 2013, a so-so vintage, is showing good form and is drinking very well. Light and spiced, the 2013 Vincent Girardin Saint-Vincent is what you think of when you think AC Burgundy, it shines in the glass with a translucent ruby/red hue in the glass and aromas of strawberry, crushed roses and peppery spices entice before a light/medium palate of tangy cherry, plum and briar laced raspberry fruits with subtle herb and mineral notes along with a hint of oak, earth and cranberry. Certainly this won’t thrill in depth or suddenly turn into a Premier or Grand Cru, but it does please and without a doubt it makes for a bargain in Pinot Noir, let alone Burgundy! Delicate and textured, it goes on and lingers on the finish with brightness and class, best slightly chilled and with food, it is not complicated or overly complex, but will be a fine and easy companion for another few years, perfect for newbies to the region and a super party wine.
($24 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2015 Bonny Doon Vineyard “Cunning” Carignane/Mourvedre, California.
Seriously good and old school in style Randall Grahm’s 2015 Cunning is a red wine that that reminds me of Maxime Magnon’s beautiful Corbieres, it’s slightly rustic in a charming way, less fruity than you’d expect from a California wine and with old vine concentration. The Bonny Doon Cunning is a blend of 76% Carignane from dry farmed old vines as thick as trees and 24% Mourvedre from the sandy soils of Contra Costa, it’s a deep red that delivers rich flavors as well as an earthy/spicy complexity that certainly reminds you of the Languedoc meets Bandol. Grahm and team has crafted a beauty here, it starts with a meaty/leathery tone, subtle dark florals and mulberry as well as a snap of briar before leading to a rather full bodied palate of loganberry, plum, baked cherry and blueberry fruits along with basil/anise, incense/dried flowers, provencal herbs and porcini. Very subtle wood/cedar and a touch of tannin grip add to the old world elements found in this sun kissed wine that has plenty of ripe inner sweet fruit to impress, for the price this wine really performs and competes well versus other top Carignane based California bottlings like Pax, Skylark, The Princess & the Peasant and Broc Cellars, all which take this grape to the next level. Bonny Doon is on fire right now, you really need to check out the latest releases, a recent visit to their tasting room in Davenport brought many thrilling surprises in Randall’s current lineup, be sure not to miss his Picpoul, Le Cigare Blanc, the X-Block Syrah and the Rioja like blend “A Basque-ette Case” red, a gorgeous Tempranillo, Grenache and Graciano blend, just to name a few of the rarities! The Cunning may end up a one of kind so get some while you can, call the Bonny Doon tasting room to get it, drink it over the next 3 to 5 years.
($26 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2015 Bodega Nanclares y Prieto, Minato da Rana, Tinto Rustico, Ribera Sacra, Spain.
Alberto Nanclares and Silvia Prieto, makers of some of the world’s best Albarino in Rias Baixas also makes some Mencia based wine as well, this wine from the Vino de Meso in the Ribeira Sacra (in Spain’s Galicia provence) near the Sil river and source their fruit from 100 year old vines, farmed all organic by Roberto Regal. The A Rana vineyard sits on the steep slopes of the Minho river, at 600 meters above sea level, on slate, alluvial and granite soils and is more influenced by the Atlantic making for an intriguing cool climate terroir wine, Nanclares and Prieto employ natural winemaking techniques with whole cluster, native ferments and very low sulfur to get a red that has a real sense of place, and the Minato da Rana is a blend of Mencia 60% along with about 30% Garnacha (Tintorera?) and 10% other interplanted local varietals. This old school red field blend is foot stomped in 600L open top cask with a one month cool maceration/fermentation and aged 8 months in French 500L barrels without racking, it’s not filtered and is unfined, making for an earthy and slightly funky (light reduction) red that quickly turns on the charm and after blowing off it reveals beautiful fresh details with similarities to Crozes-Hermitage, Cru Beaujolais and even Cote de Beaune, it’s dark with a pretty purple/ruby hue in the glass and lots of spice, florals and mineral on the nose with black fruit at the core. The high acidity and low natural alcohol (about 12.5%) gives this rare and sexy wine it’s lift and energy, even in a warm vintage like 2015, and the medium bodied Nanclares y Prieto Minato da Rana Tinto Rustico unfolds with ripe layers of wild plum, blackberry, earthy currant and tangy cranberry fruits along with flinty/graphite, minty roasted herbs, crushed violets, primary malo (creamy) mouth feel and lingering tart blood orange and peppery blueberry. With less than 50 cases for the world, you’ll need to get lucky to find this wine, I also had a really tough time to secure a bottle, but as long time fan of this winery it was worth the search and price to get it, just wish I was able to have more, it should get even better after another 2 to 3 years in bottle, but best over the next 5 to 7 years.
($60 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2015 Emmanuel Darnaud, Crozes-Hermitage “Les Trois Chenes” Rhone Red, France.
Made from his oldest plots of organic vines, the Emmanuel Darnaud Crozes-Heritage Les Trois Chenes is a pure and beautiful Syrah with lovely layers and a wonderful mix of dark fruits and earthy elements with a nice background of spices. This wine is an awesome value, grown on alluvial soils and round stones with a vine age between 25 to 60 years it shows great terroir character and markers, the 2015 is ripe and lengthy highlighting the warm vintage. This 100% Syrah shows brilliant details and while it has a slight reduction at first it opens wonderfully to an array of complex flavors, it starts with it’s very dark purple/garnet hue and delicate floral notes with hints of violets and camphor, truffle and leather before filling out on the palate with blackberry, blueberry, damson plum and kirsch/cherry fruits along with black licorice, sticky lavender, peppercorns and dusty porcini. Aged in neutral cask (demi muids) this harmonious 13.5% alcohol wine gathers energy, focus and weight with air in the glass, but stays vibrant and medium bodied with a lithe mouth feel. I am excited to try more of Darnaud’s wines, especially his Saint-Joseph, which I hear is outstanding as well, imported by Casa Bruno in Portland, Oregon Emmanuel Darnaud looks set to be a break through winemaker/producer, another big thank you goes out to Vinopolis Wine Shop, also in Portland, for turning me on to this fine example, it’s hard to imagine a better Northern Rhone Syrah for the price. This is a wine to enjoy in the next 3 to 5 years and a label to follow, this is a quality and impressive effort that deserves your attention, it’s also a Syrah that needs cuisine to perform at it’s best, while still being vibrant, flexible and supple in tannins.
($24 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2014 Ridge Vineyards, Syrah/Grenache/Mataro, Lytton Estate Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County.
From what I understand this is the first time Ridge blended all three of these grapes together, and what a great wine it is, wow, this wonderfully full and expressive Ridge Rhone style red is a stellar Chateauneuf-du-Pape like wine made of 47% Syrah, 27% Grenache & 26% Mataro (Mourvedre) from their Lytton Springs, Lytton estate Vineyard in Dry Creek Valley. This deep and inky purple/garnet red blend that is led by it’s Syrah richness and boysenberry, blackberry, blueberry and cassis/currant fruits as well as opulent/ripe density, light spicy notes, pretty floral tones, faint flinty/stones and mocha/vanilla. While there’s no mistaking this for anything other than Ridge and California, this wine has a depth and grace that is world class that gains with air, there’s pomegranate, sweet leather candied cherry, snappy herbs/anise/lavender and juicy dense plum and lingering length that thrills the palate. At 14.5% alcohol this is a serious wine, big and brawny in form, but smooth, refined tannin and supple in mouth feel without being heavy, it comes across very much in the same mold as famous modern Chateauneufs, especially like Pegau! This is a brilliant and stylish wine that should continue to impresses for years to come, I hope Ridge adds this cute, vintage allowing, to their permanent lineup and not just as a special for their wine club, as this one is, though I believe you can still get it if you ask (beg) at the tasting rooms. 2014 was a terrific year for Ridge, the wines are fantastic, in particular the offerings from their Lytton Springs vines, and people familiar with Ridge Vineyards will see the family character in this wine and the sense of place too, the deepness of fruit and perkiness of natural acidity make these wines really stand out. This is a great wine, drink from 2020 to 2028, it looks to be a rewarding and long aged wine, but one that is hard to resist now, and certainly there’s no penalty in enjoying SGM this now.
($40 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive