2015 Domaine Jean Foillard, Fleurie, Cru Beaujolais, France. Jean Foillard, who took over his father’s domaine in 1980, is one of the legendary Cru Beaujolais producers and best known for his stylish wines from his vineyards that are are planted on the Côte du Py, the famed slope outside the town of Villié-Morgon and the pride of Morgon, but he also has a tiny parcel in Fleurie that makes for maybe his most exotic and perfumed bottling of Gamey Noir. These vines sit on rare pink granite, while his Morgon vines on set on the regions classic granite and schist soils that sit on an alluvial fan at the highest point above the town making for super intensity and vigor as well as imparting great complexity, for which Foillard is famous for, as well as the finessed winemaking that rivals the best of the region. Foillard’s Morgons, as noted by Kermit Lynch, his importer, are deep, structured and evocative, with a (sexy) velvety lushness that makes them irresistible when young despite their aging potential. It is pretty well known now that, Jean raises his wines in older barrels sourced from top estates in Burgundy, one being Domaine de la Romanee-Conti, which a logical decision for someone crafting Gamay in a traditional Burgundian style. Kermit also notes, Foillard was greatly inspired by natural wine guru Jules Chauvet, a traditionalist who defied everything that the more commercial brands were touting in the region and wanted to go back to pre-industrial organic farming and not use chemical additives in the cellar. Jean and three other local vignerons, Marcel Lapierre, Jean-Paul Thévenet, and Guy Breton, soon joined in on the movement, This became the Gang of Four, as Kermit christened them, who called for a return to the old practices of viticulture and vinification, starting with old vines, never using synthetic herbicides or pesticides, harvesting later for ripe density, rigorously sorting to remove all but the healthiest grapes, adding only minimal doses of sulfur dioxide or none at all, and refusing both chaptalization (the addition of sugar in the must) and or filtration, all to promote purity and terroir.
The Foillard Fleurie is made exclusively from a single hectare and sourced from two lieux-dits, Grille-Midi and Champagne (where top Dutraive’s, the king of Fleurie has his best parcels), of organic 45 to 50 years old vines set on the mentioned pink granite and sandstone that give this Cru its unique personality and heightened perfumed character, and this 2015 with its warm vintage fullness is a seductive and hedonistic wine that rivals the famed 2009! Foillard for this wine used native yeasts as per normal and the whole cluster fermentation lasted about 4 weeks before racking to those neutral (used) Burgundy barrels a total of 9 months in oak. Foillard also choses to hold back his Fleurie in the cellar, in bottle for an extra year, so when his Cote du Py, his signature wine comes out the very limited production Fleurie is on the previous vintage, making it always a touch more polished and elegant on release. This 2015 is still remarkably fresh and fruit dominate with a dark grapey essence and purply color in the glass, it is well structured and lively with layers of sweet plum, black cherry, currant and strawberry fruits as well as a hint of savory spice, mineral tones, crushed violets, walnut hard wood and a stemmy/herbal edgy/grip that doesn’t rise to the level of aggressiveness, but adds a contrast to the opulence and succulent mouth feel. Nice underlying acidity also helps cut the impression of weight keeping things wonderfully vivid in this impressive Fleurie, it has at least another decade of almost heroic decadence ahead it it, this is gorgeous stuff for those lucky enough to get their hands on some. Foillard’s 2016 are a touch retrained by comparison, but well crafted, and I am on my seat’s edge waiting for the thrilling and dynamic 2017’s, which will not have the weighty seduction of the 2015’s, though should make up for it in vitality, class and purity. ($54 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2016 Weingut Selbach-Oster, Riesling Kabinett, Zeltinger Schlossberg, Mosel Germany. The 2016 Zeltinger Schlossberg by Johannes Selbach at Selbach Oster starts with mineral intensity and reduction before opening to a delightfully lacy off dry Riesling with orchard fruits and tangy acidity that never lets you forget the slate driven terroir. Johannes Selbach and his wife Barbara, run this famous winery which dates back to the 1660’s with the increasing help of son Sebastian and daughter Hannah, manage their vineyards and cellars along with the added talent of ex-Kartauserhof man Christian Vogt, as a winemaker. Selbach-Oster has continued the use of traditional oak fuder in his cellar, bringing in new large casks every few years. Vinification is carried out in a combination of fuder and stainless steel, in a hands-off manner with no fining, and predominantly with wild yeasts, but are well known for the purity and clean definition in their wines. Based in Zeltingen mostly, Selbach’s holdings include many old vine parcels in some of the Mosel’s most prime vineyards set on almost exclusively blue Devonian slate, as is the case with this Schlossberg cru, one of my all time favorites. Selbach is unafraid of low alcohol and residual sugar and excels in the sweet wines, but their drier offerings should not be overlooked, especially their single parcel wines, though I adore their Spatlese and Auslese too. If you are looking for insane values, Selbach’s Zeltinger Sonnenuhr Riesling Spatlese Feinherb Ur-Alte Reben (Ultra Old Vine) and this Kabinett Zeltinger Schlossberg are do not miss wines.
While 2016 posed a difficulty in vineyards and was making everyone a nervous wreck with an exceptionally weirdly cool summer, fall ended with a really good stretch that saved the vintage from mediocrity in what some German winemaker call a divine miracle, and the wines continue to shine and get better in bottle, like this one. The flinty/sulphur nose blows off quickly in the glass to reveal delicate tropical notes, peach, apricot, tangerine and muskmelon along with a touch of earth, citron/herbs, crystallized ginger, wet shale and tart apple skin. The light frame is countered by the creaminess of the sugar and the vibrancy hides the extract and depth, so there seems to be even more to come in the Schlossberg given a few more years, but it is a easy Riesling to enjoy now. I loved the denser form of the 2015, it was a touch more hedonistic and pushy, but this 2016 is a classic, and I hear that 2017 might be the best ever, if so I am looking forward to that! Be sure to try the Selbach-Oster Schlossberg with your favorite Asian cuisine, it’s magic and shows twenty times better with medium spicy foods and or robust dishes. ($24 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
The Chenin Renaissance by Kerry Winslow, grapelive.com
Chenin Blanc, the famous grape of Vouvray and Montlouis, also known also as Pineau de la Loire among other names, is a white wine grape variety from the Loire Valley of France where it makes some of France’s most sought after wines like those of Domaine Huet, Chidaine, Joly and Guiberteau. Chenin has been in California for a longtime and it was once as popular as Chardonnay if not more so prior to the early 1980s. Recently this grape has made a comeback and is highly regarded by sommeliers and wine geeks with many outstanding examples being made throughout California, below I am highlighting a few that really standout. Its high acidity means it can be used to make everything from sparkling wines to well-balanced dessert wines, although it can produce very bland, neutral wines if the vine’s natural vigor is not controlled. This renewed interest and the rise of Chenin in California looks set to be a thrilling movement, that looks unstoppable as people look to exciting alternative offerings, one just has to look at the success of Albarino and even Gruner Veltliner to see this is not just a passing fade.
Outside the Loire it is found in most of the New World wine regions, in fact During the 1980s, the California wine industry had more acreage of Chenin blanc planted than France, though the numbers of plantings later steadily declined. it is the most widely planted variety in South Africa, where it is also known as Steen and like California, there are some amazing versions too, like those from Sadie Family, Reyneke and Mullineux. For most of its history in the California wine industry, the grape was considered a “workhorse variety” that could be used anonymously in bulk and jug wine blends, but there also was some fantastic versions being produced, anyone who had Daniel Gehrs, Chalone, Casa Nuestra, Durney or Chappellet, just to name a few, can tell you these are and were amazing examples. Chenin’s natural acidity and ability to adapt to wines of varying degrees of sweetness made it an ideal blending partner with Colombard and Chardonnay in mass-produced blends, as well as making interesting dessert versions like those made by Sterling Vineyards during the 1970s.
Chenin grows from the Baja to Mendocino to great effect with serious plantings in Santa Barbara County, the west side of Paso Robles, Monterey County, the Sierra Foothills, Lodi, Clarksberg, Sonoma, Napa Valley and the mentioned Mendocino County, and there are a number of vineyards that date back to the middle of the last century.
The newer generation of Chenin champions in California include some exciting new producers as well as some old hands, including talents like Ted Lemon of Littorai, Pax Mahle, Chris Brockway of Broc Cellars, Justin Willett of Lieu-Dit, Andrew Jones of Field Recordings, Combe by Raj Parr and Stolpman Vineyards, Tegan Passalacqua of Sandlands, Russell Joyce of Joyce Wine Company, Jaimee Motley as well as the classics still made by Nuestra, Chalone and Chappellet. It is a great time to re-discover Chenin Blanc in California as it re-emerges from obscurity to center stage, here are three wines to look for that are either out now or will be very soon, these are small producers that focus on handcrafted wines and have put a lot of effort into making these beauties to highlight the grape’s best qualities and terroir. Chenin’s rebirth in California is rewarding to watch in real time, especially with these wines.
2016 Pax, Chenin Blanc, Buddha’s Dharma Vineyard, Mendocino County. Chenin Blanc has made a remarkable come back in California in recent years, it was arguably the best white wine in California back in the 70s, 80’s and into the early 90s, but had fallen into obscurity until these times with people like Ted Lemon of Littorai, Andrew Jones of Field Recordings, Justin Willett of Lieu-Dit, Raj Parr of Combe, Jaimee Motley, Tegan Passalacqua of Sandlands, Royce Joyce of Joyce Vineyards and Pax Mahle, who has made this new one under his Pax label, but has been doing awhile under his old Wind Gap label. Those old school wines, like Daniel Gehrs, Durney, Chalone, Chappellet and Casa Nuestra (still making it) from old vines were unique wines, so I’m glad this grape has made its rennesaince in California, This Pax 2015 Buddha’s Dharma Chenin shows exceptional and crystalline flavors and has a crisp and tangy dry palate with classic varietal presence in the glass. Pax crafted this bone dry wine with native yeasts, whole cluster pressing, he fermented his Buddha;s Dharma in a combination of stainless steel, concrete plus used barrel and raised it all well seasoned neutral french oak casks for 10 months, finishing up at 12.9% natural alcohol, which shows it this wine’s cool refreshing presence in the glass.
Planted in 1944 just north of the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, this old vine vineyard is one of the gems of Mendocino, it’s dry farmed without chemicals, to organic principles at the base of Enlightenment Mountain. The Chenin is grown on gravelly volcanic soils, and Pax says he is absolutely amazed at the concentration and intensity of fruit from these vines. The 2016 Pax Chenin is flinty and smells like liquid rock, almost Riesling like in intensity, and is wonderfully brisk in detail with lifted citrus at its core, but as the wine opens you realize just how much more is there, it reveals white peach, white flowers, lemon/lime and golden fig notes. I can imagine this amazing Chenin aging close to two decades gaining in complexity with every year, those that like the classic Saumur or Savennières, think Joly or Domaine aux Moines! This wine is more mineral driven than fruit driven with a steely core that again is more similar to a dry Riesling or Chablis, though again with air it fills out on the palate and adds spicy elements, wet stone and light herb notes, and food really makes everything come alive even further, especially creamy cheeses and or even oysters. Lingering with delicate floral tones and a hint of paraffin/wax this is a lovely crisp white wine. ($26 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2018 Russell Joyce Small Lot Collection, Old Vine Chenin Blanc, Carmel Valley, California. The new edition of Small Lot Collection by Russell Joyce, of Joyce Vineyards, is an amazing old vine Chenin coming from the Massa Estate, formerly the Durney Estate Vineyard in Carmel Valley and it’s a great example of vintage and terroir, it is a unique and powerful expression of this Loire white grape. The 2018’s intensity, vibrancy and density is on full display, showing beautiful definition and sharp detailing, but with an expansion on the palate that is utterly compelling and impressive, it is a wonderful wine of purity and class. The 2018 is rich and mouth filling without being ponderous or heavy, in fact has almost the driving force of a red wine in character such is the impression it makes, even for such a young wine it gives a spellbinding performance, especially when it gets air and paired with food. Russell, who killed it with his Gamey Noir bottling under his personal label, has crafted another thrilling wine, using native yeasts, whole cluster pressed juice with about 8 hours of skin contact and barrel fermenting for his Chenin Blanc along with employing well seasoned French oak for the six months of lees aging, making for a wine of substance and textural charm. Chenin has a long and cherished history, locally as well as all California where it was one of the greatest white grapes before Chardonnay eventually took over, and while seemingly an obscure Loire varietal, it’s re-emergence is looking like one of the most successful comebacks of all time, especially in Sommelier and wine geek circles, and this Joyce Small Lot version is without question a real Geek Star wine!
Getting an extended pre-release preview and drinking it over several days really proved the quality on display here, even after four full days this wine shined with crystalline mineralilty and grace, it never for a minute dropped off and delivered on its promise with each and every sip, impressive for a wine recently bottled and I can’t wait to see this in a year or more, I expect it will be much better, which means it will be astonishingly good. The 2018 has layers of white peach, pear and lemon fruits along with a seductive aromatic profile that hints of orange blossom and honeysuckle, which is offset by leesy notes and a stony personality adding a phenolic element, unsweetened honeycomb/wax and wild fennel. Time and air reveals more width and dimension allowing this Chenin to fill out in the mouth without losing its steely charm or focus with the fresh acidity holding everything here in check, though you can tell it will get more brioche and butter cream with bit of age, but not anytime soon. This is exceptional Chenin, it will be very limited on release, so you’ll want to be sure to let Joyce know you are interested, it joins an elite group of producers that are leading a California renaissance of this grape, like Raj Parr, Pax, Littorai, Lieu-Dit snd Jaimee Motley to name a few that are bringing Chenin back to the top of the states white wines, don’t miss it. ($35 Est.) 93+ Points, grapelive
2017 Sandlands, Chenin Blanc, California. Tegan Passalacqua’s inter-regional Chenin, under his Sandlands label is a beauty with fresh detail and lively fruit with pure peachy charms and delicate mineral focus. This wine is 58% Chenin of Passalacqua’s own Kirschenmann Vineyard, in the Mokelumne River AVA of Lodi, and 42% Chenin from the Buhdda Vineyard located on the Talmage bench in Mendocino County. Wonderfully balanced and rich in texture this graceful white is only 12.4% natural alcohol, making it feel easy to quaff, though it comes through as a complex and serious wine. The Sandlands label is the personal project of Tegan and Olivia Passalacqua, a small winery that does a line-up that encompasses some the forgotten classic California varieties, like this Chenin Blanc as well as Mataro (Mourvedre) primarily grown on decomposed granite/sand. Tegan gets his grapes from regions and vineyards that have been farmed for many generations, but maybe have remained the outliers of California viticulture, featuring mostly head-trained, dry-farmed and own rooted vines, with vineyard sites that, as he puts it, harken back to California’s roots of exploration, wonder, and hard work.
Tegan, a Napa Valley native, got his start in the wine industry working in winery labs in Napa, but quickly established himself as a talent. For the past eleven years, he has worked for Turley Wine Cellars, working his way up from harvest intern to Winemaker/Vineyard Manager, where his has crafted some of America’s best wines, especially his old vine Zinfandels. Additionally, he has worked in the cellars of Craggy Range in New Zealand with Doug Wisor, with Eben Sadie in the Swartland of South Africa, and with Alain and Maxime Graillot in the Northern Rhone Valley of France, all of which are legends in the wine world. Getting back to this brilliant 2017 Chenin, it’s hard to resist with layers of the mentioned peach, honeyed pear and vivid citrus on the medium bodied palate and the aromatics are exceptional with wet stones, white flowers, clove and apple butter that fold into the background flavors very nicely. The wine opens and expands with air, but still keeping its fresh and crisply dry nature all the way. it is a well judge effort that will drink well for quite awhile, be sure to look for this very reasonably priced white. ($22 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2009 Cobb Wines, Pinot Noir, Coastlands Vineyard, Sonoma Coast. Cobb Wines, founded in 2001, by winemaker Ross Cobb, is one of the state’s most respected Pinot Noir specialists, focuses on cool climate vineyard sites and traditional Burgundian practices in the cellar. Ross Cobb’s signature wine from his family’s Coastlands Vineyard which his dad David Cobb planted in the western Sonoma Coast back n 1989, and contains some of the oldest Pinot Noir vines on the Sonoma Coast. Coastlands, which is regarded as a top Cru in this region along with the likes of Hirsch and a few others, became famous for supplying grapes to the legendary Williams Selyem, who made many vintages of single vineyard wine from here. One of the coldest Pinot Noir vineyards in California, and as the winery notes, one of the last to ripen each season, this wind-swept 14.5-acre vineyard is located at an elevation of 900 to 1,200 feet, and sits on a ridge that overlooks the Pacific Ocean only about four miles to the west. The southwest-facing vines are set on sandy loamy soils (Yorkville and Kneeland types), and feature several different varieties of Pinot Noir including Pommard, Martini, Wadenswil, and Mt. Eden heritage clones. Ross Cobb, who holds a degree in biology from the University of California, Santa Cruz, has worked harvests in Burgundy and been the lap manager as well as an enologist for Randall Grahm at Bonny Doon Vineyard, before more serious winemaker gigs at Flowers and Hirsch, as well as having worked with Bert Williams and Bob Cabral at Williams Selyem and Ferrari-Carano Vineyards, as well as most recently crafting some thrilling wines at Reeve.
At ten years old, the Cobb Coastlands Pinot is proving to be a Grand Cru class wine with an amazing concentration of fruit, complexity/depth of flavors and textural pleasure, it was a thrill to re-visit this wine recently as I had had it only once upon release and tasted blind I thought it was a Calera Jensen, which is high praise as it is or has been one of the greatest Pinots in California, which this one easily matched up to. The 2009 vintage for Cobb was certainly more opulent in style than most years with an extra degree or so of warm and ripe fruit, while still allowing for his style to shine through with partial whole cluster and refined low alcohol, with the 2009 finishing at 13%, he also prefers longer elevage, with this one getting a full 20 months in 35% new French oak. Ross notes, while 2009 was a heart breaker in terms of crop size (less than 1 ton per acre at Coastlands), the fruit was spectacular, and I agree, even more now with age as this wine has found a near perfect place and drinking outrageously good. The nose is very seductive with potpourri, spice and a delicate earthy red fruit profile before a silky palate of black cherry, brambleberry, racy plum and strawberry fruits along with a hint of forest floor, minty herb, rose hip tea, a hint of smoke sweet toastiness with a touch of mineral. The flavors flow seamlessly in the mouth and everything is on point, this is a stellar effort that is still vibrant and with vivid detailing, making it a wine to search the secondary market for with excited vigor. There is so much to enjoy here, and it still has miles to go yet, even as a long time fan of Cobb, this one blew me away! ($70 Est.) 96 Points, grapelive
*In 2013 I reviewed Cobb’s special 2009 Diane Cobb: Coastlands Vineyard bottling, see that review by Clicking Here
2016 Chateau Massiac, Minervois Rouge, Languedoc, France. Here is an absolute stunner that has to be one of the great values of the vintage, proving again the Languedoc is a go to spot for awesome bargains, this savvy black fruited and spicy blend, heavily influence by the Mediterranean climate, made by Bernard Boudouresques of Chateau Massiac, in the Minerois region, is all organic hillside grown blend of about 75% Syrah and 25% Carignan, though they do have small amounts of Grenache and Mourvèdre as well. The Chateau Massiac, founded back in 1667, has a long history that dates back to the Roman Empire when this area was colonized by the Romans using the nearby Mediterranean port (30 kilometers) of Narbonne as an access point. In the 17th Century, two brothers from Massiac in the Auvergne region traversed the area in service to the King of Spain and eventually settled at this spot situated almost precisely halfway between the clock towers of the villages of Azille and Rieux Minervois.
Sadly during the French Revolution, the original “chateau” was burned to the ground in a statement against the disparity of wealth in France at the time. The certified organic domaine lies at the extreme south of the Massif Centrale, effectively in the gently sloping foothills that lead to the Mediterranean coast which is not terribly distant. The terroir is unique here with mainly clay, silt and sand with subsoils that are essentially limestone/silex and marble infusions, all of which was formed during the ancient Lutecian geologic era. The soils have particularly good drainage which accounts for the sexy concentration that Massiac delivers in its wines, especial their classic Massiac Minervois Rouge. As well, as importer Rosenthal notes, the site is exposed to both the winds that sweep north from the Mediterranean and the cooling northwest breezes coming from the mountains known as Le Cers which consistently dries the vineyard and makes it less vulnerable to the maladies of the vine, with this constant air flow aiding the health of grapes.
The 2016 Minervois was made with selected yeasts and fermentation and aging occurs in concrete tanks with about a month of maceration and primary, then the wine is racked back into concrete for aging that is almost 18 months, which gives these wines their sense of power, extraction and purity of form. This vintage, from all de-stemmed grapes, one of the best I’ve tasted from this domaine, shows blackberry, boysenberry, blueberry, plum and kirsch fruits along with dried lavender, anise, earthy loam, crushed chalk rock and lingering floral notes, light herbal elements, cassis and game. There is a presence in the glass with its inviting opaque purple/garnet hue and seductive medium/full boding palate and serious impact, something you usually don’t find in such a normally rustic country wine, this Chateau Massiac is a complex and opulent Rhone like wine that compares well with much more pricy wines, like those from Gigondas and Vacqueyras! ($18 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2016 Cave Yves Cuilleron, Saint-Joseph Rouge “Cavanos” Vieilles Vignes, Northern Rhone, France. The last three vintages for Yves Cuilleron have been exceptional and this old vine 2016 Saint-Joseph Rouge “Cavanos” is outstanding again with wonderful life and layered fruit with classic character and terroir personality. Yves, who is the third generation, belatedly took over the family domaine in 1987, has since made a huge name for himself and brought significant fame to the estate and cellar, he has also built an entirely new facility within the family’s historic hometown of Chavanay in which to produce his wines, while at the same time has acquired additional key plots of vines. The domaine is now about 52 hectares of top vineyards in multiple Northern Rhone appellations, including thrilling old vine sites in Condrieu, Saint-Joseph, Cote Rotie, Saint Péray, Crozes-Hermitage as well as Cornas and a series of Vin de Pays from the Collines Rhodaniennes, reviving areas that were once where the Romans had vines in ancient times.
Cuilleron’s whites are secretly some of my favorites of the Northern Rhone region, they are way underrated and truly magnificent wines, especially his stunning 100% Viognier Condrieu(s) as well as his powerful Roussanne and Marsanne blends, and in particular his all Roussanne Saint-Joseph Blanc “Digue”, but I also love the reds too, as Yves has a deft touch with Syrah. The 2016 Saint-Joseph Rouge “Cavanos” Vieilles Vignes is a standout, certainly for the price with a gorgeous core of boysenberry, damson plum, black currant, mission fig and kirsch along with a hint of graphite/charcoal and a lovely violet floral perfume as well as a touch of earth, pepper and anise. While quite dense in the mouth there is plenty of energy and sharp detailing keeping it fresh and vibrant, it is a vintage that should go many years if not decades. Cuilleron de-stemmed on the Cavanos, which allows for the luxurious purity of form here and it saw a three week cuvaison in open top vats, before the wine was racked into smaller barrels for the malolactic fermentation and aged for 18 months before bottling. This is very polished and opulent Syrah, much in the same style as all of Cuilleron’s wines, but with the added dimension of this superb vintage, it is young wine that drinks well now and will age for 10 to 15 years, I hope to drink a few myself! ($38 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2015 Pithon-Paillé, Anjou Rouge “Mozaik” Cabernet Franc, Loire Valley, France. This wonderfully priced 100% pure Cabernet Franc, with a faint whiff of brett (Brettanomyces), red berries and dark flowers, comes from the deep cellars cut from limestone of Pithon-Paillé, in the Anjou zone of the Loire and is made from all organic grapes from two distinct sites with one on schist and the other on classic limestone soils. The combinational the of these plots add to the complexity of this pretty wine, the ripe flavors and violet floral notes are expressed from that limestone in a warm vintage, while the schist gives a driving mineral soul and fresh intensity along with the Cabernet Franc’s natural earth and pyrazine notes. Pithon-Paillé is avery natural producer with ultra low sulfur and grow their grapes organic, which means, as they note, that they farm without the use of any synthetic chemicals—no synthetic fertilizers, herbicides, fungicides or pesticides, as well as using only natural composts, infusions and remedies are used to treat the vines, in fact it is closer to biodynamic in practice with the lunar calendar playing a key role in the vineyards and in the cellar.
With the Cuvee Mozaik, Pithon-Paillé is looking to create a wine of pleasure and vitality and especially in a vintage like 2015, things played out to almost perfection, making for a lovely Cabernet Franc with a dense and dark fruit core, but one that is lively and elegant. The vines average almost 30 years on this wine and the Mozaik saw all native yeast fermentation with an almost three week maceration before finishing primary in stainless tanks, then the wine goes to neutral oak for malos and it ages a year in cask. Instead of fining or filtration Pithon-Paillé then rests the finished wine for an extra 6 months in tank, with everything done to preserve the essence of the vintage and the terroir. Medium bodied and only 12% natural alcohol, the Pithon-Paillé Mozaik Anjou Rouge shows layers of mulberry, briar laced raspberry, cherry, and earthy/savory dried herbs, flowers, tobacco, anise, crushed rock/loam and lingering tart currant with just a hint of green pepper, leather and cedar. This is pretty serious stuff for the price and it should age a good long time, it’s a favorite of mine most years, especially this vintage, enjoy. ($26 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2016 Big Basin Vineyards, Pinot Noir, Lester Family Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains. Bradley Brown’s whole cluster, thrilling no holds barred, Lester Family Vineyard Pinot is a wine that is just coming into it’s own with an amazing array of flavors, it’s got an edgy (stems) nature and a complex palate of fruit and savory elements that hits all the right notes. The Lester Vineyard, in the Corralitos foothills, very close to the Alfaro Family Vineyards, of the southwestern tip of the Santa Cruz Mountains and just a few miles from the deep waters and abundant fog of Monterey Bay is set on soils that are sandy loam over sedimentary base rock, it’s a site perfect for exciting Pinot. Local vine guru, Prudy Foxx, who looks after many of the finest vineyard plots in the region was original planter of the Lester Family Vineyard and one of area’s best viticulture consultants making this a great spot to get grapes, and Big Basin does so with awesome effect, especially with this gorgeous 2016 vintage. Made most from heritage clone (Mount Eden) and a touch of 667 the 13.3% natural alcohol 2016 Lester was made using native yeasts and got a long cold soak with hand only punch downs using 100% whole cluster and full stem inclusion, all done in what Brown calls an old world or traditional style, and it saw just about 25% new wood in which it was raised for 18 months.
Big Basin, known mostly for their signature estate grown Rattlesnake Rock Alban Clone Syrah and other Rhone style offerings, should not get overlooked for their Chardonnay and Pinots, in particular the Coastview, Alfaro and this Lester version, these are glorious wines that are impressive in every way. This beautiful ruby red 2016 Lester, which takes its time to open up is loaded with energy, sharp detail and has gripping personality with layers of black cherry, plum, pomegranate and racy strawberry fruits with briar spiciness, a slightly herbal element and heady rose petal perfume starts the grand performance adding a hint of mint tea, smoke, cinnamon and a soft kiss of the French oak as well as having a nice burst of acidity and a subtle mineral charm, all of which makes this a very special Pinot. The mouth feel is still a bit rustic and there is an earthy quality in the background, which I am seduced by, but it should also gain in texture and smooth out further over the coming 2 or 3 years and drink well for the next decade. ($55 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive
2018 Morgan Winery, Riesling, Double L Vineyard Estate, Santa Lucia Highlands. The 2018 vintage is shaping up to be one of the greatest on the Central Coast in living memory and there have been some exceptional wines released already, and one of the most unexpected of these is Morgan’s highly impressive Double L Riesling, which to fair has always been a nice example, but this new one is just absolutely fantastic! The wine’s slightly off-dry style and brisk acidity keep it balanced and fresh, and as the winery puts it, it is very much like a traditional German “Kabinett” or Feinherb in the glass and it shows amazing purity, one of the best west coast Rieslings I’ve tried so far. With it’s noticeable residual sugar, it is slightly sweet on the palate, but less so than many Chardonnays if you are honest and the sugar, as in Germany is not at cloying, it really allows the acidity to refreshing instead of blisteringly hard and gives sense of texture without being weighty, this stuff is finely balanced and makes the wine wonderfully quaffable, it is a stunner that will go with lots of food choices. Also, it feels low in alcohol and has a crystalline form with crisp detailing, winemaker Sam Smith, who has significantly raised the game here at one of Monterey’s top estates, adds that the Riesling grapes were foot stomped and left on the skins for 18 hours, then whole-cluster pressed. Then he used 100% stainless fermentation, which was then as he notes, arrested by quickly chilling down the tanks to achieve an off-dry style and the low alcohol, all done to preserve the fresh intensity of Morgan’s Riesling, while still achieving a serious wine with plenty of extract.
The Double L Vineyard, set on the Highlands bench with sandy loam, is at the northern end of the Santa Lucia Highlands where the ultra-cool marine influenced climate and porous, mountainside soils provide ideal conditions for growing world-class Pinot Noir and Chardonnay, which Morgan makes, plus this Riesling. The 2018 touts some traditional Riesling flavors of key lime and lemon verbena along with a touch of apricot, green apple and some heightened aromatics with jasmine, clove, orange blossom and hint of honey as well as some contrasting savory and saline elements, wet rock, wild mint and camomile on the light to medium bodied palate. Enjoy this as a porch pounder, a summer sipper and or with a beach picnic, but for even more interesting results this new Double L Riesling should be matched up with some spicy cuisine, like Vietnamese or Thai as well as seafood dishes that have some heat to them. I’d even suggest trying this beautiful fruit driven Riesling with chili shrimp dishes and or street food, especially tacos and hot sauce laced items as it adds a cool comfort. Morgan’s 2018’s have started off with a bang with their Rosé of Grenache, Albarino and this Riesling all being classy and exciting efforts, and be sure also to check out their 2017 Double L Chardonnay and 2017 G17 Syrah, they are fabulous too, keep an eye out for them. ($24 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2018 Martha Stoumen Wines & Las Jaras “Bam Bam” Sparkling Valdiguie, Pétillant-Naturel, Mendocino County. The ultra fun and cool red sparkler from Martha Stoumen, in collaboration with Las Jaras is a 100% Valdiguie Pet-Nat from the same vineyard in Mendocino that she gets her Carignan. This old vine site was just screaming to be expressed in a totally new way and Las Jaras and Martha Stoumen Wines hatched up a plan to make a unique California carbonic, petillant (sparkling) red wine, and the results have proven that they were not crazy, in fact this juicy/savory bubbly is about as fun as it gets without getting thrown in jail! The racy red sparkler Bam Bam by Stoumen is a continuation of her style and personality with a natural character showing tart cherries, black raspberry, wild plum and a red peachy note along with zesty spice, herb and earthy elements as well as a bright mineral and acid streak in a lightly fizzy medium bodied Pet-Nat. Not as heavy as Aussie sparkling Shiraz, but with that same kind of thrill and presence in the glass with the soft mouse adding to the enjoyment, this is a refreshing and low alcohol wine that goes great with food. Not much of this stuff was made, so while not cheap, it should sell out fast and is very cool, I went through the bottle insanely quickly, its quaffable charm is irresistible, I’m glad I had bottle of Stoumen’s signature Nero d’Avola to follow it up!
There is a lot to love with Stoumen’s latest set of wines, and a wide variety of things to try from delicate whites to rustic reds and of course this sparkler, I love the mentioned Nero d’Avola, but also be sure to check out her Carignan and the Varietal Incorrect Zinfandel. Stoumen joins an amazing list of young women winemakers that are doing exciting things here in California, like Samantha Sheehan of Poe Wines, Jaimee Motley, Nicole Walsh of Ser Wines (who also is the winemaker at Bonny Doon), Megan Glaab at Ryme Cellars, Helen Keplinger, Sabrine Rodems (Wrath, Scatch & Kori), Annette Hoff of Cima Collina and Angela Osborne of Tribute to Grace just to name a few of my favorites, though the list is much longer! Stoumen, after winemaking stints in the wilds of the old world in the Languedoc and her time in Sicily, has certainly made a splash here and her talent is our reward with her lovely transparent wines that highlight her philosophy of working primary with organic grapes and sustainable growers to make low sulphur, low alcohol and authentic natural wines. Again you’ll need to act fast to get this food friendly Bam Bam Sparkling Valdiguie, and in case you not into bubbles, you’ll still want to check out Stoumen’s latest releases. ($45 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive