Monthly Archives: January 2021

Grapelive: Wine of the Day January 21, 2021

2017 Cruse Wine Co., Blanc de Noirs, Alder Springs Vineyard, Mendocino County.
The small batch sparkling wines from Michael Cruse are some of the most interesting in California with both his Pet-Nats and his Methode Champenoise style bubbly, like this special edition Blanc de Noirs, are absolutely delicious and sophisticated wines with many being single vineyard site expressions with grower producer like distinction handsome crafted with unique and rare varietals. This particular bottling is vibrant and has a zesty form, but rich and complex with tons of nutty character, its rather intriguing with its play between racy yellow fruits and the mature feeling oxidative palate with layers of lemon, apple butter, white peach, plum, hazelnut, straw, mineral tones and doughy brioche that highlights the yeasty/leesy charms. This Alder Springs Blanc de Noirs cuvee, hand crafted and focused around the structure of no skin contact red grapes, with a Pinot Noir like quality, was what Michael Cruse calls an experiment in melding reductive and oxidative winemaking, it certainly played with my senses and I wasn’t truly expecting this complexity and stylistic personality, but it grew on me as I began to fully understand its purpose and personality, and as an admirer of a range of Sherry wines and Jura whites I got more and more into it as it opened up in the glass. Cruse notes that he finds this sparkler extremely complex, showing pastry, miso, marzipan with an element of pistachio gelato and floral detail, which I can confirm as well. The mouse is vigorous, rather than luxurious or creamy, giving the Alder Springs Blanc de Noirs an energetic intensity and makes it cleansing and refreshing, it is exceptional with food and proved nicely flexible with spicy and full flavored Asian dishes that I unfairly ate while sipping on this. I know, without question this Blanc de Noirs, would go better with grilled sardines, salty Tapas and or briny oysters, which I hope to prove in the future.

The lineup at Cruse Wine Co. is quite impressive with his top sparkling wine, Ultramarine being an underground classic with a cult like following, leading the way, but I love his Pet-Nats too, with the sparkling Valdiguie and sparkling St. Laurent being big favorites of mine and I love his set of still red wines with the Tannat, which I recently reviewed, and the Valdiguie being ones that I try not to miss. The Alder Springs Blanc de Noirs was fermented after the grapes were whole cluster (soft) pressed using a gentle Champagne cycle and it was done without dosage in a brut Nature style, resulting in a dry Brut or Extra Brut like profile. Just one hundred cases, or 1200 bottles were produced of this Alder Springs Blanc de Noirs, making it a rarity and not easy to find, though at this time it is still listed as available on Cruse’s website. California has more great sparkling wines on offer than ever with some incredible artisan stuff out there including Michael Cruse’s exceptional collection, along with other grower fizz or single vineyard bubblies, these include Samantha Sheehan’s Poe Wines Sparkling Rosé, made with Meunier and her all Chardonnay Blanc de Blancs as well as Caraccioli’s excellent Escolle Vineyard Champagne style sparkling wines to name a couple of ones to search out. The Cruse Alder Springs Blanc de Noirs which finished at 12.5% natural alcohol is briskly dry and ripely textured, it gains a slightly smoky note from the lees aging and shows a bit of saline that gets the saliva gland up and running and lingers on with a hint bitter almonds and clove spice. Cruse also has some other alternative wines that will appeal to the wine geek set with his dry Muscat finding a degree of success for a much maligned grape as well as his Monkey Jacket red blend, made from mainly Valdiguié, a grape that has a Gamay like quality and once thought to be Gamay and called Napa Gamay until recently with the remainder coming from Carignan and Syrah, it is tasty value priced stuff that is a great Pizza night wine. It is a great time to explore the Cruse wines and I highly recommend get on Michael’s email list and explore his latest efforts.
($68 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day January 20, 2021

2015 Cobb Wines, Pinot Noir, Rice-Spivak Vineyard, Sonoma Coast.
One of California’s best producers of small lot Pinot Noirs, Ross Cobb has been at it for close to twenty years now and shows no signs of letting up with this fantastic 2015 Rice-Spivak displaying his gifted touch with a wine of remarkable balance, silken texture and deep, but weightless layers of Pinot fruit. I had planned holding on to this special wine for many more years to let it fully mature and gain secondary characteristics, but as I was celebrating the end of the moronic nightmare of the Trump presidency I could not think of a more perfect patriotic bottle to open and knowing clearly that Ross would agree, and in hope of brighter times ahead, it did not disappoint and even though young it delivered a gorgeous and rewarding experience. This 2015 vintage was warm and ripe, giving plenty of hedonistic fruit density and luxurious mouth feel with this Rice-Spivak Vineyard having a lush and satiny array of black cherry, raspberry, plum and sweet strawberry fruits along with a mix of toasty/smoky oak, mineral, tangy herbs and a delicate floral perfume. This ruby/garnet wine is one of the most packed, full flavored and darkest versions of this vineyard I can remember, it is a Pinot Noir of lush smoothness and refined details, it is pure pleasure in the glass, it gained tremendous dimension over the course of the evening and added subtle earthy elements and lingered on and on with a graceful aftertaste that echos the nose and palate, with hints of orange tea and seeped rose petals. The Rice-Spivak is always one of my favorites in Cobb’s outstanding collection of wines.

Cobb Wines, founded in 2001, is mostly known for the family’s Coastlands Vineyard signature bottlings, sourced this one from the almost equally exciting Rice-Spivak Vineyard near Sebastopol, a six acre site in the cooler zone west of Healdsburg set on the classic Goldridge sandy loam soils, which brings out a lot of depth of fruit, as well as some volcanic material that gives a steak of mineral and a light dusting of spices. The vines are on rolling eastern facing slopes that get lots of morning sun and cool Pacific breezes with night and early morning fog that brings a refreshing burst of natural acidity to the wines. The Rice-Spivak Vineyard is made up of Swan and Dijon clones, with the heritage Swan selection seemingly playing a lead role here and this 2015 version has a some very serious palate impact, this is highly entertaining Pinot that is wonderfully complex, but joyously easy to love. Cobb employed traditional Burgundian winemaking, as is his way, with this Rice-Spivak seeing a careful selection of the grapes, a cool partial whole cluster fermentation, using close 40% whole bunches, and gentle maceration before a long 22 month elevage in French barriques with about 30% new medium/high toast oak, which still needs a bit more integration, though with air and especially with food this wine provides endless pleasure, much the same way classic Williams Selyem and or Rochioli performs. The Cobb Rice-Spivak finished up at 13.6% making for a substantial and structured Pinot without the heat that you get from wines in the 14 to 15% range, this wine should last another decade or more. Cobb offers a unique and seductive set of single site Pinots that really deserve your attention, plus in recent years Ross has added a dry Riesling to his highly admired and desirable lineup, while none are inexpensive, these wines are a must try for California wine enthusiasts.
($75 Est.) 94 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day January 19, 2021

2018 Guimaro, Mencia, Vino Tinto, Ribeira Sacra, Galicia, Spain.
The pure and almost crisply detailed Guimaro Vino Tinto is one of my favorite wines, even in its most simple form this Mencia field blend that is fermented and aged in stainless steel delivers a beautiful and soulful experience in the glass with terroir influence clearly on display, making it a joy to behold and quaff with almost any cuisine. Pedro Rodriguez continues to impress with each new vintage at Guimaro and this 2018 is wonderfully delicious with partial whole bunch, semi carbonic juiciness and crunchiness along with ripe black fruits, soft rounded tannin, lively acidity and lovely mineral tones. The medium bodied palate reveals bright layers of blackberry, mulberry, plum, black cherry and currant fruits that is accented nicely with snappy herbs, flinty stones, lilacs and raw earthiness that seduces the senses and brings easy smiles, it reconfirms my admiration for this outstanding value offering from the steep slopes of the Ribeira Sacra in Spain’s ancient and remote Galicia region. The brilliant gemstone ruby/purple color and delicate floral perfume certainly invite repeated sips and its vibrant nature reminds me of a crossing of a Crozes-Hermitage (Syrah) and a Cote de Brouilly (Gamay), think Maxime Graillot’s Domaine de Lises meets Chateau Thivin! I have been following the Guimaro wines for about a decade now, going back more than 12 vintages and I am still thrilled every time I open a new bottle and this 2018 Vinto Tinto Mencia provided a grateful distraction from the horrifying news of the Covid pandemic, the economic worries and eased the lonely days of not being to travel or see friends, as well as a small celebration of life and the end of shameful and moronic presidency of Donald Trump, which will happen in mere hours now. So yeah, I love this wine and I am a big fan of the winemaker, who I have had the pleasure of meeting a few times and did a couple of tastings with, Pedro is a humble and fun loving person, who’s incredible hard work, which you get a sense of when you see the dangerously steep parcels he farms, and his down to earth and playful personality shine through in the wines.

Pedro Rodriguez’s family vineyards, which for many generations were used to just grow grapes for a co-op, started bottling wine under the Guimaro, which means rebel in local dialect, back in 1991 and they were one of the first wineries to join the Ribeira Sacra DO in 1996, but the Guimaro label really got into gear when Pedro was mentored by the legendary Raul Perez, the godfather of the Mencia grape and well known for his Bierzo versions. Guimaro farms with all organic methods and careful to maintain small yields to craft remarkable collection Mencia based wines, as well as a Godello based white, which is also a rare and rewarding wine in the mold of a steely Chablis. The Ribeira Sacra, or the Sacred Blanks in the native Gallego tongue, has very hard to work vines looking down on the Sil River, which looks intriguingly like the Mosel with in fact similar soils, which are a combination of slate, schist, granite and sand with a cool climate that is heavily influenced by the Atlantic Ocean. The Guimaro Tinto comes from several plots in the Amandi zone, which is mostly planted to Mencia, but also includes small amounts of other local varietals including Caiño, Merenzao (Trousseau) and Souson, which are hand harvested and sees about 35% whole cluster, native yeast fermentation and was raised with tank aging for 6 or so months with no oak being used. The region was been, as the winery notes, cultivated since Roman times, with Ribeira Sacra’s steep terraced vineyards, as mentioned above, are some of the most picturesque and treacherous to work vines in the world of wine, making this Guimaro bottling one of the best values around and it is really a gateway to understanding the wines of this special place. Pedro employs an old-fashioned winemaking method, that was reclaimed and adopted thanks to Perez’s guidance, with wild yeast fermentation, gentle extractions with foot treading in open-top vessels, plus limited raspón (stems) inclusion and working with ultra low sulphites, and while this wine was done in stainless, Rodriguez uses used barrels for his single cru wines, all of which makes for natural and transparent style wines. If you’ve not had Mencia yet, this Guimaro Vino Tinto is a great place to start, especially this outstanding vintage, that I highly recommend stocking up on.
($20 Est.) 92 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day January 18, 2021

2018 Dirty and Rowdy, Mourvedre, Shake Ridge Ranch, Amador County.
The stylish Sierra Foothills Shake Ridge Mourvedre is a fresh and vivid red that drinks beautifully now with a range of vivid red fruits, raw, but well managed tannins, meaty savory elements as well as some delicate florals that all unfold on a transparently pure medium/full bodied palate, very tasty indeed. Dirty and Rowdy’s 2018s are my favorites so far from this small and down to earth winery based in Petaluma and look forward to digging into a few of their 2019s soon, which I hear are just as good, which would be not small feat, I really loved the MSG (Mourvedre, Syrah and Grenache) a blend that is like a California meeting of Bandol and Chateauneuf du Pape! This Shake Ridge Ranch Mourvedre from California’s historic gold country in Amador County in the Sierra Foothills comes from one of the state’s best vineyards, farmed organically by the legendary Ann Kramer, it is not far from Sutter’s Creek and set on rocky slopes with a complex mix of volcanic, decomposed Granite and quartz soils. The climate here at close to 2,000 feet up gets hot Summer days, but the night time temps dip dramatically so the vines stay refreshed and certain varietals thrive here, especially the Rhone grapes with spectacular wines being made from this site, in particular the Syrah and Mourvedre, which in this wine proves the quality of Kramer’s talents, with its vibrancy and depth. In recent years I have been really impressed with this vineyard, with Jolie-Laide’s GSM blend, Desire Lines Wine Co.’s 100% Syrah and this Dirty and Rowdy 100% Mourvedre being some of my favorites. I really enjoyed this inky purple/red Shake Ridge and marveled at its constantly changing presence in the glass, it even went fantastically well with a Paella that was full of spicy goodness along with sausage, chicken, mussels and calamari.

Dirty and Rowdy was formed by two partners and their families in 2009 when Hardy Wallace, the face of the winery and his partner Matt Richardson established the label, which is really focused on Mourvedre and natural winemaking techniques, they source grapes from some of California’s top sites, including Shake Ridge, as well as Evangelho in Contra Costa County, Enz Vineyard in San Benito as well as the formerly known as Antle Vineyard in Monterey’s chalky Chalone appellation to name a few. This Dirty and Rowdy 2018 Shake Ridge Ranch Mourvedre, which was hand crafted using lots of whole cluster and native yeast fermentation, is led by layers of earthy dark fruits, including brambleberry, red currant, tangy plum, wild herbs, meaty/savory notes, anise, dried flowers, provencal lavender and lingering kirsch. With air the more gamey bit subsides and the fruit core deepens, highlighting the vintage with ripe detail and energy, it adds a stony and mineral steak as well as gaining in textural quality, bringing out all of its charms in a wine that rewards to patient and one that benefits, as expected, from protein heavy cuisine and robust food dishes. Dirty and Rowdy do their best to let the vineyard speak for itself when it comes to winemaking, they employ a hands off approach in the cellar with minimal intervention and a gentle touch throughout the process, and they age the wines in mostly neutral French barrels, as well as a mix of concrete and terra-cotta vessels. The wines see no additions and have the barest of doses of sulphites, with Dirty and Rowdy bottling with no filtration or fining to preserve each wine’s every nuance and soulful character. These wines have tons of personality and have found a special niche within the wine industry with a fanatical group of followers, so it is important to on their mailing list to score these wines. I highly recommend Dirty and Rowdy’s very limited single vineyard wines, with this one being one to search out, as well as the entry level Familiar Mourvedre, that is a blend of many different vineyard sources and a top value.
($47 Est.) 91 Points, grapelive

Grapelive: Wine of the Day January 17, 2021

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