Category Archives: Wine Articles

Grapelive: Wine of the Day March 1, 2021

Latest Review

2013 Sky Vineyards, Zinfandel, Mt. Veeder, Napa Valley.
Lore Olds’ Zinfandels are rare and compelling wines that in some vintages transform into the profound, these wines are rawly authentic and honest efforts, but with age can provide a surprising elegance and complexity, as this 2013 showed last night, making for glorious unexpected evening of vinous enjoyment. I have found over the many years I have been enjoying Zinfandel that, California’s grape, can be truly extraordinary with age and there is a point when some, especially those from mountain sites, turn from flamboyant fruity to almost Bordeaux like, as this wine is doing right now, reminding me of a fine Saint-Julien with one of my favorites, Leoville Poyfrerre coming to mind, with a lovely sense of dark currant, loam and mineral going fabulously well with the briar laced classic raspberry core. Anyone who’s had 20 to 30 year old Ridge or Joel Peterson’s well matured Ravenwoods, with his early 90’s single vineyard stuff in particular, that he sometimes pulls out at trade tastings, will certainly attest to how awesome Zin can age, and this 2013 Mt. Veeder Sky, an odd and unheralded year, is really coming into its own. I was making some Sunday night fettuccini pasta with a spicy sauce that included saffron/smoked mussels on a whim, which needed a nice comforting bottle to spend the night with and I decided to pull this bottle out, and even though the flavors were quite vibrant with a mix of heat from red pepper flakes and lightly briny/fishy, this Sky Zin provided some sublime companionship with a stunning performance. The Sky Zin starts more subdued that many of its contemporaries, though with the grape’s notable raspberry essence being present, it takes on the mentioned currant, as well as plum and black cherry fruit, along with dried acacia flowers, a touch of cedar, anise, earth and cinnamony spices. This wine takes a few minutes to wake up in the glass with well integrated tannins and feels supple in the mouth, filling out to a perfectly portioned medium bodied with non aggressive acidity and a welcome low 13.4% natural alcohol. The quirky and rustic Sky Zinfandels have certainly impressed me over the years, after being turned on to them by my writer friend Brad Gray, who many years old got a remarkable interview with Lore Olds and his daughter, for Sonoma Magazine, both being media shy and hermit like up at their spectacular vineyard up on the southwestern face of Mount Veeder in the Mayocamas mountain range, and more recently by Kermit Lynch Imports salesman Matt Gerloff, who as a family friend of the Olds, has worked many vintages there, as well as battling swarms of wasps, rattlesnakes and the devastating recent fires.

The no nonsense and naturally hand crafted Sky Zinfandels are California treasures and should be on any Zin fans radar, they are unique wines that are terroir driven and offer a ton of soulful personality that activates the way back machine, these are true old school charmers. Sky Vineyards also does a fine Syrah, that also should not be missed with deeper fruit intensity and meaty quality, but also with a sense of grace and with a lovely violet perfume and a spicy pepper and wild sage note, plus a very rare Rosé, which I’ve only been lucky enough to have had but once! Sky Vineyards, founded back in 1973, set high up between the Napa and Sonoma valleys, resting as the Olds put it, on the picturesque crown of Mt. Veeder that is open to the expansive sky, where it gets its name and provides the inspiration for Lore’s beautiful artwork that grace the brilliant labels. The small family estate has fourteen acres of vines, as they also note is planted at an elevation of 2100 feet on their sun catching eastern-facing hillside where the Zinfandel and Syrah grapes enjoy plenty of sunshine and are refreshed by fog laced evenings that ripen these mountain grapes perfectly with an added terroir influenced intensity and structure. The reddish volcanic soil, this special climate and unique physical characteristics of the Sky estate come together along with the Olds respectful and gentle touch help makes wines that are distinct and have a sense of place. Sky uses holistic methods and is very green in practice, they are off the power gris, using only solar power, with sustainable practices, that includes, the use of permanent cover crops, dry farming all the vines, with promotion of birds and beneficial insects to minimize pests, plus a minimal use of water as well. In making the wines themselves, Sky is basic and traditional with hand-harvested grapes and mainly native yeast fermentation in open top one-ton bins that includes a workout of hand punch downs three times a day. After primary fermentation the wine is basket press-pressed into and aged in mostly well seasoned French oak barrels, all to capture exceptional purity and transparency. After have an extra glass or two of this beauty, I am looking into getting a few more bottles, luckily Sky is offering a few more bottles of this vintage and they are offering it at a special discount, so I highly recommend checking them out, plus the current 2014 and 2015 releases, which are also nicely priced and getting on their mailing list! It is a great time too support our hard working small family wineries that have been going through a cascade of tough times.
($39 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day February 28, 2021

2000 Domaine Gramenon, Vinsobres Cotes du Rhone Villages “Les Hauts de Gramenon” Rhone Valley, France.
The beautifully tertiary and mature 2000 vintage Les Hauts de Gramenon by Domaine Gramenon is on its last legs, but was surprisingly pleasing, lovely and complex last night , making for a hugely rewarding experience in an old Rhone and naturally made wine. Gramenon was originally brought to the United States by Bobby Kacher at Robert Kacher Selections, who took a chance on these natural wines by the Laurent family in the wilds of the Vinsobres area of the Southern Rhone Valley, which sits higher in the region, well north of Avignon, at good elevation, which only just received its AOC the status and became a “Rhône Cru” in 2006, though well known for its high quality for centuries. The wines here in Vinsobres must contain at least 50% Grenache and 25% Syrah and/or Mourvèdre to be labeled Vinsobres and usually do contain a healthy dose of Syrah, which can produce unbelievably gorgeous and haunting wines as seen in the bottlings by Chateau de Saint Cosme’s historic Chateau de Roanne and of course by the Laurent’s here at Domaine Gramenon. This dark garnet with burnt orange edges 2000 starts with earthy intensity, dusty porporri and dried red fruits with touches of leather, anise and a sensation of autumn in the glass, but beyond the obvious age the palate is still lively and the layers of strawberry, raspberry and blueberry fruits have a quality ripe sweetness that matches the savory elements well, especially for the first half an hour or so before the ever present signs of decay and sous bois notes take the stage. Even then the wine holds on bravely and with some exciting flair even, very impressive for a wine that should have been drunk close to twenty years ago.

Domaine Gramenon is now lead by the talents of Maxime François Laurent, who has grown into the role here magnificently and who has made a name for himself in his own right with a series of personal wines and who is admired for his perfumed and fresh wines here. He grew up fast after the sad and untimely death of his father in 1999, after which this estate has gained a huge following and now a significant part of the awesome selection of Rhones in importer Kermit Lynch’s star studded portfolio, and these Gramenon offerings, especially in recent years have developed a fanatic following. While getting his feet wet here, Maxime’s mom Michele Aubery-Laurent played a huge role in running this small estate after her husband passed and much credit to her is deserved for the quality and style here, working the vineyards with total commitment to organics and biodynamic methods. This wine has evolved into a beauty, though I must admit I would have preferred drinking it maybe ten years ago in its true glory years, but grateful it was still brilliant even now, crafted from mostly Grenache and Syrah grapes that saw partial whole cluster and nature yeast fermentation in mainly cement vats. In this period these wines saw little oak and raised in the tank, though a portion did get some time in demi-muid(s) and small barrels when needed, especially the darker and meatier Syrah. Nowadays, Maxime employs more barrique in the aging of his wines, that normally see lees than a year of elevage before bottling, though still having the concrete as the main vessel to mature these fabulous wines. I’ve really enjoyed exploring some very old Cotes du Rhone and Gigondas recently with these Gramenon efforts from 1998, 1999 and 2000 all being joyous and fine examples, making me seriously want to stock up current releases!
($35 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day February 27, 2021

2019 Cruse Wine Co., Valdiguie, Rancho Chimiles Vineyard, Napa Valley.
Valdiguie, once thought to be Gamay in California, has been in the state for a long time and makes for a very interesting wine that can give you the impression you are drinking a fine Cru Beaujolais and in this Cruse Ranch Chimiles version you an extra dimension with jazzy briar spiced crushed raspberry, mineral notes, spring florals and a lovely deep purple/ruby color. This 2019 vintage shows the years extended cool growing season and long hang time with a concentrated and textured palate, but with a juicy fresh personality, a quality that makes Valdiguie so playful and joyous, this is a highly quaffable with its layers of dark fruit, a lighter medium bodied feel with smooth burst of acidity that is in no way aggressive, just giving crisp detailing and keeping things exciting. Michael Cruse, known for his incredible sparkling wines from his leesy and sophisticated methode champenoise Ultramarine, that has a cult following, to his delightfully unique Pet-Nats, one that is made of St. Laurent, a rare Austrian grape in a Blanc de Noirs style and one, like this wine, made from Valdiguie in a Rosé, which is absurdly good too! That said, Cruse does a quality and intriguing set of still wines with varietals ranging from Syrah to Tannat, that originally comes from close the Pyrenees in France’s southwest and most famous in the fiery tannic red wines of Madiran and Irouleguy, in the French Basque region, as well as a brand new Petite Sirah, a red blend called the Monkey Jacket and this delicious Valdiguie. Time and air brings out more complexity and suppleness of fruit adding a delicate savory earthiness, herbs, anise, porporri and a nice cranberry element.

The Cruse Valdiguie, also known as Gros Auxerrois and or Napa Gamay, was hand crafted with an old world sensibility with the feel of whole bunches and a carbonic like indigenous yeast fermentation in tank and then raised in a combination of well used small barriques and larger French oak puncheons with a minimum dose of sulfur, in a style, that again reminds you of a traditional Fleurie or Morgon. There is plenty to admire here and Cruse is certainly one of California’s new stars and I highly recommend jumping on his new set of releases, these wines sell out fast, especially his bubbles, which are highly coveted, and I also suggest grabbing the Tannat and this Valdiguie while you can. Planted back in 1972, the Rancho Chimiles vineyard is located in the Wooden Valley, northeast of the town of Napa, its a special terroir with warm sunshine, but the area is cooled by evening breezes and fog from nearby San Pablo Bay that allows these grapes to get ripe, but with balance and gives the wines a welcome finesse. The Cruse lineup is fresh and fun, all of which are very expressive, vivid and transparent, these wines are made to be enjoyed without fussy over thinking of every detail, they offer generous fruit and opulent textural pleasure with a distinct ease of use that brings lots smiles and comfort. The Rancho Chimiles Valdiguie is one of the nicest examples of this grape out there and joins a select group of producers that make quality single varietal versions, including Broc Cellars, Wilson Foreigner, the Martha Stoumen and Las Jaras collaboration sparkling red (Valdiguie), Rochioli and Folk Machine to name a few. This 2019 edition of Michael Cruse’s Valdiguie is very inviting stuff with its lingering kirsch and violets that goes well with a variety of simple cuisine and is great with finger foods, cheese and cured meats, drink this over the next year or so.
($32 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day February 26, 2021

2019 Domaine des Rémizières, Crozes-Hermitage Rouge, Northern Rhone, France.
What a stunning color, this 2019 vintage is one to get really excited about in the Northern Rhone and this Domaine des Rémizières Crores-Hermitage is a deliciously fresh example with this striking purple hue and a medium bodied palate that is pure and pure gets for a young Syrah, it is a super tasty value as well, especially for the quality. This winery, which is known for their solid range of Northern Rhone bottlings usually sits nicely in the middle of road with wines that might not have the riveting excitement of more famous producers, but deliver authentic terroir character and clarity of form, these are workmen like efforts, though in vintages like this they can rise up and surprise, as this wine does, making it worthy to stock up on and a savvy buy. That said, the top Hermitage here are special wines for this third generation family run winery that was founded in 1973 after years of suppling grapes to the local co-op as most did back then in part of the Rhone, with both their white Hermitage and red versions being highly sought after. Based in Mercurol, this domaine is now run by Philippe Rémizières and his two children Emilie and Christophe, who have 36 hectares of vines scattered through Crozes-Hermitsage, Cornas, Saint-Joseph and the noted small parcels on the famed Hermitage hill, not too far rom the legendary La Chappelle, all of which have been farmed to organic minded based sustainable methods, with the cellar seeing very traditional winemaking.

This 2019 Crores-Hermitage Rouge, 100% Syrah from young vines that average 20 years old and set on gravelly clay and limestone based soils which brings out a warm ripe personality in this wine and this one delivers plenty of pleasing fruit with pretty layers of boysenberry, damson plum, black currant and vivid kirsch along with supple textures as well as hint of olive tapenade, black licorice, cedar, sweet violets and a touch of savory earthiness. The winemaking was low key here, with this Syrah seeing a closed tanks, including some cement vats and temperature controlled primary fermentation with de-stemmed grapes, getting about three weeks of maceration and then being raised for nine months to a year in used large oak foudres, all to promote this wine’s sense of place and clean flavor profile. This is a year to focus on in, if this wine is anything to judge such a things, it shows beautiful definition and is nicely expressive, it reminds me of some of the Maxime Graillot’s Domaine de Lises entry level bottlings like his Equinoxe. With air the bouquet gets better and more deeply floral and the mouth feel is elegant and poised, but still lively, lingering on with its dark fruits on the finish, making a comforting and admirable wine to enjoy over the coming two or three years. Overall, Crozes is a place to look for exceptional bargains with many wines way over delivering for the price and this one excels in that regard and it is a great way to get your feet wet with this region and the Domaine des Rémizières’ honest and transparent lineup.
($18 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day February 25, 2021

2016 Thistledown “The Vagabond” Old Vine Grenache, Blewitt Springs, McLaren Vale, South Australia.
The rich and full bodied (The) Vagabond Old Vine Grenache is a wine of serious hedonistic appeal with opulent ripe layers and pretty floral accents and with a smooth luxurious tannic structure, making this a wine with a ton of wow factor for an incredibly low price. The Blewitt Springs terroir is one of the most significant in South Australia and made famous by the legendary Clarendon Hills bottlings of the late 90s and early 2000s, and its high elevation location and deep sandy soils over a core of ironstone makes it a perfect area for profound Grenache, which has been growing here for close to a hundred years, it’s an area that marries the complexity and density of Chateauneuf du Pape and the sweet fruit intensity of California cult stars Saxum and Sine Qua Non. This 2016 The Vagabond is very singular and impressive offering, which has been getting a ton of buzz at home with great reviews, is a special limited wine that was produced by Thistledown wine company, which was founded by two Masters of Wine in 2010, Giles Cooke MW and Fergal Tynan MW, who along with winemaking talent Peter Leske, make hand-crafted small-batch wines that highlight some of Australia’s most prized regions and distinctive sites. Without knowing the details, I took the plunge here, because the price seemed ridiculous for the pedigree and I only wish I had got a few more bottles of this stuff! The main profile here is one of immense flavor with classic, for Blewitt Springs, character showing raspberry jam, strawberry, pomegranate and dense plum fruits along with an array of spice and herbal notes, there is melted black licorice, menthol, pepper and crushed flowers as well in this deep Grenache, that Cooke and Tynan say was influenced and inspired by old world Spanish Garnacha(s) and Rhone wines.

The Thistledown Australia project obviously relies on the highly regarded Peter Leske, he is a well-known face in Australia wine circles, and his experience working for the likes of Nepenthe, Grosset and Domaine Dujac in Burgundy made him a perfect partner and a solid base from which to make these interesting wines, like this Old Vine Grenache. It is noted by Thistledown, that in 2012, Leske took over the old Nepenthe winery located in Lenswood, Adelaide Hills and re-named it Revenir, where he makes his own wines and those of Thistledown. The winery is, as Cooke and Tynan explain, very well equipped with all the toys needed to make brilliant small batch wines, making it this a perfect home for Thistledown project. The mission here was to create unique bottlings that showcase Australia at its best, pulling away from the stereotypes and focusing on authentic terroir driven wines, these include a series of varietals and blends from Merlot to Shiraz and Grenache Blanc to dry Riesling, all from different regions. They also produce some very rare Aussie versions of Zibibbo and Nero d’Avola, which are Sicilian grapes as well as a classic GSM, all of which sound interesting, and after tasting this The Vagabond Old Vine Grenache, they make my mouth water, I can only hope some of them make over here to California. This wine was sourced from a single 70 year old bush vine and dry farmed parcel in the famed Blewitt Springs sub-region of McLaren Vale and was fermented in a combination of cement and small bins with partial whole cluster and all indigenous yeasts, after which the wine was raised in both cement eggs and French oak puncheons to allow the purity of place to shine though. This Grenache, which shows a hint of subtle stem inclusion, gets better with air and much better with food, especially hearty BBQ dishes.
($15 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day February 24, 2021

2016 Adega de Penalva “Indigena Blend” Vinho Tinto, Dao, Portugal.
While I try to avoid co-op made wines and focus on small family estates, it is impossible to do so all together and especially when the wine is as delicious as this well made and irresistible deeply purple hued and medium bodied Portuguese red blend from the picturesque Dao (DOC) region with its granite hillside vineyards above the river. The price and grapes lured me in and I was not disappointed in this Adega de Penalva Indigena Blend Vinho Tinto in any way shape or form, it is impeccable stuff, made from 40% Touriga Nacional, 30% Tinto Roriz (A clone of Tempranillo) and 30% Jaen, which is the Portuguese name for Mencia, that was all hand harvested and de-stemmed and then fermented and aged in a combination of stainless steel and concrete tanks. This is pretty stuff with dark florals and a jazzy spiciness with smooth layers of ripe fruits including blackberry, plum, morello cherry and tartly fresh blueberries, plus snappy herbs, mineral tones, a hint of earth and lilacs. The tank raised 2016 vintage Vinho Tinto is still vibrant and crisply detailed with a nice burst of natural acidity and a well judged balance between ripeness and refined alcohol, coming in at 12.5% it feels vinous, but not heavy, making it easy to quaff and very good with an array of food choices.

The very noteworthy Adega de Penalva has a solid reputation for quality and value, it is thought of, as one of the top cooperative producers in the Dao region, which certainly seems well justified when you taste this wine, a remarkable bargain for the level of pleasure and purity it delivers in the glass. The 2016 vintage is drinking quite impressively and I see that this Adega de Penalva Indigena Blend is being discounted as the new release is out from Penalva’s importer, Skurnik Wines, making it an even more savvy wine to stock up on, as it will drink nicely for another 2 to 3 years with ease, though immediate use is advised! This tasty stuff opens up further with air and adds a few charms to its performance and again it is complimentary to a variety of dishes from simple burgers, hard cheeses and cured meats to rustic seafood stews, there’s a joyous supple texture and an underlying vitality, which is helped by the good dose of Jaen (Mencia) that gives a lot of personality to this wine. Portugal relies on co-ops for close to 80% of the country’s wine production, estate wines are a rarity here, and while that looks a bit depressing, there are a ton of happy surprises from these operations, like this one from Adega de Penalva, and when you are looking for insane value in old world wine, you can find it here, with the Dao in particular a place to look!
($13 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day February 23, 2021

2018 Foradori, Teroldego, Vigneti delle Dolomiti, Alto Adige, Italy.
Elisabetta Foradori is one of Italy’s greatest vignerons and a leading light in the world of what we call natural wine and her signature Teroldego bottlings some of the country’s most sought after and prized wines, with even this, her entry level or basic version of this unique varietal being a fabulous effort and this 2018 vintage is a classic version of this dark and intriguing grape. Elisabetta, who took over her family’s estate at a young age after the unexpected death of her father, focuses on holistic and biodynamic farming and her estate has become a total sustainable farm and regenerative with a deep respect of the land and environment which honors the land and history of the region of Trentino in the high elevation wine zone of the Italian Alps. Over her winemaking career, Foradori has explored her techniques and styles, which have evolved over the last decade and she fine tuned how she approaches her wines with the wines relying less on small barriques and new oak and employing indigenous yeast and whole cluster fermentations and using special amphora for some of the wines. The deep purple and dark crimson 2018 Foradori Teroldego Vigneti delle Dolomiti IGT Rosso was spontaneously fermented from all hand harvested 100% Teroldego grapes and saw mostly de-stemmed berries with a limited amount of full bunches sourced from estate vines set ion the sandy soils and Dolomitic limestone in the Campo Rotaliano area with a small portion still farmed in the historical pergola-trained method. This bottling, the main wine of the winery, which has been produced at Foradori since 1960, was raised in a combination of cement tanks and used oak foudres for just about year, and was made to express varietal character, purity and transparency of the Teroldego without any additional sulphites being used in the winemaking process and only sees a tiny dose just before bottling to guarantee freshness and stability for shipping.

This latest release shows a subtle floral bouquet and a fine mineral element to go along with elegant layers of racy red fruits, a dusting of spices and a supple textural mouth feel on the medium bodied palate of this 2018 vintage that delivers wild plum, vine picked and brambly raspberry, tangy currant and big cherry fruit that is accented with mountain herbs, minty anise, crushed stones, a touch of earthiness and as well as a bright burst of natural acidity that keeps everything taut and fresh. This is a wine that loves food and gets significantly better when paired with matching cuisine, but provides good companionship with pasta dishes and or pizza, which I had it with this time around. The opulent and ripe tannin is present, though never aggressive, leaving an impression of silkiness and it has a lovely lingering aftertaste. The Teroldego grape is an ancient varietal that seems to be only suited to this picturesque landscape and is almost unknown outside of its native Alto Adige and was first mentioned in documents back in the 1300s, and like Lagrein, which is also found almost entirely in this remote mountainous part of Italy. In an effort to get the best of the Teroldego grape Foradori has created plantings that include fifteen diverse clones that provides Foradori with better genetic selections and more depth of flavors in this rare grape. The recent use of DNA mapping of grape varietals has shown that Teroldego has distant relationship to Syrah and Pinot, though also maybe linked to the far East, most likely it was a natural crossing of grapes with some European wild vines and vines that came from as far as Georgia and as close as Croatia. Foradori’s efforts (in clonal diversity) have reduced yields and berry size as well as having a heightened aromatic quality, all of which give her wines their beauty, concentration and complexity. It’s always a treat to drink Foradori’s Teroldego wines, especially this one that offers such a great value, though I must say her whites are easily just as compelling with her Manzoni Bianco and Nosiola Bianco both being stunning, as well as the Fuoripista, the “orange” version of Pinot Grigio. If you’ve not tried any of the Foradori wines, now is a great time to explore them, with Elisabetta’s latest Teroldego being a sublime starting point.
($28 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day February 22, 2021

2018 Sling | Stone, Pinot Noir, Knott Family Vineyard, Monterey County.
One of the breakthrough labels of last year, the Sling | Stone wines by Francisco “Junior” Banuelos continues to impress with a fabulous set of Pinots, Chards and Syrah from the 2018 vintage, with his beautiful Knott Family Vineyard Monterey County Pinot being one of my favorites, with this bottle, opened this weekend, showing outstandingly well with everything coming together nicely and with the fruit stealing the spotlight. The 2018 Sling | Stone Monterey County Pinot starts with fruit forward and floral presence in the glass, its pretty ruby/garnet color making it even more inviting, with layers of black cherry, plum, raspberry and sweet fig fruits along with stylish spice, mineral and well judged use of new oak, about 20% of the toasty French oak barrels being new, while the rest was seasoned used barriques that allow for the transparent flavors to lead the way and helping to promote the wines silken texture with just the right amount of vanilla, smoke and fig accents. This 2018 is vibrant and has lots of energy, but delivers a deep sense of richness and is finely tuned, making it wonderfully appealing and rewarding with matching food pairings, those that love the Santa Lucia Highlands will find joyous similarity in style with this one, even if not coming from the region itself. After a few hours of being open, things get even better here, with hints of blueberry, rose petals, a touch of pomegranate, a fine savory/earthy element and tea spice come through, all adding to the feeling of opulence and refinement and shows Junior has very good understanding of this grape and a gentle touch in the winemaking.

Banuelos, who is an assistant winemaker at Odonata Winery based in the Santa Lucia Highlands on River Road under Dennis Hoey, who has obviously been a huge influence and mentor for this label, has received well deserved critical acclaim for his small lot wines, especially his Syrah and even in these difficult times has shown he has the talent and work ethic to be a success. The Sling | Stone Wines, named as a reference to David v Goliath, which I believe highlights the struggle for the underdogs in the wine business and especially for those that don’t come from a privileged background and or how hard it is for people of color to make it in this business. I am excited for Junior and his upcoming set of Sling | Stone 2019s as well, which looks like a stellar vintage that just might eclipse the gorgeous 2018s, which was a killer years for the Monterey region with a long cool growing season that perfectly ripened the area’s Pinot Noir with complex depth and fresh natural acidity, which clearly shows in this Knott Family Vineyard Pinot. The Sling | Stone wines are very limited bottlings, but well worth chasing down and I highly recommend Junior’s other work with Hoey at Odonata, which has cemented its place in recent years as a must visit small family winery with an excellent collection of unique wines from their exciting and fun Sangiovese(s) to their serious efforts with Santa Cruz Mountains Cabernet Sauvignon, as well as Odonata’s own Pinot and Syrah, which are all tasty treats. The Sling | Stone wines are made with artisan flair and Junior is working with native yeasts and employs some whole cluster, which is more present in his latest Tondre Grapefield Pinot than this one, so the savvy enthusiasts will probably opt for both versions, which I would encourage, no question. Being a native of the Monterey wine country, it is a great to see so many exciting new wines come out from a new generation of local winemakers that have really raised the game here, including Junior Banuelos’ Sling | Stone’s tidy and tasty lineup.
($35 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day February 21, 2021

2018 Alfaro Family Vineyards, Malbec, Ryan Spencer Vineyard, Estate Grown, Santa Cruz Mountains.
The Alfaro Family Vineyards, based in Corralitos in the southern zone of the Santa Cruz Mountains and founded by Richard and Mary Kay Alfaro back in 1998, is widely known for their incredible coastal cool climate Chardonnay and Pinots, but they have a few other surprises to offer from their impeccably farmed and beautiful hillside vineyards, including a fabulous Gruner Veltliner, a elegant Merlot and this inky, spicy and dark fruited Malbec, the fickle and tricky to grow alternative Bordeaux varietal that was originally from the southwest of France in the its historical home in Cahors. After a few disappointments with other grapes, especially a block of Albarino that got scorched in a heat wave in 2017, Richard focused his attention on his small plot of Malbec at the Ryan Spencer Vineyard, not far from some of the Syrah vines on the estate and the results are impressive with this cool climate version of Malbec, also known in the Loire Valley, where it also is commonly found as Côt, is a nicely concentrated and deeply flavored wine with a unique profile that includes layers of black cherry, forest floor, crushed tart blackberry, plum and a mix of sweet and savory herbs and spices along with a luxurious does of toasty French oak that helps polish and smooth out the tannic edges. The 2018 Ryan Spencer Malbec was carefully sorted and de-stemmed before a cool primary fermentation and then aged for 10 months in 50% new oak, everything done with a nod to both classic Bordeaux and the expressive Argentine versions that have brought this grape world wide fame in the past 25 years. The Alfaro Malbec is skillfully made and has a fresh underlying personality, coming in at a ripe 13.5% natural alcohol, it never feels heavy or hot, being well structured and having a fine cut of acidity from the close proximity to the Pacific Ocean only a few miles away.

The latest set of estate and Trout Gulch wines from Richard and his son Ryan, who has gained winemaking experience with stints in New Zealand and along with the legendary Adam Tolmach at Ojai Vineyards, are delicious and very serious offerings with the Alfaro Chards, as mentioned, being outrageously good and wonderfully stylish efforts, no one should miss the Alfaro Lindsay Page Chardonnay and the Trout Gulch Chardonnay, both of which are killer values and bright stars in this vintage collection. Besides the limited, only three barrels were made, Malbec, Alfaro has crafted some lot goodies from purchased grapes, like his Garys’ Vineyard and Rosella’s Vineyard Pinot Noir(s) along with a powerful single vineyard Bates Ranch Cabernet Sauvignon. While styled traditionally, the single varietal 2018 Malbec opens up and sheds its toasty sweet wood influence quickly in the glass to reveal the grape’s blue fruits, a delicate floral essence and an earthy note adding round mouth feel with air. Lingering herbs de Provence, anise, loamy stones, bitter coco and tart currants make for a dimension of complexity on the finish, in what is a robust example of Malbec that is at its best with hearty and meaty cuisine, though also quite nice with hard cheeses. In Roman times, Malbec was one of the great red wines of the world with black and fiery Cahors versions getting shipped throughout their empire, in fact it was the trading efforts with Cahors wine that helped Bordeaux become a thriving port city and gave the locals the idea of planting grapes there! Malbec was one of the most important grapes in Bordeaux up until 1956 when a huge frost killed off almost 75% of the Malbec and it wasn’t re-planted in large acreage, thus it turned into a minor blending component. Cahors has seen a rise in popularity in the last decade with many excellent wines, but it is all about the high elevation Mendoza Malbecs, like those of Catena, that have captured the hearts of Malbec lovers and this Alfaro version is an interesting California bottling that this grape’s fans should check out!
($40 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day February 20, 2021

2018 Sandlands, Syrah, Santa Lucia Highlands.
This Sandlands Syrah has been a favorite of mine from the first time I tried it, and the 2018 vintage is in my opinion the best yet, with gorgeous black fruits, its deep violet perfume, its beautiful and inviting purple/garnet hue all revolve around a lively medium bodied palate with incredible textural impact. Tegan Passalacqua, who is widely admired for his own farming and of his impeccable winemaking at Turley Wine Cellars really understands the pleasures of mouth feel and this wine highlights this to perfection, as well as having a fantastic balance or contrast between Syrah’s savory/meaty side and the density of fruit, this creates an endless thrill of the grape’s old world rustic elements and the sweet opulence of its California fruit. The latest Sandlands releases are a studied and brilliant set of small production wines, with quite a few extraordinary efforts, including this one, of which just four barrels were produced and sourced from what Tegan calls, the Soberanes Vineyard that is impeccably farmed by the Pisoni family, planted on the Santa Lucia Highlands classic sandy loams, riddled with chunks of quartz and granite. This vineyard has become a star in the region, joining the top family crus from Pisoni and Franscioni, a collection of greatness including the legendary Pisoni estate, Rosella’s, Sierra Mar and the Garys’ Vineyard, and while known for the Pinot Noir and Chardonnay here, Soberanes has some of the best Syrah fruit in the state, as evidenced by this awesome example. The Sandlands 2018 version showcases the year’s long cool growing season with precision and Northern Rhone like character in its low alcohol as well as its depth and complexity that are just beginning to unfold with fabulous layering of flavors, rich detail and supple tannins with blackberry, boysenberry, plum and racy currant (cassis) fruits, along with bramble, pepper, crushed violets, a touch of welcome umami, almost bacony and anise. The Alban clone Syrah, planted at Soberanes, which I’m told was originally sourced from Cote Rotie, along with some rows of Hermitage (Chave?) clone, which is also included in this wine, plus the terroir here, always seems to bring out the most seductive of Syrah’s personality, while delivering impressive structure, I personally think the Syrah offerings from this site are special and in some cases better than even the Pinot Noir, with Tegan’s being one of the most desirable.

The Sandlands Vineyards label is, as mentioned, the personal project of Tegan and his wife Olivia Passalacqua, a micro winery that sells most of its wines through direct sales on their mailing list, which I highly recommend trying to get on. Their line-up focuses on, as Passalacqua notes, the forgotten classic California varieties, From the Mission grape to Cinsault, and primarily grown on sandy soils with mainly ancient decomposed granite, from regions and vineyards, than Tegan adds, that have been farmed for many generations but have remained the outliers of California viticulture. The most acclaimed efforts in the lineup at Sandlands that I have tasted so far include their old vine Mataro (Mourvedre), which I put away to age, the Carignane, a wine that should not be overlooked, the Trousseau, the Chenin Blanc(s), Grenache and of course the Zinfandel from Passalacqua’s own Kirschenmann Vineyard in Lodi, to name a select few. Most of the vineyards that Tegan sources from are organic and his winemaking is all about letting the vineyards speak for themselves, which I might describe as gentle and transparent, seeing natural fermentation(s) and a well judged use of oak, with this Syrah showing excellent purity without any pretense or endowment. There are some really sexy Syrah wines out from this vintage and they certainly are some of the best values in California, with the likes of Pax, Drew, Halcon, Lucia (by Pisoni), Cattleya, Peay, Andrew Murray, Piedrasassi, Samuel Louis Smith, Storm and Anthill Farms making spectacular Syrah wines, all killer values too. I’m also excited by the upcoming 2019s from Sandlands, as everything I’ve heard or tasted so far makes me think it will be an even better vintage and one to really stock up on, especially as a huge many of areas of California, especially in Monterey County, saw horrific smoke taint in 2020, so there will be slim pickings of quality red wines, making these 2018s and 2019s even more in demand than usual. With the Sandlands Syrah coming in at 12.8% natural alcohol, it has a cool climate freshness, but still is expansive and looks to have a long life ahead of it, making me wish I had a few more bottles of this stylish wine.
($45 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive