Category Archives: Wine Reviews

Grapelive: Wine of the Day January 17, 2021

Latest Review

2019 Pax Wines, Trousseau Noir, Berg Ranch Vineyard, Fountaingrove District, Sonoma County.
The wonderfully quaffable and delicately pale 2019 Pax Trousseau pays homage to the Jura region with this light, spicy and tangy fresh wine that has a nice play between fruit and savory elements, making this a super fun. Trousseau, which is known for its Pinot Noir like silky texture and fresh acidity, has gained a cult like following in California, mush the same way as Gamay has with producers like Stolpman’s and Raj Parr’s Combe label, Sandlands by Tegan Passalacqua as well as the most widely known and sought after version from Arnot-Roberts and this limited Pax bottling, which is seriously delicious stuff. I have my favorite Jura examples of this grape, that includes Julien Labet, Jean-Francois Ganevat, Domaine Tissot and Jacques Puffeney to name a few from this remote alpine region of France that inspired this Sonoma hillside, low alcohol, less extracted red. This Bearg Ranch Trousseau shows tart and candied cherries, juicy plum, pomegranate and distilled strawberries with crunchy whole bunches character along with snappy cinnamon, anise and herbal notes in a creamy textured, but zesty wine that benefits from a slight chill and simple country style cuisine. With air this wine rounds out and is supple with its pale ruby color perfectly matching the wine’s refreshing personality and purpose adding a hint of earthiness, subtle stemmy notes and lingers with a sweet and sour feel with soft florals, brambly raspberry and hint of rhubarb. This 2019 Trousseau Noir is a delightful wine that goes great with picnics, cheeses and sea food dishes, as well as BBQs.

Pax’s Trousseau Noir, sourced from the Bearg Ranch in the Fountaingrove AVA, which is set in the hills between Healdsburg and Chalk Hill and planted, as the winery notes, on three different soil types, with the majority on mineral rich red clay and Kidd-forward-cohasset series soils, plus a smaller block is on an old creek-bed, that has gravel and shallow silty soils, and the final block is rooted in deeper loam and clay. Pax Mahle planted four different clonal selections of Trousseau, that he says are from a couple of his favorite Trousseau vineyards, both in California and France. This area sees a cooling flow of air from the Pacific Ocean and cool nights to go with warm days, which promotes good ripe flavors while retaining dynamic energy and natural acidity that certainly shows in this Pax Trousseau, making it easy to enjoy and not a wine to over think. This effort is one of the Pax series of natural style wines that gets partial or all whole cluster and carbonic fermentation(s) with mostly being tank aged and or a short spell in used wood, these are meant to be drunk young and quaffed with friends in a less serious way. There are quite of few of these alternative wines from Pax, of which to explore along with this Trousseau Noir, including a new Savoie inspired Mondeuse, a Trousseau Gris (a skin contact white wine), a Mission grape (AKA Pais or Listan) red and a set of Gamay(s), as well as a Carignan and Chenin Blanc. Of course, most people will know that Pax crafts some of the state’s best Syrah wines, with his Armagh and Alder Springs being a couple of my favorites, but in recent years he added these lighter Glou-Glou wines to his collection and you should check them out.
($38 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day January 16, 2021

2018 Ridge Vineyards “Lytton Springs” Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County.
The 2018 Lytton Springs is absolutely brilliant and a thrilling wine of serious dimension and drinking pleasures, proving once again why it is one of California’s greatest wines with exceptional richness of flavors, lively energy and polished tannins, this is everything you’d want from this Zinfandel blend and more. This long time Ridge staple has long been one of my favorite wines, in fact I almost never miss a chance to visit Lytton Springs, no matter how many times I go there I still am as excited as I was the first time I went there back in 1996 when Ridge had just taken over the site and tastings were in the old barn and on old barrels with a group of cats watching on, a far cry from the modern facility that it is today, though with the same old vines standing guard and giving this special spot its soul and sense of history. With those century old vines and a gifted team in the cellar it’s not hard to understand why this wine is such a success, year after year and decade after decade, and while Lytton Springs is awesome and expressively fruit forward when young, it should also be noted these wines age fantastically well and this 2018 especially looks like a wine that will bring even greater rewards over the next 20 years, with a long cooler growing season providing incredible structure, depth and nice lifting acidity. The young Lytton Springs is deep purple and opaque in the glass, helped by the bigger doses of Petite Syrah and Carignane than normal maybe and its full bodied palate over joys the senses with layers of dense dark berries, including blackberry, boysenberry and classic briar laced raspberry along with plum, blueberry and morello cherry fruits all which unfold with a mix of spices, dried herbs, wild flowers and a polished and slightly smoky sweet wood note. As it is now, this Lytton Springs is impossible to resist and just gets better and better as it opens up and while hedonistic and luxurious it does benefit from food, adding another level to an already sensational wine and allowing it to show some underlying sophisticated elements with a touch of savoriness and a bit of mineral showing up, this vintage is really something extra and should not be missed.

Ridge Vineyards carefully selected the lots for this bottling with the final Lytton Springs blend being 72% Zinfandel, 18% Petite Sirah, 8% Carignane and just 2% Mataro (Mouvervdre) all coming from this Dry Creek property with each varietal fermented separately with all ingenious natural yeasts and gentle winemaking techniques to allow the grapes and vintage to shine without a heavy-handed endowment of extract or an overly lavish oak treatment, going for a more transparent form and freshness. At 14.5%, the 2018 is no wall flower, but the balance and quality of the fruit never let this wine taste anything but impeccably well judged with no flaws in evidence at any point, this is outstanding stuff, one of the best Lytton Springs of the last ten to fifteen years. Ridge says the primary maceration and fermentation were nicely slow and cool with the skins giving excellent pigmentations with just three days and a once a day gentle hand punch downs and or pump overs doing the trick in this magnificent vintage, with plenty of fine grained tannins and serious concentration being delivered perfectly to the finished wine that was aged in Ridge’s special air dried (well seasoned) American oak barrels with just enough new wood to give this wine its stylish texture and its lingering vanilla note. There are a lot of intriguing Zins available these days, but it is always good idea to get a refresher course in the classics like Turley, Biale and Ridge, with their Pagani, Geyserville and this Lytton Springs, all being standard barer efforts. In recent years there have been great alternative choices too, with Bedrock, Lagier-Meredith, Sandlands, Monte Rio Cellars, Martha Stoumen and Lamborn, to name a few to explore by comparison to the amazing array of Zins being made at Ridge. This version of Lytton Springs should not be missed, and I highly recommend trying some of Ridge’s more limited wines too, especially the Rhone inspired reds and their tasty Carignane based wines that I cannot resist, plus Ridge’s Bordeaux varietal lineup from the Monte Bello estate. I am counting the days until we can get back to wine tastings on site, with Ridge being one I, in particular, look forward to visiting again.
($40 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day January 15, 2021

2018 Anne-Sophie Dubois, Fleurie “Les Labourons” Cru Beaujolais, France.
The top or signature wine from the talented Anne-Sophie Dubois is her awesome Les Labourons Fleurie Cru Beaujolais that comes from a high elevation, with a warm Southwest exposure, parcel of Gamay vines that are set on the classic pink granite soils of this appellation, all of which give this gorgeous wine its intensity, distinction, heightened aromatics and elegance with a crisp detailing of pure flavors. This 2018 is impeccable with a clarity of terroir and focus showing a racy edginess and a slight hint of reduction to start before everything comes alive on the medium bodied palate with precise layers of dark vine picked berries, tart currant, strawberry, ripe cherries and earthy blueberry fruits along with delicate spices, mineral tones and crushed violets. While lovely and youthful, this deeply garnet/ruby Gamay beauty takes to another level with a fine structure, complexity and exceptional length in a quaffable package that just gets better and better as it fully opens in the glass, it is a Fleurie that has the style and grace of a Chambolle-Musigny, but at a much more reasonable price. There is no question that Anne-Sophie Dubois is one of young superstars of Beaujolais region and part of a new generation of vignerons that are bringing this area to world wide attention, and as her importer says, as well as redefining the identity of Beaujolais. Dubois was born and raised in Champagne and she gained her first winemaking experiences in Burgundy, which has really guided her in her approach and style with her own wines, especially in the methods she employs in the cellar. Dubois has mostly shied away from the use of carbonic fermentation, preferring a more traditional Burgundian regime with mostly de-stemmed grapes, while employing a natural or indigenous yeast fermentation with a gentle handling of the wine from vineyard to bottle.

Anne-Sophie’s Les Labourons bottling, formerly known as the Clepsydre in her lineup, is named for its special old vine Lieu Dit, and was first released for the 2017 vintage and sports a new artist label, with this effort leading the way in Dubois’ fabulous collection of sophisticated, soulful and all organic Beaujolais. The 2018 Les Labourons came from the oldest vines and the best selections of grapes, which, as mentioned, were 100% de-stemmed and saw a cool maceration with the wine, after primary was complete, seeing an elevage of just over a year in all well used or what you’d call neutral French oak barrels. This very pretty Fleurie Les Labourons that came in at 12.5% natural alcohol is poised, silky ripe and wonderfully balanced, its acidity and taut vibrancy helping make it absolutely delicious with food. There is so much to get excited about in Beaujolais these days, especially with the stunning quality levels were are seeing from the young winemaker that call this place home, including the gifted Dubois as well as next generation of well known estates like Charly Thevenet, Alex Foillard, Justin Dutraive and the Lapierres, along with Julien Sunier, to name a few, all of which I highly recommend. The three main Fleurie offerings at Anne-Sophie Dubois are very individual in personality and each are made to highlight this, they include her Les Cocottes, the only 100% whole cluster and carbonic maceration version, the L’Alchimiste, that is from a selection of vines over forty years of age, 100% de-stemmed and raised in a combination of cement and various sized oak casks, and this Les Labourons, all of which saw a minimal dose of sulphites and bottled unfined and unfiltered to preserve every nuance that the vintage and vines deliver. Anne-Sophie takes great pride in her vines, she like many of vignerons believes the wines are made in the vineyard, and spends most of her time carefully hand tending them and holistically working the soils to keep them healthy, and her commitment shows in her wines, especially this latest release.
($40 Est.) 95 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day January 14, 2021

1996 Domaine Catherine et Pierre Breton, Bourgueil “Grandmont” Loire Valley, France.
The joys and wonderment of a perfectly cellared bottle really comes into focus when you get to experience a wine like this one, where its 25 years haven’t been cruel at all, and it came out of the bottle with amazing energy, freshness, varietal purity and crisp details, making me just say “WOW” and giving me a huge Cabernet Franc smile! I’ve been a have of the Breton wines for sometime now, but I had never had a bottle more than 10 years old before this gorgeous 1996 Grandmont Bourgueil, which was bought on release from Kermit Lynch Wine Merchant and tucked away in a cool dark cellar in Pebble Beach, where it never left until a friend bought the owner’s collection of mostly Rhone and Loire wines around Thanksgiving and I was able to purchase a couple of the lesser known wines that wouldn’t break the bank. I have moved around quite a bit since 2008 and I don’t have high hopes for some of the bottles that have made this nomad like journey, though I hope for the best, while having this bottle showed the incredible value of having a quality cellar that is unaffected by sunlight, movement and changes in temperature. The color of this 1996 Breton Grandmont is exceptional with a beautiful garnet hue in the glass and the nose is heavenly, singing of its terroir and grape with a powerful voice with a flourish of floral notes, sensual mineral, wild herbs, earthiness, red berries and a classic hint of bell pepper. This graceful medium bodied 100% Cabernet Franc shows a bright mix of dark currant, plum, black cherry and mulberry fruits as well as briar, crush stones, leather, the mentioned bell pepper, anise and a touch of cedar on the smooth, but remarkably lively palate that age hasn’t diminished or blunted, making for excellent example of just how good these Loire reds age and just how good these wines, which seem wildly underrated, really are. In hindsight, I should have made a special meal for this amazing Cab Franc, but honestly it was brilliant with leftovers and was equally graceful and lovely all on its own.

The Domaine Catherine et Pierre Breton, founded in 1982, is an all biodynamic and organic estate with a focus on the communes of Chinon and Bourgueil and Cabernet Franc, though they do some nice Chenin Blanc too which comes mainly from selected plots in Vouvray, including a fun Pet-Nat and a series of serous dry and mineral toned versions as well as rare 100% Grolleau Vin de Pays rouge. The more age worthy set of red Bourgueil (and Chinon) wines, which are guided by Pierre Breton are fermented using natural yeasts and see mostly natural winemaking methods without additions and low sulphites, all to promote a transparent array of flavors, structure and balance. This Grandmont, like the Clos Senechal and Les Perrieres Breton’s best two Bougueils, comes from older vines on the hillsides above the plateau of Galichets, and as Kermit Lynch explains, are set on clay and limestone that sits atop the famed tuffeau of the Loire, the chalky white rocky soils. The Grandmont was traditionally macerated in open wood vats and rested in used large wooden foudres, and as, which the winery adds, is bottled without fining or filtration after at least 18 months of fine lees aging. The Breton Bourgueil offerings are the more elegant versions of their Cabernet Francs, while the Chinon(s) tend to be more powerful and more tannic by nature, but both are graceful agers, which this older Grandmont proves in particular. I have been lucky enough to have met the Bretons at a Kermit Lynch Imports tasting and I’ve sampled through almost all of their wines, with their Bourgueil collection being my favorites in their lineup, especially the Les Galichets and profound Les Pierrieres. These Loire Cab Francs go extremely well with winter cuisine and or dishes, including duck breast, wild mushrooms, cheese plates and simply spiced meaty foods. Like the wines from other Loire producers, Olga Raffault, Thierry Germain and Bernard Baudry to name a few, these Catherine et Breton Cab Francs are savvy values for mid term cellaring.
($40 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day January 13, 2021

2019 Jim Barry, Dry Riesling, Lodge Hill, Clare Valley, South Australia.
As a confirmed Riesling Freak and or an Acid Head I am a huge fan of Aussie Rieslings like those by Grosset, Rolf Binder, Pewsey Vale and this Lodge Hill Riesling by Jim Barry, which with its lip smacking dry crispness and subtle concentration of fruit, it is one of the best white wine values in the world. Tom Barry, who runs the famous Jim Barry Wines, which was established back in 1959 and is known for their legendary Armagh Shiraz, one of Australia’s all time greats right up there with Penfold’s Grange and Henschke’s Hill Of Grace, oversees a wonderful collection of vineyard sites, including the Lodge Hill Vineyard, in the Clare Valley, where this wine comes from, it sits pretty high up where it gets good exposure for ripe fruit and gripping extract, but also sees very cold nights that retains intense acidity and stretches out the growing season which fully develops the grapes character and gives the Lodge Hill Riesling its depth. The 2019 is strikingly zesty and salty fresh, but also delivers a complex array of flavors and builds texturally and aromatically with air and food making for an exceptional wine and an excellent example of Aussie Riesling with brisk steely layers of racy citrus, white peach, tart green apple and melon fruits accented by wet stones, a touch of spicy crystalized ginger, minty herb, citron, lime oil and verbena. As this 2019 Lodge Hill Riesling opens the nose gains white roses and flinty/smokiness and touches of clove, lemon zest along with a delicate creaminess, tangy grapefruit and fleshy mango. I love this vintage and its shows fabulous energy throughout, it went extremely well with a range of sushi, especially the tuna and crab rolls.

The Jim Barry lineup is of course red wine heavy with some stellar Shiraz and Cabernet bottlings, but the selection of whites is almost equally impressive, especially the set of Rieslings, including their Watervale Riesling, Florita Riesling, the McKay’s single vineyard Riesling and this one, along with the Wolta Wolta Dry Riesling, a new collaboration with Dr. Loosen and the intriguing recent addition of of Assyrtiko, the Geek varietal that mostly known on the island of Santorini. The Barry family, especially Tom’s father Peter, who as a second generation winegrower really put this winery on the map, has been a great champion for Riesling in Australia for many decades. In Australia, there are two world class terroirs for Riesling, Eden and the Clare, where Jim Barry is located and is set on a complex series of mineral rich soils. The Lodge Hill Riesling vineyard, which Jim Barry planted in 1977, has a unique brown loam over a layer of clay and slate bedrock that really unlocks this Rieslings personality, which certainly shines through in this expressive dry Riesling and gives it an almost German like profile. The Lodge Hill vineyard, according to the winery, is situated on the eastern ranges of the township of Clare and is one of the highest points in the valley to have vines. The winery adds that after discovering this site it was Jim’s original intention was to devote the entire Lodge Hill vineyard to premium Riesling, but he found in part of vineyard a completely different set of soils that favored Shiraz, so they have plot of cool climate Syrah vines too. A gentle touch was employed to craft this wine with a cold fermentation and a short aging period in stainless tanks to preserve vibrancy and fresh detailing. I recommend exploring all of Jim Barry wines from the rare Assyrtiko to the Shiraz offerings and the set of dry Rieslings.
($18-25 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day January 12, 2021

2018 4 Monos, Tinto GR-10, Vinos de la Sierra de Gredos, Spain.
Fast becoming one of my favorite wineries, 4 Monos, which was founded by four friends back in 2010, all native to the Sierra de Gredos wine region in the mountains above Madrid and famous for rugged old vine Garnacha, consists of winemakers Javier García (formerly the head winemaker at iconic Bodegas Jiménez-Landi), Laura García, wine-lover David Velasco and local vineyard owner David Moreno, who make beautifully translucent and perfumed wines, like this gorgeous delicately ruby hued 2018 Tinto GR-10. The wines from here are nothing if not profound and etherial, these are Grenache (Garnacha) based field blends that rival Grand Cru Burgundy for chiseled beauty and satiny angelic weightlessness. This GR-10 Tinto is their outrageously good basic cuvee, a wine that has completely seduced my senses over the last three of four vintages and this 2018 is one of the best to date with a heavenly nose of red berry and liquid flowers that leads to a medium bodied and silken palate of bright plum, pomegranate, strawberry and crushed raspberry fruits as well as having an array of sweet and savory herbs, briar notes, mineral tones, dusty spices and a lingering mix of dried rose petals and lavender. Coming from mostly decomposed granite and vines that range from 15 to 100 years old, this all organic and natural red was hand crafted using about 88% Garnacha, 10% Cariñena and 2% Syrah, which was cold macerated, 100% wild yeast fermented with at least 50% whole cluster depending on vintage. The juice is left on the skins for close to three weeks before being gently pressed and racked to used barrels where it aged nearly seven months in the oak, after which the wine was blended then rested another 2 months in concrete and steel vats. The finished GR-10 Tinto cuvee was bottled unfined and unfiltered to capture every nuance and its soulful sense of place, it is a wine that really excels with simple and fresh cuisine pairings and can be enjoyed with raw milk cheeses as well as a more hearty meal.

In recent years, the Sierra de Gredos has become one of the wine world’s hot spots with top producers, like Comando G and the mentioned Bodegas Jiménez-Landi, led by Dani Landi who is maybe the best known of the superstars here that crafts Garnachas in the same league as Chateau Rayas of Chateauneuf du Pape fame, and 4 Monos, all being ones to look for, especially if you’ve not explored the wines from this special place. The Sierra de Gredos DO appellation, with its dry Mediterranean/Continental climate is set in a mountain range that spreads over parts of three distinct terroirs, all being extreme making working these ancient vines incredibly hard, these subzones include Méntrida, Vinos de Madrid and Castilla y León, which sit between 600 and 1200 meters in elevation, a climate that sees huge changes of temperature between day and night allowing for fantastic ripe flavor development, but with good acidity retention and restrained character. The old bush vines are planted on complex soils that are made up of sand, granite and schist which share this arid, sleepy and remote location with smattering of olive, evergreen, almond, and chestnut trees along with aromatic scrub brush, chamomile, and wildflowers, that all seem to influence the wines and make them the beguiling lovelies there are, as this stellar vintage of 4 Monos displays with a flourish of expression, subtle earthiness and fabulous length. This GR-10 Tinto really delivers for the price, I am always amazed at the depth and clarity in this wine, it is always a guilt free treat to open this bottling, the quality for the price ratio here is absurdly good with this vintage in particular performing beyond my already high expectations. I also must say, along with this GR-10 Tinto, 4 Monos does an amazing job with Blanco as well and their single vineyard wines take it to another level and interestingly they also do a special single varietal Cariñena (Carignan), which I have not had the pleasure of trying yet, but am looking forward to. Grenache fans would be well served by getting to know the wines of the Sierra de Gredos and those searching out this example will be highly rewarded, this is sexy stuff.
($25 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day January 11, 2021

2019 Sheldon Wines, Sangiovese, Dry Creek Valley, Sonoma County.
The second edition of their Dry Creek Sangiovese is a huge success at Sheldon and while I loved the full carbonic version of 2018 this new release is a wine of more substance and depth, while retaining the gorgeous aromatics and joyous drinking pleasures. The 2019 vintage was similar to 2018 in that it was a long and consistent growing season that was a touch cooler over all, but it came in with smaller yields and more concentration with amazing fruit development with stunning intensity, which Dylan Sheldon exploited to the max capturing exceptional varietal purity, clarity of flavors and impeccable balance, which this Sangiovese displays with transparency and elegance. This Sangiovese is stunning right out of the bottle with a nose of dark flowers and delicate spices along with pretty red fruit layers with energetic Marion berry, fleshy plum, blood orange, earthy currant and sweet kirsch that are lifted by classic acidity and accented by cigar wrapper, licorice, Asian spices and subtle cedar note. The Sheldon 2019 Dry Creek Valley Sangiovese is 100% single varietal and comes from the cooler Northwest corner of the appellation where these is a complex combination of well draining and mineral rich soils, which includes sandy loams, river rock, igneous rocks with high iron content, shale(s) and sandstone(s) that help give the wine complexity and warm ripeness of flavors. Sheldon, seeing the impressive quality of the grapes, decided on a gentle and more traditional fermentation with whole bunches and native yeasts in small bins with a light touch in the maceration, which was done at cool temperatures, as to not extract bitter phenolics and or harsh tannin, he wanted to keep freshness and crisp detailing as well employing a soft pressing of the juice before the wine was racked to a couple of well seasoned French barrels. I am a big fan of the Sheldon lineup and these 2018s and ‘19s are some of the best yet, especially this Sangiovese, I highly recommend checking out these fun and rewarding wines.

Sheldon Wines, which is micro winery based in Santa Rosa which was founded by the husband and wife team of Dylan and Tobe Sheldon back in 2003, is focused on hand crafting unique and ultra small batch wines with an extra bit of attention going to their Grenache, white and red based offerings, but the collection also includes a rare and cool Graciano (a Rioja grape) Black Sparkling Wine, Syrah, Cabernet Sauvignon, a Tempranillo Brut Rosé, a Carignan and an old vine Petite Sirah led field blend. Sangiovese has been gaining traction in California, especially in recent years with some very intriguing versions coming to market, from Stolpman, who’s Love You Bunches is like Sangiovese Nouveau, Reeve, also from Dry Creek, Peterson, Broc, Field Recordings, Lepe Cellars, Odonata, who do a sparkling version and an awesome Brunello like bottling, Ryme Cellars and this delicious Sheldon effort. It is thought that Sangiovese was originally brought to California in the late 19th century by Italian immigrants when it is believed to have been inter-planted with other varietals that arrived around that same time including Zinfandel and Petite Sirah, but more serious plantings came to the West Coast in the 1980s and 1990s, though mostly those vines failed to produce anything of significance, for that we had to wait until the last decade or so, with the exception of Leonetti’s Walla Walla Sangiovese, which is still one of the best new world examples. Now there are about 2,000 acres of Sangiovese in California, with the grape finding a home in Sonoma, Amador, Napa Valley, Santa Barbara, as well as in the greater Central Coast from Paso to Santa Clara, and Mendocino County, where Italian grapes really do well. This Sheldon unfined and unfiltered vibrantly ruby red Sangiovese opens up nicely and adds an extra dimension of texture with air, making it even more desirable with its medium/full bodied palate gaining richness and length with lingering echos of the flavors lasting a long time, and it plays well with food, like a fine Chianti Classico, this is tasty stuff! Only 36 cases of the Dry Creek Sangiovese were made of this vintage, so be sure to secure some as soon as possible.
($36 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day January 10, 2021

2018 Bow & Arrow, Gamay Noir, Johan Vineyard, Willamette Valley, Oregon.
The taut and stubbornly grippy 2018 Bow & Arrow Johan Vineyard Gamay takes it own sweet time to open up and patience, while difficult, will be needed to full discover this reductive and natural styled wine, but once in the mood it really gets on with the program and brings some good game with layers of black cherry, earthy currant, crushed violets, snappy herbs, loamy notes and brambly spices in a lean, crunchy and mineral crisp medium bodied wine. Actually, day two brought a night and day expansion of flavors, texture and made this Gamay really shine, the time to open up revealed this wine’s true personality and it metaphorically went from an ugly duckling to a beautiful swan in the glass with those hours proving critical to its enjoyment and it gained confidence, aromatic quality and poise with every sip. Scott Frank’s urban micro winey, Bow & Arrow, which was founded in 2010, based in Portland is a Loire Valley and old world “natural” inspired label that hand crafts small lot wines from organic vineyard sites throughout the Willamette Valley, including some unique rarities and some cool playful quaffers, but with serious intent, like this one perfectly showcases. I am a longtime fan of Frank’s Bow & Arrow wines, especially his awesome Rhinestones cuvee, also sourced from the Johan Vineyard, that is close to an Oregon version of Cheverny (a Loire Valley appellation) like blend of Pinot Noir and Gamay with loads of vibrant whole cluster character, it is one of my favorite alternative Willamette wines. Frank, who spent some time working under the legendary John Paul of Cameron Winery, has taken his own path and has created an underground following of counter culture wine drinkers that are looking for value priced artisan wines. The Johan Vineyard, a certified biodynamic site in Rickreall area of the Willamette Valley, is largest source of fruit for Bow & Arrow, farmed by Dag Sundby and Dan Rinke, who make their wines and provide grapes to some top notch producers, it is set on Helvatia and Santiam soils which were formed by glaciolacustrine deposits over silty loams and clayey alluvium with high acidity and is mineral rich and influenced by the Chehalem range that gives the wines from here a distinctive (terroir) personality.

This dark garnet/crimson and ruby edged Johan Gramay was all hand crafted with non intervention methods and spontaneous fermentation with a semi carbonic style with lots of whole bunches being used with gentle maceration(s) and only seeing old well seasoned French oak barrels for aging. The Loire Valley grape varieties like Melon de Bourgogne, a famous white grape known best as the its use in Muscadet, a salty dry wine that goes great with oysters, Chenin Blanc and Gamay, like in this one, have been in the Willamette Valley for many decades, but have been brought to attention of many new wine drinkers by Bow & Arrow, as well as a whole new generation of winemakers that have emerged on the Oregon wine scene in recent years. Oregon certainly leads the way in American or new world Gamay offerings with an amazing array of examples like Bow & Arrow along with notable efforts by Brick House, Love & Squalor, Evening Land’s Salem Wine Company, John Grochau’s Grochau Cellars and Grant Coulter’s Hundred Suns to name a few that should be on your radar. Those that like Cru Beaujolais will be well served by exploring these Willamette Valley Gamay wines, again I high recommend Bow & Arrow’s two single varietal versions, which includes this Johan, along with the Rhinestones, all of which are awesome bargains too. Frank also notes that 2019 looks like one of the best ever vintages for Willamette Valley Gamay grapes, so I suggest, if you can’t find the 2018s, to keep an eye out for them as they have just started to hit the market, including the regular Bow & Arrow Gamay bottling, which I also bought directly from the winery and will open soon. Most all of Scott’s red wines showcase a more savory style and are less fruity with an energetic high acidity profile, as this wine clearly displays and made to be enjoyed with food which benefits them greatly. The 2018 Johan Vineyard Gamay Noir is fully ripe, but at 12.5% natural alcohol it drinks very easy and while it is tight now, it should age well for five or more years. If you haven’t had Bow & Arrow yet, I suggest you do so as soon as possible and be sure to get, as mentioned, their Rhinestones, the Johan Melon white, Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Noir and the cool Air Guitar red, an Anjou style made from Cabernet Franc and Cabernet Sauvignon, as well as the Gamay(s) wines.
($30 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day January 9, 2021

2018 I. Brand & Family Winery, Syrah/Grenache, Chalone AVA, Monterey County.
The wonderfully proportioned new 2018 Chalone Grenache/Syrah by Ian Brand is a ripe and polished California Rhone style red that comes from some of Monterey’s most historic dirt of the limestone/chalky soils in Chalone, the first premium growing area in the region and sourced from Phil Woodward’s Graff Family vines that were part of the historic Chalone estate. Ian, who is one of the central coast’s most influential new generation winemakers and a vineyard whisperer that is widely admired for highlighting and discovering some of the most distinctive under the radar sites from the Santa Cruz Mountains to Monterey County, including the now critically acclaimed Enz Vineyard in the little known Lyme Kiln Valley where he gets the grapes for his ruggedly delicious Bandol like old vine Mourvedre as well as the Bayly Ranch Vineyard in Paicines that he uses to make an old school Loire style pure Cabernet Franc, as well as a collection of incredible Grenache vineyards that form the core of Brand’s most popular single site terroir driven offerings. This new wine in his signature series is Ian’s first blended cuvee under the I. Brand & Family label and was crafted using about 72% Grenache and 28% Syrah making for an excellent and densely packed Chateauneuf or Southern Rhone like effort that shows off the vintage’s long cool growing season to perfection with deep flavor development and smooth tannins, but with moderate (low) alcohol and fresh acidity along with a lengthy elegant finish. While Ian’s single vineyard 100% Grenache wines are graced with an almost Pinot Noir like delicacy, this wine shows a more rich profile with a darker, Syrah influenced purple/garnet hue and a subtle meatiness with layers of black raspberry, plum jam, sweet kirsch and a touch of blueberry along with acacia flowers, wild fennel, mocha and sprigs of rosemary, dusty stones and a light cedar note. This a solid and very pleasing wine that just gets better and better with air, it really fills out in textural detail as it opens and it benefits greatly when paired up with food, in particular more robust cuisine that brings out the full range of flavors and reveals the true depth of the fruit and complexity more clearly.

Ian Brand’s winemaking is not led by dogma or the desire to one of the cool kids, though he often considered part of the new California movement and or the pursuit of balance group, he is more, in reality a practical winemaker that is trying to guide his wine to bottle with as much sense of place and year as possible, as this limited release 2018 Grenache/Syrah does exceptionally well. That said, he does do some, what you might call “hipster juice” including his Ramato (copper colored) skin contact Pinot Gris, sourced from the Eden Rift Vineyard, which was inspired by the orange style wines of Northeast Italy like those of Gravner, Radikon and others. Ian has been consulting for the Graff Family Vineyards for some time now, but has recently folded them into his lineup of wines and under his personal label and along with this Grenache/Syrah he also does a 100% Graff Syrah, another first for his winery and a super rare lees aged and ultra dry Graff Melon de Bourgogne (the grape of the Muscadet region of the Loire Valley) white wine that is one of California’s best oyster pairings. Brand’s main focus is geology and most conversations lead into a deep dive into the native soils and their influences and merits with different varietals, which he goes into great detail to explain and showcase in his own efforts, which see almost now new oak and a gentle minimalist approach to allow each wine to display very individual personalities. Woodward’s vines are located underneath the Pinnacles National Monument, an area formed by ancient underground volcanic actively which pushed up a massive granite superstructure and exposed a layer of pure limestone on which the Chalone Bench sits, this area has long been coveted for long lived Chardonnay and Pinot Noir as made famous by Phil Woodward and late Dick Graff who founded Chalone in 1974. And while the Burgundian varietals do well in the cooler sections, Woodward also understood early on that the Rhone grapes would excel here, something that Ian fully exploits now in his wines and I highly recommend these latest wines, especially this one. These are tough and scary times for the wine industry and while the COVID pandemic and the fires of 2020 that pretty much wiped out the vintage with smoke taint, especially in the Monterey area, so we must be grateful and celebrate our small victories and this wine provided a nice escape from the stress, it is a good time to support small producers like Ian, so check him out.
($42 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day January 8, 2021

2017 Sidewood Estate, Pinot Noir, Adelaide Hills, South Australia.
The Sidewood Estate, a certified sustainable winery that is widely known for cool climate Chardonnay, Pinot Noir and sparkling wines is the largest family owned winery in the Adelaide Hills region in South Australia and is a locals favorite, but not easily found here in the States, which might change if all of their wines are as great as this Pinot Noir, one of their entry level Signature bottlings I just sampled. This 2017 Sidewood Pinot is absolutely beautiful and excitingly delicious with racy and spicy partial whole bunches and stem inclusion thrills on the medium bodied palate that shows a silky tannin structure and a crisp detailing of flavors with dark fruit, textural opulence and a heightened aromatic profile making for a wine will impress Burgundy lovers as well as cool climate new world enthusiasts, I know I was. The bouquet just jumps from the glass in this ruby/garnet hued Pinot with seeped rose petals, herbs and cinnamon seducing the senses before an impeccable unfolding of pure and energetic fruit layers in the mouth with bursts of crushed raspberries, strawberry, pomegranate and tart plum that are wrapped around a core of classic black cherry along with an echo of the nose with floral tones, mineral, cinnamon and briar spices, a touch of orange tea and soft wood accents. The stems add a lot of character in this wine with an edgy crunch and lift, bringing out the wine’s personality and keeps it from fading from your attention, this is an exceptionally fun and intriguing Aussie Pinot, especially for the price and it is perfectly happy with a variety of foods and cuisine pairings ranging from poultry and pork to salmon and or a mix of sea foods. I must say, I took a flyer on this wine, and was quite blown away with just how much I liked it and how it just got better and better as it opened up. I’ve had plenty of Australian Pinots, so I wasn’t surprised by the quality as there are lots of wonderful examples of this grape from down under, though I mostly have enjoyed Yarra and Mornington versions and even Tassie stuff, but after this one I will explore more from Adelaide Hills! The Sidewood Estate does four series of wines including a range, as mentioned, Champagne method bubbly, an Estate or basic set, a signature collection, like this one and a limited small lot lineup that highlights either special barrel cuvees or unique single clone, like their 777 clone Pinot or single vineyard wines.

The vineyard and vinification team at Sidewood used hand tended and picked grapes from selected and special parcels at this 300 acre property in the Hahndorf area to make this Pinot Noir which was crafted using mostly traditional artisan methods and a gentle touch in the cellar with minimal intervention in the winemaking process to allow the natural terroir influences to shine through. They chilled the freshly picked Pinot grapes for 24 hours and slowly cool fermented with partial whole cluster in what I believe were stainless steel vats to promote freshness and vibrancy in the wine before being aged on the fine lees for 10 months in mostly used French oak barrels which impart a subtle toast and creamy mouth feel while not overtly over shadowing the bright intensity of the fruit. This wine will most definitely appeal to the whole cluster fanatics out there, like me, and its perfume, expressive personality and lingering flavors will seduce most everyone, this is quality stuff. In recent years there has been a new generation movement towards less oaky and less jammy wines throughout Australia and a more savvy wine drinker that appreciate wines that show more delicacy and more transparency, which clearly shows in wines like this with its touch of raw earthiness and nice acidity. The Sidewood label was founded in 2004, so it is not an old winery by Australian standards, but owners Owen and Cassandra Inglis have put a lot of effort to make this estate one of the best in the Adelaide Hills region. They make about 50,000 cases per vintage from all estate grown fruit, with their own vineyard team led by Mark Vella and Peter McIntyre that farm a selection of micro climates set on a complex combination of soils. They actually grow an amazing array of different grapes including some rarities in the country like Tempranillo for their Rosé, as well as Semillon along with a collection of classics like Sauvignon Blanc, Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc, Shiraz (Syrah), Chardonnay and Pinot Noir all which are carefully handcrafted under the direction of Sidewood’s winemaker Darryl Catlin, who, as this wine shows, looks to be a talented professional. This nicely balanced Sidewood Pinot, that delivers a good contrast of ripe fruit and savory elements and which came in at about 13% alcohol has really inspired me to look into more of Oz’s wine regions and experience a more diverse selection of the country’s wines.
($32 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive