Monthly Archives: October 2020

Grapelive: Wine of the Day October 31, 2020

2018 Theopolis Vineyards, Petite Sirah, Estate Grown, Yorkville Highlands.
The latest release from Theodora Lee (akaTheopatra) and Theopolis Vineyards is her estate grown Petite Sirah, which is thrill ride of dense and spicy flavors and comes her amazing terraced vineyard in the Yorkville Highlands in Mendocino County. This might be the best site and most distinct for Petite Sirah in California, and I have loved this wine since I first tried it, with this 2018 being one of the most exciting to date, its inky purple opaque color and its racy peppery undercurrent making it irresistible. I recently had Halcon’s version from this vineyard and was blown away, so I was really geared up to try Theodora’s and it doesn’t disappoint with its deep blackberry, blueberry, plum and cherry fruits leading the way on the nervy youthful palate that is accented by a touch of sweet wood, mocha and dried dark flowers. As I have found over the last five vintages, this site give Petite Sirah a Northern Rhone like profile and this 2018, from a long cool growing season, really accentuates that character with the mentioned peppery nature or peppercorn note as well as the lively energy found here. It additionally adds hints of lilacs, anise and creme de cassis come out with air and the power tannins smooth out when this beautiful Petite Sirah opens up, this is very serious stuff.

Theodora Lee, originally from Texas and a well respected trial lawyer, fell in love with California wine after moving to the San Francisco area in 1987 and after seeing many of her colleagues invest in vineyards and wineries she founded Theopolis Vineyards back in 2003. Her passion for wine led her to the remote and steep hillsides of the Yorkville Highlands with Lee focusing on Petite Sirah grape believing it had the best potential here and would make for an iconic example, this vision has really come true, with these last three vintages, all being very different, showing just how outrageously great this place is and how exceptional her wines can be. This 2018 gains richness in the glass and while hyper intense and alive in the mouth it also feels wonderfully opulent in texture and the length is absolute stunning. Lee has taken UC Davis enology classes and is very hands on with her wines, which include this signature bottling, as well as doing a unique Rosé of Petite Sirah and a few tasty Pinot Noir offerings, plus she does fruity white wine made from a hybrid varietal, called Symphony, that was a crossing of Muscat and Grenache Gris. This 2018 Estate Petite Sirah looks set to be a classic and age worthy wine that will certainly impress lovers of this grape, it also really goes great with robust meat dishes with lamb and or short ribs being great choices.
($39 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day October 30, 2020

2017 Dr. Edge, Pinot Noir, Williamette Valley, Oregon.
Peter Dredge is Dr. Edge, an Aussie cutting edge (no pun intended) winemaker based in Tasmania, famous for Pinot in his homeland, has released a selection from the Willamette Valley in Oregon and I was thrilled to get my hands on it, it is a ripe and vivid Pinot with loads personality and eccentric charms. This bottling, one of three distinct Oregon Pinots by Dr. Edge, is a blend of Chehalem and Eola-Amity vineyard sites with some Jory (volcanic) and marine sedimentary soils and it shows it with hints of smoke, flinty stones and mineral to go with an impressive array of vivid red fruits, light floral tones and snappy herb and spice on the medium bodied palate, that is lively, but silky textured. The Dr. Edge wines have already created quite a buzz and an almost frenzy to get them, especially after some insanely good ratings from well respected critics, in other words, the word is out, these wines have become the hot ticket. I think there is so many great new Oregon wines right now, it would be hard to elevate just a few and there are plenty of awesome values to be had as well, so while I was greatly impressed with this 2017 Dr. Edge Willamette Valley Pinot, there are plenty of alternate choices in case you can’t find it, now is a fantastic time to discover the new generation of Willamette producers. I am now getting a thirst for Dredge’s Tassie Pinot, and his new Oregon Gamay, both of which are getting a buzz too.

This 2017 Dr. Edge Willamette Valley Pinot, which has a label perfect for the Halloween season, comes from sustainable and organic vines and looks to have some whole cluster, which helps cut into the ripe fruit character of the vintage and brings some savory notes to the profile which is led by black cherry, plum, crushed raspberry and pomegranate fruits and some pretty details that are accented by some peppery notes, tea spices, wild herb and a subtle wood toast. It’s the play between its satiny round texture and its expressive vivid nature that captivates you in this bright ruby/garnet Pinot. Peter does not give away too many of his secrets, but I would think he is following his generation’s trend of mostly used French oak in the aging and fermenting his wines with lots of whole bunches and native yeasts to promote terroir character in his wines as well as allowing the purity of the grapes to shine through. I will be trying my best to get some of the 2018s to compare, especially since these 2017s were just his first goes with Willamette sourced Pinot and are already getting huge attention. The 2017 opens up exceptionally well, delivering a top notch performance when it gets some air, blowing off a touch of reduction, and it was incredibly hard not to seduced by the complexity and lingering aftertaste, this is tasty stuff and it should only get better in the next 3 to 5 years. There’s a lot of pleasure to be found here, it will appeal to a wide range of Pinot lovers and there will be no penalty for opening it in its youth, though I suggest enjoying it with cuisine, it has a generous vinous mouth feel, but it will impress more with food.
($45 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day October 29, 2020

2017 Au Bon Climat “Hildegard” White Blend, Santa Maria Valley.
One of the first blended California white wines to reach a cult like following and a totally unique mix, with this vintage of Hildegard comprised of 50% Pinot Gris, 40% Pinot Blanc and 10% Aligoté. Winemaker Jim Clendenen first started making Hildegard in 1998, in era dominated by Chardonnay, which of course he made as well, it was somewhat of curious that it was such a hit, but tasting it always brought rewards and drinking pleasure. The Pinot Gris, Clendenen notes, planted next to the winery (Block 12 of Bien Nacido Vineyard) was amazing with small yields and the grapes were intensely flavorful and concentrated. Adding that the wine made from these Pinot Gris vines was more like a dry Alsatian Pinot Gris, rather the dull and flat Pinot Grigio style that lack density or complexity. The 2017 Hildegard is quite marvelous in structure and detail, it’s rich and luxurious on the palate, but does feel heavy and has a cool steely frame with layers of green apple, peach, green melon, zesty lemon and orangey citrus fruits. There is a whiff of smoky sweet oak and the opulent/creamy smooth body shows in was barrel aged and went through malolactic conversion, but you’ll be fantastically surprised by this wines mineral tone and the zing of the natural acidity, seemingly provided by the zingy/crisp Aligoté. Pinot Blanc doesn’t get much mention, but also performs a major role in this wine without being overt by giving texture and flinty notes, making the Hildegard great with an array of dishes from calamari to cracked crab as well as soft cheeses.

The Hildegard white blend was fermented in separate lots, with the Pinot Gris, Pinot Blanc and the rare Burgundian varietal Aligoté being aged for two years in new French oak barrels, after which it was blended, as Clendenen reveals, and then released after a short settling in bottle. Clendenen explains that the name Hildegard is a salute to the history of Burgundy, from which he drew much of his inspiration, and to her husband the King of the Franks, Charlemagne. During his rule, with Hildegard by his side in the early 800s the importance of wine and viticulture exploded on the continent. The Catholic Church and Charlemagne ruled most of Europe and both were interested in wine and viticulture leading to more and more vineyards were planted from Burgundian hillsides to steep river valleys of Germany. This is an interesting side note, but the wine itself is just as intriguing, especially after it opens up in the glass, where it fills out in mouth adding brioche, honeycomb and hints of hazelnut. There is a heightened aromatic quality here that brings white flowers and also delivers vanilla, sweet toasty notes from the Francois Freres Burgundy barriques, and wet stones, making this vintage of Hildegard extra compelling. Known mainly for his fabulous Pinot Noirs, Clendenen also does a tidy collection of high quality whites to, as this one proves. Au Bon Climat continues to be one of California’s most prized treasures, and it was great to get a chance to a few of the latest wines, all of which were impeccable and delicious! There is a lot to like and value in Au Bon Climat’s lineup from the basic Santa Barbara Pinot and Chard, which outstanding for the price to this golden yellow Hildegard, which I highly recommend as well.
($35 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day October 28, 2020

2018 Sandlands, Red Table Wine, Contra Costa County.
The new 2018 Sandlands Red Table Wine sourced from old vines in Contra Costa County, only 11 barrels produced, is a joyous California wine made from an inky dark combination of Carignan and Mataro (Mourvedre), making for brightly fresh and juicy wine that can really enjoyed now, while still structured to age. This Contra Costa red is an expressive proudly Californian wine that shows off its warm flavors, much like France’s Corbieres region, which is known for Carignan, based wines do. The vineyard was planted in the 1920s in what is classified as Dehli blow sand, which winemaker Tegan Passalacqua explains is decomposed granite that has been deposited by wind and water from, what I gather was the high Sierra Mountains over millions of years. This vintage ended up being close to 55% Carignane and 45% Mataro with the long cool growing season resulting in great flavor development, complexity, zippy acidity and wonderfully low natural alcohol coming in at a mere 12.8%. This vintage starts with vivid crushed red berries, rosemary/sage, a hint of lilacs and a lovely fleshy mouth feel before full coming to life on the medium to full bodied palate with black Raspberry, cherry and plum fruits, a touch of candied orange rind, peppery spices and the Mourvedre’s classic earthy/savory influence and tannin playing a key structural role and adding a serious turn to this grape fresh wine. Passalacqua, as noted in my prior reviews, is the head winemaker and vineyard manager at Turley and has worked in the cellars of Craggy Range in New Zealand with Doug Wisor, with Eben Sadie in the Swartland of South Africa, and with Alain and Maxime Graillot in the Northern Rhone Valley of France, which has served him well in creating his niche.

Sandlands is Tegan Passalacqua’s personal label and while known for his work at Turley Wine Cellars, which are bigger, ripe and lavishly styled, these Sandlands wines are maybe a truly reflection of his personality, they are authentic, thoughtful and less flamboyant, but with exceptional quality and crated with intense respect for the vineyards where they come from. Each of the Sandlands wines offers a different perspective and draws its inspiration from historic California vineyards and wines, they mostly come from sandy sites, hence the name, and this one perfectly captures its sense of place and sets the tone for the gripping offerings, which includes a 100% old vine Mataro, a wine with Bandol like power and cellar potential, I have been holding a few vintages of this not hating to open them up too early, and Tegan’s Soberanes Syrah from the Santa Lucia Highlands, with grapes farmed by the Pisoni family, a wine that made me join the Sandlands mailing list, it is a California wine through and through but with Cote-Rotie class and depth. For me, the Sandlands wines show fantastic textures that coat the palate with vinous pleasure, while not heavy, these are impressive artisan hand crafted wines. Passalacqua manages a vast array of classic Zinfandel sites for Turley as well as tending his own old vines at the Kirschenmann Vineyard, which planted back in 1915, on the East Side of Lodi’s Mokelumne River AVA, with his Zinfandel grapes going into both his own wine and into a single vineyard Turley as well. The winemaking is along the lines of minimal intervention, allowing native yeasts when the conditions are suitable and the aging is done mostly in used barrels to give the wines more of the stage to show off their terroir(s) and purity of flavors.
($35 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day October 27, 2020

2017 Big Basin Vineyards, Pinot Noir “Dune and Mountain” Monterey County.
It’s been a scary and tough year for Bradley Brown of Big Basin Vineyards, in the Santa Cruz Mountains, almost losing the estate to the fires and the heart breaking loss his house in those flames. We are all wishing him and the winery well, so it was great to open a bottle of his wine in support. I’ve been a big fan of his wines since I first tried them, especially his iconic Rattlesnake Rock Syrah, but in recent years his Pinot Noir and Chardonnay efforts have really impressed me. That side of his collection have become some of his most sought after wines, even though most people know Big Basin’s Rhones and focus their attention on the Syrah and Grenache based efforts. I love his Alfaro Family and Lester Pinots and the Coastview Chardonnay is mind-glowingly delicious and now this bottling, the Dune and Mountain Pinot Noir, which I had not tried yet, is a beauty with the Big Basin whole bunch signature profile with its racy red fruits, luscious velvety texture and its lingering potpourri of aromas and spices. This 2017 Dune and Mountain starts with dried herbs, mineral notes, crushed raspberry and seeped rose petals before opening up with richness on the medium bodied palate showing off the warmth of vintage with ripe cherry, plum, strawberry and pomegranate fruits along with a hint of earthiness, tea spice and more floral elements. There a graceful creamy mouth feel and layered elegance in this Pinot that is seductive, but there is still an underpinning of energy and juicy acidity that makes this wine so compelling. The name comes from the fact that Brown sourced it from two exceptional sites, the Olson Vineyard, set of pure sandy (ancient sand dunes) soils and Coastview Vineyard, which is a high elevation site with granite, quartz diorite and limestone soils, both of which add to the complexity and balance in this luxurious Pinot Noir.

The Big Basin Vineyards Pinots are meant to age for 5 to years at least, and this 2017 Dune and Mountain Pinot is well structured, though plush and easy to love now, and I can only imagine how great the new 2018 (and 2019) will be. Brown makes incredible and expressive wines and this wine is drinking well in its youth, and it is a really awesome value. Bradley fermented the Dune and Mountain Pinot with 95% whole clusters and with native/indigenous yeast with gentle hands off winemaking techniques. This vintage saw almost of year in barrel, with mostly used French barriques employed and it was bottled unfined and unfiltered, all of which allowed a purity of expression and silky depth of flavors. Brown notes, that this Dune and Mountain is every bit the equal of some of his single vineyard cuvées, additionally he says it is (was) sourced from two extraordinary vineyards that are like nothing else in the Monterey area, with one is a elevation site at 2400 feet up and the other is directly off the middle of the foggy Monterey Bay, making it one of Big Basin’s last (Pinot) picks of the year. Whole cluster and stem inclusion really make this wine pop with vibrance and crunch adding a joyous electric verve to this hand crafted Pinot and makes it great with food, in particular I can imagine it going fantastically well with blackened salmon, ahi steaks and grilled meats, the 12.8% natural alcohol means it is fabulously flexible. It is a good time to support small wineries that have suffered with COVID and the horrible fires that affected many in our (wine) community, so I highly recommend checking out the latest wines from Big Basin and getting a few bottles that hopefully will help them through these rough times. Big Basin just released their Fall wines and there is many in the collection that look like tasty efforts, and savvy buyers will grab 2018 estate grown Santa Cruz Mountains Syrah, the old vine Wirz Carignan along with this Pinot bottling, as well as the mentioned Rattlesnake Rock.
($38 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day October 26, 2020

2018 Martha Stoumen, Nero d’Avola, Mendocino County.
The latest Nero d’Avola release from Martha Stoumen is simply gorgeous and highlights the rise in Italian varietals, which once struggled to gain traction and never seemed to live up to their promise or the the classic version in the old country, but that has really changed in recent years with many stunning versions of Italian grapes have emerged, including this one. Just this week I tried Ryme’s outrageously good Aglianico and this stunning Nero d’Avola, both of which are just thrilling red wines that marry our terroir and California’s wonderful warm ripe personality with the grapes true varietal character, with Martha’s Nero delivering a beautiful deep color, layered black and red fruits, mineral and spice notes all in a sublime textural wine that fills the palate with expansive, but clearly detailed flavors. Martha Stoumen maybe the only person with such hands on experience with Nero d’Avola, both in its homeland, when she interned at COS winery in Vittoria Sicily and here in California, where she has vines works with in Mendocino, the Benson Ranch in Ukiah, Chiarito Vineyard, also in Ukiah and the Fox Hill Vineyard, on the Talmage Bench, a vineyard that has championed Italian varietals for over 30 years. Her time working with Giusto Occhipinti at COS helped form her only natural style of winemaking and gave her insight on this grape and how best to unlock its true potential, which this 2018 vintage shows, it’s a brilliant effort and charms with a slight rustic and earthy edginess, while still remarkably poised in the glass. The 2018 Nero d’Avola starts with a mix of crushed berries, an array of florals, dried herbs and that inviting dark inky garnet hue before revealing black raspberry, spiced plum, earthy blueberry and morello cherry fruits along with touches of leather, minty anise, cocoa powder, blood orange and a hint of cedar. There is a zesty underpinning of natural acidity and fine grained, almost sweet tannin that makes this wine’s structure so compelling and its form gives Martha’s Nero d’Avola a nice flexibility with cuisine choices, in fact it gets even better with hearty dishes. This vintage, as Stoumen’s tech sheet shows, comes from a blend of three organically farmed vineyards, mentioned above, 63% sourced at Benson Ranch Vineyard, Ukiah, Mendocino County, a 14 year old dry farmed (no irrigation) set of vines, on gravelly loam soils then 25% from Fox Hill Vineyard, Talmage Bench, Mendocino County, these are 33 year old vines (as far as Martha knows, might be the oldest Nero d’Avola in CA), with sandy loam soils, plus 12% sourced at the Chiarito Vineyard, in Ukiah as noted as well in Mendocino County.

Stoumen hand crafts an exciting set of wines, mostly out of the box and unique offerings, with this Nero d’Avola being her signature wine, in my opinion and she has a special fondness and connection to this Sicilian grape. Martha says, she spent a very time working with Nero d’Avola at COS in Sicily, so the fact that Nero d’Avola even exists in California—AND that she get to work with it in both the vineyard and cellar—makes her heart happy, it also makes me happy, especially her efforts with this vintage, which has really brought out the best in this wine. Stoumen also is taking a different path when it comes to vineyard sites, while most winemakers are fighting over coveted coastal sites, making the grapes from those extreme places very expensive, she has chosen to look elsewhere, noting she is proudly looking inland, where the hotter climate and shorter spring season make low-input (organic and holistic) farming a reality. Stoumen adds, she still wants to make elegant wines, with freshness and vibrancy, this has given her a freedom to experiment with a different grape set and a choice of lesser known varieties. For Stoumen the Nero d’Avola has been, as she admits, a perfect and natural fit. She does a few different versions of Nero d’Avola including this one, as well as a Rosato (Rosé) and in a blended red, all of which are well worth searching out, but this 2018 is one you really shouldn’t miss, plus you should also check out her Zinfandel, which is also a studied and natural style, almost old school wine with a bright crunchy profile. Martha’s Nero d’Avola was all de-stemmed and was fermented in concrete tank until dry, before being gently pressed to well used barrels and rested on lees. After 12 months, Stoumen racked it off lees, blended the different vineyard, which were fermented in separate small lots and then put back into barrel for a total of 18 months barrel aging, that helped make those tannins supple. I am very excited to see so many great young winemakers on the scene these days and I am certain the future of California wine is in great hands, with so many intriguing talents crafting a whole new generation of great wines with Martha being one of these exceptional and hard working artisans, their success is a joy to watch and to taste! For this Nero d’Avola, Martha suggests a mouth-watering range of ideal pairings including pasta alla norma, grilled steak with fresh herbs, classic caesar salad, roasted duck breast. She mentions, and I agree, the balanced body of this wine can hold up to many textures and flavors without overpowering them, the same way classic Sicilian examples of Nero d’Avola, like those of COS, Valle dell’Acate and Arianna Occhipinti’s do.
($40 Est.) 93 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day October 25, 2020

2018 Alfaro Family Vineyards, Chardonnay, Trout Gulch Vineyard, Santa Cruz Mountains.
The gorgeously energy filled and textural Trout Gulch Chardonnay by Richard Alfaro at Alfaro Family Vineyards is definitely one of the best values in the state for top quality Chardonnay, and this 2018 is one of the most thrilling vintages I’ve tried so far with incredible detailing, layering of flavors and its heavenly vinous mouth feel. Those that like Cote de Beaune substance and style will find huge joy in this Trout Gulch, with its cool mineral intensity, depth and smooth underlying acidity, it perfectly captures the long and cool growing season that allowed ripe fruit development, but exceptional clarity, balance and the mentioned textural creaminess that is not in least bit heavy, but graceful and luxurious all the same. The Alfaro Trout Gulch starts with spring white flowers, with a hint of honeysuckle and citrus, along with a touch of loam and flint, before a medium to fill bodied palate of apple, pear and tart peach fruit that is accented by lemon curd, clarified cream, clove spice, smoky/toast, hazelnut and a whiff of vanilla. There is a steely drive, a saline (sea shore) quality and a wet rock element that runs all the way through this fabulous Chardonnay that always oops up in my favorite examples and elevates this wine into the top league in my book, it gives me the same pleasure that I get from white Burgundy, especially the really memorable ones, like Pierre-Yves Colin-Morey’s Saint-Aubin and Roulot’s basic Bourgogne Blanc. This vineyard, near the towns of Aptos and Soquel is not far from the Ocean and gets loads of cool breezes and morning and evening marine layer influence and it has been the source for some other fantastic bottlings, like John Raytek’s Ceritas and Duncan Meyer’s Arnot-Roberts versions, both of which are highly sought after and wines I really admire.

The Trout Gulch site was originally established in 1980, but this dry-farmed vineyard, which is nestled between forested hillsides near the town of Aptos in the Santa Cruz Mountains really only came into its own under the guidance of Richard Alfaro and wines like this prove it, this cool climate vineyard is a source of spectacular grapes. It should also be noted, that Richard’s own estate vineyard in Corralitos also produces world class Chardonnay, and while there is great Pinot Noir grown in both sites as well, these Chardonnays are just stunning and shows clearly that Alfaro has a specially touch with this grape. Trout Gulch, which is farmed using organic methods and in full maturity, set on loam and harden clay like soils with some sand, is up at about 600 feet and only 3.5 miles from the Pacific and is planted to the Wente clone that gives this wine its wonderful concentration. The lightly golden Alfaro Trout Gulch Chardonnay was barrel fermented and aged in neutral French oak, where it rested for just 8 months before bottling to preserve its zesty freshness, but still allow for that glorious richness, this would be outstanding with lobster tail and dripping butter, as well as triple cream soft cheeses. Alfaro started his label back in 1998 and has created a solid following over the years since with a solid collection of wines, led by these Chards and his Pinots, which are always tasty offerings, plus his zingy Gruner Veltliner, that is one of the best examples of this varietal outside of Austria. There is a lot to get excited about when tasting through Alfaro’s lineup from this one to his heritage clone Pinot, to his Syrah to the Rosé of Pinot Noir, if you’ve not sampled these wines, you really should!
($30 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day October 24, 2020

2018 Domaine Auguste Clape, Le Vin des Amis, Vin de France, Rhone Valley, France.
I love the bright freshness and deep flavors of this 2018 Le Vin des Amis and its quaffable though serious style, this edition is medium bodied and energetic with classic Northern Rhone character, showing blackberries, plum, cherry and blueberry fruits, anise, peppercorns, a hint of game, earth and a quite heady nose of dark violet florals. The “baby” Clape, which is always a savvy treat is 100% Syrah and comes from 40 plus year old vineyard sites that are located close the this classic domaine’s village of Cornas and the Rhône river set on mostly Alluvial soils with a littering of galets, the rounded river stones found throughout the Rhone basin. The mouth feel is less intense, when compared to the more tannin structured top Cornas cuvees at Clape, but this one gives a very fine account of itself with an edgy stemmy intensity that is compelling to fans of Pierre-Marie’s wines and the Clape family’s legendary offerings, many of which were crafted by the now 94 year old Auguste (Pierre-Marie’s famous dad) himself, who was one of the very first to bottle an estate wine in the Cornas region. Now, as Kermit Lynch, Clape’s long time American importer, notes, Pierre-Marie and his son Olivier, carry on Auguste’s legacy with honor and integrity, as well as hand crafting wines that are some of the world’s most desirable Syrahs. While the Le Vin des Amis comes from just outside the Cornas zone, the Clape’s farm a number of prime parcels, some of the greatest Syrah sites in Cornas, including Reynards, La Côte, Geynale, Tézier, Petite Côte, Les Mazards, Patou, Pied La Vigne, Chaillot, and Sabarotte, the latter purchased from Cornas legend Noël Verset, and they save the best and oldest for their top bottling.

The reds wines at Clape, all made from 100% Syrah, are almost without fail vinified using whole bunches and this Le Vins des Amis shows that vibrant and herbal crunchiness as well as a transparent flavors and a nice textural quality, I used to buy a lot of this wine when not everybody and their brother knew about it and the price was almost half what it is now, but this wine still is a good deal and while not as guiltless on the wallet as it once was it still impresses for the price and is impeccably made. The Le Vin des Amis saw a natural whole cluster fermentation with indigenous yeats in open top cement tanks with about a two week maceration and primary fermentation with pilage and pump overs twice a day before aging in concrete, as well as seeing just two months in foundre (old large oak casks) prior to bottling, which as per normal here unfiltered. The Clape’s pick by hand and concentrate on full ripeness, which give these wines their expressive and dense nature, but as their fans you, these wines always give you a rigorous savory underpinning and have exceptional balance, especially in difficult vintages. The Le Vin des Amis is a gateway wine and a little tease, though these days it has a frenzied cult following itself, which this new 2018 release will continue to elicit with its seductive qualities. This very food friendly Syrah is a fine companion for country and rustic cuisine from grilled pork, chicken and red meats to wild mushroom dishes. The Le Vin des Amis is the entry level Rouge, just one rung down from their Cotes du Rhone and looking way up to the two main Cornas, the Renaissance and the signature offering, that like a top Hermitage or Cote-Rotie needs a decade or more in the cellar to fully mature. So, for no waiting pleasure this inky purple wine is the way to go!
($50 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day October 23, 2020

2018 Ryme Cellars, Aglianico, Camino Alto Vineyard, El Dorado County, Sierra Foothills.
Ryme’s new Camino Alto Aglianico is one of the best and most distinct red wines I’ve had this calendar year so far, it is awesome full bodied and complex effort with true varietal character and exceptional purity. The inky dark Camino Alto Aglianico starts with a heavenly perfume of violets, sage and new leather with a crushed blackberry essence before its powerful and structured palate thrills with black currant, marionberry coulis, plum and kirsch fruits along with melted black licorice, minty herb, cedar and tapenade accents as well as a touch of whole bunch crunchiness and spicy mineral tones. In grape known for rustic and fiery tannins this 2018 is poised, supple and remarkably graceful, the long cool growing season really benefited this gorgeous wine. Aglianico, sometimes called “The Barolo of the South” (because of some similarities to Nebbiolo) is a black grape found mostly Basilicata and Campania, with Taurasi being its top expression. Taurasi is a town in the province of Avellino, in the Sannio part of Campania. Taurasi is a historic wine region and finally made a full DOCG in 1993. Two of the most famous Aglianico wines are the Radici Taurasi, Mastroberardino’s flagship wine which was originally released in 1928, though not officially called Radici, which translates as “roots”, as it was a special clonal selection of ancient Aglianico, until 1986, and Feudi di San Gregorio’s iconic Serpico, that comes from the historic “Dal Re” (“from the King”) vineyard in Irpinia near to Mt. Vesuvius. The Aglianico vines seem to thrive in particularly volcanic soils, but Ryme’s efforts with this grape prove it does great in the diverse soils here in California, particularly in these granite soils as well as Paso Robles’ limestone. It is considered with Sangiovese and Nebbiolo to be one of the three greatest Italian varieties with a long history, it was used to make the Falernian wine, famed during Roman times. The grape, which was once thought to have been brought to Campania from Greece still remains a mystery with no leads on its true origins, though most know think it is more likely a native varietal. Aglianico more recently has been planted in Australia and California, as it thrives in predominantly sunny climates with a long ripening season, like Nebbiolo it really takes an extended period on the vine to develop all of its potential, and Ryme has unlocked its best features, in what is a truly great wine.

Ryme Cellars, with winemakers Megan and Ryan Glaab, have been exploring Italian grapes for many years and have a wonderful collection of thrilling wines with Vermentino, Fiano, another Southern Italian grape, Sangiovese and Friulano, as well as three different versions of Aglianico, which has become one of their signature wines with a Rosé of Aglianico and two single vineyard reds. In 2017 Megan and Ryan began working with this new Aglianico vineyard in El Dorado County in the Sierra Foothills near Placerville and not far from Sutter’s Mill, where gold was first discovered in California, which set off a huge migration to the golden state, which had the effect of bringing grape vines to the area for those settlers in the late 1800s. This gave Ryme, as they explain, an exciting opportunity to see how Aglianico plays out in a very different series of great California terroirs. The Camino Alto vineyard is located at 2800 feet in mineral rich granite based soils in the El Dorado AVA above, the mentioned, Placerville. The days here are quite warm (if not blazing hot) but, as the Glaab’s note, there is a large diurnal temperature shift with cold night air draining from the upper Sierras keeping the vines refreshed, retaining natural acidity. The other Ryme Aglianico, their most exclusive bottling, comes from a beautifully farmed, certified organic vineyard in Westside Paso Robles on Peachy Canyon Road. Its vines set squarely in Rhone varietal and Zinfandel country, at the Luna Matta Vineyard, which also grows a good number of other Italian specialites. The Camino Alto Aglianico was picked in mid October, somewhat early for this varietal, but obviously the grapes came in to near perfection with amazing concentration, energy and impeccable balance. Ryme Cellars is known for their low intervention methods in the cellar and use a combination of modern and ancient techniques with the use of cool stainless tanks as well as Amphora. For their Camino Alto Aglianico, they went old school, the grapes were crushed by foot and fermented 100% whole cluster with nothing added, allowing full native fermentation and hand punch downs, getting a full extraction from the bold Aglianico. After the maceration and primary, the winery says, the wine was aged in neutral French oak barrels for eleven months and bottled without filtration. This is impressive stuff, if you want a stylish big red, to go with lamb, brisket or robust cuisine, you need to get yourself some of this while you can!
($42 Est.) 96 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day October 22, 2020

2016 Domaine Sylvain Pataille, Bourgogne Rouge, France.
I first discovered Sylvain Pataille’s wines with his awesome set of 2012 wines and in that time, between and now he has become one of Burgundy’s hottest stars and the wines are extremely difficult to get and the prices have soared up, though not outrageous they give you pause, with his basic Bourgogne Rouge being the best value in the lineup. At the time I was left with a sense of awe, with his gorgeous and flavorful Marsannay being a stand out wine and one of my wines of the year, so there was a lot of expectations when I opened this 2016, and it delivered, it is a beautifully balanced and tasting Pinot Noir with classic Marsannay coolness of style, expressive dark fruits and mineral notes. The 2016 Pataille Bourgogne Rouge has more depth and expressive flavors than one is used to expect in such a bottling, it displays an array of red fruits as well as having a core of classic dark cherry, accented by strawberry, cranberry, spiced raspberry along with a hint of blueberry, apple skin, earth, black tea, the mentioned mineral tone and seeped rose petals, added to a silky palate that offers a generous and vinous mouth feel. There is a virgorous and lively energetic sense to this lovely Pinot Noir that keeps your attention without seeming shrill or aggressive allowing just a balanced tartness to remind you there there is structure here and plenty of zippy acidity to go great with food. I was thrilled to find this wine again and I look forward to dig into upcoming vintages and exploring the Pataille Cru and Lieu-Dits expressions, especially his Marsannay Clos du Roy. This dark ruby/garnet Bourgogne comes from vines planted in 1956, set on clay rich soils with classic limestone, which gives this wine it’s soulful personality, in this vintage it saw about 10% or so whole cluster and maybe 15% new oak to allow all of its terroir to shine through.

Sylvain Pataille, who consults for a dozen or so high end domaines in Burgundy and founded his own label in 1999, specializes in natural style winemaking and organic farming with his wines coming almost exclusively from vines in the village of Marsannay. Pataille does a tidy set of quality wines, these include around 12 distinct Marsannay cuvées, including not only red, white and rosé Marsannay (Marsannay is the only appellation in the Côte d’Or permitted to label as an AC Rosé), but also Aligoté, Passetoutgrain (a Gamay and Pinot Noir blend) and Bourgogne Blanc and this Rouge. Everything Pataille does at his own domaine, as noted, comes from Marsannay and are all organic, and I believe now all biodynamic, all of the wines were highly impressive, but especially his base Marsannay AC (Pinot Noir) and the single Cru versions, which I thought were stunning when I first tried them, and that impression still holds true after trying this later vintage Bourgogne Rouge. Pataille makes his wines with almost no sulfur and follows the style of Philippe Pacalet, though different in detail, without question he is making some of the most delicious natural wines in Burgundy. Pataille’s wines all see natural, indigenous yeast fermentation, in a combination of fiberglass tank and in stainless steel, with his maceration (with partial whole cluster) and primary being relatively short, they last usually only 10-12 days and are rigorously temperature controlled to preserve freshness and clarity of flavors. The wines are then racked into oak barriques with surprisingly enough, about a third being new barrels and then aged for up to 24 months, though usually this Bourgogne is more like 10 to 12 months and seeing less of the new wood. It is clear Pataille has it all going in top gear these days and is completing the biodynamic certification, joining the elite producers of the region, if you’ve not had Sylvain’s wines yet, it is time!
($35 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive