Grapelive: Wine of the Day January 27, 2021

Latest Review

2018 Alfaro Family Vineyards, Pinot Noir, Trout Gulch Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains.
The satiny, beautifully dark ruby hued and opulent 2018 Trout Gulch Pinot Noir is a classically styled version with rich layers of dark fruit, light spices, subtle earth notes and impeccably well judged use of oak, giving this wine its soft and luxurious framing, all of which highlights the quality of the grapes from this vineyard and the precise winemaking by Richard Alfaro at his Alfaro Family Vineyards. These 2018s are incredible for their depth and vibrancy with this Trout Gulch Pinot being a stand out in Alfaro’s lineup with a complex array of flavors and textural pleasure, it delivers in all areas and is an outstanding value in a collection of great values, these are without a doubt some of the best efforts to date from this small family estate winery. This vintage shows a freshness of detail that is very compelling with black cherries, plum, fig and red berry fruits leading the way on the exciting medium to full bodied palate that is lifted by vital natural acidity as well as tea spices, blood orange, a nice floral element, a touch of sweet toasty oak, mineral tones and loam. This wine feels polished and excels with food, especially good with salmon, pork and wild mushroom dishes. Alfaro has really made this vineyard sing since he took over the farming here, with the Chardonnay and the Pinot Noir vines thriving and producing stunning wines, you can see why these grapes are so coveted, with the Chardonnay grapes finding their way into some of the most sought after wines in state, like the fabulous single vineyard bottlings by Arnot-Roberts, Kutch and Ceritas. I’ve been following Richard’s wines since the early to mid 2000s and have been thrilled with the evolution of the style and the maturity of the vines, that these wines their unique personality. With his reputation as a grower now cemented, I still find it amazing that Alfaro’s wine are such bargains, even now this estate remains under the radar with some real gems to discover here, especially his estate Chards, which are some of my all time favorites!

The Alfaro Family Vineyards Trout Gulch Pinot Noir was hand crafted using traditional winemaking methods, seeing a gentle handing of the grapes and a cool temperature maceration and primary fermentation in mostly stainless steel and then aged 10 months in 27% new French oak, in this vintage, with just 275 cases made. The Alfaro estate began back in 1997 when Richard Alfaro, a famous local baker, and his wife Mary Kay bought this property in Corralitos in the southern most zone of the Santa Cruz Mountains and planted their own vineyards. Richard, along with his son Ryan, who has completed internships in New Zealand and most recently with the iconic Adam Tolmach of Ojai Vineyards are focused on mostly estate grown terroir driven Chardonnay and Pinot offerings that they farm to sustainable and mostly organic methods, plus a selection of unique rarities including their awesome estate grown Gruner Veltliner, a new estate 100% Malbec, a Merlot and a peppery cool climate Syrah, as well as a few small lot wines from non estate vines, like their Garys’ Vineyard Pinot, their Rosella’s Vineyard Chardonnay and Pinot and a Bates Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon, to name a few top choices. The Trout Gulch Vineyard, planted back in 1980, is a 16 acre dry-farmed vineyard that is nestled on a coastal hillside and surrounded by redwoods in the Santa Cruz Mountains near Aptos only about four miles from the cold Pacific Ocean. The site, as the winery notes, sits at 750 to 800 feet above sea level and has well-draining sandy loam soils with a touch of clay that adds to the fruit density, while the morning fog and cool air makes for a long growing season and allows for racy acidity. Alfaro has twelve acres at the Trout Gulch Vineyard that is planted to the Robert Young clone of Chardonnay and just four acres planted to Pinot Noir with a heritage set of vines, that has a mix of the Mt. Eden, Pommard and Martini clones. These Monterey Bay influenced Trout Gulch wines are absolutely delicious, in particular this one, which is just one of Alfaro’s latest set of solid new releases, all of which, that I highly recommend. Now that the stay at home order has been lifted I look forward to visiting the Alfaro’s tasting room and picturesque vineyard soon.
($45 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day January 26, 2021

2018 Bucklin, Zinfandel, Bambino Field Blend, Old Hill Ranch, Sonoma Valley.
The Bucklin Bambino is a wonderful Zinfandel based red that way over delivers for the price with this gorgeous 2018 being one of the best versions to date with layers of lively, but deep black fruits on the nicely balanced full bodied palate that leads with classic black raspberry, touches of spice, light floral notes and youthful vigorous energy. This vintage, longer and cooler than most in the Sonoma Valley really made this wine stand out for the excitement and depth of flavors, it is wonderfully layered and softly tannic, making it fabulous with food and easy to love as a young wine, even by itself and or with basque or artisan cheeses. Will Bucklin, owner and winemaker at Bucklin, sells his Old Hill Ranch grapes to some outstanding producers, like Bedrock Wine Co. and others, makes just a limited amount of wines under his own label with his Ancient Field Blend, coming from the historic heritage vines and this Bambino Zinfandel blend, coming from a young parcel, being his main two offerings. Will Bucklin and his wife Lizanne live on, and farm, the Old Hill Ranch, which his family purchased in 1980 and have been wonderful guardians of this special site that is one of California’s most treasured vineyards that was originally planted in 1852 and has arguably the oldest Zinfandel vines in the state if not the world. Located near Glen Ellen, Old Hill Ranch was founded by the name sake William McPherson Hill and who is credited with planting the first non-mission grapes in Sonoma, choosing an eccentric array of European varietals that he inter-planted at his property, these included a section of vines planted in 1856 of a mysterious black grape that was known at the time as “Black St. Peters,” which of course we know now as Zinfandel. This 2018 vintage Bambino Zinfandel, was hand crafted from vines planted between 1998 and 2000, using the same percentages of each varietal as the original Ancient blocks with 75% Zinfandel being used, but it is also co-fermented with some Petite Sirah and Alicante Bouchet as well as, maybe, a few other grapes, which adds to the complexity, as well as giving the wine its deep purple/garnet color.

Will Bucklin, who studied enology at UC Davis, has quietly become an influential winegrower in the Sonoma Valley and has some very worldly experience in his past, making wine around the world and here on the west coast. After his graduation Bucklin traveled to France for an internship at Chateau Lafite Rothschild, then he worked in Australia at Thomas Hardy and Sons, before coming home and taking a position at Navarro winery in the remote Anderson Valley, where he was, as he notes, infected with the Pinot Noir bug. So with Pinot on his mind he packed up and moved up to Oregon to become winemaker for King Estate, where he fine tuned his skills. After which, he was persuaded to take over the family estate, where he manages all aspects of the Ranch’s grape production and in 2000 he started his Bucklin label. Old Hill Ranch has more than 30 different grapes in the old vine section, and Bucklin’s Ancient Field Blend includes them all, with Zinfandel being the main one, but also has Grenache, Alicante Bouschet, Petite Sirah, Grand Noir, Syrah, Carignan, and Mourvedre to name a few, along with some white grapes too. Bucklin interestingly has Cabernet Sauvignon, that parcel, which dates back to 1983, is separate and goes into a very limited solo varietal wine. The Bucklin’s have had some rough times in recent years with both the major fires causing significant damage to the ranch and their home, though most all the old vines, to our great joy and relief have survived, so it is a great time to support this winery as they look to recover and the wines are a rewarding bonus. I love this version of Bambino with its array dark fruits, with, the mentioned brambly black raspberry, as well as plum, currant and kirsch that are accented by hints of wild sage, cinnamon, roasted herbs, cedar and cassis. This vintage is exceptionally pure and there is not a trance of overt oak, it feels well rounded and has a cool toned presence and at 14.2% natural alcohol it doesn’t get heavy or ponderous, while still being impactful, ripe and full of pleasure, these 2018s are really good, in particular I highly recommend this Bambino, its almost guilt free for your wallet, it will drink well for many years too.
($24 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day January 25, 2021

2016 Wilson Foreigner, Valdiguie, Rancho Chimiles, Napa Valley.
Wonderfully easy to quaff, simple in a good way and fun the Wilson Foreigner Rancho Chimiles Valdiguie offers plenty of tangy blueberry and tart cherry fruit, even though this bottle is two vintages behind the current release, it was nicely fresh and showed extremely well, especially with the light meal I enjoyed it with. Valdiguie is a grape that was once mistaken for Gamay here in California and is sometimes still called Napa Gamay, but is not related to that Beaujolais varietal, it originally came from the Southwest of France and is almost totally unknown in France these days.making it now a firmly California grape, somewhat similar to Zinfandel (Tribidrag) and more like Petite Sirah (Durif), both of which had mysterious origins and are now part of the fabric of California wine. I have been a long time fan of this grape, even when I thought it was Gamay and I have really enjoyed its rise over the last decade, in particular the wines made by Rochioli, Broc, Cruse and even J. Lohr, so it was interesting to finally open this bottle from Wilson Foreigner, a small husband and wife micro winery based in Petaluma, in Sonoma County, as I had not tried their wines and this version of Valdiguie. The 2016 vintage has a more true Valdiguie sense about it, less Gamay or carbonic like in style with good ripe flavors, but zesty acidity, savory notes and no bubble gum or cotton candy (overt fruity tooty) elements, in fact it is finely balanced and a touch Italian like in style, think Dolcetto or entry level Chianti with a good play between dark berry fruit and light earthiness. This is not a wine to over think obviously and its light body not too different from Pinot Noir is not going to make it a blockbuster or give a profound experience, but it is rustic charms, delicate florals and weightless mouth feel make it a delightful and playful wine worthy of your attention. This dark garnet wine is nicely rounded with the mentioned blueberry, plum and cherry fruits and accented by a touch of loamy earth, bay leaf, lilac, mineral and peppery spices, it is crisply detailed and supported by a touch tannin and vibrant acidity all pretty much as expected of this grape and its 12.7% alcohol is just about perfect for a wine of this style.

The Wilson Foreigner Valdiguie was, I believe, fermented in concrete, aged in neutral French oak, with the winery noting, that this wine shows the qualities that made this once common and widely planted grape a staple of the Napa Valley decades ago. That was before everyone in the Valley started ripping out the rarity vines and replacing them with the more commercially profitable grapes, mainly Cabernet Sauvignon. Wilson Foreigner is finding their our niche and their goal, as owner as David Wilson and his wife Christine say, is to create unique wines with minimal intervention that truly represent the individual vineyards from which they are sourced. David, who grew up on the family ranch in Rancho Chimiles, near to where these Valdiguie grapes are grown, studied fruit science with an emphasis on wine and viticulture at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo as well as traveling the world to expand his experience in wine and landed in South Africa, where he met Chris Alheit, who is a rising star now in his homeland and where he and his wife Suzaan have their own Alheit Vineyards, which they founded in 2011 and are based in the Western Cape. Now the two couples work together on these Wilson Foreigner wines, as the seasons are different which allows Chris and Suzaan to be consulting winemakers, sort of on the side, while David and Christine do the year round day to day work watching over the wines and checking in on the vines. Wilson Foreigner does three wines, this Rancho Chimiles Valdiguie, plus a Zinfandel from old vines in Contra Costa’s Del Barba Vineyard and a Sierra Foothills Albarino from the Rorick Vineyard and are currently selling the 2018s, which should be even better if you want to explore their wines. The 2016 Valdiguie which saw limited whole cluster, somewhere close to 30%, and native yeast fermentation before seeing a brief period in the well used barrels to promote transparency in the final product and allow the Valdiguie to show its true expression. I’m glad I got a chance to try this one and am excited to try the new releases, on a side note I really enjoyed the Alheit Cartology South African white blend, which I reviewed last year at grapelive.com, that was crafted from 87% Chenin Blanc and 13% Semillon and sourced from old bush vines.
($34 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day January 24, 2021

2018 Domaine Sylvain Pataille, Marsannay, Red Burgundy, France.
The basic home village and maybe signature wine from Sylvain Pataille is his fine Marsannay Rouge which in the 2018 is absolutely lovely delivering ripe Pinot purity and a crisp mineral focus along with beautiful delicate floral tones, a dark ruby color, a silken mouth feel and a purring underlying energy. I have been a fan and reviewed a few of this exceptional producer’s wines over the last few years, I only wish they were more easy to find, as Pataille is insanely popular with Burgundy enthusiasts and with only a small amount available it makes sense they are tough gets, but I cannot recommend more highly this winery and getting a few bottles of Sylvain’s Marsannay, especially this one and or his Clos de Roy. The 2018 Marsannay is outstanding and while not an obviously showy or flashy wine, it is a gorgeous wine that slowly comes into full bloom in the glass, gaining depth with every sip, this vintage allows early drinking pleasure as well as having potential to age another decade and maybe a bit longer, though no one could be that patient surely. The layering in Sylvain Pataille’s Marsannay includes black cherry, dark earthy currant, strawberry and plum fruits as well as touches of rose petals, stony loam, sassafras, cedar and a mix of faint baking spices on its well structured medium bodied palate that oozes confidence and class. Pataille, who is a widely admired consultant and vigneron, hand crafts about a dozen cuvées, including red, white and rosé offerings of Marsannay, with Marsannay, it should be noted being the only appellation in the Côte d’Or allowing an AC Rosé label, plus Pataille also does a distinct Aligoté, a Passetoutgrain, which is a blend of Pinot Noir and Gamay and regional bottlings of Bourgogne Blanc and Rouge, many from old vines and single Lieu Dits that make them more interesting than the label would suggest.

The Domaine Sylvain Pataille, based in Marsannay la Cote was founded in 1999, in the northernmost area of the Cote d’Or and most recent (1987) AOC of the Côte de Nuits, works in a natural way with all organic farming methods, plus he is in transition to all biodynamic certification. The domaine already uses no chemical herbicides, pesticides or fertilizers in vines and in the cellar Sylvain employs only natural yeasts, without any additions or a heavy hand in the process. The primary fermentation is done partially in fiberglass and partially in stainless steel, according to the winey, and it is relatively brief, under two weeks with cool temperatures to heighten aromatics and freshness of flavors. The red wines, like this Marsannay are then gently racked into barrique (small Burgundy medium toast oak barrels) with typically about 30% new and then, as Pataille adds, they are aged for up to two full years in the wood, with the basic Marsannay getting an elevage of about 18 months before bottling. Depending on the year or growing season there might be some whole bunches and a bit of stem inclusion, though mainly all the grapes are de-stemed, with this vintage seeing partial whole-cluster to add complexity to this transparent, vivid and delicious Marsannay Rouge. Pataille is sometimes compared to Philippe Pacalet and other artisan winemaker contemporaries that are part of generation that focuses on holistic winemaking and work in harmony with nature to more clearly show the nuances of each terroir and craft wines that are impeccable in quality, but with a bit more rawness to their efforts, as this wine proves in its performance. I hope to keep up with Sylvain’s wines in the future, and I’m grateful to have picked up a tidy amount of these 2018s, I would also suggest them to any Pinot Noir fans as well as to savvy Burgundy buyers.
($60 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day January 23, 2021

2019 Ryme Cellars, Sangiovese Friulano, Fox Hill Vineyard, Mendocino County.
The unique and lovable Ryme Sangiovese Friulano Rosso is a brilliantly fresh and juicy in a full flavored, but lighter red wine that goes fantastically well with a wide range of foods and can be just quaffed, it drinks so nicely it is hard to not finish the bottle. This wine is a co-fermentation of 85% of the classic Chianti red grape Sangiovese and 15% of Friulano, which is a zesty white grape most commonly found in Northeast Italy where it was once known as Tocai or Tocai Friulano in a nod to the old school Chianti wines that once saw up to 20% of white grapes including Trebbiano and Malvasia that either helped local farmers get rid of all their grapes or added acidity and or sugars to the must. This practice has almost died off these days, but Megan and Ryan Glaab of Ryme, who have made quite a name for themselves by crafting italian themed wines, have brought it back here in California with this this exceptionally delicious version. I love their Vermentino(s), their Fiano and especially their absolutely awesome Aglianico bottlings, that are true to their old world cousins and add so much to the California Italian varietal wine scene, these wines elevate Cal Itals to new heights, with this one finding a niche sitting between Rosé or Nouveau style wines and the heavier tannic rich reds. I’ve been blown away by the new world Italian varietals in recent years, it was thought California, Oregon and Washington could quite match the true Italian examples, but now, that is not the case, especially when you taste these Ryme Cellars wines, they are not trying to be carbon copies of those regional stars of Italy, they are uniquely Californian beauties with soulful Italian DNA charms. If you want proof that these wines are a match for their Italian counter parts you need to try them, look for Ryme in particular, but also Martha Stoumen, who’s signature Nero d’Avola is ultra tasty and stylish, as well as the Sheldon Sangiovese, Brian Terrizzi’s Giornata from Paso Robles, Idlewild, which sources from the Fox Hill site as well, Unti in Dry Creek, Odonata, who do a fabulous Brunello like Sangiovese as well as a cool Sparkling Sangiovese, Palmino, who really brought seriousness to California Nebbiolo, Leonetti in Walla Walla, who’s inky Sangiovese is legendary and especially John Paul’s Cameron Winery, with his set of incredible Italian inspired collection, including his Barolo like Willamette Valley Nebbiolo and his stunning white blend or Bianco.

Now back to Ryme and this very cool 2019 Sangiovese Friulano, a red wine that like Beaujolais that can be served chilled for refreshment, but still has a depth of flavors to provide enjoyment with rustic Italian cuisine and or simple country dishes as well as picnic fare or BBQ. The nose is bright with red berries, minty herbs, a light earthy note and perfumed rose petals that lead to a medium bodied and smooth carbonic like layers of raspberry, plum, strawberry and Morello cherry fruits along with subtle accents of anise, basil, shaved cinnamon, fleshy peach and a hint of mineral, sweet tobacco and lingering sweet floral aromatic notes. The luminous pale ruby color is very inviting, made more compelling with the clear, see through glass bottle, which makes it clear this one is for youthful drinking, no waiting required with its easy tannins and saliva inducing natural acidity, this Sangiovese Friulano is pure fun in the glass. Ryme notes that, the two varieties were picked together and co-fermented carbonically in tank before the wine was gently pressed and racked with soft extraction then it was aged in a neutral French Puncheon for short period the finish mallos and bottled early unfiltered and with just a minuscule sulfur. This wine is what the natural wine lovers of Europe call a Glou-Glou style wine, meaning basically it is a drink up non too serious wine that will bring lots of smiles and a mood of tranquility. At Fox Hill Vineyard in Mendocino, according to winemakers Megan and Ryan Glaab, the Friulano is planted next to the Sangiovese, making this wine easy to put together as the grapes can be picked and packed together to bring back to the winery. This is a winery to follow, and I suggest getting on their mailing list, but try not to miss the current releases, these are impressive and playful efforts, I would point you in the direction of Ryme’s Pet-Nats as well with their very limited Crackling Carignan and Crackling Vermentino being irresistible, along with their exciting Cabernet Francs and the Aglianico Rosé, which is part of their awesome Italian influenced lineup. The Ryme label was created by this dynamic husband and wife team back in 2007, with this talented duo having done many years of consulting and winemaking gigs having worked at wineries such as Pax Wine Cellars, Peay Vineyards, Sine Qua Non, Torbreck in Australia and at Helen Turley’s iconic Marcassin. There is a lot to love at Ryme Cellars these days, and this Sangiovese Friulano is a great place to start, check them out.
($25 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day January 22, 2021

2018 Grochau Cellars, Gamay Noir, Twelve Oaks Estate, Chehalem Mountains, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
This dark and vibrant Grochau Cellars wine is a traditionally fermented Willamette Valley Gamay Noir that was sourced from Anne Amie’s Twelve Oaks Estate Vineyard close to Carlton on a newer block of vines planted in 2013 on the Laurelwood soils, which are silty loams or loess with an underpinning of a Jory (volcanic) base on the western edge of the Yamhill-Carlton zone. The terroir and vintage influence adds to the intensity on this stylish and seriously natured Gamay with vigorous acidity and loads of spicy character, this is noteworthy for Gamay lovers, as this vineyard site comes into maturity with the Laurenwood series soils adding a unique profile with a dark hue and a mineral rich element, this is the shallowest of the soil series found in this area, and is often found on hillsides, like these, where the winds have gradually over time blew the thin layers into place, and while the Laurelwood series is common in Willamette Valley it is fairly rare to find Gamay on it. This wine is distinctly non carbonic, tangy fresh, and is a gripping version of Gamay Noir, more along the lines of the famous Brick House example, with its brilliant purple/garnet color and sense of power showing blackberry, mulberry, deep cherry and quieter strawberry and red peach fruits along with a touch of orange peel, damp earth, red spices, crushed gun flint, potpourri floral detail and a sense of walnut husks and wild fennel. This is a complex and every changing Gamay in the glass which starts with an edginess and bite, before slowly coming out of its shell and unfolding into a real beauty with textural quality and presence coming out with air and a significant amount of time in the glass, it ends up a very rewarding wine with a push and pull of fruit and savory tones with a pleasing medium body and a nice lingering echo of flavors on the clipped and crisply dry finish.

I’ve been following John Grochau’s Grochau Cellars for a while, but this was first time I have tried his Gamay and I’m thrilled to report on its excellence, though I’ve always enjoyed his Pinots and especially his Commuter Cuvee Pinot Noir, which is always an exceptional value. In recent years he has really filled out his collection with many single vineyard wines which now include some very tasty whites with Melon de Bourgogne, Pinot Blanc, Albarino and special Brick House Chardonnay, from the legendary biodynamic Ribbon Ridge property. Grochau is still under the radar in California, but he has worked alongside the iconic Willamette Valley winemaker Doug Tunnell at the mentionedBrick House Vineyards for four years and has also spent time at Erath Winery. His first vintage as an owner and winemaker at Grochau Cellars, as he notes, was back in 2002, making it close to 20 years of doing his own thing in this region. Before wine Grochau was a professional cyclist and while touring Europe he fell in love with wine, eventually moving to Portland and took a serious interest in Oregon’s Pinot Noir, which set him on his path. Grochau works exclusively with organic and sustainably-farmed vineyards and everything is done with the old world mentality of making artisan wines that go with food, which his wines do with a flourish and he strives to allow each vineyard to tell the story of place and the year. In the cellar, Grochau employs a gentle touch and cool fermentation(s) with a light touch when it comes to his oak usage, his wines tend to be transparent, luminous and full of energy and with the substance to age gracefully for many years. This vintage of Twelve Oaks Gamay has a very soulful charm about it and while confident and well mannered, it looks to have a rewarding future and should really come into its own one the next two to five years, it’s an impressive effort.
($25 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day January 21, 2021

2017 Cruse Wine Co., Blanc de Noirs, Alder Springs Vineyard, Mendocino County.
The small batch sparkling wines from Michael Cruse are some of the most interesting in California with both his Pet-Nats and his Methode Champenoise style bubbly, like this special edition Blanc de Noirs, are absolutely delicious and sophisticated wines with many being single vineyard site expressions with grower producer like distinction handsome crafted with unique and rare varietals. This particular bottling is vibrant and has a zesty form, but rich and complex with tons of nutty character, its rather intriguing with its play between racy yellow fruits and the mature feeling oxidative palate with layers of lemon, apple butter, white peach, plum, hazelnut, straw, mineral tones and doughy brioche that highlights the yeasty/leesy charms. This Alder Springs Blanc de Noirs cuvee, hand crafted and focused around the structure of no skin contact red grapes, with a Pinot Noir like quality, was what Michael Cruse calls an experiment in melding reductive and oxidative winemaking, it certainly played with my senses and I wasn’t truly expecting this complexity and stylistic personality, but it grew on me as I began to fully understand its purpose and personality, and as an admirer of a range of Sherry wines and Jura whites I got more and more into it as it opened up in the glass. Cruse notes that he finds this sparkler extremely complex, showing pastry, miso, marzipan with an element of pistachio gelato and floral detail, which I can confirm as well. The mouse is vigorous, rather than luxurious or creamy, giving the Alder Springs Blanc de Noirs an energetic intensity and makes it cleansing and refreshing, it is exceptional with food and proved nicely flexible with spicy and full flavored Asian dishes that I unfairly ate while sipping on this. I know, without question this Blanc de Noirs, would go better with grilled sardines, salty Tapas and or briny oysters, which I hope to prove in the future.

The lineup at Cruse Wine Co. is quite impressive with his top sparkling wine, Ultramarine being an underground classic with a cult like following, leading the way, but I love his Pet-Nats too, with the sparkling Valdiguie and sparkling St. Laurent being big favorites of mine and I love his set of still red wines with the Tannat, which I recently reviewed, and the Valdiguie being ones that I try not to miss. The Alder Springs Blanc de Noirs was fermented after the grapes were whole cluster (soft) pressed using a gentle Champagne cycle and it was done without dosage in a brut Nature style, resulting in a dry Brut or Extra Brut like profile. Just one hundred cases, or 1200 bottles were produced of this Alder Springs Blanc de Noirs, making it a rarity and not easy to find, though at this time it is still listed as available on Cruse’s website. California has more great sparkling wines on offer than ever with some incredible artisan stuff out there including Michael Cruse’s exceptional collection, along with other grower fizz or single vineyard bubblies, these include Samantha Sheehan’s Poe Wines Sparkling Rosé, made with Meunier and her all Chardonnay Blanc de Blancs as well as Caraccioli’s excellent Escolle Vineyard Champagne style sparkling wines to name a couple of ones to search out. The Cruse Alder Springs Blanc de Noirs which finished at 12.5% natural alcohol is briskly dry and ripely textured, it gains a slightly smoky note from the lees aging and shows a bit of saline that gets the saliva gland up and running and lingers on with a hint bitter almonds and clove spice. Cruse also has some other alternative wines that will appeal to the wine geek set with his dry Muscat finding a degree of success for a much maligned grape as well as his Monkey Jacket red blend, made from mainly Valdiguié, a grape that has a Gamay like quality and once thought to be Gamay and called Napa Gamay until recently with the remainder coming from Carignan and Syrah, it is tasty value priced stuff that is a great Pizza night wine. It is a great time to explore the Cruse wines and I highly recommend get on Michael’s email list and explore his latest efforts.
($68 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day January 20, 2021

2015 Cobb Wines, Pinot Noir, Rice-Spivak Vineyard, Sonoma Coast.
One of California’s best producers of small lot Pinot Noirs, Ross Cobb has been at it for close to twenty years now and shows no signs of letting up with this fantastic 2015 Rice-Spivak displaying his gifted touch with a wine of remarkable balance, silken texture and deep, but weightless layers of Pinot fruit. I had planned holding on to this special wine for many more years to let it fully mature and gain secondary characteristics, but as I was celebrating the end of the moronic nightmare of the Trump presidency I could not think of a more perfect patriotic bottle to open and knowing clearly that Ross would agree, and in hope of brighter times ahead, it did not disappoint and even though young it delivered a gorgeous and rewarding experience. This 2015 vintage was warm and ripe, giving plenty of hedonistic fruit density and luxurious mouth feel with this Rice-Spivak Vineyard having a lush and satiny array of black cherry, raspberry, plum and sweet strawberry fruits along with a mix of toasty/smoky oak, mineral, tangy herbs and a delicate floral perfume. This ruby/garnet wine is one of the most packed, full flavored and darkest versions of this vineyard I can remember, it is a Pinot Noir of lush smoothness and refined details, it is pure pleasure in the glass, it gained tremendous dimension over the course of the evening and added subtle earthy elements and lingered on and on with a graceful aftertaste that echos the nose and palate, with hints of orange tea and seeped rose petals. The Rice-Spivak is always one of my favorites in Cobb’s outstanding collection of wines.

Cobb Wines, founded in 2001, is mostly known for the family’s Coastlands Vineyard signature bottlings, sourced this one from the almost equally exciting Rice-Spivak Vineyard near Sebastopol, a six acre site in the cooler zone west of Healdsburg set on the classic Goldridge sandy loam soils, which brings out a lot of depth of fruit, as well as some volcanic material that gives a steak of mineral and a light dusting of spices. The vines are on rolling eastern facing slopes that get lots of morning sun and cool Pacific breezes with night and early morning fog that brings a refreshing burst of natural acidity to the wines. The Rice-Spivak Vineyard is made up of Swan and Dijon clones, with the heritage Swan selection seemingly playing a lead role here and this 2015 version has a some very serious palate impact, this is highly entertaining Pinot that is wonderfully complex, but joyously easy to love. Cobb employed traditional Burgundian winemaking, as is his way, with this Rice-Spivak seeing a careful selection of the grapes, a cool partial whole cluster fermentation, using close 40% whole bunches, and gentle maceration before a long 22 month elevage in French barriques with about 30% new medium/high toast oak, which still needs a bit more integration, though with air and especially with food this wine provides endless pleasure, much the same way classic Williams Selyem and or Rochioli performs. The Cobb Rice-Spivak finished up at 13.6% making for a substantial and structured Pinot without the heat that you get from wines in the 14 to 15% range, this wine should last another decade or more. Cobb offers a unique and seductive set of single site Pinots that really deserve your attention, plus in recent years Ross has added a dry Riesling to his highly admired and desirable lineup, while none are inexpensive, these wines are a must try for California wine enthusiasts.
($75 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day January 19, 2021

2018 Guimaro, Mencia, Vino Tinto, Ribeira Sacra, Galicia, Spain.
The pure and almost crisply detailed Guimaro Vino Tinto is one of my favorite wines, even in its most simple form this Mencia field blend that is fermented and aged in stainless steel delivers a beautiful and soulful experience in the glass with terroir influence clearly on display, making it a joy to behold and quaff with almost any cuisine. Pedro Rodriguez continues to impress with each new vintage at Guimaro and this 2018 is wonderfully delicious with partial whole bunch, semi carbonic juiciness and crunchiness along with ripe black fruits, soft rounded tannin, lively acidity and lovely mineral tones. The medium bodied palate reveals bright layers of blackberry, mulberry, plum, black cherry and currant fruits that is accented nicely with snappy herbs, flinty stones, lilacs and raw earthiness that seduces the senses and brings easy smiles, it reconfirms my admiration for this outstanding value offering from the steep slopes of the Ribeira Sacra in Spain’s ancient and remote Galicia region. The brilliant gemstone ruby/purple color and delicate floral perfume certainly invite repeated sips and its vibrant nature reminds me of a crossing of a Crozes-Hermitage (Syrah) and a Cote de Brouilly (Gamay), think Maxime Graillot’s Domaine de Lises meets Chateau Thivin! I have been following the Guimaro wines for about a decade now, going back more than 12 vintages and I am still thrilled every time I open a new bottle and this 2018 Vinto Tinto Mencia provided a grateful distraction from the horrifying news of the Covid pandemic, the economic worries and eased the lonely days of not being to travel or see friends, as well as a small celebration of life and the end of shameful and moronic presidency of Donald Trump, which will happen in mere hours now. So yeah, I love this wine and I am a big fan of the winemaker, who I have had the pleasure of meeting a few times and did a couple of tastings with, Pedro is a humble and fun loving person, who’s incredible hard work, which you get a sense of when you see the dangerously steep parcels he farms, and his down to earth and playful personality shine through in the wines.

Pedro Rodriguez’s family vineyards, which for many generations were used to just grow grapes for a co-op, started bottling wine under the Guimaro, which means rebel in local dialect, back in 1991 and they were one of the first wineries to join the Ribeira Sacra DO in 1996, but the Guimaro label really got into gear when Pedro was mentored by the legendary Raul Perez, the godfather of the Mencia grape and well known for his Bierzo versions. Guimaro farms with all organic methods and careful to maintain small yields to craft remarkable collection Mencia based wines, as well as a Godello based white, which is also a rare and rewarding wine in the mold of a steely Chablis. The Ribeira Sacra, or the Sacred Blanks in the native Gallego tongue, has very hard to work vines looking down on the Sil River, which looks intriguingly like the Mosel with in fact similar soils, which are a combination of slate, schist, granite and sand with a cool climate that is heavily influenced by the Atlantic Ocean. The Guimaro Tinto comes from several plots in the Amandi zone, which is mostly planted to Mencia, but also includes small amounts of other local varietals including Caiño, Merenzao (Trousseau) and Souson, which are hand harvested and sees about 35% whole cluster, native yeast fermentation and was raised with tank aging for 6 or so months with no oak being used. The region was been, as the winery notes, cultivated since Roman times, with Ribeira Sacra’s steep terraced vineyards, as mentioned above, are some of the most picturesque and treacherous to work vines in the world of wine, making this Guimaro bottling one of the best values around and it is really a gateway to understanding the wines of this special place. Pedro employs an old-fashioned winemaking method, that was reclaimed and adopted thanks to Perez’s guidance, with wild yeast fermentation, gentle extractions with foot treading in open-top vessels, plus limited raspón (stems) inclusion and working with ultra low sulphites, and while this wine was done in stainless, Rodriguez uses used barrels for his single cru wines, all of which makes for natural and transparent style wines. If you’ve not had Mencia yet, this Guimaro Vino Tinto is a great place to start, especially this outstanding vintage, that I highly recommend stocking up on.
($20 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day January 18, 2021

2018 Dirty and Rowdy, Mourvedre, Shake Ridge Ranch, Amador County.
The stylish Sierra Foothills Shake Ridge Mourvedre is a fresh and vivid red that drinks beautifully now with a range of vivid red fruits, raw, but well managed tannins, meaty savory elements as well as some delicate florals that all unfold on a transparently pure medium/full bodied palate, very tasty indeed. Dirty and Rowdy’s 2018s are my favorites so far from this small and down to earth winery based in Petaluma and look forward to digging into a few of their 2019s soon, which I hear are just as good, which would be not small feat, I really loved the MSG (Mourvedre, Syrah and Grenache) a blend that is like a California meeting of Bandol and Chateauneuf du Pape! This Shake Ridge Ranch Mourvedre from California’s historic gold country in Amador County in the Sierra Foothills comes from one of the state’s best vineyards, farmed organically by the legendary Ann Kramer, it is not far from Sutter’s Creek and set on rocky slopes with a complex mix of volcanic, decomposed Granite and quartz soils. The climate here at close to 2,000 feet up gets hot Summer days, but the night time temps dip dramatically so the vines stay refreshed and certain varietals thrive here, especially the Rhone grapes with spectacular wines being made from this site, in particular the Syrah and Mourvedre, which in this wine proves the quality of Kramer’s talents, with its vibrancy and depth. In recent years I have been really impressed with this vineyard, with Jolie-Laide’s GSM blend, Desire Lines Wine Co.’s 100% Syrah and this Dirty and Rowdy 100% Mourvedre being some of my favorites. I really enjoyed this inky purple/red Shake Ridge and marveled at its constantly changing presence in the glass, it even went fantastically well with a Paella that was full of spicy goodness along with sausage, chicken, mussels and calamari.

Dirty and Rowdy was formed by two partners and their families in 2009 when Hardy Wallace, the face of the winery and his partner Matt Richardson established the label, which is really focused on Mourvedre and natural winemaking techniques, they source grapes from some of California’s top sites, including Shake Ridge, as well as Evangelho in Contra Costa County, Enz Vineyard in San Benito as well as the formerly known as Antle Vineyard in Monterey’s chalky Chalone appellation to name a few. This Dirty and Rowdy 2018 Shake Ridge Ranch Mourvedre, which was hand crafted using lots of whole cluster and native yeast fermentation, is led by layers of earthy dark fruits, including brambleberry, red currant, tangy plum, wild herbs, meaty/savory notes, anise, dried flowers, provencal lavender and lingering kirsch. With air the more gamey bit subsides and the fruit core deepens, highlighting the vintage with ripe detail and energy, it adds a stony and mineral steak as well as gaining in textural quality, bringing out all of its charms in a wine that rewards to patient and one that benefits, as expected, from protein heavy cuisine and robust food dishes. Dirty and Rowdy do their best to let the vineyard speak for itself when it comes to winemaking, they employ a hands off approach in the cellar with minimal intervention and a gentle touch throughout the process, and they age the wines in mostly neutral French barrels, as well as a mix of concrete and terra-cotta vessels. The wines see no additions and have the barest of doses of sulphites, with Dirty and Rowdy bottling with no filtration or fining to preserve each wine’s every nuance and soulful character. These wines have tons of personality and have found a special niche within the wine industry with a fanatical group of followers, so it is important to on their mailing list to score these wines. I highly recommend Dirty and Rowdy’s very limited single vineyard wines, with this one being one to search out, as well as the entry level Familiar Mourvedre, that is a blend of many different vineyard sources and a top value.
($47 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive