2015 Banshee, Cabernet Franc “Alegria Vineyard” Russian River Valley.
The Banshee Wines limited release Cabernet Franc from the Algeria Vineyard in the Russian River is a wonderful and very impressive red that has plenty of dark and vibrant fruit that has hints of varietal character, but is also a pure California expression with a bit of exotic spices, lush ripeness and gorgeous mouth feel. Rumor has it, this Algeria Cab Franc has about 5-7% Sangiovese in the mix, as Algeria is, as I understand it, a traditional old school field blend style vineyard with lots of unique varietals and old vines inter-planted, regardless of it’s true blend, this is a seriously tasty wine with fresh detail and lovely layers of flavors. Banshee is really offering great quality wines, and these 2015’s are the best yet, especially the latest Pinot(s), but don’t miss their Chards and even their Carignan, as well as this Cabernet Franc all of which are worth searching for. The 2015 is bursting with black cherry, raspberry, loganberry and juicy plum fruits along with sexy and racy spices with touches of cinnamon, cedar, pepper, sweet tobacco leaf/cigar wrapper and lavender oil. Light mineral tones and vivid acidity add class to this open knit red and lingering earth, lilac and mure make for a complex and stylish wine that has loads of charisma!
($40 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2014 Vocal, Gruner Veltliner “Alfaro Vineyard” Santa Cruz Mountains.
The Vocal Gruner by Ian Brand and Ted Glennon is remarkably dusty dry white with a brisk nature and vigorous intensity, this is an expressive wine that shows verve and bright layers. Coming from Richard Alfaro’s vineyard near Corralitos in the Santa Cruz Mountains, not far away from the Pacific Ocean and Aptos south of Santa Cruz itself, this hillside spot has great exposure, long days and cool marine influence, which seems to be a perfect match for the Gruner Veltliner, the signature white grape of Austria. The Vocal 2014 Gruner Veltliner Alfaro Vineyard starts with crisp apple, lemon/lime and white peach along with a bitter almond, faint herb and chalky stony notes in a light/medium bodied wine that feels taught and focused throughout, though gains in mouth feel with air and warmth and lingers with a touch of straw/lees, orange blossom, saline and kumquat. The first impression is one of steely dry shock, but quickly the palate unfolds with varietal pureness and zesty flavors that make this a really refreshing white best served with cuisine, it will be especially good with oysters, clams and mussels much the same way a Muscadet does!
($35 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive
2014 Pence, Syrah “Sebastiano” Sta. Rita Hills.
The new Pence winery, founded in 2010, is a wonderful surprise, these beautiful and soulful wines are hand-crafted by Sashi Moorman, of Stolpman, Piedrasassi, Sandhi and Evening Land from selected sites in Santa Barbara County and the Sta. Rita Hills. The latest set, which includes a fun and lively Gamay, two pretty and lengthy Pinot Noir(s) and a distinct Chardonnay, as well as this gorgeous and spicy Syrah from the John Sebastiano Vineyard. The 2014 Pence Sebastiano Syrah is opulent and rich, not as stem driven as Sashi’s other wines, but with nice cool climate character, showing blackberry, boysenberry, wild plum and blueberry fruits in a very dark purple/garnet hued wine that also delivers dense texture and a background of mineral, crushed gravel, savory elements, anise, black olives and pepper. As it opens, this Syrah gives sweet violets, faint cedar and lingering kirsch, making for a fine and alluring wine of expressive layers, depth and refined details with a good lift of acidity and polished tannins that hold things together. There is a lot to admire here and the Pence label is without question is one to watch, especially this Syrah and the fine Pinot Noir(s) that are drinking very sexy right now!
($68 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2012 E. Pira & Figli-Chiara Boschis, Barolo, Cannubi, Piedmonte, Italy.
Chiara Boschis has crafted some beauties in 2012 and this Cannubi is a classic, and one that won’t need ages in the cellar to enjoy, it already shows great detail, charm and open fruit that makes this a wine huge winner for those that want to drink and not cellar a great wine! While easy to love young, this Barolo has serious stuffing and substance with love terroir and pure Nebbiolo character. The Cannubi is grown on sandy loam, grey marl and clay soils that allow the grapes to fully express themselves and in 2012 you get ripe flavors, bright acidity and velvet covered tannins, everything played into Chiara’s very talented hands and this Barolo highlights her feminine touch, this poised and lengthy Cannubi is a thrill and earthy/seductive with very sexy mouth feel and layers. The nose is alluring with dried rose petals, anise, lavender and amaro along with earthy red fruits leading to a refined and medium/full palate of damson plum, black cherry, tangy currant and wild forest berries along with tea spices, game/bacon, flinty mineral tones, cedar and subtle crème de violette. This Cannubi, from one of the world’s most prized vineyards, is performing well now and should gain over the next 5 to 10 years, but you’ll not be disappointed in it anytime you open it, best from 2020-2030, not too far off the fantastic 2010, it’s a winner!
($99-125 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive
2015 Avaler “R Own Cuvee” Red Blend, Sonoma County.
Avaler is a new label, and if this R Own Cuvee is anything to go by, you’ll want to follow, it is a new collaboration between two friends, Dylan Sheldon of Sheldon Wines and Jon Phillips of Inspiration Vineyards, both long time veterans of the California wine scene. The Avaler is a small production hand-crafted project that will offer limited offerings from unique all Sonoma County vineyard sites at an extremely fair price, especially considering the quality and nature of these wines, in particular this Rhone style red blend, the “R Own Cuvee” which is an intriguing wine made of 60% Syrah, 30% Grenache Noir and 10% Viognier. Six barrels were made of this Avaler R Own Cuvee, the Syrah and Grenache were fermented separately, in open top, then pressed to French oak, for 16 months, 20% new, with the Viognier not co-fermented, but done in stainless and blended in later, this Gigondas meets Cote-Rotie inspired red comes from selected vineyards with the Syrah coming from Branley Vineyard in the Russian River Valley, the Grenache is grown at vines in Ceja Farms of Sonoma Valley, a site that Sheldon has used for his own wines that makes for really expressive Grenache, plus biodynamicly farmed Viognier from Canihan Vineyards also in Sonoma Valley. The nose is bright and deeply dark fruited with mixed florals, spice and mineral tones leading the way and a full and plush palate of richly flavored boysenberry, plum, blueberry and pomegranate fruits along with jasmine, lavender, peppercorn, cherry cola, sweet baking spices and lingering raspberry/frambroise. This open and forward red impresses and is lovely in mouth feel with subtle earthy charms, satiny tannins, nice acidity and plenty of style and pop, at 14.4% it is a sexy, well endowed ripe wine that gives a lot of opulent pleasure, drink over the next 3 to 5 years.
($25 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive
2016 Andrew Murray Vineyards, Esperance Rose, Curtis Vineyard, Santa Ynez Valley.
Andrew Murray’s unique and juicy 100% Cinsault Rose 2016 is a really an expressive pink that is bursting with dry and crisp flavor, a bit less fruity than last year, but with deeper intensity. Known for his signature Rhone influence and especially his Syrah, like his awesome value “Tous les Jours” plus the more serious and gorgeous Cote-Rotie like “Roasted Slope” as well as this limited production hand-crafted Esperance Rose, which is refreshing and focused. The 2016 seems more vivid and vibrant than 2015 with a beautiful bright pale salmon/pink hue in the glass and certainly a more interesting bouquet of exotic fruits, floral notes and saline/mineral steely charm that leads to a fine brisk palate of ruby grapefruit, tropical/guava, sour cherry and rosewater as well as wet stones, distilled strawberry, fennel and peppercorns. The Andrew Murray Esperance Rose gains complexity of detail with every sip and is intriguing in style, there is plenty to admire here and will be a joy over the next 6 months to a year, and I personally plan to quaff a few bottles myself, it looks to be a very food friendly wine and I think it would be great with lighter fare, in particular Sushi and Paella, plus picnic and BBQ as well.
($22 Est.) 90 Points, grapelive
2013 Albatross Ridge, Chardonnay, Estate, Carmel Valley, Monterey County.
The brilliantly clear and elegant Estate Chardonnay by Albatross Ridge shows crisp detail and subtle richness highlighting the cool marine influence and chalky/rocky of the hillside soils. Garrett Bowlus is emerging as one of Monterey’s best young winemakers crafting exciting and delicately natured wines from his Albatross Ridge Estate near the Los Laureles Grade in Carmel Valley, especially his Pinot Noirs, which are gorgeous and full of energy, but you don’t want to overlook his Chardonnay either. This 2013 Estate Chardonnay is medium bodied, but full of flavor and layers with a distinct wet stone core and a loam/chalky element along with classic apple, pear and lemon curd as well as clove spice, vanilla/butterscotch and golden fig. The main take away here is that it never feels heavy or dull in style or feel and that is has a less fruity/creamy presence and more of a Chablis briskness and a cool gravelly almost savory side. Best to enjoy this fresh and lively Chardonnay with seafood cuisine and or creamy expressive cheeses, drink over the next year or so.
($45 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2016 Waxwing, Rosé of Pinot Noir “Blair Vineyard” Arroyo Seco, Monterey County.
Scott Sisemore’s Waxwing Wines just released an impressive set of new wines and it looks like this small handcrafted selection of offerings look like the best yet from Waxwing, especially noteworthy is the delicately pale orange/pink hued 2016 Waxwing Rosé of Pinot Noir from Blair Vineyard in Arroyo Seco. Sisemore tweaked his Rosé this year and it is really a serious effort, with the 2016 vintage he fermented whole cluster (pressed in stainless steel) then stirred the lees (weekly) vigorously (batonage) in neutral French Barrel for 3 months to add viscosity and mouth feel to this bright and vibrant Rosé. The 2016 Waxwing Rosé is all from Pommard clone 4 and there is a bit of Burgundy or Marsannay style going on here, it is dry and crisp, but with excellent mouth feel and texture showing ruby grapefruit, summer watermelon, sour cherry and strawberry fruits along with steely mineral, chalky stones, rosewater, bitter herb and orange zest. The cool nights and ocean influence add to bright acidity and vitality in this intriguing Rosé, the alluvial soils which are gravelly, sandy and silty which adds to the earthy notes and saline elements, giving a unique almost terroir driven character, making for a classy pink. There was only 2 barrels made and Waxwing has about 40 cases available, mostly sold through their website, and be sure to check out Waxwing’s new A la Volee Sparkling Riesling from Tondre Grapefield in the Santa Lucia Highlands as well as his Syrah and Pinot Noir.
($20 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2016 Sheldon Wines, Tempranillo, Springloaded Monkeypaw, Luc’s Vineyard, Sonoma Coast.
The latest from Sheldon Wines is a wildly geeky wine that is both a joy to drink and a total mind freak, it’s a carbonic Tempranillo that is wonderfully fruity, but vibrant and serious, the best way to describe it is to say it’s like a Fleurie meets unoaked Rioja! The 2016 Sheldon Springloaded Monkeypaw, a tribute to a close friend of the winemaker’s Dylan & Tobe Sheldon, Chris Wright, who sadly passed away last year at 41, it’s also where the name comes from, as Springloaded Monkeypaw was a song that Dylan and Chris wrote one crazy late night and recorded on old flip phones. The Tempranillo was fermented whole cluster, carbonic and aged without ML (malolactic) in stainless, kind of brave type of Nouveau style hybrid. While fruity, the crisp acidic edge keeps things vigorous and fresh, it gets off to a beautiful start with a lovely lilac and wild flower perfume that is quite heady along with blueberry compote, candied black cherry, boysenberry/strawberry jam, cinnamon spice and sweet and savory minty/salty licorice. This deeply colored red is purple/blued edged ruby and opens to a medium bodied wine with a lot of inner energy and light mineral tones and very low alcohol at 11.7% that adds to the lighter lively feel, though it does have a nice layered mouth feel in this intriguing and expressive Tempranillo. Only 24 cases were made of this stuff, it’s definitely a wine geek wine, with proceeds going cancer research it is in support of a great cause! It is really fun in a Cru Beaujolais way, available only through Sheldon Wines, drink on the quicker side, like now!
($41 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive
2011 Donatella Cinelli Colombini, Brunello di Montalcino, Tuscany, Italy.
The 2011 Donatella Cinelli Colombini Brunello is a really charming wine, full and lavish with pure Sangiovese character, and it’s drinking great right now. A warm vintage and with ripe flavors makes for a pleasing experience and the Colombini is plush and showing wonderful style and density with racy red fruits, sweet spices, mineral tones and sexy mouth feel. Donatella Cinelli Colombini is a small high-end estate in the heart of Montalcino, with the Brunello coming from their Casato Prime Donne estate grown in 6 small plots around the old castello, the Brunello DOCG is aged 2 years in oak cask and 3 years in bottle before release. While 2011 isn’t regarded as a great vintage, it drinks wonderfully and certainly this Colombini will surprise many with it’s quality and flair, I wouldn’t pass up a chance to enjoy this beautiful Brunello. The 2011 Donatella Cinelli Colombini Brunello di Montalcino DOCG starts with pretty details including a light floral note, a hint of smoky wood, dark berries and a mineral element leading to a round palate of sweet cherry, black licorice, tangy currant, wild plum, cedar along with tobacco leaf, baking spices plus a touch savory earthiness. Quite lengthy and lingering this deeply colored garnet/ruby Brunello offers a clear and modern feel, nicely impressive, drink from 2017 to 2021.
($74 Est.) 93+ Points, grapelive