2014 Alfaro Family Vineyards, Pinot Noir “A” Estate, Santa Cruz Mountains.
The Alfaro Family Vineyards estate is in the south Santa Cruz Mountains near Corralitos, just inland from Aptos and a handful of miles south of downtown town Santa Cruz itself, with a Pacific very close by giving a cool influence. This is a great spot for Pinot Noir and Richard Alfaro hand crafts some great examples of this varietal, as well as making small lots of fabulous Chardonnay, Gruner Veltliner, Syrah, a tiny bit of Merlot and even an Albrarino. The “A” Estate Pinot Noir by Alfaro is a blend of the varied plots and clones, it is hand picked and fermented in open top bins with long cool ferments and aged for about 10 months in mostly used French oak, with 25% new. This is the first of the 2014’s to be released and it is a stunningly pleasing expression with deep flavors and rich complexity, pure Pinot fruit and fine detail helped by a lengthy finish with rose petal, vanilla, fig and framboise. There are not too many value priced estate grown Pinot Noirs that can compare to this wine, in fact it delivers quality that punches way about it’s category and price class, as proof, it was tasted against 5 top, highly rated wines from Oregon and California all mostly in the $50 range, along with a couple $100 wines and this Alfaro “A” Estate was in most cases was the preferred wine! This bodes well for the up coming releases of Richard’s Cru wines, the Lindsay Paige and Mary Katherine Vineyards’ offerings from this same vintage! The “A” Estate 2014 starts with floral tones, blue and red fruit, smoky sweet wood and a touch of earth and spice with a lovely dark garnet/ruby hue in the glass. The palate is satiny smooth with ripe black cherry, plum and raspberry leading the way with a nice cut of acidity and silky tannins as well as notes of cedar, wild herbs, loam, savory elements, tart currant, subtle mineral and blueberry tang. This is stylish and decedent Pinot Noir that feels rather opulent and dense, while remaining poised, focused and wonderfully balanced, it youthful and fresh now, but it should age well too, best from 2016 to 2026.
($22 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2014 Alberto Nanclares, Albariño, Rias Baixas, Spain.
First, if you’ve not had these wines by Alberto Nanclares and Silvia Prieto you are missing out on some fantastic Albariño, these two are crafting some of the greatest dry white wine under $40 period, these wines show terroir excellence and have exceptional life and intensity. The 2014 Alberto Nanclares Albariño is from vines that range from 30 to 100 years old grown on sandy granite rich soils, this cool Galician climate and the Atlantic Ocean lend influence and complexity to this dynamic acid filled and mineral driven white. Nanclares and Prieto hand harvest, in 2014 harvest was late due to the cool and wet summer, then the grapes from various plots are slow pressed whole cluster and ferments are natural with low sulfur, half the wine is raised in stainless and half in neutral French cask, they employ a no malo approach and the wine is left on the lees and unfiltered, bottled after about 8 months. The latest Albariño is profound, vital and bursting with tension, very dry Riesling, Premier Cru Chablis and Gruner like, with good depth and extract, but light/medium weight and while riveting and brisk there is a background of textural sensuality and harmony. The nose is briny with citrus, oyster shell and verbena, the color is lightly golden with yellow tints leading to an electrically charged and steely palate of lime, been apple, white peach, hints of tropical essences, flinty wet stones, bitter herbs, yellow roses and crisp melon. Salty and fresh the Alberto Nanclares Albariño is just gorgeous in detail and expression, the last three vintages have been a revelation, imported by Jose Pastor, these wines have me obsessed, search them out, especially this 2014 Alberto Nanclares Albariño bottling, it’s clarity and vigor are spellbinding, drink over the next 3 to 5 years. The Nanclares Albariño is a glorious food wine and can replace Muscadet for oysters, and it holds up to many cuisine choices, seafood of course, but also cheeses, ham and medium spicy fare, it also great as a summer refresher with just 12.5% alcohol and delicious tangy stone fruit, brilliant stuff.
($30 Est.) 94+ Points, grapelive
2011 La Spinetta, Barbaresco, Starderi, Vurso, Piedmonte, Italy.
The ultra luxurious La Spinetta Starderi Cru Barbaresco is always a glorious treat to experience, it is without question one of my all time wines regardless of vintage, and this 2011 is a stunning wine that gets the heart racing and reveals the Grand Cru nature of this terroir driven Nebbiolo. Giorgio Rivetti over the years has fine tuned his set of Barbaresco and Barolo wines, using less overt oak with amazing effect, and these offerings are some of the noblest expressions of varietal and place you can find. The Starderi has a special meaning to me, some of my greatest wine experiences have been with this great Barbaresco, this Starderi Cru and Clos de la Roche Grand Cru in Burgundy might be my ultimate red wine weaknesses, both continue to haunt me and fascinate me, young or with age wines from these places speak to my soul. The 2011 La Spinetta Starderi starts a brilliant dark ruby hue, with a mix of rose petal, violet, wild herbs, baking spice and balsamic dipping red fruits leading to a remarkable light/medium bodied palate of earthy fruits with dusty plum, black cherry and red currants forming a core along with anise, mineral tones, loamy/forest notes, a whiff of vanilla, tar and flinty rock. The forward nature of the vintage is on display, but subtle tannin and lifting acidity add a bite of blood orange and hold things in a grip of velvet lined vitality and the finish is beautifully detailed and long with elements of cedar, mint and a replay of red fruits. This is sexy and seductive Nebbiolo that defines the La Spinetta style and re-enforces my love of this Cru, it’s complex hedonistic opulence and refinement with a background of sensual earthy charms is intoxicating, I admit I’m a huge fan of this wine going in, but it does not ever disappoint, even with my high expectations! Drink this Starderi Cru over the next 10 to 15 years, best from 2018 to 2028.
($147 Est.) 94+ Points, grapelive
2014 Celler Frisach, Vernatxa Blanca “La Foradada” Terra Alta, Spain.
For over 200 years winemaker Francesc Ferre’s family has been growing organic wine grapes in the Terra Alta region of Spain in Catalunya, south west of Barcelona. This windswept high elevation area is wild and remote, perfect for Francesc to grow Grenache Blanc in ancient solidified sand dunes at about 1,200 feet, his vines are on terraces carved from layers of almost pure calcium overlooking Corbera d’Ebre, the warm days and cool nights highlight ripe flavors and great acidity with the soil giving dynamic mineral layers. Frisach is making some serious wines, especially this La Foradada Grenache Blanc that sees extra skin contact, this allows the wine to have almost no added sulfur, it’s name La Foradada is from the use of tiny round windows in the ancient buildings of this area, and of all of Francesc Ferre’s impressive offerings it is the most intriguing and expressive. The 2014 Celler Frisach La Foradada Vernatxa Blanca is vibrant and vivid with hints of white flowers and lime with a golden/yellowy hue in the glass and loads of stone fruits, spice and stylish wet slate on the palate, it has the feel of a dry Riesling with hidden extract and energy. Apricot, tangerine, lemon/lime, green melon and tangy peach all meld together along with dusty chalk, anise, peppery dried ginger, saline and mango. The texture is succulent and smooth like a Chateauneuf-du-Pape Blanc, though this wine remains naturally vital with a hint of tannin and minerally crisp and nicely tart, great with food. This is wonderful terroir driven wine that shows charm, passion and fresh excitement, I highly recommend searching out this tiny producer, imported my Trumpet Wines, and drink this white over the next 2 or 3 years!
($22 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2013 Alfaro Family Vineyards, Chardonnay, Trout Gulch Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains.
The Trout Gulch Vineyard sits above Aptos, very close to the ocean and is dry farmed, planted in 1980 it is one of the oldest plots in this area, and since coming under Richard Alfaro’s management it is now a brilliant source for dynamic Chardonnay and Pinot Noir with a line of top young winemakers wanting the fruit including Arnot-Roberts plus others that wish not to be named. The Alfaro Trout Gulch Chardonnay, his only non Estate Chard, is a lively and lovely wine, especially this 2013 that has an extra sex appeal with hints of exotic tropical fruit, smooth texture and bright mineral tones, it was raised in neutral cask, no new wood, and displays classic Burgundy like lemon and hazelnut around a core of bosc pear, apple and white peach fruits and subtle brioche and chalky wet stones. There is a seductive earthy element and saline influence to go with the fresh acidity that adds contrast to the opulent and glycerin filled palate. This pretty straw/gold colored Chardonnay is pure class and pleasure, with air it develops a creamy sensation, but always stays focused with lingering white flowers, melon, peanut oil and pineapple. I had this in half bottle to celebrate #ChardonnayDay, it was a perfect choice, drink this over the next 3 to 5 years, and be sure to check all of the Alfaro Family Vineyards & Winery wines!
($25 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2014 Cooper Mountain Vineyards, Pinot Noir “Life” Willamette Valley, Oregon.
The Life Pinot Noir from Cooper Mountain Vineyards is a biodynamic natural wine without the use of sulfur or sulfites with native yeasts and a more vineyard intensive approach to achieve balance and healthy structure/stability in the wine. The 2014 Life shows the ripe and forward natural of the vintage without being too sweet fruited or heavy, it comes in at about 13% alcohol and has rich layered black and red fruits, a hint of earth and spice and nice detail with plenty of extract and textural pleasure, it has a bit of what you find in the no sulfur cuvees that you see from Cru Beaujolais, I was suggest it might be modeled after Lapierre of Morgon in style. It is very direct, not overly complex and still has an allure with blackberry, cherry, plum and fig fruits along with kick of juicy acidity, blueberry tanginess with loam, sweet herbs, a touch of cedar and baking spice. For those seeking vegan, low sulfur, organic wine that has a sense of terroir and value might want explore Cooper Mountain Vineyards, especially this Life Pinot Noir, this Demeter certified biodynamic all estate grown producer is making some solid efforts, I also liked their slightly lessy Pinot Gris, which is a bargain at about $15.
($25 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2014 Whitcraft Winery, Pinot Noir, Pence Ranch, Pommard Clone, Santa Ynez Valley.
This unfined/unfiltered native yeast and whole cluster Pinot Noir from Drake Whitcraft might be the best wine I’m tried from this producer that is celebrating their 30th anniversary. The beautiful Pommard Clone Pence Ranch Pinot is alive with flavors and complex detail with a wonderful textural array on the palate and elegant lightness, it is stunningly only 12.6% alcohol, making those low alcohol zealots salivate, while making those that like a more finessed Pinot Noir that still has ripe and complete character impressed as well, numbers don’t mean anything unless there is a reward and substance in the wine, and this one delivers. The vibrancy of youth still over shadows the whole picture, but you can see the potential in this 2014 Whitcraft, it starts with floral and spicy notes on the nose and a bright ruby/garnet red hue in the glass with just a hint of cloudy unfilteredness, that clears quickly and the palate is an explosion of wild cherry, plum and pomegranate fruits with hints of mineral, chalky stones, cedar and lively pepper, red tea, cinnamon and a touch of smoke. With air a gorgeous silky sensation coats the mouth and satiny tannin and a framboise note lingers on, but lifted delicately with a peach and blood orange burst of acidity, this is a deftly crafted wine that should fill out in all the right places. This will be a fun wine to revisit in 5 to 10 years, not cheap, but very impressive, drink from 2018 to 2028.
($60 Est.) 92+ Points, grapelive
nv Vajra, N.S. Della Neve, Extra Brut Rose, Sparkling Wine, Piedmonte, Italy.
This is beautiful and exotic Nebbiolo and Pinot Noir made in a brisk and vibrant, ultra dry style bubbly from Giuseppe Vajra, better known for his Barolo, this handcrafted Champagne style sparkling is a stellar effort. The color is vivid and striking in the bottle and the glass and the palate is as cool and steely as some of those geeky Pinot Meunier cuvee(s) that we grower producer Champagne fans covet, if you are fans of Prevost, Savart or Bouchard you’ll want to get ahold of this beautiful bubbly, Vajra has done with Sparkling what he did with Riesling, both are wines that you would never have expected to come from Piedmont and in particular the heart of Barolo! This severe and tangy Rose is alive with intensity and energy with a dynamic mineral core, a light dusting of spices, faint florals and lots of zesty citrus along with a subtle brioche leesy feel, all perfectly set against tension filled acidity. The profile is much more refined than the hue of bright pink would lead you to believe and mousse is poised almost delicate in the mouth, the main thrust is red peach, apple skin, earthy strawberry and mandarin orange with a hint of anise, wet stones and the impression of rose oil. There is a vigorous and edgy tone that stays throughout, this brilliant Extra Brut never dulls or loses it’s lightness, this is a fantastic and intriguing wine that just plain and simple rocks!
($38 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2015 Sergio Mottura, Grechetto, Poggio della Costa, IGT Bianco, Lazio Italy.
The tank raised Grechetto Poggio della Costa from Sergio Mottura is a vibrant and leesy white that delivers fine detail and energy, one of the most beautiful wines made from this varietal from vines grown on volcanic soils that straddle the Umbria and Lazio regions of central Italy. Mottura also makes DOC Orvieto, also a great example of region, but this Poggio della Costa pure Grechetto is on another level with green apple, citrus blossoms, lemon/lime, summer melon, white peach and tangerine sorbet all vivid and lifted by natural acidity and terroir driven spice and saline elements from the mineral rich soils. This wine is amount medium weight and has a touch of brioche that adds texture and a sensual quality to this steely and tangy wine, it’s sublime balance and it’s hint of exotic nature make it irresistible and refreshing, drink over the next year or two. Sergio Mottura also does a Burgundy barrel aged version of Grechetto, the Latour a Civitella, named after the Louis Latour sourced French oak, this is also very much worth seeking out, it is fuller in body and seriously sexy with a Premier Cru Chablis like taste and feel, and it certainly grabs your attention, but for my tastes the Poggio della Costa Grechetto wins for it’s expressive and impressive sense of place and value.
($22 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2015 Domaine Tempier, Bandol Rosé, Provence, France.
The steely and luxurious 2015 Domaine Tempier Rosé is a must have wine for summer, made up of a blend of 55% Mourvèdre, 25% Grenache, 20% Cinsault, it shows all the style and substance that is expected of this famous Domaine. The vitality in Lulu Peyraud and winemaker Daniel Ravier’s latest Rosé highlights the organic farming and clear focus in the cellar allowing terroir and soul to show through, this Rosé was crafted 50% by saignée and 50% by direct press, which allows the wine to have power, mouth feel and still be intensely vibrant and detailed. It spent 6 months in Cuves, large neutral cask to fresh out and heighten the textural pleasure, it is not as old school funky/cool as Chateau Simone or the Tibouren based Clos Cibonne, but still has good aging potential, even though with Tempier I can’t imagine waiting too long to drink this hedonistic rite of summer. The first impression of the 2015 is one of joyous reunion, the gorgeous hue of which you can’t help smile at, pinkish/orange, it invokes warm sunset images and romance with a play of mineral, wild lavender, spiced rosewater and tangerine leading up to sour cherry, watermelon, wet stones, bright saline, red peach, zesty citrus, ruby grapefruit and very faint soft wood sensation. There is a great play of tangy/savory elements set against a lavish and lush sorbet forwardness that appeals and this tension runs the length of this fine Rosé, it’s funny too people, while complaining at the price adore this wine, though I can’t help think it is a bargain when compared to the $100 offerings from Domaine Ott or Chateau d’ Esclans, and I can’t fathom a summer without a few bottles! In a new age where there is a lot of great pink wines, Domaine Tempier is still the benchmark, don’t miss it.
($40 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive