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Grapelive: Wine of the Day October 20, 2020

Latest Review

2017 Domaine de l’Austral, Saumur-Puy-Notre-Dame “Manta” Loire Valley, France.
Coming from a special sub zone of the Loire’s Saumur-Champigny region the 100% Cabernet Franc Manta from Domaine de l’Austral is a bright and fruit forward all carbonic wine that is drinking with a natural grace and varietal purity, this is an easy wine to love. A few months ago I featured my first review of this new winery and I am now becoming a big fan of l’Austral and vignerons Pauline Mourrain and Laurent Troubat, the husband and wife team that took over the all organic vines at Château Tour Grise and the ancient cellars there. The pair have hit the ground running with their first vintage 2016 already creating a huge buzz and winning awards and this 2017 Manta shows they are incredibly talented and are looking set to become stars of the region. This 2017 Manta starts with a radiant display of fruit and floral detail before revealing a supple and medium bodied palate of red currant, crushed raspberry, wild plum and cherry fruits that come with a hint of classic bell pepper, plus olive, herbal notes, wild flowers and anise accents, all presented without pretense in a zesty fresh form. This dark garnet and ruby hued is impressively textural Cabernet Franc with an elegant and layered mouth feel that gives the sensation of lightness and softness, while still seriously complex adding subtle earthy/savory elements in the glass. The 2017 vintage is ripe, but less dense than 2016, and will appeal to those that admire delicacy and quaffable structures, which this one delivers with a smile and a wink.

The Domaine de l’Austral Manta Saumur-Puy-Norte-Dame, one a tiny collection of single parcel offerings that Pauline and Laurent make, is from a chalk and Silex limestone site that promotes zesty fresh details and vivid flavors, all of which are most expressive by the holistic farming principals and methods used here that brings out each place’s unique character. l’Austral, inspired by Loire legends like Nicholas Joly and Saumur-Champigny’s iconic Clos Rougeard, strive to make absolute terroir driven wines with natural winemaking techniques born from the regions traditions with 100% native yeast fermentations and ultra low sulfur additions to allow the sense of place to really shine through. The wine at l’Austral is really made from the work in the vineyard, rather than the rustic cellar, most of the tenderness and back breaking work in done, by hand, in the vines, and the results so far speak for themselves. This 2017 Manta really opens up nicely and is wonderfully clean and transparent, its carbonic fermentation, vat raised clarity and fine tannins making it a joy to drink young, while the non carbonic, concrete egg raised 2016 Cuvee 253 is more powerful stuff needing more time to fully mature, both excellent examples, which give you choices to make, though I think I’ll take some of each. This expressive Cabernet Franc is pretty stuff, almost irresistible and tasty, especially with Fall cuisine choices, it will be hard to get, being so limited, but well worth searching out!
($27 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day October 19, 2020

2016 St. Innocent, Pinot Noir, Zenith Vineyard, Eola-Amity Hills AVA, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
Mark Vlossak’s Zenith Vineyard St. Innocent Pinot is his estate bottling and comes from just 7 blocks in South East facing parcels planted to a combination of four clones: Pommard, Wadenswil (old Swiss clone), 115 and 777, which explains the deep color and dense complexity of flavors in what is an impressive and beautiful wine. The 2016 vintage is perfectly captured here with this St. Innocent, one of Oregon’s hall of fame producers, with its richness of fruit, textural excellence and incredible length, my only mistake on opening this 2016 Zenith is that it should still be in the cellar, where I’m sure it reward the patient with an exceptional long life, there’s so much more potential here, even though it is a tremendous Pinot Noir now. The layered fruit is led by black cherry, plum, crushed raspberry and tangy currant that is well accented by floral tones, smoky sweet oak, sassafras, tea spices and a hint of mineral, it reminds me somewhat of a young Meo-Camuzet Vosne-Romanee, which seriously makes me very happy, this is absolutely a pleasure in the glass. Zenith, set on old marine sedimentary soils, in the rolling hills of the Eola-Amity zone and has been a source of top Pinot grapes for many years, with some of region’s best winemakers using these grapes to good effect, including Ken Wright and Mike Etzel of Beaux Freres to name a few, it is a site of quality and terroir distinction with a profile and fruit density more in line with Ribbon Ridge and or Yamhill-Carlton rather than the Jory soils of the Dundee Hills. The St. Innocent Zenith remains somewhat a sleeper in the lineup of great Oregon wines and strangely in Vlossak’s own collection, sometimes hiding behind his Freedom Hill and Momtazi bottlings, which is wild when you taste this awesome Pinot, this is a wine to NOT overlook! For those that prefer aged wines and mature flavors in their Pinots would be advised to add St. Innocent to their collection to put away for later enjoyment, trust me.

St. Innocent makes an outstanding set of wines and Mark Vlossak is one of the state’s best with many classic wines under his belt, he is of one of the Willamette’s legendary generations including the mentioned Ken Wright and Mike Etzel as well as John Paul of Cameron, who all set the world a light with their early to mid nineties wines, especially the 1994 and 1998 vintages, which cemented the region’s place as one of the world’s great Pinot Noir terroirs. I have been a long time fan of Vlossak’s wines and have enjoyed aging a few bottles, I recently opened one of his 2000 vintage Seven Springs Pinots and it was still remarkably youthful and vibrant with years left ahead of it, and that wasn’t a very hyped years either, so I have no doubt this 2016 will go the distance. Vlossak uses classic Burgundian techniques and this Zenith saw his normal regiment with all the grapes being 100% de-stemmed and naturally fermented using indigenous yeasts with no SO2 added with gentle maceration and cool stainless primary fermentation before being raised in French oak barrique with 25% new wood used in this concentrated vintage. The finished Zenith Pinot was gravity bottled after 16 months in barrel without finning or filtration to capture every bit of character and purity, which it does to near perfection here and while it shows the vanilla scented toasty oak, it quickly settles into the background and never intrudes into the enjoyment of this wine. While the fruit dominates here, I want to note there is plenty of acidity and energy in this Pinot and there is a subtle earthiness or savory elements to keep things interesting. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention just how great the value is here, seriously, this ruby/garnet Zenith in particular, with under a thousand cases made, is almost guilt free for what is delivered in the glass, these wines from St. Innocent way over perform for the price. This 2016, a savvy wine to cellar, if opened in the next 2 or 3 years, will be best with fuller cuisine to match the opulent nature of the fruit, it’s medium/full bodied palate and deep flavors will be best served by having matching cuisine. It was thrilling with pulled pork and slaw last night, but I think grilled salmon and or lamb kabobs would be sublime pairings too!
($40 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day October 18, 2020

2019 Desire Lines Wine Co., Carignan/Mourvedre, Red Wine, Evangelho Vineyard, Contra County.
This beautifully dark purple/garnet Evangelho Vineyard Contra Costa Red Wine by Cody Rasmussen at Desire Lines Wine Co. has fast become one of my must have wines, with this 2019, which is a new release I just got this week, being a thrilling young wine and made to be enjoyed young with its deep, but supple rich fruit and satiny tannins. The 2019 version is fresh and lively with some nice savory and crunchy elements from the whole bunches and partial stem inclusion giving complexity and balance to this fruit forward, densely packed red wine. Rasmussen intended this wine to be his own unique version of a California wine that would remind people of a Cru Beaujolais, like those of either Fleurie or Morgon, but I look towards Corbieres for the old world similarity’s rustic area in the Languedoc where Carignan is a major player in the red blends, especially the wines of Maxime Magnon and in particular his gorgeous and natural Corbières Rouge “Campagnès” that comes from 100 year old Carignan, as does this one. Cody, who along with his wife Emily started this label in 2016 and have made it one of the best new wineries with some stellar releases, he has an amazing touch with these wines and California wine enthusiasts really should get on his list. He has great experience already under his belt, having been the assistant winemaker at Bedrock Wine Co and being mentored by Morgan Twain-Peterson, who is one of America’s great winegrowers and a Master of Wine, a rare achievement in the wine world. This vintage starts with seductive floral aromas and snappy herbs, spice and cool blue fruits that lead to a smooth and full bodied palate of black raspberry, juicy plum, pomegranate and morello cherry fruits along with a touch of pepper, baked earth, a cedary wood note and sprigs of anise, sage and lavender. The new Evangelho has a delightful energy and like Zinfandel field blends has loads of pleasing character and textural quality without feeling cloying or heavy at all, making it exceptional with easy or simple cuisine.

The vines at Evangelho Vineyard, now owned by Morgan Twain-Peterson, one of California’s great wine minds, and Chris Cottrell of Bedrock Wine Co., – now over 120 years old – were planted by Manuel Viera in the 1890s on land purchased from John Marsh’s Los Meganos Rancho, though farmed by Frank Evangehlo and family for most of its history. Evangelho Vineyard is located in Antioch, as noted by Rasmussen, just a mile upstream from the confluence of the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers and only a few hundred yards south of the water’s edge. These old vines, Cody explains, are planted on what could be considered coastal dunes comprised of weathered granitic sand blown and washed out of the Sierra Nevada over millennia. This is one of the most unique terroirs in California with its ultra depleted, well draining heavy Oakley sand, this soil type is termed Delhi sand and it has protected and comfortingly wrapped these wines to perfection, making for some spectacular wines, like this one and the Heritage Red from his boss at Bedrock. The 2019 Desire Lines Evangelho Red Wine was made from a blend of roughly 90% Carignan and 10% Mourvèdre, that like the 2017 and 2018 vintages, was fermented, with some carbonic maceration, with close to 30% whole cluster under a submerged cap and aged for ten months in neutral 400L barrels. Rasmussen loves the 400L barrel size for his Carignan, saying it retains freshness and builds tension like all large format barrels, but with a less reductive tendency than the 500L and 600L barrels that he prefers for the Syrah and Mourvèdre grapes. I am thrilled with this Evangelho and really looking forward to exploring the rest of Rasmussen’s new wines, including his outstanding Syrah bottlings from Griffin’s Lair and Shake Ridge Vineyard, a very famous Amador County site as well as his 100% Mourvedre from this same Evangelho Vineyard, plus his killer dry Riesling from Cole Ranch, which is chilling in my fridge right now. While tasty and rewarding now, this 2019 Desire Lines Evangelho Red Wine looks set or has the potential to age well, its underlying structure is quite impressive, which will reward those that have more patience than me, drink this Carignan based wine over the next 3 to 5 years.
($32 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day October 17, 2020

2017 Envinate, Lousas “Vinas de Aldea” Ribeira Sacra D.O. Galicia, Spain.
Another beauty from the gang at Envinate, this Mencia from the Ribeira Sacra shows mineral charms and starts with smoky shale rock and crushed violets with bark berries leading the fruit before opening up with some slight reduction and a medium bodied palate of racy black plum, earthy currant, cranberry and dark cherry fruits, dried herbs, a touch of anise and loamy earth with light woodsy notes. This gets a touch riper with air, but feels very Pinot like in the mouth with some Northern Rhone Syrah added in, with its peppery and gamey elements, but definitely appealing and very true to the nature of its place. The Viticultores de Ribeiro Sacra y Envinate Lousas comes from vines overseen by Alfonso Torrente in Galicia on the cool Atlantic coast, in this ancient wine region known as the “sacred banks” with its steep river valleys of slate soils being an awesome area for wine, in fact it was highly prized back in Roman times. Envinate, which means “wines yourself” is four friends that met in college, which are from vastly different regions of Spain, but always promised to make wine together. They are a very talented crew that come from unique parts of the country including the remote Canary Islands to Murcia, as well as here in the Ribeira Sacra, they are winemakers Roberto Santana, maybe the most well known for his incredible Tenerife wines made from Listan Negro and Listan Prieto, as well as Alfonso Torrente, Laura Ramos, and José Martínez, all regional, if not international stars in their own right. I am a big fan of Envinate, as my reviews have shown for many vintages now, and I chase their bottles down for my personal use, they are soulful and intriguing terroir driven efforts made by humble and passionate hands.

As I have reported on many of these Envintate releases, these are very traditionally made and use mostly natural techniques with all organic grapes, and while a touch funky at times, they are pure and transparent wines. The darkly hued Lousas Vines de Aldea is usually 40% to 100% whole cluster with native yeast, with classic foot-trodden maceration, it is fermented in bins and then raised in used mid size oak casks without racking. It is matured for just under a year normally then bottled with only a tiny amount of SO2, unfined and unfiltered. This vintage, which is not quite as good as 2015, but still has loads of character and pleasure to offer with lovely detail, fruit density and lots of mineral spice. The grapes are hand tended from very steep parcels, and as noted before, these Sil River valley slopes look like the Rhein or Mosel and the soils are smoky slate, schist, sand and granite, which gives these Mencia wines their likeness to the Northern Rhone, in fact Lousas means Slate in the local dialect, with this Vina de Aldea coming from 60 year old organic vines on the weathered slate. The Ribeira Sacra bottlings are all well worth searching out, Envintate keeps impressing with each vintage and this one especially shines for the price, it will certainly appeal to those that like lower alcohol and rustic styles of wines. The 2017 still feels very youthful and zesty, it looks set to get better with another year or so in bottle, it is rather shy aromatically at this point and takes some time to truly reveal all that is there and it is way better with food, it thrives with hard cheeses and simple country cuisine, though I did quite like it with Pizza. I highly recommend exploring the full lineup from Envinate, from their Albahra (70% Garnacha Tintorera, 30% Moravia Agria) to the Migan (Listan Negro) from 120 year old vines a top an ancient volcano on Tenerife!
($35 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day October 16, 2020

2018 Anne et Jean-Francois Ganevat, Vin de France Rouge “Cuvee Madelon” Morgon/Jura, France.
The Jura’s guru, Jean-Francois Ganevat makes some of France’s most unique and beautiful wines, along with a collection of wildly amusing Vin de France bottlings that from organic/biodynamic vines from friends all around France, including some prime old vine Cru Beaujolais sites, like in this Cuvee Madelon which is a blend of Gamay from Morgon and a selection of local Jura varietals. Ganevat, who is known for his gorgeous Chardonnay bottlings that rival many top Burgundian icons, worked under Jean-Marc Morey in Chassagne-Montrachet, before taking over his family’s ancient cellars and tiny Jura set of vineyards where he turned it into one of the most intriguing domaines in the country, certainly in the region. The Cuvee Madelon is quite rustic and leathery to start with a bit of natural funk and horsey notes, but it opens nicely with gorgeously textured fruit and complex layers of flavors including wild strawberry, tart plum, dusty raspberry and cherry with some racy spices, citrusy (orange) acidity, along with a hint of cedar, snappy herbs and a mix crushed flowers. Ganevat’s Cuvee Madelon is lighter in color than a classic Beaujolais and has a silky smooth medium body with just 11.5% natural alcohol. This Cuvee Madelon is quite delightful with its Gamay core and what seems like some Trousseau influence that comes through as it gets air, it is best served with a chill and enjoyed with simple cuisine, maybe a selection of mountain cheeses, though surprising, it went remarkably well with a ginger/curry and rice wrap! These Vin de France wines were created originally, according to Ganevat, after consecutive vintages of losing large portions of his harvest to frost and severe weather, forcing him to innovate to make more wine. So In partnership with his sister Anne, he went to friends in Alsace, Beaujolais, and Savoie to source more fruit, then added Beaujolais, the Rhone and the Macon in the following years.

The Domaine Ganevat wines, imported by Kermit Lynch, are based around ancient and classic Jura grapes, they are from his biodynamic vineyards in this remote alpine region of France with its distinct Jurassic era limestone soils that promote transparency and delicacy of flavors, with Jean-Francois doing a head spinning array of offerings from the old school oxidative style Savagnin to a heavenly palate and nuanced Poulsard, along with the mentioned Chardonnays and Trousseau, plus a sublime Pinot Noir. For these wildly amusing Vin de France efforts, he buys grapes from trusted growers, which he brings back to his cellars and blends them with some Jura grapes or another region’s varieties with no known reason or pretense of tradition with some crazy blends that include Muscat to Aligote, Cote-Rotie Syrah to Savoie Mondeuse along with Alsace Gewurztraminer and Clairette! Ganevat lists, 50% to 60% Gamay from Morgon along with 40% to 50% indigenous Jura varietals for his Cuvee Madelon, though in France this bottling is listed as 100% Gamay, all from organic grapes sourced from 60 to 80 year old vines with the Gamay coming off classic granite soils, while the Jura has their marl and limestone. Ganevat uses 100% whole cluster and natural yeast fermentation with hand pilage and almost no added sulfur at any point. The Vin de France reds get about a year of aging in used barrels, mostly very ex-Burgundy casks, but this Cuvee Madelon saw ten months in large foudre to mature before being bottled unfined and unfiltered. While first and foremost I recommend Ganevat’s absolutely stunning Côtes du Jura “Les Grands Teppes Vieilles Vignes” Chardonnay, which sees close to three years in barrel and is world class stuff, like a cross between a Raveneau Grand Cru Chablis and a Domaine Leflaive Puligny-Montrachet! But, for totally fun and amusement check out these Ganevat Vin de France wines.
($49 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day October 15, 2020

2018 Domaine Jamet, Cotes du Rhone, Rhone Valley, France.
The gorgeously pure and wonderfully early drinking “Baby” Jamet, formerly a IGP Syrah, is now labeled as a Cotes du Rhone Rouge and (still) is 100% Syrah from three parcels, one from young vines inside the classic Cote-Rotie zone along with a plot close to the domaine just outside the regions set boundaries as well as some vines on a plateau above Condrieu with a combination of granite and mica schist soils. While I cannot afford the iconic Domaine Jamet Cote-Rotie too often or even find it for that matter, I adore this Domaine Jamet bottling for its value, ease of use and exceptional terroir character for the price, it is always makes me happy to sip in its dark purple hue, the deep black fruit, zippy herbs and its seductive smell of violets and earthiness. Now imported by famed Berkeley legend Kermit Lynch, Domaine Jamet has a real champion in his corner and American wine fans look set to have more access to these highly sought after wines, all of which is a good thing. Jean-Paul recently celebrated his 40th year growing and vinifying his Côte Rôtie, with the 2016 vintage, maybe one of the all time greats and one I do hope to try in some 10 or 20 years, as his whole-cluster and tannic Cote-Rotie wines are severe and old school in style, while this Cotes du Rhone is made using mostly de-stemmed grapes and is meant for enjoyment while you wait for the Cote-Rotie to age in the cellar, again if you are lucky enough to get them. You can sense the relationship to the top cuvee here and this wine gives a glimpse of its legendary status and prestige, its certainly a wine of cheap thrills, but one that deserves serious attention. I openly admit this wine gets extra credit for just being available and for how geeky I get when opening it!

Jean-Paul along with his wife, Corinne, and his son, Loïc farm a collection of tiny of sixteen (soon to be nineteen) lieux-dits, as Kermit Lynch notes, spread across the best sites of the Cote-Rotie appellation and makes their wine from the blending of all of these rugged and steep rocky set of vines. Kermit adds that, the Jamet path has remained true to his traditions, even as the appellation has modernized around them, Jean-Paul Jamet along with Bernard Levet, Closel-Roch, the youthful Xavier Gerard and a few others proudly fly the flag of their historic style. Despite its popularity, Lynch notes, Jamet always eschewed the use of excessive new oak in his top cuvee, choosing to maintain a cellar full of the classic large oak casks (demi-muid) and Jamet, obviously not a slave to fashion, remains firmly opposed to de-stemming his Cote-Rotie, continuing to vinify his Cote-Rotie in a stemmy whole-cluster fermentation. While this little Syrah from Jamet is 90% de-stemmed, it still has a hint of the stems and the grip to keep it interesting with layers of loganberry, damson plum, blueberry and ripe cherry fruits, accented by the mentioned violets, minty herb, anise, a touch of leathery funk and subtle peppercorns with a lingering creme de cassis. The 2018 vintage, less hot than 2017, is much fresher and vivid, it shows a nice bright core of acidity and the wine feels alive and cooly focused adding mineral and stony notes with air, it has plenty of fruit to please the medium bodied palate, but the savory tones really balance things out. As per normal here, this was fermented for about three weeks in stainless after a rigorous hand grape harvest and selection before resting the wine in used wood, with 10 to 20 year old barriques being used on this one, for about 11 months. The new label is more in line with the Domaine’s image and style, and the wine is well worth the effort to get it!
($45 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day October 14, 2020

2019 Arnot-Roberts, Falanghina, Handal-Denier Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County.
Duncan Arnot Meyers and Nathan Lee Roberts’ 2019 Arnot-Roberts Falanghina is very cool and interesting white wine with a nice play between crisp detail and pleasing textural quality with a dry and savory core of golden(yellow) fruit, spices and stony elements. Arnot-Roberts, founded in Healdsburg in 2001, has helped elevate many unique varietals including Trousseau, Gruner Veltliner and Touriga Nacional in California and started working with this vineyard and the Falanghina grape in 2016, with some success as this food friendly and delicious wine shows. Falanghina, an ancient varietal, as noted by Arnot Roberts, is an ancient white grape variety that traces its roots to Campania, in Southern Italy’s coastal area not far from Naples. It is also known to have been a long time favorite, with Arnot-Roberts adding, that according to the writings of Pliny the Elder, wines made from the Falanghina grape were highly prized by the Romans. The grape’s most famous sites from the Amalfi Coast to Rome are thought to have been originally planted by Greeks, who also are believed to have brought Greco di Tufo to this same area as early as the 7th century BC. Falanghina, which thrives in warm climates and retains good acidity and likes mineral rich volcanic soils, which give the wines perfume, spice and mineral character that make them so compelling with Italian wineries like Feudi di San Gregorio, Mastroberardino, Il Favati and Marisa Cuomo all making fantastic and or classic versions. With the Handal-Denier Vineyard’s volcanic schist and Dry Creek’s consistent and warm Summers gives Arnot-Roberts Falanghina all the natural material to make a world class version and a studied example of this intriguing grape.

The 2019 Arnot-Roberts Falanghina, which feels like it has some skin contact is both pretty and filled with dry extract making for white wine with a bit of grip, this is a wine that has a real personality and presence in the glass with a bright yellowish/gold hue that will appeal to those that enjoy “orange wine” though this wine is not as severe as some, in fact this is a very elegant wine and lingers with a sense of creaminess. Arnot-Roberts, who also do a Ribolla Gialla (another rarity) from Northeastern Italy, usually do a whole-cluster pressing, use indigenous yeasts and allow close to six hours on the skins before an all stainless primary fermentation with the dry wine seeing between 8 to 10 months in neutral (well seasoned) used French oak. This 2019 is a stellar vintage that enjoyed a long cool growing season, that delivered complexity, zest acids and sharp clarity with layers of racy citrus, white flowers, quince, tangy tree picked apricot, dried rosemary, steely notes and clove spice. With food this wine rounds out with hints of caramel and its smooth mouth feel turns almost luxurious, I particularly enjoyed it with grilled prawns and I can see it being fabulous with soft cheeses as well as other fresh sea foods and white fleshy fish, like halibut and or swordfish. Most people know Arnot-Roberts for their incredible red wines, as I have noted over the years as a long time fan of their wines, but I also am greatly impressed by their whites, with this one being one of their most delightful, while their Trout Gulch Chardonnay, from Richard Alfaro’s Santa Cruz Mountains vines, continues to be one of my favorite Chards in the state. If you are lucky enough to find this organic and limited production, only 5 barrels made, white I highly recommend not passing it up!
($32 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day October 13, 2020

2018 Au Bon Climat, Pinot Noir, Santa Barbara County.
Grabbing a pizza and enjoying it outside on a warm Fall evening, it was impromptu, and the pizza shop had a very dad list of choices, so I had to make do with my local Safeway’s wine selections, which includes mostly a sickened array of cloyingly sweet and formula made wines, like 19 Crimes, The Prisoner and Apothic, so some effort is needed to find a pleasing and real wine, my choice made easy when I spotted this Au Bon Climat Pinot, and it saved a beautiful night! Jim Clendenen, the “Mind Behind” Au Bon Climat gave me some of my first great Pinot Noir experiences, bringing this magically grape into my life to my ever lasting gratitude and it was really fun to see what the currant release tasted like now, after 25 years as a wine professional, and I can tell you I got the same buzz and excitement with this gorgeous 2018 vintage, solidifying my admiration for Clendenen, who’s been making awesome Pinot and Chard since 1982. Jim’s wines came up in casual conversation recently, when a winemaker was discussing great values in California Chardonnay, well the same can be said about his Santa Barbara County Pinot Noir, as it delivers exceptional purity and varietal character, and its just damn good stuff, at a more than fair price. The 2018 vintage continues to perform outstanding in the bottle and in the glass with ABC’s basic Santa Barbara cuvee revealing a heady perfume of rose and lily floral notes and red berry fruit on the nose, gaining mineral and delicate earthiness on the nose before opening up to black cherry, plum and raspberry fruits on the detailed and medium bodied palate, accented by snappy spices, subtle wood and bright acidity that helps balance and lift this Pinot. The 2018 Au Bon Climat Pinot Noir only gets better with food, even with zesty marinara, pesto and Italian sausage which did not dull the clarity or quality in the slightest, in fact it brought out its personality and many smiles on my part, it was like being transported back to the early 1990s, remembering the stunning 1991 and 1992 versions of this wine!

Clendenen notes, Au Bon Climat has been making Pinot Noir from Santa Barbara County grapes since 1982, 23 years before the movie “Sideways” brought a spotlight to Pinot Noir and to the region. In the 1980s and 90s, Jim adds, the product mix at Au Bon Climat was 75% to 80% Chardonnay to 20% to 25% Pinot Noir. This era was almost all about Chardonnay and must people, except for some enthusiasts who drank the likes of Joseph Swan, Chalone and Mount Eden, had not yet discovered the joys of Pinot Noir. All this began to change, as Clendenen admits, in the late 90s and now Au Bon Climat makes almost an equal amount of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay. Au Bon Climat was a pioneering winery, and Clendenen is really part of California history and his wines inspired a region to focus on world class Pinot Noir. Clendenen’s passion and bigger than life personality brought serious attention to the quality of the vineyards in Santa Barbara County and especially Santa Maria Valley’s Bien Nacido Vineyard. Clendenen was an early admirer of this famed site and has crafted some of this historic sites best ever examples, he still makes one of the best, under his Historic Vineyards Collection series, and if this 2018 Santa Barbara is anything to go by, the 2018 single vineyard wines at ABC should be some of the best yet! Clendenen uses traditional Burgundian methods in the cellar with restrained use of new French oak and a more gentle/minimalist approach, he and his winemaking team focus on transparency and drinking pleasure, which is apparent in this latest effort. This wine brought out some child like joy and memories, it certainly shows Au Bon Climat still has it and I am thrilled. I also remember in the early 2000s, Clendenen doing one of first known Mondeuse in California, which I believe was originally mistaken for Pinot Noir. Sometimes moments in life, that happen by chance, make for the happiest of experiences, this bottle turned a normal day into a very special one. Clendenen has had a hall of fame career and has inspired and mentored many top winemakers, it great see he has not lost his groove.
($24 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day October 12, 2020

2017 Ridge Vineyards, Syrah/Grenache/Mataro, Lytton Estate Vineyard, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County.
One of my favorite red wines, Ridge’s GSM from their estate vines at Lytton Springs is an uniquely Californian version of a Rhone classic blend with a rich and opulent palate, very much in the mold of the winery’s house style and with Lytton Spring’s terroir showing in the taste profile. This ripe and dark fruited 2017 vintage was a blend of 62% Syrah, 27% Grenache and 11% Mataro (Mourvedre) that was indigenous yeast fermented and allowed to go through natural malos in barrel with no additions and very low doses of SO2 to display the sense of place and the year in the bottle, which this Chateauneuf du Pape inspired Cal Rhone does beautifully, as well as letting the grapes speak in each of thrown voices. The Syrah leads the way with dense blue fruits, along with its meaty and spicy character, while the sweet Grenache gives plummy vinous generosity and the Mataro, which really enjoyed the warm season, getting its full complexity, adds some rustic charm and adds an earthy/savory element that helps balance the wine as a whole. Those that love Ridge will find a comfort in this offering, especially in this vintage with its polished full bodied palate and a seamless mouth feel, this is wine that thrills the senses and has an expansive textural quality to go with its layers of boysenberry, plum, red currant and cherry fruits that are accented by a racy array of spice, herb, dried lavender, cedar and anise, along with a touch of toasty oak and lingering violette liqueur. Ridge suggests many intriguing pairs for this GSM, they include a Cajun spiced turkey with collard greens, braised lamb shanks over mashed potatoes as well as crispy pork belly over red lentils and curried squash, all of which sound amazing!

The inky hue and overt fruit really highlight the year and as this 2017 Syrah, Grenache and Mataro opens up in the glass to reveal an additional dimension of mocha, black fig, freshly shaved vanilla and peppery notes making this a wine exceptional with robust cuisine, in particular hearty meat stews, casseroles and BBQs, but it is flexible enough to go with hard cheeses, mushroom dishes and or pulled pork sandwiches. This wine comes from two hillside parcels at Lytton West, according to Ridge, with one plot planted entirely to Syrah while the other one is planted to half Grenache and half Mataro (Mourvedre) vines, and it is fermented and aged on site at the Lytton Springs facility using Ridge’s special 100% air-dried American oak barrels, choosing a combination of 10% new barrels with the rest being mostly one and two years-old casks with a few older neutral ones as well that helps balance it out while softening the tannins in this dark powerful wine. The low sulfur program employed at Ridge protects the wine’s color and keeps it fresh and stable aging so it can keep well in the cellar, while still providing for a more natural purity in the red’s performance. This vintage saw 12 months in barrel aging and then was bottle rested for almost a year before release to mature and settle, so that when the cork is popped it delivers a full account of its self, I usually try to age my Ridge wines, but I felt an overwhelming urge to open this one and I was not disappointed at all, though I can clearly see that this Rhone blend would benefit from a decade in a cool dark place. Ridge is one of America’s great wine treasures with many historic and legendary wines to their credit and they continue to impress me every year, with their awesome collection of releases, like this one!
($38 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day October 11, 2020

2017 St. Stephen Vineyards, Carmenere Reserva, Oda al Vino, Organic Vines, Colchagua Valley, Chile.
I was really excited to try some of St. Stephen’s new releases and check in on Chile’s development with their old pre-phylloxera clones of Bordeaux varietals and my more recent trend of sampling the Mission era Pais wines that have become so fashionable in the last 10 years, it is a great time to discover Chile’s diversity and history in the wine world. The Oda al Vino organic vine Carmenere Reserva is a beautiful example of this almost forgotten Bordeaux grape with lovely mineral tones and polished tannins, you can see why the Chateaux of Bordeaux have started replanting it, after almost 200 years of not having this long lost varietal, it is having a comeback of sorts, while being Chile’s signature grape, that they thought was a clone of Merlot until early in this century. The 2017 has everything that appeals about this grape, a beautiful dark garnet hue in the glass, delicate spices that range from cracked pepper to the more exotic Asian brown spices and a layered array of dark berry fruits with just the right amount of toasty French oak to soften the tannins. Chile’s Bordeaux bias started when cuttings of Carménère were imported by Chilean growers from Bordeaux during the 19th century, where they were accidentally mistaken with Merlot vines. These Chilean wineries of the 1800s modeled their wines after those in the Medoc and in the 1850s these vines from Bordeaux were planted in the valleys around Santiago, like the Colchagua, in the shadow of the Andes Mountains that allow a more warm and mild climate to their west. Also thanks to central Chile’s minimal rainfall during the growing season and well drained and diverse soils growers are able to produce ripe and complex examples of Carménère, like this one. Carménère, with its origins in the Médoc region of Bordeaux, is almost unknown in its country of its birth, but thrives in Chile and interesting enough in Italy’s Northeast regions including the Veneto and especially in the Friuli-Venezia area.

The 2017 Oda al Vino Carmenere Reserva starts with a light floral note, the mentioned mineral element and a whiff of its famous spices along with dusty vine picked berry and a touch of sweet oak before unfolding with blackberry, plum and cherry fruits on the supple, almost silken, medium/full bodied palate. The vintage will charm those that favor old world wines with well judged acidity and smooth structure, it is also excellent with food, in fact the fruit really becomes more defined and the spice more interesting with matching cuisine, in particular a fine cut of filet or confit, either duck or chicken leg meat. Made by St. Stephen’s winemaker José Antonio Bravo von Bischoffshausen, the Ode al Vino Organic Grown Carmenere Reserva saw a primary fermentation with selected cultures in stainless steel tanks, which lasted about two weeks before the wine was pressed to French oak with this vintage seeing close to 50% new wood and elevage lasting 15 months. There were no additions or manipulations done during the winemaking process and no need for acid adjustments with extra care being given to the vines to achieve a more nature and pure wine. The finished natural alcohol, labeled at 13% was labeled out at closer to 12.5%, so this Carmenere has a more balanced feel and an ease in the glass that makes it very approachable and easy to enjoy. I admire the restraint and poise of this vintage and a second glass was wonderfully pleasing and comforting, gaining my appreciation even more, and I look forward to trying José Antonio Bravo von Bischoffshausen’s other offerings, which at the moment, include a Malbec, single varietal bottling and a Cabernet Sauvignon, all from organic vines in the Colchagua Valley. Chile has one of the most unique and long history of winemaking, starting with those Spanish Catholic Missionaries that reached these shores in the 1500s, bringing with them the first European vines to the new world.
($24 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive